Posts by: Dave Elliott

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? (more…)

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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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Energy in the US: the rise of renewables

By Dave Elliott

Energy use and impacts are changing in the USA, in part due to progressive policies from Obama, but also because of structural changes in the energy economy. Carbon dioxide emissions from US energy sector have fallen 12% since 2005, mainly since there has been a decline in the use of coal, although its fall back has mostly due to an increase in the use of natural gas to generate electricity. However, renewables are also playing growing roles, supplying around 16% of US power, eclipsing nuclear (their output overtook that from nuclear in 2010) and they are expanding fast, hitting 17% in the first part of 2016. But all that could change when Trump takes power. (more…)

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EU Energy politics at its best – and worst

By Dave Elliott

A 50% renewable electricity target for 2030 and a radical free market shake up – that’s what is on the cards from the latest EU proposals, with consumers empowered to self-generate and sell power themselves. The European Commission’s recent proposed energy policy changes aim to keep the EU competitive as the clean energy transition changes global energy markets. It also proposes new approaches to empowering and informing consumers, enabling them to self-consume renewable electricity without facing undue restrictions, and ensuring that they are remunerated for the electricity they feed into the grid. It also ‘recognizes energy communities and facilitates their participation in the market’.  (more…)

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Japan – pressure for more renewables mounts

by Dave Elliott

Japan’s use of both fossil fuels and renewables has increased since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster but, with energy costs being high, improved energy efficiency and massive energy saving drives have pushed national power consumption in 2015 down 12% below the 2010 level. There have been attempts to get approval to restart some the 43 surviving reactors, but so far only 3 have restarted fully – 2 more did, but then closed following court orders. With renewables, including hydro, supplying 14.3% of power in Japan in the year to March 2016, they are producing much more output than nuclear – 139TWh versus 4.3TWh in 2015. Rapid expansion is planned, but even more is being called for.  Meanwhile, the slow and expensive process of cleaning up Fukushima rumbles on, with worries still emerging about leaks and contamination.

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German energy balancing

By Dave Elliott

Germany is in the lead globally with its ambitious renewable energy programme, already supplying over 32% of its electricity and aiming for 80% by 2050.  At present, Germany’s 1.5 million photovoltaic solar installations have a generation capacity of over 40GW, four times the remaining 10.8 GW base-load nuclear fleet that is being decommissioned in stages between the end of 2017 and 2022. PV can be well matched to day-time peak demand in Germany, which is why it has challenged gas peaking plant in this market.  However, due to its low load factor (10-15%, compared to 70-80% or more for nuclear), solar PV generation only delivers around 940 equivalent full-load hours of electricity per year, so in 2015 its high capacity only met around 7.5% of German electricity demand, compared to 14% for nuclear generation. That’s why some think it is not the best option to expand for the future – it’s expensive for relatively low levels of actual output. (more…)

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EU Renewables round up

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. (more…)

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EU e-Highway 2050

By Dave Elliott

A recent report says that long distance transmission grids offer many advantages including enhanced cross-EU trade and grid balancing opportunities, enabling high levels of renewables to be used while reducing curtailment of occasional surpluses. The European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity group had already addressed the development of the pan-EU electricity transmission network up to 2030 in a Ten-Year Network Development Plan. Starting with that, the e-Highway 2050 research and innovation project has now looked to 2050: it deals with the transition paths for the whole power system, with a focus on the transmission network, to support the European Union in reaching a low carbon economy by 2050.

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