Why should the whole world have to repeat our mistakes?
When solar farms in sub-Saharan Africa start to become more common than coal-fired power plants, it is time for the rest of the world to take notice. The clean energy revolution is happening right now under our feet.
“The rapidly unfolding energy transition is bypassing coal and going straight to low-cost renewables.”
Two centuries of burning fossil fuels brought development to much of the world, but also brought large-scale climate change and a host of severe impacts: millions of deaths from air pollution and excessive heat, lack of access to modern energy services for billions of the world’s poor and geopolitical conflicts over resources. While climate change is one of the most urgent crises of our time, extensive research indicates that the possibility of quickly switching to 100% clean, renewable energy that will mitigate these impacts is at our fingertips.
The recently signed Paris Agreement is a watershed moment for the clean energy transition. It provides the strongest market signal yet for companies and countries to double down on their renewable energy investments and to continue moving away from fossil fuels.
That change is already happening in many parts of the developing world. The rapidly unfolding energy transition is bypassing coal and going straight to low-cost renewables. As countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America seize this chance to “leapfrog” over fossil fuels and expand their clean energy capacity, they not only benefit from economic growth and cheap electricity, they also increase their security and avoid the severe damage to health and the environment that burning fossil fuels causes.
In fact, the Paris Climate Conference prompted the creation of the African Renewable Energy Initiative, a continent-wide program to massively increase Africa’s clean energy over the next 15 years while bypassing the pitfalls of fossil fuels.
As the new African Renewable Energy Initiative indicates, countries have the ability not only to leapfrog fossil fuels, but also to replace them while still keeping the lights on. Our research, conducted at Stanford University and the University of California, shows that by 2050 nearly every country in the world can transition its all-purpose energy to 100% clean, renewable wind, water and sunlight.
Africa has significant clean energy resources available that make it technically and economically feasible for 80% of the continent’s energy to be switched to renewables from fossil fuels no later than 2030.
As Africa’s current population grows from 1.1 billion to 1.6 billion by 2030, wind and solar could overtake fossil fuels as the dominant forms of energy. For example, our analysis shows that South Africa could get 56% of its electricity from utility-scale solar, Kenya 28%, and Mozambique 34%, all for lower cost than electrifying with coal. While conservative scenarios predict about half of the continent will have access to the electricity grid by 2030, this means 640 million Africans will plug into the grid for the first time thanks to renewables.
“640 million Africans will plug into the grid for the first time thanks to renewables.”
This is not just pie in the sky. Our work is based on detailed engineering and an itemized mix of technologies and costs for 139 nations, including how much land and rooftop area would be needed to add renewable technologies. Some may wonder where all of this energy will come from. The vast majority of electricity will be generated by wind and solar power: nearly a third from wind, over half from solar power (the majority utility-scale photovoltaics) and the rest via hydroelectric dams, geothermal and tidal power.
The clean energy transition will occur by electrifying everything: cars, heating, agricultural and industrial equipment can all run on electricity. Rapidly advancing battery technologyensures this power will be there when needed. Electrifying reduces power demand by about a third thanks to the efficiency of electricity over burning fossil fuels.
There is no doubt that undertaking this type of massive transformation in developing countries will be challenging. It will require sufficient financial and political support, which can be hard to come by in countries that experience political instability and low public financing. Public money will be necessary to get the ball rolling through initiatives like the public funds transfers from developed countries to developing ones, set up by the Paris Agreement. These funds will open the door for trillions of dollars of private sector investment.
The benefits of achieving this transition are global. They include eliminating 4 to 7 million premature air pollution deaths per year—similar to the annual deaths caused by smoking. It would provide steady power to four billion people that do not currently have it, and create over 20 million long-term clean energy jobs. Turbocharging the clean energy transition is also critical to tackling climate change.
Countries that choose to skip past fossil fuels in favor of renewables avoid increased healthcare costs and see stronger job growth and greater political stability. The clean energy transition will avoid air pollution costs that that are over 3% of annual world GDP, and prevent $16 to $20 trillion per year in global climate costs by 2050.
“The main barriers to a more rapid conversion are neither technical nor economic. They are social and political.”
The main barriers to a more rapid conversion are neither technical nor economic. They are social and political. As Western leaders like President Francoise Hollande of France acknowledge, there is a huge opportunity for developing countries to move immediately to new, clean energy technologies. The moment is ripe for international policymakers to leverage the Paris Agreement’s strong market signal and accelerate the current progress. The roadmaps to clean energy that we have developed give confidence to world leaders that the path to 100% renewable energy is clear and achievable. Much of the world is already heading down that path to a clean energy future. The more we support that transition, the better off we all are.
Mark Jacobson is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University and director of its Atmosphere and Energy Program. Jacobson develops computer models about the effects of different energy technologies and their emissions on air pollution and climate. He is a Senior Fellow at both the Woods Institute for the Environment and the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford. He’s also the co-founder of the nonprofit Solutions Project.
The bulk of Africa’s energy comes from renewables, that’s the problem. To reduce poverty the continent needs more fossil fuels.
Africa is the world’s most “renewable” continent when it comes to energy. In the rich world, renewables account for less than a tenth of total energy supplies. The 900 million people of sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) get 80 per cent of their energy from renewables.
A person in Europe or North America uses 11,000 kilowatt-hours per year on average (much of it through industrial processes), while a person in Sub-Sahara Africa uses only 137kWh – less than a typical American refrigerator uses in four months. More than 600 million people in Africa have no access to electricity at all.
All this is not because Africa is green, but because it is poor. Some 2 per cent of the continent’s energy needs are met by hydro-electricity, and 78 per cent by humanity’s oldest “renewable” fuel: wood. This leads to heavy deforestation and lethal indoor air pollution, which kills 1.3 million people each year.
What Africa needs, according to many activists, is to be dotted with solar panels and wind turbines. But when US President Barack Obama hosted a summit of African leaders in 2014, most said they wanted more fossil fuels. In the words of Tanzanian Minerals and Energy Minister Sospeter Muhongo: “We will start intensifying the utilisation of coal. Why shouldn’t we use coal when there are other countries where their CO₂ [carbon dioxide] per capita is so high?. We will just go ahead.”
The International Energy Agency estimates that if all countries fulfil the pledges made at the Paris climate change conference last month, the proportion of renewables could increase slightly in the next 25 years, to 18.7 per cent. In the International Energy Agency’s more likely scenario, the share will reach just 15.4 per cent.
COW MANURE AND WOOD
Most of that “renewable” energy will still come from crop residue, cow manure, wood, and biofuels. While a solar panel can provide energy for a light bulb and a charge for a cell phone, it does little to help run stoves to avoid indoor air pollution or fridges to keep vaccines and food fresh, much less power agriculture and industry. By 2040, in the IEA’s optimistic scenario, solar power in sub-Saharan Africa will produce 14kWh per person per year, less than what is needed to keep a single two-watt LED permanently lit. The IEA also estimates that renewable power will still cost more, on average, than any other source – oil, gas, nuclear, coal, or hydro, even with a carbon tax.
In its recent Africa Energy Outlook, the IEA estimates that Africa’s energy consumption will increase by 80 per cent by 2040; but, with the continent’s population almost doubling, less energy per person will be available. Although nearly 1 billion additional people will gain access to electricity by 2040, 530 million will still be cut off.
But the IEA outlines another possible future – what it calls the “African Century” – in which Africa’s governments and donors invest an extra $US450 billion ($640 billion) in energy. This would sharply increase the use of fossil fuels, reduce much of the most polluting renewables, and provide energy access to 230 million more people. Providing more – and more reliable – power to almost two billion people will increase GDP by 30 per cent in 2040. Each person on the continent will be almost $US1000 better off every year.
In Western countries, environmental campaigners would focus on the downside – 300 million tonnes of additional CO₂ emissions in 2040, and higher outdoor air pollution from greater reliance on coal power – and ask why anyone would want to increase CO₂ and air pollution. But let’s look at the costs and benefits.
One day, innovation could drive down the price of future green energy to the point that it lifts people out of poverty more effectively than fossil fuels do. Globally, we should invest much more in such innovation. But global warming will not be fixed by hypocritically closing a path out of poverty to the world’s poor.
Africa could be the first region in the world to power its economic development on renewable energy rather than fossil fuels such as coal, according to the head of the International Energy Agency (IEA).
“I’m very excited about this,” said Fatih Birol as he launched the World Energy Outlook 2015 last month. “When we look at the history of energy – in Europe, the U.S., China – economic development was realized by a substantial amount of coal. But in Africa, we may well see, for the first time, a region [realizing] its economic growth using renewable energy.”
Birol said the big push from governments to get electricity to the two out of three people in Africa who don’t have access will help support this, as will falling costs of renewable energy. The price of solar panels fell by 75 percent from 2009 to 2014 and the costs of producing energy from the sun continues to fall.
Energy demand is growing in Africa, the Middle East and south-east Asia, said Birol, but India is “the engine of the global energy demand” now that China’s energy demand is plateauing.
This year, India is the special focus of the World Energy Outlook report, the “bible” of the sector, which comes out annually. It predicts that industrial growth, with the government’s emphasis on “make in India,” will lead to a rapid growth in energy demand. Birol told the press conference that the IEA expects coal and oil consumption to grow significantly in India, but the country is also focusing on renewables, with a pledge to have 40 percent of power sector capacity non-fossil fuels by 2030.
According to the report’s central scenario, which forecasts changes to the global sector by 2040, energy demand in south-east Asia will rise by 80 percent and by 70 percent in the Middle East, 90 percent of which which still be provided by domestic oil and natural gas.
In Latin America, according to the report, energy demand will increase by 50 percent and the region expands its relatively high share of renewables to 35 percent in 2040. This takes into account Brazil’s current drought, which is affecting hydropower and increasing reliance on gas. The report predicts that the region will continue to be a world leader in biofuels.
Low oil prices are affecting Africa’s exporting countries – Libya, Algeria, Nigeria and Angola. But countries in east Africa, such as Mozambique and Tanzania, are becoming significant natural gas exporters and users. The report predicts that nearly 40 percent of the total power generation capacity in Africa will be from renewables by 2040.
In developed countries, the report observes that economic growth and carbon emissions are no longer inextricably linked. “In advanced economies – Europe, U.S. and Japan – energy demand is declining despite growth in [their economies],” said Birol. “So we see a decoupling of energy demand growth and economic growth in major advanced economies.”
In total, the report predicts that electricity consumption will grow by more than 70 percent to 2040, although 550 million people will still not have access, and that renewables will overtake coal as the largest source of power generation by the early 2030s. “Renewables are not a niche fuel anymore,” said Birol. “Renewables have become a mainstream fuel as of now.”
While Europe is on high alert against another murderous terrorist attack, it will be hard for Paris to look beyond the next 24 hours. But soon delegates start arriving in the French capital for preliminary meetings ahead of COP21, the United Nations climate change summit which will be launched on 30 November with all the grandeur attendant on a gathering of global leaders. There is a certain symmetry to the two events that goes beyond the nightmare task facing France’s overstretched security forces. As the UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond pointed out in an important speech in the US only days before the Paris attacks last Friday: “Unchecked climate change … could have catastrophic consequences – a rise in global temperatures … leading in turn to rising sea levels and huge movements of people fuelling conflict and instability.
”There are reasons to be optimistic about a useful outcome from these negotiations, not least the determination of President Barack Obama’s team to deliver a deal with some kind of legal force. But any deal will mark the start rather than the end of the process.
The world has learned from previous failures. The innovation of asking every country for its own intended nationally determined contributions in advance of COP21 is that they reduce the wriggle room, at least for the time being. Wednesday’s big speech from the UK energy secretary Amber Rudd, setting a cut-off date of 2025 for coal-fired power stations, will underline that sense of commitment and should help to build some momentum ahead of the talks, even though it is only a small advance on the policies she inherited. It is also a necessary reaffirmation of the Conservatives’ pledge to green the electricity supply which had begun to seem questionable after its widely criticised decision to end subsidies to wind and solar power unexpectedly early.
Ms Rudd said she was resetting UK energy policy and if she didn’t quite do that, she did make a more or less coherent pattern from the fragments that have emerged since the election in May. It is a plan. Yet with its contradictions and conditional undertakings, it did not quite add up to a clear path through the so-called energy trilemma: the balance to be struck between security, sustainability and affordability. Take the commitment to phase out coal over the next 10 years: it came with the caveat that it would not happen unless there was a clear and reliable alternative. Given the continuing uncertainty over new nuclear (which, in the Rudd plan, is what stands between decarbonisation of electricity supply and the lights going off), that means new gas-fired power stations – less dirty than coal, but still a finite fossil fuel. The plan will also entail exploiting shale gas, which is so far entirely untested in the UK and already politically neuralgic. And if gas is to be the core of energy supply beyond 2030, when electricity is supposed to become carbon free, then serious money needs to go into developing carbon capture and storage. CCS merited just one mention in Ms Rudd’s speech.
As for the decision to phase out subsidies for renewables, it was defended as part of a necessary move towards making green energy competitive with other fuels, even though that is something nuclear power will not be for the foreseeable future. However, there was a little good news for renewables: there will be subsidy for new offshore wind, when it can compete with the cost of new nuclear. The bad news is that although off-shore generation costs have fallen by a fifth in two years, there is still a distance to travel.
Decarbonising power supply is proving hard enough. But it poses a lesser challenge than weaning the nation off its gas-fired heating, and luring it out of its diesel- and petrol-powered cars. That puts the greatest burden of reducing carbon emissions on electricity generation. The cheapest way to get there, the way that would make most difference to consumers and shrink their energy bills by the greatest amount, is to increase energy efficiency. Ms Rudd seems to have left that part of her plan in her pending tray.
Britain does have a positive message to deliver in Paris, and that can only be good news. But the world has not yet come up with a way of holding global warming below the critical 2C. The serious negotiation in Paris will be about monitoring and enforcing compliance and setting a formula to ratchet up commitments into the future. For the UK, the Rudd plan, heavy on gas and light on efficiency, will make the next step in carbon emission cuts harder than it needs to be.
The Corporate Renewables Partnership offers the opportunity to build a new clean energy marketplace
Some of the most important names in renewable energy and environmentalism are turning to the business community and electric utilities to help stave off climate change and transition to a clean energy future.
The Corporate Renewables Partnership (CRP) is being put together by four non-governmental, not-for-profit organizations: The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the World Resources Institute (WRI), the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), and Business for Social Responsibility (BSR).
Among the corporate partners are some of the biggest names in business, including include General Motors, Volvo, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco, Target, Walmart, Hilton, and Kaiser Permanente. Their first utility collaborators are the Berkshire Hathaway Energy (BHE) companies, owned by Warren Buffett, including MidAmerican Energy, PacifiCorp, and NV Energy.
“There is a synergy between interests from the for-profit and non-profit worlds when both are pursuing the common goals of increased renewables and decreased greenhouse gas emissions,” explained BHE Legislative and Regulatory Affairs Vice President Jonathan Weisgall.
“Policy alone doesn’t work and capital alone doesn’t work,” he said. “Policy and capital need each other. An organization like this brings the policy and capital together.”
How the collaboration began
While consulting with businesses in 2013 on achieving corporate sustainability goals, the four NGOs began to see untapped potential to grow renewables and attack emissions, explained RMI Managing Director Hervé Touati, a former EON senior executive.
The opportunity, Touati said, would come from meeting the corporate buyers’ renewable energy demand by matching them with independent power producers who wanted sell the output of their wind and solar projects, and with utilities looking to hold on to the corporate clients that are their biggest power customers.
That was the origin of the RMI-driven Business Renewables Center (BRC).
“For action, it is necessary to have the desire, the opportunity, and the means,” Touati explained. Already, two-thirds of Fortune 100 companies and 43% ofFortune 500 companies have sustainability goals, and the remaining big companies are under increasing pressure from shareholders and customers to adopt their own, Touati said, so the desire is there.
The 400 U.S. renewables project developers with high quality solar and wind projects in their pipelines create ample opportunity, he went on. To facilitate that, the BRC simply has to qualify the projects, catalog them, and make the information available to corporate buyers.
“The question is the means,” Touati said. “We are talking about tools. Buyers need to know how to do a deal.”
A September 2013 meeting generated two requests from the 30 buyers, sellers, and renewables brokers in attendance. One was an online platform to streamline transactions.
Renewables contracts, project assessment, risk evaluation, and pitching the project in-house are complicated, Touati explained. The BRC used the experience of members who have completed transactions, including deal brokers Altenex, Renewable Choice Energy, and Customer First Renewables, and codified that knowledge to create a platform for buyers.
The BRC, which includes the deregulated renewables subsidiaries of NRG, EDF, EON, and NextEra, is aimed at streamlining and accelerating transactions in unregulated markets between corporate buyers and IPPs. Its fee-paying members built 1.2 GW of renewables in 2014 and 1.4 GW through July, 2015. Its goal, Touati said, is to add 60 GW of renewables in the U.S. by 2030.
The Buyers’ Principles
The other marketplace need targeted in the original meeting was a clear definition of what buyers are looking for. They wanted a guide for IPPs in project development and a guide utilities and utility regulators could use in designing program rates and rules, according to WRI Electricity InitiativeDirector Letha Tawney.
That need evolved into the Buyers’ Principles — six key criteria presented in July 2014 that make more corporate investment in renewables possible:
- Greater choice in procurement options,
- More access to cost competitive options,
- Longer- and variable-term contracts,
- Access to new projects that reduce emissions beyond business as usual,
- Streamlined third-party financing, and
- Increased purchasing options with utilities.
Under the CRP umbrella, a group of 34 corporates that represent some 20 million MWh of annual demand formed around the Buyers Principles, Tawney explained. Led by WRI and WWF, the Buyers Principles group is aimed at engaging the investor-owned utilities (IOUs) in their regulated markets.
“The sixth principle is specifically focused on utilities,” Tawney noted. “It is a declaration that these buyers prefer to act in collaboration with their utilities.”
The Buyers Principles “are like an RFP,” Tawney went on. “They say, ‘We want to be able to buy cost-effective renewable energy with low transaction costs, and we want to work with our utilities to do it.’”
To nurture the collaboration, the group holds Utility Leadership Forums in which utilities’ representatives and buyers’ representatives spend half a day exploring the Principles as a basis for how a particular utility can provide a renewables product that matches the buyers’ needs.
“We are where the green tariff programs come from,” Tawney said. The programs are designed specifically for regulated markets where corporate buyers may want to locate, but can’t contract directly with IPPs.
“Green tariffs offer bundled energy and renewable energy credits (RECs) that together have some of the benefits of a long-term fixed-price power purchase agreement (PPA) but maintain the customer’s relationship with its utility,” Tawney explained.
The number and scope of the Buyers Principles group gets the attention of utilities, Touati said.
“The conversation between an NGO without that leverage is short, but if the NGO comes with representatives of Fortune 500 companies, the discussion gets the attention not just of the utility, but of the PUC, and of the governor,” he said.
Engagement so far
The Buyers Principles group has had four Utility Leadership Forums as well as conversations with other utilities. From those engagements, five green tariffs are emerging, involving Dominion Power in Virginia, Duke Energy in North Carolina, NV Energy in Nevada, Rocky Mountain Power in Utah, and Puget Sound Energy in Washington.
The interest of the BHE utilities is “to work with our customers and our regulators to explore direct renewable energy procurement options for these large energy customers in order to increase the use of renewable generation in regulated markets,” Weisgall explained.
Each green tariff program is specific to the utility’s market, buyers, and the territory’s resources. Perhaps the one common feature is they allow a utility to market a renewables product to multiple corporate customers.
“The key question will be how to better aggregate smaller loads so there can be more participation in this marketplace, and the important thing to realize is that utilities are by definition load aggregators,” explained WWF U.S. Climate and Renewable Energy Policy Director Marty Spitzer. “The goal is for utilities to see the smaller corporate loads and aggregate them and deliver renewables to them so they can also meet sustainability goals.”
Some of the green tariffs, and in particular the one recently proposed by Puget Sound Energy, are very similar to community solar offerings in that the utility develops a project or signs a PPA and subscribes customers to it, Tawney said. “There may or may not be a premium.”
The NV Energy–Apple deal is another way corporates and utilities have forged a deal, Tawney said.
“Apple brought the project to the utility,” she said. “NV Energy agreed to facilitate a pass-through from the developer to Apple. A contract rider makes it legal in the regulated state but it looks a lot like a traditional PPA.”
It is early for this emerging opportunity, and new models to make the arrangement work are still being created.
“Now is the moment,” Tawney said. “Those who get on board will be first movers.”
“Creating customer choice within the construct of a regulated market is new,” Tawney said. “Nobody has ever done it before.”
Spitzer and WWF have been interacting with the Edison Electric Institute and that National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, trying to get the concept across at a high level.
Tawney and WRI have been working with BHE and other regulated utilities “to get some ideas out there and prove they serve the customers.” Even the one-to-one deals MidAmerican Energy has made in Iowa with corporations “have been groundbreaking,” she said.
While the BRC measures its goal in gigawatts by 2030, the work in regulated markets will be slower.
“It is white space,” Tawney said. “We are inventing. We would be very pleased if we helped the 34 companies in the Buyers Principles group meet their 20 million MWh demand by 2020 with renewables.”
And, she added, that MWh number is going to keep going up as more companies join. “We know it is just the tip of the iceberg because less than half of the Fortune 500 companies have sustainability goals,” Tawney said.
Because the second principle specifies “cost competitive options,” Tawney believes, increasing access to renewables through the BRC and the Buyers Principles group will drive prices down and expand opportunity for corporations, developers, brokers, the supply chain, and all the stakeholders.
What remains, she said, is “the hard work in the trenches, in the regulatory proceedings, and the deal-making, to prove the ideas in the marketplace.”
Tawney anticipates resistance because it challenges the assumption by both utilities and regulators that they have put in place the least cost, most reliable power system. “But that is not good enough. We also want it to be clean. And we want it to be clean faster than state mandates or regulatory proceedings can make that happen.”
This is a huge opportunity for utilities, Spitzer said, but it is a slower road because the system that is in place doesn’t reward innovation and that is exactly what utilities need.
After a corporate executive at a recent meeting described the kind of renewables deal his conservative, Fortune-level company was looking for, Spitzer recalled, a utility executive replied “we hear what you need, but we can’t move that fast.” To which, according to Spitzer, the buyer said, “but I have to move fast. I have goals to meet.”
At this stage, those interactions are kind of the point, he said.
“Both were sincere,” Spitzer said. “They were learning from each other.”
BioTherm Energy and Enel Green Power among the preferred project bidders named in the fourth round of the REIPPP initiative.
BioTherm Energy, a South African entity and an African-based independent power producer (IPP), has secured preferred bidder appointment for three projects: the 120MW Golden Valley Wind facility, 45MW Aggeneys Solar PV and 86MW Konkoonsies II Solar PV Facility, totaling 251MW of installed capacity.
The African utility successfully constructed and now operates 49MW of wind and solar projects secured in Round 1 of the REIPPP Program. In addition, it owns and operates a 4.2MW waste gas project at the PetroSA Gas-to-Liquids (GTL) Refinery in Mossel Bay, Western Cape.
“This 251MW allocation by the Department of Energy reflects our ability to compete directly with leading international players who have come to dominate the South African landscape,” said Jasandra Nyker, BioTherm Energy CEO. “We appreciate the Department of Energy’s commitment to supporting a South African development and investment platform in this round.”
In addition, to being awarded preferred bidder status for the wind and solar projects in South Africa, the company has recently garnered success in the rest of Africa. It was awarded preferred bidder status on four solar power projects in Zambia and secured two preferred bidder solar projects in Burkina Faso. BioTherm Energy was also finalist in the Ugandan GET FiT solar facility program and is actively developing greenfield opportunities in East and West Africa.
“BioTherm’s focus on sub-Saharan Africa is equally important to its growth strategy in South Africa,” Nyker added. “Regionalized growth of renewable energy such as wind or solar offers significant economic development and assists in improving the local manufacturing and services value chain. The recent announcement of the Round 4 projects adds to South Africa’s energy evolution and is a further step towards establishing a sustainable, low-carbon environment.”
Enel Green Power, for its part, won energy supply contracts for three wind power projects, including the Oyster Bay project that had been developed by RES. The 142MW Oyster Bay wind farm will comprise 43 turbines and generate in excess of 560GWh per year. Once complete, the project is expected to displace more than half a million tonnes of CO2 in each year of operation, making a dent in carbon emissions by offsetting the economy’s reliance on coal-fired generation.
“We are delighted that the Oyster Bay wind project has received preferred bidder status from the South African Department for Energy,” said Duncan Ayling, development director for RESSouthern Africa. “Such high wind energy sites represent excellent value for money for South Africans and bring socio-economic benefits to the local community through job creation, enterprise development and community trust schemes.”
Oyster Bay will be majority-owned, built and operated by Enel Green Power, a leading European renewable energy power producer. Between now and financial close, RES will continue to support the project and deliver development services in cooperation with Enel Green Power.
Source: Renewable Energy Focus
One of the biggest banks in the Middle East and the oil-rich Gulf countries says that fossil fuels can no longer compete with solar technologies on price, and says the vast bulk of the $US48 trillion needed to meet global power demand over the next two decades will come from renewables.
The report from the National Bank of Abu Dhabi says that while oil and gas has underpinned almost all energy investments until now, future investment will be almost entirely in renewable energy sources.
The report is important because the Gulf region will need to add another 170GW of electricity in the next decade, and the major financiers recognise that the cheapest and most effective way to go is through solar and wind. It also highlights how even the biggest financial institutions in the Gulf are thinking about how to deploy their capital in the future.
“Cost is no longer a reason not to proceed with renewables,” the 80-page NBAD report says. It says the most recent solar tender showed even at $10/barrel for oil, and $5/mmbtu for gas, solar is still a cheaper option.
It notes intermittency of wind and solar is not an issue, notes that fossil fuels resources are finite and becoming increasing hard to reach, that governments want local supplies and want to disconnect from the volatility of the oil price, and policy frameworks re seeking to decarbonise economies in response to climate and pollution concerns.
Remember, this is coming from a leading bank in the oil-rich Gulf, the most emissions-intensive countries in the world, and where energy demand is rising so quickly it risks overwhelming domestic production, turning states such as Kuwait and UAE into importers of energy rather than exporters.
But it is consistent with broader thinking within the Gulf. Last month, Saudi said that the end of the oil era was already on the horizon.
The NBAD report, prepared in conjunction with Masdar, the Abu Dhabi government’s renewable energy arm, The University of Cambridge and PwC, says the Gulf has a real opportunity to lead the world in renewables, deploying its considering financial weight, and by exporting its technology know-how.
It notes that solar PV and onshore wind power have achieved grid parity in many areas, particularly those in need of energy additions, and will be at parity in 80 per cent of world markets within two years.
In some instances, the price of renewables are remarkably low. “The latest solar PV project tendered in Dubai returned a low bid that set a new global benchmark and is competitive with oil at US$10/barrel and gas at US$5/MMBtu.”
This refers to the 200MW solar tender won by Saudi firm ACWA Power, a $23 billion energy major, which bid $US0.0584/kWh (5.84c/kwh), without subsidies, which is the lowest in the world to date.
This is already one third below the cost of gas-fired generation and ACWA believes costs will continue to fall. Much of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states rely exclusively on oil (34 per cent) or gas generation for their electricity.
Given that the Gulf countries are expected to increase their energy demand three-fold over the next 15 years, or 170GW, the NBAD report notes:
“As Government and utilities are driven to bring new generation capacity on stream, this new reality presents a significant opportunity to make savings, reduce fuel cost risks, achieve climate ambitions and, at the same time, keep more oil and gas available for export.
“This could herald an era of increased focus on solar PV as the future generation technology of choice to tackle the challenge of how best to meet current daytime peaks in demand. Once this has been done, there is the potential for exporting this expertise to neighbouring countries and along the West-East Corridor more broadly.”
The report highlights many longer term investment opportunities, particularly storage technologies and concentrated solar power. It says these technologies are currently running behind solar PV and on-shore wind in the maturity curve but are rapidly catching up. “They can already be seen to be following a similar path towards proven deployment and operation, reliability and falling costs,” it notes.
(Indeed, ACWA Power said much the same thing in January, highlighting the fact that solar tower with storage technology was falling in price, and combined with solar PV would soon be challenging “baseload” fossil fuels on costs.
As for intermittency, the age-old argument against renewables, the report says intermittency and variability are not an issue. “There has been an historic concern that renewables are an unreliable option, because the wind blows only intermittently and the sun does not shine all the time, but that is proving to be less of an issue,” it says.
In the Gulf region, it says, demand peaks tend to occur in the middle of the day, and grids “can now easily cope” with at least 40 per cent of renewable input before requiring modifications. And gas is an ideal complement to deal with the intermittency where it occurs.
“Furthermore, developments in storage technologies are progressing rapidly, and in the next few years utility-scale solutions will be deployed that further minimise concern around what was until recently seen as a major inhibitor to the uptake of renewable generation.
Even without the remarkable price achieved at the Dubai auction by ACWA Power, the report notes that wind and solar are cheaper options in the Middle East at any oil price above $US-20 to $US30 a barrel.
Even against existing oil-fired generation that have been more than half depreciated, new solar is a cheaper option at any price above $US45/barrel. Fully depreciated oil generators can no longer compete against new solar at prices above $US60/barrel.
The report also notes that energy efficiency is becoming an increasingly obvious investment, with five-year returns in many investments.
Source: Renew Economy
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With the natural growth of the solar industry in South Africa, we are now able to access materials and equipment that were previously unavailable. As consumers are becoming more and more aware of solar water heating, the demand for larger, more advanced systems has grown. Integration of various heat sources and heat demands is now possible, using carefully designed and sometimes patented hydraulic components.
Changes to the National Building Regulations have also created demand for integrated solar thermal systems that incorporate additional heating demands such as swimming pools and space heating. The integration of multiple heat sources and heating demands has in the past been a rather complex matter, since the design and control of these systems requires some careful planning. Access to more efficient pumps has enabled these complex systems to be finely managed to ensure the most effective delivery of renewable energy to the right place, at the right time, at the right temperature.
Fortunately for us (or unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint), we are able to learn from others in the global industry and we now have access to solutions that make the task of implementing world class solar thermal solutions much easier that is had been before.
A number of fundamental principles are paramount in the design and effective execution of these systems:
• Fresh water heating technology • Stratification
• Flow modulation
Let us look at these principles in more detail
Fresh Water Technology
The term is slightly misleading and derives its origin from the German“Frischwasser”, which is used to describe a component that provides instantaneous hot water, on demand, without storing the heated water. In these fresh hot water systems, the heating of the sanitary hot water takes place in a heat exchanger that draws its heat from the solar (or otherwise) heated buffer tanks. Hot water to be delivered to the demand points is never stored or kept in a heated state in a sealed vessel. The buffer tanks therefore become nothing more that static thermal batteries that store kilowatt hours in an inert medium, water. The water in these buffer tanks remains heated and insulated in a closed sealed loop to the various heat exchangers, allowing the system to draw from this stored heat as and when required.
This has a number of advantages:
- Reduced heat loss from distributed small volume storage
- More efficient heat delivery
- Diverse temperature delivery from one integrated system
- Significant reduction in turbulence in the stored water (buffer)
- Dramatically reduced pathogen growth and reduced health risk
The last point above is perhaps the most crucial of all, since we live in a society where the average consumer may very well be living with a compromised immune system and would be much more vulnerable to contracting respiratory disease. The main culprit in hot water is a bacterium of the genus Legionella, which is spread in fine water droplets (aerosols) and can lead to an acute respiratory condition known as Legionnaires’ disease (World Health Organisation, 2007). This bacteria thrives in stagnant water in temperatures of between 30°C and 50°C, and can survive in temperatures beyond these limits. The use of fresh water heating systems provides a means to deliver hot water without the risk of bacterial incubation, thereby ensuring safe, clean, uncontaminated hot water. This is especially important in health care and hospitality applications where infectious diseases can spell disaster.
For detailed information about Legionella in the South African context, consult the recently published South African National Standard for Legionella Control, published 13th May 2013 (SANS893) (Ecosafe, 2013)
The concept of stratification in hot water systems refers to the fact that layers of water at various temperatures naturally separate due to density differences, with the hottest water at the top and the cooler water at the bottom. The use of plate heat exchangers to transfer the heat to the required heating demands allows low circulation rates, thereby reducing turbulence and encouraging the stratification effect. This technique is often referred to as the ‘low flow’ or ‘single pass’ and is characterised by mass flow rates of approximately 5-20kg/m2h (AEE – Institute for Sustainable Technologies, 2009). There are a number of distinct advantages to stratification:
• Target temperatures at the top of the buffer are rapidly achieved
• Solar collector efficiency is increased due to lower inlet temperatures
• Reduced auxiliary heating demand
• Lower mass flow rates mean smaller pipe dimensions and also smaller pumps can be used The overall effect of correctly applied stratification is a reduction in the total energy required to
run the system, and a resultant reduction in total system cost (German Solar Energy Society, 2010)
Flow in piping is a much misunderstood and highly dynamic issue within solar heating design in South Africa. The vast majority of designers/installers do not consider the flow rate when designing or implementing larger scale solar thermal systems. In fact, many of them interviewed indicated that they gave it no consideration at all, beyond ‘is the fluid moving or not’ (Students, 2013).
The truth is that flow rates in solar thermal systems are absolutely crucial and can make the difference between warm water and hot water, no matter how cleverly contrived the rest of the design may be.
• High flow rates use high power pumps, increase electrical consumption and friction losses. • High flow rates may cause the disruption of stratification within the buffer tanks
• High flow rates accelerate deterioration within heat exchangers
- Low flow rates reduce the electrical energy required to run pumps and also reduces the
friction losses in the piping.
- Low flow rates allow effective stratification within buffer tanks
- Low flow rates increase the efficiency of solar thermal collectors, by lowering the collector
- Low flow rates increase the temperature at the outlet of both heat exchangers and solar
collectors, thereby allowing the target temperature required in the buffer tanks to be reached more rapidly. (German Solar Energy Society, 2010)
Thanks to the demand for more efficient pumps in the EU and elsewhere, we are able to access pumps and controls that allow speed management of single phase hot water circulators. By implementing a control strategy that dynamically adjusts the flow rate according to temperatures and temperature differences, the total system efficiency is increased, not only as a result of reduced pumping power, but as a result of more efficient solar harvesting (German Solar Energy Society, 2010). In its simplest form, a solar differential controller measures the temperature at the hottest point in the system, compares it to the coldest point in the system and adjusts the pump speed up or down accordingly. In other words, the pump will dynamically increase or decrease its speed as the solar input varies throughout the day. This is particularly important in a climate where summer thunderstorms are prevalent, since the solar circuit will adjust for the reduced radiation during the storms, thereby ensuring efficient solar harvesting.
Flow modulation is also critical in fresh water heating systems, which could easily be called the inverse of solar heating circuits – instead of changing the buffer with thermal energy, they discharge thermal energy in a controlled manner. Flow modulation is again very important, since the variable speeds of the pumps on either side of the fresh water heating system heat exchanger will ensure that the target temperature is immediately reached.
In addition, variable speed pumps form an integral part of energy efficient hot water circulation in buildings. By reducing the rate at which the water is moved in the circuit, the heat losses are reduced and the pumping power is consequently reduced.
Many advanced controllers, notably the range produced by Resol, Germany, are able to handle multiple circuits at once, and can be expanded to accommodate multiple stores (buffers) and multiple collector arrays, all with fine pump control included.
In order to deliver the best results from an efficiently designed and correctly installed solar thermal system, one cannot expect to operate on the ‘fire and forget’ principle. On the contrary, by monitoring the performance of the system post-commissioning, the set points, flow rates, pressures and other important parameters can be adjusted to reflect the operational realities of the system within its installed context.
Fortunately, many of the control systems allow data logging and display, using very basic components and a reliable data (internet) connection. In some cases, such as with Resol and their vBus. net service, the framework upon which one can build a monitoring portfolio is provided free of charge.
Monitoring of almost all states and values in the solar thermal system is possible, with the following being the primary metrics:
• Temperature difference
• Heat quantity delivered (kWh) • Flow rate
• Volume delivered
• Run time
• Clock time
This may seem to many to be an‘over engineered’solution, but the reality is that energy delivery is greatly increased if the setpoints are adjusted once the system is commissioned (German Solar Energy Society, 2010)
An important fact about monitoring solar thermal systems is also often overlooked here in South Africa. By allowing insight into the performance of a particular solar thermal system, the installer is showing confidence that the system will deliver energy as predicted, according to the client’s expectations. Publicly displayed data can be a double-edged sword, and one has to be very sure that one’s design is correct before exposing oneself to criticism. In other words, those that are brave enough to share the recorded data with their clients, are confident enough that the system will do as it was designed to do – deliver heat consistently and efficiently.
Recent experience (Author, personal experience, Midrand, 2013) showed that by adjusting various temperature set points within the solar differential controller of a large scale solar thermal system, delivery of energy improved by an estimated 10%. Additionally, the live display of data allowed the author to monitor the results of the adjustments to ensure that in fact the changes were positive.
The graph below clearly shows the increased temperature after certain adjustments were made to the system:
The adjustments referred to above are only one of the many improvements that have been, and will continue to be made to improve the performance of the system. The most positive spin-off of this initial monitoring is that the installer of this system has been awarded a second contract on site, with an expected volume of 12 000l.
For the client, the benefit has been not only the improvement of performance of the system, but it has highlighted the excessive water consumption on site. The result is that water usage is expected to drop dramatically in 2014, once the installation of efficient shower heads is completed.
Further developments in these systems will allow contractors to manipulate the set points of solar thermal systems remotely, with the use of a pc or tablet device. In other words, immediate adjustments can be made without a physical presence on site, and the work performed can be billed accordingly, without the service provider ever leaving the office.
Products and Solutions for Advanced Solar Thermal Systems
Now that we have established that fine control and management of solar thermal systems delivers better results and higher energy gain, how can we implement these?
In all cases, we would seek a solution that meets the following basic criteria:
• Simple to install
Fortunately we now have access to a number of solutions that combine all the essential elements that we have mentioned so far, both on the input and delivery side of the system.
Stratified Charging Module SLM120XL
Marketed by SEG Solar Energy (Pty)Ltd, this streamlined solution is suitable for both new and retrofit installations. The SLM120XL unit is able to handle up to 120m2 of solar thermal collector area and incorporates a Resol differential solar controller and energy efficient variable speed pumps. (SEG Solar Energy, 2012)
In addition to the main function of the unit, the following information can be recorded and displayed:
• Flow rates and volumes
• Temperatures at all sensor positions • Heat quantity produced
• Error states
Fresh Water Module FWM225XL
When it comes to delivering uncontaminated, instantaneously heated water, the Fresh Water Module FWM225XL is the uncontested leader in the game. This patented product was the result of research and development performed by individuals who subsequently built and now operate the world’s largest manufacturer of flat plate solar collectors.
The FWM225XL module is designed to provide instantly heated hot water, while drawing the heated fluid from the buffers and simultaneously providing hot water recirculation in the building. As previously described, this component uses a plate heat exchanger and variable speed pumps to ensure the most efficient use of stored heat and consistent delivery of clean hot water, without the risk of bacterial contamination. (SEG Solar Energy, 2012)
With the help of the controller fitted to the unit, various data points can be read and displayed, such as:
• Temperature • Flow rate
• Run time
By combining the aforementioned devices with the appropriate storage vessels, the result
would look something similar to the representation in the diagram below:
Solar thermal systems are fast achieving their correct place in the South African HVAC industry – that of primary energy source – and no longer the ‘alternative’
The question is no longer “does solar work?” but rather “how can you maximise the delivery of solar energy” in your project today, and into the future.
Given the range of efficient solutions available, it is inconceivable that anyone would be hesitant to invest in the cleanest source of energy our species has ever seen. Solar simply works.
Source: Sustainable Energy Resource Handbook Volume 5
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