As coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) continues to sweep the globe, putting hundreds of thousands of lives at risk and threatening to collapse economies, one of the only silver linings has been the current benefits to the environment.
As countries try to contain viral spread by restricting travel and social interaction, cities have seen all-time lows in air pollution levels and researchers are reporting the sharpest decline in greenhouse gas emissions since records began.
With the lockdown measures imposed on billions across the world bringing a halt to “business as usual,” an associated estimated fall in global energy demand of 6% has meant this year’s carbon emissions are set to decline by around 8%.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) says the demand for renewables is expected to surge, as social distancing and lockdown measures taken in almost every country propel a shift towards more reliable and cleaner sources of energy such as wind, hydropower and solar photovoltaic (solar PV; where solar light energy is converted into electrical energy).
Fast-Forwarding Renewable Systems 10 years into the Future
Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the IEA, said:
“The recent drop in electricity demand fast-forwarded some power systems 10 years into the future, suddenly giving them levels of wind and solar power they wouldn’t have had otherwise without another decade of investment in renewables.”
In China, the world’s largest consumer of electricity, factory shutdowns and the associated reduction in the use of industrial electricity means 2020 will likely see a cut in energy consumption equivalent to the amount of power used across the whole of Chile.
In European countries such as the UK, Spain and Italy, where offices, factories, bars, restaurants and theaters remain closed, energy use has fallen by an average of 10%.
Fossil fuel sources have been the most affected by reduced demand, with coal, for example, becoming the most expensive energy source, while cleaner, renewable sources have become increasingly more affordable.
In April 2020, for example, Austria and Sweden announced the closure of their last remaining coal-fired plants. On 29th April, the UK’s grid operator declared that the country had not used coal for around 18 days straight, which has not been done since the Industrial Revolution.
Birol said: “The plunge in demand for nearly all major fuels is staggering, especially for coal, oil and gas.”
Natural resources and energy consulting company, Wood Mackenzie, says COVID-19 is now threatening as much as $210 billion of planned investment in oil and gas.
This backtrack in investment will eventually lead to the recovery of gas and oil prices as supply decreases over time, but it could also have a knock-on effect for renewables, providing this sector with a valuable window of opportunity to gain a stronger foothold in the market.
Renewable energy sources have been given a boost, with overall demand expected to grow by 1% this year and particularly the need for renewable electricity, which is expected to increase by 5%.
“COVID-19 is a terrible thing, but it doesn’t impact how much the sun shines or the wind blows,” says Simon Eaves, managing director of asset management company, Capital Dynamics. “Renewable energy is clearly robust in this market.”
Eaves, who manages over $6.4bn in clean energy assets, says plans are soon going ahead to buy a solar-powered farm in Spain that will supply almost 30,000 households.
Emphasizing how cost-effective renewables have become, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, recently announced an unprecedented low-cost solar installation that will generate as much energy as a nuclear reactor.
The wind and solar sectors have not entirely avoided the impact of COVID-19. The completion of various clean energy construction projects is being delayed by disrupted supply chains and the risk posed by specific government incentives ending this year.
COVID-19 Presents both an Opportunity and a Threat in the Renewables Sector
The reduced global energy demand resulting from COVID-19-related lockdown measures has opened opportunities for the renewables sector to accelerate and strengthen its position in the energy industry. At the same time, the crisis has threatened the supply chains, people-to-people interactions and financial incentives that are imperative to the sector’s expansion.
Governments and companies introducing the policies and financial incentives required to support clean energy projects and technologies could maintain the momentum of the renewables sector. They could play a significant role in contributing to economic recovery from the crisis, while simultaneously securing a more reliable, clean energy future that will increase the world’s chances of meeting climate change targets.
The EU is on track to achieve between 22.8% to 23.1% renewables in gross final energy consumption in 2020 as the continent experiences a “clear paradigm shift” towards solar and wind.
That’s according to the European Commission (EC), which this week released a series of reports detailing the bloc’s progress towards its goal of becoming the first carbon-neutral continent by 2050.
The EC notes that the projected share of renewables has increased due to the impact of COVID-19 on energy demand, but these may not be sustained once economic activity is fully recovered.
While many individual EU member states are expected to outperform their climate targets, five are said to be at risk of not meeting objectives: Belgium, France, Poland, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
Looking towards 2030, the EU’s renewable energy share is expected to be as high as 33.7%, with green energy use forecasted to accelerate in the latter half of the decade.
“It is very positive to witness the progress that Europe has made, and will continue making, in reaching its energy and climate goals,” said Walburga Hemetsberger, CEO of SolarPower Europe. “Solar has seen the largest cost reductions of any renewable technology, major efficiency gains and innovations, such as floating solar and agri-PV.
Driven by capital costs reductions, advances in efficiency and competitive tendering for support schemes, solar and wind’s cumulative capacity in the EU reached 261GW as of 2018.
In the context of the COVID-19 recovery, the EC says Europe faces a “unique opportunity” for investments that can support economic growth while accelerating the green transition. “Relaunching our economies on any other path, which would result in lock-in into unsustainable practices, is simply not an option,” the report says.
PV manufacturing potential
Given the projected expansion of PV capacity across the EU and globally, Europe should have a “sizeable role” in the value chain and explore the growth of solar manufacturing, the EC said.
While EU companies are competitive mainly in the downstream part of the value chain – such balance of system – the bloc has “fallen back dramatically” in the manufacture of PV cells and modules, the report says, adding that the EU accounts for just 12.8% of the global production value of PV panels.
According to the EC, research institutes, a skilled labour force and emerging industry players provide a basis for re-establishing a strong European photovoltaic supply chain with a global outreach. A sizeable EU PV manufacturing industry “would also reduce the risk of supply disruptions and quality risks”, the report says.
Similar proposals were put forward earlier this week by consulting firm Capgemini Group, which is calling for the EU to ramp-up bifacial module production to help the continent reach zero.
Professors from Heriot-Watt University’s International Centre for Island Technology Talk about Multi Use of Space in Orkney. Orkney is a relatively small chain of islands, there are bout 70 of them. Like all coastal communities, it is defined by the sea around it. The waters of Europe are straining from cumulative impacts of population, coastal development and the urgent pressures of maintaining a constant supply of food and energy. The EU’s blue-growth policy recognizes that critical dependence on healthy oceans with tools like maritime spatial planning to support the cycle of the blue economy.
Dr Tim Noble says that marine activities such as tourism, fishing, oil, gas exploitation and renewable energy affect the marine space. The idea is to put those activities together in Multi-Use Platforms to save marine space. It also enables operators to share cost and infrastructure. Island communities often struggle for resources but Orkney is especially affected by the weather. On the other hand, there is a lot of energy potential such as wave, wind, tidal streams. They are working in very hazardous waters so they needed to learn how to safely work in this environment and are hoping to transfer this knowledge to other similar communities.
About the partner
Heriot-Watt University is a public research university based in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was established in 1821 as the School of Arts of Edinburgh, the world’s first mechanics’ institute, and subsequently granted university status by royal charter in 1966. It is the eighth oldest higher education institute in UK. The name Heriot-Watt was taken from Scottish inventor James Watt and Scottish philanthropist and goldsmith George Heriot. Known for its focus on science and engineering, it is one of the 39 old universities in the UK comprising the distinctive second cluster of elite universities after Oxbridge.
Last week MUSICA project organised the public engagement sessions (October 14, 2020) on developing a unique Multi-Use Platform on Oinousses that will generate electricity from the wind, waves and sun to boost local energy supply, and also produce desalinated water.
During the visit to Greece and the islands of Oinousses and Chios, after successfully organised workshops, prof. dr. Gordon Dalton, coordinator of MUSICA Project along with prof. dr. Nikitas Nikitakos visited the rector of the University of the Aegean, professor Chryssi Vitsilaki, in Lesvos, last Friday (October 16, 2020).
Dr. Dalton presented that the innovative MUSICA Project team is developing a ‘Multi-Use Platform’ that will generate electricity, produce enough desalinated water to meet the daily needs of the island and establish a fish farm.
“The Multi-Use Platform makes use of available energy resources; offers related job opportunities, and saves costs by combining activities in one space-efficient package”, said Dr. Dalton.
Prof. Chryssi Vitsilaki expressed that she is extremely proud that the University of the Aegean is a partner in the MUSICA project.
“This is one of the biggest infrastructure projects and it is extremely important to the local stakeholder community and the future economy”, explained prof. Vitsilaki.
Discussion continued about the two other Horizon2020 projects that Dr. Dalton also coordinates, RRING and GRRIP Project. “RRING (Responsible Research and Innovation Networked Globally) project seeks to make research and innovation systems everywhere more responsible, inclusive, efficient and responsive as an integral part of society and economy, and GRRIP is working on embedding sustainable Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI practices) in the marine and maritime research organisations to achieve institutional and cultural change”, explained prof. dr. Dalton.
Since she promoted gender equality and RRI in the university for over a decade, prof. Chryssi Vitsilaki had a great interest in these projects.
“I would be very keen for future collaboration projects between the coordinator from University College Cork, University of the Aegean and MUSICA partners”, concluded prof. Chryssi Vitsilaki at the end of the meeting.
Neodyne has a large role in the design and development of the MUSICA platform. Peter from Neodyne explains deatils about their task of combining all the systems into one.
MUP holds Wind Turbines that are using their blades to capture wind force. They are made of very light and resilient materials and this is why they can produce energy at very low wind speeds. The blades are connected to a generator that converts wind’s kinetic energy to electricity. Further, there is a transformer that converts electricity into a usuable voltage. The sun emits energy in the forms of waves in length from short ultraviolet to long infrared waves. When the sun is shining the waves hit the surface of the solar cells. Some waves pass through the cells and some are reflected back. But a significant portion of waves are absorbed which in turn current flow. Solar cell produces just a couple of wats but combaining hundreds produce signifcant power output. The aquaculture unit is an autnomous fish farm which has an scheduled feeding process and monitoring system that ensures that fish are healthy. Desalination plant will produce fresh portable water using renewable energy. It puts sea water through the water to remove the salt.
About the partner
NeoDyne Ltd. is an Irish company founded in 1998 employing over 100 automation, electrical, instrument, business systems and validation engineers and specialists. Our business is structured as three specialisations, namely: System Integration, Power Generation & Utilities, Transmission & Distribution They supply the Pharmaceutical, Food, Beverage, Natural Gas, Oil, Electricity and Mining industries. Our key markets are for robust applications requiring innovation, very high reliability, long life and specialised know-how involving critical utilities with zero interruption tolerance. This company offers Control, Automation, Industrial Plant Information and Electrical Engineering solutions, services and systems integration. Our team is experienced in PLC, SCADA, Failsafe and Fault-tolerant PLC, DCS, BMS, Safety Systems, Industrial Data Processing, Fermenters, Chromatography Purification Systems, Sterilisers, Sterile Filling Lines, Lyophilisers, Validation, Compliance, Communications, Medium and Low Voltage, Standby and CoGen Power Generation, Gas Turbines, Diesels, Boilers, Burner Management, Natural Gas Transmission and Distribution, ESD, Fire & Gas, Fire Alarms, Fire and Explosion Suppression, Fiscal Metering of Gas and Electricity, Cathodic Protection, ATEX Compliance, Cooling Towers and Refrigeration, Softening, DIW and WFI Water Plant, Waste Water and general industrial utilities.
In crowded seas such as those around the European Union – including, for example, the Baltic Sea, the North Sea and the Mediterranean – pressures on the environment are building and space is at a premium. One idea that has been put forward to make more efficient use of the seas and minimise the footprint of human activities is offshore platforms that combine multiple uses. n principle, platforms offer efficiencies, such as maximising the amount of energy generated from one platform if different energy generation methods are used, while minimising the amount of space taken up and saving on operational and maintenance costs.
Ayoze Castro, Innovation Manager at PLOCAN talks about it’s role in the development of the Multi-Use Platform and MUSICA project. PLOCAN was created in 2007 as a public consortium between National Government of Spain and regional Government of Canary Islands. It has been included as part of spanish netwrok of unique technical infrastructure in order to exploit certain competetive advantages of the region. The final goal is to be closer to the companies and the productive market to try to support innovation requirments rather than to produce basic research.
PLOCAN has land-based and naval(sea)-based facilities to support development in marine & maritime sectors. Main facility includes a dedicated marine test site, fixed off shore platform acting as ocean laboratory and coastal open ocean opservatory. With this main structures they offer natural services of hosting new prototypes and techonologies for conducting validation and demonstration test in real enviroinment. PLOCAN is a governmental body that facilitates and accelarates all the operations and logistics of construction and deployment of prototypes. In particular speeding up the authoritations and permits. PLOCAN offers proffesional capacities with land-based facilities, specialized training programs and robust network to ensure bilateral communication between land and sea.
About the partner
The Oceanic Platform of the Canary Islands (PLOCAN) is a Research Infrastructure (RI) labeled by the ICTS (Unique Scientific and Technological Infrastructure) Spanish National Roadmap, co-funded by the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities of the Spanish government and the Canary Islands government and by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) under the Operational Programme of the Canary Islands. PLOCAN is a multipurpose technical-scientific service infrastructure that provides support for research, technological development and innovation in the marine and maritime sectors, available to public and private users. PLOCAN offers both onshore and offshore experimental facilities and laboratories, operational throughout the whole year thanks to the Canary Islands excellent climatic conditions. PLOCAN also brings a broad experience in large national and EU marine/maritime projects.
Development in clean energy innovation is essential to accomplishing the EU’s goal-oriented objective of being carbon unbiased by 2050. To be eventually effective, the EU must adopt an all-encompassing strategy, representing social development and cooperation of all partners in the energy change. This incorporates drawing in purchasers, families and EU residents to empower changes in ways of life and practices, and starting exchanges with chiefs in legislative issues, the scholarly world and industry. This Results Pack exhibits nine EU-supported ventures that attention on the social and policy centred issues that should be routed to decarbonise the EU’s energy framework.
The European Green Deal, presented by the European Commission in December 2019, has the ambitious goal of making Europe the first climate-neutral continent. It lays out a new growth strategy to build a fair, resource-efficient and competitive economy where net emissions of greenhouse gases are reduced to zero by 2050.
The creation and utilization of energy represent more than 75 % of the EU’s ozone harming substance discharges. Decarbonising the EU’s energy framework is in this way a focal mainstay of the Green Deal. While the change to a spotless energy framework requires further scaling up of mechanical developments in energy, structures, transport, industry and farming areas, these new innovations and driven procedures should be grasped by residents to have the ideal effect.
Citizen focus in transition to zero-carbon economy
The European Green Deal puts individuals first, perceiving the requirement for dynamic public interest and trust in the change to make it a reality. It additionally represents the variety of nearby, provincial and public conditions and approaches that effect and shape the way to a zero-carbon economy. Notwithstanding, energy decisions are not generally discerning and are thusly hard to anticipate. More exploration is expected to comprehend the components that drive individual and aggregate energy decisions and energy-related shopper conduct, the political, social, institutional and authoritative administration structures that decide resident investment, and the changing jobs especially of buyers and ‘prosumers’ in the energy framework.
The nine EU-funded projects featured in this Results Pack focus on the interdisciplinary and cross-cutting issues that need to be investigated to decarbonise the EU’s energy system. This includes questions relating to socioeconomic, gender, sociocultural and socio-political aspects of the energy transition, as well as to educational needs of the future workforce.
Renewable energy (sources) or RES capture their energy from existing flows of energy, from on-going natural processes, such as sunshine, wind, flowing water, biological processes, and geothermal heat flows. The most common definition is that renewable energy is from an energy resource that is replaced rapidly by a natural process such as power generated from the sun or from the wind. Renewable energy resources may be used directly or used to create other more convenient forms of energy. Examples of direct use are solar ovens, geothermal heating, and windmills. Examples of indirect use which require energy harvesting are electricity generation through wind turbines or photovoltaic cells, or production of fuels such as ethanol from biomass.
Developing adequate technology in order to harvest energy from multiple energy sources is a long-lasting process that consists of many steps. Martha from SINN Power talks about their path to harvesting renewable energy. Through the years SINN Power successfully installed different generations of harbour mounted prototypes in Crete. Its generations show their advances and how prototypes have resisted Through best and worst conditions. From the third generation, a whole family of new electronics was born. This family is a solution on how to harvest energy from different renewable energy sources
Each renewable energy source has its own variability through time depending on the region. These waterproof and silk components provide optimal and secure energy into the grid. Through the requirements of for the wave energy converters, an opportunity presented itself to expand their product line to an ocean-hybrid platform. This robust platform combines experience and development for the floating energy converters with already existing renewable energy technologies. Through their work, for the last years and with the MUSICA project they learned that every location is different and all the possibilities must be considered when adapting certain technology to a new location.
About the partner
SINN Power offers energy solutions to provide people living near coasts all over the world with access to clean electricity to enable sustainable development and contribute to our planet at the same time. In 2014, Dr. Philipp Sinn founded the company SINN Power based on intense years of academic research. The main goal was and still is today, to turn the unlimited power of ocean waves into clean and cost-efficient energy that is accessible for everyone.
Last Tuesday (13/10/2020) the International Energy Agency released its annual World Energy Outlook. Over the next decade, renewables are expected to overtake coal as the most common method of generating electricity.
What To Know
In the so-called “Stated Policies Scenario,” which assumes COVID-19 is gradually brought under control next year and announced energy policies are met, solar will lead the charge forward.
A few quick-hitter statistics:
Hydro-electric plants will continue to represent the largest source of renewable energy, but solar will account for 80% of the growth in global electricity generation.
By 2030, the combined share of solar + wind will rise to 30%, up from just 8% in 2019.
The Economics: While solar has its feel-good properties, the surge in popularity comes down to dollars and cents. For utility-scale projects built this year, the average cost of electricity over the lifetime of the plant (known as the levelized cost of electricity), was between $35 to $55 per megawatt-hour in the world’s largest markets. A decade ago it was $300.
Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, said, “I see solar becoming the new king of the world’s electricity markets…based on today’s policy settings, it’s on track to set new records for deployment every year after 2022.”
Solar is throwing shade in coal’s direction. In most countries, solar panels are now a cheaper source of energy than coal or natural gas plants.
Over the last four years, 145 coal-burning units at 75 power plants have been idled in the U.S. According to Bloomberg, it’s the fastest decline in coal-fuel capacity during any four-year stretch.
The Takeaway: Overall, coal’s share of the global power supply is set to fall from 37% last year to 28% by 2030. By 2040, coal’s share will fall below 20% for the first time since the industrial revolution. The silver lining-more coal leftover for stockings.
About the Report
Amid deep disruption and uncertainty caused by the pandemic, a surge in well-designed energy policies is needed to put the world on track for a resilient energy system that can meet climate goals
It has been a tumultuous year for the global energy system. The Covid-19 crisis has caused more disruption than any other event in recent history, leaving scars that will last for years to come. But whether this upheaval ultimately helps or hinders efforts to accelerate clean energy transitions and reach international energy and climate goals will depend on how governments respond to today’s challenges.
The World Energy Outlook 2020, the International Energy Agency’s flagship publication, focuses on the pivotal period of the next 10 years, exploring different pathways out of the crisis. The new report provides the latest IEA analysis of the pandemic’s impact: global energy demand is set to drop by 5% in 2020, energy-related CO2 emissions by 7%, and energy investment by 18%. The WEO’s established approach – comparing different scenarios that show how the energy sector could develop – is more valuable than ever in these uncertain times. The four pathways presented in this WEO are described in more detail at the end of this press release.
In the Stated Policies Scenario, which reflects today’s announced policy intentions and targets, global energy demand rebounds to its pre-crisis level in early 2023. However, this does not happen until 2025 in the event of a prolonged pandemic and deeper slump, as shown in the Delayed Recovery Scenario. Slower demand growth lowers the outlook for oil and gas prices compared with pre-crisis trends. But large falls in investment increase the risk of future market volatility.
Renewables take starring roles in all our scenarios, with solar centre stage. Supportive policies and maturing technologies are enabling very cheap access to capital in leading markets. Solar PV is now consistently cheaper than new coal- or gas-fired power plants in most countries, and solar projects now offer some of the lowest cost electricity ever seen. In the Stated Policies Scenario, renewables meet 80% of global electricity demand growth over the next decade. Hydropower remains the largest renewable source, but solar is the main source of growth, followed by onshore and offshore wind.
“I see solar becoming the new king of the world’s electricity markets. Based on today’s policy settings, it is on track to set new records for deployment every year after 2022,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director. “If governments and investors step up their clean energy efforts in line with our Sustainable Development Scenario, the growth of both solar and wind would be even more spectacular – and hugely encouraging for overcoming the world’s climate challenge.”
The WEO-2020 shows that strong growth of renewables needs to be paired with robust investment in electricity grids. Without enough investment, grids will prove to be a weak link in the transformation of the power sector, with implications for the reliability and security of electricity supply.
Fossil fuels face varying challenges. Coal demand does not return to pre-crisis levels in the Stated Policies Scenario, with its share in the 2040 energy mix falling below 20% for the first time since the Industrial Revolution. But demand for natural gas grows significantly, mainly in Asia, while oil remains vulnerable to the major economic uncertainties resulting from the pandemic.
“The era of global oil demand growth will come to an end in the next decade,” Dr Birol said. “But without a large shift in government policies, there is no sign of a rapid decline. Based on today’s policy settings, a global economic rebound would soon push oil demand back to pre-crisis levels.”
The worst effects of the crisis are felt among the most vulnerable. The pandemic has reversed several years of declines in the number of people in Sub-Saharan Africa without access to electricity. And a rise in poverty levels may have made basic electricity services unaffordable for more than 100 million people worldwide who had electricity connections.
Global emissions are set to bounce back more slowly than after the financial crisis of 2008-2009, but the world is still a long way from a sustainable recovery. A step-change in clean energy investment offers a way to boost economic growth, create jobs and reduce emissions. This approach has not yet featured prominently in plans proposed to date, except in the European Union, the United Kingdom, Canada, Korea, New Zealand and a handful of other countries.
In the Sustainable Development Scenario, which shows how to put the world on track to achieving sustainable energy objectives in full, the complete implementation of the IEA Sustainable Recovery Plan moves the global energy economy onto a different post-crisis path. As well as rapid growth of solar, wind and energy efficiency technologies, the next 10 years would see a major scaling up of hydrogen and carbon capture, utilisation and storage, and new momentum behind nuclear power.
“Despite a record drop in global emissions this year, the world is far from doing enough to put them into decisive decline. The economic downturn has temporarily suppressed emissions, but low economic growth is not a low-emissions strategy – it is a strategy that would only serve to further impoverish the world’s most vulnerable populations,” said Dr Birol. “Only faster structural changes to the way we produce and consume energy can break the emissions trend for good. Governments have the capacity and the responsibility to take decisive actions to accelerate clean energy transitions and put the world on a path to reaching our climate goals, including net-zero emissions.”
A significant part of those efforts would have to focus on reducing emissions from existing energy infrastructure – such as coal plants, steel mills and cement factories. Otherwise, international climate goals will be pushed out of reach, regardless of actions in other areas. Detailed new analysis in the WEO-2020 shows that if today’s energy infrastructure continues to operate in the same way as it has done so far, it would already lock in a temperature rise of 1.65 °C.
Despite such major challenges, the vision of a net-zero emissions world is increasingly coming into focus. The ambitious pathway mapped out in the Sustainable Development Scenario relies on countries and companies hitting their announced net-zero emissions targets on time and in full, bringing the entire world to net zero by 2070.
Reaching that point two decades earlier, as in the new Net Zero Emissions by 2050 case, would demand a set of dramatic additional actions over the next 10 years. Bringing about a 40% reduction in emissions by 2030 requires, for example, that low-emissions sources provide nearly 75% of global electricity generation in 2030, up from less than 40% in 2019 – and that more than 50% of passenger cars sold worldwide in 2030 are electric, up from 2.5% in 2019. Electrification, innovation, behaviour changes and massive efficiency gains would all play roles. No part of the energy economy could lag behind, as it is unlikely that another would be able to move fast enough to make up the difference.
The different pathways in the WEO-2020
The Stated Policies Scenario (STEPS), in which Covid-19 is gradually brought under control in 2021 and the global economy returns to pre-crisis levels the same year. This scenario reflects all of today’s announced policy intentions and targets, insofar as they are backed up by detailed measures for their realisation.
The Delayed Recovery Scenario (DRS) is designed with the same policy assumptions as in the STEPS, but a prolonged pandemic causes lasting damage to economic prospects. The global economy returns to its pre-crisis size only in 2023, and the pandemic ushers in a decade with the lowest rate of energy demand growth since the 1930s.
In the Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS), a surge in clean energy policies and investment puts the energy system on track to achieve sustainable energy objectives in full, including the Paris Agreement, energy access and air quality goals. The assumptions on public health and the economy are the same as in the STEPS.
The new Net Zero Emissions by 2050 case (NZE2050) extends the SDS analysis. A rising number of countries and companies are targeting net-zero emissions, typically by mid-century. All of these are achieved in the SDS, putting global emissions on track for net-zero by 2070. The NZE2050 includes the first detailed IEA modelling of what would be needed in the next ten years to put global CO2 emissions on track for net-zero by 2050.
The World Energy Outlook
The World Energy Outlook, the IEA’s flagship publication, provides a comprehensive view of how the global energy system could develop in the coming decades. This year’s exceptional circumstances require an exceptional approach. The usual long-term modeling horizons are kept but the focus for the World Energy Outlook 2020 is firmly on the next 10 years, exploring in detail the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on the energy sector, and the near-term actions that could accelerate clean energy transitions.
While some environmentalists advocate the total replacement of fossil fuels by solar, wind and battery power, Dr Lars Schernikau explains why this is impossible.
Today we hear and read about the climate crisis every day, driven by well-funded campaigns. But we hear little of the perils of switching from conventional energy to wind, solar and battery-powered vehicles. It appears that every second person has become an atmospheric physicist understanding that carbon dioxide is the main driver of global warming and switching to renewables will save us from devastating hurricanes and floods reaching the ceilings of our dream seaside properties. Every other person appears to be an energy specialist being certain that wind, solar and battery-powered vehicles will be a happy, safe and environmentally friendly way to power our everyday electricity and transportation needs. However, little could be farther from the truth.
The author is all for sensible use of renewable energy and for reducing everyday energy waste. Society needs to invest in additional filtering systems, cleaner transportation and mining operations that minimise the negative impact on the planet. Moreover, many trees should be planted. However, are current climate actions good for the environment? Are today’s wind and solar technologies the solution to our energy problems? This article aims to take the reader on a journey away from current standard thinking.
Current and future energy needs
Today, close to 8bn people live on Earth and they feed 80 percent of their hunger for energy with hydrocarbons or fossil fuels (see Figure 1). Wind and solar make up an estimated two percent of 2018 primary energy, the remainder largely comes from nuclear, hydropower and some biomass. This is in sharp contrast with the 2bn people that inhabited the Earth only 100 years ago and had just learned how to spell “oil and gas”. Of today’s world population, there are at least 3bn with no or only erratic access to power. In the next 50 years, a further +3bn people could be added, and as a result, the pure number of people plus the additional air conditioning equipment, new electronic gadgets, cars, airplanes and space travel, will increase the demand for energy dramatically.
Extrapolating the trends shown in Figure 1 to the future, it becomes questionable that non-hydro renewable sources such as wind and solar will provide the energy required in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way.
The media says the share of solar and wind will grow exponentially but does not mention the growth of electronic waste shipped to Africa that comes with it. And it certainly does not mention that solar and wind technology can literally never be the main source for the world’s power generation due to their low energy density and the issues described below.
ERoEI, energy density and intermittency: en-masse deployment of wind and solar is detrimental
The now-famous documentary “Planet of the Humans” from Michael Moore, which has 9m views on YouTube, illustrates this problem very well.
Solar and wind power are not new energy sources – we had to “wean off” low-efficiency wind- and solar-based power to fuel humanity’s technological revolution. While there is nothing extraordinary or revolutionary about these power sources, their efficiency has greatly improved over recent decades. Moreover, these sources are getting close to their physical limits. The Schockley-Queisser Law states that a maximum of 33 percent of incoming photons can be converted into electrons in silicon photovoltaic (PV) with modern PV reaching 26 percent. In wind power, the Betz Law states that a blade can capture up to 60 percent of kinetic energy in air. Modern wind turbines reached 45 percent.
The era of 10-fold gains is over. There is no Moore’s Law in energy and therefore, what is seen in the domain of computers, cannot be expected from energy. Costs will not continue dropping and it is time that a whole-system view is taken when looking at solar and wind or any form of power generation.
The three key problems of wind and solar generation are:
their variability, or intermittency
extraordinarily low energy return on energy invested (ERoEI)
low energy density (see also Figure 2).
Virtually every solar panel and every windmill require a back-up for times when the wind does not blow, or the sun does not shine. The German press proudly presented that at around 13.00h on 4 July 2020, 97 percent of Germany’s power demand was sourced from renewables for one hour (see Figure 3). However, it was not reported that:
During the same hour, 22 percent (~15GW) of power demand was waste energy that had to be exported or dumped across German borders, likely at negative prices.
At around 21.00h on 18 July 2020, ~16 percent of Germany’s power demand was sourced from renewables for one hour (nil percent from wind and solar, all from reliable biomass and hydro).
During that hour on 18 July 2020, about nine percent (~4GW) needed to be imported from surrounding countries at high prices because Germany did not produce enough power (see Figure 3).
There is no area practically large enough to ensure that there is always wind or sun. It happens every few years, probably at least once a decade, when a continent such as North America experiences a full day or two of no sun or wind anywhere.
The logical requirement for back-up capacity for all variable renewable energy (VRE) and all consequences that come with it need to be considered when costs are compared to a fossil or nuclear power. However, virtually all cost comparisons published use the so-called levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) measure that only considers investment, operations and fuel costs. Fuel costs for wind and solar are of course virtually zero. However, LCOE fails to consider the other cost categories.
The true cost of solar and wind has to include:
Back-up costs (profile costs): cost originating from “temporal” deviation between generation and demand. Includes cost of batteries, decline in conventional power utilisation, increased ramping and cycling.
Interconnection costs: costs originating from “spatial” deviation between generation of variable renewable energy (VRE) and power demand, includes grid/ interconnections management costs, and balancing costs.
Material and energy costs: costs for energy and materials to build solar and wind capacity (the ERoEI is far too low for wind and solar).
Efficiency losses: costs associated with efficiency losses from underutilisation of conventional backup power.
Spatial costs: costs related to the space required for VRE (energy density is far too low), cropland, forests, affected bird and animal life, changing wind and local climate, noise pollution, etc.
Recycling costs: higher recycling costs of VRE and back-up capacity after its useful life.
Contrary to popular belief and press, costs for conventional energy as backup and the resulting efficiency losses of conventional energy explain, amongst others, why the total cost of variable renewable energy always increases with more installed capacity beyond a certain point. This point varies by country and region, but one thing is sure: Germany is far beyond this point, which explains the country’s high power prices (see Figure 4).
Figure 5 illustrates the misleading LCOE measure used in the popular press and by most governments and compares it to the still incomplete but better value-adjusted LCOE (VALCOE) from the IEA, which was first published in 2019. In January 2020 the prestigious Institute of Energy Economics Japan (IEEJ) published its 280-page ‘IEEJ Energy Outlook 2020’ and raised concerns about renewables’ rising unaccounted-for integration costs, concluding that LCOE is not capable of capturing the true cost of wind and solar.
Germany has become aware that it needs conventional power despite its large wind and solar capacity installed. However, Germany decided to exit coal power in addition to exiting nuclear power. Despite Germany’s Environment Minister, Svenja Schultze, proudly claiming in July 2020 “We will solely rely on wind and solar for our country’s power generation”, Germany, very quietly, is building new gas-fired power plants as back-up. Gas is a legitimate fuel with many positive properties, but Germany does not have any itself. Despite gas’ “clean” transportation and combustion, we know that gas is typically more expensive than coal, more difficult and expensive to transport than coal since it requires pipelines or LNG, and generally more difficult and sometimes dangerous to store. So, why is Germany shutting down its existing coal mines, coal-fired power and nuclear plants and is now building new, gas-fired ones? The response usually is greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions because gas emits about half the CO2/kWh during combustion than coal, so the switch is supposed to save the climate.
If we adhere to the popular, but in the author’s view, misinterpreted global warming theory, what appears to be a lesser-known fact is that gas supply results in methane leakages during production, processing and transportation (methane is an 84 times more potent GHG gas than CO2 over 20 years, and 28 times more potent over 100 years). This has been documented in several studies, including Poyry’s 2016 German study on ‘Comparison of greenhouse-gas emissions from coal-fired and gas-fired power plants. It was also picked up by Bloomberg in a January 2020 article discussing methane leakages associated with LNG. Methane emissions vary widely, but there are many instances – as also documented by a Total Gas sponsored study from 2016 – when GHG emissions are higher for gas than for coal. The study states that “with 95 percent confidence, US shale gas may emit more GHGs than Colombian hard coal.”
Gas emits about half of CO2 compared to coal during combustion.
Gas emits more CO2eq (mostly in form of methane) during production, processing and transportation. This includes, but is not limited to, leakages and energy requirements for LNG processing and transportation.
Total gas CO2eq emissions are on par with or higher than coal, depending on the turbine type, location and the source and type of gas.
Gas is a good and necessary fuel in the power mix, but if global warming theory is to be believed in, one must be consistent and not spend taxpayers’ money switching from coal and nuclear to gas when even by one’s own admission it will have no positive impact on ‘the climate’. Methane emissions are neither measured nor taxed. Is this fair for coal or for the environment or the everyday citizen that pays the taxes?
Battery technology is not capable of grid storage for power
If gas is not the solution, then what is? What about those great batteries? It is true that an affordable and sustainable storage system would be the solution to the wind and solar’s intermittency issue (but not to the issues of energy density or ERoEI). Over the years, batteries have become far more efficient and the recent move towards electrical vehicles has driven large investments in battery “Giga factories” around the world.
The largest known and discussed factory for batteries is Tesla’s US$5bn Gigafactory in Nevada, which is expected to provide an annual battery production output of 50GWh in 2020. By 2021 CATL in China is expected to double that. Berlin’s Gigafactory 4 will start producing electric vehicles in 2021-22. These factories will provide the batteries for our future cars and also provide backup batteries for houses, but what about their environmental and economic impact? Figures 6 and 7 summarise the environmental challenges of today’s battery technology. The three main issues with any known battery technology are:
Hydrocarbons such as oil, gas and coal are one of nature’s most efficient ways to store energy. Today’s most advanced battery technology can only store 2.5 percent of the energy that coal can store. The energy that a 540kg, 85kWh Tesla battery can store equals 30kg of coal energy after combustion. A Tesla battery must then still be charged with power (often through the grid) while coal is already ‘charged’, albeit only once.
In addition, you can calculate that one annual gigafactory production of 50GWh of Tesla batteries would be enough to provide back-up for 6min for the entire US power consumption (and then no Teslas to drive). Today’s battery technology cannot be the solution to intermittency.
Material and energy requirements
Next comes the question of the energy inputs and materials required to produce a battery. The required materials include lithium, copper, cobalt, nickel, graphite, rare earths & bauxite, coal and iron ore (for aluminum and steel).
Additionally, the energy of 10-18MWh is required to build one Tesla battery, resulting in 15-20t of CO2 emissions assuming 50 percent renewable power. Assuming conservatively that 1-2 per cent of mined ores end up in the battery in the form of metals, one Tesla battery requires 25-50t of raw materials to be mined, transported and processed (see Figure 7).2
This is slowly hitting the main-stream media. The first larger batches of retired and unusable wind farms and solar panels are hitting landfills and insufficient recycling plant capacities. There is not yet an affordable, large-scale way to recycle wind blades. The electronic waste we create is already a devastating problem for landfills outside Accra (Ghana), Nairobi (Kenya) and Mombasa (Mozambique).
A New Energy Revolution
“What do we do now? Are we all doomed?” A young engineer asked the author this question after one of the latter’s presentations when he realised that currently there is simply no viable alternative to conventional energy from coal, oil, gas and nuclear. It is concerning that young people are taught in school to fear the slight warming of about 1˚C during the past 150 years. At least half of the past warming is natural, caused by the sun as we are coming out of the Little Ice Age that ended roughly 300 years ago. The other half, or less, may be ‘human-caused’, which includes the heat all consumed energy produces that is released into the biosphere plus the greenhouse-gas CO2. The additional greening – and therefore biomass – created by this additional CO2 is rarely spoken of. That the warming effect of CO2 declines logarithmically with higher CO2 levels is not published by mainstream media either. A catastrophe is not looming, but real pollutants to the environment and the waste created by humans are a concern – and this is where resources should be focussed.
On global warming and the upcoming catastrophe, the IPCC confirms as follows:
IPCC 2020 Climate Change and Land, p9, A2.3: “Satellite observations have shown vegetation greening over the last three decades …. Causes of greening include combinations of an extended growing season, nitrogen deposition, carbon dioxide (CO2) fertilisation …”
IPCC 2013 Climate Change, Chapter 2, p235: “There is limited evidence of changes in extremes associated with other climate variables since the mid-20th century.” ȗ IPCC 2018 Third Assessment Report 14, p771: “In climate research and modelling, we should recognise that we are dealing with a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore that the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible.”
On the tuning of climate models – that are the sole basis for today’s energy policy – the Max Planck Institute, Germany, writes in April 2020: “When we were faced with a model system that was bound to fail at reproducing the instrumental record warming, we chose an explicit approach where the past temperature trend is a tuning target.” Moreover, Bjørn Lomborg, who runs the Copenhagen Consensus Center thinktank, explains in his recent book ‘False Alarm’ many interesting scientific facts. He states “Climate change is real, but it’s not the apocalyptic threat that we’ve been told it is.”
Either way, even if people believe that catastrophic predictions for global warming are the correct way to approach environmentalism, this article highlights that wind and solar – while certainly being appropriate for applications such as heating a pool, and thus earning a place in the energy mix – cannot and will not replace conventional power.
As Michael Shellenberger, Time Magazine Hero of the Environment 2008, said in an article published in Forbes in May 2019: “The reason renewables cannot power modern civilisation is because they were never meant to. One interesting question is why anybody ever thought they could”. His recent book ‘Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All’ details his rationale.
What is needed in the next one or two centuries is a ‘New Energy Revolution’. Future energy may be completely new, possibly more renewable, and fusion- or fission-based, but will have little to do with wind and photovoltaic. To reach this New Energy Revolution, more must be invested in education and base research (power generation, storage, supra-conductors, etc) while simultaneously investing in conventional power to make it more efficient and environmentally friendly. There will be the need to invest in fossils to clean them up, not divest from them. This is the most sensible path to save the planet from the negative impact that human existence has on it. However, please consider, humankind has never been better off than today. Shouldn’t we celebrate this fact?
Previously published in the October 2020, issue of International Cement Review
by Dr. Lars Schernikau, HMS Bergbau Group, Germany & Singapore
About the Author
Dr. Lars Schernikau, born and raised in Berlin, Germany studied at New York University and INSEAD in France before earning his PhD in Energy Economics from Technical University in Berlin. Lars has extensive knowledge and experience in the raw material and energy sector. Lars has founded, worked for, and advised a number of companies and organizations in the energy, raw material, and coal sectors in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas. Before joining the world of energy and raw materials over 15 years ago he worked at Boston Consulting Group in the US and Germany. He published two industry trade books on the Economics of the International Coal Trade (Springer, available on Amazon) in 2010 and 2017. He is a member of various economics, energy and environmental associations including the non-profit CO2 Coalition in the US. He is a regular speaker at international energy and coal conferences and advised governments and leading energy organizations on energy policy. Lars can be reached at email@example.com.
 Prepared by Lars Schernikau: primary electricity converted by a direct equivalent method. Source: data compiled by J David Hughes. Pre-1965 data from GRUBLER, A (1998) Technology, and Global Change: Data Appendix. Post-1965 data from BP, Statistical Review of World Energy (annual publication).
 MILLS, M (2019): The “New Energy Economy”: An Exercise in Magical Thinking. New York, USA: Manhattan Institute, 26 March. www. manhattan-institute.org/green-energy-revolution-near-impossible
 Global Wind Atlas: www.globalwindatlas.info [Accessed 24 April 2020]
 Schernikau analysis based on Agora Energiewende – https://www.agora-energiewende.de/ [Accessed 20 July 2020]
 STATISTA (2019): Global electricity prices in 2018, by select country – www.statista.com/ statistics/263492/electricity-prices-in-selected-countries/
 WANNER, B (2019): Is exponential growth of solar PV the obvious conclusion? – www.iea.org/ commentaries/is-exponential-growth-of-solar-pv-the-obvious-conclusion
 IEA (2020): Clean energy progress after the Covid-19 crisis will need reliable supplies of critical minerals – www.iea.org/articles/clean-energy-progress-after-the-covid-19-crisis-willneed-reliable-supplies-of-critical-minerals
 MARTIN, C (2020): Wind Turbine Blades Can’t Be Recycled, So They’re Piling Up in Landfills – www. bloomberg.com/news/features/2020-02-05/ wind-turbine-blades-can-t-be-recycled-so-they-re-piling-up-in-landfills
 PETERSON, J (2020): What Greta Thunberg does not understand about climate change – https:// youtu.be/y564PsKvNZs”.