Mixed Greens: US powered by wind & solar? Yes we can

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NOAA says US could be 70% renewable by 2030; China could hit 15GW solar target by 2013; Ukraine solar booms, capacity set to double.

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It turns out German Greens politician Hans-Josef Fell isn’t the only person who thinks that a world powered mostly by renewables is an achievable – and affordable – goal by sometime around 2030. The Vancouver Sun reports that a director with America’s national weather office, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said on Friday that wind and solar could supply 70 per cent of electricity demand in America’s lower 48 states, with fossil fuel and hydro/nuclear each accounting for just 15 per cent by 2030.

The Sun‘s Scott Simpson reports that Sandy MacDonald – director of the NOAA’s earth system research lab, who presented the research at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual convention, in Vancouver last week, said the renewables project had collated 16 billion pieces of weather data derived from satellite observations, airplane observations and weather station reports, over the past three years.

The team then filtered the information, using a custom-designed program, to come up with a map showing robust wind resources in middle US and decent ones in northeast Atlantic states, as well as strong solar production areas in the nation’s southwest. The researchers then considered how to balance potential power production with demand. McDonald told the symposium that, the bigger the grid, the more effective it would be at transitioning to green energy, says Simpson. And he stressed that an optimal system would encompass coordinated energy generation and transmission over an area of five million square kilometres.

And for another view on America’s clean energy potential, check out the latest book by Amory Lovins, Reinventing Fire. Chairman and chief scientist at US “think-and-do” tank, the Rocky Mountain Insititute, Lovins is a passionate believer in a renewable power revolution that would wean the US off fossil fuels and usher in an era of energy independence. And his new book – which he discusses in a fascinating interview, here – provides a step-by-step blueprint for how to do this by mid-century.

China solar coming in hot

China’s ambitious national solar target – which was last year upped by 50 per cent to an outlook of 15 gigawatts by 2015, which would make it one of the top solar markets in the world – could be realised sooner than expected. Reuters reports that an executive from Chinese solar manufacturer JinkoSolar, has predicted that a boom in solar power installations in China could mean the country reaches its 15GW  solar target two years ahead of plan. “These targets may be reached in 2013,” Longgen Zhang, JinkoSolar’s chief financial officer, told the Jefferies Global Cleantech Conference.

China is is expected to have added about 2GW to its total solar capacity in 2011 and Beijing has said it expects to add about 3GW per year from 2012, says Reuters. But Zhang says the rush to build new projects there could mean between 5-7GW will get built this year alone. This is well above Suntech’s recent forecasts that up to 5GW of solar PV could be installed in 2012. The deployment is being supported by a newly-introduced feed-in-tariff.

A solar boom for …Ukraine?

Solar-power capacity in Ukraine is forecast to double this year, a somewhat surprising turn-up that Bloomberg reports has been spurred by the completion of Europe’s biggest PV plant in December, as well as incentives that are a third higher than anywhere else in the region. The Association of Alternative Fuels and Energy Market Participants (known as the APEU), a lobby group tracking PV installations in the Ukraine, estimates that developers in the former Soviet republic could add 300MW of capacity in 2012, after last year installing about 200MW.

“A boom in solar is starting in the Ukraine,” Kaveh Ertefai, CEO of Activ Solar GmbH, a Vienna- based developer that has installed 90 per cent of Ukraine’s solar capacity, adding that he expects to see a lot of growth in the market this year. President Viktor Yanukovych’s administration is targeting 1,000MW of solar capacity by 2015, about 2 per cent of the 50,200 megawatts of capacity the nation had in 2010 – a target that Vitaly Daviy, head of the APEU, told Bloomberg would “be reached for sure,” due to “a lot of interest from local and international companies right now in the Ukrainian solar market.”

The Ukraine boasts a feed-in tariff of 46 euro cents ($0.61) a kilowatt-hour for utility-scale solar projects, 59 per cent higher than Greece – the next highest in Europe. The rates are little changed since their introduction in April 2009 and are fixed until 2030, says Bloomberg.

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