Even as we usher 2017 with immense hope and innumerable possibilities, there are many key takeaways for the clean energy sector from last year. For that matter, 2016 was a year of many firsts in the renewable energy sphere and encouragingly so. Some notable instances cited below are a testimony to this new reality.
In the United Kingdom, solar power produced more electricity than coal across the whole of May 2016, the first ever month to pass the milestone, according to research by analysts at Carbon Brief.
It was found that solar panels generated 50 per cent more electricity than fossil fuel across the month, as days lengthened and the use of coal reduced. In fact, solar generated an estimated 1,336 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity in May, compared to 893GWh output from coal.
While the world’s first “solar highway” opened in Tourouvre-au-Perche, in the northern French region of Normandy, in a clean energy milestone, Portugal kept its lights on with renewable energy alone for four consecutive days.
Apart from solar, its counterpart wind made waves across the globe as well.
The generation of electricity from wind energy created records across the UK and Scotland in particular, over the Christmas period. Wind energy supplied a record 41% of the UK’s electricity needs in a
half-hour period on Christmas Day, beating its earlier record of 34%. On the same day, a new daily record was set, with 32% of the UK’s electricity needs being generated by wind. Overall, renewable energy met 42% of electricity demand on December 25.
Moreover, 20% of the UK’s electricity was generated by wind in the week ending on Christmas Day, exceeding the previous record of 19%. Overall, renewables accounted for 28% of total electricity generation in that week.
In Scotland, wind generated the equivalent of enough electricity to supply the country with all its power needs across December 23, 24, 25, and 26. On Christmas Eve (December 24), wind energy delivered 74,042 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity to the National Grid, a new record for the amount of wind energy generated in a single day — 132% of the country’s electricity needs that day.
As per figures from WeatherEnergy, the electricity needs of Scotland fell on Christmas Day, which meant that wind energy actually generated 153% of the country’s total electricity demand.
It was probably also the first time that offshore wind was utilized on such a large scale to power homes. Fifteen miles off the coast of Rhode Island, 600-foot turbines, anchored in 90 feet of Atlantic waters, are likely to generate enough energy to power 17,000 homes.
These examples are a corroboration of a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), which has predicted that renewables will be the world’s fastest-growing source of electricity over the next five years.
Moreover, this sector also promises a sustainable way of life for residents in remote and far flung areas. Scientists at the University of Edinburgh announced that they are developing a low-cost, low-energy technology to decontaminate sewage water in hard-to-reach villages of India. This initiative is likely to provide clean drinking water and help reduce the spread of disease.
The system uses sunlight to generate high-energy particles inside solar-powered materials, which activate oxygen in the water to “incinerate” harmful pollutants and bacteria.
Additionally, the renewable energy (RE) sector has also helped create jobs, as findings by the U.S. Department of Energy revealed. In its second annual analysis, the agency explained how employment in the solar industry jumped by over 25 per cent (73,000 jobs) in 2016, further adding credence to this vibrant industry.
On the one hand, July 2016 was the 15th record-breaking month in a row in terms of global temperatures, data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association revealed. Gavin Schmidt, Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, reported that July 2016 was also “absolutely the hottest month since the instrumental records began.”
On the other though, there was respite, by way of major decisions taken by global giants to bolster clean energy. The foremost was that by Google which announced it would use 100% renewable energy, mainly wind and solar energy, for global operations in its data centers and offices.
Moving ahead, the current year appears extremely encouraging for the RE sector, picking up from where 2016 bid adieu.
Saudi Arabia will begin to solicit bids in the next few weeks for the first phase of a “massive”
renewable-energy program costing $30 billion to $50 billion, Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih said. Plans are on to generate close to 10 GW from renewables, mainly solar and wind power, by 2023, he told newspersons in Abu Dhabi recently.
In yet another development, Jordan has plans to award an additional 300 MW of renewable projects by the end of this year. Ziad Jibril Sabra, assistant secretary general in the Ministry of Energy, announced that four solar projects and two wind plants are in the offing, each producing 50 MW of electricity.
Jordan’s target by 2020 is to generate about 20 per cent of electricity from renewables. Of the 1,600 MW planned, 1,300 are already contracted in two stages and the remaining 300 MW will be the third round, according to reports by Bloomberg.
Research has been supportive of this industry too. A new study from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), states that the technical renewable energy potential in South East Europe is equal to around 740 GW. The region’s wind energy (532 GW) and solar PV (120 GW) potential is largely untapped, and 127 GW of this overall renewable energy potential could be implemented in a
cost-competitive way. This figure could rise further, to above 290 GW, if more favourable cost of capital is considered for the region, it added.
Solar and wind apart, tidal energy is showing promise as well.
In early January 2017, former energy minister Charles Hendry published a review that strongly backed the construction of a £1.3 billion prototype lagoon in Swansea Bay. The review is a result of his appointment to write the report in May 2016, amid negotiations for a proposed tidal lagoon power plant in Swansea Bay, in Wales. It concludes that “tidal lagoons could be a cost-effective and secure supply of decarbonized electricity.”
Meanwhile, a separate study by Aurora Energy Research has already categorized Swansea Bay as a pathfinder project. “Tidal energy could provide more than 10% of UK’s total power generation if 25 GW were to enter the system by 2030. Moreover, CO2 emissions would be reduced by 36% in 2035, relative to a scenario in which no new tidal lagoon projects are developed, allowing current carbon targets to be met,” it concluded.
These are only some examples which prove that clean energy is dependable and definitely here to stay. In the months to come, much more is likely to unfold in the RE industry the globe over, renewing hope for the environment and for our planet as a whole.
Written by Sapna Gopal who is an independent journalist who writes and blogs on renewable energy.