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Looking at the big debate between renewables and nuclear energy

Looking at the big debate between renewables and nuclear energy

Looking at the big debate between renewables and nuclear energy

ECO-INTELLIGENT‘s writeup By Saurab Babu is about Energy mix of the future: Looking at the big debate between renewables and nuclear energy.

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According to the World Energy Outlook 2019, almost 1 billion people in the world today do not have access to reliable electricity. As the world continues to lift people out of poverty and bring access to electricity to deep corners of the world, the global energy requirements, including for electricity and for industry, are going to go up.

At the same time, it is widely accepted that we need to find different energy sources. Carbon intensive sources like fuelwood, coal and natural gas need to be phased out as we build a climate-resilient world. Several authorities have come onboard the need for low-carbon energy generation. (And even if you don’t believe in the CO2-induced theory of climate change, the fact remains that using fuelwood, coal and gas-based energy generation has terrible health consequences.)

Discussing low-carbon energy invariably leads to a big debate: Renewables vs nuclear.According to you, which form of low-carbon should the world depend on?Renewable energyNuclear energyI’ll answer this after reading the article (okay! There’s another poll at the end for you!)VoteView ResultsCrowdsignal.comAdvertisementsabout:blankREPORT THIS AD

Option 1: Renewable energy (solar and wind)

When we talk of renewables, most people stress on solar and wind energy.

advantages of solar and wind energy

Solar and wind have become increasingly popular in the last two decades. They are being promoted as the energy sources of the future because they do not emit GHGs during electricity production. Even their emissions during manufacturing and decommissioning pale compared to other forms of energy. Energy generation from renewables is expected to grow by 300% by 2040 due to their popularity and advancements in battery storage technology.

Producing energy from wind and solar has become cheaper—costs of generating electricity from wind and solar have fallen by 90% in the last 20 years.

Solar and wind farms are also easier and faster to build compared to most other sources of energy.

Looking at the big debate between renewables and nuclear energy

They are flexible and can ramp energy production up or down at a moment’s notice, depending on the demand. This is important in today’s energy use scenario. For example, if a popular TV show runs from 9:00 – 9:30 PM, we will see a spike in energy demands at 9 PM followed by a dip in demands at 9:30 PM. We also have situations of negative demand, when people generate more electricity (from their rooftop solar) than they use and supply the surplus to the grid. In such cases, other sources of energy would need to ramp down. Such situations place undue stress on the grids, which renewables can easily handle.

The biggest advantage from solar and wind is their independence from the grid. Set up panels or windmills on your rooftop and you can produce your own electricity without depending on the grid! This ability makes these options attractive in unelectrified areas and areas very far from electricity generation plants.Advertisementshttps://c0.pubmine.com/sf/0.0.3/html/safeframe.htmlREPORT THIS AD

Option 2: Nuclear energy

Nuclear energy is not new; nuclear power plants have existed since the 1950s. Nuclear power plants also do not emit GHGs during electricity production and are a good low-carbon energy source. Several features of nuclear energy make it a superb source of energy for the future.

advantages of nuclear energy

The most impressive by far is its power density: nuclear energy produces more power per unit volume than any other form of electricity source we know. This also makes them space-efficient. Even their waste products can be contained within a small space, compared to the waste generated by decommissioned solar and wind infrastructure.

They are stable and reliable. If the nuclear power plant works properly, we can be guaranteed a given amount of electricity at all times. This is key in industrial areas and urban centers where the demand for energy rarely fluctuates. Often, these areas are also well-connected to the grid and require large amounts of power, making nuclear a more attractive option than the intermittent, power-thin renewables.

Contrary to popular belief, it is safe. Nuclear disasters have occurred largely due to mismanagement and primitive technology, both of which are avoidable in today’s world. Nuclear wastes also need not be dangerous if proper precautions are taken and protocols are diligently followed.

However, solar and wind are far from ideal…

Solar and wind have their fair share of criticisms.

disadvantages of solar and wind energy

First, they are intermittent: we cannot get reliable electricity throughout the day, month or year from either of these sources. This means we need a back-up—either through battery storage (who’s capacity is still low) or through coal/natural gas plants (kind of beats the purpose)—or we need a combination of different renewable energy sources that can feed support each other. The need for backup, along with the new grid infrastructure we need to interconnect different renewable sources, has increased the cost of electricity for consumers even though the cost of energy has gone down.

Second, they have low power densities; they produce low energy per unit volume compared to fossil fuels and nuclear. This means that if we tried to power the world entirely by a combination of different renewable energy sources, we would need A LOT space. For example, if the entire world was to be powered by solar, we would need a land area the size of South Africa. Not at all efficient.

Third, the infrastructure we create for wind and solar has a lifespan of 25-30 years. What happens at the end of their lifespan? Disposing solar panels and windmills are a huge pain, requiring massive infrastructure to recycle their components. If we didn’t recycle them, we would dump them in landfills and cause an environmental disaster.

When we try to scale solar and wind energy generation through parks or farms, this technology incurs a significant ecological cost. Solar farms displace animals from their homes and create a heat island that is unconducive to most lifeforms. Similarly, wind farms are notorious for their interference with the flight paths of large birds and bats.

Nuclear energy also has problems…

disadvantages of nuclear energy

Nuclear energy’s biggest detractor is its construction. It takes a long time and a lot of money to construct a nuclear power plant. This isn’t ideal because we need to cheaply and quickly produce low-carbon forms of electricity to meet the rising demands around the world. Construction of nuclear power plants is also very carbon-intensive.

Looking at the big debate between renewables and nuclear energy

Nuclear isn’t traditionally flexible, and modern designs offer limited flexibility, which isn’t ideal in places with highly variable energy demands.

Introducing nuclear energy (and wastes) in countries that do not yet have access to this technology creates the risk for weaponization. While the chances of an all-out nuclear war continue to be low, the risk cannot be discounted.

Should we be choosing one or the other?

For the longest time, I felt that this is a binary option. That is how the debate has been structured on the global stage. But a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages of renewables and nuclear paint a different picture. See for yourself…

This table compares the two forms of energy against several parameters of a future energy grid.

Solar/wind vs nuclear: A comparison against several grid and environmental parameters

Clearly, nuclear and solar/wind are complimentary: where one falls short, the other can support.Advertisementsabout:blankREPORT THIS AD

Conclusion: Should we rely on only one form of energy?

Given different needs in different areas of life, it is unwise to depend on any one form of energy. For example, solar/wind is cheaper and faster to electrify rural areas, where the need for electricity remains low and it is expensive to connect them to the grid. Nuclear makes sense in cities and industrial complexes that need reliable, stable and cheap electricity all the time.

Let me ask you the question again:According to you, which form of low-carbon should the world depend on?Renewable energyNuclear energyA combination of bothVoteView ResultsCrowdsignal.com

Bonus: Are hydroelectricity, bioenergy, geothermal and tidal the best of both worlds?

Many people mention these sources under renewables. In fact, hydroelectric power plants form the largest proportion of the renewable energy mix. However, they behave differently compared to solar and wind and have many features of nuclear energy.

Hydroelectricity, bioenergy, geothermal and tidal—can counter many shortcomings of solar and wind, like power density and intermittency. Unlike nuclear, they are relatively cheaper and faster to build.

But they come with their own problems. They are all highly location-specific, take time and resources to construct, and occupy a lot of space causing huge environmental and social damage.

These forms of energy make sense depending on the location. Hydro, geothermal, tidal and bioenergy can generate all the energy a region requires, or can easily work with solar and wind to meet energy needs. They can be a reliable substitute to nuclear energy in controversial places where energy requirements are high and consistent.


The future of energy in a low-carbon world, according to me, does not have to renewable OR nuclear. We need a bit of both (the relative proportions, of course, are debatable). Their features are complimentary and the next generation energy grid should evolve to accommodate both forms of energy.

A New Solar and Lighting technology

A New Solar and Lighting technology

Sam Stranks, University of Cambridge describes “How a new solar and lighting technology could propel a renewable energy transformation”. This will undeniably come to some help those countries that have opted strongly for renewables, such as Tunisia.

The demand for cheaper, greener electricity means that the energy landscape is changing faster than at any other point in history. This is particularly true of solar-powered electricity and battery storage. The cost of both has dropped at unprecedented rates over the past decade and energy efficient technologies such as LED lighting have also expanded.

Access to cheap and ubiquitous solar power and storage will transform the way we produce and use power, allowing electrification of the transport sector. There is potential for new chemical-based economies in which we store renewable energy as fuels, and support new devices making up an “internet of things”.

But our current energy technologies won’t lead us to this future: we will soon hit efficiency and cost limits. The potential for future reductions in the cost of electricity from silicon solar, for example, is limited. The manufacture of each panel demands a fair amount of energy and factories are expensive to build. And although the cost of production can be squeezed a little further, the costs of a solar installation are now dominated by the extras – installation, wiring, the electronics and so on.

A New Solar and Lighting technology
Two workers with white gloves work on a solar panel.
Workers in a factory of a Chinese solar panel maker in Hangzhou, China. EPA/STR

This means that current solar power systems are unlikely to meet the required fraction of our 30 TeraWatt (TW) global power requirements (they produce less than 1 TW today) fast enough to address issues such as climate change.

Likewise, our current LED lighting and display technologies are too expensive and not of good enough colour quality to realistically replace traditional lighting in a short enough time frame. This is a problem, as lighting currently accounts for 5% of the world’s carbon emissions. New technologies are needed to fill this gap, and quickly.

Halide perovskites

Our lab in Cambridge, England, is working with a promising new family of materials known as halide perovskites. They are semiconductors, conducting charges when stimulated with light. Perovskite inks are deposited onto glass or plastic to make extremely thin films – around one hundredth of the width of a human hair – made up of metal, halide and organic ions. When sandwiched between electrode contacts, these films make solar cell or LED devices.

Amazingly, the colour of light they absorb or emit can be changed simply by tweaking their chemical structure. By changing the way we grow them, we can tailor them to be more suitable for absorbing light (for a solar panel) or emitting light (for an LED). This allows us to make different colour solar cells and LEDs emitting light from the ultra-violet, right through to the visible and near-infrared.

Despite their cheap and versatile processing, these materials have been shown to be remarkably efficient as both solar cells and light emitters. Perovskite solar cells hit 25.2% efficiency in 2019, hot on the heels of crystalline silicon cells at 26.7%, and perovskite LEDs are already approaching off-the-shelf organic light-emitting diode (OLED) performances.

These technologies are rapidly being commercialised, particularly on the solar cell front. UK-based Oxford Photovoltaics has built a production line and is filling its first purchase orders in early 2021. Polish company Saule Technologies released prototype products at the end of 2018, including a perovskite solar façade pilot. Chinese manufacturer Microquanta Semiconductor expects to produce more than 200,000 square meters of panels in its production line before year-end. The US-based Swift Solar (a company I co-founded) is pioneering high-performance cells with lightweight, flexible properties.

A New Solar and Lighting technology
Coloured perovskite light-emitting inks that can be cast down into thin films. © Sandeep Pathak, Author provided

Between these and other companies, there is rapid progress being made.

Solar windows and flexible panels

Unlike conventional silicon cells, which need to be very uniform for high efficiency, perovskite films are comprised of mosaic “grains” of highly variable size (from nano-meters to millimeters) and chemistry – and yet they perform nearly as well as the best silicon cells today. What’s more, small blemishes or defects in perovskite films do not lead to significant power losses. Such defects would be catastrophic for a silicon panel or a commercial LED.

Although we are still trying to understand this, these materials are forcing the community to rewrite the textbook for what we consider as an ideal semiconductor: they can have very good optical and electronic properties in spite of – or perhaps even because of – disorder.

A New Solar and Lighting technology
Light emitted from mosaic grains in a perovskite film
Light emitted from mosaic grains in a perovskite film. Dane deQuilettes/Sam Stranks

We could hypothetically use these materials to make “designer” coloured solar cells that blend in to buildings or houses, or solar windows that look like tinted glass yet generate power.

But the real opportunity is to develop highly efficient cells beyond the efficiency of silicon cells. For example, we can layer two different coloured perovskite films together in a “tandem” solar cell. Each layer would harvest different regions of the solar spectrum, increasing the overall efficiency of the cell.

Another example is what Oxford PV are pioneering: adding a perovskite layer on top of a standard silicon cell, boosting the efficiency of the existing technology without significant additional cost. These tandem layering approaches could quickly create a boost in efficiency of solar panels beyond 30%, which would reduce both the panel and system costs while also reducing their energy footprint.

These perovskite layers are also being developed to manufacture flexible solar panels that can be processed to roll like newsprint, further reducing costs. Lightweight, high-power solar also opens up possibilities for powering electric vehicles and communication satellites.

For LEDs, perovskites can achieve fantastic colour quality which could lead to advanced flexible display technologies. Perovskites could also give cheaper, higher quality white lighting than today’s commercial LEDs, with the “colour temperature” of a globe able to be manufactured to give cool or warm white light or any desired shade in between. They are also generating excitement as building blocks for future quantum computers, as well as X-Ray detectors for extremely low dose medical and security imaging.

Although the first products are already emerging, there are still challenges. One key issue is demonstrating long-term stability. But the research is promising, and once these are resolved, halide perovskites could truly propel the transformation of our energy production and consumption.

Sam Stranks, Lecturer in Energy and Royal Society University Research Fellow, University of Cambridge

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation

30MW Sidi Mansour wind farm in Tunisia

30MW Sidi Mansour wind farm in Tunisia

Climate Fund Managers (CFM) and UPC Renewables (UPC) will develop a 30MW Sidi Mansour wind farm in Tunisia. It is reported on African Review of 24 July 2020.

This Sidi Mansour Project is meant to help Tunisia reduce its imports of fossil fuels. It announced earlier on in 2016 the launch of its solar energy plan, to make its electricity generation mix through renewables ten-fold to 30%.

Tunisia boosting renewable energy drive

30MW Sidi Mansour wind farm in Tunisia
The Sidi Mansour Wind Project is set to assist Tunisia in meeting its renewable energy goals. (Image source: Free-Photos/Pixabay)

The project will be one of the first wind independent power producers (IPP) in the country. Climate Fund Managers is participating as co-developer, sponsor, financial advisor and E&S advisor to the project, through the development and construction financing facility under its management, Climate Investor One (CI1). 

UPC will lead the development of the project with its local team that will lead land securitisation, permitting, grid connection, wind resource assessment and engineering and procurement contracts.

“We can start the construction of the Sidi Mansour wind farm in 2020, helping stimulate the Tunisian economy, create local jobs and a social plan for local communities while respecting international environmental protection guidelines,” said Brian Caffyn, chairman of the UPC Group.

The Sidi Mansour Wind Project is set to assist Tunisia in meeting its renewable energy goals. “As potentially the first Wind IPP in Tunisia, this project will be a testament to how CI1’s full lifecycle financing solution can unlock investment in renewable energy in new markets,” according to Sebastian Surie, regional head of Africa for CFM.

In January 2019, UPC was selected as one of the four awarded companies under the “Authorisation Scheme” tender for its 30MW Sidi Mansour project in Northern Tunisia and subsequently signed a PPA with Société Tunisienne d’Electricité et du Gaz. Over its lifespan, the Sidi Mansour Project is expected to lead to a reduction of 56,645 tonnes equivalent of carbon and create more than 100 jobs. The total investment size of the project is expected to be approximately US$40mn.

Record-tall Wind Turbine Towers with 3D-printed Concrete Bases

Record-tall Wind Turbine Towers with 3D-printed Concrete Bases


WEBWIRE  in its 17 June 2020 article on GE Renewable Energy, COBOD and LafargeHolcim co-develop record-tall wind turbine towers with 3D-printed concrete bases dated Wednesday, June 17, 2020 could a definite step forward on the way towards clean energy.

Record-tall Wind Turbine Towers with 3D-printed Concrete Bases
  • Historic multi-year collaboration between three leaders in their industry to increase renewable energy production and use
  • Wind turbine towers have typically been limited to a height of under 100 meters, as they are traditionally built in steel or precast concrete
  • Printing the base directly on-site with 3D-printed concrete technology will enable the creation of larger bases and cost-effective taller hybrid towers, reaching up to 200 meters
  • Taller towers capture stronger winds, thereby generating more energy at a lower cost
  • First prototype successfully printed in October 2019

GE Renewable Energy, COBOD and LafargeHolcim announced today that they will partner to co-develop wind turbines with optimized 3D printed concrete bases, reaching record heights up to 200 meters. The three partners will undertake a multi-year collaboration to develop this innovative solution, which will increase renewable energy production while lowering the Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) and optimizing construction costs. The partners will produce ultimately a wind turbine prototype with a printed pedestal, and a production ready printer and materials range to scale up production. The first prototype, a 10-meter high tower pedestal, was successfully printed in October 2019 in Copenhagen. By exploring ways to economically develop taller towers that capture stronger winds, the three partners aim to generate more renewable energy per turbine.

Building on the industry-leading expertise of each partner, this collaboration aims to accelerate the access and use of renewable energy worldwide. GE Renewable Energy will provide expertise related to the design, manufacture and commercialization of wind turbines, COBOD will focus on the robotics automation and 3D printing and LafargeHolcim will design the tailor-made concrete material, its processing and application.

“Concrete 3D printing is a very promising technology for us, as its incredible design flexibility expands the realm of construction possibilities. Being both a user and promoter of clean energy, we are delighted to be putting our material and design expertise to work in this groundbreaking project, enabling cost efficient construction of tall wind turbine towers and accelerating access to renewable energy,” explained Edelio Bermejo, Head of R&D for LafargeHolcim.

Henrik Lund-Nielsen, founder of COBOD International A/S added: “We are extremely proud to be working with world-class companies like GE Renewable Energy and LafargeHolcim. With our groundbreaking 3D printing technology combined with the competence and resources of our partners, we are convinced that this disruptive move within the wind turbines industry will help drive lower costs and faster execution times, to benefit customers and lower the CO2 footprint from the production of energy.

“3D printing is in GE’s DNA and we believe that Large Format Additive Manufacturing will bring disruptive potential to the Wind Industry. Concrete printing has advanced significantly over the last five years and we believe is getting closer to have real application in the industrial world. We are committed to taking full advantage of this technology both from the design flexibility it allows as well as for the logistic simplification it enables on such massive components,” said Matteo Bellucci Advanced Manufacturing Technology Leader for GE Renewable Energy.

Traditionally built in steel or precast concrete, wind turbine towers have typically been limited to a height of under 100 meters, as the width of the base cannot exceed the 4.5-meter diameter that can be transported by road, without excessive additional costs. Printing a variable height base directly on-site with 3D-printed concrete technology will enable the construction of towers up to 150 to 200 meters tall. Typically, a 5 MW turbine at 80 meters generates, yearly, 15.1 GWh. In comparison, the same turbine at 160 meters would generate 20.2 GWh, or more than 33% extra power.

About LafargeHolcim
LafargeHolcim is the global leader in building materials and solutions and active in four business segments: Cement, Aggregates, Ready-Mix Concrete and Solutions & Products. Its ambition is to lead the industry in reducing carbon emissions and shifting towards low-carbon construction. With the strongest R&D organization in the industry, the company seeks to constantly introduce and promote high-quality and sustainable building materials and solutions to its customers worldwide – whether individual homebuilders or developers of major infrastructure projects. LafargeHolcim employs over 70,000 employees in over 70 countries and has a portfolio that is equally balanced between developing and mature markets.

About COBOD International A/S
COBOD International is a globally leading 3D construction printing company, supplying 3D construction printing technology to customers in Asia, The Middle East, Europe and the US. COBOD intent to disrupt the construction industry and any industry where concrete structures are being applied. COBOD has made headlines multiple times the last couple of years from the 3D printing of the first fully permitted building in Europe in 2017, over the delivery of the largest construction printer in the world measuring 27 meters in length and 10 meter in height to the live 3D printing of a small house per day during the Bautec, a German construction exhibition. German Peri Group, the leading provider of manual concrete casting form work equipment is a minority shareholder of COBOD. Follow us on www.COBOD.com

About GE Renewable Energy
GE Renewable Energy is a $15 billion business which combines one of the broadest portfolios in the renewable energy industry to provide end-to-end solutions for our customers demanding reliable and affordable green power. Combining onshore and offshore wind, blades, hydro, storage, utility-scale solar, and grid solutions as well as hybrid renewables and digital services offerings, GE Renewable Energy has installed more than 400+ gigawatts of clean renewable energy and equipped more than 90 percent of utilities worldwide with its grid solutions. With nearly 40,000 employees present in more than 80 countries, GE Renewable Energy creates value for customers seeking to power the world with affordable, reliable and sustainable green electrons.

Follow these at :

www.ge.com/renewableenergy on www.linkedin.com/company/gerenewableenergy 

or on www.twitter.com/GErenewables

and 3D concrete printing at LafargeHolcim

Renewables Increasingly Beat Even Cheapest Coal Competitors on Cost

Renewables Increasingly Beat Even Cheapest Coal Competitors on Cost

IRENA‘s Press Release on the fact that today Renewables Increasingly Beat Even Cheapest Coal Competitors on Cost could be considered quite a change from the 100 years or so history of hydrocarbon generated energy. Renewables started winning the Economics battle for the last couple of years.


Competitive power generation costs make investment in renewables highly attractive as countries target economic recovery from COVID-19, new IRENA report finds.


Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, 2 June 2020 — Renewable power is increasingly cheaper than any new electricity capacity based on fossil fuels, a new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) published today finds. Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2019 shows that more than half of the renewable capacity added in 2019 achieved lower power costs than the cheapest new coal plants. 

The report highlights that new renewable power generation projects now increasingly undercut existing coal-fired plants. On average, new solar photovoltaic (PV) and onshore wind power cost less than keeping many existing coal plants in operation, and auction results show this trend accelerating – reinforcing the case to phase-out coal entirely. Next year, up to 1 200 gigawatts (GW) of existing coal capacity could cost more to operate than the cost of new utility-scale solar PV, the report shows. 

Replacing the costliest 500 GW of coal with solar PV and onshore wind next year would cut power system costs by up to USD 23 billion every year and reduce annual emissions by around 1.8 gigatons (Gt) of carbon dioxide (CO2), equivalent to 5% of total global CO2 emissions in 2019. It would also yield an investment stimulus of USD 940 billion, which is equal to around 1% of global GDP.

“We have reached an important turning point in the energy transition. The case for new and much of the existing coal power generation, is both environmentally and economically unjustifiable,” said Francesco La Camera, Director-General of IRENA. “Renewable energy is increasingly the cheapest source of new electricity, offering tremendous potential to stimulate the global economy and get people back to work. Renewable investments are stable, cost-effective and attractive offering consistent and predictable returns while delivering benefits to the wider economy.

“A global recovery strategy must be a green strategy,” La Camera added. “Renewables offer a way to align short-term policy action with medium- and long-term energy and climate goals.  Renewables must be the backbone of national efforts to restart economies in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. With the right policies in place, falling renewable power costs, can shift markets and contribute greatly towards a green recovery.”

Renewable electricity costs have fallen sharply over the past decade, driven by improving technologies, economies of scale, increasingly competitive supply chains and growing developer experience. Since 2010, utility-scale solar PV power has shown the sharpest cost decline at 82%, followed by concentrating solar power (CSP) at 47%, onshore wind at 39% and offshore wind at 29%.

Costs for solar and wind power technologies also continued to fall year-on-year. Electricity costs from utility-scale solar PV fell 13% in 2019, reaching a global average of 6.8 cents (USD 0.068) per kilowatt-hour (kWh). Onshore and offshore wind both declined about 9%, reaching USD 0.053/kWh and USD 0.115/kWh, respectively. 

Renewables Increasingly Beat Even Cheapest Coal Competitors on Cost

Recent auctions and power purchase agreements (PPAs) show the downward trend continuing for new projects are commissioned in 2020 and beyond. Solar PV prices based on competitive procurement could average USD 0.039/kWh for projects commissioned in 2021, down 42% compared to 2019 and more than one-fifth less than the cheapest fossil-fuel competitor namely coal-fired plants. Record-low auction prices for solar PV in Abu Dhabi and Dubai (UAE), Chile, Ethiopia, Mexico, Peru and Saudi Arabia confirm that values as low as USD 0.03/kWh are already possible.   

For the first time, IRENA’s annual report also looks at investment value in relation to falling generation costs. The same amount of money invested in renewable power today produces more new capacity than it would have a decade ago. In 2019, twice as much renewable power generation capacity was commissioned than in 2010 but required only 18% more investment.

Read the full report Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2019

See the interactive infographic on How Falling Costs Make Renewables a Cost-effective Investment

Solar and wind energy sites mapped globally for the first time

Solar and wind energy sites mapped globally for the first time

University of Southampton gives us an idea of the current situation through this article on Solar and wind energy sites mapped globally for the first time.


Researchers at the University of Southampton have mapped the global locations of major renewable energy sites, providing a valuable resource to help assess their potential environmental impact.

Solar and wind energy sites mapped globally for the first time
Global distribution of solar (a) and wind (b) farms showing power output and landscape area. Credit: University of Southampton

Their study, published in the Nature journal Scientific Data, shows where solar and wind farms are based around the world—demonstrating both their infrastructure density in different regions and approximate power output. It is the first ever global, open-access dataset of wind and solar power generating sites.

The estimated share of renewable energy in global electricity generation was more than 26 per cent by the end of 2018 and solar panels and wind turbines are by far the biggest drivers of a rapid increase in renewables. Despite this, until now, little has been known about the geographic spread of wind and solar farms and very little accessible data exists.

Lead researcher and Southampton Ph.D. student Sebastian Dunnett explains: “While global land planners are promising more of the planet’s limited space to wind and solar energy, governments are struggling to maintain geospatial information on the rapid expansion of renewables. Most existing studies use land suitability and socioeconomic data to estimate the geographical spread of such technologies, but we hope our study will provide more robust publicly available data.”

Solar and wind energy sites mapped globally for the first time
A wind farm in Caithness, Scotland. Credit: Seb Dunnett

While bringing many environmental benefits, solar and wind energy can also have an adverse effect locally on ecology and wildlife. The researchers hope that by accurately mapping the development of farms they can provide an insight into the footprint of renewable energy on vulnerable ecosystems and help planners assess such effects.

The study authors used data from OpenStreetMap (OSM), an open-access, collaborative global mapping project. They extracted grouped data records tagged ‘solar’ or ‘wind’ and then cross-referenced these with select national datasets in order to get a best estimate of power capacity and create their own maps of solar and wind energy sites. The data show Europe, North America and East Asia’s dominance of the renewable energy sector, and results correlate extremely well with official independent statistics of the renewable energy capacity of countries.

Study supervisor, Professor Felix Eigenbrod of Geography and Environmental Science at the Southampton comments: “This study represents a real milestone in our understanding of where the global green energy revolution is occurring. It should be an invaluable resource for researchers for years to come, as we have designed it so it can be updated with the latest information at any point to allow for changes in what is a quickly expanding industry.”

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