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Industry

Can Industry Rely on Renewable Sources For Its Energy Needs?

The US is gradually realizing that fossil fuel is no longer a viable energy option, not just due to its impact on the environment, but the economy as well. According to the Environmental Law Institute, subsidies for fossil fuel, from 2002 to 2008, totaled a whooping $72 billion. With the US economy deeply dependent on fossil fuel, moving towards cleaner, cost effective and sustainable renewable energy sources can be challenging.

Industry needs reliable and affordable energy to stay productive and competitive. At the same time, it needs to balance between its growing demand for energy and the urgent need to protect the environment.

Industry accounts for more than a third of total energy consumption in the US, and 70% -80% of this sector’s energy demand is for heat production. Given the current concerns of global warming,environmental pollution, energy security and industrial competitiveness, there is increasing pressure on industry to use modern, clean and efficient sources of energy. Till 2007, just 8.5% of the total energy demand in the US was fulfilled from renewable energy sources. However solar, wind and biomass-based technologies have shown considerable potential and are waiting to be tapped not just for domestic use but industrial energy purposes as well.

Introduction

Energy is the largest industry in the world. It fuels both the manufacturing and service sector and is estimated to be about $ 7 trillion TWh in size.The fallout of excessive dependence on fossil fuel for energy is having an impact on the environment and people alike. With growing acknowledgment of the negative effects of the use of fossil fuel, research and development in the renewable energy sector is getting some serious attention.

According to market studies, investment in renewable energy is growing at 45% a year – essentially doubling every two years. It is expected that energy generated from alternate sources will become cost competitive compared to energy generated from fossil fuel, especially with the costs of pollution from fossil fuels factored in. This is increasingly becoming the case with the tax on CO2 production.Despite the thrust towards alternative energy, U.S used renewable energy sources such as water, geothermal, wind, sun, and biomass to meet just 8.5% of its total energy needs in 2007.

Alternative Energy Resources

While there are numerous alternate energy resources, not all of them can be harvested on a large scale while others, have reliability issues.

Solar energy

Direct conversion of sunlight to electricity using solar cells is a promising technology, and already has been used widely. Solar energy is especially helpful for remote places that keep falling off the energy grid and face constant blackouts.

Wind energy

Wind has the potential to be a significant electric power source. Its viability, however, depends on the location of wind mills. The development of wind power in the US is currently the highest in the world.Wind is also a clean, low maintenance, cost effective way to generate energy, but like solar energy, storage problems of large amounts of wind generated electricity remain of much concern.

Geothermal energy

Geothermal sources allow for continual energy generation, which contrasts with alternative energy sources like wind or solar. Geothermal energy boasts of the best base load percentage, namely power availability 95% of the time. The footprint of a geothermal power plant is minimal and the resource is long lasting; the original geothermal power plant which is over a century old continues to produce electricity to date. Geothermal power produces energy with little or no emission. It is also a proven technology, with low operating costs; no fuel requirements once the plant is built, and insulates producers from commodity shocks, unlike fossil fuel.

Three aspects of the alternate energy system

While alternate energy seems to be increasingly feasible, its distribution and consumption cannot become a reality without certain infrastructure. The first infrastructural requirement is energy storage systems – this is especially important as renewable energy like solar and wind are not constantly produced. The second requirement is the Smart Grid that can be used to distribute not just energy produced from alternate energy sources but from fossil fuel as well. The smart grid has to be extremely responsive to fluctuations in energy supply, leakages during transmission and breakdowns. The third infrastructure requirement is the smart meter which allows people to monitor their energy consumption and regulate its use, especially during certain times of the day when the price of energy may change. The fourth infrastructure requirement is energy efficient transformers that reduce energy wastage during distribution.

Energy storage systems

The concept of storing electricity generated in a utility grid has been tried since the 1960s, these large scale storage projects were, however, more common at nuclear power plants. From 2005 onwards, the American Electric Power (AEP) took the lead in adding large amounts of battery energy storage in substations. The distributed energy storage approach was used to test peak load management and improve system reliability by deploying systems in sizes of 2 MW. Battery systems provide a new alternative for utility power management in a distribution substation, and during an outage,customers can have power restored as the substation runs on battery energy.

Smart Grid

Simply put, the smart grid is dynamic and has constant two-way communication. It represents a significant move away from aging, utility-owned electricity distribution infrastructure to networked infrastructure that directly connects utilities with customers. The smart grid puts renewable energy online, and makes the distribution system efficient, reliable and flexible.

Smart Grid introduces a complete change in perspective and moves away from technicalities like production and distribution of energy to dawn a human face, that of the consumer. The consumer becomes part of the smart grid and is able to use energy more efficiently. Smart Grid also enables consumers to reduce demand, enables utilities to use efficient generators, and allows for more renewable power sources to be used. Smart Grid is a key enabler of solutions to reduce global warming.

Smart meters

The heart of the Smart Grid are “smart meters” that establish 2-way communication between utilities and the customer. The meters give consumers a great variety of information about their energy consumption – and therefore, some control over their energy savings. Because a utility has different costs to generate power at different times, everybody can save if electric usage is cut during highest-cost times. Utilities can transmit different rates/kWh at different times of the day or week, and customer can use this information to take advantage of the cheapest rates.

Smart meter also track usage at different times and tally up a bill without meter readers. Smart meters can tell a utility when power has been lost at a location, so the utility can know immediately when and where a power outage occurs.

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