Fossil-fuel phase-out

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The Farmington coal mine disaster kills 78. West Virginia, US, 1968.
Deepwater Horizon oil spill discharges 4.9 million barrels. (2010)

Fossil fuel phase-out is the proposed energy transition beyond fossil fuels through multiple means, including transport electrification, decommissioning of operating fossil fuel-fired power plants and prevention of the construction of new fossil-fuel-fired power stations. Its purpose is to reduce air pollution, mining tragedies, and greenhouse gas emissions which cause climate change.[1] A move to the many forms of renewable energy is involved in shifting away from fossil fuels.

Problems of fossil fuels[edit]

Using computer modeling he developed over 20 years, Mark Z. Jacobson has found that carbonaceous fuel soot emissions (which lead to respiratory illness, heart disease and asthma) have resulted in 1.5 million premature deaths each year, mostly in the developing world where the non-fossil fuels wood and animal dung are used for cooking. Jacobson has also said that soot from diesel engines, coal-fired power plants and burning wood is a "bigger cause of global warming than previously thought, and is the major cause of the rapid melting of the Arctic's sea ice".[2]

In 2011, new evidence has emerged that there are considerable risks associated with traditional energy sources, and that major changes to the mix of energy technologies is needed:

Studies about fossil-fuel phase-out[edit]

In 2008, James E. Hansen and eight other scientists published the 38-page journal article "Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?" which called for phasing out coal power completely by the year 2030.[5]

More recently Dr Hansen, considered the father of climate change [6] has stated that continued opposition to nuclear power threatens humanity's ability to avoid dangerous climate change.[7] The letter, co-authored with other climate change experts declared "If we stay on the current path," he said, "those are the consequences we'll be leaving to our children. The best candidate to avoid that is nuclear power. It's ready now. We need to take advantage of it." and "Continued opposition to nuclear power threatens humanity's ability to avoid dangerous climate change."

Also in 2008, Pushker Kharecha and James E. Hansen published a peer-reviewed scientific study analyzing the effect of a coal phase-out on atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels.[8] Their baseline mitigation scenario was a phaseout of global coal emissions by 2050. The authors describe the scenario as follows:

Kharecha and Hansen also consider three other mitigation scenarios, all with the same coal phase-out schedule but each making different assumptions about the size of oil and gas reserves and the speed at which they are depleted. Under the Business as Usual scenario, atmospheric CO2 peaks at 563 parts per million (ppm) in the year 2100. Under the four coal phase-out scenarios, atmospheric CO2 peaks at 422-446 ppm between 2045 and 2060 and declines thereafter. The key implications of the study are as follows: a phase-out of coal emissions is the most important remedy for mitigating human-induced global warming; actions should be taken toward limiting or stretching out the use of conventional oil and gas; and strict emissions-based constraints are needed for future use of unconventional fossil fuels such as methane hydrates and tar sands.

In the Greenpeace and EREC's Energy (R)evolution scenario,[9] the world would eliminate all fossil fuel use by 2090.[10][11][12]

Coal[edit]

Coal consumption trends 1980–2012 in the top five coal-consuming countries (US EIA)
Coal-fired power plants provide 45% of consumed electricity in the United States.[13] This is the Castle Gate Plant near Helper, Utah.

Coal is one of the largest sources of energy, supplying 27 percent of the world's primary energy in 2006.[14] Coal also accounts for up to one-third of global carbon emissions.[citation needed] To decrease carbon emissions and thus possibly stop extreme climate change, some have called for coal to be phased out.[15][16] Climatologist James E. Hansen said "We need a moratorium on coal now...with phase-out of existing plants over the next two decades."[17]

Some nations have decreased their coal consumption thus far in the 21st century, the greatest reductions being in the United States (coal consumption reduced by 176 million metric tons per year over the period 2000-2012), Canada (reduced by 21 million tons per year) and Spain (20 million tons per year). Other nations have increased their coal consumption in the same period, led by China (increased 2,263 million metric tons per year in the period 2000-2012), India (increased 367 million tons per year), and South Korea (59 million tons per year). Worldwide, coal consumption increased 60% during the period 2000-2012.[18] As of 2012, 1200 new coal power plants were reportedly being planned worldwide, most of them in China and India.[19]

In the 2011-2013 period, the OCED group of Western European countries has increased the use of coal, attributed largely to the low cost of coal and the high price of imported natural gas in Western Europe.[20]

According to Scientific American, the average coal plant emits more than 100 times as much radiation per year than does a comparatively sized nuclear power plant, in the form of fly ash.[21]

Some believe that coal should not be phased out, considering that longer-term global economic growth cannot be achieved without adequate and affordable energy supplies, which will require continuing significant contributions from fossil fuels including coal. In this viewpoint, clean coal technology could reduce greenhouse gas emissions compatible with a low-emissions future.[22] Some environmentalists and climatologists support a phase-out and criticise clean coal as not a solution to climate change.[23] Entrepreneurs promote improved regulations and modernised technology.[citation needed]

Legislation and initiatives to phase out coal[edit]

G20[edit]

The 20 leaders of the world's top industrialized nations, as well as key countries with developing economies, have agreed to phase out their subsidies for fossil fuels, including coal. In a concluding statement from the Group of 20 (G20) Summit—held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on September 24 and 25, 2009 —the nations' leaders agreed to "phase out and rationalize over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies." The G20 leaders also called for targeted support for poor people that would be impacted by higher prices for fossil fuels. The leaders noted that "inefficient" fossil-fuel subsidies "encourage wasteful consumption, reduce our energy security, impede investment in clean energy sources, and undermine efforts to deal with the threat of climate change." The agreement will ultimately phase out nearly $300 billion in global subsidies for fossil fuels. And as noted in a White House fact sheet, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the International Energy Agency estimate that eliminating fossil fuel subsidies worldwide would cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 10% or more by 2050.[24][25][26]

Despite such pledges, a 2012 report by Oil Change International which analyzed 2011 spending by the world's wealthy nations found five times as much being spent on fossil fuel subsidies than climate aid: $58 billion was spent in fossil fuel subsidies that year, as compared with $11 billion spent by such nations towards climate adaptation and mitigation in developing countries, with figures for the U.S. at $13 billion in fossil fuel subsidies versus $2.5 billion in climate aid for 2011.[27]

Australia[edit]

The Australian Greens party have proposed to phase out coal power stations. The NSW Greens proposed an immediate moratorium on coal-fired power stations and want to end all coal mining and coal industry subsidies. The Federal Government's proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, an emissions trading scheme will, if enacted, make it more difficult for new coal-fired power stations to be developed.[citation needed] The Australian Greens and the Australian Labor Party also oppose nuclear power, a proven viable base load power alternative.[citation needed] The Federal Government and Victorian State Government want to modify existing coal-fired power stations into clean coal power stations. The Federal Labor government extended the mandatory renewable energy targets, an initiative to ensure that new sources of electricity are more likely to be from wind power, solar power and other sources of renewable energy in Australia.

Australia is one of the largest consumers of coal per capita, and also the largest exporter. The proposals are strongly opposed by industry, unions[28] and the main Opposition Party in Parliament (now forming the party in government after the September 2013 election).

Canada[edit]

Ontario[edit]

Ontario has passed coal phase-out legislation.[29] Ontario had run large coal power plants to supplement nuclear power. Nanticoke Generating Station was a major source of air pollution, and Ontario suffered "smog days" during the summer.[citation needed] In 2007, Ontario's Liberal government committed to phasing out all coal generation in the province by 2014. Premier Dalton McGuinty said, "By 2030 there will be about 1,000 more new coal-fired generating stations built on this planet. There is only one place in the world that is phasing out coal-fired generation and we're doing that right here in Ontario."[30] The Ontario Power Authority projects that in 2014, with no coal generation, the largest sources of electrical power in the province will be nuclear (57 percent), hydroelectricity (25 percent), and natural gas (11 percent).[31]

China[edit]

There are currently no plans to phase out coal burning power stations in the People's Republic of China on the national level. In fact, it's quite the reverse.

China’s exceedingly high energy demand has pushed the demand for relatively cheap coal-fired power. Each week, another 2GW of coal-fired power is put online in China. Coal supplies about 80% of China's energy needs today, and that ratio is expected to continue, even as overall power usage grows rapidly. Serious air quality deterioration has resulted from the massive use of coal and many Chinese cities suffer severe smog events.[citation needed]

As a consequence the region of Beijing has decided to phase out all its coal-fired power generation by the end of 2015. [32]

In addition to the huge investments in coal power, China is also building large nuclear power plants. The largest hydro power plant in the world, the Three Gorges Dam, is also the largest power plant of any kind, and it operates in China.

India[edit]

India is in no way phasing out coal or fossil fuels in general. The annual report of India's Power Ministry has a plan to grow power by about 80GW as part of their 11th 5-year plan, and 79% of that growth will be in fossil-fuel–fired power plants, primarily coal.[33] India plans four new "ultra mega" coal-fired power plants as part of that growth, each 4000MW in capacity.

Germany[edit]

In 2007, Germany announced plans to phase out hard coal-industry subsidies by 2018, a move which is expected to end hard coal mining in Germany.[34][35][36][37][38] Solar and wind are major sources of energy and renewable energy generation, currently around 15%,[39] and growing. Coal is still a major source of power in Germany, but is gradually being replaced by renewable energy.

In 2007 German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her party agreed to legislation to phase out Germany's hard coal mining sector. That does not mean that they support phasing out coal in general. There were plans to build about 25 new plants in the coming years. Most German coal power plants were built in the 1960s, and have a low energy efficiency. Public sentiment against coal power plants is growing and the construction or planning of most of those plants have been stopped.[34][35][36][37][38]

New Zealand[edit]

In October 2007 the Clark Labour government introduced a 10-year moratorium on new fossil fuel thermal power generation.[40] The ban was limited to state-owned utilities, though an extension to private sector was considered. The Key National government elected in November 2008 repealed this legislation.

South Africa[edit]

South Africa's power sector is currently the 8th highest global emitter of CO2.[41] Around 77% of South Africa's energy demand is directly met by coal,[42] and when current projects come online, this ratio will increase in the near term.

There are no plans to phase out coal-fired power plants in South Africa, and indeed, the country is investing in building massive amounts of new coal-fired capacity to meet power demands, as well as modernizing the existing coal-fired plants to meet environmental requirements.

On April 6, 2010, the World Bank approved a $3.75B loan to SA to support the construction of the world's 4th largest coal-fired plant, at Medupi.[43] The proposed World Bank loan includes a relatively small amount - $260 million - for wind and solar power.

Rated at 4800MW, Medupi would join other mammoth coal-fired power plants already in operation in the country, namely Kendal (4100MW), Majuba (4100), and Matimba (4000), as well as a similar-capacity Kusile, at 4800MW, currently under construction. Kusile is expected to come online in stages, starting in 2012, while Medupi is expected to first come online in 2013, with full capacity available by 2017. These schedules are provisional, and may change.

Some estimate that after Kusile and Medupi come online, South Africa will then derive 94% of its domestic energy from coal.

United Kingdom[edit]

Ed Miliband announced that no new coal-fired power stations will be built in Britain from 2009 onwards unless they capture and bury at least 25% of greenhouse gases immediately and 100% by 2025 although at the time this was a statement of intent rather than something he was able to enforce.[44]

Chris Huhne has confirmed that the legislation required to allow his office to enforce emissions standards are proceeding.[45]

The UK is also subject to the EU's Large Combustion Plant Directive covering non-CO2 emissions which is expected to bring many older plants to a close over the next few years as they are too expensive to upgrade.[46]

United States[edit]

Estimated effect of a carbon tax on sources of United States electrical generation (US Energy Information Administration)
Total energy consumption in the US by source: comparing fossil fuels with nuclear and renewable energy.
US electrical generation: fossil fuels vs. nuclear and renewable energy

In 2007, 154 new coal-fired plants were on the drawing board in 42 states.[47] By 2012, that had dropped to 15, mostly due to new rules limiting mercury emissions, and limiting carbon emissions to 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour of electricity produced.[48]

In July 2013, US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz outlined Obama administration policy on fossil fuels:

Then-US Energy Secretary Stephen Chu and researchers for the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory have noted that greater electrical generation by non-dispachable renewables, such as wind and solar, will also increase the need for flexible natural gas-powered generators, to supply electricity during those times when solar and wind power are unavailable.[50][51] Gas-powered generators have the ability to ramp up and down quickly to meet changing loads.[52]

In the US, many of the fossil fuel phase-out initiatives have taken place at the state or local levels.

California electricity generation by source, 2010 (data from US EIA)
Sources of electricity generated in Maine. 2010 (US EIA)
Sources of electricity generated in Texas, 2010 (US EIA)
Sources of electricity generation in Washington state, 2010 (US EIA)

California[edit]

California's SB 1368 created the first governmental moratorium on new coal plants in the United States. The law was signed in September 2006 by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger,[53] took effect for investor-owned utilities in January 2007, and took effect for publicly owned utilities in August 2007. SB 1368 applied to long-term investments (five years or more) by California utilities, whether in-state or out-of-state. It set the standard for greenhouse gas emissions at 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour, equal to the emissions of a combined-cycle natural gas plant. This standard created a de facto moratorium on new coal, since it could not be met without carbon capture and sequestration.[54]

Maine[edit]

On April 15, 2008, Maine Governor John E. Baldacci signed LD 2126, "An Act To Minimize Carbon Dioxide Emissions from New Coal-Powered Industrial and Electrical Generating Facilities in the State." The law, which was sponsored by Rep. W. Bruce MacDonald (D-Boothbay), requires the Board of Environmental Protection to develop greenhouse gas emission standards for coal gasification facilities. It also puts a moratorium in place on building any new coal gasification facilities until the standards are developed.[55]

Texas[edit]

In 2006 a coalition of Texas groups organized a campaign in favor of a statewide moratorium on new coal-fired power plants. The campaign culminated in a "Stop the Coal Rush" mobilization, including rallying and lobbying, at the state capital in Austin on February 11 and 12th, 2007.[56] Over 40 citizen groups supported the mobilization.[57]

In January, 2007, A resolution calling for a 180-day moratorium on new pulverized coal plants was filed in the Texas Legislature on Wednesday by State Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson (R-Waco) as House Concurrent Resolution 43.[58] The resolution was left pending in committee.[59] On December 4, 2007, Rep. Anderson announced his support for two proposed integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) coal plants proposed by Luminant (formerly TXU).[60]

Washington state[edit]

Washington has followed the same approach as California, prohibiting coal plants whose emissions would exceed those of natural gas plants. Substitute Senate Bill 6001 (SSB 6001), signed on May 3, 2007, by Governor Christine Gregoire, enacted the standard.[61] As a result of SSB 6001, the Pacific Mountain Energy Center in Kalama was rejected by the state. However, a new plant proposal, the Wallula Energy Resource Center, shows the limits of the "natural gas equivalency" approach as a means of prohibiting new coal plants. The proposed plant would meet the standard set by SSB 6001 by capturing and sequestering a portion (65 percent, according to a plant spokesman) of its carbon.[61]

Utility action in the US[edit]

  • Progress Energy Carolinas[62] announced on June 1, 2007, that it was beginning a two-year moratorium on proposals for new coal-fired power plants while it undertook more aggressive efficiency and conservation programs. The company added, "Additional reductions in future electricity demand growth through energy efficiency could push the need for new power plants farther into the future."[63]
  • Public Service of Colorado[64] concluded in its November 2007 Resource Plan: "In sum, in light of the now likely regulation of CO2 emissions in the future due to broader interest in climate change issues, the increased costs of constructing new coal facilities, and the increased risk of timely permitting to meet planned in-service dates, Public Service does not believe it would not be prudent to consider at this time any proposals for new coal plants that do not include CO2 capture and sequestration.[65]
  • Xcel Energy noted in its 2007 Resource Plan that "given the likelihood of future carbon regulation, we have only modeled a future coal-based resource option that includes carbon capture and storage."[65]
  • Avista Utilities[67] announced that it does not anticipate pursuing coal-fired power plants in the foreseeable future.[65]
  • NorthWestern Energy[68] announced on December 17, 2007, that it planned to double its wind power capacity over the next seven years and steer away from new baseload coal plants. The plans are detailed in the company's 2007 Montana Electric Supply Resource Plan.[69]
  • California Energy Commission (CEC) has initiated its review of two 53.4-megawatt solar thermal power plants that will each include a 40-megawatt biomass power plant to supplement the solar power.[70]

Public support for a coal moratorium[edit]

Opinion polls[edit]

Opinion Research[edit]

In October, 2007, Civil Society Institute released the results of a poll of 1,003 U.S. citizens conducted by Opinion Research Corporation.

The authors of the poll reported: "75 percent of Americans –-including 65 percent of Republicans, 83 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of Independents—would 'support a five-year moratorium on new coal-fired power plants in the United States if there was stepped-up investment in clean, safe renewable energy—such as wind and solar—and improved home energy-efficiency standards.' Women (80 percent) were more likely than men (70 percent) to support this idea. Support also was higher among college graduates (78 percent) than among those who did not graduate from high school (68 percent).[71]

The exact question posed by the survey was as follows: More than half of power plant-generated electricity comes from coal. Experts say that power plants are responsible for about 40 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide pollution linked to global warming. There are plans to build more than 150 new coal-fired power plants over the next several years. Would you support a five-year moratorium on new coal-fired power plants in the United States if there was stepped-up investment in clean, safe and renewable energy –such as wind and solar –and improved home energy-efficiency standards? Would you say definitely yes, probably yes, probably no, definitely no, or don't know.

The results were as follows:[72]

  • 30% "definitely yes"
  • 45% "probably yes"
  • 13% "probably no"
  • 8% "definitely no"
  • 4% "don't know"

Gallup[edit]

In 2013, the Gallup organization determined that 41% of Americans wanted less emphasis placed on coal energy, versus 31% who wanted more. Large majorities wanted more emphasis placed on solar (76%), wind (71%), and natural gas (65%).[73]

ABC News/Washington Post[edit]

A 2009 ABC/Washington Post poll found 52% of Americans favored more coal mining (33% strongly favored), while 45% opposed (27% strongly opposed). The most support was for wind and solar, which were favored by 91% (79% strongly favored).[74]

CLEAN call to action[edit]

In October, 2007, fifteen groups led by Citizens Lead for Energy Action Now (CLEAN) called for a five-year moratorium on new coal-fired power plants, with no exception for plants sequestering carbon. The groups included Save Our Cumberland Mountains (Tennessee); Ohio Valley Environmental Council (West Virginia); Cook Inlet Keeper (Alaska); Christians for the Mountains (West Virginia); Coal River Mountain Watch (West Virginia); Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (Kentucky); Civil Society Institute (Massachusetts); Clean Power Now (Massachusetts); Indigenous Environmental Network (Minnesota); Castle Mountain Coalition (Alaska); Citizens Action Coalition (Indiana); Appalachian Center for the Economy & the Environment (West Virginia); Appalachian Voices (NC); and Rhode Island Wind Alliance (Rhode Island).[75]

Environmental Defense Fund[edit]

The US-based Environmental Defense Fund has taken a stand in favor of natural gas production and hydraulic fracturing, while pressing for stricter environmental controls on gas drilling, as a feasible way to replace coal.[76] The organization has funded studies jointly jointly with the petroleum industry on the environmental effects of natural gas production. The organization sees natural gas as a way to quickly replace coal, and that natural gas in time will be replaced by renewable energy.[77] The policy has been criticized by some environmentalists.[78] EDF counsel and blogger Mark Brownstein answered:

"Demand for natural gas is not going away, and neither is hydraulic fracturing. We must be clear-eyed about this, and fight to protect public health and the environment from unacceptable impacts. We must also work hard to put policies in place that ensure that natural gas serves as an enabler of renewable power generation, not an impediment to it. We fear that those who oppose all natural gas production everywhere are, in effect, making it harder for the U.S. economy to wean itself from dirty coal."[79]

Other groups supporting a coal moratorium[edit]

Shareholder resolutions in favor of a coal moratorium[edit]

"RESOLVED: Shareholders request that BOA’s board of directors amend its GHG emissions policies to observe a moratorium on all financing, investment and further involvement in activities that support MTR coal mining or the construction of new coal-burning power plants that emit carbon dioxide.[89]

Prominent individuals supporting a coal moratorium[edit]

  • Banker and financier Tom Sanzillo, currently First Deputy Comptroller for the state of New York, called for a moratorium on new coal plants in the state of Iowa. Citing slow growth in electricity demand and better alternative sources of energy, Sanzillo said, "It's not only good public policy, it's great economics."[91]

Prominent individuals supporting a coal phase-out[edit]

Mayors supporting a coal moratorium[edit]

On October 13, 2007, Pocatello, Idaho, mayor Roger Chase told other mayors from across the state attending an Association of Idaho Cities legislative committee that he favored a moratorium no new coal plants in the state.[93]

On June 1, 2007, Park City, Utah, mayor Dana Wilson wrote a letter to Warren Buffett expressing the city's opposition to three coal plants proposed by Rocky Mountain Power.[94]

In November 2007, Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson expressed his support for a coal moratorium at a rally organized by the Step It Up! campaign.[95]

In January 2008, Charlottesville, VA, mayor Dave Norris blogged in favor of a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants.[96] On December 19, 2007, Charlottesville passed the Charlottesville Clean Energy Resolution[97] putting the city on record as supporting a moratorium.

Local governments supporting a coal moratorium[edit]

  • In January, 2008, Black Hawk County (Iowa) Health Board recommended that the state adopt a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants until it enacts tougher air pollution standards.[98]

Move toward renewable energy[edit]

Renewable energy is energy that comes from resources which are naturally replenished such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves and geothermal heat. As of 2012, 17% of global final energy consumption comes from renewable resources, with 8.5% of all energy from traditional biomass, mainly used for heating, and 3.3% from hydroelectricity. Other renewables (small hydro, modern biomass, wind, solar, geothermal, and biofuels) accounted for another 4.9% and are growing rapidly.[99] The share of renewables in electricity generation is 20%, with 15% of electricity coming from hydroelectricity and 5% from other renewables.[99]

Toward hydroelectricity[edit]

Grand Coulee Dam is a hydroelectric dam on the Columbia River. The dam has an installed capacity of 6,809 MW and is the largest electric power-producing facility in the United States.

There are a few examples of hydroelectric power stations that have been proposed but never built. One example is the Rampart Dam. This 5000MW project would dam the Yukon River in Alaska. Current law prevents this project from being built, so laws would need to be changed.

Toward wind power[edit]

Main article: Wind farm
First wind farm consisting of 7,5 MW Enercon E-126 turbines, Estinnes, Belgium, 20 July 2010, two months before completion; note the 2-part blades.

A wind farm is a group of wind turbines in the same location used to produce electric power. A large wind farm may consist of several hundred individual wind turbines, and cover an extended area of hundreds of square miles, but the land between the turbines may be used for agricultural or other purposes. A wind farm may also be located offshore.

Many of the largest operational onshore wind farms are located in the United States and China. The Gansu Wind Farm in China has over 5,000 MW installed with a goal of 20,000 MW by 2020. China has several other "wind power bases" of similar size. The Alta Wind Energy Center in California, United States is the largest onshore wind farm outside of China, with a capacity of 1020 MW of power.[100] As of February 2012, the Walney Wind Farm in the United Kingdom is the largest offshore wind farm in the world at 367 MW, followed by Thanet Offshore Wind Project (300 MW), also in the United Kingdom. As of February 2012, the Fântânele-Cogealac Wind Farm in Romania is the largest onshore wind farm in Europe at 600 MW.[101]

There are many large wind farms under construction and these include Sinus Holding Wind Farm (700 MW), Anholt Offshore Wind Farm (400 MW), BARD Offshore 1 (400 MW), Clyde Wind Farm (350 MW), Greater Gabbard wind farm (500 MW), Lincs Wind Farm (270 MW), London Array (1000 MW), Lower Snake River Wind Project (343 MW), Macarthur Wind Farm (420 MW), Shepherds Flat Wind Farm (845 MW), and Sheringham Shoal (317 MW).

Toward solar[edit]

Solar photovoltaics[edit]

The 71.8 MW Lieberose Photovoltaic Park in Germany.

Solar photovoltaic cells convert sunlight into electricity and many solar photovoltaic power stations have been built. The size of these stations has increased progressively over the last decade with frequent new capacity records.

As of January 2013, the largest individual photovoltaic (PV) power plants in the world are Agua Caliente Solar Project, (Arizona, over 247 MW connected - to increase to 397 MW), Golmud Solar Park (China, 200 MW), Mesquite Solar project (Arizona, 150 MW), Neuhardenberg Solar Park (Germany, 145 MW), Templin Solar Park (Germany, 128 MW), Toul-Rosières Solar Park (France, 115 MW), and Perovo Solar Park (Ukraine, 100 MW). The Charanka Solar Park is a collection of solar power stations of which 214 MW were reported complete in April 2012,[102] on a 2000 ha site.[103] It is part of Gujarat Solar Park,[104][105] a group of solar farms at various locations in the Gujarat state of India, with overall capacity of 702 MW.[106] There are a total of 570 MW of solar parks in Golmud, with 500 MW more expected in 2012.[107]

Many large plants are under construction. The Desert Sunlight Solar Farm is a 550 MW solar power plant under construction in Riverside County, California, that will use thin-film solar photovoltaic modules made by First Solar.[108] The Topaz Solar Farm is a 550 MW photovoltaic power plant, being built in San Luis Obispo County, California.[109] The Blythe Solar Power Project is a 500 MW photovoltaic station under construction in Riverside County, California. The Agua Caliente Solar Project is a 290 megawatt photovoltaic solar generating facility being built in Yuma County, Arizona. The California Valley Solar Ranch (CVSR) is a 250 megawatt (MW) solar photovoltaic power plant, which is being built by SunPower in the Carrizo Plain, northeast of California Valley.[110] The 230 MW Antelope Valley Solar Ranch is a First Solar photovoltaic project which is under construction in the Antelope Valley area of the Western Mojave Desert, and due to be completed in 2013.[111]

Many of these plants are integrated with agriculture and some use innovative tracking systems that follow the sun's daily path across the sky to generate more electricity than conventional fixed-mounted systems. Solar power plants have no fuel costs or emissions during operation.

Concentrated solar power[edit]

The 150 MW Andasol solar power station is a commercial parabolic trough solar thermal power plant, located in Spain. The Andasol plant uses tanks of molten salt to store solar energy so that it can continue generating electricity even when the sun isn't shining.[112]

Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) systems use lenses or mirrors and tracking systems to focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam. The concentrated heat is then used as a heat source for a conventional power plant. A wide range of concentrating technologies exists; the most developed are the parabolic trough, the concentrating linear fresnel reflector, the Stirling dish and the solar power tower. Various techniques are used to track the Sun and focus light. In all of these systems a working fluid is heated by the concentrated sunlight, and is then used for power generation or energy storage.[113]

Carbon-neutral and negative fuels[edit]

Carbon-neutral fuels are synthetic fuels (including methane, gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel or ammonia[114]) produced by hydrogenating waste carbon dioxide recycled from power plant flue-gas emissions, recovered from automotive exhaust gas, or derived from carbonic acid in seawater.[115] Commercial fuel synthesis companies suggest they can produce synthetic fuels for less than petroleum fuels when oil costs more than $55 per barrel.[116] Renewable methanol (RM) is a fuel produced from hydrogen and carbon dioxide by catalytic hydrogenation where the hydrogen has been obtained from water electrolysis. It can be blended into transportation fuel or processed as a chemical feedstock.[117]

The George Olah carbon dioxide recycling plant operated by Carbon Recycling International in Grindavík, Iceland has been producing 2 million liters of methanol transportation fuel per year from flue exhaust of the Svartsengi Power Station since 2011.[118] It has the capacity to produce 5 million liters per year.[119] A 250 kilowatt methane synthesis plant was constructed by the Center for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research (ZSW) at Baden-Württemberg and the Fraunhofer Society in Germany and began operating in 2010. It is being upgraded to 10 megawatts, scheduled for completion in autumn, 2012.[120][121] Audi has constructed a carbon-neutral liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant in Werlte, Germany.[122] The plant is intended to produce transportation fuel to offset LNG used in their A3 Sportback g-tron automobiles, and can keep 2,800 metric tons of CO2 out of the environment per year at its initial capacity.[123] Other commercial developments are taking place in Columbia, South Carolina,[124] Camarillo, California,[125] and Darlington, England.[126]

Such fuels are considered carbon-neutral because they do not result in a net increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases.[127] To the extent that synthetic fuels displace fossil fuels, or if they are produced from waste carbon or seawater carbonic acid,[128] and their combustion is subject to carbon capture at the flue or exhaust pipe, they result in negative carbon dioxide emission and net carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere, and thus constitute a form of greenhouse gas remediation.[129]

Such renewable fuels alleviate the costs and dependency issues of imported fossil fuels without requiring either electrification of the vehicle fleet or conversion to hydrogen or other fuels, enabling continued compatible and affordable vehicles.[130] Carbon-neutral fuels offer relatively low cost energy storage, alleviating the problems of wind and solar intermittency, and they enable distribution of wind, water, and solar power through existing natural gas pipelines.[130]

Nighttime wind power is considered the most economical form of electrical power with which to synthesize fuel, because the load curve for electricity peaks sharply during the warmest hours of the day, but wind tends to blow slightly more at night than during the day, so, the price of nighttime wind power is often much less expensive than any alternative.[130] Germany has built a 250 kilowatt synthetic methane plant which they are scaling up to 10 megawatts.[120][121][131]

Toward biofuels[edit]

Main article: biofuel

Biofuels, in the form of liquid fuels derived from plant materials, are entering the market. However, many of the biofuels that are currently being supplied have been criticised for their adverse impacts on the natural environment, food security, and land use.[132][133]

The challenge is to support biofuel development, including the development of new cellulosic technologies, with responsible policies and economic instruments to help ensure that biofuel commercialization is sustainable. Responsible commercialization of biofuels represents an opportunity to enhance sustainable economic prospects in Africa, Latin America and Asia.[132][133][134]

Toward Biomass[edit]

Biomass is biological material from living, or recently living organisms, most often referring to plants or plant-derived materials.[135] As a renewable energy source, biomass can either be used directly, or indirectly—once or converted into another type of energy product such as biofuel. Biomass can be converted to energy in three ways: thermal conversion, chemical conversion, and biochemical conversion.

Using biomass as a fuel produces air pollution in the form of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, NOx (nitrogen oxides), VOCs (volatile organic compounds), particulates and other pollutants at levels above those from traditional fuel sources such as coal or natural gas in some cases (such as with indoor heating and cooking).[136][137][138] Utilization of wood biomass as a fuel can also produce fewer particulate and other pollutants than open burning as seen in wildfires or direct heat applications.[139] Black carbon – a pollutant created by combustion of fossil fuels, biofuels, and biomass – is possibly the second largest contributor to global warming.[140] In 2009 a Swedish study of the giant brown haze that periodically covers large areas in South Asia determined that it had been principally produced by biomass burning, and to a lesser extent by fossil-fuel burning.[141]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]