In my last post, I alluded somewhat less than seriously to the idea that the renewable energy industry was a vast, deep-pocketed cabal. Joking aside, though, the two standard bearers of the global renewable boom - wind and solar - have indeed turned into pretty enormous enterprises even compared to just 10 years ago.
As I reported in an earlier post, Germany and Italy each added as much solar power to their grids in 2011 alone as there was in the entire world in 2005. And wind? Well, not only has global installed wind capacity grown by a factor of ten over the last decade, but in 2010 the United States added twice as much wind power to its grid as there was everywhere on earth in 2000.
So yes: it's been a booming decade for renewable energy. But it's all mere prologue, as two fascinating bits of imagery illustrated for me this week. Let's have a look at them.
The first series of images - "How Much Does Solar Cost?" - is not just the Infographic of the Week but one of the most concise one-stop data sources I've ever found for potential solar power users in the United States. It's a series of maps of the country, produced by solar advocates One Block Off the Grid using data from Clean Energy Research. The maps break down the costs and benefits of solar power state by state: the cost of installing an average rooftop solar system, the monthly and lifetime savings, and - the most vital stat of all - the payback period in years.
The images are full of surprises. It was news to me, for example, that the cheapest state for solar after Hawaii was not California or Florida but Louisiana. And it boggles my imagination how the payback period for a solar array is shorter in Alaska (17 years) than in Alabama (18) and Mississippi (19).
Taken as a whole, this infographic package is a powerful illustration of just how close we are to real ubiquitous Big Solar. After all, even in the United States - one of the weaker jurisdictions globally for solar power, with many states offering virtually no incentive for installing panels on the roof - the systems pay for themselves in less than 20 years, which is a very conservative estimate for their lifespan.
Now, to a striking image from the booming wind industry:
This is a snapshot from Walney Farm, the world's largest offshore windfarm, which started pumping power from its home in the Irish Sea off the east coast of England this week.
There are several amazing things about this new installation: with 102 turbines and 367 megawatts of generating capacity, it's not only the largest wind farm in the world (capable of generating enough power for 320,000 homes) but a demonstration that offshore wind can easily scale up to sizes similar to those of conventional gas- and coal-fired plants. It was built in less than two years, which makes it pretty much the quickest way to bring that much power to a grid ever devised. And - maybe the most important point - it won't be the world's largest for long.
By the end of 2012, the London Array in the Thames estuary near the British capital will bring its first phase online - 630 megawatts. By the time phase two is complete a few years after that, the London Array will be a 1,000-megawatt wind farm - the world's first gigawatt-scale wind plant.
Not only is the age of Big Wind now underway, we ain't seen nothin' yet.
To gape in awe at renewable power's growth in 140-character bursts, follow me on Twitter: @theturner.
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