The possibility of using renewable energy to produce electricity on a significant scale is a heated debate. The potential of hydropower is well established, and other sources such as geothermal, biomass, solar and wind, even ocean energy, now hold promise. Moreover, they are attractive because they reduce reliance on imported fossil fuels and help cut CO2 emissions. On a micro-scale, to heat home water for instance or run farms, these sources are starting to prove themselves.
However, as Energy Technology Perspectives 2006 from the International Energy Agency (IEA), a sister organisation of the OECD, points out, when it comes to large-scale electricity generation, all of these energy forms face barriers. The main one is their cost. While certain types of renewable electricity such as hydro, geothermal, biomass and wind are already cost-competitive, particularly at suitable locations, other renewables cannot yet compete with conventional bulky generation in most parts of the world.
The barriers may vary by region. Long and risky project development times for geothermal energy, public acceptability of wind farms, and inadaptability of some regions to solar are just a few. Even for hydro, much of the low-cost resources have already been developed, the report says. However, the IEA remains upbeat; technological innovation is progressing fast and costs are likely to fall, favouring the spread of renewable power generation in the future.
©OECD Observer No. 257, October 2006
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