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May 2013 Archives


BPs annual World Energy Outlook says that the fastest growing fuels will be renewables (including biofuels) with growth averaging 7.6% p.a. 2011-30, but they will still only account for 6% of the energy mix by 2030.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) see it somewhat differently. It looks to a doubling of the global share of renewable energy by 2030. It suggest that, if progress continues at the current pace, renewables will account for 21% of the global energy mix in 2030. See its Roadmap to 2030 http://irena.org/DocumentDownloads/Publications/IRENA%20REMAP%202030%20working%20paper.pdf

It has produced an open-access Global Atlas of renewable energy resources, covering wind and solar resource and local constraints world wide in a web accessible format http://www.irena.org/GlobalAtlas

IRENAs recent report on 'Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2012', claims that some renewables are competitive in some locations now and many more will soon be so. (Go www.irena.org under publications)

Moving things on, IRENA have released their first set of 10 briefs on various renewable energy technologies, covering bio-ethylene, bio-methanol, biomass co-firing, concentrating solar power (CSP), desalination using renewable energy, electricity storage, heat pumps, liquid biofuels, thermal storage and solar PV. Each brief looks at the technical background market status, potential and barriers. (Go to www.irena.org/ under publications)

In parallel a new International Energy Agency Renewable Energy Technology report explores current and potential bottlenecks in the global supply chains for wind and solar photovoltaic (PV), and recommends vital steps to avoid them. It argues that impact and the likelihood of occurrence of almost all of the bottlenecks identified can be reduced significantly, if not eliminated, by appropriate combinations of industry and policy measures. www.iea-retd.org/RE-SUPPLY

In addition, REN21 have produced a very timely review of renewables progress and prospects drawing on interviews with 170 energy experts around the world. It set the scene by reminding us that many past projections have be overtaken by reality: 'the International Energy Agency in 2000 projected 34 GW of wind power globally by 2010, while the actual level reached was 200 GW. The World Bank in 1996 projected 9 GW of wind power and 0.5 GW of solar PV in China by 2020, while the actual levels reached in 2011, nine years early, were 62 GW of wind power and 3 GW of solar PV'.

Looking forward, in the interviews, most industry experts believed that the world could reach at least 30-50% shares of renewables long term. And some advocated 100% or near-100% futures. European experts cited higher shares just for Europe, with many saying that Europe could attain 50-70% shares. www.ren21.net/gfr

Although the US and China are taking the lead overall, with renewables supplying around 15% of electricity in the US and 17% in China., the EU is also moving ahead quite well. The EU-27 renewables share of gross final energy consumption was 13.4% in 2011 against 12.5% in 2010 and employment in the sector rose to 1,186,000 in 2011, up 3% on 2010. www.eurobserv-er.org/pdf/press/year_2013/bilan/english.pdf

Wind has stayed in the lead. The EU wind energy sector installed 11.6GW of capacity in 2012, bringing the total wind power capacity to 105.6 GW, according to the 2012 annual statistics from the EWEA. For comparison wind is at over 62GW in China and around 60GW in the USA

In France, by the end of 2012, wind was supplying 10% of annual electricity, with 7GW in place so far. Italy has about the same. The UK also has about 7GW, increasingly offshore. And it is looking to have perhaps 16GW offshore by 2020. Belgium, is aiming for 2.2GW of offshore wind by 2020, and looking to 8GW eventually. Spain's 22GW of wind farms produced more electricity over three months last winter than any other power source, including over 6TWh of electricity during January, exceeding the output from both nuclear and coal-fired plants and supplying over 25% of Spain's total power generation. The leader however is Germany, which now has 30GW of wind capacity, and continues to make progress with, increasingly, offshore wind. For a summary: www.germany.info/Vertretung/usa/en/06ForeignPolicyState/02ForeignPolicy/05KeyPoints/ClimateEnergy__Key.html

PV solar is also doing well. The UK has 2GW, France 4GW, Spain 5 GW, Italy 15GW and Germany a massive 32GW, helping to push the global total past 100GW. And looking into the far future, Shells new 'Oceans' scenario says that by 2060 solar would be the largest single energy source globally. www.shell.com/global/future-energy/scenarios/new-lens-scenarios.html

For the moment though, wind leads the (non hydro) renewables. Overall, consultants Frost & Sullivan say that, within the EU, by 2020, wind is expected to generate 647 TWh, (up from 119TWh in 2010), hydro 392 TWh (up from 327TWh) others 408 TWh (up from 124TWh), while the output from EU nuclear power plants is expected to fall slightly, from 937 TWh to 910 TWh between 2010 and 2020. So nuclear's share of total EU generation will fall from 28.0% to 23.7%. and the use of coal for electricity generation will also fall, and quite dramatically, from 940TWh in 2010 to 517 TWh by 200. Looks to me that what they are saying is that renewables wiil see off coal and also nuclear, though perhaps not gas! http://www.frost.com

The EU approach seem to be popular. 70% of Europeans asked in a poll believed that investment in renewable energy should be prioritised over the next 30 years, compared to alternative energy sources including shale gas, nuclear and carbon capture and storage (CCS) plants. 28 % said energy efficiency measures should be prioritised, 18 % favoured nuclear and 12% backed CCS.

The survey of over 25,500 EU citizens carried out to inform the European Commission's comprehensive review of EU air policy, found that despite a campaign by industry to promote shale gas as a cost effective and lower carbon alternative to coal, just 9% of Europeans believe unconventional fossil fuels such as shale gas should be prioritised.

The results were fairly closely replicated across the EU but with some local variations .e.g. renewables were supported by over 80% in Portugal, Austria, Spain, German and Denmark, but in Bulgaria and Romania support was below 50% , while in Poland shale gas was backed by almost a third of respondents. www.ec.europa.eu/publicopinion/flash/fl360_en.pdf

What next? WWF have launched a report 'Putting the EU on Track for 100% Renewable Energy' which indicates where it thinks Europe needs to be by 2030 in order to reach a fully renewable energy system by 2050. It is comes as the European Commission is beginning to consider post-2020 climate and energy plans. WWF says that by 2030, the EU could reduce its energy use by 38% and generate 40% of the remainder from renewables. The post-2020 climate and energy policies needed to deliver this vision would it says help the EU to reduce its €573bn external fossil fuel bill and cut its greenhouse gas emissions in half. http://awsassets.panda.org/downloads/resreportfinal_1.pdf

Barack Obama tweets about ERL

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US President highlights climate change study

by Michael Bishop, IOP Publishing Press Officer

Barack Obama has taken to twitter to inform his 31 million followers about a recent study published in Environmental Research Letters.

Highlighting a news story published by Reuters, he said: "Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree: #climate change is real, man-made and dangerous. Read more: OFA.BO/gJsdFp"

Obama's twitter feed can be viewed here: @barackobama

The study, undertaken by an international group of researchers, found that of the 4000 peer-reviewed papers from the past 20 years who stated a position on global warming, 97% believe the causes were man-made.



A study by the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) Nuclear Energy and Renewables: System Effects in Low-carbon Electricity Systems, looks at the interactions of variable renewables and 'dispatchable' energy technologies, such as nuclear power, in terms of their effects on electricity systems. The report focuses on "grid-level system costs", the subset of system costs mediated by the electricity grid, which include the costs of extending and reinforcing transport and distribution grids as well as connecting new capacity, and the costs of increased short-term balancing and maintaining the long-term adequacy of supply.

While all technologies generate system costs, those of dispatchable generators are seen as at least an order of magnitude lower than those of variable renewables. The study says that ' the system costs of variable renewables at the level of the electricity grid increases the total costs of electricity supply by up to one-third, depending on country, technology and penetration levels'. While grid-level system costs for dispatchable technologies are claimed to be lower than $3/MWh, they can reach up to $ 40/MWh for onshore wind, up to $ 45/MWh for offshore wind and up to $ 80/MWh for solar.

Their UK data is as follows:

The back up cost is put at zero for nuclear, $4.05/MWh for wind at 10% market penetration, $6.92 at 30% penetration; $26.08 and $ 26.82 respectively for PV solar Balancing cost is put at $0.88 (@10%) and $ 0.53 (@30%) for nuclear; $7.63(@10%) and $14.15 (@30%) for both wind and solar

Grid connector costs are put at $2.23/MWh for nuclear, $3.96 for on land wind, $19.81 for offshore wind, $15.55 for PV.

Grid reinforcement and extension costs- zero for nuclear, $2.95/MWh ((@10%) and $5.20 (@30%) for on land wind, $2.57 (@10%) and $4.52 (@30%) for offshore wind, $8.62 (@10%) and $5.18 (@30%) for solar

Totals: Nuclear $3.10 /MWh (10%) $2.76 (30%) On land wind $18.60(10%) and $30.23 (30%) offshore wind $34.05 (10%) $45.39 (30%), PV solar 57.89 (10%) and 71.71 (30%)

So at 30% penetration, they say wind can cost at least ten times more, PV 20 times more than nuclear! Are they right? The nuclear costs look very low. In its 2010 study of the cost of maintaining adequate frequency response via the grid Balancing Services Incentive Scheme (BSUoS), National Grid estimated that 'the risk imposed by six additional 1800 MW [nuclear] power stations on the system could increase from £160m to £319m'. That works out at about $3.2 /MWh, assuming an 80% load factor. Not $0.53-0.88.

And some of the figures for renewables look very high. The extra cost for onshore wind backup and balancing services has been put by Milborrow at up to $4/MWh for contributions to supply of up to 20%, and up to £11.3/MWh for a 40% contribution. Not ~ $21 (at 30%)! In any case, the cost will depend on what measures are used to ensure balancing- output from gas plants is only one option e.g. interconnector links with the continent could lead to wider system benefits, exporting excess UK wind power. A big £bn p.a income gain. By contrast having nuclear on the grid imposes some costs. If it has to be run 24 7 then some output from renewables may have to be curtailed (i.e wasted) at low energy demand times. It is possible to vary the output from nuclear plants to some extent, but that too imposes operational losses and costs.

The NEA says that, currently, grid-level costs are absorbed by consumers through higher network charges and by the producers of dispatchable electricity in the form of reduced margins and lower load factors. It says 'Not accounting for system costs means adding implicit subsidies to already sizeable explicit subsidies for variable renewables. As long as this situation continues, dispatchable technologies will increasingly not be replaced as they reach the end of their operating lifetimes, thereby weakening security of supply.'

They add 'Maintaining high levels of security of electricity supply in decarbonising electricity systems with significant shares of variable renewables will require incentives to internalise system costs, as well as market designs that adequately remunerate all dispatchable power production, including low-carbon nuclear energy'

So it comes down to the simple message that renewables are a bad idea and if we persist in using them, then technologies like nuclear will need extra support and protection!

Of course you could argue that if you don't have nuclear then the problems are much less-it is not too much use for balancing after all, and there are plenty of good balancing options. The NEA however are unable to contemplate heresies like this. They simply say 'significant changes will be needed to generate the flexibility required for an economically viable coexistence of nuclear energy and renewables in increasingly decarbonised electricity systems'. Although actually they see co-existence as problematic 'In systems that currently use nuclear energy, the introduction of variable renewables is likely to lead to an increase in overall carbon emissions due to the use of higher carbon-emitting technologies as back-up.'

Really? Surely when wind is high, we wont be burning gas so, even if there are some emissions from gas plants run when wind is low, there will still be a large overall carbon saving. There is certainly a cost to providing backup, although it can clearly be exaggerated. Most of the backup plants needed for now and for a couple of decades ahead already exist, so it's just their occasional use of fuel that costs extra. Longer term we might need a few more, though that wont will be just for balancing- we may need them anyway to replace old plant. In a report to the Committee on Climate Change, in March 2011, consultants Poyry noted that, in a scenario with renewables supplying up to 94% of UK electricity by 2050, new peaking plant would not be needed until after 2030, and that by 2050 around 21GW would be needed. And, over time, we can switch to balancing with biogas and green gas generated from excess wind to avoid all fossil emissions.as was perused in the Pugwash report. www.britishpugwash.org/recent_pubs.htm

Developing radically new systems like, along with smart grids and supergrids, will certainly cost money, but will balance supply and demand, provide us with a way to switch to renewables, reduce the use of ever more costly fossil fuel and avoid the costs and risks of nuclear. Not something NEA would like! http://www.oecd-nea.org/press/2012/2012-08.html


I have just finished writing a new book entitled 'Renewables', which should be out later this year. It looks at the state of play around the world, drawing in part on this Blog. There is a lot of technological progress to report, and lot of inspiring plans. Some renewables are already competitive with conventional sources in some locations, and many more may well be soon. The down side is that, despite good progress, globally the climate policy picture is still grim. The use of coal is expanding, undermining emission reductions. In the absence of tight, globally agreed, emissions targets, market trading arrangements like the EU Emission Trading System are not very effective. Indeed the EU-ETS seems to be near collapse, with carbon credits trading at 2.6 euro/tonne.

Fortunately the feed in tariff approach seems to be spreading, and that is much more effective, as I report in my new book. Soon we should have 300GW of wind in use globally and we have just passed 100 GW of PV solar, with FiTs helping a lot. The retreat from nuclear in some countries is also helping, although the nuclear v renewables issue continues to rumble on, and I have covered it briefly in the new book. The simple point is that most renewables are getting cheaper, moving down their learning curves well, while nuclear is displaying a negative leaning curve,with costs rising. In parallel, the Energy Return on Energy invested (EROEI) ratio for nuclear is low (around 15:1) and is likely to fall as uranium ore grades decline (maybe to 5:1 or less) while the EROEI's for renewables are all higher and improving (pv solar up to 20:1, CSP 40:1, wind up to 80:1,hydro 200:1 or more).

Renewables do have their problems (e.g they are mostly diffuse and variable) and much of the new book looks at how they might be overcome. It covers grid integration issues, supergrid links, and so on. I hope I have managed to get the balance right, being realistic about what can be done, while still conveying a positive message.

I will be interested in reactions.

(A short blog this week, as I'm on holiday in Spain)


The aim of the German led Desertec Industrial Initiative is to support and link up solar and other renewable energy projects in the desert areas of North Africa and the Middle East via supergrids, with some power being brought back to the EU. Certainly many countries in the region are embracing solar, including Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, and Jordon. Egypt already has a large Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plant just outside of Cairo, and also a significant wind programme. Qatar is to invest up to $20bn in a 1.8GW solar plant, scheduled for 2014. Tunisia is developing a 2 GW CSP project. Morocco also has ambitious plans for CSP, and the Saudi's plan to have 41GW of PV/CSP solar capacity by 2032, via $109bn programme. Whether its CSP of large scale focused PV (CPV) it seems to be a booming area: Algeria, which already has a 130MW hybrid CSP plant, took out a full-page ad in the Financial Times last November, which proclaimed that Algeria was "creating the path beyond oil".

However, these projects may well just stay as local energy suppliers, at least for a while. According to a report last year in European Energy Review (29/11/12), the success of Germany's Energiewende green energy programme has led some of Desertec's original supporters, like Greenpeace Germany and the German Greens, to conclude that Germany doesn't need Desertec. Even Germany's environment minister Peter Altmaier said recently that 'Desertec has become much less important since Germany's renewables boom.' The European Energy Review report concluded 'Germans may see Desertec as a welcome helping hand, they do not view it as a crucial part of their Energiewende'.

Siemens and Bosch pulled out of the Desertec programme last year, but Desertec remains confident given that it still has wide industrial support (including from E.ON and ABB) and it is still working with and supporting projects in North Africa, with CSP being only one of the options- there is also a huge wind potential in the region. There are also new potential project links elsewhere, for example in Asia. One such envisages HVDC supergrid links to wind projects in Mongolia, while, separately, the Gobitec initiative proposes links to CSP projects in the Gobi desert. http://www.gobitec.org/ and www.desertec.org/press/press-releases/1210 24-01-wind-power-from-the-gobi-desert/

Even more ambitiously, why stop at just generation? Although HVDC can be very efficient at shifting power long distances, there may be local excess generated at times, so why not store it until demand at the other end of the link is high? This could avoid grid congestion problems, which some see as becoming an issue, although initially more in the EU than at the source end of the grid: www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378779612003197

However, with large projects, local storage might be very valuable. There is the option of creating vast new lakes in depressions in desert areas for seawater storage and pumped storage operation using power from Concentrated Solar Power plants. The huge below-sea-level Qattara Depression in Libyia might be a possible site, or the Danakil Depression in Eritrea /Ethiopia. That's pretty speculative, but if an when CSP or CPV gets going on a significant scale, it might prove worthwhile: http://elpipes.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/pumped-storage-at-danakil-depression-in.html

Perhaps a little less fanciful, there is a very large renewable energy potential in Northern Russia and Siberia, which might be exploited. Despite the huge wind potential, put at over 350GW, Russia has a very small renewable energy programme aiming to supply 4.5% of its electricity by 2020, with only around 11MW of wind capacity so far, and although it's now planning to expand that a bit, to 150MW, it is still clearly leaving most of it untouched. Instead it is focusing on exporting gas and developing nuclear power. But there have been suggestions that opportunities exist for exporting 'green' energy from Russia to the EU, which might help stimulate development of its huge renewables resource more rapidly.

A recent paper in Energy Policy argued that 'EU-Russian cooperation in the renewable energy field would present a win-win situation: (EU) Member States could achieve their targets on the basis of Russia's renewable energy potential, while Russia could begin to develop a national renewable energy industry without risking potential price increases for domestic consumers--a concern of great political sensitivity in Russia.'

Some of this might simply involve importing biomass from Russia, but there is also the option of electricity imports via new supergrid interconnections, although clearly there are huge political and economic issues involved. See 'RUSTEC: Greening Europe's energy supply by developing Russia's renewable energy potential', Anatole Boute, Patrick Willems, Energy Policy 51(2012) 618-629.

Long distance transfer using High Voltage Direct Current grids is quite efficient (with energy loses of around 2% /1000km compared to maybe 10%/1000km for conventional AC grids), butt there are plenty of problems with the supergrid idea, not least its high initial high capital cost. And for schemes like Desertec to work there will be need for careful local negotiation over way leaves and, for the local generation plants, over the distribution of costs and benefits: see http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/competitors-and-local-opposition-threatens-desertec-solar-plan-a-892332.html. But the Desertec scheme only envisages most of the CSP power being used locally -only 15 % being sent to the EU, so local use would dominate.

Despite the problems, enthusiasm remains high. In a joint declaration last year the Desertec Industrial Initiative and Medgrid, the French led transmission group, along with lobby groups like Friends of the Supergrid, the Renewables Grid Initiative and the Climate Parliament group, said there could be 'No transition without transmission', and backed grid upgrade links across the EU and to and in nearby regions. See, www.medgrid-psm.com/en/

Political and economic pressures may slow them but supergrid projects of various kinds seem bound to spread as more renewables are added to networks. There are already plans for linking up wind projects in and across the north sea; given it huge renewables expansion programme, Germany need to reconfigure and strengthen its national grid system; enthusiasts in Japan are looking to supergrids to help top up and balance their new renewables programme; and China is building large HVDC links to integrate in its massive hydro and wind projects. And there is the ambitious Atlantic Wind Connection offshore grid proposed for off the east coast of the USA, linking up 7GW of offshore wind projects: http://atlanticwindconnection.com/

It may be developed piecemeal, and a long way from some of the wilder dreams about global supergrids, but the elements of regional supergrid systems look like they will emerge.

Mathematics of Planet Earth Year - free content

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The IOP Publishing journals Nonlinearity and Inverse Problems, from the same stable as environmentalresearchweb and ERL, have made all content relevant to the Mathematics of Planet Earth Year free to read.

To read these recent papers, along with additional information from authors, for free, head to Nonlinearity or Inverse Problems.