ENERGY WATCH #1 - September 18, 2018
The Age of Renewables is here (I): renewables make the grade in price, performance and reliability
by Karel Beckman
Renewables have long been considered, by many in the market, as a nice complementary source of energy: clean, but expensive and of course unreliable. Now increasingly awareness in the market is growing that they are much more than a nice addition to our energy system: they are on their way to becoming its mainstay. Expensive they are no longer. And thanks to new enabling technologies they are rapidly becoming reliable as well.
The signs are all around us. In a new addition of its “Global Renewable Energy Trends”, published on 13 September, consultancy Deloitte Global reports that “Renewable energy sources, notably solar and wind, “are reaching price and performance parity on and off the grid”.
Deloitte, in fact, sings the praises of renewables in every way.
According to the report, “three key enablers—price and performance parity, grid integration, and technology—allow solar and wind power to compete with conventional sources on price, while matching their performance.”
In addition, “as technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), and 3-D printing continue to advance the deployment of renewables, prices will likely continue to fall, and accessibility will improve.”
Deloitte notes that “Longstanding obstacles to greater deployment of renewables have receded as a result of three key enablers:
- Reaching price and performance parity: The unsubsidized cost of solar and wind power has become comparable or cheaper than traditional sources in much of the world. New storage options are now making renewables more dispatchable—once an advantage of conventional sources.
- Cost-effective and reliable grid integration: Once seen as an obstacle, wind and solar power are now viewed as a solution to grid balancing. They have demonstrated an ability to strengthen grid resilience and reliability and provide essential grid services. Smart inverters and advanced controls have enabled wind and solar to provide grid reliability services related to frequency, voltage, and ramping as well or better than other generation sources. When combined with smarter inverters, wind and solar can ramp up much faster than conventional plants, help stabilize the grid even after the sun sets and the wind stops, and, for solar PV, show much higher response accuracy than any other source.
- The impact of technology: Technology is accelerating the deployment of renewables: automation and advanced manufacturing are improving the production and operation of renewables by reducing the costs and time of implementing renewable energy systems; AI can finetune weather forecasting, optimizing the use of renewable resources; blockchain can enable energy attribute certificate (EAC) markets to help resolve trust and bureaucratic hurdles; and advanced materials are transforming the materials of solar panels and wind turbines.”
Wow. You may want to reread that passage and let it sink in. Who would have thought just two years ago that renewables could be described in these terms?
The report contains many noteworthy insights. For example, it notes that “wind and solar can become important grid assets. Intermittent renewables are already helping to balance the grid. For example, wind power helped decrease the severity of most of the northern Midcontinent Independent System Operator’s steepest three-hour load ramps in 2017.”
Deloitte adds that “When combined with smart inverters, wind and solar can ramp up much faster than conventional plants, help stabilize the grid even after the sun sets and the wind stops, and, for solar PV, show much higher response accuracy (respond faster and with the required amount of power) than any other source. Smart inverters can also turn distributed resources into grid assets with minimal impact on customers and make these resources visible and usable to utilities. The few jurisdictions leveraging these capabilities have mandated them (e.g., Quebec), allowed renewables to sell ancillary services in their markets (e.g., Italy), and/or created new services markets (e.g., the United Kingdom).”
With regard to advanced materials and manufacturing, Deloitte writes that “Perovskite and 3D printing are poised to revolutionize the solar and wind industries. Perovskite has been the fastest-developing solar technology since its introduction, making efficiency gains that took silicon over half a century to achieve in less than a decade. In June 2018, a British and German startup demonstrated a record 27.3 percent conversion efficiency on perovskite-on-silicon tandem cells in laboratory settings, beating the laboratory record of standalone silicon cells. Belgian researchers achieved similar efficiency the following month, and both claim that over 30 percent efficiency is within reach. Perovskite has a simpler chemistry, the ability to capture a greater light spectrum, and higher efficiency potential than silicon. Perovskite can also be sprayed onto surfaces and printed in rolls, enabling lower production costs and more applications. Perovskite modules may be commercialized as early as 2019.”
On the wind front, “additive manufacturing is paving the way for the use of new materials. Two US national laboratories collaborated with the industry to manufacture the first 3D-printed wind-blade mold, significantly reducing prototyping costs and time, from over a year to three months. The next frontier is to 3D print the blades. This would enable use of new combinations of materials and embedded sensors to optimize the blades’ cost and performance, as well as onsite manufacturing to eliminate logistical costs and risks. Manufacturers plan to start with on-demand 3D printing of spare parts at wind farms to reduce costs and downtime for repairs. GE is already using additive manufacturing to repair and improve wind turbine blades. Manufacturers are heavily investing in these new technologies because they anticipate growing demand for solar and wind power.”
And this is only the start. “Already among the cheapest energy sources globally, solar and wind have not even run the full course of their enabling trends yet”, Deloitte notes.
The result: demand for renewables is growing rapidly. “As costs continue to fall and accessibility increases, the demand for renewables is growing rapidly, driven by the following stakeholders:
- Smart renewable cities: Most of the world’s population now lives in growing cities, some of which have taken a proactive “smart” approach to managing their infrastructure with connected sensor technology and data analytics. The focus of more advanced smart cities is to enhance quality of life, competitiveness and sustainability. Solar and wind are at the intersection of these goals because they contribute to depollution, decarbonization and resilience while enabling clean electric mobility, economic empowerment, and business growth.
- Community energy: Building on the original trend toward “community solar”, the addition of storage and management systems give communities more flexibility when implementing renewables. On-grid communities can now be powered independently from the grid, and in off-grid areas, community-owned partnerships enable electrification and reinvestment of profits.
- Emerging markets: The cumulative capacity of emerging markets to develop renewable energy is on the verge of surpassing that of the developed world, as emerging markets have helped bring down the cost of renewables and are innovating in ways that benefit the developed world.
- Corporate involvement: Corporations are procuring renewables in new ways, with many large corporations pursuing Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) and smaller corporations turning to aggregation. Furthermore, currently two thirds of Fortune 100 companies have set renewable energy targets and are leading global corporate procurement, signaling an important commitment from the private sector.”
“Wide-scale integration of renewable energy sources is no longer a question of if, but when,” says Marlene Motyka, Deloitte Global Renewable Energy leader. “Countries such as China, the United States, and Germany have already reached price parity for certain renewable sources. With prices continuing to drop, developed countries and emerging markets alike have the ability to integrate renewables into their grid systems to ensure competitive advantage.”
And you can guess which is the “most renewable” big city in the world? It’s San Diego, California:
What the Deloitte analysis shows is that the renewables sceptics are being proven wrong. Thus, the new Australian energy minister Angus Taylor who “has launched a new and extraordinary attack against wind and solar, saying they cause ‘de-industrialisation’ and claiming that Labor’s 45 per cent emissions reduction target would send a ‘wrecking ball’ through the Australian economy”, is way behind the curve.
In fact, a new report, written by respected Australian market specialist Hugh Saddler, finds that it is precisely renewable energy which is helping to reduce wholesale electricity prices in Australia.