As many readers know, I have a personal interest in alternative energy research. The past year, 2011, brought good news not just for research but for practical implementation, as well. A comprehensive analysis of the deployment of alternative energy technologies has been collected in the Renewables 2011 Global Status Report. This report covers historical growth in many areas of renewable energy, as well as, year-on-year growth from 2009 to 2010.
The report estimates that 194 gigawatts (GW) of electric generating capacity were added globally in 2010. It’s great to see that about half the new capacity comes from renewables. Including hydroelectricity, renewables account for about a quarter of total capacity: 1320 out of 4940 GW. Photovoltaics, in particular did well, increasing generating capacity by 73% year-on-year!
A lot of research articles were published in 2011. The research that I follow focused on improving the materials and processes used to generate or store energy and fuels. In biomass conversion, for example, people want to convert more of the plant to fuel, convert it to higher energy compounds, and do it cheaper and faster. In the area of batteries, we need materials that store more energy per kg, deliver it more rapidly, and last longer.
These kinds of topics may seem far removed from the practical engineering aspects of building a photovoltaic power station, but fundamental research is critical to improving efficiency and reducing cost. On ScienceDirect one can find for 2011 over 6500 citations on batteries, 5000 on photovoltaics, 6000 on fuel cells, and 3000 on biofuels. That’s about a 30% increase over 2010. Let’s hear it for fundamental research!
As a scientist, I’m thrilled at the technical achievements. As a concerned citizen, I’m pleased to see that alternative energy is making significant inroads in replacing fossil fuels.
What will next year bring? What do you readers think is the most significant alternative energy development we’ll see in 2012?
I’m hoping for a new battery I can swap into my Prius that will double my mileage to 100 mpg (42 km/L).