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Numbers to Ponder

Paul Kando

Last year Denmark generated over 140% of its electricity by wind turbines, exporting the excess. This month Portugal ran on solar, wind and hydropower from 6:45 a.m. May 7 to 5:45 p.m. May 11. On May 15, Germany produced 45.5 gigawatts (GW) of its 45.8 GW demand using renewable sources. On the grid several times a day, power prices turned negative. In the UK, for more than half of May 12, no electricity came from coal.

Danish wind power
photo credit: Permaculturenews.org

In 2013, 70% of Portugal’s energy came from renewable sources, 24.6% of that from wind. Only Denmark produced more wind power than Portugal. Both have been investing considerably in renewable electricity, since this will be the main final energy within the next decades, as road transportation, too, transitions from fossil fuels to electric vehicles.

European energy transition is gathering momentum and records such as these will continue to be set and broken, thanks in part to the management performance of the electric grid. The push toward renewables is an EU-wide effort, with 20% of all energy to come from renewable sources by 2020.

China, too, places a strong emphasis on renewable energy. Like Maine, China derives a significant portion of its electricity from hydropower. Unlike Maine, it also invests heavily in wind and solar energy. China is the world's largest solar power generator, having increased its solar capacity by 50% in a single year. Today 17.5% of the world's solar generating capacity is in China. The current five-year plan will triple that by 2020, bringing their capacity to 143 GW, China already employs over 3.4 million people in the renewable energy sector, primarily in manufacturing, and produces 70% of the world's solar panels.

To seize the future, one must invest in it. China subsidizes 50-70% of the project cost of grid-scale solar projects. In 2014, it invested $90 billion in renewable energy. Compare that to the mere $200,000 state nvestment that clean-energy advocates, private businesses, and the legislature's public utilities committee have asked for to position Maine's economy for the future and create 800 good-paying solar jobs. That bipartisan bill, designed to incentivize solar power in Maine, was vetoed.

Yet 70-80% of Maine’s mostly rural buildings are suitable for — and over 55% of Maine’s electricity needs could be met by — rooftop solar, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Maine-produced solar power is worth 33 cents/kWh, according to a recent PUC report – more than twice what most of us pay for conventionally generated electricity.

Finally, according to a Stanford University study, merely switching form burning fuels to electricity, will cut Maine’s energy demand by 33%. A 100% transition to renewable energy by 2050 will reduce projected energy costs from 16.7 to 11.4 ¢/kWh; and create 17,771 construction jobs and 13,381 operating jobs. The investment required may be recovered in 7 years, because, with health and climate cost savings included, the annual savings vs. the status quo will exceed $8,910 per person.

Maine trails now in energy, but could lead if it wanted to.