Alternative Energy Technologies, Opportunities and Markets

ELECTRONICS.CA PUBLICATIONS announces the availability of a new report entitled “Semiconductors for Alternative Energy Technologies: Opportunities and Markets“. Economic conditions have had a dramatic impact on alternative energy.  When oil dropped to $40 a barrel, who cared about alternative energy? Shorted sighted but with the credit market crunch, who could get a loan to build solar plants anyway? Now oil is more than $110 a barrel.

The high price of oil in the past few years has been a catalyst for development in other alternative energy sources, not just solar.  Advances in wind, geothermal, and hydropower are reducing the cost of wind power to a point at which it is becoming competitive with traditional energy sources.  Nuclear power plants smaller than a garden shed and able to power 20,000 homes will be on sale within five years, say scientists at Los Alamos, the US government laboratory which developed the first atomic bomb.  Among these alternative energy sources, hydropower and nuclear have the lowest carbon footprint (carbon dioxide produced during operation).

World energy consumption is expected to increases from 472 quadrillion Btu in 2006 to 552 quadrillion Btu in 2015 and 678 quadrillion Btu in 2030—a total increase of 44 percent over the projection period. Total world energy use in 2030 is about 2 percent lower than projected in the International Energy Outlook 2008 (IEO2008), largely as the result of a slower overall rate of economic growth in this year’s reference case.

The current economic downturn dampens world demand for energy in the near term, as manufacturing and consumer demand for goods and services slow. IEO2009 assumes, however, that most nations will begin to return to trend growth within the next 12 to 24 months.

OECD member countries, for the most part, have the world’s most established energy infrastructures. In combination, they account for the largest share of current world energy consumption. The situation is expected to change over the projection period, however, with more rapid growth in energy demand in emerging non-OECD economies. In 2006, 51 percent of world energy consumption was in the OECD economies; but in 2030 their share falls to 41 percent in the reference case. OECD energy use grows slowly over the projection period, averaging 0.6 percent per year, as compared with 2.3 percent per year for the emerging non-OECD economies.

China and India are the fastest-growing non-OECD economies, and they will be key world energy consumers in the future. Since 1990, energy consumption as a share of total world energy use has increased significantly in both countries. China and India together accounted for about 10 percent of the world’s total energy consumption in 1990, but in 2006 their combined share was 19 percent. Strong economic growth in both countries continues over the projection period, with their combined energy use increasing nearly twofold and making up 28 percent of world energy consumption in 2030 in the reference case. In contrast, the U.S. share of total world energy consumption falls from 21 percent in 2006 to about 17 percent in 2030.

Non-OECD Asia shows the most robust growth of all the non-OECD regions, with energy use rising by 104 percent from 2006 to 2030 (Figure 13). Energy consumption in other non-OECD regions also grows strongly over the projection period, with projected increases of around 60 percent for the Middle East and for Central and South America and 50 percent for Africa. A smaller increase, about 25 percent, is expected for non-OECD Europe and Eurasia (including Russia and the other former Soviet Republics), as declining population and substantial gains in energy efficiency result from the replacement of inefficient Soviet-era capital equipment.


Compared to other renewable energy technologies, solar power’s benefits include:

  • Environmental Advantage: Solar power is one of the most benign electric generation resources. Solar cells generate electricity without air or water emissions, noise, vibration, habitat impact or waste generation.
  • Fuel Risk Advantage: Unlike fossil and nuclear fuels, solar energy has no risk of fuel price volatility or delivery risk. Although there is variability in the amount and timing of sunlight over the day, season and year, a properly sized and configured system can be designed to be highly reliable while providing a long-term, fixed price electric supply.
  • Location Advantage: Unlike other renewable resources such as hydroelectric and wind power, solar power is generally located at a customer site due to the universal availability of sunlight. As a result, solar power limits the expense of, and energy losses associated with, transmission and distribution from large-scale electric plants to the end users. For most residential consumers seeking an environmentally friendly power alternative, solar power is the only viable choice because it can be located in urban and suburban environments.
  • Retail Rate Benchmark Advantage: Unlike biomass, geothermal, hydroelectric and wind power generation, which are location-dependent and sell primarily to the wholesale market, solar power competes with retail electric rates as it is customer-sited and supplements a customer’s electricity purchased at retail rates from the utility network.
  • Peak Energy Generation Advantage: Solar power is well-suited to match peak energy needs as maximum sunlight hours generally correspond to typical peak demand periods when electricity prices are at their highest. These characteristics increase the value of solar power as compared to other renewable resources that do not align with peak demand periods.
  • Modularity: Solar power products can be deployed in many sizes and configurations to meet the specific needs of the customer.
  • Reliability: With no moving parts or regular required maintenance, solar power systems are among the most reliable forms of electricity generation.

Weakness includes:

  • The global economic crises will temper alternative energy sales and earnings growth.
  • The immediate concern over economic weakness likely takes the short-term focus off progress toward a new energy policy.
  • Continued weakness in the debt and equity markets, for as long as it lasts, will raise costs of capital for firms in this emerging sector, and may prevent project financing, working capital requirements, and new research and development. Federal funding for a new energy policy will largely dry up.


There are a range of advantages and disadvantages of wind energy to look at, including the many problems associated with wind turbines.


  • Wind energy is friendly to the surrounding environment, as no fossil fuels are burnt to generate electricity from wind energy.
  • Wind turbines take up less space than the average power station. Windmills only have to occupy a few square meters for the base; this allows the land around the turbine to be used for many purposes, for example agriculture.
  • Newer technologies are making the extraction of wind energy much more efficient. The wind is free, and we are able to cash in on this free source of energy.
  • Wind turbines are a great resource to generate energy in remote locations, such as mountain communities and remote countryside. Wind turbines can be a range of different sizes in order to support varying population levels.
  • Another advantage of wind energy is that when combined with solar electricity, this energy source is great for developed and developing countries to provide a steady, reliable supply of electricity.


  • The main disadvantage regarding wind power is down to the winds unreliability factor. In many areas, the winds strength is too low to support a wind turbine or wind farm, and this is where the use of solar power or geothermal power could be great alternatives.
  • Wind turbines generally produce allot less electricity than the average fossil fuelled power station, requiring multiple wind turbines to be built in order to make an impact.
  • Wind turbine construction can be very expensive and costly to surrounding wildlife during the build process.
  • The noise pollution from commercial wind turbines is sometimes similar to a small jet engine. This is fine if you live miles away, where you will hardly notice the noise, but what if you live within a few hundred meters of a turbine? This is a major disadvantage.
  • Protests and/or petitions usually confront any proposed wind farm development. People feel the countryside should be left in tact for everyone to enjoy its beauty.


Fuel cells are very useful as power sources in remote locations, such as spacecraft, remote weather stations, large parks, rural locations, and in certain military applications. A fuel cell system running on hydrogen can be compact and lightweight, and have no major moving parts. Because fuel cells have no moving parts and do not involve combustion, in ideal conditions they can achieve up to 99.9999% reliability. This equates to around one minute of down time in a two year period.

Some additional advantages of the fuel cells can be summarized as  follows:

  • High efficiency conversion. Fuel cells convert chemical energy directly into electricity without the combustion process. As a result, a fuel cell is not governed by thermodynamic laws, such as the Carnot efficiency associated with heat engines, currently used for power generation. Fuel cells can achieve high efficiencies in energy conversion terms, especially where the waste heat from the cell is utilized in cogeneration situation.
  • High power density. A high power density allows fuel cells to be relatively compact source of electric power, beneficial in application with space constraints. In a fuel cell system, the fuel cell itself is nearly dwarfed by other components of the system such as the fuel reformer and power inverter
  • Quiet operation. Fuel cells, due to their nature of operation, are extremely quiet in operation. This allows fuel cells to be used in residential or built-up areas where the noise pollution is undesirable.


  • The only disadvantage of the fuel cells associated with the cost. The two basic reasons are High costs compared to other energy systems technology and Operation requires a replenishable fuel supply.

NiMH Batteries

A nickel-metal hydride cell, abbreviated NiMH, is a type of secondary electrochemical cell similar to Nickel Hydrogen cell. The NiMH battery uses a hydrogen-absorbing alloy for the negative electrode instead of cadmium. As in NiCd cells, the positive electrode is nickel oxyhydroxide (NiOOH).

Applications of NiMH Electric vehicle batteries includes all-electric plug-in vehicles such as the General Motors EV1, Honda EV Plus, Ford Ranger EV and Vectrix scooter. Hybrid vehicles such as the Toyota Prius, Honda Insight, Ford Escape Hybrid, and Honda Civic Hybrid also use them. NiMH technology is used extensively in rechargeable batteries for consumer electronics, and it will also be used on the Alstom Citadis low floor tram ordered for Nice, France; as well as the humanoid prototype robot ASIMO designed by Honda.


  • 30 – 40 percent higher capacity over a standard NiCd. The NiMH has potential for yet higher energy densities.
  • Less prone to memory than the NiCd. Periodic exercise cycles are required less often.
  • Simple storage and transportation — transportation conditions are not subject to regulatory control.
  • Environmentally friendly — contains only mild toxins; profitable for recycling.


  • Limited service life — if repeatedly deep cycled, especially at high load currents, the performance starts to deteriorate after 200 to 300 cycles. Shallow rather than deep discharge cycles are preferred.
  • Limited discharge current — although a NiMH battery is capable of delivering high discharge currents, repeated discharges with high load currents reduces the battery’s cycle life. Best results are achieved with load currents of 0.2C to 0.5C (one-fifth to one-half of the rated capacity).
  • More complex charge algorithm needed — the NiMH generates more heat during charge and requires a longer charge time than the NiCd. The trickle charge is critical and must be controlled carefully.
  • High self-discharge — the NiMH has about 50 percent higher selfdischarge compared to the NiCd. New chemical additives improve the self-discharge but at the expense of lower energy density.
  • Performance degrades if stored at elevated temperatures — the NiMH should be stored in a cool place and at a state-of-charge of about 40 percent.
  • High maintenance — battery requires regular full discharge to prevent crystalline formation.
  • About 20 percent more expensive than NiCd — NiMH batteries designed for high current draw are more expensive than the regular version.

Li-ion Polymer Batteries

Lithium-ion polymer batteries, polymer lithium ion, or more commonly lithium polymer batteries are rechargeable batteries that have technologically evolved from lithium-ion batteries. Ultimately, the lithium-salt electrolyte is not held in an organic solvent as in the lithium-ion design, but in a solid polymer composite such as polyethylene oxide or polyacrylonitrile.

Li-poly batteries are gaining ground in smartphones and notebook computers. They can be found in small digital music devices such as iPods and other MP3 players as well as gaming equipment like Sony’s Playstation 3 wireless controllers.

These batteries may also power the next generation of battery electric vehicles. The cost of an electric car of this type is prohibitive, but proponents argue that with increased production, the cost of Li-poly batteries will go down.


  • Very low profile — batteries that resemble the profile of a credit card are feasible.
  • Flexible form factor — manufacturers are not bound by standard cell formats. With high volume, any reasonable size can be produced economically.
  • Light weight – gelled rather than liquid electrolytes enable simplified packaging, in some cases eliminating the metal shell.
  • Improved safety — more resistant to overcharge; less chance for electrolyte leakage.


  • Lower energy density and decreased cycle count compared to Li-ion — potential for improvements exist.
  • Expensive to manufacture — once mass-produced, the Li-ion polymer has the potential for lower cost. Reduced control circuit offsets higher manufacturing costs.


Geothermal heat pumps have several advantages and disadvantages. Which geothermal system is right for a given installation, or even whether to use a geothermal system, depends on the circumstances of that particular installation.

Geothermal energy is a proven resource for direct heat and power generation. In over 30 countries geothermal resources provide directly used heat capacity of 12,000 MW and electric power generation capacity of over 8,000 MW.


  • In both commercial and residential installations, geothermal heat pump systems typically have lower maintenance costs than conventional systems as all equipment is installed inside the building or underground. This means that there is no outside equipment exposed to weather and vandalism. All refrigerant systems are sealed, similar to household refrigerators.
  • Geothermal systems are very flexible. They can be easily and inexpensively subdivided or expanded to fit building remodeling or additions. They are particularly well-suited to “tenant finish” installations.
  • In commercial installations, systems can save money by recovering excess heat from building interior zones and moving it to the perimeter of the building. They can also save money by allowing management to isolate and shut down unoccupied areas of the building.
  • Refrigerant Loop geothermal systems have several advantages over other geothermal systems. They are potentially more efficient than water loop systems. They require fewer feet of buried piping than other geothermal systems, have no freeze problems, and better heat transfer.


  • Geothermal systems tend to have a somewhat higher first cost than conventional systems. Open-loop systems have more potential problems than either conventional systems or closed-loop geothermal systems because they bring outside water into the unit. This can lead to clogging, mineral deposits, and corrosion in the system.
  • Open-loop systems require a large supply of clean water in order to be cost effective. This often limits their use to coastal areas, and areas adjacent to lakes, rivers, streams, etc. In addition, there must be an acceptable method of returning the used water to the environment. This may be limited not only by environmental factors (such as no place to dump that much water), but also by local and state regulations.
  • Many closed-loop systems use an antifreeze solution to keep the loop water from freezing in cold temperature conditions.
  • Most antifreeze solutions have very low toxicity, but many produce CFCs and HCFCs, which add to environmental concerns. In addition, some antifreeze solutions increase fluid viscosity making the system work harder and adding to the cost of pumping.
  • Refrigerant Loop systems have several disadvantages, including: Environmental issues related to the system’s use of refrigerant, Corrosion issues since they use copper piping which needs anodic protection, and the need to maintain refrigerant temperatures within certain limits to keep from freezing or baking the ground, Difficulty in finding and fixing a refrigerant loop leak, should one occur.
  • Since accessibility to terminal units is important in geothermal systems, architects and mechanical and structural designers must carefully coordinate their work.
  • Each unit requires both electrical and plumbing service.
  • Duct systems must be installed to bring outside air to each space.
  • Secondary or backup heat sources are required in cooler climates.
  • It’s only in recent years, in the light of climate change, that the issue of nuclear power is being debated once again because of its nature: it emits virtually no greenhouse gases. Not only that, but the fuel for it, uranium, can be found in far more stable regions of the world than oil. So, what are the advantages and disadvantages of nuclear power?


There were 439 operating nuclear power plants and, together, they provided about 14 percent of the world’s electricity at the end of 2009. Of these 31 countries, some depend more on nuclear power than others. For instance, in France about 77 percent of the country’s electricity comes from nuclear power. Lithuania comes in second, with an impressive 65 percent. In the United States, 104 nuclear power plants supply 20 percent of the electricity overall, with some states benefiting more than others.

Power plants that depend on atomic energy don’t operate that differently from a typical coal-burning power plant. Both heat water into pressurized steam, which drives a turbine generator. The key difference between the two plants is the method of heating the water. While older plants burn fossil fuels, nuclear plants depend on the heat that occurs during nuclear fission, when one atom splits into two.


  • Efficient: Nuclear plants can produce an awful let of electricity, up to about 2GW, which is comparable to coal plants.
  • Reliable: There is no need to worry about interruptions to the power supply: as long as there is uranium, there will be power. This is a stark contrast to most renewable energies which depend on the activity of the weather.
  • Clean: I’m using this term strictly to refer to the greenhouse gas emissions of a nuclear plant. There are some greenhouse gas emissions associated with the life cycle of uranium, as gases are emitted as it is mined and transported etc. However this is significantly less than the emissions associated with the burning of fossil fuels. Essentially, nuclear power would be “carbon-zero” if the uranium were mined and transported in a more efficient way. There are issues with radioactive waste, however.
  • Supply: Twenty-four percent of uranium resources are in Australia, and 9% in Canada .


  • Waste: High level radioactive waste is very dangerous. It lasts for tens of thousands of years before decaying to safe levels. If there is to be a “nuclear renaissance”, a sophisticated method of storing the waste for this period of time must be designed.
  • Proliferation: Some forms of nuclear reactor, known as “breeder” reactors produce plutonium, which can be used to make nuclear weapons. There are other reactors which do not have this problem, but it is another issue which must be addressed before the possibility of a nuclear future can be taken seriously.
  • Terrorism: While the chances of a modern reactor exploding like Chernobyl are near zero, it is quite possible for intervention to have quite horrific results. Nuclear plants would be very tempting targets to anyone wanting to disrupt the power supply and devastate an entire region in one foul swoop.
  • Cost: Nuclear plants are very expensive to run. I’m not an economist, but I believe nuclear plants are, like most other things, cheaper in bulk. Most of the cost comes from the initial building of the plant; the running costs are comparatively low.

Details of the new report, table of contents and ordering information can be found on Publications’ web site.View the reportSemiconductors for Alternative Energy Technologies: Opportunities and Markets.



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