Things I noticed and thought were interesting
Week ending 20th January 2019
1, Chinese EV demand and the effect on the need for oil. Demand for conventional vehicles in China fell from 28.1m cars in 2017 to 26.8m in 2018. In the same period, EV sales rose from 780 thousand to 1.3m. The point of peak demand for Chinese conventional cars has now passed and the trend is likely to be consistently downwards from now on, even though EVs still only represent 4.5% of total sales. The impact on the oil market is already clear; demand for road fuels fell 1.3% in China in 2018. The IEA had forecast growth of 2.3% at the beginning of the year. (This information came from a Twitter thread by @GregorMacdonald).
2, Hydrogen ships. Netherlands container shipping pioneer Samskip said it was leading a research project to develop two hydrogen-powered ships. The vessels will eventually operate on short-distance routes between Norway, Poland and Sweden. Samskip indicated that it believes that hydrogen fuel cell ships can be ‘cost competitive with existing solutions’.
3, Electric buses in Germany. Urban buses will move to electrification faster than any other type of road vehicle. A survey showed that several German cities will move to only purchasing electric buses from next year. Full electrification is targeted for 2030 in these places. Although electric vehicles cost as much as twice as a diesel bus, and require expensive new charging infrastructure, fuel cost savings generally mean that electrification makes good financial sense. However, against this, some reports suggest that early electric buses have not delivered the daily range promised and have had to recharge more frequently than expected in cold weather (when batteries work less well).
4, Demand response. Portland General Electric (PGE) operates what is possibly the largest smart grid testbed in the US. One of its recent proposals is to offer customers $1/kWh for reducing demand at times of very high load across the utility’s area. It seems the payment will be made by comparing a household’s power use at the critical time with average usage at that time of day. The incentive payment is about ten times the current household price of electricity. Because the customer can only benefit from the programme, PGE is automatically opting in all customers to the programme and is targeting 66% acceptance. As is increasingly common, the utility is also asking for customer permission to automatically turn down electricity use in the home in return for reduced rates and is encouraging the installation of household batteries which it can control remotely to charge or discharge.
5, Chinese subsidy-free renewables. Solar capacity additions fell sharply in China last year as the government acted to reduce subsidies. This year looks likely to see an improvement as new policies were announced that assist developers willing to offer electricity from wind and solar at prices lower than the benchmark price paid for coal power. These new principles further seek to encourage renewables by reducing land prices and promising better grid access. It also introduces a new scheme that will award green certificates for solar and wind, creating an expectation that electricity purchasers will eventually be obliged to buy a rising percentage of their electricity from renewable sources. Two existing Chinese solar developments (at gigawatt scale) are already providing electricity under the national benchmark price of coal-generated electricity.
6, EV charging in India. EVs haven’t taken off in India yet, partly because of the lack of reliable charging points on long distance routes. In state-owned electrical engineering business Bharat said it would install chargers along the 250 km road between Delhi and Chandigarh. The details weren’t clear but the company indicated that some of the power will come from solar installations at the charger sites.
7, Synthetic synthesis gas. Synthesis gas (a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide that is widely used as a source in chemical processes) is usually made from natural gas or coal. Sunfire of Germany has a pilot plant that creates synthesis gas from water and CO2 in a single stage and the company said it had successfully run the process for 500 hours since November 2018. Sunfire uses electrolysis and promises an overall efficiency of around 80% in commercial applications. Over the course of this year, Sunfire will combine its technology with those of Climeworks (a leader in the direct air capture of CO2) and two other companies to offer a very low carbon substitute for crude oil. This is another important step on the long road to the creation of synthetic fuels that compete with fossil oil and gas.
8, Perovskites. In what may be the world’s the first commercial trial of a perovskite panel, Saule Technologies installed a 1 square metre module composed of 52 PV cells on the exterior of a building in Warsaw. The Polish company is conducting the trial partly to test the durability of its products, a critical question for the future of perovskites. According to an earlier interview by the company’s spokesperson, panels of this type will collect about 10% of the energy that falls on them, at a levelised cost of around €0.05 per kWh. Saule’s commercial partner, property company Skanska, has rights to install perovskite surfaces on all its buildings.
9, Norwegian CCS. CO2 has been separated from natural gas and stored in the Norwegian Sleipner gas field for two decades. Norway moved a step closer to full-scale storage of CO2 by starting a project with Equinor (Statoil) to examine the feasibility of capturing it from cement and power plants and then transporting it by ship to an areas close to the Troll oil and gas field where it will be injected 2000 metres below the sea. This is clearly an important step towards substantial subsea storage of carbon dioxide from onshore sources. Although no details were provided, the costs of this complicated proposed project look too high to me. And the scale - 1.5m tonnes a year, or less than half a percent of UK fossil fuel CO2 production - is slightly disappointing.
10, Off-grid solar. UK pioneer BBOXX received an investment of $31m from an African private equity fund. It said it would use the cash to provide solar power systems to cover an additional 10 million people by 2022. As with many other providers, BBOXX uses pay-as-you-use payments on mobile phones. At $3.10 per incremental user ($31m gives electricity to 10 million), the world’s 1.2 billion or so people without electricity could be given solar systems for less than $4bn.