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Countdown to Copenhagen: Despite doubts about a treaty, 2009 shapes up as pivotal year for renewable energy


Copenhagen,renewable energy,wind,MoncktonBeginning with the Obama administration's $70-billion commitment to ramping up the U.S.'s reliance of wind, water and solar power (not to mention hybrid vehicles) in February through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and ending with December's international climate conference in Copenhagen, this year promises to be pivotal in the worldwide development and adoption of renewable energy sources. Pivotal in the sense that 2009 could go down as the moment the green revolution gained substantial footing thanks to a swelling of political and financial support or as a colossal missed opportunity due to power grabbing and misguided policy.

Controversy has been swirling around the proposed Copenhagen conference climate-change treaty (pdf) intended to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece on Wednesday, Janet Albrechttsen, a columnist for The Australian, criticizes the treaty as being "convoluted." She cites an address given by England's Lord Christopher Monckton earlier this month at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minn., in which he warned that the treaty's aim is to set up a transnational "government" with the power to directly intervene in the financial, economic, tax and environmental affairs of all the nations that sign the proposed Copenhagen treaty.

Even if the Copenhagen conference and its proposed measures aren't being met with optimism, the movement toward increased use of sustainable energy and decreased reliance on fossil fuels are. In the November issue of Scientific American, researchers Mark Z. Jacobson and Mark A. Delucchi lay out an ambitious plan to deliver all of the world's energy via wind, water and solar resources by 2030. In fact, the researchers argue in their article, if the planet were powered entirely by wind, water and solar resources, global power demand would drop by about one third (from 16.9 terawatts to 11.5 terawatts) because in most cases "electrification is a more efficient way to use energy." The article includes an interactive infographic created by to illustrate Jacobson and Delucchi's plan.

Meanwhile, renewable energy installations continue to move forward worldwide. Denmark's Vestas Wind Systems A/S Wednesday announced that the municipality of Santo Domingo de Ingenio, Juchitan de Zaragoza, in Oaxaca, Mexico, plans to install 51 of the 2.0-megawatt wind turbines by the end of 2010  (pdf). Although this planned installation alone is not overwhelming, it follows last month's order for 60 1.65-megawatt Vestas turbines for a wind power project in Theni in the state of Tamil Nadu, South India (pdf), and an August order by Eufer (a joint venture between the Italian Enel Green Power and the Spanish Union Fenosa) for 24 1.8-megawatt turbines to be placed in three locations throughout Spain (pdf).

Image © Sean Locke

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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