power transmission

Wiring up green energy ain't easy

Europe and the United States see quite a bit of potential in green energy.

Yet, problems arise immediately. Renewables are expensive and often in remote spots far from existing power lines.

Take offshore wind power generation.

The North Sea, East Coast and other sites offer phenomenally blustery conditions but huge challenges. Those difficulties raise the question of how to get that power safely and efficiently to market without putting the price per kilowatt out of reach?

The same holds true for wave-generating devices, Mojave solar panels or geothermal sites. They're out in the middle of nowhere, relatively speaking. Reminds me of the random efforts over the past 50 years to build a dam on the Yukon River up in Alaska. Not only is that crazy from an environmental perspective, but who the heck would use the power? Bears? Yet, there were some proponents who continually brought it up.

In the Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research report "Electricity Transmission Infrastructure," out earlier this year, officials wrote: "In order to reap the full benefits of renewable energy and smart grid technologies, the capacity and information-carrying ability of transmission systems must be increased substantially."

Not a simple task.

Stringing cable across any sea floor is difficult and expensive but not prohibitive. Google plans to spend billions on the Atlantic Wind Connection, which will rest 15 to 20 miles offshore and run from New Jersey to Virginia, and oceanpowermagazine.net just reported that ministers from 10 European nations have agreed on construction of a new offshore electricity grid.

Meanwhile, companies are increasing their purchase of "green" energy. For instance, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently recognized Starbucks for doubling its green power purchase, increasing its ranking to No. 4 on EPA’s National Top 50 list of the largest green power purchasers.

Starbucks green power purchases amount to more than 573 million kilowatt-hours annually, or about 55 percent of the organization's electricity use, EPA said. The EPA's top 50 is headed up by Intel at No. 1, Kohl's at No. 2 and Whole Foods at No. 3.

The desire is there. What it means and the debate over where it's going gives my colleague Sanford Nax and I something to contemplate. We don't really have much of an idea, but work to keep our outlook positive as we discuss the future of green energy.

Pike predicts the domestic power transmission market will grow by 3.5 percent over the next five years and by a compound annual growth rate of 1.5 percent internationally over the next decade. Renewables and capacity and reliability enhancements are among the drivers of the move, researchers said.

As evidenced by the deal by Europe, much depends on government involvement. The United Kingdom, Ireland, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden and signed a memorandum of understanding for the new offshore grid that would connect a 140 gigawatt offshore wind farm planned for the North Sea to grids on land.

In this country, the U.S. Department of Energy has launched a big push to help jump start the effort of offshore power. I wrote this fall that DOE's embrace is a big step for a neglected resource many believe has the potential to supply a serious percentage of this nation's electricity demand.

Perhaps the role of government is to ease the regulatory process somewhat and let the private sector see what floats, or doesn't. At the SJVCEO, we believe the San Joaquin Valley perfectly positioned to capitalize on clean energy in its many guises, and we'd certainly love to see rapid development in all green sectors.