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14 January 2021

The world of renewables this week

France will invest $14.32 billion in Africa’s Great Green Wall between 2021 and 2025, with the aim of preventing desertification in the Sahel region of the Northern Sahara Desert. The announcement was made by President Macron at a biodiversity summit in Paris on Monday, where UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson also pledged t£3 billion of the UK’s £11.6 billion climate finance budget to 2025 to supporting nature and biodiversity. The World Bank also said that it would invest over $5 billion over the next five years to help restore degraded landscapes, improve agriculture productivity, and promote livelihoods in 11 African countries as they recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock, still holds $85 billion in coal-related assets, according to research from Reclaim Finance and Urgewald. This comes in spite of the company’s pledge to sell off the majority of its shares in producers of coal, with researchers exposing a loophole which allows the company to hold shares in those that earn less than a quarter of their revenue from the fossil fuel. Those companies include Indian conglomerate Adani as well as BHP, Glencore and RWE.

Vestas has taken the next step toward integrating its offshore wind arm MHI Vestas, into its business, after acquiring the remaining 50% of its JV with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. In combining its onshore and offshore businesses, the company stated that it will cut 220 employees from its workforce.

Chevron is determined to remain the last man standing in the oil sector, after a statement from CEO Mike Wirth made it clear that the company will see little change through the energy transition. In a conversation with Reuters, he stated the company’s outlook that crude demand will not plummet in the foreseeable future, and that there is an opportunity to be had as European Rivals ramp down oil production. BP, for instance, is aiming to reduce output by 40% by 2030, while it increases its wind and solar capacity 20-fold, while Chevron will focus more on offsetting the emissions it produces when it extracts oil.

Poland looks set to ratify its offshore wind law, which sets targets for the technology enter the country’s energy mix as early as 2024 and reach a capacity of 5.9 GW by 2030. Having passed through the Polish Senate, the final stage is for the bill to obtain the signature of President Andzej Duda, who is unlikely to disrupt the process. The law will include a subsidy scheme for offshore wind projects, as well as adjustments to the legal framework for grid connection and local content requirements. Given the lack of available infrastructure for installation in Poland, however, Rethink Energy believes that the country will see a delay of 18-months to its delivery of this target, reaching just 3.3 GW of installed capacity in this timeframe.

Turkey will hold a 1 GW solar tender from the 8th to the 12th of March, for projects between 10 MW and 20 MW in size, using locally manufactured modules. A ceiling price of $47 per MWh was set, but it was specified in the Turkish Lira, which is liable to suffer serious inflation. Turkey held its first solar auction in 2017, but the second auction has faced multiple delays since.


Tongwei’s first strategy meeting for the year included comments on heterojunction, which is set to be the next photovoltaic technology to enter mass production and will take commercially available modules past the 25% efficiency mark. Opinion held that it would still take another year or two to become cost-competitive with PERC products, and may then face a supply bottleneck for indium oxide.

Sinopec, the Beijing-based petroleum company, recently made a move into the solar industry by investing in a solar company conducting thin-film R&D, and it plans to become a major green hydrogen producer. Last year its Chairman visited LONGi with co-operation in mind, and the company has begun development of small-scale solar power at some of its sites as well as planning a 100 MW development at its Shengli oilfield. Sinopec came under pressure to expand into solar in 2020 with China’s 2060 net-zero emissions target and low oil demand.

An Australian coal plant in New South Wales is planning to leapfrog US efforts at installing the largest lithium ion Battery Energy storage system. Origin Energy plans to close one of the largest coal plants in Australia by 2032 and is looking for a similar resource from the land it is on. The idea is to install a BES on the site of the 2.9 GW Eraring facility close to the city of Newcastle. It says it will invite proposals for a 700 MW/2800 MWh battery. Naturally it will use the same transmission system as the coal plant and will be built in three stages, the first in 2022. Until very recently Australia had the largest BES in the world and if it gets its skates on, can have that honor again.

It’s only one month’s figures, but highly illustrative of what the new reality for passenger cars is in Europe, but in December in Germany, the largest European car market, 14% of all cars sold were Battery Electric and 12.6% were Plug in Hybrid, making a total of 26.6% plugin electric cars. A year ago this number was 4%. Surprisingly VW and Renault were the top two suppliers – although we’re sure Tesla will grow in this market. For the whole year 13.6% were electric, up from 3%. We tend to quote most of Europe as electric making up 2% of all cars sold in 2019 and 10% in 2020, but this trend is accelerating. Perhaps it will be as high as 17% to 18% across all of Europe in 2021, or even more.  Rethink is the only forecaster suggesting this.  All this happened in a market that was close to 20% lower in total sales than last year. Forecasters like Bloomberg and Wood Mac seem to be assuming that in 2021 normality will be restored, but surely once volumes return the market share will remain the same.

US utility Vistra has switched on the world’s largest battery energy storage (BES) system at Moss Landing in Monterey California, which offers 4 hours of battery at 300 MW (1,200MWh). A second phase of the project will go live in August with a further 100 MW (400 MWh). The company plans to discover as much about how profitable BES systems are with this set up, and may add further systems at the site, as this summer it had permits agreed for a further 4,800 MWh. That can’t happen for two years as it needs the time to move and upgrade transmission lines and build new substations. At present, Vistra will buy energy from the grid, store it and use the BES like peaker, at times of high electrical need. It sits inside an existing gas turbine building. Vistra has become a grudging convert to zero carbon and says it is aiming to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, up from its previous 80% target. It only got the permission for the first site last April, so the build out has been swift.

The island of Kauai in Hawaii has been on a mission to make its energy entirely renewable for some time, and now plans to use solar to drive a pumped storage project, so that it can replace the burning of oil for overnight electricity. This is all the brain child of the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KUIC) in a deal with AES. Currently it is awaiting approval, and we know that many pumped hydro plans fall over at the permitting stage. The project would bring KIUC’s electricity to 89% clean energy by the mid-2020s. It already has solar paired with Battery Energe Storage in some parts of the Island, but says it now needs from that 3 or 4 hours of storage, and need to push for pumped hydro. The plan is to refurbish three reservoirs in the mountains and put in a field of solar panels whose sole job is to provide pumping power to push to water up hill. Two hydro turbines will provide 24 MW of generation from the stored water.

Ludicrously BlackRock which pledged to get out of coal investments with much fanfare a year ago, has been found by the UK Guardian newspaper to still hold investments worth $85bn in coal companies. This is because it only said it would get out of businesses which have more than a quarter of their revenues from coal. This has somehow led to holdings in major polluting companies like India’s Adani, and UK public firms BHP and Glencore, and Japan’s Sumitomo and Korea’s Kepco. The article has called out Blackrock chairman Larry Fink for “greenwashing” his business. Blackrock manages some $7.8 trillion in assets.

Tiny Minnesota utility Minnesota Power this week said it would 100% carbon-free energy to customers by 2050, and says it has already reached 50% today, and will aim for 70% by 2030 and 80% and coal free by 2035. On February 1st it will deliver an Integrated Resource Plan to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission which sets it on the path to 2035 with the addition of 400 MW of wind and solar. The utility operates in northeastern Minnesota and has just 145,000 customers. If MP can do it, then other, larger US utilities should find it easy.

An 800 kV UHV DC transmission line has been completed running from Henan province in central China, to Qinghai which is a desert province adjoining Tibet and Xinjiang. These ultra-high voltage lines are a new development worldwide in the past five or so years, including technological advances allowing them to function underwater. Such lines only suffer 10% losses even over a couple of thousand kilometers, and while it’s still expensive to build them, they open up a lot of options for wind and solar development – given that both are dependent on local conditions and take up far more space than a traditional power plant. Besides allowing China to use its deserts more, there are also proposals to link the European countries using the North Sea, and to build a connection from northern Australia to Jakarta and Singapore.

Nantong New Energy has announced a 23.3% efficient solar module ready for commercial mass-production. While other modules have been shown with higher efficiencies they have not entered the market at scale so this is an important record. Also this week, JinkoSolar announced its N-Type mono modules have reached 23.01% efficiency, up 0.62% from that company’s previous record twelve months ago.

The snowstorm which has engulfed Spain for several days is likely to cause damage to solar installations – mostly because of the extra weight combining with wind motion to damage structures, but there’s also a humidity threat to inverters.

Greece has announced a third wind and solar auction, to be held in May. Solar took over two-thirds of capacity in the previous auctions, which since 2019 have driven the revival of solar buildout in the country, which abandoned a FiT scheme in 2015.

The Union Of Concerned Scientists has asked that the latest appointee to the US Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett to recuse herself from the upcoming decision whereby Baltimore is seeking to hold oil and gas companies accountable for climate change. Already Justice Samuel Alito, who owns shares in ConocoPhillips has already recused himself. And it is argued that Justice Amy Coney Barrett should do the same due to her father working for decades at Shell Oil, and who works for the lobby group the American Petroleum Institute funded by defendants of the Baltimore suit.

Fluence, leading global energy storage provider, said it has agreed $125 million in financing from the Qatar Investment Authority through a private placement transaction and it intends to use the proceeds to accelerate product development. Fluence is owned jointly by AES and Siemens, who will each hold around 44%.