‘Look forward, not back’, is sound advice in most circumstances. But sometimes it’s satisfying to turn round and see how far you’ve climbed, what distance you’ve covered. And sometimes it can be amusing to look back a few years and see what seemed ‘cool’ ten years back (‘did he really have that moustache’)It was exactly ten years ago — July 1998 — that the first issue of Renewable Energy World magazine appeared, which gives us the perfect excuse for a quick look back now. And what’s revealed is that 10 years is a long time in renewables — a very long time. During that decade, many renewables technologies have gone through order-of-magnitude growth, particularly wind and PV — more of that below.
What else was going on in 1998? It was the year the G8 met in Britain — in Birmingham. The G8 ‘solar showcase’ BIPV pavilion was built to show the G8 visitors what solar building could offer. The G8 summit communiqué talked about Africa, and globalization, and gave just a brief mention to helping ‘developing countries cut pollution in line with the Kyoto agreement’. It stated ‘The greatest environmental threat to our future prosperity remains climate change’. No specific mention of CO2, or targets, or timescales. ‘We will each undertake domestically the steps necessary to reduce significantly greenhouse gas emissions.’ Did they? Yet 1998 was also the year that the price of a barrel oil fell to US $12 — from $18 the previous year. So some things do change.
Wind power — a transformation
In our first-ever issue, we reported on the world’s then-largest wind farm at Buffalo Ridge — at 107 MW it is still a respectable size, though no longer unusual.
Writing about the progress of wind power in Germany, Andreas Wagner wrote that 818 new wind turbines had been installed there during 1997, with the average rated power of new turbines being 628.9 kW.
We also reported that, from July 1998, Vestas Deutschland would ‘be producing the world’s largest production-line turbines in their newly-enlarged manufacturing plant in Husum … The first V66/1.65 MW prototype was erected in 1997 and the machine is now going into production at the rate of at least three per month’.
Three a month wouldn’t go far these days, and of course Vestas and others have upscaled massively since then. General Electric (not involved in wind power back in 1998) now has no fewer than 8500 of its 1.5 MW machines in operation around the world.
So while today it’s become standard to install turbines of 1.5 MW or 2 MW, it’s now 2.5 MW machines that are becoming the new ‘workhorse’ norm. Meanwhile several machines of 3 MW or more have gone into production, and prototypes are larger still. It’s taken from 1998 to now, however, for Germany to be pushed out of lead position as the world’s top wind market by the US.
And from Down Under? Geoff Thomas from Advanced Wind Technologies wrote in 1998 ‘The first real wind farm in Australia is the 2 MW farm at Esperance in Western Australia.’ In 2007 Australia brought its installed capacity up to 972 MW, with the addition of 176 MW.
In 1998 we reported the total installed wind power capacity had hit 7639 MW the previous year. By the end of 2007 that was 94,005 MW with wind now supplying over 1% of world electricity demand.
Solar PV — from micro to magnificent
‘Manufacturing improvements, price reductions and niche market demands have led to annual average PV production increases of 15%-20%, and more, with a 1997 world total production greater than 125 MWp’. That was the late Mark Fitzgerald writing in our first issue. In issue 2, Peter Varadi asked why PV was ‘still waiting’. A decade later, total production of PV is greater than 3 GWp, and the wait is over in some markets, at least. While growth of 15%-20% was impressive in 1998, it has of course continued year on year at a faster rate — reaching (Paula Mints tells us on page 51) 55% in 2007, with a compound annual rate of 44% for the five previous years. Mark Fitzgerald also wrote about the need for training and certification in the industry — and today the need for qualified staff is greater than ever.
Not everything was small in 1998 though – the world’s largest solar rooftop was built — 7816 m2, 1 MWp — on the new Munich Trade Fair centre. It was completed in just seven weeks. ‘Its prominent position means that the millions of international visitors to the site will see the plant as a showcase for photovoltaics and its possible uses.’ At that time, a megawatt roof was extraordinary. It’s still impressive today — but in this issue we report on the current ‘world largest’, a 12 MWp installation on General Motors’ factory in Zaragoza, Spain. Today’s ground-mounted PV was almost in the realms of fantasy a decade back.
In spite of the many solar successes, business hasn’t always run smoothly. Our first-issue item. ‘Hungary’s First PV Manufacturing Plant Opens’ reported that Energy Photovoltaics Inc of New Jersey and Hungarian Development Bank Inc had established Dunasolar Photvoltaics Inc, the first silicon PV manufacturing plant in Hungary, in April 1997. ‘At present the yearly production output is 2.5 MW. The planned manufacturing capacity by the year 2011 will be a total of 10 MW annually’. However, on 13 June 2003 that company stopped production and sold its production line to a Thai start-up.
Solar was setting its sights high — particularly the Sky Station, a project initiated in 1995. We reported ‘The objective is to place a payload over a given point as high as possible for as long as possible. An airship payload carrier will be 21 km (70,000 feet) away, above civilian air traffic and will produce excellent telecommunication opportunities at a cost of only 10% of the satellite. The obvious power source is the sun. The designers need a collar cell that is flexible and very light and this has been found in the latest amorphous silicon solar cells which will have efficiency of about 7%’. The project folded due to lack of funds, later that year.
Biogas grows up
David Fulford wrote for us on on-farm biogas, focusing mostly on the progress in China, India and Nepal and bemoaning the lack of success elsewhere. ‘Few farmers anywhere in the world would be willing to build biogas plants without a subsidy’. Thanks to its feed-in tariff, by 2007 Germany had about 3750 biogas plants, mostly tied up to onsite electricity generation and rated at 1280 MW, and the German Biogas Association estimating that as much as 20% of Germany’s natural gas needs could be supplied from biogas by 2020. (Our second issue looked at biomass gasification in the US — that’s progressed rather more slowly.)
Ready for the next decade
The renewable energy industry has transformed itself within the space of 10 years, with today’s much more sophisticated picture now presented in the features in this Review issue. They take a look right across the industry — and also forward. We look at the technology developments, policies, finance and business trends and at some of the other issues that have become critical — such as the need not only for qualified staff at all levels throughout the renewables sector, but in particular for high-level industry leadership.
I’d like to thank all our contributors to this, and all our past issues, and of course the companies who continue to support Renewable Energy World magazine with their advertising. And I’d also like to repeat some words from that first issue, because they remain as true now as then:
‘Massive growth and market penetration are going to be required by all the renewable technologies if the world is going to take any serious steps towards sustainability’.
Editorial Director, Renewable Energy World magazine