Renewable Energy Exploration: A Blueprint for the Future

Renewable energy is a critical part of reducing global carbon emissions and the pace of investment has greatly increased as the cost of technologies fall and efficiency continues to rise. In fact, global investment in renewable energy increased for the first time in last three years to $270 billion, a 17 per cent rise from 2013, the UN Environment Program has reported in March 2015. However, the benefits of renewable energy go beyond reducing carbon emissions. The benefits of the renewable energy are immense but the main three benefits can be described as growing price competitiveness, Long-term certainty and energy security. Gas, fossil fuels and other energy alternatives- each with their unique advantages collectively pose a threat to power plant operators and end users: volatility and insecurity of price. The price of gas fluctuates across regions and, for fossil fuels, in a cyclical fashion.

Renewable energy prices on the contrary have been continually decreasing, with the most significant price drop being observed in solar, 80% over the last seven years. We have also seen prices for onshore wind drop by 25%, while offshore wind starts to show the sign of decreased price as well. We have simultaneously witnessed tremendous advancement on the whole value chain: more energy efficient equipment, better engineering work and park design, and most notably the technology leap enabled by innovation. In addition, the maturity of the market can drive down the price of renewable sources rapidly, trained and skilled workers are available locally; a matured banking system helps secure funding with advanced risk management; permission and connection are streamlined where policy makers want to contribute and the increased proximity of projects could save travel cost for experts flying from one site to another.

Renewable energy has been heavily encouraged by policy measures and financial support, with the explicit aim of driving costs down through early deployment, but the necessity for this is disappearing as we speak for solar and wind (and it has been for hydro for a while now), bringing to the fore solid competitors to fossil fuels or nuclear power, especially when long-term price evolutions are part of the deals.

The average wind or solar farm is built for up to 25 to 30 years of operation, or even longer for hydro power plants. The operator is aware that the equipment will be refurbished and expects that the newly upgraded solar module or wind turbine will be considerably more efficient at a lower cost. Therefore, renewable resources shall continue to generate electricity for a very long time while their efficiency continues to increase, further boosting competitiveness.  The majority of oil & gas sources are concentrated in certain regions, many of which are getting more technically challenging and more expensive to reach, whereas renewable energy is domestic. It provides security of supply, helping a nation to reduce its dependence on imported sources. It plays a significant role in addressing our energy needs by replacing foreign energy imports with clean and reliable home-grown electricity with the added bonus of fantastic local economic opportunities.

To have great diversity in a nation’s energy supply is yet another way to strengthen energy security. A diversified portfolio of energy assets contributes to a long-term, sustainable energy strategy that protects the power supply from market fluctuations and volatility. It is said that ‘never put all your eggs in one basket’ – and with energy it is no different; it is a wise move to maintain a share of renewable energy in the nation’s energy mix.

Today, hydro, wind and solar are the three main pillars for renewable energy. Tidal energy is still in development. In the same way such technology brought alternative energy into the center of the global energy mix to begin with, it is now offering great prospects for unlocking the untapped energy.

The UN Secretary-General’s initiative of Sustainable Energy for All mobilizes global action to achieve universal access to modern energy services, double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency and double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix by 2030. Renewables 2017 Global Status Report based on input from local experts primarily from developing countries illustrates how renewables are providing needed energy services and contributing to a better quality of life.

Boosted by a strong solar PV market, renewables accounted for almost two-thirds of net new power capacity around the world in 2016, with almost 165 gig watts (GW) coming online. This was another record year, largely as a result of booming solar PV deployment in China and around the world, driven by sharp cost reductions and policy support.

In 2015, new solar PV capacity around the world grew by 50%, reaching over 74 GW, with China accounting for almost half of this expansion. For the first time, solar PV additions rose faster than any other fuel, surpassing the net growth in coal. This deployment was accompanied by the announcement of record low auction prices as low as 3 cents per kilowatt hour. Low announced prices for solar and wind were recorded in a variety of places, including India, the United Arab Emirates, Mexico and Chile.

These announced contract prices for solar PV and wind power purchase agreements are increasingly comparable or lower than generation cost of newly built gas and coal power plants

This record performance in 2016 forms the bedrock of the IEA’s electricity forecast, which sees continued strong growth through 2022, with renewable electricity capacity forecast to expand by over 920 GW, an increase of 43%. Solar PV is entering a new era. For the next five years, solar PV represents the largest annual capacity additions for renewables, well above wind and hydro. This marks a turning point and underpins our more optimistic solar PV forecast which is revised up by over one-third compared to last year’s report. This revision is driven by continuous technology cost reductions and unprecedented market dynamics in China as a consequence of policy changes.

Wind and solar together will represent more than 80% of global renewable capacity growth in the next five years. By 2022, Denmark is expected to be the world leader, with 70% of its electricity generation coming from variable renewables.

By 2022, global renewables electricity generation is expected to grow by over one-third to over 8 000 terawatts per hour, equal to the total power consumption of China, India and Germany combined. As a result, the share of renewables in power generation will reach 30% in 2022.

The share of renewable in road transport is expected to increase only marginally, from over 4% in 2016 to 4.5% in 2022. Despite strongly rising sales, the share of EVs remains limited, and biofuels are still expected to represent over 90% of total renewable energy consumption in road transport by 2022. Bio fuels production is expected to grow by over 16% during over the forecast period.


Renewable energy and Pakistan

Pakistan has huge potential for alternative energy generation, an estimated 2.9 million megawatt (MW) of solar energy and 340,000 MW of wind, according to Pakistan Alternative Energy Board as well as some 100,000 MW of hydropower. But around 70 per cent of its electricity is generated through dirty fossil fuels – primarily oil and gas.

As on June 30, 2015, only 28.67 per cent of the country’s 24,823 MW installed capacity was provided by hydropower while a major chunk, 67.74 per cent, was provided by thermal power plants which burn oil, coal and gas, emitting dangerous earth-warming gases into the atmosphere. A tiny 0.43 per cent was provided by wind power.

According to a Global Change Impact Studies Center report released in September 2016, Pakistan’s greenhouse gas emissions were about 374.1 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2012, of this 45.8 per cent alone was the energy sector’s share.

Although Pakistan’s greenhouse gas emissions are a minuscule less than one per cent of the total worldwide emissions at the moment, being a developing country its emissions are expected to quadruple to more than 1,600 million tons by 2030.

Pakistan already is among the list of top 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change. Over the last decade alone, it has faced two massive floods, water scarcity, two deadly heat waves and a drought. Experts say that the government should be pushing the agenda on alternative energy because if it continues to remain heavily reliant on fossil fuels, the country’s population will be at the receiving end of the worsening impacts of climate change in years to come. There was a time when Pakistan’s energy generation mix was 70 per cent hydropower and 30 per cent thermal, now it has completely reversed. From 1989 onward, the trend shifted heavily towards thermal and has remained so. Pakistan’s continuous shift to fossils when the world is largely moving to renewables will wreak havoc not just on the environment but also citizens.

Pakistan’s production of Renewable Energy (RE), also known as green energy is increasing with every passing day and its total installed capacity of Renewable Energy (RE) would reach up to 2626 MW by December, 2018. “In addition, 2,600 MW would be added by 2019-20 with new wind power projects of 1200 MW capacity and solar power projects of around 1400 MW capacity each are being planned to be developed,” Amjad Ali Awan, Chief Executive Officer, Alternative Energy Development Board (AEDB) has revealed.

AEDB in cooperation with the World Bank is ready to implement a renewable energy resource mapping activity covering the entire Pakistan. The project is funded by World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP) and focuses on the assessment of wind, solar and biomass resources, including ground-based data collection, GIS analysis, and geospatial planning. Presently Nine solar data stations and twelve wind masts are installed at different locations across all the provinces of Pakistan, which are supplying data continuously on daily basis.

Based upon the ground-based data received through solar data stations, the latest version of these maps are developed first time in Pakistan. These solar maps give an overall idea of power generation potential in the country based upon solar energy resources. Regarding wind energy resources in the country, the wind data is being collected through installed wind masts and the wind maps are expected to be released by next year.

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About Hadi Bandial 15 Articles
Writer is the CEO of Mélange IT Solutions & The Asian Telegraph, an expert on Political Economy, & Director of Bandial Group.