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

The US Energy Information Administration released its annual International Energy Outlook last week, and the report predicts that renewable energy will account for 31% of worldwide electricity output by 2040, which would match electricity generation from coal-fired power. Both coal and renewables, however, are projected to lag somewhat behind natural gas, according to the report. Other highlights include the following: 

  • The carbon intensity of non-OECD energy use will fall from 65 metric tons per billion British thermal units (Btu) to less than 60 tons per billion Btu by 2040. OECD energy use will also fall from around 60 tons per billion Btu to less than 50 tons per billion Btu during the same time period.  
  • Global energy demand will rise 28% from the 2015 baseline by 2040, with China and India’s growth accounting for much of this increase.
  • While hydropower’s share of renewable electricity generation is projected to fall from 71% in 2015 to 53% in 2040, natural gas consumption is expected to rise 43% through 2040, with the electric power and industrial sectors accounting for 75% of gas-fired capacity additions during that time. 

Despite the rise in renewables projected in the US EIA’s newest report, the percentage of global electricity generation accounted for by solar in 2050 may have previously been underestimated, according to a new study from the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change. While earlier studies have shown that solar energy could account for between 5 and 17% by 2050, the new study, published in the journal Nature Energy, projects that solar energy will share between 30 and 50% of global generation by that time.

Energy from offshore wind in the UK will be cheaper than electricity from new nuclear power plants for the first time, after the cost of subsidies for new offshore wind farms has halved since the last 2015 auction for clean energy projects. Two firms said they were willing to build new offshore wind farms for a strike price of £57.50 per MWh for 2022-2023, compared to the cost of subsidies for the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant of £92.50 per MWh. 

A city in the US state of Alaska has nearly reached the 100% renewable electricity milestone. Kodiak, an Alaskan port city with a population of around 6,000, set a goal of getting 95% of its electricity from renewables in 2007 and has now surpassed that goal with 99% of its electricity coming primarily from wind and hydro power. The city also has an innovative cascading energy storage system that combines batteries and a flywheel linked to the city’s 340-foot shipping crane. Kodiak is one of many US cities aiming for 100% renewable electricity by 2035.

Electric vehicles

The transition to electric vehicles is happening faster in Norway than anywhere else in the world. More than a third of all new cars are either fully electric or plug-in hybrids, and the country’s 100,000 electric vehicles make Norway the global per capital leader for EV adoption. Generous government incentives for EV use have spurred the rapid transition in the country, with free charging, access to bus lanes, and substantial tax incentives. Norway’s leader per capita is the municipality of Finnov, where 281 cars out of a total 1,508 are fully electric, and one of the main reasons is that battery-powered cars are not required to pay the US$18 toll to take a tunnel leading to the town. 

A partnership between Indian utility vehicle company Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M) and Ford will aim to bring more electric vehicles to the Indian market as the government aims to move to an all-electric fleet by 2030. The new partnership is larger in scope than previous partnerships between the two companies and will also involve vehicle distribution and sourcing materials. India is currently the fifth largest auto market in the world and is expected to become the third biggest by 2020. 

There are currently about 44,000 EV charging stations in the US, according to government estimates. In pursuit of further EV adoption, however, the lack of charging stations is one of the main factors limiting the US EV market’s potential. A new initiative in California is showing how “peer-to-peer” (P2P) car charging could work. The charging station manufacturer eMotorWerks has teamed up with MotionWerk, a mobility startup backed by a Germany power utility, to trial a system where owners of home charging stations can offer their equipment to EV owners, who  can find the sites mapped and rated on an app. Surveys show that half of EV owners in the US have personal charging stations, potentially adding around 300,000 more stations to the existing charging network across the country, and residential stations are cheaper than those installed at public sites. The real potential for P2P charging will depend on how comfortable homeowners are sharing their stations, which is something the trial aims to better understand.

Grid resiliency and modernisation

The US Department of Homeland Security reported that as many as 15 million people in Florida, about 75% of the state’s population, lost power during Hurricane Irma. State officials said that power infrastructure will have to be rebuilt rather than just repaired given the severity of the damage and that it might take several weeks before power is restored across Florida Power & Light’s full service territory. 

Deadly flooding in India and South Asia have also had significant consequences for power system operations in a number of countries recently. In August, Bihar, one of the poorest states in India, faced its worst flooding in decades with 13 million people affected. During the floods, two renewable energy mini-grids, Tara Urja and Desi Power, provided back-up power and relief operations to affected villages. Though renewable energy is still in its nascent stage in India, the government has set a target of 10,000 mini-grids by 2021 to address grid resiliency during natural disasters and to provide electricity access to a larger percentage of the 300 million people in the country who live without it. 

The US Department of Energy announced last week that it will conduct a study of the costs and benefits of net metering to utilities, ratepayers, and the electrical grid as part of the agency’s Grid Modernization Initiative. The report will follow an effort started in 2015 to ensure grid resiliency and reliability as well as affordability, flexibility, and sustainability. The initiative runs through 2025 and is seeking more than US$7 billion in annual economic benefit. Roughly 40 US states and the District of Columbia have net metering policies, though in some states high-profile clashes have questioned the future of net metering in the country.

Newcastle University’s Urban Observatory is starting to provide insight into how different systems interact across a city to enhance our understanding of how climate change will impact urban infrastructure. The project uses hundreds of sensors deployed across Newcastle and Gateshead to compile data on everything from energy use, rainfall, and flooding to air pollution, traffic, and even tweets. The project has already collected over half a billion data points and hopes to provide a detailed, baseline understanding of city operations against which future cities can be developed and managed.

Upcoming conference notice

The Veolia Institute’s 10th International Conference, being held in partnership with the Oxford Martin School, will examine how we can ensure the availability of strategic materials and mineral resources for a low-carbon economy and energy system. Divided into three themes, it will tackle questions of the resources needed for energy infrastructure, transport and digital technologies; the availability of resources and the different constraints on their use; and how the world can shift to a circular economy where resources are efficiently re-used.

Taking place in Oxford from 2–3 November 2017, the conference will bring together academics and the scientific community, policy-makers, civil society leaders, business leaders, financiers and entrepreneurs, to explore future scenarios, generate new insights and foster collaboration. More details about the conference can be found on the conference website, and individuals can also express their interest in attending here.

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