UK Launches Major Solar Strategy

International Digital Editor, Power Engineering International

April 04, 2014 | The UK government today announced its Solar Strategy, the first such strategic document dedicated to solar by any European Union government.

It will entail the creation of ‘solar hubs‘ whereby commercial and public sector buildings deploy solar arrays onsite, effectively shifting the focus of the market towards mid- to large-scale rooftop installations.

It also reasserts the government’s goal to deliver 20 GW of solar capacity by 2020 and sets out a new ambition to double the number of domestic rooftop solar arrays in the UK to one million homes by 2015.

UK Energy Minister Greg Barker
UK Energy Minister Greg Barker. Image courtesy: Power Engineering International

The announcement made by Energy Minister Greg Barker – at a Solar Strategy conference session at event SunSolar Energy in Birmingham – is a statement of intent by the UK government that it is seeking to play a more influential role in the global solar sector, estimated to be around 46 GW by analysts from Deutsche Bank.

That 46 GW represents a 50 per cent increase in existing installed capacity.

Barker said: “We have put ourselves among the world leaders on solar and this ambitious strategy will place us right at the cutting edge.

“There is massive potential to turn our large buildings into power stations and we must seize the opportunity this offers to boost our economy as part of our long term economic plan.

“Solar not only benefits the environment, it will see British job creation and deliver the clean and reliable energy supplies that the country needs at the lowest possible cost to consumers.”

Ministers have also set a target of delivering 1 GW of capacity on public buildings by 2020 and will set out plans for the first 500 MW of installations later this year.

The conference session was co-chaired by Solar Trade Association (STA) PV Specialist Ray Noble and chaired by STA Chief Executive Paul Barwell.

Barwell said: “It’s a clever move by the UK government to start strategising to maximise its stake in a global market estimated at $134bn by 2020. With The Royal Society, the IPCC and even Shell  anticipating solar could be the world’s biggest energy source, the UK needs to make the most of its R&D, product design and manufacturing skills to steal a march in the global clean energy race.”

Noble said: “The Solar Strategy gives a clear signal that solar in the UK makes total sense. We still have work to do in developing solutions to some of the barriers but, working with government, these will be sorted during 2014. The message to the solar industry is full speed ahead and the message to the Minister is that we will achieve your ambition of 20GW.”

CSP Solar power
CSP solar system. Image courtesy: Power Engineering International

Other highlights of the strategy include plans to work with BIS to increase economic opportunities for UK plc in solar, building on UK innovation leads; new industry collaboration on building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) and the addressing removal of grid barriers that prevent the expansion of solar.

The strategy follows the ‘Roadmap to a Brighter Future‘ which was published last October. It looks to showcase how the UK is at the forefront of innovation in solar PV and its importance in driving further cost reduction, meeting the challenges of balancing the electricity system, securing carbon lifecycle benefits, and identifying new financial models to help households invest.

This article is republished here with the kind permission of Diarmaid Williams, International Editor of Power Engineering International

Additional gov.UK information is available:

Renewables and the Future of Oil Companies

by John Brian Shannon.

It may surprise you to know that the world’s oil companies see renewables as an unstoppable force. Some oil companies have issued landmark reports informing us that by 2100 at the latest the world will be getting 90% of its energy from renewable energy, indicating this could happen as early as 2060 under certain geopolitical conditions.

Although oil companies were initially hesitant to embrace renewable energy, in recent years their position has changed somewhat, as the many positive attributes of renewables began to convince senior oil executives that changes were on the horizon and their choice was to either embrace that change or accept an ever-declining energy market share. By their own admission only 10% of late-century energy will be met by petroleum.

In the final analysis, energy is energy after all, and it is the energy business that the oil companies are in.

So, rather than cede energy market share to up-and-coming renewable energy companies, big oil decided to become involved in renewables, first with biofuel, then solar, and later, wind. Some oil companies even purchased solar companies with their already installed and operating solar farms to gain experience in the new frontier.

The Oil Industry: Early Oil

In the early 20th century it was all about the oil, but in the later 20th century it was all about refining it into diverse products and the oil industry then morphed into a much larger entity named the petrochemical industry which created billions of tons of plastics, fertilizers, liquids, products and even medicines every year. The petrochemical sector includes the natural gas segment and thousands of miles of pipelines exist on every continent except Antarctica to move methane from gas wells to processing facilities and then forward it as usable natural gas to the end users.

A much larger industry had sprung up out of the original oil industry, one that was far larger than the one that had merely pulled oil out of the ground and refined it for transportation use.

The High Cost of Oil

Almost all countries heavily subsidize their oil and natural gas industries, and the United States is a great example. Oil companies there get over $4 billion dollars per year (yes, every year) to ensure stable petroleum supplies, compliance with regulations even in difficult drilling locations, and to help levelize gasoline prices across the country.

It is commonly reported that the petroleum industry (worldwide) receives over $500 billion dollars worth of subsidies and tax breaks every year. The worldwide oil and gas subsidy reported by the EIA for 2012 was $550 billion dollars and 2013 will have a similar subsidy figure attached to it.

Besides the massive taxpayer funded subsidy scheme for oil and gas are the externalities associated with the burning of all those long dead and liquefied dinosaurs. For each ton of gasoline burned, 4.5 tons of CO2 are created. If you add up all the billions of tons of gasoline that have been burned since the first Model T Ford rolled off the assembly line on August 12, 1908, it totals an incredible amount of CO2. Not to mention the billions of tons of non-CO2 airborne emissions created by our petroleum burning transportation sector since that date.

All this burning has a significant healthcare cost for nations (look at China, for example) and pollution-related damages will continue to affect the agriculture sector and cause damage (spalling) to concrete structures like buildings, bridges and some roads.

Although an excellent source of energy for motive power with high output per unit, the necessary high subsidies and unfortunate climate-changing externalities have conspired to considerably shorten the age of oil.

Natural Gas, the ‘Bridge Fuel’ to a Renewables Future

The oil companies are ahead of regulators on this one. Knowing that emission regulations were getting stricter every decade, petroleum companies knew that they had to pull a rabbit out of a hat, as gasoline and diesel can burn only so cleanly without prohibitively expensive technology. This is why we hear every day about ‘Natural Gas the Bridge Fuel to the Future’ and how natural gas will revolutionize our power generation segment and transportation sector.

Convincing regulators, utility companies, and automakers to switch to natural gas became the new mantra of oil company executives in order to meet increasingly stringent emission targets in developed and emerging nations.

The ‘Bridge Fuel’ will peak between 2040 and 2045 in most published oil company scenarios and somewhere between 2060 and 2100 natural gas itself will be almost completely replaced by renewables.

Although natural gas is hundreds of times cleaner burning than other fuels, it still emits plenty of CO2, but emits only minute quantities of toxic gases — and, importantly, no airborne soot or particulates.

By mid-century or 2100 at the latest, cleaner burning natural gas will be replaced in order to meet emission targets, and natural gas would lose out to renewable energy anyway — even without emission regulations — for the simple reason that solar and wind have zero fuel cost associated with their operation, while natural gas will always have a fuel cost and a separate delivery cost per gigajoule.

Imagine all of the costs involved in prospecting for and siting natural gas fields, purchasing the land, drilling, installing pipelines, processing methane into natural gas and adding even more pipelines to deliver natural gas to the end user. It all adds up, and even the most efficient gas producers/processors/pipeliners must cover their overhead.

There are no comparable ongoing fuel or distribution overheads with renewable energy.

What will we miss in the Clean Energy Future?

Once a solar or wind power plant hits completion all it needs is for the Sun to rise or the wind to blow. No drilling, no processing, no pipelines, no supertanker spills or pollution, and no CO2 sequestration required. Just plenty of clean renewable energy.

For all the right reasons, renewables are making progress. Economics, human health and our environment are the factors driving this energy change-up.

Let’s hope in our energy future that oil companies and gas companies, simply yet profoundly, morph themselves into energy companies and upon actualizing it, become renewable energy companies in the process.

For further renewable energy reading:

World Cumulative Solar Photovoltaics Installations,  2000-2012
The world installed 31,100 megawatts of solar photovoltaics (PV) in 2012—an all-time annual high that pushed global PV capacity above 100,000 megawatts. There is now enough PV operating to meet the household electricity needs of nearly 70 million people at the European level of consumption. Image courtesy of the Earth Policy Institute
World Cumulative Installed Wind Power Capacity 1980-2012
Even amid policy uncertainty in major wind power markets, wind developers still managed to set a new record for installations in 2012–with 44,000 megawatts of new wind capacity worldwide. With total capacity exceeding 280,000 megawatts, wind farms generate carbon-free electricity in more than 80 countries, 24 of which have at least 1,000 megawatts. At the European level of consumption, the world’s operating wind turbines could satisfy the residential electricity needs of 450 million people. Image courtesy of the Earth Policy Institute.

Distributed Energy – The Next Logical Step

by John Brian Shannon

Distributed Energy adds capacity to the electrical grid during the hours that electrical demand is highest, adding to grid stability and lowering costs for consumers

Over the centuries, different kinds of energy and energy delivery systems have been employed by human beings. In the Neolithic Period some 10,000 years ago, our ancestors sat around campfires for the light, warmth and security that a fire can provide. Neolithic people mostly ate their food raw, but are known to have cooked meat and occasionally grains over a fire.

For many centuries that general energy usage pattern continued and the only difference was the kind of fuel (coal later replaced wood and straw) and the size of the fire and the number of people it served.

New ways of using energy

The Industrial Revolution changed all that for people in those suddenly developing nations. New energy technology offered huge economies of scale — whereby the larger the power plant, the more efficiently it could produce affordable power for large numbers of people.

The first electrical grids were then formed to transport electricity from large-scale coal power plants or hydro-electric dams to population centres.

Since then, every decade shows larger and more efficient power plants and ever-larger populations being served by this wonderfully efficient grid system. Huge power plants and sprawling electrical grids delivered electricity to citizens over very long distances and at reasonable rates, while investors, utility companies, and power producers received reasonable rates of return on their investment.

It was (and still is) an excellent model to employ, one which brings electrical current from remote power plants to electricity users at an energy price that works for everyone. Except for the fact that some power plants produce unimaginable amounts of pollution and are necessarily and massively subsidized by taxpayers, this has been a winning energy model for a number of decades. And this very successful and reliable model will continue to provide our electricity for many years to come.

But there are serious drawbacks to grid power

Utility-scale power generation requires huge power plants, each costing tens of billions of dollars in the case of nuclear power plants, billions of dollars each in the case of hydro-electric power plants, and hundreds of millions of dollars in the case of coal power plants.

All coal and nuclear power plants were heavily subsidized by taxpayers, or they couldn’t have been built in the first place

It doesn’t end there, as coal fired power plants use hundreds or even thousands of tons of coal every day of the year at a cost of $50. to $160. per ton, not to mention the huge infrastructure costs required to build the ports and rail lines to transport the coal — paid for by taxpayers. And then add to that, the freight costs paid to the shipping companies and the railway companies to transport that coal to the power generation site. Most of the coal that Asia burns comes from North America and Australia. Even within coal rich North America, thousands of miles of railway tracks were laid down to transport North American coal to North American coal power plants.

Let’s not forget the environmental costs associated with all that toxic smoke either. China and the U.S. each produced 7.2 billion tons of coal fired CO2 in 2010 and that number is rising every year. Not to mention the many toxic oxides of nitrogen and sulfur, along with soot and airborne heavy metals that are produced wherever power plants burn coal.

Nuclear power plants likewise, use expensive to produce nuclear fuel rods or pellets and simply could not survive without massive government subsidies. Then there is the storage problem, as the so-called ‘spent fuel’ is highly radioactive and must be securely stored for up to 20,000 years in temperature-controlled conditions. Again, massive taxpayer funded infrastructure must be provided to store the world’s ever-growing pile of spent fuel.

Other than costing billions of dollars and disrupting river flows and fish habitat, hydro-electric power is a benign and good electrical generation solution. If only there were enough rivers to provide all the electricity that 7.1 billion people require! With almost every possible river already dammed on the planet, hydro-electric power plants provide only 16.2% of the world’s electricity.

An even better energy model has arrived in the form of distributed energy

Simply stated, distributed energy is created when many homes or businesses place solar panels on their rooftops or wind turbines on their properties — and then connect it to the electrical grid. Either solar panels or wind turbines can be used in the distributed energy context.

With progressive policies designed to strengthen and balance existing electricity grids, distributed energy can play a large role in ameliorating our present energy challenges.

Distributed energy is the opposite of utility-scale electrical power generation in three very important ways

  • Distributed energy emits no measurable pollution.
  • Distributed energy assists the grid operator to locate the energy source close to electrical demand centres.
  • Unimaginably large and expensive national utility grids crisscrossing the countryside are not required in the case of distributed energy.

Connecting distributed energy to the grid results in many positives for micro-energy producers, homeowners, businesses, and the grid operator. During the daytime, solar panels may produce more electricity than the homeowner or business can actually use — although during that same time of day, the utility company power plants may be straining to produce all the electricity that the grid demands during those peak hours.

Net-Metering to the Rescue!

Therefore, energy-sharing takes place via the use of a net-metering system allowing the homeowner or business owner to sell their surplus electricity to the utility company. Net-Metering allows homeowners and businesses to sell their excess electricity to the grid at a profit, while retaining all the benefits of grid connection. Installation of a net-meter at each home is the essential part of a distributed energy grid.

New financing options are becoming available to homeowners and businesses to install rooftop arrays — and even renters are able to purchase renewable energy through innovative programmes designed to boost the market share of renewables.

Some auto assembly plants in Germany and in the U.S.A. have installed wind turbines on their properties, or on nearby land purchased specifically for that purpose. Both BMW and Volkswagen are famous for building great cars, and for being distributed wind producers that have installed wind turbines near their factories, to ensure more reliable power and to avoid energy price spikes. Many ‘world citizens’ admire their environmental commitment.

IKEA, WalMart and Walgreens are famous for installing solar power plants on their store rooftops and warehouses, and WalMart, Google and Apple Computer and others, have purchased wind farms in an effort to Go Green and to alleviate the energy price spikes which are so common in the U.S. and Europe. Well done.

Distributed Energy pays off!

In California, homeowners with solar panels on their rooftops are receiving cheques for up to $2000. — or even larger amounts in the case of larger rooftop solar installations — from their utility company every January, to pay for all the surplus electricity they’ve sold to the utility company during the course of the year. California law mandates that distributed energy producers be paid up-to-date by February 1 of each year and other energy policies in the Great Bear state prove their commitment to a

In Australia, many thousands of homes with solar panels on their rooftops have dramatically added to overall grid capacity and stability by curtailing the power outages common there during peak demand hours, and some coal power plants have shut down while other coal plants are now planning for decommissioning.

Understandably so, the heavily subsidized coal and nuclear industries fear the rapidly growing distributed energy model, although coal exports to China from coal giant Australia continue at a frenetic pace.

Turn down the burners — the Sun is up!

Natural gas and hydro-electric power producers cautiously embrace distributed energy as an augmentation of their efforts to provide reliable electricity to the grid — as they can all exist as energy producers at different hours of the 24 hour day — and for very different reasons none of them are able to eclipse the others.

Distributed energy typically produces its power during peak demand hours, and is known for reducing electricity costs across-the-board due to the Merit Order effect, which is a ranking system utility companies use to decide which energy generator to employ (in real-time) throughout the day and night.

In fact, distributed energy is all about adding peak demand power to the grid — resulting in a stronger, more reliable power grid while displacing dirty energy in the process — and monetarily rewarding citizens for their surplus electricity.

China Opens A Window of Opportunity 2014-2020

by John Brian Shannon.

Three Decades of GDP Growth

After three full decades of impressive GDP numbers, China’s strong growth looks set to continue until the end of the decade.

Never in history has any country accomplished such staggering GDP growth numbers, modernized its infrastructure, oriented its political structures to accept a minimal degree of capitalism, and carry the demands of 1.35 billion people.

Let’s take a look at China’s 1979-2013 GDP numbers.

China GDP growth 1979-2013. Image courtesy of the IMF.

China is now enjoying stable growth rates. In short, as China’s economy has matured, it has successfully transitioned from a Frontier economy to an Emerging economy — and with plenty of momentum in hand, has settled-in to the long-term task of building a Developed economy.

For those willing to engage with China there is the potential for substantial reward, and as in any emerging economy, an element of risk is associated with investing there. In the case of investment or corporate relocation to China, responsible leaders and individual investors alike, are wise to seek the guidance from experienced professionals as they navigate several cultures and languages and the various levels and departments of a (still) communist government.

Focus on Planning

Fortunately, statist economies like China’s are centrally-planned in five year cycles, and for the most part these five year plans are released, translated, and then published by the media.

For one example of China’s long-range planning, in this case regarding China’s aggressive energy, renewable energy and conservation policies, please see: CHINA – Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Action Plan – State Council on the issuance of air pollution control action plan notification – Guo Fa 2013, No.37 [English Translation]

For a summary of that official document, please see: China’s new Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Action Plan

Addressing the Source

One of China’s most pressing problems is the quality of life for her citizens, the absence of which can affect overall citizen satisfaction and even worker productivity.

The poor air quality in China, which reportedly leads to 410,000 premature worker deaths per year, has been addressed with a huge push towards renewable energy. The Common Language Project (clpmag.org) provides a telling snapshot:

“China faces a number of serious environmental issues caused by overpopulation and rapid industrial growth.

Water pollution and a resulting shortage of drinking water is one such issue, as is air pollution caused by an over-reliance on coal as fuel.

It has been estimated that 410,000 Chinese die as a result of pollution each year.

Deforestation and desertification are also issues and an estimated one-fifth of agricultural land since 1949 has been lost to soil erosion and economic development. The country is also host to the trade of endangered species. The country’s rivers constitute the largest potential source of hydropower in the world.

Since 2007, China has stepped up government efforts to work toward environmental sustainability by holding local officials to national standards, publishing national climate change policies and establishing groups on climate change.” — clpmag.org

Measurable Results

To say China’s leadership has posted an aggressive response to air pollution, water pollution, soil contamination and the follow-on effects on citizen health and the economic costs of widespread pollution is a verifiable understatement.

In only a few years, China has surpassed wind and solar PV leaders Germany and the U.S. in the production and installation of wind turbines and solar panels and increased energy efficiency.

Announced in July of 2013, China’s National Energy Administration told the media that they expected to install 10 GW of solar by year end of 2013, another 10 GW of solar to be installed in year 2014, and yet another 10 GW of solar to be installed in year 2015.

While many nations were installing mere MegaWatts (MW) of solar or wind power in an effort to ‘look green’ — China’s energy officials said that although they had planned to install 10 GW of solar power in 2013, China may have surpassed that target by a full 4 GigaWatts for a grand total of 14 GW of solar installed in year 2013!

It was later announced that 12 GW would be installed in year 2014, and it has been reset once more to 14 GW of solar PV power to be installed in year 2014.

The latest pollution reduction measures announced in China now point to increased spending on energy efficiency and a commitment to the installation of 14 GW of solar panels in 2013 (already done), another 14 GW in year 2014 (in progress) and yet another 14 GW for 2015.

Now that’s an active pollution management file.

Energy news is never boring in China — so stay tuned!