With news this week that Taiwan Cement is planning to build a 100 MW solar power plant, my thoughts have turned once again to alternative energy sources. Despite the many nay-sayers and NIMBYs, the capacity of wind energy generation has increased dramatically in recent years, with the world’s largest offshore windfarm being inaugurated off the coast of Britain almost two months ago. The Global Wind Energy Council estimates that, by 2020, wind power could meet 12% of global power requirements, with that figure potentially reaching 22% by 2030. Since the majority of the western world succumbed to the ravages of the ‘Great Recession’, China has taken the lead in terms of wind farm development, with more than 25 GW installed by the end of last year and a goal of 100 GW by 2020, which experts believe to be easily achievable at the current rate of growth. Turbine manufacturers such as GE and Siemens have set up shop in China to make the most of the booming market, which is compensating for slowdowns elsewhere.
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The US, for example, has suffered in the past year or so, due partly to the failure to legislate the renewable energy standard that would compel the use of a certain amount of power from renewable sources. In a state of indecision, US turbine installations this year are likely to drop 45% on 2009 levels, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). In spite of this, the US currently has an impressive 35.6 GW installed wind power capacity, enough to power 9.7 million homes (source: AWEA). Surely, with the likes of Google investing in this truly renewable power source, further investment in the sector will follow. The proposed legislation is endorsed in the white paper ‘Post Partisan Power’ from the American Enterprise Institute, Brookings Institution and the Breakthrough Institute, a very readable paper that opens: ‘If ever there were a time to hit the reset button on energy policy, it is today’ and goes on to point to the success of previous reactionary measures in response to such triggers as the Cold War and the international space race, as an illustration that, when the US decides to take action, it's a country that gets results.
For those people who would argue that the wind doesn’t always blow, let us return to solar power. Last July, World Cement ran an article from the DESERTEC Foundation that speculated that if just 0.5% of the total area of sunny deserts in the world were covered with concentrated solar power plants, they would produce as much electricity as is currently being used by the whole world, a staggering statistic that makes one wonder why we don't immediately rush out and build such plants – in places where no NIMBYs could mind – and solve all our problems. Of course, it is not that simple. The technology to transport the electricity to the places where it is needed is not yet up to task, and the funding needed for such an enormous project is likewise lacking. Although our global energy requirements are therefore unlikely to be met by solar power in the near future, the International Energy Agency estimates that electricity from solar power could represent 20 – 25% of global energy production by 2050 (source: FT Special Report ‘Modern Energy’, 13 September 2010).
But what about alternative power projects on your doorstep? Though reports from Taiwan are sparse on the details at the time of writing, should it turn out that Taiwan Cement will use the plant to power its cement manufacturing operations, it would not be the first to do so. We reported earlier this year that Holcim’s Portland plant in Colorado had become the first in the US to install solar panels. Generating 156 201 kWh of power from 528 panels, the plant is saving 301 000 lb of CO2 emissions per year. Soon after, it was reported that Phoenix Cement had won support for its own 1 MW solar field project. The technology for this project is being supplied by Infinia – the same company that is supplying another cement/solar project, this time belonging to Dalmia Cement in India. CalPortland, Cemex, Lafarge, Madras Cements and Chettinad Cement Corp are just some of the companies that have invested in wind power to power their operations in such countries as the US, Mexico, Morocco and India, to name a few. This is by no means a comprehensive inventory – but let’s compile one. Contact me with your plant name and alternative energy project, and perhaps we could include such an ‘Alternative Energy Review’ in one of World Cement’s two Special Environmental Issues in 2011, or at worldcement.com. Contact me at email@example.com.