Why Countries With Biggest Renewable Reserves Will Become Superpowers of Tomorrow

The fossil fuel era won’t last forever – when it finally comes to an end a new set of countries will find their reserves of lithium, copper and rare metals are in high demand

By: Andrew Barron

China has gone to great lengths to transform itself into a green energy pioneer, and has built the world’s largest floating solar farm Getty

Imagine a world where every country has not only complied with the Paris climate agreement but has moved away from fossil fuels entirely. How would such a change affect global politics?

The 20th century was dominated by coal, oil and natural gas, but a shift to zero-emission energy generation and transport means a new set of elements will become key. Solar energy, for instance, still primarily uses silicon technology, for which the major raw material is the rock quartzite. Lithium represents the key limiting resource for most batteries – while rare earth metals, in particular “lanthanides” such as neodymium, are required for the magnets in wind turbine generators. Copper is the conductor of choice for wind power, being used in the generator windings, power cables, transformers and inverters.

In considering this future it is necessary to understand who wins and loses by a switch from carbon to silicon, copper, lithium and rare earth metals.

Chile has the largest reserves of lithium in the world, ahead of China, Argentina and Australia (Reuters)

The list of countries that would become the new “renewables superpowers” contains some familiar names, but also a few wild cards. The largest reserves of quartzite (for silicon production) are found in China, the US and Russia – but also Brazil and Norway. The US and China are also major sources of copper, although their reserves are decreasing, which has pushed Chile, Peru, Congo and Indonesia to the fore.

Chile also has, by far, the largest reserves of lithium, ahead of China, Argentina and Australia. Factoring in lower-grade “resources” – which can’t yet be extracted – bumps Bolivia and the US onto the list. Finally, rare earth resources are greatest in China, Russia, Brazil – and Vietnam.

Of all the fossil fuel producing countries, it is the US, China, Russia and Canada that could most easily transition to green energy resources. In fact it is ironic that the US, perhaps the country most politically resistant to change, might be the least affected as far as raw materials are concerned. But it is important to note that a completely new set of countries will also find their natural resources are in high demand.

An Opec for Renewables

The Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) is a group of 14 nations that together contain almost half the world’s oil production and most of its reserves. It is possible that a related group could be created for the major producers of renewable energy raw materials, shifting power away from the Middle East and towards central Africa and, especially, South America.

This is unlikely to happen peacefully. Control of oil fields was a driver behind many 20th-century conflicts and, going back further, European colonisation was driven by a desire for new sources of food, raw materials, minerals and – later – oil. The switch to renewable energy may cause something similar. As a new group of elements become valuable for turbines, solar panels or batteries, rich countries may ensure they have secure supplies through a new era of colonisation.

China has already started what may be termed “economic colonisation”, setting up major trade agreements to ensure raw material supply. In the past decade it has made a massive investment in African mining, while more recent agreements with countries such as Peru and Chile have spread Beijing’s economic influence in South America.

Or a New Era of Colonisation?

Given this background, two versions of the future can be envisaged. The first possibility is the evolution of a new Opec-style organisation with the power to control vital resources including silicon, copper, lithium and lanthanides. The second possibility involves 21st-century colonisation of developing countries, creating super-economies. In both futures there is the possibility that rival nations could cut off access to vital renewable energy resources, just as major oil and gas producers have done in the past.

On the positive side there is a significant difference between fossil fuels and the chemical elements needed for green energy. Oil and gas are consumable commodities. Once a natural gas power station is built, it must have a continuous supply of gas or it stops generating. Similarly, petrol-powered cars require a continued supply of crude oil to keep running.

In contrast, once a wind farm is built, electricity generation is only dependent on the wind (which won’t stop blowing any time soon) and there is no continuous need for neodymium for the magnets or copper for the generator windings. In other words solar, wind and wave power require a one-off purchase in order to ensure long-term secure energy generation.

The shorter lifetime of cars and electronic devices means that there is an ongoing demand for lithium. Improved recycling processes would potentially overcome this continued need. Thus, once the infrastructure is in place access to coal, oil or gas can be denied, but you can’t shut off the sun or wind. It is on this basis that the US Department of Defence sees green energy as key to national security.

A country that creates green energy infrastructure, before political and economic control shifts to a new group of “world powers”, will ensure it is less susceptible to future influence or to being held hostage by a lithium or copper giant. But late adopters will find their strategy comes at a high price. Finally, it will be important for countries with resources not to sell themselves cheaply to the first bidder in the hope of making quick money – because, as the major oil producers will find out over the next decades, nothing lasts forever.

Courtesy: http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/

Heineken Commits to 70% Renewable Energy in Production by 2030

(Photo: Solar panels at Heineken’s Den Bosch brewery. Credit: Heineken)

Heineken has committed to increasing its share of renewable energy in production from the current 14% level to 70% in 2030. The Dutch brewing company also announced that it will set carbon emissions reduction goals for distribution, cooling, and packaging through a new program called Drop the C.

Throughout the past year, Heineken identified projects worldwide that can contribute to reaching the new 2030 renewable energy goal in production. The targets will be externally verified by the Science Based Targets initiative, the company says.

At the moment, 29% of Heineken’s total global electricity usage comes from renewable sources. Heineken’s brewery in Massafra, Italy, has 3.3 MW of solar capacity, the Göss brewery in Austria is carbon neutral, solar energy is being used for brewing in Singapore, and both wind energy and solar power are used in the Netherlands.

Heineken’s Wieckse beer brewery in Den Bosch, the Netherlands, has a rooftop solar system completed in 2013 with an annual capacity of 855,000 kWh. The self-consumption solar system was the first installation of its size in the Netherlands without feed-in tariffs or subsidies, according to a case study from solar company REC, which made the 3,683 solar panels used there. All the electricity produced goes directly into beer production there.

“Now is the right time to set ourselves new targets,” Jean-François van Boxmeer, Heineken’s chairman and CEO, said in the announcement. “When I visit our breweries I want to see that we are brewing with real green energy and that we are not achieving our reduction targets by buying unbundled certificates.”

Over the past decade, carbon emissions at Heineken breweries have decreased by 41%, and the company already reached its 2020 emission targets in production last year.

In the next two years, Heineken plans to set the emission reduction targets for distribution, cooling, and packaging. This is the first time the company is including packaging, which represents a significant portion of the brewer’s carbon footprint. The company says that packaging may also prove to be the most challenging area to tackle since it involves broad coordination across the industry as well as changes to consumer behavior.

“Collaboration will be needed to increase the recycling rate of materials used in cans and bottles, reduce the amount of glass and other materials used in packaging, and to support suppliers to move to renewable energy in their factories,” the brewer says.

The program name Drop the C refers to cutting carbon from CO2 to leave oxygen, and is a wordplay on combatting rising sea levels. Heineken operates breweries and other production facilities in more than 70 countries worldwide.

Courtesy: https://www.environmentalleader.com

Expanding Solar in Low-Income Communities: Lessons From Denver

SEIA’s Mike Mendelsohn explains how solar developers can expand the market to serve more customers.

By: Mike Mendelsohn

Denver has been working for several years to make solar available to low-income neighborhoods.

Expanding the solar market to lower-income individuals and the businesses and nonprofits that serve them remains a top priority for the solar industry. They key is to figure out how.

Historically, participation in the solar economy has primarily been enjoyed by homeowners and large corporations with good credit. However, a valuable success story out of Colorado deserves to be highlighted and considered for replication. There, the Housing Authority of the City and County of Denver (informally known as the Denver Housing Authority, or DHA) has been working for several years to make solar available to the low-income neighborhoods it serves.

According to Chris Jedd, portfolio energy manager for DHA, there are two sets of questions that should be asked of those interested in going solar: What type of housing are they in? And who pays for the energy?

Subsidized Housing Type

There are a number of programs and subsidies that facilitate affordable housing, which can be confusing for a solar developer trying to comprehend the market opportunity. These programs include:

  • Public housing — Generally owned and operated by municipal housing authorities and funded with annual operating subsidies from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to pay for expenses such as operations and maintenance, capital improvements and utilities, including electricity.
  • Section 8 — Another HUD-supported program designed to facilitate home affordability through two means: a voucher program administered by local housing authorities and a project-based system that incentivizes construction of multifamily affordable housing by the private sector.
  • Low-Income Housing Tax Credits — A federal tax credit program used to finance the construction and rehabilitation of low-income affordable rental housing. (HUD offers insight and data on LIHTC)
  • Additional state programs.

Who Pays The Energy Bills?

Because HUD directly or indirectly pays the utilities for a large portion of subsidized housing, there is often little incentive for local housing authorities to take the risk of investing and making a long-term (20-year) commitment in cost-reduction technologies (solar and efficiency measures). The savings would pass through to HUD and not be retained by the housing authority or the tenant.

A similar challenge often exists with Section 8 housing that’s owned by third parties — participation in the Section 8 program requires a cap on total housing-related expenses, including energy costs, which a resident is required to pay. If energy cost-reduction measures lower electricity payments, for example, the building owner could raise the rent, so long as the total affordability cap is not violated.

In addition, there are LIHTC properties that are owned by partnerships, and the utilities are generally paid for as an operating expense out of the partnership’s budget (without any support from HUD). The largest LIHTC properties may have hundreds of units in them and are master-metered (a single meter for the entire building). This means the roof space cannot support enough solar to meaningfully cut into the electricity bill, making it difficult to allocate the benefits back to the low-income tenants.

The good news is that HUD continues to modify and develop programs and policies to overcome these challenges in an effort to expand solar access to low-income Americans.

Two specific policies that have proven to be helpful include HUD’s Energy Performance Contracting System and HUD’s Rate Reduction Incentive Program.

Successful Approaches

Third-party power-purchase agreement: To overcome some of these disincentive barriers, DHA came up with a win-win solution. In 2012, DHA entered into a power-purchase agreement (PPA) focused solely on public housing, which narrowed and simplified the subsidy structure. The PPA was financed, owned and maintained by a third-party provider, which then sells the electricity to the DHA.

The project included a combination of roughly 660 solar systems, equating to a total capacity of about 2.5 megawatts. To share the utility savings generated from the PPA between DHA and HUD, DHA pays a lower utility rate, of which HUD retains the savings by providing less utility subsidies to DHA. In addition, DHA leases its rooftops to the PPA provider, retaining some of the savings through rental income.

Another solution to these barriers is turning to an innovative community solar concept. DHA recently closed on financing a 2-megawatt system that will be built by Namaste Solar. DHA is the developer, owner and subscriber of the garden, and partnered with Grid Alternatives and other industry experts, to assist in navigating the complex utility policies, financing structures and allocation of benefits.

The system will power approximately 700 low-income units across Xcel Energy’s Denver territory, including DHA properties, other local housing authorities and affordable housing developers. Xcel’s virtual net metering program allows DHA to allocate energy from the DHA Community Solar Program to the various low income properties.

In addition, Xcel conducts a competitive RFP for renewable energy credits from community solar projects. Bid evaluation factors include “level of low-income subscribership” and “innovative proposals that benefit low-income subscribers throughout the life of the contract.” This helps encourage projects, like DHA’s, within the community solar program. To support the long-term financing of the system, DHA had to act as the counterparty to the deal. It committed to subscribe the 2-megawatt system in its entirety or pay the financing partners in lieu of PPA payments. The system was sized and the PPA rates were designed in order to produce a 20 percent savings on electricity costs.

Going Forward

Jedd’s advice to solar developers trying to play a part in this opportunity is to “thoughtfully think through the subsidy structures to optimize benefit flow and minimize risk.” In addition, local champions within the housing authority are key. DHA and larger housing agencies generally have staff, like Jedd, as dedicated energy managers. The agency’s chief financial officer will also be a key stakeholder, so reach out to her early in the process to explain how the cost reduction benefits can allow for expansion of their mission to provide affordable housing.

Advocacy is also a key component. DHA has collaborated with local stakeholders and Xcel Energy to expand opportunities for affordable housing inclusion in community solar. Through a recent renewable energy planning proceeding in Colorado, Xcel specifically included nonprofit affordable housing providers in new, dedicated community solar programs that serve low-income customers, and will solicit bids for almost 20 megawatts of such projects through 2019.

Other states, like Massachusetts, offer adders for low-income inclusion in community solar projects. These policies are essential to ensuring that low-income customers and affordable housing providers will continue to benefit from community solar programs. California recently approved $1 billion for its Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing program.

The Solar Energy Industries Association is also currently working on model community solar master, and individual, subscription agreements with leading law firms, developers and other stakeholders. These documents incorporate much of experience gleaned via the DHA Community Solar case and will be available to the public so the proverbial wheel doesn’t need to be reinvented each time.

The pieces of the puzzle are in place. Let’s leverage DHA’s great work so solar access can continue to expand across the country.

Courtesy: https://www.greentechmedia.com/

 

Netherlands to Build First Solar Farm That Will Float in the Ocean

By: Avery Thompson

GETTY IMAGESSTR / STRINGER

The Netherlands has a problem. There’s no space in the country to put a giant solar farm. Land is at a premium in the Low Countries, and so the cost of building large solar farms is much higher than practically anywhere else in the world. So far, this trouble has caused the Netherlands to lag behind other countries when it comes to transitioning to renewable energy.

As a solution, the Netherlands is considering building its solar farms on the surface of the ocean. Reuters is reporting that an offshore seaweed farm will be turned into a floating solar farm over the next three years, paving the way for a solar-powered Dutch future.

The project will begin with a test, a 30 square meter solar farm about nine miles off the coast of the Hague. The farm will be positioned between two existing offshore wind turbines and connected to the same cables, meaning the project won’t require any additional infrastructure.

If the test project is successful—that is, if the panels prove rugged enough, and the electricity generated is cheap enough—the farm will be expanded to its full size of 2,500 square meters. The project backers hope that this full-size solar farm will be finished by 2021.

Offshore solar farms do have several advantages over land-based ones. In addition to the lack of land costs, offshore panels tend to receive more sunlight due to the lack of obstacles, and the water acts as a coolant, increasing efficiency. According to an expert from Utrecht University, these benefits can improve solar panel efficiency by up to 15 percent.

Offshore solar panels have already been pioneered in China, where several such farms have been built on large lakes. But this will be the first floating solar farm built on the open sea, which could pose unique challenges. But if the Dutch can find a way to overcome these challenges and build a cost-effective solar farm offshore, it could allow the Netherlands and many other countries to expand their solar power generation in a cheap and efficient way, without taking up too much space on land.

Courtesy: https://www.popularmechanics.com/

Australia’s Solar Power Boom Could Almost Double Capacity in a Year, Analysts Say

Solar farm approvals and record rooftop installations expected to ‘turbo-boost’ production

Last month was the biggest January on record for rooftop installation of solar panals, according to RenewEconomy and SunWiz. Photograph: Lucy Hughes Jones/AAP

A record-breaking month of rooftop installations and a flood of large-scale solar farms could almost double Australia’s solar power capacity in a single year, industry analysts say.

A massive solar energy boom is being predicted for 2018, after an unprecedented number of industrial solar farms were approved by the New South Wales and Queensland governments last year.

Last month also became the biggest January on record for rooftop installations, according to the renewables website RenewEconomy and industry analysts SunWiz.

With 111MW of new panels, it saw a 69% rise compared with the same month last year and became one of the top five months ever – largely driven by low installation costs and a boost in commercial uptake.

At the same time, nearly 30 new industrial solar farms are scheduled to come on line.

NSW approved 10 solar farm projects last year – twice as many as the year before – and has approved another in 2018. Queensland currently has 18 large-scale projects under construction, which is the most in the country.

The new farms could be operational within the year, according to John Grimes, the chief executive of the Smart Energy Council.

“These solar farms can be built within a matter of weeks,” he said. “They’re really quick and simple.”

Together, the new large-scale projects could add between 2.5GW and 3.5GW to the national grid and rooftop installations could add another 1.3GW, according to the Smart Energy Council’s estimates. This would nearly double the nation’s solar energy capacity, currently 7GW, in a single year.

“The train tracks are about to converge,” Grimes said. “Rooftop installations and utilities are both booming and could turbo-boost the solar numbers overall.”

In Queensland, residential solar panels are already the state’s largest source of energy, producing more combined than the 1.7GW Gladstone power station. Just under a third (30%) of residential homes in the state have solar installed – the most in the country.

With the completion of the new solar farms, solar will provide 17% of the state’s energy. “We’ve turned the sunshine state into the solar state,” Queensland’s former energy minister Mark Bailey said in October.

In New South Wales, the planning minister, Anthony Roberts, said the 10 new solar farms would generate 1.2GW of energy and reduce carbon emissions by more than 2.5m tonnes – the equivalent of taking about 800,000 cars off the road.

In January this year, NSW announced another plant – the 170MW Finley plant in the Riverina – as did Queensland, the 120MW solar farm at Munna Creek.

Grimes said the solar boom “was only going to grow” in future.

“Solar is the cheapest way to generate electricity in the world – full stop,” he said. “It’s not unusual for grid pricing to be north of 20c per kilowatt hour in a majority of jurisdicitions. A solar array, at an average size for an average home, if you amortise the cost over 20 years, the effective rate is 5c per kilowatt hour. That’s called an economic no-brainer.”

He said the rush to install rooftop panels could have been sparked by January’s warm weather and rising energy prices.

“I think people are acutely aware of energy prices. People are running air conditioning and thinking, ‘hooley dooley I’m going to get a bill’.”

2017 saw a record 1.25GW of solar power added to the grid nationally, counting both large-scale solar farms and rooftop panels. The predicted rate of rooftop panels alone in 2018 is expected to be 1.3GW.

Courtesy: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/