26 June 2012 – While beach-bound vacationers will be trying to avoid stepping on algae this summer, members of IEEE – the world’s largest technical professional organization – have identified these simple autotrophic organisms as the most promising source of sustainable energy to meet increasing global demands. In addition, IEEE members are also driving significant advancements in more established technologies, including wind power and smart grid, to provide reliable, consistent environmentally friendly energy around the globe.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, global energy usage will increase 53 percent by 2035. This projection has sparked the need for innovation in sustainable energy, from both conventional and unconventional sources.
The Algae Alternative
Algae-based biofuels provide a robust and clean source of energy, delivering a sustainable alternative for the production of crude oil, jet fuel and aviation gases. Use of algae is advantageous due to its extremely high growth rate. “An acre of corn can be used to generate 300 gallons of ethanol per year, while an acre of algae can produce 6,000 to 10,000 gallons of light sweet crude oil annually,” said William Kassebaum, IEEE Senior Member and CEO of Algaeon Inc.
In addition to its capabilities of producing energy, algae provide a dense source of proteins that can be used in the production of animal feed, cosmetics and nutritional foods. “Algae can make protein 200 times more densely than soybeans,” added Kassebaum. “Numerous innovative applications for algae are already impacting our lives, but algae for use in bio-fuels is still limited due to availability of capital to grow the industry.”
The Power of Wind
With most renewable energy sources, cost is often a roadblock for widespread adoption. However, “the cost of energy from onshore wind sources is falling towards those of conventional fossil-fired plants, making it an attractive non-carbon source of energy,” said Peter Tavner, a UK-based IEEE Senior Member and President of the European Academy of Wind Energy. “Thus, of the existing energy sources, wind power has the most proven and substantial generation capacity.”
In the last 10 years, individual wind turbines have increased their output capacity from 500 kW to more than 5 MW without a substantial increase in cost. These larger units are enabling the development of wind farms in locations around the globe, including the U.S. Midwest, Northeast and Northwest China, offshore in Northwest Europe and the China East Sea. Such developments have often been limited by the high capital costs of installation and their connection to the main grid, but are now offset by economies of scale and increased resource availability.
“The current total installed wind-based electricity generation is 94 GW, which is enough to supply 6.3 percent of the entire European Union’s electricity needs and represents 21.4 percent of new power capacity,” added Tavner.
Being Smart About Smart Grid
The state of power systems is changing, with many inspired solutions being developed to help tackle the challenges associated with availability of renewable energy sources, clean energy goals and energy demands. Smart grids, which incorporate technologies of information and communication to the solutions of power systems engineering, are provoking revolutionary ways in which energy is generated, transmitted and consumed, with tremendous environmental benefits.
The nature of the current power grid is rapidly evolving, with more emphasis being placed on flexibility in consumption. “In Brazil, there is a trend of employing smaller, more localized energy generators, instead of utilizing larger, more remotely located power plants,” said Cyro Boccuzzi, IEEE Senior Member and Executive Vice President at Brazil-based Enersul. “Smart grid enables the use of multiple smaller energy generators to be installed closer to consumers and thus, help satisfy immediate demand.”