By Dave Elliott
It’s hard to keep up with the spate of studies suggesting that it would be technically possible to get to near 100% of electricity, or even of all energy, met from renewables by around 2050 at reasonable costs. With the broad options and potentials now quite well mapped out by academic and NGO studies covering many countries and regions, and also the world as a whole, the latest batch of studies focuses on the issues that would be raised on the way to that.
By Dave Elliott
Several organizations have formulated proposals for transitioning to 100% renewable energy, nationally or globally. In one of the most recent, developing on their earlier 100% global scenario, US academics Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi and their team have spelt out how 139 countries can each generate all the energy they will need from wind, water and solar (WWS) technologies by 2050, in substantial detail.
By Dave Elliott
Imperial College London and the NERA consultancy have produced studies of energy system integration costs and grid balancing options for the government’s advisory Committee on Climate Change. They focus on flexible generation and backup systems and conclude that ‘flexibility can significantly reduce the integration cost of intermittent renewables, to the point where their whole-system cost makes them a more attractive expansion option than CCS and/or nuclear’.
By Dave Elliott
A pan-European supergrid network could play a major role in helping Europe achieve an ambitious 45% share of renewable energy by 2030 at low extra cost, by balancing grids and limiting curtailment, according to a new Greenpeace report, PowE[R]2030, based on analysis by Energynautics, and using data from the International Energy Agency.
by Dave Elliott
In its business leader column on August 25th The Observer, said “If there is a body of opinion that states that wind farms and energy efficiency can fill the looming energy gap, then it is small and deeply unrepresentative”. www.theguardian.com/business/2013/aug/25/anger-fracking-cant-manage-without-gas
Germany is aiming to get at least 80% of its electricity from renewables by 2050, with overall energy demand cut by 50%, so the Observer seems to have it wildly wrong, certainly long term. And in fact, far from being marginal, around 50 countries are already getting more than 60% of their electricity from renewables in the form of hydro, some of them near 100%. http://k.lenz.name/LB/?p=6525. Longer term, dozens of studies claim that renewables could supply 100% of the worlds electricity in many countries by around 2050. http://www.mng.org.uk/gh/scenarios.htm. That is what Denmark and New Zealand are aiming for and many others see renewable as their main future energy option- with China leading the way.
‘Only a system with its base-load provided by nuclear power, supplemented by gas for peak demand, and retaining the existing wind investment, can possibly supply the UK long-term with the huge amounts of secure and reliable, predominantly electrical energy, it needs. To actually achieve a changeover to a largely non-fossil fuel economy without wreaking catastrophe on our industries, the targets set by the Climate Change Act 2008 will have to be pushed back no matter whatever combination of electricity generating technologies is built’. So says Prof. Stephen Bush from Manchester University, writing, with David MacDonald, in The Chemical Engineer, ICE’s magazine, last Oct.
This conclusion is reached in part by wheeling in the standard arguments about the low energy intensity and high variability of renewables and consequent large land areas needed. Is that so? It’s certainly a view widely promoted these days in the media. See my earlier ( New Year) Blog. http://environmentalresearchweb.org/blog/2011/12/new-year-wish–a-more-balanced.html
As I pointed out there, it’s been argued that PV can mostly be on roof-tops, so there is no extra land-use. With offshore wind, the land-use issue disappears, but variability is certainly an issue. The ICE article says ‘to store a week’s supply of electricity from the current 3,226 MW grid-connected wind capacity working at the annual average 25% load factor would require 4.5m m3 of hydrogen stored at 10 bar, or a lithium-ion battery stack 100 m2 by 34 m high. Extrapolated ten times to the 32 GW of wind capacity proposed in National Grid’s Gone Green scheme, it can be seen that this buffer storage concept to use wind power on this scale is another blind alley’
Whoever said we needed to be able to store a full weeks wind output? Some storage would be helpful, especially pumped hydro, but when there are local UK wind shortfalls, in addition to all the usual backup available from the rest of the grid system, what about importing power via a super-grid, shifting demand peaks by interactive load management, and using biomass-fired backup? It’s certainly going to be challenging to meet the targets, but that’s what targets are for- to set the pace.
However some say it will cost a lot. In Fraunhofer Institutes Working Paper S7/2007 on Sustainability and Innovation, Frank Sensfuß, Mario Ragwitz and Massimo Genoese look at the so-called ‘Merit-order’ effect, offering a detailed analysis of the effect of renewable electricity generation on spot market prices in Germany. It’s argued that when there is a lot of wind energy on the system, less generation is required from other sources. This cuts wholesale electricity prices, which reduces (non-wind) generator profits, but benefits consumers. It’s claimed that the overall savings is greater than the subsidy paid for wind. So the net cost of supporting wind can be negative. See also Awerbuch, S. and M. Berger, 2003 ‘Applying Portfolio Theory to EU Electricity Planning and Policy Making’, OECD/IEA, which comes to similar conclusions.
That is not to say the initial capital cost will not be significant. The new report ‘Positive Energy’ from WWF, claims that renewable sources of energy could meet up to 90% of the UK’s electricity demand by 2030, but it notes that this may not be achievable in that time frame. Based on a series of scenarios produced by consultants GL Garrad Hassan, it concludes that the amount of renewable capacity the UK can build is determined by economic constraints – not available resources. Garrard Hassan assume that it’s economic to supply around 60% of demand from renewables. WWF say that going beyond 60% depends on whether there’s a market in other countries for the excess electricity the UK would generate at times of high renewable production/low demand. Therefore, given uncertainty over future markets, in the core scenarios, they do not assume a European market for UK renewable power, and they only have a 3GW supergrid interconnection.
By contrast, in the ‘stretch’ scenarios, it is assumed that interconnection creates a European market for the UK’s excess power, and that it becomes economic to build much more renewable capacity in the UK- with up to a 35GW supergrid interconnection. In addition to providing an export option, that provides a balancing option for when weather conditions across the country mean little power from renewable generation (like wind power). Otherwise that has to be done mostly using gas plant. However they say that, even then, decarbonisation targets could still be reached, with an ambitious roll out of CCS on a significant proportion of the UK’s gas capacity, but with CCS plant run at 80% of their load factor (capacity) and non CCS plant run at considerably lower load factors. Clearly though they would prefer a high levels of interconnection.
WWF says that the government must give investors enough certainty to be willing to make large-scale investments necessary in the UK renewables supply chain. It’s therefore called on the government to commit to a target of getting at least 60% of UK electricity from renewables by 2030. .
‘Positive Energy: how renewable electricity can transform the UK by 2030’ http://assets.wwf.org.uk/downloads/positive_energy_final_designed.pdf
Broadening the view to cover the whole EU, Power Perspectives 2030, phase 2 of the groundbreaking Roadmap 2050 report from the European Climate Foundation, looks at the key steps to power sector decarbonisation across the EU for the next two decades. It says that while the existing energy policy framework to 2020 represents an adequate first step towards the EU 2050 emission reduction goals, the decarbonisation process will need to accelerate significantly in the decade 2020-2030.
In what it labels an “on track” scenario, based on the EU managing fully to implement its plans up to 2020, and assuming there are projects in 2030 in line with targeted emissions cuts, it anticipates a power mix in 2030 made up of 50% renewable energy. The rest would include 34% fossil fuels, plus a further 8% abated by CCS, 17% by nuclear. After that could come a push to get to near 100% from renewables by 2050, as outlined in their original report, with nuclear phased out.
The ECF led the project with McKinsey, E3G, KEMA, and Imperial College: www.roadmap2050.eu/pp2030
The European Commission has come up with something similar in its new 2050 Roadmap, which aims to get to virtually carbon free electricity, and an overall cut in emissions of 80-95%, by 2050. So the UK will not be alone if it perseveres in seeking radical change.
Europe could switch to low carbon sources of electricity, with up to 100% coming from renewables by 2050, without risking energy reliability or pushing up energy bills, according to a major new study, Roadmap 2050: a practical guide to a prosperous, low-carbon Europe, developed by the European Climate Foundation (ECF) with contributions from McKinsey, KEMA, Imperial College London and Oxford Economics. It says that a transition to a low- or zero-carbon power supply based on high levels of renewable energy would have no impact on reliability, and would have little overall impact on the cost of generating electricity.
Matt Phillips, a senior associate with the ECF, said: “When the Roadmap 2050 project began it was assumed that high-renewable energy scenarios would be too unstable to provide sufficient reliability, that high-renewable scenarios would be uneconomic and more costly, and that technology breakthroughs would be required to move Europe to a zero-carbon power sector. Roadmap 2050 has found all of these assertions to be untrue.” (As quoted by BusinessGreen.com).
ECF claimed that the widely held assumption that renewable energy is always more costly than fossil fuels is increasingly outdated, arguing that while the initial capital investment needed for low carbon energy infrastructure is more than for conventional high carbon system, the long term operating costs for low carbon energy will be lower. As a result of this, the reduction in use of increasingly expensive fuels and the gradual adoption of more efficient energy generation and using systems, it says that, although initially the GDP might be depressed very slightly, from 2020 it would rise and in the 2030 to 2050 period, the cost of energy per unit of GDP output could be about 20 to 30% lower.
The study focuses on electricity generation and use, including use in the transport and heating sectors, but says that ‘should other (non-electric) decarbonisation solutions emerge for some portion of either sector, these will only make the power challenge that much more manageable’.
It looks at scenarios supplying 40% more electricity than at present by 2050, with various mixes of renewables, from 40% up to 100%, all of which it claims are technically viable. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) and nuclear are used in all its scenarios up to the 80% renewables mix, but in that scenario about half of the current level of nuclear production is replaced, and in the 100% renewable scenario all of it goes, as does CCS.
However the report notes that a successful transition to zero carbon power will depend on EU member states prioritising energy efficiency measures (it assumes a cumulative energy saving of 2% p.a.) and supporting the rapid development of a European electricity “supergrid” to help distribute and balance the green energy and manage demand.
For the 40–80% renewable scenarios there would also be a need for 190 to 270 GW of backup generation capacity to maintain the reliability of the electricity system, but ECF notes that 120 GW of that already exists. For new backup it looks to more gas-fired plants, biomass/biogas fired plants, and hydrogen-fueled plants, potentially in combination with hydrogen production for fuel cells.
In the case of the 100% renewables scenario, 15% of the energy would be imported via a supergrid link from Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) plants in North Africa, and 5% is also obtained from enhanced geothermal around the EU. But given the wider footprint and supergrid links, backup requirements in this scenario were reduced to 215 GW. However, the extra cost was put at 5–10% more than the 60% renewables option.
A study by consultants PriceWaterhouseCoopers, in collaboration with researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and the European Climate Forum (ECF), has also claimed that Europe and North Africa could be powered exclusively by renewable electricity by 2050, if this is supported by a single European power market, linked with a similar market in North Africa.
Like ECF above, they also look to a cross-national power system, the proposed Super Smart Grid, to allow for load and demand management, and to integrate in green energy. They too see power coming from concentrating solar projects in the deserts of North Africa, and also in southern Europe, as well as from the hydro capability of Scandinavia and the European alps, onshore wind farms and offshore wind farms in the Baltic and North Sea, plus increasingly tidal and wave power and biomass generation across Europe.
Like the ECF study, they concludes that ‘the most recent economic models show that the short term cost of transforming the power system may not be as large as previously thought’, and that overall reliability would not be compromised. And they add that the development of North African resources ‘could pay big dividends in terms of regional development, sustainability and security.’
An even more radical conclusion was reached in the study by the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC), Rethinking 2050, which claims that the EU could not only meet up to 100% of its electricity demand from renewables by 2050, but also all of its heating/cooling and transport fuel needs.
Like the studies above, it assumes a major commitment to energy saving – overall energy demand it says can be reduced by 30% against the consumption assumption for 2050. And there would be a parallel rapid rise in renewables, with an average annual growth rate of renewable electricity capacity of 14% between 2007 and 2020, and then an even more rapid expansion of some options. Between 2020 and 2030, geothermal electricity is predicted to see an average annual growth rate of installed capacity of about 44%, followed by ocean energy with about 24% and CSP with about 19%. This is closely followed by 16% for PV, 6% for wind, 2% for hydropower and biomass with about 2%. By 2030, total installed renewable capacity amounts to 965.2 GW, dominated in absolute terms by PV, wind and hydropower. Between 2020 and 2030, total installed renewable capacity would increase by about 46% with an average annual growth rate of 8.5%. And after 2030, expansion continues leading to almost 2,000 GW of installed capacity by 2050.
Some even more radical scenarios have emerged, suggesting that we could move even more rapidly. For example, the German Energy Watch Group claims that (non hydro) renewables could supply 62% of global electricity, and 16% to global final heat demand, by 2030.
And last November, Prof. Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi from Stanford University in the US published a very ambitious scenario in Scientific American, which suggested that up to 100% of global energy could be obtained from renewables by 2030, with electricity also meeting heating and transport needs.
Although they claimed that 100% was technically feasible by 2030, recognising that there were sunk costs in existing systems, in their conclusion they pulled back a bit and said that, in practice, ‘with sensible policies’, nations could set a goal of generating 25% of their new energy supply from renewables ‘in 10 to 15 years and almost 100% of new supply in 20 to 30 years’. But they insisted that ‘with extremely aggressive policies, all existing fossil-fuel capacity could theoretically be retired and replaced in the same period’ although, ‘with more modest and likely policies full replacement may take 40 to 50 years’.
Delucchi is scheduled to report on this analysis at a conference on long range scenarios being organised jointly by the UK Energy Research Centre and Claverton Energy Group on 21 May at University College London. Other contributors will include Dr Mark Barrett from UCL, who has developed a detailed 100% UK Renewables scenario. Visit www.bartlett.ucl.ac.uk/markbarrett/Elec/Electricity.htm.
Conference details: www.claverton-energy.com/.
Shortly the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales is expected to publish its revised and updated Zero Carbon Britain scenario for up to 2030. That too is likely to be very radical. Perhaps somewhat less so, the Department of Energy and Climate Change meanwhile is still working on its own 2050 Road Map. Some brief interim conclusions have emerged, but the full thing is still being developed. I’ll be reporting on that in my next blog. Clearly we are not short of scenarios!