Tag: fossil fuels

Is renewable-rich the new oil-rich?

Aerial view of hundreds solar energy modules or panels rows along the dry lands at Atacama Desert, Chile. Huge Photovoltaic PV Plant in the middle of the desert from an aerial drone point of view

We’re all familiar with the phrase ‘oil-rich’ nations, but as low carbon energy sources become ever more important to meeting global demand, renewable energy could become a global export. With a future favouring zero-carbon and even negative emissions innovation, here are some countries that are not only harnessing their natural resources to make more renewable energy, but are making progress in storing and exporting it.

Could these new opportunities lead us to one day deem them ‘renewable-rich’?

Could Europe import its solar power supply?

With the largest concentrated solar farm in the world, Morocco is already streets ahead in its ability to capture and convert sunlight into power. The 3,000 hectare solar complex, known as Noor-Ouarzazate, has a capacity of 580 megawatts (MW), which provides enough power for a city twice the size of Marrakesh.

Noor-Ouarzazate Power Plant, Morocco. Image source: ACWA Power

Its uses curved mirrors to direct sunlight into a singular beam that creates enough heat to melt salt in a central tower. This stores the heat and – when needed – is used to create steam which spins a turbine and generates electricity. This has helped keep Morocco on course to achieve its goal of deriving 42% of its power from renewable sources by the end of 2020, which potentially means a surplus in the coming years.

Morocco already has 1.4 gigawatts (GW) of interconnection with Spain, and another 700 MW is scheduled to come online before 2026. The country’s close proximity to Europe could make its solar capacity a source of power across the continent.

Africa’s geothermal potential

Olkaria II geothermal power plant in Kenya

Kenya was the first African nation to embrace geothermal energy and has now been using it for decades. In 1985, Kenya’s geothermal generation produced 45 MW of power – 30 years later, the country now turns over 630 MW.

Kenya’s ample generation of geothermal electricity is due to an abundance of steam energy in the underground volcanic wells of Olkaria, in the Great Rift Valley. In 2015, the region was responsible for providing 47% of the country’s power.

Currently the Olkaria region is thought to have a potential capacity of 2 GW of power, which could help to provide a source of clean energy for Kenya’s neighbours. However, there is potential for the rest of East Africa to generate its own geothermal power.

In this region of the continent there is an estimated 20 GW of power generation capacity possible  from stored geothermal energy, while the demand for the creation of usable grids that can connect multiple countries is high. Kenya is currently expanding its own grid, installing a planned 3,600 miles of new electrical wiring across the country.

Winds of change

China’s position in the renewable energy market is already up top, with continuous investment in solar and hydro power giving it a renewable capacity of more than 700 GW

The country is also home to the world’s largest onshore wind farm, in the form of the Gansu Wind Farm Project, which is made up of over 7,000 turbines. It is set to have a capacity of 20 GW by the end of 2020, bringing the nationwide installed wind capacity to 250 GW.

With China exporting more than 20,000 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of electricity in 2018, large scale renewable projects can have a wide-reaching effect beyond its borders. South-Asia is the primary market, but excesses of power in Western China have stoked ideas of exporting power as far away as Germany.

Can the US store the world’s carbon?

In the quest for zero-carbon energy it won’t just be nations that can export excess energy that could stand to profit – those that can import emissions could also benefit.

While many countries are developing the capabilities to capture carbon dioxide (CO2), storing it safely and permanently is another question. Having underground facilities that can store CO2 creates an opportunity to import and sequester carbon as a service for other nations. Norway is already doing it, but the US has the greatest potential thanks to its abundance of large underground storage capabilities.

The Global CCS Institute highlights the US as the country most prepared to deploy carbon capture and storage (CCS) at scale, thanks to its vast landscape, history of injecting CO2 in enhanced oil recovery, and favourable government policies.

The Petra Nova plant in Texas is also known as the world’s largest carbon capture facility. The coal-power station captured more than 1 million tonnes of CO2 within the first 10 months of operating as a 654 MW unit.

Carbon capture facility at the Petra Nova coal-fired power plant, Texas, USA

Chile’s hydrogen innovation

Hydrogen is becoming increasingly relevant as an energy source thanks to its ability to generate electricity and power transport while releasing far fewer emissions than other fossil fuels.

Chile was an early proponent of energy sharing with its hydrogen programme. The country uses solar electricity generated in the Atacama Desert (which sees 3,000 hours of sunlight a year), to power hydrogen production in a process called electrolysis, which uses electricity to split water into oxygen and hydrogen.

Chile plans to export the gas to Japan and South Korea, but with global demand for hydrogen set to grow, higher-volume, further-reaching exporting of the country’s hydrogen could soon be on the way.

Going forward, these green innovations – from carbon storage to geothermal potential – could increasingly be shared between countries and continents in an attempt to lower the overall carbon footprint of the world’s energy. This could create a global power shift toward nations which, rather than having high capacity for fossil fuel extraction, can instead use a different set of natural resources to generate, store and export cleaner energy.

End of coal generation at Drax Power Station

Coal picker, Drax Power Station, 2016

Drax Group plc
(“Drax” or the “Group”; Symbol:DRX)
RNS Number : 2747E

Following a comprehensive review of operations and discussions with National Grid, Ofgem and the UK Government, the Board of Drax has determined to end commercial coal generation at Drax Power Station in 2021 – ahead of the UK’s 2025 deadline.

Commercial coal generation is expected to end in March 2021, with formal closure of the coal units in September 2022 at the end of existing Capacity Market obligations.

Will Gardiner, Drax Group CEO, said:

“Ending the use of coal at Drax is a landmark in our continued efforts to transform the business and become a world-leading carbon negative company by 2030. Drax’s move away from coal began some years ago and I’m proud to say we’re going to finish the job well ahead of the Government’s 2025 deadline.

“By using sustainable biomass we have not only continued generating the secure power millions of homes and businesses rely on, we have also played a significant role in enabling the UK’s power system to decarbonise faster than any other in the world.

“Having pioneered ground-breaking biomass technology, we’re now planning to go further by using bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) to achieve our ambition of being carbon negative by 2030, making an even greater contribution to global efforts to tackle the climate crisis.

“Stopping using coal is the right decision for our business, our communities and the environment, but it will have an impact on some of our employees, which will be difficult for them and their families.

“In making the decision to stop using coal and to decarbonise the economy, it’s vital that the impact on people across the North is recognised and steps are taken to ensure that people have the skills needed for the new jobs of the future.”

Coal in front of biomass storage domes at Drax Power Station, 2016

Coal in front of biomass storage domes at Drax Power Station, 2016

Drax will shortly commence a consultation process with employees and trade unions with a view to ending coal operations. Under these proposals, commercial generation from coal will end in March 2021 but the two coal units will remain available to meet Capacity Market obligations until September 2022.

The closure of the two coal units is expected to involve one-off closure costs in the region of £25-35 million in the period to closure and to result in a reduction in operating costs at Drax Power Station of £25-35 million per year once complete. Drax also expects a reduction in jobs of between 200 and 230 from April 2021.

The carrying value of the fixed assets affected by closure was £240 million, in addition to £103 million of inventory at 31 December 2019, which Drax intends to use in the period up to 31 March 2021. The Group expects to treat all closure costs and any asset obsolescence charges as exceptional items in the Group’s financial statements. A further update on these items will be provided in the Group’s interim financial statements for the first half of 2020.

As part of the proposed coal closure programme the Group is implementing a broader review of operations at Drax Power Station. This review aims to support a safe, efficient and lower cost operating model which, alongside a reduction in biomass cost, positions Drax for long-term biomass generation following the end of the current renewable support mechanisms in March 2027.

While previously being an integral part of the Drax Power Station site and offering flexibility to the Group’s trading and operational performance, the long-term economics of coal generation remain challenging and in 2019 represented only three percent of the Group’s electricity production. In January 2020, Drax did not take a Capacity Market agreement for the period beyond September 2022 given the low clearing price.

Enquiries

Drax Investor Relations:
Mark Strafford
+44 (0) 7730 763 949

Media

Drax External Communications:
Ali Lewis
+44 (0) 7712 670 888

 

Website: www.drax.com/northamerica

END

Where does global electricity go next?

Since the Paris Agreement came into effect in November 2016, it’s fair to say many countries have taken up the vital challenge of decarbonisation in earnest.

However, not all are making progress at the same rate. Many are not implementing the agreement at the pace needed to mitigate climate change, and keep the average global temperature increase well below 2oC of pre-industrial levels. Certainly not enough to limit the increase to 1.5oC by 2050, which the majority of climate scientists believe is necessary for the planet is to avoid dire consequences.

Last year even saw renewable energy investment fall 7%, while the money going into fossil fuels grew for the first time since 2014. And data released by the International Energy Agency (IEA) at the beginning of this month’s UN Climate Change Conference (COP24) in Katowice, Poland, found that 2017 was also the first for five years seeing an increase in advanced economies’ carbon emissions.

Despite this, there is much positive work towards decarbonisation.

A new report, Energy Revolution: A Global Outlook, by academics from Imperial College London and E4tech, commissioned by Drax, looks into the core areas and activities required to decarbonise the global energy system – and which countries are performing them to good effect. In doing this, the report also looks at how the UK stands in comparison and what steps countries need to take to truly decarbonise.

Here are the key indicators of decarbonisation and how countries around the world are performing towards them.

Dam in Hardangervidda, Norway

Clean power

At the forefront of reducing emissions and curbing climate change is the need to decarbonise electricity generation and move towards renewable sources.

Last year the global average carbon intensity was 440 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) per kilowatt-hour (g/kWh). Out of the 25 major countries the report tracks, 16 came in below average, with seven of these falling under the long-term 50 g/kWh goal.

Leading the rankings are Norway, France and New Zealand, which have a near-zero carbon intensity for electricity generation, thanks to extensive hydro and nuclear power capacity.

At the other end of the table, China, India, Poland and South Africa remain wedded to coal, producing up to twice the global average CO2 for electricity generation. This comes despite China having installed two and a half times more renewables than any other country – it now boasts 600 gigawatts (GW) of renewable capacity.

Per person, Germany is leading the renewablesdrive with almost 1 kW of wind and solar capacity installed per person over the last decade. Despite this, as much as 40% of its electricity still comes from coal.

Part of the challenge in moving away from coal to renewables is economic, as many countries continue to subsidise their coal industries to keep electricity affordable. Phasing out these subsidies is therefore key to switching to a low-carbon generation system. Doing this works, as demonstrated by the example of Denmark, which cut its fossil fuel subsidies by 90% over the past decade, in turn successfully cutting its coal generation by 25%.

The UK’s carbon pricing strategy, which adds £16 per tonne of CO2emitted on top of the price set by the European emissions trading system (EU ETS), has led the carbon intensity of Great Britain’s electricity to more than halve in a decade. It highlights how quickly and effectively these kinds of fees can make fossil fuels uneconomical. Since 2008 the UK has removed more than 250 g/kWh from its electricity production.

Carbon capture and storage

In many future looking climate scenarios, keeping the earth’s temperature below a 2oC increase depends on extensive deployment of carbon capture technology – capturing as much as 100 billion tonnes of CO2 per year. Storing and using carbon is clearly forecast to be a major part of any attempt to meet the Paris Agreement, but at present there are few facilities carrying it out at scale.

Around the world today there are 18 large-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) units running across six countries with a total capacity to capture 32 million tonnes of CO2 per year (MtCO2p.a). Another five facilities are under construction in three countries to add another 7 MtCO2p.a of global capacity. In the UK, Drax Power Station is piloting a bioenergy carbon capture and storage programme that could make it the world’s first negative emissions power station.

The USA has the greatest total installed capacity at 20 MtCO2p.a., but per person it ranks behind Norway, Canada and Australia. Their smaller populations give them more than 200 kg of carbon capture capacity per person per year.

Oil platform off the coast of Australia

These figures are well below the 100 billion tonnes the IEA estimates need to be stored by 2060 to prevent temperatures reaching 2oC more. However, considering the US alone has a potential storage capacity of more than 10 trillion tonnes of CO2, the potential of storage is not expected to be a problem.

Using depleted oil or natural gas fields as storage for captured carbon is being explored in a number of regions, with the US establishing several projects with more than 1 million tonnes in capacity. In 2019, Australia will open the world’s largest CO2store with the capacity to capture between 3.4 million and 4 million tonnes a year from Chevron’s Gorgon gas facility.

Considering the storage capacity available globally, it’s a matter of deploying the necessary technology for CCS to have a significant impact on emissions and global warming. The UK is perhaps a typical example of where CCS is at present with estimated storage capacity of 70 billion tonnes, as much as half of the entire EU combined. By repurposing North Sea oil and gas fields in partnership with Norway, the UK could pool its carbon storage capacity.

Electrification

Electricity generation is one of the main targets for emissions reductions globally. As a result of the progress that’s been made in this field, many future-looking scenarios highlight the important of electrification in other sectors, such as transport, in turn making them less carbon intensive.

Transport is leading the charge globally – there are now 10 different countries where one of every 50 new vehicles sold is electric. In Norway, this ratio is almost one in two, thanks in part to generous tax exemptions as well as non-financial incentives like access to bus lanes and half-price ferries.

Perhaps surprisingly, China is the world’s largest electric vehicle (EV) market. It may still use significant amounts of coal, but its commitment to reducing urban air pollution has seen it push EVs heavily, and it now accounts for 50% of the global battery EV market on its own.

Chinese electric car charging stations

Of course, adoption of EVs requires the supporting infrastructure to be truly successful. In conjunction with its high sales, Norway leads the way in charging points per capita, with one for every 500 people. This compares to one charger for every 5,000 people in the UK and one for every 10,000 people in China.

Electrification also affects the energy intensity of country’s transport systems and while it may be the largest EV market, China’s rise in private vehicles has been largely driven by petrol and diesel models. The result is the largest increases in transport energy intensity and emissions has taken place in China, Indonesia and India, respectively.

Domestic energy intensity is also rising in China, Indonesia and South Africa, as greater numbers of people gain access to appliances and home comforts. Conversely in Europe, Portugal, Germany and the Netherlands have all seen their domestic energy intensity drop in the last decade. However, this may be the lingering effect of the 2008 recession rather than long-term efficiency improvements.

The efficiency of industrial processes is also an important barometer in decarbonisation. Activities like mining and manufacturing require heavy-duty diesel-powered machinery and often coal-powered generators, especially in BRIC nations. The exception is China, where plans to get the 1,000 most energy-intensive companies to reduce their energy consumption per unit of GDP produced by 20% over the last five years, has proved fruitful.

Norway’s heavily-electrified industries, however, are still energy intensive and its level of carbon intensity is vulnerable to fluctuations in power generation prices.

Electrification and reduced emissions require government policies to put in motion behavioural changes that can lead to lasting decarbonisation. Robust carbon pricing is one of the most effective tools to enabling a zero carbon, lower cost energy future,” Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner commented recently.

Welcoming a November report by the Energy Transitions Commission, Gardiner said:

“The cost of inaction far outweighs the cost of doing something now.”

Explore the full report: Energy Revolution: A Global Outlook.

I. Staffell, M. Jansen, A. Chase, E. Cotton and C. Lewis (2018). Energy Revolution: Global Outlook. Drax: Selby.

Drax commissioned independent researchers from Imperial College London and E4tech to write Energy Revolution: A Global Outlook, which looks into the core areas and activities required to achieve decarbonisation – and which countries are performing them to good effect. In doing this it also looks at how the UK stands in comparison and what steps countries need to take to truly decarbonise.

Energy Revolution: A Global Outlook

Read the full report [PDF]

The global energy revolution

As a contribution to COP24, this report informs the debate on decarbonising the global energy system, evaluating how rapidly nations are transforming their energy systems, and what lessons can be learned from the leading countries across five energy sectors.

It was commissioned by power utility Drax Group, and delivered independently by researchers from Imperial College London and E4tech.

Clean power

  • Several countries have lowered the carbon content of their electricity by 100 g/kWh over the last decade. The UK is alone in achieving more than
    double this pace, prompted by strong carbon pricing.
  • China is cleaning up its power sector faster than most of Europe, however several Asian countries are moving towards higher-carbon electricity.
  • Germany has added nearly 1 kW of renewable capacity per person over the last decade. Northern Europe leads the way, followed by Japan, the US and China. In absolute terms, China has 2.5 times more renewable capacity than the US.

Fossil fuels

  • Two-fifths of the world’s electricity comes from coal. The share of coal generation is a key driver for the best and worst performing countries in clean power.
  • Coal’s share of electricity generation has fallen by one-fifth in the US and one-sixth in China over the last decade. Denmark and the UK are leading the way. Some major Asian nations are back-sliding.
  • Many European citizens pay out $100 per person per year in fossil fuel subsidies, substantially more than in the US or China. These subsidies are growing in more countries than they are falling.

Electric vehicles

  • In ten countries, more than 1 in 50 new vehicles sold are now electric. China is pushing ahead with nearly 1 in 25 new vehicles being electric and Norway is in a league of its own with 1 in 2 new vehicles now electric, thanks to strong subsidies and wealthy consumers.
  • There are now over 4.5 million electric vehicles worldwide. Two thirds of these are battery electric, one third are plug-in hybrids. China and the US together have two-thirds of the world’s electric vehicles and half of the 300,000 charging points.

Carbon capture and storage

  • Sufficient storage capacity has been identified for global CCS roll-out to meet climate targets, but large-scale CO2 capture only exists in 6 countries.
  • Worldwide, 5 kg of CO2 can be captured per person per year. The planned pipeline of CCS facilities will double this, but much greater scale-up is needed as this represents only one-thousandth of the global average person’s carbon footprint of 5 tonnes per year.

Efficiency

  • Global progress on energy intensity is mixed, as some countries improve efficiency, while others increase consumption as their population become wealthier.
  • Residential and transport changes over the last decade are mostly linked to the global recession and technological improvements, rather than behavioural shift.
  • BRICS countries consume the most energy per $ of output from industry. This is linked to the composition of their industry sectors (i.e. greater manufacturing and mining activity compared to construction and agriculture).

continued … [View PDF]

I. Staffell, M. Jansen, A. Chase, E. Cotton and C. Lewis (2018). Energy Revolution: A Global Outlook. Drax: Selby.

View press release:

UK among world leaders in global energy revolution

3 ways decarbonisation could change the world

Mitigating climate change is a difficult challenge. But it’s one well within the grasp of governments, companies and individuals around the world if we can start thinking strategically.

On the behalf of the German government, The Internal Energy Agency (IEA) and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) have jointly published a report outlining the long-term targets of a worldwide decarbonisation process, and how those targets can be achieved through long-term investment and policy strategies.

At the heart of the report is a commitment to the ‘66% two degrees Celsius scenario’, which the report defines as, ‘limiting the rise in global mean temperature to two degrees Celsius by 2100 with a probability of 66%’. This is in line with the Paris Agreement, which agreed on limiting global average temperature increase to below two degrees Celsius.

Here are three of the findings from the report that highlight how decarbonisation could change the world.

The energy landscape will change – and that’s a good thing

Decarbonisation will by definition mean reducing the use of carbon-intensive fossil fuels. Today, 81% of the world’s power is generated by fossil fuels. But by 2050, that will need to come down to 39% to meet the 66% two degrees Celsius scenario, according to the report. But, this doesn’t mean all fossil fuels will be treated equally.

Coal will be the most extensively reduced, while other fossil fuels will be less affected. Oil use in 2050 is expected to stand at 45% of today’s levels, but will likely still feature in the energy landscape due its use in industries like petrochemicals.

Gas will likely also remain a key part of the energy makeup, thanks to its ability to provide auxiliary grid functions like frequency response and black-starting in the event of grid failure.

Renewables like biomass will likely play an increasing role here as well, particularly when combined with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.

Overall, renewable energy sources will need to increase substantially. In the report’s global roadmap for the future, renewables make up two thirds of the primary energy supply. Reaching this figure will be no mean feat – it will mean renewable growth rates doubling compared with today.

Everyday electricity use will become more efficient 

The report highlights the need for ‘end-use’ behaviour to change. This can mean everyday energy users choosing to use a bit less heat, power and fuel for transport in our day-to-day activities, but a bigger driver of change will be by investment in better, more efficient end-use technology – the technology, devices and household appliances we use every day.

In fact, the study argues that net investment in energy supply doesn’t need to increase beyond today’s level – what needs to increase is investment in these technologies. For instance, by 2050, 70% of new cars must be electric cars to meet decarbonisation targets.

Infrastructure design could also be improved for energy efficiency – smart grids, battery storage and buildings retrofitted with energy efficient features such as LED lighting will be essential. There’s also the possibility of increased use of cleaner building materials and processes – for example, constructing large scale buildings out of wood rather than carbon-intensive materials such as concrete and steel.

Decarbonisation will cost, but not decarbonising will cost more

The upfront costs of meeting temperature targets will be substantial. A case study used in the report estimates that $119 trillion would need to be spent on low-carbon technologies between 2015 and 2050. But it also suggests another $29 trillion may be needed to meet targets.

However, failure to act could mean the world will pay out an even higher figure in healthcare costs, or in other economic costs associated with climate change, such as flood damage or drought. Therefore, the sum for decarbonisation could end up costing between two and six times less than what failing to decarbonise could cost.

On top of this, the new jobs (including those in renewable fuel industries that will replace those lost in fossil fuels) and opportunities that will be created between 2015 and 2050 could add $19 trillion to the global economy. More than that, global GDP could be increased by 0.8% in 2050, thanks to added stimulus from the low carbon economy.

Achieving a cleaner future won’t be easy – it requires planning, effort, and the will to see beyond short-term goals and think about the long-term benefits. But as the report demonstrates, get it right and the results could be considerable.