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

It seems that clean energy in 2017 is starting off with bang. According the to US Centre of Media and Democracy (CMD), Trump’s future energy plans for the US amount to a “fossil fuel industry wish list.” A recent memo written by Trump’s transition team indicate that the president-elect will “hit reset on the most harmful parts of the Obama climate agenda”, which would include the Paris Agreement, the Clean Power Plan, and energy subsidies.

However, Barack Obama believes the trend toward clean energy is irreversible, as outlined in a recent Science Policy Forum. Firstly, he argues, greenhouse gas mitigation can support the economy, boosting efficiency, productivity, and innovation, as energy sector emissions and economic growth are decoupled. In addition, ignoring emissions could result in huge costs imposed on the global economy, with less long term economic growth.  Secondly, businesses are already moving along the clean energy trend, realising that it can cut costs and deliver returns for stakeholders. Thirdly, market dynamics are starting to shift the US power sector due to state level policies and cost reductions of gas and renewables. Finally, global momentum is seeing countries and businesses around the world looking to reap rewards for being at the forefront of clean energy. And “were the United States to step away from Paris, it would lose its seat at the table to hold other countries to their commitments, demand transparency, and encourage ambition”, which could undermine the US’s own economic interests. Ultimately, he argus “it is good business and good economics to lead a technological revolution and define market trends”.

600 businesses (including many Fortune 500 corporates such as Starbucks, Nike, and eBay) agree, joining in a plea to president-elect Donald Trump to move to a low carbon economy.

And the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) are anticipating the growth of renewables regardless of what happens to the Clean Power Plan. In their 2017 Annual Energy Outlook they forecast wind, solar and gas to dominate capacity additions as coal is retired from the system. While projected future energy consumption varies minimally between all scenarios, removal of the Clean Power Plan would result in additional greenhouse gas emissions.

Source: EIA 2017 Annual Energy Outlook
Note: The reference case includes Clean Power Plan implementation

Regardless of impending US action, China look to become the main player in the global clean energy market. In 2016 the country increased foreign investment in renewables by 60% to $32 billion, and across the entire economy they regularly outspent the US on renewable energy. In fact, China’s National Energy Administration anticipate new investment till 2020 will result in the creation of an additional 13 million jobs in the sector.

And despite the global decline in investment in clean energy - in part due to reductions in energy equipment prices and in part due to slowdown of new projects in China and Japan who instead focused on integrating  existing deployment - solar deployment grew to a record 70GW. And  - in the US at least - growth trends look to continue into 2017. State mandates and low prices are seeing utilities continue to invest in solar, with 70% of 2017 deployment anticipated to be utility scale, and another 200MW coming from community solar market. In the residential sector, the shift away from third party financing to loan schemes could open further windows of opportunity for utilities,  who could use their strong balance sheets and access to low cost capital to provide loans.

San Francisco are introducing new legislation to go beyond current requirements for all new buildings to be “solar ready” with either panels or solar water heaters on all commercial and residential buildings shorter than 10 floors; the new bill stipulates that solar plans are installed on 15% of roofs.

Swansea’s proposed today power lagoon is expected to receive support from a government commissioned report, which could open up opportunities for five major tidal plants around the country (Cardiff, Newport, Colwyn Bay in north Wales, and the Cumbrian coast and Bridgwater Bay in Somerset in addition to Swansea Bay). However, negotiations are continuing around price, which is expected to be higher than the one agreed for Hinkley Point C, paid for by a levy on energy bills.

Israel, who have been slow to move away from fossils, are starting to change their approach with a goal of attaining 10% of energy needs from renewable resources by 2020. This includes the development of the world’s largest solar tower in the Negev desert, the first phase of which will have a capacity of 310MW.

And on Kauai, a small Hawaiian Island, the electricity co-op have just signed a deal for a 28MW solar array + 100MWh battery to deliver dispatchable power for $0.11/kWh. Not only is this cheaper than the current baseload generation on the island, but could enable solar generated power to be stored and used in the evening and through the night, reducing reliance on fossils.


Storage offers a host of benefits to integrating renewables into electricity grids, from capacity to spinning reserves to voltage control and resiliency. The Quadrennial Energy Review, released by officials of the outgoing Obama administration, argues that storage needs to be properly valued and supported at a federal level within the US. The document makes 70 recommendations that need to be implemented to optimise and modernise the electricity sector, and in particular recognises the need for system flexibility through controllable load (including energy storage, fast ramping natural gas generation, and demand response). 

As prices decrease, storage may cost-competitively replace expensive thermal peaker plants. Though to truly justify the cost of investment, value streams need to be stacked and this means storage needs to have access to markets for all its services. In the US the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is addressing this through opening a rule making for the national grid operators to make space for storage in the market with new tariffs the must: (1) establish market rules that recognise storage characteristics and allow them to participate in wholesale markets, and (2) define DER aggregators as wholesale market participants and establish rules for each aggregator to participate. While this supports the nation's long term goal of integrating DERs and storage, it leaves open key questions open about how storage might provide capacity, which will likely need to be tailored to meet regional grid needs.

New models of the grid

Alongside storage and distributed energy resources, microgrids were a hot topic in 2016, with growing opportunities and grassroots demand. But this is an area where policy has failed to keep up, failing to frame regulations in a way that support the reliability, economic and environmental benefits offered. To truly leverage these in 2017, POWER Engineers believe that legislation will need to "determine a business model that will allow utilities, developers and consumers to participate fairly in both the cost and the benefits of a microgrid installation."

As distributed generation increases, we’re also seeing the growth of blockchain startups who are developing solutions to administer transactions within microgrids. SolarCoin is an cryptocurrency aiming to incentivise solar power production. And ElectricChain, an affiliate of the company, is working on building "the world’s largest open scientific solar monitoring device with the SolarCoin blockchain” to speed up transitions to clean energy. Smart Solar is a collaborative project using blockchain technology and the Internet of Things to enable solar panels to calculate their energy production and issue Renewable Energy Certificates to users. And the Brooklyn Microgrid project is using Ethereum blockchain technology to enable peer-to-peer energy trading between homes in a street. 

Electric vehicles are another technology promising to offer new grid interactions for customers. Smart charging, where vehicles account for the availability of power from intermittent energy sources (e.g. Nissan’s Maui smart grid project) are in development, as are opportunities for vehicle to grid configurations (e.g. Nissan's “Leaf to Home” power system). This could allow owners to be paid for energy saving activities that benefit the grid, and further incentivise the adoption of EVs. 

The concept of using distributed storage to relieve grid stress is also being explored by Upside Energy, who together with Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, have received £98,400 to look at opportunities for the company to develop machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms to better manage their portfolio of connected devices. 

And connected devices beyond storage are becoming increasingly common. A survey of 1400 US parents (mainly 18-44 yr old mothers) found that 71% own one or more Internet of Things enabled device, with over a third already planning their next purchase. The key reason cited was to make life easier, with a similar study finding that safety and comfort were key drivers of purchase. In addition, energy monitoring and light automation were found to be the most desired smart home projects. 

But as cloud based DR platforms become more common, cybersecurity issues pose threats to their implementation. This could slow the uptake of cloud based systems rather than on-site systems, and could also effect connected consumer devices. Another issue is emerging around system integration and standardisation, and creating standards to allow resources to communicate and co-operate more effectively will be key to growing DR, and enabling this increasingly abundant resource to participate in providing system flexibility.

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