In a recent post, I have explained why I share this passion with you about the renewable energy (RenE), and how it matches my English into French translation competences. Let’s now take a closer look at what the renewable energy industry actually covers, as the field is broad.
RenE – a definition among others: “energy that comes from resources which are naturally replenished on a human timescale such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves and geothermal heat. Renewable energy replaces conventional fuels in four distinct areas: electricity generation, hot water/space heating, motor fuels, and rural (off-grid) energy services.” Thank you to Wikipedia contributors!
RenE are said to contribute up to 19% to the global energy consumption and 22% to the global electricity generation in 2012 and 2013, respectively. RenE composes on one hand of modern renewables: hydro, wind, solar and biofuels, and on the other hand of traditional biomass. Both types of sources contributed in about equal parts to the global energy supply.
Unlike oil, renewable energy resources exist over wide geographical areas. Rapid deployment of renewable energy and efficiency implies significant energy security, climate change mitigation, as well as economic benefits. Not only do the resources exist worldwide, but they also are replenished constantly. France’s territory offers high potential for all major renewable energy sources: sun, wind and tide.
A year ago, in July 2015, the Hollande French parliament passed a comprehensive energy and climate law that includes a mandatory renewable energy target. The law requires 40% of national electricity production to come from RenE sources by 2030, less than 15 years. For context, 19.5% of the country’s electricity was generated by renewable energy in 2014! among which 13.8% hydro, 3.5% wind, 1.2% solar, 1.0% others.
Installed French capacity – An additional 1042 MW were installed in 2014, bringing France’s total to 9285 MW, making France the 8th largest wind energy producer.
Rated power – Modern utility-scale wind turbines range from around 600 kW to 5 MW of rated power, although turbines with rated output of 1.5–3 MW have become the most common for commercial use. Offshore and high altitude sites, are preferred locations for wind farms. Typically full load hours of wind turbines vary between 16% and 57% annually, but might be higher in particularly favorable offshore sites. Globally, the long-term technical potential of wind energy is believed to be 40 times current electricity demand.
In the field of renewable energy, the solar energy is the radiant light and heat from the sun. It is is harnessed using a range of ever-evolving technologies such as solar heating, photovoltaics, concentrated solar power (CSP), concentrator photovoltaics (CPV), solar architecture and artificial photosynthesis. Solar technologies are broadly characterized as either passive solar or active solar depending on the way they capture, convert and distribute solar energy. Passive solar techniques include orienting a building to the Sun, selecting materials with favorable thermal mass or light dispersing properties, and designing spaces that naturally circulate air. Active solar technologies encompass solar thermal energy, using solar collectors for heating, and solar power, converting sunlight into electricity either directly using photovoltaics (PV), or indirectly using concentrated solar power (CSP).
High Temperature Geothermal energy is from thermal energy generated and stored in the Earth. Thermal energy is the energy that determines the temperature of matter. Earth’s geothermal energy originates from the original formation of the planet and from radioactive decay of minerals. The geothermal gradient, which is the difference in temperature between the core of the planet and its surface, drives a continuous conduction of thermal energy in the form of heat from the core to the surface.
Low Temperature Geothermal refers to the use of the outer crust of the earth as a Thermal Battery to facilitate Renewable thermal energy for heating and cooling buildings, and other refrigeration and industrial uses. In this form of Geothermal, a Geothermal Heat Pump and Ground-coupled heat exchanger are used together to move heat energy into the earth (for cooling) and out of the earth (for heating) on a varying seasonal basis.
A CHP power station using wood to supply 30,000 households in France
Defining Biomass – biological material derived from living, or recently living organisms. It most often refers to plants or plant-derived materials which are specifically called lignocellulosic biomass. As an energy source, biomass can either be used directly via combustion to produce heat, or indirectly after converting it to various forms of biofuel. The conversion of biomass to biofuel can be achieved by different methods: thermal, chemical, and biochemical methods. Though wood remains the largest biomass energy source today; examples include forest residues – such as dead trees, branches and tree stumps –, yard clippings, wood chips and even municipal solid waste. In the second sense, biomass includes plant or animal matter that can be converted into fibers or other industrial chemicals, including biofuels. Industrial biomass can be grown from numerous types of plants, including miscanthus, switchgrass, hemp, corn, poplar, willow, sorghum, sugarcane, bamboo, and a variety of tree species, ranging from eucalyptus to oil palm.
Biomass can be converted to other usable forms of energy like methane gas or transportation fuels like ethanol and biodiesel. Rotting garbage, and agricultural and human waste, all release methane gas – also called landfill gas or biogas. Crops, such as corn and sugarcane, can be fermented to produce the transportation fuel, ethanol. Biodiesel, another transportation fuel, can be produced from left-over food products like vegetable oils and animal fats. Also, biomass to liquids (BTLs) and cellulosic ethanol are still under research. There is a great deal of research involving algal fuel or algae-derived biomass due to the fact that it’s a non-food resource and can be produced at rates 5 to 10 times those of other types of land-based agriculture, such as corn and soy. Once harvested, it can be fermented to produce biofuels such as ethanol, butanol, and methane, as well as biodiesel and hydrogen. The biomass used for electricity generation varies by region. Forest by-products, such as wood residues, are common in the United States. Agricultural waste is common in Mauritius (sugar cane residue) and Southeast Asia (rice husks). Animal husbandry residues, such as poultry litter, are common in the United Kingdom.
Biofuels include a wide range of fuels which are derived from biomass. The term covers solid, liquid, and gaseous fuels. Liquid biofuels include bioalcohols, such as bioethanol, and oils, such as biodiesel. Gaseous biofuels include biogas, landfill gas and synthetic gas. Bioethanol is an alcohol made by fermenting the sugar components of plant materials and it is made mostly from sugar and starch crops.
With advanced technology being developed, cellulosic biomass, such as trees and grasses, are also used as feedstocks for ethanol production. Ethanol can be used as a fuel for vehicles in its pure form, but it is usually used as a gasoline additive to increase octane and improve vehicle emissions. Bioethanol is widely used in the United States and in Brazil. The energy costs for producing bio-ethanol are almost equal to, the energy yields from bio-ethanol. However, according to the European Environment Agency, biofuels do not address global warming concerns. Biodiesel is made from vegetable oils, animal fats or recycled greases. It can be used as a fuel for vehicles in its pure form, or more commonly as a diesel additive to reduce levels of particulates, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbons from diesel-powered vehicles. Biodiesel is produced from oils or fats using transesterification and is the most common biofuel in Europe. Biofuels provided 2.7% of the world’s transport fuel in 2010.
Biomass, biogas and biofuels are burned to produce heat/power and in doing so harm the environment.
Several refineries that can process biomass and turn it into ethanol are built by companies such as Iogen, POET, and Abengoa, while other companies such as the Verenium Corporation, Novozymes, and Dyadic International are producing enzymes which could enable future commercialization. The shift from food crop feedstocks to waste residues and native grasses offers significant opportunities for a range of players, from farmers to biotechnology firms, and from project developers to investors.
Producing liquid fuels from oil-rich varieties of algae is an ongoing research topic. Various microalgae grown in open or closed systems are being tried including some system that can be set up in brownfield and desert lands.
Carbon-neutral fuels are synthetic fuels (including methane, gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel or ammonia ) produced by hydrogenating waste carbon dioxide recycled from power plant flue-gas emissions, recovered from automotive exhaust gas, or derived from carbonic acid in seawater. Such fuels are considered carbon-neutral because they do not result in a net increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases. To the extent that synthetic fuels displace fossil fuels, or if they are produced from waste carbon or seawater carbonic acid, and their combustion is subject to carbon capture at the flue or exhaust pipe, they result in negative carbon dioxide emission and net carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere, and thus constitute a form of greenhouse gas remediation.
Renewable energy technologies are getting cheaper, through technological change and through the benefits of mass production and market competition. A 2011 IEA report said: “A portfolio of renewable energy technologies is becoming cost-competitive in an increasingly broad range of circumstances, in some cases providing investment opportunities without the need for specific economic support,” and added that “cost reductions in critical technologies, such as wind and solar, are set to continue.”
Hydro-electricity and geothermal electricity produced at favorable sites are now the cheapest way to generate electricity. Renewable energy costs continue to drop, and the levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) is declining for wind power, solar photovoltaic (PV), concentrated solar power (CSP) and some biomass technologies. Renewable energy is also the most economical solution for new grid-connected capacity in areas with good resources. As the cost of renewable power falls, the scope of economically viable applications increases. Renewable technologies are now often the most economical solution for new generating capacity. Where “oil-fired generation is the predominant power generation source (e.g. on islands, off-grid and in some countries) a lower-cost renewable solution almost always exists today”. A series of studies by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory modeled the “grid in the Western US under a number of different scenarios where intermittent renewables accounted for 33 percent of the total power.” In the models, inefficiencies in cycling the fossil fuel plants to compensate for the variation in solar and wind energy resulted in an additional cost of “between $0.47 and $1.28 to each Megawatt hour generated”; however, the savings in the cost of the fuels saved “adds up to $7 billion, meaning the added costs are, at most, two percent of the savings.”
Solar power in France had been growing rapidly with more than 4,000 GWh of generated photovoltaic (PV) electricity every year. By the end of March 2015, the cumulative photovoltaic capacity reached almost 5.2 GW, after 223.22 MW was added to the distribution grid in the first quarter of 2015. This makes France the seventh biggest producer of PV electricity in the world.
However, a declining political support for new installations slowed down PV deployment since the record year of 2011. The French solar association SOLER urged the French government for more support and submitted a five-point plan in Spring 2014.
The largest completed solar park is the 115 MW Toul-Rosières Solar Park.
France has the third largest wind resources in Europe after Germany and the United Kingdom.
As a conclusion, I hope this definition series and state of the art in the field of Renewable energy has helped you see the big picture of the RenE, that I am enthusiastic about.