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

Global nuclear capacity is anticipated to grow in coming years, reaching up to 390GW by 2030 according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. However, weighing on this is the uncertainty related to energy policy and licence renewals, as well as competing low prices for natural gas, falling costs of renewables, a lack of market signals for low carbon energy, and a sluggish global economy. 

While costs of onshore wind has been dropping steadily in recent years, new technical measures (such as mass production of support structures, improvements in blade aerodynamics, and optimisation of array layout) cold see the levelised cost of energy from offshore wind farms dropping by a third by 2020.

As Europe passes the 100GW of solar milestone, Maroš Šefčovič, vice-president of the European Commission for the Energy Union, praises the continent on leadership in the renewable energy space, and forecast that a business as usual approach would help it reach 150GW by the end of the decade. Though while grid priority for renewables has helped drive uptake to date, there were hints that priority access and dispatch may be removed to reduce the overregulation in the electricity trading industry faced by many countries. According to Šefčovič, “Renewables should have full access to the market with properly designed rules, but at the same time take on their own responsibility for balancing the system and strengthening the price signals. We know that this would help save costs for the consumers.” However, given that 70% of distribution grids in Europe are owned by 10 big power companies, removing priority access would allow these incumbents (who may well have an interest in obstructing distributed generation) to slow down or stop connections. Furthermore, given the long turn on times for nuclear (1.5 days) and coal (10 hours), grid operators may be hesitant to curtail their operation, choosing to curtain rapidly responsive renewables instead, missing the entire point of the decarbonisation agenda! 

Across India decarbonisation is very much on the table, particularly around irrigation. Traditionally powered from conventional power plants, irrigation systems do not need access to electricity 24/7, making solar energy an easy solution. Five states have put in proposals to replace 1,067MW of conventional power plants with solar energy for irrigation needs, which will be auctioned off by state nodal agencies.

And in Africa the solar rooftop market has the potential to explode if regulatory risk can be tackled. In addition, lack of skills, poor financing and poor data emerge as other key barriers to solar development. 

Globally, energy markets are shifting from fossils to clean energy, accelerating the pace of the clean energy transformation. These sources are not only clean, but are also proving cheaper and more competitive, offering a level of long term certainty that price volatile fossils cannot. Both forecast data and todays marketplace shows clean energy, an in particular wind, winning, and by 2030 clean energy is anticipated to become the largest source of global energy production.


As increasing quantities of renewables are added to electricity systems, the need for flexibility becomes increasingly important; in fact, the National Infrastructure Commission reckon it could save UK customers up to £8bn annually by 2030. Pumped hydro can provide this flexibility, and a recent report from Scottish Renewables looks at the multiple benefits it can deliver, as well as the many obstacles faced in development. In particular, the report highlights that actions need to be taken to correct market failures including developing market mechanisms to internalise the value of various economic externalities that are currently unaccounted for; correcting distortions in network charging arrangements; reducing commercial risk associated with future policy decisions; and introducing markets mechanisms that can account for the long-term benefits storage provides.

Another storage technology being explored in the UK is Liquid Air Energy Storage, in which ambient air is drawn from the environment, cleaned, compressed and liquefied at sub-zero temperatures. When power is needed on the grid, the liquid air is drawn from the tanks, pumped to high pressure  ad heated, producing a high pressure gas which drives a generator. Integrating waste heat or cold from co-located industrial processes allows the technologies to reach efficiencies of up to 70%. A new 5-year research chair appointment has recently been established at the University of Birmingham to explore the limits of the emerging liquid air storage technology. 

Hawaiian Electric and Amber Kinetics are partnering to develop a new flywheel storage pilot. While this type of storage solution is not common, the organisations believe that the four-hour resource could   help the state meet its 100% renewable energy goals. They are also looking develop a utility scale battery project as part of the goal.

In California, a state where water use and energy use are inextricably linked (20% of electricity is used to operate aqueducts, irrigate farms, and treat and deliver water to millions), Advanced Microgrid Solutions and the Irvine Ranch Water District (IRWD) are looking to use a 7MW/34MWh Li-ion battery solution to turn the water treatment plants and pumps into flexibility assets to support the grid.

While California has been pushing ahead with storage projects (particularly following the Aliso Canyon gas leak earlier in the year) Massachusetts are looking to take a strategic approach to integrating storage. The recently released Department of Energy Resources (DOER) report goes beyond suggesting a mandate for 600 MW installed capacity by July 2017 (based on modelling the electricity system), and also make recommendations for programmes and projects to deliver this, and the policy changes that would facilitate the integration of storage into every aspect of the grid. They believe clear rules need to be in place for enable storage to fully participate in energy, capacity and ancillary services markets, and such a holistic overview of the gird and markets is needed for the resource to reach its real potential in the state. 

Smarter technology

While distributed solar and storage may have a bright future for homes and businesses, the ability to aggregate these resources could provide significant support to the grid. Moixa is looking to address this with its new GridShare platform. UK households are offered a 2kWh storage unit with a 2kW solar installation for under £5,000, including installation, and the option to claim £50 cash back if they make their system available to the GridShare service platform. Ultimately, the company is hoping to have enough aggregate resource to take part in direct grid competitions such as the recent EFR tender.

These and other distributed resources could have an important and  integral role to play in ensuring system efficiency and reliability than they have to date. With wide ranging and robust capabilities (see figure below), interruptible load, direct load control, and behavioural load shaping could provide demand side flexibility in entirely new ways.

Figure: DER capabilities matrix (Source: SEPA, "Distributed Energy Resources Capabilities Guide")

An aligned technology intended to support the demand side management of load are smart meters. To date the UK has installed 3.3m first-generation smart meters in UK homes, and by 2020 are aiming to have 53m filleted in more than 30m homes and businesses at a cost of £11bn. However, it looks like they may not be so smart after all, losing their ability to deliver detailed energy data if consumers switch suppliers. The government are now being urgent to review the benefits of the roll out, which looks unlikely to meet its 2020 targets, and may also lack the intended benefits of supporting homes to reduce demand (to date only 2-3% savings have been seen).

In fact, having a smart meter doesn’t necessitate consumer engagement with clean energy; a survey of 1500 customers by the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative showed that consumer engagement in states in advanced stages of smart meter deployment were only marginally more engaged and aware of clean energy products that those in states without much smart meter roll out. The research also looked at customer preferences for different types of products, identifying smart thermostats and time varying rates as the most attractive to users (though their interest in these products wasn’t predicated by smart meter roll-out progress).

New business opportunities

In Yorkshire a new energy firm, MME, has been established with the goal of providing “fair for all” tariffs to challenge the dominant Big Six utilities. Joining force with YPO, a Yorkshire based purchasing organisation that buys services (including gas and electricity) on behalf of over 40 local authorities, they are looking to offer energy deals to hundreds of thousands of households and businesses. 

The UK is also anticipating tech giants like Google or Apple to enter the energy supply market in the coming years. There is a very, very serious possibility (of a big name from the world of technology) coming within five years” according to the chief executive of Co-op Energy at the recent Clean Energy Live conference. This could shake up the current power supply sector, and provide attractive options to customers who are cautious of the Big Six due to past scandals around miss-selling and overpricing of energy. 

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