Renewable energy

A world turned upside down

Wind and solar energy are disrupting a century-old model of providing electricity. What will replace it?

FROM his office window, Philipp Schröder points out over the Bavarian countryside and issues a Bond villain’s laugh: “In front of you, you can see the death of the conventional utility, all financed by Mr and Mrs Schmidt. It’s a beautiful sight.” The wind blowing across Wildpoldsried towards the Alps lazily turns the turbines on the hills above. The south-facing roofs of the houses, barns and cowsheds are blanketed with blue photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. The cows on the green fields produce manure that generates biogas which warms the Biergarten, the sports hall and many of the houses where the 2,600 villagers live, as well as backing up the wind and solar generators in winter. All told, the village produces five times more electricity than it needs, and the villagers are handsomely rewarded for their greenness; in 2016 they pocketed about €6m ($7m) from subsidies and selling their surplus electricity.

It hardly looks like the end of the world; but Mr Schröder, who works at Sonnen, an energy-storage firm, has a point. Many environmentalists want the world’s energy system to look like Wildpoldsried’s. And the things it is based on—subsidies for investment, very little spending on fuel, and moving electricity generation to the edge of, or off, the grid—are anathema to electricity markets and business models developed for the fossil-fuel age.

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Few greens would mourn them. But the fall in utility revenues that comes with the spread of places like Wildpoldsried is not just bad news for fossil-fuel-era incumbents in the generation and transmission businesses. It is also becoming a problem for the renewables themselves, and thus for the efforts to decarbonise the electricity supply that justified their promotion in the first place.

In 2014 the International Energy Agency (IEA), a semi-official forecaster, predicted that decarbonising the global electricity grid will require almost $20trn in investment in the 20 years to 2035, at which point the process will still be far from finished. But an electricity industry that does not produce reliable revenues is not one that people will invest in.

Less dear, still disruptive

The fight against climate change has seen huge growth in the “new” renewables, wind and solar power, over the past decade, both in developed countries and developing ones. In 2015 governments poured $150bn into supporting such investment, with America, China and Germany taking the lead. But Wildpoldsried is still very much the exception, not the rule. In 2015 such sources accounted for only 7% of electricity generated worldwide. Over 80% of the world’s energy still comes from fossil fuels (see chart 1). In terms of reducing climate risks there is a long way to go.

The good news is that a decade of subsidy-driven growth has brought with it falling costs. Renewables are still on the pricey side in many places, but they are getting less so; in some places wind, in particular, is reasonably competitive. This suggests that their growth might soon need a lot less subsidy than it has attracted to date. Robust carbon prices would give renewables further advantages, but they have as yet proved hard to provide. The EU’s emissions-trading scheme is a perennial disappointment: still, hope springs eternal, as witness a recent attempt to persuade the new American administration of the benefits of a revenue-neutral economy-wide carbon tax devoted to providing $2,000 to every family of four in rebates.

But pushing renewables into the electricity market has had effects on more than their price; it has hit investment, too. In rich countries governments have imposed renewables on electricity systems that had no need for new capacity, because demand is in decline. Investment in supply beyond what the market required has produced gluts and pushed down prices. In America this has been somewhat masked by the shale-gas revolution, which has caused a bigger shift in the same direction. In Europe the glut of renewables is more starkly seen for what it is. Wholesale electricity prices have slumped from around €80 a megawatt-hour in 2008 to €30-50 nowadays.

The result has been havoc for the old-style utilities. Germany’s biggest electricity companies, E.ON and RWE, both split in two last year, separating their renewables and grid businesses from indebted and loss-making conventional generation. EY, a consultancy, calculates that utilities across Europe wrote off €120bn of assets because of low power prices between 2010 and 2015. Investment in non-renewables is very low. “Never in recent history has the deployment of capital been more difficult than it is right now within the energy industry,” says Matt Rennie, who analyses the global-utilities market at EY.

It is not just that efforts to shift to renewable power have added new sources of supply to an already well-served market. In an industry structured around marginal costs, renewables have a disruptive punch above their weight.

Electricity markets, especially those that were deregulated in the late 20th century, typically work on a “merit order”: at any given time they meet demand by taking electricity first from the cheapest supplier, then the next-cheapest, until they have all they need; the price paid to all concerned is set by the most expensive source in use at the time. Because wind and solar do not need to buy any fuel, their marginal costs are low. They thus push more expensive producers off the grid, lowering wholesale prices.

If renewables worked constantly that would not, at first blush, look like a problem for anyone except people generating expensive electricity. But renewables are intermittent, which means that in systems where the infrastructure was designed before intermittency became an issue—almost all of them, in practice—fossil-fuel, hydroelectric and nuclear plants are needed more or less as much as ever at times when the sun doesn’t shine and the winds don’t blow. And if such plants are shut out of the market by low-cost renewables, they will not be available when needed.

In the long run, and with massive further investments, electricity grids redesigned for systems with a lot of renewable energy could go a long way to solving this problem. Grids with lots of storage capacity built in; grids big enough to reach out to faraway renewables when the nearby ones are in the doldrums; grids smart enough to help customers adapt demand to supply: all have their champions and their role to play.

But long-run solutions do not solve short-term constraints. So for now countries with lots of renewables need to keep older fossil-fuel capacity available as a standby and to cover peaks in demand. This often means additional subsidies, known as capacity payments, for plants that would otherwise be uneconomic. Such measures keep the lights on. But they also mean that fossil-fuel production capacity clings on—often in particularly dirty forms, such as German power stations powered by brown coal, or backup diesel generators in Britain.

From dull to death spiral

Properly structured capacity payments make it sensible to invest in generators that can be switched on when renewable energy is not available. But what will make it sensible to continue investing in renewables themselves?

When they are a small part of the system, renewables are insulated from the effects that their low marginal costs have on prices, because as long as there are some plants burning fossil fuels the wholesale price of electricity will stay reasonably high. So utilities could buy electricity from renewable generators, often on fixed-price contracts, without too much worry.

But the more renewable generators there are, the more they drag down prices. At times when renewables can meet all the demand, making fossil-fuel prices irrelevant, wholesale electricity prices collapse—or sometimes turn negative, with generators paying the grid to take the stuff away (the power has to go somewhere). The more renewables there are in the system, the more often such collapses occur.

Rolando Fuentes of Kapsarc, an energy think-tank based in Saudi Arabia, claims the world is caught in a vicious circle: subsidies foster deployment of renewables; renewables depress power prices, increasing the need for financial support. Theoretically, if renewables were to make up 100% of the market, the wholesale price of electricity would fall to zero, deterring all new investment that was not completely subsidised. He calls this vicious circle the clean-energy paradox: “The more successful you are in increasing renewables’ penetration, the more expensive and less effective the policy becomes.”

Francis O’Sullivan, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says the trend is already visible in parts of America with abundant solar energy. Utilities which are required to have renewables in their portfolios, such as those in California, used to offer companies investing in that capacity generous long-term contracts. But research by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), a consultancy, shows that, as such utilities come closer to meeting their mandates, solar-power developers are being offered shorter-term fixed prices with a higher subsequent exposure to variable wholesale prices. That reduces the incentive to invest. Solar “cannibalises its own competitiveness away,” Mr O’Sullivan says. “It eats its own tail.”

At the turn of the century, according to the IEA, one third of investment in electricity markets flowed into “competitive” sectors that were exposed to wholesale prices; the rest went into regulated utilities, transmission grids and the sort of fixed-price contracts where the renewables got their start. By 2014 the share of investment in the competitive sectors was just 10% of the total. It is a fair bet that, the more renewables are exposed to competition by contracts pegged to wholesale prices, the more people will shy away from them as well.

Ever-lower capital costs, particularly in solar, could go some way to bucking this trend, making investments cheaper even as they become more risky.But if low-marginal-cost renewables continue to push prices down, there will come a time when private investment will dry up. As Malcolm Keay of the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies puts it, “The utility business model is broken, and markets are, too.”

Renewables do not just lower prices; when used by customers, they also eat into demand. Consider Australia. It has 1.5m households with solar cells on their roofs. There are a number of reasons for this. It is a sunny place; installing PVs was until recently generously subsidised; and electricity bills are high. In part that is to pay for some of the subsidies. In part it is because they pay for the grid, which has been becoming more expensive, not least because it has had to deal with a lot more renewables. The IEA says that in parts of southern Australia, grid upgrades have doubled network costs since 2008-09. Despite cuts to subsidies, Australian PV installations are expected to triple over the next decade.

When fewer people rely on the grid, there are also fewer left to share the costs. Phil Blythe of GreenSync, a Melbourne-based company that works with utilities to moderate the fluctuations of renewable energy, warns that his country faces an incipient “utility death spiral”. The more customers generate their own electricity, the more utilities have to raise prices to the customers that remain, which makes them more likely to leave the grid in turn. It won’t happen overnight, he says: but it is “death by a thousand cuts”.

From dromedary to duck

In California there is an icon for the effect that domestic renewables have on the demand for grid electricity, and thus on the revenues of utilities: it is called the duck (see chart 2). Every year more Californian consumers have solar cells. As a result, every year electricity demand during the day falls, and revenue falls accordingly. Similar effects are seen in Germany, where there are now 1.4m PV users—mostly domestic. It is one of the reasons—subsidies are another—why domestic electricity prices have stayed high there while wholesale prices have fallen.

These home generators are not just reducing demand for grid electricity; often they are allowed to feed surplus power from their PVs into the grid, competing with other generators. In many American states utilities grumble about the “net metering” rate they are required to pay such people—especially in states like Nevada where they have been required to credit the electricity fed in at the retail price, rather than the wholesale price. And rooftop solar installations continue to grow, with 12 states more than doubling their deployment in 2016, according to BNEF. Businesses and industrial users are also becoming big consumers of renewable energy, which potentially reduces their dependence on the grid, and thus the amount they will pay for its services.

The response to these problems is not to abandon renewables. The subsidies have helped costs of wind and solar to fall precipitously around the world. Competition is often fierce. Recent auctions for offshore wind farms in the North Sea and solar developments in Mexico and Abu Dhabi have shown developers slashing prices to win fixed contracts to supply clean electricity for decades to come. The “levellised cost of electricity” for renewables—the all-in cost of building and operating a plant over its lifetime—is increasingly competitive with fossil fuels in many places. Especially in sunny and windy developing countries with fast-growing demand, they offer a potentially lucrative, subsidy-free investment opportunity.

But it does mean changing the way the world buys, sells, values and regulates electricity to take account of the new means by which it generates it. “Thinking of wind and solar as a solution by themselves is not enough. You need flexibility on the other side. It only makes sense if this is a package deal,” says Simon Müller of the IEA. Elements of that package are already appearing. Markets that sell commoditised kilowatt-hours need to be transformed into markets where consumers pay for guaranteed services. A lot more storage will be needed, with products like those of Sonnen in Wildpoldsried and the Powerwalls made by Tesla fighting for space in people’s homes. Smart grids bolstered by big data will do more to keep demand in line with supply.

It may not get all the way there

In Wildpoldsried Mr Schröder dreams of electricity-users inviting friends round for a glass of wine to show off their new solar kits and batteries. “We’ll soon be at a point where people say, ‘You’re so yesterday. You get your power from the grid.’” But peer pressure is unlikely to be decisive. Bruce Huber of Alexa Capital, which helps fund renewable-energy investments, says business consumers are probably going to be more influential in driving the adoption of these technologies than households, because they will more quickly see how they might cut their bills by using demand-response and storage. “For the last 100 years everyone has made money upstream. Now the added value is coming downstream,” he says.

Waiting for enlightenment

Mr Huber likens the upheaval facing utilities to that seen in the telecoms industry a generation ago, when a business model based on charging per second for long-distance calls was replaced by one involving the sale of services such as always-on broadband. This is bad news for the vertically integrated giants that grew up in the age of centralised generating by the gigawatt. Jens Weinmann, of ESMT Berlin, a business school, names dozens of tech-like firms that are “nibbling” away at bits of utilities’ traditional business models through innovations in grid optimisation and smart-home management systems. With a colleague, Christoph Burger, he has written of the “big beyond” in which domestic energy autonomy, the use of the blockchain in energy contracts, and crowdsourcing of PV installations and other technological disruptions doom the traditional utility. Already, big Silicon Valley firms such as Google and Amazon are attempting to digitalise domestic energy, too, with home-hubs and thermostats.

But how this nibbling leads to a system that all can rely on—and who pays for the parts of it that are public, rather than private, goods—remains obscure. The process will definitely be sensitive to politics, because, although voters give little thought to electricity markets when they are working, they can get angry when prices rise to cover new investment—and they scream blue murder when the lights go out. That suggests progress may be slow and fitful. And it is possible that it could stall, leaving climate risks largely unabated.

Getting renewables to today’s relatively modest level of penetration was hard and very expensive work. To get to systems where renewables supply 80% or more of customers’ electricity needs will bring challenges that may be far greater, even though renewables are becoming comparatively cheap. It is quite possible that, as Mr Schröder predicts, Mr and Mrs Schmidt in Wildpoldsried will lay waste the world’s conventional electricity utilities while sharing Riesling and gossip with the neighbours. But that does not mean that they will be able to provide a clean, green alternative for everyone.



Koldstor, Cleantech Solar, and SasonbiSolar commission 503.5 kWp solar PV system


koldstor rc

Figure – Ribbon cutting to officiate the commissioning of the Solar PV System

Cavite, Philippines (20th January 2017) – Koldstor Centre Philippines, Inc., Cleantech Solar Philippines, and SasonbiSolar have jointly commissioned a 503.5 kWp Solar Photovoltaic (“Solar PV”) system at Koldstor warehouse in Cavite. Koldstor will enjoy clean renewable solar electricity generated from a Solar PV system which was financed by Cleantech Solar. SasonbiSolar, a local Solar PV integrator, worked closely with Cleantech Solar to develop the project and was responsible for turn-key installation.

The Solar PV system is expected to generate over 12 GWh of clean solar electricity over its lifetime, making Koldstor warehouse one of the most environmentally friendly cold storage facilities.

Figure 2 - Koldstor 503.5 kWp Solar PV system

Figure 2 – Koldstor 503.5 kWp Solar PV system

Mr. Anthony Dizon, President of Koldstor said “We are happy to embark on the deployment of a solar PV system on top of our main cold storage facility. Clean solar electricity is a way for us and our clients to mitigate the effects of global warming and climate change. Both Cleantech Solar and SasonbiSolar made the installation easy and effortless.

Mr. Toby Gan, Director of Cleantech Solar Philippines said “Koldstor is our first cold storage client in Philippines. We commend Koldstor for taking direct action in reducing carbon emissions and we look forward to working together during the lifetime of the project.

The Koldstor Solar PV project is installed with 1,900 Solar PV modules, which convert sunshine into usable electricity. The project was installed under a turnkey Engineering Procurement & Construction (“EPC”) contract with SasonbiSolar. Mr Dante Briones, CEO of SasonbiSolar said “Koldstor Solar PV project used high quality components and best engineering practices during installation. This allowed us to install a high performing Solar PV system in short duration without impact on Koldstor cold storage operations.
With the project moving to operational stage both Cleantech Solar and SasonbiSolar will closely monitor the performance of the Solar PV system and its effect on the Koldstor facility. It is expected that in addition to energy savings from the Solar PV system, Koldstor will also see a reduction in heat load from the PV modules shading the roof.

About Koldstor:
Conceived on the tenets of quality, innovation and integrity, Koldstor began commercial operations in the first quarter of 1998. By integrating technologies developed in Europe and the United States of America, Koldstor is the 1st state-of-the-art Cold Storage facility which offers a comprehensive range of services designed to improve storage, inventory management and information development procedures for the food processing and distribution industries.

About Cleantech Solar:
Cleantech Solar is a pan-Asian developer and owner of rooftop solar photovoltaic systems providing power for Commercial & Industrial customers.

Cleantech Solar offers a unique combination of financial strength with expert knowledge in PV system design, installation, operation and maintenance. Across South East Asia Cleantech Solar is helping companies of all sizes reduce their utility bills and CO2 footprints without having to tie up any of their capital.

About SasonbiSolar:

SasonbiSolar is a full-service Solar PV systems integrator.

The company is composed of professionals passionate about the propagation of solar energy use in the Philippines. SasonbiSolar covers everything from design, engineering, and installation through highly qualified and certified engineers and service personnel. SasonbiSolar’s customers are a testament to the high value put into customer service and integrity.

SasonbiSolar uses only the best-in-class, high-quality equipment to build solar PV systems. Its experiences in previous projects and professions contribute to the continuously improving processes in planning and executing projects. Each of SasonbiSolar’s solar PV system installations is of the highest quality and workmanship.

Gaisano Capital, Cleantech Solar, and SasonbiSolar commission 381.6 kWp Casuntingan mall solar PV system.

Figure 1 – Mr Edmund Gaisano, Jr, VP Operations of Gaisano Capital and Mr Toby Gan, Director of Cleantech Solar Philippines officiating the turn on of the Solar PV System

Cebu City, Philippines (8th November 2016) – Gaisano Capital, Cleantech Solar, and SasonbiSolar have jointly commissioned a 381.6 kWp Solar Photovoltaic (“Solar PV”) system on top of Gaisano Capital Casuntingan mall in Mandaue City, Cebu. Cleantech Solar financed the installation and will maintain the system over its lifetime, while Gaisano Capital will enjoy clean and renewable solar electricity. SasonbiSolar, a local Solar PV integrator, installed the system.

The Casuntingan Solar PV system is the first commissioned project for Gaisano Capital. It is expected to generate over 11 GWh of clean solar electricity over its lifetime. This is the equivalent of removing 5,300 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere.

Figure 2 – Gaisano Capital Casuntingan 381.6 kWp Solar PV system

Mr. Edmund Gaisano, Jr., VP Operations of Gaisano Capital said “We are pleased to work with Cleantech Solar and SasonbiSolar for deployment of our first Solar PV project. As an environmentally conscious company we are always looking for ways to decrease our carbon footprint and this project will help to reach our goals. This is only the start of our commitment to renewable energy and we hope to deploy further Renewable Energy projects at several of our malls in the near future

Mr. Toby Gan, Director of Cleantech Solar Philippines said “We are happy to have Gaisano Capital as our client. Gaisano Capital shares similar views on environmental stewardship and the Casuntingan Solar PV project is a testament to taking direct action in reducing carbon emissions. We look forward to working with Gaisano Capital during the lifetime of the project.

The Casuntingan Solar PV project is installed with 1,440 Solar PV modules, which convert sunshine into usable electricity. The project was installed over a 4-month period under a turnkey Engineering Procurement & Construction (“EPC”) contract with SasonbiSolar. Mr Dante Briones, CEO of SasonbiSolar said “We are excited to be part of this team to bring Solar PV electricity to Gaisano Capital. This marks an important milestone for our company as this is our first 3rd party-financed installation.

The commissioning of the Casuntingan Solar PV system is the first step of a long partnership between the companies. Over the coming months this system will be monitored and performance analyzed compared to expected carbon reduction. To this end, Cleantech will be providing all parties with a sophisticated web-based monitoring dashboard that will give near real-time performance statistics for Casuntingan and other future solar projects. Based on the experience gained from this project the team will work to install Solar PV systems on other malls to further increase environmental benefits.

About Gaisano Capital:

The current Gaisano Capital Group, with 32 branches is one of the largest retail malls in the Philippines. The current managing owners, third generation Gaisanos, have continued on the legacy started by their grandfather and subsequently passed on to their father, Mr. Edmund Gaisano Sr., by bringing quality service and products to their customers at very reasonable prices without sacrificing efficiency.

The company still boasts of its roster of loyal employees who have been with the company since their father’s time. The company keeps in its heart the ability to give the Filipino people a means of livelihood. Truly, Gaisano Capital’s presence can be felt in the community. Through its community outreach programs or by their generous donations through the Gaisano Capital Foundation where the company has helped ensure the future of this nation.

About Cleantech Solar:

Cleantech Solar is a pan-Asian developer and owner of rooftop solar photovoltaic systems providing power for Commercial & Industrial customers.

Cleantech Solar offers a unique combination of financial strength with expert knowledge in PV system design, installation, operation and maintenance. Across South East Asia Cleantech Solar is helping companies of all sizes reduce their utility bills and CO2 footprints without having to tie up any of their capital.

About SasonbiSolar:

SasonbiSolar is a full-service Solar PV systems integrator.

The company is composed of professionals passionate about the propagation of solar energy use in the Philippines. SasonbiSolar covers everything from design, engineering, and installation through highly qualified and certified engineers and service personnel. SansonbiSolar’s customers are a testament to the high value put into customer service and integrity.

SasonbiSolar uses only the best-in-class, high-quality equipment to build solar PV systems. Its experiences in previous projects and professions contribute to the continuously improving processes in planning and executing projects. Each of SasonbiSolar’s solar PV system installations is of the highest quality and workmanship.

Al Gore Poses Three Questions That Will Determine The Future Of Earth

February 27th, 2016 by 

Originally published on The Climate Reality Project.

In his latest TED talk, Al Gore, founder and chairman of The Climate Reality Project, poses three questions that will determine the future of our planet – and why there’s good reason to be optimistic.

Under the rubric “Ideas worth spreading,” each year, the TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) conference brings together a collection of the world’s most compelling, surprising, and original thinkers to connect and explore the themes, factors, and forces shaping our world today – and pointing to our world of tomorrow.

The theme of this year’s conference in Vancouver, British Columbia – which ran February 15—19 – was “Dream.” TED curators invited Climate Reality Chairman Al Gore to headline the “Nightmares” session. But instead of focusing exclusively on the terrifying aspects of climate change, former Vice President Gore turned the topic on its head, outlining why he’s optimistic and why – even in the face of rising seas and melting glaciers – we can dare to dream of a safe and sustainable future planet. Here are three ideas worth spreading from the talk.

1. Do we really have to change?

The challenge came first. Each day, manmade greenhouse gas pollution traps the same amount of heat energy as would be released by 400,000 Hiroshima-class atomic bombs. This trapped heat is warming the oceans and increasing the water vapor and energy in our atmosphere, leading to stronger storms, more extreme floods, increasingly long droughts, and other results he characterized as “a nature hike through the Book of Revelations.”

2. Can we change?

Fortunately, we’ve already started to change. Renewable energy is growing exponentially. In fact, its growth has significantly beaten expert projections time and time again. And the cost of solar energy has come down around 10 percent every year for the past 30 years. With all this expansion, the renewable energy transition could very well be the biggest business opportunity in the world right now.

3. Will we change?

This question is up to us – all of us – right now. In December 2015, 195 countries approved the Paris Agreement on climate change and agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It was truly a breakthrough after decades of failed attempts. And around the world, from China to India to the US, countries are adding more and more capacity in renewable energy (in fact, 69 percent of new electrical capacity added in the US last year came from renewables). The change is happening – what’s up to us right now is how long we take to get there.

“When any great moral challenge is resolved into choice between right and wrong, the outcome is preordained because of who we are. That is why we are going to win this.”


How 11 Countries Are Leading The Shift To Renewable Energy

February 4th, 2016 by 

Originally published on Climate Reality Project.

Who’s embracing wind? Solar? Geothermal? These countries could provide blueprints for the worldwide shift to renewable energy.

This December, almost 200 countries from every corner of the world signed the Paris Agreement, committing to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and – dare we say – save the world!The question on everyone’s mind: How?

The truth is, we don’t have to wait on scientists to invent some newfangled contraption. The solutions are already here! We simply need to ramp up renewable energy generation, and fast.

Here’s how: follow the leader. There are many countries already forging ahead towards a low-carbon future. Whether solar is starting to shine or the answer is blowing in the wind, the solutions are growing every day. But don’t take our word for it. Read on to learn how places around the globe are going renewable.

1. Sweden


In 2015, Sweden threw down the gauntlet with an ambitious goal: eliminating fossil fuel usage within its borders, and immediately ramping up investment in solar, wind, energy storage, smart grids, and clean transport. And the best part? The Swedes are challenging everyone else to join them in a race to become the first 100-percent renewable countries. Now that’s a competition where everyone wins. 

2. Costa Rica


Thanks to its unique geography and commitment to environmental preservation, small but mighty Costa Rica meets a huge amount of its energy needs using hydroelectric, geothermal, solar, wind, and other low-carbon sources. Next on the horizon: Costa Rica aims to be entirely carbon-neutral by 2021.

3. Nicaragua

Not to be outdone by its Tico neighbors, Nicaragua saw renewables comprise up to 54 percent of all electricity production in June 2015. How’d Nicaragua do it? In 2007, the then-president began emphasizing renewable energy investments. By 2012, Nicaragua invested the fifth-highest percentage worldwide of its GDP in developing renewable energy. Next on the to-do list: The country is aiming for 90-percent renewable energy by 2020, with the majority of energy coming from wind, solar, and geothermal sources.

4. Scotland


Great Scot! The answer to Scotland’s energy needs is blowing in the wind. In 2015, wind power produced the equivalent of 97 percent of the country’s household electricity needs.

5. Germany


Germany set the trend when it comes to renewable energy. It leads the world in solar PV capacity and has even been able to meet as much of 78 percent of a day’s electricity demand from renewables. For a relatively cloudy country of over 80 million people, Germany is looking forward to a seriously bright future for solar energy!

6. Uruguay


Going renewable doesn’t have to take a lot of time and generous subsidies. Uruguay is now 95-percent powered by renewables after less than 10 years of concerted effort. The country invested heavily in wind and solar with no subsidies or increases in consumer costs. The secret? “Clear decision-making, a supportive regulatory environment, and a strong partnership between the public and private sector.

7. Denmark


Denmark got 42 percent of its electricity from wind turbines in 2015, and that’s not just a bunch of hot air. Even with two wind farms offline, that’s the highest percent of wind power ever achieved worldwide. The country aims to be 100-percent fossil-fuel-free by 2050, and these strong winds at its back will help push Denmark to that goal.

8. China


Wondering how the world’s largest carbon emitter can also be a leader in renewable energy? It may seem counter-intuitive, but in 2014 China had the most installed wind energy capacity – by a longshot – and the second-highest installed solar PV capacity. China has also committed to phasing out coal and cleaning up its polluted air.

9. Morocco


With ample sun, Morocco decided to go big. Bigger than anyone else in the world, in fact. The largest concentrated solar plant on earth recently opened its first phase in Morocco. With its accompanying wind and hydro plants, the mega-project will provide half of Morocco’s electricity by 2020.

10. The United States of America


In the US, a new solar energy system was installed every two minutes and 30 seconds in 2014, earning the US fifth place on the installed solar PV capacity global rankings (see: Germany). America also has the second-highest installed wind energy capacity in the world (see: China). Unfortunately, the energy demand in the States far outpaces the renewable capacity. Renewables only accounted for about 13 percent of the country’s electricity generation as of 2014. That said, a new NOAA study estimates that America could reduce emissions by nearly 80 percent in just 15 years without impacting consumer electricity costs by using more renewables. So there’s still #ClimateHope for the US to make the switch. Join Climate Reality if you want to help make that happen.

11. Kenya


Kenya believe it? This country is looking to geothermal energy to power its future and reduce reliance on costly electricity imports. As of 2015, geothermal accounted for 51 percent of Kenya’s energy mix – up from only 13 percent in 2010. Kenya’s also betting big on wind, with Africa’s largest wind farm (310 MW) set to provide another 20 percent of the country’s installed electricity generating capacity. Those two combined will help Kenya generate 71 percent of its electricity with renewables.

See Any Trends?

One common theme among all these success stories is that when leaders actively set ambitious goals for renewable energy generation and support them with investments, growth comes fast. The second lesson: there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to making the switch.Some countries, like Kenya, have ample geothermal and can ramp up fast. Others, like Denmark, have been steadily improving their wind power generation for decades. Still others, like Morocco, are betting big on solar while planning for backup from other renewables.


€200 Million Facebook Data To Be 100% Powered By Renewables


January 30th, 2016 by 

Originally published on Sustainnovate.
By Henry Lindon


The social media giant Facebook will be building a new €200 million data center in Ireland that will get 100% of its electricity from renewable energy projects, according to recent reports. The data center will also reportedly utilize intelligent air intake design to help cut down on cooling costs.

The new data center will be Facebook’s second in Europe once completed (set for late 2017 or early 2018, currently), and will be located in Clonee, outside of Dublin.

The company’s Vice President of Infrastructure, Tom Furlong, commented in a blog post that the new facility would be powered with the country’s renewable wind resources, and that it would feature state-of-the-art technologies designed to reduce overall energy use.

“All the racks, servers, and other components have been designed and built from scratch as part of the Open Compute Project, an industry-wide coalition of companies dedicated to creating energy- and cost-efficient infrastructure solutions and sharing them as open source,” he stated.

This is all worth taking note of, as data centers are ridiculously energy intensive, representing a substantial (and rapidly growing) portion of overall energy use nowadays. Many insiders have been arguing in recent years that this may lead to the need for new taxes or higher data charges, if the Internet is going to be maintained in its current form.

A data center engineer and visiting professor at the University of Leeds, by the name of Professor Ian Bitterlin, stated recently:

“If we carry on going the way we have been it would become unsustainable — this level of data center growth is not sustainable beyond the next 10 to 15 years. The question is, what are we going to do about it?”

Notably, Facebook is aiming to receive half of its electricity needs (for all of its operations) via renewable energy sources by the end of 2018.


Philippines Now The Largest Wind Power Generator In ASEAN Region


January 28th, 2016 by 

The Philippines has overtaken all other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in terms of installed wind energy capacity. 

Philippines now has an operational wind energy capacity of 400 MW, more than anything other country in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region, according to media reports quoting former Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, who played an important role in the passage of Renewable Energy Law of 2008. 

The Philippines is planning to increase the installed wind energy capacity to 1,600 MW over the next 2-3 years. Zubiri stated that the Philippines has significant wind energy resources spread across various islands of the country. The Renewable Energy Management Bureau has identified at least 44 potential sites for setting up wind turbines, which together can support 1,168 MW of wind energy capacity. 

The Renewable Energy Law of 2008, which also led to the launch of feed-in tariff scheme, attracted investment from several domestic and international project developers. One of the most famous example of the benefits of the Law is the Philippines’ largest wind energy projectwith an installed capacity of 150 MW, and owned by Energy Development Corporation. The project will includes 50 units of the Vestas V90-3 MW turbine. The project is expected to generate 370 GWh of electricity every year and offset about 200,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.


The Solutions Project: How 139 Countries Can Hit 100% Renewable Energy

January 23rd, 2016 by Rogier van Rooij

The idea of hitting 100% renewable energy (yes, energy, not just electricity) scares a lot of people. That is, a lot of people don’t think their cities or countries can achieve 100% renewable energy. However, a leading energy researcher at Stanford has led teams of researchers in order to practically show how 139 different countries could go 100% renewable.

You can find the results of each of the plans right here.

Netherlands 100 percent renewable energy

Based on research done by Stanford University, led by Mark Z. Jacobson, The Solutions Project is popularizing the maps and plans. It has created infographics, like the one above, highlighting which future energy mix will theoretically be the best to achieve the zero-emission target for each of these 139 countries. On the main page, there’s an interactive infographic. Hover over it, and you get the basic data for each of the countries.

By clicking on one of the nations, many more details are revealed. Fascinating numbers included newly created employment that would theoretically result from the switch to renewable energy, current and future energy costs, and health benefits resulting from the proposed transition.

For the United States, The Solutions Project even created a plan for each separate state, showing at an even more detailed level what a transition to clean energy could look like for the organization’s home country.

US 100 percent renewable energy

The data is not just based on energy usage for electricity generation, but for all-purpose energy use. That means it covers energy demand for demand for transportation, heating, industry, and agriculture.

The research on which the roadmaps are developed is conducted using a consistent methodology across all countries and with the goal of minimizing emissions of both air pollutants and greenhouse gases and particles. Many factors were taken into account, such as future energy demand, costs, and land use availability. And demand as well as potential supply are projected in 15-minute segments all throughout the year.

100 percent renewable energy Canada

Although the project convincingly shows how we can generate enough renewable energy for our complete energy consumption by 2050, it is less certain how we get to that future for each specific sector. Cars will switch to electric drivetrains, for which renewable electricity can be generated, but when will the kerosene-powered aviation sector be able to transition — this is a much harder case.

But The Solutions Project’s maps do give a comprehensive look at what our energy future might look like. By spreading the positive impact of such a transition, The Solutions Project might even bring the carbon-neutral future sooner. That is, of course, the aim.

Result Plan for the Philippines (download here)


Operators eye income gains from wilder vegetation

By Jason Deign
Jan 19, 2016
Ground maintenance studies point to lower capital costs and higher production efficiency using controlled vegetation programs in place of typical gravel placement.

solar farm with sunset glow,  clean energy in autumn

solar farm with sunset glow, clean energy in autumn

Mounting evidence suggests allowing plants to grow on solar farms can be more cost efficient than the common US PV sector practice of eliminating growth with gravel.

“There could be lower costs and less environmental litigation,” said Jordan Macknick, an energy and environmental analyst in the Energy Forecasting and Modeling Group at the US National Energy Renewable Laboratory (NREL).

NREL launched in October 2015 a three-year project called INSPIRE (Innovative Site Preparation and Impact Reductions on the Environment), to test how different vegetation regimes compare to gravel on cost reduction potential.

Current practice across much of the US is to stop vegetation growth by laying gravel under solar panels.

This is intended to reduce the operations and maintenance (O&M) cost but may not be as effective as previously thought, since the substrate still needs to be sprayed with herbicide and tends to heat up under the sun, reducing the efficiency of the PV plant.

In Europe, nurturing appropriate vegetation under and around the solar panels is more commonplace.

German developer Belectric, for example, focuses on ground-based systems which allow natural vegetation growth. Belectric has installed some 1.5 GW of solar power projects, in Europe, US, Middle East and Asia.

“Only a fraction of the area occupied is sealed. New habitat for animals and plants is created underneath and between the modules,” according to documentation from the company.

In the US, other operators are also switching towards wilder vegetation plans.

At a 7.3 MW plant in Maryland, for example, developer and O&M specialist Abakus Solar USA abandoned gravel in favor of a low-growing grass mix in order to satisfy landscaping requirements for approval of the project.

The Maryland experience led Abakus to favor controlled vegetation growth.

Efficiency gains

“Plants are more effective at making sure the ground stays cool,” said Abakus chief executive James Huff. “When you put gravel down, it’s just stone. When stone gets hot it radiates [heat] upwards. What you end up doing is creating an oven effect.”

Although the exact impact on output has not been measured, “if you have a heated surface under a solar module you are definitely going to lose efficiency,” said Huff.

Another advantage of vegetation over gravel is that it is cheaper in terms of capital cost. Costs for gravel vary widely but Huff confirmed the minimum is likely to be in the region of $2,750 per acre for materials alone. There are additional labor costs for the spreading and leveling of gravel.

Meanwhile the materials cost for grass is around $1,000 per acre, Huff said. Preparing the soil and spreading seeds can be done with limited equipment and a low number of workers.

Low-growing grass needs to be weeded for the first two years of growth, according to Huff, but this does not represent a significant cost. Thereafter the vegetation is more or less maintenance free, Huff said.

As well as costing less, grass is better than gravel at reducing dust. Gravel needs to be kept moist to prevent dust from forming and soiling solar panels. This adds to the O&M effort and cost, and can be a problem in locations where water is scarce.

Vegetation, on the other hand, traps dust and does not always require watering, since plants can often survive off the runoff from water that condenses on solar panels overnight.

Comparison of land management strategies
Source: Abakus Solar USA.

Additionally, allowing native plants to re-grow under solar panels may help with environmental approval or avoid the need for compensatory land mitigation purchases.

The nature of the native flora must be considered, as it may be necessary to cut the vegetation in order to prevent it from shading panels.

While low growing or native grass may present a cost efficient O&M program, a popular alternative is to use the space under panels for agricultural purposes.

Agricultural use has the added advantage of providing an extra revenue stream for the plant owner, as well as further facilitating community acceptance of projects. In Europe, grass on solar plants is frequently given over to sheep for grazing.

Provided the solar panels have a minimum clearance of 80 cm off the ground, the sheep keep the grass below the level of the panels without the need for any other O&M effort, and without compromising the output of the plant.

Other grazing animals are less suited to coexistence with solar panels.

“Cattle, horses, pigs and goats are likely to be too ‘physical’ with the solar arrays but sheep, chickens or geese should be acceptable,” according to planning guidance issued by BRE, a UK-based environmental build consultancy and certification agency.

Harvesting profits

On smaller plants it might be preferable to give the land over to cultivation of low-growing crops, particularly in land areas where solar projects compete with food production.

NREL’s INSPIRE project will seek to discover which strategies work best for different regions in the US, with different plant configurations.

“We’re going to develop guidebooks for this that will talk about what are some best practices, what are some easy as well as medium-level ways in which you can reduce the impact on vegetation and potentially increase your income,” Macknick said.

To achieve the highest gains, O&M providers will need to apply the land management practices most appropriate to the project site.

“Depending on contract requirements, we have sites that use riding mowers; some use hand-held equipment to maintain vegetation and in some we use various spraying techniques,” Joe Brotherton, president of the US solar O&M provider MaxGen Services, said.


42 RE deals to add 1,700MW to local generation capacity


By: Amy R. Remo
Philippine Daily Inquirer

The Department of Energy has awarded 42 renewable energy service contracts (RESCs) for projects that can potentially provide as much as 1,700 megawatts of additional capacity to the country.
Awarding these contracts was in line with the agency’s aggressive promotion of indigenous sustainable energy, and the country’s fulfillment of its international commitments.
“We are committed to increase our renewable energy capacity and maintain a minimum of 30 percent share in the power generation mix in the coming years,” Energy Secretary Zenaida Y. Monsada said in a statement issued Tuesday.

“Through this government intervention, the country will be able to achieve its undertaking to triple installed renewable energy capacity by 2030, reflecting its 21st Conference of the Parties pledge and proactively responding to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation’s aspiration of doubling renewable energy capacities of member-economies from 2010 level by 2030,” Monsada said.
According to the DOE, the capacity expected from these proposed projects were on top of the additional total potential capacity of 12,128 MW recorded as of end November 2015.

If all these projects are aggregated and realized, the country’s installed capacity could reach up to about 20,000 MW by 2030, which is higher than the initial National Renewable Energy Program target, it said.
Data from the DOE showed that there were three biomass RESCs awarded to Green Atom Renewable Energy Corp., FDR Integrated Resource Recovery Management, Inc. and Lamsan Power Corp., while four wind RESCs were granted to Firstmax International Corp. and the Lopez-led Energy Development Corp.
Meanwhile, nine hydropower projects and 26 solar power projects were also granted RESCs.
It was toward the last quarter of 2015 that the newly appointed energy secretary greenlighted these renewable energy projects after having reviewed each contract.