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Renewable energy capacity is set to expand 50% between 2019 and 2024, led by solar energy. This is according to The International Energy Agency (IEA)’s ‘Renewable 2020’ report, which found that solar, wind and hydropower projects are rolling out at their fastest rate in four years, making for the argument that the future lies in using renewable energy. 

The Future of Renewable Energy: Growth Projections

Renewable energy resources make up 26% of the world’s electricity today, but according to the IEA its share is expected to reach 30% by 2024. The resurgence follows a global slowdown in 2019, due to falling technology costs and rising environmental concerns.

Renewable energy in the future is predicted that by 2024, solar capacity in the world will grow by 600 gigawatts (GW), almost double the installed total electricity capacity of Japan. Overall, renewable electricity is predicted to grow by 1 200 GW by 2024, the equivalent of the total electricity capacity of the US. 

The IEA is an autonomous inter-governmental organisation that was initially created after the wake of the 1973 oil crisis. It now acts as an energy policy advisor to 29 member countries and the European Commission to shape energy policies for a secure and sustainable future.

Solar Will Become 35% Cheaper By 2024

When the sun shines onto a solar panel, energy from the sunlight is absorbed by the PV cells in the panel. This energy creates electrical charges that move in response to an internal electrical field in the cell, causing electricity to flow.

Industry experts predict that the US will double its solar installations to four million by 2023. In 2018, the UK had over one million solar panel installations, up by 2% from the previous year and Australia reached two million solar installations in the same year. A big reason for this increased uptake is the fall in prices to install the panels.

The cost of solar PV-based power declined by 13% in 2018, while Carbon Tracker predicts that 72% of coal-based power will become globally unprofitable by 2040. The IEA report found that solar energy will account for 60% of the predicted renewable growth, primarily due to its accessibility. Compared with the previous six-year period, expansion of solar energy has more than doubled. The cost of solar power is expected to decline by 15% to 35% by 2024, spurring further growth over the second half of the decade.

Future Capacity of Solar Energy

Wind and hydropower often require users to live in specific locations, but solar offers more freedom; the sun rises and sets on a predictable schedule, and it’s not as variable as running water or wind. Residential solar power is expected to expand from 58 GW in 2018 to 142 GW by 2024, and annual capacity additions are expected to more than triple to over 20 GW by 2024. China is expected to register the largest installed residential solar capacity in the world by 2024, with the strongest per capita growth in Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands and Austria.

Solar facilities will continue reducing their variability rates by storing electricity during the day and running at night. However, advanced solar plants will operate on higher DC to AC ratios, meaning they’ll deliver more consistent service for longer durations.

Commercial and residential buildings will keep running at full capacity even in periods of low sunlight. Closing the gaps between sunlight collection and electricity generation will spur residents and corporations to join the solar movement. Therefore, it’s imperative for governments to implement incentive and remuneration schemes, as well as effective regulation policies. For example, California has mandated that after 2020, solar panels must be installed on new homes and buildings of up to three storeys.

Commercial and industrial solar energy capacity is forecast to constitute 377 GW in 2024, up from 150 GW in 2018, with China predicted to be the largest growth market. This market remains the largest growth segment because solar power is usually more inexpensive and has a relatively stable load profile during the day, which generally enables larger savings on electricity bills.

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Onshore Wind Energy Capacity Will Increase 57% By 2024

To generate electricity using wind, wind turns the propeller-like blades of a turbine around a rotor, which spins a generator, which creates electricity.

The adoption of wind power is becoming more prominent due to increased capacity.

Onshore wind capacity is expected to expand by 57% to 850 GW by 2024. Annual onshore wind additions will be led by the US and China, owing to a development rush and a policy transition to competitive auctions respectively. Expansion will accelerate in the EU as competitive auctions continue to keep costs relatively low. These auctions will mean that growth in Latin America, the MENA region, Eurasia and sub-Saharan Africa will remain stable over the forecast period. 

Offshore wind capacity is forecast to increase almost threefold to 65 GW by 2024, representing almost 10% of total world wind generation. While the EU accounts for half of global offshore wind capacity expansion over the forecast period, on a country basis, China leads deployment, with 12.5 GW in development. The first large US capacity additions are also expected during the forecast period. 

Japan Expands Wind Energy

Japan is experimenting with the idea of installing offshore turbines to replace many of their nuclear reactors, a result of the country’s 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima. The company Marubeni recently signed a project agreement to build offshore farms in northern Japan, with each farm able to produce 140 MW of power.

Japanese lawmakers have created regulations to give developers more certainty in constructing sources of wind-based electricity; legislation outlining competitive bidding processes has been passed to ensure that building costs are reduced and developers consider potential capacity issues. The country’s Port and Harbour Law has also been revised to spur wind turbine construction in port-associated areas and other locations favourable to wind turbines. 

Grid integration, financing and social acceptance remain the key challenges to faster wind expansion globally. 

Hydroelectric Capacity Will Rise 9% By 2024

Hydropower plants capture the energy of falling water to generate electricity. A turbine converts the kinetic energy of falling water into mechanical energy. Then a generator converts the mechanical energy from the turbine into electrical energy.

According to the IEA, hydropower will remain the world’s primary source of renewable power in 2024. Capacity is set to increase 9% (121 GW) over the forecast period, led by China, India and Brazil. 25% of global growth is expected to come from just three megaprojects: two in China (the 16 GW Wudongde and 10 GW Baihetan projects) and one in Ethiopia (the 6.2 GW Grand Renaissance project).

However, there has been a slowdown in the two largest markets, China and Brazil; growth is challenged by rising investment costs due to limited remaining economical sites and extra expenditures in addressing social and environmental impacts.

Nevertheless, annual additions are expected to expand in sub-Saharan Africa and in the ASEAN region as untapped potential is used to meet rising power demand. 

Geothermal Capacity Will Increase 28% By 2024

To generate geothermal energy, hot water is pumped from deep underground through a well under high pressure. When the water reaches the surface, the pressure is dropped, which causes the water to turn into steam. The steam spins a turbine, which is connected to a generator that produces electricity. The steam cools off in a cooling tower and condenses back to water. The cooled water is pumped back into the Earth to begin the process again.

The US market for geothermal heat pumps will exceed $2 billion by 2024 as demand for efficient heating solutions increases. Transformed building codes will encourage a move to renewable heating and electricity systems in commercial and residential real estates. 

Geothermal capacity is anticipated to grow 28%, reaching 18 GW by 2024, with Asia responsible for one-third of global expansion, particularly Indonesia and the Philippines, followed by Kenya, whose geothermal capacity is set to overtake Iceland’s during the forecast period. 

The same research from Global Market Insights predicts the commercial market will experience the most considerable uptick; according to the Department of Energy, geothermal solutions will generate 8.5% of all electricity in the US by 2050. 

The Future Lies in Using Renewable Energy

Renewable energy will continue to rise in the upcoming decade, edging out fossil fuels and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

“This is a pivotal time for renewable energy,” said the IEA’s executive director, Fatih Birol. “Technologies such as solar and wind are at the heart of transformations taking place across the global energy system. Their increasing deployment is crucial for efforts to tackle greenhouse gas emissions, reduce air pollution, and expand energy access.”

Solar and onshore wind power are now the cheapest new sources of electricity in at least two-thirds of the world’s population, further threatening the two fossil-fuel stalwarts – coal and natural gas.

The Cheapest Source of Electricity

The levelized cost of electricity for onshore wind projects has fallen 9% to $44 a megawatt-hour since the second half of last year. Solar declined 4% to $50 a megawatt-hour, according to a report Tuesday by BloombergNEF.

The prices are even lower in countries including the U.S., China and Brazil. Equipment costs have come down, technologies have improved and governments across the world have boosted clean-power targets as they seek to combat climate change. That could squeeze out coal and natural gas when utilities develop new power plants.

“Best-in-class solar and wind projects will be pushing below $20 per megawatt-hour this side of 2030,” Tifenn Brandily, an analyst at BNEF, said in a statement. “There are plenty of innovations in the pipeline that will drive down costs further.

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Yet it remains unclear whether the coronavirus’ impact on coal and gas prices will erode the competitiveness of wind and solar. “If sustained, this could help shield fossil fuel generation for a while from the cost onslaught from renewables,” Seb Henbest, chief economist at BNEF, said in the statement.

A decade ago, solar was more than $300 a megawatt-hour and onshore wind exceeded $100 per megawatt-hour. Today, onshore wind is $37 in the U.S. and $30 in Brazil, while solar is $38 in China, the cheapest sources of new electricity in those countries.

Battery storage is also getting more competitive. The levelized cost of electricity for batteries has fallen to $150 a megawatt-hour, about half of what it was two years ago. That’s made it the cheapest new peaking-power technology in places that import gas, including Europe, China and Japan.

BNEF’s levelized cost for electricity measures the entire cost of producing power, accounting for development, construction and equipment, financing, feedstock, operation and maintenance.

This story originally appeared in Bloomberg Green, written by Brian Eckhouse, and is republished here as a part of Earth.Org’s partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

 

The government of South Korea is subsidising the development of biomass power so heavily that it’s hindering the adoption of renewable energy technologies like solar and wind, new research finds.

South Korea and Renewable Energy

South Korea adopted a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) policy in 2012 in order to increase the market share of renewable energy. But according to a report issued by Seoul-based NGO Solutions For Our Climate (SFOC), forest biomass is considered a carbon-neutral alternative to fossil fuels under Korean law, and the country’s government has so aggressively supported the growth of biomass-fueled energy production that it has become one of the most subsidised renewable energy sources in South Korea.

Due to the direct subsidies and other forms of financial assistance directed to biomass projects, electricity generation from biomass in South Korea rose 160 percent every year between 2012 and 2018, per the report.

Soojin Kim, a senior researcher at SFOC and an author of the report, told Mongabay that biomass projects have been so overcompensated by the government that it is causing serious disruption and uncertainties in the Korean renewable energy market, including steep declines in the price of Renewable Energy Credits (RECs). These uncertainties, in turn, are discouraging utilities from investing in renewable energy technologies such as solar and wind, she said.

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“Korea has this market-based system where any utilities of more than 500MW have to supply some renewable energy in their portfolio, and biomass is one of the eligible sources of renewables they can do,” Kim said. “Once they produce renewable energy through biomass, the government issues them renewable energy certificates, and [biomass projects] were receiving about twice as much certificates because of the REC schedule that grants them higher RECs than other sources.”

Biomass projects received as much as 40 percent of total RECs on average between 2014-2018, the report states. These subsidies are meant to help offset the operating and construction costs of converting coal-fired power plants into biomass plants, but those costs are overestimated, Kim said, “in some cases 15-times higher than actual cost.” About 75% of the biomass used in Korea is burned together with coal in what’s known as a “co-firing” plant, Kim noted, and whether utilities want to turn old power plants into biomass plants or simply try to improve the environmental performance of their plants by adding some biomass to the existing coal, they can count on government support.

“It’s been a pretty profitable business for them in the biomass industry,” Kim said.

As Kim pointed out in a blog post co-authored with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Debbie Hammel, the expansion of biomass energy in Korea is not only crowding out truly green forms of renewable energy, it’s also undermining the government’s own attempts to rein in emissions in response to global climate change.

“Korean utilities have boasted about the positive climate outcomes of their coal-to-biomass conversions, some reporting up to a 90% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions,” Kim and Hammel write. “This is misleading because the emissions from burning biomass were simply omitted under the erroneous assumption of biomass ‘carbon neutrality.’ In reality, scientists have warned for years of the disastrous outcomes of burning biomass for power. Years of research has shown that even under best-case scenarios, burning biomass for electricity makes climate change worse for decades.”

Growing Biomass Industry Threatens the World’s Forests

Burning forest biomass is something of a double-jeopardy scenario for the global climate, as it both increases greenhouse gas emissions and threatens forest ecosystems around the world that are important carbon sinks.

Some 98% of the wood pellets used to produce energy in Korea are imported, mainly from Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam, the number one exporter of biomass, as well as Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. Russia and the United States are also important sources of wood pellet exports to South Korea, which has become the third-largest importer of biomass in the world.

Kim and Hammel note in their blog post that “When forests are logged, the amount of carbon stored in that forest is reduced, even under a best-case scenario in which harvested trees are immediately replanted or naturally re-grow. A recently published study showed that the same holds true even when biomass energy is generated by burning forestry residues — the leftovers from logging operations, like treetops and limbs.”

Thanks to a similar push in Japan to develop biomass-fueled electricity production capacity, East Asia has become a major driver of global biomass growth, according to Roger Smith, Japan Project Manager for the NGO Mighty Earth. “Forest biomass is a false climate solution unworthy of public subsidy. Solutions for Our Climate highlighted the major problems with wood biomass — it increases near-term greenhouse gas emissions over the coming decades, and has the potential to harm forests in exporting countries,” Smith told Mongabay.

He added: “Ironically, while Korea and Japan are turning to biomass to meet global warming and renewable energy goals, neither country has greenhouse gas standards to ensure any actual pollution reductions. This leads to an absurd situation where trees can be cut down, dried and processed into pellets, shipped across the ocean, and burned in Japanese or Korean power plants with none of the carbon pollution counted. Both nations need to close this loophole and set a stringent greenhouse gas emissions standard for all biomass fuels.”

Of course, the European Union’s renewable energy policies also recognize biomass as carbon neutral, and Europe is a major growth region for biomass energy, as well. “In fact, 65% of EU renewable energy comes from burning biomass, and so we are now seeing countries like South Korea and Japan following that same path,” NRDC’s Hammel told Mongabay.

The carbon neutrality of biomass is predicated on the idea that any trees cut down to be burned for electricity can be replanted, thus canceling out the carbon emissions of burning that biomass in power plants. But these are “erroneous” assumptions, Hammel argued, saying: “There’s no guarantee, first of all, that trees will be replanted, or that they will regrow. That’s not a safe assumption. And then, secondly, if they are replanted and allowed to regrow, it’s going to take decades. And we don’t have the time to wait.”

Forests are going to be under increasing pressure if the biomass industry keeps expanding, Hammel warned. “The EU imports for woody biomass are expected to climb to 30 million tons by 2020, and these new markets in South Korea and Japan are going to expand that demand. So I think that this is a huge threat to the world’s forests,” she told Mongabay. “It’s also a huge threat in terms of addressing climate change. Scientists have said we need to reduce our emissions over the next decade in order to avert the worst consequences of climate change and keep temperature rise to 1.5 to 2 degrees.”

But burning biomass from forests will make reaching those climate targets impossible, she said: “It’s going to worsen the effects of climate change and it’s going to degrade the world’s forests, which are some of the best tools to mitigate climate change.”

This article was originally published on Mongabay, written by Mike Gaworecki, and is republished here as part of an editorial partnership with Earth.Org. 

Some of the biggest economies in Europe- Great Britain, Germany and Spain- have recently achieved new records in solar energy generation, in part due to a drop in air pollution as a result of Covid-19 shutdowns, which has resulted in clearer skies and increased production of photovoltaic cells.

Solar Energy in Europe: Statistics

Great Britain’s solar production peaked at 9.68 GW in late April, up from a previous record of 9.55 GW set in May 2019. Germany generated a record-high 32.2 GW of solar power in the same period, accounting for 40% of the country’s electricity needs. 

February became the greenest month on record for UK electricity generation, with average carbon intensity- the CO2 emissions produced per kilowatt hour of electricity consumed- reaching a new low. 

Lockdown measures as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic have seen a significant reduction in electricity demand across the UK. This change in demand, along with favourable weather conditions (sunny and cool- which allows solar panels to perform at their best) and a decline in air pollution, aided in the solar energy generation record throughout not only the UK, but the rest of Europe. The UK has seen at least a 25% decline in nitrogen oxide levels in recent weeks, but the drop is thought to be more pronounced, up to half, in the most polluted places in the country; air pollution can block solar radiation and make panels dirtier. Substances like sulfur dioxide also result in more cloud cover, reducing the output of solar photovoltaic systems. 

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Chris Hewett, chief executive of the UK’s Solar Trade Association, says, “Ideal weather conditions and lower levels of pollution than normal mean solar is providing record levels of cheap, clean power to the grid.” 

In late March, Spain generated 6.3 GW of solar energy, accounting for about a quarter of the country’s electricity needs. This is the result of last year’s boost in installations, which expanded new capacity by 4.7 GW, making it the largest market in Europe.

In early April, Iberdrola grid-connected the 500 MW Núñez de Balboa project. With this extra capacity, the new record may have already been broken; the statistics for April will be released later this month. 

Records are common at this time of year- panels installed in the previous six months make their first significant contribution to the grid. However, the effect is more pronounced this year.

A study published in Nature last year examined how much air pollution impacted the output of solar assets in China.

The researchers found losses of 11-15% between 1960 and 2015. The study also found that if pollution decreased to the levels seen in 1960, an extra US$1.9 billion of electricity could have been generated in 2016. China is forecasted to have 400 GW of installed solar by 2030; the additional revenue could reach US$6.7 billion a year.

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