Prospects for Electricity Generation from Renewable Energy

First-generation renewable technologies are mostly confined to locations where a particular resource is available. Hydropower, high-temperature geothermal resources, and onshore wind power are site specific, but are competitive in places where the basic resource is plentiful and of good quality. Their future use depends on exploiting the remaining resource potential, which is significant in many countries, and on overcoming challenges related to the environment and public acceptance.

The second-generation of renewables has been commercially deployed, usually with incentives in place intended to ensure further cost reductions through increased scale and market learning. Offshore wind power, advanced biomass, solar PV and concentrating solar power technologies are being deployed now. All have benefited from R&D investments by IEA countries, mainly the 1980s. Markets for these technologies are strong and growing, but only in a few countries. Some of the technologies are already fully competitive in favorable circumstances, but for others, and for more general deployment, further cost reductions are needed. The challenge is to continue to reduce costs and broaden the market base to ensure continued rapid market growth worldwide.

Third-generation renewables, such as advanced biomass gasification, hot dry-rock geothermal power, and ocean energy, are not yet widely demonstrated or commercialized. They are on the horizon and may have estimated high potential comparable to other renewable energy technologies. However, they still depend on attracting sufficient attention and RD&D funding.

Recent IEA analysis suggests that RD&D activities have played a major role in the successful development and commercialization of a range of new renewable energy technologies in recent years [3]. Successful RD&D programs need to be well focused and should be coordinated both with industry efforts to promote commercialization and competitiveness in the market and with international programs. In addition, they must reflect national energy resources, needs, and policies. They also need to have roots in basic science research. Issues related to public acceptability, grid connection, and adaptation and managing intermittency are common to a range of renewable energy technologies and need to be addressed in government RD&D programs.

Each country has its own RD&D priorities based on its own particular resource endowments, technology expertise, industrial strengths, and energy markets. Because of the diverse nature of renewable energy sources, it is important that each country or region promote technologies and options that are well suited to its specific resource availability. RD&D in renewable energy must be strengthened, but priorities must be well selected, in order to address priority policy objectives, especially as they relate to cost-effectiveness. Industry can be expected to play a major role in the development of all technologies, whether or not yet commercially available. It is important to recognize that some renewable technologies will continue to depend to a considerable extent on government RD&D.

A high global share of renewable energy can be only achieved if new renewable technologies are adopted by both developing and developed countries. Governments should consider including, in their renewable technology RD&D programs, an element that specifically concerns the adaptation of renewable technologies to meet the needs of developing countries.

This section looks at prospects for electricity generation using the following renewable energy technologies:

• Large and small hydropower

• Geothermal

• Onshore and offshore wind

• Solar photovoltaics

• Concentrating solar power

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