BioEnergy: the Biggest Renewable Energy Story of 2018

Want to Get up to Speed on Renewable Energy in 2018? 

The big news in 2018 is the astonishing growth opportunity for bioenergy.

In 2017 bioenergy produced half of all renewable energy globally — as much as hydropower, wind power and solar power combined — and this energy segment continues to grow rapidly.

But before that, let’s have a quick refresher on renewable energy…


This graphic shows how much energy is available on planet Earth from all known sources — both renewable energy and non-renewable energy

Planetary energy reserves. Image courtesy of Perez and Perez.
Planetary energy reserves. Image courtesy of Perez and Perez.

Here’s how many people are employed in the solar industry compared to the fossil fuel, wind and nuclear electricity generation industries in the U.S (2016)

More Workers in Solar than Fossil Fuel Power GenerationExcerpt from Statista.com | “Renewable energy has made impressive strides in the U.S. in recent years. According to a new report from the U.S. Department of Energy, solar power employs more people than electricity generation through coal, oil and gas combined. Last year, solar power accounted for 43 percent of the Electric Power Generation sector’s workforce while fossil fuels combined employed 22 percent.

The statistic will be welcomed with open arms by those trying to refute Donald Trump’s assertion that renewable energy projects are bad news for the U.S. economy. Around 374,000 people were employed in solar energy, according to the report while generation through fossil fuels had a workforce of just over 187,000. The solar boom can be attributed to construction work associated with expanding generation capacity.

The report states that the employment gap is actually growing with net coal generation decreasing 53 percent over the last 10 years. During the same period of time, electricity generation through gas expanded 33 percent while solar went up by an impressive 5,000 percent.” — Niall McCarthy (Statista.com)


Here’s How Many People Are Employed in Renewable Energy Worldwide (2017)

The renewable energy industry employs 10.3 million people worldwide, according to new data from the International Renewable Energy Agency.
The renewable energy industry employs 10.3 million people worldwide, according to new data from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)

Excerpt from IRENA | “The industry created more than 500 000 new jobs globally in 2017, with the total number of people employed in renewables (including large hydropower) surpassing 10 million for the first time.

Renewable Energy and Jobs, presents the status of employment, both by technology and in selected countries, over the past year. Jobs in the sector (including large hydropower) increased 5.3% in 2017, for a total of 10.3 million people employed worldwide, according to this fifth edition in the series.

China, Brazil, the United States, India, Germany and Japan have remained the world’s biggest renewable energy employers, representing more than 70% of such jobs. While growing numbers of countries reap socio-economic benefits from renewables, the bulk of manufacturing still takes place in relatively few countries. Four-fifths of all renewable energy jobs in 2017 were in Asia, the report finds.

Among the various technologies based on renewables, the solar photovoltaic (PV) industry supports the most jobs. PV jobs increased almost 9% to reach 3.4 million around the world in 2017, reflecting the year’s record 94 gigawatts of PV installation.

Jobs in the global wind power industry contracted slightly to 1.15 million. Europe still accounts for five of the world’s top ten countries for installed wind power capacity.” — IRENA


This graphic shows global subsidies for fossil fuel vs. renewable energy (2018)

Global subsidies for fossil fuels and renewable energy
Fossil fuels contribute both electricity and transportation fuel to the global energy mix, that is why *Oil* and *Gas* used for transportation are listed separately from *Fossil fuel electricity* as these fuels receive differing subsidies depending how it is used. For example: Diesel fuel can be burned to power cars and trucks and some aircraft (transportation fuel) or diesel fuel can be burned to produce electricity (a power plant) or diesel fuel can be burned to produce heat for your home (home heating oil) Each use has a different subsidy regime attached to it.

The Solutions Project: 100% Renewable Energy by 2050

The Solutions Project interactive renewable energy map
Click the image to visit The Solutions Project interactive map to see how your country or major city could benefit from a switch to 100% renewable energy by the year 2050.

Excerpt from TheSolutionsProject.org | “Right now, everything in our lives could be powered by clean, renewable energy. From our homes and smartphones to the electricity running our local grocery stores, clean energy is not only possible – it’s already happening. Solutions Project accelerates the transition to 100% clean energy by championing a movement that is more inclusive, more collaborative, and more celebratory. Through storytelling, grantmaking, and capacity building, we honor clean energy leaders, invest in promising solutions, and build relationships between unlikely allies.

Together, we can make renewable energy a reality for everyone – 100% for 100%.” — TheSolutionsProject.org


Late-Breaking News: International Energy Agency Report Finds Bioenergy Poised For Massive Growth 2018-2023

Click to read the late-breaking IEA Renewable Energy report -- Renewables 2018
Click to read the late-breaking IEA Renewable Energy report executive summaryRenewables 2018

Excerpt from IEA Report 2018 | “Modern bioenergy is the overlooked giant within renewable energy. Modern bioenergy (excluding the traditional use of biomass) was responsible for half of all renewable energy consumed in 2017 – it provided four times the contribution of solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind combined. Most modern bioenergy is used in final energy consumption to deliver heat in buildings and for industry.

Bioenergy is the largest source of growth in renewable consumption over the period 2018 to 2023. Bioenergy – as solid, liquid or gaseous fuels – will account for 30% of the growth in renewable consumption in this period. This is a result of the considerable use of bioenergy in heat and transport. Other renewables have less penetration in these two sectors, which account for 80% of total final energy consumption.

In 2023, bioenergy will remain the predominant source of renewable energy, although its share of total renewable energy declines from 50%, in 2017, to 46% as the expansion of both solar PV and wind accelerates in the electricity sector.” — IEA


Late-Breaking Bioenergy Video Produced by the IEA

Written by John Brian Shannon


Sustainable Energy Policy to save EU €81 bn/year by 2030

by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

Accenture says a sustainable pan-European energy policy could save consumers €27 to €81 billion per year by 2030 and result in a cleaner utility grid model.
Accenture says a sustainable energy policy could save European electricity consumers €27 to €81 billion per year by 2030.

A recent report authoured by Accenture for EURELECTRIC says that if European nations work together towards an integrated and pan-European energy policy it could generate savings for electricity consumers between €27 to €81 billion per year by 2030 and the result would be a cleaner utility grid model.

Accenture is calling on European governments to phase-out renewable energy targets and renewable energy programme spending — replacing both with a carbon trading scheme, one that essentially rewards low carbon energy producers and penalizes high carbon energy producers.

All of this is happening during a time of unprecedented change within the European energy industry.

In the fascinating German example, that country shut down much of its nuclear power generation rather than spend multi-billions to upgrade its aging and oft-troubled nuclear fleet. Consequently, Germany is now burning record amounts of coal and natural gas to replace that lost generation capacity — in addition to the installation of record amounts of wind, solar and biomass capacities to the German grid.

In the decades following WWII, German utility companies operated in a cozy, sheltered environment. But few knew how expensive it was to operate and maintain on account of massive government subsidies and preferential treatment of the utility industry. German consumers never had it so good and likewise for sleepy German energy giants, which have now awoken to find that the energy picture has changed dramatically in little over a decade.

Hence, even more subsidies were employed to counter for the loss of German nuclear power via Feed-in-Tariffs (FiT) for wind, solar and biomass capacity additions to the grid, partially financed by a hefty nuclear decommissioning fee added to every German electricity bill.

At least in Germany, it turns out that while nuclear has practically disappeared, and with no fuel costs to worry about, renewable energy combined to lower German electricity rates during the hours of the day that wind and solar are active, causing downward pressure on electricity rates. At the same time, German utilities burned record amounts of brown coal and expensive Russian natural gas to meet total demand which caused upward spikes in the electricity rate during the hours of the day that coal and natural gas were required to meet total demand.

In simple terms, the removal of nuclear from the German energy mix has resulted in higher electricity rates — not because some of that capacity was replaced by renewable energy — but because significant fossil fuel burning was required to meet demand, combined with nuclear decommissioning costs.

Were German politicians and their voters wrong to shut down the country’s nuclear power plants? Not a bit. Germany’s nuclear power plants were problem-plagued and the costs to bring all 19 reactors up to modern standards were prohibitive. Shutting down the German nuclear fleet was unfortunate perhaps, but necessary.

German consumers continue to yearn for clean energy and low energy costs. Unsurprisingly, the German public has reacted to energy that seems to be getting dirtier and more expensive by the day, and the massive nuclear decommissioning costs which will continue long past 2022, perhaps until 2045.

After the loss of nuclear, the German energy grid initially became cleaner with the addition of wind and solar, but then became dirtier than ever as record amounts of brown coal and natural gas were burned! Es ist zum weinen.

And that’s just the story in Germany. Every European partner country has its own story to tell in an electricity market that is undergoing unprecedented and rapid change — and each country’s electricity market is as different from each other as they are from the German example. Although each story is different, the net result is the same; The energy industry across Europe must adapt to the loss of (some) nuclear and the growing consumer disenchantment with fossil fuels, and to the huge consumer driven additions of renewable energy to the grid. And it must be done in a cost-effective way or utility companies and their respective governments will face consumer backlash.

Utility companies shocked by the unprecedented and rapid changes thrust upon them by nuclear shutdowns and the multiple demands of consumers are hoping that a harmonized set of rules across Europe will allow them to meet rising electricity demand.

If you look at what utilities really want, it is one harmonized set of rules across Europe. Europe is one market; it’s one playing field, and utilities really benefit from a harmonized set of rules.

It is like playing football; if you play football,you don’t want different rules for different parts of the field. — Sander van Ginkel, Managing Director, Accenture Utilities

“European electricity prices are rising fast. As a result, the overall increase in energy expenditure is putting mounting pressure on residential end-users and undermining the competitiveness of European industry. The implementation of the energy transition has so far lacked optimization on a pan-European scale. Without a concerted effort to more effectively manage the costs of the energy transition, expenditure on electricity and gas in 2030 could be 50 percent higher than it is today.

A step-change in the reshaping of the European energy system is needed — by reconfirming the European power sector’s support for Europe’s sustainability agenda through an optimized approach that avoids unnecessary costs. Doing so would put significant benefits within reach: our analysis shows that implementing an integrated set of levers could generate net savings of €27 to €81 billion per year by 2030. Such savings could be achieved by further integrating energy markets and the supporting regulatory framework at a European level and by leveraging flexibility throughout the electricity value chain — provided utilities, governments, regulators and consumers can forge a joint commitment to work together.” — Quoted from the Accenture/EURELECTRIC report

Accenture’s report says that Europe’s utilities must meet customer demands for more energy, but make it cheaper and cleaner and that the existing grid model will fail unless changes are made. Accenture has suggested four main ways to achieve these goals.

  1. Optimizing renewable energy systems
  2. Market integration
  3. Active system management
  4. Demand response and energy saving

“The restructuring of the European electricity system will have to be carried out cost-effectively if we are to gain the support and trust of energy consumers. This study shows that, with the right policies in place, the energy transition could cost each European citizen over € 100 less a year than if we continue with business as usual.” Hans ten BERGE Secretary General. Union of the Electricity Industry – EURELECTRIC

It seems reasonable that all of Europe’s utility companies acting together could arrive at a better solution. Complementary and overlapping energy capabilities may prove to be the model that works for Europe, as opposed to the direct competition model favoured in the U.S.

A carbon tax which reflects the true societal costs of fossil fuels could be a just solution to Europe’s present grid malaise. However, it is doubtful that a carbon tax will ever reflect the true cost to society of fossil fuels — which have been estimated to cost €30 per tonne of CO2 — but a carbon mechanism may well provide the impetus to foster a new and better European energy paradigm.

No matter the how the equation looks, it is sometimes only the answer that matters. A cleaner energy mix and reasonable electricity rates within a stable electricity grid is something that all sides can cheer for. How very European!

See the Accenture video (click here)