Things I noticed and thought were interesting
Week ending June 17th 2018
1, Waste to gas. Two interesting developments. Waste-to-energy operator AVR said it would collect up to 25% of the CO2 from the flue gases of its plant near Nijmegen in eastern Netherlands. This is full scale carbon capture and use. The CO2 will be transported by tanker to greenhouses where the gas will be absorbed by growing plants. This CO2 will replace sources that uses natural gas, so there is some net emissions reduction. The company said that this waste-to-energy plant could produce up to 100,000 tonnes a year of CO2, which is about a fifth of the volume of gas currently transported to Netherlands greenhouses. (Thanks to Tanguy Tomes). In the UK, Powerhouse Energy indicated that it expected to open its first plant gasifying waste plastics and turning them into electricity and hydrogen by the end of the year. A source of plastics, and users for the electricity and hydrogen are nearby, improving the economics of the scheme. Because hydrogen manufacture using existing technologies is so carbon-intensive, Powerhouse should deliver substantial emissions savings compared to conventional waste-to-energy plants.
2, India PV. Tata Renewables, India’s largest developer of PV on commercial roofs, won a contract to put 5 MW of solar on GE’s factories. This is not a large deal but is interesting because Tata will own the installations and commits to providing power at 30% less than GE’s current rates, an indication of the financial attractiveness of behind-the-meter solar in India. Several Indian states also announced large tenders for PV plants to float on major dams. For example, Tamil Nadu talked of licensing 250 MW of capacity. Solar’s advantages on reservoirs include reducing the amount of evaporation of scarce water resources. Serious concerns persist about India’s capacity to grow its PV resources as fast as it promises but underlying economics of installing solar, particularly on commercial roofs, remain strong.
3, EV batteries. China’s CATL, the world’s largest battery manufacturer, raised over $800m in a flotation on the Shenzhen stock exchange. The money will be used to build a 24 GWh factory, taking the company’s production capacity up to over 50 GWh a year (according to the FT) or 90 GWh (says the MIT Technology Review). 50 GWh is enough for 1 million cars with 300 km of range. More than 100,000 electric and electric hybrid cars were sold in China last month, up over 100% on a year ago. (For comparison, the Tesla ‘gigafactory’ in Nevada is designed to make about 35 GWh of batteries a year, enough for about 700,000 mid-range cars).
4, Waste gases to ethanol. Chicago-based LanzaTech announced that its first commercial plant has started operations turning waste gases into ethanol. At a steel mill in China the company turns carbon monoxide from blast furnaces into ethanol using proprietary anaerobic microbes. Ethanol can be used in petrol/gasoline cars. The output will be equivalent to about 0.01% of Chinese oil needs but is an important proof of the technology. LanzaTech, often called the most promising biofuels company in the world, also said that it received investment from the venture arm of BASF, one of the largest chemicals producers.
5, Power to gas. The GRHYD experiment in northern France, backed by several large participants in the national energy market, started pumping hydrogen into a small portion of the local gas grid, supplying about 100 homes and the local health centre. The hydrogen will also be mixed into the fuel for a bus powered by compressed natural gas. The hydrogen is made in electrolysers using renewable electricity. The French grid allows 20% hydrogen but GRHYD initially will hold the percentage below 6%. France has recently identified ‘power to hydrogen’ as one of key technologies in which it will invest.
6, Electric trucks. The last weeks have seen many announcements of short-range electric trucks from major manufacturers. Electric vehicles have a clear advantage arising from reduced noise and air pollution in this segment. Several manufacturers have focused on municipal garbage collection including Spanish bus manufacturer Irizar which brought out a vehicle with batteries and a ‘range extender’ for longer journeys powered by compressed natural gas (CNG).
7, Perovskite efficiencies. Several studies arrived this week that showed continuing improvements in ‘tandem’ solar cells, with a layer of perovskite placed on top of silicon. Perovskites collect energy from different portions of the sun’s energy and so a two layer panel should be better at converting light into electricity. The best silicon-only commercial panels now deliver about 22% efficiency but two studies this week showed 25% collection rates for cells made from silicon plus perovskites. This isn’t a huge difference but because the perovskite layer will eventually be so cheap it will make sense to manufacture cells with an additional layer. But silicon will last 25 years with less than 20% deterioration and some experts remain concerned that the perovskite layer will deteriorate much more rapidly. However industry leaders such as Oxford PV continue to show improvements in the durability of their products and seek to achieve 28% efficiency in the next few years. (Thanks to Béla Hanratty)
8, BP review of world energy. Lots to get depressed about. BP reminds us that coal’s share of electricity generation is almost the same as it was 20 years ago and that last year saw a small rise in the tonnage consumed in power stations. Overall, world emissions rose by about 1.6%, after three years of near-stability as faster economic growth resulted in more energy use. Solar production was up over a third in a single year but renewables only met half the total increase in electricity production in 2017. In a new section, BP said that it thought world lithium supply was adequate to meet EV requirements, but cobalt presents a greater problem. However, as I said in the newsletter last week, cobalt requirements per unit of battery storage will fall, probably sharply.
9, Nevada PV rates. Another new low. Bidders in the latest Nevada auction offered prices as low as $23.75 per megawatt hour (about 2.4 US cents per kilowatt hour. (One bid was lower than this but inflates annually over the course of the contract). In November of last year, a similar auction in Nevada had a winner at $32.43, meaning that prices have fallen over 25% in the last few months. By the way, BP (see 9 above) wrote in this week’s review that solar PV costs of less than 5 cents a kilowatt were ‘now almost commonplace’. With respect, dear BP, bids of less than half this level are ‘now almost commonplace’.
10, Australia batteries. German battery manufacturer Sonnen said it was now using its 2,500 domestic installations in Australia to participate in the wholesale electricity market. (Sonnen’s customers allow the company to charge and discharge their batteries remotely at times of particularly low or high prices). Sonnen currently has access to 20 MW of domestic batteries but has plans to multiply that ten times by 2022. I believe that services, such as Sonnen’s, which aggregate EV and other small battery systems will eventually provide the bulk of grid stability services. (I saw this on RenewEconomy).