THE INSTITUTEIn many areas of the world, renewable energy is now a cheaper source of electricity than fossil fuels. It is possible that renewable energy soon will be the preferred choice all over the world.
Transition to renewables is no longer a question. The potential exists that renewable energy and its storage technologies will be able to generate 100 percent of the world’s energy in less than 30 years. The switch to renewable energy would reduce the cost of electricity to, on average, from US 80 cents to 60 cents per megawatt-hour globally, according to recent research by Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology, in Finland, and the Berlin-based nonprofit Energy Watch Group.
In a study by the International Renewable Energy Agency, the global weighted average levelized cost of electricity of utility-scale solar photovoltaic has fallen 73 percent since 2010, to 10 cents per kWh for projects commissioned in 2017. A report released in January 2018 by Bloomberg New Energy Finance said $333.5 billion was invested globally in clean-energy projects during 2017.
Despite the political debate that surrounds renewable energy and fossil fuels, countries, large companies, and major cities around the world are taking meaningful action on renewable-energy development. For example, more than one third of China’s total installed capacity of power and generated electricity in 2017 came from renewable resources, according to a China Daily article. The European Union is raising its target for the amount of energy it consumes from renewable sources to 32 percent by 2030, The Guardian reported. India announced last year that it had set a goal of renewable energy capacity to 175 gigawatts by 2022, according to Mongabay.
Apple says its global facilities are powered with 100 percent clean energy.
New York state has committed to spending $1.4 billion to advance 26 large-scale renewable energy projects. The initiative is expected to generate enough clean, renewable energy to power more than 430,000 homes across the state.
OIL-RICH STATE COMMITS TO RENEWABLES
Texas, home to many oil and gas industries, is earning a reputation as a leader in renewable energy as well. The state set its renewable-energy policy in 1999 with its Renewable Portfolio Standard legislation, which restructured the electricity market. Today Texas has more than 10,000 wind turbines with 21,450 megawatts of installed capacity and is the sixth-largest wind-energy producer in the world. That’s thanks in part to exploiting the strong winds of west Texas.
The state is building transmission lines to move the electricity from its remote regions its large cities. Last year it had 21,751 MW of installed wind capacity, the most of any state in the nation. Texas leads the United States in wind-powered generation, with more than one fourth of the nation’s total last year. As a result, retail electricity prices have decreased well below the U.S. average: about 8.4 cents per kWh in 2017, compared with the U.S. average of 10.5 cents.
Texas plans to increase wind-energy capacity by 8,700 megawatts by the end of this year. Renewables are expected to account for more than 25 percent of the total electricity generated this year, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.
Georgetown, Texas, with a population of 65,000, is one of the first U.S. cities to be 100 percent powered by renewable energy. The city gets its renewable energy from two wind farms and a solar facility. The plants cover the city’s 170-MW peak power demand, with enough left over to sell to the state electric grid. Georgetown is an example of what the future of energy might look like.
Energy policymakers in Texas say R&D in technologies related to renewable energy will accelerate a cost-effective transformation. Experts, power engineers, and researchers are engaged in the state’s energy transformation to renewable sources. For example, researchers at the University of Texas Energy Institute, which has more than 300 experts and a budget of $100 million, are leading groundbreaking studies of technologies that cover the new spectrum of renewable energy.
I attended this year’s UT Energy Week, the annual meeting the university holds in Austin with energy experts from industry, academia, government, and regulatory agencies, as well as nonprofit organizations. We discussed some of the most vital energy issues facing society. Held from 4 to 8 February, the event attracted 600 people. Panels discussed the adequacy of Texas’s electric grid, prospects for large-scale energy storage, electric vehicles, and more.
One of the most important discussions addressed how to globally achieve 100 percent renewable energy sources. That panel also addressed which energy technologies are vital for the transition, as well as challenges such as battery storage.
IEEE Senior Member Qusi Alqarqaz is an electrical engineer with more than 28 years of experience in the power industry. He writes about technology, works as a consultant, and mentors younger engineers and students. He is a contributor to The Institute as well as the Analog, a newsletter for the IEEE Central Texas Section. He previously worked in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.