2010 Renewable Energy Recap: Big Potential, Slow Progress

This year started with good news on the renewable energy front, with reports on impressive 2009 growth in wind power installations. 2010, though, wasn't quite as great a year in terms of the number of turbines and solar panels installed in the US and around the world. Instead, it was the year of potential: report after report showing just how much power the world really could get if all our renewable energy dreams are realized.

In May, we learned that the western portion of the US could be 35% renewable-powered if all the potential is realized, even without extensive (and expensive) transmission projects. And later, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory told us that the total offshore wind potential in the US is staggering -- greater than all the current electricity-generation capacity.

And speaking of staggering, other countries have amazing potential as well. One report demonstrated how Australia could be completely powered by renewables -- yes, 100 percent -- by 2020.

The potential isn't limited to wind and solar, either. In spite of West Virginia's coal-based economy, the state sits atop an enormous geothermal resource with potential to generate close to 19,000 megawatts. And moving even further from the traditional renewable sources, Spain even has the potential to get seven percent of its power from waste.

All this potential is encouraging, but at least in the United States the progress toward realizing it is still slow. The country lacks a renewable energy portfolio standard (though more than half the states have their own), and there are few indications that any major sea change in renewables construction is on the horizon. Still, there are good signs. Just in the past few weeks, major purchases of wind turbines have been reported for Iowa wind projects as well as in various spots around Europe. Solar power in the southwest is also looking up, with approvals for several projects coming toward the end of this year (though there is also some objection, which could slow progress).

It remains to be seen if 2011 will feature significant progress toward renewable energy goals, or just another year's worth of reporting on its potential.

(Photo via spg solar)

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