While I am not attempting to downplay findings that sea level rise is happening faster than expected, last year was yet another equal hottest year, methane emissions are climbing etc, here are some things that are happening which are hopeful signs;
- Regenerative or restorative agriculture is already a major priority in China and is becoming a priority in the new Biden administration and in the EU’s Green recovery and has even been given a higher priority in the Morrison government with an office and budget for the Soils Advocate. Done well, regenerative agriculture could sequester almost as much carbon as emitted by coal generation, but we have to both reduce emissions and sequester carbon.
- In almost all northern hemisphere regions reforestation is accelerating, sometimes not perfectly but in more and more cases using better techniques to increase biodiversity and resilience. Since 1990 forests in Europe have increased by almost 100,0000 square km. In the US it is slightly increasing and China is expanding forest by about 70,000 square km every year
- Renewable generation in the US passed coal for the year; In the UK, Germany, Spain, France, Sweden, and a number of smaller countries, renewables passed all fossil fuels combined.
- In Australia in the last 12 months, renewables have passed brown coal and gas combined. This summer wind and solar alone have provided 24.5% of electricity, gas and brown coal combined at 22.4%. On current trends more than one third of the electricity generated in Australia this year will come from renewables and we should hit 50% renewables by H2 2024. The southern states Victoria, SA and Tasmania combined use as much electricity as NSW. They will probably achieve a combined 50% renewable share for this year, while prices in Victoria and SA have crashed. SA wholesale spot prices have fallen from $110 in the 18/19 year to $33 so far this financial year while demand has increased marginally but renewables have increased from 53% to 60% of supply. Victoria price has fallen from $109 three years ago to below $40 this financial year while renewables have increased from 20% of supply to 30%.
- Examination of the data in Germany, the UK, Spain and Australia shows that as the technology improves and geographic dispersion of renewables widens, the need for storage and backup falls. For example in the last 6 months minimum whole day renewable share on the NEM was 25.2% vs an average of 30.1%. In other words if we wanted to maintain 30% renewables every day for the past 6 months we would only needed storage for about 5% of average demand for one day and less than 3% of demand for three days. To cover 3% of demand for three days we would need 50 GWh of storage. If announced battery storage projects are all built they will provide 25 GWh, Snowy II averaging 60% capacity for 3 days will provide 90 GWh
- Renewable installations are increasing even faster than predicted even three months ago. The world is now expected to install between 150 and 190 GW of solar (some say 200 GW) and 70-90 GW of wind this year. Even at the lower figures this will generate as much electricity as Germany and France combined or three times as much as the entire Australian electricity demand.
- China added 48 GW of solar and 71 GW of wind last year. Installations in the last quarter were enough to meet Australia’s entire annual electricity demand. Overall renewable output in China rose by 16.6% for solar and 15.1% for wind contributing to a total 2,082 TWh from all renewables (Australia’s total demand is 235 TWh) Unfortunately Coal and gas rose by 2.5%. Overall China reached 27.3% renewable share slightly ahead of Australia on 26% and well ahead of the US on 22%. It expects to install another 140 GW of renewables this year.
In India combined wind and solar capacity reached 78 GW ( Australia is about 21 GW) and the government is pressing on with its target of 175 GW by the end of next year, although it will almost certainly fall short. Prime Minister Modi laid the foundation stone for a combined 30 GW wind and solar park in Kutch i.e. a single renewable park with double the combined current capacity of every wind and solar farm in Australia.
In Korea the Government initiated the commencement of an 8.2 GW offshore wind park, which will supply the equivalent of Victoria’s entire electricity consumption,
In the UK another 8 GW of offshore leases were approved with the aim to increase the UKs offshore wind to 30GW by 2030. Based on the productivity of latest wind turbine models, 30 GW of offshore wind will supply almost 60% of current UK electricity demand. The UK now has a development pipeline of 14 GW of batteries which combined with hydro, biomass, imports and minimum wind could supply 60% of UK night-time minimum
The Danish government was approved the largest construction project in its history- a wind island which will serve as a base for enough offshore wind to supply 125% of Denmark’s current electricity supply. The energy will be used to supply data centres, transport and heating electrification, hydrogen production and export power to Germany etc.etc.
- Floating solar particularly on hydro dams is becoming a thing. Covering 1-10% of a hydro dam with floating solar doubles the annual energy production of the dam with no new transmission infrastructure and reduces evaporation from the dam. The absence of shading and the cooling effect of the water increases the annual output of the solar panels by about 7-12% compared to nearby land based units
- Outside Australia electric vehicle sales are exploding in China and Europe. Q4 sales were more than double the same time last year even though the overall market was down. Growth has continued in January, with Norway at 81% EV, Sweden 31%, and 21% Germany. This is in spite of a shortage of stock for the two top sellers the Tesla model 3 and Volkswagen ID3. GM has announced plans to eliminate ICE light vehicles by 2035. With new medium sized electric SUVs coming to market from Volkswagen, Nissan, Ford, Mercedes, BMW, Peugot/Citroen/Fiat, Volvo and many Chinese brands this year as well as the opening of two Tesla factories EV deliveries could grow by 3m vehicles this year. Citroen is selling a basic city EV car in Europe for €6,000 and GM is selling one in China for about US$4,500 ($5,000 with air-conditioning) . They are very basic but flying out the door as fast as they can be built. Indian electric motorbikes are now available for around A$2,000
- Finally for those who worry about what will happen when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun don’t shine. As you can see below renewable generation on the NEM is never zero and as newer wind and solar technology become more dominant, the wind and solar curves will be smoother allowing the hydro share to be more spiky to fill many of the remaining gaps. New storage and demand response will be needed but in far smaller quantities than most people imagine.