Fossil Fuels Just Lost the Race Against Renewables

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The race for renewable energy has passed a turning point. The world is now adding more capacity for renewable power each year than coal, natural gas, and oil combined. And there’s no going back.

The shift occurred in 2013, when the world added 143 gigawatts ∫ of renewable electricity capacity, compared with 141 gigawatts in new plants that burn fossil fuels, according to an analysis presented Tuesday at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance annual summit in New York. The shift will continue to accelerate, and by 2030 more than four times as much renewable capacity will be added.

“The electricity system is shifting to clean,” Michael Liebreich, founder of BNEF, said in his keynote address. “Despite the change in oil and gas prices there is going to be a substantial buildout of renewable energy that is likely to be an order of magnitude larger than the buildout of coal and gas.”

The Beginning of the End

Power generation capacity additions (GW)

The price of wind and solar power continues to plummet, and is now on par or cheaper than grid electricity in many areas of the world. Solar, the newest major source of energy in the mix, makes up less than 1 percent of the electricity market today but will be the world’s biggest single source by 2050, according to the International Energy Agency.

The question is no longer if the world will transition to cleaner energy, but how long it will take. In the chart below, BNEF forecasts the billions of dollars that need to be invested each year in order to avoid the most severe consequences of climate change, represented by a benchmark increase of more than 2 degrees Celsius.

The blue lines are what’s needed, in billions; the red lines show what’s actually being spent. Since the financial crisis, funding has fallen well short of the target, according to BNEF.

Investment Needed to Minimize Climate Change

Citation: Randall, T. (2015, April 14). Fossil Fuels Just Lost the Race Against Renewables. Retrieved April 14, 2015, from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-04-14/fossil-fuels-just-lost-the-race-against-renewables

Clean Energy Revolution Is Ahead of Schedule

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The most important piece of news on the energy front isn’t the plunge in oil prices, but the progress that is being made in battery technology. A new study in Nature Climate Change, by Bjorn Nykvist and Mans Nilsson of the Stockholm Environment Institute, shows that electric vehicle batteries have been getting cheaper much faster than expected. From 2007 to 2011, average battery costs for battery-powered electric vehicles fell by about 14 percent a year. For the leading electric vehicle makers, Tesla and Nissan, costs fell by 8 percent a year. This astounding decline puts battery costs right around the level that the International Energy Agency predicted they would reach in 2020. We are six years ahead of the curve. It’s a bit hard to read, but here is the graph from the paper:

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This puts the electric vehicle industry at a very interesting inflection point. Back in 2011, McKinsey & Co. made a chart showing which kind of vehicle would be the most economical at various prices for gasoline and batteries:

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Looking at this graph, we can see the incredible progress made just since 2011. Battery prices per kilowatt-hour have fallen from about $550 when the graph was made to about $450 now. For Tesla and Nissan, the gray rectangle (which represents current prices) is even farther to the left, to about the $300 range, where the economics really starts to change and battery-powered vehicles become feasible.

But in the past year, the price of gasoline has fallen as well, and is now in the $2.50 range even in expensive markets. A glut of oil, and a possible thaw in U.S.-Iran relations, have moved the gray rectangle down into the dark blue area where internal combustion engines reign supreme.

Still, if battery prices keep falling, the gray rectangle will keep moving to the left. The Swedish researchers believe that Tesla’s new factories will be able to achieve the 30 percent cost reduction the company promises, simply from economies of scale and incremental improvements in the manufacturing process. That, combined with a rebound in gas prices to the $3 range, would be enough to make battery-powered vehicles an economic alternative to internal combustion vehicles in most regions.

But this isn’t the only piece of good energy news. Investment in renewable energy is powering ahead.

The United Nations Environment Programme recently released a report showing that global investment in renewable energy, which had dipped a bit between 2011 and 2013, rebounded in 2014 to a near all-time high of $270 billion. But the report also notes that since renewable costs — especially solar costs — are falling so fast, the amount of renewable energy capacity added in 2014 was easily an all-time high. China, the U.S. and Japan are leading the way in renewable investment. Renewables went from 8.5 percent to 9.1 percent of global electricity generation just in 2014.

That’s still fairly slow in an absolute sense. Adding 0.6 percentage point a year to the renewable share would mean the point where renewables take half of the electricity market wouldn’t come until after 2080. But as solar costs fall, we can expect that shift to accelerate. In particular, forecasts are for solar to become the cheapest source of energy — at least when the sun is shining — in many parts of the world in the 2020s.

Each of these trends — cheaper batteries and cheaper solar electricity — is good on its own, and on the margin will help to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, with all the geopolitical drawbacks and climate harm they entail. But together, the two cost trends will add up to nothing less than a revolution in the way humankind interacts with the planet and powers civilization.

You see, the two trends reinforce each other. Cheaper batteries mean that cars can switch from gasoline to the electrical grid. But currently, much of the grid is powered by coal. With cheap solar replacing coal at a rapid clip, that will be less and less of an issue. As for solar, its main drawback is intermittency. But with battery costs dropping, innovative manufacturers such as Tesla will be able to make cheap batteries for home electricity use, allowing solar power to run your house 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

So instead of thinking of solar and batteries as two independent things, we should think of them as one single unified technology package. Solar-plus-batteries is set to begin a dramatic transformation of human civilization. The transformation has already begun, but will really pick up steam during the next decade. That is great news, because cheap energy powers our economy, and because clean energy will help stop climate change.

Of course, skeptics and opponents of the renewable revolution continue to downplay these remarkable developments. The takeoff of solar-plus-batteries has only begun to ramp up the exponential curve, and market shares are still small. But it has begun, and it doesn’t look like we’re going back.

Citation: Smith, N. (2015, April 8). Clean Energy Revolution Is Ahead of Schedule. Retrieved April 8, 2015, from http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-04-08/clean-energy-revolution-is-way-ahead-of-schedule

Prime Minister Modi Commits to Clean Environment by Doubling India’s Coal Tax

The world’s third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases will raise the duty on coal to 200 rupees ($3.2) a ton, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said in his budget speech for the year starting April 1. Photographer: Kuni Takahashi/Bloomberg

The world’s third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases will raise the duty on coal to 200 rupees ($3.2) a ton, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said in his budget speech for the year starting April 1. Photographer: Kuni Takahashi/Bloomberg

India will double the tax on coal production and promote electric vehicles and renewable-energy projects to balance out emissions from coal-fired power plants.

The world’s third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases will raise the duty on coal to 200 rupees ($3.2) a ton, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said in his budget speech for the year starting April 1. The money will be used to promote clean energy, he said, indicating India’s commitment to fight global warming.

“With regard to coal, there’s a need to find a balance between taxing pollution and the price of power,” Jaitley said. “I intend to start on that journey too.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which swept to power in May, has set itself unprecedented targets for clean energy and has increased taxes on use of fossil fuels such as coal and petroleum amid mounting international pressure to curb emissions.

The higher tax on coal will encourage investments in washeries and upgrading plants to increase fuel efficiencies, said Kameswara Rao, who oversees energy, utilities and mining at PwC India.

Cheap Coal

Coal fires about 60 percent of India’s electricity generation capacity and is among the cheapest sources of power in the country. The higher tax will lead to an increase of as much as 0.06 rupees in coal costs for every kilowatt hour of electricity, Rao said.

“As the Paris convention approaches, these steps will show the government is serious about climate change,” said Debasish Mishra, a senior director at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India Pvt. in Mumbai. “We have to take care of the environment, and at the same time use fossil fuel to make sure we have energy at a reasonable cost for our growth. It’s not an either or situation.”

Countries attending the 21st international conference on climate change in Paris at the end of this year will aim to reach an agreement on greenhouse-gas reduction. While the U.S. and China, the world’s two biggest polluting nations, announced an accord in November to control their emissions, India has avoided making any specific commitments, said Bharat Bhushan Agrawal, an analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance in New Delhi. India wants to prioritize economic development, which will entail investments in new coal-generation capacity along with renewable energy, he said.

India plans to add 175 gigawatts of renewable-generation capacity by 2022, including 100 gigawatts from solar. That will help more than double the share of renewables in the mix of fuel it consumes from the current 6 percent, Piyush Goyal, the minister for coal, power and renewable energy, said in November.

Goyal is working to meet Modi’s promise of providing electricity to all. About one-third of India’s 1.25 billion people don’t have access to electricity, which deprives them of basic health and education facilities. Frequent blackouts cripple its industrial output and add to the cost of production.

India is gradually ending subsidies on fuels and has levied taxes on gasoline and diesel to fund new roads.

Citation: Singh, R. (2015, February 28). Modi Commits to Clean Environment by Doubling India’s Coal Tax. Retrieved March 1, 2015, from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-02-28/modi-commits-to-clean-environment-by-doubling-india-s-coal-tax

 

8 Solar Trends to Follow in 2015

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Every quarter, GTM Research’s solar analysts compile the most important data and findings from the past three months.  The most important charts from the Q4 2014 Solar Executive Briefing covering pricing, installations, financing, policy and business models follow.

1. The new China solar tariff decision may drive panel prices below 65 cents per watt this year.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Commerce filed its preliminary review of the import tariffs on Chinese cells into the U.S. The review called for tariffs on Chinese cells to be reduced, and assuming the final decision doesn’t stray too far from the review, GTM Research expects U.S. module prices to fall to 64 cents per watt this year.

2. High-efficiency module technologies are gaining steam.

According to GTM Research’s Shyam Mehta, the shift is “driven by the increased value proposition of high efficiency relative to module costs, an end-market mix shift toward rooftop applications, and reduced all-in costs for high-efficiency products.”

3. The megawatt-scale solar operations and maintenance (O&M) market still looks like the Wild West.

Dozens of companies are fighting for market share in the operations and maintenance market, from inverter and module manufacturers to developers and EPCs (engineering, procurement and construction). Everyone wants a piece of the O&M (Operations & Maintenance) pie.

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4. Grid integration is becoming an increasing focus for inverter manufacturers.

Inverter manufacturers are beginning to design solutions to help alleviate some of the integration challenges facing utilities. The chart below highlights a few markets with high PV penetration relative to electricity generating capacity.

5. Net energy metering is becoming popular outside of the U.S.

Net energy metering has helped grow distributed generation PV markets in the United States, and other countries have started to take notice. GTM Research’s Adam James highlights a few NEM (Net Energy Metering) proposals across three continents that aren’t North America.

6. More than 4 gigawatts of utility-scale solar have been procured outside of RPS requirements in the past twelve months.

GTM Research’s Cory Honeyman attributes the success of projects outside RPS (Renewable Portfolio Standard) guidelines to utility-scale PV’s competitiveness with natural-gas alternatives.

7. Best-in-class residential solar will be installed for less than $3 per watt this year.

The largest cost difference between best-in-class installers and the rest of the market comes from labor and supply chain savings.

8. Loans are the hottest thing in U.S. residential solar.

As reported last year, the market share for residential solar leases peaked in 2014 as loans have emerged and shifted the market back toward direct ownership. Solar Analyst Nicole Litvak developed a taxonomy of companies offering residential solar loans in the U.S.

 

Citation: Munsel, M. (2015, January 22). The Most Important Trends in Solar 8 Charts. Retrieved January 25, 2015, from http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/The-Most-Important-Trends-in-Solar-in-8-Charts

Lower Austria’s New Year Resolution: 100 Percent of Electricity from Renewable Energy by 2015

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Lower Austria Minister for Energy Dr. Stephan Pernkopf stated that “We want to achieve this goal together.”

This year, the province of Lower Austria wants to become powered  by 100% renewables, that is, by water, wind, biomass and solar power.

“Power saving is important because every kilowatt hour saved must not be generated. The more people support the energy movement in Lower Austria, the faster we will reach our goal, ” said Lower Austria Minister for Energy Dr. Stephan Pernkopf.

Dr. Herbert Greisberger, Managing Director of Energy and Environment Agency Northeast, adds, “Even small resolutions have big impacts, even if it is simply avoiding standby power, using less television, or exchanging a light bulb for LEDs.”

Thousands of Lower Austrian citizens are already active, and not just in the electricity sector. Many have upgraded the energy efficiency of their homes, are using solar thermal energy for heating water, and have installed solar PV or biomass systems for space heating. Citizens can visit the Power Saving Family website to learn how to generate energy efficiently, to see samples of projects in their own region, and to see in real time the amount of power being generated in Lower Austria by various renewable sources at www.energiebewegung.at/.  Whoever resolves today to save power today wins twice tomorrow. Citizens who support the goal by saving energy have a chance to win various incentives, such as high efficiency LED lights. Details (in German) are at : www.energiebewegung.at/stromsparvorsatz2015/.

Citation: Maier, J. (2014, December 30). 100 Percent of Electricity from Renewable Energy. Retrieved from http://www.noe.gv.at/Presse/Pressedienst/Pressearchiv/115027_Energie-.html

Africa’s Largest Solar Farm is Fully Operational

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The Jasper solar farm, located near Kimberley in South Africa, is now the continent’s largest solar power project. Construction was completed in October, and it is now fully operational. With a rated capacity of 96 megawatts, Jasper will produce about 180,000 megawatt-hours of clean energy annually for South African residents, enough to power up to 80,000 homes.

What makes this even better is that Japser won’t stay the biggest solar project for long. In the same area, in South-Africa, near the 75-megawatt Lesedi project that came online last May, a 100-megawatt concentrated solar thermal power (CSP) project called Redstone is also under construction.

Look at that scale. The Jasper Project generated about 1 million man-hours of paid work during construction, peaking at over 800 on-site construction jobs.

South Africa has a goal of having 18 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030, so projects like this are definitely steps in the right direction. If there’s one thing that South Africa has lots of, it’s sunlight!

45% of the total project value was spent on “local content” to help increase the positive economic impact on the area.

The project was developed by a consortium consisting of Solar Reserve, the Kensani Group (an experienced empowerment investment player in South Africa), and Intikon Energy (a South African developer of renewable energy projects).

Financing came from local and international sources, including Google and the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), Intikon Energy, Kensani Capital Investments, the PEACE Humansrus Community Trust, and Solar Reserve with Rand Merchant Bank.

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Citation: Richard, M. (2014, December 17). Africa’s largest solar farm (325,480 PV modules) is now fully operational! Retrieved December 20, 2014, from http://www.solarreserve.com/what-we-do/pv-development/jasper/

5 Key Stats Reveal Latin America’s Breakthrough Year in Solar

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA Did you know that Latin America is the fastest-growing regional market in the history of the solar industry? Or that the region is home to the largest merchant solar plant in the entire world? Do you know which companies and financiers are leading that growth?

Latin America has been the bright spot of 2014, breaking several global PV records and setting a few regional ones of its own. This post draws on the most comprehensive research available from GTM Research’s Latin America PV Playbook to provide you with a data-packed guide to putting Latin America’s solar growth in context.

LATIN AMERICA IS THE FASTEST-GROWING MARKET FOR SOLAR PV IN HISTORY

The Latin American solar market is growing faster than any other regional market in history. Here are a few ways to put that in perspective.

eu_vs_latam_growth_2007-2014Latin America is growing more than twice as fast as the European market did in the 2007-2011 boom. In other words, the time that most folks in the solar industry associate with rapid downstream expansion pales in comparison to the growth we are seeing in Latin America today. Keep in mind that those European markets were subsidized, and Latin America is not.

There are a number of ways to put Latin America’s growth rates in context. The chart below shows rates since the market began in that region, the first three years of growth, and the last three years to the present day.

pv_growth_by_regionLooking across all regions, and taking their growth up to today, Latin America has grown at 1.8 times the regional average — and 1.5 times faster than the second-fastest-growing market. Adjusting for the start year to look at how the market grew in its first three years, Latin America rate of growth has been twice as fast as the regional average and 2.5 times faster than the second-ranked market. Latin America has also been the fastest-growing market over the last three years, despite the massive growth in the Asia-Pacific region led by China and Japan.

But what about volume? Of course, real volume matters too. While Latin America is still small in volumetric terms, compared to Europe, Asia-Pacific, and North America, it is notable that at 988 megawatts, it has installed more volume in its first three years than any other regional market has in the past. The second-best market in this regard was Asia Pacific, which installed 613 megawatts in its first three years.

regional_pv_volumeCHILE DOMINATES THE LATIN AMERICAN SOLAR LANDSCAPE

With a record-setting 2014, Chile has surpassed both Peru and Mexico as the regional leader in PV installations. The volume of installations in Chile is eclipsing the total cumulative market for the region in previous years. In 2012, only 51 megawatts of on-grid PV capacity was on-line. In the first quarter of this year, Chile installed 150 megawatts. This is consistent with a trend seen in the top three markets Chile, Mexico, and Brazil which are responsible for 50 percent of all cumulative market growth through 2014. But even among the three, Chile currently rules supreme, installing 40 percent of the region’s volume in 2014. In 2015, Chile is expected to be Latin America’s first market to install 1 gigawatt in a single year.

CHILE IS HOME TO THE LARGEST MERCHANT SOLAR PLANT IN THE WORLD

In fact, Chile is home to two of the largest merchant solar plants. The 50-megawatt Maria Elena project from Sun Edison was the first large-scale solar plant to rely on the merchant spot market for its revenue. It held the distinction of the largest merchant solar plant in the world until a few weeks ago when SunPower’s Salvador Project, clocking in at 70 megawatts, stole the title. The region is able to sustain merchant solar plants due to a combination of high spot prices in parts of the grid and having the highest insolation rates in the entire world. That these plants were able to be developed without subsidies and be cost-competitive against every other resource on the market is a huge testament to how far solar has come in the region and where it is going.

THE OVERSEAS PRIVATE INVESTMENT CORPORATION IS THE BIGGEST SOLAR INVESTOR IN CHILE

OPIC is the region’s largest debt investor, with more than $650 million invested in five solar projects, representing 432 megawatts in Chile. The organization is beating the nearest competitor three times over the International Finance Corporation with $190 million in four projects in Chile, representing 318 megawatts. The International Finance Corporation can also lay claim to financing the 40-megawatt Aura project in Mexico, adding more to its regional portfolio. The Inter-American Development Bank, currently ranking third, has been very active and could surpass both IFC and OPIC in 2015.

SUNEDISON IS THE REGION’S TOP DEVELOPER

Last, but certainly not least, is the company that is leading the way on the massive growth in the region. Sun Edison is the top-ranked developer in Latin America, based on a combination of megawatts installed and late-stage pipeline. With 155 megawatts operational and another 163 megawatts on the way, Sun Edison is well ahead of the competition for 2014. Several companies will challenge it for the top ranking in 2015, including First Solar with its 141-megawatt plant in Chile and Enel Green Power with 169 megawatts in its late-stage pipeline not to mention some very savvy competitive positioning by Enel in markets like Peru and Panama.

Citation: James, A. (2014). 5 Key Stats Reveal Latin America’s Breakthrough Year in Solar. Green Tech Media. Retrieved December 16, 2014, from http://www.greentechmedia.com/research/report/latin-america-pv-playbookk