Approximately 45% of all new power generation installed annually worldwide is renewable technology, including hydroelectric, according to the CEO of the South Korean heavy industry construction company Doosan. That is up from roughly 20% in the years 2001 to 2005, Jean-Michel Aubertin said Thursday at the CERAWeek 2012 energy conference in Houston.
The large penetration of renewable power generation worldwide comes amidst a euphoria in the US over a big potential increase of gas-fired generation.
Philippe Cochet, president of Alstom Thermal Power, said shale gas is a "US-centric thing," and therefore his company expects to sell more of its newly redesigned GD-24 gas turbines in the US, though much fewer in Europe, where, he said, fracking concerns are keeping shale gas at bay.
Cochet noted, for example, that Germany, which is moving away from nuclear generation, currently has 24,000 MW of rooftop solar power installed, which compares to approximately 2,000 MW in the US.
France, meantime, with its almost 70,000 MW nuclear fleet, is putting up for bid in April five offshore sites for a total of 15,000 MW of new offshore wind farms.
Colchett said China, which reportedly has big shale gas reserves, could turn to gas-fired turbines in the future. Still, he said, China continues to aggressively pursue nuclear, coal and wind. In the past two years, China has installed a total of 35,000 MW of wind capacity, and now, at 62,000 MW, has more wind power than any other country. The US has 47,000 MW of wind capacity.
Aubertin said the jump up to 45% renewables in all worldwide installations means more than just the fact that larger amounts of installed power today is intermittent. It means also, according to Aubertin, that the very "architecture" of the power system is facing significant change.
Aubertin said that traditionally the world's power systems have relied upon placing generation capacity in a central location, transporting fuel to the facility, and delivering power via a transmission system that fans out from the center.
Now, he said, with hydro and with wind turbines and large utility-scale solar, facilities are being located "where they get their fuel," he said.
Increasingly facilities are being located away from population centers, in open areas where the wind blows, or in deserts where the sun can best be captured.
This change in architecture, Aubertin said, is changing the transmission business, putting an emphasis on longer, bigger cables moving large amounts of power long distances.
Power disruptions along these larger lines could become major nuisances, Aubertine warned.