The ‘three Ds’ of renewable energy — decarbonisation, decentralisation and digitalisation — are bringing new opportunities and transforming the energy sector. Innovations in technology, operations, policy, regulation, and business, are all interacting and re-enforcing each other’s contributions to the power system transformation towards low-carbon energy.
To better understand the reproducibility and scalability of the energy sector’s innovations and to accelerate the sector’s transformation, IRENA organised in October 2017 two sessions to discuss developments directly with innovators at the European Utility Week 2017 (EUW2017) in Amsterdam, and the Global Science, Technology and Innovation Conference (G-STIC) in Brussels.
“Everywhere we see the signs of change. Utilities are key facilitators for the energy transformation. To be successful, they must embrace transformation driven by a power system with high shares of renewables that is increasingly distributed, digitised and interconnected,” said IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin at the opening of European Utility Week.
The trend is that consumers are turning into “prosumers” — becoming more informed and empowered, and taking an increasingly active role in the power sector. The two IRENA events created a space for stakeholders from utilities and consumers, to network and share their views about breakthrough innovations.
An innovation network
Through events like these and next June’s Innovation Week, IRENA aims to strengthen its role as a platform for networking and open dialogue between the stakeholders — including the private sector and policy makers — to foster innovation for the energy transformation.
“Innovations emerging all over the world, have the potential to lead the energy transition and decarbonise not only the power sector, but associated sectors like transportation, industry and end-use sectors,” says Dolf Gielen, the Director of the IRENA Innovation and Technology Centre.
“Close cooperation and collaboration between all stakeholders is needed, where the policymakers and regulators enable the emergence of new business models, where utilities and entrepreneurs come together and create new value streams for the consumers,” Gielen says.
In addition, IRENA’s forthcoming Innovation Landscape Report for the Power Sector Transformation aims to increase awareness of the emerging innovations among policymakers and guide them in what suits their country’s context and needs best.
In IRENA’s sessions during EU Utility Week and G-STIC, companies and projects presented their innovations that could support the energy transformation. Here are some of the highlights:
Along with increasing distributed generation, distributed storage has recently gained momentum with behind-the-meter storage, allowing customers to store electricity generated by their rooftop solar panels for later use. Using batteries, heat pumps, PV-panels, recycled-heat air ventilation systems, plastic window frames with triple glazing, and isolation facades 30 centimetres thick, the Dutch project Stroomversnelling, is refurbishing homes and making them energy neutral.
Electric vehicle (EV) innovation is bringing the transport and power sectors together, and potentially decarbonising both. In the power sector, EVs can be decentralised storage resources that can provide additional flexibility to support power system operation, but must be managed in a smart way to avoid power system disruption at peak load times.
The Parker Project, developed by the Technical University of Denmark, is a Grid Integrated Vehicle (GIV) concept, and the first ‘vehicle to grid’ hub in the country. GIVs increase a grid’s flexibility allows for advanced grid services. VERBUND Solution GmbH, Austria’s leading electricity company, is working on the first deployment of ultra-fast chargers for EVs in Austria and Germany.
As the world shifts towards greater interconnectivity, the wider use of smart meters, sensors and internet of things applications, has created opportunities to provide new services to consumers, enabling them to participate in the electricity market by controlling consumption and reducing electricity bills. Using artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques, BeeBryte, a French energy intelligence company, is making buildings smarter and cleaner by modulating energy consumption with sensors that control heating, cooling and battery storage.
Decentralisation and digitalisation has allowed for a variety of innovative business models to emerge. One of them is Virtual power plants, which aggregates distributed generation and demand response to sell electricity and ancillary services in the system. Paul Kreutzkamp from Next Kraftwerke, a virtual power plant operating in Germany and Belgium, believes that setting energy generation and demand should go hand in hand through price signals, spurring some utilities to consider new business models. The Dutch utility Eneco, is developing a network of home batteries into a virtual power plant to provide capacity and grid services to the Dutch grid (CrowdNett project).
Platform business models based around peer-to-peer power trading is aiding the democratisation of electricity. Lumenaza, a new software platform in Germany, lets utilities buy and sell ‘regional electricity’ by connecting up small producers with consumers.
Blockchain technology is coming to the energy sector and has the potential to change the paradigm by cutting-out the middlemen, and enabling peer-to-peer transactions based on smart contracts. SolarCoin, a blockchain-based digital asset, grants solar power producers 1Solar coin per MWh of energy produced.
Source: International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)
Renewables and Improved Cooling Technologies Key to Reducing India’s Water Use
A new policy brief co-authored by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the World Resources Institute (WRI) finds that increasing the share of renewables, in particular solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind, in India’s power mix, and implementing changes in cooling technologies mandated for thermal power plants would not only lower carbon emissions intensity, but also substantially reduce water withdrawal and consumption intensity of power generation.
The brief, Water Use in India’s Power Generation – Impact of Renewables and Improved Cooling Technologies to 2030, finds that depending on the future energy pathways (IRENA’s REmap 2030 and the Central Electricity Authority of India), a power sector (excluding hydroelectricity) transformation driven by solar PV and wind, coupled with improved cooling technologies in thermal and other renewable power plants, could yield as much as an 84% decrease in water withdrawal intensity by 2030, lower annual water consumption intensity by 25% and reduce carbon emissions intensity by 43%, compared to 2014 levels. It builds off of the findings of Parched Power: Water Demands, Risks, and Opportunities for India’s Power Sector, also launched today by WRI.
“India has emerged as a global leader in renewable energy achieving record-level growth in deployment, rapid cost reductions and many socio-economic benefits of the energy transformation.” said Dr Henning Wuester, IRENA Director of the Knowledge, Policy and Finance Centre (KPFC). “Scaling up the use of renewables, especially solar PV and wind, will yield further benefits, in particular long-term reductions in the dependency of the power sector on freshwater.”
More than four-fifths of India’s electricity is generated from coal, gas and nuclear power plants which rely significantly on freshwater for cooling purposes. Moreover, the power sector’s share in national water consumption is projected to grow from 1.4% to 9% between 2025 and 2050, placing further stress on water resources. Renewable energy, with the added potential to reduce both water demand and carbon emissions, must hence be at the core of India’s energy future.
“India’s move towards renewable energy is essential, especially as water stress puts increasing pressure on India’s thermal power plants,” said Dr O.P. Agarwal, CEO, WRI India. “Water risks to thermal power plants cannot be ignored when considering the cost of thermal energy. Renewables, especially solar PV and wind energy, present a win-win solution for both water and climate.”
The joint brief was launched at the World Future Energy Summit 2018 in Abu Dhabi.
Going Long Term: US Nuclear Power Plants Could Extend Operating Life to 80 Years
The last couple of decades have witnessed increased interest in the extension of the operating life of nuclear power plants. Extending the life of a plant is more economical than building a new one, and where it makes business sense, many plant operators in the United States are seeking licence renewals. This helps avoid supply shortages and support the country in reducing carbon emissions.
“It is very important for us as a world community to care how electricity is produced,” said Maria Korsnick, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Nuclear Energy Institute. “You can produce electricity of an intermittent nature, like wind and solar, but you are going to also need 24/7 baseload energy supply that is kind to the environment, and nuclear is just that.”
The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issues licences for nuclear power plants to operate for up to 40 years and allows licences to be renewed for up to 20 years with every renewal application, as long as operators prove that the effects of ageing on certain plant structures and components will be adequately managed.
About 90 percent of US plants have already renewed their licences once, extending their operation to 60 years. But most of these will soon reach the end of their 60-year term. If they cease to operate or are not replaced by new plants, the percentage of energy generated from nuclear will drop. A subsequent renewal extends a plant’s operation from 60 to 80 years.
Nuclear provides 20 percent of the United States’ electricity supply and more than 60 percent of the country’s CO2 emissions-free generation. Electricity demand is expected to rise by more than 30 percent by 2035.
To obtain licence renewal, a plant must provide the NRC with an assessment of the technical aspects of plant ageing and show how any issues will be managed safely. This includes review of system metals, welds and piping, concrete, electrical cables and reactor pressure vessels. It must also evaluate potential impact on the environment, assuming the plant will operate for another 20 years. The NRC verifies evaluations through inspection and audits, and its reviews of licence renewal applications can last anywhere between 22 and 30 months.
“In the very beginning, an NRC review took years to complete,” Korsnick said. “Now that the process is better understood, we are just under two years. For subsequent licence renewal, we will probably get the process down to 18 months.”
While there have not been any subsequent licence renewals yet, three plants have already expressed their intent to submit an application for such renewal.
“If a subsequent renewal is granted and plants are allowed to operate for 80 years, NRC could see increased interest by other utilities,” said Allen Hiser, Senior Technical Advisor for Licence Renewal Ageing Management at NRC. “NRC experienced a similar trend when the original licence renewals were granted back in 2000.”
Coping with government and market challenges
Most US Government policies favour renewables over nuclear, and according to Korsnick the market does not value all of the attributes that the nuclear plants bring. Three plants in the past six years have already shut down even before their original licence expired because they could not make sufficient money in the current market place. Korsnick maintains that the markets must be improved so that they value the products that nuclear is bringing — products that include clean air, constant 24/7 power and continuous operation for at least 18 months before needing to refuel. Full recognition of these benefits would prevent additional plants from shutting down prematurely.
“Fundamentally we want an electricity grid that boasts a diversity of generating technologies and that appropriately values the core attributes of each technology and the benefits they deliver to society,” Korsnick said.
The IAEA and long-term operation
The IAEA has benefited from NRC support in its long-term operation (LTO) activities. The NRC was an early funder and active participant in the IAEA International Generic Ageing Lessons Learned (IGALL) programme, which used technical information from the NRC’s Generic Ageing Lessons Learned report as its starting point. Other IAEA Member States added data for their plants to that US information, including information for pressurized heavy water reactor designs.
The USA has been an active participant in other IAEA activities related to LTO, including the development of safety guides on ageing management and LTO and presenting LTO workshops for international regulators and plants. The US also continues to provide expertise during IAEA Safety Aspects of Long-Term Operation (SALTO) missions to countries in Europe, Asia, North and South America.
New Global Commission to Examine Geopolitics of Energy Transformation
The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), has today launched the Global Commission on the Geopolitics of Energy Transformation, with the support of the governments of Germany, Norway and the United Arab Emirates. The Commission will examine the immediate and longer-term geopolitical implications of global energy transformation driven by large scale-up of renewable energy in the context of global efforts to tackle climate change and advance sustainable development. The Commission will be chaired by Mr. Olafur Grimsson, the former President of Iceland.
“The global energy landscape is witnessing rapid and disruptive change that will have far reaching effects on geopolitical dynamics,” said Adnan Z. Amin, IRENA Director-General. “Renewable energy resources are abundant, sustainable and have the power to significantly improve energy access, security and independence.
“At the same time, the large-scale deployment of variable sources of renewable energy such as solar PV and wind, is fostering greater cross-border energy trade and cooperation between nations,” continued Mr. Amin. “Understanding these changing dynamics in a way that informs policy makers, will be the primary goal of the commission.”
“I am delighted to chair the Global Commission on the Geopolitics of Energy Transformation, and congratulate IRENA on this timely initiative,” said Mr. Olafur Grimsson, former President of Iceland. “The geopolitical implications of energy transformation is becoming one of the most debated issues in the global energy agenda. The Commission can make an important contribution to these global discussions, on the basis of solid evidence and analysis as well as a diverse range of perspectives,” added Mr. Grimsson.
While most geopolitical analyses of energy related issues have focused on conventional fuels such as oil and gas, the Commission will review the implications of the ongoing global energy transformation underpinned by the surge in renewables and report on how it would impact the geopolitics of energy based on rigorous and credible evidence.
The Commission will be composed by twelve leaders and experts on international energy and global security issues, with particular emphasis given to ensuring diverse geographical and expert background representation. The Commission will present its report at the 9th Session of the IRENA Assembly in January 2019.
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