2015 Sets Global Renewable Energy Record

According to new data released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), renewable generation capacity increased by 152 GW of 8.3 percent during 2015. This marks the highest global growth ever. Renewable Capacity Statistics 2016 finds that as of the end of 2015, 1,985 GW of renewable generation capacity existed globally.

RE Capacity Highlight_Infographic“Renewable energy deployment continues to surge in markets around the globe, even in an era of low oil and gas prices. Falling costs for renewable energy technologies, and a host of economic, social and environmental drivers are favoring renewables over conventional power sources,” said IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin. “This impressive growth, coupled with a record $286 billion invested in renewables in 2015, sends a strong signal to investors and policymakers that renewable energy is now the preferred option for new power generation capacity around the world.”

The report finds 2015 was a record year for solar and wind energy in large part due to a continued decline in technology costs. Wind power grew 63 GW (17%) driven by declines in onshore turbine prices of up to 45 percent since 2010. Solar capacity increased 47 GW (37%) thanks to price drops of up to 80 percent for solar photovoltaic modules in the same time period. Hydropower capacity increased by 35 GW (3%), while both bioenergy and geothermal energy capacity increased 5% each (5 GW and 1 GW respectively).

Overall, the study reports capacity has increased by roughly one-third over the last five years, with most of this growth coming from new installations of wind and solar energy.

The fastest growth in renewable generation capacity came in developing countries, in terms of regional power generation. Central America and the Caribbean expanded at a rate of 14.5 percent while in Asia, where additions accounted for 58 percent of new global renewable power generation capacity in 2015, capacity expanded at a rate of 12.4 percent. Capacity increased by 24 GW (5.2%) in Europe and 20 GW (6.3%) in North America. Continue reading

Geothermal Collaboration for Use in Clean Power Plan

With the Clean Power Plan (CPP) moving forward, several groups have collaborated to show states how geothermal can be a part of meeting their clean energy needs. The Geothermal Energy Association (GEA), Geothermal Resources Council (GRC), and Geothermal Exchange Organization (GEO) have released the first set of free state-by-state guides that outline the benefits of geothermal energy and three major types of geothermal applications: power generation, direct use and heat pumps.

Geothermal energy is in an ideal position to help states meet emission reductions and their clean energy targets,” said Paul Brophy, GRC President.

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 10.56.17 AMThe materials provide state officials, regulators and the public with information about geothermal energy uses in their individual states. The first four guides cover Oregon, Montana, Nevada, Idaho, and Colorado. The state guides find that geothermal power boost jobs and the economy. They also find that for a handful of states with high geothermal power potential, adding one or two geothermal power plants would offset all their emissions reductions required by the CPP.

“Geothermal can be an important part of state clean power plans, particularly when all of the benefits of firm and flexible geothermal provides are taken into account,” said Ben Matek, GEA analyst and research projects manager. “The Guides we are providing today will help overcome a major hurdle for geothermal – lack of recognition,” said Karl Gawell, GEA Executive Director. “We hope the states will recognize geothermal energy is part of the solution, and that each has potential it can tap.”

According to the guides, large-scale geothermal power plants directly employ an estimated 1.17 persons per MW. They account for nearly $6.3 to $11 million dollars in property taxes over the lifetime of the power plant and provide multiple benefits to the environment including lowered emissions and water consumption compared to other forms of baseload generation, and geothermal energy is always available. Click here to access the free guides.

New Report, Some Hits…Some Misses for Renewables

A new report, “Some Hits, Some Misses…All-in-All…To Be Taken with a Grain of Salt,” looks at the accuracy of the forecasts for renewable electricity made by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) in its monthly “Short-Term Energy Outlook” (STEO) reports. Published by the SUN DAY Campaign, the report finds 2015 forecasts have generally followed the actual pattern of ups-and-downs in electricity generation rates from renewable energy sources. However, finds the report, with a few exceptions, EIA underestimated the actual overall growth.

Photo Credit: Joanna Schroeder

Photo Credit: Joanna Schroeder

Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign notes that EIA’s monthly predictions of new capacity from renewable sources including biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar and wind, have been lower than what went into production. He says EIA has failed to capture the magnitude of the swift growth rates in utility-scale solar. Forecasts, he predicts, will likely be exceeded by actual growth. For example, EIA’s 2016 predictions of 0.6 percent – 0.7 percent for utility-scale solar’s share of total U.S. electrical generation will very possibly be met a year earlier. Predictions of 10 – 12 GW of new utility-scale solar capacity installed between 2014 and 2016 are also likely to be exceeded.

Bossong finds that 2015 reports began with more optimism about the prospects of hydropower and wind, than what has actually gone into production. However, generation by wind and hydropower new appear to be bouncing back, he says. Despite a slow start to the year, Bossong ultimately, EIA forecasts will be underestimated as wind generation is headed for levels above those recorded in 2014 while hydro’s shortfall for 2015 will more than likely be less than EIA anticipated.

“While EIA’s short-term energy forecasts can provide a very useful pulse of changes in the nation’ energy mix, they tend to mirror the agency’s long-term forecasts which notoriously low-ball expectations for renewable energy growth,” explains Bossong. “In recent years, renewable energy, particularly wind and solar, have vastly outpaced and outperformed EIA’s predictions – even those made for very short-term time periods.”

In addition, Bossong’s analysis finds actual end-of-the-year figures for new capacity and electricity generated by both nonhydro renewables, and renewables including conventional hydropower, will likely exceed EIA’s predictions by at least modest levels. It is almost certain, adds Bossong, that the majority of new electrical generating capacity installed during 2015 will be from renewables and renewables will account for more than 17.5 percent of total installed U.S. operating generating capacity by year’s end.

Global Geothermal Alliance Launched at #COP21

As a means to increase geothermal energy globally, this week during the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, (COP21) a coalition of 38 countries along with 20 development and industry partners have launched the Global Geothermal Alliance (GGA). The nonprofit was organized by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and was founded with the goal of achieving a 500 percent increase in global installed geothermal capacity by 2030 as well as a 200 percent increase in geothermal heating.

From left to right: Minister Ségolène Royal, France; President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, Iceland; Director-General Adnan Z. Amin, IRENA. Photo by IISD/ENB

From left to right: Minister Ségolène Royal, France; President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, Iceland; Director-General Adnan Z. Amin, IRENA. Photo by IISD/ENB

“Geothermal has proven its potential to be part of both the global climate and energy action agenda,” said IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin. “While geothermal can provide baseload power at some of the lowest costs for any power source, it remains under-developed. The Global Geothermal Alliance will provide a platform for partners to share best practices, further reduce costs and get the most benefit out of this sustainable energy resource.”

IRENA cites that nearly 90 countries have potential for geothermal energy resource development; however, just 13 gigawatts of installed capacity exists worldwide. The agency says the main obstacle for geothermal power investment and development has been the high upfront costs of surface geophysical studies and drilling to explore for geothermal resources. However, the agency explains, once a geothermal project is in operation, it can generate electricity at a low cost. The GGA will aim to overcome these barriers by mitigating risks, promoting technological cooperation, coordinating regional and national initiatives and facilitating geothermal energy investments into energy markets.

The launch took place in the context of the Energy Action Day at COP21, co-organised by IRENA along with several members. In two years of preliminary consultations, IRENA says the GGA has gathered substantial support from governments, leading industry players, development partners, regional and national institutions and non-governmental organizations. The initiative was initiated in September 2014 at the Climate Summit organized by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Emerging Nations Hit Record Clean Energy Investments

According to the new report Climatescope, developing nations have surpassed the world’s wealthiest countries in securing more renewable energy investments. Climatescope is a clean energy country competitiveness index, interactive report and online tool supported by the U.S., U.K. and Inter-American Development Bank Group. The report unveils a portrait of clean energy activity in 55 emerging markets in Africa, Asia and Latin America Climatescope2015and the Caribbean. The group includes major developing nations China, India, Pakistan, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa, as well as dozens of others. Energy solutions reviewed included solar, wind, small hydro, geothermal, biomass, and other zero-carbon emitting technologies (excluding large hydro).

The news came shortly before a round of UN-organized climate negotiations kicked off in Paris prior to the start of COP21. Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which released the report, says these talks often focus on the question of how much capital wealthier countries should make available to lesser developed countries to address the climate challenge.

Climatescope’s key findings include:

  • For the first time ever, over half of all new annual investment into clean energy power generating projects globally went toward projects in emerging markets, rather than toward wealthier countries.
  • New investment in renewables soared in 2014 in the 55 Climatescope countries assessed to hit a record annual high of $126bn – up $35.5bn, or 39%, from 2013 levels.
  • The results were substantially bolstered by the remarkable growth in China, which added 35GW of new renewable power generating capacity all on its own – more than the 2014 clean energy build in the US, UK, and France combined.
  • Meanwhile, “South-South” investment (funds deployed in Climatescope nations from banks or other financial institutions based in those countries) surged to $79bn in 2014 from $53bn the year prior.
  • Continuing declines in clean energy costs appear to be driving growth. Costs associated with solar photovoltaic power have ticked down 15% year-on-year globally. Solar is particularly competitive in emerging markets which often suffer from very high power prices from fossil generation while also enjoying very sunny conditions.
  • A total of 50.4 gigawatts (GW) of new clean capacity was built in Climatescope countries, marking a 21% uptick from the prior year. In another first, renewables capacity deployed in emerging markets topped that in wealthier Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations.
  • On a percentage basis, clean energy capacity is growing twice as quickly in Climatescope nations compared to OECD ones.

The report found that progress was achieved during 2014 despite a number of countries in the survey seeing economic growth rates slow. Average gross domestic product growth across Climatescope nations slipped to 5.7 percent in 2014 from 6.4 percent in 2013 with the slow-down most apparent in major nations, Brazil, South Africa, and China. Despite the pullback, these three countries attracted a total of $103bn in new clean energy investment in 2014.

60% New Electricity Generation Renewable Power

Becoming a trend, renewable energy sources accounted for more 60.2 percent of the 7,276 of new electrical generation placed in service in the U.S. during the first three quarters of 2015. According to the latest “Energy Infrastructure Update” from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) Office of Energy Projects, 26 new units of wind totaling 2,966 MW of new electrical generation have been placed in service so far this year. This accounted for 40.76 percent of all new capacity brought online year-to-date.  Among renewable sources, solar followed with 1,137 MW (142 units), biomass with 205 MW (16 units), geothermal steam with 45 MW (1 unit), and hydropower with 27 MW (18 units). Thirty-four units of natural gas contributed 2,884 MW.

wind power in Iowa

Photo Credit: Joanna Schroeder

Only 9 MW of new generation from oil and 3 MW from coal were put into production and there was no new capacity from nuclear power. In total, new capacity from renewable energy sources so far this year is 1,460 times greater than that from coal while new capacity from wind alone exceeds that from natural gas. In just September, wind (448 MW) again dominated, with 54.83 percent of new capacity followed by natural gas (346 MW), and solar (20 MW).

Renewable energy sources now account for 17.40 percent of total installed operating generating capacity in the U.S.: water – 8.59 percent, wind – 5.91 percent, biomass – 1.43 percent, solar – 1.13 percent, and geothermal steam – 0.34 percent (for comparison, renewables were 16.35 percent of capacity in September 2014 and 15.68 percent in September 2013). The share of total installed capacity from solar alone has more than doubled over the past two years (1.13% vs. 0.54%). Total installed capacity from non-hydro renewables (8.81%) now exceeds that from conventional hydropower (8.59%).

“With Congress and numerous states now questioning the ability of renewable energy sources to meet targets called for in the Administration’s new Clean Power Plan (CPP), the explosive growth of wind, solar, biomass, hydropower, and geothermal in recent years confirms that it can be done,” noted Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “In fact, the latest FERC data suggest that the CPP’s goals are unduly modest and renewables will handily surpass them.”

Renewable Industries Call on Secy of State for Support

COP 21 is fast approaching and the U.S. will be in the spotlight for its efforts to reduce climate change impacts. In anticipation of the worldwide climate event, leaders of the U.S. biomass, geothermal and hydropower industries are urging Secretary of State John Kerry to support a “pan-renewable technologies approach”. The National Hydropower Association, Biomass Power Association and Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) said in the letter that today these technologies provide 86 percent of the world’s renewable power and this amount is anticipated to grow in the coming years.

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 2.57.22 PM“As baseload renewable power technologies, our industries are particularly critical to reducing carbon dioxide emissions, and we encourage Secretary Kerry to recognize the contributions our industries are making to fight climate change,” said Linda Church Ciocci, executive director of the National Hydropower Association.

The letter highlighted some of hydropower, biomass and geothermal benefits:

  • Hydropower was the leading renewable power technology in each of the top five renewable electricity producing countries: China, U.S., Brazil, Canada and Russia.
  • Biomass provides a significant percentage of renewable power around the world, and was the leading renewable electricity source in Germany in 2014, providing 10% of the country’s electricity.
  • Geothermal provides power in 24 countries, including 51% of in-country power supply in Kenya, where these additions are credited with reducing consumer bills by over 30%.

Karl Gawell, GEA executive director, called on the Administration to increase its support of renewable electricity generation. “We are asking for a U.S. approach that recognizes hydropower, biomass power and geothermal power are also important contributors to avoiding fossil fuel emissions today and will be important contributors to meeting future climate goals.

The group stressed in the letter, “. . .[P]ower grids will continue to be a vital means for electricity delivery. Therefore, enhancing the grid and grid-connected technologies is important.

Bob Cleaves, president, Biomass Power Association, added, “Biomass power is recognized the world over for its many environmental and economic benefits. As a baseload power source, it’s an essential part of any renewable energy mix that uses low-value materials that often have no other use. Biomass will play an important role in reducing the use of fossil fuels.”

Geothermal Industry

The Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to include geothermal energy in the Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP). In a letter, GEA makes the following suggestions that would allow geothermal power plants to fully be included in CEIP:

  1. Include metered MWh generated from geothermal resources or allow states to include geothermal resources if their state contains these resources.
  2. Since the timeframe for geothermal includes exploration and more permitting in many states than an equivalent wind or solar project, include projects where significant construction has begun; this could include a binding written contract to the manufacture, construct, or produce electricity on a piece of the geothermal property, and includes expansion of existing facilities (incremental generation) or a new facility.
  3. Projects online in 2020 and 2021 under this program would receive credit for their MWh generated like wind or a solar project.

US geothermal energy photo DOE“Without this amendment to the CEIP program, GEA is concerned the way the current rule is written would shift investment away from geothermal projects in the west,” states the letter, noting geothermal’s importance in the low-income communities such as the Imperial and Coachella Valleys.

The letter states, “geothermal power meets the criteria and the spirit of the CEIP by providing emission free power in low-income communities. In fact, studies have shown, geothermal binary plants are less polluting than either wind or solar technologies on a lifecycle basis. In addition, these plants are located in some areas with the highest unemployment rates in the west. Adding geothermal to this provision could help expand these facilities, providing jobs and economic opportunities in these impoverished communities. Overall, geothermal power will be essential to western states’ long term clean energy portfolio and economies, while being consistent with the CEIP’s directive to advance clean technology in impoverished communities.”

Recently several senators (Reid, Feinstein, Boxer, Wyden, Merkley, Hirono, and Schatz), submitted a letter to EPA Administrator McCarthy also calling for geothermal energy to be included in the program. The letter stated, “We have noted that the Clean Energy Incentive Program includes solar and wind energy, but does not include a number of other important clean energy technologies that the federal government has historically defined as renewable energy resources, like geothermal energy, marine and hydrokinetic energy, biomass, small irrigation power, and qualified hydropower, as defined under Section 45(c) of the Internal Revenue Code. The Environmental Protection Agency should ensure that other clean energy sources of electricity are eligible for matching emission rate credits under the Clean Energy Incentive Program.”

Geothermal May be Africa’s Energy Solution

Representatives from 12 African countries gathered in Nairobi recently to discuss the feasibility of establishing the Africa Geothermal Centre of Excellence (AGCE). The center would work to improve the continent’s institutional and infrastructural capacities including bringing and training geothermal scientists an engineers.

Oklaria Geothermal Plant in Kenya.

Oklaria Geothermal Plant in Kenya.

Around 600 million people in Africa lack access to grid electricity, with the number expected to rise to 700 million by 2030. As a result, the continent is increasingly looking to alternative energy sources to bridge that gap especially geothermal opportunities. With an estimated potential of 20,000 MW, geothermal energy could provide an answer to the continent’s energy shortage.

The majority of the potential energy source remains largely untapped in part due to a lack of skilled workforce. AGCE would address this issue and become the vehicle to training a talented geothermal energy workforce and thus open the doors to sustainable geothermal development.

During the workshop, the attendees reviewed a feasibility study that catalgoues the region’s needs and potential for geothermal. In addition, the group also created AGCE’s vision and developed its long-term sustainability.

The meeting was organized by the United Nation Environment Programme’s (UNEP) African Rift Geothermal Development Facility (ARGeo) and brought together country representatives, African governments, development partners, donors, civil society, private developers, technical institutions and academia. AGCE is expected to be established in Kenya, which is the main hub for geothermal technology on the continent, with a natural laboratory and a major geothermal agency.

Energy Policy Modernization Act Intro’d

U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alas) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash) have introduced legislation entitled “The Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015,” a bipartisan bill designed to increase the use of renewable energy in the U.S. Karl Gladwell, executive director of the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) noted that the legislation would help America achieve its geothermal potential, “by addressing some of the most important barriers to geothermal development in the U.S.”

Photo Credit: Geothermal Technologies Office

Photo Credit: Geothermal Technologies Office

The legislation features five titles reflecting common ground on energy efficiency, infrastructure, supply, accountability, and land conservation. In the supply title, it includes several provisions supporting geothermal energy. It would:

  • set a 50,000-MW National Geothermal Goal;
  • direct federal agencies to identify priority areas for development;
    •allow federal oil and gas lease holders to obtain a non-competitive geothermal lease to facilitate coproduction of geothermal power — today 25 billion barrels of hot water are produced annually from oil and gas wells within the United States;
  • facilitate new discoveries by allowing the limited non-competitive leasing of adjacent lands where a new discovery has been made; and
  • provide geothermal exploration test projects a limited categorical exclusion provided the lands involved present no extraordinary circumstances.

“Our energy renaissance has taken us from a position of energy scarcity to one of energy abundance, but current law rarely reflects that fact. After months of working together, the bipartisan legislation we introduced today marks a critical step toward the modernization of our federal energy policies. By focusing on areas where agreement was possible, we have assembled a robust bill with priorities from many senators that will promote our economic growth, national security, and global competitiveness,” Chairman Murkowski said in a press statement.

The Senators cite that the end result will be more affordable energy, more abundant energy, and more functional energy systems that will strengthen and sustain our energy nation’s renaissance. The bipartisan Energy Policy Modernization Act will also achieve these goals in a fiscally-responsible manner.

Earlier this week the Senate Finance Committee voted 23-3 in support of legislation sponsored by Sens. Hatch, R-Utah, and Wyden, D-Ore., to extend the expired Production Tax Credit for geothermal power plants that start construction by December 31, 2016.  The Murkowski-Cantwell legislation builds upon legislative proposals introduced previously by Sens. Heller, R-Nev., Wyden, D-Ore., and Tester, D-Mont., along with several co-sponsors. The bill now awaits the Committee’s markup, expected next Tuesday.