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Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Hello and Welcome to My New Blog PM on Renewables

The name is descriptive enough. I am Peter Mueller, hence the initials, and posts will revolve around the central theme of renewable energy. There will be a bias towards Great Britain at first, because that is where I am based. This subject area is important for the entire planet, though, and I will make this relevant to an international audience over time. A more detailed description of what you can expect is to be found under About.

You might have noticed that the site in front of you is free of advertising and attempts to sell you things (especially those you didn’t know you wanted). Don’t be fooled. I like making money, not only because I enjoy the finer things in life but also because I have my very own renewable energy project in mind, which will need masses of capital. Therefore, commercialisation of this blog is on the agenda.

Where to begin?

After the introduction that is the natural question to follow. A good starting point is the status of renewable energy today. In order to have a reference point, let’s look back first.

Where from?

Of course renewable energy is not a new concept. It is reasonable to assume that first purpose-made fires involved dry leaves, wood, maybe animal dung and the like. These raw materials were replenished constantly and the few humans trying to make droughty caves a bit more comfortable had little impact on supplies. In more recent times, and on a grander scale, the first hydro-electric plant was built in 1895 at Niagara Falls, for example.

Niagara Falls in Autumn

As we all know, technological advances, growing populations and the belief that progress was always good intensified the hunger for reliable and readily available fuels that could keep up with demand. Oil, coal and gas seemed to offer all the answers.

Then, when the 1970s came around, not only trouser legs became flared. After an exuberant decade dominated by concerns such as free love, long hair and putting a man on the moon, a string of global events had a sobering effect. One part of this were two oil crises. They helped to broaden awareness and interest in alternatives to the ‘black gold’, albeit for different reasons. Politicians did not want to be put at risk by someone thousands of miles away while their voters took an often emotionally charged look at the ways they were influencing their environment.

The rethink

Many saw a route leading away from oil and coal in nuclear power. By now that had been harnessed for generating electricity. From the dark days of the atomic bomb it had become the shining star of power production, allegedly promising limitless and clean energy.

Rattled by accidents at plants and emerging information on fall-out from nuclear tests people began to understand the risks involved, however. Out of the anti-bomb campaigns grew the protests against nuclear power. Worldwide these movements, like the Green Party in Germany, the national environmental organisation in Switzerland or the anti-uranium groups in Australia, helped to push the concept of renewable fuels into the public conscience. In June 1979 President Carter unveiled plans to meet 20% of America’s energy needs with mainly solar power by the year 2000.

Today

So where are we now? When the recent recession hit it did slow down expansion of green energy. Thankfully, according to the G 20 report, ‘Who’s winning the clean energy race?’, the dip in 2009 was more than reversed the year after. At over $200 billion globally, investment in renewables has never been greater. Solar and wind still lead the pack but new or refined, existing technologies are emerging all the time.

There are regional variations. China, the world’s largest investor in renewable energy, favours wind turbines, whereas in Germany, which follows it closely in terms of spending, shows a strong bias towards solar power. Another example is Brazil with sugarcane in plentiful supply. Here the proportion of biofuel is equal to other renewables. Britain, sadly in the lower brackets of investment levels, relies strongly on the fact that it is surrounded by water and very little is stopping wind from sweeping across the land and the sea.

When looking at proportions of energy sources it has to be said that President Carter’s ambitious goal of 20% for renewables was not reached in 2000. Eleven years later America still has some way to go. So have others. No one has any reason to be smug, although New Zealand might be forgiven for grinning a little.

Renewables % Total Energy by Country_2011


Where to?

Undoubtedly, the world has woken up to the fact that fossil fuels neither last forever nor do the environment much good. There is still a lot of work to be done and my generation, for example, has started many processes that we won’t see finished. Nevertheless, it might be a hard slog but encouraging trends are visible and I don’t think we will see a major reversal of these developments.

For me the main conclusion is that the times when people put all their hopes into one energy basket are over. The future will come in many shades of green, because the most efficient and effective way of satisfying our energy needs will be to adapt to and make the most of regional or even local conditions. What is right for a household in Britain won’t be right for one in Canada any longer. While a small business in South Africa will harness the power of the sun, a similar set-up in Scotland might exploit wind.

Most importantly, people have begun to understand that they cannot and must not rely on big business and governments to lead the way. It is up to us all now to be proactive and push renewable energy forward so it can take its rightful place in the future of this planet.

There is even pleasure to be had from going green. We are running one of our cars on bio diesel made from waste cooking oil. It has become quite mouth-watering starting it up in the morning given that it smells of fish and chips (although, apparently, that is a matter of opinion).

See you next week.

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