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Deployment to the future

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has just released “Deploying Renewables 2011.” What does this mean for the sector and for the future in general? Giles Crosse finds out.

There are many difficulties involved in deploying renewables effectively to mitigate global climate change. The IEA now estimates that renewables are now the fastest-growing sector of the energy mix, and offer great potential to address issues of energy security and sustainability, but their rapid deployment is also bringing a host of challenges.

“Deploying Renewables 2011” seeks to provide guidance for policy makers and other stakeholders to avoid past mistakes, overcome new challenges and reap the benefits of deploying renewables. To do this, it analyses the recent successes in renewable energy, which now accounts for almost a fifth of all electricity produced worldwide, and addresses how countries can best capitalise on that growth to realise a sustainable energy future.

Overarching best practice policy principles identified within ‘Deploying Renewables 2011’

• Provide a predictable and transparent RE policy framework, integrating RE policy into an overall energy strategy, taking a portfolio approach by focusing on technologies that will best meet policy needs in the short and long term, and backing the policy package with ambitious and credible targets.
• Take a dynamic approach to policy implementation, differentiating according to the current maturity of each individual RE technology (rather than using a technology neutral approach), while closely monitoring national and global market trends and adjusting policies accordingly.
• Tackle non-economic barriers comprehensively, streamlining processes and procedures as far as possible.
• At an early stage, identify and address overall system integration issues (such as infrastructure and market design) that may become constraints as deployment levels rise.

IEA Executive Director, Maria van der Hoeven, said deployment of renewable energy must be stepped up, especially given the world’s increasing appetite for energy and the need to meet this demand more efficiently and with low-carbon energy sources.

“As the IEA’s analysis has shown, without an urgent and radical change of policy direction, the world will lock itself into an insecure, inefficient and high-carbon energy system,” Ms Van der Hoeven revealed.

“Renewables already play a central role in fostering sustainability and energy security, and their significance will only grow in the coming decades. Against this backdrop, ‘Deploying Renewables 2011’ provides a major review of renewable energy markets and policies at this critical juncture.”

New challenges

The IEA also argues that new challenges have come to the forefront. These include issues where the growth in renewable energy has so far focused on just a few of the available technologies, and rapid deployment is confined to a relatively small number of countries. In more advanced markets, managing support costs and system integration of large shares of renewable energy in a time of economic weakness and budget austerity has sparked vigorous political debate.

There are of course other key drivers and changes required. What, if any, legislative measures such as feed-in tariffs will be required to maintain renewables growth? “Where renewable technologies still face an economic barrier, some transitional and decreasing financial support, via feed-in-tariffs, renewable portfolio standards, tenders of fiscal incentives necessary and justified in order to recognise the environmental and energy security benefits, and to help bring down the costs for future investments,” an IEA spokesperson told IF&P.

“But even when renewables are cost competitive, deployment can be held up by other non-economic barriers such as those associated with market access, planning consents etc. It’s important to tackle such issues too, it’s the overall policy package that is important, rather than specific measures.”

Equally, are renewable technologies advanced or scaleable enough yet to meaningfully impact on climate change at a global scale? “Renewables already make a significant contribution to reducing emissions on a global scale,” said the spokesperson. “We estimate that the newer electricity producing renewable technologies are already saving around 300Mt of CO2 each year. When hydro is included this rises to 1.7Gt, equivalent to the emissions from all OECD power generation. Going forward this role is likely to rise, and in the IEA’s WEO 450 scenario renewables are the second most important route to emissions savings after energy efficiency.”

New technology remains a crucial factor in any global effort to reduce temperatures. What improvements are most needed to speed up deployment and uptake of renewables? “There is a continuing general need for cost reductions to improve the cost-competitiveness on the technologies. In addition there is a need to complete the R&D, demonstration and early deployment phase for the technologies which are on the point of being deployed at large scale, for example concentrating solar power, offshore wind, advance advanced biofuels and enhanced geothermal.”

For this to really work, many grid issues will need to be improved, to help move and shift energy from point of resource to final user, be that industrial or domestic. What has to change to get renewables moving in the right direction? “In some countries variable renewables such as wind and solar are reaching higher levels of penetration, and grid integration is becoming an issue,” responded the IEA. “In these cases countries need to assess the extent to which their power system is flexible, by looking at the scope they have through flexible generation, through opportunities to manage loads and the extent to which they are connected to other regions, and access to storage.

“Our studies show that the scope for absorbing such variable generation is often much higher than anticipated, although some early investment in infrastructure may be required due to the long associated lead times.

“At the moment wind is the fastest-growing RE power technology apart from hydro in terms of absolute growth and there is huge scope to increase deployment. The costs of the solar technologies are also decreasing rapidly, and this will open up huge opportunities for power generation, particularly in areas with high insolation levels, where much of the anticipated population growth and hence energy demand is likely to occur.”

Looking ahead

What about the overarching future itself? Where might renewables be in five or 10 years’ time, and what are the consequences of failing to achieve this? “Renewable energy supply has been growing rapidly in all three sectors, electricity, heat and transport fuels. The IEA will be producing a medium-term renewable market report in 2012, which will look at market development over a three- to five-year time horizon,” said the IEA.

“But the future challenge requires significant further acceleration in deployment rates. For example, the recent IEA WEO 450 scenario requires a four-fold increase in power generation from renewable sources other than hydro by 2020.

“The IEA believes that it’s important to act now to ensure the necessary investment on renewables and the other low carbon technologies needed to reduce global emissions. If action is delayed it will become progressively harder and more expensive to meet the global emissions levels necessary to avoid damaging climate change.”

IEA recommendations

Governments already taking steps to deploy renewables should:
• Recognise renewables as an increasingly competitive key component of a secure, low carbon and sustainable energy system, along with other low-carbon energy sources and improvements to energy efficiency.
• Sustain and accelerate the momentum of deployment in all three sectors, maintaining progress in the power sector, prioritising the development of markets for renewable heat by addressing sector-specific barriers, and developing consistent sustainability frameworks for bioenergy, in particular biofuels.
• Review policy portfolios against the best-practice principles and adjust policies where necessary.
• Closely monitor deployment trends and adjust policy measures dynamically in response to national and international developments, and give particular attention to removing non-economic barriers as a main priority.
• Address the system integration of renewables at an early stage and incentivise the deployment of enabling technologies such as grid expansion, storage and adaptation of the vehicle fleet.
• Tackle the overall market design issues needed to ensure investment in the technology portfolio required to deliver secure and low carbon energy.
• Continue the support for targeted R&D, particularly demonstration projects necessary to enable the next generation of RE technologies to reach the deployment stage.

Governments not yet committed to large-scale RE deployment should:
• Re-evaluate, in light of dramatic recent cost reductions, the opportunity of RE technologies to provide affordable, safe and clean energy, particularly the potential of RE technologies to help meet rising energy demand.
• Increase the penetration of renewables by stimulating deployment as part of a strategy to develop a sustainable low-carbon energy system, taking advantage of the technology progress and policy experience now available.
More broadly governments and international organisations should:
• Use existing international mechanisms, such as those provided by the Clean Energy Ministerial and G20 for concerted efforts to develop a broad range of renewable energy technologies and to cooperate to bring the next-generation technologies into and through the market inception phases.
• Cooperate to allow tracking and monitoring of rates of deployment and share policy experience to allow refinement and dissemination of best practice in policy development.
• Reap the benefits of cooperating internationally between countries that are very rich in resources and those that can provide funds to develop resources (making sure that sustainable growth is stimulated in host countries, rather than perpetuating dependency).
• Provide support for capacity building and transfer of best practice in policy development to countries starting to develop their RE resources.
• Assist in the mobilisation of the finance necessary for deploying the RE technologies, particularly in emerging and developing countries by giving priority to the sector in the plans of multilateral and development banks.

There is wider global pressure to hasten the uptake of renewables. The Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will meet in Durban for the 17th time to advance critical negotiations on an agreement to supersede the Kyoto Protocol and ensure a legally-binding commitment to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

This might have big repercussions for global renewables. The Green Climate Fund agreed to in Cancun is expected to be established in Durban, including its governance bodies, financial instruments, funding windows and modalities for access. Having the Green Climate Fund operational is of critical importance for developing countries, as it will provide support to mitigation and adaptation actions undertaken by these countries, as well as supporting technology transfer and capacity building.

Often, developing countries have wide access to renewables resources like the sun, but face challenging political frameworks which can slow investment and confidence in terms of infrastructure building.

And there is continuing industry development. Mitsubishi Power Systems Europe (MPSE) is to unveil the blueprint of its new offshore wind turbine, which could be the world’s largest when manufactured.

The SeaAngel turbine, featuring hydraulic technology developed in Scotland, will have a minimum generating capacity of 7MW and a rotor diameter of over 165m. The outline architecture of the turbine will be unveiled at the EWEA Offshore Wind conference in Amsterdam next week. Initial prototype testing will begin next year, with full-scale prototype testing expected to take place in the UK in 2013.

MPSE last year (December 2010) announced an investment of up to GBP100m in Scotland over five years, including the acquisition of Artemis Intelligent Power (AIP) and plans to establish the MPSE Centre for Advanced Technology (MCAT).

MPSE Chief Executive Officer Akio Fukui said: “The successful development of SeaAngel, which will be unique in both size and technology, will play an important role in helping to maintain and enhance the UK’s preeminent global position in the offshore wind sector.”

Dr Win Rampen, managing director of AIP, said, “This marks a significant step forward for offshore wind technology, with the breadth and depth of MHI expertise and skills combined with AIP’s pioneering hydraulic technology producing exciting initial results.

“Less than one year after announcing our plans to develop the biggest highly-innovative offshore turbine, we’ve successfully demonstrated the technology and are set to take SeaAngel to the next level with further testing in 2012.”

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