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RENEWABLE ENERGY

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Commentary: Europe’s Energy Woes – The Way Forward

Europe is struggling to build up energy supply ahead of anticipated growth in demand due to economic rebound after pandemic outbreak and the winter months. Considering the knock-on effect of the energy crisis on industrial growth and consumer confidence, the prime focus for Europe is not only to respond to the mounting energy issues in the short term, but to also establish energy sustainability and security for the future.

In October 2021, the European Commission published an advisory for the member states to take some immediate steps to ease the effect of the energy crisis. Governments were urged to extend direct financial support to the most vulnerable households and businesses. Other recommended ways of intervention included targeted tax reductions, temporary deferral of utilities bill payments, and capping of energy prices. About 20 member states indicated that they would implement the suggestions outlined by the European Commission at a national level. While these measures may aid the most vulnerable user segment, there is not much that can be done to safeguard the wider population from the energy price shocks.

Energy security and sustainability is the key

While a magical quick-fix for Europe’s energy crisis does not seem to exist, the ongoing scenario has exposed the region’s vulnerabilities and serves as a wake-up call to move towards energy security and self-sufficiency.

Diversify energy mix

In general, petroleum products and natural gas contribute significantly to Europe’s energy mix, respectively accounting for about 35% and 22% of the total energy consumed in the EU. The remaining energy needs are fulfilled by renewable sources (~15%), nuclear (~13%), and solid fossil fuels (~12%).

The high dependence on fossil fuels is one of the main reasons behind Europe’s ongoing energy crisis. In order to mitigate this dependency, Europe has made concerted effort in the development of renewable energy production capabilities. In 2018, the European Commission set a target to achieve 32% of the energy mix from renewables by 2030, but in July 2021, the target was increased to 40%, clearly indicating the region’s inclination towards renewables.

Expediting renewable energy projects could help Europe to get closer to energy self-sufficiency, although the intermittency issue must also be accounted for. This is where nuclear energy can play a critical role.

After Fukushima disaster in 2011, many countries in Europe pledged to phase-out nuclear energy production. France, Germany, Spain, and Belgium planned to shut down 32 nuclear reactors with a cumulative production capacity of 31.9 gigawatts by 2035. However, in the wake of the current crisis, there is a renewed interest in nuclear power. In October 2021, nine EU countries (Czechia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia) released a joint statement asserting the expansion of nuclear energy production to achieve energy self-sufficiency. France, which generates about three-fourth of its electricity through nuclear plants, is further increasing investment in nuclear energy. In October 2021, the French government pledged an investment of EUR 1 billion (~US$1.2 billion) in nuclear power over the period of 10 years.

Look beyond Russia

More than 60% of EU’s energy needs were met by imports in 2019. Russia is the major partner for energy supply – in 2019, it accounted for 27% of crude oil imports, 41% of natural gas imports, and 47% of solid fossil fuels imports. While Europe is accelerating the development of renewable energy production, fossil fuels still remain an important source of energy for the region. In the face of escalating political differences with Russia, there is a need to reduce energy reliance on this country and to build long-term partnerships with other countries to ensure a steady supply.

EU has many options to explore, especially in natural gas imports. One of them is natural gas reserves in Central Asia. The supply link is already established as Azerbaijan started exporting natural gas to Europe via Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), operational since December 31, 2020. In the first nine months, Azerbaijan exported 3.9 billion cubic meters of gas to Italy, 501.7 million cubic meters to Greece, and 166 million cubic meters to Bulgaria. Trans-Caspian Pipeline (TCP) is a proposed undersea pipeline to transport gas from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan. This pipeline can connect Europe with Turkmenistan (the country with the world’s fourth-largest natural gas reserves) via Azerbaijan. As a result, Europe has heightened its interest in the development of this pipeline.

Eastern Mediterranean gas reserve can also prove to be greatly beneficial for the EU. In January 2020, Greece, Cyprus, and Israel signed a deal to construct a 1,900 km subsea pipeline to transport natural gas from the eastern Mediterranean gas fields to Europe. This pipeline, expected to be completed by 2025, would enable the supply of 10 billion cubic meters of gas per year from Israel and Cyprus to European countries via Greece.

Africa is another continent where the EU should try to strengthen ties for the imports of natural gas. Algeria is an important trade partner for Europe, having supplied 8% of natural gas in 2019. Medgaz pipeline connects Algeria directly to Spain. This pipeline currently has the capacity to transport 8 billion cubic meters of gas per year, and the ongoing expansion work is expected to increase the capacity to 10.7 billion cubic meters per year by the end of 2021. In addition to this, Nigeria is planning the development of a Trans-Sahara pipeline which would enable the transport of natural gas through Nigeria to Algeria. This will potentially open access for Europe to gas reserves in West Africa, via Algeria. Further, as African Continental Free Trade Agreement came in to effect in January 2021, the natural gas trade within countries across Africa received a boost. Consequently, liquefied natural gas projects across Africa, including Mozambique’s 13.1 million tons per annum LNG plant, Senegal’s 10 million tons per annum Greater Tortue Ahmeyim project, and Tanzania’s 10 million tons per annum LNG project, could help Europe to enhance its gas supply.

Business to strive to achieve energy independence

While governments are taking steps to reduce the impact of the energy crisis on end consumers, this might not be enough to save businesses highly reliant on power and energy. Therefore, businesses should take the onus on themselves to achieve energy independence and to take better control of their operations and costs.

Some of the largest European companies have already taken several initiatives in this direction. Swedish retailer IKEA, for instance, has invested extensively in wind and solar power assets across the world, and in 2020, the retailer produced more energy than it consumed.

There has also been growing effort to harness energy from own business operations. In 2020, Thames Water, a UK-based water management company, generated about 150 gigawatt hours of renewable energy through biogas obtained from its own sewage management operations.

However, a lot more needs to be done to change the situation. Companies not having any means to produce energy on their own premises should consider investing in and partnering with renewable energy projects, thereby boosting overall renewable energy production capacity.

Energy crisis is likely to have repercussions on all types of businesses in every industry. Larger entities with adequate financial resources could use several hedging strategies to offset the effect of fluctuating energy prices or energy supply shortage, but small and medium enterprises might not be able to whither the storm.

Economist Daniel Lacalle Fernández indicated that energy represents about a third of operating costs for small and medium enterprises in Europe, and as a result, the ongoing energy crisis can trigger the collapse of up to 25% of small and medium enterprises in the region. Small and medium enterprises need to actively participate in government-supported community energy initiatives, which allow small companies, public establishments, and residents to invest collectively in distributed renewable energy projects. By early 2021, this initiative gained wide acceptance in Germany with 1,750 projects, followed by Denmark and the Netherlands with 700 and 500 projects, respectively.

EOS Perspective

Europe must continue to chase after its green energy goals while developing alternative low-carbon sources to address renewables’ intermittency issue. This would help the region to achieve energy independence and security in the long term. In the end, the transition towards green energy should be viable and should not come at a significant cost to the end consumers.

On the other hand, immediate measures proposed so far do not seem adequate to contain the ongoing energy meltdown. Further, energy turmoil is likely to continue through the winter, and, in the worst-case scenario, it might result in blackouts across Europe. If the issue of supply shortages remains difficult to resolve in the short term, a planned reduction in consumption could be the way forward.

In view of this, Europe would need to actively encourage energy conservation among the residential as well as industrial sectors. Bruegel, a Brussels-based policy research think tank, suggested that the European governments could either force households to turn down their thermostats by one degree during the winter to reduce energy consumption while not compromising much on comfort, or provide financial incentives to households who undertake notable energy saving initiatives.

This is perhaps a critical time to start promoting energy conservation among the masses through behavioral campaigns. Like businesses, it is necessary to enhance consumers’ participation in the energy market and they should be encouraged to generate their own electricity or join energy communities. The need of the hour is to harness as well as conserve energy in any way possible. Because, till the time Europe achieves self-sufficiency or drastically strengthens the supply chain, the energy crunch is here to stay.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Hydrogen: Fuel of the Future for Shipping?

Just like many other carbon-emitting sectors, the shipping industry is also working to reduce its contribution to greenhouse gases and get closer to carbon neutrality. For this, the sector is pinning its hopes on hydrogen-based fuel. Being one of the most polluting industries in the world, the shipping sector is also one of the most difficult ones to introduce such a profound change. This is owing to the massive size of commercial vessels, long distances, hydrogen storage issues, and commercial costs. Although small-level adoption of hydrogen fuel has already begun, it remains unknown whether it will be functional in large commercial vessels as well.

As per the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the shipping industry was responsible for 2.9% of the total anthropogenic emissions in 2018, up by almost 10% between 2012 and 2018. It is expected that the sector’s contribution towards global greenhouse emissions will significantly increase by 2050 if proper efforts are not made towards decarbonization. To counter the situation, the IMO has set a global target to cut annual shipping emissions by 50% by 2050 (based on 2008 levels). In response to this, shipping corporations and other stakeholders across the shipping industry have been exploring different ways to reduce their impact on the environment. One of the most critical aspects in this is replacing fossil fuel with a greener fuel. This is where hydrogen fuel might find its place.

As we discussed in one of our previous articles (China Accelerates on the Fuel Cell Technology Front), hydrogen fuel is considered to be the fuel of the future for the transportation sector, as it produces zero emissions. Moreover, with regards to shipping, it is one of the only conceivable options at the moment.

That being said, using hydrogen fuel alone cannot solve the issue of reducing the sector’s carbon footprint, as it depends on how the hydrogen fuel is produced. Currently most of the hydrogen that is produced (and used in other industries), is produced using fossil fuels, while only a small portion of it is produced using renewable energy. Hydrogen produced through renewable energy is much more expensive, which keeps the production levels low. If ships run on hydrogen fuel produced using mainly fossil fuels, while the fuel itself would produce zero emissions, the whole process will not carbon efficient. However, with the shipping industry making real efforts to consider a change in fuel, it is expected that production of hydrogen through renewable sources will ramp up, which in turn may reduce costs (to some extent) owing to economies of scale.

Hydrogen Fuel of the Future for Shipping by EOS Intelligence

 

At the moment, several leading players have pledged to develop new or modify existing vessels so that they can run on hydrogen fuel, however, these are currently either prototypes or short-distance small vessels. Antwerp-based Compagnie Maritime Belge (CMB) Group, which is one of the leading maritime groups in the world, commissioned the world’s first hydrogen-powered ferry in 2017, named Hydroville. It is currently operational between Kruibeke and Antwerp. It runs on a hybrid engine, with options of both hydrogen and diesel. CMB, which has been a pioneer and advocator of clean fuel for the shipping industry, also partnered with Japanese shipbuilder, Tsuneishi Group, to develop and build Japan’s first hydrogen-powered ferry (in 2019) and tugboat (in 2021). Moreover, it launched a joint venture with the Japanese firm to develop hydrogen-based internal combustion engine (H2ICE) technology for Japan’s industrial and marine markets. In another move to find a strong foothold with the shipping fuel of the future, CMB Group acquired UK-based Revolve Technologies Limited (RTL) in 2019, which specializes in engineering, developing, designing, and testing hydrogen combustion engines for automotive and marine engines. Moreover, CMB is building its own maritime refueling station for hydrogen automobiles and ships at the Antwerp port, which will produce its own hydrogen through electrolysis.

Similarly, in November 2019, Norwegian ship building and design company, Ulstein, developed a hydrogen-fueled vessel, called ULSTEIN SX190. The vessel is the company’s first hydrogen-powered offshore vessel providing clean shipping operations to reduce the carbon footprint of offshore projects. The vessel, which uses fuel-cell technology, can operate for four days in emission-free mode at the moment. However, with constant development and investment in the hydrogen fuel space, it is expected that it will be able to run emission-free for up to two weeks, post which it will have to fall back on its diesel engine. Ulstein also launched another hydrogen-powered vessel in October 2020, called ULSTEIN J102, which can operate at zero-emission mode for 75% of the time. Since Ulstein used readily available technology in developing the J102, the additional cost of adding the hydrogen-powered mode was limited to less than 5% of its total CAPEX. This vessel design is expected to cater to the offshore wind industry.

A leading oil corporation, Shell, also announced that it is looking at hydrogen as the key fuel for its fleet of tanker ships in the coming future as the company aims to become carbon neutral by 2050. In April 2021, the company commenced trials for the use of hydrogen fuel cells for its ships in Singapore. The trial encompasses the development and installation of a fuel cell unit on an existing roll-on/roll-off vessel that transports wheeled cargo such as vehicles between Singapore and Shell’s manufacturing site in Pulau Bukom. Shell has chartered the vessel, which is owned by Penguin International Ltd, however, Shell will provide the hydrogen fuel.

In addition to this, several other companies across Europe and Japan are undertaking feasibility studies to understand and assess the use of hydrogen fuel to power ferries and also the production of hydrogen fuel from renewable sources for the same purpose. For instance, in 2020, Finland-based power company, Flexens conducted a feasibility study to generate green hydrogen through wind farms in order to fuel ferries in the Aland group of islands. Similarly, Japan-based companies, Kansai Electric Power, Iwatani, Namura Shipbuilding, the Development Bank of Japan, and Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, are collaborating on a feasibility study to develop and operate a 100-foot long ferry with hydrogen fuel. The ferry is expected to be in operation by 2025.

Apart from small ferries, hydrogen fuel is also making a slight headway with commercial vessels. In April 2020, a global electronic manufacturer, ABB, signed an MoU with Hydrogène de France, a French hydrogen technologies specialist to manufacture megawatt-scale hydrogen fuel cells that can be used to power long-haul, ocean-going vessels. While most of the currently operational hydrogen technology is used in small-scale and short-distance vessels, this partnership, which builds on an already existing 2018 collaboration between ABB and Ballard Power Systems, is expected to bring this technology for larger vessels (which in turn are responsible for most of the carbon emissions).

In April 2021, French inland ship owner, Compagnie Fluviale de Transport (CFT), in partnership with the Flagships Project (which is a consortium of 12 European shipping players), launched the first hydrogen-powered commercial cargo vessel, which will ply the Sevine river in Paris. The vessel is scheduled for delivery in September 2021. In 2018, the Flagships project was awarded EUR 5 million of funding from the EU’s Research and Innovation Program Horizon 2020.

While several companies are bullish about hydrogen fuel being the answer to the industry’s carbon woes, others are skeptical to what extent hydrogen fuel can replace the current traditional fuel, especially given the challenges with regards to large commercial vessels. For instance, Maersk, global player in the shipping industry, does not feel that hydrogen fuel is suitable for container ships as the fuel takes up a lot of physical space in comparison with traditional bunker oil.

As per estimates, hydrogen fuel takes up almost eight times as much space as gas oil would take to power the same distance. The more space is occupied by the fuel, the less space is left for carrying containers, and this negatively impacts its container-carrying capacity and revenue per trip/ship. Moreover, container vessels travel extremely long distances across oceans, and carrying that much hydrogen fuel in either liquid or compressed form at this moment is not physically and commercially viable. To be stored as a liquid, hydrogen needs to be frozen using cryogenic temperatures of -253˚C, which makes it expensive to store. Currently about 80-85% of the sector’s emissions come from large commercial vessels such as cargo ships, container ships, etc., and considering that hydrogen can play only a limited role in these vessels, its adaptability and effectiveness as a tool to reduce carbon emissions may be restricted.

However, that being said, the industry is open to alternative fuels and one such fuel is ammonia, which in turn is also produced from hydrogen. Thus using green hydrogen to create green ammonia is another option to explore. Ammonia can be used either as a combustion fuel or in a fuel cell. Moreover, it is much easier and cheaper to store since it does not need cryogenic temperatures and takes up about 50% less space compared with hydrogen fuel, since it is much denser. Thus ammonia seems to fit the needs of commercial vessels in a better manner, however, at present most of ammonia being produced (mainly for the fertilizer industry) uses hydrogen obtained from fossil fuels. Moreover, it further uses fossil fuels to convert hydrogen into ammonia. Thus, to create green ammonia, additional renewable energy will be required, which adds to further costs.

EOS Perspective

Given the industry’s vision to reduce its carbon footprint and the ongoing efforts, investments, and feasibility studies, it is safe to say that hydrogen will definitely be the fuel of the future for the shipping industry, whether used directly or processed further into ammonia. However, how soon the industry can adapt to it is yet to be seen.

Moreover, the industry cannot bear the cost of the transition alone. To transition to a greener future, the shipping industry needs support in terms of on-ground infrastructure and investments in production of green hydrogen. Till the time production of green hydrogen reaches economies of scale, it will definitely be much more expensive compared with traditional fuel. This in turn, will make shipping expensive, which would possibly impact all industries that use this service. While the shipping industry may absorb a bit of the high costs during the transition phase, some of it will be passed down to the customers, which is likely to be met with resistance and in turn will impact the overall transition.

On the other hand, green hydrogen projects are expensive to set up and require significant investment and gestation period. Hydrogen companies do not want to rush into making this investment, unless they see global acceptability from the shipping sector. Thus while the transition to a more carbon-neutral fuel is inevitable, it may not be a short-term transition. Unless governments and regulatory bodies come up with strict regulations or a form of a carbon tax on the sector to expedite the transition, the change is likely to be slow and phased, especially when it comes to large commercial vessels.

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Australia Puts Its Power behind Pumped Hydro Energy Storage Plants

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Australia, as most countries across the globe, is increasing its focus towards renewable energy for future sustainability. These initiatives are faced with the inherent challenge in the renewable energy development – intermittency of supply, i.e. the fact that the supply is not continuously available (e.g. sunlight or wind) and it cannot be modulated according to demand. To tackle this, power companies and the Australian government are making significant investments in pumped hydro energy storage (PHES) plants. These plants facilitate the storing of energy when supply is high but demand is low, so that it can be used when demand supersedes supply levels. Currently, several PHES projects are under assessment and development in Australia.

In 2015, the Australian government set renewable energy targets of 33,000 GWh in large-scale generation, equaling to about 23.5% of Australia’s total electricity generation by 2020. The ongoing pace of new and upcoming solar and wind power projects during 2017, 2018, and 2019 has ensured that the targets set under the Renewable Energy Targets (RET) scheme are met. Moreover, if the current rate of renewable installations continues, Australia is on track to achieve 50% renewable electricity by 2025 and 100% by early 2030’s.

To make renewable energy more sustainable, the government is looking at storage options for solar and wind energy. Solar and wind energy are inherently intermittent in nature. This means that energy can be harnessed based on availability of these resources and not based on the demand at a certain time. This makes renewable energy supply less predictable and dependable in comparison with fossil fuel-based energy.

This is where pumped hydro energy storage can prove useful. PHES plants can store renewable energy on a large scale within the electrical power grid. Fundamentally, PHES plants work in a similar way as regular hydro energy plants, wherein water flows from a higher reservoir to a lower reservoir, generating electricity by spinning the turbines. However, the key difference in case of a PHES plant is that in case when more energy is being produced than the current demand level, the plant uses the spare energy to pump the water back from the lower reservoir to the higher reservoir, thereby making it available again to generate power when the demand rises.

PHES stations are all the more beneficial when integrated with renewable energy generating grids. Since it is difficult to ascertain how much energy will be produced through wind and solar at a given time, pumped hydro energy storage helps balance it in accordance to the demand levels. When wind and solar grids produce more energy than currently required, the excess energy can be used to push the water uphill in the integrated PHES plant, which can be used later when energy produced through renewables is lower than the demand levels. Thanks to this, these plants act as energy-storing batteries.

PHES stations are all the more beneficial when integrated with renewable energy generating grids. Since it is difficult to ascertain how much energy will be produced through wind and solar at a given time, pumped hydro energy storage helps balance it in accordance to the demand levels.

PHES projects across Australia

Owing to these benefits, Australia is extensively exploring this technology. It is estimated that the country is looking to add about 363 GWh of new pumped hydro energy storage capacity, through nine projects that are under consideration and development. In addition to this, there are several other projects that are at initial stages of assessment and do not have a specified capacity yet. As per experts, Australia needs about 450 GWh of storage to support a 100% renewable electricity grid. Some of the most prominent PHES projects in Australia include Snowy 2.0, Marinus Link Project (Battery of the Nation), and Kidston project.

Snowy 2.0

Snowy 2.0 (an expansion of the 70-year-old Snowy Hydro scheme) is the largest energy storage project in Australia, with capacity of 2,000 MW. The plant will offer 350 GWh of pumped storage. The project, which is to be developed and operated by Snowy Hydro (an Australia-based electricity generation and retailing company), is estimated to cost US$2.8-4.2 billion (AU$4-6 billion) and is expected to commence operations by 2024. It has received US$1 billion (AU$1.38 billion) in federal funding.

Moreover, it has partnered with large global technology companies, such as Germany-based Voith Group, which has been contracted to supply the electrical and mechanical components such as the reversible pump turbines and variable-speed pump turbines to be used in the storage hydro power plant.

Marinus Link Project (Battery of the Nation Project)

The Marinus Link Project is a part of Tasmania’s Battery of the Nation program, under which a second interconnector will be built across the Bass Strait. This high voltage interconnector will ensure smooth supply of hydro power to Australia’s mainland. Tasmania has huge potential for wind and hydro electricity generation and an initial assessment by state-owned Hydro Tasmania (Tasmania’s largest electricity generator) indicates that the state has 14 potential sites for PHES plants, with a cumulative capacity of 4,800 MW.

The project is expected to cost US$0.9-1.2 billion (AU$1.3-1.7 billion) for the 600 MW capacity interconnector link or US$1.3-2.2 billion (AU$1.9-3.2 billion) for the 1,200 MW capacity link. The Australian government has provided US$39 million (AU$56 million) in federal funding to help fast-track the interconnector, while the Tasmanian government has committed about US$21 million (AU$30 million) to support the feasibility assessment of three shortlisted pumped hydro energy storage sites in north-western Tasmania.

The interconnector, which is expected to deliver 2,500 MW of renewable hydro power along with 16 GWh of storage to Tasmania and Victoria is expected to be completed by 2025 and reach economic feasibility by early 2030s.

Kidston Pumped Hydro Project

Another project that is gaining significant traction is the Kidston pumped hydro energy project, which is a 250 MW project (2 GWh of pumped storage) in northern Queensland, and is proposed by Genex Power. It is estimated to be completed by 2022.

The Kidston project will also be integrated with an already built 50 MW solar farm. It will help store solar energy when it is in surplus and release it back to generate more electricity when solar energy cannot be harnessed.

Genex Power plans to build another 270 MW solar plant and 150 MW of wind energy capacity over a phased period. In June 2018, the company’s pumped hydro project secured about US$358 million (AU$516 million) in concessional loans from the federal government’s Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF).

Moreover, in December 2018, Genex Power signed a deal with EnergyAustralia (Australia’s third-largest power company, owned by Hong Kong’s CLP Holdings), giving exclusive rights to the latter to negotiate an off-take agreement for Kidston’s (solar plus pumped hydro) output, encompassing an option to buy 50% stake in the PHES component. Under the term sheet of the agreement, EnergyAustralia will have exclusive rights to negotiate, finalize, and execute a long-term purchase agreement with Genex, however the contract currently is non-binding and is subject to a number of conditions.

In addition to these, there are several other projects that are currently in the feasibility or development stage. In May 2018, Delta Electricity, an Australian electricity generation company, received development approval from the South Australian government for a 230 MW Goat Hill pumped hydro project. Altura Group (Australia-based renewable energy project developer and advisor) has been hired as the project developer. The project is expected to cost about US$284 million (AU$410 million) and the South Australian government has committed about US$3.3 million (AU$4.7 million) to facilitate final project development. The project is expected to be completed by late 2020.

Another such project is EnergyAustralia’s Cultana Pumped Hydro Energy Project, which is the first sea water pumped hydro energy storage project in Australia. The project will have a capacity of 225 MW. In 2018, it received US$0.35 million (AU$0.5 million) funding from ARENA (Australian Renewable Energy Agency) to support the US$5.6 million (AU$8 million) feasibility study. The project is currently undergoing feasibility studies and concept development and, if approved, it is expected to be completed by 2023.

Similarly, in April 2019, Australian utility company, AGL Energy, unveiled plans to build a 250 MW pumped hydro energy storage facility in South Australia’s Adelaide Hills region. While the company has received the right to develop, own, and operate the plant, the project is currently under assessment. If approved, the project is expected to be completed by 2024.

PHES projects and their viability

Large sums of investment into PHES projects by private companies as well as the federal government indicate its criticality in the overall transition of Australia’s energy grid to include a larger share of renewable sources. Moreover, several coal-based energy plants are retiring in Australia in the near future, which will further create an opportunity for renewables with storage options to replace the current form of generation. As per experts, the cost of energy from wind and solar combined with storage (from either pumped hydro or other form of batteries) will be lower than generation from new coal or natural gas plants post the retirement of existing coal and gas plants. This further makes the case for huge investments in pumped hydro energy storage.

As per experts, the cost of energy from wind and solar combined with storage (from either pumped hydro or other form of batteries) will be lower than generation from new coal or natural gas plants post the retirement of existing coal and gas plants. This further makes the case for huge investments in pumped hydro energy storage.

However, apart from PHES plants, there are other forms of storage as well. These primarily comprise of lithium-ion batteries. One example of such a battery is Tesla’s Hornsdale Power Reserve Battery. It is located in Narien Range (South Australia), was constructed in December 2017, and has a storage capacity of 129 MWh. However, these batteries are not a direct competitor/substitute for PHES plants, as they are usually smaller projects than pumped hydro energy storage plants and have a relatively shorter life as well. Moreover, pumped hydro energy storage is a more cost-effective way of storing energy, when compared with lithium-ion batteries.

Investments in PHES projects are significantly higher, when compared with lithium-ion batteries. This makes these projects long-term in nature, especially with regards to return on investments. These projects have a lifespan of about 90-100 years (and are highly capital intensive), whereas lithium-ion batteries have a lifespan of 10-15 years.

Therefore, the government is being fairly cautious about commissioning PHES projects at the moment. In fact, all of the current projects under review may not be commissioned considering their economic viability. PHES plants need a revenue of about US$139,000 (AU$200,000) per MW per year to be economically viable. While this can be achieved in the long run when there is higher electricity volatility owing to greater dependency on renewables (after the coal generators have retired), currently this cost cannot be justified as electricity volatility is lower with coal and natural gas generation. Moreover, different political parties have a different take on Australia’s energy mix. Thereby, the boost provided to the PHES sector with respect to cheap financing and subsidies will depend on the political party in power, which in turn will affect the economic viability and profitability of pumped hydro energy storage plants.

Moreover, new technologies are being developed at lightning speed, which may further affect the uptake for PHES plants. One such emerging technology is concentrating solar power, in which solar energy is stored in molten salt. This technology can provide several hours of storage and can also act as a baseload power plant. However, currently, this technology is much more expensive when compared with pumped hydro energy storage technology. At the same time, with growing focus on renewables globally, there are always possibilities of new technologies that solve the energy volatility problem in a most cost-effective and efficient manner.

EOS Perspective

Pumped hydro energy storage plants seem to surely have a secure place for themselves in Australia’s energy grid in the long run. With coal and natural gas generators retiring, there will be an increasing push for renewables to fill in their shoes. Renewable energy needs storage options that are stable and effective. PHES plants developed today will be operating for the next century providing a good base for Australia to move to a 100% renewable energy when it is ready. While investments in these projects run high, several large energy players in the Australian market are looking for investment opportunities in this form of storage as they believe it will play a critical role in Australia’s energy grid in the coming years.

However, most of the works regarding PHES plants is currently on paper, with majority of the projects still at the stage of seeking financing. The project closest to completion currently is the Kidston Project, which also failed to secure a confirmed off-take agreement (i.e., pre-contracted purchase agreement) with EnergyAustralia and had to settle for an agreement to negotiate an off-take based on the fulfillment of a few conditions. This hints towards a cautious approach adopted by large utility players when it comes to investing in pumped hydro energy storage projects. With utility players, such as EnergyAustralia, claiming that before committing to huge investments in this space, they would like clarity and stability in the national energy policy (that includes an emission trajectory), a lot falls into the government’s keenness to support renewable energy in the future. While it may seem like things are moving in that direction, a stronger emission policy or a higher renewable target is likely needed for matters to gain momentum.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

China Accelerates on the Fuel Cell Technology Front

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For the past decade, China has been on the forefront of the New Energy Vehicles (NEVs) revolution. Although most of its focus has been on battery-powered electric vehicles (BEVs), the government has recently also begun to put its financial might behind hydrogen fuel cells for vehicles. Unlike battery-powered vehicles that need regular and long-periods of charging (therefore are more suitable for personal-use vehicles), hydrogen fueled vehicles do not need frequent refueling and their refueling is quick. This makes them ideal for long-distance buses, taxis, and long-haul transport. However, the existing infrastructure to support fuel cell-powered cars is limited. Thus, despite having inherent benefits over electric vehicles (especially in case of commercial vehicles), fuel cell vehicles fight an uphill battle to build a market for themselves in China, owing to the challenges in acceptability, infrastructure availability, and sheer economies of scale.

Over the last decade, the Chinese government heavily backed the production and sale of electric vehicles through substantial subsidies, investment in infrastructure, and favorable policies. This resulted in the sector picking up rapidly and reaching 1.2 million vehicles sold in 2018. However, the government has begun to reduce the subsidies provided to the sector and the focus is slowly shifting to fuel cell vehicles.

How do fuel cell vehicles work?

Fuel cell vehicles use hydrogen gas to power their electric motor. Fuel cells are considered somewhat a crossover between battery and conventional engines in their working. Similar to conventional engines, fuel cells generate power by using fuel (i.e. pressurized hydrogen gas) from a fuel tank.

However, unlike traditional internal-combustion engines, a fuel cell does not burn the hydrogen, but instead it is chemically fused with oxygen from the air to make water. This process, which is in turn similar to what happens in a battery, creates electricity, which is used to power the electric motor.

Thus, while fuel cell vehicles are electric vehicles (since they are solely powered by electricity), they are similar to conventional vehicles with regards to their range, refueling process, and needs. This makes them ideal for long-haul commercial vehicles.

Chinese government bets big on fuel cell vehicles

Under China’s 13th Five-Year Plan, the government has laid out a Fuel Cell Technology Roadmap, in which it aims to operate over 1,000 hydrogen refueling stations by 2030, with at least 50% of all hydrogen production to be obtained from renewable resources. In addition, it has set a target for the sale of 1 million fuel cell vehicles by 2030.

To achieve these ambitious targets, the Chinese government plans to roll-out a program similar to its 2009 program – Ten Cities, Thousand Vehicles, which promoted the development and sale of battery electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles. It currently plans to promote fuel cell vehicles in Beijing, Shanghai, and Chengdu. Considering the vast success garnered by this program, it is likely that the government will also be successful in achieving similar targets for fuel cells.

Moreover, while the government is phasing out subsidies for BEVs, it is continuing them for fuel cells. As per the government guidelines issued in June 2018, US$32,000 purchase subsidy is available for fuel cell passenger vehicles, while US$48,000-US$70,000 purchase subsidies are available for fuel cell buses and trucks. However, for the buses to receive subsidy, they are required to drive a minimum of 200,000 km in a year.

While the government is phasing out subsidies for BEVs, it is continuing them for fuel cells. As per the government guidelines issued in June 2018, US$32,000 purchase subsidy is available for fuel cell passenger vehicles, while US$48,000-US$70,000 purchase subsidies are available for fuel cell buses and trucks.

Moreover, the government also provides subsidy for the development of hydrogen refueling stations. A funding of US$0.62 million is available for hydrogen refueling stations having a minimum of 200kg capacity.

In addition to these national subsidies, state-wise subsidies are also available for several regions such as Guangdong, Wuhan, Hainan, Shandong, Tianjin, Henan, Foshan, and Dalian. Local subsidies differ from region to region and are given as a ratio of the national subsidy. For instance, it equals 1:1 in Wuhan, while it is 1:0.3 in Henan province. On the other hand, local or state subsidies are cancelled for BEVs (except buses).

Apart from subsidies given to fuel cell infrastructure and vehicle manufacturers, the price of hydrogen is also heavily subsidized, making it cheaper than diesel in many cases.

China’s fuel cell vehicle market picks up steam

The government’s backing and subsidies have stirred interest of several international players towards China’s fuel cell vehicle market. Considering its success and dominance of the BEV market, these players are placing their bets on China achieving similar volumes and success in the fuel cell sphere.

Chinese companies have also begun to invest heavily in fuel cell technology companies globally. In May, 2018, Weichai Power, a Chinese leading automobile and equipment manufacturer, purchased a 20% stake in UK-based solid oxide fuel cell producer, Ceres Power. Similarly, in August 2018, Weichai Power entered into a strategic partnership with Canada-based fuel cell and clean energy solutions provider, Ballard Power Systems. As part of the strategic partnership, the company purchased 19.9% stake in Ballard Power Systems for US$163.3 million. In addition, they entered into a JV to support China’s Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle market, in which Ballard holds 49% ownership. Through this partnership, Weichai aims to build and supply about 2,000 fuel cell modules for commercial vehicles (that use Ballard’s technology) by 2021.

China Accelerates on the Fuel Cell Technology Front - EOS Intelligence

Global leader in industrial gases, Air Liquide, has also partnered with companies in China to be a part of the fuel cell movement. In November 2018, the company entered into an agreement with Sichuan Houpu Excellent Hydrogen Energy Technology, a wholly-owned affiliate of Chengdu Huaqi Houpu Holding (HOUPU), to develop, manufacture, and commercialize hydrogen stations for fuel cell vehicles in China. In January 2019, the company also partnered with Yankuang Group, a Chinese state-owned energy company, to develop hydrogen energy infrastructure in China’s Shandong province to support fuel cell vehicles in that region.

Another global player, Nuvera Fuel Cells (US-based fuel cell power solutions provider) has also engaged with local companies to foster growth in China’s fuel cell vehicle market. In August 2018, the company entered into an agreement with Zhejiang Runfeng Hydrogen Engine Ltd. (ZHRE), a subsidiary of Zhejiang Runfeng Energy Group based in Hangzhou. Under the agreement, Nuvera will provide a product license to ZHRE to manufacture the company’s 45kW fuel cell engines for sale in China. While the fuel cells will be initially manufactured in Massachusetts, it is expected that they will be locally manufactured by 2020.

In December 2018, the company signed another agreement with the government of Fuyang, a district in Hangzhou (in Zhejiang province), to start manufacturing fuel cell stacks locally in 2019. The agreement also includes an investment by Nuvera to establish a production facility in Fuyang region. These fuel cell stacks will be used to power zero-emissions heavy duty vehicles (such as delivery vans and transit buses), which comprise 10% of on-road vehicle fleet, but account for 50% fuel consumption.

In addition to the fuel cell energy producers, global car manufactures have also shifted their attention to fuel cell vehicles market in China. In October 2018, Korean car manufacturer, Hyundai, entered into a MoU with Beijing-Tsinghua Industrial R&D Institute (BTIRDI) to jointly establish a ‘Hydrogen Energy Fund’. The fund aims to raise US$100 million from leading venture capital firms across the globe to spur investments in the hydrogen-powered vehicle value chain. This agreement will help the Korean automobile manufacturer identify and act upon new hydrogen-related business opportunities in China and will eventually help pave the way for Hyundai Motors to make a foray into the Chinese fuel cell vehicle market in the future.

A bumpy road ahead for fuel cell vehicles

While the industry players are working along with the government to meet the ambitious targets set by the latter, fuel cell vehicles must overcome several challenges for them to be a realistic alternative to conventional and electric vehicles.

Currently, the infrastructure for fuel cell vehicles is by far insufficient. More so, it is extremely costly to develop, costing about US$2 million to build a refueling station with a capacity of about 1,000 kg/day. While the government is investing heavily in developing hydrogen refueling stations (for instance, China Energy, China’s largest power company, has been building one of China’s largest hydrogen refueling stations in Rugao City, Jiangsu Province), it requires long term partnerships and investments from private and global players to meet its own targets. Until an adequate number of refueling stations is constructed, especially on highway routes (facilitating truck and bus transportation), fuel cell vehicles will remain in a sphere of concept rather than commercial and mass use.

Another challenge faced by the industry is that hydrogen, the main fuel, is also considered to be highly hazardous, and storing and transporting it is currently difficult. Moreover, it is difficult to convince customers to purchase hydrogen-powered vehicles because of this perceived notion of hydrogen being unsafe. In addition to providing subsidies and incentives for building fuel cell vehicles, the government must also invest in marketing campaigns and enact policies that raise awareness about hydrogen in fuel cell vehicles as a safe and green energy.

In addition to providing subsidies and incentives for building fuel cell vehicles, the government must also invest in marketing campaigns and enact policies that raise awareness about hydrogen in fuel cell vehicles as a safe and green energy.

A lot of new technologies are also being explored to further make transporting and storing hydrogen safer. A German company, Hydrogenious Technologies, has developed a carrier oil that can carry hydrogen in a safe manner. This oil is non-toxic and non-explosive and thus makes transporting, storing, and refueling hydrogen safe. Moreover, using hydrogen mixed with this carrier oil to refuel fuel cell cars follows a similar refueling process as that of a conventional car, with one cubic meter of the oil carrying about 57kg hydrogen, which in turn is expected to give a car a driving range of 5,700km. However, the carrier oil is still in its nascent stage of development and would take time and resources to gain commercial applicability.

However, one of the largest challenges that fuel cell vehicles face is direct competition from battery electric vehicles. BEVs have a 10-year head start over fuel cell vehicles whether it comes to government support, technological development, infrastructure, or acceptability. Moreover, BEVs are cheaper both in terms of cars price and cost of running, which is an important factor for consumers. In addition, BEV players are constantly working towards reducing charging time and increasing driving range. Since both are green technologies, it is likely that the consumer prefers the one which has now proven to be a successful alternative to conventional vehicles in terms of pricing and supporting infrastructure. Although higher subsidies for fuel cell vehicles may help bridge the gap, it is yet to be seen if fuel cell cars will be able to give stiff competition to their green counterparts.

EOS Perspective

There is no doubt that the Chinese government intends to throw its weight behind the fuel cell technology for automobiles. In 2018 alone, the central and local governments spent a total of US$12.4 billion in supporting fuel cell vehicles. This has helped attract the attention of several local and international companies that want a share of this growing market.

It also helps that hydrogen as a fuel has several benefits when compared with battery power, the key advantages being short refueling time and long driving range. Moreover, some consider hydrogen to be a cleaner fuel when compared with battery power as the electricity required to create hydrogen (which is created by pumping electricity into water to split it into hydrogen and oxygen) can be derived from renewable sources from China’s northern region, which are currently going to waste.

Despite these inherent benefits, it will be difficult for fuel cell vehicles to catch up with battery-powered vehicles as the latter have significantly advanced over the past decade (leaving fuel cell vehicles behind).

Moreover, China’s model of promoting green energy is yet to pass its ultimate test, i.e., to sustain and flourish without government support. Since the government has now begun to phase out its support to BEVs, it is to be seen if the large group of domestic electric vehicle makers can survive in the long run or the market will face significant consolidation along with slower growth. Thus it becomes extremely critical for the Chinese government and companies in this sector to understand the feasibility of the market post the subsidy phase. Fuel cell vehicle market should take advantage of learning from the experience of battery powered vehicles sector, which was the pioneer of alternatives to conventional combustion vehicles.

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Infographic: Google’s Tech Initiatives Transforming Industries

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Google, beyond being the leading search engine worldwide, is also one of the largest and most innovative companies. Through its innovations, Google along with other Alphabet companies (parent company of Google and its subsidiaries) is transforming various industries by empowering them with technology. Its solutions have reached diverse industries such as agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare, energy, and fishing, among others.

Innovation has always been at the core of Google’s strategy and it is bringing artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, augmented reality, robotics, among others to shape various industries. It has introduced surgical robots to medicine, Google glass to manufacturing, AI-enabled programs to energy, among various other solutions that are revolutionizing these industries. We are taking a look at where Google has already left its innovative footprint.

Google’s Tech Initiatives Transforming Industries - EOS Intelligence


Alphabet companies included in the infographic:
Verily – Alphabet’s key research organization dedicated to the study of life sciences
Verb Surgical – A joint venture between Johnson & Johnson and Verily
DeepMind – Alphabet’s artificial intelligence company
Global Fishing Watch – An organization founded by Google in partnership with Oceana and SkyTruth
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Argentina Powers its Way through Renewables

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Despite having abundance of renewable resources, Argentina has always had an inclination towards the non-renewable energy in its energy mix. However, in 2016, the incumbent government announced its intentions to explore the renewable resources, especially wind, to ensure that about 20% of the energy mix is contributed to by green energy by 2025 (a shorter-term goal entailed 8% of the energy to be contributed to by renewable resources by the end of 2017). Both local and foreign players have welcomed this announcement and have started pouring in investments into related projects. However, the path to achieving the targets does have obstacles other than investment, such as lack of speedy financing and poor energy transmission.

At the time of the 2015 elections, Argentina was going through an energy crisis. Owing to a shortage of local energy generation, Argentina had been dependent on imports to meet its energy requirements post 2010. This was underpinned by lack of incentives for local and foreign investors to invest in the energy sector and the de-dollarization of energy tariffs (which prevented private, especially foreign investment into the sector, since most companies were not confident about the stability and value of the Argentina peso).

Also, despite Argentina’s abundance of renewable sources, the country’s energy mix was heavily dependent on non-renewable sources, which were imported from neighboring countries – gasoil from Venezuela and LNG from Bolivia. Thus, when pro-business candidate, Mauricio Macri, took office in 2015, his government adopted several reforms to uplift the country’s energy sector, with a prime focus of promoting the use of renewable energy. In October 2015, the Macri government introduced a new program called, RenovAr, to attract local and foreign investments in Argentina’s renewable energy sector.

argentina renewable energy

The RenovAr program aims to achieve 20% share of renewable energy in the energy mix by the end of 2025. It has also set a target of achieving 8% of its energy from renewable sources by the end of 2017 (which in absence of the government’s statements of the latter being achieved at the time of preparing this publication, it is fair to assume that the 2017 target was unlikely to have been met). These targets appear rather ambitious, considering that just recently, in 2016, only 1.8% of power demand in Argentina was supplied through renewable energy.

These targets appear rather ambitious, considering that just recently, in 2016, only 1.8% of power demand in Argentina was supplied through renewable energy.

The RenvoAr program has been designed to provide a host of fiscal benefits and financial support to companies interested in investing in the development of renewable energy projects. These include (but are not limited to) exemption of import duties for all projects commencing construction before the end of 2017; accelerated fiscal depreciation of applicable assets; early VAT refund for assets and infrastructure; exclusion from minimum presumed income tax for eight years from project commencement; exemption from dividend tax (subject to reinvestment in infrastructure); extension of income tax loss credits to 10 years; tax deduction of all financial expenses; tax credit on locally sourced capital expenditure.

However, the tax benefits were the highest for projects commencing before the beginning of 2018 and will diminish gradually up till 2025. In addition to these benefits, the government has set up a sector-specific trust fund called Trust Fund for Renewable Energy (FODER), to provide payment guarantees for all tendered power purchase agreements (PPAs) and to also support project financing. This further helps secure investors who have historically been hesitant to invest in Argentina. The government has allocated ARS 12 billion (US$860 million) to the trust fund. Also, the World Bank has approved US$480 million in guarantees to support the PPAs under the RenvoAr program.

Owing to a great deal of benefits and securities offered, the RenvoAr program has been modestly successful. In Round 1 of the RenvoAr program held in October 2016, the government awarded contracts for 1,142 MW capacity (through 29 contracts) instead of the initial plan of 1,000 MW. This was due to a great deal of interest in the auction, which received 123 bids for more than 6,300 MW. The awarded projects included 707 MW of wind energy projects and 400 MW of solar energy projects. The average prices for the projects were US$59.70/MWh for solar and US$59.40/MWh for wind.

The second round of auctions held in November 2016 (Round 1.5) witnessed equal success with a total capacity of 1,281 MW being auctioned off through 30 contracts. The 765 MW of wind energy was auctioned at an average price of US53.3/MWh, while the 516 MW of solar projects were auctioned at an average price of US$54.9/MWh, signifying a visible drop in prices over the two rounds. The auctions were expected to increase renewable energy contribution to Argentina’s energy mix to close to 6% and to bring in about US$3.5 billion in financing over the next two years.

Argentina’s Renewable Energy Potential

Wind Energy — Argentina has immense potential for wind energy generation. As per various estimates, a region that has an average wind speed of and above 5m/s has a good potential for wind energy generation. In Argentina, about 70% of its territories have an average wind speed of 6m/s, while one of the country’s regions, Patagonia, has an average wind speed of 9m/s. In fact, Patagonia is among the top three wind corridors globally.

Solar Energy — The northwest region of Argentina boasts of being among top four locations globally for having the greatest thermal solar power potential. About 11 provinces across Argentina have high potential for installation of photovoltaic panels, which is the most widely used solar generating technology in Argentina.

 

In addition, Argentina also has an immense potential to source energy from small-hydro, bioenergy, and biomass projects.

After two hugely successful auctions, the government had planned the third auction (Round 2) in summer 2017, however, the round was later pushed to November 2017 due infrastructure bottleneck. The country has limited transmission nodes in areas with good wind and solar potential and also require to boost the transmission infrastructure to go hand in hand with the RenvoAr program. About 5,000 kilometers of transmission lines would be required over the next three years to match the expanding capacity.

In addition to avoiding infrastructure bottlenecks, the government pushed back the next round of auctions to ensure there were no financial bottlenecks as well. With the winners of the 2016 auctions still seeking financing by mid-2017, the government did not wish to start another auction before the earlier projects were structured.

The Round 2 of the auction (which was held in November 2017) also saw significant success and auctioned off about 2,043 MW capacity instead of the initially planned 1,200 MW. The tender was largely oversubscribed and received 228 bids representing 9,403 MW of capacity. The auctioned bids included about 816 MW of solar power capacity at an average price of US$43.46/MWh and about 993 MW of wind energy at an average price of US$41.23/MWh. This round is expected to bring in a further US$2.5-3 billion in investment.

While the three rounds of auctions can easily be termed as success, it is important to note that most contracts were bagged by local players instead of large international players (such as Spain’s Acciona and US-based AES Corp). This was primarily because large international companies still consider Argentina to be a slightly risky market and the price quoted by them reflected this risk (whereas most local players quoted much lower prices).

Moreover, with every proceeding auction, the average price declined significantly (from US$59.70/MWh and US$59.40/MWh for solar and wind, respectively in October 2016 to US$43.46/MWh and US$41.23/MWh in November 2017). Following this trend, the ceiling for the next auction have been announced as US$41.76/MWh for solar and US$40.27/MWh for wind (however, the date of the next auction has not been announced). This raises major concern, especially for international players, that the prices have declined to a point where projects may not be economically viable. This is valid considering that the Argentinian market holds some risk as well (the country has a credit rating of B+ as per S&P and B3 as per Moody’s). Lower prices may also act counter-productive because in case the winning projects fail to get financing in accordance with the low output prices, the overall confidence in the renewables program may fall.

Lower prices may also act counter-productive because in case the winning projects fail to get financing in accordance with the low output prices, the overall confidence in the renewables program may fall.

However, international players can come into play with regards to president Macri’s another policy that promotes generation and use of clean energy. As per a new rule passed in September 2017, large power consumers are allowed to directly meet their renewable power obligations (8% by 2017 and 20% by 2025) through private supply contracts. This is expected to further pour in investments worth about US$6 billion over the next three years and also lead to the installation of close to 4GW generation capacity. Several players, such as Argentina-based Luft Energia (which has partnered with US-based PE firm, Castlelake) are focusing on this route to enter Argentina’s lucrative renewables energy market, rather than competing in a price-war in the auctions.

EOS Perspective

Generation and use of renewable energy definitely holds an important place for president Macri and his government is definitely pulling many strings to advance the cause. The three rounds of auction up till now can be termed as success by almost any measure, however, it is too early to comment if the government will be able to reach its ambitious targets. While the RenvoAr program and the FODER trust fund provide real benefits and security to investors, the smooth and timely financing of these projects, especially with declining bidding prices, still remains to be a challenging task. Moreover, the lack of transmission infrastructure leads to further uncertainties regarding the program’s success.

The government has probably remained slightly short of its 2017 target of meeting 8% of its energy needs from renewable sources, however, it is on track to achieve its goal of 20% energy-mix being contributed by renewable energy. Thus, it is safe to say, that while Argentina’s renewable energy goal may be a little too ambitious, the government does seem optimistic about achieving it on the back of a solid incentive program, the World Bank’s support, and keen interest from foreign and local energy players.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

USA-China Solar Dispute – Will Sanctions Really Aid the US Solar Market?

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Trade disputes are not a rare sight in the current competitive era. Especially the USA and China have a history of such disputes in last couple of decades and both have locked horns again, this time over solar equipment trade. Chinese manufacturers are being accused of unfair trade practices as they sell solar modules at a considerably lower prices than producers from other countries, using government subsidies to finance their operations and to create a glut of imports. In response to such a practice, American manufactures filed a petition with US International Trade Commission (USITC) seeking steep tariffs and a floor price for the Chinese solar imports. The commission voted on the merits of the petition in late September 2017, and decided that there has indeed been a considerable damage to the US manufacturers. The USITC’s recommendations for sanctions will be sent to the White House to decide the course of action in the following month. If sanctions are introduced, will the US producers be the ultimate winner after the final verdict in November?

The solar power generation technology was invented in the USA which have dominated the solar industry for last three decades of 20th century. The global solar industry is now a US$100 billion market, a fact that leads to a large number of players being interested in grabbing their share of this mammoth opportunity. As solar energy is considered clean and renewable, countries suffering from high pollution levels increasingly demand efficient and cheap solar energy generation equipment.

This strong demand is expected to continue, luring many players around the globe towards venturing into solar equipment manufacturing and this in turn has led to intense competition in this market. With China rising as a manufacturer of cheaper solar equipment since 2011, it has become increasingly difficult for other players to compete with China, and many producers, especially in the USA, are not very pleased with that.

This strong demand is expected to continue, luring many players around the globe towards venturing into solar equipment manufacturing and this in turn has led to intense competition in this market.

This is not the first solar battle between the USA and China. The countries were in a solar dispute back in 2011 when the USA hit China with 25-70% tariffs on solar module exports. It was due to a trade complaint filed by SolarWorld Americas along with six other US manufacturers about unethical trade practices undertaken by their Chinese counterparts. And now, Suniva, a Georgia-based solar cell and module manufacturer, filed a Safeguard Petition with the USITC in April 2017, just one week after it had filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The USITC, in its unanimous vote, agreed that the US companies suffered injury from cheap imports. Following these developments, the markets are waiting for the president Trump’s decision over the case in November, and if the White House follows with sanctions and remedies, this might be the beginning of a significant wave of changes in the solar equipment market.

China has not always been the market leader for solar products. Way back in 1990s, when Germany could not meet its rising domestic demand for solar equipment, it started working with Chinese players to manufacture the equipment for German market. Germany did not only provide the capital and technology but also some of their solar energy experts to those Chinese manufacturers.

The high demand was a result of German government’s incentive program to use the rooftop solar panels. Needless to say, those Chinese players happily accepted the opportunity. Further they got lured with the rising demand for solar equipment in other European countries such as Spain and Italy, where similar incentive programs started to be rolled out. The Chinese producers started hiring experts and expanding their capacities to tap the surge in demand.

With rising pollution levels and global demand for cleaner energy, solar industry became an attractive opportunity for China, and this resulted in the government’s willingness to invest as much as US$47 billion to develop China’s solar industry. With the beginning of 21st century, China started inviting foreign companies to set up plants in the country and take benefit of its cheap labor.

The Chinese government also introduced loans and tax incentives for renewable energy equipment manufacturers. By 2010, the solar equipment production in China increased at such levels that there were almost two panels made for every one demanded by an importer. In 2011, China took the German route and started incentivizing domestic rooftop solar installations, which rocketed the domestic demand so much that it surpassed Germany’s in 2015 to become the largest globally. China deployed 20 GW capacity in the first half of 2016, whereas the entire US capacity at that time was 31 GW.

The Chinese government started perceiving solar power generation as a strategic industry. It started a range of initiatives to help the domestic manufacturers to increase production of solar equipment, be it through subsidies for the purchase of the land for factories or through lower interest loans from banks. These moves and gigantic Chinese production capacities drove the global solar panel prices down by 80% from 2008 to 2013, which further increased China’s exports as its prices were the lowest.

Before 2009, the USA used to import very little from China in the solar domain and by the end of 2013, the Chinese imports rose to over 49% of total solar panels deployed in the USA. This increase in the imports resulted in 26 US solar manufacturers filing for bankruptcy in 2011, one of which was SolarWorld which also filed a trade complaint. The situation was not very different in several European countries.

The Chinese government started perceiving solar power generation as a strategic industry. It started a range of initiatives to help the domestic manufacturers to increase production of solar equipment.

China was accused of unfair trading and dumping exports below market prices which led the Obama government and EU to imposing import duties of 25-70% on Chinese solar products in 2011 for the following four years. In return, in 2012 China threatened to impose tariffs on US imports of polysilicon used in solar cells, and actually announced tariffs of 53.5% to 57% in 2013. Also, finding loopholes in the tariff system imposed by the Americans, Chinese manufacturers set up facilities in countries such as Malaysia and Vietnam, as the tariffs were not applicable for imports from those countries. The US imports of Chinese solar products continued.

The current Suniva’s case has received a mixed support within the US solar industry. While the US solar installers, for obvious reasons, will not support the case, some of the well-known manufacturers in the country have also stood up against it. They think the tariffs will almost double the prices of solar equipment in the USA which will eventually lower the demand of their products as well.

Following the USITC vote agreeing with Suniva’s petition, the industry is awaiting the final decision on the extent of the recommended tariffs and remedies, which are expected to affect jobs, innovation, and growth of the solar industry in various ways.

Impact of tariff decision on jobs in solar industry

Out of the total 260,000 US solar jobs, installers accounted for more than 80%, and around 38,000 people were working in manufacturing in 2016, a 26% increase over 2015. As the prices of solar panels dropped to around US$0.4/watt in 2016 from US$0.57/watt in 2015 thanks to the availability of cheap Chinese imports, solar installations boomed in the USA.

Manufacturers and experts supporting the Suniva case (supporters) argue that if the suggested tariffs of US$0.4/watt on imported cells and a minimum price of US$0.78/watt on panels are implemented, it will help the domestic manufacturing and around 114,800 new jobs will be created. The installers and some manufacturers opposing the case (adversaries) say that the tariffs on import will hurt everyone including the manufacturing sector. If the prices increase, this will cause the demand to go down which is likely to affect around 88,000 jobs in the US solar industry.

A group of 27 US solar equipment manufacturers including companies such as PanelClaw, Aerocompact, IronRidge, SMASHsolar, Pegasus Solar, on behalf of their combined 5,700 employees, wrote a letter to trade commissioners not to impose new import tariffs. With Chinese solar imports as high as 49% of the total US requirement, increased prices are expected to affect thousands of jobs in the solar installation sector which is the primary sub-sector of solar industry.

However, if the Chinese imports continue at the current rate, the demand for solar equipment will eventually decrease. Over long term, the manufacturers will have to lower their production and installers will have no new clients. So, the economy of scale effect will not work after that and that might affect the US solar jobs.

Impact of tariff decision on innovation in solar industry

The one factor that genuinely seems affected with the rise of China in the solar industry is innovation. Being the pioneers of the solar power generation technology, Americans are undoubtedly good at innovation. However, with dozens of US companies being on the verge of bankruptcy and lowering sales for remaining manufacturers because of glut of cheaper Chinese imports, the innovation budgets have seen a large blow in the country.

China is still producing the first generation, traditional solar modules and doing little, if anything at all, to improve the efficiency of the existing products. Chinese are not known for investing much in R&D departments and top seven Chinese solar manufacturers invested a mere 1.25% of total sales in R&D in 2015. Compared with what electronics firms invested in 2015 towards R&D, this number is six times lower. Compared with US clean energy firms, Chinese firms patent 72% less.

However, the US innovation receives targeted help and support from the government, which is not the case for Chinese innovation. US Department of Energy has come up with a loan program of US$32 billion to help clean energy companies innovate efficient solar products while still being price competitive with Chinese products. Nonetheless, US innovations are expected to dry up if the Chinese solar equipment dumping continues.

US-China Solar Dispute

Impact of tariff decision on solar industry growth

Growth of the solar industry should probably be the prime factor to consider for the Trade Commission and the White House while deciding about the potential introduction of solar tariffs.

As of 2016, US solar industry is worth roughly around US$23 billion. Moreover, solar energy accounted for 40% of new generation in the US power grid and 10% of total renewable energy generated in the USA in 2016, while the recent cost declines have led American utilities to procure more solar energy. This energy has witnessed 68% of average annual growth rate in terms of new generation capacity in the USA in last decade and as of first half of 2017, over 47 GW of solar capacity is installed to power 9.1 million American houses. There are currently about 9,000 solar companies in the USA employing around 260,000 people. In 2016, solar power generation was at 0.9% of total US power generation, a share that is expected to grow to more than 3% in 2020 and hit 5% in 2022.

The Suniva case supporters believe that this growth can slow down once the solar equipment demand is satisfied through Chinese imports, which is likely to eventually lead to job cuts and no innovation that in turn will put a break on any further growth in the US sector. They also argue that the solar equipment manufacturing sector in the USA will be destroyed if the right steps are not taken to safeguard the manufacturers from cheaper imports.

After the tariffs are introduced, for some time, the prices will be parallel for locally manufactured as well as imported solar products. Later on, with innovation and competitiveness between the domestic manufacturers coming back (currently absent from US solar market), the prices are expected to go down as per the allies.

At the same time, the Suniva case adversaries believe that the dream run for solar industry’s growth in the USA should not be hindered by imposing tariffs on imports as it will jeopardize even up to half of all solar installations expected to be demanded by 2022. In case of US$0.78/watt minimum module price scenario, US solar equipment installation is expected to fall from 72.5 GW to 36.4 GW between 2018 and 2022 or to 25 GW in case of US$1.18/watt minimum price scenario.

Solar energy is believed to be price sensitive and if the government aims to motivate the clean energy development, the origin of equipment used for this development should not matter. Some of the US solar equipment manufacturers are even opposing the tariffs which means they think there is still potential in the domestic manufacturing industry and with innovation they can gradually increase their share in the market.

EOS Perspective

The US government will have to take a responsible decision on the trade tariffs. The issue looks very sensitive and can directly affect the growth of the US energy sector. A win-win situation seems impossible if the tariffs are levied, and in its deliberations the government should consider the effects of the past US tariffs imposed on Chinese products. When the USA took anti-dumping steps against Chinese steel, China fired back with tariffs on caprolactam, a textile material. China re-imposed duties on US broiler chickens, after the USA announced duties on Chinese tires in June 2015.

So, none of the trade wars have proved to be beneficial for either of the sides. In the current dispute, the stakes are also high, and the wrong decision might have repercussions in a range of sectors. For instance, China placed a US$38 billion order to Boeing for commercial aircraft in 2015, an order that has not been delivered yet. This aspect should be kept in mind by the USA.

China currently dominates solar products supply with 80% of global solar equipment manufacturing capacity. The USA need to understand that their role in the global solar market is decreasing, and is no longer what it used to be. It would be beneficial for the USA to focus on strengthening the role in innovation of solar technology rather than looking to be the leading solar equipment manufacturer by volume.

Even if the US government supports the manufacturers by slapping tariffs on imports, the country is not ready with the required infrastructure for solar generation equipment manufacturing to satisfy the domestic demand in absence of the imports from other countries. Solar equipment producers cannot instantly set up infrastructure to manufacture a number of solar products, such as solar cells, junction boxes, extruded aluminum, glass, etc., that too in a cost-effective model. President Trump’s support for reviving local manufacturing, while at the same time favoring fossil fuels over the green energy (also manifested through his withdrawal from Paris Climate Accord), makes the outcome of the case uncertain, and interesting to follow.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Small Hydropower: Sub-Saharan Africa’s Answer to Energy Crisis?

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The Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) region is believed to have bountiful energy resources, sufficient to meet the region’s energy requirements, however most of these resources are largely underdeveloped due to limited infrastructural and financial means. This has led to majority of the countries in the region to have restricted access to electricity, despite the presence of huge waterways, which could boost the hydropower sector’s growth, particularly the small hydropower (SHP) projects – plants with generation capacity between 1 and 20 MW. In recent years, SSA region’s focus has slowly shifted to SHP projects instead of depending on large-scale hydro plants, which are relatively expensive to construct and require longer time to build. However, question remains whether SHP has enough potential to improve electricity supply and reduce power outages across the SSA region.

African continent has approximately 12% of the global hydropower potential, most of which is centered in the Sub-Saharan region due to the presence of vast water bodies. Despite the underlying potential, the region faces massive electricity shortage partially due to under exploitation of hydropower.

Over the years, the SSA region has focused on the development of large-scale hydropower projects to increase its electricity generation capacity. However, recently, the emphasis has shifted to SHP because they are economically viable with almost negligible environmental effect and a short gestation period. Additionally, several small African economies utilize less than 500 MW of electricity annually, which negates the requirement to build a large dam, making SHP a viable option. Further, with comparatively lower overheads and maintenance costs, SHP could play a vital role in solving electrification problem in rural areas.

By 2024, the African SHP capacity is likely to reach 49,706.1 MW, growing at a CAGR of 19.2% since 2016, driven by the tremendous growth opportunities that the region offers. SHP projects are likely to proliferate in the region, owing to low capital investment requirement for installation, which makes SHP a more viable and affordable option than large-scale projects. SHP market still remains quite unexplored due to limited technological and infrastructural capabilities, and lack of sufficient promotion of SHP in national planning schemes.

Nevertheless, in the last couple of years, investments in the region’s SHP sector have increased, with various internationally-funded projects likely to commence installations. Geographically, countries such as Zambia, Uganda, and DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) are most suitable for SHP generation, due to the abundant presence of river basins and water resources. These countries depend predominately on hydropower for their energy requirements.

Hydropower is the primary source of power supply in Zambia, with a 99.7% dependency on hydropower to meet electricity needs. However, the country faces massive power outages due to fluctuating water levels, owing to persistent issue of scanty rainfall or droughts in the country, causing turbines to stop functioning to generate electricity. In 2015, the country witnessed a massive drought, which led to a huge decline in electricity generation. Nonetheless, since then, the country’s water level has improved, due to better rainfall pattern, resulting in higher level of power generation (as compared with 2015) through hydropower. The government has been making efforts to develop SHP stations to improve electricity supply – some of the SHP stations in the country include Lunzua, Mulungushi, Chishimba, and Shiwangandu hydropower stations.

Uganda’s power requirement is quite high due to extensive use of electricity in the industrial sector. The supply is always lower than the demand and the country faces frequent load shedding issue. Hydropower, accounting for 80% share in electricity generation, is the main source of power production in Uganda with a number of SHP plants in operation. Uganda’s government supports the hydropower market and has been making consistent efforts to promote SHP projects. For instance, in order to attract investors, the government provides incentives such as VAT exemption on hydropower projects.

DRC has the highest hydroelectricity potential in SSA due to the presence of particularly abundant water resources. Hydropower accounts for a share of 99% in DRC’s power generation. As of 2014, DRC’s total installed electricity generation capacity stood at 2,500 MW against its potential of 100,000 MW. In long term, DRC aims to become a key hydropower exporter in the region.

The SHP market across Zambia, DRC, and Uganda is still developing, with several potential SHP sites that could be harnessed to improve electricity supply. Each country faces its individual set of challenges in terms of SHP development, however, the hindrances seem trivial against the mammoth benefits that the countries could reap through SHP development.

Hydropower in Sub-saharan Africa

EOS Perspective

Hydropower holds a key position in SSA’s energy generation mix and SHP projects have particularly witnessed steady growth in the recent years. However, whether SHP has the potential to alleviate the power crisis in SSA is still debatable.

Is high reliance on hydropower a reasonable approach to overcome energy crisis?

While hydropower plays a dominant role in energizing the SSA region, continued energy crisis across various countries reflects the dangers of over-dependence on one form of energy for power generation. The chronic power shortages, load shedding, and low levels of electricity penetration are a clear indication that the SSA countries are unable to keep pace with electricity demands by heavily relying on a single power source.

Pinning hopes solely on hydropower to alleviate the energy crisis has spelled catastrophe for certain key industries, heavily reliant on electricity for functioning, that are suffering due to the electricity shortage. For instance, in 2014, DRC’s mining sector was adversely hit by the electricity supply shortage and development of new mines had to be frozen. The limited electricity supply situation has not yet improved, as DRC announced plans (in 2017) to import electricity from South Africa to support the struggling mining sector.

A solution to the electricity crisis could be to avoid heavily investing in one source for energy generation as well as to focus on tackling the fundamental vulnerabilities of power sector. In the long term, addressing the energy crisis would demand better management of water resources, continuously growing capacity of existing power plants along with a well-planned diversification of energy generation.

Is SHP a holistic solution to SSA’s energy crisis?

While focusing only on hydropower as a solution to the entire energy crisis situation across SSA countries might not be the best approach, developing SHP for rural electrification could be ideal to eradicate energy poverty across rural communities. SHP alone cannot consistently satisfy the energy demands of SSA countries such as Zambia, Uganda or DRC, but it can surely become the best possible solution to electrify rural areas, as people residing in these communities typically live closer to a river than to a grid.

Rural communities are characterized by much lower electricity access rates as compared with urban areas because people residing in villages typically cannot afford grid connections and in most cases the electricity supply through national grid does not reach the remote areas. SHP could play a major role in off-grid electricity supply that can be used for domestic application in rural households.

Besides the requirement to develop SHP particularly for rural communities, it is also essential for various SSA countries to adopt a cost-reflective tariff, which would ease pressure on public finances and attract more private investments.

Further, focusing only on increasing electricity supply is not a comprehensive solution to the crisis, as certain SSA countries such as Uganda suffer due to high tariff rates, which also need to be monitored. Uganda has one of the world’s highest electricity tariff rates and consumption is partially affected by it due to low affordability. The high commercial and industrial tariffs adversely impact some major industries such as agro processing (agriculture is a core sector of Uganda’s economy). A lower tariff rate could help to boost production across industrial sectors (including agriculture) and improve affordability among households.

Nonetheless, development of SHP projects would certainly help to move closer to eradicating the energy crisis in SSA region but only to a certain extent. It is imperative to take other measures as well to completely tackle the issues of supply shortage and load shedding. Development of SHP projects across the SSA region is challenging, however, navigating through these obstacles would be well worth the efforts, particularly in countries such as Zambia, DRC, and Uganda, where SHP could play a major role in rural electrification.

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