Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Renewable Prospects: a positive new year view

 The prospects for renewable energy look wonderful. While hydro remains the largest renewable source globally at around 800 GW, the new renewables are coming up fast behind. There is now over 238GW(e) of wind turbine capacity in place globally, while PV solar has reached 70GW(pk), and both are still expanding rapidly- wind could double in the next 5 years, PV treble.  For now however, taken together, wind and PV capacity is about the same as that of the global nuclear fleet, although the load factors are of course much lower. Even so, wind now supplies more kWh than nuclear in the USA and in Germany wind supplies about the same kWhs pa as gas, while overall renewables there now supply about the same kWh pa as hard coal or about the same as nuclear.
 In addition to the headline-grabbing wind and PV, in the background few realise that there’s 245GW(th) of  solar thermal in use around the world, more capacity that wind, delivering heat. There is also an ever expanding amount of biomass use- UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) suggests that up to 20% of global energy could be provided by modern biomass/biogas/AD  technology without damaging food production. http://www.ukerc.ac.uk/support/tiki-read_article.php?articleId=1606
 The new marine technologies are moving ahead well. Global spending on wave and tidal energy may reach US $1.2 billion  by 2015, according to the energy business analysts Douglas-Westwood in  their World Wave & Tidal Market Report 2011-2015. And according to the UK Carbon Trust, the total global market for both wave and tidal energies could be worth £40 billion per annum by 2050.
The UK is well placed to exploit most of these technologies and markets.
Technology Innovation Needs Assessments (‘TINAs’) for UK green energy technologies have recently been produced by the DECC backed Low Carbon Innovation Coordination Group (LCICG), on offshore wind and marine energy. The offshore wind TINA says ‘innovation is critical to enabling the deployment and cutting the cost of offshore wind power, with an estimated saving to the energy system of £18-89bn to 2050’. It adds, innovation can also help ‘create UK based business opportunities that could contribute an estimated £7-35bn to GDP to 2050’.
The Marine TINA says that ‘the UK has a large natural resource of marine energy that could make a meaningful contribution to the UK energy mix from around 2025. Cost of energy generated will need to reach around £100/MWh by 2025 for marine energy to be competitive with other technologies. This pathway is ambitious but possible with significant innovation. If successful, innovation in Marine energy could save the energy system approximately £3-8bn and help create a UK industry that could contribute an estimated £1-4bn to GDP up to 2050.’
LCICG also looked at advanced electricity networks and storage (EN&S) technologies, which it says ‘have the potential to address new stresses that are likely to be placed on the electricity system, and to do so more cost-effectively than would be possible through traditional methods of grid reinforcement and fossil-fuel-powered system balancing capacity. EN&S technologies could play an important role in the future energy system, supporting the uptake of renewable electricity generation, renewable heat, electric vehicles (EVs), and other low carbon technologies. Innovation in EN&S technologies could save the UK £4-19bn to 2050 and could help create UK-based business opportunities that could contribute an estimated £6-34bn to GDP to 2050.
TINAs on bioenergy, hydrogen, heating are due soon. www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/funding/funding_ops/innovation/tinas/tinas.aspx
When you put all these technologies together, it is relatively easy to create a scenario in which renewables can supply around 75% of UK electricity by 2030, as Friends of the Earth have just done: www.foe.co.uk/resource/briefing_notes/electriciy_mix_2030.pdf
Going further there is the EPSRC backed 2050 Transition Pathways study includes a grass roots community based scenario with ~120TWh of local  CHP! See www.lowcarbonpathways.org.uk/lowcarbon/conference/A_Short_Guide_to_UK_Transition_Pathways.pdf
And coming soon, a set of scenarios for Pugwash UK, using the DECC 2050 Pathways Calculator, including one in which renewables supply 100% of all UK energy by 2050
Systems with large contributions of variable renewables like this will need balancing, but it turns out that there are plenty of options.   When necessary, some demand can be managed to delay peaks and power can be imported via supergrid links when there are local shortfalls in supply and be balanced by exports of the occasional excess power we will have from the variable renewables.  In addition, for longer term balancing, we could convert some of the excess wind, wave, and tidal power that will sometimes be generated to hydrogen gas, to use as a fuel for when wind etc availability is low and demand high. So you don’t need fossil fuel plant for backup.  Or of course nuclear.
In parallel with these larger scale developments, there is also a role for local community based projects. 3.5GW worth of locally-owned renewable schemes could be installed by 2020 if the Government supports community energy, according to a coalition of organisations including the Co-operative, the National Trust, the Church of England and the Women's Institute.
A poll commissioned by The Co-operative found 68 % of the public would support local renewable energy projects that were owned by and benefited the community, compared to just 7% that would not. Paul Monaghan, head of social goals at the Co-operative, said: " Our towns, villages and districts are full of hundreds of groups all chomping at the bit to do their bit to generate and save energy locally and fight climate change."
Ed Mayo, secretary general of Co-operatives UK, said: "There is huge enthusiasm for co-operatively-owned energy. But it is very difficult for co-operatives to compete in the energy market as regulations and incentives are designed for the bigger players”.
They want national targets for community energy, promotion of local ownership to increase public acceptance of renewables, Government-backed advice and support, higher subsidies for community schemes, tax breaks for investors and access to finance through the new green investment bank. Let’s hope that can be fought for and obtained.

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