We continue to hear the same old arguments over and over again–in comments in these pages, in blogs and newspaper op-eds, in press releases and out of the mouths of those utility execs trying to hold on to the 20th century model of electricity generation and distribution, and, most depressingly, in the U.S. Senate which passed by a resounding 87-4 vote legislation to encourage new nuclear power development. The arguments go like this: Germany’s Energiewende energy transition is failing; renewables are fine, but they can’t provide baseload power and thus can’t reliably power a modern industrial society; renewables are still too expensive without subsidies; we need an all-of-the-above energy strategy to combat climate change; new generation reactors will be safer, cheaper and also effectively deal with radioactive waste, and so on. The reality is that a nuclear-free, carbon-free electricity future need not be the future: it can be the present. A system powered 100% by renewables supported by a backbone of electricity storage, smart grid technology and management, energy efficiency, and 21st century technology is feasible now. If by some magic wand we could do away with the world’s entire electrical system and replace it overnight, that is what we would replace it with. It’s the only kind of system that would make sense. The simple fact is, as Rainier Baake, Germany’s minister in charge of the Energiewende, points out, is that solar and wind have won the technology race.
Green World 2nd Feb 2016 read more »
Once upon a time, people imagined that replacing fossil fuels with renewables like solar and wind would jeopardize the electric grid’s reliability. Then along came some major countries who showed that it didn’t, and that there really are no limits to renewable integration. The result was explained last year in a Bloomberg Business piece aptly headlined, “Germany Proves Life With Less Fossil Fuel Getting Easier”: “Germany experiences just 15 minutes a year of outages, compared with 68 minutes in France and more than four hours in Poland.” Germany is the most powerful economy on the planet to depend so much on renewable electricity — renewables currently deliver 28 percent of Germany’s total grid power (and up to 40 percent in some regions). The United States has a very long way to go to hit that level, by which time there will be an even wider range of cost-effective strategies to deal with much higher levels of renewables. It is turning out to be less challenging than expected to incorporate more and more renewables into the electric grid — and to handle periods of time when demand is high but the wind isn’t blowing and/or the sun isn’t shining. As the lead energy specialist at the World Bank, Morgan Bazilian, told Bloomberg after 20 years studying this issue, “Very high levels of variable renewable energy can be accommodated both technically and at low cost.” there are two primary ways the intermittency challenge posed by solar and wind power is being addressed today. First, half or more of the “intermittency problem” is really a “predictability problem.” If we could predict with high accuracy wind availability and solar availability 24 to 36 hours in advance at a regional level, then electricity operators have many strategies available to them. For instance, operators could plan to bring online a backup plant that otherwise needs several hours to warm up. An even cheaper way to fill the gap from clouds or a lull in winds is to use “demand response,” which involves paying commercial, industrial, and even residential customers to reduce electricity demand given a certain amount of advance warning. A second way to deal with the variability of wind and solar photovoltaics is to integrate electricity storage into the grid. That way, excess electricity when it is windy or sunny can be stored for when it isn’t. The biggest source of electricity storage on the grid today is “pumped storage” at hydroelectric plants.
Climate Progress 1st Feb 2016 read more »
Total global energy use is rising, and remains based on fossil fuels. Yet, the challenge of climate change requires a deep decarbonization of our energy system. Here I argue that the global energy policy discourse is moving rapidly towards one of renewable, energy-efficient and flexible electricity systems. This is primarily because of a rapid take-up within a few countries of variable renewable electricity sources over the past decade, resulting from falling renewable electricity prices, new and more economic means of flexible system operation, and changing social preferences. This in turn has led to widespread and supportive public policy announcements. I also argue that a ‘no-regrets’ energy policy is one that increases the energy system flexibility. Although the changing discourse is welcome, it is not to say that the challenge of climate change has been met. Policy statements must be backed up by more effective governance support and pressure to speed up change.
IGov 1st Feb 2016 read more »