Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Is 2010 going to be the year renewable energy goes main stream?

     The growth of renewable energy has been filled with stops and starts over the last decade.  The economic turmoil of 2008 and 2009 slowed the progression of renewable energy projects and especially projects requiring significant equity investment.
     Wind energy has taken a firm hold and is really beginning to make a difference.  There are more wind projects coming on line and when electricity demand increases wind power is ready for more expansion.
     The corn ethanol industry which was hammered in 2008 by high corn and energy prices seems to be coming back a bit with the purchase of distressed assets by Valero and others along with many plants running at full production and making some money.  If commodity prices remain somewhat stable in 2010 it should be a decent year for ethanol producers.
     Several cellulosic ethanol companies are saying they will have demonstration scale plants on line in 2010 and some are even going to commercial scale.  I wish them well but will not hold me breath.  I think there is a big shakeout coming in 2011 when some of these companies simply have not been able to prove their technologies commercially viable.  All the DOE money in the world won't make a company successful in the long term if the process is not competitive.  I hope there are at least a few of these companies who have something to sell at the end of the day.  That will be great news.
     Drop in replacement fuels may arguably be the most exciting renewable area for the foreseeable future.  Torrefaction and pyrolysis hold huge potential for replacing fossil fuels in power generation and crude oil applications.  The economics of these processes in main stream applications will hopefully be tested in 2010.
     If carbon cap and trade legislation passes these two technologies may move forward very quickly.
     I don't think about about solar power much living in the Pacific Northwest but solar power generation has really made some good progress in 2009.  I think we will see the expansion of rooftop arrays and larger generating sites simply because the conversion is getting more efficient and there are companies "managing" the solutions rather than having to figure it out yourself.
    Who knows what 2010 holds for renewable energy?  With a little nudge from the government and some advances in technology we may see some good results in 2010.

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