China Leads as U.S. Falls Behind in Global Smart Grid Investment

by Joshua S Hill

According to new figures from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), global smart grid investment grew to $14.9 billion in 2013, up from $14.2 billion in 2012, and being led by China, who finished the year as the world’s largest smart grid market.

Renewable Energy. The Smart Grid. Image courtesy of Hitachi.
Renewable Energy. The Smart Grid. Image courtesy of Hitachi.

China’s place at the top comes at the expense of the United States, as the North American market continued to slow and China dollar investment into their smart grid exceeded that of the US, thanks in part to the installation of 62 million smart meters, a market which accounted for just under half of the total smart grid spending worldwide.

China’s investiture into smart grid technology amounted to $4.3 billion during 2013, with a large share going towards the installation of smart meters, bringing their national total up to 250 million. However, the country has indicated that it is aiming to extend the end-date for completing its metering program from 2015 to 2017.

On the flipside, US smart grid spending slowed during 2013, as the North American market shrunk 33% to $3.6 billion during 2013, thanks in part to the conclusion of US stimulus-funded projects.

Global investment in the smart grid increased relatively modestly last year after five years of rapid growth. But the fundamental drivers of the smart grid – greater grid reliability, further integration of renewable energy, and improved demand-side management – are stronger than ever.

Asian and European markets will drive growth through 2020, while in North America the focus will continue to shift from hardware to software as utilities look to squeeze additional value out of the vast amounts of grid data now available. — Colin McKerracher, senior energy-smart technologies analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance

China and the US aren’t the only markets when it comes to smart metering, but they are the largest. Bloomberg noticed several “promising signs” during 2013 for the European market, including a large metering contract in the UK, a new tender in France, and the completion of the long-awaited cost benefit analysis in Germany.

Elsewhere, Japan’s utilities are currently in the tendering and procurement stage of their smart meter deployment, while in South America, Brazil’s smart meter deployment has been delayed due to certification and financing challenges.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance sees the following developments in 2014 and beyond:

  • Asia still has years of growth ahead. Despite China’s recently announced slowdown in meter installation, China’s 5-10 year meter replacement cycle means that as this major wave of installations finishes in 2017, the first wave of replacements is expected to commence. 2014-15 will bring also an increase in distribution automation spending in China while smart grid activity in Japan, Korea, India and South East Asia will also ramp up.
  • The US is entering a second major smart grid phase: information integration. With its growing penetration rates for smart meters and distribution automation, the next phase for the US smart grid is using the new data coming in off the grid to improve areas like outage management, customer segmentation and theft detection.
  • Europe is the smart grid’s sleeping giant. Europe has installed only 55m smart meters but this is expected to rise sharply to 180m by 2020. Spain will remain as the most active market in 2014 but large-scale deployments in the UK, Germany and France will begin to ramp up in late 2015.

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This article, Global Smart Grid Investment Grows, China Leads, US Falls Behind, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Renewable Energy. Joshua S Hill.Joshua S Hill I’m a Christian, a nerd, a geek, a liberal left-winger, and believe that we’re pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I work as Associate Editor for the Important Media Network and write for CleanTechnica and Planetsave. I also write for Fantasy Book Review (.co.uk), Amazing Stories, the Stabley Times and Medium.   I love words with a passion, both creating them and reading them.

Grid Parity, Low LCOE Driving 34% Global Renewables Capacity by 2030

by Silvio Marcacci

When it comes to global electricity generation, coal is still king – but not for long

Fast-changing economics mean renewable energy worldwide will represent 34% of all installed capacity by 2030, according to the World Energy Perspective: Cost of Energy Technologies — a report from the World Energy Council (WEC) and Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

Global levelized cost of electricity graph via World Energy Council
Global levelized cost of electricity graph via World Energy Council

The report finds many clean energy technologies are already cost competitive with fossil fuels and only getting cheaper, echoing another analysis that found US wind and solar costs fell 50% since 2008. As a result, fossil fuel’s slice of the world energy pie is projected to fall fast, from 67% in 2012 to 40%-45% in 2030.

Falling Renewable LCOE Powers Clean Energy Surge

Vast differences in the cost of building and generating power exist across the globe, but one trend is clear – the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) continues to fall for mature renewable energy technologies, placing them close to grid parity with fossil fuels. In addition, the cost of producing power from renewables fall continue at a rate related to the level of usage, a trend known as the “experience curve.”

Our study finds that although fossil fuels continue to dominate, renewable energy and the investment appetite for them are growing.

With wider deployment the price of renewables will fall, reducing the risk for investors, and we expect to see greater uptake over the years. — Guy Turner, Chief Economist at BNEF.

The WEC report uses several cost metrics exist to evaluate power generation including capital expenditures, operating expenditures, and capacity factor, but LCOE stands as arguably the most important indicator of renewable energy’s value because it’s the only one that evaluates the total lifecycle costs of producing a megawatt hour (MWh) of power.

LCOE is best explained as the price a project must earn per MWh in order to break even on investment and considers cash flow timing, development and construction, long-term debt, and tax implications to equally evaluate all energy technologies on an equal basis in terms of their actual costs.

But most importantly, LCOE underlines the ascendance of renewable energy across the world – especially wind and solar.

Wind Power Gusts Ahead

Wind power has already become the largest non-hydro renewable electricity source and is projected to more than triple from 5% of global installed capacity in 2012 to 17% by 2030, breezing past large hydropower. From 2000-2010 global onshore and offshore wind capacity increased 30% per year, reaching 200GW installed in 2010.

Onshore wind LCOE by region
Onshore wind LCOE by region graph via World Energy Council

Onshore wind’s LCOE has fallen 18% since 2009 on the strength of cheaper construction costs and higher capacity factors.

Turbine costs have fallen nearly 30% since 2008, outpacing the traditional experience curve.

The LCOE for onshore wind is cheapest in India and China, running between $47-$113 and making well-sited wind farms in these countries among the cheapest in the world – an incredibly important factor considering their surging demand for power is currently being met by coal.

The LCOE picture isn’t as clearly defined for offshore wind, as 95% of the world’s 4GW installed offshore wind capacity is located in European waters.

By 2020 installed capacity growth in Asia will surge, offsetting Europe’s dominance with 40% of all installed annual capacity – China alone will have 30% of all new capacity. As more offshore wind comes online in different markets, LCOE will become clearer.

Solar’s Remarkable Shine

But if wind’s LCOE drop has been steady, solar energy’s has been meteoric.

The WEC reports feed-in tariffs and plummeting photovoltaic module prices make solar competitive with most forms of power generation – in some markets with expensive power, like Germany, businesses with installed solar now find using their generated power more profitable than selling it to the grid.

Solar power LCOE over time chart via World Energy Council
Solar power LCOE over time chart via World Energy Council

As a result, solar power’s worldwide capacity will absolutely boom, growing from 2% of installed capacity in 2012 to 16% by 2030. China and Japan will be biggest beneficiary of solar’s rise, with China set to exceed 50GW installed solar by 2020.

The WEC’s forecast for solar power is incredible, but even this outlook is underestimates solar’s clean energy potential, because it only includes projects above 1 megawatt in capacity – completely ignoring the spread of small-scale rooftop solar and the rise of distributed generation

Solar power LCOE by region graph via World Energy Council
Solar power LCOE by region graph via World Energy Council
Fossil Fuel’s Achilles Heel: Operational Costs

In spite of falling renewable costs, fossil fuel generation is still cheaper in most regards, except for one – the price of operation.

The WEC notes that once renewables are built and online, their costs are mainly marginal operational and maintenance expenses. Compare that to fossil fuels, whose costs are volatile and subject to change from factors like commodity price swings and external costs like carbon pricing and pollution.

This trend is most clearly seen in developed nations like Western Europe, America, and Australia, where the WEC says the potential for significant amounts of new coal generation to come online is low.

Today, developing nations buck this trend and coal is a growing generation source in Brazil, China, and India. In fact low capital costs make China the cheapest country to generate power from coal, less than half the LCOE in Europe or the US.

Coal LCOE by region chart via World Energy Council
Coal LCOE by region chart via World Energy Council

But the tide is starting to turn, evidenced by growing concerns about air pollution in China and the development of carbon markets in many of the world’s developing economies where fossil fuels have dominated generation.

Grid Parity For Renewables Fast Approaching

Put it all together, and it’s clear to see global energy economics are changing fast.

While coal still dominates global electricity production, renewables are catching up with net investment growing seven-fold from 2004-2011, outpacing fossil fuels for the second year in a row in 2012. And as more renewables come online, their costs continue to fall faster and faster from larger economies of scale.

The cost of most technologies, and most dramatically that of solar PV, is coming down with production scale-up in many areas of the world.

With such growth, grid parity will become reality in the coming years. — Dr. Christoph Frei, World Energy Council Secretary General

This article, Grid Parity, Low LCOE Driving 34% Global Renewables Capacity by 2030, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Silvio Marcacci is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate-focused public relations company based in Washington, D.C.

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Another Bank Bailout – MY COMMENT

by John Brian Shannon

MY COMMENT ON PROFESSOR PAUL KRUGMAN’S ARTICLE BEGINS…

The great sucking sound that everyone is hearing these days is the sound of capital leaving the Western economies by the billions – perhaps trillions of dollars – over the past few decades.

Money goes where the investments pay the best returns – and these days that means the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and other rapidly developing economies. As uncountable billions leave the Western economies, the jobs attached to those mega-billions go with them. Is it any wonder then, that some of the weaker Western economies have been in free-fall for some time? No, it is not.

A great deal of lamenting has been gone on in recent months – but the geomacro-economy has been changing and will continue to change as it reflects the new and evolving reality, for one simple reason – “If we continue to do what we have been doing, we can continue to expect the same results.”

And what is that result, exactly?

I quote Professor Paul Krugman – arguably the leading economist alive today: “An old routine plays out in Spain, with the banks getting help while the unemployed continue to suffer.” Read Professor Krugman’s excellent article here…

Bought anything lately that ISN’T Made in China? Clothing labels or manufacturing stampings could also read Made in India, Indonesia, or any number of other fast-growing economies.

Our consumers demand lower-priced goods and services, so foreign nations have gratefully fulfilled those requirements – effectively transferring Western wealth to third-world nations in huge, glorious gobs of U.S. and European bank notes!

It is said in China these days that one must watch the sky carefully for all the Manna falling from Heaven – which is falling in the form of chunks of gold large enough to take out entire city blocks!

Lest you think this is a recent development, it all started in earnest about 1973 shortly before the Arab Oil Embargo, when oil prices suddenly shot up and Detroit’s thunderous, but thrilling V8’s became unaffordable for millions of workers in nations used to interstate highways serving distant suburbs, spirited driving on the autobahn, and long summer vacations involving hundreds of miles of travel.

Japan at the time and still to this day, exports huge numbers of cars to the West and enjoys a growing market share of (mostly) fuel-efficient vehicles – and the ones that can’t boast good fuel economy, can certainly brag about outstanding reliability and brand-loyalty.

Since the 1990’s, South Korea, China, Indonesia, India and others have also stepped up to fulfill the wants and needs of American and European consumers with everything from home appliances and personal electronics, to tools, clothing and just about anything else you might purchase. Lower labour rates and production costs in Japan, then Korea and now, China, India and Indonesia, allowed more R&D spending, better products and lower prices for consumers and business alike.

Of course, those are all great things. It has been a decades-long bonanza for consumers, businesses and even the governments of the Western world are able to lower their costs by purchasing cheaper and often, more reliable goods from Asia.

American and European corporations have gladly followed this trend and contributed mightily to those developing nations attempting to service the wants and needs of Western consumers. If you doubt me on this – just do a Google search on Apple Computer for just one of many examples of U.S. companies which have elected to have their goods manufactured in China or other rapidly growing nations, instead of the U.S. Check Apple’s stock price in 1990 (mostly U.S. production) vs 2011 (mostly Chinese production). Impressive by any standard but not unusual, in fact, this Western-inspired trend is well established and continues to this day.

One day soon, there will be no manufacturing capacity in the U.S., Canada or Europe. It is dramatically cheaper to have it all done inside the BRIC countries and export those products to the West. Costs are so low, that shipping millions of products thousands of miles across entire oceans, becomes a tiny factor of the final price paid at U.S. or European cash-registers.

The “real price” of that huge manufacturing shift continues to play out in the daily media – higher Western unemployment rates, longer welfare rolls, lower domestic production, real-estate bubbles, bank failures, bank bailouts and so far, about one decade of destroyed dreams for families and small businesses.

But, man, did I get a great deal at the mall today!

Follow John Brian Shannon on Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/JBSCanada