Experts agree and governments demand a grid powered by renewable energy in the coming years. But which industry will dominate? Or is there room for all three at the top?
Let’s break down the three elements vying for first place and examine what the pros, cons, costs and future of each are.
As a basic for measurement, please note that 1MW (Megawatt) of power can conceivably power 1,000 homes with electricity for one hour.
You may have seen them spotted across California or through the depths of Iowa. These towering wind turbines are sometimes so tall, they have identifier lights so planes don’t hit them. These giants create electricity by harnessing airflow to mechanically power generators, bringing electricity to the masses.
Once built, these turbines create little to no greenhouse gas emissions and use very little land. Often they’re placed in the middle of crop farms. With regular maintenance, these monumental structures can last up to 25 years. However, if there is no wind, there is no power. Wind is not an energy source that can be stored. Not to mention, not all winds are equal, meaning not every wind can be harnessed to meet the timing of electricity demands. Building just one behemoth wind turbine can cost between $1.3 million to $2.2 million per MW generated.
Looking to the future, the horizon looks great for wind energy. European Union Countries are looking to expand offshore developments of wind farms. Special consideration is being taken by examining existing offshore oil platforms and seeing if they can be reutilized for wind farms.
Water power, also known as hydroelectricity, is a constant source. Unlike sun or wind, it’s cyclical in nature, evaporating to form clouds, then rain and eventually ending up in streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans. Once built and running, they too produce little to no greenhouse gas emissions and can be placed in existing dams, rivers or ocean floors. They have a more predictable energy load factor compared to wind or solar because it’s easier to see a drought coming than a cloudy day or breeze.
Unfortunately for water power, it’s disrupted and diminished lowland forest and marsh lands because of the changes in the downstream river environment. Not to mention, a drought reduces the amount of water available, resulting in loss of power to the grid. Dam failures have been known to be the cause of some of the largest man-made disasters in history, resulting in loss of land, structure and lives.
Today the cost of building a large-Scale, sustainable hydro power plant is so high the United States is currently seeking more financially-friendly options in small hydro (10MW) and micro hydro (100KW) plants. For example, if the Hoover Dam were to be built today, it would cost more than $750 million dollars.
Our European neighbors are taking hydroelectricity to new levels in the future. Rather than dropping turbines underwater to gain electricity through river currents, scientists have been testing the benefits of kinetic wave energy with a system that garners electricity through hydraulic floats.
Perhaps you’ve seen some rooftops glaring brightly at you on a sunny day. More than likely, the owner of that building has installed some solar panels in an effort to generate electricity by the conversion of sunlight. Similar to its cousins, once setup, solar fields produce little to no maintenance. Technology has driven down manufacturing costs, making the panels less expensive. They’re installed in residential, commercial and utility settings, making them a truly multi-level renewable energy source.
Those dark clouds best stay at bay because no sunshine equals no power generated, making solar electricity intermittent and unpredictable. Utility-size solar fields eat up acreage that may have been equally viable for something else. Storing the electricity they generate uses specific kinds of batteries utilizing more space.
While building a solar field can be a smooth and relatively quick process, the cost for a 1MW solar field generally costs about $2.5 million dollars and requires a minimum of five acres of land.
On the horizon is an emerging technology known as the “perovskite” solar cell. This new product seems destined to be a cheaper yet more efficient solar cell than those currently existing, generating more power at a lower manufacturing cost.
Of course only time will tell. As our shelf life on oil and natural gas product continues to expire, we must put on our eyes to the horizon line and wait for the winds of change to help us ride the waves racing for the finish line for renewable energy.
Scale Funding is a leading invoice financing company. Since 1994, Scale Funding has provided cash to 1000’s of companies involved in renewable energy, trucking, oilfield services, staffing, and other industries. For a free, no-obligation invoice financing consultation and quote, call (800) 707-4845.
Author: Angelique C.