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UK Paves The Way for A Greener and Carbon-Free Future

The UK is working to create a policy for building a more sustainable future for itself through the New Green Industrial Revolution, aiming to attain net-zero emissions in the UK by 2050. As the country separated itself from the EU through Brexit, it is also setting its own environmental goals and in that, its own version of the EU’s 2019 Green Deal (we wrote about it in The EU Green Deal – Good on Paper but Is That Enough? in March 2020). With highly ambitious targets, the proposed investments are worth GBP12 billion, creating 250,000 jobs in the process. While this seems like a promising funds allocation, the plan’s success will actually depend on significant investments in next-generation technologies, which have currently not been proven commercially. Moreover, a lot will depend on an equal involvement from the private sector that might be more cautious with investments than the public sector.

The UK is in a bid to position itself at the forefront of global markets for green energy and clean technologies. To achieve this, it proposed a 10-point Green Industrial Revolution in November 2020, which aims to mobilize GBP12 billion funds and create 250,000 jobs in the UK. Through this plan, the UK aims to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The key areas covered under the plan include offshore wind, hydrogen, nuclear, electric vehicles, public transport, jet zero and greener maritime, homes and public buildings, carbon capture, nature, and innovation and finance.

UK Paves The Way for A Greener and Carbon-Free Future

Offshore wind

The new Green Industrial Revolution outlines the UK government’s commitment to put offshore wind energy at the forefront of the country’s electricity needs. It has increased the offshore wind targets from previous 30GW to 40GW by 2030, aiming to produce enough energy to power all homes in the UK by 2030.

In addition to this, the government plans investments of about GBP160 million to upgrade ports and infrastructure in localities that will accommodate future offshore wind projects (e.g. Teesside, Humber, Scotland, and Wales).

This investment in developing offshore wind energy is expected to support about 60,000 direct and indirect jobs by 2030 in construction and maintenance of sites, ports, factories, etc.

While the government’s plan is great on paper, meeting the 40GW target will require 4GW of offshore wind projects to be commissioned every year between 2025 and 2030, which is extremely ambitious and challenging. Moreover, just developing offshore wind projects will not be enough until works are also done to update the electricity grid. Further, the target 40GW generation is calculated based on current electricity demand by households, which in reality is bound to increase as a shift towards electric vehicles is being encouraged.

Hydrogen

With the help of industry partners, the UK government plans to develop 5GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030 for industries, transport, and residences. The government is expected to publish a dedicated Hydrogen Strategy in 2021, to position the UK as a front runner in production and use of clean hydrogen. It plans to develop 1GW (of the planned 5GW) hydrogen production capacity by 2025.

A central part of the UK’s Hydrogen Strategy is expected to have hydrogen potentially replace natural gas for the purpose of heating. The government is undertaking hydrogen heating trials, commencing with building a ‘Hydrogen Neighborhood’ and potentially developing a plan for the first town to be heated completely using hydrogen by 2030.

In addition to this, works with industry partners are under way to develop ‘hydrogen-ready’ appliances in 2021, such that new gas boilers can be readily converted to hydrogen if any future conversion of the gas network is commissioned. To facilitate this, the government is working with Health and Safety Executives to enable 20% hydrogen blending in the gas network by 2023. However, this is subject to successful trials.

In transportation, an investment of GBP20 million in 2021 is planned to test hydrogen and other zero emission freight truck technologies in order to support the industry in developing zero-emission trucks for long-haul road freight.

To achieve these targets, a GBP240 million Net Zero Hydrogen Fund is planned to be set up. It will provide capital co-investment along with the investment from private sector to develop various technologies. These will include carbon capture and storage infrastructure for the production of clean hydrogen that can be used in home, transport, and industrial requirements. The policy is expected to support 8,000 jobs by 2030 and push private investment worth GBP4 billion by 2030.

However, the government’s ambitious 2030 hydrogen policy requires significant investment and participation from the private sector. While several global companies such as ITM Power, Orsted, Phillips 66, etc., have come together to collaborate on the Gigastack project in the UK (which aims to produce clean hydrogen from offshore wind), such private participation will be required on most projects to make them feasible and meet the targets.

Nuclear power

In search of low-carbon electricity sources, UK plans to invest in nuclear energy. In addition to development of large-scale nuclear plants, the investments will also include small modular reactors and advanced modular reactors.

To this effect, the government has set up a GBP385 million Advanced Nuclear Fund. Of this, GBP215 million is to be used towards small modular reactors, i.e., to develop a domestic smaller-scale nuclear power plant technology that could be built in factories and assembled on site. Apart from this, GBP170 million is to be used towards research and development of advanced modular reactors. These are reactors that could operate at over 800˚C, and as a result, unlock efficient production of hydrogen and synthetic fuels. These are also expected to complement the government’s other investments and initiatives with regards to hydrogen and carbon capture.

While the government expects the design and development of small modular reactors to result in private sector investment of up to GBP300 million, these next generation small reactors are currently considered a long shot as no company has created them yet. While Rolls Royce has offered the government to design one, it is conditional on them receiving a subsequent order worth GBP32 billion for 16 such reactors as well as the government paying half of the GBP400 million design cost.

Moreover, nuclear power plants are expensive and long-term investments and are considered to be one of the most expensive sources for power. Thus it is very important to evaluate their economic feasibility. While the government is bullish on the role of nuclear power in decarbonizing electricity, it is very important for large-scale projects to be economical, while small-scale projects still remain at a conceptual stage.

Electric vehicles

It is estimated that cars, vans, and other road transport are the single largest contributor to the UK’s carbon emissions, making up nearly one-fifth of all emissions emitted. Thus the government is committed to reducing carbon emissions produced by automobiles. To achieve this, the country plans to ban the sale of all new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030 (10 years earlier than initially planned). However, hybrid cars will be allowed to be sold till 2035.

The government has planned a support package of GBP2.8 billion for the country’s car manufacturing sector, which in turn is expected to create about 40,000 employment opportunities up till 2030. Of this, GBP1 billion will be used towards the electrification of vehicles, including setting up factories to produce EV batteries at scale. In addition to this, GBP1.3 billion is planned to be spent to set up and enhance charging infrastructure in the country by installing a large number of charge points close to residential areas, office and commercial spaces, highways, etc., to make charging as convenient as refueling. The government plans to have a network of 2,500 high-power charging points by 2030 and about 6,000 charging points by 2035. Lastly, grants are planned to the tune of about GBP582 million up till 2023 to reduce the cost of EVs (cars, vans, taxis, and two-wheelers) for the consumer. In addition to the investment by the government, private investment of about GBP3 billion is anticipated to trickle into the sector by 2026.

While this is considered to be a very important step in the right direction, it is estimated that it will still leave about 21 million polluting passenger vehicles on the UK roads by 2030 (in comparison to 31 million in 2020). Moreover, the government continues to allow the sale of hybrid cars for another five years beyond 2030, which means that carbon emissions-producing vehicles will still be added to UK roads even after the target dates set in the New Green Industrial Revolution plan.

Green public transport

In addition to reducing carbon emissions from passenger cars, the government also wants to make public transport more approachable and efficient. It plans to spend about GBP5 billion on public transport buses, cycling- and walking-related initiatives and infrastructure.

In addition, funding of GBP4.2 billion is planned on improving and decarbonizing the cities’ public transport network. This will include electrifying more railway lines, integrating train and bus network through smart ticketing, and introducing bus lanes to speed up the journey. The plans also include investment in about 4,000 new zero-emission buses in 2021, as well as funding two all-electric bus towns (Coventry and Oxford) and a completely zero-emission city center. While York and Oxford have shown interest in becoming the UK’s first zero-emission city center, the government has not yet formally announced the city for the same.

Improvements in public transport networks in other cities are also planned to bring them on par with London’s system. A construction of about 1,000 miles of segregated cycle lanes is in plans to encourage people to take up this mode of transportation for shorter distances.

While it is expected these investments will encourage people to use public transport more, the current COVID pandemic has created apprehensions when considering such shared transportation. Although this is expected to be a short-term challenge, it may be a slight damper to the government’s plan for the next year or so.

Jet zero and green ships

Apart from road transport, the government also aims at decarbonizing air and sea travel. It plans to invest GBP15 million in FlyZero – a study by Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) aimed at identifying and solving key technical and commercial issues in design and development of a zero-emission aircraft. Such an aircraft is expected to be developed by 2030. In addition to this, the government plans to run a GBP15 million competition for the development of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) in the UK. The plans also include investing in upgrading airport infrastructure so that it can service battery and hydrogen fueled aircrafts in the future.

In addition to aviation, the government is also investing GBP20 million in the Clean Maritime Demonstration Programme to develop clean maritime technology.

While the plans to develop greener fuel for aircraft and ships is a step in the right direction, it is still somewhat of a long shot as a lot more investment is required into this than proposed. Moreover, the shipping industry in particular has shown little interest in wanting to reform in the past and it is likely that both the sectors will continue to follow international standards (that are high in carbon emissions) to remain competitive globally.

Greener buildings

The UK has a considerable number of old and outdated buildings that the government wants to put in the center of its Green Industrial Plan, thus making existing and new buildings more energy efficient. The plan is to slowly phase out carbon-heavy fossil fuel boilers currently used for heating buildings and instead promote the use of more carbon efficient heat pumps. For new buildings, an energy efficiency standard is to be developed, known as the Future Home Standard. To achieve this, the domestic production of heat pumps needs to be ramped up, so that 600,000 heat pumps are installed annually by 2028. This is expected to support about 50,000 jobs by 2030. In addition to this, the government is providing GBP1 billion to extend the existing Green Home Grant (launched in September 2019) by another year, which is aimed at replacing fossil fuel-based heating in buildings with more energy efficient alternatives.

While the subsequent shift to heat pumps from gas boilers will definitely help reduce the buildings’ carbon footprint, heat pumps are currently much more expensive and more difficult to install. Thus, the government must provide ongoing financial incentives for consumers to make the switch.

Carbon capture, usage, and storage

Carbon capture, usage, and storage (CCUS) technology captures carbon dioxide from power generation, low carbon hydrogen production, and industrial processes, and stores it deep underground, such that it cannot enter the atmosphere. In the UK, it can be stored under the North Sea seabed. A the technology has a critical role to play in making the UK emission free, a GBP1 billion investment is planned to support the establishment of CCUS in 4 industrial clusters by 2030 to capture 10Mt of carbon dioxide per year by 2030. Developed alongside hydrogen, these CCUS will create ‘SuperPlaces’ in areas such as the North East, the Humber, North West, Scotland, and Wales. The development of the CCUS is expected to create 50,000 jobs by 2030.

CCUS is a very new technology, with no large-scale or commercially successful projects operational across the world. While the technology has been proved in pilot projects, its feasibility is yet to be seen. Also, a significant amount of private investment will be required to carry through the proposed project. While some private players, such as Tata Chemicals Europe have begun constructing the first industrial-scale CCU plant (expected to capture 40,000 tons of CO2 per year) in Northwich, the government needs several more private players to step up to meet its ambitious targets.

Nature

In addition to the above mentioned programs, the government plans to safeguard and secure national landscapes as well as restore several wildlife habitats to combat climate change. To achieve that, it plans to reestablish several of the nation’s landscapes under National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Beauty (AONB), as well as create new areas under these two heads. The National Parks and AONB program is expected to add 1.5% of natural land in the UK and will help the government in reaching the target of bringing 30% of the UK’s land under protected status by 2030.

In addition to this, the government plans to invest GBP40 million in nature conservation and restoration projects, which in turn is expected to create several employment opportunities across the country. Moreover, it plans to invest GBP5.2 billion over six years into flood defenses, which will help combat floods and damage to homes as well as natural environment. This is also expected to create about 20,000 jobs up till 2027.

Green finance and innovation

The last agenda on the 10-point Green Industrial Revolution entails developing new sources of financing for supporting innovative green technologies. To this effect, the government has committed an R&D investment of 2.4% of its GDP by 2027. This will extensively be used towards developing high risk, high reward green technologies, which will help the UK attain net zero emissions by 2030.

Additionally, the government launched a GBP1 billion Net Zero Innovation Portfolio that will focus on commercialization of low-carbon technologies mentioned in the 10-point agenda, including development of floating offshore wind, nuclear advanced modular reactors, energy storage, bioenergy, hydrogen, greener buildings, direct air capture and advanced CCUS, industrial fuel switching, and other disruptive technologies. In November 2020, the government launched the first phase of this investment, GBP100 million, towards greenhouse gas removal and in the coming year it plans to invest another GBP100 million towards energy storage. It also plans to invest GBP184 million for fusion energy technologies and developing new fusion facilities. Moreover, GBP20 million will be directed towards development and trials of zero emission heavy goods vehicles.

Apart from this the government plans to issue the UK’s first Sovereign Green Bonds in 2021. These bonds, which are likely to be first of many, are expected to finance sustainable and green projects and facilitate the creation of ‘green jobs’ in the country. Furthermore, similar to the EU Green Deal, the government plans to implement a green taxonomy, which helps define economic activities into two categories – the ones that help limit climate change and others that are detrimental to the environment – to help investors make better investment choices.

EOS Perspective

The UK’s Green Industrial Revolution seems to be a comprehensive policy with a multi-pronged approach to tackle climate change, promote green technology and investments, and achieve net zero emissions by 2050. With Brexit in action, it seems like a worthy counterpart to the EU’s Green Deal, which the UK was initially a part of. Moreover, it is an important framework for the UK to show its commitment towards controlling climate change, especially with the country hosting the upcoming 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (CoP 26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change summit in Glasgow in 2021.

However, currently the UK’s Green Industrial Revolution is not a legally binding policy document but more of a proposal, which would need to go through several legislative procedures to become binding. Moreover, while the plan is ambitious, it depends heavily on next generation innovative technologies that require hefty investments to achieve the targets. Thus, its success depends on whether the government is seriously committed and prepared to spend heavily on commercializing these technologies along with managing to attract significant amount of private investment to complement own efforts. While few aspects of the 10-point approach have already received investment from the private sector and first phase of funding from the government, it is yet to be seen if the UK’s ambitious net zero emission goals are truly feasible.

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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.

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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.

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Japan’s Quest for Renewable Energy

Japan, for many years the symbol of safe use of nuclear energy, started to revise its focus on atomic power following the 2011 tsunami and Fukushima plant meltdowns. After the accident, atomic plants were shut down, and in 2012, the government declared its commitment to the diversification of energy sources, working towards making the country renewable energy-powered.

Yet this wishful thinking was soon confronted with the reality of slow growth of renewable energy generation. In April 2014, a new energy plan re-designated coal as an important long-term electricity source, with similar importance given back to nuclear power. While Japan is unlikely to abandon fossil fuels and nuclear power in any foreseeable future, the shifting focus and public reluctance to atomic power gave start to a more dynamic development of renewable power generation technologies.

Several projects across solar, hydro, biomass, and to a lesser extent geothermal, had already been developed prior to Fukushima accident, but it is now the time for Japan to embrace its renewable energy potential at a larger scale.

Read our report – Japan’s Quest for Renewable Energy

 

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Wind Energy in South Korea – Aiming High

SouthKoreaWind

Over the past couple of years, South Korea has undertaken considerable efforts to research and develop renewable energy generation across technologies such as fuel cell, solar, wind, geothermal heat, and tidal power. While supporting growth in several renewable energy sectors, the country has focused on expanding wind power generation in particular, given Korea’s access to strong and steady winds due to its long coastal line and mountainous terrain, as well as relatively well developed wind power technology and related skill set. We take a look at current state of affairs in the renewable energy sectors in Korea as well as the development of wind energy capacity goals set by the country’s government.

Read Our Detailed Report.

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South Africa: Clearing the Air with Renewable Energy

South African ailing energy sector seems to have found a new lease of life in clean energy. In 2012, South Africa witnessed investment of $5.5 billion in new renewable energy projects, leaving behind some well-known usual suspects such as Brazil, France, and Spain. With the local government looking at renewable energy as a long-term answer to the country’s energy problems, we evaluate the scope for private sector involvement in developing South Africa’s energy infrastructure.

In March 2013, Eskom, the national electricity provider in South Africa, warned about the possibility of power outages during the coming winter season. As soon as the news spread, millions of South Africans were left reflecting on the energy crisis of 2008, which brought the mining and industry sectors, and thereby, the economy, to a halt.

Increasing winter demand and planned electricity network maintenance are putting pressure on the power system. In May this year, long before the peak winter season, South African power system capacity exceeded demand by just 0.17% (let’s just point out that the recommended reserve margin for a power system is 10-15%). With consumption expected to increase further during winter (June and July), Eskom will be forced to look at extreme measures to prevent scenarios similar to those of 2008. Some of such measures include power buy-backs from large consumers, and triggering of ‘interruption clauses’ included in contracts, through which Eskom can cut supply to consumers in case of tight supply situations, in return for discounts.

While these measures could help deal with the short-term spike in demand this year, the South African government is looking for alternatives to achieve long term sustainability of the country’s energy sector. Investment in clean energy (particularly renewable technologies such as wind and solar) is one of the possible solutions contributing to solving the country’s energy supply problem. While achieving energy sustainability, clean energy investments will also help South Africa adhere to its commitment to achieve a 42% cut in carbon emissions between 2011 and 2025, by reducing dependence on coal for power generation. Furthermore, renewable energy projects can come online on a shorter horizon compared with coal and nuclear power plants.

Let’s focus on clean energy

According to a 2013 report published by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, South Africa stood 9th in the world with US$5.5 billion worth of new clean energy investments in 2012 (a whopping 20,563% growth over 2011). Majority of this investment (US$4.3 billion) has gone into developing solar photovoltaic (PV) technology based power plants, with the remaining being spread across wind, concentrated solar plants, landfill, biomass and biogas, and hydro-projects.

The onset of clean energy investment projects in South Africa is correlated with the introduction of the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) in 2010, as well as Department of Energy’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Procurement (REIPPP) program in 2011. As a part of the 2010 IRP, South African government outlined its plans to increase electricity generation capacity by additional 18,500 MW by 2030. About 42% of this additional capacity is envisaged to be generated through renewable energy technologies.

Introduction of REIPPP program in 2011 facilitated private sector’s involvement in electricity generation. Through this program, the government plans to procure 3,725 MW of renewable energy from independent power producers by 2016. A significant focus has been laid on procuring power generated through onshore wind and solar PV technologies. The REIPPP program sets up a bidding system through which independent power producers can bid for power generation allocations. Electricity thus generated is purchased by Eskom on a 20-year Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs). The tariff for purchasing electricity is decided through a bidding process. Some independent producers cashed on the first mover advantage, and received tariffs as high as R2.6/KWh ($0.26/KWh) during the first phase of bidding in 2011 (more than Eskom’s electricity price). With increasing competition, these tariffs have fallen in the successive bidding rounds to as low as R0.89/KWh ($0.09/KWh).

Private sector holds the key

One possible mode of involvement is continued private sector participation in the REIPPP program, selling the generated electricity to Eskom at rates agreed in the PPAs. However, several independent power producers (IPPs) have raised concern about the attractiveness of such a system, where only a single buyer (Eskom) is present in the market.

IPPs feel that lack of certainty about feed-in-tariff structures and a single buyer model are likely to deter large scale investments from the private sector. In 2012, the South African Independent Power Producers Association put forward a proposal to set up an independent grid to challenge Eskom’s dominance of the transmission (grid) network.

In March 2013, the South African government passed the Independent System and Market Operator (ISMO) Bill, which will create an independent entity by 2014, to manage procurement of energy from Eskom’s power generation business and independent power producers. Establishing an independently operated power grid would encourage competition in the power generation sector while keeping a lid on prices.

Another possible form of investments could be in the shape of independent (off-grid) solar/wind power projects by large enterprises (particularly in mining sector) to meet part of their internal demand. Industries could reap several benefits from these independent projects. Benefits of a solar power project could include:

  • Several large energy consumers are required to operate diesel generators to meet the surplus demand from their operations. Even though the current cost of producing solar energy is higher than what is procured from Eskom, the cost is lower than that of electricity produced through diesel generators. In the short-term, solar energy projects could replace generators, as an additional input source of energy

  • The national energy regulator (NERSA) recently approved an annual 8% hike in electricity tariffs charged by Eskom till 2018. With price of solar PV panels expected to decline further, the cost of solar energy production could even be lower than Eskom’s prices 5-6 years down the line

  • Furthermore, solar power plants have an effective life of 25-30 years, greater than the typical 20 year PPAs offered by Eskom. Independent projects enable more efficient utilization of electricity generation capacity over a longer horizon, compared with the REIPPP program

Foreign investors also to step in

With the removal of subsidies on renewable power in several European countries, South Africa becomes an ideal investment location for both foreign renewable energy developers and infrastructure financing organizations.

Participation of foreign firms in the REIPPP program has increased in subsequent bidding phases. Working as a part of a consortia, several foreign developers, such as Abengoa (Spain), Gestamp Wind (Spain), SolarReserve (USA), and Chint Solar (China), have already won bids for setting up power projects, working in partnership with local developers and BBBEE partners.

International financial institutions, such as European Investment Bank and IFC (member of the World Bank Group) have also invested in several renewable energy projects being undertaken by international developers in South Africa. In 2012, European Investment Bank agreed to provide €50million ($64.9 million) for the Khi Solar One Project being undertaken by Abengoa.

So is the energy sector out of the woods?

With a power crunch looming, the mining and industry sector companies are left searching for options to keep their operations running, or risk large-scale shut-downs during the winter season. With the declining cost of setting up and generating renewable power, investment in renewable energy projects could be a sensible option to achieve sustainability of power supply, over both short and long-term.

Setting up of an independent transmission company will go a long way in reducing Eskom’s dominance over the electricity networks, urging more private sector participation in the REIPPP program. But, is this enough? Will there be further deregulation/liberalization of the renewable power generation sector to additionally boost competition in the market? The fate of private sector investments hinges on government’s willingness to risk its control over probably the most important utility system.

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