The world of renewables this week

Bank of America said this week it will commit a further $300 billion by 2030 to low-carbon and sustainable business activities, taking the bank’s total investments up to $445 billion since 2007. It says there is not enough capital out there to meet the challenges. Bank of America has already deployed $126 billion over the past twelve years in support of environmental business initiatives worldwide. It is also one of the biggest investors in the fossil fuel energy sector, so it’s hedging its bets.

A group of university researchers have made the bold claim that investments in renewables will automatically offer investors a better ROI (Return on Investment) than the best carbon capture technologies. Their combined article from University researchers in Lancaster (UK), Khalifa (Abu Dhabi), Clemson University (USA), The Arctic (Norway) and Florence (Italy) ran in Nature Energy magazine this week. They calculated the energy needed for carbon capture technologies on their own or working with coal and natural gas and compared with the energy required for renewable energy systems and analyzed costs against output. It’s a shame that our own UK government has already made a very clear statement that it plans to head down this uneconomical path. It concludes that given its energy disadvantages, carbon capture should be considered a niche technology at best. Funnily enough it has attracted some of the richest men in the world, among them Bill Gates.

French energy giant EDF said this week it has taken a stake in the Dongtai IV and V offshore wind projects off Jiangsu province north of Shanghai, which suggests that China wants access to the European know how in renewables. The deal was cut between EDF and the state-owned China Energy Investment Corporation. Subject to the signing of the final contracts, both partners will build and operate a total installed capacity of 500 megawatts, which will be commissioned by 2021, EDF said, which already operates 310 MW of wind and solar capacity in China.

USA, Illinois utility Opus One  and start up Ameren will use a blockchain distributed ledger to coordinate energy resources in a pilot, hoping to create a transactional energy marketplace that can work with Distributed Energy Resources like rooftop solar. The testbed is a small microgrid that’s been live for a while which has just 1 MW of natural-gas generation, 250 KW of battery storage, 125 KW of solar PV and a 100 KW wind turbine, currently used by multiple customers. Seems very small.

Spanish grid operator Red Electrica de Espana said this week that renewables produced 39.7% of electrical generation in Q1 and if you count Nuclear in there, the clear leader, a total of 63.7% produced no CO2 emissions at all. Wind had the next largest share after nuclear with 22.9%.  In March alone renewables were even higher at 43.5%, with wind at 24,2% and hydropower at 11.1%. The electricity demand was lower by 5.9% during the month of march down to 20,739 GWh. Diagram below shows Q1 figures.

Researcher IHS Markit says that the global solar market will hit a fantastic 25% growth figure in 2019 after languishing in single digit growth during 2018. It should hit 129 GW, and much of this will come from markets outside of China, with strong markets in particular in Spain and Vietnam, both forecast to rise 43%. Falling module prices have increased demand and the US Chinese trade war has not done business any harm. China may grow somewhat, but it hit a massive 45 GW last year and initially offered no new support measures for solar, then changed its mind, but has yet to announce details. The US is expected to be the second largest market, a tad ahead of India. But this is the last few years for US tax credits on solar. Europe will be a feeding frenzy because it only cut rules on minimum import price last year and is forecast to do 19 GW.

E.ON has been given €20 million of funding from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy to run a pilot project in Germany with regional energy suppliers Avacon, Bayernwerk, E.DIS and HanseWerk. An old lignite mine will be converted into a “power to gas” plant using spare electricity from local renewable energy suppliers using a 10 MW electrolyzer and a downstream methane unit, where CO2 from a local thermal waste processing plant will be inserted. The idea is to build a bridge between the Grid and the gas mains. Shame it has focused on Methane, rather than adapting local equipment to the less harmful Hydrogen which comes straight from the electrolyzer.

A leading UK solar power firm Solarcentury is potentially up for sale says a report in Sky News this week. They say it is valued at £250 million ($327 million). Solarcentury has appointed Evercore Partners to represent it and has been trading for 20 years. The reason for the sale is not clear, but it is said to be both profitable and growing.

An experiment in Wales may soon see a new electric railway line, partly powered by community solar and associated battery storage. The Green Valley Lines initiative is being led by climate change charities 10:10, and Riding Sunbeams. Funding will come from a small grant from a Railway competition to come up with fresh ideas. The plan is to identify places on the rail route that can have  solar or batteries installed and get local communities to pay to develop these, and use the energy both on the railway and locally. There have been such studies before, but the technology has perhaps moved on a bit.

German energy group RWE has been given the go ahead to buy a 16.7% stake in rival E.ON by the UK Competition and Markets Authority. It had permission from the European Union in February. The deal will see RWE acquire E.ON’s renewable energy business and some other assets, while E.ON will acquire parts of Innogy, an RWE subsidiary, its renewable energy activities, gas storage and stake in Austrian power utility Kelag.

Duke Energy has been ordered to excavate all coal ash from its North Carolina power plants, to cut chances of toxic leaks into local water supplies at a cost of  $ billions. The $65 billion valued Duke said putting a waterproof cap on storage pits would do. What’s the betting that Mr. Trump steps in? The truth is this type of move will make companies like Duke worthless, especially when accompanied by the plunging costs of renewable energy, putting coal plants on their last legs financially. The ash is thought to contain mercury, lead and arsenic. Some 9 out of 10 US coal plants have contaminated the local groundwater. Duke has previously been fined by courts for letting its coal ash toxins leak into water supplies. Duke plans to immediately file an appeal with the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings.

Germany’s Siemens Gamesa said it is in a group of 16 companies who will test technologies which support offshore wind turbines under the i4Offshore R&D project  to bring down the price of offshore wind. The EU has given it a grant of €20 million, which should help towards a 5 year project.

Norway’s $1tn oil fund, says it will put billions of dollars into wind and solar power. The decision follows Saudi Arabia’s wealth fund selling off its last oil and gas assets. The story was reported in the UK’s Guardian newspaper.  It makes perfect sense as a kind of hedge for fossil based investments to balance with renewables.

Canadian energy storage specialist CellCube said it has extended its non-binding letter of intent to merge its Vanadium North Resources business with Regency Gold. They now have until May 15 to complete due diligence and transact the deal. Vanadium North Resources is a Vanadium exploration business, which fits well with its battery business.

The Asian Development Bank said this week it has put together a $1 billion fund for green infrastructure with other banks in ASEAN (the Association of South East Asian Nations). It is calling it ‘ASEAN Catalytic Green Finance. ADB will contribute $300 million to the fund and $336 million will come from Germany’s KfW Bankengruppe.

We pointed to UK energy storage specialist RedT looking for funds, and it has now landed £3 million from an open share offer, effectively securing its immediate future. It is a Vanadium flow grid battery specialist.

Our own fair city of Bristol says it will go ahead with a £1 billion ($1.3 billion) ‘City Leap’ initiative, which will see it embrace renewables. It originally outlined this plan a year ago, and has been talking to 180 organizations, and has conducted a 6 month appraisal. It wants to adopt more renewables, battery storage and V2G EV chargers.

The UK’s Centrica (British Gas) said this week it is planning 7GW of battery storage, solar, combined heat and power (CHP), demand-side response and peaking plant capacity by 2030. The company said it wanted to play a “meaningful role” in tackling climate change and plans to reduce emissions by 35% in the next ten years and by 2030, be on track with the Paris agreement and develop a path to net zero by 2050. Centrica completed a 49MW Roosecote battery last December.

China has shipped 254,000 EVs last quarter, a rise of some 118% year on year, at a time when fossil vehicle sales in China fell 13%, to 4,823,000 for the quarter.

Florida Power & Light Company says it will build the world’s biggest solar-powered battery system as part of a modernization to accelerate the retirement of two fossil fuel generation units. Called the FPL Manatee Energy Storage Center, it will have 409 MW of capacity and is planned for late 2021, and will be charged by an existing FPL solar power plant in Manatee County. FPL is almost ready to eliminate its last remaining coal plant by the end of 2019.

Denmark’s leading wind turbine maker Vestas said it will acquire a 25.1% minority stake in Germany renewables integrator Sowitec, with an option to acquire the entire company within three years. Sowitec has 60 wind and solar projects totaling 2,600 MW across the world.

Idaho Power is planning to convert all of its energy sources to clean energy by 2045, joining a short list of power companies in the US planning to do the same. At present its flagship energy is hydropower, and already 70% of its energy comes from green sources – hydro, solar or wind – with 18% from coal. It plans to shut one of its three coal plants immediately and the others over the next three years.