More alternative energy market predictions for 2012

By Maureen Aylward

We asked Zintro experts to give us their predictions for the alternative energy market for 2012. They came back with what they are looking for in the coming year.

Michael Morton, an expert in renewable energy technology, says that US and global electricity will continue to be dominated by coal, natural gas, and oil. “At best, only 20 percent of the US power generation will come from alternatives, which currently include wind, hydro, and biomass. The rest of the developed world is likely to have lower contributions from alternatives,” he says.

Morton says the solar industry will see a big shake-out that will include the consolidation of smaller players and a reduced cost base as the industry seeks to compete with China. However, on the bright side, there will be new solar technologies, including new thin films and nanotechnology, all helping solar reach the same cost per kW/h as coal and gas. “We’re excited by the prospect of architectural solar reaching maturity: solar panels built into walls, window glass, and roofing materials,” he says. “Don’t be surprised if there are game changer technologies appearing on the scene in 2012. For example, my own company is testing intelligent solar panels that are showing dramatic improvements in efficiency over standard passive solar modules,” he says.

Morton says the transport sector will continue to see a steady shift towards electric vehicles and the integration of hydrogen-on-demand units to conventional vehicles. “The update of hydrogen in developed countries will continue to be slow. The uptake of hydrogen will continue to be greatest in developing countries where the demand and requirement is the greatest,” says Morton. “For example, a fully commercialized Hydrogen-On-Demand unit that we developed in Australia over the past few years is now selling in seven developing countries. It t looks like China is next on the list. The benefits of hydrogen systems have been proven in the labs and by independent testing authorities. Our units sell for a hefty US$1,200, but they still manage save the owners money and dramatically reduce emissions and increase engine power as an added bonus. And we know we can extract further efficiency improvements.”

Morton believes that many of the alternative energy solutions being proposed at present are valuable but likely to be interim or transitional technologies for the next 10 or 20 years. “Even coal seam gas falls into this transitional category. Longer-term, we believe geo-thermal or other less environmentally damaging technologies will rule the day. But again, be on the watch for game changer technologies that seem to appear from out of nowhere,” he says.

Murphy McKinney and Co, energy consultants, says that renewable energy will play a crucial role in the global energy growth picture over the next decade. “It simply makes good custodial sense. However, to reach that end, projects must be financially sustainable, regardless of the level of incentives,” he says. “Increasing pressures on global debt markets are impacting the size and availability of renewable energy project incentives and guarantees. This reality threatens the ongoing technical and operating advancements that could be achieved in the sector. Like it or not, the health of the renewable energy sector remains dependant on elevated prices for traditional fossil fuels. The renewable energy sector should be extremely concerned with the impact of lower traditional fossil fuel prices.”

Murphy McKinney & Company expects traditional fossil fuel prices to soften, perhaps substantially, in the event global debt markets drive increasing government fiscal austerity.

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