The Germans have really taken off when it comes to renewable fuel sources, and have become one of the major players in the alternative energy game. Under the aegis of the nation's electricity feed laws, the German people set a world record in 2006 by investing over $10 billion (US) in research, development, and implementation of wind turbines, biogas power plants, and solar collection cells. Germany's “feed laws” permit the German homeowners to connect to an electrical grid through some source of renewable energy and then sell back to the power company any excess energy produced at retail prices. This economic incentive has catapulted Germany into the number-one position among all nations with regards to the number of operational solar arrays, biogas plants, and wind turbines. The 50-terawatt hours of electricity produced by these renewable energy sources account for 10% of all of Germany's energy production per year. In 2006 alone, Germany installed 100,000 solar energy collection systems.

Over in the US, the BP corporation has established an Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) to spearhead extensive new research and development efforts into clean burning renewable energy sources, most prominently biofuels for ground vehicles. BP's investment comes to $50 million (US) per year over the course of the next decade. This EBI will be physically located at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The University is in partnership with BP, and it will be responsible for research and development of new biofuel crops, biofuel-delivering agricultural systems, and machines to produce renewable fuels in liquid form for automobile consumption. The University will especially spearhead efforts in the field of genetic engineering with regard to creating the more advanced biofuel crops. The EBI will additionally have as a major focal point technological innovations for converting heavy hydrocarbons into pollution-free and highly efficient fuels.

Also in the US, the battle rages on between Congress and the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA). The GEA's Executive Director Karl Gawell has recently written to the Congress and the Department of Energy, the only way to ensure that DOE and OMB do not simply revert to their irrational insistence on terminating the geothermal research program is to schedule a congressional hearing specifically on geothermal energy, its potential, and the role of federal research. Furthermore, Gawell goes on to say that recent studies by the National Research Council, the Western Governors' Association Clean Energy Task Force and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology all support expanding geothermal research funding to develop the technology necessary to utilize this vast, untapped domestic renewable energy resource. Supporters of geothermal energy, such as this writer, are amazed at the minuscule amount of awareness that the public has about the huge benefits that research and development of the renewable alternative energy source would provide the US, both practically and economically. Geothermal energy is already less expensive to produce in terms of kilowatt-hours than the coal that the US keeps mining. Geothermal energy is readily available, sitting just a few miles below our feet and easily accessible through drilling. One company, Ormat, which is the third largest geothermal energy producer in the US and has plants in several different nations, is already a billion-dollar-per-year business—geothermal energy is certainly economically viable.

 

The Irish are currently pursuing energy independence and the further development of their robust economy through the implementation of research and development into alternative energy sources. At the time of this writing, nearly 90% of Ireland's energy needs are met through importation—the highest level of foreign product dependence in the nation's entire history. This is a very precarious situation to be in, and the need for developing alternative energy sources in Ireland is sharply perceived. Ireland also seeks to conserve and rejuvenate its naturally beautiful environment and to clean up its atmosphere through the implementation of alternative energy supplies. The European Union has mandated a reduction in sulphuric and nitric oxide emissions for all member nations. Green energy is needed to meet these objectives. Hydroelectric power has been utilized in Ireland in some areas since the 1930s and has been very effective; however, more of it needs to be installed. Ireland also needs to harness the wave power of the Atlantic Ocean, which on its west coast is a potential energy supply that the nation has in great store.

Ireland actually has the potential to become an energy exporter, rather than a nation so heavily dependent on energy importation. This energy potential resides in Ireland's substantial wind, ocean wave, and biomass-producing alternative energy potentials. Ireland could become a supplier of ocean wave-produced electricity and biomass-fueled energy to continental Europe and, as they say, “make a killing”. At the present time, Ireland is most closely focused on reaching the point where it can produce 15% of the nation's electricity through wind farms, which the government has set as a national objective to be reached by 2010. But universities, research institutes, and government personnel in Ireland have been saying that the development of ocean wave energy technology would be a true driving force for the nation's economy and one which would greatly help to make Ireland energy independent. A test site for developing wave ocean energy has been established in Ireland, less than two miles off the coast of An Spideal in County Galway Bay. This experimental ocean wave harnessing site is known as “Wavebob”. The most energetic waves in the world are located off the West coast of Ireland, says Ireland's Marine Institute CEO Dr. Peter Heffernan. The technology to harness the power of the ocean is only just emerging and Ireland has the chance to become a market leader in this sector. David Taylor, CEO of the Sustainable Energy Initiative,or SEI, tells us that SEI is committed to innovation in the renewable energy sector. Wave energy is a promising new renewable energy resource which could one day make a significant contribution to Ireland's electricity generation mix thereby further reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.

Padraig Walshe, the president of the Irish Farmers Association, tells us that with the closure of the sugar beet industry, an increasing amount of Irish land resources will become available for alternative uses, including bioenergy production. Today, renewable energy sources meet only 2% of Ireland’s total energy consumption. From a farming perspective, growing energy crops will only have a viable future if they provide an economic return on investment and labour, and if the prospect of this return is secure into the future. Currently the return from energy crops is marginal and is hampering the development of the industry. Biomass energies need to be further researched by Ireland.