Solar-heated communities

Here’s an interesting story from the Edmonton Journal about two solar-heated communities being built in Alberta, one being dubbed the largest of its kind in North America. I’ve got a sense that at least one of these projects is heavily supported by government funding, so it’s difficult to analyse the economics, but even as demonstration projects I think they’re important for showing that communities in the future can — should! — be built from the ground up with renewable energy in mind. This is particularly true if there are creative ways to spread out the upfront costs over the operating life of the systems.

North American wind market taking off

 RenewableEnergyAccess.com has a great overview of a North American wind market study recently released by Emerging Energy Research.

Among the Canadian (or North American-wide) findings:

* Between 2004 and 2006 provinces in Canada will have collectively issued RFPs for 6,000 megawatts of renewable energy, with a lion’s share of that rewarded to wind projects in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and New Brunswick.

* Canada, which had only 450 megawatts of installed wind capacity in 2004, is expected to see that base rise quickly to more than 6,200 megawatts by 2010.

* The N.A. wind turbine market saw installations surpass the record levels set in 2001 and 2003. The industry broke through the $3 billion (U.S.) barrier in 2005, and will soar above $7 billion in 2010.

* All wind turbine vendors that were active in N.A. had sold out their available capacity in 2005. Demand was stronger than anticipated and the turbine shortage that resulted meant that wind developers were buying whatever they could get their hands on, making it difficult to determine the most popular turbine technologies.

* On an N.A. basis GE Energy was market leader, capturing anywhere between 45 per cent and 60 per cent market share in 2005. Vestas was second, but through its acquisition of NEG Micon managed to lead the Canadian market.

* Since the U.S. Production Tax Credit expires at the end of 2007, the wind industry there risks slowing down substantially in 2008 unless the credit is further extended. In Canada, growth may be hampered a bit by environmental permitting issues and a lack of turbines.

What I’m interesting in, and plan to explore over the coming months, is what new large-scale storage technologies may do to the wind industry five or 10 years from now. I mean, if reverse-flow batteries, fuel cells or underground air storage become viable means of storing wind energy for when it’s needed, will we see a shift away from building new wind farms and toward unlocking value from existing turbines?

I’d appreciate reader thoughts on this one.