18 December, 2020

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December 2020: New Synthesis Report, videos, plans for renewables, Brexit, space solar and more

   New Synthesis Report   

Key findings from the Oxford Martin School’s Programme on Integrating Renewable Energy have been brought together in a Synthesis Report.

Many people have been involved with the Programme over the past five years. They explored challenges and barriers facing the further integration of renewable energy and identified potential solutions for the energy system across technical, social, economic, and governance issues.

The Report draws together key findings across this multidisciplinary programme, showcasing the work and research undertaken, and giving links to where more information and resources can be found. You can read it online here.

Why renewables?
Energy consumption is a key driver of climate change, as it estimated to generate more than 80% of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. Replacing our use of fossil fuels with renewable energy is, therefore, critical to tackling climate change.  In order to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, we must:

  • Decarbonise electricity supply as quickly as possible, and at the same time:
  • Reduce demand via efficiency and changes in patterns of energy use, then:
  • Decarbonise heat and transport by switching fossil fuels for renewable and low carbon sources.

The Synthesis Report highlights that:

  • Solar and wind are the cheapest forms of electricity generation and will be key to a low carbon energy system, together with storage and flexibility;
  • Their use will depend critically on integrating variable generation into electricity networks;
  • Any solution will involve a mix of flexible generation, flexible demand, inter-connection and storage;
  • Changes are urgently needed to energy market design, regulation and governance to accelerate decarbonisation and the ability to meet Net Zero emissions by 2050; and
  • Changing energy systems requires a whole system approach, with multidisciplinary solutions to maximise successful outcomes.

Moving to a renewable and low carbon energy future is an immense challenge but one that is accepted by society across the world as urgently needed to combat climate change.  Never before have the roles of citizens, civil society, businesses, and governance been so important in shaping the energy transition.

Here’s to a Net Zero future for everyone, powered by renewable energy!

   Videos   

Research projects by members of the Integrate community are featured in two short videos.

In “Electricity Access for All researchers Dr Susann Stritzke and Dr Hindolo George-Williams talk about their projects which have the power to improve lives and whole communities across Africa, and the globe.

Susann’s work focuses on the challenge of sustainably electrifying parts of the world that don’t currently have access to clean and reliable energy.  Hindolo’s work has examined how to improve Sierra Leone’s energy sector, so that, for example, its capital, Freetown, no longer has an average of 53 blackouts a day.

The video “Electric Vehicles and the Future” explores the potential of electric vehicles.  Dr Katherine Collett and Dr Sivapriya Mothilal Bhagavathy, tell us about their exciting projects: Vehicle to Grid Oxford and Park and Charge respectively.

We know that they represent a cleaner, greener way of getting from A to B, but what else could they be used for? Could they be used to give power TO the energy grid? And what about charging them – one day, will we all have access to convenient charging points? Watch to find out!

And here’s a video I have found online which may be of interest to people wondering what Vehicle 2 Grid is like from the user perspective.  In this video, Aaron Russell, an owner of a 2018 Nissan Leaf EV, shares his experience of being involved in a V2G trial project from the installation of equipment, monitoring EV battery health, and the monthly financial benefits.

Enjoy!

A 10 point plan to achieve Net Zero

In its  Ten Point Plan, the Government has now published a long-awaited plan for delivering the legal requirement of zero carbon emissions from the UK by 2050.

The Plan is significant in providing a critical statement of intent to bring forward investment in electrification for decarbonisation.  Framing the plan as a “green industrial revolution” recognises the scale of the challenge to transition away from fossil fuels, and that it will be a multi-decadal process not a quick fix.  However, the amount of new funding attached to the plan is tiny: a 25th of the £100bn cost of high-speed rail, HS2.

Prof Nick Eyre, Prof Nick Eyre, Co-director of Integrate and Director of the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions has written a blog on the Ten Point Plan.

Nick welcomes the support in the Plan but highlights that much progress can be delivered with existing technology, so early constraints on rapid delivery are financial, social and political rather than technical.  Much of the funding in the plan is not new, or is short term, requiring councils to do more with less. It doesn’t take the opportunity to initiate long term sustainable investment in people, communities, and the clean energy sector.

He highlights big gaps in the Plan.  Why does it not make energy efficiency measures a priority, given that it has delivered more than half of the 40% reductions in emissions over the last 30 years? Such measures can be delivered now and will create jobs: they should be a major element of post-Covid investment plans and supported over many years, not assigned funding for 1 financial year and nothing thereafter.  Why no mention of onshore wind or solar photovoltaics, given these are the cheapest zero carbon generation options? Both could be immediate significant contributors to our energy demand. Instead, commitments are made to “advanced nuclear technologies” which would be extremely expensive and unrealistic to generate any power for decades.  The Plan also ignores the existence of subsidies and other policies that promote carbon intensive behaviours, such as for aviation fuel and road building.

Nick flags two key issues that remain unanswered: What is the strategy? And where are the people?

Having a ‘Ten Point Plan’ in advance of a strategy means that fundamental questions remain unanswered, such as: “By how much should energy demand be reduced?” “How much will be delivered from different renewable sources?” “How much will it cost?” and “Who will pay for what?”.

Perhaps the biggest gap in the Plan is its neglect of people and communities. Any industrial revolution will involve major societal changes: a green industrial revolution requires fundamental changes to buildings, transport, and planning all of which will affect people’s everyday lives.   Information, education, training, public engagement, and consumer advice will be critical to help citizens make reasoned choices and learn new skills for new jobs and opportunities such as heating system installation.  Local and national government need to play a critical role.  All this needs to be adequately resourced but the Plan does not offer anything new.

Overall, the Plan is certainly better than nothing but fails to recognise the more fundamental needs for change and links to other policy areas. It does not provide a clear pathway to zero emissions, nor does it commit the resources required.

We need a coherent strategy for a ‘green industrial revolution’. Now.

Co-ordinating renewables

The Energy White Paper

Another long awaited Government output was been released: the Energy White Paper was launched on 14th December 2020.  The Paper sets out the route to achieve net-zero by 2050 and promises consultations and further work to explore energy related topics.  The Carbon Brief team have scrutinised the Paper to understand how it will help tackle climate change. Check out their analysis here.

The Paper includes commitments that have already been declared, such as targeting 40GW of offshore wind by 2030, and the measures in its recent Ten Point Plan.  It also puts in writing new proposals such as the creation of a UK Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) to replace the UK’s participation in the EU ETS. The new trading scheme is more ambitious and will reduce the cap on permissible emissions from the start, giving signals to industry that decarbonisation and investment in low-carbon technologies is important.

Of particular interest is the government’s proposal to create a “Ministerial Delivery Group” to oversee the expansion of renewable power in the UK. The Paper states:

This group will provide the cross-government coordination and collaboration necessary to achieve our ambition for renewable electricity. It will tackle barriers such as the impact of wind turbines on radar systems, maintaining a flourishing and biologically diverse marine environment and the development of appropriate network infrastructure to support future renewables deployment. We will also work to reduce consenting delays and ensure that planning guidelines and environmental regulations are fit for purpose. The Ministerial Delivery Group will make use of existing cross-government mechanisms, such as the Offshore Wind Enabling Actions programme, a £4.3 million initiative to be run jointly by Defra and BEIS and funded by HM Treasury (HMT).

Such coordination is incredibly important to ensure an efficient programme of renewables, particularly given the scale of ambition declared, and needed.


Aligned to this, a former head of Ofgem has warned that Britain’s renewed push for offshore wind risks politically and economically unacceptable effects because the present system would involve too many unnecessary cables being built to individually connect each project to shore.

Without co-ordination of the offshore transmission network, the number of individual cables coming ashore from offshore wind developments would be considerable, cause significant environmental and local impacts and could become a major barrier to delivery.  It would also be unnecessarily expensive.  The electricity system operator has estimated that an integrated offshore grid could save consumers about £6 billion by 2050, and should reduce the number of cables required by potentially up to 50%.


First of its kind

Continuing on a coordination theme, the UK’s first coordinated system to boost renewable energy was launched by the South Coast Regional Development Programme.  This Programme is a collaboration between National Grid Electricity System Operator, National Grid Electricity Transmission and UK Power Networks.

The South East Coast is one of the most complex network areas in Europe, with several interconnections to continental Europe and more planned, a nuclear power station, and a significant volume of renewable and traditional energy resources connected to the distribution network.

This new system will directly connect the control rooms of the local network operator and the national system operator.  It will give them more visibility and control to keep the system balanced. It is hoped that the new system will enable up to 600 MW of distributed energy resources to be connected in the region.

   Decarbonising Heat    

 

Members of the Integrate community, Dr Jake Barnes, Dr John Rhys, and Dr Sivapriya Bhagavathy, have responded to the Consultation on the Path to Decarbonising Heat in Homes run by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee.

The consultation supports the BEIS Committee’s examination of the Government’s ‘Buildings and Heat Strategy’ and steps and timelines needed to decarbonise heating in residential buildings.  The inquiry will cover the technological challenges, coordination and delivery, the role of hydrogen, network capacity, financial aspects and consumer engagement and protection.

JakeSivapriya, and John’s submission focused on the need to change the current distribution of social and environmental levies across electricity and gas bills and their impact on domestic heat decarbonisation.

The researchers welcome attention on the current distribution of such levies which are much more heavily applied to electricity bills rather than gas bills.   Their research shows that this has a strong, negative impact on the economics of many domestic electrified heating technologies, particularly heat pumps, as the unit cost of electricity is much higher than gas and reduces their financial attractiveness.   Further, expected increases in environmental and social levies over the following decade will make all electrified domestic heating less competitive over time. This will negatively affect the economics of heat pumps even more in the future.

Revising the balance of environmental and social levies between electricity and gas would help address the disparity in annual running costs of gas boilers and electrified domestic heating.  It is also important to recognise that the large up-front costs of many clean energy technologies such as heat pumps are a ky barrier to uptake.

Environmental and social levies are not the only issue, however. Network tariffs, and the allocation of the fixed costs inherent in networks, also create significant problems.  John’s work shows that total fixed costs are currently recovered through the unit price, i.e., by averaging over all kWh sold. While this may seem “fair”, it is not a cost reflective approach, and consequently penalises low users and the penetration of low carbon solutions, notably heat pumps, into the heat sector.

These are critical issues to tackle by the Government if it is to achieve the target in its Ten Point Plan of 600,000 energy-efficient electric heat pump installations annually by 2028.

News Bites

Energy and Climate: The Dilemma, Trilemma, and Quadrilemma 

You may have heard of the Energy Trilemma, but what about the Quadrilemma? Find out more in this blog post written by Dr Tedd Mose, a new Oxford Martin Fellow in the Programme on Integrating Renewable Energy.

Tedd highlights three broad conceptions of the global energy industry’s direct relationship with the climate, and the frameworks for resolving the main challenges posed by energy systems around the world.


Our Energy

On the 1st December the NEWCOMERS project launched Our Energy.  The platform offers digestible chunks of knowledge to support energy communities in their path to success, and advise and inspire people about energy and energy-related topics using short, interactive, multimedia presentations, videos, infographics, statistical data, and quizzes. Check it out!

NEWCOMERS (New Clean Energy Communities in a Changing European Energy System) is a Horizon 2020 funded project, exploring new clean energy communities using a holistic approach – drawing on cutting-edge theories and methods from a broad range of social sciences coupled with strong technical knowledge and industry insight. The project goal is to deliver practical recommendations about how the EU, national and local governments, can support new clean energy communities.


The implications of no deal and energy

As we head towards the end of December, the possibility of a Brexit deal is still in the balance.  What may be the impact on energy under no deal?

If there is no deal, the UK will lose access to the EU’s energy market which would mean trade on interconnectors will be less efficient and more difficult. While consumers will experience no change to supply on the 1st Jan, it is thought that ultimately the cost to consumers could be up to £2bn a year in increased energy costs.

Another impact links to the 2015 Paris Agreement.  Leaving the EU means that the UK will need to submit a new pledge as single country. This is because the EU signed up as a bloc.  The UK performance in decarbonisation and tackling climate change is above the norm for many European countries; this means that more action will be needed by the remaining EU countries to achieve the stated targets.

Read more here.


Solar from space

The UK Government has commissioned research into the engineering and economics of space solar power systems to see if this renewable technology could offer a resilient, safe and sustainable energy source. Solar energy harvested in space offers the potential for an unlimited and constant zero carbon power source.

This technology would comprise of very large solar power satellites to collect solar energy, convert it into high-frequency radio waves, and safely beam it back to ground-based receivers connected to the electrical power grid.  It is thought that a mile-wide solar power satellite, built by 3D printing in orbit, could supply as much electricity as a nuclear power station.

Such space based solar systems were conceived decades ago ins science fiction. The falling cost of commercial space flight, and developments in lightweight solar panels and wireless power transmission mean that the cost of such systems is now possibly affordable.

Other countries including America, Japan and China have been developing proof of concept ideas for some time. In February 2019, China reported its desire to be the first country to launch power stations into space to capture the Sun’s energy and beam it back down to Earth.  It is planning to have a series of small or medium-sized stations that orbit 36,000 km above Earth between 2021 and 2025.  Such new technology and its non-terrestrial nature raises new and interesting energy and space law questions.


   Headlines!   

So much  has been happening recently!  Here are some links to things of interest.

Emissions – The Climate Change Committee’s 6th carbon budget was published on 9 December, stating that achieving net zero emissions is feasible and affordable if government and the private sector act now and implement bold and ambitious strategies rapidly. Emissions must fall by almost 80% by 2035, compared to 1990 levels – a big step-up in ambition.

Water 2030 – Stepping up to the mark is the UK water industry which has become the first in the world to declare a sector wide ambition to achive net zero by 2030.

Home Battery 2 Grid – Octopus Energy have launch a new battery to grid (B2G) offer, offering Tesla Powerwall owners the ability to be a virtual power station, and access the best import and export prices with no network charges.

Readiness – Oxford energy researchers have worked with partners to assess different countries’ needs and readiness to tackle the energy transition, and have developed a Grid Edge Index of readiness. You can read more here.

Power purchase agreements – the largest ever clean power corporate PPA has been signed by Amazon for 3.4GW from a range of wind and solar development including the 129 MW South Lanarkshire wind project, in Scotland.

Solar – UK’s largest community solar park (19MW) to be developed near Arncott, Oxfordshire.

Transport and solar – Riding Sunbeams’ 3.75 MW Cuckmere Community Solar Farm will directly power the Eastbourne-London mainline railway through a private wire in a world-first project.

Contracts for Difference– the UK will double the renewables capacity (of up to 12 GW) in the next auction and allow a great range of technologies to bid.

Iron powder– can be used as a renewable source of energy that can replace natural gas. This new technology has been installed and tested by the Swinkels Family Brewers with the result that a 100 KW system can brew 15 million glasses of beer annually.

Rotting veg – an new invention that makes renewable energy from rotting veg wins James Dyson prize.

Storage – UK legislation to lift barriers on 50MW+ battery storage projects comes into effect.

Tidal and wave energy – EU aims for ‘massive change of scale’.

US – 64% of new capacity in the US is from renewable generation.

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