Centralized Clean Energy Goes Big

While distributed generation has received considerable attention in the media and has been widely touted by industry insiders, an equally important revolution is taking place in utility-scale Renewable Energy systems. Clean energy is not just going “distributed” and “small,” it’s increasingly going “centralized” and “big.”

According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), more than 6,500 MW of new wind energy generating capacity was installed worldwide in 2001, with a similar amount projected for 2002. And of that amount, an increasingly large percentage is coming from utility-scale wind farms. These include Germany’s land-based Sintfeld Wind Farm with 65, 1.6 MW turbines; the 200 MW King Mountain Wind Ranch in Texas; and Denmark’s new offshore 160 MW Horns Rev installation (80, 2 MW turbines). Wind turbine manufacturers are coming forward with larger and more advanced turbines to fuel further development. GE Wind Energy, the largest wind turbine company in the United States, is currently testing a prototype 3.6 MW wind turbine and privately owned Enercon, Germany’s biggest wind turbine maker, is preparing to test a prototype 4.5 MW turbine this summer. Both companies’ turbines have rotors that exceed 100 meters (328 feet) in diameter and will produce enough energy to power approximately 3,000 homes each. These turbines are geared toward the large-scale offshore wind farms that are sprouting up around the globe. And it’s not just wind power that is increasing in scale. If the folks at EnviroMission Ltd. of Australia are successful, then Australia will become home to the world’s first large-scale solar tower. The proposed tower will be one kilometer (3,280 feet) high (making it the tallest artificial structure on the planet) and will generate enough electricity to supply a city of more than 200,000 people, according to its creators. The Australian government recently awarded the tower Major Project Facilitation Status, which means the project will be fast-tracked by government regulators. One of Germany’s most prestigious design firms, Schlaich Bergermann and Partner (SBP), is a key developer in this centralized solar powered turbine venture. At Clean Edge, we see continued growth for both distributed and centralized clean energy projects, with solar and wind power growing by more than 25 percent per year for the foreseeable future. Increasingly, large-scale centralized systems will play a signficant role in the clean energy mix as governments, communities, and corporations take advantage of technological breakthroughs and their unique scale and capacity attributes. About the Authors Ron Pernick and Joel Makower are co-founders and principals of Clean Edge, Inc., a research and consulting firm focused on clean energy. Both partners bring years of environmental business, technology, and marketing experience to their clients in industry, government, venture, and non-profit sectors. The company’s flagship publication, Clean Energy Trends 2003, which looks at the clean-tech investment climate and highlights five emerging clean-energy trends, will be available in early 2003 for free at CleanEdge.com. They can be reached at pernick@cleanedge.com and makower@cleanedge.com
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