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Shifting energy sources?

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Santiago Cubillos's picture
Junior Mechanical engineer University of Los Andes

Mechanical Engineer graduated from the University of Los Andes. Awarded by the Colombian Ministry of Education for having an excellent performance on its governmental exam SABER-PRO. Experience...

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  • Oct 9, 2020
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When thinking about an energy outlook, possibly some terms come into your mind like new technologies to power the world, global warming, fossil fuels, etc.

Nowadays, society has put the environment on its concerns, trying to look forward to its conservation. It is not new the fact that some reliable energy sources, such as fossil fuels, have negative effects on the environment conservation and these can be irreversible. Moreover, energy demand grows among time and this fact increases the need to look for sustainable solutions, leading to the development of renewable energy sources.

Many societies are adapting their assets to integrate renewable energy. So we have arrived to a solution, just shift fossil fuels for renewable energy sources, right? Well, no it is not. At this point we realize energy transition is starting.

Energy transition is the transformation of energy industry, it occurs when certain source of energy is being substituted. It is occuring now, the tendency to generate energy from renewable energy sources has increased and started substituting fossil fuels. However, there is still a long path for this transition.

Reliability and performance

Energy efficiency of renewable systems has increased in the past decades, guaranteeing significant energy conversion. Nevertheless, capacity factor of renewable systems are not as high as other fossil fuels generation systems; for instance, wind farms capacity factors -one of the highest in renewable energy- are 40% to 60%, compared to 70% - 90% from thermal plants.

Due to the fact that renewable energy relies on the presence of natural resources like sun radiation, wind speed, marine currents, etc. These are not present everywhere or everytime; for example, high windspeed is not present all day, depending if it is onshore or offshore, high measurmentes only occur some hours, but the amount time it occurs it is economically worth it.

In addition, solar modules produce the major amount of electric energy at noon, time where people do not take advantage of this because almost everyone is not at home, this effect is called duck curve. Nonetheless, this problem can be solved using a battery storage system, but it has another trouble and is that the implementation costs increase.

Economic issues

At the beginning of the century, it was not affordable to execute renewable energy projects, but thanks to the constant innovation on renewable equipment, manufacturing costs decrease, currently showing competitive prices in comparison with fossil fuels devices. According to IRENA (International Renewable Energy Agency) solar PV and onshore wind average levelized cost of energy (LCOE) is reducing since 2010, they have reduced 82% and 47%, respectively.

Moreover, governments are establishing different incentives like tax benefits, fostering the creation of more renewable projects that also can improve employment statistic significantly and decrease the carbon emissions, according to its decarbonisation goals.

In the other hand, there is still a long path for the economic viability in countries where renewable industry is not consolidated, because costs increase due to the need of foreign trained staff, equipment import or legal loopholes when regulating these projects. Consequently, projects cannot be done everywhere.

Global demand for fossil fuels will exist

Despite the fact that renewables are booming in the energy industry, there are still many other industries that need fossil fuels in order to work. For instance, gas is needed for daily activities like cooking or transporting, also oil can be extracted or converted in many goods that cannot be replaced like gasoline, lubricants, plastics, asphalt, kerosene, raw material for textiles... a lot of things! Besides, 57% of the global demand for oil comes from the transport industry. Maybe if you thought that in near future oil demand will disappear, you are wrong, substitution is not remotion, so oil & gas industry will still be operating.

The challenge for companies at this industry is to look forward to reach zero emissions. Some are opening new business lines towards renewables, developing low carbon technologies for their operations or modifying their assets using renewable energy to power them. These facts show that oil & gas industry has welcomed energy transition.

Not the only one

Finally, in spite of presenting some obstacles, energy transition is needed in order to avoid drastic effects from climate change. In addition, new technologies like green hydrogen are to be developed and, linked with data science, AI and machine learning, it is possible to improve green industry performance and reduce, even more, fossil fuels demand.

Before that, fossil fuels demand will keep reducing periodically -but still exist- until renewables demand ovelaps. It has happened among history, this is not the first energy transition humans have experienced, the way we have fueled the world has changed a few times, as shown below.

I wonder if there will be a next-era energy transition.

Santiago Cubillos's picture
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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Oct 9, 2020

At the beginning of the century, it was not affordable to execute renewable energy projects, but thanks to the constant innovation on renewable equipment, manufacturing costs decrease, currently showing competitive prices in comparison with fossil fuels devices. According to IRENA (International Renewable Energy Agency) solar PV and onshore wind average levelized cost of energy (LCOE) is reducing since 2010, they have reduced 82% and 47%, respectively.

Are you confident the subsidies that have been used to give a boost to these sources are no longer necessary to keep the prices that competitive? I don't think we'd be as far along technologically without them, but the question of whether they're still necessary is a compelling one. Would love to hear your thoughts!

Santiago Cubillos's picture
Santiago Cubillos on Oct 13, 2020

I think they are necessary specially in countries where renewable industry has begun in the last few years, these mechanisms promote renewable projects. Moreover, I think that this fact has a direct effect on LCOE reported by IRENA, without subsidies the average costs can increase. Thank you for your reaction Matt.

Dr. Amal Khashab's picture
Dr. Amal Khashab on Oct 10, 2020

About they way of fuelling the world:

- Wood ,coal and oil are look-alike as concentrated sources. One can move from a place to another where they fuelled power plants at selected sites.

- But Renewable are scattered here and there covering the earth . Therefore, one has to use them locally as soon as have reasonable level of use either  m/second for wind speed or  WH/m2 for solar.More and above renewable resources are intermittent . This puts contraints about widespreed utilization , and it is impossible to reach 100% at any time at any place .

 

Santiago Cubillos's picture
Santiago Cubillos on Oct 13, 2020

Dr. Amal I appreciatte your comments. World is moving towards renewable sources, despite the fact it is impossible to have 100% at any time at any place, maybe sources may complement, with the use of latest technologies, such as green hydro energy generation? 

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Oct 13, 2020

Santiago, Thanks for bring up these important points about shifting energy sources. I see a lot of mis information in some of the reasoning.

The peak use and output of Solar PV is almost perfect with energy use and peaks. The Duck Curve in most areas is early moring and late evening 5-7 am or pm. not noon when no one is home. Even a home can send extra energy to the GRID and it is used by nearby business.

The Capacity Factors are not great for COAL at only 30% efficient and the need reduces at night which COAL, OIL and Nuclear can't reduce at night and still meet the next days peaks. They boil water and pollute. We are running low on all of them. The US imports 90% of the Uranium from Russia. 

The biggest FACT is we still subsidies COAL, NG , OIL and Nuclear. We have for 50 to 100 years. How sad is that FACT. 

With great advanced battery storage like the Tesla Power Packs we can add lots of Renewable Energy. It's fast to add and can be placed where it is used. Who would want a COAL or Nuclear plant at their home. Yet record numbers are adding Solar PV and Battery Storage right at their homes. So add up all the FACTS and it's time for Renewables to shift into place.  

Santiago Cubillos's picture
Santiago Cubillos on Oct 13, 2020

Jim thank you for sharing this information. I think these facts expose and solvent different worries about shifting energy sources. However, I think there are some obstacles in implanting latest technologies; for instance, nowadays a battery storage system significantly increase LCOE for a project, however I'll look forward to study Tesla Power Packs effects on project financing and cost-benefit analysis.

Rami Reshef's picture
Rami Reshef on Oct 13, 2020

I wonder if there will be a next-era energy transition.

Next-era energy transition? Looks to be Hydrogen...  Thanks Santiago for sharing your views on the energy transition, recognizing the gradual move from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, impacted by regulations, incentives and the decreasing Levelized Cost of Energy for renewables as the supply of renewable generation grows exponentially around the globe. As you rightly mention, decarbonizing many industry sectors is very difficult to achieve with direct renewables and for this reason many say that the next-era energy transition is likely to be hydrogen. Hydrogen won't displace other renewables but complement them. In this conversation the issue was raised that one constraint to power from renewables is that they need to be consumed locally - we see technology trying to overcome this constraint by using excess daytime solar and wind to produce green hydrogen - then we need to be able to efficiently and economically transport that green hydrogen to be consumed where the power is needed - technology is offering many solutions here, one good one is ammonia, an economical and efficient hydrogen carrier.

Let's hope that the energy transition will continue and accelerate to enable the reduction of emissions to levels that can indeed combat the destructive impact of climate change. As more and more responsible power generators and consumers set preferences for renewables and seek ways to balance the grid with distributed energy resources, there will be even greater justification and need for clean energy technologies that will enable us to more safely reach the next era.

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