Posts by: Dave Elliott

The cost of power: moving beyond LCOE

By Dave Elliott

How much does energy cost? LCOEs -Levelised Costs of Energy – are widely used as a comparative measure. They give an estimate for the cost of energy generation from specific plants, but do this by averaging out the investment and running costs over the plant’s lifetime and comparing that with the value of the electricity generated. However, the costs and earnings can and do vary over time and are hard to predict. LCOEs also omit any associated grid balancing/backup costs. So they have big shortcomings. Can we do better?

Certainly there are many weaknesses in the LCOE approach. Finance costs will depend on interest rates and inflation both of which can change over time, sometimes dramatically. So may fuel and labour costs. Energy output may also vary for many reasons and in the case of renewables will vary with the weather. In that case, use is usually made of ‘capacity factors’ to reflect average likely delivered outputs, but in reality these variations are dealt with by balancing capacity and services, the cost of which, arguably, should be added to the cost of generation.

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Solar heating shines again

By Dave Elliott

The UK may be doing reasonably well on green power, but it is not making much progress on green heat. What about solar heating? The familiar roof-top solar heat collector, with a flat glass plate on top of a box with pipework for cooling water, has been upgraded over the years to more efficient evacuated tube and focused solar and hybrid PV/Thermal variants. These systems can offer cost-effective no/low carbon heating in some locations and are mostly scalable, suitable for a range of small or large-scale applications. And you can store solar heat for use later and also use it to drive cooling systems. All in all, it’s an energy source with multiple attractions.

The UK Solar Trade Association (STA) says: It’s time to look again at solar thermal. The strategic importance of this mature, proven technology is growing as our homes become more thermally efficient and require less space heating – we will continue to need hot water. The UK also needs to do much more to decarbonise heat, where we lag badly behind in Europe.’

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100% of all energy from renewables?

By Dave Elliott

The energy scenario now offered by BEIS implies that renewables might be supplying around 50% of UK electricity by 2035, with 45GW expected to be in place by then, mostly wind and solar PV. There are more ambitious scenarios, like the one produced for the UK/Ireland by Finland’s LUT and the German Energy Watch Group as a subset of their global 100% renewables scenario. That has renewables supplying all the electricity used in the UK/Ireland by around 2040:  That may be ambitious, but near 100% by 2050 certainly now seem credible for electricity, given the political will. Scotland is already at over 60%. But what about heat and transport? (more…)

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100% renewables – a fantasy?

By Dave Elliott

‘Electricity comprises just one fifth of annual energy demand in the UK, so creating a 100% renewable energy economy would be an order of magnitude more difficult than the already challenging task of powering our existing electricity grid with 100% renewable sources’. So says a report from the Policy Exchange, putting the case for Small Modular Reactors. It’s a familiar line – 100% for power will be very tough, 100% for all energy impossible.

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Nuclear power – game over?

By Dave Elliott

Foratom, the European nuclear trade body, commenting on the European Commission’s ‘Clean Energy for All Europeans’ plan, says the EU’s aim to decarbonise the economy by over 80% by 2050 cannot be achieved without nuclear power. ‘Nuclear energy accounts for half of the low-CO2 base-load electricity currently generated in the EU. It provides reliable low-CO2 base-load electricity and can provide the flexibility of dispatch required to balance the increasing share of intermittent energy sources, hence continuing to contribute to security of supply.’ It wants an end to preferential treatment and ‘priority dispatch’ rules for renewables.

Foratom is not alone in pressing the case for nuclear. The World Nuclear Association is looking to an extra 1000 GW of nuclear capacity globally by 2050, while a Global Nexus Initiative report says it will be extremely hard, if not impossible, to meet the Paris COP21 climate goals ‘without a significant contribution from nuclear power’ – globally 4000 GW will be needed by 2100.

Given the somewhat constrained situation facing the nuclear industry at present, stuck at around a 11% global contribution while renewables roar ahead to 24% and beyond, with prices continually falling, is there any reality in these nuclear ambitions?

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In praise of (total) demand response

By Dave Elliott

‘If we could manage to adjust all energy demand to variable solar and wind resources, there would be no need for grid extensions, balancing capacity or overbuilding renewable power plants. Likewise, all the energy produced by solar panels and wind turbines would be utilised, with no transmission losses and no need for curtailment or energy storage’.

So says an interesting, wide ranging but wellreferenced article in Low Tech Magazine. It goes on ‘of course, adjusting energy demand to energy supply at all times is impossible, because not all energy using activities can be postponed. However, the adjustment of energy demand to supply should take priority, while the other strategies should play a supportive role’. (more…)

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BEIS is optimistic about UK energy future

By Dave Elliott

The revised projections for energy up to 2035 from the UK Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) are generally very optimistic. It expects low-carbon sources of electricity to supply 68% of UK power generation by 2020, 70% by 2025, 76% by 2030 and 86% by 2035. That of course includes nuclear, and assumes that the proposed new reactor projects will go ahead, although BEIS now expects one less plant will be in place by 2030 than originally hoped, so nuclear only reaches 13GW in all by 2035. And it is now also pessimistic about Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS); there is only 1GW in use in its scenario even by 2035. But it is very optimistic about renewables – it sees them expanding rapidly to 45GW by 2035, up from the 36GW projection in 2016. Let’s hope they are right! (more…)

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EU Renewables Policy: mixed reactions

By Dave Elliott

The European Union’s renewable energy policy is one of the most ambitious attempts to facilitate a transition towards a more sustainable energy system. A new book, ‘A Guide to EU Renewable Energy Policy’, edited by Israel Solorio and Helge Jörgens and published by Edward Elgar, provides a comprehensive guide to the policy, its implementation and reactions, with contributions from a range of key academics – 24 in all.

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A ‘gross’ miscalculation

By Dave Elliott

The International Energy Agency (IEA) ‘underreports (the) contribution solar and wind by a factor of three’ compared to fossil fuels, according to a recent report. I and others have been pointing this out regularly, but it’s good to see this methodological anomaly (if that’s what it is) exposed and explored in more detail in an article by Erik Sauar. (more…)

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European wind co-operation could benefit all

By Dave Elliott

‘European cooperation could provide more stable wind power’. So says a new Imperial College study. Co-author Dr Iain Staffell, from Imperial’s Centre for Environmental Policy, said: ‘Some weather regimes are characterised by storms rolling in from the Atlantic bringing high winds to northwest or southwest Europe, but these are accompanied by calm conditions in the east. Other regimes see calmer weather from the Atlantic and a huge drop in wind production in Germany, the British Isles and Spain. But at the same time, wind speeds consistently increase in southeast Europe, and this is why countries such as Greece could act as a valuable counterbalance to Europe’s current wind farms.’

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