UN secretary-general António Guterres described our fossil fuel addiction as a “mutually assured destruction.” In the context of the war in Ukraine and the surging energy prices, this mutual destruction has a socioeconomic, political, and environmental dimension. Renewable energy is set to redefine our global energy system as well as our foreign supply dependencies.
A recent report by the U.K. think tank, Ember, revealed that wind and solar power generated 10% of the world’s electricity in 2021, with solar and wind power increasing by 23 percent and 14 percent respectively. Solar and wind are big players in our pending green energy revolution. But what others are there, and how are they developing?
The Green Energy Transition: Europe Has Launched A Race While the U.S. Remains Divided
“The war will supercharge the European energy transition — most European leaders understand that diversifying from fossil fuels is a path to greater security,” Nikos Tsafos, an energy expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told CNN. “The response in the United States has been more bifurcated — some calling for more oil and gas production, others for more investments in renewable energy.”
As far as the green energy translation is concerned, Europe has been resolute. Less than two weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine, the European Commission released a statement that outlined plans to prioritize the green energy transition and become independent from Russia’s fossil fuel supplies by 2030. But while the timeline for green energy implementation has been shortened, bridge fuels are still vital.
Source: DW News/Youtube
In March of this year, Finland opened the first European nuclear facility in 15 years, and other countries have since joined the nuclear power debate. On Friday, 22nd of March, European leaders made a further push to limit the dependency on Russia and to address the rising energy costs for EU citizens by announcing their decision to jointly purchase gas, hydrogen, and liquified natural gas.
“We are effectively in a war economy,” Simone Tagliapietra of Bruegel, an economic think tank in Brussels, told the New York Times. “Politics is taking over many economic decisions. In extraordinary times, we need extraordinary measures.”
In the U.S., negotiations have been more complex, with powerful voices dominating the debate on both sides. Biden’s sweeping Build Back Better bill, which includes tax incentives for clean energy, has been opposed by Senator Joe Manchin, the most conservative among democratic leaders, and every Republican Senator. Since then, green energy development has been hampered by Florida’s Republican-led senate passing a bill that removes a financial incentive for solar power, solar panels facing overall pushback from conservative leaders, and misinformation about green energy causing nationwide confusion and resistance.
The Biden Administration is still proceeding with its green energy initiatives, most recently in a socio-economic context, when they announced plans to invest 3.16 billion USD into the development of energy-efficient homes for low-income families. Manchin has recently restarted debates about Biden’s previously-rejected bill. However, it remains to be seen what these talks will mean for the sustainable development of green energy in the U.S.
Wind Power is a Strong Contender, But Efforts Must Intensify
Last year, Europe installed a record-breaking 17.4 GW of new wind power, while the EU-27 installed 11 GW. This includes a floating wind farm off the coast of Portugal that generates enough electricity for 60,000 households due to the strong winds it can catch deeper at sea. While 11 GW marks a notable increase of 18 percent since 2020, experts say that these efforts are insufficient to reach climate goals or maintain the supply chain.
“To reach its 40% renewable energy target for 2030, the EU needs to build 30 GW of new wind a year. But it built only 11 GW last year and is set to build only 18 GW a year over the next five years,” WindEurope CEO Giles Dickson said in a press release. “The European wind industry is losing money, closing factories, and shedding jobs – just when it should be growing to meet the huge expansion of wind power Europe wants. If this continues, the Green Deal is in trouble, not to mention Europe’s energy security goals,” Dickson adds.
The main issue does not rest with the government’s ambitions, the press release further explains, but with the permits. “Europe is not permitting anything like the volumes of new wind farms needed. And almost none of the Member States meets the deadlines for permitting procedures required in the EU Renewable Energy Directive. The permitting rules and procedures are too complex. Permitting authorities are not always adequately staffed.” To resolve this, Wind Europe proposes to “simplify permitting, boost innovation and ensure Governments recognize and reward the value the European industry brings to society, the environment and the energy transition.”
Wind energy has been on the rise in the United States as well, with 2020 accounting for the installation of 16,836 megawatts (MW) of the available 121,955 MW. In 2021, wind power had experienced a bit of a drop due to supply chain and storage issues, but it is once again on the rise with an offshore wind energy auction due to be held in May. Offshore wind has a unique success story in the U.S. with Block Island, a community on the New England coast, being completely powered by offshore wind energy.
In addition to showcasing its technological innovation and potential, the island also sought out the expertise of wildlife experts to explore the environmental impact of offshore wind farms. While the impact on bats will still need further research, The National Audubon Society has expressed its support for offshore wind on the principle that even though the turbines can harm avian life, climate change will do more so. Similarly, the National Wildlife Federation voiced its support for large-scale green energy projects to pacify the urgent threat of climate change.
We Now Have Enough Solar Panels Installed to Power Europe
The war in Ukraine has the world re-evaluating its reliance on a foreign supply chain beyond those in Russia’s grasp. After speeding into action and setting up long-term green energy plans and short-term bridge fuel plans, Europe is now also rethinking its reliance on China.
“We cannot replace our dependence on Russian gas with a reliance on China for solar energy production,” says Joaquim Nunes de Almeida, European Commission’s director in charge of “Mobility and energy-intensive industries” at this year’s Solar Power Summit. The EU made clear that a substantial push is needed and stressed that “we need to bring manufacturing back to Europe, and the Commission is willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen.” Keen to reclaim power over their solar supply chain, steps are already being taken, and Enel Green Power has recently signed a contract for an EU grant deal to open a solar gigafactory in Italy.
Interestingly, enough solar panels have already been installed worldwide to provide energy for the whole of Europe. According to numbers by the BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 26,823 terawatt-hours of electricity were generated worldwide in 2020, and 3.1 percent came from solar energy. The report also showed that solar energy increased by 23 percent in 2021, making it likely that 2022 will produce an even more impressive number.
Despite the counties and public officials being divided, the U.S. is also making strides in solar power. According to numbers by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, “power plant developers and operators expect to add 85 gigawatts (GW) of new generating capacity to the U.S. power grid from 2022 to 2023, 60% (51 GW) of which will be made up of solar power and battery storage projects.”
Additionally, new life is being breathed into NASA’s old project exploring solar power stations in space. While space stations already use solar arrays, NASA had abandoned the notion of setting up a stand-alone space solar system. Since then, others, including China and the U.K., have picked up on the idea. In March of this year, it was reported that the U.K. is considering a 16 billion pound proposal to build solar power farms in space as part of the government’s Net Zero Innovation Portfolio.
Source: Financial Times/Youtube
Biofuels and Electricity: A Path to the Green(er) Car
The interest in Electric Vehicles (EVS) has known an unprecedented growth. Earlier this year, Tesla reported a profit of 5.5 billion USD in 2021, which is over six times higher compared to 2020. And even though the demand is on the rise, EVs have been experiencing supply chain issues as they require higher levels of copper compared to vehicles powered by internal combustion engines.
EV recent developments at a glance:
- In December of 2021, Europeans bought more EVs than diesels for the first time.
- Vietnam’s Vinfast plans on building a 2 billion USD electric vehicle factory in the U.S.
- By developing its technology and commanding its supply chain, Tesla has bypassed the industrywide crisis.
- Amazon plans on using electric vans to make its deliveries.
- In March of this year, the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association published an “Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Masterplan” with an analysis of the investments and infrastructure required for Europe to reach its EU’s ‘Fit for 55’ CO2 reduction targets.
- In February 2022, the Biden administration declared its intention to invest 5 billion USD into electric charge points across the nation.
Biden’s plans for the expansion of the EVs network have received pushback and criticism from familiar voices. While Manchin rejected the plan for fear of the U.S. being controlled by the Chinese supply chain, republican leaders called attention to alternative resources such as biofuel. “We’re in an energy crisis, and despite what you hear from the Biden administration, the answer isn’t for cash-strapped Americans to run out and buy an electric vehicle. It’s to support home-grown energy sources, especially biofuels,” Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds writes in a guest column.
A month before the opinion piece appeared, the Iowa Senate introduced a bill that banned Russian oil and created incentives for locally grown biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel. “As gas prices hit record highs for Americans across the country, it’s never been clearer that energy security is national security,” Sn. Joni Ernst said. “Banning Russian oil was long overdue, but it’s far past time for President Biden to make good on the promises he made on the campaign trail to Iowa farmers and producers to support our state’s biofuel that is American-made, ready, and available to meet our nation’s needs right away.”
Source: NowThis News/Youtube
At the same time, experts have also called on the U.S. and Europe to cut biofuels to avoid food shortages and compensate for the grain crisis the war is creating. The EU Biofuels Chain, on the other hand, has warned against lessening the biofuel production, stating that “EU biofuels production creates food, feed, and fuel, significantly strengthening Europe’s strategic autonomy by offsetting the need to import animal feed and displacing the use of crude oil in transport.” The advantages and disadvantages of biofuels are debated, and the major disadvantages of biofuel production have been pinpointed in the creation of a monoculture that can compromise the quality of the land and the long-term pressure on global food production.
Hydrogen: A Way to Fuel Big Industry?
Besides wind and solar, hydrogen has been hitting the news periodically. According to a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), demand for hydrogen has more than tripled since 1975. That being said, authorities are divided on whether Hydrogen deserves a prominent place in our future, considering the current strong reliance on fossil fuels.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) aims to prevent at least 90 percent of the CO2 from reaching the atmosphere, but CCS has not yet reached its full potential. The current annual hydrogen production stands at 70 Mt, of which only 2 percent comes from electrolysis with zero emissions and 98 percent from reforming natural gas and coal gasification. The amount of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emitted from this 98 percent comes to 830 Mt of CO2 per year, which is roughly the equivalent of the annual emissions from 100 million U.S. homes.
At the same time, hydrogen may possess great potential in the industrial sector, and the EU has put Hydrogen Accelerators on its agenda to fuel the continent’s industry. The majority of today’s hydrogen is already used for larger-scale industrial operations such as steel production and chemical feedstock. But hydrogen can also be burned and used to provide the high temperatures needed to fire kilns for ceramics, cement, glass, or steel. For these larger operations, electricity is not an option since it will be too expensive to implement with the technologies we have available to us right now.
We have some big players contributing to the development of the green energy revolution. And while solar and wind are making big strides, bureaucracy and supply chain issues are not always allowing these resources to reach their full development potential. That is why, next to simplifying the permit processes, diversifying our options and exploring a healthy mix of green energy sources may help us reach our goals on a social, economic, and environmental level.
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