By Dave Elliott
Renewables are roaring ahead in Europe, with wind at over 140GW and PV surpassing 100GW. There have been some spectacular successes, with renewables briefly supplying 87% of German electricity at one point, and Portugal achieving similarly high contributions-something that’s a regular occurrence in Denmark. But progress may soon be slowed as economic pressures mount and political reaction sets in with support schemes being withdrawn or constrained. For example, in Germany it’s all change as the government revises the Energiewende energy law with a slow down for wind and solar expansion, via annual capacity caps and reduced support levels. Portugal has also started to phase out its support for renewables, although not quite so aggressively as happened in Spain, or, for that matter, the UK.
Even so, being optimistic, some of these cuts simply reflect the fact the renewables are now getting cheaper and don’t need so much support. Certainly good progress has been made around the EU and prospects for the future do not look bad. An EU Reference scenario, taking into account global and EU market trends and the energy and climate policies already adopted by the EU and its Member States, has the variable renewable energy sources, solar and wind, reaching around 19% of total net electricity generation in 2020, 25% in 2030 and 36% in 2050, demonstrating the growing need for flexibility in the power system. Wind onshore is expected to provide the largest contribution. Solar PV and biomass also increase over time. Hydro and geothermal remain roughly constant. The share of nuclear falls gradually over the projected period, despite some life time extensions and new built, from 27% in 2015 to 22% in 2030. https://ec.europa.eu/energy/en/data-analysis/energy-modelling
Progress around the EU varies. Sweden is the leader, already getting well over 50% of its energy from renewables and planning to get 100% of its power from renewables by 2040. Finland and Latvia and not far behind, getting around 40% of their energy from renewables, while Austria is heading for 35%. At the other extreme, the UK is far behind almost all others, struggling to get to 6% of energy, despite its offshore wind programme (5GW so far), and onshore wind (9 GW) and PV capacity (12GW), which have helped it to get 25% of its electricity from renewables. France has been relatively leisurely in its approach. Even so it aims to increase its renewable share of the overall energy mix to 32% by 2030, and to double their share of electricity to 40%. It’s cutting back on nuclear (currently in a parlous state, with many plants offline for safety tests) which some say must happen more, as renewables expand in France and elsewhere. See this interesting analysis: http://energytransition.de/2016/06/french-nuclear-under-pressure-from-german-renewables/
In Germany, the EUs largest economy, over 32% of electricity now comes from renewables and it is aiming to get to 80% by 2050: http://energytransition.de/2016/01/germany-is-20-years-away-from-100-percent-renewable-power-not/ On top of over 40GW of PV and 42GW of onshore wind, it now has nearly 4GW of offshore wind, with 1.5 MW more being built, and more planned. But the 500MW p.a. cap on offshore wind growth in 2021 and 2022, set by the recently passed Renewable Energy Act 2017, will slow its growth, although it’s still expected to reach at least 6.5 GMW by 2020 and 15GW by 2030. Caps have also been set for onshore wind (2.8GW p.a, rising to 2.9GW from 2020) and PV solar (2.5GW p.a). Some say these limitations were inevitable, given the need to protect consumers from price rises, but some remain hopeful that the long-term impact will be small- the 80% target still remains in place: www.renewableenergyworld.com/articles/2016/07/germany-s-energiewende-today-insights-from-industry-members.html and www.ecega.eu/blog/ecegas-insights-1 But here’s a gloomy prognosis: http://euanmearns.com/an-update-on-the-energiewende/ The overall plan explained: www.agora-energiewende.de/fileadmin/Projekte/2016/EEG-FAQ/Agora_FAQ-EEG_EN_WEB.pdf
Spain is heading for a 50% renewable electricity share, with wind at 21.8%, hydro 17.8%, solar PV 3.4%, solar thermal 2.4%, others 1.8%, in all 47.2% in the first 8 months of this year. But despite some claw-back retrospective taxes, and the so-called solar tax, nationally, the cumulative tariff deficit, due partly to the earlier relatively high FiT support levels, is still €25bn: www.renewableenergyworld.com/articles/2016/09/spain-closes-in-on-50-percent-renewable-power-generation.html
Portugal gets 52% or so of its power (and 25% of all energy) from renewables, using hydro, solar, wind and biomass. But the financial squeeze has had a big impact, with green project support levels being cut back, although there are hopes for change and that EU grid interconnections via Spain can help: www.politico.eu/article/portugal-looks-to-free-its-stranded-renewables-wind-solar-energy-subsidies-european-union/
Wind now supplies 43% of Denmark’s annual electricity. But there are cuts there too: coastal wind projects are being halted in favour of offshore later: www.thegwpf.com/denmark-cancels-all-coastal-wind-farms-delays-new-built-until-2025/ and there may be some other policy shifts: www.thegwpf.com/denmarks-liberal-government-to-roll-back-renewable-energy-policy/ However, it is still ahead of many countries, in wind especially, and it is beginning to address the key grid balancing issues, which will be vital since it still aiming to get to 100% renewables: https://stateofgreen.com/en/profiles/energinet-dk/solutions/ecogrid-dk
As can be seen wind is a front runner across the EU, both on-land and offshore, with 140GW more wind capacity expected in the EU by 2025: www.climateactionprogramme.org/news/140gw_of_wind_capacity_to_be_added_in_europe_by_2025
Some of the new offshore projects planned in the UK are quite large- the most recently consented array off its East coast is rated at 1.8GW. Costs are falling fast. Swedish state utility Vattenfall has won a tender to build the 600MW Danish Kriegers Flak offshore wind project on the Baltic coast, with a bid of €49.9/MWh. www.powerengineeringint.com/articles/2016/11/more-evidence-of-competitive-wind-power-with-vattenfall-s-baltic-deal.html Floating offshore wind is likely to be the next big thing for countries with suitable sites: Statoil has a 30MW Hywind project planned off Scotland and France has just agreed 30GW projects in the Med and Atlantic: www.windpoweroffshore.com/article/1403400/france-awards-maiden-floating-tender
PV solar is also booming at all scales, with costs falling rapidly. Germany is in the lead, with Italy not far behind, but, despite the cuts, the UK is catching up. Interestingly, while most PV arrays are on roof tops or in solar farms on the ground, there are also some floating PV projects around e.g. on reservoirs in the UK: www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-35868250
Biomass is more eco-contentious, due to the significant land use conflicts and food growing and biodiversity issues with biofuels and sustainability issues with imported wood pellets: www.climatecentral.org/news/europe-aims-to-close-loophole-on-wood-energy-20591 However, biogas use is growing, with farm and food waste being a key new option. Geothermal continues to make small inroads e.g. in Germany. And hydro remains the big one- supplying 23% of EU electricity and pumped hydro reservoir storage being an important grid balancing option.
However, other water-based options like wave and tidal are also being explored, and though still on a much smaller scale, GW-level deployment should be possible after 2020. The UK is a leader in tidal current turbines, with Atlantis Resources developing the 400MW MeyGen tidal stream project in Scotland. The first four 1.5 MW turbines are now being installed- one has just started up. In parallel, TELs 400 kW DeltaStream device is being installed in Ramsey Sound, Wales, and SME’s PLAT-O turbine platform is being tested off the Isle of Wight while Dutch Tocardo units are to be installed there soon, as part of the 30MW Perpetuus project. Sweden’s Minesto is also to test its novel Tidal Kite off Wales.
In addition to devices like this from overseas being tested in UK waters, there is plenty also happening elsewhere in the EU. For example, Tocardo has installed a series of tidal turbines around the Dutch coast, with over 3MW soon to be in place. France has installed a 1 MW tidal turbine off the coast of Brittany, and Open Hydro (now a subsidiary of DCNS) is working on the first of two new turbines at EDF’s site at Paimpol-Bréhat.
In the wave energy field, Finland has continued to refine its WaveRoller device with plans to deploy a 5.6 MW array in Portugal. In Sweden, Seabased’s 1 MW Sotenäs unit started generating power in early 2016. Israel’s Eco Wave Power deployed the first 100 kW phase of a 5 MW EU-funded plant off Gibraltar. Sadly, the UK’s Pelamis and Osprey projects met financial problems and were abandoned.
Looking ahead, the prospects for renewables in the EU, as elsewhere, will be influenced by the climate agreements reached at COP 21 in Paris last year, but perhaps the main driver is their falling costs, for wind and PV especially. Some offshore wind projects are going ahead at generation costs not far off onshore wind and PV projects, and all are getting cheaper. That may lessen the impact of the withdrawl of subsidies in many countries: indeed, it seems that some renewables can now compete unaided, despite continuing subsidies for their rivals.