Part of the U.K.'s push for total wind energy.
- A new project off the U.K. coast could power up to 1 million homes.
- The wind farm is one of the largest of its kind.
- Hornsea is the farthest-out-to-sea wind plant in the world.
Renewables are leaving the land and heading offshore. The world's largest offshore wind farm, located off the east coast of Britain, is on the cusp of completion. It's one of the most ambitious and large scale plans to combat climate change and develop renewable sources of energy.
Situated 75 miles (120 kilometers) out from England's Yorkshire coast, the Hornsea One project will be able to power 1 million British homes once it's completed in 2020. This will be the furthest a wind farm has ever been out to sea. It'll consist of 174 seven megawatt wind turbines that are all 100 meters tall, with a blade circumference of 75 meters.
World's largest offshore wind farm
The entire wind farm takes up a space of roughly 157 square miles (407 square kilometers). The turbines are also massive. Stefan Hoonings, the senior manager at the company Ørsted, responsible for the construction of the farm, reported that just a single rotation of one of the turbines can power an entire house for a whole day.
This project, among others, will help the United Kingdom reach its goal of deriving a third of its energy from offshore wind by 2030.Climate activists are pushing harder than ever to get more renewable projects off the ground. Recently 77 countries at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, but past commitments in the past have fallen short. Global emissions have continued to rise since the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
March towards the entire world running on renewables
The globe's share of renewables are small, but growing. A McKinsey report predicts that by 2035, more than half of energy generation may stem from renewables.
Wind power is proving to be a viable option for mass scale energy production. Stanford researchers recently created a roadmap study that showed that with our current technology we could power the whole world with renewables by 2050.
The company building Hornsea has already built 25 offshore wind farms — from Europe to the United States to parts of Asia. The company was originally called Danish Oil and Natural Gas, since 2006 it's weaned itself off of coal, cutting some 73 percent of its usage since 2006. It intends on being coal-free by 2023.
Hornsea is going to have two further iterations. Hornsea Two will be able power up to 1.6 million homes, followed by Hornsea Three which could provide electricity to 2 million homes.
It just might be a possibility.
- Study presents roadmaps for 139 countries to go 100 percent renewable.
- Authors suggested it was a much more aggressive strategy than the Paris agreement.
- Researchers found that it's possible with current technology and capabilites to go full renewable by 2050.
The fossil fuels that we're currently dependent on for much of our energy consumption — among them, coal, natural gas, and oil — are not renewable resources. It's been a common fact for quite some time that when we exhaust these resources, we won't be able to produce any more. Still, with that being said, many regard renewable energy as a subpar and less dependable energy source than our go-to fossil fuels.
Yet, according to the United States Energy Information Administration (EIA), renewable energies already account for 15 percent of our total electricity generation. Investments in renewable energy is occurring rapidly and places once seen as petroleum producing havens (such as Texas) now account for 12 percent of their energy production from renewables.
This said, as the world marches steadily on toward a future of renewable energy, one 2017 study, published in the journal Joule, indicates that a total overhaul may happen sooner than we think.
One hundred percent renewable energy
The extensive study analyzed the 139 countries that are responsible for 99 percent of global carbon emissions. Overall, the researchers found that the planet should be ready to go 100 percent renewable by 2050.
In the completed report, the authors lay out renewable energy roadmaps — overviews of how each country can transition completely away from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Their work doesn't just provide blueprints, though. The researchers also explain how in transitioning we can avoid 1.5°C global warming, create 24.3 million long-term jobs, reduce the social cost of energy, and increase worldwide access to energy.
Mark Z. Jacobson, lead researcher of the study stated, "I was surprised by how many countries we found had sufficient resources to power themselves with 100 percent wind, water, and solar power."
All of these countries would be able to use renewable energy contained within their own borders and could most likely rely on technologies they currently possess. Researchers also talked about how the shift to 100 percent renewables would decrease the amount of land dedicated to energy production. Jacobson writes:
"The entire renewable energy footprint [. . .] is on order of 1.15 to 1.2 percent of the world's land. But keep in mind that 20 percent of the world's land is used for agriculture. In the United States, if you just look at oil and gas, there are 1.7 million active oil and gas wells and 2.3 million inactive wells. Collectively they take up somewhere between one to two percent of the U.S. land area. And that's not counting the refineries, the pipelines, or coal and nuclear infrastructure."
Each day we're beginning to see an increased amount of effort and investment being funneled into purely renewable energy resources. Indeed, the trend is spreading far and wide throughout the world.
Wind energy projects
A surprising study back in 2009 — it was conducted by the European Environment Agency — made an almost unbelievable claim: If Europe built all of its onshore and offshore wind farms, it'd be able to power the continent 20 times over.
As it turns out, though, the actual wind potential in Europe could be even greater. A new study found that maximizing onshore wind potential could enable the wind farms to power the continent to 100 times the over. That would be enough energy to power the entire world — from now until 2050. Europe's untapped wind energy amounts to around 52.5 terrawatts, or about 1 million watts for every 16 European citizens.
It's not just Europe that is getting in on the action. Kenya recently launched one of Africa's largest wind power farms. They're on course to meet the country's goal of 100 percent green energy by 2020. The farm, known as Lake Turkana Wind Power (LTWP) can generate around 310 megawatts to the national grid and increase the country's electricity supply by 13 percent.
Kenya has launched Africa's largest wind power farm in a bid to boost electricity generating capacity and to meet the country's ambitious goal of 100% green energy by 2020. President Uhuru Kenyatta stated during the time of launch, "Today, we again raised the bar for the continent as we unveil Africa's single largest wind farm. Kenya is without doubt on course to be a global leader in renewable energy."
Solar power around the world
The United Arab Emirates is winding up the sun power as it just opened up one of the world's largest solar farms. They've opened up a couple of solar plants in a row, as they start the long transition from oil to solar.
Noor Abu Dhabi is one of the world's largest individual solar power plants. The plant contains 3.2 million solar panels. It can produce up to 1.17 gigawatts of power, which is enough to supply the electricity needs of 90,000 people, while reducing carbon emissions by 1 million metric tons.
Not to be outdone, Saudia Arabia is working on a solar farm outside of Mecca, they think will be able to produce 2.6 gigawatts of power once finished.
Back in the states, Disney has led an initiative to build a giant solar panel installation to power its Florida resort. This is part of Disney's plans to cut emissions by 50 percent by 2020. The 50-megawatt solar facility was ready for action in 2019 to provide renewable energy to the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. The New York Times reported that it'll reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by 57,000 tons per year.
Time and time again, these pockets of renewables sprout up and showcase the success that this type of energy can have on the surrounding areas around it. A concentrated effort throughout the globe could turn this into the new fabric of our energy needs.
Turning salt water into fresh water with the power of the sun.
- New solar-powered desalination plant provides fresh water in Kenya.
- The plant is already able to support 25,000 people a day.
- As more water-scarce regions pop up worldwide, technology such as this offers an energy efficient way to provide fresh water.
We are only at the beginning of an increasingly more perilous worldwide water crisis. The ability to turn seawater into drinking water will be able to turn the tides on this problem before it grows.
Desalination on an industrial scale would change the world.
We may be witnessing the first instances of a viable and scalable desalination effort. At a newly constructed solar-powered desalination plant in Kenya, a nonprofit called GivePower has been able to provide fresh water to thousands. The desalination plant opened up on the coasts of Kiunga in July 2018, and today it's capable of creating 19,800 gallons (75,000 liters) of drinking water each day. That's able to support around 25,000 people.
Hayes Barnard, the founder and president of GivePower, is taking his experience from the solar field and applying it to fresh water source crises.
"Humanity needs to take swift action to address the increasingly severe global water crisis that faces the developing world," he says. "With our background in off-grid clean energy, GivePower can immediately help by deploying solar water farm solutions to save lives in areas throughout the world that suffer from prolonged water scarcity."
GivePower’s solar power desalination device
GivePower started off in 2013 as a nonprofit branch of SolarCity, Elon Musk's failed solar-panel company that was eventually absorbed into Tesla in 2016. Barnard spun off GivePower into its own organization before the merger.
He spent almost two years in San Francisco building the machine, he hopes the technology could one day reach the more than two billion people who live in water-scarce areas. The nonprofit works mostly on building solar-energy power plants that provide electricity all across the developing world.
According to GivePower, they've "already deployed more than 2,650 solar-powered energy systems to schools, medical clinics and villages in 17 developing countries GivePower is focusing its efforts on the most critical use case of sustainable energy: reliable access to clean water."
The Kiunga facility initially cost $500,000 to build and took one month to construct. They hope to generate $100,000 per year from the plant, and then funnel that money into building new facilities. The eventual goal is to cut costs to $100,00 per solar-powered desalination plant in the future. Barnard hopes that the systems will fund each other to create an additional system every five years.
Part of their initial funding came from a $250,000 grant by Bank of America last year.
Access to the system comes from people using the M-Pesa payments app. Locals only have to pay a fourth of a cent for every liter of water. Barnard points out that this is astronomically less than what is usually $1 per liter from premium water brands.
The installation in Kiunga has already made a lot of headway and fundamental change for the people living there.
Fresh water crisis and women’s rights
It's estimated by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) that one third of the world's population don't have access to safe drinking water. By 2025, half of the world's population may live in water-scarce regions. Cities in Africa, China, and India are already facing this problem.
It's been found that limited access to fresh drinking water keeps women out of the educational system. According to a report by the UN Commission for Human Rights, women and children in Africa and Asia must walk an average of 3.7 miles a day to procure water.
The UN states that "between 50 and 100 litres of water per person per day are needed to ensure that most basic needs are met and few health concerns arise."
This is why Barnard thinks that it's so crucial to bring water directly to them. The ongoing climate crisis will only make these types of solutions more crucial for affected communities .
GivePower hopes to establish a local thriving community around these new fresh water sources. One that'll encourage health, safety and even commerce. Already, Barnard has seen a group of women that have started a freshwater clothes washing service. It's his hope and intention that this spurs economic activity for women and affects the community at large.
The ingenious technology of solar powered desalination may just be the panacea for the growing water crisis. Once basic human needs are met, these water-scarce regions would not only survive but eventually flourish.
Our clean energy needs to be sourced responsibly right from the get-go.
- Clean technologies rely on a wide range of metals sourced from unsustainable mining.
- Mineral extraction damages local communities and environments, destroying cultures and biodiversity in the process.
- Human rights and conservationist efforts are put at risk due to mining.
The many consequences of climate change are innumerable. Most of the civilized world understands that we need to put forth new, alternative solutions of generating energy to curb our greenhouse emissions.
The Paris Agreement, for instance, set an ambitious global goal to limit global warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degree Celsius) by transitioning away from fossil fuels into renewables. However, a new extensive research report by the environmental non-profit Earthworks has found that this shift into a fossil fuel-free economy comes with its own set of egregious societal and conservationist problems.
The blind rush to get "100 percent" renewable energy usage will get us nowhere. It's the same industrialist mindset that got us into this pickle. We need to approach this next energy wave with caution and care.
Renewable energy transition
Clean technologies require a wide variety of rare earth metals and other minerals, mostly including cobalt, nickel, lithium, aluminum, and silver. Batteries for electric cars makeup the biggest driver of mineral acquisition.
Study co-author, Elsa Dominish, remarks that, "A rapid increase in demand for metals for renewable energy. . . could lead to mining of marginal or unconventional resources, which are often in more remote or biodiverse places."
Many of these areas rich in minerals are remote wilderness, which have yet to be touched by any commercial endeavor.
"The transition toward a renewable energy and transport system requires a complex mix of metals — such as copper, cobalt, nickel, rare earths, lithium, and silver — many of which have only previously been mined in small amounts," states Earthworks' report, in reference to the supply chains of the 14 most important minerals used in renewable energy production.
Payal Sampat, director of Earthworks' Mining Program, sees this as a crucial time to focus on the core aspects of what an environmental movement should be focusing on.
"We have an opportunity, if we act now, to ensure that our emerging clean energy economy is truly clean–as well as just and equitable–and not dependent on dirty mining. As we scale up clean energy technologies in pursuit of our necessarily ambitious climate goals, we must protect community health, water, human rights, and the environment."
Under the supposition that all of human society would use 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, researchers charted out what other aspects of the environment would be affected as we attempted to reach this goal.
The study explores the impacts that mining has on human society and culture, as well as the potential for even greater losses of biodiversity.
With a world running completely on renewables, the metal requirements would be astronomical. The only way you're going to feed this need is by opening up more mines worldwide. Combined with our unsustainable mining practices, we'll be doing more harm than good.
Large scale commercial strip mining of forests, slave labor, and ecological destruction would all be necessary to feed our current "green dream."
Industrialism is the problem
Mineral extraction levies an incredible cost on the communities and ecological landscape of a place. Material mined for renewable energy fuels the violation of human rights, pollutes local water sources, and often destroys wildlife.
Cobalt, which is the most important component of rechargeable batteries, is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo; often by children in dangerous working conditions. The authors of the report found that cobalt is the "metal of most concern for supply risks," as 60 percent of its production occurs in Congo, a country with an abysmal record of human and environmental catastrophes.
In 2016, Amnesty International found that more than two dozen major electronics and automotive companies were failing to ensure that their supply chains of cobalt didn't include child labor. Amnesty blamed both Congolese officials and Western tech companies for ignoring the problems endemic to their supply chain. Irresponsible and dangerous cobalt mining is a global problem. According to the report, China's Congo Dongfang International Mining (CDM) owns exclusive rights to one quarter of the cobalt ore, of which the mines it flows from all employ child labor.
"The renewable energy transition will only be sustainable if it ensures human rights for the communities where the mining to supply renewable energy and battery technologies takes place," said Dominish.
Sustainability and conservation
At present, write the authors, "Reducing the environmental and social impacts of supply is not a major focus of the renewable energy industry. In order for there to be a potential solution to all of this, there must be a convergence of different industries within the environmentalist movement. The recognition of renewable energy companies with conservationists, in particular, needs to be at the forefront.
"If manufacturers commit to responsible sourcing this will encourage more mines to engage in responsible practices and certification. There is also an urgent need to invest in recycling and reuse schemes to ensure the valuable metals used in these technologies are recovered, so only what is necessary is mined," states the report.
Recycling sources will be one way to mitigate demand, but this won't stop new mining developments from popping up in fragile wildlife areas. This is why responsible sourcing needs to be the next best step if these mines are going to be created, anyhow.