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Building innovation networks to transform the energy landscape

MD Staff

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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.

Leading-edge innovations

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)

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Energy

Better information needed to improve gender diversity in the clean-energy sector

MD Staff

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Participants and organizers at the recent gender diversity workshop in Rome. photo: IEA

Recognizing that the energy sector lags when it comes to gender diversity, the Italian Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) brought together over 80 experts from governments, industry, academia and other organisations for a day-long workshop last week to discuss ways to improve data on women’s participation in the clean-energy sector.

Only limited data on the participation of women in the energy sector is currently available – data that will be critical to building a better understanding of how to make the sector more gender balanced. Without better information, reaching the goal of gender equality by 2030, set under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 5), will be impossible to reach.

Participants shared experiences on data collection and methods of assessment to analyse gender diversity as well as employment opportunities offered to women by the clean energy transition. The workshop was held under the Clean Energy Education and Empowerment Technology Collaboration Programme (also known as the C3E TCP), which seeks to promote higher participation of women in the clean-energy sector.

“The extraordinary and recognised capacity of women to handle complex and multivariable contexts, their openness to innovation and their responsiveness to environmental issues constitute an important asset for the energy transition” said Massimo Gaiani, Director General for Global Affairs of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

Four key messages emerged from the discussions:

1)    Participants recognised the importance of collecting more detailed gender disaggregated data, but stressed the need to clearly define what information was needed and why;

2)    Quantitative data should be supplemented with qualitative information to identify key barriers for women pursuing careers in the energy sector and to develop more targeted solutions to overcoming these challenges;

3)    While comprehensive data is limited, a significant number of national and international efforts to collect information and promote gender already exist and there is opportunity for the Clean Energy Education and Empowerment Technology Collaboration Programme (C3E TCP) to collaborate with other leading institutions working on gender diversity to help build and disseminate knowledge;

4)    Finally, the increased engagement of men to promote and support women’s advancement into leadership roles is critical in meeting gender equity and should be fostered.

The meeting also included a dialogue with leading Italian energy companies on a proposal to adopt a common pledge to take action and commitments to achieve gender equality by 2030 (SDG 5). Led by Sweden and Canada with support from the IEA, this new campaign will be launched at a side event to take place at the next Clean Energy Ministerial meeting in Copenhagen on 24 May.

Companies recognised the valuable role that women play in driving innovation and sustainability. Francesca Magliulo, Head of Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility of EDISON S.p.A Italy said, “Edison supports this initiative, our experience shows that inclusion and gender diversity creates new capacity to offer innovative solutions to new markets and new customer communities.”

Participants also confirmed that the current momentum to advance and accelerate progress on gender equality represents a tremendous opportunity. While the workshop focused on building knowledge and improving data, Elisabeth Marawba of the Department of Energy of South Africa stressed that “we also need to pay attention to the empowerment of women as business-owners and investors and not just focus on the employment aspects of women in clean energy.”

The C3E TCP and IEA will work together to expand data and indicators as well as undertake analysis to help fill the knowledge gap on gender diversity and women’s empowerment in the energy sector.

Find out more about the C3E TCP programme 

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Access to Energy is at the Heart of Development

MD Staff

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One billion people – mostly concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia – live their daily lives without electricity. This represents a fundamental barrier to progress for a sizeable proportion of the world’s population, and has impacts on a wide range of development indicators, including health, education, food security, gender equality, livelihoods, and poverty reduction.

The number of people gaining access to electricity has been accelerating since 2010 to around 118 million each year, but these efforts will need to accelerate if the world is going to meet Sustainable Development Goal 7 – ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030.

Why is reaching universal access still a challenge? Those remaining without service are either remote, or poor, or both. In urban areas it is poor communities that remain unserved. These should be easy to reach, although the informal settlements where many of these poor reside can be difficult to serve with permanent infrastructure. For remote households, extending the main grid can be prohibitively expensive. Even using off-grid systems to serve these disbursed populations can be financially challenging.

Lack of sufficient power generation capacity, poor transmission and distribution infrastructure, high costs of supply to remote areas, or simply a lack of affordability for electricity, are among the biggest hurdles for extending grid-based electricity.

For off-grid electrification, including mini grids, the biggest challenges are poor policies, inadequate regulations, lack of planning and institutional support, lack of financing for off-grid entrepreneurs, and affordability for poorer households.

Positive stories

A number of countries have made clear progress on expanding electricity access in recent years – and there are common factors among this group. These include sustained political commitment and financing, enabling policies and incentives, strong institutions, and the right balance of grid and off-grid.

Successful countries have also balanced the objective of the financial viability of electricity suppliers with the need to keep consumer prices affordable, for example through strategic and targeted use of public funding. Applying these fundamentals can take different forms, depending on the local conditions.

Bangladesh, for example, has used both privately-delivered off-grid solar home systems and publicly supported extension of the main grid through its rural cooperative program to increase the proportion of the population with electricity from 32% to 62% between 2000 and 2014

Vietnam and Ghana, among other countries, have focused much more heavily on grid extension. China and India have also made excellent progress using a mix of technologies and business models, both on and off-grid.

In Kenya, for example, 700,000 home solar systems were installed on the pay-as-you go purchase model, which is a flexible payment plan that makes electricity accessible to more people. Pay-as-you-go models have become increasingly attractive in many markets, expanding rapidly across Africa. One of the biggest advantages of this system is that people can pay in installments.

The World Bank has a long track record of helping developing countries expand access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy. It is doing so through supporting grid investments and helping to develop off-grid markets, for example, through programs such as Lighting Global. Since 2010, the Bank has provided more than $5 billion for energy access in over 35 countries through some 70 projects.

Last-mile connections

Last-mile access – getting electricity to people’s homes, local businesses and public facilities – is an important focus for the Bank, especially in Africa and South Asia. Over the last six years the World Bank’s portfolio has included 28 last-mile access projects, 25 of which have included off-grid support.

The Ethiopia Electrification Program – a $375 million IDA credit – will support the Ethiopia’s National Electrification Plan launched in 2017. The Plan will dramatically shift efforts towards last-mile service delivery. It will provide one million last-mile household connections and the initial priority will be access to reliable electricity services for education and health facilities. Only 24% of primary schools and 30% of health centers currently have access to electricity services.

In Bangladesh, the World Bank helped deploy 1.4 million solar home systems. More than 18.5 million people in rural areas now have reliable access to solar-powered electricity.

An important element of the Bank’s strategy is to leverage its efforts with development partners and the private sector by means of financial instruments along with sector and institutional reforms that promote commercial grid and off-grid operations and attract private investment.

In Tanzania, for example, Bank-supported projects have helped create the Rural Electrification Agency and associated Rural Electrification Fund, which are promoting this agenda throughout the country.

Lower costs, increased efficiency

The World Bank also continues to produce ground-breaking research to address energy challenges. For example, a series of Multi-Tier Framework (MTF) surveys is providing new and deeper insights into the level and quality of access through both grid and off-grid systems, as well as in unserved areas.

With innovative solutions and modern technologies available, now is the time to be hopeful about achieving universal access. Plummeting costs for renewable energy and storage technologies, along with increasing efficiency of end use equipment and appliances, offer tremendous opportunity to deliver more service with a lower energy investment.

Additionally, new technology-enabled business models, such as pay-as-you-go solar, offer great opportunities for private sector-driven off-grid electrification, as long as countries can create the right investment environment.

World Bank

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Energy

Introduction of Nuclear Power in Bangladesh Underway with IAEA Assistance

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Construction of Bangladesh's first nuclear power plant began on 30 November 2017. (Photo: Arkady Sukhonin/Rosatom)

The beginning of construction at Bangladesh’s first nuclear power reactor on 30 November 2017 marked a significant milestone in the decade-long process to bring the benefits of nuclear energy to the world’s eighth most populous country. The IAEA has been supporting Bangladesh on its way to becoming the third ‘newcomer’ country to nuclear power in 30 years, following the United Arab Emirates in 2012 and Belarus in 2013.

Bangladesh is in the process of implementing an ambitious, multifaceted development programme to become a middle-income country by 2021 and a developed country by 2041. Vastly increased electricity production, with the goal of connecting 2.7 million more homes to the grid by 2021, is a cornerstone of this push for development, and nuclear energy will play a key role in this area, said Mohammad Shawkat Akbar, Managing Director of Nuclear Power Plant Company Bangladesh Limited. Bangladesh is also working to diversify its energy supply to enhance energy security, reduce its dependence on imports and on its limited domestic resources, he added.

“Bangladesh is introducing nuclear energy as a safe, environmentally friendly and economically viable source of electricity generation,” said Akbar.  The plant in Rooppur, 160 kilometres north-west of Dhaka, will consist of two units, with a combined power capacity of 2400 MW(e). It is being built by a subsidiary of Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation ROSATOM. The first unit is scheduled to come online in 2023 and the second in 2024.  “This project will enhance the development of the social, economic, scientific and technological potential of the country,” Akbar said.

The country’s goal of increased electricity production via nuclear energy will soon be a reality, Akbar said. “For 60 years, Bangladesh has had a dream of building its own nuclear power plant. The Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant will provide not only a stable baseload of electricity, but it will enhance our knowledge and allow us to increase our economic efficiency.”

Milestones for nuclear

Bangladesh is among around 30 countries that are considering, planning or starting the introduction of nuclear power. The IAEA assists them in developing their programmes through the Milestones Approach — a methodology that provides guidance on working towards the establishment of nuclear power in a newcomer country, including the associated infrastructure. It focuses on pointing out gaps, if any, in countries’ progress towards the introduction of nuclear power.

The IAEA has been supporting Bangladesh in developing its nuclear power infrastructure, including in establishing a regulatory framework and developing a radioactive waste-management system. This support has been delivered under the IAEA technical cooperation programme and is partially funded through the Peaceful Uses Initiative.

Nuclear infrastructure is multifaceted, containing governmental, legal, regulatory and managerial components, in addition to the physical infrastructure. The Milestones Approach consists of three phases, with a milestone to be reached at the end of each.

The first phase involves considerations before a decision is taken to start a nuclear power programme and concludes with the official commitment to the programme. The second phase entails preparatory work for the contracting and construction of a nuclear power plant, ending with the commencement of bids or contract negotiations for the construction. The final phase includes activities to implement the nuclear power plant, such as the final investment decision, contracting and construction. The duration of these phases varies by country, but they typically take between 10 and 15 years.

“The IAEA Milestones Approach is a guiding document and the Integrated Work Plan (IWP) is the important means of bringing all of the stakeholders in Bangladesh together to ensure the fulfilment of all safety, security, and safeguards requirements of the Rooppur NPP project,” said Akbar. “This IWP enabled Bangladesh to develop a holistic approach to implementing IAEA guidance as well as cooperating with national stakeholders and other bilateral partners towards the development of a national nuclear power programme.”

INIR Mission

The Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) is a holistic peer review to assist Member States in assessing the status of their national infrastructure for introducing nuclear power. The IAEA completed its first INIR mission to Bangladesh in November 2011, making recommendations on how to develop a plan to establish the nuclear infrastructure. Nearly five years later, in May 2016, a follow-up mission was conducted, which noted the progress made — Bangladesh had established a nuclear regulatory body, had chosen a site for the power plant and had completed site characterization and environmental impact assessment.

“The IAEA and other bodies, including those from experienced countries, can and do provide support, but the responsibility for safety and security will lie with the Government,” said Dohee Hahn, Director of the IAEA’s Division of Nuclear Power, at the ceremony for the pouring of the first nuclear safety-related concrete at Rooppur on 30 November 2017. “The IAEA stands ready to continue supporting Bangladesh in developing a safe, secure, peaceful and sustainable nuclear power programme.”

This article was featured in the IAEA Bulletin, March 2018.

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