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

Following the outcome of the US election there is concern over the future for clean energy in the nation given Trump’s electoral campaign promise to “cancel” the Paris Agreement. This could be done by pulling out of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change, which this would likely have grave repercussions for both the US and the accord. And while the US is not the only market in the world, it is an important one for many solar and wind companies.

However, others, such as Sunnova CEO John Berger, believe that the “industry will be fine” due to business models shifts and the declining costs of clean energy technologies making them increasingly competitive in the market. 

And the outgoing Obama administration has been making a push for renewables by passing a regulation to boost wind and solar projects in public land in California, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. They have also make progressive moves on other initiatives, including:

  • A partnership between the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Department of State and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory to identify "a pipeline of clean energy entrepreneurs in developing countries."
  • Providing $4 million in awards to eight household solar firms under the Power Africa Scaling Off Grid Grand Challenge.
  • Announcing more than $11 million raised for the deployment of efficient off-grid technologies globally.
  • Launching a partnership to bring more efficient appliances tor rural Indian villages.
  • And supporting the first Solar Decathlon competition in Africa.


In the UK, business and energy secretary Greg Clark believes that clean energy technologies are part of the UK’s future, with “the upcoming Emissions Reduction Plan” forming “an important statement of our seriousness to reduce carbon emissions and a crucial plank in our wider Industrial Strategy.”

Commercial clean energy

It’s not just at the national level that renewable energy is being pursued; confectionary giant Mars led calls at COP22 for business leaders to take bold action following the legal enforcement of the Paris Agreement on 4th November. The company is a member of the Climate Group’s RE100 campaign, working to encourage corporates source 100% renewable electricity. 

Total is planning to invest US$300 million to install 200MW of solar panels on it’s service stations globally, saving US$40 million per year from its electric bills. According to the company “the project is fully aligned with Total’s ambition of becoming the responsible energy major and its commitment to developing solar power."

Microsoft and Amazon are also turning to renewables to power their data centres. Microsoft has two new agreements to purchase wind energy, bringing the company’s total investment in wind projects to over 500MW. And Amazon recently announced a new 189MW wind farm for Ohio to generate 530,000MWh annually from December 2017.

Apple HQ in Cupertino, California, is nearing completion. It will be powered by 100% clean energy, following the company’s commitments to date with 93% of their facilities worldwide running on renewables bought from green suppliers and large scale generators. The new campus is anticipated to generate 75% of its own power needs via solar panels and fuel cells, which will be supplemented with grid purchased renewable energy during peak demand.

And in the UK Good Energy have formally launched Selectricity (formally Piclo), a peer-to-peer renewable energy trading platform that matches business customers with local generators of renewable energy, enabling them to choose where their power is sourced. Business set preferences and priorities (depending on technology, location and the generator’s profile) for their energy supply over the day, and when a generator matching these is available, the two parties are matched.

Residential clean energy

Australia has been a leader in the small scale renewable market, with over 1.6 million small scale solar installations accounting for over 10% of the country’s generation capacity, but the market now looks to be following a downward trajectory.

However, in the US more and more customers are looking to buy solar panels, with direct ownership set to overtake leasing models in 2017, for the first time since 2011. Largely attributed to major residential installers like SolarCity and Vivint Solar slowing down in their deployment of leases, this may necessitate changes in business models and shifts to the market landscape, with the solar loan market far more fragmented than the leasing market. 

US Residential Solar Financing 2016-2021. Source: GTM Research

Interconnection

To support the integration of renewable energy, approaches including grid-interconnection, storage, and demand side management are key. Now a group of entrepreneurs have a vision for a global interconnected grid to allow renewable energy to be generated and used at any time, from anywhere. The first step toward this vision would be an Asian “super grid”, contingent on high voltage transmission lines connecting the renewable energy generation capabilities of North China's Gobi desert as far east as Japan. GEIDCO (the Global Energy Interconnection Development and Co-operation Organisation) is a China-based group that has agreements with energy companies in China, South Korea, Russia and Japan, as well as utilities, equipment manufacturers and universities from 14 countries. Their medium term target is to have intra-continental interconnected grids in place by 2030, linking up the continents by 2050, to bring global clean energy generation to 90% of demand.

Storage

Storage is another key technology to supporting the integration of renewables into power grids, and while much research continues around in the battery world, more mature technologies are already being implemented. New Zealand has unveiled a grid scale storage pilot to be commissioned in mid-2017. A 250kW/500kWh battery will be installed in the North Island to assess potential of ancillary grid services and peak shaving. This follows the installation of a 1MW/2.3MWh Tesla Powerpack system for Vector, a large North Island distribution company.

Pacific Gas and Electric have now integrated battery storage into the CAISO market. They found that day ahead and real time revenues "not currently conducive to energy arbitrage”, due to the differential charging and discharging rates not large enough to offset the round trip battery efficiency. Instead, frequency regulation was seen to provide the best financial use of the technology, and the ability to provide spinning reserves modestly adding to the revenue. The project also addressed barriers to market entry, established new interconnection processes and developed an automated dispatch system, making it much easier to bring batteries into the market in the future.

And Walmart and Axiom Energy are undertaking an “refrigeration battery” demonstration project in San Diego, whereby salt water will be frozen overnight to provide day time cooing to reduce the store’s purchase of on-peak power. 

Smarter energy homes?

In recent years the smart home and Internet of Things market has been exploding, yet there has been little evidence to date on the potential energy impacts of these new connected technologies. Now, research commissioned by the Consumer Technology Association claims savings associated with connected thermostats, heating-ventilation-air conditioning zoning control, window-covering control, occupancy-based lighting and circuit-level control had the energy-savings potential of up to 10% of the total primary energy consumed by U.S. homes in 2015. Though whether consumers will operate these technologies to meet energy savings potential remains to be seen.

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