100% renewable power: Denmark’s ambition could change energy industry

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    The Middelgrunden wind farm outside Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo by Andreas Johannsen)

    The Middelgrunden wind farm outside Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo by Andreas Johannsen)

    (MintPress) – Denmark calls it the “broadest, greenest, and most long-term energy agreement” in the country’s history. It comes during a time when Japan is rethinking its commitment to nuclear energy while the United States is growing the nuclear energy platform. And so it is, Denmark aims to have 100 percent of its total energy coming from renewable sources by 2050. The country also hopes to generate 50 percent of its electricity with wind power.

    The ambitious goal set by Denmark sees the country transitioning to 35 percent total renewable energy and cutting 34 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. By 2050, Denmark is looking to be a haven of renewable energy by setting goals to provide heat, electricity, run industry and power transportation all by renewable sources. The U.S. currently gets 2.9 percent of its electricity from wind power.

    “Denmark will once again be the global leader in the transition to green energy,” Danish minister for climate, energy and building, Martin Lidegaard, told The Guardian. “This will prepare us for a future with increasing prices for oil and coal. Moreover, it will create some of the jobs that we need so desperately, now and in the coming years.”

    The news comes during a political era where energy sources and climate change are debated and contested, but also at a crux in the Earth’s history where scientists say global warming is close to becoming irreversible. On Monday, Reuters reported that scientists have already identified parts of the environment that are already at the tipping point of climate change:

    • The Greenland ice sheet has lost around 48 cubic miles a year since the 1990s.
    • Oceans are already becoming more acidic as they absorb carbon dioxide. Carol Turley, from the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, said ocean acidification has happened at a faster rate the last 200 years than the 60 million years prior.

    Worldwide attitudes, however, do not indicate a dire need for clean energy. A 2011 Gallup poll showed less than half of Americans and Europeans saw climate change as a threat. In fact, the issue is waning in the minds of many. In a 2007-2008 poll, 63 percent in the U.S. thought of climate change as a “very” or “somewhat” serious threat. The most recent poll showed the current percentage falling to 53 percent.

    “The feuding between rich and poor nations … demonstrates the obstacles that remain before the world can agree on a climate policy,” according to Gallup.


    A nuclear debate

    The push toward renewable energy and technology is partly due to growing concerns of an effective but dangerous and expensive nuclear power industry.  After an earthquake and tsunami hit coastal portions of Japan in 2011, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant suffered multiple nuclear meltdowns and releases of radioactive materials. It was the largest nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl incident in 1986.

    In response, Japan has taken many of its nuclear reactors offline for maintenance and repair, but the country may be shying away from nuclear energy as none of the reactors that have been shut down or were already offline after the disaster have been restarted. Japan is currently running only one of the country’s 54 nuclear reactors, which once provided Japan with one-third of its electricity.

    Without any alternatives lined up, Japan could face a power shortage prior to the summer months. To make matters worse, a nuclear reactor in Japan on Tuesday was discovered to still have fatal amounts of radiation emanating from it with no water inside the reactor to help cool nuclear cores.

    The unclear industry has also come under criticism for failing to address safety issues and a lax regulation and oversight program. According to a report released by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), an investigation revealed a “high” number of safety equipment problems at nuclear facilities across the U.S.

    Despite mounting issues in Japan and a harsh report of safety within the nuclear industry, the U.S. went ahead and approved two new nuclear reactors for construction in Georgia in early February. The cost of the two reactors is $14 billion. In contrast, according to figures from Windustry, around 4,000 wind turbines could be purchased and installed with $14 billion.


    Business competition

    Renewable energy comes in many forms and impacts in many ways, and in Germany and Australia solar power has become a corporate focus as the technology has cut into utilities’ profits. The commitment to solar photovoltaic (PV) systems in Germany has resulted in peak electricity prices being cut by up to 40 percent, resulting in backlash from German and European utility companies.

    Other countries in Europe may look to Germany as a cost-effective model for energy, according to Deutsche Bank solar analyst Vishal Shah.

    “With Germany adopting a drastic cut, we expect major utilities in other European countries to push for similar cuts as well,” Shah said.

    As a result, one-quarter of Germany’s gas-fired generators could be closed, according to some analysts. This has some worried about utility companies facing bankruptcy as the combination of accrued debt and losing service to alternative forms of energy take their toll.

    One writer, Tom Konrad, for Renewable Energy World says solar PVs in particular could reach grid parity – the point when a source of energy produces power at a level cost that is equal or less than the purchase power of the grid – in the next few years. When this parity happens, Konrad says the return on investment will pay off and solar PV installations will grow rapidly.

    Konrad wrote that the initial reaction to solar PVs from utility companies could be to reduce consumer cost or reduce costs within, which could harm maintenance divisions. Either way, utilities would struggle to maintain solvency.

    “Utility regulators are charged both with ensuring that utility customers get service at a reasonable cost, and also that utility investors will continue to be willing to provide capital for necessary utility investments,” Konrad wrote. “If the rapid spread of PV were to threaten utility solvency, regulators would take action to help the utility maintain solvency.”

    In the U.S., Army base Fort Hood in Texas installed four acres of solar PV panels to power the fort’s housing quarters. The project is part of a larger-scale objective by the Department of Defense to use 25 percent renewable energy to power all of its installations by 2025.

    “Generating solar energy at military housing is a win for our soldiers, for Fort Hood, and for our larger community. We are committed to bringing renewable energy to the base and leading in the Army’s challenge for Net Zero energy,” said Garrison Commander Col. Mark Freitag.

    Source: MintPress

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