The electric grid, prosumers’ and climate change risks

The blog post was the runner-up at Masdar Blogging contest, 2017

Electricity generation accounts for nearly 50% of CO2 emissions in the world. Renewable Energy (RE) sources have begun to account for a significant share in the grid mix thereby reducing the emissions Year on Year (YoY). An increasing RE in the electric grid is not a straight solution to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change.  RE is intermittent and in order to completely leverage it there is a need for a technological solution that also captures the economic benefits of this low carbon transition.

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The electric grid of today

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In most parts of the world the electric grid is predominantly unidirectional with a small percentage of bidirectional flow originating from grid connected rooftop systems. Even with increase in RE in the grid the impact on climate change mitigation will remain insignificant if the end consumer doesn’t interact with the system.

The electric grid of the future

The transition to a low carbon world implies switching to a fuel source that is not only environment friendly but is free thereby reducing the overall operational costs in the long run.  The grid infrastructure wouldn’t transfer the net benefit unless there is a seamless bidirectional communication between the source and the consumer in other words it has to turn into a ‘smart grid’.

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According to EPRI “Smart grid represents, the migration from the current grid with its one-way power flows from central generation to dispersed loads, towards a new grid with two-way power flows., two way and peer to peer customer interactions, distributed generation, distributed intelligence, command and control”

Prosumers’

Installing distributed energy systems like solar photovoltaic panels empowers people to shift from being a passive consumer of electricity to a Prosumer who sells power to the utility. The financial incentives like Feed in Tariff (FiT) are quite popular around the world. But the real potential of such systems will be leveraged when technological advancements like smart grids are in place and smart meters are the norm.

Smart Meters

In the evolving connected world every device around us meteris turning smart and its quite natural that the source powering them all is smart too (if not smarter). Germany and Italy have been pioneers in smart meter implementation, the former driven by a buoyant adoption of rooftop solar PV.

Why do we need a smart grid?

RE is intermittent as widely known. In an ideal case we would prefer power production at times when we consume. In real world to meet power demand when RE generation is low there is a need to look for alternatives which in general happens to be turning on the fossil fuel power plants just to ‘keep the lights on’ as the utility would claim.

In order to mitigate the potential damage caused by these scenarios it is critical to ensure the fossil fuel powered plants are not turned on, let alone operate them at a lower efficiency thereby compounding the damage. Battery storage will be a key breakthrough but unless the devices and the grid is in place, the net effect of energy storage will be minimal.

Can prosumers make an impact?

Technology at the RE generator level enables forecasting at a better accuracy on a day ahead level.  The information if shared to the consumers by utilities along with the price incentive will enable them to shift loads to low price periods thereby reducing the net overall demand. Demand Side Management (DSM) is another possibility considering the penetration of smart meters at residential consumer level. Utilities and DSM service providers anticipate that with technological advancements, prosumers will not only be able to sell their excess PV but also be able to automate their battery backup systems to respond to utility signals by discharging energy back to the grid during peak load.

Overall, technological adoption will be key to ensure a successful RE transition. The idea of smart grid and smart meters controlling the devices has been mooted for long but with an increasing RE capacity addition, the technology will be indispensable. The penetration of intelligent appliances in households will leverage the smart grid technology in delivering value thereby providing the prosumers’ (who will be a significant majority) with a tool to know more about their electricity use, reduce demand, cost and carbon emissions.

The blog post was the runner-up at Masdar Blogging contest, 2017

 

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A proven policy yet to find takers

This was one of the first policies in Renewable Energy that I worked on. It was already existing for a few years in India before I started my work. But its implementation is very poor.

I wondered if I could sell this idea again? I’m glad people accepted!

http://masdar.ae/en/intiatives/detail/girish-shivakumar-renewable-purchase-obligation-rpo-in-enabling-energy-tran

Renewable Purchase Obligation (RPO) in enabling energy transition

(Contest entry for Masdar Engage 2016)

Sustainable development looks to be a general priority for the Governments and corporations alike. Developing countries are looking to sustain year on year growth whilst balancing the need to minimize fossil fuel use and switch to renewable energy. Likewise big companies are exploiting the developing markets to sustain global business. Top companies are also keen on implementing their sustainability practices in the local environment. The Government has a balancing role to play between attracting investors and also fulfilling climate change commitments.

Role of Government

Governments are typically accused for a lack of policy framework but I believe Governments typically fail in enforcing policies when it comes to energy and emission reduction. Policies related to emission reduction and renewable energy is typically modified versions of policy implemented elsewhere. One of the key policies is Renewable Purchase Obligation (RPO). I advocate this policy for implementation in developing countries that look to balance growth and keep the global temperatures below 2°C. If implemented this could fill the gap for energy shortage while simultaneously increasing the demand for new renewable energy projects.

Renewable Purchase Obligation (RPO)

Industrial and commercial consumers typically have the highest energy consumption. This policy initiative will require all industrial/commercial consumers to procure certain percentage of their energy from renewable energy sources. Obligated entities can either install their own power project or procure renewable energy through open access transmission network or even buy energy trading certificates. This policy initiative can also be scaled up by starting with a low percentage of 1% and then increasing them year on year. The policy if enforced will be successful in developing countries where there is a demand for energy and the price from fossil fuels is increasing while the price from renewable energy is witnessing a decline. This policy will also enable big corporations to shift towards renewable energy and will see significant emission reductions.

Major Benefits

By adopting this policy the governments could expect to see a reduction in energy emissions. Investment in renewable energy projects will increase. This will foster partnerships between renewable energy companies and MNCs in developing renewable energy projects. Demand for renewable energy will increase which will see more interest from developers in setting up power projects. A significant size of renewable energy projects will aid in climate change mitigation for the government.

Recent developments from top manufacturers demonstrate the interests from corporations in claiming to procure renewable energy power. Their sustainability claim will increase. The average power costs will decrease in long term as the share of renewable energy in their portfolio increases.

Can RPO drive the global sustainable energy transition by 2030?

It could well deliver. For example, if Indian states implement their RPO for solar we could see solar alone contributing to 8% of the grid electricity by 2019. On the contrary, irrespective of whether RPO is successfully implemented or not there is bigger problem in developing countries, its infrastructure. There is a lack of infrastructural facilities to accept renewable energy. Grid availability turns out to be the biggest issue, there will be a need to upgrade existing transmission infrastructure. Another crucial issue with respect to renewable energy like solar is the availability of land. If the Governments plug these key holes then implementing RPO would prove to be a major factor in transition from the era of fossil fuels to renewable energy and fighting global climate crisis.

This post is a contest entry for Masdar Engage Blogging contest 2016. You can review the post at Masdar Engage 2016.