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Hard Decisions – Easy Solutions

“Everything is impossible until it is done.”

Windpark Ellern in the Hunsrück landscape in southwestern part of Germany. Public domain, found at Wikimedia Commons.

Every once in a while you have an outstandingly good day. October 29 was one of those days. Its news had four stories about a world moving to renewable power – something some people are reluctant even to try because they insist it will be too hard – and all four stories show how well that move has gone.

First, I read about Bertram Fleck, chief administrative officer of the German district of Rhein-Hunsrück. He was featured in an article in the Edmonton (Alberta) Journal, as he talked to people there about renewable power in his district about the truly impressive things that had been done there. “Everything is impossible,” he said, “until it is done.”

Rhein-Hunsrück started to address issues of renewable power in 1999. There were several goals, including cutting various types of pollution while improving the economy. The district started by promoting efficiency in buildings. This was followed by encouraging people to add solar PVs and put wind turbines on the grid. These are often owned by farms, towns, small businesses, and co-operatives. Biomass plants were also added, providing grid power with waste heat going to schools, business, and homes.

Now, Rhein-Hunsrück produces 177% of the power it needs, and the excess is exported. Carbon dioxide emissions have been cut by 64% from their 1990 levels. The economy has $50 million more going through it each year, providing employment and income for the district’s 102,000 people.

1280px-SPV_modules_LREDA_Office_Leh-Ladakh

Solar PV modules at the Ladakh Renewable Energy Development Agency Office in the Indian district of Leh-Ladakh. Photo by Fringe2013.

Then, on the same day, I read about the latest solar power auction in India. First Solar presented bids for two blocks of 40 MW at $0.086 and $0.087 per kilowatt hour (kWh). This is particularly interesting, because the lower limit at which electricity generated by imported coal can be competitive in India is about $0.09 per kWh.

The price of solar power has achieved full grid parity in India, outperforming coal in some auctions. This is nice to know, though not especially surprising. It had been predicted, and similar reports have come from other places in the last year or two, including some of solar winning auctions in the United States.

This news is particularly difficult for Australia, however. The government there has been actively attempting to reduce the growth of renewable power in favor of coal. The claim was that Australia would become the world’s leading source of inexpensive fuel. Hopes for that goal have been dimming of late.

A third item in the day’s news came from China, where developers are pushing hard to install as much windpower as possible before incentives are closed in 2016. The country is currently on course to add as many as 20 gigawatts (GW) in 2014, followed by about the same number in 2015. Chinese nuclear plants have capacity factors very slightly more than double those of windpower, depending on where the wind turbines are set up and how they are configured. This means that 20 GW is a little less than the equivalent of 10 GW of nuclear power, or about ten new nuclear power plants. Meanwhile, use of coal actually declined in China during the second and third quarters of this year.

Finally, an important piece of news came from Europe. The European Union has a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20% from 1990 levels by 2020. The European Environment Agency reported that they are on track to surpass this goal by a fair margin, with a reduction of 24% by that date. While much of the greenhouse gas emission reduction is due to efficiency, the block is also expected to get at least 20% of its energy needs met by renewable power by 2020.

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