The shift to renewable sources of energy is moving at a pace and on a scale we could not imagine even two years ago.
In Texas, the enormous number of wind projects under development, on top of the 9,000 megawatts of wind generating capacity already in operation and under construction, will bring the state to over 50,000 megawatts of wind generating capacity (think 50 coal-fired power plants) when all these wind farms are completed. This will more than satisfy the needs of the state’s 24 million residents. The population of the UK is 61 million, and as an island we have great access to wind, but we are way behind in making use of that asset.
The United States has led the world in each of the last four years in new wind generating capacity, having overtaken Germany in 2005. But this lead will be short-lived. China is working on six wind farm mega-complexes with generating capacities that range from 10,000 to 30,000 megawatts, for a total of 105,000 megawatts. This is in addition to the hundreds of smaller wind farms built or planned.
Wind is not the only option. In July 2009, a consortium of European corporations led by Munich Re, and including Deutsche Bank, Siemens, and ABB plus an Algerian firm, announced a proposal to tap the massive solar thermal generating capacity in North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean.
Solar thermal power plants in North Africa could economically supply half of Europe’s electricity. The Algerians note that they have enough harnessable solar energy in their desert to power the world economy. (No, this is not an error.)
The soaring investment in wind, solar, and geothermal energy is being driven by the exciting realisation that these renewables can last as long as the earth itself. In contrast to investing in new oil fields where well yields begin to decline in a matter of decades, or in coal mines where the seams run out, these new energy sources can last forever.