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Making power systems more flexible as global energy transition accelerates

MD Staff

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The global energy landscape is witnessing a rapid and disruptive change driven by an unprecedented growth in renewables. Last year alone, a record-breaking 168 GW of renewable energy capacity were added globally – the sixth consecutive year in which additions from renewables have exceeded those from conventional sources. Today, a quarter of the world’s electricity comes from renewables.

But, the recent IPCC report has sent a clear signal and called for a scaling up of renewables both in the power and in end use sectors such as transport and buildings. This echoes IRENA’s own analysis which estimates that avoiding the worst effects of global warming will require to source 85% of global power and two-thirds of total energy supply from renewables by 2050. Around 60% of electricity would come from so called variable renewable energy (VRE) like solar and wind.

Experiences from frontrunner countries show that flexibility in the power system can help integrating solar and wind into the market.

Flexibility can be found in different parts of the power system including generation, grid, storage and end-users.

With today’s report on Power system flexibility for the energy transition and a new tool to assess the flexibility of the power system – the FlexTool – IRENA opens a new work stream that support its members in finding the most cost-effective mix of flexibility solutions. The tool has been applied jointly with IRENA members Colombia, Panama, Uruguay and Thailand to assess the flexibility of their power system based on the latest national plans.

Figure 1. Flexible Power System – Accelerated uptake of wind and solar 

Claudia Cabrera from the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Mining (MIEM) of Uruguay, who presented the Uruguayan FlexTool analysis during the 16th meeting of the IRENA Council, said: “The FlexTool can assess in an integrated manner sector coupling alternatives, which is an aspect of great importance in an electric system like the Uruguayan characterized by energy surpluses. Therefore, the IRENA FlexTool can complement the existing planning toolkit by providing additional insights on flexibility and options to further increase it.” The Uruguayan FlexTool analysis concluded that Uruguay’s power system is flexible enough to accommodate the actual and future deployment of VRE resulting from the country’s long-term generation expansion plan.

Dolf Gielen, Director of IRENA’s Innovation and Technology Center added: “The new report showcases flexibility in all parts of the energy system. Findings show that the smooth integration of variable renewable energy into power systems requires innovations. Beyond technological solutions, flexibility can be unlocked through market design, operational practices and new business models.”

Demand has a significant potential to contribute to the flexibility of the power system – from quickly responding to supply shortages to following price signals in order to consume energy when it is cheaper, and the grid does not face congestion. A central element of flexibility is sector-coupling, the coupling of energy demand for heat, fuels and mobility by using power to heat (e.g. heat pumps), power to gas (e.g. hydrogen from renewable electricity) and power to mobility. Electric vehicles for example can act as battery storage devices if regulations and technologies are aligned and provide short term storage and grid services.

For more information, see Power system flexibility for the energy transition, including an Overview for Policy Makers, IRENA Flextool Methodology (coming soon) and two case studies.

IRENA

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Urgent action needed to address growing opioid crisis

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Governments should treat the opioid epidemic as a public health crisis and improve treatment, care and support for people misusing opioids. Overdose deaths continue to rise, fuelled by an increase in prescription and over-prescription of opioids for pain management and the illicit drugs trade, according to a new OECD report.

Addressing Problematic Opioid Use in OECD Countries examines how, over the past few years, the crisis has devastated families and communities, especially in North America. It documents that deaths are also rising sharply in Sweden, Norway, Ireland, and England and Wales.

Between 2011 and 2016, in the 25 OECD countries with available data, opioid-related deaths increased by more than 20%. In Canada, for example, there were more than ten thousand opioid-related deaths between January 2016 and September 2018, with rates increasing from 8.4 per 100,000 people to 11.8 over this period. Opioid abuse has also put a growing burden on health services through hospitalisation and emergency room visits.  

“The opioid epidemic has hit the most vulnerable hardest,” said Gabriela Ramos, OECD Chief of Staff and G20 Sherpa, launching the report in Paris. “Governments need to take decisive action to stop the tragic loss of life and address the terrible social, emotional and economic costs of addiction with better treatment and health policy solutions. But the most effective policy remains prevention.”

The majority of those who die in Europe are men, accounting for 3 out of 4 deaths. However, in the United States, opioid use has been rising among pregnant women, particularly among those on low incomes. Having a mental health disorder was also associated with a two-fold greater use of prescription opioids in the US.

Prisoners too are vulnerable. The prevalence rate of opioid use disorders in Europe was less than 1% among the general public but averaged 30% in the prison population. Social and economic conditions, such as unemployment and housing, have also contributed to the epidemic.

An increase in prescription and over-prescription of opioids for pain management is among the factors driving the crisis. Governments should review industry regulations to ensure they protect people from harm as, since the late 1990s, manufacturers have consistently downplayed the problematic effect of opioids.

Doctors should improve their prescribing practices, for instance through evidence-based clinical guidelines and increased surveillance of opioid prescriptions. Governments can also regulate  marketing and financial relationships with opioid manufacturers. Coverage for long-term medication-assisted therapy, such as methadone and buprenorphine, should be expanded, in coordination with harm minimisation specialised services for infectious diseases management, such as HIV and hepatitis.

Strengthening the integration of health and social services, such as unemployment and housing support, and criminal justice systems would help improve treatment for people with Opioid Use Disorder.

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Italy should boost spending and strengthen cooperation and integration of employment services

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Italy should boost spending and cooperation at national and regional levels as part of broader efforts to help more people into work and reduce the country’s high unemployment rate, according to a new OECD report.

Strengthening Active Labour Market Policies in Italy says that the country faces greater labour market challenges than most other OECD countries. The employment rate and labour productivity are low, youth unemployment is still around 30% and the gender employment gap and long-term unemployment are decreasing only slowly.

Regional disparities are high and persistent compared to most other OECD countries. Spending on active labour market policies (0.51% of GDP) is close to the OECD average but well below the average of EU countries and levels in countries with similar unemployment rates. Moreover, active labour market policies are not well targeted to the most effective programmes and people in need, relying heavily on employment incentives. Only 2% of the budget is devoted to services that have internationally proved to be more cost-effective, such as job mediation, job placement and related services.

Public employment services play only a modest role as job brokers. Only about half of unemployed persons in Italy are registered with the public employment service (centri per l’impiego) and only half of them use these services to look for work. Access to and quality of employment services vary greatly across the country.

“To improve the performance of employment services, there is a need for further funding, boosting the local offices’ staff and their skills and modernising the IT infrastructure,” said Stefano Scarpetta, OECD Director for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs, launching the report in Rome. “The ongoing reform started by the Jobs Act and the recent additional financial allocations to the system of public employment services have the potential to improve the performance of employment services in Italy.” 

However, for the real gains to the labour market to emerge, cooperation and co-ordination should be simultaneously introduced in the system. Within the decentralised governance system, national and regional authorities need to agree on a binding framework for accountability, enabling to measure performance of employment offices according to a set of indicators and their regionally-adjusted target levels.

The funding of local offices from the state budget should be somewhat contingent not only on the number of clients to serve but also on improvements in performance indicators, thus providing incentives to improve the quality and effectiveness of services provided.

The recent introduction of the citizen income (Reddito di cittadinanza) adds further responsibilities to the system of employment services as the new benefit recipients should receive support with job-search and should be provided the necessary active measures to succeed in that. As such, improvements in the investment and performance of the system of employment services become today more critical than ever.

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Oil Market Report: Markets remaining calm

MD Staff

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The theme we identified in last month’s Report of “mixed signals” is appropriate again this month, with geopolitics and industry disruptions confusing the supply outlook, and the first change to our 2019 demand outlook for several months. The ongoing geopolitical supply concerns around Libya, Iran, and Venezuela have been joined in the past few days by the attacks on shipping off Fujairah and on two pumping stations in Saudi Arabia. At the time of writing, there is no disruption to oil supplies and prices are little changed. The IEA is monitoring the situation, particularly in view of the proximity of Fujairah to the strategically vital Strait of Hormuz. We are also monitoring the impact of the contamination of Russian crude oil passing through the 1.4 mb/d Druzhba pipeline system. The issue will be resolved in due course, eased by commercial and government stock draws by Russia’s customers. One consequence could be a loss of confidence in the quality of the crude flows and thus a search, where feasible, for alternative supplies that could intensify price pressures for heavy/medium sour crude oil.

Despite the difficult geopolitical backdrop and other supply problems, headline oil prices are little changed from a month ago at just above $70/bbl for Brent. In the intervening period, the decision by the United States to cease the waiver programme for buyers of Iran’s crude oil did see Brent briefly reach $75/bbl. However, there have been clear and, in the IEA’s view, very welcome signals from other producers that they will step in to replace Iran’s barrels, albeit gradually in response to requests from customers. There is certainly scope for other producers to step up production with our data showing that in April parties to the Vienna Agreement collectively produced 440 kb/d less than they promised, with Saudi Arabia producing 500 kb/d below its allocation. Of course, as we wrote in the February edition of this Report, there are quality issues for refiners used to processing Iranian barrels and the fact that increases in output come at the cost of reducing the global spare capacity cushion.

In this Report, there is a modest offset to supply worries from the demand side. Our headline growth estimate for 2019 has changed little since the middle of last year, but this month we cut it by 90 kb/d to a still healthy 1.3 mb/d. The reduction is mainly concentrated in 1Q19 on weaker than expected data for Brazil, China, Japan, Korea, Nigeria, and elsewhere lowering growth by 410 kb/d versus our last Report. Even so, slower demand growth is likely to be short-lived, as we believe that the pace will pick up during the rest of the year. An important implication of our revised demand data is that in 1Q19 the oil market saw an implied surplus of supply over demand of 0.7 mb/d, which was higher than previously suggested. As we move through 2Q19, while there is considerable uncertainty on the supply side, it is highly likely that the implied balance will flip into an indicative deficit of about the same size. Stocks in the OECD at the start of April have fallen back to the level seen in July in terms of days of forward cover and other stock indicators are pointing in the same direction.

For now, despite all the supply uncertainty, headline Brent oil prices are little changed from a month ago. However, the backwardation has steepened considerably and front month prices are about $3/bbl higher than for six months out. The decline of 230 kb/d in the North Sea loading programme for June versus May, although not a surprise, is another important factor adding to overall concerns about supply. Elsewhere, contract prices are rising sharply with Asian customers paying significantly more for barrels from Middle East sources as they seek to replace their normal supplies of Iranian crude. Basrah Light, for example, was reported as offered at its highest level for nearly eight years.

The IEA is reassured to see that the challenges posed by the supply uncertainties are being managed and we hope that major players will continue to work to ensure market stability.

IEA

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