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The future belongs to clean energy

Posted on 5 October 2016 by Guest Author

Anders Runevad is CEO and Group President of Vestas Wind Systems A/S, the global leader in wind energy.

As we close out a summer marked by uncertainty in news and events, one trend for which analysts voice increasing certainty is the accelerating pace of the clean-energy transformation reshaping how the world generates electricity.

With increasing speed, global energy markets are turning away from fossil fuels and towards wind and other renewable sources, not just because they’re clean but because they’re cheaper, more competitive energy choices and offer a level of long-term certainty more price-volatile fossil fuels just can’t match.

In fact, by 2030 clean energy is expected to overtake fossil fuels and become the largest source in global electricity production — and wind power is forecast to lead the way to meet the surging demand for renewables. In its 2016 Outlook, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) projects: 

a fundamental transformation of the world electricity system over coming decades towards renewable sources.

From forecast data to market demand, it’s clear the future belongs to wind and other clean energies.

In the top energy markets on six continents, wind is now the cheapest or largest source of newly installed power and gaining share. In 2015, the wind industry crossed the 60 gigawatt (GW) mark for the first time and reached an unprecedented 63 GW installed globally. 

The bottom line: wind is winning. Not just in forecasts, but in today’s global marketplace. 

Wind power installations are projected to continue this trend, more than doubling in developing countries and increasing by one-third in developed countries by 2030. As wind energy costs continue to drop, the primary drivers for clean energy are expected to include replacement of existing generating capacity – fossil fuel or nuclear – because they simply no longer make economic sense; further growth in global electricity demand; long-term policy stability such as that provided by the production tax credit in the U.S.; and nation-specific targets driven by the Paris Climate Agreement.

Developing markets in particular have an opportunity to leapfrog older energy sources and meet new electricity demand by using wind power that is cleaner and cheaper than fossil fuels. One example is the Lake Turkana wind project in Kenya, where Vestas supplies wind turbines and Google will be a key investor. Upon completion, it will supply 310 megawatts of clean power, account for some 15% of the country’s electricity consumption, and power Kenya’s future growth more cheaply and cleanly than traditional fuels.

While the present and the future look bright for renewables, pushing their energy costs even lower remains key for accelerating the transition to a clean energy mix globally. BNEF reports that onshore wind’s costs are expected to drop 23–36% globally by 2030, but Vestas is committed to driving down the levelized cost of wind energy even further.

To achieve this, we are leading the industry with investments in research and development and our smart data capabilities to help customers lower their cost of energy, increase their annual energy production, and strengthen their business case.

Click here to read the rest

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Comments 1 to 10:

  1. Well its good news that wind is on the up. Don't get me wrong I want wind to "win" very much. When I look at the worlds 2000, 2010 and 2013 total energy and renewable energy its lifeted from 13% renewables in 2000, 13.3% in 2010 to 13.8% in 2013. (Wikipedia World energy consumption)

    When I look at the need to end fossil fuel at the current rate our budget runs out in some where between 5 and 15 years if we are to keep the planet to below 1.5 C average temperature increase. Even if renewables continue to grow and I hope they grow very much faster, we are still short of what we need.

    An all out war footing is still called for to very greatly increase all sustainables to displace fossil fuels.

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  2. When I look at the massive commenting of the linked article [the known Guardian Blog], I'm thinking (again and again) that there is a need for a new kind of myth list here on SkS. While the "sceptics" lose more and more ground on the scientific basics of climate change, they return freshly and completely unconvinced on all fields of practical avoidance or production changes. The patterns presented in this "newer" discussions reminds me very much of the pointless discussions in the early 2000 wether there are GHG and if there are, why they are not causing any problems and if they would do, why it's not us that produce them and if it is us, then why we could never change this.

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  3. @ 2-ajki: Hah - you had me going there. I thought you were going to say that we need some skepticism about renewables and the risks of relying on someone "talking their book" in that sector. :-P

    Even setting aside vested interests, I think I could make the claim that some skepticism is in order about plans to deploy renewables (due to viability rather than motivations).

    For example, one study claiming that overbuilding intermittant renewables (albeit with storage and better interconnections) and discontinuing nuclear is a viable plan for the USA is insufficent evidence that that is truly viable.  The goal is laudable, the conclusion is appealing, but that does not mean that the authors may have overlooked something. The result needs to be independently analyzed and reproduced to be sure the construction of the investigation was not faulty.

    That's probably enough said - I'm sure the slings and arrows are pointed my way already - but please know that I think we owe ourselves a deeper exploration of the engineering challenges to transition to a zero emissions society.

    You are saying we should have a list of "myths" debunking criticisms of  various CO2 mitigation or avoidance strategies?  Perhaps we agree! :-)

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  4. Ianw01:

    A quick search of Google Scholar shows that 42 studies have already cited Jacobson 2015.  Most of those support the claims of Jacobson.  That is a lot of citations considering the lead time required for a paper to get in a journal.  Jacobson 2008 has over 600 citations.   Many of those have similar conclusions to Jacobson 2015.  

    Perhaps if you read more about the subject of renewable energy you will be more supportive.  When you limit your reading to a single study it appears that more work is required.

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  5. ianw01 @3, there is no question that some combination of renewable energy, energy storage at a number of time scales, and improved network capacity can completely supply the USA (or any other countries) energy needs.  Whether or not that is 'viable' is a different matter, as "viable" is a very vague, indeed, a subjective word.  I can well imagine that a commited climate change denier will find no such plan 'viable'; but that that is only an indication of their unwillingness to accept any conversion to renewable energy.

    The interesting thing about Jacobsen (2015) is that, for the US, they show a pathway to achieving that end whose calculated costs show a net benefit across the full range of uncertainty (excluding the cost of stranded assets, and health and climate impact benefits).  An actual attempt to impliment the scheme may well be less effective than it is on paper (most likely due to political factors), or be more effective (due to improved technology).  But, as in any policy issue, it is not known on which side of that equation we will fall, so that means there is no technical reason not to make the attempt.  And there is certainly a need to do so.

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  6. michael sweet @4: I have read much more than one study. My concern is that we can't afford to bungle the transition. The Jacobson 2015 paper covers a remarkable range of topics, and out of necessity stays at a high level. It cannot take the place of a detailed engineering plan for each jurisdiction. That further planning work needs to be done ASAP, and on that I'm sure we agree. (The citations are impressive but I maintain that citations do not consitute independently verifying the conclusions.)

    Tom Curtis @5: Agreed - the need to move that way is clear. And yes, the political dimension to the challenge we face is significant. As for "viability" my main concern is the extent to which storage and interconnections can meet power demand for extended periods of low winds in a region during long cold winter nights. Sure, with "enough" storage and overbuilding of generation it can work, but to be convinced that the Jacobson vision is viable, I think that a detailed picture by state of the worst case scenario they modeled would go a long way to de-bunking critics of the 2050 vision. 

    If you are both still with me, let me provide an example that perhaps explains my bias and concerns:

    In Ontario the government closed coal-fired generation and embarked on a huge build-out of subsidized wind generation in the province. So far so good, but it was an energy plan devised by politicians. The province now has inflexible base-load generation, minimal storage, and a high proportion of renewables whose generation (under premium-priced incentive contracts) correlates poorly with demand. That often leads to overgeneration where they have to pay to dump power to neighboring jurisdictions. That, coupled with the need to keep substantial fossil-fuel generation capacity at the ready means that tax- and rate-payers are in an uproar, the province has cancelled the next $3.8 billion of renewable generation.

    This is a good web site to explore this in real-time: see the Supply tab's 7 day chart. I bet this October's windy days are going to be quite different from a calm cold night (or even daytime) in December or January.

    On the positive side, Ontario's supply is largely carbon-free, as you can see from that site. Many jurisdictions would be pleased to have such a low-carbon profile for their electcity generation.

    However where do we go from here? Pulling the plug on fossil fuels and nuclear generation in Ontario seems like pure fantasy. Clearly extensive storage technology is needed before further renewables are added, and the considerable issue of residential and commercial building heating remains unaddressed.

    A path that is financially, politically, and technically viable to get Ontario from the present to the 2050 Jacobson vision needs some serious detailed planning, and it won't be easy.

    One last request before you respond: go back and re-read the original article here that was the context for my inital post.

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  7. Ianw01,

    On his website Jacobson has a plan for every USA state and most of the countries in the world.  How much more detailed do you want?  In my  opinion, it is not necessary to redo everything Jacobson has done.  If a few locations are checked (as has been done in the lists of citations I have already provided) the time is better spent working on the issues Jacobson and others have identified, like power storage and hydrogen usage, rather than checking on his projections.  The energy system is very large and complex.  Jacobson has demonstrated many paths are available to reach the desired endpoint.  The final result will not be exactly what Jacobson currently forecasts but will be completely renewable.

    Checking the website you cite about Ontario, right now (12:30 pm EST), nuclear provides 11,000 MW, hydro 4,000 and wind and solar combined about 1 MW.  This hardly seems like a "huge buildout" of wind.  A single new nuclear power station costs $8-10 billion (if they could be built on schedule).  Your issue is that nuclear (which must run 24/7, except when it closes down completely) is overbuilt, not wind.  Since nuclear is the most expensive energy, that is why your energy costs are high.  Do not blame wind for the wasted money on nuclear.

    Nuclear requires huge fossil standby in case the reactor shuts down, which happens once or twice a year.  Wind and solar do not require spinning reserve at high levels.  Do not blame wind and solar for expensive reserve set aide for nuclear emergencies.   I found the 7 day page hard to read.  What is your point?

    For storage you have already built hydro, which is the best form of renewable storage.  All that is required is for the management of your hydro facilities to be adjusted to a renewable support format instead of a fossil fuel support format.  This is an oversimplification, but so are your complaints of difficulty from renewables.  In the new renewable energy system the grid will not function in exactly the same way as it does using fossil fuels.

    Jacobson won the Cozzarelli prize, for best paper in the PNAS.  In it he ran a model of the entire USA for 4 years and found that all energy is supplied all the time paper.  This demonstrates renewables can supply all power on windless nights.  You keep asking for work that has already been done.

    In my opinion, Ontario will probably be best served with their expensive nuclear until wind becomes so cheap it is economic to scrap the nuclear plants (a few years at the current pace) or sooner if they  want to switch over industries that currently use fossil heat to electricity.  That change will be made in different industries as wind continues to be cheaper than fossil fuels and nuclear.

    I wrote the original article you linked and used that paper in my AP Chemistry class last week as a science resource.  What do you think I am missing?  Since that paper was published additional data has been published (like Jacobson 2015 linked above).

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  8. michael sweet @7: Thanks for the detailed and thoughtful reply. I doubt we'll be able to solve Ontario's mess here. I will spend some time looking into the links you provided.  Allow me to pick up on some points you raised:

    • The 7 day chart often nicely displays the irregularity of the wind generated portion of Ontario's electricity. When it does not contribute, other sources must make up the shortfall.
    • Ontario's installed wind generation capacity is ~3900 MW, and it is currently generating about 800 MW. At each day's peak demand hour in the last 7 days, wind generation has ranged from just 66MW on October 3 to 2332MW on Oct 5. 
    • I have no particular love for nuclear and yes it is expensive. It is part of the problem here and a big part of the low-carbon profile of electricty in the province.

    Finally, you ask what do I think you are missing. When you state "Ontario will probably be best served with their expensive nuclear until wind becomes so cheap it is economic to scrap the nuclear plants..." the thing that seems missing is recognition that wind is intermittant. You made that assertion devoid of any mention of storage or long range transmission capacity.  I think it must have been implied, but it is non-trvial and must not be downplayed.

    Similarly the whole original article here is a "wind power is getting cheaper" puff-piece by a CEO with a vested interest in selling more turbines, with no mention for how its intermittency can be handled.  I'd much rather hear about all the great grid-scale storage technology that is being built and getting cheaper.

    Sorry for the rant.  This transition is important and we both want the same goal.  I'll do my homework and see if I can allay my fears.

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  9. Wind intermittency is sometimes claimed to be a problem, but is less challenging than it appears.

    The article says the following "The UK’s National Grid reports that only 22 GWh of fossil fuel reserve power was needed to back up the UK’s 23,700 GWh of wind electricity when there was no wind at all to harvest. This is partly because the wind is always blowing somewhere on the seascape or landscape—quite often, not far away—and thus wind power can always be sent from there to the towns and cities where there is less wind or no wind at all"

    I think it's astonishing how little fossil fuel backup power is required, so the resultant emissions become a small concern, - although not ideal. Of course an alternative approach would be to have additional surplus wind energy, or other forms of backup power. Presumably the challenge would be very small countries where the entire country could be under an anticyclone with little wind, on some days. This would require specific approaches for such a country.

    But remember, fossil fuel grids and nuclear have very substantial surplus capacity as well, due to maintainance requirements.

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  10. Here is an attempt at a concise summary of what I have found so far, though I'm still concerned that intermittency of wind is a bigger problem than is generally thought.

    nigelj: That article is a bit too optimistic relative to the analysis it provides for me (as you might expect!) but it did cite a link where it stated that "a highly renewable ... system ... could meet or exceed regional demand 99% of the time". That sounds nice until you follow the link and look at the chart and realize that those scenarios include coal, nuclear and plenty of CCCT (combined cycle combustion turbine) out to 2050.  That chain of claims reminds me of amusing tales of how the truth gets modified as people report to their bosses, resulting in vastly differing stories between the shop floor and the CEO.  Trust but verify. :-)

    There is an excellent series of articles at such as this one which covers grid stability with higher wind penetration. See the whole series there on renewables - well worth the read!

    The best take-away from regarding this thread of discussion is the following summary of the thorough JP Morgan report comparing decarbonization of Germany and California:

    Basically, they reach their conclusions from the following critical elements:

    • energy cannot be stored economically
    • time-series data demonstrates that, even when wind power is sourced over a very wide area, there will always be multiple days where the wind/solar energy is “a lot lower” than usual
    The choices are:
    • spend a crazy amount on storage
    • build out (average) supply to many times actual demand
    • backup intermittent solar/wind with conventional
    • build a lot of nuclear power

    These are obvious conclusions after reading 100 papers. The alternatives are:

    • ignore the time-series problem
    • assume demand management will save the day
    • assume “economical storage” will save the day

    Many papers and a lot of blogs embrace these alternatives.

    The comments in that article include a discussion of a "box-canyon scenario" where we go headlong down a wind + solar path that does not in the end provide a route to the desired CO2 reductions. It is worth thinking through those possibilities.

    Finally, on the Ontario front you can see this year's generation costs quoted here (with a grain of salt given the source).  In CAD cents/kWh solar is 48.1, wind 13.3,  gas 14, hydro 5.7, nuclear 6.8.  That makes for an interesting backdrop for (a) a recent refurb plan that would bring nuclear up to 16.6 cents/kWh over 10 years combined with (b) the recent cancellation of additional wind generation plans.  My (biased?) hunch is that wind intermittency would have made for some difficult challenges to operate the system when wind output was minimal, although others do argue that the nuclear industry is well entrenched in Ontario and stands to benefit more from that investment. A combination of the two also seems likely.

    Hopefully that draws some of the loose ends that I raised to a close here (although not definitively, I admit).

    My remaining to-do item is to get deep enough into Jacobson's reports to get a handle on how intermittency was managed in a representative northern inland US state. Hopefully I can convince myself that the modeling was able to plausibly get past this intermittency issue. 

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