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The winds of change in Austin

The winds of change in Austin
By Euronews

In this episode of Urban Visions we are in Austin, Texas, as part of our series on tomorrow’s energy challenges.

Some key facts about renewable energy:

  • Renewable energy is from a natural resource that is inexhaustible
  • It includes wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, tidal & biomass power
  • Top global leaders in renewables include the US, China & Germany
  • Many countries have introduced ambitious renewable energy targets
  • The EU wants 20% of its energy to come from renewables by 2020
  • The US shares the same target, while in China it’s 15% by 2020

Mention Texas and most of us think of oil. But the state’s capital is also becoming well-known for renewable energy.

Brewster McCracken, a former city councillor & energy researcher, told euronews: “Austin was a city that had an environmental conscience before that was cool, but it really did motivate a lot of actions that the city leaders took, starting in the 1980s.”

The city wants 35 percent of its energy to come from renewable sources by 2020, and it is expecting to reach its goal ahead of schedule.

Euronews’ Seamus Kearney reported from among some wind farms in the Lone Star State: “A lot of that power comes from here on the vast, remote plains in West Texas, where some of the world’s largest wind farms are scattered across the landscape, as far as the eye can see.”

The state is the largest producer of wind power in the US with the output going to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in various places.

All of Austin’s public buildings now run on renewables, and many people have agreed to pay slightly more to sign up to a greener power supply.

The city’s publically-owned energy utility is also harnessing the rays of the sun.

Tim Harvey, a solar specialist at Austin Energy, showed Urban Visions around the impressive Webberville Solar Farm. “It’s a 30 megawatt solar farm,” he explained. “It produces enough energy for 5,000 residential homes, and it’s really our flagship project.”

When opened in 2011, this project was the largest in the US. Another solar farm, five times as big, is planned locally, and a boom in solar panels on private rooftops is expected to continue.

Brewster McCracken said: “Most of the renewables that we see will be solar panels that are within cities, and this will be global. Because as the price continues to come down on solar, it becomes almost the cost of adding a little extra to your roof. That is a game changer.”

At the moment renewables account for about a fifth of the electricity produced worldwide.

Amid concern about global warming, the use of wind and solar power has been growing at a fast pace.

But experts say future expansion will depend on financing and prices, but also research into how renewables can be better fed into national grids.

Susan Krumdieck, an energy expert at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, told Euronews: “The power systems that we have were designed specifically to work with large-scale generation at one end and consumption at the other end.

“Renewables don’t work like that; they’re put in at different places and they come and go intermittently, so the design of systems with renewables in it really have to be done by the engineers, not by the politicians.”

But, in the future, other experts say because you cannot promise the sun and the wind, they are likely to remain the minority partners in our total energy mix.