By Dave Elliott
Some continue to portray renewables as marginal, with for example, ExxonMobil claiming that their potential is limited by ‘scalability, geographic dispersion,intermittency (in the case of solar and wind), and cost relative to other sources’, and renewables are only likely to make up about 5% of the global energy mix by 2040: www.ft.com/cms/s/0/5a2356a4-f58e-11e3-afd3-00144feabdc0.html?siteedition=uk#axzz33albsQ2B
Most however see renewables as booming, with IRENA looking to 30% or more of primary energy coming from renewables globally by 2030 (www.irena.org/remap). That is the sort of future envisaged, on the way to maybe near 100% of power by 2050, by most who attended the 13th biannual World Renewable Energy Congress, this one at Kingston University, London, in August.
By Dave Elliott
Things are changing in Germany. With renewables booming, German energy giant RWE has suffered a massive loss of €2.8 billion, its first loss in 60 years. It has admitted it got its strategy wrong, and should have focused more on renewable and distributed energy rather than conventional fossil fuels: ‘We were late entering into the renewables market – possibly too late.’ A previous RWE CEO had gone on record with the immortal line: ‘Photovoltaics in Germany make about as much sense as growing pineapples in Alaska’. www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/18/germany-energy-idUSL6E8CI12Y20120118
Now Germany has 36.5GW of PV, supplying around 5% of its electricity and at peak times much more! And about 8% from its 33GW of wind. (more…)
By Dave Elliott
In my last post I looked at how competitive market pressures were being imposed on renewables by the UK coalition government, via new Contacts for a Difference contract auction processes. While progress is still being made, as the technologies develop and become more economic, the rapid expansion of some options does seem to be facing difficulties in the UK, arguably as a result of government policies- or, in some cases, the lack of them. (more…)
By Dave Elliott
In his powerful and eloquent new book, The Burning Answer, which seems to be a response to Mike Berners-Lee’s book on climate change, The Burning Question, Imperial College Professor of Physics Keith Barnham contends that, despite our much higher energy demands now than in earlier periods of human evolution, our sun can provide all our primary energy needs again. Solar technology can save us from the threats of global warming, diminishing oil resources and nuclear disaster, if we take the necessary action.
By Dave Elliott
The World Future Council’s report, ‘From vision to action: A workshop report on 100% Renewable Energies in European Regions’, provides an in-depth policy analysis of renewable energy front runner countries, Germany, Denmark and Austria, and identifies successful policy elements and instruments. It builds on a parliamentary hearing that the World Future Council (WFC) hosted together with Climate Service Center in the Nordic Folkecenter and outlines solutions as well as implementation strategies for a fossil-free society.
By Dave Elliott
Renewables have continued to grow in Germany, providing around 23% of total electrical generation from around 32GW of wind and 32GW of PV solar, most of this being locally owned capacity, including projects run by a growing number of local energy co-ops. And it works well: in bitterly cold March last year, the wind and PV were supplying about half of total electricity at one point:http://reneweconomy.com.au/2013/graph-of-the-day-wind-solar-provide-half-germanys-energy-output-88052.
By Dave Elliott
2012 saw renewable energy being taken increasingly seriously as a major new energy option, if not the major new nergy option. There is now 238GW(e) of wind capacity in place globally, 245GW(th) of solar thermal heating and 70GW of solar PV and rapid expansion continues, despite the global recession, with wind capacity expected to double over the next five year and PV solar perhaps treble.
‘The share of renewable energy in global primary energy could increase from the current 17% to between 30% to 75%, and in some regions exceed 90%, by 2050.’ So said the Global Energy Assessment (GEA) produced by an international team led by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. The report (which I mentioned in an earlier blog post) is now online at: http://www.iiasa.ac.at/web/home/research/researchPrograms/Energy/Home-GEA.en.html
Germany has been pushing ahead with it bold energy transition, aiming to get 35% of its electricity from renewables by 2020, expanding in stages to 80% by 2050, with nuclear phased out by 2022. Confidence about achieving these targets seems high, indeed the 2020 target has now been raised to 40%, with offshore wind seen as playing key part. More than 20 offshore wind parks have been approved in the North Sea and three more in the Baltic, all outside the 12 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Inside the EEZ, four wind parks have been approved in the North Sea and two in the Baltic. PV is also continuing to expand- it’s reached 30GW so far, the same as the wind capacity. However, getting coal and gas burn down is proving hard, as is cutting demand and taming the transport sector.
A recent paper by David Buchan from the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies “The Energiewende – Germany’s Gamble,” argues that “Germany is on track to meet only one of its three main targets (a one-third renewable share of electricity by 2020), that the country will fail to reach the second target (to cut energy consumption by a fifth by 2020), and that this failure will make attainment of the third goal (emission reduction) harder”. However, he says that “in a broader sense, the gamble may still come off, provided future gains in renewable technology and jobs can be achieved with lower subsidy costs. No other country possesses Germany’s combination of technical expertise from industry and of bottom-up activism from municipal companies and citizens’ cooperatives in support of low-carbon energy.” For example, private citizens own 40% of the country’s renewable energy production capacity, individually and through cooperatives. The FiT system gives many consumers a direct role in energy production via PV.
All of this makes the big energy companies uneasy- their profits are falling. They may have grudgingly accepted the nuclear exit, but some would like to see fossil fuel retained as long as possible. And indeed it makes sense to see coal and gas as bridging fuels, while renewables get up to speed, as long as emissions can be constrained. That means Carbon Capture and Storage or Combined Heat and Power linked to District Heating /, but both take time and money, and CCS is still very uncertain.
There has certainly been speculation that Germany might not make it and dire warnings about grid crises, spreading out across the EU: https://www.entsoe.eu/fileadmin/user_upload/_library/news/Briefing_paper_to_E/120416_Briefing_Paper_TO_EC_ENTSO-E_assessemnt_interconnected_system_operation_in_CCE.pdf
However so far it has managed to cope, despite the nuclear plant closures, with emissions still falling.
This might have been helped by a newly identified phenomena, the reduction in energy use below expected levels, which has been labeled the prebound effect- in contrast to the so called rebound effect- the tendency of people to use more energy net by re-spending the money they have saved form energy efficiency investment. A new study based on German data suggests that the potential fuel and CO2 savings through non-technical measures such as occupant behaviour may be higher than thought.. The research identified a recurring gulf between the quantity of energy predicted by governments for different types of housing and the amount homeowners actually use. Researchers found that the discrepancy was greatest among the least energy-efficient homes, where householders appear to be consuming far less than national energy usage standards predict. And even when comparing homes that fell into the same predicted energy bracket, it was commonplace to find cases where one house used six times as much energy as another. The study focused on data from Germany, although it then found similar patterns in several other European countries, including the UK.
‘Introducing the prebound effect: the gap between performance and actual energy consumption’, by Minna Sunikka-Blank & Ray Galvin Building Research & Information, 2012, volume 40(3), pp 260-273. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09613218.2012.690952
Longer term, the viability of the new German energy system will depend significantly on whether it can upgrade and balance its grid system. In addition to extra grid links, there will be a need for extra backup capacity. In 2050, by which time it is planned that renewable energy sources will supply 80% of annual gross electricity consumption, efficient gas and coal-fired power stations will have to be available to provide an estimated 60% of secured capacity – i.e. capacity available to cover demand at all times. This is the result of a study carried out by the Deutsche Energie-Agentur GmbH – the German Energy Agency (DENA): www.dena.de/studien
It says that by 2050 there would be 240 GW installed total capacity with 170 GW of renewable and 61GW of fossil fired plants. They would presumably have to be CCS linked to avoid carbon emissions, although it’s also possible that some could be biomass/biogas fired.
Certainly bioenergy has been seen as a key option in German for a range of uses, not just power production, but also a heating and transport. However, a recent German National Academy of Sciences noted that biomass production and use has a greater impact on the environment than other alternative energy sources such as photovoltaic solar energy, solar thermal energy, or wind power. http://www.leopoldina.org/en/publications/detailview/?publicationpublication=434&cHash=9daf8d722e71e30bf2901cf01ee800d1(http://www.leopoldina.org/en/publications/detailview/?publicationpublication
While that may be true for some types of biomass, transport biofuel production especially, AD biogas from wastes should be less of a problem, and, in any case, as an alternative/addition, use could be made of green gas (hydrogen and syngases) produced via electrolysis from excess wind power. In addition to helping with grid balancing, that would be less land constrained than biomass, and it would zero land using if the green gas was produced from offshore wind. Gas is also easy to store- much easier than storing electricity.
he development of storage capacity is of course the other big issue in Germany. To that end, 60 energy research storage projects have received financial support from the German government -which has provided €200 million for research on energy storage until 2014 to support the expansion of renewables in Germany.
Research projects are supported in the field of generating hydrogen or methane from excess wind power,; for projects aimed at connecting batteries for storage of decentralised renewable power, especially solar power, to distribution networks; projects in the area of energy system analysis, as well as thermal storage facilities. To build know-how for the transformation of the energy systems in the long-run, the programme sponsors junior research groups at five German universities which will carry out interdisciplinary research on various storage technologies. More information on the projects can be found (in German) at http://www.bmu.de/erneuerbare_energien/doc/48928.php
For regular updates on green energy developments in Germany see: http://www.germanenergyblog.de/
In parallel, on the nuclear front, Germany is to leave the 4 tonnes of plutonium that has been separated out from spent fuel it sent for reprocessing at Sellafield, in Cumbria, since it won’t be needing it back (as MOX fuel) after 2022, when all it nuclear plants close. If any MOX is needed before then it will get it from France, in a multinational swop arrangement, which avoids long distance transport. The UK closed its poorly performing MOX production plant at Sellafield, after Fukushima, and the loss of Japanese requirements for MOX. There has been talk of using some of the stored plutonium in a new reactor at Sellafied, but otherwise the UK will become the final home for it all-over 100 tonnes.
Can technology rescue us, or do we need to change ourselves, and our society, radically? An innovative new Palgrave book ‘Living in a low-carbon society’, edited by Horace Herring, argues the latter case, although it says that really we need to do both.
It looks at what a low carbon society might look like, approaching this partly through traditional analysis (with leading academics like Prof. Tim Jackson from Surrey Universities RESOLVE group) and cases studies (with some good examples of domestic projects from Prof. Robin Roy’s OU research), but also through a series of short fictional stories to try to catch some of the subjective reality and the human qualities of what life might be like in the future. That’s quite fun – and is currently popular with some novelists. See for example the excellent ‘Carbon Diaries 2015’ by Sci Lloyd (Hodder), which, like Fay Weldon’s ‘Chalcot Crescent’, uses a grim low carbon ration-imposed future as its backdrop.
Some of the stories in Herring’s book are inspiring (like Prof. Catherine Mitchell’s account of how she upgraded her house in Falmouth), but some of the scenarios in this book seemed very bleak – assuming that technology couldn’t really help much, and that the imposed carbon constraints hit hard. Is that inevitable?
Over the last couple of years scenarios have emerged which have renewables supplying 95-100% of all electricity and most energy by 2050 (for the EU and maybe globally), earlier in some cases (e.g. Scotland is now aiming for 100% of electricity by 2020!).
Obviously this may not happen and certainly we ought to try to cut demand anyway- that makes meeting it from renewables easier. This book assumes some serious energy saving through technical upgrades, to houses, etc, as well as a lot of new green energy transmission and storage infrastructure for grid balancing nationally. But its main focus is on what can be done by individuals and in houses, for energy, plus bits on transport and food. That context of course makes it easier to sustain the ‘lifestyle must change radically’ view, since, with some exceptions, small scale technology is, arguably, the most constrained/constraining green option – it is hard to get major national-level savings that way. Indeed, attempting to attain personal energy self-sufficiency, just with small-scale independent technology, could in some cases (e.g. micro wind) be counter-productive environmentally, since it is not very efficient, and also socially: we don’t all have access to the same resources, and need to share /trade.
Overall, there is the risk of pandering to the view that we can only deal with climate change, if we adopt a frugal lifestyle. The opposite ‘renewables as technical fix’ view is also risky – we do need to make lifestyle changes.
The big issue though is growth – can technology sustain that indefinitely? Obviously, on a planet with finite resources, it can’t forever. But we don’t really know how long it can. Australian green Ted Trainer is convinced we can’t even start out….US energy guru Amory Lovins disagrees…and so the debate goes on. This book gives a good sense of what changes might be required and how they might feel in reality, but the questions however remain, how much change is needed and how soon?
Though this book does swing between optimism and pessimism regularly, it does have some interesting new insights and some of the stories are fascinating. Well worth the read – along with the Carbon Diaries 2015 and its follow up to 2017, even if both the latter are aimed at teenagers!
Definitely not (just) for teenagers and not fiction, the report from the German governments ‘Ethics Commission on a Safe Energy Supply’, set up to look at what should be done after Fukushima, tries to lay out some ideas for the ‘collective effort for the future’ it thinks is necessary, given the decision to exit from nuclear. It’s ‘Energy Turnaround’ report was certainly unequivocal: Germany should and could phase out nuclear within a decade and Germany should commit to a collective effort to develop a new energy future.
Why? Well, it says perceptions of nuclear risk had now changed, due to the spectacle of an advanced industrial country facing a major crisis and being unable to bring it under control-with ‘long helplessness’ in the face of a disaster triggered by forces that had not been planned for, revealing the weakness of assumptions that proved to be wrong. The risks now outweighed the benefits, making the alternatives much more attractive.
Nevertheless, it recognises that there will be major problems making the change – and the potential for policy conflicts. For example, was it morally acceptable for the German government to support the export of German nuclear technology when it was closing down its own industry? A more pragmatic issue is whether German industry would be financially strong enough to build nuclear power stations in the UK, given that they would have more than enough to sort out at home, as a result of the phase out decision. That issue has now in fact been resolved: E.ON and RWE have withdrawn from the UK nuclear programme.
On the energy alternatives, the report notes that the Federal Association of Energy and Water Industry’s claim that, in any case, on current plans, up 30GW of new plant will be built by 2019, including wind, biomass and water projects solar, but also conventional plants.
However the Ethics report is more cautious and says that, although renewables like wind and solar, can and should be ramped up rapidly, Germany also needed an extra 10GW to replace the nuclear plants. Fortunately that seems possible. It says that, in addition to wind and solar, 12GW can come from new and some already planned Combined Heat and Power projects by 2020 or perhaps earlier, 2.5 GW from biomass projects and 2.5 GW from conventional plant, plus 4GW from ‘additional energy efficiency measures’: it backs a serious domestic and industrial energy efficiency programme and the development of smart metering. In addition, emissions from new fossil plants would be offset using credits bought in via the EU Emission Trading System, so, overall, Germany would stay on course for it emission reduction targets.
However, it’s not a detailed technical plan: that has emerged separately (see my earlier blogs: http://environmentalresearchweb.org/blog/2012/04/germany–to-the-max.html(http://environmentalresearchweb.org/blog/2012/04/germany–to-the-max.html) and http://environmentalresearchweb.org/blog/2012/02/can-germany-do-it.html.
Instead it focuses more on the social and institutional changes that it says will need to be made. That may be wise: Germany has plenty of technical resources, but as Herring et al argue, the social changes will be harder. That is also an issue in Japan, where a new report has claimed that Fukushima was not just the result of a natural disaster, it was also caused by Japanese cultural and social norms- which had to change. Maybe so, but one thing is clear, like Germany, they are now addressing their energy problems vigorously with new green energy technology, as I will explore my next blog.
In a presentation to PRASEG, the Parliamentary Renewables and Sustainable Energy Group, in London in February, Dr. Georg Maue, from the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, outlined Germany’s new energy plan. The basic aim is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2020, 55% by 2030, 70% by 2040 and 80% by 2050. The aim is to do this by expanding renewables to 35% of electricity by 2020 (18% of primary energy), moving up in stages to 80% of electricity (60% of energy) by 2050. In addition, primary energy consumption will be reduced by 20% by 2020 and then in stages up to 50% by 2050, with electricity use falling by 10% and 25% respectively. The nuclear plants would all be closed by 2022, the first 8 have been shut already, the rest will close in stages, the last 4GW in 2022.
The German government seems optimistic about reaching the targets. Certainly the payoff could be large. In addition to the emission savings, Dr Maue said that ‘If Germany can achieve its 40% carbon reduction target by 2020, at least 500,000 additional jobs will be created, annual avoided fossil energy imports will be worth approx. €22 bn (approx. €38bn in 2030) the national GDP will annually increase by around €20 bn / year, a SURPLUS of 34 € per tonne of reduced CO2eq will be realized in 2030 and the national debt would be some €180 bn Euro lower than it would be without climate protection measures’.
However there could be problems. Some say that, to replace the output from the nuclear plants, Germany will have to import more coal and gas and even electricity. So far, that’s not been a problem. Germany exported 4 TWh more power than it imported in the first half 2011, despite the nuclear closures, although the exports were down from 11 TWh in 2010. Interestingly, in the recent cold spell, France had to import power from Germany. Longer term, as the proportion of renewables build up in Germany, imports should be even less of an issue, except perhaps for grid balancing, when wind and solar inputs in Germany are low.
That of course is only one approach to grid balancing. There are a range of other strategies available to compensate for the variable wind and solar inputs, including the use of stored power from pumped hydro plants- which can take excess wind generated electricity when available. In addition gas fired plants can be used as backup, ramping up to meet lull and down when there is plenty of wind and/or sun energy. The only problem with that is that it can make the gas plants less economic to run.
This, and that fact that wind power is cheap with low marginal cost they don’t need fuel), has already has already had an impact. Norwegian utilty Statkraft is considering shutting two of its 450MW natural combined cycle gas-fired power plants (CCGT) in Germany because the availability of cheaper power from wind farms, which, when generating, get priority access to the grid under the Feed-In Tariff system, is making them unprofitable- there’s 6.8GW of wind capacity in the region. For these gas plants to be profitable, they need to run between 1,000-3,000 hours/year. In 2010, they only ran for 500 hours each at full load. And in 2011 they only ran for about 50 hours each, in grid balancing mode. In terms of reducing emissions, that’s good news. But given the variability of wind, it’s vital to have back-up available, or some other balancing measure.
Standard CCGTs can do it, but are less efficient when operating at low power- so you use more fuel/get more emission/kWh produced net, adding to operating costs and undermining the emissions saved by using wind very slightly. But the new generation of more flexible gas plants, like Alstoms GT24/ GT26, and GEs’ FlexEfficiency 50, are more economically and environmentally attractive- they can ramp up and down rapidly with few emission penalties. For example, Alstom’s unit can, it is claimed, run at 20% output but only produce about the same CO2/ kWh as when at full load, and can ramp back up to that in 3 minutes with little loss in efficiency. GE’s unit can, it is claimed, ramp up at 50MW/min, twice as fast as conventional CCGT plants.
The UK next?
Germany is hitting this problem now since it has so much wind power capacity on the grid (27GW), but it seems that the problems mentioned above are limited so far: most of its CCGT are coping well, although new gas plants are planned, presumably with better flexibility.
The UK only has around 6GW of wind capacity in total so far, but aims to build a lot more offshore, maybe 18GW. So we will then face similar issues. No doubt in anticipation of that, Scottish and Southern Energy is to convert over 1400 MW of its gas-fired power generation to make their operation more flexible. The government is also planning to introduce a scheme that may help make back-up operation more economic. The new ‘Capacity Payments’ system, proposed as part of the Electricity Market Reforms, will offer contacts to generators who can help balance the grid with flexible ‘peak power’ capacity or energy storage, or demand reduction measures.
Nuclear plants can’t with help that much. They are usually run 24/7 to recoup their large capital costs and there are operational and safety reasons why they cannot be run up and down from high to low power regularly and rapidly. It is not just thermal stresses, but also the excess production of contaminating isotopes, which, if the plants are cycled rapidly and regularly, can interfere with their efficient and safe operation.
The French PWRs do load follow to match daily demand cycles, as do the PWRs and BWRs in Germany. But their ability to ramp up and down over a wide range and regularly is relatively limited. New technology might in theory improve on that. According the EDF, it seems the new EPR reactor could ramp-up from 25% to 100% capacity, at 5% per minute of its maximum output (i.e. 80 MW per minute) e.g. from 400 to 1,600 MW in 15 minutes, but only 100 times per year e.g. once every 3 days.
That would not be much use for balancing regular wind variations, but might be useful for long lulls in wind, if the nuclear operators will also accept running at lower power (and losing money) when there is wind available. However, this may be irrelevant in that, under the terms of the UK’s Generic Design Assessment, to which the proposed new nuclear plants have been subject, there are evidently no provisions for nuclear plants to load follow or be used for balancing wind power. That may of course change, but as it stands, the new Capacity Payment system looks likely to be use available mainly to conventional flexible back-up plants and energy storage facilities.
So the UK’s eight new plants, if built, will be somewhat isolated from the emerging emerging flexible electricity system. That would surely have to change if, as new report from the Energy Research Partnership/National Nuclear Lab suggests is possible, we move on to have over 40GW of nuclear in place by 2050! www.energyresearchpartnership.org.uk/nucleartechnologyroadmap