A common definition of sustainable energy is an energy system that serves the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.
In the broadest sense, sustainable energy stretches to include fossil fuels as a transitional source as long as energy providers develop new ways to meet future needs before such sources are no longer available. However, by nature, fossil fuels are not renewable due to their limited availability.
The narrower sense of sustainable energy even includes nuclear energy as it is available for the time frame relevant to the human race. Nuclear energy is not renewable. Additionally, due to its environmental impact, political challenges and potential for use in terrorism, nuclear energy remains controversial.
Renewable energy on the other hand is collected from resources that are naturally replenished on a human timescale. Renewable energy sources are therefore sustainable on a much broader scale and longer (even infinite) term.
Energy sources driven by wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower, hydrogen and biomass energy continue to develop. Causing minimal impact on the environment and offering energy for the foreseeable human future, they meet both renewable and sustainable criteria. While renewable energy sources require a significant initial investment, the increasing cost of fossil fuels and concerns about global warming are increasing investor interest in them.
No, it is only a matter of converging solar radiation into electrical energy. The sun is the source of all energy: did you know that all renewable energy (except tidal and geothermal) originates from the sun? Even fossil fuels.
The sun radiates 174.423.000.000.000 kWh/hr to earth. Only 1 to 2% of that energy is transformed into wind. Radiation from the sun and our planet's shape work together to create temperature differences. These temperature differences cause air to circulate. Combine this circulating air with planet Earth's rotational force and ‘wind’ is created. Wind is merely an intermediate solution for capturing solar energy. Much as it is currently the most efficient way of harnessing solar energy, the closer we can get to the source without intermediate technology the more efficient it will be.
The Rentel wind farm has a surface area of 22,7 km2 which generates 1.100.000.000 kWh of power per year. If we want to produce the same amount of energy with solar panels in Belgium (assuming 275 kWh/yr/panel) we would need 4.000.000 panels, equivalent to 654 soccer fields.
Years of studies in Denmark have shown that about 6 birds per year are victimized by wind turbines. This is negligible if you would compare same to the 1 million bird victims per year by high voltage lines and the 2 million victims by traffic. Hunting and pollution also threaten birds and much more so than wind turbines.
The environmental studies that precede any permit request consider such matters. When assigning a suitable area for the implantation of a wind farm it is ensured that any effect on the bird population is minimized. The Institute for Nature and Forest Research for instance has put together a bird atlas that maps flight movements and migratory patterns at low altitude.
Fish actually profit from these wind farms as there is no fishing activity in the wind farm areas and the wind farm foundations serve as a type of coral reef.
Yes, onshore wind farms are still cheaper to build. The challenge for those in offshore wind is to bring costs down, which will be our focus in the second decade of this century. As space on land is limited, especially in Flanders, we need to look beyond the horizon and find other locations from which we can harvest the wind.
Thanks to economies of scale, larger rotors, larger wind turbines and more efficient electrical infrastructure, we can now build competitive offshore wind farms.
In their early stages, all new technologies are comparatively expensive. Offshore wind energy is a fairly recent technology and still in development. Even so, offshore wind has seen some major technological breakthroughs over the last decade.
These breakthroughs have greatly lowered the cost of building and servicing these clean energy plants. And since offshore wind is strongest at the times when energy is needed most - in the middle of the day and early evening - it will help to stabilize electricity rates.
The efforts taken toward cost reduction are already noticeable: in spite of inflation and the development of wind farms on more challenging locations, the cost of offshore wind farms has not increased.
Technical evolution, optimization and standardization, as well as continued growth of the sector, will be key in achieving a further cost reduction. Technology costs will further decline in Europe provided there is a strong long-term strategy from both industry and governments.
Offshore wind energy is the cheapest source of sustainable energy. Energy from fossil fuels and nuclear plants is only considered to be cheaper because we do not take into account the cost to clean up all harmful residues of this type of energy production. So, in the greater scheme of things, offshore wind energy is not all that expensive.
The offshore wind industry as a whole has already created thousands of jobs in Belgium and will continue to do so. While generating our own power, we create jobs. The development and construction of an average offshore wind project in Belgium creates around 1400 direct jobs and around 1400 indirect jobs during the construction activities. During the operational phase, roughly 100 permanent jobs are created per wind farm for a period of 20 years.
The development of offshore wind energy creates new opportunities for Belgian companies and institutions active in research, consultancy, engineering, financing and supply chain for building and maintaining these wind farms. Think of organizations such as universities, knowledge centers, construction, legal and financial firms, project developers, insurance companies, supply industry, maintenance and exploitation partners. Numerous Belgian companies thank a huge part of their turnover to the offshore wind industry.