More affordable distributed generation will reduce likelihood of major blackouts

02/25/04

Technical Insights' analysis of renewable energy technologies: Global developments




Palo Alto, Calif. -- March 1, 2004 -- Recent power blackouts in the United States and Europe as well as increasing loads on centralized generation underline the greater need for distributed generation.

The availability of more affordable local power generation is expected to motivate companies and localities to reduce the chances of total blackouts, using distributed generation that can act as emergency or standby power.

"Deregulation of electricity and natural gas, demand for uninterrupted power supplies, and improved technologies are making distributed generation a viable practice," states Technical Insights Research Analyst Shirley Savage.

Most renewable energy technologies are perfectly suited to distributed generation, as most of them can be produced locally. By placing small, modular power generation units such as fuel cells and microturbines close to electric power users, local grid operations can be improved.

Renewable energy sources are facing stiff competition in cost and energy efficiency from traditional fossil-fuel technology. However, governments are supporting renewable energy on national and local scales by declaring that it must become a bigger part of the energy sector.

Governments are backing their statements by offering research subsidies and financial aid to consumers, and instituting programs that have renewable energy sources as a key component. This support is necessary since renewable energy companies do not have sufficient market experience to be commercially cost competitive, despite recent technological advances.

The Japanese Government has subsidized solar power, while enterprises in Northern Ireland, the United States, and Germany receive substantial support for harnessing wind energy. Governmental financial assistance has caused the capital costs of many renewable energy technologies to halve, and this trend is expected to continue.

"Government subsidies have helped boost renewable energy technology usage but have done little to make it competitive with fossil fuels on a non-subsidized basis," notes Savage. "The focus of most research is to develop a low-cost, high-efficiency technology that can be applied widely."

Sophisticated and more efficient solar and wind energy applications are using advanced technologies such as nanoparticles and artificial intelligence to improve power generation. Meanwhile, silicon and semiconductor research is helping participants produce high-efficiency solar cells at affordable prices.

Current wind technologies use turbines with large propeller blades. These blades have pitch control for effective operation even at low wind speeds, yaw control to keep them well positioned to catch the wind, and an adjustable gearbox to help the turbines operate well in high winds.

Hydrogen has made rapid strides as an alternative fuel as scientists have discovered more energy-efficient and environment-friendly production methods such as electrolysis. This alternative fuel is preferred for its abilities to eliminate greenhouse gases, reduce air pollution, and create greater efficiencies.

Data from satellites is used to choose the best location to site renewable energy plants and help with their building and management, thereby optimally utilizing natural resources. Satellite information is vital for identifying a large heat source for geothermal power production.

Numerous developments such as these have compelled companies to include renewables in their roster of energy sources, instead of viewing them as threats to their oil and gas revenue. The resurgent interest in renewable energy technologies is expected to help create 'market take off', so that they can compete in the market on their own steam.

The Renewable Energy Technologies: Global Developments research service is part of the Energy Vertical Industry Subscription Service, and provides a comprehensive analysis of the impact of recent technological advances on the renewable energy technology market. It provides key technical challenges and drivers affecting growth and offers a detailed competitive market analysis. The study evaluates solar, wind, geothermal and wave, and hydrogen sources of renewable energy.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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