by Dave Elliott
The share of renewables in UK electricity supply reached a high of 23.5% in the third quarter of 2015 (Q3), up 5.9% from 2014 Q3, and it seems likely to continue to grow as more projects come on line. However there are some problems. UK investment in renewables reached around £14bn in 2015, but has focused increasingly on the more costly offshore wind option: £8bn was invested in it in 2015. With the government block on support for cheaper on-shore wind and its slowdown of PV solar support, that arguably imbalanced pattern will get worse. It means less capacity per £ invested. Bloomberg forecast that over the next 5 years the UK will in effect lose at least 1 GW of renewable capacity. As offshore wind moves down its cost-reduction curve, the situation may improve, if then the money saved can be spent on other projects, but Bloomberg says ‘without some form of change in policy support, we could see investment drop off a cliff after 2019′. www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/britains-renewable-energy-industry-is-about-to-fall-off-a-cliff-says-new-research-a6818186.html (more…)
By Dave Elliott
An interesting study from the German Development Institute (DIE) of Germany’s ambitious green energy policy asks whether its support for PV solar, and its subsequent rapid expansion, has been a good idea. PV has expanded to over 38GW to almost match wind, now at 40GW, but it has been a costly exercise, since PV was much more expensive than wind. As a result PV has received the lion’s share of support, up to 3 times more than wind, in part since it expanded under the Feed-in Tariff much faster than expected. And although its costs have dropped dramatically, it is still getting proportionately more of the subsidy. Too much some say.
By Dave Elliott
A shift away from Feed-in Tariffs (FiTs) to project auctions as a way to support renewable energy seems to be underway across the EU. The UK government certainly has cut FiT levels and recently warned that the FiT system might be wound up entirely – and soon. Although it seems to have won a last minute partial reprieve, with the level of cuts being reduced from 87% to 64%, after something of an outcry, it is just a matter of time before it goes. Is this a good idea?
By Dave Elliott
85% of UK electric power could be supplied from renewables and low carbon sources by 2030, says a report for Greenpeace, produced by Demand Energy Equality.org. Basically it looks at a Greenpeace high renewables 2030 supply scenario to see if it can meet demand over the year, given demand peaks and weather changes – it uses 11 years of hourly weather data. And crucially it tests whether it is possible to meet a large part of the heat demand from renewable electricity, given that ‘even modest levels of heat electriﬁcation result in large increases in peak electrical demand’. It concludes that it is, but that this will only be possible if domestic heat demand is reduced dramatically, by near 60%. That is seen as vital since ‘electriﬁcation increases the size of demand peaks on the electricity network; while decarbonisation (via renewables) in turn decreases the predictability of supply intended to meet those (now increased) peaks’. And so ‘if electricity is the medium by which a reliable and clean energy future is to be delivered, then heating demand reduction must be achieved alongside heating electriﬁcation’. www.demandenergyequality.org/2030-energy-scenario.html
On the supply side it sees wind energy growing from 13 GW to 77 GW, 55 GW offshore, 22 GW onshore, with PV solar rising from 5 GW to 28 GW. There is also 8 GW of tidal, some biogas use (but no biomass imports), including around 20 GW of local CHP (fired with gas and some biomass), but no new nuclear and no CCS, just around 20 GW of gas CCGT and some demand side management (DSM), to help with balancing. However, interestingly, domestic DSM only ‘plays a modest role in mitigating periods of deﬁcit. Fewer than 7 periods in which total demand shifting exceeds 3 GW occur on average each year’. That is partly because DSM is as yet in its infancy and the report focuses on established technology. But it does report some interesting DSM developments in the industrial sector – where Flexitricity is the ﬁrst and largest UK provider of national supply-demand balancing services. http://www.flexitricity.com
However it notes ‘the technical, administrative and logistical feasibility of interacting with corporate and large scale power users in this way has not been matched, thus far, in a domestic setting’. That would require National Grid to negotiate contracts to provide demand reduction at peak times with every UK household, and communicate directly with each when needed. Smart meters might allow that, but are still in their trial phase, with many issues to be resolved.
You could say the same of the electric heat pumps that the report seems to see as a key domestic heat supply option; only meeting 25% of the heat demand, not the 90% envisaged in the DECC 2050 High Renewables modeling, but still a lot more than now. Why not also look at green gas for heating (including biogas and Power to Gas conversion) and to the gas grid for supply? It’s already there, with much more capacity than the power grid! While the report does propose some CHP (oddly seen as inflexible) for heat and power, there’s no mention of solar heating and large community-scaled heat stores (as used now in Denmark), and overall it seems overly focused on electricity.
Rather than offering a clever way to balance surpluses from variable renewables, by being able to ramp down power production and ramp up heat production for storage, for use when heat demand was high, CHP is simply seen as producing too much heat in summer. So there is only around 20 GW of CHP included, compared to over 52 GW in the recent Transition Pathways’ Thousand Flowers scenario. And, on the issue of the inevitable occasional electricity surpluses from its large variable renewable capacity, rather than portraying this as a problem, why didn’t it look more to Power to Gas (P2G) to turn it into a solution – making green gas for grid balancing as well as for heating and transport use? It only talks of using P2G hydrogen for vehicles. And why not look to 2-way supergrid links for balancing? As it is, ‘exports only occur once any surpluses have been utilised to the greatest possible extent domestically’, with the level of interconnector exchanges seen as only around 12 TWh p.a. That seems odd, since there is a lot more excess available (apparently near 43 TWh on average) and there may be times when exports of surplus can earn a lot of money, and be more useful/valuable than P2G conversion or other types of storage, helping to balance the cost of importing more when needed at other times. DECC’s 2050 pathway had 30 TWh of imports/exports. It’s a little odd that supergrid links are left to one side, playing a relatively small role in this study, since an earlier Greenpeace report talked them up as a key EU balancing option: http://www.energynautics.com/news/#GP_EU
Trying to get to 80% renewables by 2030 is pretty demanding. The Pugwash high renewables pathway, on which I worked two years back, only reached around 80% by 2050, pushing it quite hard, with around 100 GW of wind and 35 GW each of PV and tidal: http://britishpugwash.org/pathways-to-2050-three-possible-uk-energy-strategies/ However, that excluded nuclear, long gone by 2050, had 70 TWh p.a of supergrid imports/exports, and only looked to 40% energy savings. By contrast, the new 2030 Greenpeace scenario still retains some left-over nuclear (Sizewell B) and goes for much higher levels of energy saving – and by 2030. That’s a bit of a stretch. It’s akin to the Centre for Alternative Technology’s pioneering Zero Carbon Britain 2030 scenario and adding to the list of challenging and visionary high renewables scenarios: http://zerocarbonbritain.org/ready-for-zero
What it adds in particular is an interesting and helpful test of the operational viability of an ambitious energy mix, although, sadly, it does not provide an economic analysis, arguing that costs are changing too fast to make that useful. While that may be true (and the report does present some examples of falling costs), the absence of full costing may weaken the impact of the analysis – just at the point when the falling cost of renewables ought to be giving them a better chance. Even so, it’s a welcome addition to the pile of studies making the case for renewables, with balancing, as a technically and operationally viable set of options.
* Economic and financial support issues are to the fore in a new global Greenpeace scenario, which I will review shortly. It looks to getting 100% of all energy from renewables by 2050, at no extra net cost, given the fuel cost savings: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/Global/international/publications/climate/2015/Energy-Revolution-2015-Full.pdf
By Dave Elliott
In their paper ‘A system of systems approach to energy sustainability assessment: are all renewables really green?’ Saeed Hadian (UCLA) and Kaveh Madani (ICL), take a comprehensive look at energy system carbon footprints, water footprints, land footprints and costs. They conclude that geothermal energy has the lowest impact, biomass elephant grass the most. As you might expect, coal and oil are also high, wind and solar thermal low, but so is nuclear, while PV solar comes out quite high – more than hydro, or gas: www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1470160X14005640 – cor0005
By Dave Elliott
Renewable energy technologies have required subsidies to help them get established in markets dominated by sometimes cheaper but also often well-supported conventional energy sources – fossil and nuclear also enjoy subsidies. Essentially the renewable subsidies seek to reflect their environmental benefits – something that conventional markets do not internalise. However there are various ways in which subsidies can be applied and some work better than others. (more…)
By Dave Elliott
A group of UK notables, including Sir David King, Lord John Browne, Lord Nicholas Stern and Lord Martin Ryle, has launched a proposal for a 10 year Global Apollo Programme of science-led research and development (R&D) to develop clean energy technology fast to combat climate change. One of the other proposers, former Cabinet Secretary Lord O’Donnell, told BBC News: ‘People never believed we could put a man on the Moon – but we did. People don’t believe we can solve climate change – but we have no choice.’ (more…)
By Dave Elliott
Germany is sticking to its ambitious plan to get at least 80% of its electricity from renewables by 2050. As part of that, it aims to support the construction and operation of 20 offshore wind farms, 7 GW in all, and that plan recently received a boost, with the European Commission agreeing that it did not conflict with EU state aid rules. The 17 wind farms in the North Sea and three in the Baltic will further EU energy and environmental objectives without unduly distorting competition in the Single Market, the EC said.
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.
By Dave Elliott
In January last year the European Commission (EC) suggested that the EU should cut carbon emissions by 40%. Although it’s conditional on other countries setting significant targets, it’s a bold target, leading the way forward. But sadly the EC faltered on setting ambitious specific targets for how to actually do it. It only raised the targeted share of renewables in primary energy to 27% by 2030, up from the existing 20% by 2020 target.