Category Archives: Energy Efficiency

Scotland Rejects Independence, But Concerns Linger for a Renewables Future

Indeed, it is uncertainty that inevitably depresses business sentiment, and it was therefore no surprise to see the value of Sterling — the currency much argued over during the independence campaign — soar to a two-year high against the Euro in the immediate aftermath of the count. Furthermore, Scotland’s vote to save its 300-year old union with the U.K. means that, initially at least, all the existing conditions that have driven the massive investments in exploiting the substantial wind and wave resources in the northern parts of the U.K. will continue as before.

Commenting on the decision, Tony Ward, head of power and utilities at consultancy firm EY, said: “A ‘No’ vote is important for the whole of the U.K. in that it allows the established dynamic in the energy markets to continue its current course.

“The U.K. markets have developed ever-closer and more integrated systems and ways of operating that serve to reduce, then smooth, the cost burden across all users. This also enables investment choices to be made on system-wide merit and help achieve a degree of energy security that can often be taken for granted.”

Ward added that “a major uncertainty has been removed by the vote, particularly for those who were evaluating significant capital investments in Scotland. The Electricity Market Reforms and further developments of the U.K.’s competitive retail market can now progress while taking the U.K. market into account as a whole.

Highlighting investor concerns Ward noted: “The un-picking of this fully integrated market would have likely led to the creation of a significant degree of asymmetry in the separated markets, particularly in respect of the allocation of costs and assets. This is now smoothed by the ability to adopt a nationwide approach.»

As Brenda Kelly from IG Index — quoted by the BBC — said: “Investors…will be relieved that management will be able to devote their time to business performance, rather than fretting about contract changes or headquarter moves.”

There had been great concerns that victory for the pro-independence campaign would significantly impact Scotland’s thriving renewables industry and on the key impact on renewables Ben Warren, Environmental Finance Leader at EY U.K. Ireland, said: “The cost of subsidising renewable energy has traditionally been spread across the U.K.” He described the result as “positive in that Scotland now won’t be left to pay the lion’s share of subsidies given that this is where most of renewable energy is generated.”

He noted that independence would have added further concerns to a market already facing significant challenges, saying: “The renewables sector still has to face the difficult choices that the new contract for difference (CfD) feed-in tariff regime, the threat of budgetary constraints and further solar subsidy revisions bring, as well as fatigue from constant policy tinkering. And with the current levels of energy market reform underway, the UK’s energy sector was not looking forward to having to digest the impact of an independent Scotland. We know how prolonged policy uncertainty can impact the attractiveness and viability of renewables investment and cause project delays.”

Similarly, Mark Kember, chief executive of non-profit group the Climate Group, noted that many analysts had underlined the expected impact on the energy sector of a ‘yes’ vote, highlighting the uncertainty of future policies set by a new political body. Under the Scotland act 1998, most of Scotland’s energy policies were created by central government.

Kember cited recent U.K. government analysis, which stated that Scottish bill payers could have paid up to £38 more per year for households and £110,000 for a medium sized manufacturer in 2020 to support renewables. He said: “As a member of The Climate Group States Regions Alliance, Scotland has been an inspiration for its significant climate achievements and a world leader for renewable power. The leadership Scotland shows is exactly what we need from regional governments in tackling climate change, and now that it will remain part of the union we hope that Scotland will continue to set a clear example on the benefit low carbon technologies can provide, both in terms of sustainable resources and economic growth.”

Certainly there is little doubt that a yes vote on independence would have derailed investment in Scottish wind farm development, despite accusations from the independence campaign that any such suggestion was unduly and unjustifiably negative. Leading renewable energy analysis firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) had released analysis just days before the vote noting that a vote by Scotland in favour of independence from the UK would be likely to damage clean energy investment, at least in the short term, as developers and banks would be gripped by uncertainty over the future shape of the power market and incentives for renewables during negotiations.

Kieron Stopforth, BNEF analyst and author of the research, commented: “During this period of negotiation, with oil, power and renewables support under discussion as well as the currency, defence and national debt, clean energy investors would feel less than confident about future prospects, and decisions will inevitably be delayed.

Ukraine Crisis May Spur EU Clean Energy Policies, Neste Oil Says

The U.S. and European Union have imposed sanctions against Russia over its alleged involvement in the conflict in Ukraine. Europe is trying to ease its dependence on Russia, which supplied almost one-third of its crude oil and natural gas in 2012 and a quarter of its solid fuels, according to European Commission statistics.

Politicians in Europe need to set more long-term mandates to encourage the use of alternative fuels that cut carbon emissions and reduce the region’s reliance on imports, Lievonen said. While Europe has proposed a 27 percent renewable-energy target for 2030, it hasn’t set a specific goal for biofuels, such as those manufactured by Neste Oil, past the turn of the decade.

The Finnish refiner can produce renewable diesel from as many as 11 different feedstocks and it’s experimenting with using others that include algae. The company invested about 1.5 billion euros ($1.9 billion) in renewable diesel over the past five years and produces about 2 million metric tons annually from its units in Finland, Rotterdam and Singapore.

Supply Security

“Geopolitical risk is going to play a much bigger role around setting energy policy,” said Ben Warren, environmental finance leader in the U.K. and Ireland at the consulting company EY. “The agenda isn’t just decarbonization. It’s security of supply, business interruption, price volatility and risk management.”

The situation in Russia helps to “shine the spotlight” on the rationale behind the development of a low-carbon future, Warren said. “The bio-energy, biofuels and renewable-energy markets are all about providing independence and security. This is a timely reminder for all the wrong reasons.”

Copyright 2014 Bloomberg

Lead image: European flags via Shutterstock

German Scientists Break Thin-Film PV Solar Cell Record

Everybody loves a new world record, even more so when that record hints at the possibility of enormous strides in solar power energy generation. According to information coming out of the Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research (ZSW) in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, scientists there have once again snatched up the title as creators of the highest performing thin-film PV cell in the world.

Smashing the previous record of 21 percent efficiency set by Swedish solar manufacturer Midsummer, ZSW says it has achieved 21.7 percent cell efficiency in laboratory conditions by way of a solar cell made of copper indium gallium selenide (or CIGS, for short). The new breakthrough kicks up the outperformance of CIGS against multicrystalline solar cells by 1.3 percent and sets the stage for further improvements that could drive the cost of CIGS technology down to competitive levels.

Solar cell efficiency ratings indicate the percentage of incident sunlight that can be converted into electrical power. According to ZSW, CIGS modules currently available on the market are rated at an efficiency of roughly 15 percent. This is due to their larger size, which results in a lower overall efficiency.

The physical size of the CIGS solar cells developed by ZSW are small, but their potential is big. Each cell has an area of 0.5 square centimeters, which is the standard size for laboratory testing. Over 40 cells of identical size and makeup were manufactured, all of them achieving efficiency rates greater than 21 percent.

Professor Michael Powalla, head of the photovoltaics division of ZSW, said he is optimistic about even further technological improvements that will unlock additional CIGS solar cell potential.

“An efficiency rate of 23 percent is possible with a single junction,” Powalla said. “Reaching 23 to 25 percent is ambitious, but not impossible.” He added that efficiency rates above 25 percent will require “new components in the cell, like efficient tandem partners.”

According to Powalla, it may be another one to two years before ZSW’s superior performing thin-film solar cells can be put into mass production for widespread commercial availability. “The real challenge at the moment is to find investors.”

Funding for the research was provided by the Germany Federal Ministries for the Environment and for Economic Affairs and Energy. Additional monies were provided by the state of Baden-Württemberg. According to Powalla, that financial backing was essential to the results achieved.

“Without state RD funding, this success would not have been possible,” Powalla said. “The risk in the development for private money would have been too high.” Powalla added that additional research funds are “absolutely needed” for continued research.

Lead image: Fireworks via Shutterstock

Solar PV Installations Quintuple Across K-12 Schools

In a first of its kind report prepared with the aid of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and grant money courtesy the U.S. Department of Energy, Brighter Future: A Study on Solar in U.S. Schools found there are a total of 3,727 public and private K-12 schools throughout the United States with installed solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. Of those, a stunning 3,000 have been installed in the last six years alone, effectively quintupling solar proliferation.

“That’s an astounding statistic,” said Andrea Luecke, President and Executive Director of TSF. “We see it as a movement, and the more schools are willing to serve as models for others, and to offer their testimonials, the more of a multiplier effect it will have.”

Currently, the entire installed PV capacity of those 3,727 schools is almost 490 MW. Total generation capacity for all states combined is 642,155,676 kilowatt hours (kWh) per year and total annual projected savings are $77.8 million. The top three states with the highest number of solar-enabled schools are California (963 schools), New Jersey (379 schools) and Illinois (268 schools).

Illinois’ high placement was one of the big surprises revealed by the report, especially considering the nascent state of its solar industry. Luecke said she believes the high number of schools in Illinois with installed PV is indicative of a strong commitment by the state to clean energy.

“Much of that is being driven by the efforts of the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, as well as the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE),” Luecke said, also pointing to recent law signed into effect by Governor Pat Quinn that commits $30 million for the purchase of solar systems to help meet a portion of the state’s electricity needs.

Illinois ranked 22nd in the nation for overall school solar capacity, with just over 1 MW (1,037 kW) of installed capacity and 1,136,911 kWh per-year generation capacity. New Jersey ranked 2nd with an installed capacity of 91 MW and annual generation of more than 102 million kWh. Not surprisingly, California leads the pack, boasting 217 MW of installed capacity and an annual generation in excess of 300 million kWh. The sum total of yearly savings amount to just over $100,000 for Illinois. On the upper end of the savings spectrum, New Jersey schools will save $13.5 million per year, and California will save nearly $40.5 million.

“The California school system alone is poised to save more than $1.2 billion over the next 30 years, which represents the lifetime of the solar systems,” Luecke said. “That’s money that can pay for a lot of teacher salaries, books, iPads in the classroom, educational programming, infrastructural overhaul, and more. Those savings can have an enormous impact on achievement levels, which in turn increases global competitiveness and helps young people find promising career paths.”

Luecke said TSF’s access to DOE funding is being used to help schools and school districts with the necessary technical assistance in adopting solar solutions.

“This is free technical assistance that will be available for the next 10 to 12 months,” Luecke said. “We’re positioning ourselves to provide technical help to schools, school districts, administrators, facilities managers, teachers, and other local champions who see this as an opportunity to save money, improve educational programming and help the environment.”

See also our story from yesterday: New York To Spend $23 Million for Solar Panels on 24 Schools


New Report Sheds Light on the Potential of Biomass

Biomass appears poised for big things in coming decades. According to a recent report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), biomass could account for as much as 60 percent of the global renewable energy mix by the year 2030, providing up to 20 percent of the world’s electricity needs.

IRENA is an organization located in the United Arab Emirates that was launched in 2011 and soon after established REmap 2030. The intent of REmap 2030 is to plot the course for a doubling of global renewable energy share by the year 2030.

In the report titled Global Bioenergy Supply and Demand Projections for the Year 2030, IRENA lays out the case in favor of specific biomass technologies it says will help to significantly limit greenhouse gas emissions to “two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels” by the year 2100.

The key here is in the use of “sustainably sourced” resources. According to suggestions within the report, 40 percent of biomass supply would originate from “agricultural residues and waste.” Energy crops and forest products would account for the remaining supply potential.

Arguments against the use of biomass range from its emission of methane and CO2 to its high cost, which opponents say is not as affordable or environmentally sound as other methods of alternative power generation. Others say the growth of energy crops takes up valuable agricultural real estate that could be put to use producing consumable crops and may result in driving up the cost of food. Despite these assertions, there are many who say biomass is a far better alternative to traditional coal burning.

Scott Sklar, founder and president of The Stella Group and Chair of the Steering Committee of the Sustainable Energy Coalition, believes a ramped-up pursuit of biomass as a renewable energy source is a logical solution to dealing with issues created by waste biomass.

“Waste biomass causes forest fires,” Sklar said. “It turns to methane, it gets into landfills and some is even getting into our municipal water systems. We have many technologies to dispose of it cleanly, meeting the most intense environmental standards. Why wouldn’t we want to do it since it’s a renewable resource?»

Sklar sees biomass playing an integral role in the pursuit of a well-rounded global renewable energy portfolio, calling it “an invaluable tool in the arsenal” and underlining that its incorporation into the renewable energy mix will help achieve a maximization of results. “If you do it that way, you don’t strain the responsible use of any one technology,” Sklar said. “The more options you have for consumers and rate payers, the better.”

In today’s renewable energy mix, biomass is used primarily for cooking and heating in both commercial and residential buildings sectors, to a tune of 53 exajoules in 2010. But in the roadmap developed by IRENA, a more aggressive exploration of the full potential of biomass as an energy source could serve to more than double this output.

With the largest supply potential of biomass presently existing in Europe and Asia, IRENA suggests one of the chief challenges will be in establishing national and international partnerships and policies to ensure smooth movement of resources across the use and supply chain.

The full IRENA report can be downloaded here.

Prost! 5 Breweries Embracing Renewable Energy

Love it or hate it, summer is gone and cold weather is creeping its way into our lives. Here in New England, fall brings all sorts of activities, from apple picking to pumpkin patches to football. But at REW, we’re most excited for one quintessential fall event: Oktoberfest.

The changing leaves also bring about changing brews, so we decided to highlight several breweries that are cooking up batches of ales, IPAs, stouts and lagers with the help of renewable energy.

Do you know of any sustainable brewers that we missed? Leave them in the comments below, or better yet, send us some samples.