The latest report from accounting giant Deloitte’s Renewable Energy series declares something that too many people in high places in Australia don’t want to hear: “The case for renewables has never been stronger.”
That’s the conclusion of the report which details how wind and solar are now the preferred choices of new generation in most places across the globe, with the falling cost of solar, and wind, and the emergence of storage and enabling technologies allowing these power sources to be dispatchable and to strengthen the grid.
“Solar and wind power recently crossed a new threshold, moving from mainstream to preferred energy sources across much of the globe,” the authors says.
“As they reach price and performance parity with conventional sources across the world, demonstrate their ability to enhance grids, and become increasingly competitive via new technologies, deployment obstacles and ceilings are dissolving.”
And the cost falls and benefits are not over. It notes that Perovskite technology – which could be seen on the market in 2019 – promises another leap in the conversion efficiency of solar modules, in turn delivering another major fall in costs.
Even the wind industry is looking at more cost reductions with the introduction of 3D-printed wind- blade molds, and then the blades themselves.
“This would enable use of new combinations of materials and embedded sensors to optimize the blades’ cost and performance, as well as onsite manufacturing to eliminate logistical costs and risks.” (Some of which are on display here as the biggest turbines in Australia are trucked to the site of the country’s biggest wind farm”).
The Deloitte report also addresses some of the commonly pedalled myths around the impact of renewables on energy bills. In Germany, it notes, the price of electricity on the wholesale market has halved, benefiting business.
In Denmark, once taxes are stripped out (the government uses electricity as a revenue raiser), electricity in the country with the biggest penetration of renewables is in fact cheaper than most other places in Europe.
“The grids of Germany and Denmark have also become more reliable over the past decade, even as the latter has seen wind and solar produce 90 percent of the power consumed in its western region for a fth of the year,” it says. “The interconnected Danish and German grids are currently two of the world’s most reliable.”
It also notes European data which shows that unplanned outages form a minority of onshore and o shore wind outages, whereas most coal and gas plant outages are unplanned; onshore wind has fewer and shorter outages and recovers faster than any other generation source.
“In instances where extreme weather conditions have tested grid resilience, renewables compensated for fuel-based resource shortfalls. Wind broke generation records when the United Kingdom faced a natural gas shortage during a winter storm in 2018, and beat generation expectations in the United States when coal piles froze during the 2014 polar vortex or soaked during Hurricane Harvey in 2017.”
In the US, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory esti-mates that once the United States reaches Denmark’s penetration levels of 40–50 per cent renewables, some states will see the dawn of “energy too cheap to meter.”
On the supply side, a bunch of interesting things are happening. Communities are looking to renewable energy supplies and storage through micro-grids and min-grids, and corporate customers are increasingly turning to renewables. Already, 140 of the world’s biggest companies have committed to sourcing 100 per cent of their electricity needs from renewables.
There is also something called Smart Renewable Cities.
“SRCs can be defined as cities with solar and/or wind power and a smart city plan that includes a re- newable energy component,” the report says.
It cites San Diego as a global leader, with solar and wind already accounting for over a third of its electricity mix, and the city has a 100 percent renewables target by 2035.
And their are “greenfield” SRCs, new city developments that are unencumbered by legacy development, entrenched interests, and red tape, and can built a model city that showcases and tests the latest technology.
It cites Peña Station Next, an “aerotropolis” that seeks to capitalize on a strategic location at a train station between the booming city of Denver and its growing airport. The 382-acre community is powered with an islandable rooftop solar-plus-storage microgrid owned by Xcel Energy and operated by Panasonic.
This an other developments, it notes, can provide proofs of concepts for technologies and business models that can then be scaled in big cities.
Look out for the next episode of the Energy Insiders podcast, when we will have a discussion with Deloitte’s John O’Brien on the findings of this report.