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Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

The renewable revolution has started

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A sunset industry?  One of E.On's large coal-fired CHP plants.

A sunset industry? One of E.On’s large coal-fired CHP plants.

This may be remembered as the start of a new era of renewable energy replacing fossil fuels.

E.On, the largest utility in Germany, announced that it is moving away from fossil fuels to concentrate on “decentralized generation” – wind, solar, and biomass to you and me (read here, here and here).

In the Canadian context, this is equivalent to, say, Enbridge announcing that it is getting out of the oil and pipeline business to focus on solar and wind. (Don’t laugh: this may happen in a few years. Enbridge already owns the largest PV plant in Canada, and has just purchased two large US wind farms from none other than E.On.)

Meanwhile, China is moving aggressively in the same direction, increasing its production capacity for solar and wind in order to get rid of its inefficient (and grossly polluting) coal thermal plants (see here, here and here, as well as here for the overall Asian context).

But what could compel a large utility like E.On to jettison its fossil and atomic porfolio? It could be that the writing on the wall is clearer in Germany. The federal government is already floating the idea of fast-tracking the closure of coal power plants, similar to what it is doing for nuclear plants. Indeed, nuclear plants seem to be unable to compete with renewables on a cost basis (witness the debate at Britain’s Hinckley proposed plant); but this is becoming the case for fossil-fuel plants, in Turkey, the US (here and here), and even, in a way, in Canada.

The Topaz solar plant in California - currently the world's largest

The Topaz solar plant in California – currently the world’s largest

But could an industrial economy actually be powered by renewables? The famous Frauenhofer Institute seems to think so, based on its analysis of a number of supply/demand scenarios, at least for Germany. And this would be without large energy storage systems, even though the development of storage systems is progressing apiece, including molten aluminum systems, low-cost distributed battery systems, and PV-integrated storage, as well as the development of superconducting systems for transmission and even generation in wind turbines.

Meanwhile, the world is witnessing the opening of Africa’s largest solar plant; of Canada’s first concentrating solar thermal plant; of the plant in Dubai shattering records for lowest cost ever; and, well, the unveiling of the world’s largest PV plant in California (nine million panels covering over 24 square kilometers! – see here and here).

So, yes, it’s only a matter of time, and now it’s moving quickly. Will we ever be nostalgic for the pollution and land destruction caused by fossil fuels? Didn’t think so.

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Written by enviropaul

December 1, 2014 at 11:23 am

One Response

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  1. […] DeSmogBlog, Eco-Business, Carbon Brief, ThinkProgress, and the Energy Collective; and I have myself tried to keep up with the news on this […]


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