Climate change and falling prices are driving a revolution in solar, wind, and other renewables. Here's everything you need to know:
Can renewables replace fossil fuels?
Renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and hydroelectricity are already overtaking fossil fuels as the dominant means of power generation in some parts of the developed world. In 2019, 72 percent of power plant additions utilized renewables, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). For the first time, the European Union generated more electricity (38 percent) from renewables in 2020 than from fossil fuels (37 percent). The U.S. still relies heavily upon oil (37 percent), natural gas (32 percent), and coal (11 percent), but the country is on pace this year to generate more energy from renewables than from coal. Overall, renewables now account for roughly 11 percent of U.S. energy production — with about a quarter of that derived from wind power, two-fifths from biofuels and hydroelectricity, and a 10th from solar. Rapid growth in renewables is underway: In 2020, electricity producers installed 37 gigawatts of new solar and wind capacity, shattering the record of 17 GWs from 2016. "The grid is changing so much faster than anyone expected," said Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University.
What's driving the transformation?
Cost-effectiveness. Solar panel producers have steadily achieved greater efficiencies in manufacturing and in generating more power from each individual solar cell. This has led to vast reductions in price, so that solar and wind power now have surpassed coal — and even natural gas — as the cheapest forms of power generation. While the price of coal power largely remained the same from 2009 to 2019, the price of solar power fell by 89 percent and onshore wind power by 70 percent, according to Lazard. The U.K., Norway, and other countries now generate a large share of their electricity from offshore wind farms, and that potential also exists for the U.S., with seven states now studying how to set up arrays. "Right now, the economics of burning coal just don't make sense," said Joe Daniel, who monitors the power sector for the Union of Concerned Scientists. The boom in renewables has another economic benefit: It has created hundreds of thousands of jobs: About 446,000 Americans worked in the solar and wind industries as of 2019 — more than double the 211,000 in coal mining and other methods of fossil-fuel extraction.
How did prices fall?
The space and satellite industries, which rely heavily on solar power, drove the engineering. In 1956, the cost of a solar panel capable of generating the same amount of power as just one of today's panels would have approached $600,000. From 1976 to 2019, the price of a single watt of solar capacity fell 99.6 percent to just $0.38. And many engineers expect the trend to continue. The so-called learning rate of solar energy is a very high 20.2, meaning that every time global capacity doubles, the cost of solar modules declines by 20.2 percent. Wind has an even higher learning rate of 23.
Are emissions down?
While emissions are slowing in the Western world, global CO2 emissions have risen from nearly 32 billion tons in 2009 to almost 37 billion in 2019, according to the Global Carbon Project, as developing nations such as India and China modernize and produce more energy, mostly through fossil fuels. In 1990, 81 percent of the world's total energy consumption came from oil, gas, and coal. Last year, the figure was still 80 percent — and largely because of a global slowdown brought on by the pandemic. "We have the solution," said Dave Jones, senior electricity analyst at Ember, a climate-focused think tank. "It's working. It's just not happening fast enough."
Unlike fossil-fuel power plants, solar and wind power plants only generate electricity when the sun shines and the wind blows. The batteries needed to store power for the proverbial cloudy day are improving rapidly but are still not cheap enough — or able to store power for long enough periods — to rely heavily on. A breakthrough in battery technology will be needed for solar and wind to become mainstays of electric grids. Geothermal energy, however, does not require battery storage and has enormous potential. The U.S. leads the world in geothermal electricity production, or the process of mining the heat from Earth's crust to produce electricity. Although it accounts for only 0.4 percent of total U.S. utility-scale electricity production, the technology could someday provide almost limitless amounts of power. Geothermal power plants situated near hot spots in Earth's crust could tap the intense heat and steam by drilling down 1 or 2 miles. The geothermal company AltaRock Energy estimates that "just 0.1 percent of the heat content of Earth could supply humanity's total energy needs for 2 million years." Jamie Beard, who runs the Geothermal Entrepreneurship Organization at the University of Texas at Austin, called it an "engineering problem that, when solved, solves energy."
Auto companies going electric
Automakers are betting that electric vehicles (EVs) are the future. The switch is being powered by continued improvements in the lithium-ion battery packs that fuel these cars. In 2020, the average price of lithium-ion battery packs fell to $137 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) — down 89 percent from 2010, reports BloombergNEF, an energy research organization. Last year, prices for batteries used in e-buses in China actually broke $100/kWh for the first time, a historic threshold that will allow automakers to create and sell EVs at prices comparable to internal combustion vehicles. The so-called learning rate for lithium-ion battery packs is 18, which is quite high; it means that for every doubling of total volume, the price falls 18 percent. Currently, EVs constitute only about 3 percent of the global auto market, but falling battery-pack prices point to a much bigger future. President Biden has ordered that the federal government develop a plan to make its fleet of 645,000 vehicles go completely electric. General Motors recently announced that by 2035 it would make only EVs. "It is a game changer," said Harvard environmental law professor Jody Freeman of GM's plan.
This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine 21 February 2021.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) latest inventory of energy generators, developers and power plant owners plan for 39.7 gigawatts (GW) of new electricity generating capacity to start commercial operation in 2021. Solar will account for the largest share of new capacity at 39%, followed by wind at 31%. About 3% of the new capacity will come from the new nuclear reactor at the Vogtle power plant in Georgia.
Solar photovoltaics. Developers and plant owners expect the addition of utility-scale solar capacity to set a new record by adding 15.4 GW of capacity to the grid in 2021. This new capacity will surpass last year’s nearly 12 GW increase, based on reported additions through October (6.0 GW) and scheduled additions for the last two months of 2020 (5.7 GW). More than half of the new utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity is planned for four states: Texas (28%), Nevada (9%), California (9%), and North Carolina (7%). EIA’s (Short Term Energy Outlook) forecasts an additional 4.1 GW of small-scale solar PV capacity to enter service by the end of 2021.
Wind. Another 12.2 GW of wind capacity is scheduled to come online in 2021. Last year, 21GW of wind came online, based on reported additions through October (6.0 GW) and planned additions in November and December (14.9 GW). Texas and Oklahoma account for more than half of the 2021 wind capacity additions. The largest wind project coming online in 2021 will be the 999-megawatt (MW) Traverse wind farm in Oklahoma. The 12-MW Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind (CVOW) pilot project, located 27 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach, is also scheduled to start commercial operation in early 2021.
Natural gas. For 2021, planned natural gas capacity additions are reported at 6.6 GW. Combined-cycle generators account for 3.9 GW, and combustion-turbine generators account for 2.6 GW. More than 70% of these planned additions are in Texas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
Battery storage. EIA expects the capacity of utility-scale battery storage to more than quadruple; 4.3 GW of battery power capacity additions are slated to come online by the end of 2021. The rapid growth of renewables, such as wind and solar, is a major driver in the expansion of battery capacity because battery storage systems are increasingly paired with reneweables. The world's largest solar-powered battery (409 MW) is under construction at Manatee Solar Energy Center in Florida; the battery is scheduled to be operational by late 2021.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory, October 2020
reported in-service dates.
No-one could have foreseen the impact 2020 (or more precisely COVID) would have on our lives and I am conscious that it has been sometime since I last provided you with an update on the proposal to construct a wind farm on the northern reaches of the Kaimai Ranges at Tirohia.
As a brief recap, in June 2018 Kaimai Wind Farm submitted a resource consent application to the Hauraki District and Waikato Regional Councils to construct a 24 turbine wind farm on the northern reaches of the Kaimai Ranges at Tirohia. The application was publicly notified in November 2018 and around 220 submissions were received by the closing date of 31 January 2019.
Full details of the application (including all analyses) can be found on the Council and Kaimai Wind websites - http://www.hauraki-dc.govt.nz/services/resource-consents/kaimai-wind-farm-project.
In my community update of July 2019 I said that the submissions raised a range of issues which members of the public and stakeholders wanted to understand at a greater depth, and so much of the last 15 months have been spent understanding and responding to those concerns.
The COVID lockdown, of course, affected our ability to engage with people and this had a particular impact on our engagement with iwi.
In the latter half of 2019 we reached agreement with four Hauraki iwi - Ngāti Tara Tokanui, Ngāti Hako, Ngāti Tamaterā, Ngāti Maru and Ngāti Rahiri Tumutumu – to conduct a Cultural Values Assessment of the proposal.
A Cultural Values Assessment is a way to recognise and provide for the relationship of iwi and their culture and traditions with their ancestral lands, water, sites, wahi tapu and other taonga and to assess how any adverse effects could be avoided, remedied or mitigated.
Our initial agreement with iwi outlined a six month programme of work which would enable the preparation of the Cultural Values Assessments by July 2020. And then COVID intervened preventing large gatherings and hui.
Currently we are hopeful of the first drafts of the Cultural Values Asssessments being completed by the end of December 2020. This will then allow the Councils to complete their analysis and reports and we are hopeful a Hearing will be held in the first quarter of 2021. The actual date of the Hearing will be advised to to all submitters and the general public.
Throughout the last year we have also continued to engage with individuals and groups wanting to discuss the project including paragliders and fixed wing gliders, ecology, Matamata Piako District Council, reaching agreement in a number of cases which will lead to mitigations and monitoring programmes.
I will come back to you in the New Year with an update on progress but in the meantime, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact our Community Liaison, Clare Bayly, at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.
CEO, Kaimai Wind Farm Ltd
Blustery winter weather helped Great Britain’s windfarms set a record for clean power generation, which made up more than 40% of its electricity on Friday.
Wind turbines generated 17.3GW on Friday afternoon, according to figures from the electricity system operator, narrowly beating the previous record set in early January this year.
High wind speeds across the country helped wind power’s share of the electricity mix remain above 40% through Saturday. Coal and gas plants made up less than a fifth of electricity generated.
Melanie Onn, the deputy chief executive of Renewable UK, said: “It’s great to see our onshore and offshore wind farms have smashed another record, generating more power on a cold December day than ever before, just when we need it most.”
The record follows the “greenest” year ever for the electricity system thanks to a surge in renewable energy and sharp drop in energy demand caused by the shutdown of office blocks, restaurants and schools during coronavirus restrictions.
Solar power reached a record of 9.6GW in April, which helped spur the longest coal-free streak ever of 1629 consecutive hours, which ended in June.
Wind power generation reached a record share of almost 60% of electricity use in August as demand for power fell by more than a fifth compared with the year before.
The abundance of clean electricity caused the carbon intensity of the electricity grid in March fell to an all-time monthly low of 143g of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour, and annual figures are expected to confirm that 2020 was the greenest year.
“We expect to see many more records set in the years ahead, as the government has made wind energy one of the most important pillars of its energy strategy for reaching net zero emissions as fast and as cheaply as possible,” said Onn.
“This new record is an early Christmas present we can all celebrate.”
Source : The Guardian.
'Recovery packages must make clean-energy a cornerstone of the new global economy'
As Covid-19 restrictions ease, Europe is working on its recovery script, with renewables in the starring role.
As Covid-19 restrictions begin to ease in many countries, Europe is actively working on its recovery script, with renewables cast in the starring role. The recently announced European recovery fund is expected to invest massively in the green transition: this could include loans for commercial investments, as well as potential grants for new renewable technologies.
This emphasis on renewables sends two clear messages: one, in 2020, ‘green’ means economic development; and, two, we need new, flexible renewables technologies – including those classed as ‘ocean energy’ – alongside large volumes of wind and PV, to help match electricity supply with demand.
Many voices have joined the call for a climate-centred approach to economic recovery packages. Analysis from the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment at the University of Oxford published last week showed conclusively that clean-energy investments deliver higher returns, in both the short and long term, than conventional fiscal stimulus.
Today, there are more European jobs in electricity production from wind energy than from gas. This is partly because building devices such as turbines is more labour intensive than simply burning large quantities of fuel. It is also because the renewable industry is investing at home, rather than lining the pockets of Russian oligarchs.
As for newer renewable energy technologies, ocean energy can provide another 400,000 jobs across Europe by 2050 – not only for skilled maritime workers, but for companies throughout the supply chain.
So, the question that a few are asking – do we have enough money to invest in climate action in times of economic crisis? – is simply passé. Climate action equals economic recovery.
All recent major models of the future energy system, from the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) to analysts BNEF, show Europe running on between 80-100% renewable energy in 2050. Even the International Energy Agency, which has long used modelling that underestimated renewable markets, has come around – albeit still with conservative estimates. In other parts of the world, the future share of renewables is still anticipated to be well above 50-60%, as deployments are set to dramatically increase.
A two-track approach is needed to realise these scenarios, as proposed by the European Commission. Mature renewables like wind power and PV will generate the bulk of low-cost, emissions-free energy for consumers. And alongside those, now is the moment to widely deploy a second-generation of renewables, such as wave, tidal and OTEC (ocean thermal energy conversion) or SWAC (sea water air conditioning).
Ocean energy technologies embody the dual goals of a ‘green recovery’: their climate credentials are clear, with the added value of producing at different times from wind and solar, thereby smoothing out production patterns.
By 2050, ocean energy can provide 100GW of Europe’s power, equal to 10% of the current electricity demand.
Ocean energy is already building that future. Tidal energy developers are ramping up power output and scaling up pilot farms, with the flagship MeyGen project recently reaching 28 GWh of production – and spurring expansion of a 80MW array that would supply power to a commercial-scale data centre.
Global decarbonisation would cost $130trn by 2050 but repay capital spend: Irena
The American Wind Energy Association has released their fourth-quarter 2019 market report, and the numbers are going in the right direction. The wind industry is on the rise in the US, with installations for the year at 9,143MW.
There is now 105,583MW of wind energy operating in the US, with nearly 60,000 wind turbines spinning across 41 states and two US territories.
Here are the takeaways, for those of you who love stats:
IRENA, the International Renewable Energy Agency, has published a new report on wind energy, “Future of the Wind”.
Below are some highlights of the work:
The accelerated deployment of wind power, together with significant electrification, could provide a large part (6.3 Gt) of the annual reductions in CO2 emissions required by 2050.
Wind energy can cover more than a third of the world’s energy needs (35%), which adapts to the world’s main power generation. To achieve this goal, the capacity of wind turbines installed in the world must reach 6,000 gigawatts, more than 10 times the current level, by 2050. This would include 5,000 GW of wind power on land and 1,000 GW of offshore wind farm plants.
Asia is on the list to become the dominant wind energy market in the world, representing more than 50% of the country’s wind farms and 60% in 2050. Wind power capacity in the land of Asia could grow from 230 GW in 2018 to more than 2,600 GW in 2050.
The transformation resulting from this enormous growth in wind energy could bring socio-economic benefits. The global wind industry is driving the creation of new products and could employ more than six million people worldwide by 2050, compared to the current milestone.
Spain has 23,484 MW of wind power after growing 392 MW in 2018 v the CSIC confirms that the country is entering an era of wind speed increase, which increases interest in this technology.
Wind energy has become in the last five years one of the main technologies of the energy system in Spain, providing 19% of the electricity consumed, which is equivalent to 12 million homes, and is the second technology of the system. The estimate for 2020, once the wind turbines facilities from the last auctions are launched, is that wind farm will become the first energy source in Spain. Wind generation has represented between 18% and 21% of demand coverage in Spain in recent years, a country that continues to import, and pay for, electricity.
In Spain there are 23,484 MW of wind power installed. In 2018, the power increase was 392 MW, more than what was installed in the 2013-2017 period. Wind power adds value to the country’s economy, creating quality employment (more than 23,900 people), reducing CO2 emissions (avoiding the emission of 26 million tons / year) and stimulating local investment, as well as reducing Electricity market price at 6.8 / Mwh in 2018, according to data from the Spanish Wind Energy Association (AEE).
A study in which the Desertification Research Center (CIDE) has participated – joint center of the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), the University of Valencia and the Generalitat Valenciana-, addresses changes in wind speed over the continents on a planetary scale, with emphasis on the northern hemisphere. The work, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, demonstrates that the wind speed has been reinforced in recent years, with positive consequences in the production of wind energy, after decades of decline in its speed, a phenomenon known with the term stilling .
In this work, in which 15 scientists from different international institutions have collaborated, and which has started from wind series obtained in meteorological stations around the world since the late 1970s, he concludes that «the decrease in wind speed on surfaces continental has been interrupted since 2010, and a strengthening of winds on a planetary scale is detected from then on, ”says CSIC researcher César Azorín Molina, one of the authors of the study.
Wind intensification has been three times higher than the decrease observed from 1978 to 2010, and has had a very positive impact on the increase in wind power potential in the United States, Europe and China, among others. Wind is a substitute source for the use of fossil fuels to curb CO2 emissions and limit global warming well below the two-degree threshold established in the 2015 Paris Agreement.
According to the coordinator of the study, Zhenzhong Zeng, from Princeton University, “deepening the causes behind these changes in atmospheric circulation and winds represents a scientific challenge due to their socio-economic and environmental impacts.” “In addition, predicting these climatic cycles of strengthening and weakening winds in advance is key to optimizing wind energy production in the future,” he adds.
Wind power is the main renewable energy source in the national electricity system. It provides more than 50% of all renewable energy and, in a climate crisis scenario like the current one, it has a long way to go. The current Energy and Climate Plan of the Government is expected to double the installed capacity in 2030 compared to that installed in 2015, from 23,000 MW versus 50,000 MW.
Wind turbines are usually grouped in concentrations called wind farms in order to achieve a better use of energy, which reduces their environmental impact. It is an inexhaustible and indigenous source of energy that in 2018 supplied electricity to 19% of Spain, that is, electricity equivalent to 12 million homes.
The 23,484 MW of wind power in Spain are spread over 1,123 wind farms spread across 807 municipalities throughout the country. It is the engine of the rural communities in which it is installed.
The wind energy sector contributes more than 3,394 million euros to the national GDP, contributing to exports in more than 2,391 million euros. Currently, the group of promoters and producers is the subsector with the highest contribution to GDP in the Spanish wind sector with 1,461 million euros (2017 figure).
Wind power creates quality employment (more than 22,500 people), reduces CO2 emissions (prevents the emission of 25 million tons / year) and stimulates local investment. Spain is the fourth exporter of wind turbines and fifth for installed power in the world with 23,484 Mw, in addition to being the second technology in the energy mix, with the aforementioned 19% coverage of electricity demand.
The R&D effort made by the wind sector is much higher than the average of the Spanish economy and is also above the national and European targets for 2020. Since 2004, 1,065 patents related to generation technology have been published wind. It is an industry that continues to play a very positive role in the Spanish economy and society: it generates economic value and quality employment, exports goods and equipment, contributes to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, reduces energy dependence and develops a relevant activity in R&D.
Over 47 per cent of energy was generated by wind turbines in 2019.
Almost half of Denmark’s electricity consumption was harnessed from wind energy in 2019, setting a new record.
The country’s grid operator Energinet announced on Thursday that just over 47 per cent of energy was generated by wind turbines, up from 41 per cent in 2018.
Power generated by wind turbines at sea increased to 18 per cent last year from 14 per cent in 2018, while onshore wind accounted for 29 per cent.
Denmark is a world leader in renewable energy and is way ahead of its nearest rival Ireland, which generated 28 per cent of its energy from wind in 2018.
Wind energy is the second largest form of power generation capacity in Europe, producing 14 per cent of electricity in the European Union, according to data by wind energy advocacy group, Wind Europe.
The largest wind farm in Denmark and Scandinavia, Horns Rev 3, was opened in August and supplies power to 425,000 Danish homes.
The offshore wind farm is based in the North Sea and contributed to Denmark’s higher wind energy production.re about to witness a renewable energy revolution
Denmark plans to launch an even bigger wind farm called Kriegers Flak in the Danish Baltic Sea in 2021 and is also working on three further offshore wind projects, reported renewable energy news site Recha
The country’s left-wing coalition government raised their climate targets in July and aim to reduce emissions by 70 per cent by 2030.
More than three-quarters of Irish people are in favour of wind energy, according to a survey carried out by Interactions on behalf of the Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA).
The poll found that 79% back wind power, with 52% strongly in favour of the technology.
Only 4% of respondents oppose wind energy, with 2% strongly opposing the sector.
The main reasons for supporting wind energy were helping the environment, a readily available energy source, renewable energy, addressing climate change and cost efficiencies.
IWEA chief executive David Connolly said: “It’s no wonder that wind energy is so popular when it cuts our CO2 emissions, cuts our electricity prices and creates jobs and investment across the country.
“Initial estimates are that wind energy provided just under a third of the country’s electricity last year, which is the highest level on record, and we look forward to growing that as new wind farms – onshore and offshore – are developed in the coming decade.”
IWEA highlighted the contradiction between the high levels of support for wind energy and government proposals that it said would undermine the sector's future growth.
Connolly added: “At the very moment we need to be developing wind energy at record levels the government, through restrictive new planning guidelines, is undermining efforts to achieve its own targets for renewable electricity.
“The draft wind energy planning guidelines published before Christmas by Minister Eoghan Murphy and Minister Richard Bruton would make it more difficult and more expensive to develop renewable energy and to cut Ireland’s CO2 emissions.
“In particular, the proposed new noise levels, potentially the harshest in Europe, will cost every person in Ireland an extra €550 in order to hit our 2030 climate action targets.
“It is hard to understand how proposals like this could be brought forward during a ‘climate emergency’.
Today’s poll findings confirm that using wind energy to produce electricity is incredibly popular.
“More and more people appreciate the benefits of a cheap, indigenous source of carbon-free electricity and want to see Ireland leading in the fight against climate change.”
The survey also found that 55% of respondents would support a wind farm being developed in their area, with the same percentage saying climate change would greatly or somewhat influence how they vote in the next election.
The top three reasons for backing local wind farms were that it would be 'good for the environment’, that there was ‘no reason to be against’ and ‘social responsibility’.
Connolly said: “Under the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme to be rolled out later this year communities will see even more advantages from local wind farms including substantial increases in community benefit funding and the opportunity to invest in their local wind farm.
“Climate change will be the single greatest challenge for our society and the biggest issue for policymakers in the next few years.
“It is clear that candidates and parties putting forward policies designed to tackle climate change, including supporting renewable energy like wind power, will be rewarded for it on election day.”