Tag: solar

Three Industries Where Technology Is Reducing Our Carbon Footprint

 

The science is in. We need to significantly reduce our carbon emissions to limit the amount of warming our planet undergoes as a consequence of climate change.

The good news is, technology is rising up to meet this challenge. The bad news is it needs to do far more, and do it faster. How is technology helping? Well, if we check out some of the industries with the highest carbon footprint (energy, transportation, and agriculture), we can see some of the massive disruptions that are happening there, and how they are impacting emissions.

1 Energy

The energy sector is undergoing a massive transition globally from a system powered by centralised, thermal generation based often on fossil fuel combustion, to one increasingly powered by decentralised renewable sources. And while it would be great if this was happening for reasons of climate concern, it is, in fact, happening for reasons of economics, which is better because it means it is sustainable in the long term.

Why do I say it is because of economics? Because the cost of wind, solar, and lithium-ion battery storage are falling. Falling fast (due primarily to the experience curve). Since 2012 the cost of wind power has fallen 50%, solar power has fallen 80%, and battery storage has fallen 85%. It is now at the point where unsubsidised, combinations of wind and battery storage, or solar and battery storage are able to beat natural gas on price.

Don’t take my word for it. At the Wolfe Research 2019 Power & Gas Leader’s conference last month (October 2nd, 2019) Jim Robo, Chairman, and CEO of NextEra Energy the biggest and most successful utility in the US said

“We see renewables plus battery storage without incentives being cheaper than natural gas, and cheaper than existing coal and existing nuclear… And that is game-changing”

Then, when you consider the amount of time it takes to deploy a power plant, renewables win again.

IMG_0029

And consequently, the share of new power generation being deployed globally that is renewable is rising rapidly, while the share of new fossil fuel generation is falling fast.

IMG_0030

And it is not just the supply side of the equation that is changing. The demand side is changing rapidly as well.

More and more organisations are demanding that their energy provider only supply clean, renewably sourced electricity. In fact, RE100, “a global corporate leadership initiative bringing together influential businesses committed to 100% renewable electricity” counts at time of writing (November 2019) 212 of the world’s largest companies (including my own employer SAP) as members. All 212 companies are either sourcing all their electricity from renewable sources or have committed to doing so in the near future. Companies do this because it is good for business. Consumers feel better about purchasing goods if they know they were produced using renewable energy, and employees feel better about working for organisations committed to renewable energy.

 

2 Transportation

So the carbon intensity of electricity, one of the main carbon polluters is falling worldwide on a gCO2/kWh basis. What about one of the other big polluters I mentioned at the start, Transportation. Well, fortunately, electric grids the world over are embracing renewable energy, because transportation is now starting to use electricity as a fuel, instead of dino-juice!

Why is transportation going electric? Three main reasons:

  1. Increasing environmental awareness among consumers
  2. Regulations from regions, countries and local governments and
  3. Economics – the costs to operate an electric vehicle (EV) are significantly less than a fossil fuel one
Nissan Leaf charging
Photo credit Tom Raftery

Greta Thunberg has done an amazing job of raising awareness in younger generations particularly about the dangers of climate change, but even before she burst on the scene, the 2019 regulations governing NEVs (New Energy Vehicles) in China and the 2020 emissions regulations for vehicle manufacturers in the EU (as well as local ordinances by cities restricting access to older, more polluting vehicles and countries on the phase-out date for the sale of Internal Combustion Engined vehicles) meant that vehicle manufacturers have had no option but to get on board with the electrification of cars and increasingly other modes of transport as well.

At a time when global vehicle sales are falling, sales of EVs are taking off.

statistic_id270603_battery-electric-vehicles-in-use---worldwide-2012-2018

Volkswagen, who have had some *ahem* reputational issues recently, have decided to embrace the Winston Churchill mantra of never letting a crisis go to waste, and are going all-in on EVs. They plan to spend €60bn (yes billion with a “b”) by 2024 to switch to electric, hybrid and connected vehicles. They will introduce up to 75 all-electric models, around 60 hybrid vehicles and plan to sell 26 million all-electric vehicles as well as around 6 million hybrid vehicles by 2029.

Perhaps even more tellingly, Daimler recently announced that they are stopping their internal combustion engine development initiatives and focussing instead on electric vehicles. The reason this announcement is so game-changing is that Daimler owns Mercedes Benz and Karl Benz, the founder of Mercedes Benz received the patent for the world’s first production internal combustion engine vehicle in 1886. Now 133 years later Daimler has decided that the era of the internal combustion engine is over, and EVs are the future.

And it is not just cars, motorbikes are also going electric with announcements of electric bikes from all the major manufacturers including Vespa, Yamaha, Honda, all the way up to Harley Davidson.

Buses, trucks (from the large class 8 all the way down to delivery trucks), and refuse collection vehicles are also going electric. This is important not just for reducing their carbon emissions, but also because these vehicles often work primarily in urban centres so converting them from diesel to electric will improve air quality, reduce noise pollution, and significantly reduce the cost of operation for these machines.

FuelUseVehicleCategory

Also, when you take into account the fuel use by categories of vehicle, you can see from the chart above that class 8 trucks, buses, and refuse collection vehicles consume far more fuel than other vehicle categories. Fuel use is of course, not just a good proxy for their potential to pollute, but also for their running costs so the economic case to shift these to electric is very strong. In the case of buses, battery-electric buses cost 20c per mile to operate over their lifetime, whereas diesel buses cost 75c and so, battery-electric buses will dominate the market by the late 2020s.

And it doesn’t stop there. Construction equipment is going electric. Ships are going electric. Even planes are going electric. Global consultancy firm Roland Berger is currently tracking 170 different electric plane initiatives (about 50% are in the urban air taxi space). While the Johan Lundgren, CEO of easyJet has said that:

easyJet is collaborating with US company Wright Electric to support their goal for short-haul flights to be operated by all-electric planes within 10 years

It is hard to think of a mode of transportation that is not moving towards electric drivetrains. And as we saw above in the section on energy, as our grids are getting cleaner daily, shifting transportation to electricity quickly drops transportation’s carbon footprint too (as well as reducing noise pollution, and cleaning up our air quality).

3 Food Production

Food production is the third industry where technology is about to play a huge part in reducing our carbon footprint. Agriculture globally accounts for about 13 percent of total global emissions. That makes the agricultural sector the world’s second-largest emitter, after the energy sector. And this doesn’t include emissions associated with deforestation to clear land for more agriculture.

However, shifting away from our current practices of food production to one where our plant food is grown in massive indoor vertical farms has the potential to significantly clean up agriculture’s environmental toll.

Indoor vertical farms use 95% less water and 99% less land than conventional farming practices. They use no soil, require no herbicides or pesticides and they can produce food in the middle of cities, thereby reducing drastically the crop’s food miles. When you are producing food so close to the point of consumption, you no longer need to optimise your produce for shelf-life, and you can instead choose to optimise for taste, and/or nutrition.

Then there is the clean meat movement. Clean meat is meat that is produced from either cultivating animal cells (without having to slaughter the animal), or by converting plant protein to take on the taste and consistency of animal protein as companies such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are doing so successfully.

Our current means of producing plant food and meats are vastly inefficient and have a huge carbon footprint. This won’t scale to feed the population of 9-10 billion inhabitants that we are projected to reach in the coming decades, especially as the middle classes grow in the developing world and their meat consumption expectations grow too.

Converting to a system where we produce plants in massive vertical farms, and then using that plant food to create clean meat solves a lot of the problems associated with agriculture today such as the unconscionable cruelty we visit on the animals we breed for slaughter, the vast amounts of antibiotics that are used in agriculture leading to the development of multi-drug resistant superbugs, and agriculture’s massive carbon footprint.

Zebra
Zebra in Pilansberg reserve – photo credit Tom Raftery

If we return the land we have stolen from nature for agriculture back to the wild we can restore the enormous losses we have seen in recent decades in biodiversity, create a huge new ecotourism industry, and through reforestation sequester from the atmosphere much of the carbon we have emitted in the last century, mitigating the or possibly turning back the worst effects of climate change.

As the United Nations COP25 Climate Change Conference kicks off in Madrid, it is important to remember that although the situation with the climate is indeed dire, there are solutions. We just need to embrace them. Quickly.

This piece was originally posted on my Forbes blog

Internet of Things, renewables and storage – a perfect storm for utilities’ digital transformation

Without doubt it is a time of great turbulence in the electric utilities space.

In most regions globally, wind and solar are now our cheapest sources of electricity generation, even without subsidies.

As a consequence of this, wind has overtaken nuclear, hydro and coal to become the second largest source of electricity generation in EU in 2016 [PDF]. And at the same time in the US, the solar market is smashing records and grew 95% in 2016 alone.

Then there is storage. Costs here have been tumbling too. So much so that Morgan Stanley predicts the storage market to grow from the roughly $400m in 2016, to a market size of $2-4bn by 2020. This will have big implications for utilities’ ability to add more variable generators (renewables) to their mix without destabilising the grid.

Speaking of grid stabilisation, the refrain up until now has been that for every MW of renewables built, a MW of gas had to also be built as a backstop (for days with no wind, or overcast days, or nights). However, this too has changed. Last August First Solar ran a tests with CAISO (the California grid operator) to test a solar farm’s ability to smooth out grid fluctuations. The results of the test demonstrated that solar farms are able to meet, and sometimes exceed, the frequency regulation response usually provided by natural-gas-fired peaker plants.

Things are changing on the consumption side of the house too.

solarinstall2016

Source: GTM Research / SEIA U.S. Solar Market Insight report

As can be seen from the chart above, installations of residential PV are rising, as is home storage, and another form of potential consumption and storage (v2g), the electric car, saw sales rise by 37% in the US in 2016.

Then there is the whole digitisation of the grid. Now all new equipment is being built with inbuilt ‘smarts’ and connectivity, and even older infrastructure can be retrofitted, so with the advent of the smart grid, we will finally have the possibility of the Electricity 2.0 vision I was talking up back in 2008/09. This is a smart grid where appliances in the commercial or residential worlds can ‘listen’ for pricing signals from the grid, and adjust their behaviour accordingly, taking in electricity when it is plentiful, and switching to alternative sources/lowering consumption when electricity is in high demand.

With the cost of generation dropping, with no end in sight, the cost of storage similarly falling, as I have posited previously, there is a strong possibility that utilities will have to switch to broadband-like ‘all-you-can-eat’ business models with the utilities differentiating, and making their revenue on added services.

Everything is changing for the electric utility industry – and so, against that backdrop, and the fact that I will be presenting on IoT and Utilities at the upcoming International SAP for Utilities Conference in Lisbon, I decided to have a chat with IDC Research Director Marcus Torchia, about the implications for utilities of these huge changes.

We had a great discussion, and many of the themes we touched on, I will be talking about at the Utilities event in Lisbon.

You can check out our chat in the video above, play it in the audio below, or listen to it on the IoT Heroes podcast site.

Will the price of oil ever increase again?

What is going on in the oil industry?

Graph of oil price from 2012 to 2016The price of oil has cratered. In 2012 it was over $120 a barrel. Today, 2016, it is at $42 a barrel, and this is an improvement from January and February of this year when it went under $30 a barrel.

Previously, when the price of oil fell, OPEC would meet, they’d agree to cut the output, and the constrained supply would ensure the price would rise once more. Why isn’t that happening now?

Most commentators are putting it down to the fact that Iran, who were under sanctions until very recently, understandably don’t want to cut production, and with Iran not cutting back, Saudi Arabia won’t either.

However, there’s another thesis which I think is more likely, and if true, oil prices will remain low for the foreseeable future. That thesis states that Saudi Arabia has realised that we are at the end of the Oil Age, and that a large percentage of the world’s fossil fuel resources will have to remain in the ground. With this in mind, it makes sense for Saudi Arabia to make sure they can extract, and monetise as much of their fossil fuel resources, as possible, while they still can.

What is the evidence for this?

First off, consider that last Friday 170+ countries signed the Paris Climate Accord whose aim to to limit global warming to 1.5-2C. Now that we have an upper limit on the temperature increase we are willing to accept, we also know how much CO2 we need to put into the atmosphere to achieve this amount of warming. It comes in at 1,100Gt CO2 [PDF] (1Gt = 1 gigaton = 1 billion tons).

On the other hand, the total proven reserves of the fossil fuel companies, and countries comes to 3,300Gt CO2. Notice the problem? 70-80% of the world’s proven reserves of fossil fuels will have to stay in the ground if we are to keep global warming below 2C.

Now Saudi Arabia has known about this issue for quite some time. As far back as the year 2000, Sheikh Yamani famously predicted that

Thirty years from now there will be a huge amount of oil – and no buyers. Oil will be left in the ground. The Stone Age came to an end, not because we had a lack of stones, and the oil age will come to an end not because we have a lack of oil.

In fairness Sheikh Yamani’s reasoning didn’t have to do with climate change, but better drilling and exploration technologies, but still it has come to pass, and in this scenario Saudi Arabia has to race to produce as much oil as it can, no matter what the price, so as little Saudi oil as possible is left in the ground. Consequently Saudi Arabia is now producing somewhere between 10.3m-11m barrels per day – an historic high.

And then at last week’s OPEC meeting in Doha to try to stabilise oil production, Saudi Arabia scuppered the talks, ensuring no freezing of oil outputs. This has the added advantage of squeezing the other producers, few of whom can produce oil at the same low cost as Saudi Arabia.

total-cost-of-producing-oil

On the demand side, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has admitted that for 2016 global demand trends are not as positive as they were. The IEA is counting on demand from developing countries where India recently announced that it is going to install 100GW of solar by 2022 (in large part because solar is now cheaper in India than coal), while China is aiming to increase its installed solar by over 100GW by 2020.

And if news of the 400,000 orders for the Tesla Model 3 are anything to go by, there is no love amongst consumers for fossil fuel spewing vehicles.

Then yesterday comes the announcement that the Saudi cabinet approved a set of reforms aimed at moving the country away from its dependence on oil profits. They have seen the writing on the wall, and so while on the one hand they are going all out to maximise the amount of oil they can extract and sell, they are at the same time setting up a sovereign wealth fund of $2tn to ensure they, in the words of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

can live without oil by 2020

So, with Saudi Arabia diversifying away from oil revenues, and unlikely to reduce output any time soon, there is no obvious reason why oil prices will ever rise again. And Sheikh Yamani’s prediction about a huge amount of oil being left in the ground will come to pass.