See the possibilities of wind and solar power
Those who might not fully appreciate the importance of wind and solar power in the mix of the world’s energy sources should take a look at two recent reports. Data from the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) and the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) show that use of wind and solar power are on the rise, notwithstanding challenges to the global economy and ongoing political uncertainty in parts of the world.
According to the reports, global eolic (wind) power increased 20 percent in 2012 with the installation of 45 additional gigawatts (GW) of capacity. That brings the world’s total eolic capacity to a record 282 GW. Similarly, photovoltaic power now accounts for 100 GW of capacity, which represents more than a twofold increase in the last two years alone.
Though China and the US headed up the wind power charge in 2012, Europe still leads the pack in terms of total installed capacity, with a combined 38.6 percent. However, in light of the current rate of expansion in Asia, it is likely that a new leader will emerge in 2013. Still, the growing importance of wind power is a global phenomenon. Mexico, for example, joined Brazil in 2012 as a member of Latin America’s 1 GW club.
Solar-power capacity likewise continues to climb, with an additional 30 GW of capacity brought online in 2012. Importantly, solar power now produces as much electricity globally as 16 coal-fired power plants or 16 nuclear reactors producing 1 GW each—but does so with 53 million fewer tons of carbon emissions. Right now, Europe constitutes the largest market for solar power, with Germany and Italy leading the way.
In many nations, the expansion in renewable energy capacity has been fueled by government subsidies. These play an important role in the development of new technologies and the raising of awareness of the critical need to address climate change. But the percentage of the world’s energy derived from renewable sources—including geothermal and hydroelectric, as well as eolic and photovoltaic—still pales in comparison to the amount of energy from burning coal. China, for example, derives 650 GW of electricity from burning coal, with the US producing 316 GW, and the rest of the world combined producing another 634 GW, for a total of 1,600 GW. That’s a lot of coal—and carbon emissions.
Fortunately, it’s not just governments that have turned their attention to renewables. The private sector’s focus has shifted, as well. SC Johnson, the maker of Windex, Glade, Pledge, and other familiar consumer brands, provides an example of the sorts of things that private enterprise is doing today to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Recently, the organization installed two wind turbines at its Racine manufacturing facility, the company’s largest. The turbines, which stand 415 feet tall, provide 8 million kilowatts of electricity per year, or 15 percent of the facility’s total. That’s equivalent to the annual power consumption of about 700 homes.
The development of these wind turbines follows the 2009 installation of SC Johnson’s first company-owned wind turbine at its factory in Mijdrecht, Netherlands. That turbine generates more than 50 percent of the factory’s energy. Since 2000, the company has reduced greenhouse gas emissions from its manufacturing plants around the world by 42 percent.
SC Johnson’s portfolio of carbon-reducing technologies ranges from cogeneration systems in Wisconsin to biofuel in Indonesia to solar power in China to wind power in Michigan, Wisconsin, Arkansas, and the Netherlands. The company has set a goal of using 33 percent renewable energy by 2016, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions from its manufacturing facilities 48 percent by the same time.
SC Johnson is not unique in setting ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets. More and more companies are taking arms against the world’s sea of climate change problems. These are steps in the right direction. We need governments and private enterprises that have not yet joined the march to do so—and to do so now.
Antonio Galvao, CSCP, is vice president supply chain—global I&L at Diversey, now part of Sealed Air. He may be contacted at email@example.com