Renewable energy providing more electricity than coal and nuclear power combined in Germany

Electricity production from wind power increased by 20 per cent in Germany the first six months of 2019 compared to the same period last year

Renewable sources of energy produced more electricity than coal and nuclear power combined for the first time in Germany, according to new figures.

Solar, wind, biomass and hydroelectric power generation accounted for 47.3 per cent of the country’s electricity production in the first six months of 2019, while 43.4 per cent came from coal-fired and nuclearpower plants.

Around 15 per cent less carbon dioxide was produced than in the same period last year, according to figures published by the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE) in July.

However, some scientists have attributed the high renewable power output to favourable weather patterns and “market-driven events”.

Fabian Hein, from the think tank Agora Energiewende, told Deutsche Welle the 20 per cent increase in wind production was the result of particularly windy conditions in 2019.

Meanwhile, electricity production from solar panels rose by six per cent, natural gas by 10 per cent, while the share of nuclear power in the country’s electricity production has remained virtually unchanged.

Black coal use fell by 30 per cent compared to the first half of 2018, and lignite – a coal-like substance formed from peat – fell by 20 per cent.

However, over the same period, electricity production by natural gas rose by 10 per cent.

Professor Bruno Burger, of the Fraunhofer ISE, said the drop in coal use was the result of a market-driven “fuel switch” from coal to gas.

He attributed the switch to low gas prices combined with a rise in the cost of carbon dioxide allowances in the EU Emissions Trading System.

Yan Qin, lead carbon analyst at final data business Refinitiv, told Clean Energy Wire:  “Since January, we have seen the high carbon price really making the perfect market for gas.”

“We really see an interesting phenomenon: in the daily German power market, a high carbon price and very low gas price is really pushing gas in front of lignite.”

Renewables accounted for 40 per cent of Germany’s electricity consumption in 2018, according to government figures.

While in the UK, 29 per cent of electricity was sourced from renewables last year.

Germany is aiming to phase out its nuclear power plants by 2022. Its renewable energy has been rising steadily over the last two decades thanks in part to the Renewable Energy Act (EEG), which was reformed last year to cut costs for consumers.

But Germany still relies heavily on coal, gas and lignite for its energy needs.

Germany’s reluctance to end its dependence on coal saw hundreds of climate activists storm one of the country’s biggest open-pit coal mines in June to protest against fossil fuel use.

Q CELLS takes aim at UK flexible energy market with home battery solution

Image: Q CELLS.

Q CELLS is launching its AC-coupled home energy storage solution in the UK and Ireland, taking aim at the country’s post-feed-in tariff domestic market.

The Q.HOME+ ESS AC-G2 storage solution has a 6.5kWh storage capacity, provided by a LG Chem lithium ion battery, as well as an AC inverter and energy management system.

The company said the UK’s post-FiT landscape will lead to greater demand for energy autonomy and self-consumption models, with Q CELLS hoping the launch will strengthen its position in the UK and Irish markets.

But Q CELLS has also been keen to paint a larger, more holistic vision for its battery storage product, talking up its ability to provide more flexible solutions for the energy markets, including for uses in grid-scale applications.

The manufacturer said that volume customers would be able to integrate large numbers of Q CELLS batteries for use in virtual power plant or micro-grid applications.

Sean Collier, head of sales for UK, Ireland and Scandinavia at Q CELLS, said that it was the firm’s ambition to become “the go-to energy provider across Europe”.

“The Q.HOME+ ESS AC-G2 storage system is a flexible and reliable piece of the energy puzzle: it can be retrofitted easily into current solar homes or it can be integrated in new installations with any PV inverter. Furthermore, it can connect to other systems to complement smart services for the operators of battery assets – which are a potential source of revenue.”

UK large-scale solar pipeline tops 5GW as project developers return to action

Image: Lightsource.

The UK solar pipeline of large-scale, ground-mount solar farms has grown dramatically during 2019, with 66 new solar farms identified, accounting for 1.8 GW of capacity.

This has taken the pipeline of UK large-scale, ground-mounted solar farms to 5.16 GW, according to the latest release of the UK Large-Scale Solar Farms: The Post-Subsidy Prospect List report.

At the start of 2019, the pipeline was 3.34 GW. However, in the past five months alone, 54 new large-scale solar sites have been added to the pipeline, as many of the original developers (those that were behind the first 8.5 GW of completed large-scale UK solar farms) have returned to greenfield site identification and planning.

The strong upward growth trajectory can be seen clearly in the graphic below.

The UK pipeline of large-scale ground-mount solar farms now stands at over 5 GW, with about 10 new sites being added to the database every month.

All the signs remain positive for the UK becoming one of the key European post-subsidy markets over the next few years. The fact that the first real post-subsidy sites are being constructed now is essentially validation of the economics and return-on-investment projections by developers and asset owners. This is now driving more of the 2010-2016 developers to return to new site identification.

A key driver is of course the fact that module prices have been falling significantly in the past few years, while power rating improvements have been considerable. While in the past, sites were fixed in location, and using mostly 60-cell p-type multi panels (ratings 240-260W), the industry is now moving to 72-cell p-type mono PERC panels with bifacial capability. This allows for 370-400W panels, with trackers and bifacial generation. This is a massive driver in compensating for the lack of subsidies today.

While some of the developers that have returned to the planning stage are still using a business plan that was tried-and-tested before (get planning approval and look to flip, subject to conditions), the approach of those with cash-reserves is seeing previous final asset owners driving site investment from initial planning.

The full audit trail of the sites is available now within our monthly-released UK Large-Scale Solar Farms: The Post-Subsidy Prospect List report. With much of the build-out phased for 2020/2021, component suppliers (modules, inverters, mounting) and EPC contractors (in addition to the sub-contracting network called upon) should ideally be populating sales prospects lists.

Wokingham gears up for school solar installs

Wokingham Borough Council has become the latest to embrace solar, pledging school installs during the next academic year.

Solar is to be installed on schools, libraries, leisure centres and other council-owned buildings, supporting Wokingham Borough Council’s goal of being carbon neutral by 2030.

The announcement comes after it recently joined the ranks of councils – as well as central government – in declaring a climate emergency.

Gregor Murray, executive member for climate emergency, said that obstacles such as the age and suitability of some buildings may prohibit some installations, but stressed that the council is committed to starting the project on time.

“I’m a passionate believer in local action to tackle climate change – we cannot and will not sit back and leave it to others.

“The climate emergency we face will hit our children the hardest – so it is somehow appropriate that one of our first acts after declaring an emergency will be to seek schools to be a part of the solution,” Murray continued.

There have been several announcements of school solar installs in recent months, with community co-op MaidEnergy announcing plans for ten installs on public buildings, including schools, and the Schools’ Energy Cooperative hitting its 50th school install.

Wokingham also isn’t the only council with solar on its radar. Northumberland County Council’s plans for an 800kW solar carport with battery storage has been given the go-ahead, with an aim of having it up and running in the summer of 2021.

Solar-plus-EVs economics to trigger a ‘relentless and irreversible decline’ for oil, report states

Image: Chargepoint.

The economics of combining solar and other renewables with electric vehicles is becoming so compelling that the oil sector faces a “relentless and irreversible decline”, a new report from BNP Paribas has concluded.

The report, dubbed ‘Wells, wires and wheels’, examines the link between mobility, energy and capital investments, introducing the concept of ‘energy return on capital invested’ (EROCI).

That metric focuses on how much useful energy or mobility would be returned from a specific capital outlay in competing technologies, with the report squarely focusing on oil’s return for petrol and diesel-fuelled vehicles and renewables alongside battery electric vehicles.

The bank’s analysis concludes that for the same capital outlay, wind, solar and battery EVs can deliver between 6.2 and 7-times more useful energy than oil if it’s priced at US$60 per barrel, roughly the same price as Brent Crude is today.

As a result, BNP Paribas has said that the economic and environmental benefits of combining solar and electric vehicles as “irresistible”.

Furthermore, the report argues that the economics are so compelling that the oil sector has “never before in its history” faced the kind of threat that renewables and EVs now pose, and stressed the need for oil and gas companies to ramp up their investments in renewables and battery storage if they are to survive.

While that might seem a strong conclusion for what remains a multi-billion-dollar industry, BNP Paribas said that the pace of the energy transition in Europe should be a “flashing red light on the oil industry’s dashboard”.

Mark Lewis, global head of sustainability research at BNP Paribas, said: “The economics of oil for gasoline and diesel vehicles versus wind- and solar-powered EVs are now in relentless and irreversible decline, with far-reaching implications for both policymakers and the oil majors.”

“For the first time there is a competing energy source with a short-run marginal cost of zero, that is much cleaner environmentally and will be able to replace up to 40 per cent of global oil demand once it has the necessary scale.”

Jeremy Leggett, founder of UK solar developer Solarcentury, echoed the report’s sentiments, adding: “That our technologies provide such irresistible routes to capital efficiency should now galvanise governments, corporations, and investors to accelerate the solar industry from today’s 100GW a year to the terawatt a year we will quickly need to get to if we are to play the role required of us in civilisation’s fight for survival.”

Coal closures continue as RWE shutters 1.56GW plant

Image: EDF

RWE is to close its 1.56GW Aberthaw B coal-fired power station in March 2020, taking the UK’s operational coal fleet down to four.

RWE cited ‘challenging’ market conditions as making the closure necessary. Those market conditions were also cited as the reason behind RWE shelving plans for a new coal-fired plant in Germany in April.

The UK hit a record two-weeks without coal in May, with coal continuing to fall off the grid. SSE recently announced the closure of its last remaining coal-fired power station, the 1.51GW Fiddler’s Ferry plant, which is set to be fully shut down by 31 March 2020.

A third coal-fired power station, EDF’s 2GW Cottam plant, is to close in September. Those three closures will leave the UK with four coal-fired power stations, with unabated coal-fired generation to be completely phased out by 2025.

Aberthaw B has Capacity Market agreements for 2019/2020 and 2020/2021, which will now be transferred to third parties. A small proportion will go to other units in RWE’s fleet.

The closure is in line with RWE’s ambitions of becoming a renewable powerhouse. The energy giant is currently involved in an asset swap with E.On that will see RWE take over the large-scale renewables operations of E.On.

Roger Miesen, CEO of RWE Generation, said: “I would like to thank all of our staff, past and present, who have contributed to the success of the station for so many years.

“This is a difficult time for everyone at Aberthaw Power Station. However market conditions made this decision necessary.”

HMRC pushes steep VAT increase for new solar-battery systems

The Renewable Energy Association says the hike ‘contradicts the government’s commitment to tackling climate change’.
The Renewable Energy Association says the hike ‘contradicts the government’s commitment to tackling climate change’. Photograph: Simon Dack/Alamy

Homes hoping to shrink their carbon footprints by installing a solar-battery system face a steep VAT increase from October under new laws proposed by HMRC.

The Treasury put forward legislation on Monday to raise VAT for home solar-battery systems from 5% to 20%, on the same day that MPs are debating the government’s new net zero carbon target for 2050.

Meanwhile, home coal supplies will continue to receive the lower VAT rate.

The Renewable Energy Association (REA) said the rise “contradicts the government’s commitment to tackling climate change” only weeks after parliament declared a climate emergency.

It also warned that the move would push back the take-up of solar-battery systems by years even as the UK works towards becoming a net zero carbon economy by 2050.

Nina Skorupska, the REA’s chief executive, said the increase would “create a barrier to British homes and businesses who are seeking to take action on climate change and reduce their bills by installing solar with battery storage”

She said the government “should be doing all it can to install these technologies rather than enacting barriers”.

HMRC has blamed EU tax laws for the planned rise because they rule out lower VAT rates for energy saving equipment under state aid rules.

The European court of justice ruled in 2015 that energy saving materials should not have been receiving the reduced rate of tax. This led to an increase in VAT for solar systems installed at new-build homes in 2016, but did not affect the majority of houses which would require retrofitting. Those houses will now be affected by the higher rate.

The REA has called on HMRC to cancel the latest increase, which would come into effect as the UK prepares to leave the EU. Any rise should be cancelled as soon as possible after Brexit, the trade group added.

The calls have won the support of more than 11,000 members of the publicwho have signed a petition by the green energy supplier Good Energy to call off the increase.

Juliet Davenport, Good Energy’s chief executive, said the rise was “possibly the worst way to respond to a climate emergency”.

“The government should be seeking to be a world leader in renewable technologies, but it’s damaging our successful solar industry and putting green jobs at risk. We urge the Treasury to listen to the thousands of petitioners who want to play their part in fighting climate change,” she said.

HMRC brought the secondary legislation to parliament on Monday after carrying out an industry consultation on the plans in April and May this year. It has said it is offering as much tax relief as possible for home renewable energy systems while ensuring the UK is in line with EU law.

The 5% VAT rate will still be allowed for housing associations and buyers who are over the age of 60 or receive certain benefits.

The lower rate will also apply to the labour costs associated with installing the system while the 20% rate will be applied to the hardware only.

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MCS consults on new battery storage certification scheme

The Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) has launched a consultation on its new certification for battery energy storage systems.

The consultation is to last a month, closing to responses on 23 August at 5:00pm.

The MCS first announced it was to launch a certification scheme for storage in February of this year.

The proposed standard specifies requirements for MCS contractors undertaking the supply, design, installation, set to work, commissioning and handover of electrical energy storage systems for permanent buildings with a maximum power output of up to 50kW.

The standard outlines requirements for certified contractors – for example into capability and quality management – design and installation, system performance estimates, roles and competency and handover.

It also details the process of determining the performance of a storage system in a building with solar PV and/or electric vehicles.

Requirements for data and communication are also listed, including the requirement for systems to be capable of communicating via an open protocol which enables control of charge and discharge by the customer and third parties authorised by the consumer. This should be dynamically in real time in response to tariff information through communication with a smart meter.

When the new scheme was first announced, chief executive of the MCS Ian Rippin said it would be a “natural extension” to the existing MCS scheme and represents a “one-stop solution”.

The new standard is to be used alongside the existing MCS 001 scheme document as well as “any other guidance and/or supplementary material” on its website, the MCS said.

The full document can be read here.

Flexibility response triggered by drop in grid frequency to 49.59Hz

Image: Getty

Flexibility providers called on by National Grid ESO jumped into action in response to grid frequency falling to 49.59Hz.

Last Thursday saw a drop in grid frequency that resulted in frequency responses from storage assets, with the event peaking at 8:53am. The system price hit £98/MWh at 9:15am, triple the £30.40/MWh it was previously sitting at.

Whilst 49.59Hz is within National Grid ESO’s 49.5-50.5Hz limit, frequency did fall out of its normal operating target of remaining within 0.2Hz of 50Hz.

A graph illustrating the drop in frequency. Image: Social Energy

A graph illustrating the drop in frequency. Image: Social Energy

Social Energy’s batteries were called upon by the System Operator during the event, which Stephen Day, Chief Technical Officer at Social Energy, said was significant due to the frequency response coming from residential batteries.

“Traditionally, these kinds of services would be provided by industrial and commercial customers with fairly big plants, either loads that can be turned on and off or backup generators that can be turned on.

“In this case it was batteries in people’s homes that were essentially providing the same service. So that means that homeowners can start to benefit from the kind of payments that would otherwise go to other providers of these services,” Day continued.

Energy aggregator Limejump said a battery facility was called upon during the event, as well as pumped-storage hydroelectric assets Dinorwig Power Station and Cruachan Power Station..

A similar drop in frequency occurred last month due to the French interconnector tripping, causing grid frequency to fall to 49.63Hz.

National Grid ESO confirmed that this latest frequency drop was not due to an interconnector tripping but did not provide any further information.

System prices also spiked at the end of June, hitting £375MW/h for over an hour due to a run on coal generation units.

Familiar face for UK solar as Leadsom returns to BEIS as Clark’s successor

The UK solar industry will see a familiar face leading on UK energy policy after ex-energy minister Andrea Leadsom returned to to the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to succeed Greg Clark as energy secretary.

Leadsom served as energy minister for just over a year between May 2015 and July 2016 in David Cameron’s last government, before a failed bid to become Conservative Party leader in 2016.

She then served as leader of the House of Commons under Theresa May.

Clark left the government yesterday afternoon as new Prime Minister Boris Johnson began to shape his new cabinet, removing 17 ministers in what constituted the most significant reshuffle from a serving government in decades.

Tunbridge Wells MP Clark confirmed his departure on Twitter, stating that Johnson was right to appoint a new team.

“It has been an honour to serve the country as Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy for the last 3 years… I am grateful for the support of outstanding civil servants, special advisors and ministerial colleagues during that time,” he wrote.

Leadsom meanwhile said she was “delighted and honoured” to be given the role.

Leadsom takes the position at a critical juncture for the country’s clean economy and green policy, and will be tasked with delivering a legislative framework ambitious enough for the country to transition towards net zero before 2050.

Leadsom’s time as energy minister means the solar sector will have a familiar face at the helm of government energy policy, but her spell at BEIS – or DECC, as the department was known when it combined the energy and climate change briefs during Leadsom’s tenure – will not be remembered fondly.

Her time as energy minister coincided with a stark cut to renewables subsidies and consequent collapse in deployment and new policies said to be in the works to support them – particularly subsidy-free CfDs for proven technologies – never materialised.