From Chernobyl to Antarctica: 7 wonders of the world’s renewable energy revolution

As well as seamlessly integrating into national energy mixes to the point where it is beginning to outshine fossil fuels, renewable energy is in the midst of a revolution that is now providing Antarctica, Chernobyl, The Outback and the Amazon basin with clean, reliable sources of energy.

Most people are probably aware of the narrative by now. Driven by COP21 and the Sustainable Development Goals, renewable energy has grown from a niche energy source to one that has been heralded as the solution to a global addiction to fossil fuels.

In 2015 alone, renewable energy capacity grew by 8.3% as countries added 152GW of renewable projects to an already thriving portfolio. This headline figure followed on from a UN-backed report, which revealed that renewable energy sources added more generation capacity than all other technologies combined in 2015, with a world record total of £286bn invested in renewables across the globe.

So, while Donald Trump can complain about bird-slaying turbines, and the UK and Australian Governments continue to play political jenga with renewable and climate-related incentives, the fact remains that renewable energy is very much here to stay.

While the UK and Europe basks in a record-breaking year for renewables, other countries around the globe are abandoning coal mines for metaphorically greener pastures. The world’s largest emitter, China, is now leading the renewables charge with 519GW capacity – 22GW more than the entirety of Europe.

We are now at the stage in this revolution where solar panels and wind turbines are entering uncharted territory. So, here at edie we’ve rounded-up some of the recent project developments that could soon lead to nuclear disaster zones, untouched American coastlines and Australian islands being transformed into renewable energy hubs.

Is Chernobyl ready for a solar makeover?

At the height of its power the Chernobyl nuclear plant was operating at a capacity of around 4,000MW. But 30 years on, the plant is an abandoned husk of its former glory, with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) installing measures such as a stainless steel security seal to keep people away from the destroyed reactor.

While the dangerous landscape surrounding the plant hasn’t kept Pokemon hunters away, the exclusion zone does offer up cheap land for purposes outside of housebuilding. This is where renewables enter the picture.

Earlier this week, the Ukrainian Government claimed that more than 1,400MW – of which 1,000MW would be from solar – in renewable energy could be generated across 6,000 hectares of Chernobyl’s 1,000 sq km exclusion zone. Biogas and combined heat and power (CHP) could also be utilised on-site and the EBRD has already indicated that it is prepared to fund part of the energy plan.

Winds of change arrive at the Californian coast

Another potential world-first for renewables was also announced this week. Offshore project developers Trident Wind has unveiled proposals to create a 765MW capacity windfarm 25 miles off the coast of California.

The windfarm, which would dwarf the world’s largest windfarm the 630MW London Array situated near Kent, and would also be the first operational windfarm located in the US. While there are a number of research projects in the US, this new farm would be the biggest to come online and could power 200,000 homes annually.

Trident submitted its application for the windfarm in January, but is only now beginning to gain the support to lease the area of ocean for 30 years. Several state agencies will need to approve the project, which would join the Block Island windfarm near Rhode Island as the US’ first offshore farm. Block Island is set to become operational by the end of 2016.

Solar power providing energy all through the Arabian night

The city of Ouarzazate, nicknamed the ‘door of the desert’, in Morocco is famed for its starring role in both TV and film, having made regular appearances in Game of Thrones, The Mummy and Lawrence of Arabia. As of 2016, Ouarzazate is also famed for the construction of the World’s largest solar plant. More than 160MW of power is already operational and, by the time the whole plant is live in 2018, Morocco will have added more capacity in three years (580MW) than in the previous six years, thanks to the new plant.

The station, located on the edge of the Saharan desert, will be the same size as the country’s capital upon completion and will provide electricity to around 1.1 million people. For now, it will have to settle for providing for more than half a million people, as solar electricity is sourced from dawn through to three hours after sundown.

The country’s aim is to generate 42% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, and hopes that it’s role of host for the next UN Climate Conference will create a springboard to push this percentage past the 50% mark by 2030.

Ecuador goes chasing waterfalls

By the end of 2016, the Amazon Basin could be generating around half of Ecuador’s electricity needs. The Coca Codo Sinclair hydroelectric facility has been in the pipeline since the early 1980s, but financial constraints, a lack of political will and volcanic eruptions have continuously delayed deployment.

However, work started on the 1,500MW project in 2010, and by the end of this year could produce an average of 8.63GWh annually – enough to cater for 44% of the country’s electricity needs. The hydro project utilises a 620m-high waterfall on the Coca River to reduce emissions by 4.5m tonnes a year.

The first four turbines became operational in April, with the remaining four set for completion in the near future. The $2.6bn project is the largest energy project in Ecuador’s history and will form the centrepiece of a new countrywide energy plan that will replace fossil fuels with renewables sourced in the country and from nearby Peru and Colombia.

The zero-emission station ready for the ice age

Antarctica is the enigmatic landmass that seems to be on the brunt end of climate change. Pictures of melting ice caps have been transformed into “climate porn” warning the masses of the need for a more sustainable way of living. However, a research station out on the granite ridge of Utsteinen Nunatek in Antarctica is proving that this sustainable way of living is possible

While technically not a new project, the Princess Elisabeth hub does highlight how even harshest climates can provide enough naturally-powered energy to sustain a small team. The station was fully equipped with the necessary technology to make it world’s first “zero emission” scientific research station in 2012.

The station recycles 100% of its water and two back-up generators and a battery bank are used to compliment the station’s renewable array. While the sun never sets for half the year in Antarctica, and never rises for the other half, the station has fitted thermal solar panels which also melt the snow and heat water for use. The fierce katabatic winds on the continent allow the station to produce energy during the dark periods, as nine storm-proof wind turbines line up along the surrounding ridge. Hydrogen fuel cells have already been sounded as a possible addition to the back-up system in the future.

Asia’s new renewable hotspot (that isn’t China)

Since 2008, the Philippines has accelerated is efforts to boost renewable capacity under the Renewable Energy Law. With a Feed-in Tariff offer of ¢0.21 per kWh, the government has expanded capacity plans from 50MW to 500MW.

For 2016, two solar projects with a total installed capacity of 185MW have been commissioned, which includes the largest renewable project in Southeast Asia. The projects are expected to generate around 188,500 MWh every year and offset around 95,000 tonnes of carbon annually.

The Cadiz project, a 135MW currently-operational plant, will push installed capacity past the 400MW milestone. As the world’s second largest generator of geothermal energy, the Philippines was the first Southeast Asian nation to invest in renewables at a large-scale and currently powers 30% of its generational needs from renewables.

The mining town pushing the low-carbon agenda

Cooper Pedy is a rickety little town of 3,500 people located in the Southern Australia outback, and is probably most recognised for its below-ground living residencies. As a traditional mining town, the residents are used to time below ground, but a radical shift away from conventional fuels could spark new life into the town.

Currently relying on 4MW of diesel generation, most of which has to be transported in, the mining town is venturing into the low-carbon sphere by generating power from renewables with the help of battery storage. A new project, consisting of 1MW of solar capacity, 1MW of lithium battery storage and 4MW of wind energy, started last month and will displace 70% of the town’s diesel reliance.

The project will be backed by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, which is also backing numerous islands that are hoping to integrate renewables. One such area is Kangaroo island off the coast of Adelaide, which wants to supply 100% of its own electricity and fleet fuel through renewable energy. It is also pushing a commitment to sever ties with the mainland grid.

Matt Mace

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