Households Should Be Paid For Their Solar Energy – Report

Expert Joseph Curtin says ‘overdue incentives’ should apply to small producers

By: Kevin O’Sullivan

An Irish housing development showing solar panels on roofs. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

The Government’s long-awaited move to incentivise the scaling-up of solar energy development in Ireland should not exclude individuals and small businesses who wish to avail of an opportunity to reduce their energy costs by installing rooftop panels.

That is among the recommendations of a report by the climate expert Joseph Curtin published today.

The report was commissioned by Friends of the Earth, which is concerned the incentive scheme due to be announced shortly by Department of the Environment “may not cover micro/rooftop installations, and may not adequately address barriers to citizen participation” in solar panel deployment.

The cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, which generate usable solar power by means of photovoltaics technology and associated electricity storage batteries, has dropped dramatically in recent years. The panels absorb and convert sunlight into electricity with the help of an inverter that changes electrical current so that it can be used domestically or added to the national grid.

The report evaluates solar industry trends in the UK and Germany, and rejects suggestions that domestic rooftop solar energy would be too costly or favour wealthy households.

“The initial period of support is necessary so that the technology matures in the Irish market, and to ensure that Ireland can benefit from dramatic technology cost reductions anticipated over coming decades,” said Mr Curtin, a research fellow at UCC and member of the Government’s climate change advisory council.

Benefits For Citizens

While solar PV is a “potentially disruptive technology to incumbent business models”, notably those used by utility companies that generate or distribute electricity, “it must be embraced, not blocked, because it offers many benefits for citizens, and is a potentially vital component of the flexible and responsive energy system of the future”, the report adds.

“Supporting the industry at this early stage will ensure that a qualified cadre of project developers and technology experts emerges, and a technology supply chain is developed,” it says.

While larger schemes offer economies of scale and lower transaction costs, “the argument in favour of household rooftop solar is based on the fact that householders save energy which would otherwise be paid for at the rate of the peak electricity tariff for residential customers”.

A renewable electricity incentive scheme proposal being considered by the Government includes provision for commercial rooftop solar development in addition to “on ground” projects, The Irish Times understands – but “it’s not a carve-up” in favour of big developers and large energy companies.

“The introduction of a subsidy for rooftop solar PV … is vital for development of the type of grid and energy system that can deliver national decarbonisation [reducing CO2 emissions] at least cost and maximum benefit over coming decades,” said Friends of the Earth director Oisín Coghlan.

The “overdue incentive” should apply equally to domestic households, small businesses, farmers, schools and community groups, Mr Coghlan insisted.

Anti-Solar Arguments

The financial analysis refutes common “anti-solar” arguments, he said. “The Government has promised to put citizens and communities at the heart of the transition to a clean energy system. This research shows solar power is key to unlocking citizen participation. Paying households for the solar electricity they generate can be done at a reasonable cost and in a fair way.”

Mr Coghlan said the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had signed the Friends of the Earth petition for a fair payment for solar power, and Minister for Climate Action Denis Naughten had indicated support for rooftop solar energy.

He added: “We’re really concerned that economists with no interest in public participation and big power companies who want to keep the market to themselves are telling the Government not to pay households and communities for the electricity they generate; to leave it to the big boys to provide Ireland’s renewable energy. We have seen the limits of that strategy with wind power. We don’t want to repeat the same mistake with solar energy.”




New York City Turns Organic Waste into Green Energy

Brooklyn resident Sara Schiwal is among more than 2 million New Yorkers who have access to a brown bin.

The bins are part of the citywide curbside food scrap and yard waste collection program, already the largest in the United States.

Schiwal, who enjoys cooking with her two-year-old daughter Nora, said that recycling organics is much easier than she had originally thought.

“Everything, all food products – whether they are good, bad, spoiled or stems, parts that you were never going to use – everything goes into it. It is so simple, and it cuts down on our trash, that I can’t understand why anybody wouldn’t want to do it,” she told Reuters.

Approximately one third of New York City waste is organic material – food scraps, food-soiled paper and yard waste. And while part of it is turned into compost that goes to local farms and landfills, an ongoing pilot project at Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant aims to turn it into biogas that ultimately will go back to residents to heat their stoves and homes.

“Food waste is similar to the solids that you get at the waste water treatment plant. So we decided to try and augment our digesters using the food waste component,” explained Deputy Commissioner of Bureau of Wastewater Treatment Pam Elardo.

Newtown Creek is one of 14 wastewater treatment plants in New York, which has already produced 500 million cubic feet of biogas in its digesters from the solids collected from wastewater.

Inside the plant’s eight digester eggs, sludge is placed in an oxygen-free environment, where it is heated to at least 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) for between 15 to 30 days. This stimulates the growth of anaerobic bacteria, which consume the organic material in the sludge. The digestion process stabilizes the thickened sludge by converting much of the material into water, carbon dioxide and biogas.

By adding pre-processed food waste, the production of biogas went up significantly, Elardo said.

“When we add the food waste we found initially about a 10 percent increase. Which is kind of sustainable over time – at about 25 to 50 tons of food waste per day. This project, the pilot project, it’s going to get us up to about 250 tons of food waste per day. So we’re going to submit, substantially increase potentially the amount of methane we produce.”

At the plant approximately 40 percent of the methane is reused in boilers that provide heat for plant buildings and the digester eggs. The excess biogas is flared into the atmosphere, but with the partnership with National Grid, a major natural gas provider in the United States, this might soon change in the future.

National Grid is scheduled to built a purification center at Newtown Creek in the second part of 2017 that will get the biogas produced clean enough to go into the pipelines for residential and commercial use.

Elardo said that if the program is a success, the 14 wastewater treatment plants can process all the food waste of New York.

“If we can get 500 tons per day here, which is our maximum, and we could get something half or similar at all the other plants, we can get thousands of tons a day for food waste. New York City produces 2,000 tons (food waste) per day residential and about the same commercial; that’s 4,000 tons per day. Potentially this system, this solution, could take all the food waste,” she said.

More than 3 million New York City households will have access to a brown bin by the end of this year. And the combined projects have the potential to produce enough energy to heat nearly 5,200 New York City homes, reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by more than 90,000 metric tons – the equivalent of removing nearly 19,000 cars from the road.



Nearly 140 Countries Could Be Powered Entirely by Wind, Solar and Water by 2050

‘Our findings suggest that the benefits are so great that we should accelerate the transition to wind, water, and solar, as fast as possible, by retiring fossil-fuel systems early wherever we can’

By: Ian Johnston

More than 70 per cent of the countries in the world – including the UK, US, China and other major economies – could run entirely on energy created by wind, water and solar by 2050, according to a roadmap developed by scientists.

And they pointed out that doing so would not only mean the world would avoid dangerous global warming, but also prevent millions of premature deaths a year and create about 24 million more jobs than were lost.

One of the scientists said the social benefits of following their roadmap were so “enormous” and essentially cost free that human society should “accelerate the transition to wind, water and solar as fast as possible”.

Rooftop solar panels and major solar power plants; offshore and onshore wind turbines; wave, hydroelectric and tidal schemes; and geothermal energy would also be used to replace fossil fuels to generate electricity, power vehicles and heat homes.

The UK is about to publish its own Emissions Reduction Plan, which is supposed to set out how Britain will meet its international commitment in the fight against climate change – to cut emissions by 57 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030.

While the UK has been making good progress on decarbonising electricity generation, the transport and domestic heating sectors remain problematic.

As part of its attempts to improve air quality, the Government has announced it will ban the sale of new fossil fuel-powered vehicles in 2040. It remains to be seen how radical it will be in encouraging the switch from gas-central heating to low or zero-carbon methods.

Writing in the journal Joule, a team of researchers led by Professor Mark Jacobson, of Stanford University in the US, warned the stakes were high.

“The seriousness of air-pollution, climate, and energy-security problems worldwide requires a massive, virtually immediate transformation of the world’s energy infrastructure to 100 per cent clean, renewable energy producing zero emissions,” they said.

“For example, each year, four to seven million people die prematurely and hundreds of millions more become ill from air pollution, causing a massive amount of pain and suffering that can nearly be eliminated by a zero-emission energy system.

“Similarly, avoiding 1.5C warming since pre-industrial times requires no less than an 80 per cent conversion of the energy infrastructure to zero-emitting energy by 2030 and 100 per cent by 2050.

“Lastly, as fossil-fuel supplies dwindle and their prices rise, economic, social, and political instability may ensue unless a replacement energy infrastructure is developed well ahead of time.”

The roadmaps were developed for 139 countries for which information about energy systems was available, out of the total of 195.

They “describe a future where all energy sectors are electrified or use heat directly with existing technology, energy demand is lower due to several factors, and the electricity is generated with 100% wind, water and sunlight (WWS)”, the researchers said.

“The roadmaps are not a prediction of what might happen. They are one proposal for an end-state mix of WWS generators by country and a timeline to get there that we believe can largely solve the world’s climate-change, air-pollution, and energy-security problems,” they added.

Professor Jacobson, director of Stanford’s atmosphere and energy programme, said political leaders needed reassurance that the transition to a zero-carbon economy would work.

“Both individuals and governments can lead this change. Policymakers don’t usually want to commit to doing something unless there is some reasonable science that can show it is possible, and that is what we are trying to do,” he said.

“We are not saying that there is only one way we can do this, but having a scenario gives people direction.”

Fellow researcher Mark Delucchi added: “It appears we can achieve the enormous social benefits of a zero-emission energy system at essentially no extra cost.

“Our findings suggest that the benefits are so great that we should accelerate the transition to wind, water, and solar, as fast as possible, by retiring fossil-fuel systems early wherever we can.”

The researchers decided to exclude nuclear power, coal with carbon-capture-and-storage, biofuels and bioenergy from their vision of the future.

On nuclear, they highlighted the risks of weapons proliferation and the chance of a power plant meltdown.

“There is no known way at this time to eliminate these risks. By contrast, WWS technologies have none of these risks. Thus, we are proposing and evaluating a system that we believe provides the greatest environmental benefits with the least risk,” the researchers wrote.




Oz State Sets 40% Green Goal

Victoria also launches 650MW renewable energy auction

Image: Victoria’s Macarthur wind farm (Vestas)

Australia’s second-most populous state has proposed a new law that would require 40% of its power needs to be generated by renewable energy by 2025.

Victoria also launched a 650MW renewable energy auction, which the government expects to spur up to A$1.3bln ($1bln) of investment in the sector.

At the national level, Australia’s conservative Liberal-National coalition government hasn’t proposed any new energy targets beyond 2020, when the country is expected to generate around 23.5% of its power from renewable sources.

Victoria, currently governed by the center-left Labor party, said the introduction of its new legislation this week would mark the first time an individual state has gone it alone and enshrined its own target into law.

The government has also announced the results of a tender to build 138MW worth of new solar parks to power Melbourne’s tram network. The winners are the 100MW Bannerton and 38MW Numurkah projects near Robinvale and Shepparton, respectively.

“More renewable energy means more jobs for Victorians – that’s why we’re setting these ambitious targets and promoting investment in this growing sector,” Victorian premier Daniel Andrews said.

“Renewable energy creates jobs, drives growth, and protects our environment – and most importantly, helps drive down power prices for Victorian households and businesses.”

The legislation also sets a renewables generation target for 2020 of 25%.



Dutch Airports to be Powered by Renewable Energy From 2018

By: Anmar Frangoul

Nicolas Economou | NurPhoto | Getty Images

The Royal Schiphol Group has announced that all of its business units are set to run on sustainable power from the beginning of 2018.

From 2020, all of the power will come from new Dutch wind farms run by energy company Eneco. While the new wind farms are built, the power will come from other sustainable sources in the Netherlands.

The clean energy will supply Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, Rotterdam The Hague Airport, Eindhoven Airport and Lelystad Airport and amount to 220 gigawatt hours annually for the next 15 years. According to the business, 70 million passengers passed through its Dutch airports in 2016, an increase of 8.9 percent.

“For our new energy contract, we wanted nothing but sustainable power generated in the Netherlands,” Jos Nijhuis, president and CEO of the Royal Schiphol Group, said in a statement on Tuesday. Nijhuis went on to state that aviation “can and must be made more sustainable.”

Dutch authorities have ambitious plans when it comes to the environment and renewable energy. Central government wants to slash greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 and, in the shorter term, wants to switch to 16 percent sustainable energy by 2023.

“For the energy transition, it is crucial for the business sector – which is by far the largest energy consumer – to embrace sustainability,” Jeroen de Haas, the Eneco Group’s CEO, said.

“Pioneers such as Royal Schiphol Group are consciously choosing new, sustainable forms of production and are therefore setting the tone for others,” de Haas added.