2016 was a year that will stand out for everyone in the renewable industry – counting among the significant highlights the Paris Agreement, the first offshore US wind farm, renewable energy powered an entire country for four straight days, and of course the election of Donald Trump and the subsequent appointment of, as The Guardian put it, “an all-star case of climate change deniers .. at the heads of key agencies responsible for dealing with global warming.”
Before we consider the future, let’s look back at some of the key positive developments over the past twelve months.
The big one was of course COP21. Though the conference in Paris was held at the end of 2015, the agreement to cut total carbon emissions by 605 by 2030 would only enter into force once at least 55 countries representing 55% of global greenhouse emissions agree to act on it. That happened on November 4th, almost a year to the day it was agreed. A major step taken un September eased the path, when when China and the US, the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases on the face of the world, agreed to formally ratify the deal. David Waskow from the World Resources Institute said, “When the two largest emitters lock arms to solve climate change that is when you now we are on the right track. Never before have these two countries worked so closely together to address a global challenge.”
In December history was also made, when the United States’ first offshore wind farm was opened, off the coast of Rhode Island. The $300m project consisting of five turbines connected to the grid and started delivering power on 12 December. Deepwater Wind CEO Jeffrey Grybowski believes this is only the beginning. “We’re more confident than ever that this is just the start of a new US renewable energy industry that will put thousands of Americans to work and power communities up and down the East Coast for decades to come.”
Another company that believes in a gusty future is DONG, who earlier in the year announced divestment plans for its oil and gas segment. It is hoping to sell the $2bn division to focus on renewables. It made a multi-million pound investment in a Scottish offshore wind turbine factory at the start of December, in return for exclusive access to supplies. The Campbeltown site is the first in Britain to make these and the deal brought Christmas early to dozens of skilled workers who’d faced an uncertain future. A few days before the end of the year DONG made its shareholders very happy indeed by divesting 50% of its Race Bank Offshore Wind Farm, 17 miles off the coast of Lincolnshire, to Macquarie Capital and Macquarie European Investment Fund 5 in a deal worth $1.6bn.
Scottish conservationists ended 2016 hailing it a ‘landmark year’ for Scottish renewable energy. The BBC picks out three key achievements: the world’s first fully-operational tidal power turbines off Shetland, wind turbines generating more electricity in a day than would cover Scotland’s daily usage for the first time on record and pioneering plans for kite power stations and floating wind farms. WWF Scotland director Lang Banks argued that there was no good reason why green energy shouldn’t provide 50% of the country’s power by 2030 and called for fresh targets to be set. “With almost three-fifths of our electricity needs now being met from renewable sources, Scotland is truly blazing a trail globally for pollution-free power..we can and should go much further.”
It wasn’t enough though to merely go green for 2016 – the race was on to do it for as long as possible. Germany announced on the 15th May that green energy had powered almost all its electrical needs. It was so good that according to Epex Spot, power prices went negative during several periods, to as low as minus 50 Euros a megawatt hour– meaning it basically paid customers to use it. (ED: Not an ideal scenario if you’ve been following the developments in Northern Ireland’s Renewable Heating Incentive recently..). A few days later, Portugal kept its lights on for four straight days by solar, wind and hydro power – a clean energy milestone. Not to be outdone, (and benefitting somewhat from Storm Barbara!) the UK set a new record on Christmas Day for renewable energy use – up to 40% from the 25% achieved the year before.
And the green tidal wave doesn’t look like it’s going to hit land any time soon. China has announced it wants to meet 80% of its total power output through renewables by 2050. That’s up from 27% in 2020. Chile leads Latin America with El Romero the solar energy plant in the Atacama Desert, the largest in the whole of South America. As Forbes.com says, by April it is expected to generate 196 megawatts of power – enough to light up 250,000 homes. The geo-thermal project in Kenya has the potential to put lights in houses the length and breadth of the country. More and more people are turning to solar panels on their roofs instead of diesel to power their homes.
Saudi Arabia is not going to let this locomotive go far without jumping on board. The Kingdom has received its first wind turbine and it will be commissioned later this month. Though starting small, the turbine will power just 250 homes, GE President Hisham Albahkali said, “This is a momentous occasion as it highlights that wind energy generation in the Kingdom is ‘real’ and heralds a new era of renewable energy that clearly shows to the world that action is being taken to support the renewable goals of Saudi Vision 2030.” It’s also been working to revive its solar programme, with the country’s deputy minister for economy and planning telling reporters that “Solar should be the fundamental solution for Saudi Arabia.” Bloomberg note the plan would ‘free up more crude for export and provide affordable power for industry and homes.’
The most immediate change to 2017 will be the ascension to the Presidency of Donald Trump. The man who once tweeted that climate change was made up by the Chinese to harm US business. His picks to the EPA include Myron Ebell and David Kruetzer who called climate change ‘phoney’ and falsely claimed there has been a ‘global cooling’ in recent years.
Trump hates wind farms. Hates them. He wrote 16 green inked letters to Alex Salmond, urging him to row back on support for wind farms but ended up telling him that he was doing more damage to Scotland than any other event in history. He’s so offended by them he’s asked Nigel Farage to drum up support to get rid of them. That’s funny until you remember Brexit.
One very interesting project to watch will be Vattenfall’s £300m windfarm off the coast of Aberdeen. It fought – and won- a court battle with Trump in 2015 and plans on developing an eleven turbine farm. This is an even more important project than just one which had to win over the courts – it’s using experimental technologies to attempt to drive the price down. “It’s all geared to a cost reduction,” said Gunnar Groebler, the senior vice president. “We expect a lot of findings, a lot of options to further reduce the cost. If you look in Europe, the cost is clearly going south. This windfarm will help us get to the next level.” If all goes to plan, it’ll be operational in 2018.
We wonder how much Gunnar sleeps these days, knowing the next US President is watching from afar. This may be better than Eastenders. Vattenfall, we wish you well!