Environmentally Friendly Renewable Energy

Renewable energy is energy obtained from sources that are essentially inexhaustible, unlike hydrocarbon-based fossil fuels, which are in finite supply. Types of renewable energy currently available in the United States include solar, wind, geothermal (heat energy extracted from reservoirs in the earth's interior), and biomass (organic materials, such as wood byproducts and agricultural wastes that can be burned to produce energy or converted into a gas and used for fuel).

Renewable energy (along with conservation) stands as a viable alternative to generating power with fossil fuels or nuclear technology. Mainly because of their perceived environmental friendliness or less intrusive nature, these technologies present an attractive method to meet power demand, on a limited basis. The current structure of electric power markets and the limitations inherent in each type of alternative fuel dictate that dramatic changes in the pattern of consumption or use of alternatives remains limited.

First, the sheer size of the installed fossil and nuclear capacity, complemented by hydropower resources, at first glance demonstrates that without massive reduction in consumption, switching even a limited amount of conventional power generation to alternatives is not feasible. Even if these resources were able to run at full utilization rates, the impact on fossil fuels would be to reduce current consumption patterns by only a few percentage points. In fact, the total increase in renewables output from 1990 to 2004 can be accounted for by less than 2 percent ofjust the coal-fired capacity (see Figure 2.12).

Second, the availability factor for these fuel sources is inconsistent, and they are often not available at times of peak need. To compare with coal- or nuclear-based technology, it is necessary to consider the alternative as capable of running in base-load operation. For nuclear, that means 24/7 during the complete fuel-load cycle, or 18 to 24 months flat-out. To compare with coal, that would mean availability at least through peak sea-sons—that is, from April to September and from October through March. Geothermal energy presents the best comparison, given its constant availability of fuel source, with maintenance of the generating plant the sole impediment to full-load operations. Biomass energy might be considered comparable to fossil technologies, as the operator is tasked with procuring

Solar Thermal and photovoltaic (1%) Geotliermal (16%)

Figure 2.12 U.S. Electricity Supply in 2004, Highlighting the Share of Renewables

Source: Energy Information Administration.

Solar Thermal and photovoltaic (1%) Geotliermal (16%)

Figure 2.12 U.S. Electricity Supply in 2004, Highlighting the Share of Renewables

Source: Energy Information Administration.

the fuel source in a similar fashion, and the balance of the generating cycle is considered the same.

Given the inability to store electricity on a large scale, generating technologies based on solar and wind present less comparable solutions. On larger scales and under average conditions, larger arrays of installed capacity can be considered equivalent to conventional generation. However, wind is not a constant during on-peak hours (8 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekdays) and can often be lacking during the hottest times of the summer, when the highest effective demand occurs, requiring the fullest utilization of resources. Solar power is not available in evening hours or during periods of extended cloudiness.

Further limitations can be inferred in the infrastructure required. For the solar and wind power potential (see Figures 2.13 and 2.14), the area of potential capacity is limited for development on a larger commercial scale, although small-scale units have a larger range for development. The size of potential projects thus limits their impact to supplemental status rather than replacement. Also limiting the potential development is the fact that the transmission and distribution grid is not as robust in areas where renewables are likely to be developed, thus delaying large-scale adoption of these technologies and implying additional costs.

Figure 2.13 Resource Potential for Renewable Technology: Solar

Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Figure 2.13 Resource Potential for Renewable Technology: Solar

Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Figure 2.14 Resource Potential for Renewable Technology: Wind

Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Figure 2.14 Resource Potential for Renewable Technology: Wind

Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Figure 2.15 Renewable Portfolio Standards and State Mandates by State, as of 2005

Source: Energy Information Administration

Figure 2.15 Renewable Portfolio Standards and State Mandates by State, as of 2005

Source: Energy Information Administration

Working in favor of bringing renewables to the grid are state mandates that call for meeting generation portfolio standards under a certain time frame (see Figure 2.15). Combined with subsidies from state and federal sources, these programs insure that current marginal costs are not the only economic drivers that dictate which supply is utilized (see Table 2.3).

Getting Started With Solar

Getting Started With Solar

Do we really want the one thing that gives us its resources unconditionally to suffer even more than it is suffering now? Nature, is a part of our being from the earliest human days. We respect Nature and it gives us its bounty, but in the recent past greedy money hungry corporations have made us all so destructive, so wasteful.

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