Sun, wind and other resources are leading an electric charge that’s gaining strength in the U.S.
In 2016, about 4.08 trillion kilowatthours of electricity were generated at utility-scale facilities in the United States, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. About 65 percent of this electricity generation was from fossil fuels – coal, natural gas, petroleum, and other gases. About 20 percent was from nuclear energy and 15 percent was sourced from renewable energy projects.
Renewable energy remains a small portion of our energy consumption, but these natural resources are still blowing strong, shining brightly and making waves in several states that have the ability to put these free resources to good use. Well-known renewable energy sources include: hydroelectric, biomass, ocean, hydrogen, geothermal, wind and solar. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, America is home to one of the largest and fastest growing wind markets in the world. According to the American Wind Energy Association, Texas is the undisputed leader in wind energy. It has approximately three times more wind generating capacity than any other state and hosts nearly a quarter of American wind jobs. At the end of 2015, there were 75,000 wind turbines across the 50 states, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. That’s enough capacity to power more than 142,000 American homes. American wind power is on track to double our output over the next five years and supply 10 percent of U.S. electricity by 2020.
In January, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo committed the state to acquiring the power from 2.4 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030 in his State of the State Address. Cuomo announced $360 million in awards for 11 large-scale renewable energy projects throughout New York. Once operational, the finished renewable energy projects will add over 260 MW of renewable energy for use in the state. Cuomo announced soon after his address that the Board of Trustees of the Long Island Power Authority voted to approve the nation’s largest offshore wind farm. The South Fork Wind Farm is 30 miles southeast of Montauk and will provide enough electricity to power 50,000 Long Island homes. The location of the wind farm was based off of a study by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Construction could start as early as 2019 – and the wind farm could be operational as early as 2022.
The outlook is also bright for solar renewable energy projects. China is the world’s leading solar producer and seeks to triple its capacity by 2020. These goals are largely tied to the fact that China’s air pollution makes it almost impossible for citizens to breathe in cities like Shanghai and Beijing. In 2015, California opened the world’s largest solar plant in the Mohave Desert. As the demand for solar power continues to grow the prices continue to drop.
Schools in three Virginia communities are leading the way on solar, by installing solar panels on rooftops. In Albemarle County, students helped drive a decision to install 1.1 megawatts of solar on six schools. In 2014, Sutherland Middle School students gave pro-solar testimony in Richmond at a hearing on Dominion Virginia Power’s resource plans. Students at Monticello High School wrote to the school board to make the case for solar. In 2016, the school division added rooftop solar to these schools and four others, by entering into a new type of purchasing authority with a solar developer called a power purchase agreement (PPA). Lexington City Schools added a solar system to their middle school and the Arlington school system also added solar to an elementary and high school. Arlington school officials plan to issue a request for proposals (RFP) in October for solar power. Prices for installed commercial solar declined 20 percent in 2016, creating an opportunity for the school district to save money with solar.
The U.S. Department of Energy, the Israel Ministry of National Infrastructures, Energy and Water Resources jointly with the Israel Innovation Authority, and the BIRD (Binational Industrial Research and Development) Foundation have established “BIRD Energy.” A project proposal has been released that requests a research and development cooperation between two companies or a cooperation between a company and a university- one from the U.S. and one from Israel. The project outcome should lead to commercialization renewable energy or energy efficiency. The maximum conditional grant is $1 million per project. The final proposal is due by Aug. 21.
The New England state of Massachusetts has launched a call for 9.45 gigawatt hours a year of clean energy. The joint request for proposals by five Massachusetts utilities and the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources seeks projects for long-term contracts of 15 to 20 years. Interested developers must submit notice of intent to bid by May 2. Proposals will be due July 27. The utilities expect to select the winners in January 2018. The projects must come online by 2022, however, the RFP encourages proposals that can commit to start deliveries by the end of 2020 to help the state meet its emissions reductions goals.
The U.S. is continuously looking for ways to use natural resources to our advantage. Scientists are even looking at congested highways to generate electrical power through good vibrations. California has granted $2.3 million to be used for two independent road projects that will test the viability of scaling up piezoelectricity. “Piezo” is Greek for “squeeze” or “press” and refers to using pressure to create power.
The first pilot project will begin with the design of a 200-foot stretch of asphalt that will be sowed with tiny piezoelectric generators. The inch-wide devices will be stacked like quarters within numerous arrays beneath the pavement, where each will convert the force of passing cars into a small electrical charge.
The resulting electricity could be used to power nearby lights and signs, stored in batteries or sent to a grid. The more traffic there is, and the heavier the vehicles are, the more power can be created. Some state estimates suggest that just 400 cars an hour would need to pass over the arrays to make them economically viable. The second project will provide a design that would power up to 5,000 homes from a half-mile of highway.
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