Industry Highlights

China’s steady march to dominate so many sectors of the energy industry continued this month with the news that the country overtook Europe as the biggest installer of new wind projects in 2015.

Of the 63,013 MW of new wind capacity last year, 30,500 of it was in China. And wind also was the biggest power source for new capacity in Europe and the US.

“Wind is blowing away the competition on price, performance and reliability, and we’re seeing new markets open up across Africa, Asia and Latin America which will become the market leaders of the next decade,” said Steve Sawyer, secretary general of the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC).

Sawyer is right: the economic case for utilizing windpower has never been greater, as evidenced by the take-up around the world.

Figures from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) reveal that in 2015 there was more investment in clean energy than any year before – a total of $328.9bn.

Last year was also the highest for installation of renewable capacity, with 64 GW of wind and 57 GW of solar PV commissioned, an increase of nearly 30 per cent over 2014.

“These figures are a stunning riposte to all those who expected clean energy investment to stall on falling oil and gas prices,” said Michael Liebreich of BNEF. “They highlight the improving cost-competitiveness of solar and wind power, driven in part by the move by many countries to reverse-auction new capacity rather than providing advantageous tariffs, a shift that has put producers under continuing price pressure.”

Statistics from the GWEC showing new capacity by country in 2015 make for interesting reading. Alongside the usual suspects for wind development such as Germany and the UK, they reveal that Poland added the most wind megawatts last year, with 1266, and Turkey installed 956 MW.

In Latin America, Brazil installed 2754 MW while Panama – which at the end of 2014 only had 35 MW – installed a further 235 MW.

In Asia, China’s performance towered over all other countries, but should not detract from the 2623 MW installed in India.

India’s renewables potential was a talking point during Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW), which I attended last month (see p8). “The potential is huge – the number of gigawatts is mind-boggling,” said Amit De, senior strategist at solar developer SkyPower Global. “Renewables will change the face of power generation in India.”

ADSW is, of course, all about renewables and more renewables, and there are few mentions of fossil-fuelled generation unless it’s to condemn it. So it was refreshing to hear the director-general of the International Renewable Energy Agency acknowledge the vital role gas has to play in the further roll-out of renewable technology.

“We are not going to have any absolute purity in the system. It has to be a mix,” he told me.

“Gas has a very important role to play as a bridging fuel. Having gas is an important component to moving to a renewable system.”

He said gas was vital because of its ability to quickly ramp up and down in response to renewable generation. “I don’t see a long-term threat from gas to renewables,”

He also said that a key aspect of the renewable integration jigsaw is energy storage and there are several pilot projects underway in the UAE.

However, Europe is well advanced down the energy storage path – at least as far as the technology is concerned. Here in the UK there have been several successful demonstration projects, but what is holding them back from moving to the next stage is a regulatory framework.

“It doesn’t always rain when you need water, so we have reservoirs – but we don’t have the same system for electricity,” says Dr Jill Cainey, director of the UK’s Electricity Storage Network.

“When the various energy system acts were written, storage wasn’t included. So we have supply, distribution, transmission and generation but no storage,” she explains on p12.

Simon Daniel, chief executive of energy storage company Moxia, says that Germany is an example of what happens when a country pushes ahead with an aggressive renewables timetable without factoring-in storage: “Germany is a ghost of Christmas future for renewables.”

Kelvin Ross Editor

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