The Kingdom of Thailand wants to seal its commitment to green energy with its new hybrid solar-hydropower generation facility that covers a water reservoir in the northeast of the country.
The installation covers an immense 720,000 square meters of the reservoir’s surface and produces clean electricity around the clock: solar power during the day, hydropower at night. Christened the Sirindhorn dam farm, this is the “world’s largest floating hydro-solar farm”, and the first of 15 such farms planned to be built by Thailand by 2037. They are a linchpin in the kingdom’s pledge for carbon neutrality by 2050.
Floating towards the future
“We can claim that through 45 megawatts combined with hydropower and energy management system for solar and hydro powers, this is the first and biggest project in the world,” Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) deputy governor Prasertsak Cherngchawano told AFP.
At the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) last year, Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha officially announced his country’s goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050, and a net-zero greenhouse emissions target by 2065. Thailand also aims to produce 30% of its energy from renewables by 2037 as an interim goal.
The Sirindhorn dam farm project, which went into operation last October, is the cornerstone of that pledge. The farm contains over 144,000 solar cells and can output 45 MW of electricity. This is enough to reduce Thailand’s carbon dioxide emissions by an estimated 47,000 tons per year.
Thailand’s energy grids continue to rely heavily on fossil fuel; some 55% of the country’s power generation as of October last year was derived from such fuels, while only 11% came from renewable sources such as solar or hydropower, according to Thailand’s Energy Policy and Planning Office, a department of the ministry of energy. Still, projects such as Sirindhorn show that progress is being made.
The $35 million project took two years to build, with repeated delays caused by the pandemic, which saw technicians falling sick and deliveries of solar panels being repeatedly delayed. EGAT plans to install floating hydro-solar farms in 15 more dams across Thailand by 2037, which would total an estimated 2,725 MW of power.
Currently, power generated at Sirindhorn is being distributed mainly to domestic and commercial users in the lower northeastern region of the country.
Thailand is also betting that its floating solar farms will be of interest to tourists, as well. Sirindhorn comes with a 415-meter (1,360-foot) long “Nature Walkway” which will give a breathtaking view of the reservoir and the solar cells floating across its surface. Locals are already flocking to see the solar farm, and time will tell if international travelers will be drawn here as well.
Local communities report that with the solar floats installed, catches of fish in the reservoir have decreased — but they seem to be positive about it. State authorities say that the project will not affect agriculture, fishing, or other community activities in the long term, and are committed to taking any steps necessary towards this goal.
“The number of fish caught has reduced, so we have less income,” village headman Thongphon Mobmai, 64, told AFP. “But locals have to accept this mandate for community development envisioned by the state.”
“We’ve used only 0.2 to 0.3 percent of the dam’s surface area. People can make use of lands for agriculture, residency, and other purposes,” said EGAT’s Prasertsak.
No matter how sustainable, eco-friendly, and clean sources of energy they are, conventional solar panels require a large setup area and heavy initial investment. Due to these limitations, it’s hard to introduce them in urban areas (especially neighborhoods with lots of apartment blocks or shops). But thanks to the work of ingenious engineers at the University of Michigan, that may soon no longer be the case.
The researchers have created transparent solar panels which they claim could be used as power generating windows in our homes, buildings, and even rented apartments.
If these transparent panels are indeed capable of generating electricity cost-efficiently, the days of regular windows may be passing as we speak. Soon, we could have access to cheap solar energy regardless of where we live — and to make it even better, we could be rid of those horrific power cuts that happen every once in a while because, with transparent glass-like solar panels, every house and every tall skyscraper will be able to generate its own power independently.
An overview of the transparent solar panels
In order to generate power from sunlight, solar cells embedded on a solar panel are required to absorb radiation from the sun. Therefore, they cannot allow sunlight to completely pass through them (in the way that a glass window can). So at first, the idea of transparent solar panels might seem preposterous and completely illogical because a transparent panel should be unable to absorb radiation.
But that’s not necessarily the case, researchers have found. In fact, that’s not the case at all.
The solar panels created by engineers at the University of Michigan consist of transparent luminescent solar concentrators (TLSC). Composed of cyanine, the TLSC is capable of selectively absorbing invisible solar radiation including infrared and UV lights, and letting the rest of the visible rays pass through them. So in other words, these devices are transparent to the human eye (very much like a window) but still absorb a fraction of the solar light which they can then convert into electricity. It’s a relatively new technology, only first developed in 2013, but it’s already seeing some impressive developments.
Panels equipped with TLSC can be molded in the form of thin transparent sheets that can be used further to create windows, smartphone screens, car roofs, etc. Unlike, traditional panels, transparent solar panels do not use silicone; instead they consist of a zinc oxide layer covered with a carbon-based IC-SAM layer and a fullerene layer. The IC-SAM and fullerene layers not only increase the efficiency of the panel but also prevent the radiation-absorbing regions of the solar cells from breaking down.
Surprisingly, the researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) also claim that their transparent solar panels can last for 30 years, making them more durable than most regular solar panels. Basically, you could fit your windows with these transparent solar cells and get free electricity without much hassle for decades. Unsurprisingly, this prospect has a lot of people excited.
According to Professor Richard Lunt (who headed the transparent solar cell experiment at MSU), “highly transparent solar cells represent the wave of the future for new solar applications”. He further adds that these devices in the future can provide a similar electricity-generation potential as rooftop solar systems plus, they can also equip our buildings, automobiles, and gadgets with self-charging abilities.
“That is what we are working towards,” he said. “Traditional solar applications have been actively researched for over five decades, yet we have only been working on these highly transparent solar cells for about five years. Ultimately, this technology offers a promising route to inexpensive, widespread solar adoption on small and large surfaces that were previously inaccessible.”
Recent developments in the field of transparent solar cell technology
Apart from the research work conducted by Professor Richard Lunt and his team at MSU, there are some other research groups and companies working on developing advanced solar-powered glass windows. Earlier this year, a team from ITMO University in Russia developed a cheaper method of producing transparent solar cells. The researchers found a way to produce transparent solar panels much cheaper than ever before.
“Regular thin-film solar cells have a non-transparent metal back contact that allows them to trap more light. Transparent solar cells use a light-permeating back electrode. In that case, some of the photons are inevitably lost when passing through, thus reducing the devices’ performance. Besides, producing a back electrode with the right properties can be quite expensive,” says Pavel Voroshilov, a researcher at ITMO University’s Faculty of Physics and Engineering.
“For our experiments, we took a solar cell based on small molecules and attached nanotubes to it. Next, we doped nanotubes using an ion gate. We also processed the transport layer, which is responsible for allowing a charge from the active layer to successfully reach the electrode. We were able to do this without vacuum chambers and working in ambient conditions. All we had to do was dribble some ionic liquid and apply a slight voltage in order to create the necessary properties,” adds co-author Pavel Voroshilov.
PHYSEE, a technology company from the Netherlands has successfully installed their solar energy-based “PowerWindow” in a 300 square feet area of a bank building in The Netherlands. Though at present, the transparent PowerWindows are not efficient enough to meet the energy demands of the whole building, PHYSEE claims that with some more effort, soon they will be able to increase the feasibility and power generation capacity of their solar windows.
California-based Ubiquitous Energy is also working on a “ClearView Power” system that aims to create a solar coating that can turn the glass used in windows into transparent solar panels. This solar coating will allow transparent glass windows to absorb high-energy infrared radiations, the company claims to have achieved an efficiency of 9.8% with ClearView solar cells during their initial tests.
In September 2021, the Nippon Sheet Glass (NSG) Corporation facility located in Chiba City became Japan’s first solar window-equipped building. The transparent solar panels installed by NSG in their facility are developed by Ubiquitous Energy. Recently, as a part of their association with Morgan Creek Ventures, Ubiquitous Energy has also installed transparent solar windows on Boulder Commons II, an under-construction commercial building in Colorado.
All these exciting developments indicate that sooner or later, we also might be able to install transparent power-generating solar windows in our homes. Such a small change in the way we produce energy, on a global scale could turn out to be a great step towards living in a more energy-efficient world.
Not there just yet
If this almost sounds too good to be true, well sort of is. The efficiency of these fully transparent solar panels is around 1%, though the technology has the potential to reach around 10% efficiency — this is compared to the 15% we already have for conventional solar panels (some efficient ones can reach 22% or even a bit higher).
So the efficiency isn’t quite there yet to make transparent solar cells efficient yet, but it may get there in the not-too-distant future. Furthermore, the appeal of this system is that it can be deployed on a small scale, in areas where regular solar panels are not possible. They don’t have to replace regular solar panels, they just have to complement them.
When you think about it, solar energy wasn’t regarded as competitive up to about a decade ago — and a recent report found that now, it’s the cheapest form of electricity available so far in human history. Although transparent solar cells haven’t been truly used yet, we’ve seen how fast this type of technology can develop, and the prospects are there for great results.
The mere idea that we may soon be able to power our buildings through our windows shows how far we’ve come. An energy revolution is in sight, and we’d be wise to take it seriously.
After decades of growth, the rate of production and use of fossil fuels will need to reverse and decline very rapidly to meet internationally agreed climate goals, according to a new study.
Researchers found that nearly 60% of proven oil and gas reserves and almost 90% of coal reserves have to remain on the ground in order to limit global warming below 1.5ºC compared to pre-industrial levels – one of the targets included in the 2015 Paris Agreement of climate change signed by almost every country.
This means that production of oil and gas would have to fall by 3% every year globally until 2050, with most regions peaking production now or during the next decade. Still, this scenario, the researchers said, is “very probably” an underestimate of what’s actually required, meaning production “would need to be curtailed even faster.”
The study from University College London (UCL) is the latest report warning over the dangers of unregulated fossil fuel production. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of climate experts, called last month for significant and immediate cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, especially targeting the energy sector.
“We stress that our estimates of unextractable reserves and production decline rates are likely underestimates,” lead author Dan Welsby told Euronews. “However, assuming the political will is present to fulfil the commitments made in Paris, the reductions in fossil fuels suggested in our work are entirely feasible.”
Keep them in the ground
The study builds on one previously published in 2015, which estimated that one-third of oil reserves, almost half of fossil methane gas reserves and over 80% of current coal reserves should remain in the ground in 2050 to limit warming to 2ºC. The increase in the new study is down to a stronger assumed climate ambition and changes in the outlooks for renewables.
The new figures mean, for example, that 62% of the oil in the Middle East would have to remain in the ground. Canada would be the most affected territory in percentage terms, as 83% of its oil reserves would have to stay untouched. Canada is also the most affected when it comes to natural gas, with 81% of its reserves being out of limits.
Fossil fuels are still the main driver of the global energy system, accounting for 81% of primary energy demand. Still, there are some promising signs, the researchers argue. Global coal production peaked in 2013 and oil output is estimated to have peaked in 2019 or to be nearing peak demand. This means that at least some fossil fuel reserves will probably never be extracted for economic reasons.
“This has important implications for producers who may be banking on monetizing those reserves in the future, and current and prospective investors,” the researchers wrote. “There continues to be a disconnect between the production outlook of different countries and corporate entities and the necessary pathway to limit average temperature increases.”
Governments who have historically benefited from fossil fuels such as the US should take the lead in developing an energy transition to non-conventional renewable energy sources, the researchers said. Other countries that have a high dependency on fossil fuels but a low capacity for a transition have to be supported to follow suit and further exploit renewables.
There are really no excuses, especially as the costs of renewables are going down fast. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) found that two-thirds of wind and solar plants that were installed last year will generate cheaper electricity than fossil fuel options. Renewables will become the backbone of the electricity system, IRENA said in the report.
Renewable energy keeps on expanding and getting cheaper around the world, even despite the Covid-19 pandemic. Almost two-third of solar and wind projects that were built around the world last year will generate cheaper electricity than new fossil fuel options, according to a report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
Targeted policy support, new technologies, and industry impetus have seen solar and wind power go from an expensive niche option to a fierce competitor. In the process, IRENA said, it’s become clear that renewables will become the backbone of the electricity system and help decarbonize electricity generation.
“Today, renewables are the cheapest source of power,” said IRENA’s Director-General Francesco La Camera in a statement. “Renewables present countries tied to coal with an economically attractive phase-out agenda that ensures they meet growing energy demand, while saving costs, adding jobs, boosting growth and meeting climate ambition.”
Irena’s new “Renewable Power Generation Costs” report showed that 162 gigawatts (GW) or 62% of total renewable power generation incorporated last year had lower costs than new fossil fuels. Low-cost renewables give developed and developing countries a strong business case to power past coal in pursuit of a net-zero economy, IRENA said.
The renewable projects added last year will reduce costs in the electricity sector by at least $6 billion per year in emerging countries, compared to adding the same amount of fossil fuel-fired generation. Two-thirds of these savings will come from onshore wind, followed by hydropower and solar PV. Cost savings come in addition to economic benefits and reduced carbon emissions.
“We are far beyond the tipping point of coal,” La Camera said. “Following the latest commitment by G7 to net-zero and stop global coal funding abroad, it is now for G20 and emerging economies to match these measures. We cannot allow having a dual-track for energy transition where some countries rapidly turn green and others remain trapped in the fossil-based system of the past.”
There’s also plenty of room for improvement: IRENA also reported a 16% decline in solar power costs last year, in line with a 13% drop of onshore wind and a 9% drop of offshore wind. This wasn’t something exclusive to 2020 and instead was part of a longer trend where renewables keep getting cheaper and cheaper. The cost of large-scale solar power dropped 85% since 2010, followed by a 56% decline of onshore wind and a 48% decline of offshore wind.
The past decade (2010-2020) saw a big improvement in the competitiveness of solar and wind technologies, increasingly outcompeting new fossil fuels. With record-low auction prices of $1.1 to 3 cents per kWh today, solar PV and onshore wind continuously undercut even the cheapest new coal option without any financial support, IRENA explained
The report also showed that new renewables beat existing coal plants on operating costs too, stranding coal power as increasingly uneconomic. In the US, for example, 149 GW or 61% of the total coal capacity costs more than new renewable capacity. Retiring and replacing these plants with renewables would cut expenses by $5.6 billion per year.
Renewable costs will almost certainly continue falling even further, with onshore wind energy becoming 20-27% lower than the cheapest new coal-fired generation option. Around 74% of all new solar PV projects commissioned over the next two years that have been competitively procured through auctions and tenders will have an award price lower than new coal power, IRENA concludes.
In 2020, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar grew at their fastest rate since 1999 — and will continue expanding at a faster rate than before the pandemic, according to a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA). While China’s growth will stabilize, a large expansion is expected in the US and Europe.
Moving towards renewable sources is one of the key ways to reduce global emissions and achieve carbon neutrality. But as clean energy expanded, so did coal, the most polluting energy source. Coal demand is expected to grow 4.5% this year, approaching its all-time peak from 2014.
The amount of renewable electricity capacity added in 2020 rose by 45% in 2020 to 280 gigawatts (GW), the largest year-on-year increase in the past two decades, IEA showed. This significant increase is set to continue, surpassing previous IEA estimates by 25%.
“Wind and solar power are giving us more reasons to be optimistic about our climate goals as they break record after record. Last year, the increase in renewable capacity accounted for 90% of the entire global power sector’s expansion,” Fatih Birol, IEA’s executive director, said in a statement.
Global wind capacity additions almost doubled last year to 114 GW. While the increase won’t be as significant over the next few years, it will still be 50% larger than the expansion seen between 2017 and 2019, the IEA said. Meanwhile, solar energy projects are expected to continue expanding, with up to 160GW forecasted for 2022.
Although China has accounted for 40% of global renewable capacity growth for several years already, for the first time in 2020 it was responsible for 50% – a record level resulting from the unprecedented peak in new installations. This is expected to decline as the government phases out subsidies for new projects. But other places are lining up to compensate.
In Europe, annual capacity additions are forecast to increase 11% to 44 GW in 2021 and 49 GW in 2022. With this expansion, this year the region will break the record for annual additions for the first time since 2011 and become the second largest market after China – with Germany as the main producer of the bloc.
Meanwhile, in the US, renewable capacity growth this year and next is mainly encouraged by the extension of federal tax credits. IEA’s report didn’t consider Biden’s new climate pledge or the country’s recently announced infrastructure bill. If they are met, both would drive a strong acceleration in the deployment of renewables.
“Governments need to build on this promising momentum through policies that encourage greater investment in solar and wind, in the additional grid infrastructure they will require, and in other key renewable technologies such as hydropower, bioenergy and geothermal,” Birol said in a statement.
In a report earlier this year, IEA said global energy-related CO2 emissions are on course to surge by 1.5 billion tons this year. This would be the second-largest increase in history, reversing the decline caused by the pandemic. The key driver is coal demand, which countries are still relying on in addition to renewable energy sources. Hopefully, that will soon change — installing renewable energy is only one part of the challenge, keeping fossils fuels in the ground is what’s going to make or break our climate efforts.
A world based on 100% renewable energy is possible, and we are able to transform the energy system fast enough to avoid a climate catastrophe. A group of leading scientists from around the world unveiled a joint declaration claiming that leaving behind fossil fuels is not only necessary but also extremely achievable in less time than previously expected.
The climate emergency requires countries to transform their economies into zero-emissions as soon as possible. The Paris Agreement sets this goal for 2050, but the scientists behind the declaration argue it’s just too late. They called for the electric sector to be zero-emissions by 2030 and for the others to do the same no later than 2035.
The solution to meeting this deadline is to electrify or provide direct heat for all energy and provide the electricity and heat globally with 100% renewable energy, according to the signatories. Sufficient political, international coordination, and concrete action could allow to completely re-design the global energy system towards renewable energy.
“We have lost too much time in our efforts to address global warming and the seven million air pollution deaths that occur each year, by not focusing enough on useful solutions,” Mark Jacobson, director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program and one of the signatories, said in a statement. “Fortunately, low-cost 100% clean, renewable energy solutions do exist to solve these problems.”
To date, 11 countries have reached or exceeded 100% renewable electricity, 12 have passed laws to reach 100% renewable electricity by 2030, and 49 have passed laws to reach 100% renewable electricity by 2050. Meanwhile, over 300 cities have also set goals to have 100% renewables by no later than 2050, and over 280 international businesses committed to having their operations based on clean energy.
However, policies to reach 100% renewables across all energy sectors are few in number, and by 2035 are non-existent, according to the signatories of the declaration. Major bodies such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have only demanded to achieve 70% by 2050. The European Union as a whole has only a 32% renewable energy target in total energy by 2030, which many see as far too unambitious.
The latest report by REN21, an international network focused on renewables, showed that the share of renewables in total final energy demand has barely increased, going from 9.6% in 2013 to 11% in 2018. Today’s progress is largely the result of policies and regulations initiated years ago and focus on the power sector, according to the report.
“A global energy system powered by 100% clean renewable energy is not just possible over the next 10-15 years, it can also save money, create jobs and wealth, save lives, and get humanity ahead of the curve to prevent runaway climate change. It is economically, socially, geopolitically and environmentally irrational for us to kick the can down the road to 2050,” Tony Seba, clean energy expert at Stanford University and one of the signatories, said in a statement.
The declaration, characterized by the researchers as a concise summary of decades of findings on energy, included a list of reasons that explain why and how the world can be fully based on renewable energy sooner than expected. Here’s the list:
Numerous studies have investigated 100% renewable energy (RE) systems in regions, countries, and worldwide, and they have found that it works, not only for providing electricity, but also for providing all energy.
A transformation to 100% RE can occur faster than current expectations: the power sector can transform by 2030 and the other sectors soon thereafter. With political will, a transformation of the global energy sector by 2030-35 appears to be possible!
Electricity in a 100% RE system will cost less than in our current energy system; the total energy cost of a 100% RE system will be lower than the cost of conventional energy, even if we exclude social costs.
The total social cost (energy, environmental, climate, and health cost) of a 100% RE system will be drastically lower than of business as usual. The sooner we achieve a 100% RE system, the faster these savings will be realized!
A 100% RE system can supply regions, countries, and the world reliably (24-7) with energy at low cost.
A massive re-design of the global energy system will be needed, including increasing energy efficiency on all levels.
Solar and wind will be the key pillars of energy supply, plus flexibility in many forms, especially storage, sector coupling, demand response management, large- and small-scale grid integration.
The studies agree that electricity will take a massively increasing share (about 80-95%) of the global energy supply. Electrification will result in a superabundance of cheap clean, renewable energy, increasing prosperity for all humanity.
All our studies show that creating the new 100% RE system will benefit the world economy. It will stimulate investments of trillions of dollars and create millions more jobs than lost worldwide. Superabundant clean, renewable energy will create wealth and provide a boost for every sector of the global economy.
Such a rapid transformation is necessary to stop the 7 million human deaths that occur annually today worldwide from air pollution, to slow the growing damage due to global warming and thus avoid the climate catastrophe, and to provide sustainable energy security for future generations.
Wind and solar have doubled their share of global electricity generation since the Paris Climate Agreement was signed in 2015, reaching almost 10% in the first half of the year, according to a new report.
Nevertheless, it’s still not yet enough to meet the climate targets and sustained action is needed further on.
The energy consultancy Ember looked at 48 countries that make up more than 80% of the global electricity production. Wind and solar generation rose by 14% in the first half of the year, compared to the same period in 2019, according to the report.
In total, both energy sources explained 9.8% of the electricity generation.
Renewable has become a big player
Many major countries now generate around a tenth of their electricity from wind and solar, the report showed. This includes China (10%), the US (12%), India (10%), Japan (10%), Brazil (10%), and Turkey (13%). The EU and UK were substantially higher with 21% and 33% respectively. Within the EU, Germany rose to an impressive 42%, nearing a tipping point where half of its energy would be renewable.
But other countries are lagging behind the global average: Canada’s share has barely changed since 2015. South Korea’s share has been increasing, but at 4% is still less than half the global average, and Vietnam is making up for lost time increasing from 0.2% in 2018 to 6.4% in the first half of 2020.
The pandemic barely impacted solar and wind generation, the report showed. Nevertheless, COVID-19 has impacted the rate of new renewables installed this year, slowing it down significantly. A forecast by the International Energy Agency predicts a 13% decrease in the installation of renewable energy in 2020. Stimulus packages focusing on a clean transition can help that bounce back.
While solar and wind generation largely expanded, coal generation is also decreasing, the report showed, dropping 8.3% in the first half of the year. This breaks a new record, following on from a year-on-year fall of 3% in 2019.
For the first time, coal plants were needed for less than half the time. Coal generation fell by almost 9%, but coal capacity fell only 0.1%. That means the utilization of coal plants has fallen to 47% in the first half of 2020, from 51% utilization in 2019.
However, it’s not just the world’s transition to renewable energy that can explain that. Renewables definitely play a role, but there’s also by the drop in electricity demand amid the Covid-19.
India has seen remarkable results, with wind and solar moving from having 3% of the market share in 2015 to 10% in the first half of the year. At the same time, coal’s share fell from 77% to 68%. In China, coal’s share fell from 68% to 62%, while in the US coal’s market share was reduced by 17% as natural gas expanded.
Despite this rapid change, it’s still not enough to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius, a goal mentioned in the Paris Agreement. The IPPC, a global group of climate experts, estimated coal use needs to fall by about 79% by 2030 from 2019, a fall of 13% every year throughout the 2020s. So while there are encouraging signs, we’re still not on track for climate stability.
“It’s clear that even with the rapid trajectory from coal to wind and solar over the last five years, progress is so far insufficient to limit coal generation in line with 1.5-degree scenarios,” the researchers wrote in the report, calling for further expansion of renewable energy sources.
The world is set for a gradual transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy to slow down climate change. But building wind turbines, solar panels, and other infrastructure requires mining for materials, which could damage many species and ecosystems if not done responsibly, according to a new study.
About 17% of the world’s energy consumption is currently met through renewable energy sources. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions further requires this proportion to increase, fast, but to do so more minerals will be needed, such as lithium for battery storage, zinc for geothermal energy, and copper for renewable technologies.
The World Bank estimated in a recent report that the production of such materials could increase by 500% by 2050. It said more than 3 billion tons of minerals and metals will be needed to build the wind, solar and geothermal power, and energy storage, needed to keep global warming below 2℃ this century.
A group of researchers from the University of Queensland mapped the world’s potential mining areas and how they overlap with biodiversity conservation sites. The analysis involved 62,381 pre-operational, operational, and closed mines targeting up to 40 different materials. They used a 50 km wide radius around each mining property
They found that 50 million km2 of Earth’s terrestrial land area (37%, excluding Antarctica) could potentially be impacted by mining. Most of these areas (82%) have materials needed for renewable energy production. Of this, 12% overlaps with protected areas, 7% with key biodiversity areas, and 14% with the remaining wilderness.
“Our study shows that mining the materials needed for renewable energy such as lithium, cobalt, copper, nickel and aluminum will create further pressure on the biodiversity located in mineral-rich landscapes,” Dr. Laura Sonter, lead author, said in a press release. “Almost 10% of all mining areas occur within currently protected sites.”
Following their results, Sonter and her team argued careful strategic planning is urgently required in order to ensure mining threats to biodiversity won’t do more damage than they’re meant to prevent.
Habitat loss and degradation currently threaten more than 80% of endangered species, while climate change directly affects 20%. While they couldn’t quantify habitat losses from future mining for renewable energy, the researchers argued that their study shows habitat loss could be a major issue going forward.
At the local scale, minimizing these impacts will require effective environmental impact assessments and management, Sonter and her team explain. All new mining projects should consider first avoiding biodiversity impacts where possible before allowing compensation activities elsewhere.
“There is an urgent need to understand the size of mining risks to biodiversity (climate change, and efforts to avert it) and strategically account for them in conservation plans and policies. Yet, none of these potential tradeoffs are seriously considered in international climate policies,” they wrote in the study.
Misunderstandings in the relative efficacy of pro-environmental behaviors may have important consequences for climate mitigation efforts, according to a new study. The findings find that people tend to underestimate greenhouse gas emissions associated with behaviors like air travel and meat consumption.
Recycling and turning off the lights might be good steps towards a sustainable society, but they are not as important for the climate on an individual basis as driving or changing out diets. Many end up making poor choices to reduce their carbon footprint due to a lack of sufficient information.
Seth Wynes, a researcher at the University of British Columbia, surveyed a group of students and a sample of North Americans recruited through an online platform, to establish whether they could identify correctly actions that truly reduce their individual greenhouse gas emissions.
“Our participants were more educated and more liberal than the general population but since we want to understand the perceptions of people who are at least a little motivated to engage in pro-climate actions, this is actually the right group of people to survey,” explained Wynes in a recent post.
The researchers asked participants to describe the single most effective action they could take to reduce the emissions that cause climate change. Many said driving less, which indeed helps to reduce emissions, and also recycling, which doesn’t do much in terms of avoiding a further temperature increase.
Surprisingly only a few mentioned air travel, which actually can account for a larger portion of the carbon footprint of an individual. A return flight from Los Angeles to Hong Kong generates over 4,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent, for example. Political action to achieve structural change also wasn’t highlighted much.
Wynes and his team then gave participants a list of 15 actions which they had to categorize as low, medium, or high impact, with low being less than 1% of a person’s carbon footprint, and high being greater than 5%. Actions linked to personal vehicles were correctly seen as important to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but air travel and meat consumption were incorrectly ranked in the bottom half.
“People might have been focusing on choices where the harms are highly visible or on actions that are symbolic of environmentalism but not related to climate. For example, littering creates no emissions, but we found it was perceived similarly to a high-pollution flight across the Pacific Ocean,” said Wynes.
Finally, the researchers asked participants to make trade-offs between sets of different actions, such as buying food without any packaging in order to save the same amount of emissions or one year not eating meat. Wynes suggested education projects on universities, offices, and grade schools in order to better inform people on climate-friendly choices.
In a previous study, participants got feedback on their food purchases in terms of “lightbulb minutes”, meaning the amount of GHG produced by one minute of lightbulb use. This led to a positive shift in consumption choices. Similarly, people booking flights could be told the fraction of their carbon budget that will be used up by a single trip.
“Further education may be necessary to improve carbon numeracy by providing the public with a basic hierarchy of actions according to carbon reduction efficacy. Consumers seeking to balance their carbon budgets may benefit from external aids (e.g., carbon labels associated with actions) to guide emission-related decision-making,” the researchers wrote.
Power utilities are lagging behind, and even hindering, the global transition to renewable energy, according to the University of Oxford. The findings show that only 10% of the companies are prioritizing clean power investment over the expansion of fossil fuel energy.
The study looked at over 3,000 electric companies identified as regulated utilities (including those owned by national or local governments), investor-owned, and cooperative utilities, existing at some point between 2001 and 2018, with gas- and/or coal-based generation assets in their portfolio.
Galina Alova, who led the study, retrieved historical releases of a global asset-level dataset, which she argued offers a unique opportunity to capture changes of plant ownership over time. Alova used a bottom-up approach, looking at portfolio developments of the utilities that directly own the power-generation assets.
“If you look at all utilities, and what’s the dominant behavior, it is that they’re not doing much in fossil fuels and renewables,” Alova told the BBC.
“So they might be doing something with other fuels like hydropower or nuclear, but they’re not transitioning to renewables nor growing the fossil fuel capacity.”
Limits to renewables
Renewable energy has gained a big share of the market worldwide this year. For example, 40% of the electricity in the UK came from solar and wind last year. But many clean energy installations were built by independent producers. Large scale utility companies have so far been much slower to become greener.
The study found that only one in ten companies expanded their renewable-based power generation more quickly than their gas or coal-fired capacity. Of this small proportion that spent more on renewables, many continued to invest in fossil fuels, although at a lower rate.
Most of the companies prioritizing renewable energy were clustered in Europe. Many of the industry’s biggest players are investing in low-carbon energy and green technologies to replace their aging fossil fuel power plants. Meanwhile, those favoring growth in gas-fired plants were clustered in the US and Russia.
This might in part be attributed to relatively higher carbon prices in Europe and by policies in support of renewable energy in some European countries, improving the cost competitiveness of low-carbon technologies, Alova argued.
Only 2% of the companies studied were actively growing more pollutant coal-fired power capacity ahead of renewables or gas, the study showed. This cluster is dominated by Chinese utilities, which alone contributed more than 60% of coal-focused companies, followed by India and Vietnam.
“This study shows that overall the sector is making the transition to clean energy slowly or not at all,” Alova told The Guardian. “Utilities’ continued investment in fossil fuels leaves them at risk of stranded assets, where power plants will need to be retired early, and undermines global efforts to tackle climate change.”
Alova found that utilities dominate global fossil-fuel-based electricity generation, holding over 70% of operating coal and gas capacity in 2018. Most of these assets are far from their retirement age, with a third being added in the last ten years. Unless closed early, thus incurring financial losses, these power plants are here to stay for decades.
Alova said inertia within the electricity industry is a leading cause of the slow transition to renewable energy. Their investment is usually more complex than what is reported in the news, she said, adding renewables and natural gas usually “go hand in hand”. That parallel investment in gas is what dilutes the shift to renewables, Alova concluded.
Renewable energy is expanding fast in the United Kingdom, slashing carbon emissions and electricity costs across the board, according to recently published government figures.
Carbon emissions from UK electricity production dropped by more than a third during the coronavirus lockdown, as the expansion of renewables continues. The carbon intensity of the energy grid reached 21 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour in May, according to a report by Imperial College London.
The report, issued for Drax, UK’s largest power generator, found that lockdown measures caused the electricity demand in the United Kingdom to fall by 13% in the second quarter (compared to the same months last year), which helped the share of renewables grow by a third to 40% of the energy mix.
The data on renewables included electricity generated by solar farms, wind turbines, hydropower projects, and biomass. The carbon intensity of the electricity system dropped by a fifth to 153 grams of carbon per kilowatt-hour, while prices fell by more than 40% during the lockdown, the report showed.
Dr. Iain Staffell of Imperial College London, lead author of the energy report, told The Guardian that the past few months have “given the country a glimpse into the future for our power system, with higher levels of renewable energy and lower demand make for a difficult balancing act”.
Recent UK government figures showed that electricity generated from wind and solar is between 30% and 50% cheaper than previously thought. The government published the levelized cost of energy, a measure of the average net present cost of electricity generation, which showed this lower price.
The report represents the UK’s first public admission of the significant reductions in renewable costs in recent years. The government had previously carried out internal updates to its cost estimates in 2018 and 2019 but these were never published despite repeated requests in parliament.
Back in 2013, the UK estimated that an offshore wind farm operating in 2025 would generate electricity at $186 per megawatt. The estimation was revised down by 24% in 2016 to $142. Now, the latest estimate in the report set the cost at $76, corresponding to a 47% reduction from 2016.
Similar dramatic reductions can be seen for onshore wind and solar, with energy costs for energy plants operating in 2025 estimated at 50% lower than previously. In contrast, the report didn’t review previous estimates for the cost of nuclear power, noting that nuclear should achieve a 30% cost reduction by 2030.
This reduction in the price of renewable energy is driven by advancing technology, with more efficient and larger manufacturing plants for solar panels and wind turbines. This adds up with lower operating costs, longer project lifetimes, and more operational experience running renewable projects.
Auctions for UK government contracts have recently reflected the drop in costs. The government awarded contracts for offshore wind farms, due to start operating in the mid-2020s, at prices below the costs of existing gas-fired power stations, making the windfarms subsidy-free.
The estimates included in the report showed that wind and solar will continue to get cheaper over time. Offshore wind will become cheaper than onshore by the mid-2030s, mainly due to larger turbine sizes, which will move from the current 9MW to a record of 20 MW by 2040.
The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) recently suggested that the UK government increase its renewable electricity target from 50% to 65% by 2030, arguing that the lower costs mean the country should ramp up its ambition for a low-carbon electricity system.
The commission called for shifts in government policy to support more renewable electricity schemes and encourage private investment to drive innovation. It recommended the deployment of new auctions to accelerate offshore and onshore wind as well as solar power projects.
“The government should be credited for recent steps to encourage quicker deployment of renewables, and for setting up successful mechanisms for encouraging private sector investment,” said NIC chair John Armitt in a statement. “These latest projections suggest we can afford to go further, faster without hitting consumers in the pocket.”
The energy generated by offshore wind farms in the UK is getting so cheap that it could soon reduce household energy bills, according to a new study. This could be a tipping point for renewable energy, as it becomes cheaper than fossil fuel energy.
Renewable energy projects in the UK have been long been subsidized by the government, leading to complaints that clean energy is ramping up household bills. However, the most recently approved offshore wind projects will likely work with so-called negative subsidies, paying money back to the government and still reducing bills, a study by Imperial College researchers showed
“Offshore wind power will soon be so cheap to produce that it will undercut fossil-fuelled power stations and maybe the cheapest form of energy for the UK. Energy subsidies used to push up energy bills, but within a few years, cheap renewable energy will see them brought down for the first time. This is an astonishing development,” said lead researcher Malte Jansen in a press release.
Energy companies that participate in the auction state the price at which they are willing to sell the energy they produce to the government. Last year, the UK made a record auction in which companies offered to build offshore wind farms for around 40 pounds ($51) megawatt-hour of power, 30% cheaper than two years earlier. While this was impressive, researchers and policymakers back then could only speculate the actual implications of this.
In their study, researchers looked at future electricity price trends and found that the contracted price is very likely to be below the UK wholesale price over the lifetime that these wind farms would produce electricity.
The wind farms are likely to be built and run with these costs since financing is now accessible at lower costs for such projects. The study also looked at other offshore wind auctions held by governments in five other European countries. They found that Germany and the Netherlands have seen some zero-subsidy offshore wind farms winning auctions, but that the UK projects are likely to be the world’s first negative-subsidy offshore wind farms.
“This amazing progress has been made possible by new technology, economies of scale and efficient supply chains around the North Sea, but also by a decade of concerted policymaking designed to reduce the risk for investing in offshore wind, which has made financing these huge billion-pound projects much cheaper,” said Iain Staffel, lead author, in a press release.
The researchers argued that the price of offshore wind has fallen so fast in the UK mainly because of technology development, as the country is building larger wind turbines further out at sea. Larger turbines can exploit more wind energy and have access to more consistent wind speeds at higher altitudes. The success of UK offshore wind farms, which are now primarily built in the Dogger Bank region of the North Sea, means the UK has considerable skills and expertise than can be exported around the world, the researchers argued.
This could lead to more ambitious projects, such as producing hydrogen fuels using the wind power on-site, out at sea, researchers say.
“These new wind farms set the stage for the rapid expansion needed to meet the government’s target of producing 30 percent of the UK’s energy needs from offshore wind by 2030. Offshore wind will be pivotal in helping the UK, and more broadly the world, to reach net-zero carbon emissions with the added bonus of reducing consumers’ energy bills,” said Staffel.
However encouraging this development is, it should be noted that cheaper renewable energy is only part of the puzzle. If we want to achieve a sustainable future and a reasonable climate, we have to make sure that this energy isn’t added on top of fossil fuel energy. In other words, using cheap wind energy is great — but we also need to make sure that the oil, coal, and gas stay in the ground.
Clean energy sources such as bioenergy, wind, solar, and hydro have generated 40% of the electricity in Europe in the first half of the year, the first time such a figure is reached. Renewables appear to overtake fossil fuels, which generated 34% of the electricity in the European bloc.
The independent think-tank Ember published its half-yearly report, which showed Europe’s long goodbye to coal is finally speeding up. The transition is being helped by the rise of wind and solar power, as well as the energy policy that has priced the fossil fuels out of many European markets.
“This marks a symbolic moment in the transition of Europe’s electricity sector. Renewables generated more electricity than fossil fuels, driven by wind and solar replacing coal. That’s fast progress from just nine years ago when fossil fuels generated twice as much as renewables,” Dave Jones, an electricity analyst at Ember, said in a press release.
Green energy rose by 11% while fossil fuels fell by 18% in the first six months of the year in Europe, according to the findings, which argued the larger share of renewables was driven by new wind and solar installations and favorable weather conditions across the continent.
This also becomes evident when looking at each power source. Wind was +11%, solar +16%, hydro +12%, and bioenergy only +1%. Meanwhile, coal was -32% and natural gas was -6%. Every EU country that still uses coal saw a fall in coal generation. Germany led in absolute terms with a 39% drop, followed by Poland (12%) and Czech Republic (20%). These are encouraging figures for Europe’s climate future.
The findings by Ember were reinforced by Global Energy Monitor researchers, who predicted a record rate of closures globally this year. The pace of coal plant closures in Spain, with 69% of the entire fleet to be shuttered between 2020 and 2021, has no precedent, Global Energy Monitor Programme Director Christine Shearer told Reuters. Adding renewable energy doesn’t do anything unless fossil plants are shut down, but many European countries have increased their efforts on coal. Austria, closed its last coal plant having closed in April, Belgium was the first EU country to become coal-free, Denmark is set to phase out coal in 2030, France committed to close its last plant by 2022, and Greece will do the same by 2028.
Still, there are several European countries with no clear closure plan for their plants, mainly located in central and Eastern Europe. This includes Turkey, which wants to increase coal capacity to 30GW by 2023, Slovenia, which added six new plants in 2016, Romania and Poland, both with aging coal power plants. Overall though, the share of energy from renewable sources in gross final consumption of energy was 18% in 2018, up from 8.5% in 2008.
Speaking in a recent online conference, former US Vice President Al Gore said to be encouraged by the fact that many economic stimulus plans across the globe amid the pandemic are focused on carbon reduction. This shows the world has crossed a threshold “beyond which it is ever clearer that sustainable technologies are cheaper and better,” he argued. The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has asked countries to stop financing the coal industry in order to have a more sustainable future. He questioned those that have spent more money supporting fossil fuels than renewables amid the pandemic.
A study this year by the financial think tank Carbon Tracker showed coal developers could end up losing up to $600 billion as renewable energy is now cheaper than coal energy in many countries. More than 60% of the coal power plants operating across the globe generate electricity at higher costs than it could be produced by using renewables.
Renewable energy could power 90% of the country’s demand for electricity by 2035, at no extra cost to consumer bills, according to a new report. Doing so would avoid important environmental and health costs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and give a boost to the economy.
Retaining existing hydropower and nuclear capacity, as well as much of the existing natural gas capacity, and in combination with new battery storage would be enough to meet US electricity demand with a 90% clean grid by 2035, the study concluded. Under this scenario, the researchers assume all existing coal plants have been retired by 2035 and no new ones have been built.
Doing so would mean a $1.7 trillion injection into the country’s economy, increasing energy-related jobs by up to 530,000 per year through 2035, across all regions of the U.S. — and all without raising consumers’ bills. What’s more, a 90% renewable energy matrix would avoid $1.2 trillion in environmental and health costs through 2050.
It won’t be easy, though. This scenario advances state and national energy policy proposals by 15 years. But that level of ambition is what’s actually needed to avoid the worst effects of climate change. In 2018, the UN warned the world only has twelve years to cut emissions in order to limit warming to 1.5ºC.
“We’re talking about the ability to achieve near-100 percent clean electricity by 2035, in half the time most people are talking about,” said in a statement David Wooley, director of the Center for Environmental Public Policy, which authored the report. “This is exciting, because the 2035 timeframe is actually compatible with climate realities.”
A 90% clean grid reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 88% through 2035, the report showed. It also reduces exposure to fine particulate matter by reducing nitrogen oxide emissions by 96% and sulfur dioxide emissions by 99%. As a result, a 90% clean grid would prevent 85,000 premature deaths through 2050.
The target year of 2035 gives sufficient time for most fossil fuel energy plants to recover their fixed costs, avoiding the risk of stranded investments, according to the report. Wind, solar, and battery storage can provide the bulk of the clean electricity and new fossil fuel generators aren’t needed. In periods of low demand for renewables, existing gas plants, hydropower, and nuclear plants could be used.
The report was published alongside a set of recommendations for policymakers by the nonpartisan policy firm Energy Innovation. The US should establish a technology-neutral national clean energy standard targeting 90% by 2035 and 100% by 2045, the authors of the report proposed.
“What an incredible opportunity for economic stimulus. A federal clean energy standard, supported by government investments in deployment and American manufacturing, could put us back on track for a healthier economy. Meanwhile, continued policy leadership from the states can bolster progress,” said in a statement Sonia Aggarwal, Vice President at Energy Innovation.
Let’s face it: climate action has not been moving as fast as needed to make a sustainable change. But there is one sector that’s doing its share to help lower greenhouse gas emissions: renewable energy. Recently, renewables may be getting some unexpected help from a particular virus.
As the coronavirus is potentially killing numerous industries, it may be indirectly helping renewables.
The coronavirus epidemic has meant many workers have to stay at home due to government lockdowns. While this might slow down the fast expansion of renewables, the overall positive trajectory shouldn’t be altered, experts agree. Furthermore, renewables seem to be less affected than fossil fuels, which means that relatively speaking, renewables may be doing better over the course of the pandemic.
Solar and wind power are now the cheapest sources of energy for two-thirds of the world, challenging the polluting fossil fuels, according to a report by BloombertNEF — with the cost for both energies declining on the second-half of 2019.
Worldwide, the average cost of electricity for onshore wind projects has fallen 9% to $44 per megawatt-hour last year, while solar power decreased 4% to $50 per megawatt-hour. Equipment costs have dropped, technologies have improved, and governments around the world have increased clean energy targets in their fight against climate change.
Prices are even lower places such as China and Brazil. Onshore wind saw last year its most significant drop on prices since 2015, the report argued, mainly thanks to an increase in the size of the turbines. Brazil’s wind projects were the cheapest in the world at $24, while the same happened in China with solar – at $38 per MWh. The US
Tifenn Brandily, lead author of the report at BNEF, commented: “There have been dramatic improvements in the cost-competitiveness of solar and wind. Part of it is due to photovoltaic and wind technology getting better at extracting renewable resources.”
Despite the record-low prices, the impact of the coronavirus epidemic on the prices of coal and oil could affect how competitive solar and wind energy can be. Sen Henbest, the chief economist at BNEF, said that if the trend continues fossil fuels might be “further protected” from the expansion of renewables.
In another report, the International Energy Agency (EIA) said so far this year renewable energy has been the “most resilient” energy source to coronavirus. Nevertheless, the pace of its growth could be altered due to lockdowns and supply chain disruptions, the EIA said.
Global energy demand has dropped 3.8% in the first quarter of the year but renewable energy demand increased by 1.5%, according to the EIA – driven by new projects that became operational over the past year. Meanwhile, global coal demand dropped 8%, influenced by the shutdown of industries in China.
The EIA estimates global consumption of renewable energy will rise 1% this year, while renewable electricity generation could growth 5%. Both are lower growth rates due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Only renewables are holding up during the previously unheard-of slump in electricity use,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director. “It is still too early to determine the longer-term impacts, but the energy industry that emerges from this crisis will be significantly different from the one that came before.”
However, we shouldn’t let the fact that renewables are becoming cheaper slow our resolve to transition to sustainable energy sources.
Located in the Indian Ocean archipelago, and with a population of just 25,400 souls, Seychelles is putting together the world’s largest floating solar power plant on saltwater — a project currently being developed by a consortium of companies.
The five megawatts (MW) plant will be the first project led by an independent power producer (IPP) in Seychelles. According to the IRENA energy agency, the country currently has an installed 0.9 MW of solar capacity.
The solar plant will require 13,500 solar panels, which will be built across 40,000 square meters of water. Construction will begin in July on a lagoon on Mahé, the main island of the archipelagic nation.
The tender launched by the government in 2018 gave the best technical and financial score to the consortium made of Quadran Seychelles and local solar player VetiverTech. Upon completion, the installation will account for about 2% of total power generation in the island nation.
Fossil fuel is the primary energy source used in Seychelles at 97.5 %, with a mere 2.5 % coming from the renewables. The country wants to reduce this dependency through increased energy efficiency and promotion of renewables, with targets of 5% and 15% in national electricity production by 2020 and 2030 respectively.
Floating solar power plants save land resources and have less impact on the aquatic environment, as no support foundation and cable trench excavation are needed. The surface of the water is relatively open, which will avoid the formation of shadows on the photovoltaic modules.
Water has a cooling effect on the solar panel, which can suppress the rise of the surface temperature of the module. If the temperature of the panel is reduced by 1° C, the output power can be increased by 0.5%, and the power generation can be 10% to 15% higher than those of the ground or rooftop power station in the same area.
In some countries or regions with limited land resources and difficult land development such as Seychelles, the development of floating solar PV projects is a good choice, opening a new path for the application of photovoltaic power generation. It can also be used as a unique scenic spot.
Numerous floating solar photovoltaic plants are currently being developed in other countries beyond Seychelles. Indonesia is building its first one with the country’s electricity company, Perusahaan Listrik Negara. Meanwhile, in India, Tata Solar Power was just awarded a contract to develop a 105 MW floating solar plant.
Even if electricity generation still involves fossil fuels and decarbonization isn’t happening quickly, electric cars still produce fewer emissions. The same goes for home heating.
It’s a myth that needs to go away
Electric cars are often questioned by media reports, and there’s a general myth that electric cars aren’t really better for the environment unless all their electricity comes from clean sources.
Well, that’s not true, a recent study suggests.
A new study carried out by researchers from the universities of Exeter in the UK and Nijmegen in the Netherlands found that driving an electric car is already better for the climate in 95% of the world.
The only exceptions (countries in red) are places like Poland, India, and in the case of household heating, Australia.
Florian Knobloch and colleagues carried out lifecycle assessments and complied them into an integrated model representing the electricity, transportation, and heating sectors for 59 regions around the globe. They then studied the full life-cycle emissions from electric vehicles and heat pumps over time, comparing how electric vehicles fare against “conventional” cars. They looked at the global level, as well as the regional level (including many individual countries).
The conclusion? Almost everywhere you look, electric cars produce lower emissions.
In renewable-rich countries such as France or Sweden, emissions from electric cars are up to 70% lower than gas cars. But even in countries that only get a portion of their electricity from renewables, it’s still a significant and positive change.
The same goes for heating: in almost all countries in the world, switching to electric makes a net reduction in emissions.
There are some notable exceptions: Poland, India, and Australia among them. These countries have one thing in common: they use a lot of coal.
But as decarbonization continues to take place, the impact can increase even more. In terms of emissions, electric cars really are better, and they’ll get even better as we use more renewable energy. Myth — busted.
Leaving fossil fuels behind isn’t good just for the planet, it’s also an economically smart move, as the costs of renewables are dropping across the globe.
A study by the financial think tank Carbon Tracker showed coal developers could end up losing up to $600 billion as renewable energy is now cheaper than coal energy in many countries.
More than 60% of the coal power plants operating across the globe generate electricity at higher costs than it could be produced by using renewables, the report showed, estimating that by 2030 this will be true for all coal plants.
Matt Gray, the co-author of the report, said: “Renewables are out-competing coal around the world and proposed coal investments risk becoming stranded assets which could lock in high-cost coal power for decades. The market is driving the low-carbon energy transition but governments aren’t listening.”
The Paris Agreement, signed in 2015, aims at limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. For this to happen, the use of coal in electricity generation should decline by 80% from 2010 to 2030, which means retiring one plant per day until 2040, the report showed.
Nevertheless, this will be challenging, as there are 499 gigawatts of new coal power plants that are already under construction or planned at a cost of $638 billion – which would be hard to recover as it takes up to 20 years to cover the costs of a coal plant, Carbon Tracker estimated.
The report looked at the economics of 95% of coal plants that are operating, under construction, or planned worldwide. That’s 6,696 plants currently working and 1,046 in the pipeline. China remains the main player, with 982GW of current coal power, 100GW in construction, and 106GW planned.
Meanwhile, India also ranks high, with 222GW of existing coal capacity and 373GW of coal power under construction. The EU is also a significant player, with 149GW of current coal power, mainly in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Carbon Tracker’s report claimed that coal power will eventually power out of existence due to market forces, making more room for renewable energy. Nevertheless, there are still governments that incentivize coal plants through subsidies.
Sriya Sundaresan, co-head of power and utilities at Carbon Tracker and co-author, said: “Investors should be wary of relying on continued government support for coal when a phase-out will save their voters billions and make their economies more competitive.”
Fossil fuels are one of the main drivers of climate change, so shifting towards renewable energy is one of the main changes a country can make. That’s the case of Scotland, which is in line with having an energy matrix fully based on renewables this year.
Scotland, which will host this year’s UN climate summit in November, is considered a global leader on clean energy. The country set its goal to leave behind fossils by 2020 and an interim goal of powering 50% of its electricity with renewables by 2015 – a target clearly exceeded.
Renewable energy powered 59% of Scotland’s energy in 2015, according to Scottish Development International. Since then, the country has continued to increase its use of renewables. In 2017, 68.1% of its energy came from clean sources, a figure which rose to 74.6% by 2018.
According to WWF, Scotland generated 9,831,320 megawatt-hours (MWh) of wind energy between January and July of 2019. That could power 182% of all the 4.4 million Scottish homes, or 100% of the homes in Scotland and the North of England.
“These are amazing figures; Scotland’s wind energy revolution is clearly continuing to power ahead. Up and down the country, we are all benefitting from cleaner energy and so is the climate,” Robin Parker, WWF Scotland’s Climate and Energy Policy Manager, said in a statement for WWF.
Wind power is the main favorite in Scotland but other sources of renewable energy are also employed such as solar, geothermal, biomass, hydroelectric, and hydrokinetic (wave power). Achieving a 100% renewables-based energy matrix would add Scotland to the list of other countries that achieved the same goal, such as Paraguay, Iceland, and the Congo.
In a recent report, the organization Scottish Renewables estimates Scotland will reach its goal this year thanks to the government’s active role in the matter. It declared the climate emergency and committed to having zero emissions by 2045 – five years earlier than the goal set by the UK.
No matter the goal, the expansion of renewables continues in Scotland. ScottishPower, the renewable energy arm of the power companies, plans for a major expansion of onshore windfarm projects across the country. Almost 100 sites for a new generation of wind farms have already been considered.
The next focus for the government should be in decarbonizing the heat and transportation sectors, NGOs have claimed. The government has pledged to phase out petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2032 as part of the Climate Change Bill. This would mean a massive expansion of the number of electric vehicles and charging stations.
Over 75% of the energy to be installed in the US in 2020 will be wind or solar, a new report by the Energy Information Association (EIA) shows.
EIA expects the addition of 42 gigawatts (GW) of new capacity in the US in 2020. Solar and wind represent almost 32 GW of these (76%). Wind accounts for the lion’s share of this (44%), followed by solar at 32%. Natural gas will only account for 22% of this new energy.
However, it’s important to note that this represents capacity — not actual electricity generated. This means that there will be ups and downs in renewable energy, which is not the case for something like nuclear or natural gas, which are generally more stable.
Nevertheless, this is a telling story: despite interventions from the current administration, attempting to artificially support the fossil fuel industry, new energy is predominantly renewable — and coal no longer really has a seat at the table when it comes to novelty.
The expected prediction of retired energy production is also telling. Of the 11 GW set to be retired in 2020, more than half of it (5.8 GW) will be coal, much of which comes from Kentucky and Ohio. Another 3.8 set-to-be-retired GWs come from older natural gas units that came online in the 1950s or 1960s. So the bulk of the decommissioned energy will be from fossil fuels.
However, two nuclear plants totaling 1.6 GW are currently scheduled to retire in 2020.
The impact of these shifts indicate a longer trend for the foreseeable future. Most of the new energy is renewable, and most of the decommissioned energy is fossil fuel. This is also making an impact in the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. After decreasing by 2.1% in 2019, EIA forecasts that energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will decrease by 2.0% in 2020 and by 1.5% in 2021 (under normal weather conditions).
However, while significant, this shift is not ambitious enough to set the US on a trajectory to reduce its emissions enough to avoid catastrophic climate change.
Much of the change involves renewables replacing coal — and while that’s certainly a step in the right direction, natural gas remains almost untouched. EIA projects that the share of U.S. total utility-scale electricity generation from natural gas-fired power plants will remain relatively steady, it was 37% in 2019, and we forecast it will be 38% in 2020 and 37% in 2021.