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.
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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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.
The province of Fukushima in northeast Japan, devastated nearly three years ago by the earthquake and tsunami that caused a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, has pledged to go 100 percent renewable by 2040.
The energy will be generated through local community initiatives throughout the province of nearly two million.
Announced at a Community Power Conference held in Fukushima this week, it goes against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s agenda to reboot nuclear power throughout the country.
“The Japanese government is very much negative,” said Tetsunari Iida, director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies in Japan.
“Local government like the Fukushima prefecture or the Tokyo metropolitan government are much more active, more progressive compared to the national government, which is occupied by the industry people.”
Former Japanese Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa is running for mayor of Tokyo on an anti-nuclear platform.
The February 9 election is seen as a referendum on Abe’s efforts to restart nuclear reactors and on the future of nuclear power in Japan in general.
“Tokyo is shoving nuclear power plants and nuclear waste to other regions, while enjoying the convenience (of electricity) as a big consumer,” Hosokawa said during a late January news conference. “The myth that nuclear power is clean and safe has collapsed. We don’t even have a place to store nuclear waste. Without that, restarting the plants would be a crime against future generations.”
Fukushima currently gets 22 percent of its energy from renewable sources. In November, a 2-megawatt offshore wind turbine started operating about 12 miles off Fukushima’s coast. Two more 7-megawatt turbines are in the planning stages. The Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has said that total offshore wind capacity may reach up to 1,000 megawatts.
“Fukushima is making a stride toward the future step by step,” Yuhei Sato, Governor of Fukushima, said at the turbine’s opening ceremony. “Floating offshore wind is a symbol of such a future.”
A 26-megawatt solar power station also just broke ground in the prefecture. Japan’s solar market is booming and far exceeded solar analysts’ 2013 predictions, in large part due to government incentives such as a feed-in tariff that was passed into law shortly after the Fukushima meltdown. The shuttering of Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors after the incident forced the government to focus on alternative electricity sources.
“There’s still a long way to go in Japan because the official government position is still very pro-nuclear, so it would be naïve to say this is an easy way, that we just need to set an example and other regions will follow,” Stefan Schurig, Director of the Climate and Energy Department of the World Future Council, said at the Community Power Conference in Fukushima.
The debate over the future of nuclear power on a global scale is hardly a two-sided polemic. Nuclear power is still staggeringly expensive, and has not become cheaper over the decades as many expected.
Yet James Hansen, a prominent climatologist advocating for immediate action on climate change and further investment in nuclear power recently told the National Journal, “It seems to me that there are a lot of environmentalists who are beginning to look into the facts and appreciate the potential environmental advantages of intelligent development of nuclear power.”
However in Japan the scars of nuclear catastrophe are still fresh in the public’s mind. A September, 2013 survey found that that 53 percent of Japanese people wanted to see nuclear power phased out gradually, and 23 percent wanted it immediately done with.
The local situation is still unresolved, with nuclear radiation around the Fukushima power plant about eight times government safety guidelines as of mid-January.
Radioactive water leaks from the plant have also been an ongoing issue of concern — both for locals and the international community — with about 300 metric tons of contaminated groundwater seeping into the ocean each day, according to Japan’s government. On Monday the government announced new guidelines for capturing water before it becomes contaminated and flows into the ocean.
The government is also negotiating with the National Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations to gain approval to dump groundwater from the Fukushima power plant into the ocean under the assertion that the radioactive contamination would be under the legal limit.
In the meantime, a Renewable Energy Village (REV) with 120 solar panels and plans for wind turbines has sprouted up on the contaminated farmland surrounding the power plant.
This is an example of the type of project renewable energy advocates in the region hope to see more of in the quest toward the goal of 100 percent renewable power by 2040.
Radiation-tainted water from Fukushima is expected to arrive at American shores this year. In December, Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman Allison Macfarlane said that water would reach U.S. at levels less than 100 times lower than the accepted drinking water threshold. Scientists are prepared to test waters, but are skeptical that dangerous levels of contamination will be found.
“We don’t know if we’re going to find a signal of the radiation,” Matt Edwards, a UT San Diego scientist working on one such project, told RedOrbit.
“And I personally don’t believe it’ll represent a health threat if there is one. But it’s worth asking whether there’s a reason to be concerned about a disaster that occurred on the other side of the planet some time ago.”
Nearly 4,000 MW (4 GW) of new solar photovoltaic capacity was installed in Japan between April 1st and October 31st 2013, according to a new report released by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). To be exact, 3,993 MW of new PV capacity was installed, based on the data compiled by METI’s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy (ANRE).
“Photovoltaic power facilities steadily continue to be introduced, and the total combined capacity of such facilities as of October 31, 2013, reached 5,852,000 kW after the feed-in tariff scheme was introduced,” METI stated in the report.
Japan’s total installed solar PV capacity currently sits (as of October 31st 2013) right around 11.226 GW — so the 3.99 GW of new solar PV capacity represents quite significant growth. Of this new capacity, roughly 870 MW is from residential projects, and the other 3,123 MW is from non-residential systems.
From July 1, 2012, to March 31, 2013, Japan’s total PV capacity reached 1,673 MW, with residential making up 969 MW and non-residential 704 MW. Prior to the introduction of Japan’s feed-in tariff program, which went into effect July 1, 2012, combined total solar capacity in the country was at about 5.6 GW.
Japan became the first country in the world to surpass the 1 GW of cumulative PV capacity back in 2004. METI launched a subsidy program for residential PV systems in 1994, according to data from NPD Solarbuzz. Initially, the subsidy covered 50% of the cost of PV systems. As a result, until 2005, Japan had the largest installed PV capacity of any country in the world.
Solar PV deployment in Japan slowed in the mid-2000s, due in part to the country’s ten-year energy plan that was approved in March 2002 and called for an expansion of nuclear generation by approximately 30% by 2011. The plan included the construction of between nine and 12 new nuclear power plants, equivalent to 17.5 GW of new nuclear generating capacity.
Of course, after the Fukushima disaster in 2011, the plans for an expansion of the country’s nuclear capacity were nixed — hence the rapid increase in solar capacity since then.
Nathan For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts; for all is vanity. – Ecclesiastes 3:19
While the news about climate change seems to get worse every day, the rapidly improving technology, declining costs, and increasing accessibility of clean energy are the true bright spots in the march towards a zero-carbon future. 2013 had more clean energy milestones than we could fit on one page, but here are thirteen of the key breakthroughs that happened this year.
1. Using salt to keep producing solar power even when the sun goes down.Helped along by the Department of Energy’s loan program, Solana’s massive 280 megawatt (MW) solar plant came online in Arizona this October, with one unique distinction: the plant will use a ‘salt battery’ that will allow it to keep generating electricity even when the sun isn’t shining. Not only is this a first for the United States in terms of thermal energy storage, the Solana plant is also the largest in the world to use to use parabolic trough mirrors to concentrate solar energy.
2. Electric vehicle batteries that can also power buildings.
Nissan’s groundbreaking ‘Vehicle-To-Building‘ technology will enable companies to regulate their electricity needs by tapping into EV’s plugged into their garages during times of peak demand. Then, when demand is low, electricity flows back to the vehicles, ensuring they’re charged for the drive home. With Nissan’s system, up to six electric vehicles can be plugged into a building at one time. As more forms renewable energy is added to the grid, storage innovations like this will help them all work together to provide reliable power.
3. The next generation of wind turbines is a game changer. May of 2013 brought the arrival of GE’s Brilliant line of wind turbines, which bring two technologies within the turbines to address storage and intermittency concerns. An “industrial internet” communicates with grid operators, to predict wind availability and power needs, and to optimally position the turbine. Grid-scale batteries built into the turbines store power when the wind is blowing but the electricity isn’t needed — then feed it into the grid as demand comes along, smoothing out fluctuations in electricity supply. It’s a more efficient solution to demand peaks than fossil fuel plants, making it attractive even from a purely business aspect. Fifty-nine of the turbines are headed for Michigan, and two more will arrive in Texas.
4. Solar electricity hits grid parity with coal. A single solar photovoltaic (PV) cell cost $76.67 per watt back in 1977, then fell off a cliff. Bloomberg Energy Finance forecast the price would reach $0.74 per watt in 2013 and as of the first quarter of this year, they were actually selling for $0.64 per watt. That cuts down on solar’s installation costs — and since the sunlight is free, lower installation costs mean lower electricity prices. And in 2013, they hit grid parity with coal: in February, a southwestern utility, agreed to purchase electricity from a New Mexico solar project for less than the going rate for a new coal plant. Unsubsidized solar power reached grid parity in countries such as Italy and India. And solar installations have boomed worldwide and here in America, as the lower module costs have drivendown installation prices.
5. Advancing renewable energy from ocean waves. With the nation’s first commercial, grid-connected underwater tidal turbine successfully generating renewable energy off the coast of Maine for a year, the Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) has its sights set on big growth. The project has invested more than $21 million into the Maine economy and an environmental assessment in March found no detrimental impact on the marine environment. With help from the Department of Energy, the project is set to deploy two more devices in 2014. In November, ORPC was chosen to manage a wave-energy conversion project in remote Yakutat, Alaska. And a Japanese delegation visited the project this year as the country seeks to produce 30 percent of its total power offshore by 2030.
6. Harnessing ocean waves to produce fresh water.
This year saw the announcement of Carnegie Wave Energy’s upcoming desalination plant near Perth, Australia. It will use the company’s underwater buoy technology to harness ocean wave force to pressurize the water, cutting out the fossil-fuel-powered electric pumps that usually force water through the membrane in the desalination process. The resulting system — “a world first” — will be carbon-free, and efficient in terms of both energy and cost. Plan details were completed in October, the manufacturing contract was awarded in November, and when it’s done, the plant will supply 55 billion litters of fresh drinking water per year.
7. Ultra-thin solar cells that break efficiency records. Conversion efficiency is the amount of light hitting the solar cell that’s actually changed into electricity, and it’s typically 18.7 percent and 24 percent. But Alta Devices, a Silicon Valley solar manufacturer, set a new record of 30.8 percent conversion efficiency this year. Its method is more expensive, but the result is a durable and extremely thin solar cell that can generate a lot of electricity from a small surface area. That makes Alta’s cells perfect for small and portable electronic devices like smartphones and tablets, and the company is in discussions to apply them to mobile phones, smoke detectors, door alarms, computer watches, remote controls, and more.
8. Batteries that are safer, lighter, and store more power. Abundant and cost-effective storage technology will be crucial for a clean energy economy — no where more so than with electric cars. But right now batteries don’t always hold enough charge to power automobiles for extended periods, and they add significantly to bulk and cost. But at the start of 2013, researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory successfully demonstrated a new lithium-ion battery technology that can store far more power in a much smaller size, and that’s safer and less prone to shorts. They used nanotechnology to create an electrolyte that’s solid, ultra-thin, and porous, and they also combined the approach with lithium-sulfur battery technology, which could further enhance cost-effectiveness.
9. New age offshore wind turbines that float. Offshore areas are prime real estate for wind farms, but standard turbines require lots of construction and are limited to waters 60 meters deep or less. But Statoil, the Norwegian-based oil and gas company, began work this year on a hub of floating wind turbines off the coast of Scotland. The turbines merely require a few cables to keep them anchored, and can be placed in water up to 700 meters. That could vastly expand the amount of economically practical offshore wind power. The hub off Scotland will be the largest floating wind farm in the world — and two floating turbines are planned off the coast of Fukushima, Japan, along with the world’s first floating electrical substation.
10. Cutting electricity bills with direct current power.
Alternating current (AC), rather than direct current (DC) is the dominant standard for electricity use. But DC current has its own advantages: its cheap, efficient, works better with solar panels and wind turbines, and doesn’t require adapters that waste energy as heat. Facebook, JPMorgan, Sprint, Boeing, and Bank of America have all built datacenters that rely on DC power, since DC-powered datacenters are 20 percent more efficient, cost 30 percent less, and require 25 to 40 percent less floorspace. On the residential level, new USB technology will soon be able to deliver 100 watts of power, spreading DC power to ever more low voltage personal electronics, and saving homes in efficiency costs in their electricity bill.
12. Innovative financing bringing clean energy to more people. In DC, the first ever property-assessed clean energy (PACE) project allows investments in efficiency and renewables to be repaid through a special tax levied on the property, which lowers the risk for owners. Crowdfunding for clean energy projects made major strides bringing decentralized renewable energy to more people — particularly the world’s poor — and Solar Mosaic is pioneering crowdfunding to pool community investments in solar in the United States. California figured out how to allow customers who aren’t property owners or who don’t have a suitable roof for solar — that’s 75 percent of the state — to nonetheless purchase up to 100 percent clean energy for their home or business. Minnesota advanced its community solar gardens program, modeled after Colorado’s successful initiative. And Washington, DC voted to bring in virtual net metering, which allows people to buy a portion of a larger solar or wind project, and then have their portion of the electricity sold or credited back to the grid on their behalf, reducing the bill.
13. Wind power is now competitive with fossil fuels.“We’re now seeing power agreements being signed with wind farms at as low as $25 per megawatt-hour,” Stephen Byrd, Morgan Stanley’s Head of North American Equity Research for Power & Utilities and Clean Energy, told the Columbia Energy Symposium in late November. Byrd explained that wind’s ongoing variable costs are negligible, which means an owner can bring down the cost of power purchase agreements by spreading the up-front investment over as many units as possible. As a result, larger wind farms in the Midwest are confronting coal plants in the Powder River Basin with “fairly vicious competition.” And even without the production tax credit, wind can still undercut many natural gas plants. A clear sign of its viability, wind power currently meets 25 percent of Iowa’s energy needs and is projected to reach a whopping 50 percent by 2018.
You may have heard of the vehicle-to-grid (V2G) concept in which electric vehicles can supply their battery power to electricity grids during peak hours and other electricity shortages. Nissan recently decided to apply a somewhat similar concept to the Nissan Advanced Technology Center in Atsugi City, Japan. The company calls it “Vehicle-to-Building.” During peak hours, when electricity prices are highest, the vehicles supply their battery power to the building, enabling them to avoid this peak charge.
Wait… doesn’t the battery power come from the grid anyway?
Yes, it does. However, the energy stored in the car batteries is cheaper, as it is obtained during off-peak hours, when electricity prices are lowest. Nissan said it achieved this without affecting workers’ commutes, and the electric vehicles‘ batteries are guaranteed to be fully charged by the end of the day.
According to Nissan, this will also be applied to homes. The company calls this “Leaf to Home.”
It is a win-win situation because power grids get to sell their surplus electricity, and homes/buildings get to enjoy cheaper electricity.
Why Does All This Matter? Why Is Electricity More Expensive In The Afternoon?
Typical thermal power plants (coal, natural gas steam, and nuclear) are slow to adjust to fluctuations in power demand. Therefore, when electricity demand spikes during the peak hours mentioned, they cannot scale up in time, and in some cases, they can’t scale up at all, due to a lack of generation capacity. Therefore, peaking power plants are used instead, as they can start quickly to prevent blackouts and brownouts. There is a catch, though. Peaking power plants are expensive, which is why electricity is expensive during peak hours.
Similarly, excess electricity supply from thermal power plants at night results in very cheap electricity at night. In regions where prices are based on this demand and supply balance (like in the story above), if you have the ability to “buy low and sell high,” you can make some serious cash.
Nicholas Brown has a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, geography, and much more. My website is: Kompulsa.