In March, this column discussed the types of fuels used worldwide for electricity generation and where new gas and oil pipelines will be built. In August 2019, we talked about the need for better waste-to-energy (WTE) furnaces, especially those burning municipal trash.

Now we need to examine the growth, needs and changes underway in the “renewables” sector of the U.S. electric power-generation world and modern spin-offs. A major reason to do so is to study “new business” on your company’s horizons while urging you to use your imagination to create or sustain a productive role in these areas.

First, coal is being phased out. Thirty-three countries have pledged to eliminate coal power, and only 22 still have operating coal-fired plants as of January 2020. China leads in coal capacity at 1,004,948 MW of generation (about half of world use), with India and America combined being about one-third of China. Austria says “no more coal” effective 2020, but Ukraine and Slovenia say 2050. We want to explore what are probable alternatives among renewables.

First, WTE strategies are not forgotten – 83 plants still operate in the U.S. producing more than 2,553 MW but consuming only 13% of municipal waste. Some nations are big WTE users. For example, 72% of municipal waste is burned for electric power in 380 plants in Japan. Israel will recycle 51% of waste and burn 23% in WTE plants by 2030.

The plans and reality of recycling via WTE throughout the European Union are real and being implemented to 55% by 2025, 60% by 2030 and 65% by 2035.  In addition, the idea of capturing methane gas from landfills is gaining hold. Noble Environmental in Pittsburgh, Pa., captures methane and uses it as fuel for its garbage trucks.

One of the little-known renewable concepts in this world is fusion energy. The joke in the power business for years has been that “fusion energy is 30 years away and always will be.” Fusion is a nuclear reaction in which two or more atomic nuclei combine to form one or more different nuclei and/or subatomic particles. Development has been underway for years and typically uses magnetic confinement (tokamak). In any given week, several dozen are in operation around the world. This technology will certainly be an answer in the long term … but not today. Those working on it envision that heat from the tokamak will be used to drive turbine generators. 

The most realistic and closest concept to meeting electric-power needs involves wind power, especially offshore generation. New York and New Jersey have, respectively, 9-GW and 7.5-GW projects scheduled for completion by 2035. It is understandable that 15-30% of total project costs are problems of “deliverability.” This raises issues that European projects have avoided. In the U.S., the matter of private facility ownership and its regulation by government(s) is the major problem.  

The first commercial, offshore wind farm was the 30-MW Block Island installation on the coast of Rhode Island, which began operation in late 2016. It is the sole American offshore wind-power-generation site. The regulatory problem is one demanding solution because it is estimated by the American Wind Energy Association that “developing 30,000 MW offshore wind along the East Coast could support up to 83,000 jobs and deliver $25 billion in annual economic output by 2030.”

Another project, Vineyard Wind, is located about 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard and uses 84 turbines (9.5 MW each) spaced about 0.8 miles apart. This site is expected to be operational by 2023. Dominion Energy expects to start a similar site 27 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach by the beginning of 2022. The Eastern states (Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Virginia) expect to procure a total of 25,400 MW of offshore wind generators by 2035.

Remember that hydrogen electrolyzers are an important part of the fuel-generation process for clean energy and are established devices in technologies used in the context of electricity generation. By 2027, 3-4 GW worth of hydrogen as fuel is expected to complement the aforementioned. It all fits with the world of practical stuff mentioned in this column.