After a record year of installations in 2014, renewables accounted for nearly half of all new power generation capacity last year, led by continued growth in countries including China, the United States, Japan and Germany. In fact, Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that by 2040, the world’s energy mix will have transformed from two-thirds fossil fuel to one-third, with renewables accounting for roughly 60 percent of energy generated.
As renewables continue to increase in importance for many countries around the world, we thought it would be worth taking a look at the global hotspots for wind, solar and tidal energy to see what trends are emerging and where the hotspots currently are.
Wind power booms in China
More than 51GW of wind energy was installed last year alone. Of that, China is leading the way, after installing an impressive 23GW of new wind power in 2014, making a total 114GW of wind power throughout the country.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that China alone will attract $3.3 trillion of new investment in renewable energy – nearly double the total for the Americas – and build 2,601GW more renewable energy capacity by 2040.
The wind market is growing at phenomenal speed. A recent report from the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) stated that the wind market in China grew by 45% in 2014. However, there are some wider challenges that China is starting to face in order to keep up with this growth.
As wind farms become saturated in densely populated areas and move to more remote locations, power needs to travel increasingly long distances to reach those who need it. For this to happen with as little energy loss as possible, China will need to reform its grid operation. Wind farms are also now being deployed in more unconventional locations, such as at high altitude, putting additional stress on the equipment. For example, as air gets thinner due to the reduced pressure at higher altitudes, it loses some of its insulating properties, meaning that equipment built to work at high altitudes needs to be designed with sufficient safety spacing distances to prevent high voltage arcs or breakdowns between conductors and other electronic components.
There are many other interesting trends in the Chinese wind market, which we will be exploring in a blog to be published next month.
Solar heats up in the US
Solar use in the US has exploded over the last five years as part of an ambitious national effort to promote renewable energy. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, 6.2 gigawatts of solar power were added last year, a 30 percent year-on-year increase and representing nearly $18 billion in new investment. What’s more, the future looks bright for the US as analysts forecast a 31 percent growth target for solar in 2015.
As demand for solar power increases and solar farms continue to grow in capacity and scale, there has been a much greater focus on the reliability of the technology. High levels of energy production are needed in order to make back the costs of building a solar farm. Therefore, service will also play a crucial role, avoiding downtime and ensuring that the equipment is as efficient as possible will be key to shifting the CAPEX and OPEX balance in favour of future cost reduction.
Increasing the efficiency of solar power is also critical in supporting growth. This is why GE is spearheading the use of the 1.5kV inverter with a 4MW power rating. Use of this inverter enables the output power capability to increase by up to 50% compared to the industry standard 1MW, and reduce system costs by up to 3%, transforming the scale and efficiency of solar power conversion.
The UK sets its sights on tidal
With a projected 24 percent market growth for the tidal energy across the world by 2018, the UK is a key player in this market, mainly through the 320 MW Swansea Bay tidal lagoon project, which is set to be the world's third biggest tidal power project upon completion.
The tidal lagoon, which will have an estimated annual power generation capacity of approximately 500GW/h, will power over 155,000 homes. In addition, five subsequent lagoons sites have been proposed across the Severn estuary, in North Wales and the North West, which, if built, generate low-carbon electricity equivalent to 8 per cent of the UK’s installed capacity.
However, for tidal energy, we still need to address the challenge of applying the latest technologies in order to reduce the life cycle costs. Apart from enabling technology, developing new and innovative construction techniques, such as those used in the building of tidal lagoons, is also important in terms of unlocking the immense power of tidal.
Take Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon as example: the primary difference with tidal lagoons is the efficiency of electricity generation in both directions, due to the deployment of induction generators with variable drive systems and axial flow low-head bulb hydro-turbines. What’s more, the technology is designed to last; a plant such as Swansea Bay has an operational life expectancy of 120 years, with no major refurbishments needed for the first 50 years of operation.
As technology advances and the cost of renewables are decreasing, a long term vision for increased concentration on renewables is going to shape the energy market for the foreseeable future.