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UK – not a lost cause

By Dave Elliott

Some see the current UK government’s energy policy as doomed – trapped in a commitment to old technology like nuclear power, leavened only by continued support for offshore wind. For example, the FT ran this analysis: ‘Nobody outside the industry now thinks the future of electricity generation is nuclear fission. The cost of building the plants to comply with safety and antiterrorism standards is rising all the time, fears of a runaway price for oil and gas now look silly, while advances in wind and solar technology are destroying those projections of ever-dearer energy … The UK’s energy market is in an unholy mess, with attention distracted by the vacuous debate about switching electricity suppliers. The real costs lie with the “green initiatives” at the other end of the wires. Scrapping Hinkley Point would not solve all of them, but it would be a start. Perhaps best to wait until after June 8 for another U-turn from Mrs May, though.’  FT 26th May

Well, the June election came and went and that didn’t really resolve much in the energy sector or, arguably, elsewhere. However, while Labour may not have won enough seats to overturn the Conservatives, it did very well, and it is likely to play a significant role in the future, given the hung parliament. What might it do?

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EU Renewables still boom, but growth slows

By Dave Elliott

The European Union is on track to meet its goal for renewables to supply 20% of its energy by 2020, led by Sweden already at 53.9%, Latvia at 37.6% and Austria at 33%, but with Britain lagging far behind – the UK is at number 24 in the most recent EU 28 league table (for 2015), at 8.2%, only beating Luxembourg (5%), Malta (5.3%), the Netherlands (5.8%) and Belgium (7.9%). The UK may not be missed in this respect, at least, when it leaves the EU.

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PAGES young scientists find mountains, reservoirs and inspiration

by Yoshi Maezumi and Vachel Carter

IMG_6114They came by land, sea and air. The Spanish city of Zaragoza was hit by poster tubes, rubber-tipped keens and rapid-wicking travel clothes – the garb of a scientist. It was a sunny May morning as 80 early-career researchers from 23 countries, including us – Yoshi Maezumi and Vachel Carter – congregated in the Plaza de Pilar for the 3rd PAGES Young Scientists Meeting (YSM). We met our bus convoy en route to the remote eco-village of Morillo de Tou in the foothills of the Spanish Pyrenees. Our journey that day wound through the picturesque olive groves, farmlands and vineyards of the Aragón region. Upon arrival in Morillo de Tou, the crisp mountain air refreshed us, white clouds of cottonwood fluff blew in the breeze, and the glacial blue waters of the Mediano reservoir glistened in the afternoon sunlight. It was a paradise found.

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Germany’s Energiewende keeps going

By Dave Elliott

Germany is still powering ahead, with renewables supplying over 32% of annual electricity needs and hoping to get to 80% by 2050, with the last nuclear plant phased out by 2022. The nation’s 106GW of renewables briefly supplied 87% of its electricity at one point recently. However, it’s not all plain sailing. Certainly there have been plenty of critical views on its ambitious Energiewende transition programme, some predicting its demise. And, worried about the cost, with an election looming, the government has been slowing it all down. So what lies ahead?

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Balancing renewables in Denmark

By Dave Elliott

Denmark has been at the forefront of the renewable energy revolution and although it has seen some political retrenchment recently, it is still pressing ahead with the next phase,  which includes the need for more grid balancing. It’s mainly a problem of over-supply. Wind and other renewables now supply over 43% of annual power, and that at times means there is too much electricity available. How is that dealt with? Continue reading

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Supergrids revisited – but for desert wind not PV solar

By Dave Elliott

Dr Gregor Czisch is a pioneer for the idea of using long-distance supergrids to allow power from widespread sources to be traded across long distances, for example delivering renewable energy harvested in Africa to the EU. Unlike Desertec’s solar-based supergrid plan, his  supergrid plan, first outlined (in German) in 2001, focused mainly on using wind, which his modelling suggested was the best source. That idea has yet to be taken up and Desertec’s CSP/PV plan is also now defunct, but with solar PV costs now having fallen,  in a recent article Czisch  was asked if he thought it was now an option. However, he insisted that the results of his his original modelling still stood. He had factored in cost reductions for PV and found it wanting. So he still looks to wind, including power imported from North Africa, as a better bet.  Continue reading

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Are we really all going to go off grid?

By Dave Elliott

In 2014, the US Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) released a ground-breaking analysis of the potential for ‘grid defection’, looking at when and where it might be economical for customers to disconnect from their utility in favour of using on-site solar-plus-battery systems. With PV solar and batteries getting much cheaper since then, it has become a hot issue. However, fully off-grid options still seem unlikely to be attractive or needed for most people – a grid link allows you to top up when there is a solar input lull and your battery is drained, and to sell any excess at other times. In the US this “net metering” approach is quite widespread, although there are disputes about the prices paid by utilities. In the UK the FiT system has an export tariff. Will consumers be willing to forgo that? Would that be wise? Continue reading

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The limits of PV solar

By Dave Elliott

Solar PV has been talked up a lot of late. Its costs have certainly fallen and it has expanded to reach around 300GW capacity globally so far. But is it really going to be the dominant renewable as some have suggested? For example, a recent report from the Grantham Institute/Carbon Tracker has PV supplying 29% of world power by 2050 (PDF), with a massive 10,000GW or so in place. Is that realistic?

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Election promises on energy

By Dave Elliott

In the UK general election run up, with consumer power costs rising provocatively, there had been talk of a cap on energy prices and, in its election manifesto, although specifics were absent, the Conservative party certainly focused on economics. It said Our ambition is that the UK should have the lowest energy costs in Europe, both for households and businesses’ and it would aim for ‘competitive and affordable energy costs following a new independent review into the cost of energy’. Continue reading

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In praise of auctions

By Dave Elliott

IRENA, the International Renewable Energy Agency, seems to have been won over to competitive price-based project auctions as a way to stimulate rapid take up of renewables.  It says ‘the main strengths of auctions relate to flexibility, price and commitments. The flexibility of design allows policy makers to combine and tailor different elements to meet deployment and development objectives, while taking various factors into account, such as the country’s economic situation, the structure of its energy sector, and the maturity of its power market’. That’s a bit of a shift: in the past much attention has been paid to guaranteed price Feed in Tariffs (FiTs). Continue reading

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