The news that North America is expected to add more than 400,000 megawatts of smart energy to its grids between 2012 and 2015 has come from Pike Research, a company that specialises in market research in global clean energy technology markets. This will make it the leading region in the world in terms of new additions to capacity from renewable energy sources.
The increased capacity of 400,00 MW is equivalent to approximately 30,000 wind turbines. Though the new capacity will come from a number of sources including hydrokinetic, geothermal, waste, solar PV, solar thermal, bio mass, and wind turbines.
By 2011, in the US, 12.7% of domestically produced electricity came from renewable sources, with approximately 67% of that coming from hydro-electric power, meaning that renewables, excluding hydro electric, are about 5% of electricity produced. In Canada hydro-electric power is important in electricity generation, contributing approximately 59% of electricity output, though other renewables are less common. While in Mexico 19% of electricity comes from hydro-electric plants, Mexico has also made significant use of geo-thermal installations, it has the largest geothermal power station in the world, and is currently the fourth biggest producer of geo-thermal power worldwide, which contributes 2% of domestic electricity produced. It now exports geothermal power to the US.
In North America there is massive potential for use of renewable energy sources. It is estimated, for example, that Mexico has the potential to generate all of its electricity needs from solar power. It also has great potential from wind power, and its geothermal potential capacity is also very large. It is currently building a new geothermal power plant as part of the Los Azufres III project, with Mitsubishi, which should be completed at the end of 2014.
In 2008 Mexico passed the Renewable Energy Development and Financing for Energy Transition Law, which empowered the Energy Secretariat SENER to create a national strategy for renewable energy, and ensuring finance was available. This allows renewable energy generators to sell their electricity to CFE, the state owned electricity company, with prices regulated by CRE, the regulator.
SEGH-CFE 1 is a project, in Sonora, Mexico, to build a solar power station using photovoltaic panels, that will have a capacity of 46.8 mWp-h, and should be completed in 2013. It is built by a private company and will sell its power to CFE, and will consist of 164,211 solar panels.
Canada also has massive scope for use of renewable energy, solar power has long been recognised as being useful in its more isolated communities, and since the 1970's the federal government have encouraged the development of solar technology. In 2003 it was estimated that 50,000 remote homes had solar power, as it was cheaper than going on grid. The Canadian Coastguard uses solar power for 5,000 lighthouses. As a result solar power is the most accessible energy technology in Canada, and is used for water heating, and drying crops and lumber. Though it provides only a small proportion of total electricity, it has been estimated that it could potentially reach 5% of electricity generated by 2025.
Canada is also increasing its generation of hydroelectric power, this has mainly been done through upgrading of existing facilities, as Canada already makes significant use of hydroelectric power. New projects include the Niagara Tunnel project, which is due to be completed in 2013.
The Canadian Wind Energy Association, a non-profit trade organisation, is hoping that wind power will provide 20% of Canada's energy needs by 2025. Canada currently has a capacity of 6,201 MW of wind power, and more are being constructed.
Canada is one of the world's largest exporters of energy, with almost all of its energy exports going to the United States. Federal governments are responsible for the generation and production of electricity. Though the National Energy Board is an independent federal authority that regulates the Canadian energy industry. The Canadian Government has, however, set a goal of generating 90% of its energy from sources emitting zero carbon by 2020, and the provinces offer financial incentives.
The US also has massive potential for use of renewable energy, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has estimated that 80% of the nation's energy could come from renewable sources by 2050. Different states have different potential, California and Texas, for example, have huge potential for solar power. While every state could utilise wind power, those along the US coasts could make use of offshore wind power. 13 states are currently using geothermal power, and this great scope for increasing use of this power source.
All but four of its states have introduced financial incentives to promote these energies. Some US states have been more positive about encouraging investment in renewable energy than others. California has been the most enthusiastic state, by far, with legislation passed in 2011 requiring 33% of its electricity to come from renewable sources by the end of 2020. The second best state, according to a report called “United States Renewable Energy Attractiveness Indices” produced by Ernst and Young, is New Mexico, third Colorado, then Hawaii, and in joint fifth place Massachusetts and Texas.
The US energy market is complex. There have been recent changes in tax and other financial incentives, including the expiration of the federal government 1603 Treasury Grant Program, while each state has different policies. There also has been much discussion over whether feed in tariffs, which have been successful in Europe in increasing the use of solar power, and encouraging smaller installations, can be used. With different states having different policies.
There are, however, a large number of US renewable energy projects that will be completed by 2015, including Walmart putting solar panels on the rooves of 130 of its stores in California.
400 MW of solar power plants are being constructed in San Antonio, Texas, which are expected to generate 800 jobs. It has been estimated in a report by the Energy Foundation and the Solar Energies Industries Association that increasing solar power in Texas will reduce electricity costs.
As greater investment is made in renewable energies, and as the technologies continue to improve, the advantages of investing in them become more obvious. It seems likely, therefore, that in the future, given the potential for using renewable energy in North America, that as impressive as the figures for increased capacity by 2015, are now, they will look quite small compared to future increases.