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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.

The energy future, as seen from Denmark

Nicholas Keyes's picture
Photo by Blue Square Thing via FlickrDriving across the Danish countryside, they cannot be missed: towering white wind turbines as far as the eye can see, their slow-turning blades providing a 21st century counterpoint against the flat landscape of fields and farmhouses.
 
Denmark has committed to renewable energy further and faster than any country in Europe.  The Scandinavian nation generates a third of its annual electricity demand from wind, and solar capacity is growing as well. For countries that want to green their energy mix, there is no better place to get a glimpse of the future than Denmark. 
 
Its pioneering spirit has brought great benefits, and international acclaim, but like all first movers, Denmark is also learning as it goes. 
 
To tap into this learning, ESMAP—the World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program—organized a study tour to Energinet.dk, Denmark’s transmission system operator, as part of its work to help client countries integrate variable renewable energy into their electricity grids. Joining the study tour were 26 participants—representatives from regulators, system operators and utilities from 13 countries, including South Africa, Chile, China, Pakistan, Zambia, and Morocco.

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.

Extractive Industries Can Work for the Poor

Kelly Alderson's picture

Making extractive industries wealth work for the poor
Everyone agrees that enhanced transparency—on payments, revenues, royalties and taxes—is essential to success in developing countries to turn earnings from oil, gas and mining into economic growth and poverty reduction. But that’s just the first step.

Myanmar and Lao PDR: Dialogue about Natural Resource Wealth

Morten Larsen's picture


The ancient cities of Bagan, Myanmar, and Luang Prabang, of Lao PDR offer today’s travelers a nostalgic vision of South East Asia: timeless landscapes and exquisite architecture. This vision is in sharp contrast to the rapid pace of recent economic activity in both countries. Myanmar recorded very strong investor interest in last year’s bidding round for oil and gas blocks. This was a clear signal of the successful reform process undertaken so far.  In Lao PDR, the mining industry has increased annual production from around US$ 10 million in the early 2000s to well above US$ 1 billion a decade later – contributing around 15 percent of Government revenues in recent years. 

Rethinking Investments in High Carbon Infrastructure

Oliver Knight's picture
To combat climate change we must leave at least two thirds of all carbon in the ground. This could have significant implications for fossil fuel combustion and supply infrastructure, possibly leading to 'stranded assets'.

Back in March the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP) hosted an event here at the World Bank titled ‘Rethinking the Future of Energy’. One of our speakers was Duncan Clark, co-author of a recent book on energy and climate change. I came across Duncan while doing background research on the concept of supply-side constraints to fossil fuel extraction. It seems increasingly clear to me that demand-side climate change mitigation is always likely to be patchy in coverage (both within an economy, and between different countries), costly to implement due to the sheer number of point sources and transactions involved (and therefore regulations and policies required), and too psychologically distant from the real culprit: the fossil fuels we extract from the ground in ever-increasing quantities. Aside from a couple of vague references in the literature, Duncan is the first serious proponent for a supply-side approach to constraining carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that I’ve come across.

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.

Why Do More Than 50,000 Families in Bangladesh Buy a Solar Home System Every Month?

Zubair K M Sadeque's picture

“Does the solar home system work? Do you really get better lights? Or, is it just a big fuss?’ I have been asking solar home systems households in rural Bangladesh these basic questions for the past five years as part of my implementation review missions for the Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Development program, which has installed over  2.8 million solar home systems since 2002. This has so far contributed to a 9% increase in access to electricity in Bangladesh.

Can Natural Resources Pave the Road to Africa’s Industrialization?

Paulo de Sa's picture

Many African countries face a dilemma. After a decade of consistent economic growth, often propelled by high commodity prices, half the continent’s population still lives in poverty. Even if rising demand for raw materials from the booming cities of China and India, among others, has driven growth in Africa’s mining sector, most of the continent has not yet translated mineral wealth into industrialization and widespread economic development. Most African countries continue to export raw materials and then pay a premium to import the products made with them.

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