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Study: Renewable sources could supply 80% of U.S. electricity by 2050
by Stephen C. Webster via stele - Raw Story Thursday, Jun 21 2012, 12:10pm
international / environment / other press

If the U.S simply committed to building out the transmission infrastructure, the Department of Energy (DOE) believes that currently existing renewable energy technology “is more than adequate” to supply up to 80 percent of the nation’s daily electricity use by the year 2050, a new study has found.

Put together by the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Labratory, the study is the largest-ever to examine the nation’s potential renewable energy capacity. It predicts that while fossil and nuclear fuels will still be needed in 2050, they won’t continue to supply the more than 60 percent of America’s energy they do today.

The U.S. Energy Information Center noted that in the 12 months ending in March 2012, coal, natural gas and nuclear were still by far the most relied-upon sources of power, with coal coming out on top, accounting for more than 40 percent of U.S. electricity generation. But provided the U.S. has the political will and the private sector motivation to build out the transmission grid, the DOE believes wind power will become a dominant a force in the U.S. energy market.

Combined with solar, the two technologies could supply up to 50 percent of daily U.S. electricity use on their own, the study found. The DOE also noted that all regions of the U.S. have roughly equivalent opportunity for renewable energy exploration, with offshore areas being prime real estate for wind energy generation.

The greatest challenge foreseen by the study is growing the transmission capabilities for wind energy, which must expand beyond 439 gigawatts if the DOE’s numbers are to ever be fulfilled.

Current wind energy capacity in the U.S. is expected to hit 50 gigawatts by 2016, according to the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), a stakeholder-driven policy thinktank. A prior Department of Energy estimate predicted that the U.S. would not reach 10 gigawatts of wind power until 2010, but that benchmark was hit in 2006 instead, growing to roughly 40 by 2010.

Despite that encouraging sigh, a huge expansion of the U.S. energy grid — one that would take decades — still lies ahead. But there are some other hopeful changes happening in the renewable energy markets that may make the task easier.

REN21′s latest report also notes that renewable technology ”accounted for almost half of the estimated 208 gigawatts of electric capacity added globally” during 2011. Overall, renewable tech supplied about 20 percent of earth’s energy last year, an increase of about 8 percent over 2010; in the U.S., renewables generated 12.7 percent of all electricity used in 2011, up from 9.3 percent in 2009.

During that same time, the price of common solar cells dropped by almost 50 percent, and wind turbine prices fell by about 10 percent. The plunging price of solar cells also drove a wave of new investment, pushing the solar market near $150 billion in total value. China and the U.S. were the largest investors, with Europe, India and Brazil trailing not far behind.

President Barack Obama’s administration has invested more money in renewable energy research and electric grid capacity growth than any prior administration, including $3.4 billion in 2009′s economic stimulus solely dedicated to installing new electricity transmission lines, “smart meters” and other efficiency innovations.

President Obama also pushed electric grid modernization projects in his 2011 jobs proposals, which were completely shut out by Republicans in Congress, and has used the nation’s annual budget to support significant capital growth for government agencies that support renewable energy build-out.

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Germany Swaps Nuclear for Solar and Wind Power
by Oliver Lazenby via stele - Yes! Magazine Saturday, Jun 23 2012, 12:15am

In response to the Fukushima meltdown—which did $50 billion in damage to Japan’s economy—Germany aims to close all its reactors by 2022.

Germany, the world’s most aggressive adopter of renewable energy, is taking a bold leap toward a future free from nuclear energy. In March, the German government announced a program to invest 200 billion euros, or approximately $270 billion, in renewables. That’s 8 percent of the country’s GDP, according to the DIW Economic Institute in Berlin.

Last year, in response to the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a plan to close down all 17 of Germany’s nuclear reactors and replace them with renewable energy, mostly solar and wind power.

Germany has already closed eight nuclear reactors, and the rest will be shut down by 2022. For now, natural gas is filling the void left by nuclear power, which formerly produced 20 percent of the country’s electricity. Under Merkel’s plan, 80 percent of Germany’s energy will come from renewables by 2050, according to the German Advisory Council on the Environment. Studies by the council show that 100 percent renewable power is a realistic goal for Germany.

In contrast, the United States has been much less ambitious. The president’s “New Energy for America” plan aims to supply the country with 25 percent renewable energy by 2025.

Eighty percent of German residents want to see their country abandon nuclear power, but some Germans have also opposed new energy projects in their backyards. The website for “Wind Power Opponents,” Windkraftgegner.de, lists more than 70 protest campaigns, most of which are regional, grassroots groups organized to stop specific projects.

Germany’s renewables plan will be expensive, but so was the Fukushima meltdown—it did $50 billion in damage to Japan’s economy by some estimates. Dealing with the effects of climate change won’t be cheap either. Even German nuclear power companies are investing in the plan. Not only will it make Germany’s energy infrastructure among the safest in the world, it should provide many chances for economic growth, according to press statements by Philipp Rösler, Germany’s economics minister.

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