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Tag Archives: hydro

Green energy levy freeze

By Dave Elliott

The UK’s Autumn Budget may have backed Electric Vehicles, but it wasn’t too helpful in terms of providing extra support for the green electricity they ought to use, if we want carbon emissions to be reduced. Tucked away in the Budget details was a plan for replacing the Levy Control Framework, which caps spending on green energy projects, with a new ‘Control of Carbon Levies’ system.  It will cover the Renewables Obligation (RO), Feed-in Tariffs (FiTs) and the Contracts for Difference (CfD) systems as before, but the bad news is that, to keep future costs down, on the basis of current forecasts, there will be no new low carbon electricity levies until 2025’.


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Hydro power: good or bad?

By Dave Elliott

Hydroelectric power is still the largest source of renewable electricity, generating nearly 17% of all global electricity, with over 1,200GW of large and small capacity in use around the world, the small plants (under 10MW) making up over 10% of the total. Most projects involve the construction of large dams and reservoirs, but smaller run-of-the-river schemes are also common, operating on river flows, without reservoirs. More capacity of all types is being added all the time. For example, Brazil recently installed an extra 4GW, and some see hydro use expanding significantly worldwide in the years ahead. Others are less sure, and point to a range of environmental and strategic problems. (more…)

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France – 100% renewable by 2050?

By Dave Elliott

France is heavily reliant on nuclear power, which supplies around 74% of its electricity, although some of that is in fact used to run the nuclear fuel system, including fuel fabrication and reprocessing. It has often been said that it would be impossible to phase out nuclear in France. The Hollande government has promised to cut the proportion back to 50%, and has a quite ambitious programmes for renewable energy (32% of all energy by 2030) and energy saving (a 50% cut in all energy use by 2050). But going further has often seemed a fantasy, not least in terms of cost. However that’s now changed, with a new government  report suggesting that it would be possible to move to 100% renewables.


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Green electricity in the USA

By Dave Elliott

The share of renewables is growing in the United States, up from its current 13%, although the US does not have a nationwide renewable electricity target. However 30 individual states and the District of Columbia do, adding up to a cumulative target of about 18% by 2025. (more…)

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Hydro – and beyond 2

By Dave Elliott

In my previous post I looked at the role of hydro power, which dominates in many developing countries and regions, supplying nearly 100% of electricity in Albania, Angola, Bhutan, Burundi, Costa Rica, D R Congo, Lesotho, Mozambique, Nepal, Paraguay, Tajikistan and Zambia, as well 60–90% in 30 other developing countries. See

However, as I indicated, there are concerns that, given a range of environmental, social and political issues, large hydro may not be the best option for the future, whereas smaller-scale projects, including micro hydro, wind and PV solar, might be better suited to development goals and local needs. See–and-beyond.html.

I focused on Africa, but the dominance of hydro is even greater in South America. Brazil, the leading economy in the region, already gets 87% of its electricity from renewables, mostly hydro. However, it is trying to diversify, with wind and solar. So are some of the less-developed countries in the region. Nearly 100% of Paraguay’s electricity comes from hydro, but it is trying to expand other renewables, as are Patagonia, Bolivia and Ecuador, with PV especially favoured. Colombia, which currently gets 70% of its electricity from hydro, is investing in wind power: it has an estimated theoretical wind-power potential of 21 GW.


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Green energy in China

By Dave Elliott

China is pushing ahead with renewables on a very large scale, with renewables and other non-fossil fuel options expected to provide around 15 % of its total energy needs by 2020: the nuclear programme is a small part of that, aiming to get to 4% of electricity by 2020. Renewables already supply 17%.

Wind power is the big new thing. There is 62 GW of capacity installed so far- way ahead of every other country. And that’s just the start. The Chinese Wind Power Development Roadmap 2050 stipulates that China will have 200 GW installed wind capacity by 2020, 400 GW by 2030, and 1,000 GW by 2050.

However, it is trying to refocus what has so far been something of a uncontrolled boom, with, for example, insufficient attention having been paid to proving the necessary grid links. The result has been that, although China had over 42 GW of wind capacity installed by the start of 2011, only an estimated 31 GW was grid-linked. Many of these projects, most of which were in remote areas in the North West, poorly served by grid links, were often unable to dispatch their full potential output to users, most of whom are in the major urban areas on the coast. This issue is now being addressed- the 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011 – 15), includes significant investment in grid infrastructure.


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Green energy for China

What happens in China, in terms energy use, is widely seen as a key to whether serious global climate impacts can be avoided or limited. China is relying heavily on coal but is also turning increasingly to non-fossil energy sources. Its nuclear programme often gets the headlines but in 2008 China had as much wind capacity in place as it had nuclear capacity – 8.9 GW. Of course, the relatively low load factor for wind (under 20%) meant that nuclear produced more energy – 68 TWh as against 13 TWh for wind. Moreover, new nuclear plants are planned, including fast neutron reactors to be supplied by Russia. In all, plans announced in recent years call for nuclear stations to supply 4% of China’s power needs by 2020, up from about 2% now, although of course its energy use is expanding rapidly, so that is more than a doubling in capacity. But wind has now more than doubled – installed capacity reached 25 GW in 2009, and a 2020 wind target of 150 GW has been mentioned. China’s wind programme is also moving offshore: it recently installed its first 3 MW 90-metre diameter “Sinovel” offshore turbine, the first unit of a 100 MW Shanghai Donghai Bridge demonstration project.

Certainly renewable energy, along with clean coal (i.e. with carbon capture) seems to be seen as a key way ahead. Chen Mingde, vice-chair of the National Development and Reform Commission, in comments quoted by the China Daily newspaper last year, claimed that “nuclear power cannot save us because the world’s supply of uranium and other radioactive minerals needed to generate nuclear power are very limited”. He saw the expansion of China’s nuclear power capacity a “transitional replacement” of the country’s heavy reliance on coal and oil, with the future for China being in more efficient use of fossil fuels and expanded use of renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and hydro.

China’s current target is to get 15% of its energy (not just electricity) from renewables by 2020, although this is likely to be raised to 20%. In addition to wind, it’s pushing ahead with solar as well as hydro and biomass. China’s hydro capacity is expected to nearly double to 300 GW by 2020. And a recent REEEP study suggested that 30% of China’s rural energy demand could be met through bioenergy. China already has 65 GW of installed solar thermal power, and the potential for expansion is significant (e.g. for large scale, concentrating solar power units in desert areas, feeding power by HVDC links to the cities). A 1GW prototype plant is planned.

PV solar is also set to expand rapidly. China is already the largest producer of solar cells globally and, although until recently most of them were exported (around 1 GW in 2007), the emphasis has now changed, so that the current national target of having 3 GW of capacity in place by 2020 could be exceeded by perhaps a factor of three. Looking further ahead, work in also underway on tidal and wave energy projects.

Some major integrated projects are also emerging. For example, Reuters reports that China is currently developing a demonstration zone in Hangjin Banner, with a planned 11,950 MW renewable-energy park, which, when completed, should have 6,950 MW of wind generation, 3,900 MW of photovoltaics, 720 MW of concentrating solar power, 310 MW of biomass plants and 70 MW of hydro/storage.

Some innovative new grid links are also being established, designed to deal with the problem that much of the renewable electricity resource is remote from mostly coastal centres of population. The new extended grid system could also help with balancing the variable output from some renewables. Modern Power Systems reports that Siemens Energy and China Southern Power Grid has started commissioning part of a High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) transmission line, with a capacity of 5000 MW, covering a distance of more than 1400 km. It’s claimed to be the first HVDC link in the world operating at a transmission voltage of 800 kV. Commissioning of the second phase, and startup of the full system, is scheduled soon.

The Yunnan–Guangdong interconnector will transmit power generated by several hydro power plants in central China to the rapidly growing industrial region in the Pearl River delta in Guangdong Province with its megacities Guangzhou and Shenzhen. This system can, it us claimed, reduce the annual CO2 emissions that would otherwise have been produced by fossil-fuelled power plant by over 30 megatonnes.

In addition Modern Power Systems reports that there is the 800 kV Xiangjiaba–Shanghai link, on which ABB has been working with the State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC). It will be capable of transmitting 6400 MW of power from the Xiangjiaba hydropower plant, located in the southwest of China, to Shanghai – a distance of over 2000 km. It is claimed that transmission losses on the line will be less than 7%.

China is now the world’s largest carbon dioxide emitter and its energy demand is still rising rapidly, despite the global economic recession. However, in the run up to the COP 15 climate negotiations in Copenhagen last December, while not willing to commit to reductions in net emissions, China said it would cut its energy intensity (emissions/GNP) dramatically – by 40–45% by 2020. That’s not the same as reducing net emissions of course, but it would be a start. And if that is acted on, renewables would clearly play a major part.

China’s role at COP 15 has been much debated – essentially it seemed to want to protect its continued growth, and avoid imposed emission targets targets – much like the US. But, like the US, it also seems keen to be a leader in the move to green energy technology – perhaps becoming the “green workshop of the world” feeding the expanding markets for renewable energy systems around the world. In addition to exporting solar PV cells, it was even planning to build wind turbines for and in the US – although a US senator’s objections may have scotched that.

How rapidly China can and will green itself though is less clear. Certainly China has massive renewable resources: for example the wind resource is put at around 2 TW. And a new study by Michael McElroy and colleagues at Harvard and Tsinghua University in Beijing, published in the journal Science, has claimed that, in theory, wind power could meet all of China’s electricity demand by 2030.

That is very unlikely happen by then of course, but China is likely to become a major player in the green-energy revolution.

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Hydro – a big future?

Hydroelectric plants generate about 17% of total world electricity and are the largest existing renewable source of electricity. However, many environmental/development organisations, including WWF, FoE, and Oxfam, while backing micro hydro, have opposed large hydro projects because of the large social and environmental impacts.

The social dislocation resulting from flooding areas for new reservoirs is an obvious issue, but there are also more subtle eco issues. For example a few years back the World Commission on Dams claimed that in some hot climates, biomass carried down stream was collected by the dam and can rot, generating methane, so that the net greenhouse emissions can be more than from a fossil plant of the same energy capacity. This effect is site specific, but its does indicate that in some locations hydro may not be quite such an attractive renewable source as some suggest.

Nevertheless, there is still a strong push m for more hydro. For example, The African Union (AU),The Union of Producers, Transporters and Distributors of Electric Power in Africa (UPDEA), The World Energy Council (WEC), The International Commission On Large Dams (ICOLD), The International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage (ICID), and The International Hydropower Association (IHA) have all recently agreed that hydro is an important answer for some if Africa’s major problems.

They note that ‘During the past century, hydropower has made an important contribution to development, as shown in the experience of developed countries, where most hydropower potential has been harnessed. In some developing countries, hydropower has contributed to poverty reduction and economic growth through regional development and to expansion of industry. In this regard, we note that two-thirds of economically viable hydropower potential is yet to be tapped and 90% of this potential is still available in developing countries. In Africa, less than 7% of hydropower potential has been developed’.

They say ‘We firmly believe that there is a need to develop hydropower that is economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable. Regarding the environmental and social impact of hydropower, a number of lessons have been learnt from past experience. Governments, financing agencies and industry have developed policies, frameworks and guidelines for evaluation and mitigation of environmental and social impacts, and for addressing the concerns of vulnerable communities affected by hydropower development. Those guidelines must be adjusted to the relevant individual country context. We note that the key ingredients for successful resettlement include minimization of resettlement, commitment to the objectives of the resettlement by the developer, rigorous resettlement planning with full participation of affected communities, giving particular attention to vulnerable communities. The decision making process should incorporate the informed participation of the vulnerable communities and those negatively affected, who must in all circumstances derive sustainable benefits from the project. The costs of social and environmental mitigation measures and plans should be fully assessed and integrated in the total cost of the project’.

They point to giant potential projects like Grand Inga on the Congo river – 40 000 MW which could generate more energy than 280 TWh /year of exceptionally cheap electricity, at less than $ 0.01. For comparison diesel generators, widely used in Africa, costs from $ 0.15 to $ 0.30/kWh.

Certainly schemes like this have large potentials. The proposed £40bn Grand Inga hydro project could, its supporters say, double the amount of electricity available on the continent and jump start industrial development, bringing electricity to hundreds of million of people as well as exporting power to South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt, and even Europe and Israel. It would supply twice as much electricity as the world’s current largest dam, the Three Gorges in China.

However ,not everyone is so keen. The Guardian reported (21/4/08) that environmental groups and local people have warned that ‘it could bypass the most needy and end up as Africa’s most ruinous white elephant, consigning one of the poorest countries to mountainous debts’.

Grand Inga was proposed in the 1980s but never got beyond feasibility studies because of political turmoil in central Africa. Now there seem to be prospects for it to go ahead and be completed by 2022. The big change is that banks and private companies can earn high returns from the emerging global carbon offset market and, in some cases, from the Clean Development Mechanism credits.

Terri Hathaway, Africa campaigner with International Rivers, a watchdog group monitoring the Grand Inga project, said that ‘As it stands, the project’s electricity won’t reach even a fraction of the continent’s 500 million people not yet connected to the grid. Building a distribution network that would actually light up Africa would increase the project’s cost exponentially. It would be very different if rural energy received the kind of commitment and attention now being lavished on Inga.’

While it is clear that hydro has many attractions and that Africa needs power, there are also clearly counterviews about whether hydro, especially large hydro, is the best bet. Large projects are expensive and involve large companies who may not be that concerned about local impacts. Large centralised projects may in any case be the wrong answer for Africa – the very large distances involved make it unlikely that grids could ever cover the entire continent. As with the Grand Inga project much of the power seems likely to be exported on HVDC links to remote markets- not used locally. Local decentralised power may make more sense. That can be micro hydro, or wind, or biomass or solar, technologies which can be installed quickly with low local impacts and a potential for direct local involvement – and possibly for the creation of local manufacturing enterprises to build the equipment The debate over the way ahead continues.

For more see IRN:

Also see: Wind in Africa news_round_up/293874/kenya_to_build_africas_biggest_ windfarm.html

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