Category Archives: Wind
Over the last few years, much excitement has been generated around the term “impact investing” – an investment approach that intentionally seeks to create both financial return and measurable positive social or environmental impact. Despite the buzz, there is limited consensus among mainstream investors and specialized niche players on what impact investing is, what asset classes are most relevant, how the ecosystem is structured and what constraints the sector faces. As a result, there is widespread confusion regarding what impact investing promises and ultimately delivers.
This report is a result of engaging over 150 mainstream investors, business executives, philanthropic leaders and policy-makers through interviews, workshops and conference calls. The overall objective of the Mainstreaming Impact Investing initiative is to provide an initial assessment of the sector and identify the factors constraining the acceleration of capital into the field of impact investing.
“Renewable” power will soon start to be seen as normal.
Wind farms already provide 2% of the world’s electricity, and their capacity is doubling every three years. If that growth rate is maintained, wind power will overtake nuclear’s contribution to the world’s energy accounts in about a decade. Though it still has its opponents, wind is thus already a grown-up technology. But it is in the field of solar energy, currently only a quarter of a percent of the planet’s electricity supply, but which grew 86% last year, that the biggest shift of attitude will be seen, for sunlight has the potential to disrupt the electricity market completely.
The underlying cause of this disruption is a phenomenon that solar’s supporters call Swanson’s law, in imitation of Moore’s law of transistor cost. Moore’s law suggests that the size of transistors (and also their cost) halves every 18 months or so. Swanson’s law, named after Richard Swanson, the founder of SunPower, a big American solar-cell manufacturer, suggests that the cost of the photovoltaic cells needed to generate solar power falls by 20% with each doubling of global manufacturing capacity. The upshot (see chart) is that the modules used to make solar-power plants now cost less than a dollar per watt of capacity. Power-station construction costs can add $4 to that, but these, too, are falling as builders work out how to do the job better. And running a solar power station is cheap because the fuel is free.
Coal-fired plants, for comparison, cost about $3 a watt to build in the United States, and natural-gas plants cost $1. But that is before the fuel to run them is bought. In sunny regions such as California, then, photovoltaic power could already compete without subsidy with the more expensive parts of the traditional power market, such as the natural-gas-fired “peaker” plants kept on stand-by to meet surges in demand. Moreover, technological developments that have been proved in the laboratory but have not yet moved into the factory mean Swanson’s law still has many years to run.
Fossil-fuel-powered electricity will not be pushed aside quickly. Fracking, a technological breakthrough which enables natural gas to be extracted cheaply from shale, means that gas-fired power stations, which already produce a fifth of the world’s electricity, will keep the pressure on wind and solar to get better still. But even if natural gas were free, no Swanson’s law-like process applies to the plant required to turn it into electricity. Nuclear power is not a realistic alternative. It is too unpopular and the capital costs are huge. And coal’s days seem numbered. In America, the share of electricity generated from coal has fallen from almost 80% in the mid-1980s to less than a third in April 2012, and coal-fired power stations are closing in droves.
It may take longer to make the change in China and India, where demand for power is growing almost insatiably, and where the grids to take that power from windy and sunny places to the cities are less developed than in rich countries. In the end, though, they too will change as the alternatives become normal, and what was once normal becomes quaintly old-fashioned.
Walking through the lobby at the Four Seasons Hotel in Doha, Qatar, we stumble across a live presentation by ExxonMobil of its annual Energy Outlook. Normally every year we like to present the key findings of this excellent industry source to our clients and partners.
The Outlook for Energy is ExxonMobil’s long-term view of our shared energy future. They develop the Outlook annually to assess future trends in energy supply, demand and technology to help guide the long-term investments.
This year’s Outlook reveals a number of key ﬁndings about how we use energy, how much we will need in the future and what types of fuels will meet demand.
Efficiency will continue to play a key role in solving our energy challenges. Energy-saving practices and technologies, such as hybrid vehicles and high-efficiency natural gas power plants, will help countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) – including those in North America and Europe – keep energy use essentially flat even as OECD economic output grows 80 percent.
Energy demand in developing nations (Non OECD) will rise 65 percent by 2040 compared to 2010, reflecting growing prosperity and expanding economies. Overall, global energy demand will grow 35 percent, even with significant efficiency gains, as the world’s population expands from about 7 billion people today to nearly 9 billion people by 2040, led by growth in Africa and India.
With this growth comes a greater demand for electricity. Today, and over the next few decades, electricity generation represents the largest driver of demand for energy. Through 2040, it will account for more than half of the increase in global energy demand.
Growth in transportation sector demand will be led by expanding commercial activity as our economies grow. However, energy consumed by personal vehicles will gradually peak and then begin to fall as our cars, sports utility vehicles (SUVs) and small pickup trucks become much more fuel-efficient.
Technology is enabling the safe development of once hard-to-produce energy resources, signiﬁcantly expanding available supplies to meet the world’s changing energy needs.
Oil will remain the No. 1 global fuel, while natural gas will overtake coal for the No. 2 spot. Use of nuclear power and renewable energy will grow, while demand for coal peaks and then begins a gradual decline.
Evolving demand and supply patterns will open the door for increased global trade opportunities.
Around 2030, the nations of North America will likely transition from a net importer to a net exporter of oil and oil-based products. The changing energy landscape and the resulting trade opportunities it affords will continue to provide consumers with more choices, more value, more wealth and more good jobs (see page 44).
The Outlook provides a window to the future, a view that we use to help guide our own strategies and investments. Over the next five years, ExxonMobil expects to invest approximately $185 billion in energy projects alone. Given the magnitude of these investments, it’s critical that we take an objective and data-driven approach to ensure that we have the most accurate picture of energy trends.
The information contained in the Outlook regarding energy markets is also crucial for individuals, businesses and policymakers. We hope that by sharing this Outlook, we can enhance understanding of energy issues so that we can all make informed decisions about our energy future.
Download the entire report: Energy Outlook – A view to 2040
Wind has overtaken nuclear as an electricity source in China. In 2012, wind farms generated 2 percent more electricity than nuclear power plants did, a gap that will likely widen dramatically over the next few years as wind surges ahead. Since 2007, nuclear power generation has risen by 10 percent annually, compared with wind’s explosive growth of 80 percent per year.
Before the March 2011 nuclear disaster in Japan, China had 10,200 megawatts of installed nuclear capacity. With 28,000 megawatts then under construction at 29 nuclear reactors—19 of which had begun construction since 2009—officials were confident China would reach 40,000 megawatts of nuclear power by 2015 and perhaps 100,000 megawatts by 2020. The government’s response to the Fukushima disaster, however, was to suspend new reactor approvals and conduct a safety review of plants in operation and under construction.
When authorities finally lifted the moratorium on approvals in October 2012, it was with the stipulation that going forward only “Generation-III” models that meet stricter safety standards would be approved. China has no experience in operating these more advanced models; several of the Generation-III reactors it has currently under construction are already facing delays due to post-Fukushima design changes or supply chain issues.
Over the course of 2011 and 2012, China connected four reactors with a combined 2,600 megawatts of nuclear generating capacity, bringing its total nuclear installations to 12,800 megawatts. Although officials still claim that China will reach 40,000 megawatts of nuclear capacity in 2015, the current pace of construction makes this appear increasingly unlikely. China’s inexperience with Generation-III reactors also casts doubt on its prospects for achieving what the government now sees as a more reasonable 2020 goal, some 70,000 megawatts.
The outlook for wind in China is much more promising. Wind developers connected 19,000 megawatts of wind power capacity to the grid during 2011 and 2012, and they are expected to add nearly this much in 2013 alone. An oft-cited problem for China’s wind energy sector has been the inability of the country’s underdeveloped electrical grid to fully accommodate fast-multiplying wind turbines in remote, wind-rich areas. Recent efforts to expand and upgrade the grid have improved the situation: by the end of 2012, 80 percent of China’s estimated 75,600 megawatts of wind capacity were grid-connected.
China should easily meet its official target of 100,000 megawatts of grid-connected wind capacity by 2015. Looking further ahead, the Chinese Renewable Energy Industry Association (CREIA) sees wind installations soaring to at least 200,000 megawatts by 2020. With the seven massive “Wind Base” mega-complexes now under construction in six provinces—slated to total at least 138,000 megawatts when complete in 2020—the CREIA projection seems well within reach.
China’s overall wind energy resource is staggering. Harvard researchers estimate that China’s wind generation potential is 12 times larger than its 2010 electricity consumption
An audacious plan to lay a multibillion-dollar wind power transmission spine under the seabed from southern Virginia to the New York City area will take a step forward on Tuesday with an announcement of plans for the first leg, a 189-mile segment running from Jersey City to a spot south of Atlantic City.
The proposed backbone, first outlined publicly in October 2010, is intended to link future wind farms far offshore, sparing them the expense and regulatory problems of bringing power lines all the way to shore individually and to move power to land-based sources. The project’s backers, which include Google and other prominent investors, argue that the buried offshore spine, impervious to storms, could also come in handy in an emergency, providing a backup for hospitals and police stations and restarting power plants in blacked-out areas.
The latter selling point has gained importance for the line’s promoters as interest in offshore wind has suffered setbacks, including the declining price of natural gas, a competing energy source. Read the rest of this entry »