THE LATEST THINKING
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The European Union manages a coordinated effort to curb carbon emissions and increase energy production via renewable sources.
The European Union (EU) is miles ahead of America when it comes to, well, almost everything, but for today, I'm talking about "environmental footprinting." The EU tracks its electricity consumption not just on a GW/hour standard, but also on a series of related standards that measure (for example) how much greenhouse gas is emitted during generation; the 'green-ness' of its fuel source, and the volume of waste created during and after procurement and processing, among other environmentally sensitive standards. By tracking the elements that make up the "carbon footprint" that currently defines the impact of human activity on the planet, the continent is gathering the data needed to make truly comprehensive decisions about how it powers its industries without polluting its environment.
Solar Plays a Critical Role
Last year was a big success for solar photovoltaic installations in the EU, with approximately 8.6 GW installed across the continent; the figure represents a 28% increase over the amount installed in 2016. Perhaps surprisingly, the largest EU installations were in Turkey, which added 1.79 GW in 2017 (besting Germany at 1.75). In 2016, Turkey launched a new national project to develop renewable energy sources with a focus on solar, and the 2017 figure indicates that the country has embraced the initiative. (Note, however, that almost all of the installations (99%) are unlicensed by the government; high fees and other bureaucratic obstacles have delayed most licensed installations.)
Concentrated Solar is Growing
Today, European travelers can see thousands of solar panels emblazoning the rooftops of homes, barns and commercial buildings all across the continent as individuals assume responsibility for generating their own electricity. For beefier power, however, the Union is adding Concentrating Photovoltaics (CPV) to make more electricity in smaller spaces.
CPV systems use lenses or mirrors to focus sunlight on high-efficiency PV cells. These cells contain more than one "junction" - the layer that converts sunlight into electricity - and each junction absorbs differing parts of the solar spectrum so they can capture more incidental sunlight than cells used in traditional panel cells. The mass production of multi-junctioned solar cells is once again on the rise after dropping solar panel prices lured shoppers in that direction. The new CPV cells promise ever growing efficiencies, and some experts predict they will reach 50% efficiency, converting half of all the light they receive into clean, usable electricity.
So far, Germany, France, Italy and Spain are participating in the growing CPV industry, which, in conjunction with their solar-paneled citizens, installed almost 99 GW of solar power generation capacity in 2017, a 29% increase over 2016.
The EU plans to meet its goals to cut its greenhouse gases by 20% and powering 20% of its electricity consumption from renewables by 2020, as compared to 1990 levels. Considering the gains achieved through its investments in just one renewable - solar energy, - the continent appears to be on track. At least now the U.S. has a role model to follow.
Sean Gallagher's recent op-ed about Duke Energy's solar proposals in North Carolina mischaracterizes the realities of what...