Bloomberg New Energy Finance - Week In Review

This Week In Review was sent on Tuesday 28 October.

EU sets CO2 challenge as China and Brazil lead clean energy in developing world 

With the United Nations’ global warming summit at the end of the year in sight, there have recently been important moves on climate and clean energy policy, some helpful to the cause of decarbonisation and some not. 

Last week, the European Union agreed on the world’s toughest emissions reduction goal, while Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s government looked to ease Australia’s renewable ambitions. Meanwhile, in the developing world, China and Brazil have caught the eye with their ability to attract capital for low-carbon energy sources.

A Bloomberg New Energy Finance report – ranking 55 developing countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia and published this week – finds that Brazil is now promoting low-carbon energy investment  almost as effectively as China.

Climatescope 2014, available to download here, scored China the highest of all the nations included in the report. The world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide is also the largest manufacturer of wind turbines and solar panels, and has the most demand for wind and solar equipment.

Brazil, which finished a close second, has moved aggressively to facilitate greater clean energy development through a series of state-organised tenders for power contracts, according to the report.  South Africa, Kenya and Uganda were also among the top scorers, as all of them have significant clean energy projects and programmes. South Africa surged ahead of all other African nations with nearly $10bn of clean energy investment undertaken in the last two years, the report shows.

Representatives from both developed and developing world countries are preparing for a UN climate summit in Lima in December where delegates aim to lay the foundations for a worldwide deal to be clinched in 2015 in Paris.

As a way to crank up pressure on the US and China ahead of the talks, European Union leaders backed the most ambitious carbon emissions goal of any major economy last week.

Heads of government from the bloc’s 28 nations endorsed a binding target to cut greenhouse gases by at least 40% from 1990 levels by 2030, at a summit in Brussels. Meeting that goal would cost about EUR 38bn ($48bn) a year, according to EU estimates quoted by Bloomberg News. The EU is on track to meet its previous goal of a 20% reduction by 2020.

For the EU emissions trading system, the 40% emission reduction target translates into a 2.2% cap reduction factor from 2021 onwards, cutting 614Mt out of the market compared with current legislation (equivalent to around a third of covered annual emissions). While the mission reduction target is the only binding headline figure, it may end up having limited impact on the carbon price in Europe, as Bloomberg New Energy Finance notes in its Analyst Reaction: EU 2030 package – meaningful targets? The emissions target will likely be outweighed by the impact of the EU’s planned stability reserve, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Elsewhere in the world, there was news earlier in the week that Prime Minister Abbott’s government will negotiate with the opposition to cut Australia’s renewable energy target and exempt industries such as aluminium and copper smelting.

Industry minister Ian Macfarlane said he was "reasonably confident" the target would be reduced from the current 41,000GWh of electricity from renewable projects, to between 26,000 and 28,000GWh.

Any changes to the RET –  which requires electricity retailers to buy renewable certificates from wind and solar farms or generate clean power themselves – needs the support of opposition lawmakers in the upper house Senate to become law.

The uncertainty around the future of the RET has caused clean energy investment to languish in Australia. The country is on track to register its lowest level of asset financing since 2002, as policy uncertainty prevents any private investment in new large-scale assets.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance highlights in its note Investment freeze in Australia continues that only AUD 193m was invested in new large-scale renewable energy projects in the third quarter of 2014 in Australia, bringing year-to-date investment to AUD 238m.  

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Q&A of the week

Wind, solar growth affects gas plant choice, Wartsila says

The spread of wind and solar power, with the increasing cost-competitiveness of those technologies, has implications for the choice of fossil-fuel capacity required to balance those renewables, according to Wartsila, the Finland-based power plant supplier.

Earlier this month, the company said it won a 56MW, $32m, contract to supply a flexible natural gas-fired power plant to balance wind and solar in Oklahoma by generating electricity ‘when the wind stops blowing and the sun goes down’.

On 27 October, Wartsila said it landed an order to provide a 50MW plant, running on a biofuel blend initially and later on natural gas, to Hawaiian Electric Company to balance the islands’ expanding solar capacity. Renewables already supply more than 18% of Hawaii’s power, and inhabitants there have more photovoltaic capacity installed per capita than anywhere else in the US.

Variable wind and solar capacity can be balanced in four ways – with storage, interconnectors, demand response or flexible generating plants. If the fourth option is the one chosen, then the next question is what sort of flexible plant, Rakesh Sarin, president of Wartsila Power Plants, told Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Q: How do the contracts in Oklahoma and Hawaii fit in with Wartsila’s overall strategy in power systems?

A: The overall energy market is at the threshold of major change. Last year, solar deployment overtook wind deployment worldwide. Our estimate is that by 2018, tariffs for solar and fossil fuel power will meet at a crossroads. This pace of change will continue, and that is very good news for the environment and from the point of view of energy security, something that many countries are focusing on at the moment. Southern countries are particularly fortunate in terms of their solar resource, and we expect power from the sun to penetrate strongly into energy systems. This means big challenges for the future, as dispatchers try to ensure grid reliability and that the demand for power 24-7 is met. We offer flexibility in different ways. We can have a plant that is running on gas but if you don’t have any gas available, then it can run on heavy fuel oil. Or vice versa – for instance, in Jordan, we have sold a plant to run on heavy fuel oil, but if gas becomes available, the customer will be able to switch to that. Secondly, we have quick ramp-up, within a few minutes, and that means the system can deal with situations where clouds move in front of solar panels or the wind stops blowing. A third element of flexibility is that even if the plant’s total capacity is 300MW, we can offer 20MW of that at one time. The system in the future may require different load factors from the same power plant during the day.

Q: What is the potential for these flexible generation technologies in the future?

A: I believe that the demand globally will be…

This is an excerpt from the Clean Energy & Carbon Brief published weekly. To subscribe to the Clean Energy & Carbon Brief, click here.

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