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Posted by r2d2 02/25/2009 @ 15:26

Tags : energy, sciences, energy and water, business, issues, politics

News headlines
Report of Abundant US Natural Gas Supplies Rattles Energy Debate - New York Times
A blog about energy, the environment and the bottom line. The report by the Potential Gas Committee, a nonprofit group that provides closely watched analyses of US resources, shows a 35 percent jump in domestic gas estimates....
Senate Panel Approves Energy Bill - New York Times
By JOHN M. BRODER WASHINGTON — A Senate committee on Wednesday approved an energy bill that would open large tracts of the Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling and provide federal loan guarantees for a gas pipeline project in Alaska....
UN Atomic Energy Chief Says Iran Wants Bomb Technology - New York Times
Hans Punz/Associated Press Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, says Iran wants to send a message. He spoke in a BBC interview broadcast Tuesday and Wednesday as protesters took to the streets of Tehran and...
New Nuclear Plant for Ohio Pondered - New York Times
The Portsmouth plant, in Piketon, Ohio, was built by the Atomic Energy Commission and ran from 1954 to 2001. The enrichment business was later spun off by the federal government into a private company, the United States Enrichment Corporation....
A-Power Energy Generation Systems shares jump - Forbes
AP , 06.18.09, 03:17 PM EDT NEW YORK -- Shares of A-Power Energy Generation Systems Ltd. jumped Thursday after an analyst boosted his rating on the stock, saying he sees a buying opportunity after the wind turbine maker's stock dropped on...
Pengrowth Energy Trust Announces Cash Distribution For July 15, 2009 - MarketWatch
CALGARY, ALBERTA, Jun 18, 2009 (MARKETWIRE via COMTEX) -- Pengrowth Corporation, administrator of Pengrowth Energy Trust , today announced its July 15, 2009 cash distribution will be Cdn $0.10 per trust unit. The distribution is net of amounts withheld...
Oil back above $71 -
Prices had fallen as low as $69 earlier in the session after a weekly inventory report from the Energy Information Administration showed gasoline stocks rose by 3.4 million barrels in the week ended June 12. Analysts expected gas supplies to increase...
Paramount Energy Trust Announces Acquisition of Shares of Profound ... - MarketWatch
CALGARY, ALBERTA, Jun 18, 2009 (MARKETWIRE via COMTEX) -- Paramount Energy Trust ("PET" or the "Trust") announces that it has today purchased on the TSX 1500 common shares (the "Acquired Shares") of Profound Energy Inc. ("Profound")....
Asian bank plans US$2 billion clean energy investment from 2013 - HydroWorld
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) announced it will increase its investment in clean energy to US$2 billion a year from 2013 to reduce burning of carbon and the resulting emission of greenhouse gases. "While US$2 billion annually is a significant...
Oil industry cranks up lobbying effort - The Associated Press
"They're under attack, they're ramping up their operations and they've got money to spend," said Tyson Slocum, who runs the energy program at watchdog group Public Citizen. "They're in much better position than other industries to draw upon financial...

Energy conservation


Energy conservation is the practice of decreasing the quantity of energy used. It may be achieved through efficient energy use, in which case energy use is decreased while achieving a similar outcome, or by reduced consumption of energy services. Energy conservation may result in increase of financial capital, environmental value, national security, personal security, and human comfort. Individuals and organizations that are direct consumers of energy may want to conserve energy in order to reduce energy costs and promote economic security. Industrial and commercial users may want to increase efficiency and thus maximize profit.

Electrical energy conservation is an important element of energy policy. Energy conservation reduces the energy consumption and energy demand per capita, and thus offsets the growth in energy supply needed to keep up with population growth. This reduces the rise in energy costs, and can reduce the need for new power plants, and energy imports. The reduced energy demand can provide more flexibility in choosing the most preferred methods of energy production.

By reducing emissions, energy conservation is an important part of lessening climate change. Energy conservation facilitates the replacement of non-renewable resources with renewable energy. Energy conservation is often the most economical solution to energy shortages, and is a more environmentally benign alternative to increased energy production.

The United States is currently the largest single consumer of energy. The U.S. Department of Energy categorizes national energy use in four broad sectors: transportation, residential, commercial, and industrial.

Energy usage in transportation and residential sectors (about half of U.S. energy consumption) is largely controlled by individual domestic consumers. Commercial and industrial energy expenditures are determined by businesses entities and other facility managers. National energy policy has a significant effect on energy usage across all four sectors.

The transportation includes all vehicles used for personal or freight transportation. Of the energy used in this sector, approximately 65% is consumed by gasoline-powered vehicles, primarily personally owned. Diesel-powered transport (trains, merchant ships, heavy trucks, etc.) consumes about 20%, and air traffic consumes most of the remaining 15%.

The two oil supply crisis of the 1970s spurred the creation, in 1975, of the federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) program, which required auto manufacturers to meet progressively higher fleet fuel economy targets. The next decade saw dramatic improvements in fuel economy, mostly the result of reductions in vehicle size and weight which originated in the late 1970s, along with the transition to front wheel drive. These gains eroded somewhat after 1990 due to the growing popularity of sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks and minivans, which fall under the more lenient "light truck" CAFE standard.

In addition to the CAFE program, the U.S. government has tried to encourage better vehicle efficiency through tax policy. Since 2002, taxpayers have been eligible for income tax credits for gas/electric hybrid vehicles. A "gas-guzzler" tax has been assessed on manufacturers since 1978 for cars with exceptionally poor fuel economy. While this tax remains in effect, it currently generates very little revenue as overall fuel economy has improved. The gas-guzzler tax ended the reign of large cubic-inched engines from the musclecar era.

Another focus in gasoline conservation is reducing the number of miles driven. An estimated 40% of American automobile use is associated with daily commuting. Many urban areas offer subsidized public transportation to reduce commuting traffic, and encourage carpooling by providing designated high-occupancy vehicle lanes and lower tolls for cars with multiple riders. In recent years telecommuting has also become a viable alternative to commuting for some jobs, but in 2003 only 3.5% of workers were telecommuters. Ironically, hundreds of thousands of American and European workers have been replaced by workers in Asia who telecommute from thousands of miles away.

Fuel economy-maximizing behaviors also help reduce fuel consumption. Among the most effective are moderate (as opposed to aggressive) driving, driving at lower speeds, using cruise control, and turning off a vehicle's engine at stops rather than idling. A vehicle's gas mileage decreases rapidly highway speeds, normally above 55 miles per hour (though the exact number varies by vehicle). This is because aerodynamic forces are proportionally related to the square of an object's speed (when the speed is doubled, drag quadruples). According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), as a rule of thumb, each 5 mph (8.0 km/h) you drive over 60 mph (97 km/h) is similar to paying an additional $0.30 per gallon for gas The exact speed at which a vehicle achieves it's highest efficiency varies based on the vehicle's drag coefficient, frontal area, surrounding air speed, and the efficiency and gearing of a vehicle's drive train and transmission.

The residential sector refers to all private residences, including single-family homes, apartments, manufactured homes and dormitories. Energy use in this sector varies significantly across the country, due to regional climate differences and different regulation. On average, about half of the energy used in U.S. homes is expended on space conditioning (i.e. heating and cooling).

The efficiency of furnaces and air conditioners has increased steadily since the energy crises of the 1970s. The 1987 National Appliance Energy Conservation Act authorized the Department of Energy to set minimum efficiency standards for space conditioning equipment and other appliances each year, based on what is "technologically feasible and economically justified". Beyond these minimum standards, the Environmental Protection Agency awards the Energy Star designation to appliances that exceed industry efficiency averages by an EPA-specified percentage.

Despite technological improvements, many American lifestyle changes have put higher demands on heating and cooling resources. The average size of homes built in the United States has increased significantly, from 1,500 sq ft (140 m2) in 1970 to 2,300 sq ft (210 m2) in 2005. The single-person household has become more common, as has central air conditioning: 23% of households had central air conditioning in 1978, that figure rose to 55% by 2001.

As furnace efficiency gets higher, there is limited room for improvement--efficiencies above 85% are now common. However, improving the building envelope through better or more insulation, advanced windows, etc., can allow larger improvements. The passive house approach produces superinsulated buildings that approach zero net energy consumption. Improving the building envelope can also be cheaper than replacing a furnace or air conditioner.

Even lower cost improvements include weatherization, which is frequently subsidized by utilities or state/federal tax credits, as are programmable thermostats. Consumers have also been urged to adopt a wider indoor temperature range (e.g. 65 °F (18 °C) in the winter, 80 °F (27 °C) in the summer).

One underutilized, but potentially very powerful means to reduce household energy consumption is to provide real-time feedback to homeowners so they can effectively alter their energy using behavior. Recently, low cost energy feedback displays, such as The Energy Detective or wattson , have become available. A study of a similar device deployed in 500 Ontario homes by Hydro One showed an average 6.5% drop in total electricity use when compared with a similarly sized control group.

Energy usage in some homes may vary widely from these averages. For example, milder regions such as the southern U.S. and Pacific coast of the USA need far less energy for space conditioning than New York City or Chicago. On the other hand, air conditioning energy use can be quite high in hot-arid regions (Southwest) and hot-humid zones (Southeast) In milder climates such as San Diego, lighting energy may easily consume up to 40% of total energy. Certain appliances such as a waterbed, hot tub, or pre-1990 refrigerator use significant amounts of electricity. However, recent trends in home entertainment equipment can make a large difference in household energy use. For instance a 50" LCD television (average on-time= 6 hours a day) may draw 300 Watts less than a similarly sized plasma system. In most residences no single appliance dominates, and any conservation efforts must be directed to numerous areas in order to achieve substantial energy savings. However, Ground, Air and Water Source Heat Pump systems are the more energy efficient, environmentally clean, and cost-effective space conditioning and domestic hot water systems available (Environmental Protection Agency), and can achieve reductions in energy consumptions of up to 69%.

Current best practices in building design, construction and retrofitting result in homes that are profoundly more energy conserving than average new homes. This includes insulation and energy-efficient windows and lighting . See Passive house, Superinsulation, Self-sufficient homes, Zero energy building, Earthship, MIT Design Advisor, Energy Conservation Code for Indian Commercial Buildings.

Smart ways to construct homes such that minimal resources are used to cooling and heating the house in summer and winter respectively can significantly reduce energy costs.

The commercial sector consists of retail stores, offices (business and government), restaurants, schools and other workplaces. Energy in this sector has the same basic end uses as the residential sector, in slightly different proportions. Space conditioning is again the single biggest consumption area, but it represents only about 30% of the energy use of commercial buildings. Lighting, at 25%, plays a much larger role than it does in the residential sector. Lighting is also generally the most wasteful component of commercial use. A number of case studies indicate that more efficient lighting and elimination of over-illumination can reduce lighting energy by approximately fifty percent in many commercial buildings.

Commercial buildings can greatly increase energy efficiency by thoughtful design, with today's building stock being very poor examples of the potential of systematic (not expensive) energy efficient design (Steffy, 1997). Commercial buildings often have professional management, allowing centralized control and coordination of energy conservation efforts. As a result, fluorescent lighting (about four times as efficient as incandescent) is the standard for most commercial space, although it may produce certain adverse health effects. Potential health concerns can be mitigated by using newer fixtures with electronic ballasts rather than older magenetic ballasts. As most buildings have consistent hours of operation, programmed thermostats and lighting controls are common. However, too many companies believe that merely having a computer controlled Building automation system guarantees energy efficiency. As an example one large company in Northern California boasted that it was confident its state of the art system had optimized space heating. A more careful analysis by Lumina Technologies showed the system had been given programming instructions to maintain constant 24 hour temperatures in the entire building complex. This instruction caused the injection of nighttime heat into vacant buildings when the daytime summer temperatures would often exceed 90 °F (32 °C). This mis-programming was costing the company over $130,000 per year in wasted energy (Lumina Technologies, 1997). Many corporations and governments also require the Energy Star rating for any new equipment purchased for their buildings.

Solar heat loading through standard window designs usually leads to high demand for air conditioning in summer months. An example of building design overcoming this excessive heat loading is the Dakin Building in Brisbane, California, where fenestration was designed to achieve an angle with respect to sun incidence to allow maximum reflection of solar heat; this design also assisted in reducing interior over-illumination to enhance worker efficiency and comfort.

Recent advances include use of occupancy sensors to turn off lights when spaces are unoccupied, and photosensors to dim or turn off electric lighting when natural light is available. In air conditioning systems, overall equipment efficiencies have increased as energy codes and consumer information have begun to emphasise year round performance rather than just efficiency ratings at maximum output. Controllers that automatically vary the speeds of fans, pumps, and compressors have radically improved part-load performance of those devices. For space or water heating, electric heat pumps consume roughly half the energy required by electric resistance heaters. Natural gas heating efficiencies have improved through use of condensing furnaces and boilers, in which the water vapor in the flue gas is cooled to liquid form before it is discharged, allowing the heat of condensation to be used. In buildings where high levels of outside air are required, heat exchangers can capture heat from the exhaust air to preheat incoming supply air.

The industrial sector represents all production and processing of goods, including manufacturing, construction, farming, water management and mining. Increasing costs have forced energy-intensive industries to make substantial efficiency improvements in the past 30 years. For example, the energy used to produce steel and paper products has been cut 40% in that time frame, while petroleum/aluminum refining and cement production have reduced their usage by about 25%. These reductions are largely the result of recycling waste material and the use of cogeneration equipment for electricity and heating.

Another example for efficiency improvements is the use of products made of High temperature insulation wool (HTIW) which enables predominantly industrial users to operate thermal treatment plants at temperatures between 800 and 1400°C. In these high-temperature applications, the consumption of primary energy and the associated CO2 emissions can be reduced by up to 50% compared with old fashioned industrial installations. The application of products made of High temperature insulation Wool is becoming increasingly important against the background of the currently dramatic rising cost of energy.

The energy required for delivery and treatment of fresh water often constitutes a significant percentage of a region's electricity and natural gas usage (an estimated 20% of California's total energy use is water-related.) In light of this, some local governments have worked toward a more integrated approach to energy and water conservation efforts.

To conserve energy, some industries have begun using solar panels to heat their water.

Unlike the other sectors, total energy use in the industrial sector has declined in the last decade. While this is partly due to conservation efforts, it's also a reflection of the growing trend for U.S. companies to move manufacturing operations overseas.

Energy conservation in the United Kingdom has been receiving increased attention over recent years. Key factors behind this are the Government's commitment to reducing carbon emissions, the projected 'energy gap' in UK electricity generation, and the increasing reliance on imports to meet national energy needs. Domestic housing and road transport are currently the two biggest problem areas.

The UK Government has jointly funded the Energy Saving Trust to promote energy conservation at a consumer, business and community level since 1993.

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Efficient energy use

Compact fluorescent light bulb

Efficient energy use, sometimes simply called energy efficiency, is using less energy to provide the same level of energy service. An example would be insulating a home to use less heating and cooling energy to achieve the same temperature. Another example would be installing fluorescent lights and/or skylights instead of incandescent lights to attain the same level of illumination. Efficient energy use is achieved primarily by means of a more efficient technology or process rather than by changes in individual behaviour.

Energy efficient buildings, industrial processes and transportation could reduce the world's energy needs in 2050 by one third, and help controlling global emissions of greenhouse gases, according to the International Energy Agency.

Energy efficiency and renewable energy are said to be the “twin pillars” of sustainable energy policy.

However, there are many problems in calculating energy usage, and even bigger problems when discussing environmental impact.

Making homes, vehicles, and businesses more energy efficient is seen as a largely untapped solution to addressing global warming, energy security, and fossil fuel depletion. Many of these ideas have been discussed for years, since the 1973 oil crisis brought energy issues to the forefront. In the late 1970s, physicist Amory Lovins popularized the notion of a "soft energy path", with a strong focus on energy efficiency. Among other things, Lovins popularized the notion of negawatts -- the idea of meeting energy needs by increasing efficiency instead of increasing energy production.

Energy efficiency has proved to be a cost-effective strategy for building economies without necessarily growing energy consumption, as environmental business strategist Joel Makower has noted. For example, the state of California began implementing energy-efficiency measures in the mid-1970s, including building code and appliance standards with strict efficiency requirements. During the following years, California's energy consumption has remained approximately flat on a per capita basis while national U.S. consumption doubled. As part of its strategy, California implemented a three-step plan for new energy resources that puts energy efficiency first, renewable electricity supplies second, and new fossil-fired power plants last.

Still, efficiency often has taken a secondary position to new power generation as a solution to global warming in creating national energy policy. Some companies also have been reluctant to engage in efficiency measures, despite the often favorable returns on investments that can result. Lovins' Rocky Mountain Institute points out that in industrial settings, "there are abundant opportunities to save 70% to 90% of the energy and cost for lighting, fan, and pump systems; 50% for electric motors; and 60% in areas such as heating, cooling, office equipment, and appliances." In general, up to 75% of the electricity used in the U.S. today could be saved with efficiency measures that cost less than the electricity itself.

Other studies have emphasized this. A report published in 2006 by the McKinsey Global Institute, asserted that "there are sufficient economically viable opportunities for energy-productivity improvements that could keep global energy-demand growth at less than 1 percent per annum" -- less than half of the 2.2 percent average growth anticipated through 2020 in a business-as-usual scenario. Energy productivity -- which measures the output and quality of goods and services per unit of energy input -- can come from either reducing the amount of energy required to produce something, or from increasing the quantity or quality of goods and services from the same amount of energy.

Modern energy-efficient appliances, such as refrigerators, freezers, ovens, stoves, dishwashers, and clothes washers and dryers, use significantly less energy than older appliances. Current energy efficient refrigerators, for example, use 40 percent less energy than conventional models did in 2001. Modern power management systems also reduce energy usage by idle appliances by turning them off or putting them into a low-energy mode after a certain time. Many countries identify energy-efficient appliances using an Energy Star label.

A building’s location and surroundings play a key role in regulating its temperature and illumination. For example, trees, landscaping, and hills can provide shade and blue air. In cooler climates, designing buildings with an east-west orientation to increase the number of south-facing windows minimizes energy use, by maximizing passive solar heating. Tight building design, including energy-efficient windows, well-sealed doors, and additional thermal insulation of walls, basement slabs, and foundations can reduce heat loss by 25 to 50 percent.

Dark roofs may become up to 70°F hotter than the most reflective white surfaces, and they transmit some of this additional heat inside the building. US Studies have shown that lightly colored roofs use 40 percent less energy for cooling than buildings with darker roofs. White roof systems save more energy in sunnier climates. Advanced electronic heating and cooling systems can moderate energy consumption and improve the comfort of people in the building.

Proper placement of windows and skylights and use of architectural features that reflect light into a building, can reduce the need for artificial lighting. Compact fluorescent lights use two-thirds less energy and may last 6 to 10 times longer than incandescent light bulbs. Newer fluorescent lights produce a natural light, and in most applications they are cost effective, despite their higher initial cost, with payback periods as low as a few months. However, those ideals may not always be achieved in practice, because lifetime depends on the frequency of usage. In addition, CFLs emit UV light which can harm paintings, textiles and pigments. They also respond more slowly when switched on, so may represent a safety hazard in halls and stairways for example. While incandescent bulbs do contribute to the space heating of a building, the heat that they produce, being electrically produced, is probably more expensive and certainly more carbon-intensive than, for example, gas-fired heating. Furthermore, any heat that such bulbs produce during the summer is likely to be unwanted and may lead to yet more electrical demand for space cooling. Increased use of natural and task lighting have been shown by one study to increase productivity in schools and offices. However, fluorescent lighting can be harsh, and the flicker can induce migraine, so caution is needed when replacing incandescent lights. Modern compact fluorescent lighting can produce a warmer and less harsh light.

Effecive energy-efficient building design can include the use of low cost Passive Infra Reds (PIRs) to switch-off lighting when areas are unnoccupied such as toilets, corridors or even office areas out-of-hours. In addition, lux levels can be monitored using daylight sensors linked to the building's lighting scheme to switch on/off or dim the lighting to pre-defined levels to take into account the natural light and thus reduce consumption. Building Management Systems (BMS) link all of this together in one centralised computer to control the whole building's lighting and power requirements.

Smart meters are slowly being adopted by the commerial sector to highlight to staff and for internal monitoring purposes the building's energy usage in a dynamic presentable format. The use of Power Quality Analysers can be introduced into an existing building to assess usage, harmonic distortion, peaks, swells and interruptions amongst others to ultimately make the building more energy-efficient.

In industry, when electricity is generated, the heat which is produced as a by-product can be captured and used for process steam, heating or other industrial purposes. Conventional electricity generation is about 30 percent efficient, whereas combined heat and power (also called cogeneration) converts up to 90 percent of the fuel into usable energy.

Advanced boilers and furnaces can operate at higher temperatures while burning less fuel. These technologies are more efficient and produce fewer pollutants.

Over 45 percent of the fuel used by US manufacturers is burnt to make steam. The typical industrial facility can reduce this energy usage 20 percent (according to the US Department of Energy) by insulating steam and condensate return lines, stopping steam leakage, and maintaining steam traps.

Electric motors usually run on a constant flow of energy, but an adjustable speed drive can vary the motor’s energy output to match the load. This achieves energy savings ranging from 3 to 60 percent, depending on how the motor is used. Motor coils made of superconducting materials can also reduce energy losses. Motors may also benefit from voltage optimisation.

Many industries use compressed air for sand blasting, painting, or other tools. According to the US Department of Energy, optimizing compressed air systems by installing variable speed drives, along with preventive maintenance to detect and fix air leaks, can improve energy efficiency 20 to 50 percent.

Using improved aerodynamics to minimize drag can increase vehicle fuel efficiency.

Reducing vehicle weight can significantly also improve fuel economy.

More advanced tires, with decreased tire to road friction and rolling resistance, can save gasoline. Fuel economy can be improved over three percent by keeping tires inflated to the correct pressure. Replacing a clogged air filter can improve a cars fuel consumption by as much as 10 percent.

Fuel efficient vehicles may reach twice the fuel efficiency of the average automobile. Cutting-edge designs, such as the diesel Mercedes-Benz Bionic concept vehicle have achieved a fuel efficiency as high as 84 miles per US gallon (2.8 L/100 km; 101 mpg-imp), four times the current conventional automotive average..

Another growing trend in automotive efficiency is the rise of hybrid and electric cars. Hybrids, like the Toyota Prius, use regenerative braking to recapture energy that would dissipate in normal cars; the effect is especially pronounced in city driving. plug-in hybrids also have electrical plugs, which makes it possible to drive for limited distances without burning any gasoline; in this case, energy efficiency is dictated by whatever process (coal-burning, hydroelectric, etc) created the power. Plug-ins can typically drive for around 40 mile purely on electricity without recharging; if the battery runs low, a gas engine kicks in allowing for extended range. Finally, all-electric cars are also growing in popularity; the Tesla Roadster sports car is the only high-performance all-electric car currently on the market, and others are in design.

Energy conservation is broader than energy efficiency in that it encompasses using less energy to achieve a lesser energy service, for example through behavioural change, as well as encompassing energy efficiency. Examples of conservation without efficiency improvements would be heating a room less in winter, driving less, or working in a less brightly lit room. As with other definitions, the boundary between efficient energy use and energy conservation can be fuzzy, but both are important in environmental and economic terms. This is especially the case when actions are directed at the saving of fossil fuels.

Energy efficiency and renewable energy are said to be the “twin pillars” of a sustainable energy policy. Both strategies must be developed concurrently in order to stabilize and reduce carbon dioxide emissions in our lifetimes. Efficient energy use is essential to slowing the energy demand growth so that rising clean energy supplies can make deep cuts in fossil fuel use. If energy use grows too rapidly, renewable energy development will chase a receding target. Likewise, unless clean energy supplies come online rapidly, slowing demand growth will only begin to reduce total carbon emissions; a reduction in the carbon content of energy sources is also needed. A sustainable energy economy thus requires major commitments to both efficiency and renewables.

If the demand for energy services remains constant, improving energy efficiency will reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions. However, many efficiency improvements do not reduce energy consumption by the amount predicted by simple engineering models. This is because they make energy services cheaper, and so consumption of those services increase. For example, since fuel efficient vehicles make travel cheaper, consumers may choose to drive further and/or faster, thereby offsetting some of the potential energy savings. This is an example of the direct rebound effect.

Estimates of the size of the rebound effect range from roughly 5% to 40%. Rebound effects are smaller in mature markets where demand is saturated. The rebound effect is likely to be less than 30% at the household level and may be closer to 10% for transport. A rebound effect of 30% implies that improvements in energy efficiency should achieve 70% of the reduction in energy consumption projected using engineering models.

Since more efficient (and hence cheaper) energy will also lead to faster economic growth, there are suspicions that improvements in energy efficiency may eventually lead to even faster resource use. This was postulated by economists in the 1980's and remains a controversial hypothesis. Ecological economists have suggested that any cost savings from efficiency gains be taxed away by the government in order to avoid this outcome.

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Energy drink

A variety of energy drinks are available; the skinny "bullet" can shape is popular.

Energy drinks are soft drinks advertised as providing energy to improve physical activity of the drinker, as compared to a typical drink. Rather than providing food energy (as measured in calories), these drinks are designed to increase a user's mental alertness and physical performance by the addition of caffeine, vitamins, and herbal supplements which may interact to provide a stimulant effect over and above that obtained from caffeine alone.

Generally energy drinks include methylxanthines (including caffeine), B vitamins, and herbs. Other common ingredients are guarana, which has a high caffeine content, and taurine, plus various forms of ginseng, maltodextrin, carbonated water, inositol, carnitine, creatine, glucuronolactone and ginkgo biloba. Some contain high levels of sugar, and many brands also offer artificially-sweetened 'diet' versions. The central ingredient in most energy drinks is caffeine, the same stimulant found in coffee or tea, often in the form of guarana or yerba mate.

The average 237 milliliter (8 fluid ounce) energy drink has about 80 mg of caffeine, with 480 mL (16 fl. oz.) drinks containing around 150 mg.

A variety of physiological and psychological effects attributed to energy drinks and/or their ingredients have been investigated.

Two studies reported significant improvements in mental and cognitive performances as well as increased subjective alertness. Excess consumption of energy drinks may induce mild to moderate euphoria primarily caused by stimulant properties of caffeine and may also induce agitation, anxiety, irritability and insomnia. During repeated cycling tests in young healthy adults an energy drink significantly increased upper body muscle endurance. It was also suggested that reversal of caffeine withdrawal is a major component of the effects of caffeine on mood and performance.

Restorative properties were shown by a combination of caffeine and CHO in an energy drink, and some degree of synergy between the cognition-modulating effects of glucose and caffeine was also suggested. In one experiment, a glucose-based energy drink (containing caffeine, taurine and glucuronolactone) was given to eleven tired participants being tested in a driving simulator. Lane drifting and reaction times were measured for two hours post-treatment and showed significant improvement.

Two articles concluded that the improved information processing and other effects could not be explained in terms of the restoration of plasma caffeine levels to normal following caffeine withdrawal.

Caution is warranted even for healthy adults who choose to consume energy beverages. Consumption of a single energy beverage will not lead to excessive caffeine intake; however, consumption of two or more beverages in a single day can. Other stimulants such as ginseng are often added to energy beverages and may enhance the effects of caffeine, and ingredients such as guarana themselves contain caffeine. Adverse effects associated with caffeine consumption in amounts greater than 400 mg include nervousness, irritability, sleeplessness, increased urination, abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmia), decreased bone levels, and stomach upset. The concentration of sugar in a sports drink is recommended to be 6-7% carbohydrate to allow maximum absorption and minimize spikes and crashes in blood sugar. Higher concentrations such as those seen in energy drinks will slow fluid absorption into the blood and energy system, increasing the possibility of dehydration. When a high level of sugar is in the blood stream the body cannot get the water into the cells that it needs because the water is busy trying to dilute concentration of sugar in the blood stream. The actual number of people suffering from adverse effects is difficult to measure since many cases go unreported.

In the United States, energy drinks have been linked with reports of nausea, abnormal heart rhythms and emergency room visits. The drinks may cause seizures due to the "crash" following the energy high that occurs after consumption. Caffeine dosage is not required to be on the product label for food in the United States, unlike drugs, but some advocates are urging the FDA to change this practice.

Until 2008, France banned the popular energy drink Red Bull after the death of eighteen-year-old Irish athlete Ross Cooney, who died as a result of playing a basketball game after consuming four cans of the drink. The French Scientific Committee (J.D. Birkel) concluded that Red Bull has excessive amounts of caffeine. Denmark also banned Red Bull. Britain investigated the drink, but only issued a warning against its use by pregnant women and children.

Although not marketed as such, the Scottish drink Irn-Bru may be considered the first energy drink, produced as "Iron Brew" in 1901. In Japan, the energy drink dates at least as far back as the early 1960s, with the release of the Lipovitan. Most such products in Japan bear little resemblance to soft drinks, and are sold instead in small brown glass medicine bottles or cans styled to resemble such containers. These "genki drinks", which are also produced in South Korea, marketed primarily to the salaryman set.

The first drink marketed as being designed to improve the performance of athletes and sports stars arrived in the sixties. It was invented for the football team at the University of Florida, known as the Gators — hence its name, Gatorade. Designed to aid hydration and lengthen performance levels, it claimed that its ingredients were formulated for just such things.

In 1995, PepsiCo launched Josta, the first energy drink introduced by a major US beverage company (one that had interests outside just energy drinks).

In Europe, energy drinks were pioneered by the S. Spitz Company and a product named Power Horse, before the business savvy of Dietrich Mateschitz, an Austrian entrepreneur, ensured his Red Bull product became far better known, and a worldwide best seller. Mateschitz developed Red Bull based on the Thai drink Krating Daeng, itself based on Lipovitan. Red Bull is the dominant brand in the US after its introduction in 1997, with a market share of approximately 47%.

By the year 2001, the US energy drink market had grown to nearly 8 million per year in retail sales. Over the next 5 years, it grew an average of over 50% per year, totaling over $3 billion in 2005. Diet energy drinks are growing at nearly twice that rate within the category, as are 16-ounce sized energy drinks. The energy drink market became a $5.4 billion dollar market in 2007, and both Goldman Sachs and Mintel predict that it will hit $10 billion by 2010. Major companies' such as Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Molson, and Labatt have tried to match smaller companies' innovative and different approach, with marginal success.

Energy drinks are typically attractive to young people. Approximately 65% percent of its drinkers are between the ages of 13 and 35 years old, with males being approximately 65% of the market. A 2008 statewide Patient Poll conducted by the Pennsylvania Medical Society’s Institute for Good Medicine found that: 20 percent of respondents ages 21–30 had used energy drinks in high school or college to stay awake longer to study or write a paper; 70 percent of respondents knew someone who had used an energy drink to stay awake longer to study or work. Energy drinks are also popular as drink mixers.

In 2002 CCL Container and Mistic Brands, Inc., part of the Snapple Beverage Group, worked together on the national launch of Mistic RĒ, which used a recyclable aluminum bottle. Since its introduction, many energy drinks are now packaged in the aluminum bottlecans produced by CCL.

Coca-Cola marketed two Powerade brand energy drinks in bullet-shaped, screw-top aluminum bottle cans. Capri Sun targeted 16-25 year-olds with its Island Refreshers line, graduating from a foil pouch design to a bottlecan. In the UK, Coca-Cola has marketed a direct Red Bull competitor, 'Sprite 3G', in a similar 250 mL can and has also launched 'Relentless', a juice-based energy drink in 500 mL cans.

UK supermarkets have launched their own brands of energy drinks at lower prices than the major ones. These are mostly produced by US beverage maker Cott. Tesco supermarkets sell 'Kick' in 250 mL cans and 1 L bottles, Asda sell 'Blue Charge' in similar packaging and Morrison's sell 'Source' in 250 mL cans. Cott sells a variety of other branded energy drinks to independent retailers in various containers.

There has been a growing trend for packaging energy drink in bigger cans. Popular brands such as Redbull and Monster have increased the amount of ounces per can. Conversely, the emergence of energy shots have gone the opposite way with much smaller packaging.

Energy drinks are often mixed with alcohol. Where energy drinks are stimulants, alcohol is a depressant. The mix can be particularly hazardous as energy drinks can mask the influence of alcohol and a person can fail to take its effects into consideration. Normally fatigue would set in as large amounts of alcohol are being consumed, but the stimulating effect of energy drinks can override this effect. Often drunk with vodka or in shots it has lead to increase in the purchase of pre-mixed drinks also known as alco-pops often containing guarana or taurine extract which provides energy drinks with their flavour.

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Renewable energy

Primary renewable energy resources - the volume of each cube shows the relative supply of each source, compared to total energy use in 2004.

Renewable energy is energy generated from natural resources—such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides and geothermal heat—which are renewable (naturally replenished). In 2006, about 18% of global final energy consumption came from renewables, with 13% coming from traditional biomass, such as wood-burning. Hydroelectricity was the next largest renewable source, providing 3% (15% of global electricity generation), followed by solar hot water/heating, which contributed 1.3%. Modern technologies, such as geothermal energy, wind power, solar power, and ocean energy together provided some 0.8% of final energy consumption.

Climate change concerns coupled with high oil prices, peak oil and increasing government support are driving increasing renewable energy legislation, incentives and commercialization. Investment capital flowing into renewable energy climbed from $80 billion in 2005 to a record $100 billion in 2006.

Wind power is growing at the rate of 30 percent annually, with a worldwide installed capacity of over 100 GW, and is widely used in several European countries and the United States. The manufacturing output of the photovoltaics industry reached more than 2,000 MW in 2006, and photovoltaic (PV) power stations are particularly popular in Germany and Spain. Solar thermal power stations operate in the USA and Spain, and the largest of these is the 354 MW SEGS power plant in the Mojave Desert.. The world's largest geothermal power installation is The Geysers in California, with a rated capacity of 750 MW. Brazil has one of the largest renewable energy programs in the world, involving production of ethanol fuel from sugar cane, and ethanol now provides 18 percent of the country's automotive fuel. Ethanol fuel is also widely available in the USA.

While there are many large-scale renewable energy projects and production, renewable technologies are also suited to small off-grid applications, sometimes in rural and remote areas, where energy is often crucial in human development. Kenya has the world's highest household solar ownership rate with roughly 30,000 small (20–100 watt) solar power systems sold per year.

Some renewable energy technologies are criticised for being intermittent or unsightly, yet the market is growing for many forms of renewable energy. In response to the G8's call on the IEA for "guidance on how to achieve a clean, clever and competitive energy future", the IEA reported that the replacement of current technology with renewable energy could help reduce CO2 emissions by 50% by 2050.

The majority of renewable energy technologies are powered by the sun. The Earth-Atmosphere system is in equilibrium such that heat radiation into space is equal to incoming solar radiation, the resulting level of energy within the Earth-Atmosphere system can roughly be described as the Earth's "climate." The hydrosphere (water) absorbs a major fraction of the incoming radiation. Most radiation is absorbed at low latitudes around the equator, but this energy is dissipated around the globe in the form of winds and ocean currents. Wave motion may play a role in the process of transferring mechanical energy between the atmosphere and the ocean through wind stress. Solar energy is also responsible for the distribution of precipitation which is tapped by hydroelectric projects, and for the growth of plants used to create biofuels.

Each of these sources has unique characteristics which influence how and where they are used.

Airflows can be used to run wind turbines. Modern wind turbines range from around 600 kW to 5 MW of rated power, although turbines with rated output of 1.5–3 MW have become the most common for commercial use; the power output of a turbine is a function of the cube of the wind speed, so as wind speed increases, power output increases dramatically. Areas where winds are stronger and more constant, such as offshore and high altitude sites, are preferred locations for wind farms.

Since wind speed is not constant, a wind farm's annual energy production is never as much as the sum of the generator nameplate ratings multiplied by the total hours in a year. The ratio of actual productivity in a year to this theoretical maximum is called the capacity factor. Typical capacity factors are 20-40%, with values at the upper end of the range in particularly favourable sites. For example, a 1 megawatt turbine with a capacity factor of 35% will not produce 8,760 megawatt-hours in a year, but only 0.35x24x365 = 3,066 MWh, averaging to 0.35 MW. Online data is available for some locations and the capacity factor can be calculated from the yearly output.

Globally, the long-term technical potential of wind energy is believed to be five times total current global energy production, or 40 times current electricity demand. This could require large amounts of land to be used for wind turbines, particularly in areas of higher wind resources. Offshore resources experience mean wind speeds of ~90% greater than that of land, so offshore resources could contribute substantially more energy. This number could also increase with higher altitude ground-based or airborne wind turbines.

Wind power is renewable and produces no greenhouse gases during operation, such as carbon dioxide and methane.

Plants use photosynthesis to grow and produce biomass. Also known as biomatter, biomass can be used directly as fuel or to produce biofuels. Agriculturally produced biomass fuels, such as biodiesel, ethanol and bagasse (often a by-product of sugar cane cultivation) can be burned in internal combustion engines or boilers. Typically biofuel is burned to release its stored chemical energy. Research into more efficient methods of converting biofuels and other fuels into electricity utilizing fuel cells is an area of very active work.

Liquid biofuel is usually either a bioalcohol such as ethanol fuel or an oil such as biodiesel or straight vegetable oil. Biodiesel can be used in modern diesel vehicles with little or no modification to the engine. It can be made from waste and virgin vegetable and animal oils and fats (lipids). Virgin vegetable oils can be used in modified diesel engines. In fact the diesel engine was originally designed to run on vegetable oil rather than fossil fuel. A major benefit of biodiesel use is the reduction in net CO2 emissions, since all the carbon emitted was recently captured during the growing phase of the biomass. The use of biodiesel also reduces emission of carbon monoxide and other pollutants by 20 to 40%.

In some areas corn, cornstalks, sugarbeets, sugar cane, and switchgrasses are grown specifically to produce ethanol (also known as grain alcohol) a liquid which can be used in internal combustion engines and fuel cells. Ethanol is being phased into the current energy infrastructure. E85 is a fuel composed of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline that is sold to consumers. Biobutanol is being developed as an alternative to bioethanol. There is growing international criticism of the production of biofuel crops in association with food crops with respect to issues such as food security, environmental impacts (deforestation) and energy balance.

Solid biomass is mostly commonly usually used directly as a combustible fuel, producing 10-20 MJ/kg of heat.

Its forms and sources include wood fuel, the biogenic portion of municipal solid waste, or the unused portion of field crops. Field crops may or may not be grown intentionally as an energy crop, and the remaining plant byproduct used as a fuel. Most types of biomass contain energy. Even cow manure still contains two-thirds of the original energy consumed by the cow. Energy harvesting via a bioreactor is a cost-effective solution to the waste disposal issues faced by the dairy farmer, and can produce enough biogas to run a farm.

With current technology, it is not ideally suited for use as a transportation fuel. Most transportation vehicles require power sources with high power density, such as that provided by internal combustion engines. These engines generally require clean burning fuels, which are generally in liquid form, and to a lesser extent, compressed gaseous phase. Liquids are more portable because they can have a high energy density, and they can be pumped, which makes handling easier.

Non-transportation applications can usually tolerate the low power-density of external combustion engines, that can run directly on less-expensive solid biomass fuel, for combined heat and power. One type of biomass is wood, which has been used for millennia. Two billion people currently cook every day, and heat their homes in the winter by burning biomass, which is a major contributor to man-made climate change global warming. The black soot that is being carried from Asia to polar ice caps is causing them to melt faster in the summer. In the 19th century, wood-fired steam engines were common, contributing significantly to industrial revolution unhealthy air pollution. Coal is a form of biomass that has been compressed over millennia to produce a non-renewable, highly-polluting fossil fuel.

Wood and its byproducts can now be converted through processes such as gasification into biofuels such as woodgas, biogas, methanol or ethanol fuel; although further development may be required to make these methods affordable and practical. Sugar cane residue, wheat chaff, corn cobs and other plant matter can be, and are, burned quite successfully. The net carbon dioxide emissions that are added to the atmosphere by this process are only from the fossil fuel that was consumed to plant, fertilize, harvest and transport the biomass.

Processes to harvest biomass from short-rotation trees like poplars and willows and perennial grasses such as switchgrass, phalaris, and miscanthus, require less frequent cultivation and less nitrogen than do typical annual crops. Pelletizing miscanthus and burning it to generate electricity is being studied and may be economically viable.

Biogas can easily be produced from current waste streams, such as paper production, sugar production, sewage, animal waste and so forth. These various waste streams have to be slurried together and allowed to naturally ferment, producing methane gas. This can be done by converting current sewage plants into biogas plants. When a biogas plant has extracted all the methane it can, the remains are sometimes more suitable as fertilizer than the original biomass.

Alternatively biogas can be produced via advanced waste processing systems such as mechanical biological treatment. These systems recover the recyclable elements of household waste and process the biodegradable fraction in anaerobic digesters.

Renewable natural gas is a biogas which has been upgraded to a quality similar to natural gas. By upgrading the quality to that of natural gas, it becomes possible to distribute the gas to the mass market via the existing gas grid.

Geothermal energy is energy obtained by tapping the heat of the earth itself, usually from kilometers deep into the Earth's crust. It is expensive to build a power station but operating costs are low resulting in low energy costs for suitable sites. Ultimately, this energy derives from heat in the Earth's core.

Three types of power plants are used to generate power from geothermal energy: dry steam, flash, and binary. Dry steam plants take steam out of fractures in the ground and use it to directly drive a turbine that spins a generator. Flash plants take hot water, usually at temperatures over 200 °C, out of the ground, and allows it to boil as it rises to the surface then separates the steam phase in steam/water separators and then runs the steam through a turbine. In binary plants, the hot water flows through heat exchangers, boiling an organic fluid that spins the turbine. The condensed steam and remaining geothermal fluid from all three types of plants are injected back into the hot rock to pick up more heat.

The geothermal energy from the core of the Earth is closer to the surface in some areas than in others. Where hot underground steam or water can be tapped and brought to the surface it may be used to generate electricity. Such geothermal power sources exist in certain geologically unstable parts of the world such as Chile, Iceland, New Zealand, United States, the Philippines and Italy. The two most prominent areas for this in the United States are in the Yellowstone basin and in northern California. Iceland produced 170 MW geothermal power and heated 86% of all houses in the year 2000 through geothermal energy. Some 8000 MW of capacity is operational in total.

There is also the potential to generate geothermal energy from hot dry rocks. Holes at least 3 km deep are drilled into the earth. Some of these holes pump water into the earth, while other holes pump hot water out. The heat resource consists of hot underground radiogenic granite rocks, which heat up when there is enough sediment between the rock and the earths surface. Several companies in Australia are exploring this technology.

Renewable energy systems encompass a broad, diverse array of technologies, and the current status of these can vary considerably. Some technologies are already mature and economically competitive (e.g. geothermal and hydropower), others need additional development to become competitive without subsidies. This can be helped by improvements to sub-components, such as electric generators.

The table shows an overview of costs of various renewable energy technologies. For comparison with the prices in the table, electricity production from a conventional coal-fired plant costs about 4¢/kWh. Though in some G8 nations the cost can be significantly higher at 7.88p (~15¢/kWh). Achieving further cost reductions as indicated in the table below requires further technology development, market deployment, an increase in production capacities to mass production levels, and of the establishment of an emissions trading scheme and/or carbon tax which would attribute a cost to each unit of carbon emitted; thus reflecting the true cost of energy production by fossil fuels which then could be used to lower the cost/kWh of these renewable energies.

At the end of 2008, worldwide wind farm capacity was 120,791 megawatts (MW), representing an increase of 28.8 percent during the year, and wind power produced some 1.3% of global electricity consumption. Wind power accounts for approximately 19% of electricity use in Denmark, 9% in Spain and Portugal, and 6% in Germany and the Republic of Ireland. The United States is an important growth area and installed U.S. wind power capacity reached 25,170 MW at the end of 2008.

Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center, in Texas, is the world's largest wind farm at 735.5 MW capacity. It consists of 291 GE Energy 1.5 MW wind turbines and 130 Siemens 2.3 MW wind turbines. A proposed 4,000 MW facility, called the Pampa Wind Project, is to be located near Pampa, Texas.

In the UK, a licence to build the world's largest offshore windfarm, in the Thames estuary, has been granted. The London Array windfarm, 20 km off Kent and Essex, should eventually consist of 341 turbines, occupying an area of 230 km². This is a £1.5 billion, 1,000 megawatt project, which will power one-third of London homes. The windfarm will produce an amount of energy that, if generated by conventional means, would result in 1.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions every year. It could also make up to 10% of the Government's 2010 renewables target.

Since 2004 there has been renewed interest in solar thermal power stations and two plants were completed during 2006/2007: the 64 MW Nevada Solar One and the 11 MW PS10 solar power tower in Spain. Three 50 MW trough plants were under construction in Spain at the end of 2007 with 10 additional 50 MW plants planned. In the United States, utilities in California and Florida have announced plans (or contracted for) at least eight new projects totaling more than 2,000 MW.

In developing countries, three World Bank projects for integrated CSP/combined-cycle gas-turbine power plants in Egypt, Mexico, and Morocco were approved during 2006/2007.

There are several solar thermal power plants in the Mojave Desert which supply power to the electricity grid. Solar Energy Generating Systems (SEGS) is the name given to nine solar power plants in the Mojave Desert which were built in the 1980s. These plants have a combined capacity of 354 megawatts (MW) making them the largest solar power installation in the world.

As of January 2009, the largest photovoltaic (PV) power plants in the world are the Parque Fotovoltaico Olmedilla de Alarcon (Spain, 60 MW), the Moura photovoltaic power station (Portugal, 46 MW), and the Waldpolenz Solar Park (Germany, 40 MW). Several other PV power plants were completed in Spain in 2008: Planta Solar Arnedo (30 MW), Parque Solar Merida/Don Alvaro (30 MW), Planta solar Fuente Álamo (26 MW), Planta fotovoltaica de Lucainena de las Torres (23.2 MW), Parque Fotovoltaico Abertura Solar (23.1 MW), Parque Solar Hoya de Los Vincentes (23 MW), Huerta Solar Almaraz (22.1 MW), Solarpark Calveron (21 MW), and the Planta Solar La Magascona (20 MW).

Topaz Solar Farm is a proposed 550 MW solar photovoltaic power plant which is to be built northwest of California Valley in the USA at a cost of over $1 billion. Built on 9.5 square miles (25 km2) of ranchland, the project would utilize thin-film PV panels designed and manufactured by OptiSolar in Hayward and Sacramento. The project would deliver approximately 1,100 gigawatt-hours (GW·h) annually of renewable energy. The project is expected to begin construction in 2010, begin power delivery in 2011, and be fully operational by 2013.

High Plains Ranch is a proposed 250 MW solar photovoltaic power plant which is to be built by SunPower in the Carrizo Plain, northwest of California Valley.

However, when it comes to renewable energy systems and PV, it is not just large systems that matter. Building-integrated photovoltaics or "onsite" PV systems have the advantage of being matched to end use energy needs in terms of scale. So the energy is supplied close to where it is needed.

Since the 1970s, Brazil has had an ethanol fuel program which has allowed the country to become the world's second largest producer of ethanol (after the United States) and the world's largest exporter. Brazil’s ethanol fuel program uses modern equipment and cheap sugar cane as feedstock, and the residual cane-waste (bagasse) is used to process heat and power. There are no longer light vehicles in Brazil running on pure gasoline. By the end of 2008 there were 35,000 filling stations throughout Brazil with at least one ethanol pump.

Most cars on the road today in the U.S. can run on blends of up to 10% ethanol, and motor vehicle manufacturers already produce vehicles designed to run on much higher ethanol blends. Ford, DaimlerChrysler, and GM are among the automobile companies that sell “flexible-fuel” cars, trucks, and minivans that can use gasoline and ethanol blends ranging from pure gasoline up to 85% ethanol (E85). By mid-2006, there were approximately six million E85-compatible vehicles on U.S. roads. The challenge is to expand the market for biofuels beyond the farm states where they have been most popular to date. Flex-fuel vehicles are assisting in this transition because they allow drivers to choose different fuels based on price and availability. The Energy Policy Act of 2005, which calls for 7.5 billion gallons of biofuels to be used annually by 2012, will also help to expand the market.

The Geysers, is a geothermal power field located 72 miles (116 km) north of San Francisco, California. It is the largest geothermal development in the world outputting over 750 MW.

By the end of 2005 worldwide use of geothermal energy for electricity had reached 9.3 GWs, with an additional 28 GW used directly for heating. If heat recovered by ground source heat pumps is included, the non-electric use of geothermal energy is estimated at more than 100 GWt (gigawatts of thermal power) and is used commercially in over 70 countries.( sec 1.2) During 2005 contracts were placed for an additional 0.5 GW of capacity in the United States, while there were also plants under construction in 11 other countries.

Portugal now has the world's first commercial wave farm, the Agucadoura Wave Park, officially opened in September 2008. The farm uses three Pelamis P-750 machines generating 2.25 MW. Initial costs are put at €8.5 million. A second phase of the project is now planned to increase the installed capacity to 21MW using a further 25 Pelamis machines.

Funding for a wave farm in Scotland was announced in February, 2007 by the Scottish Government, at a cost of over 4 million pounds, as part of a £13 million funding packages for ocean power in Scotland. The farm will be the world's largest with a capacity of 3MW generated by four Pelamis machines.

Renewable energy can be particularly suitable for developing countries. In rural and remote areas, transmission and distribution of energy generated from fossil fuels can be difficult and expensive. Producing renewable energy locally can offer a viable alternative.

Renewable energy projects in many developing countries have demonstrated that renewable energy can directly contribute to poverty alleviation by providing the energy needed for creating businesses and employment. Renewable energy technologies can also make indirect contributions to alleviating poverty by providing energy for cooking, space heating, and lighting. Renewable energy can also contribute to education, by providing electricity to schools.

Kenya is the world leader in the number of solar power systems installed per capita (but not the number of watts added). More than 30,000 very small solar panels, each producing 12 to 30 watts, are sold in Kenya annually. For an investment of as little as $100 for the panel and wiring, the PV system can be used to charge a car battery, which can then provide power to run a fluorescent lamp or a small television for a few hours a day. More Kenyans adopt solar power every year than make connections to the country’s electric grid.

Present renewable energy sources supply about 18% of current energy use and there is much potential that could be exploited in the future. As the table below illustrates, the technical potential of renewable energy sources is more than 18 times current global primary energy use and furthermore several times higher than projected energy use in 2100.

There are many different ways to assess potentials. The theoretical potential indicates the amount of energy theoretically available for energy purposes, such as, in the case of solar energy, the amount of incoming radiation at the earth's surface. The technical potential is a more practical estimate of how much could be put to human use by considering conversion efficiencies of the available technology and available land area. To give an idea of the constraints, the estimate for solar energy assumes that 1% of the world's unused land surface is used for solar power.

The technical potentials generally do not include economic or other environmental constraints, and the potentials that could be realized at an economically competitive level under current conditions and in a short time-frame is lower still.

Sustainable development and global warming groups propose a 100% Renewable Energy Source Supply, without fossil fuels and nuclear power. Scientists from the University of Kassel have been busy proving that Germany can power itself entirely by renewable energy.

Other than market forces, renewable industry often needs government sponsorship to help generate enough momentum in the market. Many countries and states have implemented incentives — like government tax subsidies, partial copayment schemes and various rebates over purchase of renewables — to encourage consumers to shift to renewable energy sources. Government grants fund for research in renewable technology to make the production cheaper and generation more efficient.

Development of loan programs that stimulate renewable favoring market forces with attractive return rates, buffer initial deployment costs and entice consumers to consider and purchase renewable technology. A famous example is the solar loan program sponsored by UNEP helping 100,000 people finance solar power systems in India. Success in India's solar program has led to similar projects in other parts of developing world like Tunisia, Morocco, Indonesia and Mexico.

Imposition of fossil fuel consumption and carbon taxes, and channel the revenue earned towards renewable energy development.

Also oil peak and world petroleum crisis and inflation are helping to promote renewables.

Many think-tanks are warning that the world needs an urgency driven concerted effort to create a competitive renewable energy infrastructure and market. The developed world can make more research investments to find better cost efficient technologies, and manufacturing could be transferred to developing countries in order to use low labor costs. The renewable energy market could increase fast enough to replace and initiate the decline of fossil fuel dominance and the world could then avert the looming climate and peak oil crises.

Most importantly, renewables is gaining credence among private investors as having the potential to grow into the next big industry. Many companies and venture capitalists are investing in photovoltaic development and manufacturing. This trend is particularly visible in Silicon valley, California, Europe, Japan.

Critics suggest that some renewable energy applications may create pollution, be dangerous, take up large amounts of land, or be incapable of generating a large net amount of energy. Proponents advocate the use of "appropriate renewables", also known as soft energy technologies, as these have many advantages.

There is no shortage of solar-derived energy on Earth. Indeed the storages and flows of energy on the planet are very large relative to human needs.

Variable but forecastable renewables (wind and solar cells) are very reliable when integrated with each other, existing supplies and demand. For example, three German states were more than 30 percent wind-powered in 2007—and more than 100 percent in some months. Mostly renewable power generally needs less backup than utilities already bought to combat big coal and nuclear plants' intermittence.

The challenge of variable power supply may be readily alleviated by grid energy storage. Available storage options include pumped-storage hydro systems, batteries, hydrogen fuel cells, thermal mass and compressed air. Initial investments in such energy storage systems may be high, although the costs can be recovered over the life of the system.

Lovins goes on to say that the unreliability of renewable energy is a myth, while the unreliability of nuclear energy is real. Of all U.S. nuclear plants built, 21 percent were abandoned and 27 percent have failed at least once. Successful reactors must close for refueling every 17 months for 39 days. And when shut in response to grid failure, they can't quickly restart. This is simply not the case for wind farms, for example.

Wave energy and some other renewables are continuously available. A wave energy scheme installed in Australia generates electricity with an 80% availability factor.

Both solar and wind generating stations have been criticized from an aesthetic point of view. However, methods and opportunities exist to deploy these renewable technologies efficiently and unobtrusively: fixed solar collectors can double as noise barriers along highways, and extensive roadway, parking lot, and roof-top area is currently available; amorphous photovoltaic cells can also be used to tint windows and produce energy. Advocates of renewable energy also argue that current infrastructure is less aesthetically pleasing than alternatives, but sited further from the view of most critics.

While most renewable energy sources do not produce pollution directly, the materials, industrial processes, and construction equipment used to create them may generate waste and pollution. Some renewable energy systems actually create environmental problems.

Another environmental issue, particularly with biomass and biofuels, is the large amount of land required to harvest energy, which otherwise could be used for other purposes or left as undeveloped land. However, it should be pointed out that these fuels may reduce the need for harvesting non-renewable energy sources, such as vast strip-mined areas and slag mountains for coal, safety zones around nuclear plants, and hundreds of square miles being strip-mined for oil sands. These responses, however, do not account for the extremely high biodiversity and endemism of land used for ethanol crops, particularly sugar cane.

In the U.S., crops grown for biofuels are the most land- and water-intensive of the renewable energy sources. In 2005, about 12% of the nation’s corn crop (covering 11 million acres (45,000 km²) of farmland) was used to produce four billion gallons of ethanol—which equates to about 2% of annual U.S. gasoline consumption. For biofuels to make a much larger contribution to the energy economy, the industry will have to accelerate the development of new feedstocks, agricultural practices, and technologies that are more land and water efficient. Already, the efficiency of biofuels production has increased significantly and there are new methods to boost biofuel production.

The major advantage of hydroelectric systems is the elimination of the cost of fuel. Other advantages include longer life than fuel-fired generation, low operating costs, and the provision of facilities for water sports. Operation of pumped-storage plants improves the daily load factor of the generation system. Overall, hydroelectric power can be far less expensive than electricity generated from fossil fuels or nuclear energy, and areas with abundant hydroelectric power attract industry.

Hydroelectric power is now more difficult to site in developed nations because most major sites within these nations are either already being exploited or may be unavailable for other reasons such as environmental considerations.

Studies of birds and offshore wind farms in Europe have found that there are very few bird collisions. Several offshore wind sites in Europe have been in areas heavily used by seabirds. Improvements in wind turbine design, including a much slower rate of rotation of the blades and a smooth tower base instead of perchable lattice towers, have helped reduce bird mortality at wind farms around the world. However older smaller wind turbines may be hazardous to flying birds. Birds are severely impacted by fossil fuel energy; examples include birds dying from exposure to oil spills, habitat loss from acid rain and mountaintop removal coal mining, and mercury poisoning.

Though a source of renewable energy may last for billions of years, renewable energy infrastructure, like hydroelectric dams, will not last forever, and must be removed and replaced at some point. Events like the shifting of riverbeds, or changing weather patterns could potentially alter or even halt the function of hydroelectric dams, lowering the amount of time they are available to generate electricity.

Although geothermal sites are capable of providing heat for many decades, eventually specific locations may cool down. It is likely that in these locations, the system was designed too large for the site, since there is only so much energy that can be stored and replenished in a given volume of earth. Some interpret this as meaning a specific geothermal location can undergo depletion.

The government of Iceland states: "It should be stressed that the geothermal resource is not strictly renewable in the same sense as the hydro resource." It estimates that Iceland's geothermal energy could provide 1700 MW for over 100 years, compared to the current production of 140 MW. Radioactive elements in the earth's crust continuously decay, replenishing the heat. The International Energy Agency classifies geothermal power as renewable.

All biomass needs to go through some of these steps: it needs to be grown, collected, dried, fermented and burned. All of these steps require resources and an infrastructure.

Some studies contend that ethanol is "energy negative", meaning that it takes more energy to produce than is contained in the final product. However, a large number of recent studies, including a 2006 article in the journal Science offer the opinion that fuels like ethanol are energy positive. Furthermore, fossil fuels also require significant energy inputs which have seldom been accounted for in the past.

Additionally, ethanol is not the only product created during production, and the energy content of the by-products must also be considered. Corn is typically 66% starch and the remaining 33% is not fermented. This unfermented component is called distillers grain, which is high in fats and proteins, and makes good animal feed. In Brazil, where sugar cane is used, the yield is higher, and conversion to ethanol is somewhat more energy efficient than corn. Recent developments with cellulosic ethanol production may improve yields even further.

According to the International Energy Agency, new biofuels technologies being developed today, notably cellulosic ethanol, could allow biofuels to play a much bigger role in the future than previously thought. Cellulosic ethanol can be made from plant matter composed primarily of inedible cellulose fibers that form the stems and branches of most plants. Crop residues (such as corn stalks, wheat straw and rice straw), wood waste, and municipal solid waste are potential sources of cellulosic biomass. Dedicated energy crops, such as switchgrass, are also promising cellulose sources that can be sustainably produced in many regions of the United States.

The ethanol and biodiesel production industries also create jobs in plant construction, operations, and maintenance, mostly in rural communities. According to the Renewable Fuels Association, the ethanol industry created almost 154,000 U.S. jobs in 2005 alone, boosting household income by $5.7 billion. It also contributed about $3.5 billion in tax revenues at the local, state, and federal levels.

The U.S. electric power industry now relies on large, central power stations, including coal, natural gas, nuclear, and hydropower plants that together generate more than 95% of the nation’s electricity. Over the next few decades uses of renewable energy could help to diversify the nation’s bulk power supply. Already, appropriate renewable resources (which excludes large hydropower) produce 12% of northern California’s electricity.

Although most of today’s electricity comes from large, central-station power plants, new technologies offer a range of options for generating electricity nearer to where it is needed, saving on the cost of transmitting and distributing power and improving the overall efficiency and reliability of the system.

Improving energy efficiency represents the most immediate and often the most cost-effective way to reduce oil dependence, improve energy security, and reduce the health and environmental impact of the energy system. By reducing the total energy requirements of the economy, improved energy efficiency could make increased reliance on renewable energy sources more practical and affordable.

Renewable energy sources are generally sustainable in the sense that they cannot "run out" as well as in the sense that their environmental and social impacts are generally more benign than those of fossil. However, both biomass and geothermal energy require wise management if they are to be used in a sustainable manner. For all of the other renewables, almost any realistic rate of use would be unlikely to approach their rate of replenishment by nature.

If renewable and distributed generation were to become widespread, electric power transmission and electricity distribution systems might no longer be the main distributors of electrical energy but would operate to balance the electricity needs of local communities. Those with surplus energy would sell to areas needing "top ups". That is, network operation would require a shift from 'passive management' — where generators are hooked up and the system is operated to get electricity 'downstream' to the consumer — to 'active management', wherein generators are spread across a network and inputs and outputs need to be constantly monitored to ensure proper balancing occurs within the system. Some governments and regulators are moving to address this, though much remains to be done. One potential solution is the increased use of active management of electricity transmission and distribution networks. This will require significant changes in the way that such networks are operated.

However, on a smaller scale, use of renewable energy produced on site reduces burdens on electricity distribution systems. Current systems, while rarely economically efficient, have shown that an average household with an appropriately-sized solar panel array and energy storage system needs electricity from outside sources for only a few hours per week. By matching electricity supply to end-use needs, advocates of renewable energy and the soft energy path believe electricity systems will become smaller and easier to manage, rather than the opposite (see Soft energy technology).

Renewable heat is the generation of heat from renewable sources. Much current discussion on renewable energy focuses on the generation of electrical energy, despite the fact that many colder countries consume more energy for heating than as electricity. In 2005 the United Kingdom consumed 354 TWh of electric power, but had a heat requirement of 907 TWh, the majority of which (81%) was met using gas. The residential sector alone consumed a massive 550 TWh of energy for heating, mainly in the form of gas. Almost half of the final energy consumed in the UK (49%) was in the form of heat.

Renewable electric power is becoming cheap and convenient enough to place it, in many cases, within reach of the average consumer. By contrast, the market for renewable heat is mostly inaccessible to domestic consumers due to inconvenience of supply, and high capital costs. Heating accounts for a large proportion of energy consumption, however a universally accessible market for renewable heat is yet to emerge. Solutions such as geothermal heat pumps may be more widely applicable, but may not be economical in all cases. Also see renewable energy development.

In 1983, physicist Bernard Cohen proposed that uranium is effectively inexhaustible, and could therefore be considered a renewable source of energy. He claimed that fast breeder reactors, fueled by uranium extracted from seawater, could supply energy at least as long as the sun's expected remaining lifespan of five billion years. Nuclear energy has also been referred to as "renewable" by the politicians George W. Bush, Charlie Crist, and David Sainsbury.

There are also environmental concerns over nuclear power, including the dangerous environmental hazards of nuclear waste and concerns that development of new plants cannot happen quickly enough to reduce CO2 emissions, such that nuclear energy is neither efficient nor effective in cutting CO2 emissions.

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Source : Wikipedia