2011 Renewable Energy Recap: Tides, Turbines, and Big Thinking

At the end of 2010, we wrote here about the "Year of the Report," and the massive potential of many different renewable resources that were revealed. In 2011, with some big fossil fuel and nuclear stories providing the backdrop, renewable energy made some impressive gains both in terms of capacity installed and of movement into arenas that aren't yet fully a part of the energy landscape.

To the latter point -- occasional news about tidal, wave, and hydrokinetic energy were a welcome development. Plans for tidal turbines in India started us off, while a pilot wave power project was announced in Oregon. Meanwhile, a mapping tool is now available helping to assess tidal power resources around the U.S.

There is also increasing attention on technologies that might improve on or at least supplement traditional wind and solar energy. From an offshore turbine design that can store its own power and dole it out when necessary to floating solar panels, it is becoming clear that the overall energy picture won't necessarily be dominated by your father's wind turbines.

In the U.S., 2011 marked another year with exactly zero offshore wind turbines in the water -- but news on Cape Wind and other projects suggests we're getting closer. And around the world, offshore development continues apace. By the middle of this year, the European Union had more than 1,200 offshore turbines producing energy. Many countries are focusing their attentions offshore; France announced plans for another 1,200 to be built soon. Meanwhile, wind energy giant Vestas announced an equally giant offshore turbine, a mammoth 7-megawatt design.

In the geothermal realm, 2011 actually more closely resembled 2010, with a number of reports outlining some of the impressive capacity around North America but few major projects underway. Canada apparently sits atop a huge resource, and updated research sponsored by Google found an astonishing 3 million MW of geothermal power around the U.S. (the pesky extraction-associated earthquake problem notwithstanding).

All of this progress -- not to mention the rapidly approaching milestone of 50 gigawatts of installed wind power in the U.S. -- came in a very interesting year for energy in general. The Fukushima disaster led countries around the world to announce phaseouts of nuclear power -- from Belgium to Germany to Mexico to Switzerland, while nuclear leader France seemed unshaken.

What will 2012 bring? A number of massive solar and wind power projects are under construction now, and others in the deserts of the U.S. and North Africa as well as coastal areas around the world will soon follow. We'll have another year of perspective on Fukushima and nuclear energy, and the hiccups in the quest for "clean coal" may place that project into clearer focus. And you can be sure that when that first offshore turbine starts spinning in U.S. waters -- sometime in 2012, hopefully! -- we'll join the celebration here.

(Image via Romeo66)

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