By Dave Elliott
Imperial College has looked at Heat System Decarbonisation in the UK in a new report. Provocatively it says solar and biomass heat can only play limited roles for direct space heating, and focuses mainly on three other low carbon system options: a shift to using hydrogen in the gas grid, the use of decarbonized electricity to run heat pumps and the creation of local heat networks.
By Dave Elliott
Heat supply is one of key weak links in the governments attempt to meet the EU-imposed 15% by 2020 renewable energy target. That target still applies- until the UK finally leaves the EU, if it ever does fully. Although there is talk of green heat networks, for the moment the focus is mostly on direct green heat supply for business and private consumers, and there are some changes underway. The UK’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) has escaped cuts so far, indeed it is set to expand, but the government wants to restructure it to keep energy costs down for consumers and get better value for money. So, concerned also about impact on food growing, it wants to support the use of food and farm waste-based biomass feedstock rather than crop-based feedstocks for biogas production in Anaerobic Digestion (AD) plants. It has also proposed cutting support for solar heating since it is not seen as good value for taxpayer support. www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/505127/The_Renewable_Heat_Incentive_-_A_reformed_and_refocussed_scheme.pdf
By Dave Elliott
Energy storage is all the rage at the moment, with a Daily Telegraph columnist even claiming that ‘cutting-edge research into cheap and clean forms of electricity storage is moving so fast that we may never again need to build 20th Century power plants in this country, let alone a nuclear white elephant such as Hinkley Point’.
And it could be cheap. The recent Carbon Trust/Imperial College report on energy storage says that ‘the UK can realise significant cost savings if market arrangements for the electricity system allow for an efficient deployment and use of energy storage, alongside other flexibility options such as demand response and interconnectors’. It claims that many of the changes needed ‘are likely to be cost neutral and require no additional funding from the government’.
By Dave Elliott
‘Supporting early new nuclear projects could lead to higher costs in the short term than continuing to support wind and solar. The cost competitiveness of nuclear power is weakening as wind and solar become more established’. So said the National Audit Office in its recent review of UK nuclear policy: www.nao.org.uk/report/nuclear-power-in-the-uk
It did, however, say that ‘the decision to proceed with support for nuclear power therefore relies more on strategic than financial grounds: nuclear power is needed in the supply mix to complement the intermittent nature of wind and solar’. That’s an odd view. As the NAO admitted, nuclear is inflexible and cannot balance variable renewables, and the ‘security of supply’ argument may not be as strong as is sometimes claimed. (more…)
By Dave Elliott
‘Delivering Energy Law and Policy in the EU and the US’, edited by Raphael J. Heffron, Gavin F. M. Little and published by Edinburgh University Press, is a compilation of short chapters from a very wide range of academics that reviews the state of play in the energy policy field in the West. As the editors note, one issue that emerges is the slow progress in relation to the adoption of new cleaner, greener energy options, which they say ‘encourages incumbents and in essence maintains their status’. The reviews in this book look at what has been done so far and at what could be done to move things on in the future, via new policies and legislation.
By Dave Elliott
BP says renewables have shown ‘a quicker pace of penetration than any other fuel source in modern history’, and their strong growth meant that they ‘accounted for all of the increase in global power generation in 2015’. BP’s latest review of world energy trends carbon notes that wind power capacity grew by 17.4% and solar by 32.6% last year, with China overtaking Germany and the US as the largest solar generator: www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/energy-economics/statistical-review-of-world-energy.html REN21 has come up with equally high figures. And looking to the future, both see renewables booming, as does Bloomberg.
By Dave Elliott
Renewable energy could supply Russia and Central Asian countries with all the electricity they need by 2030, and cut costs significantly, according to a new study from Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) in Finland. It says that renewable energy is the cheapest option for the region and could make Russia very energy competitive in the future. A 100% renewable energy system for Russia and Central Asia would, it claims, be roughly 50% lower in cost than a system based on the latest European nuclear technology or carbon capture and storage.
By Dave Elliott
The US currently gets about 17% of its electricity from renewables, including hydro, and its potential for rapid expansion is huge. A new study from NOAA, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says that a ‘US transition to a reliable, low-carbon, electrical generation and transmission system can be accomplished with commercially available technology and within 15 years’, according to Alexander MacDonald, one of the lead authors of the report, which was published in Nature Climate Change. But it would need supergrid ‘electron superhighways’ to transmit electricity across the country.
By Dave Elliott
The overall context for UK energy policy and the prospects for renewables have taken something of a hit following the narrow referendum vote to leave the EU, with the climate for new investment looking uncertain. In what may become a familiar pattern, leading German engineering company Siemens has put new wind power investment plans in the UK on hold, and more may follow if the economy continues to falter. It certainly looks grim: www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jun/28/leave-vote-makes-uks-transition-to-clean-energy-harder-say-experts and http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-britain-eu-renewables-idUKKCN0ZH4CZ
By Dave Elliott
Renewables are doing well around the world including in the EU, which now has over 100GW of PV solar in place and around 150GW of wind generation capacity. However, there are some problems and issues as the economic and political climate changes, leading to a range of new policies, for example in Sweden, Germany, France, Denmark and the UK.
Sweden, which now gets over 50% of its energy from renewables, has decided to close but replace its old nuclear plants with up to 10 new ones, while still keeping to its aim of moving to 100% renewable energy by 2040. Oddly that evidently doesn’t mean that all the nuclear plants would then be closed. The new policy says the 100% by 2040 target ‘is a goal, not a cut-off date that would prohibit nuclear power, and it does not mean either the end a closure of nuclear power’: http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/NP-Sweden-abolishes-nuclear-tax-1006169.html This seems a strange compromise, and the ‘10 new plants’ is just speculation – they would presumably have to be privately financed, which could be hard unless costs fall: http://sverigesradio.se/sida/artikel.aspx?programid=2054&artikel=6451006
Germany, which now gets over 32% of its electricity from renewables, is still committed to phasing out the rest of its nuclear plants by 2022, but is cutting back on the rate of expansion of renewables to reduce cost pass-through to consumers and allow grid upgrades to catch up, while limiting problems with some of them – there has been local opposition to new grids. New restrictions will cap onshore wind expansion at 2.8GW per year. Solar PV will also have a limit of 600MW p.a.: www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jun/01/angela-merkel-signs-deal-with-german-states-to-regulate-green-energy-rollout
Although the government is evidently still sticking to its target of an increase in the share of renewable sources to 40-45% of total electricity production by 2025 on the way to 80% by 2050, many see the slow down as a worrying step backwards: www.windpoweroffshore.com/article/1393115/analysis-industry-questions-german-sustainability
These fudges and cuts are unwelcome, but not unexpected given the political and economic climate, perhaps the worst news being that Germany is also dragging its feet on phasing out coal: http://www.reuters.com/article/germany-coal-idUSL8N18Z27Y?rpc=401
Though equally worrying is the backlash from Denmark’s centre-right government, which wants to cut support for renewables – onshore wind especially: www.thegwpf.com/denmark-cancels-all-coastal-wind-farms-delays-new-built-until-2025/ and www.thegwpf.com/denmarks-liberal-government-to-roll-back-renewable-energy-policy/ Much as with the Conservatives in the UK – where nuclear is still backed strongly and renewables face yet more cuts: www.r-e-a.net/news/strong-renewable-energy-growth-threatened-by-recent-policy-changes That seems likely to get worse after Brexit – the UK will no longer be subject to the mandatory 15% by 2020 UK renewable energy target agreed with the EU.
It’s the same old battle almost everywhere. Temporarily lost in Spain, with most renewable support cut back and nuclear retained, but lively still in France, where a recent study by the state energy agency ADEME claimed France could switch to 100% renewables by 2050: http://mixenr.ademe.fr/en. However, although some old nuclear plants may close under the new policy, one of EDF’s top nuclear executives, Dominique Miniere, told reporters in Paris, ‘A certain number of points in that study are not based on technological realities. We do not believe in a 100% renewables mix by the (time) horizon (ADEME) indicates. However, we want to extend the lifespan of our reactors in order to allow a gradual increase of renewables in the mix.’ www.powerengineeringint.com/articles/2016/05/edf-nuclear-chief-says-100-per-cent-renewables-by-2050-unrealistic.html
The new renewable energy technologies are still progressing, now supplying around 24% of global electricity but, as can be seen, progress in the EU is being opposed at every step, with support for, or retention of, nuclear often being the default position adopted by the old guard. Plus shale gas in some, but coal in Germany.
While Europe struggles with it politics and economics, and now Brexit, the situation elsewhere is somewhat different – China, still booming economically although now a bit less, is leading the pack with wind heading for 250GW and PV solar already at 60GW: www.e3g.org/library/china-accelerates-while-europe-deliberates-on-the-clean-energy-transition India also has ambitious targets including 100GW of PV by 2022. Expansion is underway in many other parts of Asia, as well as in South America and Africa: http://www.ren21.net/status-of-renewables/global-status-report/ So the prospects for a global energy transition still look quite good, with, according to Energydata, global energy intensity, the average amount of energy needed to produce a unit of GDP, declining by 3% last year.
However, the use of coal remains a problem and grid integration and balancing issues have to be faced as renewables expand. So too does energy saving. It’s wise therefore not to be too optimistic. While some progress has certainly been made, there is still a long way to go. In its latest analysis of trends in world energy Enerdata says ‘achieving the goals discussed at the COP21 (1.5 to 2° temperature increase by the end of the century), in fact requires a lasting stagnation of global energy consumption and a strong reduction of emissions. Thus, with a global GDP growth assumption of 3% per year, this would imply an average carbon intensity reduction target of 5 to 6% per year.’ www.enerdata.net/enerdatauk/press-and-publication/publications/peak-energy-demand-co2-emissions-2016-world-energy.php
However, even if the political will may not be so apparent in some countries, the potential for more rapid expansion is there, with many scenarios outlining how 80% or more of global electricity can be supplied by renewables by around 2050: see my last post for an example. Moving beyond the immediate problems and issues, and adopting a forceful progressive but also critical global approach, as I mentioned in my last post, the US Post Carbon Institute’s magnum opus Our Renewable Future: Laying the Path for One Hundred Percent Clean Energy, by Fellows Richard Heinberg and David Fridley, looks at ‘the inevitable transition to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources’. Nevertheless, as I indicated, it doesn’t see this as a simple technical fix, with new energy sources just replacing old dirty ones – it says the way in which energy is used will have to change. That’s partly since renewables have technical and operational limitations, which it explores carefully. As mainly low energy density intermittent sources, they cannot sustain the sort of wasteful economic growth we have seen in the past, but should be able to sustain a more balanced future. Some good thoughtful stuff, covering key issues like the limits of fuel and material substitution and the energy/carbon debts associated with making the transition to 100% renewables. Though generally positive about the future it seeks to counter excessive technical optimism: we have to learn to live within limits. Free at: http://ourrenewablefuture.org
So, what’s the bottom line? There is a need for radical change in energy technology and in our way of using energy. Although in its latest Energy Technology Perspectives, the International Energy Agency says that ‘progress deploying clean energy technologies worldwide is still falling worryingly short of what is needed’, the technology is available or can be made so soon, with costs falling. A tipping point may have been reached in the process of change, although it may take time to develop fully: http://moneyweek.com/coal-and-renewable-energy-tipping-point/ While cautious optimism, coupled with careful assessment of the limits, seems reasonable, that assumes that the political and social will can be mustered to make the changes and meet the challenges. And that is less clear. But we must try, and this analysis of what social change issues need to be considered seems sensible: http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/11/6/064014.