Posts by: Dave Elliott

ICL and UCL on renewable balancing

By Dave Elliott

Several academic studies have indicated that balancing variable renewables need not be expensive. An authoritative review of over 200 studies by UK Energy Research Centre in 2006, concluded: Intermittency costs in Britain are of the order of £5 to £8/MWh, made up of £2 to £3/MWh from short-run balancing costs and £3 to £5/MWh from the cost of maintaining a higher system margin’.  

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Can tidal power match wind costs?

By Dave Elliott

Wind power has developed quite rapidly around the world, heading for 500GW soon, with costs falling. On-shore wind is now one to the cheapest renewables. The UK has nearly 10GW on-shore and over 5GW offshore, with the latter expanding and new technology emerging- floating wind turbines.  However tidal power, although mostly at a much earlier stage in its evolution, is making a bid to compete, at least in the medium to long term. Although the Swansea tidal lagoon project will generate at a somewhat higher cost than offshore wind power, and certainly much higher than on-shore wind, it’s claimed that subsequent lagoons should be much cheaper, and tidal stream turbine developers are also confident about price reductions.   Will tidal power really get cheap? That may depend on how these technologies get supported in the near future.

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Can tidal lagoons supply base-load power?

By Dave Elliott

The Swansea Lagoon didn’t feature in the Budget announcement, despite Labour’s John McDonnell saying “get on with it”, but with a decision still expected soon it does represent an intriguing idea, especially if it can be extended.  Charles Hendry’s review of Tidal Lagoons threw up some interesting possibilities and issues, including the idea that multiple projects could offer more nearly continuous output, as well as identifying some conflicts over what should be done. He noted that there were “some views that were mutually exclusive. Whilst some, especially in the financial and environmental communities, argue that a smaller tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay needs to be operational before a commitment can be made to larger projects on the most competitive terms; others, in the supply chain, academia and those pushing for faster action on climate change, argue that the cumulative economic and industrial benefits of a programme of tidal lagoons would inevitably be lost by such a delay”.

Hendry backed the latter view and proposed an initial trial go-ahead for the small 320 MW Swansea project – see my earlier post. But the aim was to see if further projects, including possibly cheaper, larger variants, might be worth pursuing and he also looked at some of the wider options that could open up.

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UK Industrial Strategy – the energy dimension

By Dave Elliott

The government’s new long-term Industrial Strategy’ green paper is about growth, exports, competition and the development of new technology, to be achieved by upgrading skills and infrastructure, improving supply chains and increasing investment in research and innovation – with £4.7 bn by 2020-21 in R&D funding. The new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund could support smart and clean energy technologies, such as storage and demand-response grid technologies. Nuclear also gets a mention – SMRs and even fusion. That’s along with robotics/artificial intelligence, biotech, digital technologies and 5G mobile networks and the like.

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Set the controls for the heart of the Sun

By Dave Elliott

A report from Carbon Tracker and the Grantham Institute says that by 2050 solar PV could supply 29% of all global electricity. Its 2050 scenario still has a lot of nuclear in it, supplying about the same as PV, but not much wind (about 7%). That’s a bit odd, especially since the report indicates that onshore wind is currently cheaper in capital cost terms than either nuclear or PV. That stays true up to 2050 on its baseline scenario. But in its lower cost prediction, it sees PV undercutting all by 2050 – falling to M$390-643/GW, about a tenth of its rather low estimate for the current (and future) cost of nuclear (M$3706-4200/GW) and also much cheaper than the baseline capital costs for onshore wind (M$1640/GW) and offshore wind (M$2970/GW) by 2050. That does ignore the likelihood that wind costs may fall faster too and, given the low capacity factor for PV, in order to get to 29% of total output, they say 65% of global generation capacity would have to be PV by 2050 – around 10TW!

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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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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.                                                                                        (more…)

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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.    (more…)

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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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