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Onshore Wind Power Now as Affordable as Any Other Source, Solar to Halve by 2020

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The cost of generating power from onshore wind has fallen by around a quarter since 2010, with solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity costs falling by 73 per cent in that time, according to new cost analysis from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). The report also highlights that solar PV costs are expected to halve by 2020. The best onshore wind and solar PV projects could be delivering electricity for an equivalent of USD 3 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), or less within the next two years.

Global weighted average costs over the last 12 months for onshore wind and solar PV now stand at USD 6 cents and USD 10 cents per kWh respectively, with recent auction results suggesting future projects will significantly undercut these averages. The report highlights that onshore wind is now routinely commissioned for USD 4 cents per kWh. The current cost spectrum for fossil fuel power generation ranges from USD 5-17 cents per kWh.

 “This new dynamic signals a significant shift in the energy paradigm,” said Adnan Z. Amin, IRENA Director-General. “These cost declines across technologies are unprecendented and representative of the degree to which renewable energy is disrupting the global energy system.” 

Released on the first day of IRENA’s Eighth Assembly in Abu Dhabi, ‘Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2017’ highlights that other forms of renewable power generation, such as bioenergy, geothermal and hydropower projects in the last 12 months have competed head-to-head on costs, with power from fossil fuels. The findings note that by 2019, the best onshore wind and solar PV projects will be delivering electricity for a USD 3 cents per kWh, significantly below the current cost of power from fossil fuels.

Competitive procurement practices together with the emergence of a large base of experienced medium-to-large project developers competing for global market opportunities, are cited as new drivers of recent cost reductions, in addition to continued technology advancements.

“Turning to renewables for new power generation is not simply an environmentally conscious decision, it is now – overwhelmingly – a smart economic one,” continued Mr. Amin. “Governments around the world are recognizing this potential and forging ahead with low-carbon economic agendas underpinned by renewables-based energy systems. We expect the transition to gather further momentum, supporting jobs, growth, improved health, national resilience and climate mitigation around the world in 2018 and beyond.”  

The report also highlights that auction results are signaling that offshore wind and concentrating solar power projects commissioned in the period between 2020-22 will cost in the range of USD 6-10 cents per kWh, supporting accelerated deployment globally. IRENA projects that all renewable energy technologies will compete with fossils on price by 2020.

The report highlights that:

  • The global weighted average levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) of utility-scale solar PV has fallen by 73% between 2010 and 2017 to USD 10 cents/kWh. .
  • The average cost of electricity from onshore wind fell by 23% between 2010 and 2017. Projects are now routinely commissioned at USD 4 cents/kWh and the global weighted average is around USD 6 cents/kWh.
  • By 2019, the best onshore wind and solar PV projects will be delivering electricity for an equivalent of USD 3 cents/kWh, or less. New bioenergy and geothermal projects commissioned in 2017 had global weighted average costs of around USD 7 cents/kWh.
  • Record low prices for solar PV in Abu Dhabi, Chile, Dubai, Mexico, Peru and Saudi Arabia have made USD 3 cents kWh (and below) the new benchmark.
  • By 2020, project and auction data suggest that all currently commercialised renewable power generation technologies will be competing, and even undercutting, fossil fuels by generating in the range USD 3-10 cents/kWh range.

The report was launched during the eighth IRENA Assembly, which welcomes more than 1,100 representatives of governments from 150 countries. As the world’s principal platform for international cooperation on renewable energy, the Assembly provides strategic guidance to the work of the Agency for the next four years and positions it to play a key role in driving the global energy transformation. See the report’s Executive Summary and the full report.

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Renewables and Improved Cooling Technologies Key to Reducing India’s Water Use

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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.

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Going Long Term: US Nuclear Power Plants Could Extend Operating Life to 80 Years

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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.

Source: International Atomic Energy Agency

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New Global Commission to Examine Geopolitics of Energy Transformation

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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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