Welcome to the weekly roundup from the Oxford Martin Programme on Integrating Renewable Energy.
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Clean energy around the globe

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has released its latest Electric Power Monthly (with data through March 31). The issue reveals that renewable energy’s share of total U.S. electrical generation has nearly doubled in the past seven years, accounting for 19.35% of net U.S. electrical generation during the first quarter of 2017. Conventional hydropower led the way with 8.67% followed by wind at 7.10%, biomass at 1.64%, and solar at 1.47%.
Comparing these growth rates to those predicted by the EIA just five years ago in its 2012 Annual Energy Outlook, renewables have now reached a level of output that the EIA did not anticipate happening for another four decades.
The growth of renewables has been rapid in the UK, as well, and the country’s solar output hit record levels last Friday. Solar produced 8.7GW at midday and represented 24.3% of the electricity being used at the time, National Grid has revealed. The previous record, set earlier in May, was 8.48GW of electricity generated by solar. This latest milestone was the first time solar has generated more electricity than nuclear, with only natural gas supplying more.  
Denmark’s largest power producer, DONG Energy, has agreed to sell its complete upstream oil and gas interests to global petrochemical manufacturer INEOS for $1.05 billion. DONG Energy, which leads the offshore wind industry having constructed a quarter of global operational capacity, has now completed its transformation into a pure renewables company. This development follows closely on the heels of DONG Energy’s installation of the largest wind turbines in the world in the Irish Sea.
The largest solar project in Iran has now been completed after Iranian investment conglomerate Ghadir and a partner purchased the 10MW solar PV plant in Isfahan province. The project, which took seven months to construct and cost $18.5 million, includes 39,000 solar panels with trackers and is the first of two planned 10MW PV plants to be completed in Iran.
More than 45,000 people in the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu will soon have access to clean energy for home and commercial use. In an announcement this week, the World Bank said its board of directors had approved $4 million for the Vanuatu Rural Electrification Project II (VREP II), which will partially subsidise solar home and microgrid systems for 8,400 households. The announcement marks an important step toward the government’s goal of achieving 100% renewable energy access by 2030.
The rise of renewables in Africa was a key area of discussion at the recent TXF Africa Trade Finance Conference in Nairobi, Kenya. The continent’s renewable energy resources are abundant with well over 10TW of solar potential, 350GW of hydroelectric potential, 110GW of wind potential, and 15GW of geothermal potential. The African Development Bank’s New Deal on Energy for Africa aims to achieve universal access to electricity by 2025. This target will require 160GW of new, on-grid generation and some 75 million off-grid connections. The panel noted that renewables have a major advantage for electrification in Africa given their flexibility and the speed at which they can be developed. But to figure significantly in Africa’s future electricity portfolio, deployment of renewables will need to be accompanied by energy storage and smart microgrid technologies to meet baseload requirements.

Energy storage

In a world first for hybrid renewables, a grid-connected wind farm paired with lithium-ion battery storage and energy management software has been switched on in Spain. The project, developed by Spanish wind energy company Acciona, will use its own “simulation” software to control the battery storage system, which includes a fast-response battery that can maintain 1MW of power for 20 minutes and a slow-response battery that can maintain 0.7MW for one hour. The Acciona-developed software recently won the top R&D prize from the Spanish Wind Energy Association. The trial project will test the plant’s ability to provide ancillary services to the grid and aims to demonstrate how variable generation resources can be integrated in both small- and utility-scale low-carbon power systems.
In another record-breaking achievement for hybrid renewable-energy storage systems, the UK will host Europe’s largest hybrid flywheel-battery storage project, the first ever to be installed in the country. The €4 million project will be piloted in Ireland at the developer’s storage facility before being shipped to the University of Sheffield’s research facility at Willenhall, where it will be integrated with an existing 2MW lithium titanate battery. Two additional flywheels will then be added, doubling the flywheel capacity to 1MW. Because the performance of flywheels does not degrade over time in the same way as batteries, they will be used to extend the life of the storage project and bring down costs.
The California Senate has passed a ground-breaking clean energy storage bill that would increase availability of local, customer-sited energy storage for schools, farms, businesses and homes. SB 700 would create a 10-year rebate programme designed to grow the California local storage market and make storage more affordable for consumers. The transformation of energy storage capacity in California is a critical step toward achieving the state’s ambitious emission reduction and renewable energy goals.
California is no stranger to the challenges inherent in transitioning to a low-carbon power system, but bulk storage solutions are available and can help integrate increasing amounts of renewable energy. The “Duck Curve,” a term first used by the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), refers to the net demand curve over the course of a day and shows the imbalance of peak demand and renewable energy production. Batteries are well suited for regulation services and peak demand reduction for individual customers, but they are less well suited to address the challenge of the Duck Curve. Bulk storage, especially pumped hydro technology, may be the ideal solution for this problem because it can provide long-duration, sustained discharges of energy during low cost periods.

Smart grids

In the Clean Energy Package the European Commission presented last year, it asked the European distribution system operators (DSOs) to set up an EU-wide organisation that would pay a key role in transforming the EU electricity market. EDSO for Smart Grids, an organisation representing most of the large European DSOs, has submitted to the European Commission a proposal to become the “vehicle” for the establishment of an “EU-DSO Entity”. EDSO’s proposal argues that it should lead in setting up the EU DSO Entity because its members are all unbundled DSOs and are network operators only, with no energy supply activities. EDSO claims that this is the biggest difference between its member organisations and those of other associations that are vying for leadership in setting up the Entity.
The grid of the future will necessarily depend on increasing consumer engagement, and utilities will need to go beyond paper and web alone to connect with customers via all available channels, including mobile. The Head of Product Marketing at Bidgely has written an article that gives guidance to utilities that are planning to expand their consumer-facing solutions. The article suggests key requirements that should be addressed with every vendor to ensure the utility can capture the highest value from their consumer engagement approaches in both the short and long term.
Utilities can also capture value on the operations side of their business by utilising new data science to optimise asset performance. Because utilities collect and house enormous datasets that defy traditional analytical methods, machine learning may be greatly beneficial for autonomously monitoring and maintaining next generation power grids. As the grid becomes increasingly complex with the addition of smart meters, rooftop solar installations, electric vehicles, and storage systems, machine learning will be key to asset management and optimising grid functions. One example of the application of machine learning to power system operation is a tool developed by Pacific Gas & Electric in the U.S. called ‘STAR’ (System Tool for Asset Risk), which creates a dynamic risk scoring model to better prioritise asset replacement and asset maintenance

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