According to the Reuters review of data, renewable power has taken up a record share of global electricity production since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
Renewable energy has become more dependable
Power-generating windmill turbines in a wind farm in France
Advocates of traditional energy said that clean energy sources, like solar and wind farms, which depend on fickle weather, cannot be trusted to provide steady supplies of electricity into national grids that were designed to operate in tandem with coal and gas generators. But the past three months have shown that renewable energy has become more dependable, accounting for well over half of output in some European countries, while grid operators proved they could successfully manage larger doses of fluctuating energy flows.
Maybe this will give confidence to Governments and policy makers that they can be more ambitious about the number of renewables on the grid. However, before Governments take decisions based on recent experiences, they will have to answer various questions. These include how the system would have coped in the mid of winter, when sunshine is at a premium, or how it will manage when the economy picks up and demand gathers pace.
The recent boost for wind and solar power came for all the wrong reasons: the health crisis has tipped the world into recession, pushing down electricity usage by more than a fifth in some countries, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Most grid operators automatically turned to the cheapest energy supplies to meet the falling demand. Wind and solar power costs very little to generate once the installations are built and is often backed by Government mandates and subsidies. As a result, more expensive fossil fuel sources were the first to be pulled.
Data from Wartsila (Finnish Energy Technology Group) shows renewables generated an average of 44% of power across the 27-nation bloc and Britain from April to June 2020, when many countries were in lockdown, against 37.2% in the same period last year. Daily peaks hit 53%. The leading performer was Austria which saw renewables average 93% from a previous 91%, thanks largely to hydropower; with Portugal, renewable energy surge to 67% from 49%; in Germany, it averaged 54% up from 47.5%. The increase in the share of renewables is essential if the European Union (EU) wants to achieve its climate and energy goals and cut harmful greenhouse gas emissions blamed for climate change. The EU’s target is to meet 32% of its energy needs, including transport, from renewable sources by 2030.
Britain’s National Grid (NG.L) has set a target of being able to operate a completely carbon-free electricity system by 2025, it would be the world’s first. The coronavirus provided an early test, with renewables hitting a peak share of 67.5% of electricity in May, 2020. The country also went without coal power for 67 days from April 10 to June 16 2020. While clean power is increasingly available, storing it and ensuring a smooth supply remains highly complicated. Winds die down, clouds cover the sun, or, alternatively, gales can blow on bright, sunny days.
The grid managed fluctuations by relying on a tool called “demand side response” (DSR). DSR asks users to time their consumption to match power generation - something that can ease pressure on the grid and reduce costs for consumers.
A similar system is in place in India, where officials in 2017 started asking farmers in some regions to water fields in the daytime to make use of higher solar and wind output. They had previously been expected to irrigate late at night or in the evening to preserve power supplies during the day for other industries. As elsewhere in the world, the share of renewable energy in India’s electricity market climbed during the COVID-19 lockdown, hitting a record high of 30.9% in the week of June 15 from 17.9% in mid-March.
While Britain’s DSR system of matching power generation with consumption provides some relief to grids, it is not a panacea. The country’s National Grid has regularly had to fall back on so-called “curtailments”, paying power producers to shut down when electricity supply is too high and risks disturbing operations. The firm said it expected to pay out 826 million pounds ($1 billion) in various costs from May to August, more than double than in the same period last year. It did not give a breakdown, but said curtailments made up a “significant proportion” of this. Keen to encourage the development of battery technology, the British Government said on July 14 it was cutting red tape and relaxing planning rules to make it easier to launch large-scale energy storage projects.
The United States (US) is a world leader when it comes to storage, notably battery technology, and some businesses are investing heavily in the sector. Renewables, including hydro, wind and solar, provided 23% of US’s electricity during the April lockdown, up from 17% in the same period of 2019. The peak share rose to almost 80% in parts of the windy interior of the country. Governments will have to introduce an array of such initiatives if they want to build on recent experiences and further boost renewable energy.
(Nguồn: Bài đăng trên Tạp chí Môi trường số Chuyên đề Tiếng Anh III/2020)