A record amount of solar capacity and renewable power was installed across the world in 2017 – as the cost of both wind and solar became competitive with fossil fuels – but it still is not enough, a major new report has found.
The annual Renewables 2018 Global Status Report from REN21, a renewables policy organisation, notes that a record 98GW of solar capacity was added, as well as 52GW of wind, and a total of 178GW of renewables.
Including large hydro, this amounted to $US310 billion of new investment, nearly twice that of new fossil fuels and nuclear capacity, and the global share of renewables is now at 23 per cent, with wind and solar providing 7.4 per cent.
But while the growth in renewables electricity was pleasing and continues the transformation of the electricity sector, REN21 says it is concerned by the lack of change in transport, cooling and heating, which means the world is lagging behind its Paris climate goals.
“We may be racing down the pathway towards a 100 percent renewable electricity future but when it comes to heating, cooling and transport, we are coasting along as if we had all the time in the world. Sadly, we don’t,” said Randa Adib, executive secretary of REN21.
Adib’s concern was shared by investors representing $26 trillion of assets under management, which used the prelude to the G7 Summit in Canada to call for governments to step up their ambition and action to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.
“The global shift to clean energy is underway, but much more needs to be done by governments to accelerate the low-carbon transition and to improve the resilience of our economy, society and the financial system to climate risks,” investors wrote in a joint statement.
Emma Herd, the CEO of the Investor Group on Climate Change, the Australian chapter of this group, says investors are stepping up in unprecedented numbers, but could do so much more if governments acted too.
“Investors could do even more if governments delivered the policies required to effectively manage climate risk and accelerate investment in low-carbon solutions.”
Labor’s Mark Butler said this was a clear reproach to Australia’s Coalition government, which refuses to lift its weak 2030 target even though most analysts say it will be largely met – in the electricity sector at least – by 2030.
“The Turnbull government’s weak National Energy Guarantee is projected to deliver no new large-scale renewable energy investment over the 2020s,” he said in a statement.
“And far from being on track to delivering their weak targets, according to the government’s own data emissions are projected to increase all the way to 2030.”
The REN21 report said of particular concern was global energy demand and energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, which rose for the first time in four years in 2017, by 2.1 per cent and 1.4 per cent respectively.
“In the power sector, the transition to renewables is under way but is progressing more slowly than is possible or desirable,” it says.
“A commitment made under the 2015 Paris climate agreement to limit global temperature rise to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels makes the nature of the challenge much clearer.
“If the world is to achieve the target set in the Paris agreement, then heating, cooling and transport will need to follow the same path as the power sector – and fast.”
The scale of the problem is illustrated in this chart above, which shows all energy usage, including the oil-dominated transport sector, and the traditional biomass for heating and cooking.
The heating, cooling and transport sectors – which together account for about four-fifths of global final energy demand – continue to lag behind the power sector.
Around 92 percent of transport energy demand continues to be met by oil and only 42 countries have national targets for the use of renewable energy in transport.
However, increasing electrification is offering possibilities and more than 30 million two- and three-wheeled electric vehicles are being added to the world’s roads every year, and 1.2 million passenger electric cars were sold in 2017, up about 58 per cent from 2016.
Currently, electricity provides just 1.3 per cent of transport energy needs, of which about one-quarter is renewable.
There is little change in renewables uptake in heating and cooling. National targets for renewable energy in heating and cooling exist in only 48 countries around the world, whereas 146 countries have targets for renewable energy in the power sector.
Small changes are under way. In India, for example, installations of solar thermal collectors rose approximately 25 per cent in 2017, as compared to 2016. China aims to have 2 per cent of the cooling loads of its buildings come from solar thermal energy by 2020.
“To make the energy transition happen there needs to be political leadership by governments,” says Arthouros Zervos, the chair of REN21.
“For example by ending subsidies for fossil fuels and nuclear, investing in the necessary infrastructure, and establishing hard targets and policy for heating, cooling and transport.
“Without this leadership, it will be difficult for the world to meet climate or sustainable development commitments.”
The Sun Metals solar farm – set to take over Clare solar farm’s short-lived mantle as the biggest solar installation in the state of Queensland – has begun exporting to the grid.
The 124MW (AC) Sun Metals solar farm overtakes the 100MW Clare solar farm as the biggest in the state, and began exporting into the grid late on Wednesday.
The solar farm is notable because it will be used to supply around one-third of the power needed by the Sun Metals zinc refinery, and its low cost (and cost certainty) will likely underpin a $300 million expansion of the complex.
Sun Metals was the first Australian big energy user to turn to large-scale solar, but since then many other companies have followed, including Telstra, Westpac, and most recently Mars Australia, whose six factories will be powered by a solar farm in Victoria.
“Once the solar farm is operational it will enable the refinery to be the largest single-site renewable consumer in Australia,” CEO Yun Choi recently told the Townsville Bulletin.
“The solar farm will be one of a kind in that it will directly power a large industrial user and export electricity into the National Electricity Market – so I think that makes it pretty innovative.”
Other big energy users are now proposing even bigger investments, with UK billionaire Sanjeev Gupta talking of a 1 gigawatt solar investment in South Australia to power the Whyalla steelworks, and potentially more than 10GW of solar around the country.
Construction of the the Sun Metals solar farm was largely completed by contractor RCR Tomlinson a month ago, and the various sections will be progressively commissioned over the next few weeks.
On Wednesday and Thursday the solar farm generated a peak of 36MW, and that output will grow as more connection points are switched on over coming weeks.
The first thing to do if you’re interested in installing a solar system is check whether the company is accredited.
The industry body for the designer, installer, and the actual products is the Clean Energy Council. Make sure your system is designed by a Clean Energy Council accredited designer. Double check that your installer is also CEC accredited. If you’re not sure, the CEC have a list of Approved Solar Retailers you can choose from.
Solar Scams – Choose a CEC Accredited Installer (source: CEC)
Double check that your panels and the inverter are accredited and meet Australian standards. If they aren’t CEC accredited, you won’t get your rebates aka Small Scale Technology Certificates (STCs) – this rebate is generally around $2,000 for a 3kW system. Click here to read more about STCs from the Clean Energy Regulator or click here if you want to use their online STC calculator.
How do I pick the right solar company to avoid solar scams?
Ask if the person designing your system is qualified to do so. According to Choice.com.au, this will shrink your retailer list by 90% and weed out all the designers who will do a poor quality job and leave you with an under-performing solar system.
Avoid anyone with pushy sales tactics and avoid anyone that uses door-to-door sales as a sales technique. If they’re using language like ‘never pay a power bill again’ or trying to hurry you along by saying that the government rebates are about to end, avoid them again.
For price, make sure you get 4 quotes at minimum. Watch out for dodgy T&Cs that allow suppliers to swap out for ‘equivalent’ models, upselling, surcharges, and so on. Don’t be afraid to stop a salesman from steamrolling over you. This is a big financial decision and you should do your due diligence before committing.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) have a page about consumer rights for solar powerthat you should also check out (especially if you have a problem).
What information do I need on the quote?
- A proper, printed out quotation showing the company’s name, address, and ABN.
- A timetable of operation.
- Model numbers, brands, and quantity for the panels, inverter, and battery (if applicable).
- An estimate of the system’s performance.
- Product and installation warranty for the inverter.
- Installation warranty, product warranty and performance warranty for the panels.
- Any additional funds that may be payable.
- STCs should be included in the quote. This is a big one! Be wary because if you’re not careful some dodgy companies can just claim them without mentioning it to you.
If Saving With Solar can give you a hand to help pick the right solar company, please feel free to get in contact with us and we’d be happy to help.
Scientists from the Australian National University (ANU) believe butterflies could inspire solar cell technology.
Dr Niraj Lal from ANU’s Research School of Engineering says nanostructures that mimic butterfly wings are the key.
Dr Lal’s inspiration is from experiments on the Peruvian Morpho Didius butterfly.
The Morpho’s wings scatter light to produce an iridescent blue.
This ability to control light could feed into new solar cell, architectural and even stealth technologies.
“Techniques to finely control the scattering, reflection and absorption of different colours of light are being used in the next generation of very high-efficiency solar panels,” Dr Lal said.
“Being able to make light go exactly where you want it to go has proven to be tricky up until now.”
Solar cell layers absorb different wave lengths
Dr Lal said the aim of the experiment is to absorb blue, green and ultraviolet light in the “perovskite” layer of a solar cell.
The “silicon” layer absorbs the red, orange and yellow light.
This is known as a tandem solar cell with double-decker layers.
As well as Butterfly wings could inspire new solar cell technology, perfecting the technique could open the door to applications in architecture too.
Windows could filter light to make opaque objects transparent to certain colours.
“We were surprised by how well our tiny cone-shaped structures worked to direct different colors of light where we wanted them to go,” Dr Lal said.
“Using our approach, a window could be designed to be transparent to some colours non-see through and matte textured for others.
“So there are very cool potential applications in architecture.”
Cabbage moths hold key to optimum solar panel angle
This isn’t the first time a member of the Lepidoptera family has attracted solar researchers.
The Cabbage White Butterfly, or the Cabbage Moth, might contribute to more efficient solar panels.
Cabbage Whites take flight before other butterflies on cloudy days – and it’s all in the unique way they hold their wings.
The moth holds its wings at the best angle to increase its temperature, say researchers from the University of Exeter.
Holding its wings at 17 degrees increased the moth’s temperature by 7.3 degrees Celsius compared to horizontal.
An analysis of the big electricity price surges during the February heatwave in New South Wales suggests that rooftop solar on homes and businesses across the state likely reduced the market price of wholesale electricity by nearly $1 billion over three days.
The analysis by Marija Petkovic, of consulting firm Energy Synapse, says that without rooftop solar the total cost of market prices would have been $888 million higher, because peak demand during the heatwave, when temperatures soared to 45°C, would have been higher and longer.
Rooftop solar PV supplied only about 2 per cent of the state’s total power needs over that time – or about 17GWh – but its impact on the market was to cut the price of electricity by 60 per cent, delivering savings of $888 million.
Rooftop solar also likely delivered considerable savings in markets in Queensland and South Australia over the same period, although Petkovic says she has not crunched the numbers on those states, and there are many other factors to consider.
For example, given the huge amount of rooftop solar in Queensland – 1.72GW according to the Clean Energy regulator, more than the biggest coal-fired power station in the state – there would likely be another power station built if the rooftop solar wasn’t there.
Certainly though, the experience of the network owners and the grid operators in states like South Australia and Western Australia is that the high penetration of rooftop solar has done what Petkovic has identified in NSW – it has pushed the peak further into the evening, and reduced the breadth of it.
It also adds to the considerable benefits of rooftop solar during heatwaves, a time when Australia’s electricity networks are at their most vulnerable. While coal and gas plants in NSW, Queensland and South Australia tripped or failed to operate to capacity due to heat-related problems, rooftop solar performed exactly as expected.
So much so that the NSW government has said rooftop solar played a crucial role in keeping the lights on in the state, when the heatwave pushed the grid to its limits. Only the Tomago aluminium smelter had to suffer a forced outage.
The Petkovic analysis also highlights another issue with rooftop solar and the way it is compensated. Despite saving $888 million, the actual “market value” of the rooftop solar put into the grid was only around $9.6 million, or $550/MWh. Householders would have been lucky to receive 8c/kWh, or $80/MWh, for their output. Many would have received less.
This issue was highlighted in an earlier story “NSW rooftop solar saved the day but householders got paid a pittance”, quoting analyst Dylan McConnell, from Melbourne’s Climate and Energy College, who said rooftop solar clearly played a major role in reducing stress on the grids in Queensland and New South Wales, and kept a cap on prices. But got little reward.
So how did Petkovic arrive at her numbers? “The interesting question to me was how would the electricity market cope if there was no small solar?” she writes in a post on LinkedIn. “This is difficult to quantify, but my attempt considered three factors:
- What would electricity demand in NSW look like if the generation from small solar had to be met by the market. Data published by the Australian PV Institute was used for this analysis.
- Given this new demand profile, what would the 30 minute electricity price be in the wholesale market. To develop the likely set of prices without small solar, the 5 min bid stacks published by AEMO were examined for each period where small solar was generating power.
- What would be the cost to the market with small solar (i.e. the actual cost that was incurred) vs the cost without small solar (i.e. the estimate derived from 1 & 2).
This graph above shows the data for February 9 to 11. The light green shading shows the actual electricity demand that was seen by the market, while the dark green shading shows the estimated generation from small solar PV.
The effect of small solar on all three days was to reduce the length of peak demand and to push the peak to later in the afternoon.
So how much money would have been saved? The second graph shows the total electricity cost without small-scale solar (dark green) and the total electricity cost with small-scale solar (light green).
“Over the three-day period, small solar reduced the cost to the market by roughly $888 million,” Petkovic writes. “Even though small solar only covered 2 per cent of electricity demand, it cut the price of electricity by 60 per cent from an estimated volume weighted average price of $1920/MWh to $780/MWh.”
Could such figures be replicated in other states? Petkovic says possibly, but it is difficult to say if it would happen to the same extent.
“The issue with Queensland is that there is so much rooftop solar. If that solar wasn’t there, there would almost certainly be another generator in the market. This introduces significantly more uncertainty into the analysis and I wanted to be careful not to overstate the benefits.”
However, as we reported in February based on McConnell’s analysis, there is no doubt that rooftop solar delayed the peak in that state, and it wasn’t until rooftop solar started to wind down that the state’s gas generators were able to wield their market power, and push prices higher, as this graph shows.
The irony out of all this is that even though the network operators have admitted that rooftop solar narrows and delays the peak, they and the big retailers have fought against higher feed-in tariffs because they say the peak is not actually removed.
This sort of analysis underlines the benefits of rooftop solar. It is removing the ability of gas generators to set the price as high as they might otherwise, as well as providing perfectly reliable generation in the middle of the heatwave, when the fossil fuel generators were breaking under the stress of the heat. In short, they helped to keep the lights on.
In the meantime, the majority of solar households now on new “market” tariffs are receiving only the estimated average wholesale price of electricity over a year. That has meant a jump in NSW to between 11c and 14c/kWh, from July 1, and the inclusion of climate benefits with a defacto carbon price in Victoria.
But still, there are no network benefits – and only those households which are signed up with software providers such as Reposit, Redback and others, are able to tap into variations in market price.
How cheap is solar? Cheap enough, says the head of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, to drive the transformation of our grid to zero emissions. Cheap enough, he says, to inspire some people to install air conditioners on their verandah to cool the air outside the house, as well as inside.
The latter, quite bizarre example was given by ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht at the recent Emissions Reduction conference in Melbourne to illustrate just how cheap solar has become.
He came across a home owner in Townsville, north-eastern Queensland, who had installed a very large rooftop solar system, and planned to use it to power an air conditioning unit on the verandah.
“He likes to have cool air on his face while he is sitting outside outside,” Frischknecht said. “And this is fine, because if you are only running it in middle of day, and using the solar, the energy is free.”
Indeed, noted Frischknecht, solar was becoming so cheap, and will become so abundant, that we will reach the situation where the kilowatt hours of use (i.e. the production) are effectively free. The cost will come in managing the variability, and integrating it into the grid.
But even here, contrary to much that is written, Frischknecht says the technologies to do that are available now, in the form of battery storage, demand response, pumped hydro and a “whole bunch of solutions that can ensure that the lights stay on.”
The challenge comes down to rewriting the market rules and regulations, and reframing business models, so that these technologies are rewarded for their services, and not punished.
He cited the use of battery storage.
“If you have a battery today and charge it up –you have to pay transmission costs and distribution costs and a share of RET, and when you discharge it again and sell the output, you pay all those costs again,” Frischknecht said.
“You are adding 50 per cent to the cost of energy getting stored. That’s a pretty big barrier to put in place of a mechanism we need.”
Frischknecht says it is not hard to look forward and imagine a world where many things would be quite different, and when a lot of centralised fossil fuel generation is made redundant by the falling costs of renewables.
“The cost of solar PV will be so cheap it will literally cover every surface – packaging, buildings, cars, roads. Energy will be cheap, but we will still got this variable output issue. We are going to have to figure out different ways of pricing and dealing with variable output.”
The Australian government has funded a rollout of solar powered refrigerators and off-grid solar power packs to health centres in cyclone-ravaged Fiji to preserve life-saving vaccines and medicines.
When category-five Cyclone Winston swept across Fiji in February, it caused widespread damage to critical cold chain infrastructure and electricity services.
This led to a breakdown in essential immunisations for new-born babies and delivery of medicines across the island nation.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) provided USD $640,000 (AUD $870,000) to UNICEF Pacific to distribute 74 solar direct drive vaccine refrigerators to Fijian health centres, along with 17 solar power packs custom-made for local conditions.
Solar powered refrigerators vital public health priority
Vaccines must be stored in strictly controlled temperatures from point of manufacture to injection to be effective. The so-called cold chain temperature requirement for most vaccines is between 2-and-8 degrees Celsius.
UNICEF Pacific representative Sheldon Yett said global immunisation programs were the most cost effective and successful health interventions known to date, but cold chain equipment in some locations, particularly climate-vulnerable nations, was underperforming, or no longer ideal.
“This solution uses an energy source that never runs dry – the sun. It also provides a reliable cold chain for essential vaccines even in the most remote and disaster affected areas,” Mr Yett said.
In the past, Fiji was reliant on absorption type refrigerator units. The aged technology uses toxic liquids such as ammonia to cool refrigerant gases and was costly to operate.
“Solarisation” shores up immunisation programs in Fiji
Fiji’s Health Minister, Rosy Akbar, said the “solarisation” of healthcare services after the destruction wrought by Cyclone Winston was key to reviving the country’s national immunisation scheme.
“Ensuring the availability and efficiency of the cold chain infrastructure is a critical public health priority to protect new-born and infants from vaccine preventable diseases. It is imperative to the safety, efficiency and availability of vaccines, and the continuity of the immunisation program throughout Fiji,” she said.
The 17-solar power packs will be installed at isolated nursing stations across Fiji. They will allow the use of portable lights, charging of mobile phones and laptops, and provide off-site solar energy.
The Australian High Commission’s Counsellor Development Cooperation, Christina Munzer said,
“Australia is proud to have supported this initiative that we hope will make Fiji’s health system even more resilient to future disasters.”