KleefBlog

U.S. Production Tax Credit renewal charts Wind future

by John Brian Shannon

It boils down to this. If the U.S. Production Tax Credit (PTC) is renewed by the U.S. Congress this fall, then wind power is set to boom for the next five years.

If it isn’t renewed, we can expect a few more years like 2013 where due to the uncertainty surrounding the annual PTC expiry/renewal many projects in the U.S. were shelved, resulting in a dismal 1GW of wind installations across the U.S.A. that year.

Without the PTC renewal, 2015-2020 are likely to post similar results in the U.S. for new wind installations — at a time the rest of the world is setting yearly wind power generation and installation records.

European and Chinese wind turbine manufacturers are anticipating the decision as much of their future business could flow from the United States which has huge, untapped wind reserves, both onshore and offshore.

Fossil Fuel economic subsidies

Unlike the massive subsidies and tax breaks for the fossil fuel industries, which literally go up in smoke requiring constant subsidy dollars to continue along their present business model, wind production tax credits are not spent to lower rising fuel costs. Rather, the tax favour allows more wind turbines to be built and installed, resulting in fewer fossil fuel subsidy dollars going up in smoke.

Worldwide, the fossil fuel industry receives over $550 billion dollars of subsidy and tax breaks — and the U.S. alone gives $80 billion to their domestic oil, gas, and coal industries to lower fuel costs for consumers. That’s 1/7th of the world’s total fossil fuel subsidies, right there.

Fossil Fuel externality subsidies

That doesn’t include the implied subsidy of externalities, those costs to society from fossil fuel use that are not factored into the fuel cost and are not paid for by the oil and gas, or coal industries. Everything from the acid rain that eats concrete structures like bridges, skyscrapers, some roadways and concrete sculptures, to polluted water that must be treated before it can be used, to building filtration systems to remove airborne pollutants caused by fossil fuel burning, to medical costs borne by individuals, organizations and governments, and more. The final fossil fuel externality is, of course, the millions of premature deaths worldwide caused by the ever-increasing concentrations of fossil emissions in our atmosphere.

Fossil Fuel externality cost estimated at between $40-80 per ton of CO2

The cost of fossil fuel use is estimated to be on the order of $40-80 per ton of CO2 emitted and those costs are paid, just not at the gas pump. Governments and individuals pay that price — which varies widely depending upon where you live (city, country, downwind of coal power plants, or on the coastline with its usually fresh air).

If we included the externality cost of all fossil fuels, every type of fuel would double in cost. Our coal-fired electricity would double in cost, and removing the direct subsidies would double it again. The same would occur with gasoline and diesel for our cars.

Yes, it’s a lot of money. And one way or another, we’re paying it. Don’t deceive yourself, it is being paid, just not at the gas pump nor on your electricity bill. But we are paying those subsidies and externality costs in our taxes, and in other ways such as higher health costs and lowered life expectancy resulting from our fossil fuel addiction.

Wind PTC subsidy amounts to a paltry 2.3 cents/kWh (if renewed)

None of those externalities exist for wind power. Wind has no $40-80 per ton of CO2 externality. Wind is not asking for worldwide subsidies of $550 billion, nor is it asking for American subsidies of $80 billion dollars.

Wind power in the U.S.A. is asking for a paltry 2.3 cents/kWh over a 10 year period.

The current amount of the PTC is an inflation-adjusted 2.3 cents/kWh for ten years. For use in our levelized cost analysis, we levelized its value over twenty years, the average duration of a wind energy contract. — Visualizing the Production Tax Credit for Wind Energy, Syracuse University / University of California, Irvine / University of California, Berkeley

Here is an infographic that shows some of the ways that wind power assists the U.S. economy, which was provided to us by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

AWEA_Wind_Gaphic_R5
American Wind Energy Association Graphic (R5)

Wind Power jobs

As the graphic demonstrates there are many tangible benefits of wind power in the United States, not the least of which is providing jobs for Americans, attracting billions of dollars of investment, and adding new, clean electrical generation capacity to the utility grid.

Wind turbines, an additional income source for farmers

Many farmers augment their annual income by inviting utility companies to install wind turbines on their farms. While most crops produce between $150-600 per acre of land after costs are deducted, a utility company wind turbine pad rental with 24/7 access, pays approximately $4000 per acre of land, although this varies in different parts of the country. The extreme range for wind turbine installation payments appears to be $2200-6500 per acre, depending on regional wind flows and size and height of the turbine. Unfortunately for farmers, wind turbines and their towers are quite large, limiting installations to a maximum of one turbine per every few acres, depending on the size of the unit.

Windpark-Wind-Farm
By Philip May (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

GE Space Frame Tower

General Electric too, is awaiting the decision and has an entirely new product line ready to deploy, both in turbines with their Brilliant wind turbine technology and their truck-transportable and easily-assembled Space Frame Towers.

GE Space Frame Tower
Introduced in 2014, GE’s five-legged Space Frame Tower is covered by a plastic fabric. Image courtesy of GE.

Be sure to check out another graphic AWEA made earlier this month highlighting some of wind’s many other benefits by clicking here: http://bit.ly/1qtwHBc.

Help us spread the good news about wind power’s good deal by sharing this graphic with friends and colleagues.

Here are a few suggested tweets:

Wind Power breaks records across Europe

Wind Power smashes records across Europe

Britain’s fleet of onshore and offshore wind turbines met 22% of electricity demand on Sunday, setting a new record and outperforming coal, which met just 13% of demand.

Wind Turbines UK Image courtesy of ReNews
Wind Turbines UK Image courtesy of ReNews

Across the Channel, Spain has reported high levels of summer clean energy output with over 55% of electricity generation coming from zero emission sources during July. And Germany has announced that it generated more than a third of its energy from renewable sources in the first half of this year, while energy from fossil fuel plants – gas and coal – declined.

“Wind has become an absolutely fundamental component in this country’s energy mix,” RenewableUK Director of External Affairs Jennifer Webber said today in an e-mailed statement. “Wind is a dependable and reliable source of power in every month of year including high summer.” — Bloomberg

These figures are the latest clear signals that renewables are increasingly stealing the limelight from outdated fossil fuels. Earlier this year, onshore wind was revealed as the cheapest form of new electricity generation in Denmark and wind met over half of the country’s power demand last December. Renewable energy is also becoming cost competitive elsewhere with solar power reaching grid parity in Italy, Spain and Germany. This trend clearly indicates to European getting ready to agree a climate and energy framework to 2030 that the transition from fossil fuels to renewables is happening and here to stay. For more on this story click here.

Wind to power 50% of Denmark’s demand by 2020

While other countries debate whether to install wind turbines offshore or in remote areas, Denmark is building them right in its capital. Three windmills were recently inaugurated in a Copenhagen neighbourhood, and the city plans to add another 97.

“We’ve made a very ambitious commitment to make Copenhagen CO2-neutral by 2025,” Frank Jensen, the mayor, says. “But going green isn’t only a good thing. It’s a must.”

The city’s carbon-neutral plan, passed two years ago, will make Copenhagen the world’s first zero-carbon capital. With wind power making up 33% of ­Denmark’s energy supply, the country already features plenty of wind turbines.

Indeed, among the first sights greeting airborne visitors during the descent to Copenhagen’s Kastrup airport is a string of sea-based wind towers. By 2020, the windswept country plans to get 50% of its energy from wind power. — For more on this story visit Newsweek

Siemens receives Norwegian order for 67 wind turbines

Siemens has announced that it has received an order from Norwegian energy utilities Statoil and Statkraft for 67 wind turbines for the Dudgeon Offshore Wind Farm in the UK. The news comes just days after the UK installed their first 6 MW wind turbine at the burgeoning Westermost Rough offshore wind farm in the North Sea. Siemens will manufacture, deliver, install, and commission 67 of its direct-drive 6 MW wind turbines, each of which has a mammoth 154 meter rotor.

“We are proud to convince more and more customers about the advantages of our 6-megawatts-offshore machine”, said Dr. Markus Tacke, CEO of the Wind Power Division of Siemens Energy. “With Dudgeon we extend our project pipeline for this new turbine. This gives us the opportunity to further ramp up production capacity, which is a precondition to bring down the costs for offshore wind.”

The Dudgeon Offshore Wind Farm will begin construction in early 2017, and upon completion is expected to provide electricity to more than 410,000 UK households. For more on this story, head over to CleanTechnica

Vestas reports healthy profits and order for 32 – 8MW Wind Turbines

One of the world’s largest wind energy manufacturers, Vestas Wind, reported healthy second quarter earnings for 2014, and is now waiting on DONG Energy’s final investment in a UK offshore wind project which would require the Vestas 8 MW turbines. Vestas reported a strong turnaround from their second quarter earnings a year previously with a 13% increase to €1.34 billion. The company reported a net profit in the second quarter of €94 million ($125 million), compared to a €62 loss a year earlier

The news came just a day before Vestas confirmed that they had entered into a conditional agreement with DONG Energy for the upcoming Burbo Bank Extension in Liverpool Bay off northwest England. Vestas would provide 32 8 MW V164 turbines for the extension project, and are awaiting DONG Energy’s commitment to the project before the deal is sealed.

“Larger and more cost-efficient wind turbines are key elements in the realization of Dong Energy’s strategy towards reducing the cost of electricity from offshore wind,” said Samuel Leupold, an executive vice president at Dong. “Competition among the offshore wind turbine manufacturers will increase.”

Offshore construction of the Extension is expected to begin in 2016, and upon completion it is expected the project will be able to provide electricity for more than 230,000 UK homes. — Bloomberg

Renewable energy replaces lost European nuclear capacity

by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

Nuclear reactors are starting to shut down in Europe

It began in earnest in the wake of the Fukushima disaster when Germany inspected its problem-plagued nuclear power plants and decided to take 9 of its nuclear power plants offline in 2011 and the rest offline by 2022.

There is plenty of public support in the country for Germany’s planned nuclear closures, even with the additional fee added to each German electricity bill to pay for nuclear power plant decommissioning, which completes in 2045.

Switzerland likewise has decided to get out of the nuclear power business beginning in 2015 and decommission their nuclear power plants by 2045.

Other European nations are also looking at retiring their nuclear power plants. But the news today is about the UK, Belgium, Germany and Spain.

Heysham_Nuclear_Power_Station UK operated by EDF
Heysham Nuclear Power Station in the UK which is operated by EDF of France. Image courtesy: CleanTechnica.com

In the UK, four (French-operated) EDF reactors built in 1983 have been shut down after one of them was found to have a crack in its centre spine. (EDF stands for Electricity de France which is a French utility responsible for managing many nuclear reactors)

At first only the affected unit was taken offline (in June) but upon further inspection it was determined that the other three were at risk to fail in the coming months. Whether or not these four reactors can be repaired economically — all were scheduled to be decommissioned before 2020.

The sudden shortfall in electrical generation due to these unscheduled nuclear power plant shutdowns has been met by 5 GW of new wind power generation, which has seamlessly stepped in to fill demand.

Additional to that, another 5 GW of solar power has been added to the UK grid within the past 5 years. And that’s in cloudy olde England, mates!

In Belgium, 3 out of 5 of their nuclear power plants are offline until December 31, 2014 due to maintenance, sabotage, or terror attacks — depending upon whom you talk to.

Belgium’s Doel 4 reactor experienced a deliberate malfunction last week and workers in the country’s n-plants are henceforth directed to move around inside the plants in pairs.

Also, their Tihange 2 reactor won’t be ready to resume power production until late March, 2021. See this continuously-updated (and long) list of nuclear power plant shutdowns in Belgium.

Further, the utility has advised citizens that hour-long blackouts will commence in October due to a combination of unexpected n-plant shutdowns and higher demand at that time of year.

Belgian energy company Electrabel said its Doel 4 nuclear reactor would stay offline at least until the end of this year after major damage to its turbine, with the cause confirmed as sabotage.

Doel 4 is the youngest of four reactors at the Doel nuclear plant, 20 km north of Antwerp, Belgium’s second-biggest city. The country has three more reactors in Tihange, 25 km southwest of the city of Liege.

Doel 1 and 2, which came on line in 1975, are set to close in 2015. Tihange 1, which also started operation in 1975 and was designed to last 30 years, got a 10-year extension till 2015.

The two closed reactors Doel 3 and Tihange 2 were connected to the grid in 1982 and 1983. Doel 4 and Tihange 3, which came on line in 1985, were operating normally until the closure of Doel 4 last week.

The shutdown of Doel 4’s nearly 1 gigawatt (GW) of electricity generating capacity as well as closures of two other reactors (Doel 3 and Tihange 2) for months because of cracks in steel reactor casings adds up to just over 3 GW of Belgian nuclear capacity that is offline, more than half of the total.

In Britain, EDF Energy, owned by France’s EDF, took three of its nuclear reactors offline for inspection on Monday after finding a defect in a reactor of a similar design. – Reuters

In Germany, the nuclear power generation capacity missing since 2011 has been met by a combination of solar, wind, bio, natural gas, and unfortunately some coal. But that sounds worse than it is.

According to the Fraunhofer Institute, renewable energy produced about 81 TWh, or 31% of the nation’s electricity during the first half of 2014. Solar production is up 28%, wind 19% and biomass 7% over last year.

Meanwhile, with the exception of nuclear energy, all conventional sources are producing less. The output from gas powered plants was half of what it had been in 2010 and brown coal powered plants are producing at a similar level to 2010-2012. – CleanTechnica.com

Let’s see what our friends at the Fraunhofer Institute have to say in their comparison of the first half of 2013 vs. the first half of 2014.

German electricity production H1 2013 - H1 2014
Fraunhofer Institute compares the different energy production between the first half of 2013 and the first half of 2014.

Although unspokenby power company executives operating in Germany, Spain, and some other European countries, the panic felt by traditional power generators is due to the massive changes in ‘their’ market since 2009.

Things move slowly in the utility industry — ten years is seen as a mere eyeblink in time, as the industry changes very little decade over decade. Recent changes must be mind-blowing for European power company executives.

European-union-renewables-chart
European-union-renewables by Eurostat — Renewable energy statistics. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons Keep in mind that this map displays results from 2012. The 2014 map will show significantly more ‘green’ energy, once that map becomes available in 2015.

It occurs to me that the end of the conventional energy stranglehold on Europe parallels the ending of Star Wars VI.

Help me take this mask off

It’s a mask to hide behind when conventional power producers don’t want the facts aired.

Fossil fuel and nuclear power generation have had (and continue to have) huge subsidy regimes in place which they don’t want publicly advertised — and they don’t want renewable energy power producers to have any subsidies. And conventional power producers don’t want fossil fuel externalities and nuclear power externalities advertised either. That’s a lot of hiding, right there.

Externalities are simply another form of subsidy to fossil fuel and nuclear power plant operators and their fuel supply chains, which usually take the form of additional public healthcare spending or environmental spending that is required to mitigate toxic airborne emissions, oil spills, etc.

Spain has ended it’s Feed-in-Tariff scheme for renewable energy, while keeping conventional power producer subsidies in place.

Not only that, suddenly homeowners aren’t allowed to collect power from the Sun or harvest power from the wind unless it is for their own use. Electricity cannot be collected by Spanish residents and then sold to the grid for example, nor to anyone else.

Spain’s government has taken it one step further in a bid to keep the conventional energy companies from drowning in their tears. After a meteoric rise in wind and solar capacity, Spain has now taxed renewable energy power producers retroactively to 2012 and ruled that renewable energy will be capped to 7.5% profit. Renewable energy profits over and above the 7.5% threshold instantly becomes instant tax revenue for the government. (Quite unlike conventional energy producers in the country which can make any amount of profit they want and continue to keep their subsidies)

While all of this has been going on, Spain and Portugal have quietly lowered their combined CO2 output by 21.3% (equal to 61.4 million fewer tonnes of CO2 emitted) since 2012, thanks to renewable energy.

But you’ll die

Not only has European renewable energy now stepped up to fill the voids due to nuclear power plant maintenance and sabotage shutdowns, it has scooped incredible market share from conventional power producers.

In January 2014, 91% of the monthly needed Portuguese electricity consumption was generated by renewable sources, although the real figure stands at 78%, as 14% was exported. – Wikipedia

Unwittingly, the German and Spanish power companies have provided the highest possible compliment to the renewable energy industry, and if publicized, it would read something like this;

“We can’t compete with renewable energy that has equal amounts of subsidy. Therefore, remove the renewable energy subsidy while we keep ‘our’ traditional subsidies, until we can reorient our business model – otherwise, we perish!”

Nothing can stop that now

Ending the European renewable energy Feed-in-Tariff schemes will only temporarily slow solar and wind installations as both have reached price-parity in recent months — against still-subsidized conventional power generators.

Even bigger changes are coming to the European electricity grid over the next few years. Nothing can stop that now.

Tell your sister; You were right about me

Conventional power producers in Europe provided secure and reliable power for decades, it was what powered the European postwar success story, but having the electricity grid all to themselves for decades meant that Europe’s utilities became set in their ways and although powerful, were not able to adapt quickly enough to a new kind of energy with zero toxicity and lower per unit cost.

Renewable energy, at first unguided and inexperienced, quickly found a role for itself and is now able to stand on its own feet without subsidies — unlike conventional power generators.

Considering the sheer scale of the energy changes underway in Europe, conventional energy has been superceded by a superior kind of energy and with surprisingly little drama.

European Electric Vehicle Sales up 79% from 2013

by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

What a difference a year makes. Electric Vehicles, once a novelty in Europe, seem to have hit the mainstream. No doubt there is still plenty of room to grow as even with the latest sales increase, EV’s only make up only a tiny fraction of the annual 7 million car sales in the European Union.

Overall, EV sales in Europe are up 79% from the same time period last year, although within individual nations there are wide disparities in EV adoption.

NORWAY — Although Norway is not an EU-member-country, it is part of Europe. And the earliest adopter of electric vehicles in Europe is Norway, registering only 2373 EV sales in the first half of 2013.

Now compare that to the 9950 EV sales Norway logged in the first half of 2014. That’s a 302% increase H1 2013 to H1 2014. In a country of only 5 million people that’s a pretty significant sign that EV’s are gaining wider acceptance.

TESLA has just completed the installation of dozens of free-to-use SuperCharger stations in Norway and you can find them in almost every Norwegian city, town and hamlet. A big draw with the SuperCharger system is that a Tesla Model S can fully charge in about 30 minutes from dead flat. Of course, if you’re just ’topping-up’ your Tesla battery you may not have time to finish your latte before you’re on the road again.

Prior to the latest SuperCharger installations, it took some careful driving to drive the length of Norway and not run the battery down, but one can now drive across the entire country of Norway with hardly a thought about charging locations, all of which are easily located on the huge Tesla LED dashboard display.

The most popular EV’s in Norway are the Tesla Model S and the Nissan LEAF.

GERMANY – Posting respectable numbers but nowhere near the example set by Norway, EU-member-nation Germany has almost doubled their first half EV sales compared to the same time period in 2013. German’s bought 2382 EV’s in H1 of last year, ramping up to 4230 in H1 of this year.

United Kingdom — Another European country that is still not part of the EU, the UK registered 1168 EV’s in H1 of 2013, and in H1 of 2014 some 2570 EV’s were registered.

Both the German and UK drivers prefer the Tesla Model S, the BMWi3 and the Nissan LEAF, although the new Renault Zoe is gaining acceptance as a very affordable electric vehicle.

FRANCE – French citizens buy a lot of EV’s, but numbers were slightly down compared to last year. Still, Renault continues to add affordable new EV models to its lineup. In 2013, there must have been a lot of ‘pent-up’ EV demand, as France registered 7293 EV’s in H1 of 2013, but in H1 of this year France added only 6405 Electric Vehicles to the country’s roads.

The most popular EV’s in France are the Renault Twizy, the new Renault Zoe and the Nissan LEAF.

Electric Vehicle sales soar in Europe as petrol prices move past E1,84 per litre.
Electric Vehicle sales soar in Europe as petrol prices move past € 1,89 per litre in some jurisdictions. Image courtesy of CleanTechnica.

While some countries in the EU could not match (non-EU-member) Norway’s total EV sales, some statistically significant numbers are showing for some EU nations.

The Netherlands for one, zipped up from 437 EV sales in the first half of 2013, to 1149 units in the first half of this year. While Austria went from 252 to 709 H1 to H1 and Belgium went from a lowish 195 first half EV sales up to 629 in H1 of 2014.

As far as the top electric cars, they were the Nissan Leaf (7,109), Tesla Model S (5,330), and Renault Zoe (3,669). Tesla Model S sales were largely in Norway (over 3,000 there), while Renault Zoe sales were largely in France (over 1,600 there). – CleanTechnica.com

All in all, some respectable increases with only France as the spoiler in the Year-on-Year H1 comparison.

Here are the total registrations for H1 2013 and H1 2014.

  • TOTAL EV sales all EU countries (first half of 2013) — 15591
  • TOTAL EV sales all EU countries (first half of 2014) — 27946
  • TOTAL EV sales increase all EU countries year-on-year (first half comparison) — 79%

Even with all that good news, it’s important to remember that while EV sales are showing dramatic improvements in some European nations, electric vehicles have not yet reached 1% of new car sales.

The one bright spot, now that more EV’s are hitting the roads is that public charging stations are being installed at at phenomenal rate. The Netherlands public charging system is geared to a maximum travel distance of 65 kilometres between chargers. That puts electric vehicles on an even footing with petrol stations in the country.

And, unlike a petrol car, you can always charge your car at home or at the office just by plugging it in to an ordinary wall socket, although this slow-charging mode may take a few hours.

Another positive is that affordable new EV models are hitting showrooms, giving drivers more choices and a wider range of electric vehicles to choose from. With names like Tesla, BMW, Toyota, Nissan, Renault, Volvo, Ford and Porsche solidly behind electrified vehicles, reliability issues are non-existent.

Here are some fun facts for European residents to ponder when considering the switch from a petrol engine car to an electric vehicle.

Here are the petrol prices per litre for some selected European nations, as of August 11, 2014:

  1. Austria — € 1,35
  2. Belgium — € 1,61
  3. Denmark — € 1,71
  4. Finland — € 1,63
  5. Germany — € 1,62
  6. Netherlands — € 1,79
  7. Norway — € 1,89
  8. Portugal — € 1,62
  9. Sweden — € 1,55
  10. United Kingdom — € 1,61

To convert these per litre prices, valued in euros – into their U.S. equivalents, we can use the very rough calculation of 4 litres per US gallon (which is how petrol/gasoline is sold in the United States) and 1.33 USD to 1 euro (current as of August 11, 2014).

For the Norwegian example, we can see that 4 litres of petrol (to roughly equal 1 US gallon) will cost you 7.57 euros – and converting that to US dollars gives you $10.14 per US gallon. Many US citizens use 10 gallons of petrol (or more) every day…

In Austria 1 US gallon of petrol (rough calculation) will set you back $7.18 in US dollars.

For those who elect to charge their EV at home for about 1-3 euros per day, you will have no need to stop at a petrol station and pay up to € 1,89 per litre of petrol, times how many litres you burn per day. And it’s doubtful that petrol prices will be dropping any time soon.

Not only are EV’s pollution-free, reliable and extremely low maintenance – spending 1-3 euros per day to recharge your EV battery at home (or nothing if you charge it at a free-to-use public charging station) vs. 5-10 euros per day for petrol depending on the size of the petrol engine – can really add up over the course of a year.

I strongly suspect that 2015 EV sales numbers will greatly surpass these first impressive baby-steps taken by electric vehicle manufacturers and their customers. By 2020, it would be reasonable to expect a full 10% of new vehicle registrations to be of the electrified vehicle variety.

Japan agrees with ‘All of the Above’ Energy Policy

by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

President Obama’s famous All of the Above energy policy released during his first term and perfected in his second term seems to have gained some attention and perhaps some followers around the world. The latest is Japan, which has decided to embrace more and different types of energy to replace the lost nuclear power capacity since the Fukushima incident.

Prior to the earthquake and tsunami of March 4th, 2011, Japan received 29% of its electricity from its nuclear reactor fleet. Subsequently, many of the country’s 54 nuclear power plants were shut down for inspection and stress testing, and some have been scheduled for complete decommissioning at a total cost of well over $100 billion dollars, but possibly approaching $1 trillion dollars over 50 years if the damaged reactors at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant begin acting up and leaking even more than they have. Which could happen.

With almost 30% of their electricity production permanently unavailable or temporarily offline, the ever-industrious Japanese are looking to a better energy policy — one that will not leave them dependent on foreign politics, international trade disputes or shortages. Energy cost is a primary concern.

The good news is that Japan hopes to hit 20% of total electricity demand with renewable energy by 2030.

Japan’s energy choices include solar

Extensive research into solar utility-scale installations and rooftop solar for residential use in Japan have netted some amazing results. Japan ranks fourth among the nations with the most amount of solar capacity installed and continues a massive solar installation campaign. Some 10 Gigawatts of solar are being added to Japan’s grid this year.

Some farmers in Japan are finding that they can make more money with much less toil by turning their rice paddies into solar farms. In other cases, huge blocks of solar panels are mounted on floating pontoons in sheltered bays and lakes.

Japan-Energy-Transition-slide-1
Japan shows a clear preference for solar power, even as it experiments with other renewable energy such as wind, tidal, hydrogen and methane hydrate ice.

Wind energy in Japan

Wind energy is making strides in Japan and the future of that is under discussion. However, Japan feels a need to protect its tourism industry and does not want monstrous turbines cluttering up shoreline tourist areas. Nevertheless, the country is forging ahead with plans for the largest offshore wind farm on the planet in non-tourist regions of the country.

Tidal energy

Japan is a pioneer of tidal energy, with some locations producing power via underwater propellers anchored to the ocean floor via cables allowing them to be suspended in the water near the sea bottom safely away from ships hulls.

Undersea Methane Hydrates

Japan has sent ships to the Arctic ocean in recent years to mine methane hydrate crystals that line the sea floor for hundreds of miles in all directions. It turns out that just off Japan’s coast there is a gold mine of methane “ice” also known as clathrate (more specifically, clathrate hydrate) just sitting there waiting to be picked up. In fact, some successful prototype operations have been reliably producing power in Japan, using only locally-mined clathrate.

It is a clean burning fuel, as methane clathrate hydrate composition is (CH4)4(H2O)23, or 1 mole of methane for every 5.75 moles of water, corresponding to 13.4% methane by weight. There is nothing else to it. No sulfur, no nitrogen, no trace contaminants. Pure fuel mixed with water ice.

“Japan hopes that the test extraction is just the first step in an effort aimed at bringing the fuel into commercial production within the next six years. That’s a far faster timetable than most researchers have foreseen, even though there is wide agreement that the methane hydrates buried beneath the seafloor on continental shelves and under the Arctic permafrost are likely the world’s largest store of carbon-based fuel. The figure often cited, 700,000 trillion cubic feet of methane trapped in hydrates, is a staggering sum that would exceed the energy content of all oil, coal, and other natural gas reserves known on Earth.” – National Geographic

Hydrogen fuel for electrical power production and for vehicles

As a clean burning fuel, hydrogen shows great promise. The only catch with this fuel are the costs associated with splitting ocean water into its constituent molecules, which, after you filter out the salt and any contaminants is; 1 hydrogen atom + 2 oxygen atoms = 1 molecule of water. Using electrolysis to convert vast quantities of water into hydrogen takes a huge amount of electricity, which is fine if it can be had cheaply enough. With the advent of solar power gird-parity, hydrogen production suddenly looks attractive at a large scale.

“Now that Toyota Motor says it will release mass-production fuel-cell vehicles powered by hydrogen, Japan has set an even bigger goal of making hydrogen a main energy source for the nation’s electric utilities. The nation’s first “hydrogen energy white paper,” released Monday, calls on the country to become a “hydrogen economy” by adopting the fuel for utility power generation. The paper was produced by the government-affiliated New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization.” – Wall Street Journal

We are at a unique period of human history where doors that were once solidly closed are now opening. Our energy future will be more diverse and cleaner for those nations and corporations that are open-minded enough to see the possibilities of clean and renewable energy.

Although there have been some failures in the business of renewable energy (as in any new field of endeavor) things renewable energy are starting to gain traction and acceptance not only by the public, but by policymakers around the world.

Japan, after initially reeling from the tsunami and Fukushima incident, has profoundly embraced solar and wind power and experimented with the promising tidal energy technology and has advanced clean burning energy solutions such as undersea methane hydrates and hydrogen fuel.

Certainly, fossil fuels have their place and they will be with us for some time to come. However, rather than tying ourselves to One Big Energy source (fossil fuels) an All of the Above approach may turn out to be the best, long-term solution after all.