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

In Wales an ambitious tidal lagoon project is awaiting the go-ahead from the Government; if it is given the green light it could see a series of projects costing over £15bn being constructed around Britain’s coast.

The UK is also exploring how to take excess heat from waste treatment facilities in Bristol and transport them by barge to the city’s district heating scheme.

Nigeria is working to increase the speed of electrification through the country through recent approval from Nigeria’s Electricity Regulation Commission (NERC) giving distribution companies a licence to implement mini-grids and distributed power between 10kW and 1MW. 

And as prices of PV plunge, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) show that home solar systems in Africa can provide electricity for many households for just $56 a year, with investments in off-grid solar systems totalling $276 million spent on them in 2015.

But Germany is taking steps to roll back its clean energy revolution;  windfarms in the north produce so much power that they need to be paid to curtail generation, forcing the country to take steps to stop the renewable revolution for undermining its own success.

In fact, Q3 2016 saw the weakest investment for clean energy globally since 2013, down 31% from Q2 and 43% from this time last year. Due in part to the summer lull in offshore wind financings in Europe, the slowdown of project funding in China and Japan as they pause for a breath after rapid growth, and electricity demand growth undershooting forecasts, Q4 is anticipated to be busier as banks strive to meet lending targets and project developers take advantage of incentive programmes before the year-end.

Storage

Lithium ion batteries, which have been in the news a lot this year with the development of the Tesla Gigafactory and implementation of grid scale storage, may get a new boost from beer. Researchers at the University of Colorado-Boulder have discovered a way to use wastewater from beer production to improve the cultivation of chemicals used to make electrodes, making both processes more effective along the way. 

While lithium ion batteries are taking most of the headlines, other technologies are also being pursued, and this week Fluidic Energy demonstrated their long duration Zinc-air energy storage system, being developed with funding through the Arizona Public Service (APS) Solar Innovation Study-125 program. The technology has a sweet spot from 4 to 24 hours of storage, costing between $200 and $300 per kWh.

So while clean energy growth may be slowing, energy storage is on track for its best record yet. The North American market in particular has embraced this technology, with projects being build ever more quickly in response to challenges from distributed and variable renewable generation. In 2015, 81% of the installations deployed were utility scale, dropping to 54% in 2016 to date as distributed storage (including commercial and microgrid installations) increase in a trend expected to continue. 

Hawaii’s largest behind the meter battery storage (108kW/216kWh) has been connected - at a theme park! The project, supported by the US Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, is part of the 3-year programme to deploy and test storage systems across 30 businesses on Oahu, Maui, and Hawaii Island.

In fact, as storage becomes increasingly prevalent, questions are being raised about how best to compensate a technology can provides multiple services (serving both wholesale, retail, and ancillary service markets across generation, transmission and distribution) to multiple stakeholders (including grid operators and utilities).  The US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has scheduled a technical conference  on the topic (Docket No. AD16-25-000) to explore how best to understand and implement the value that storage can bring.

Smarter grids

A new data system, created by Reactive Technologies, has been tested on the UK’s National Grid to transmit data through cables to connected smart appliances, asking it to adjust its electricity use. In the first step toward the creation of virtual power plants, this technology could support households and businesses manage their energy more smartly, for example, by allowing air-conditioning systems to raise temperatures slightly when demand is high.

In fact, a shift toward increased flexibility may turn the traditional electricity system paradigm on its head. According to David Olsen, a member of the board of governors of the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), “having a 24/7 nuclear plant … is a real problem” because it means the grid needs to be designed around the inflexibility of constant generation; in fact, “‘Baseload’ refers to an old paradigm that has to go away”. Baseload means thinking about centralised dispatch to passive customers, but a shift to more local production results in this baseload emerging in a decentralised manner, provided by variable resources, storage, and time shiftable loads. According to the CAISO, we are embarking on a change of massive proportions, and we’re just at the beginning. 

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