As Nuclear steps aside, Renewable Energy steps up to power Europe

As Nuclear steps aside, Renewable Energy steps up to power Europe | 16/08/14
by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

Nuclear reactors are starting to shut down in Europe

It began in earnest in the wake of the Fukushima disaster when Germany inspected its problem-plagued nuclear power plants and decided to take 9 of its nuclear power plants offline in 2011 and the rest offline by 2022.

There is plenty of public support in the country for Germany’s planned nuclear closures, even with the additional fee added to each German electricity bill to pay for nuclear power plant decommissioning, which completes in 2045.

Switzerland likewise has decided to get out of the nuclear power business beginning in 2015 and decommission their nuclear power plants by 2045.

Other European nations are also looking at retiring their nuclear power plants. But the news today is about the UK, Belgium, Germany and Spain.

Heysham_Nuclear_Power_Station UK operated by EDF
Heysham Nuclear Power Station in the UK which is operated by EDF of France. Image courtesy: CleanTechnica.com

In the UK, four (French-operated) EDF reactors built in 1983 have been shut down after one of them was found to have a crack in its centre spine. (EDF stands for Electricity de France which is a French utility responsible for managing many nuclear reactors)

At first only the affected unit was taken offline (in June) but upon further inspection it was determined that the other three were at risk to fail in the coming months. Whether or not these four reactors can be repaired economically — all were scheduled to be decommissioned before 2020.

The shortfall in electrical generation due to these unscheduled nuclear power plant shutdowns has been met by 5 GW of new wind power generation, which has seamlessly stepped in to fill demand.

Additional to that, 5 GW of solar power has been added to the UK grid within the past 5 years. And that’s in cloudy olde England, mates!

In Belgium, 3 out of 5 of their nuclear power plants are offline until December 31, 2014 due to maintenance, sabotage, or terror attacks — depending who you talk to.

Belgium’s Doel 4 reactor experienced a deliberate malfunction last week and workers in the country’s n-plants are henceforth directed to move around inside the plants in pairs.

Also, their Tihange 2 reactor won’t be ready to resume power production until March, 2021. See this continuously-updated list of nuclear power plant shutdowns in Belgium.

Further, the utility has advised citizens that hour-long blackouts will commence in October due to a combination of unexpected n-plant shutdowns and higher demand at that time of year.

Belgian energy company Electrabel said its Doel 4 nuclear reactor would stay offline at least until the end of this year after major damage to its turbine, with the cause confirmed as sabotage.

Doel 4 is the youngest of four reactors at the Doel nuclear plant, 20 km north of Antwerp, Belgium’s second-biggest city.

The country has three more reactors in Tihange, 25 km southwest of the city of Liege.

Doel 1 and 2, which came on line in 1975, are set to close in 2015. Tihange 1, which also started operation in 1975 and was designed to last 30 years, got a 10-year extension till 2015.

The two closed reactors Doel 3 and Tihange 2 were connected to the grid in 1982 and 1983. Doel 4 and Tihange 3, which came on line in 1985, were operating normally until the closure of Doel 4 last week.

The shutdown of Doel 4’s nearly 1 gigawatt (GW) of electricity generating capacity as well as closures of two other reactors (Doel 3 and Tihange 2) for months because of cracks in steel reactor casings adds up to just over 3 GW of Belgian nuclear capacity that is offline, more than half of the total.

In Britain, EDF Energy, owned by France’s EDF, took three of its nuclear reactors offline for inspection on Monday after finding a defect in a reactor of a similar design. – Reuters

In Germany, the nuclear power generation capacity missing since 2011 has been met by a combination of solar, wind, bio, natural gas, and unfortunately some coal. But that sounds worse than it is.

According to the Fraunhofer Institute, renewable energy produced about 81 TWh, or 31% of the nation’s electricity during the first half of 2014. Solar production is up 28%, wind 19% and biomass 7% over last year.

Meanwhile, with the exception of nuclear energy, all conventional sources are producing less. The output from gas powered plants was half of what it had been in 2010 and brown coal powered plants are producing at a similar level to 2010-2012. – CleanTechnica.com

Let’s see what our friends at the Fraunhofer Institute have to say in their comparison of the first half of 2013 vs. the first half of 2014.

German electricity production H1 2013 - H1 2014
Fraunhofer Institute compares energy production between the first half of 2013 and the first half of 2014.

Although unspoken by power company executives operating in Germany, Spain, and some other European countries, the panic felt by traditional power generators is due to the massive changes in ‘their’ market since 2009.

Things move slowly in the utility industry — ten years is seen as a mere eyeblink in time, as the industry changes very little decade over decade. Recent changes must be mind-blowing for European power company executives.

European-union-renewables-chart
European Union renewables by Eurostat — Renewable energy statistics. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons This map displays 2012 results with a total of 20-30% renewable energy for 2012, but in 2013 renewable energy in Portugal registered 58.3% overall. By 2014, Portugal expects that 70% of its energy will come from renewable energy.

It occurs to me that the end of the conventional energy stranglehold on Europe parallels the ending of Star Wars VI.

Help me take this mask off

It’s a mask to hide behind when conventional power producers don’t want the facts aired.

Fossil and nuclear don’t want their Subsidies or Externalities advertised. Global fossil fuel and nuclear subsides topped $600 billion dollars in 2014, while the externality cost of fossil and nuclear may be as high as $2 trillion dollars annually. That’s a lot of hiding, right there.

Fossil fuel and nuclear power power producers don’t want the subsidies they’re paid to be publicly advertised — and they don’t want the renewable energy industry to have subsidies at all

Externalities are simply another form of subsidy to the fossil fuel and nuclear power industries which often take the form of massive public healthcare spending or massive environmental spending to mitigate the gigatonnes of toxic airborne emissions, or to monitor or repair environmental catastrophes such as oil spills.

Spain has ended it’s Feed-in-Tariff subsidy scheme for renewable energy, while keeping conventional power producer subsidies in place.

Not only that, suddenly homeowners aren’t allowed to collect power from the Sun or harvest power from the wind unless it is for their own use. Electricity cannot be collected by Spanish residents and then sold to the grid for example, nor to anyone else.

Spain’s government has taken it yet another step in a bid to keep the conventional energy companies from drowning in their tears. After a meteoric rise in wind and solar capacity, Spain has now taxed renewable energy power producers retroactively to 2012 and ruled that renewable energy will be capped to a 7.5% maximum profit. Renewable energy returns over the 7.5% threshold becomes instant tax revenue for the government. (Quite unlike conventional energy producers in the country which can make any amount of profit they want and continue to keep their subsidies)

While all of this has been going on, Spain and Portugal have quietly lowered their combined CO2 output by 21.3% since 2012 (equal to 61.4 million fewer tonnes of CO2) thanks to renewable energy.

But you’ll die

Not only has European renewable energy now stepped up to fill the multiple voids due to nuclear power plant maintenance and sabotage shutdowns, it has scooped incredible market share from conventional power producers.

In January 2014, 91% of the monthly needed Portuguese electricity consumption was generated by renewable sources, although the real figure stands at 78%, as 14% was exported. – Wikipedia

Unwittingly, the German and Spanish power companies have provided the highest possible compliment to the renewable energy industry, which, if publicized would read something like this;

We can’t compete with renewable energy that has equal amounts of subsidy. Therefore, remove the renewable energy subsidy while we keep ‘our’ traditional subsidies, until we can reorient our business model – otherwise, we perish!

Nothing can stop that now

Ending the European renewable energy Feed-in-Tariff schemes will only temporarily slow solar and wind installations as both have reached price-parity in recent months — and that, against still-subsidized conventional power generators!

Even bigger changes are coming to the European electricity grid over the next few years. Nothing can stop that now.

Tell your sister; You were right about me

Conventional power producers in Europe provided secure and reliable power for decades, it was what has powered the European postwar success story — but having the electricity grid all to themselves for decades meant that Europe’s utilities became set in their ways and although powerful, were not able to adapt quickly enough to a new kind of energy with zero toxicity and lower per unit cost.

Renewable energy, at first unguided and inexperienced, quickly found a role for itself and is now able to stand on its own feet without subsidies. Quite unlike conventional power generators.

Considering the sheer scale of the energy changes underway in Europe, conventional energy has been superceded by a superior kind of energy and with surprisingly little drama.

Related Articles

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.

Scotland: Renewable Energy Hits 40% of Total Capacity

by Guest Contributor Katie Valentine.

Scotland at 40% renewable energy in 2013
Renewable energy use is at record highs in Scotland at 40% of total demand and on-track to hit 100% renewable energy by 2020.

Originally published on ThinkProgress.

In 2012, Scotland got 40.3 percent of its electricity from renewable sources — up from 36.3 percent in 2011 and just 24.1 percent in 2010. The Scottish government plans to get half of its electricity from renewable energy by 2015, a target it said it was on track to meet — and 100 percent of its electricity by 2020!

Scotland’s renewable energy numbers are much higher than many other UK countries — renewables produced only 8.2 percent of England’s electricity in 2012, and in Wales, 8.7 percent of electricity comes from renewable sources.

“Renewable electricity in Scotland is going from strength to strength, confirming that 2012 was a record year for generation in Scotland and that 2013 looks set to be even better,” said Scotland’s energy minister Fergus Ewing.’

Lang Banks, Director of WWF Scotland, told the BBC that if Scotland is to meet its target of renewable energy generating 100 percent of electricity by 2020, the country will need to invest more in offshore wind.

“In order to remain on target Scotland will need to deploy significant amounts of offshore wind in the near future,” he said. “It’s therefore vital that the UK government gives a stronger signal of its ambition on the growth of offshore wind in Scotland’s seas, as well as the necessary support needed to deliver that growth.”

Wind power is Scotland’s fastest-growing renewable energy source. In 2012, Scotland’s wind power generation jumped by 19 percent. The country is home to the UK’s largest wind farm and constructed its first offshore wind farm in April 2010. The country is also working to harness tidal power and is home to world’s first commercial wave power generator.

Image: Scotland wind turbines via Shutterstock

This article, Renewable Energy Now Has 40% Market Penetration In Scotland, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

Australia’s Macquarie Funds British Distributed Solar

Originally published on RenewEconomy
by Guest Contributor Sophie Vorrath

UK public-housing contractor, Herbert T Forrest Ltd, will receive as much as $US197 million from Australia’s Macquarie Bank to fund zero upfront cost solar-power installations across Britain, reports Bloomberg.

UK distributed energy gets $197 million in financing from Australia’s Macquarie.
UK distributed energy gets $197 million in financing from Australia’s Macquarie.

The northern England-based company says it will use the funds over three years to install panels on residential rooftops at no upfront cost, a deal it will offer to both social-housing tenants and private homeowners.

Customers taking advantage of the deal would give up the associated subsidies – feed-in tariffs, or fixed above-market rates for clean energy – earned by the new solar systems, which would go towards repaying the bank.

As Bloomberg notes, offers like these once helped fuel a UK solar boom, until renewable energy incentives were cut in April last year. “Macquarie, which already supports Freetricity Plc’s free solar plans, is helping fuel a revival.”

Such a revival would, presumably, also be welcomed by the industry in Australia, where clean energy subsidies have been pared back dramatically over the past two years, and where the solar leasing model remains in its infancy.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency recently said it was looking at mechanisms to attract just the sort of capital that Macquarie is now applying in the UK. While there remains debate about whether leasing schemes would be attractive to home owners with a mortgage, ARENA says there would be huge opportunity in houses with low incomes, or which are rented.

Back in the UK, Forrest says it will initially offer the PV installation deal to tenants of the public housing units it manages in northern England, the Midlands and Wales. It then plans to open it up to private homes and social housing partners in Scotland and southern England.

The company launched its clean energy unit in 2011 to benefit from the introduction of subsidies, and has installed 6,000 solar photovoltaic systems so far.

This article, Macquarie Funds Solar Leasing For British Public Housing, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

Double Standard For Nuclear Energy and Wind Energy In UK?

by Zachary Shahan

.

I’ll be honest — I’m not a “nuclear power hater.” But if you look at nuclear power objectively and calculate its costs — including insurance costs and waste management costs — it is simply a bad deal. It’s very, very expensive. The private industry would never develop nuclear on its own. The only way it gets built anywhere is from huge government support.

Dr. David Toke, Reader in Energy Politics in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Aberdeen, recently took a brief look at how nuclear power gets extra-special treatment from the UK government. First of all, he took a look at assumptions regarding the working lifetime of wind turbines vs. nuclear reactors:

Ed Davey’s excuse for limiting wind power contracts to 15 years whilst Hinkley C gets a whopping 35 year contract is blown away by some elementary history checking. Lots of wind turbines in Altamont Pass – installed during the so-called Californian ‘windrush’ – are still turning after 31 years. Davey claims that the contracts he has awarded are in proportion to the technologies’ design life expectancy. Yet the Altamont turbines will be turning until 2015, a 33 year lifetime, and only then taken down because of a repowering exercise, and also modern planning conditions which they did not have back in 1982. See http://www.sustainablebusiness.com/index.cfm/go/news.display/id/23757. I am given to understand by a leading authority on the subject that it is likely that quite a few machines built in the early 1980s are expected to carry on running past 2015….

Certainly one can expect modern wind turbines to last a lot longer than these efforts right at the start of the modern windmill era.

So using the Davey formula (about 60 per cent of lifetime as a contract length), using even 33 years as an example, wind power should get a 20 year contracts, not 15. But if this happened, the ‘strike price’ for wind (£95 per MWh at year 2018) would be reduced below that set for Hinkley C.This would breed trouble as the UK Government tries to claim that they are giving the same incentives to renewables as nuclear to pass through the EU’s state-aid regulations (see previous blog post).

Dave then touched on the under-discussed issue of nuclear power loan guarantees:

Then there is the loan guarantee for Hinkley C, all £10 billion of it, that constitutes 65 per cent of the capital cost of the 3.2GW development. If wind power got such guarantees, their costs could be reduced much further as well, since the borrowing costs would be a lot less. Indeed borrowing costs could be reduced by at least 2 per cent – which makes a big difference to the economics of wind power.

And then he did a simple calculation on what the overall price effect would be from if two things were made the same for wind power as they are for nuclear power:

I have calculated what the effects of these two changes – increasing the contract length from 15 years to 20 years, and giving loan guarantees for 65 per cent of the capital costs. The result is that if this was applied to wind power then a strike price of £75 would be the equivalent of the £95 per MWh the Government is offering wind power from 2018. This figure is considerably less than what the Government is giving to Hinkley C.

Dave included much more in the full article, including some comparisons with pricing in Germany, so check that out for more.

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This article, Double Standard For Nuclear Energy & Wind Energy In UK?, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Zachary Shahan is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy for the past four years or so. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he’s the Network Manager for their parent organization – Important Media – and he’s the Owner/Founder of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.

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