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renewable energy

Getting to 100% renewable: dream or reality?

Oliver Knight's picture
© Abbie Trayler-Smith Panos Pictures UK Department for International Development via Creative Commons
​Attending the Future of Energy Summit last month, an annual event hosted by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, I was struck – for the second year running – by the rapid pace of cost reductions and innovation happening across the clean energy spectrum. With the news that a recent solar photovoltaics tender in Dubai obtained bids at less than US6c/kWh, to major investments in electricity storage and electric vehicles, to increased interest in demand-side management at the grid and consumer level, the message is clear: clean energy has most likely reached a crucial tipping point that will start to suck in increasing levels of investment. Some commentators also noted the opportune timing: with capital investment in upstream oil production sharply curtailed due to falling global prices, there is potentially a lot of financial capital looking for a home.
 
But perhaps one of the more interesting messages was the one coming from progressive regulators here in the U.S. The head of the California Public Utilities Commission, Michael Picker, noted that with renewable energy already supplying 40% of the state’s electricity a few days last year, the target for 50% renewables by 2030 is “not really a challenge”. Perhaps more interesting, he seemed very relaxed on reaching 100% renewables at some point in the future, on the back of strategic generation placement, transfers to neighboring states, and embedded storage. And note that we’re not talking about large hydropower here, which supplies between 6-12% of California’s electricity and is unlikely to increase.

Updating the renewable energy lexicon

Oliver Knight's picture
Photo by ffennema via iStock
A just-published report by the World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP) on the integration of variable renewable energy (VRE) into national grid systems shows once again that adding solar, wind and other forms of VRE does not represent the calamity for grid operators or the high costs that are frequently claimed, particularly in mainstream media. In fact, with proper planning, integrating relatively high levels of renewable energy generation into a large, interconnected grid is feasible at modest incremental cost.

This is important because with the cost of renewable energy continuing to fall, VRE is looking increasingly attractive. Just consider the recent results from South Africa’s renewable energy auctions.

Why then does the discourse around renewable energy continue to view it as a pesky annoyance at best, and a costly gamble at worst? Terms such as “intermittent” and “backup” are often used to pour cold water on the contribution that renewable energy might provide or to question the reliability of solar or wind generation. In addition to the damage they inflict on efforts to promote clean energy, they hint at a very conventional view of electricity systems that is rapidly becoming outdated.

Taking these two particular terms in turn, let us explore them in more detail.

Are We Rising to the Renewable Energy Challenge?

Anita Marangoly George's picture

Renewable Energy PanelWe are living in very exciting times when it comes to renewable energy. All over the world, countries are taking steps to generate more and more of their power from their wind, solar and hydropower resources, among other means of clean energy production. This expansion is not just vital for human and economic development, it’s key to the world’s efforts to tackle climate change. With less than six weeks to go until policy makers gather for the next UN Climate Conference of the Parties in Lima, Peru and as part of a series of events at the World Bank’s annual meetings, we hosted a panel of energy experts to look at what it will take to rise to the renewable energy challenge and address energy poverty.

Shale Gas Revolution: Setback or Boost for Renewable Energy Future?

Emmanuel Py's picture

Is the shale gas revolution a brake on progress towards faster adoption of renewable energy? Many argue that it is, but there is also persuasive evidence that it could also  boost integration of renewable energy into power grids, by providing a complement to intermittent sources of electricity.

World Bank Support Delivers Electric Power to Millions – Sustainably

S. Vijay Iyer's picture

Between 2007 and 2011, Peru doubled electricity access rates from 30 percent of households to over 60 percent.  The national rural electrification program has been supported by US$50 million in World Bank financing and US$10 million from the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

This is a remarkable achievement, but to make sure that the new opportunities benefit local people in rural areas, an additional initiative was launched. This “productive uses of electricity” pilot project adapted lessons from two World Bank-supported activities in Indonesia under which the national utility reached out to local communities through NGOs. 

IRENA puts renewable energy on the map

Vivien Foster's picture

Global Wind Map - Screenshot from Global Atlas of Renewable Energy PotentialIt’s been clear here at the World Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi that the International Renewable Energy Agency, or IRENA, is fast emerging as a leader in forging a more sustainable energy future. With 159 countries—plus the EU— having joined it, a staff of 70 and a $28-million annual budget, IRENA held its third Executive Assembly here, making an impressive show on the sidelines of the summit. One example is its Renewable Energy Roadmap, which attracted lively interest among delegates.

A Global Coalition Can Tap Geothermal Power and Drive Development

Nicholas Keyes's picture


 

“We could go a week without working. But now there isn't one day without work.”

At her hair salon an hour outside Nairobi, Kenya, Elizabeth Kyalo is talking about the impact of electricity.  Specifically, the reliable supply of power that has allowed her to bring in more clients and build her business. “It has really helped us,” she says.

Energy is a primary driver of development.  A steady supply of electricity allows students to study at night, health clinics to expand services, markets to stay open later, and small businesses such as Elizabeth Kyalo’s to grow, creating jobs.

A Sustainable Development Goal on Energy Would Help Replicate Germany’s Solar Example

Christopher Neal's picture

Even if most news media dismissed last month’s Rio+20 summit as a failure, the conference did produce an agreement that may well wind up being its most positive legacy.

It was approval to develop a set of Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. Another initiative that was launched at Rio+20 – the UN Secretary General’s  Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative – is sometimes cited as an illustration of what SDGs would look like for the energy sector.

More broadly, these SDGs transfer the methodology of the poverty-focused Millennium Development Goals, largely seen as a successful work-in-progress, to address the sustainability challenge.