- Unsubsidized renewable energy is now most frequently the cheapest source of energy generation
- These new statistics demonstrate that using renewable energy is increasingly cost-effective compared to other sources, even when renewables must compete with the heavily-subsidized fossil fuel industry
- Also, 2017 study of 100% by 2030 in the US: The results clearly show that a 100% RE-based system is feasible and a real policy option at a modest cost
In recent years, the world has marched towards renewable energy. According to a new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), unsubsidized renewable energy is now most frequently the cheapest source of energy generation . The report finds that the cost of installation and maintenance of renewables, which was an important stumbling block to mass adoption, continues on a downward trajectory.
Adding to existing efforts made by governments and businesses, these lower costs are expected to propel the mass adoption of renewables even further. The report further touches on the importance of renewables in sustainable development and the need for governments to help achieve the climate goals of the Paris Agreement, coming just months before the United Nations’ Climate Action Summit being held in Abu Dhabi in September this year.
Germany has a goal to generate 65% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. ASSOCIATED PRESS
Among other findings the IRENA report highlights that:
- Onshore wind and solar PV power are now, frequently, less expensive than any fossil-fuel option, without financial assistance.
- New solar and wind installations will increasingly undercut even the operating-only costs of existing coal-fired plants.
- Low and falling technology costs make renewables the competitive backbone of energy decarbonization – a crucial climate goal.
- Cost forecasts for solar PV and onshore wind continue to be revised as new data emerges, with renewables consistently beating earlier expectations.
Further data from REN21’s Renewable Global Status Report show that over one fifth of global electrical power production is now generated from renewables.
Growing Environmental Concerns
The detrimental impact of climate change, including more intense heat waves, rising sea levels, and loss of sea ice, is rapidly becoming more apparent across the world. These alarming trends are projected to worsen at a temperature rise of 2°C above pre-industrial levels according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
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As the data depicts, ridding the world of fossil fuels and eliminating the impact of climate change relies on championing the adoption of renewables, a roadmap that requires a concerted effort from businesses, governments, and individuals. Sustainable energy continues to be a key priority for the United Nations, which includes energy in its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDG 7champions renewable energy adoption for the entire world, requiring governments to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all”.
The Reducing Cost Of Renewables
Utility-scale solar PV: Total installed costs in 2018 by component and country. IRENA
For many years, financing entities perceived renewables as risky because of high cost, leading to high lending rates for individuals and businesses that need funding for renewable power generation. As the IRENA report depicts, this trend has been on the decline since the early 2000s. The worldwide weighted average cost of electricity from solar power concentration fell by 26%, that of bioenergy reduced by 14%, solar photovoltaics, geothermal, onshore, as well as offshore wind, fell by 14%, and hydropower by 12%.
Connecting The Dots
These new statistics demonstrate that using renewable energy is increasingly cost-effective compared to other sources, even when renewables must compete with the heavily-subsidized fossil fuel industry . Promising signs in the IRENA report show that more an increasing number of corporates are entering the renewable energy industry as the number of Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) rise, meanwhile more than 10 million people are now employed in the global renewable energy industry.Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website.
James Ellsmoor Contributor
James Ellsmoor is a Forbes 30 Under 30 entrepreneur, dedicated to his passion for sustainable development and renewable energy. James is Co-Founder and Director of Sol… Read More
The growth of solar has been exponential. And when ACORE polled investors on the sectors they consider most attractive for investment, utility-scale solar came in first, followed by energy storage and then residential & commercial solar.
ACORE: Greater investment in wind, but more interest in solar + storage
The renewable energy trade association’s latest report shows increasing investor interest in renewable energy, and finds that investments are more than halfway to the annual level needed to reach its $1 trillion investment target.JUNE 17, 2019 CHRISTIAN ROSELUND in PV Mag FINANCE, POLICY, UNITED STATES
Image: Pictures of Money, Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pictures-of-money/with/17123251389/
To date, wind has been the big game in new renewable energy. The capacity of wind installed is nearing 100 GW, and wind generated 6.5% of all electricity in the United States last year – more than double the share from solar.
According to the latest report by the American Council on Renewable Energy, land-based wind also attracted more investment in the United States last year at $24.6 billion, compared to solar’s $21.8 billion, as part of $56.7 billion invested in renewable energy and enabling technologies in 2018.
But while wind is still bigger by these metrics, this may not last. While the growth of wind generation in the United States has followed a roughly linear progression over the last decade, the growth of solar has been exponential. And when ACORE polled investors on the sectors they consider most attractive for investment, utility-scale solar came in first, followed by energy storage and then residential & commercial solar.
Tax credits expiring
At the end of the day renewable energy markets remain strongly influenced by tax policies, particularly the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for solar and the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind. Both are scheduled to expire, and the expiration schedules influence both the markets for solar and wind and investor interest.
The PTC is in the third year of its drop-down, and for wind plants built in 2019, the PTC has been reduced by 60% from its original 2016 value. Despite this step-down, the wind market has been relatively steady for the last two years, hovering at from 6-7 GW, and 2019 is also expected to be a strong year for new capacity, with the U.S. Department of Energy expecting a massive 12.7 GW. However much of what is being built was planned and/or began construction years ago, and it is not clear how much new capacity is coming once this ends.
Solar is in a very different situation, with a major boom expected over the next five years as the ITC phases out. This is supported by a tsunami of utility-scale solar applications to interconnection queues in the Midwest and Texas, and voluntary deployment by Florida utilities led by Florida Power & Light.
For the ITC to be claimed developers need access to sufficient tax equity financing, and ACORE had previously expressed concern that lower corporate tax rates and the new Base Erosion Anti Abuse Tax (BEAT) implemented by the Republican tax reform in late 2017 would limit the availability of such financing. However, despite both factors ACORE says that there is “no evidence” that tax equity investment was constrained in 2018.
New capital, strong optimism
One of the details noted by ACORE in its report is the entrant of new sources of capital. ACORE lists corporations investing directly in renewable energy projects, infrastructure funds acquiring pipelines of U.S. renewable energy assets, and other institutional investors.
We at pv magazine have also been covering this trend, and could note any one of dozens of discrete examples, including Facebook moving beyond merely buying power from renewables to actively investing in solar, Danish pension funds buying up U.S. solar plants or asset manager HPS Investments buying Spruce Finance.
There will be much more detailed information provided on renewable energy investment this week at ACORE’s Renewable energy Finance Forum – Wall Street in New York City from June 18-19. pv magazine staff will be reporting from the conference, with our own insights on the dynamic and growing world of renewable energy finance.
Christian Roselund serves as US editor at pv magazine, and joined in 2014. Prior to this he covered global solar policy, markets and technology for Solar Server, and has written about renewable energy for CleanTechnica, German Energy Transition, Truthout, The Guardian (UK), and IEEE Spectrum.
This piece draws on research and a presentation in Vancouver by Mark Jacobson from Stanford University, who delivered the 2018 Gideon Rosenbluth Memorial Lecture. You can listen to the audio or watch a recording of the live video stream below, and you can download Mark’s slides here (PDF).
It is well established that we need targets and timelines for reducing the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are causing climate change. BC’s latest targets include a 40% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030, 60% by 2040 and 80% by 2050.
And yet, politics-as-usual has made climate targets a bit of a joke. It’s all too common in Canada for federal and provincial politicians to set far-off targets and then not take the actions needed to meet them.
We are still waiting on a plan for BC to meet its new targets, and CCPA and others have proposed a more rigorous process of annual carbon budgets to provide the framework and accountability necessary for such a task.
Yet before a plan could even be tabled, the provincial government moved the yardsticks by permitting a massive new LNG Canada facility on the north coast aimed at shipping BC gas to Asia (which we critiqued here).
Even as we struggle to meet our targets, a more important question is whether the targets are even aggressive enough. The most recent UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report suggests we need a level of ambition well beyond current global efforts if we are to meet the Paris Agreement’s aspirational target of keeping the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees.
While an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050 seemed sufficient a decade ago, climate scientists are now calling for something like “net zero” emissions by mid-century—meaning any emissions from fossil fuels would need to be balanced by efforts to suck carbon out of the atmosphere.
The Logic of 100% Renewables
The overarching question we should be asking ourselves is how fast we can get to 100% renewable energy and not just for electricity, but for home heating, transportation and industry.
This is the central theme of Mark Jacobson’s work: how to power the world with renewables—without tricks like nuclear power, carbon capture or biomass—just wind, water and solar (WWS) technologies. It’s a compelling message for an era that continues to seek more fossil fuels to dig out of the ground. Mark’s work tells us there is another way to meet our energy needs without undermining the future, one that is better for our health and produces more jobs than the fossil fuel industry.
In 2011, Mark co-founded The Solutions Project, a non-profit that combines science, business and culture to educate the public about 100% clean energy roadmaps. In 2013, his group developed individual WWS energy plans for the 50 states in the United States, and in 2017 for 139 countries in the world. They calculated down to the number of wind turbines and solar arrays that would be needed in each jurisdiction, along with estimates of the number of jobs that would be created.
A number of jurisdictions have started to accept the logic of achieving 100% renewable energy. More than 85 cities around the world have made this commitment, including the City of Vancouver with its Renewable City Action Plan, which aspires to be a 100% renewable city by 2050. Many other national and sub-national governments have made the lesser pledge of 100% renewable electricity (i.e., only the electric grid, not fuel combusted in buildings, cars and industry).
California, with a population greater than Canada’s, recently announced plans to “achieve carbon neutrality” economy-wide by 2045.
A new law (SB 100) targets 100% renewable electricity by the same date, but that only accounts for 16% of California’s emissions. The other 84% are targetted by an executive order from Governor Jerry Brown. While an executive order could be dismissed as symbolic, such orders have set the stage for organizing followed by climate legislation in California’s past (read energy analyst David Roberts’ recap here). And while the concept of carbon neutrality can include gimmicks like offsets, carbon capture and carbon storage, the intent is an important signal to the rest of the world.
Getting to 100% Renewables
Mark Jacobson’s work has been particularly influential on California’s (and other jurisdictions’) push on climate policy. He provides the roadmap for how it can be done and how much it would cost. He says first of all, electrify almost everything and make sure that electricity is from 100% renewables. Some niches will still require liquid fuels, but for the most part think electric cars and trucks on the road, electric pumps for heating and cooling buildings and electrification of industry.
To meet future global energy demand with 100% renewables entails a few steps.
Jacobson plots business-as-usual growth of energy demand, but then argues that actual demand will stay at current levels under the shift to 100% renewables. That’s because one important saving in a 100% renewable scenario is the energy overhead of extracting, processing and transporting fossil fuels is no longer needed. This represents about 13% of current global energy demand.
The switch also enables more efficient energy use.
Using electricity is more efficient than combusting fossil fuels. For example, only a small fraction (15-20%) of the energy from gasoline moves a vehicle, the rest is heat whereas electric engines are much more efficient (80% use) with only a small amount of heat wasted. In addition, we can push the boundaries of energy efficiency improvements in various applications by developing better lighting and appliances, etc.
From here it is just a matter of replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy: Jacobson models a scenario where all energy worldwide is produced as follows—wind (23% of total demand from on-shore and 14% off-shore) and solar power (30% utility scale, 15% residential photovoltaic (PV) and 12% other buildings PV), along with hydropower (4%) and geothermal (1%). Notably, Jacobson does not foresee a need for new major hydro dams.
Jacobson highlights the myriad ways human ingenuity can be brought to the current challenge, including common wind turbines and solar arrays. It is worth noting, however, that the costs of these options have decreased dramatically. Other solutions are not so obvious. Using electric heat pumps to move heat and cold around is applicable at a household scale but can also work for university campuses and whole housing developments (including the Okotoks development south of Calgary where summer heat is pumped into rocks below ground for use in the winter).
Bottom line: this revolution is technically possible. Politics are a bigger hurdle because of the hundreds of billions of dollars invested in the status quo.
What does this mean for BC?
BC is in an enviable starting position because of its large base of hydroelectric power. This facilitates integration with smaller-scale renewables as they require some form of baseload power because the sun is not always shining and wind is not always blowing. BC’s hydro dams act like batteries for storing power and allow it be dispatched at will, meaning the utility can easily match electricity supply and demand in real time.
What about BC Hydro’s Site C dam? Site C is experiencing both economic and technical issues: the final cost of the dam is uncertain due to cost over-runs; there is a substantial GHG footprint associated with construction and flooding land; and for the most part, the power is intended to electrify upstream fracking and gas processing operations and LNG plants. In contrast, Jacobson’s primary focus is on solar and wind options, both of which are showing declining costs over time.
Using Jacobson’s estimates, the future is quite economical with electricity costing in the 10-10.6 cents per kWh range across all sectors, world-wide. To put that in perspective, BC Hydro has some of the lowest residential rates in North America with a first tier at 8.6 cents per kWh and a second tier of 12.9 cents for consumption above a threshold amount (although those rates are likely to rise due to financial pressures at BC Hydro).
The benefits of using renewable energy include not just stopping global warming in its tracks. Air pollution associated with fossil fuel energy causes millions of premature deaths per year. In addition to the economic benefits of between $45-55 trillion per year world-wide, there would also be large domestic benefits in terms of energy security.
Can we truly get to 100% renewables?
The last portion of the effort, the final 5-10%, represents some hard-to-decarbonize areas, including air travel, shipping and some industrial processes. But we have several decades to develop responses, technically and politically. Even if we only get to 98% that would still be an almost miraculous achievement by today’s standards.
The key lesson from Mark Jacobson’s work is that we have good reason to be optimistic, technologically, economically and in public opinion. If we can collectively align our efforts and overcome politics-as-usual, the world could be powered by 100% renewables.
BC should step up and try to win this race. It would give an underlying purpose to our economy that is a very different direction from saying yes to polluting LNG megaprojects.
Article A Techno-Economic Study of an Entirely Renewable Energy-Based Power Supply for North America for 2030 Conditions Arman Aghahosseini * ID , Dmitrii Bogdanov and Christian Breyer ID Department of Electrical Engineering, School of Energy Systems, Lappeenranta University of Technology, Skinnarilankatu 34, Lappeenranta 53850, Finland; email@example.com (D.B.); firstname.lastname@example.org (C.B.) * Correspondence: email@example.com; Tel.: +358-41-3697925 Received: 29 June 2017; Accepted: 3 August 2017; Published: 9 August 2017
Abstract: In this study power generation and demand are matched through a least-cost mix of renewable energy (RE) resources and storage technologies for North America by 2030. The study is performed using an hourly resolved model based on a linear optimization algorithm. The geographical, technical and economic potentials of different forms of RE resources enable the option of building a super grid between different North American regions. North America (including the U.S., Canada and Mexico in this paper), is divided into 20 sub-regions based on their population, demand, area and electricity grid structure. Four scenarios have been evaluated: region-wide, country-wide, area-wide and an integrated scenario. The levelised cost of electricity is found to be quite attractive in such a system, with the range from 63 €/MWhel in a decentralized case and 42 €/MWhel in a more centralized and integrated scenario. Electrical grid interconnections significantly reduce the storage requirement and overall cost of the energy system. Among all RE resources, wind and solar PV are found to be the least-cost options and hence the main contributors to fossil fuel substitution. The results clearly show that a 100% RE-based system is feasible and a real policy option at a modest cost. However, such a tremendous transition will not be possible in a short time if policy-makers, energy investors and other relevant organizations do not support the proposed system. Keywords: energy scenario; energy system modelling; solar PV; wind power; energy storage; North America; Canada; United States; Mexico
South Australia’s stunning aim to be “net” 100 per cent renewables by 2030
The South Australia Liberal government says it expects the state will be “net” 100 per cent renewables by 2030, heralding the most dramatic shift towards wind and solar and storage technologies of any major grid in the world.
The prediction was made by South Australia energy and mining minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan during his speech at the Australian Energy Week in Melbourne late last week, in which he also flagged new developments to be announced soon to encourage grid-based storage and electric vehicles.
But it is the stated aim of reaching “net” 100 per cent renewables by 2030 – this in a state that has been criticised condemned in many circles for its shift to wind and solar – that is stunning in a number of ways.
Firstly, it signals that despite the change of government from Labor to Liberal last year, the pace of the clean energy transition will accelerate over the next decade and not decline.
Secondly, it confirms that the state government is actually looking to go far beyond the already remarkable predictions by the Australian Energy Market Operator that the state could deliver the equivalent of 100 per cent of its annual demand from wind and solar by 2025 or 2026 – effectively a “gross” 100 per cent renewables target.
South Australia now expects to produce vastly more wind and solar generation than it needs for its domestic needs, and it intends to export its surplus of cheap renewables to neighbouring grids, and then maybe overseas.
“Interconnection and storage will allow South Australia to become a renewable energy exporter,” van Holst Pellekaan said.
“By 2030, they will allow us to advance close to 100% net renewable energy generation.”
“A grid run by bulk renewables locally, sharing back and forth through interconnectors, with local capacity in pumped hydro, batteries, other storage, and gas and diesel fast start capacity to ensure reliability.
“Our aim won’t be 100% renewable generation, but actually net 100% renewables with a sensible level of gas generation and a greater amount of renewable energy export interstate,” van Holst Pellekaan said.
“Our goal is that in the 2030’s, South Australia is a national and global force in reducing emissions by generating more clean power than needed for our domestic use.”
Van Holst Pellekaan sees this as an opportunity to decarbonise transport, the gas network (even if only by 10% initially) and then heavy industries. “It means green metals, green minerals and green hydrogen,” he said.
In reality, it is expected that the amount of fossil fuel generation will be minimal.
South Australia has already dumped coal, with the closure of its ageing and polluting plants in Port Augusta.
Gas currently accounts for nearly half of local generation needs, but Van Holst Pellekaan noted in his speech that the installation of four synchronous condensers (spinning generators that don’t burn fuel) will reduce the need for constant directions to gas generators to back up wind farms for system strength.
AEMO and the major transmission operator ElectraNet expect a similar result. Some high value gas will remain, but the need for gas to be switched on to deal with high levels of wind output will be largely removed by the synchronous condensers, and will lower costs significantly.
AEMO’s ISP forecasts suggests a share of around five per cent cent fossil fuel generation in South Australia’s grid by 2040 as gas is displace by battery storage and pumped hydro. As this graph above shows, some 95 per cent will come from utility-scale solar and wind, along with pumped hydro and battery storage, with more coming from rooftop solar and distributed storage.
The South Australia Liberal Party vision is remarkable for how it contrasts with its federal counterparts, the prevailing conservative view that renewables will kill the economy and a federal energy minister who insists there is already “too much” wind and solar in the system.
It also signals that the deployment of large scale wind and solar, along with storage in the form of batteries, pumped hydro and others, will actually accelerate in the coming ten years compared to the past decade.
The contribution of wind and solar to the state’s generation is already just over 50 per cent, and it will, of course, need to double its current deployment of wind and solar to get to a 100 per cent equivalent milestone, and even more to be “net renewables” with a significant amount of exports.
South Australia has a growing number of new projects lining up to join the grid. Close to another 100MW of solar is due to come on line by the end of the year at the Bungala solar farm, while Sanjeev Gupta is building the 280MW Cultana solar farm near Whyalla.
Gupta is supporting this with a big battery at Port Augusta, and a major pumped hydro scheme in the old iron pits in the Middleback ranges near Whyalla to provide green energy and revive the Whyalla steelworks and other major energy users.
And a whole queue of new projects are queuing to join the grid, particularly when the proposed new transmission link to Wagga Wagga is completed.
These include extensions to the newly opened Tailem Bend solar farm, as well as battery storage, a solar and battery storage addition to the Snowtown wind complex, the Twin Creek wind farm and battery storage project, and Neoen’s Crystal Brook wind and storage facility.
There are also a group of mega projects gathering around the proposed junction of the new interconnector at Robertstown, including the Bungama and the Solar River projects.
Van Holst Pellekaan says the state is keen to advance the storage components for the grid.
He noted that more than 50 different proposals had been received for the $50 million grid storage fund, including pumped hydro, grid batteries, distributed batteries, car batteries, thermal storage, gas storage, compressed air, and others.
The winners of that tender will be revealed in coming months, and he hinted that the “value stream” of batteries will be expanded after the experience of the Tesla big battery at Hornsdale.
That battery has stunned energy market players and institutions with its speed, accuracy and versatility, and its ability to puncture the local gas cartel.
But while it has delivered a handsome profit in its first year of operation, a large part of its potential is not valued by the market.
Van Holst Pellekaan also highlighted the success of the state’s two household battery programs, the government-financed Home Battery Scheme, which offers a subsidy of up to $6,000 per household, and the Tesla virtual power plant (VPP).
Van Holst Pellekaan said more than 3,000 households had committed to the two schemes this financial year, and market offerings are developing rapidly. Three battery assembly and manufacturing facilities – from sonnen, Alpha-ESS and Eguana – had also been established and agreed in the state with about 1,000 new jobs.
He also noted that demand management trials are also in final selection, and these will demonstrate how distributed resources- particular rooftop solar, where South Australia leads the world in per capita penetration – can be integrated in a way that reduces cost, unlocks liquidity, and empowers consumers.
“The successful trials will unlock the value of a two-way distribution system, and also address the challenges that will bring,” he said.
And, he noted, the impact of rooftop solar meant that “we’re no longer in a world where there is a baseload of demand with a predictable daily peak”, and because of this grids need to be smarter and more flexible, and new loads such as batteries and electric cars used to soak up supply at the right times.
- “That’s why electric vehicles will be another major focus area for us this year,” he said.
Giles Parkinson is founder and editor of Renew Economy, and is also the founder of One Step Off The Grid and founder/editor of The Driven. Giles has been a journalist for 35 years and is a former business and deputy editor of the Australian Financial Review.