Posts tagged with: FIT

A big issue for solar and wind energy is that the power they deliver is not constant. Unlike coal or nuclear power stations which produce a steady stream of power whatever the weather, wind and solar suffer from extreme fluctuations. For wind energy, a drop in wind speed can mean a 90% power loss over a large area in just a few seconds.

For solar energy, there are many different types of fluctuations. In the UK for instance, winter months produce only a quarter of the amount of energy as summer months. Obviously solar energy production takes place only between dawn and dusk, and even during the day, clouds can cause major fluctuations in solar energy output. These fluctuations make it hard for electricity grid operators to really use renewable energy since they need to guarantee power is delivered 100% of the time.

At the moment, because renewable energy makes up such a small component of our electricity generation in the UK these fluctuations are irrelevant. However as the proportion of renewables connected to the grid increases these effects will eventually become more significant. In southern Germany, where solar energy makes up over 4% of the electricity generated and at times represents 30% of the electricity on the grid, energy companies are starting to think carefully about how to use this resource most effectively.

Several can be done to decrease the impact from these fluctuations in renewable energy:

The first thing is to have a strong and efficient electricity grid. This is the case in Germany where energy can be efficiently and almost instantaneously moved from one part of the grid to another. This means that when there is a surplus of energy in one part of the country, energy can be transported at very short notice to where there is an energy deficit. Interestingly, as the amount of solar energy in a country increases, short term fluctuations caused by clouds are “ironed out” as shaded solar panels in one region are compensated for by unshaded solar panels in another.

In addition, as some of you may have heard, there is something called a ‘smart grid’ in development. This term is used to refer to lots of different things but on its most basic level it implies that energy demand can be controlled in some way. This could be very helpful for renewable energy since energy demand can be matched to when there is an abundance of solar energy in the middle of the day.

Another tool that can be used is prediction mechanisms. Using weather forecasting and remote monitoring, the amount of solar energy expected can be predicted. Providing this information to energy companies allows them to use various forms of reserve energy such as gas turbines or hydroelectricity which can be turned on and off in a matter of minutes.

The ultimate solution though, is to find a cheap means of storing energy. This would make all the fluctuations from renewable energy irrelevant. Researchers around the world are busy working on a wide range of different energy storage technologies. One of the most familiar ways of storing energy is to use a battery. Regular alkaline batteries are far too expensive and not durable enough to be used on a large scale, but there is huge number of new types of battery being worked on that could soon bring the cost down dramatically.

Besides batteries, there is a wide range of other technologies in development that could all be used to store renewable energy. Examples of these include; compressed-air energy storage, pumped hydro-electricity, molten-salt, fly-wheels and hydrogen, to name a few. Of course each technology has advantages and disadvantages, but it remains that we have a number of potential solutions for storing renewable energy. So the fact that the sun doesn’t always shine is certainly not a reason not to support solar energy.

With the general election just weeks away, the Conservative party under David Cameron has reiterated its support for green energy and has produced a paper outlining its proposals for a shake up of energy production in the UK. The green paper titled ‘Rebuilding Security’ announces a number of measures designed to help capitalise new and expensive green technologies.

In a budget statement undoubtedly designed to garner support from renewable industry insiders and environmental groups alike, the Conservative party leader is leading a project which will see the creation of a green investment bank with around £2 billion to invest in new, green technologies and help to grow the fledgling industry in the face of tightened lending from the traditional banking sector.

With investment essential to help the UK carbon neutral economy take off, the Conservative’s announcement has been met with encouraging assent from those it is meant to appeal to.

Director general of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), Tom Foulkes welcomed the news as being key to the success of the UK green sector,

“Clearly, transforming the energy sector will require massive investment in new and upgraded infrastructure. A Green Investment Bank will go a long way towards funding the development of new technologies, but there remains a need for a secure method of funding for the long-term investment in energy infrastructure.”

Certainly, with the election expected in May green issues are expected to feature heavily with issues such as the the Clean Energy Cash Back scheme and the Copenhagen summit making headlines in recent months. Some of the key lobbies to appease ahead of the May ballot will of course be the environmental groups who this time are behind the green paper’s plans for the green energy overhaul.

Andy Atkins, Director of Friends of the Earth commented that,

“A Green Investment Bank is desperately needed to fund the replacement of the UK’s outdated fossil-fuel energy infrastructure with the clean energy technologies of the 21st century, and to create new green industries and jobs.”

With the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) bringing in the feed-in tariff on April 1, the ante has certainly been ‘upped’ with regards to real policy designed at tackling climate change and achieving targets on carbon emission reduction. With the Gordon Brown Labour government making positive moves towards a sustainable energy economy, the opposition will have their work cut out in order to show that they are also capable (and indeed willing) to see the development of a strong green technology industry in the UK. will regularly update all news regarding the feed-in tariff before the election so please visit us again to stay up to date with all green issues.

The long discussed changes to the German feed-in tariff are still in debate after a report released Monday by Germany’s regional government assembly called for a relaxation of the planned cuts. This means that the changes, which were originally planned to come into effect in April and have already been pushed back until June, may be yet again delayed. The bill we continue to pass its way through the German parliament over the next two months.

Whilst everyone appears to be in agreement that the feed-in tariff should be lowered faster than originally planned in light of dramatic price reductions in PV systems, there is controversy over much it should be lowered and how the structure of the tariff should be changed. There is a big debate for instance, concerning the level of a ‘self-consumption’ bonus, whereby producers of solar energy are rewarded for any electricity they use themselves rather than export to the grid. Also in discussion is the difference in feed-in tariff paid to ground mounted solar farms compared to rooftop installations.

Meanwhile, solar installers are experiencing a continuation of strong demand. At the end of 2009, the rate of new installations reached an all-time high with around 2GW installed in the fourth quarter alone as customers rushed to install before the 2009/2010 feed-in tariff drop. The threat of new cuts in the feed-in tariff are only increasing the incentive to install in 2010.

An interesting pattern is emerging, whereby the PV market experiences surges in the run-up to a feed-in tariff change. This cyclical pattern creates extra incentive for the government to decrease the feed-in tariff and looking at the market it seems that prices are set to fall further over the next year or so. These factors may well push us into the realm of parity with retail electricity prices in Germany by 2013.

In the UK, the feed-in tariff is unlikely to be altered before 2012, although we will carefully scrutinize the aftermath of the forthcoming general election. Already commentators in the UK are speculating that the UK may experience its own mini ‘PV-rush’ in the run up to 2012. However, as Germany has repeatedly shown, one ‘PV rush’ can lead to another.

Several of the thin film PV manufacturers (see previous article) have announced ambitious plans to start selling their products in large volumes. In particular, NanoSolar, Solibro, Solar Frontier and MiaSole are makers of the new “CIGS” type of modules that promise to achieve high efficiency and lower cost than the thin film modules currently available. It will take time for these new technologies to be accepted for their reliability, but it is likely that at least some of the companies offering these products will succeed. News has been announced that a solar park using Nanosolar’s modules is already under construction.

Several of the developers of large PV projects in Germany, such as Phoenix Solar and Gehrlicher, are currently testing new technologies whilst at the same time being cautious about their forecasts for the German market. Phoenix Solar recently announced that it cannot provide details of its development strategy until the details of the German feed-in tariff have been finalized.

These developments should act to further decrease the price of PV.

The much debated, tweeted, blogged and indeed refreshing government legislation, the feed-in tariff, which is to become reality on April 1 could transform micro-generation from cottage industry to nationwide norm within the next few years according to Steven Harris. Harris, as head of low carbon technologies at the Energy Savings Trust (EST) believes that with the tariff legislation in place, the UK will be in good shape to see a large scale uptake of renewable technologies, something which he believes only a few years ago would have been incomprehensible.

“The poor old cottage industry of renewable energy will not know what’s hit it. People could be forgiven for waiting to install these technologies up until this point, but once the tariff comes in, things could change rapidly,” states Harris who certainly knows how difficult it has been to bring about a change in attitudes towards the viabilty and importance of green technologies.

Harris who along with his colleague Bill Dunstar created the BedZed village project featuring carbon neutral housing in the Surrey commuter town of Wallington ten years ago can easily recall the derision which green ideas were met with at the time. The project which was shortlisted for the Stirling Prize in 2003 highlighted the potential feasibility of sustainable materials and carbon neutral building at a time when such ideas were far from the mainstream. Harris recalls,

“It’s amazing when you sit in meetings now; people are saying exactly the same stuff that was laughed at when we were starting BedZed. Back then, things such as using reclaimed materials, sustainability assessments, local sourcing, having an ecological footprint… they were just not on the construction agenda, let alone the housing agenda.”

With the introduction of the feed-in tariff at the beginning of next month the situation has changed dramatically for micro-generation projects such as BedZed pioneered by Harris and Dunstar. The tariff will offer small-scale generators of green energy guaranteed, premium rates for energy fed-back in to the national grid and will thereby seek to offset the obvious costs involved in installing renewable technologies. With annual returns of £500 expected for households with solar PV installed, the industry is hopeful that the solar industry has the potential to take off with the backing of the tariff.

Steven Harris certainly believes that solar micro-generation could become widespread with the tariff mechanism incentivising investment and see the BedZed project become reality within the next decade.

“Solar technology has really moved forward. In China, it’s illegal not to put thermal solar on your roof, but they have the advantage of a totalitarian state. The fact that they have to manufacture panels for billions of people has really driven down the cost of solar. I know when we first started BedZed, the payback on a panel was around 75 years; now it’s about 12.”