From their very modest beginnings, renewable energy projects around the world are now growing in size to the point where the biggest ones rival the size of traditional fossil fuel powered electrical plants. There are many reasons for the increasing size and capacity of these renewable energy projects. These reasons include:
1) Advances in generating capacity – The technology behind renewable energy projects continues to deliver higher generating capacity at lower costs. Combined with economies of scale, large renewable projects can deliver power with more efficiency than ever before.
2) Faster returns – Renewable energy projects have huge upfront costs including regulatory paperwork, studies, and construction expenses. Building larger projects allows for faster amortization of those costs.
3) Government policies - Federal, state, and local governments continue to raise the bar on renewable energy objectives and are backing them up with financing models that favor large projects. These incentives are now drawing utilities into the game with proposals and designs on large projects drawn up to meet mandatory renewable energy portfolio standards.
A proposed project doesn’t equal a completed project, however. Even large projects with high profile backing can end up pulling the plug for a variety of reasons. The wind farm proposed and then shelved by T. Boone Pickens is just one example. In May of 2008 Mr. Pickens announced plans to construct the biggest wind farm in the U.S., as measured by the amount of installed megawatts. The Pampa Wind Farm project, which was to be located in the Texas panhandle, was shelved eight months later due to financing difficulties brought on by low natural gas prices. Another factor in the project’s postponement, until at least 2013, was the breakdown in the negotiations for the building of transmission lines which would have been necessary to get power generated at the wind farm to the grid.
Still, there are massive projects in the pipeline for energy alternatives including solar, wind, wave, geothermal, and tidal power. Here’s a list of the largest proposed project in each category:
* Solar - Desertec, located across North Africa and the Middle East, the Desertec project will generate 100 gigawatts (GW), the equivalent of 100 nuclear generators.
* Wind – Dogger Bank located in the United Kingdom. If completed as proposed, the wind farm will generate up to 13 GW, dwarfing the output of the largest producing wind farm; the 782-megawatt onshore farm in Roscoe, Texas, which went online in October 2009.
* Wave - Costa Head is the wave farm proposed for Orkney, Scotland. The project will generate 200 MW.
* Geothermal – Proposed for Sarulla, Indonesia, this project will generate 330 MW.
* Tidal – Proposed for Incheon, South Korea, this tidal power project will generate 1.32 GW, five times more electricity than today’s largest producing plant, France’s 240 MW Rance plant.
While not all of these plants will succeed, the sheer size of the proposals provides some validation of these technologies. These are promising steps on the path toward turning fossil fuels into the “alternative”.