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The green power switch – all to solar

By Dave Elliott 

A new book ‘The Switch’ (Profile Books) by Chris Goodall suggests that the combination of cheap solar photovoltaics and cheap batteries will be a global winner. It is certainly true that the cost of PV solar has been falling rapidly, outstripping predictions, and even confounding most of the PV optimists, as the technology has improved and markets for it have built. Goodall sees this as a continuing process, at maybe up to a 40% annual growth rate, with PV soon becoming the dominant energy source globally, a view that he notes even some conservative oil companies now share. Lithium ion battery costs have also fallen significantly. So, with wind also providing inputs when there is no sun, we are all set!  A similar line was taken in Tony Seba’s book ‘Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation’. PV and batteries are going to boom worldwide, and electric vehicles too.

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Beyond technology: the demand side of climate change solutions

by Felix Creutzig

Can we rely on renewable energies and electric cars to win the climate race? Surely, such technologies will make great contributions, and, in fact, are absolutely necessary to achieve ambitious climate goals, such as the 2C target. Yet, they might not be sufficient.

In a comprehensive review, published in Annual Review of Environment and Resources, we investigate the role of the demand side to climate change mitigation. The review finds substantiative opportunities in particular in the food sector, and in cities. At least 20% counterfactual reductions in emissions can be achieved by reducing meat consumption, by modal shift and compacter urban form in urban transport, and in the building sector by behavioral change. The overall range is broad and uncertain, and higher contributions of the demand side are feasible.

Demand-side solutions fall into two (overlapping) classes: infrastructures and behavioural change. Infrastructures essentially form endogenous preferences and set the cost structures for consumption choices (think about the convenience of public transport or car driving in Manhattan and Houston). Behavioural change involves opportunities to change entrenched habits, partially also by modifying ‘soft’ infrastructures, e.g. by nudging.

pp410173.f4

The review also identifies key hurdles to perform assessment of demand-side solutions. Key among them is that conventional cost-benefit analysis is hard to carry out when preferences are not exogenously given. Then costs and benefits not only depend on given environmental outcomes of a specific intervention, but also on how preferences changed by the intervention. A comprehensive model of human behaviour is required (see figure above).

The demand side received only scarce attention in recent assessment reports and the reasons are not necessarily obvious. The technical difficulties certainly discourage quantitative assessments. Yet, given its likely importance, more studies should systematically tackle this challenge, notably learning from the experience in urban studies.

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Solar PV and energy storage

By Dave Elliott

Some say that the vision of households and businesses moving largely off-grid by storing solar power generated during the day for use overnight is close to becoming a reality. The prospects for moving entirely off grid may be limited – most projects will still need grid links to allow for top-ups when solar input is low for long periods and the stores are exhausted. However, that still leaves a significant potential for self-generation and storage.                                                                                        Continue reading

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Swansea tidal lagoon ‘should be backed’

By Dave Elliott

The review of tidal lagoons by former energy minister Charles Hendry MP called on the government to start final negotiations with Tidal Lagoon Power Ltd on a CfD strike price so that the construction of the Swansea Bay plant could go ahead. Ministers are expected to respond to the Review before the March budget and, as reported in my last post, some reservations have been expressed about the high cost. Hendry, however, seems to be very enthused. He says it could be a wise test investment, possibly opening up options for cheaper lagoons in the future.    Continue reading

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Whatever next?

By Dave Elliott

Simon Taylor’s The Fall and Rise of Nuclear Power in Britain’  (UIT Cambridge) is a readable scamper through the history of the UK nuclear programme, warts and all, with much detail on who did what. The government’s Chief Scientists, Sir David King and Sir David MacKay, are seen as having played key roles in recent years, and Taylor seems to accept the resultant official view that renewables won’t be sufficient: During those inevitable dreary November days when the UK has grey skies and no wind, it will be thermal power, whether gas-fired or nuclear, which keeps the UK moving, lit and warm. Nuclear therefore has a place in the mix for the foreseeable future’. 

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Green heat in the UK

by Dave Elliott

‘Heat is very difficult to decarbonise and no consensus is yet reached on the mix needed for the long term and you will have seen that from the various different reports on the subject.’  So said the then UK Minister of State for Energy, Baroness Neville-Rolfe, at the Heat Summit last December, with the next phase of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) central to the agenda. There certainly are some competing options, including community-wide heat networks, green gas supply networks, biomass and solar home heating and domestic heat pumps powered by electricity.

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WEC on renewables – a glass half empty!                                 

By Dave Elliott

The London-based World Energy Council (WEC) and the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) both regularly produce global energy scenarios. While they both still back nuclear and see fossil fuels as continuing to play a major role, these days they also increasingly identify renewables as a major player. However, the IEA tends to be more assertive in its promotion of renewables and efficiency, while WEC is usually more cautious.

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Renewables and nuclear both have problems

By Dave Elliott

Nuclear and renewables continue to be seen as rivals, with, as part of the debate, studies emerging that address their problems. A study by the Energy Institute at University College London says the UK’s proposed Hinkley Point C nuclear plant will be obsolete by the time it starts up (possibly EDF says in 2025/6) since it will be in competition with cheaper low carbon options, including wind and PV solar. These sources are variable, but at times they will produce all the electricity needed, leaving no room for Hinkley unless their output is curtailed. At other times they will only make small contributions, but the UCL team calculates that only around 20GW of ‘firm’ inputs like Hinkley will be needed to operate for more than half the year by 2030 to meet the gaps and peak demand. And there are cheaper more flexible balancing options for this than Hinkley.

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The cost of nuclear waste

A new year’s worry…

By Dave Elliott

One clear difference between renewables and nuclear power is that the former do not lead to the production of long-lived radioactive wastes and the associated problems and costs of dealing with them. Also, old wind and solar facilities can be easily removed, whereas nuclear plant decommissioning is complicated, risky and expensive. With a new UK nuclear expansion programme planned, how much will it cost us to eventually clean it up and deal with its wastes? Continue reading

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Renewables hit by economic success

A Christmas success story – of sorts

By Dave Elliott

Renewables are getting cheaper, with the costs for some falling dramatically. However, as overall energy prices fall, due in part to the success of renewables, it is not just old fossil and nuclear plants that suffer, becoming stranded assets. Older less efficient renewable projects can also face problems, as has happened, it seems, with some older wind turbines. They need replacing with new better designs – reblading and repowering. But, as energy prices continue to fall, upgrades like this may not yield enough extra income to be worthwhile. This will be a continuing issue as renewables expand and get cheaper: the market value of wind and PV power drops with increasing market penetration and success.

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