Renewable energy often comes with the impression that it is financially out of reach by the majority of the population, thus hindering its uptake. However, with the right mix of wind and solar power and energy storage systems, reliable supply of energy can be achieved at costs comparable with fossil fuel. Also, with the Global Atlas for renewable energy going live, nations have a valuable tool to assess their potential for renewable energy. Read more
By Tim Radford for Climate News Network (20 January 2013):
Renewable energy? Too unreliable, too expensive, many people think. But a new study has found that the right mix of renewables can tick all the boxes.
LONDON, 20 January – A combination of wind and solar power and sophisticated energy storage systems could keep a power grid fully supplied between 90 and 99.9% of the time, at costs comparable with today’s fossil fuel and nuclear mix, according to a new study from Delaware in the United States.
Computer simulation measured the performance of inland and offshore wind farms and photovoltaic cells, backed up by battery and fuel cell storage, under the lowest cost conditions, for a 72 gigawatt grid system (one gigawatt will typically provide power for about 750,000 to a million US households)..
Researchers from the University of Delaware and Delaware Technical Community College will report in the Journal of Power Sources for March 2013 that they tested 28 billion combinations of renewable energy systems and storage, under four years of real load and weather data from a working commercial system.
“These results break the conventional wisdom that renewable energy is too unreliable and expensive,” said Willett Kempton of the University of Delaware, one of the team. “The key is to get the right combination of electricity sources and storage – which we did by an exhaustive search – and to calculate costs correctly.”
Power demand and supply is an engineering headache: demand fluctuates according to hour, day of the week, the weather and the season, while wind power is vulnerable to calm weather and solar power is not supplied at night.
Storage costs are huge, and increase with the need to store for each extra hour. So right now, most electrical generators burn more fossil fuel to meet extra demand.
“The common view is that a high fraction of renewable power generation would be costly and would either often leave us in the dark or require massive electrical storage,” say the researchers.
But they found quite a different result. They tweaked their computer model and varied the conditions where they could: they found that consistent wind power could be obtained if the turbine fields were dispersed at distances greater than 1,000 kilometres.
They exploited not just hydrogen fuel cells and batteries for storage, but also grid-integrated vehicles: electric cars and trucks which when not being driven also served as sources for the grid.
They calculated the cost of renewable electricity generation without subsidies from either state or federal government, and when they made comparisons with fossil power, they factored in the external health and other costs of fossil fuel pollution.
The researchers worked with the prices for 2008, and with the projected costs of power for 2030, and they did not allow for any future advances in renewable technology.
They found that the cheapest solution was to generate far more power than consumers could demand. If they generated 180% of the necessary load, renewable sources could supply all that the grid needed for 90% of the time. If they generated 290%, then they could rely on renewable resources 99.9% of the time: that is, for all but nine hours a year.
And renewable energy, on this model, is the least-cost option, or close to it. “At expected 2030 technology costs, the cost-minimum is 90% of hours met entirely by renewable,” the team report. “And 99.9% of hours, while not the cost-minimum, is lower in cost than today’s total cost of electricity.”
Report from IRENA (13 January 2013):
Pioneering Global Atlas for Renewable Energy Goes Online
The world’s first open-access Global Atlas of renewable energy resources goes live today, announced at the annual general assembly of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
The Global Atlas is the largest ever initiative to help countries assess their renewable energy potential, and companies bringing together data and maps from leading technical institutes and private companies worldwide. It currently charts solar and wind resources, and will expand to other forms of renewable energy over 2013 and 2014.
Its launch comes as 150 countries gather to chart the future of international renewable energy policy in Abu Dhabi. 9 new signatory countries will sign on to the Global Atlas, bringing the current number of participating countries to 22.
The Internet-based platform, accessible to all at www.irena.org/GlobalAtlas, is designed to raise awareness of the world’s renewable energy potential, and to help companies looking to invest in new markets. A video and brochure is also available through the webportal. www.irena.org/GlobalAtlas www.res-atlas.org
“In the next 10 years we expect a huge rise in the investments in renewable energy. The Global Solar and Wind Atlas will help us make the right decisions”, says Martin Lidegaard, Danish Minister of Climate, Energy and Building, and President of the 3rd session of the IRENA Assembly.
“The Global Atlas provides a powerful new tool in international efforts to double the world’s share of renewable energy by 2030,” said Adnan Z. Amin, IRENA Director-General. “With 22 countries now taking part, and more expected to join in the coming months, it is a clear sign of our growing political will to transition to clean, renewable energy.”
IRENA is mandated by 159 countries and the European Union to promote the sustainable use of all forms of renewable energy, and to serve as the global hub for renewable energy cooperation and information exchange. Formally established in 2011, IRENA is the first major international organization to be headquartered in the Middle East.