Tag: wind energy

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.

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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.

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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

Technology is moving us to a world where energy is cheaper, smarter, and less carbon intensive

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The graph above is a graph of electricity demand on the Spanish electricity grid taken from the demand page of the grid management company Red Electrica de España.

The data comes from April 26th this year through to Mar 3rd. The sever small graphs along the bottom are daily demand curves, going from Tuesday April 26th on the left, through to Monday May 3rd on the right. You can see that the demand curves for each day are virtually the same.

Saturday and Sunday are however, obvious due to the lower demand on those days, and if you are wondering why Monday the 3rd looks to be lower than the rest of the weekdays, it is because that Monday was a holiday in Spain.

The large graph on top is a zoomed-in look at the demand on one of those days – Friday April 29th. From that you can see that the demand starts to rise early in the morning with the peak occurring between 8-11am. Demand then falls off until late afternoon when people are cooking their evening meals, peaking around 9pm, and then falling until it starts again the following day.

The pattern varies slightly by day of the week, as well as by season, but overall while it is variable, it is also highly predictable.

Graph of predicted energy demand vs actual demand on Spanish grid on April 29th
Graph of predicted energy demand (Green) vs actual demand (yellow) on Spanish grid on April 29th this year – graph from REE

This can be problematic though when you have high penetrations of variable energy suppliers, such as wind and solar.

Here is the energy supplied to the system by wind, for example on April 29th

Energy supplied by wind on the Spanish grid on April 29th this year
Wind energy on the 29th of April on the Spanish grid

As you can see, it doesn’t map well with the demand, and this is challenging for grid management companies, especially with increasing pressure on them to decarbonise.

That can lead to circumstances where wind power ends up supplying 140% of your demand, as happened in the Netherlands last summer. Fortunately, the Netherlands has good interconnects, and so was able to sell this excess energy to its neighbouring countries. This won’t always be the case though, and will become a more common issue as the penetration of wind and solar increases globally.

 

Obviously, if you can’t manage the supply side of the grid, what about managing the demand – how achievable is that?

Interestingly, this is now becoming a real possibility. Already there are companies who aggregate the demand of large organisations with facilities for reducing demand, if required, and sell that reduced demand to utility companies. This can save the utility from having to build new generation sources to meet the increased demand at times of peak load.

Demand flexibility graph
Demand flexibility

What if this were more widespread?

Looking at the chart above, if we could shift the yellow demand line up during its overnight dip, and then reduce the yellow demand line during the morning and evening, this would make the grid more stable, and allow for the introduction of more variable generators (solar and wind) onto the system, as well as reducing the requirement for expensive ‘peaker plants’.

Sounds great Tom, how to do that?

Well price is always a great motivator. In Germany last week where there was an excess of energy on the system, so pricing went negative, meaning large customers were being paid to use it.

Negative pricing on the German energy market
Graph of negative pricing on the German electricity market

Reduced, or negative pricing is a better option than wind farm curtailment because curtailment lowers the income for the wind farms, making them a less attractive investment for renewables developers, while reduced pricing moves the demand to a more suitable time.

Now, with the advent of the Internet of Things, everything starts to be smart and connected. If our electricity devices can listen for realtime electricity signals from the grid, they can adjust their consumption accordingly.

Of course, not all loads in the home are movable  – not many people will decide to cook their evening meal at 3am just because the wind is blowing and energy is cheap.

However, many loads are eminently movable. Pool pumps, are a good example. And also many loads that have a heating or cooling component associated with them, such as an electric hot water heater. When it is well insulated it doesn’t matter when it heats the water. Similarly for fridges, freezers, ice bank air conditioning, and so on. These are straightforward and affordable forms of energy storage.

Dish washers, washing machines, clothes dryers can also be made to listen to electricity pricing, and adjust their behaviour accordingly. Often, when you put the dish washer on in the evening, you don’t care when it comes on, as long as the dishes are clean and dry when you get up the following morning.

As more of our appliances become connected and smart, this will become the norm. Obviously, for widespread adoption, this kind of behaviour has to be totally automated. If the device owner has to think about it, it won’t happen.

Smart grid appliance

And then there are the real storage options, using batteries. This can be in the form of batteries in electric vehicles using vehicle-to-grid technologies, in-home batteries such as the ones Tesla, and others sell, or reconditioned electric vehicle batteries – a market that is just starting to get going.

So, good news, technology is moving us inexorably to a world where energy is getting cheaper, smarter, and less carbon intensive.

Using Energy Demand Management to increase wind energy in Ireland

Wind energy currently contributes around 6.5% of the electricity generation in Ireland. The government has committed to increasing this to 33% by 2025.

That is a good thing, right? Well yes, but it brings with it some problems which will have to be addressed before it can become a reality.

In 2006 the minimum demand on the electrical grid was 1.8GW (think 4am on a summer’s morning) and the maximum demand was 5GW (winter’s evening between 5pm and 7pm).

The wind energy output during 2006 varied from 0% (on a calm day) to 0.9GW or just over 45% (think 4am in the middle of a windy night).

Projections are that by 2025 the maximum electrical demand will be 10GW and the minimum will be 3.6GW. The governments plans to increase the wind energy means that the maximum wind energy output will be 6.3GW. If this happens when the country only needs 3.6GW there will be a surplus of 2.7GW.

On the other hand if the maximum demand of 10GW happens on a calm day (not unusual) there will need to be 10GW of generating capacity on the grid.

How do we facilitate this? We can’t control the supply (the wind blows, or it doesn’t!) but we can think about starting to manage the demand.

Imagine if EirGrid, the Energy grid operator, could control the diesel generators of any companies who own them. They could switch them on, thereby reducing the overall demand on the grid at times of electrical supply shortage.

Taken a step further, if EirGrid had control of the thermostats in refrigeration plants or in the hot water tanks of larger companies, they could ratchet them up or down one or two degrees to either consume extra electricity or to reduce demand.

Taken to a logical conclusion, plug-in hybrid cars, smart domestic appliances (fridges, clothes dryers, dish washers, etc.) and central heating could all be used to help stabilise the grid and allow more wind energy come onstream.

No James, we Irish are not complete gobshites

Or if we are, it is not for the reasons James thinks! James Corbett has a post today on his blog asking “Are we Irish complete gobshites?“. The post is lamenting the fact that we are not building wind farms to reduce our dependence on oil imports.

I would answer James in the comment section on his blog but

  1. the answer is complex and
  2. he has deployed a CAPTCHA on his blog which means commenting there is a pain 😛

I have talked about this in several of my talks about reducing ITs carbon footprint.

There are >2gW of outstanding applications for windfarms to come onto the electrical grid in Ireland. To put that in context, we typically use around 4.5gW of power in Ireland (fluctuating day/night and summer/winter, obviously). However, these applications are being held at bay by eirgrid, the grid management company.

Why are they holding these applications at bay? Are they rabidly anti-green? Maybe they are pro climate-change? No, the reason Eirgrid don’t want any more wind power on the grid is because it de-stabilises the network.

Consider the following scenario. It is 2am. Electricity demand across the country is at its lowest. There is a 40mph wind blowing across the country. Wind energy at this point can be supplying up to 30% of the country’s demand.

What happens now if the wind picks up to 50mph? The wind farms shut down to protect their mechanisms and suddenly Eirgrid are left scrambling trying to bring gas turbine stations online to meet the sudden fall-off of 30% of their supply. Gas turbine stations can take up to an hour to reach full generation capacity.

The more windfarms Eirgrid take onto the network, the greater a problem this becomes. Unless there was some kind of ready counter-balance to the instability of wind farms…