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

The economics of renewables and storage have recently achieved several milestones around the world, indicating an acceleration of the clean energy transition. While the International Energy Agency (IEA) has reported that world solar PV production has doubled from 90 TWh in 2012 to 183 TWh in 2015, DNV GL, a global quality assurance and risk management company, released an outlook that forecasts renewables will supply half the world’s energy demand in 2050, including 85% of global electricity supply. These reports are joined by encouraging news from the renewables industry around the world, with several records recently set for the cost of solar generation.
 
In Dubai, the largest single-site concentrated solar power (CSP) plant in the world now holds the record for the lowest cost of generation for solar energy available around the clock. The 700 MW CSP project with energy storage was awarded at a price of US$0.73 per kWh generated. The project aims to help Dubai increase the share of renewable energy in the city’s total generation portfolio to 7% by 2020, 25% by 2030, and 75% by 2050. This record may not hold for long, however, as numerous bids for CSP projects are being prepared in other regions, including the North African desert, where a 4.5 GW CSP project that will deliver power to Europe via a long-distance sea cable has an expected cost of US$0.10 per kWh. And in the UK, the first “subsidy-free” solar PV power plant with battery storage has been commissioned. The Clayhill Solar Farm combines 10 MW of solar generation capacity with 6 MW of battery storage and will provide clean electricity to 2,500 homes.

The opening of the first subsidy-free solar power plant in the UK follows an announcement from the National Grid that the carbon intensity of the grid this summer was pushed to its lowest level ever, as low-carbon sources accounted for nearly 52% of power between 21 June and 22 September. Emissions per kWh of power generated were more than halved from the level over the same period four years ago. The decrease in carbon intensity was driven by a combination of solar, wind, and nuclear with an absence of coal generation.
 


The North of England and Scotland are driving the UK’s global reputation in offshore renewable energy, according to the Offshore Renewable Energy Science and Innovation Audit (SIA) recently released by the UK government. The report highlights the area’s world class research into offshore renewable energy, its strong supply chain, and its collaborations between industry and academia. One finding of the audit was that the number of people directly employed in offshore wind in the UK could double between 2017 and 2032.
 
In Spain, the Ministry of Energy has given German PV developer Juwi final approval to build 450 MW of solar capacity in southern Spain. The project was originally launched in 2012, when Spain had already closed its feed-in tariff scheme for large-scale solar and developers said that this and other similarly large solar projects would be constructed without government incentives.
 
A wind farm that will feature the largest wind turbines ever deployed in Queensland, Australia, is underway, with the 16 ton, 57 metre turbine blades unloaded at the Port of Cairns this week. The project has an estimated annual generation of 500-600 GWh, which will power the equivalent of 75,000-90,000 homes, or a third of the total in Far North Queensland.
 
Researchers at the Sahin Laboratory of Columbia University in the US published a study last week in the journal Nature Communications theoretically proving that harnessing all the latent energy contained in the process of evaporation from the US’s bodies of water could generate 325 GW of electricity, or 70% of current US electricity production. The authors have developed and demonstrated the world’s first machines powered by water evaporation, which use plastic bands that expand and contract with small changes in humidity to generate mechanical energy.
 
In the aftermath of hurricane Maria, some local politicians and renewable energy investors see an opportunity to use federal funds to re-invent Puerto Rico’s destroyed electrical system as a storm-resistant network reliant on local wind, solar, and batteries. Such a rebuilding effort would reduce power bills that are the second most expensive in the US behind Hawaii while also building infrastructure that will not be as prone to failures during the region’s frequent hurricanes. Currently, renewables have only supplied about 2% of electricity in Puerto Rico, but the US territory has a goal of obtaining 20% of its electricity from renewables by 2035.

Energy storage and electric vehicles

For the first time ever, grid-tied residential battery storage deployment will overtake that of off-grid and grid-independent battery storage in the US, according to a new report from GTM Research. While off-grid and grid-independent systems have dominated the US market, accounting for 86% of the total residential battery storage systems installed during 2016, the report predicts a shift in the battery storage market in 2017, with grid-connected battery deployments set to make up 57% of annual deployments. The report also predicts that by 2022, grid-connected systems will account for 99% of new deployments.
 
UK power regulator Ofgem has outlined rule changes to clarify how energy storage is licensed and classified. Storage will be treated as a form of generation and accommodated in the existing generation license to remove market barriers for storage operators, such as double charging of environmental levies. Ofgem is now seeking views on its proposal.  
 
The Australian Green Party has called for the establishment of a national large-scale energy storage scheme supported by AUD$2.2 billion over a four-year period to build storage at grid level. The scheme calls for a national target of 20 GW of energy storage capacity, able to deliver 400-450 GWh of storage and potentially power more than 100,000 homes for eight hours.
 
China has announced a set of emission rules and delayed a credit-score programme tied to the production of electric vehicles, giving automakers more time to prepare for the phase-out of fossil fuel-powered vehicles in the world’s largest auto market. Under the policy, automakers must obtain a new-energy vehicle (NEV) score, which is linked to the production of various types of zero- and low-emissions vehicles, of at least 10% starting in 2019, rising to 12% in 2020. The rule applies to carmakers that manufacture or import more than 30,000 traditional vehicles annually.
 
GM is one of the automakers expanding its NEV portfolio in China, with both plug-in hybrid electric and battery electric vehicles in its product pipeline. This week, GM announced that it will introduce at least 20 new all-electric vehicles by 2023, including two new cars that will come to market in 2018. The company also announced it will pursue a hydrogen fuel-cell electric strategy to address the needs of non-retail customers.  
 
All-electric announcements from some of the world’s largest automakers and the increasing trend of countries setting national targets for all-electric vehicle deployment have likely contributed to BHP Billiton’s recent claim that 2017 will be the ‘tipping point’ for electric cars. The world’s largest mining company made the announcement at an event at Reuters in Singapore, signalling a belief that demand for commodities such as copper and nickel will grow rapidly in the next decade to meet electric vehicle manufacturing requirements.

Distributed generation and microgrids

Japanese cities are quietly moving from large-scale power generation toward microgrids, distributed generation, and smart energy systems. The effort is being led by Higashi-Matsushima, a coastal city of 40,000 that was hit by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The city’s independent transmission grid and solar PV generation can provide 25% of the city’s electrical needs while battery storage projects can store enough power to keep the city running for at least three days. Local, distributed generation has been a focal point in Japanese cities since the 2011 disaster; in 2013, public and private spending on renewables, storage, and efficiency totalled over US$210 billion, and investment is projected to grow dramatically by 2020.  
 
A shift toward microgrids and distributed generation has received much attention and discussion in the US over the past several months after the destruction caused by three massive hurricanes that left millions of US residents in Texas and Florida without power for weeks and devastated the entire power system of Puerto Rico. These events have highlighted the fact that conventional approaches to grid resiliency are not working and have put a spotlight on microgrids and distributed generation. The benefits of distributed generation are not limited to grid resilience and positive economic returns, however. In places like Texas and North Carolina, outcomes of distributed generation and microgrid deployment also include job creation and greater community awareness of renewables.
 
These trends toward smaller-scale energy systems relying on distributed generation resources require completely new business models for generation and distribution. Numerous companies continue to pilot new technologies and grid models that make the provision of energy services more efficient and adaptive. Many of these pilots incorporate blockchain-based systems and technologies, which might be able to provide an accounting system that could help integrate microgrids into larger electricity networks, especially in developing countries where electricity access is poor.

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