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

According to Energy Innovation, a think tank in the US, the repeal of the Clean Power Plan could result in signifiant cost ($100 billion by 2030 and $600 billion by 2050) as well as up to 120,000 premature deaths. The findings are based on an open source modelling tool - the Energy Policy Simulator - and have been peer reviewed by scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, Berkeley, the U.S. national laboratories, and two Chinese research groups.

But the push for coal over renewables seems to be in stark contrast to state level decisions, which saw utilities adding 15 GW of capacity in 2016, primarily from wind, solar, and natural gas, with coal additions remaining below 1GW in each of the last 4 years.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

In the UK a new House of Lords report calls for energy system decarbonisation to be regulated in favour of security of affordable supply, claiming that electricity from fossils is cheaper than from renewables, and that costs associated with subsidies for renewables have been passed onto consumers, resulting in electricity bills being 58% higher in 2016 than in 2003. However, the report fails to mention price increases due to rising costs associated with fossil fuels, or the rapidly declining costs of solar and wind technologies, leading to many members of the renewable energy sector to call the  report “out of touch” and “backward looking”. The report also calls for more money to be dedicated to research and application rather than subsidies, to stimulate open competition to bring down costs and increase transparency. 

In Japan the levels of feed-in-tariffs to support renewables is to be lowered in April. According to Toshimitsu Fujiki, a director at Japan’s government Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), “there are great possibilities [for renewable energy] but we must reduce costs”. METI are also particularly interested in the concept of local production and consumption, zero energy homes, and better ways to utilise existing infrastructure.  

Despite the global decline of subsidies to support renewables, their rapidly declining costs serve to strengthen a business case for deployment, especially in places like Africa where there is plenty of sun and opportunities to leap-frog traditional fossil based generation-transmission systems. However, progress has been slower than it perhaps should, pointing to 5 key factors determining success in the deployment of utility scale solar:
  1. Government support and political will
  2. Sovereign guarantees to secure bankability and de-risk projects
  3. Local ownership to alleviate developmental risk and engage communities in economic and social benefits
  4. Local partners who know the customs and cultural nuances
  5. Desire to move away from expensive and dirty fossil fuel generators.

A distributed future

As distributed energy resources (DERs) continue to grow, it becomes increasingly important to understand where their integration into distribution networks could cause reliability issues. In California utilities are working with DER providers to develop a methodology to show how much resource each feeder can handle. The analytical tools they collaboration hopes to develop will be "highly useful to DER interconnection and integration” according to San Diego Gas & Electric, by identifying how much DER can be added at each interconnection point, and bringing distributed resources into utilities’ annual planning by identifying best sites for future deployment. 

Centrica continues to shift its focus toward distributed power markets, seeing better performance from its Connected Home and Distributed Energy & Power divisions in 2016, with plans to drive investment toward these businesses and away from more established units. Evidence of this commitment can be seen in the recent launch of a £100 million ‘Centrica Innovations’ division, and the £19 million trial of a local energy marketplace in Cornwall.

Siemens also looks to expand its smart grid businesses with the signing of a joint venture agreement with German decentralised power expert Allgäuer Überlandwerk (AUW). The joint venture aims to provide consultancy services that focus on “intelligence instead of copper” solutions for distribution grid operations.


Energy storage is one option for supporting the integration of renewables, and in the US the National Renewable Energy Laboratory aims to test how successfully this can be done with wind power. NREL plan to use 10 or more applications of the Renewable Energy Systems RESolve software to test ancillary services provided by storage, from frequency regulation to black start capability.

However, many utilities are not waiting for these findings to appreciate the benefits that storage can deliver. In California, San Diego Gas & Electric and AES Energy Storage have brought online the world’s largest lithium-ion battery storage facility. The 30 MW, 120 MWh unit aims to enhance reliability and maximise renewable energy use in the region.

In the UK Open Energi with Camborne Energy Storage (CES) will take a half megawatt Tesla battery into National Grid’s Firm Frequency Response (FFR) market in the coming weeks. The storage system, which is colocated with a solar PV plant, will also earn revenues for balancing the system, by charging for free via the solar panels or from the grid when prices are low, and selling back to the market when prices peak.

While lithium ion accounts for about 70% of grid connected battery installation in the US, the technology's strongest challenge comes from flow batteries in which electrical energy is stored and discharged through the exchange of electrolyte fluids. Now Primus Power have begun production on their second generation flow battery using zinc bromine chemistry to produce storage solutions they claim provide a 5 hour duration, 20 year lifespan, and total cost of up to 50% less than conventional lithium ion solutions.

In Australia a new study finds that pumped hydro storage could allow the electricity grid to reach 100% renewable resources. By spreading wind and solar across large geographic zones allows the grid to take advantage of different weather systems, with additional balancing provided by pumped hydro storage and high voltage transmission lines, as well as excess wind and solar capacity. The authors identify that current levelised costs of electricity (LCOE) are AU$93/MWh, while a new supercritical black coal power station will be around AU$80/MWh, and the LCOE of a balanced 100% renewable electricity system around AU$75/MWh.

Tesla have singled their long term growth strategy with indications that  they expect to finalise locations for two more gigafactories in 2017. Production of lithium ion batteries at the first factory in Nevada began last month, where 35GWh/year of cells are anticipated to be in production by 2018. The company also plans to produce 5000 Model 3 cars per week by the end of the year.

While many are touting the electric vehicle as a key step in the decarbonisation agenda (as well as providing a route for supporting the integration of renewables), a recent study in Nature shows that they could end up driving an increase in emissions. In Germany, for example, where the resolve is to reach 100% electric vehicles by 2030,  carbon dioxide emissions could go up by an additional 100 million tonnes per year. This is due to the additional electricity demands placed on the system, which equates to 321TW of generation capacity by 2030. If renewables expand at the maximum rate allowed by Germany’s current plans, it will only cover 63TW, leaving 258TW to be covered by coal or natural gas. This, the authors argue, makes a strong case for synchronising energy and transport policies.

The "demand" side

As distributed generation gives rise to increased blurring between energy producers and consumers, so the focus on smarter and localised energy management increases. Typically sold and managed separately, SolarEdge is rolling out a new solution that combines inverters, storage and home automation to manage generation, storage and consumption across a single platform, maximising self-consumption and minimising grid impact of customer sited resources.

Taking this idea one step further is GreenSync with their decentralised energy exchange (deX) project, whereby customers with solar and storage assets can derive additional income by "essentially renting them to the grid when they’re most needed”. Two trials are being undertaken in Australia to explore the benefits of the system, hoping to attract further investment in solar and storage while also supporting grid operation.

In fact, the value of demand response (DR) is rising globally, and Navigate estimate that residential DR programs will reach 23GW by 2025 in North America due to the financial benefits that can be derived by both customers and the grid. To date most benefits have been derived from smart thermostat programs, but as the energy landscape evolves, and end-users become reliable grid resources, the utility-customer relationship will need to change.

A recent survey from the the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative (SGCC) showed that interest in solar was not linked to strong net metering (or similar) policies, but rather to socio-economic demographics. While only 20% of respondents felt they really understood rooftop solar (or EVs which the survey also asked about), with even fewer who understood community solar, over 80% of respondents said they would be willing to donate excess power produced by their systems to others in the community to propagate "green affordable power for everyone”. 

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