Chapter 1
Why renewable energy?
At present, a growing population of over 7 billion people inhabits the planet. The
growth rate is expected to slow each year, however, a population of somewhere
between 7.5 and 10.5 billion people by 2050 is anticipated, according to the Popula-
tion Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations
Secretariat (2009). Natural gas, coal, and petroleum power plants are responsible for
over 65% of all electricity today. Many accept these conventional sources of energy,
also known as fossil fuels, as reliable long-term energy sources.
As the world’s population increases so does the world’s energy usage. If fossil
fuels remain the dominant form of energy generation, the world as we know it will
likely continue on its present course of increased consumption. The question is “In
what form is that course, and is it a sustainable one?” Al Gore’s now famous presen-
tation, An Inconvenient Truth, highlights historical data showing not only a global
warming trend, but also its link to the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, CO
2
, a known
byproduct of fossil fuel use. While determining the causes of CO
2
creation is an issue
that is being evaluated, this will not be the only environmental problem the world will
face if fossil fuels remain our dominant source of energy generation.
Tenth of a degree annual average temperature changes due to global warming
have been both relatively subtle up to today and challenged by both sides of the glo-
bal warming debate. Hence, building an argument for renewable energy based solely
on “solving” climatic change or global warming is hard to quantify and highly con-
troversial. But what if there were highly observable and almost indisputable figures
available that are directly related to use of conventional energy? With fluctuations not
just in the tenths of a percent but in the ten or even twenty percent rate of change,
these figures exist and we have to look no further than the volatile historical prices
of our conventional energy commodities. Take the retail price of gasoline or the mar-
ket price or natural gas used in electricity generating power plants. Increases of over
10–20% in one month have been seen in gasoline prices and natural gas has been no
less dynamic with both up and down swings of 100% in 1–2 year periods (Arndt,
1989). While gasoline and diesel prices are nearing record highs today in 2012, the
price of natural gas is the lowest it has been in 10 years. Some may not see an issue
with historically dynamic or volatile prices, especially when they are low. However,
price volatility is seen an important factor in economics. According to a report by
the Center for American Progress, energy price volatility has a very negative effect on
the economy. Data presented in their May 2011 report titled Not Again The Summer
Vacation Gas Price Roller Coaster on the Move Again states that “… energy price
FONGTIPP_Book.indb 1FONGTIPP_Book.indb 1 11/12/2012 2:26:16 PM11/12/2012 2:26:16 PM
2 Project development in the solar industry
Annual electricity net generation in the world
20000
18000
16000
14000
12000
10000
TWh
8000
6000
4000
2000
Renewable
Nuclear
Fossil (coal/natural gas/petroleum)
0
1980
1981
1982
1983
1984
1985
1986
1987
1988
1989
1990
1991
1992
1993
1994
1995
1996
1997
1998
1999
2000
2001
2002
2003
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
2009
Figure 1.1 Worldwide energy generation (EIA, 2011).
0
2000
4000
6000
8000
10000
12000
14000
1989
1990
1991
1992
1993
1994
1995
1996
1997
1998
1999
2000
2001
2002
2003
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
2009
Kg of Oil Equavalent (BIllions)
Year
Energy Usage in kg of Oil Equivalent
World
China
USA
Figure 1.2 Energy usage in oil equivalent (World Bank Database, May 2012).
FONGTIPP_Book.indb 2FONGTIPP_Book.indb 2 11/12/2012 2:26:16 PM11/12/2012 2:26:16 PM

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