Renewable Energy Coming of Age - Part II


Although renewable energy is a relatively small portion of total energy supply both globally and in the United States, renewable energy installations in both the world and in the United States nearly tripled between 2000 and 2008. In the United States, growth in sectors such as wind and solar photovoltaics (sunlight to electricity, also known as “PV”) signify an ongoing shift in the composition of the U.S. electricity supply. 
Markets for wind turbines continue to grow as economics become more favorable and product offerings expand. The U.S. wind industry installed nearly 10,000 megawatts (MW) of new generating capacity in 2009 - enough to serve over 2.4 million homes. The industry consists of at least four market segments as defined by the power output; offshore turbines (>5MW output), onshore big wind turbines (1 to 5MW output), community wind turbines (100kW to 1.5MW output) and small wind (<100kW output). Investment in each of these sectors is expected to grow in the coming years.
The December 2010 Small and Community Wind Conference and Tradeshow held in Portland, Oregon points to the expansion of this market segment.  Attendance at this and other renewable energy industry tradeshows continues to grow. 
Another sign of the growing maturity of the small wind segment was the recent adoption of uniform consumer labeling and testing standards by the Small Wind Certification Council (SWCC). SWCC advances uniform power testing of turbines at 11 meters per second (24.4 MPH), metrics for decibel sound rating, and other product performance standards.  Now consumers can buy products with greater confidence, an essential element in the maturing of any industry. 
As for solar, there are four ways solar energy is harnessed: photovoltaics or PV (converting light to electricity), heating and cooling systems (solar thermal), concentrating solar power (utility scale), and lighting. Greater clarity about available solar technologies makes it easier to identify segments likely to grow and those not well suited for commercialization. 
For example, solar PV encompasses a dozen or more technologies and an equal number for solar thermal. Four technologies dominate the PV market are; mono and polycrystalline silicon wafers, thin-film amorphous silicon, and thin-film cadmium telluride (CdTe). There are a couple of up-and-coming contenders including thin-film copper indium gallium (di)selenide (CIGS). But generally speaking disruption of the PV market by startling technologic breakthroughs is not likely in the near term.
The market for these products is huge. Installed solar, like wind systems, can be located at homes or businesses and on large-scale farms that act like central power plants. At year end 2009, the U.S. had 2,108 megawatts (MW) of installed solar electric capacity.  This included about 1,676 MW of PV, 432 MW of utility-scale concentrating solar power, and at least 24,000 MWTh (megawatts thermal equivalent) of solar water heating, cooling, and solar pool heating systems. In 2009 the U.S. ranked fourth in the world for new solar electric installations. Germany ranked first, Italy second, and Japan third.