What is Renewable Energy?

by John Brian Shannon

Renewable energy is a kind of energy, one that is automatically replenished by the environment, such as the rainfall which is collected behind hydroelectric dams and can be used to produce hydroelectric power.

It may surprise you to know that there are only two kinds of energy; Renewable and Non-Renewable. All the different types of energy are categorized under those two kinds of energy.

The Sun’s light and heat is employed (directly) to produce solar power and (indirectly) for wind power production, and heat in the Earth’s crust is used to generate geothermal energy. Another type of renewable energy used around the world is biomass.

Please view the graphic below, to see the world’s total available energy from all sources.

One row displays Renewable Energy, while the other row displays Non-Renewable Energy.

We can see that in 2009, the total world energy demand from all sources, including all forms of transportation worldwide, amounted to 16 Terawatt years of energy — including all forms of transportation which itself accounted for one-third of all energy demand on the planet.

By 2050, it is expected that worldwide energy demand (including transportation) will reach 28 Terawatt years of energy.

Planetary energy graphic energy-resources-renewables-fossil-fuel-uranium
Planetary energy graphic. © R.Perez, K.Zweibel, T.Hoff. Comparing finite and renewable planetary energy reserves (Terawatt ‐ years). Total recoverable reserves are shown for the finite resources. Yearly potential is shown for the renewables. Image courtesy: Perez and Perez 2009a

We can see from the graphic that the Renewable energy from solar power has the most potential and by itself, could have produced an amount of energy 1437.5 times the total world energy demand of 2009 (including transportation).

Amonix solar modules mounted on Sun tracking system. Image courtesy: Amonix.com

Even with the increasing energy demands of our civilization by 2050, solar power by itself, could provide 821.4 times the world’s total energy demand, including all transportation.

Solar energy can easily provide all of our energy.

Of course, wind power could do the same between now and 2050, or even up to 2100 with its much higher level of demand. The Renewable energy available worldwide from wind power alone is equal to the energy required to power our entire civilization, including all forms of transportation.

Other types of Renewable energy such as Biomass, Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion, and Hydroelectric power, are important, but even when exploited to their maximum potential they are nowhere near being able to satisfy world energy demand — nor do they need to. They can complement solar power and wind power, adding to national electricity grids during times of the day with low wind activity and at night, when solar power is not adding power to the grid.

Another type of energy which can be considered renewable energy, (when the proper production processes are used) is the energy we get from from fuels such as gasoline, (when made from algae + water) or ethanol/methanol, (when it is made from a combination of organic waste material + enzymes + water).

Some biofuels are made from green plants, but require more inputs of water, fertilizer, and pesticides to grow them, than the final product is worth — which is why it is very important to select the right plants to create biofuel or it isn’t a sustainable energy solution. If the optimum plants are not selected for biofuel processing, government subsidies must then be employed to make the process affordable for farmers and biofuel producers.

Algae, switchgrass, jatropha, millettia and camelina, are sustainable choices for biofuel production, as is organic waste when processed with enzymes.

If you add ordinary organic waste + tap water + enzymes (after processing, the result is) very pure gasoline + very pure CO2 for carbonated drinks + distilled water. Image courtesy: CORE biofuels

Due to the fierce competition in solar panel manufacturing since Chinese manufacturers entered the market, solar (PV) panels have dropped in price — so much so, that electricity produced at solar power plants can now be sold at comparable rates to the electricity produced at conventional power plants.

solar vs coal price 2011-2020
Utility-scale power plants, solar vs. coal 2011-2020. Image courtesy: cleantechnica.com

Wind turbines also have fallen in price dramatically and now compete against conventional energy around the world — with or without subsidies.

To compare Renewable and Non-renewable energy, it is important to examine two different variables; Subsidies and Externalities.


  • Both Renewable energy and Non-renewable energy benefit from various subsidy schemes around the world.
  • The U.S. federal government subsidizes energy producers with vastly different subsidy rates for each energy type.
  • The various U.S. state governments subsidize energy producers with vastly different subsidy rates for each energy type AND subsidy rates vary considerably between the different states.
  • Sometimes a subsidy in country “A” (to promote extraction of petroleum for example) will have another subsidy added to it in country “B” which imports that petroleum (one subsidy on top of another subsidy) which helps bring down the price at the gas pump.
  • To make biofuel from corn (a poor choice of plant for biofuel production) farmers and producers were subsidized until January 1, 2013, by the U.S. government at $0.60 per litre.
  • Over time, subsidies can add up to many billions of dollars per year.
  • Please see the chart below, which shows the yearly subsidies enjoyed by the different energy producers in the U.S.
  • From the chart, we see that Oil and Gas receives $4.86 billion per year, from the U.S. government.
  • From the chart we see that the Nuclear power industry receives $3.5 billion per year, from the U.S. government.
Annual energy subsidies in the United States. Image courtesy: DBL Investors What Would Jefferson Do?

How were these numbers arrived at?

In the case of Oil & Gas, DBL Investors took the grand total of subsidies paid to the Oil and Gas industry from 1918 – 2009 and divided it by 91 years, which equals $4.86 billion per year.

In the case of nuclear, DBL Investors took the grand total of subsidies paid to the nuclear power industry from 1947 – 1999 and divided it by 52 years, which equals $3.50 billion per year.

Similar calculation methods are applied to Biofuels 1980 – 2009 and Renewables 1994 – 2009.


  • Whatever the kind of energy, there are always externalities to deal with.
  • In the case of wind turbines, they can create noise, and for some people the noise is uncomfortable. And, they are either a source of wonder or an eyesore — depending on your viewpoint.
  • Hydroelectric dams dramatically lower fish stocks in rivers, although there have been some notable programmes designed to mitigate this in some river systems.
  • In China, the externalities from burning fossil fuels cause 410,000 deaths per year.

“China faces a number of serious environmental issues caused by overpopulation and rapid industrial growth. Water pollution and a resulting shortage of drinking water is one such issue, as is air pollution caused by an over-reliance on coal as fuel. It has been estimated that 410,000 Chinese die as a result of pollution each year.” – Common Language Project

  • This problem does not stop at the borders of any one country, for it is a worldwide externality.
  • The polluted air in China does not stay in the country, but circulates around the northern hemisphere, taking between 5 to 7 days to reach the western coastline of North America.
  • Similarly, the polluted air from North America takes 4 to 6 days to reach Europe.
  • And then there is the depleting ozone layer and oxygen levels in the Earth’s atmosphere caused by the burning of fossil fuels and man-made chemical compounds — along with dramatically increasing CO2 (and CO2 equivalent) gases, which increase the solar insolation value of the atmosphere (trapping heat) and thereby increasing the average worldwide temperature.
  • Scientists say that for each 1 C degree of global warming, it costs governments, businesses and citizens, 1 Trillion dollars per year to mitigate those effects.
Climate action vs. Climate inaction.

According to 97 percent of the climate scientists testifying under sworn oath in the United States Congress in April of 2012, most of the global warming measured since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, is ‘anthropogenic’ — that is, caused by humans. Profoundly, it is in our best interest to make the switch to Renewable Energy.

Massive spending reductions for governments will be the result of switching to Renewable energy, as the costs to human health (national health care systems externality) and the costs of mitigating the damage caused by climate change (agriculture, property and emergency management externality), will drop dramatically.

Not to mention the billions of dollars of savings when conventional energy subsidies end.

Hybrid power plants employ both solar and wind, in this example. Image courtesy: SolarPraxis

UK opens World’s Largest Offshore Windfarm

by John Brian Shannon

The recently completed London Array began operations July 4, 2013 as the largest offshore windfarm in the world.

London Array consists of 175 Siemens wind turbines producing enough electricity to power half a million homes in Kent, UK. That’s 65 percent of the homes in the Kent region.

London Array. Image courtesy: Arabian Gazette
London Array near the Outer Thames Estuary, UK.  Image courtesy: London Array

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Cameron, Secretary of State Edward Davey and the UK Department of Energy & Climate Change Minister Greg Barker, welcomed London Array partners at the inaugural event in Margate, Kent, UK.

Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, CEO of Masdar; Dr Johannes Teyssen, CEO, E.ON, Brent Cheshire, Chairman and Managing Director, DONG Energy and Peter Loescher, President & CEO, Siemens, spoke about the successful completion of the wind farm project which began in July 2009 and became fully operational in July 2013.

“Its 175 turbines will be capable of generating enough energy to power nearly half a million homes and reduce harmful  CO2 emissions by over 900,000 tonnes every year.” — London Array website

London Array is 20 kilometres off the coast of Kent on a 245 square kilometre site. Phase One covers an area of 90 square kilometres and includes 175 Siemens 3.6 megawatt turbines with a combined capacity of 630 MegaWatts. A possible second phase could add enough capacity to bring the total to 870 MegaWatts.

From the GOV.UK Press Release: Following a helicopter tour of the facility, the PM formally opened the wind farm with a speech in which he welcomed the investment in the UK clean energy sector and called it a “win for local jobs, skills & growth.” The Prime Minister hailed Britain as a great place to invest and the London Array as testimony to that.

“Today is very simple. It’s a triple win.”

“First of all it’s a huge win for Kent. This project has been built by some of the bravest seaman, some of the most talented engineers, some of the hardest workers, and it’s going to continue to bring benefits to people in Kent for many, many years to come.”

“The second thing that it’s a big win for is renewable energy. Sometimes people wonder; Can you really have renewable energy projects at scale?”

“What the London Array shows – powering half a million homes, the biggest offshore wind farm anywhere in the world – it absolutely shows that you can do scale renewables and you can do them right here in Britain.”

“And that leads me to the third and I think the most important win of all, and it’s a very big win for Britain. Sometimes people wonder; Can we in the West do big projects any more? Can we do the big investments? Isn’t that all happening somewhere else in the east and south of our world?”

“If you look at the UK you can see we can do big projects. Not only did we do a superb Olympics, but London Crossrail is the biggest construction project anywhere in Europe.”

“Not far from here is London Gateway, which is the biggest port construction taking place anywhere in Europe, and here you have the biggest offshore construction anywhere in the world.”

“I think this demonstrates Britain is a great place to invest.” — Prime Minister of the UK, the Right Honourable, David Cameron

The consortium has submitted an application to the Department of Energy and Climate Change to seek approval to remove a planning condition and allow Phase Two of the project to go ahead. If approved, Phase Two would be capable of generating up to 240MW, giving a combined generating capacity of 870MW.

Energy companies DONG Energy (50%), E.ON (30%), and Masdar (20%) took part in the £1.5 billion Phase One joint venture. Over 75 organizations and 6,700 people were employed to bring the Array to fruition.

To find out more about the London Array offshore windfarm, sign up for the London Array newsletter to keep you up to date on the latest developments.

Or, feel free to download London Array’s 15-page PDF brochure.


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Kuwait plans 2000 MW of renewable energy

Kuwait Towers at Sunset. Image courtesy of www.itinerarist.com
Kuwait citizens use more energy per capita than 90 percent of the world’s nations. Kuwait Towers at Sunset. Image courtesy of: www.itinerarist.com

by John Brian Shannon

Kuwait will invest USD 100 billion on its domestic energy sector over the next 5 years, and some of that spending is earmarked for renewable energy.

Kuwait has embarked on its first renewable energy project and will now be able to export the oil that would have been used to  produce domestic electricity. Solar and wind will produce 70MW for the GCC nation by September, 2016. And by 2030, 15% of Kuwait’s total energy mix will be powered by renewable energy according to a new government policy.

Phase I of the country’s first renewable energy project is already underway and it will be in the form of a 70 MW hybrid power plant with PV-solar, thermal solar, and small wind power, set to come online by Q3 of 2016, in Shagaya, Kuwait – near its border with Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

By 2030 the 2000 MW renewable energy plant will be fully operational and the project will save Kuwait 12.5 million barrels of oil (BOe) per year — and power 100,000 Kuwaiti homes.

Saving 12.5 million barrels (BOe) per year will allow Kuwait to export that same amount of oil at the going rate. (12.5 million barrels of crude oil, is about equal to four of the largest and most modern, fully-loaded supertankers, the TI-class double-hulled supertanker)

Oil prices have been hovering around the USD 80.–100. mark recently, but this will certainly rise and some energy experts see oil rising as high as USD 250. per barrel, mid-century.

For demonstration purposes only, if those four supertanker loads of ‘saved oil’ is priced near today’s USD 90. per barrel ($90. x 12.5 million barrels per year) it means Kuwait will rake in an extra USD 1.12 billion, per year, every year, due to this renewable energy project.

If the oil price shoots up as expected, the government will see even greater benefits. By the time oil hits USD 180. per barrel, this 3-Phase project should be complete — allowing Kuwait to take in USD 2.25 billion, per year, every year, due to this renewable energy project.

Separate from all of the foregoing, is the additional income that could be garnered from those ‘saved’ 12.5 million barrels per year — IF Kuwait  added some value to that crude oil by refining it into valuable products before exporting it, instead of merely exporting it as raw crude oil. Gasoline, diesel, aviation fuel, plastics and synthetic rubber, are all examples of value-added products that can be made from crude oil.

At that point, the relatively small amount of 12.5 million barrels per year could become worth much more than crude oil sold for USD 1 or 2 billion per year. Instead, when sold as finished fuels or plastics, it becomes many billions of dollars contributing to the national GDP of Kuwait.

To extrapolate this further, Kuwait must take out of their yearly oil and gas production, a total of 126 million BOe (barrels-of-oil-equivalent) per year, to power their national electricity grid power grid which has a total capacity of 14,000 MW.

Based on USD 90. per barrel, with 126 million barrels (BOe) saved: If Kuwait switched completely to renewable energy, and instead, exported all the crude oil and gas it burns to produce domestic electricity, yearly GDP could increase by USD 11.3 billion.

Based on USD 180. per barrel, with 126 million barrels (BOe) saved: If Kuwait switched completely to renewable energy, and instead, exported all the crude oil and gas it burns to produce domestic electricity, yearly GDP could increase by USD 22.6 billion.

Based on value-added products made from crude oil, with 126 million barrels (BOe) saved: If Kuwait switched completely to renewable energy, and instead, refined all the oil and gas it burns to produce domestic electricity, yearly GDP could increase by USD 56.7 billion, or more.

Only now, with the recent combination of high crude oil prices and the dramatic fall in the cost of renewable energy has it made economic sense for OPEC nations to consider the switch to renewable energy.

Simply put, OPEC nations can make more money by exporting their oil – instead of burning it to produce electricity for domestic consumption.

Adding value to the ‘saved’ crude oil, means that OPEC nations have the opportunity to make money many times over, when compared to simply exporting raw crude product.

Embracing this new vision can work miracles for GCC economies, which are blessed with plentiful sunshine and wind resources, and already have the technology to refine their crude oil, thereby adding value to the resource, while creating thousands of jobs for the region’s chronically under-employed youth.

Cleaner air for GCC citizens, billions more dollars via value-added exports, and a lower unemployment rate among region’s youth. Now that’s something to celebrate!


Note:  Kuwait pumps 2.8 million barrels of crude oil daily, totaling 1.02 billion barrels of crude per year. — Salem al-Hajraf, head of energy research at the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research

Note:  Construction phases are as follows:

  • Phase I – 70 MW.
  • Phase II – 930 MW.
  • Phase III – 1000 MW.

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A Rising Tide, Floats All Boats

Globalization means countries are working together for mutual success
Globalization means interdependence between countries and regions, opening up Foreign Direct Investment flows between participating countries. Image courtesy of: www.wittenborg.eu

by John Brian Shannon

As the world economy improves, national economies are being lifted up by a rising tide of success in other countries.

Now that we are living in an evermore globalized world, nations are no longer entities unto themselves. While they were once insulated from the economic successes or failures of other nations, that is profoundly no longer the case.

A recent example is the United States financial crisis of 2008 which was at first confined within the U.S., but later spread to Europe, Japan and China, with those countries experiencing varying degrees of economic malaise directly attributable to the original fall of the U.S. sub-prime mortgage segment.

Had a financial crisis of this sort taken place within the 1950-1980 timeframe, it would have been seen as an ‘America only’ affair as the (then) economic islands of Europe and Asia had little interest in the internal workings of the American economy.

How the world has changed in the 21st century

Recently, ‘America sneezed’ and most of Europe along with Canada ‘caught the cold’ – and while Asia felt unwell, it didn’t miss a day of work.

Globalization is a process. Every year, countries are harmonizing their diplomatic relations, international trade and laws, walking through the remaining issues towards true interdependence between nation-states.

Along the way, we have seen dramatically lower prices for consumers within the participating nations and a strong downward pull on inflation within the globalized community. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) flows toward nations with lower land, factory and labour costs, while competition ensures that prices reflect those newfound cost savings.

One of the unfortunate effects of globalization from the Western perspective are the jobs that have fled the West to Asia. Over the span of (almost exactly) four decades, millions of manufacturing jobs have gone to the nations which feature low cost land, factory, and labour rates.

The transition of trillions of dollars from the West to the Emerging Market economies and Frontier Market Economies has spawned a rising economic tide in the Middle East, much of Asia, and in India. In fact, the rise of the BRICS nations are easily traced by the FDI inputs into their nations, as a welcome effect of, (but certainly not the primary cause of) their success.

Since 1998 China and India have been described as the two economic engines of Asia, and during recent recessionary times were noted as the economic engines of the entire world. Even as some nations were falling away from their traditional economic rankings, the unprecedented demand for raw resources and high-tech originating from the ‘rising tiger’ economies, slowed the fall of the Western economies and have even spurred their quicker recovery.

Historically, it was axiomatic that when the United States was doing well, Europe, Japan, Canada, Australia and New Zealand were doing well — as the U.S. economy had the power to float those economies no matter the ‘local’ economic conditions.

America is no longer alone with this power

Now, not only can American demand float the economies of countries or entire regions — the combined demand of the BRICS nations can float national economies and regions.

The U.S. population seems ‘torn’ at this juncture, with some in that country lamenting the loss of the unipolar world which was theirs since the end of the Cold War, whilst others welcome the strengthening and broadening-out of the world economy into a truly interdependent and open economic model.

For those Americans who believe in the open economic model (which is the name given to the ‘free enterprise’ system by economists) the strengthening and broadening-out of the world economy is exactly in line with their beliefs and is seen as an adjunct to American economic and political clout.

“We told you the open economic model was the way to prosperity, and now you are ‘our firm converts’ to that, and to the democracy which necessarily accompanies successful free enterprise systems.”

For those Americans who secretly or publicly wish for a closed economic model (known as the ‘communist’ or ‘statist’ economic model by economists) globalization is the root cause of all American economic woes — when in fact, America’s recent economic problems were caused by a perilously-lacking regulatory environment in but one segment of the U.S. economy and poor decision-making by a handful of individuals.

As nations advance towards interdependence they will see rising demand in their own countries from other partner nations (as at any given time, certain of them will be experiencing growth) thereby helping to balance-off the occasional lack of demand in their own country.

De-facto; Interdependence between nations means facilitation of effort, FDI, and countless other forms of assistance towards whatever is the weakest link of the chain.

This contrasts with the decades of ruthless competition which played itself out (even between allies) and ruled every diplomatic and national economic decision. De-facto, that was a ‘sink all the other boats first, before we get sunk’ game, played out in the global economy.

Wherever interdependent nations are working together to improve upon an open economic model, they are in effect working to create a rising tide for all of the participants within that interdependency, because it is simply and profoundly in their best interests to do so.

Interdependency is creating the incoming tide that will float our boats.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

“The aphorism “a rising tide lifts all boats” is associated with the idea that improvements in the general economy will benefit all participants in that economy, and that economic policy, particularly government economic policy, should therefore focus on the general macroeconomic environment first and foremost. The phrase is commonly attributed to John F Kennedy,[1] who used it in a 1963 speech…”


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Auto companies choose sustainability as a Core Value

by John Brian Shannon

Automakers embedding Sustainability As A Core Value

An international team of Volkswagen executives at the LEED Platinum certified VW Chattanooga plant, following the ‘Think Blue’ five-year (2012-2018) global sustainability initiative, have developed a comprehensive, four-stage Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology that now serves as the template for its manufacturing facilities worldwide.

Baseline references in four key performance indicators (KPI’s) – energy, water, waste, CO2 and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) have been established to mark progress.

With Think Blue, Volkswagen management aims to reduce carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, water use, waste, and (VOC’s) at its manufacturing facilities another 25 percent by 2018. Information courtesy of cleantechnica.com

BMW to power Leipzig factory by wind energy

In addition to winning many prestigious awards for sustainable production practices, BMW is powering its Leipzig factory with four massive wind turbines located near the facility, which assembles more than 200,000 cars per year. See; BMW Group Dow Jones Sustainability Index Leader for 8th consecutive year.

Mercedes too, has upped the ante on sustainable production practices — and now boasts the largest selection of electric vehicles in the world.

Not all Electric Vehicles are boring, perhaps this little blue number will pique your interest…

2014 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Electric Drive
2014 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Electric Drive

Mercedes says the 2014 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Electric Drive will hit 62 mph in 3.9 seconds and a moment later, you will find that it is electronically limited to 155 miles per hour.

AMG’s latest supercar comes with 740 of the quietest horsepower you will ever own and can be recharged in 3 hours.

The automakers have responded to calls for sustainability in their production facilities and vehicle materials with passion, and continue to post huge gains in those areas.

But who would have thought that they could make sustainability so much fun for consumers? I’m getting on the bandwagon all over again!


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