Many advantages are claimed for renewable energy. Fuel costs are low or nonexistent. Once a plant is built costs are unchanging and predictable. There is no contribution to CO2 emissions. There is no water required for wind or photovoltaic (PV) solar power. In some cases power is generated onsite with no concerns about transmission. In developing countries renewable energy can meet the needs of the people without the installation of an extensive transmission system.
The Kyoto Treaty is forcing many countries to turn to renewable sources of energy. Although not a signatory to the treaty, local initiatives are driving the market in the United States. Individual states have mandates to generate a certain percentage of their energy from renewable sources. Some states have banded together in regional groups. In other cases, cities have made a commitment to renewables and some companies have also jumped on the green bandwagon.
Germany has the largest installed wind capacity, followed by the United States. In the U.S. California has over 2000 MW of wind power and Texas has over 1000 MW. Spain is in third place followed by Denmark.
Solar energy use has been growing at the rate of 30 percent per year. Germany and Japan are the worlds largest markets for grid-connected systems. Each had government subsidized programs for the installation of solar panels on roofs. California is the leading state in the United States.
Japanese manufacturers contributed 48 percent of the worlds PV production with the U.S. contributing 11 percent.
Several technologies exist for large-scale combustion of biomass. Electricity generation based on biomass combustion employing boiler steam turbine systems is well established. Biomass integrated gasification combined cycle units are in an early stage of commercialization. They are expected to operate with efficiencies exceeding forty percent.
Biomass may be co-fired with coal. Between 5 and 15 percent biomass may be used. There is also the possibility of reducing NOx emissions by co-firing with biomass or by using biomass as a reburn fuel.
The rising cost of competing energy sources has made the cost of renewable energy much more competitive. Improvements in technology have brought down the cost of renewable energy while the cost of oil and natural gas are rapidly increasing.
Wind turbines have grown larger and more efficient. Solar cells have increased in efficiency. Improvements have been made in biomass burning technologies.
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