Ensuring access to clean affordable and low-carbon energy for all requires both bold commitments and innovation at all scales. Recent national activities and small, medium and large-scale projects in India and Europe demonstrate that multiple pathways exist to accelerate the low-carbon energy transition.
India has a target to install 175 GW of renewable energy generation capacity, including 60 GW of wind and 100 GW of solar, by 2022. However, to date it has been unclear whether such a rapid expansion can be achieved without disturbing India’s electricity grid. A report authored by the US-India bilateral programme, titled ‘Greening the Grid,’ concludes that achieving the target is not only feasible but that there are several pathways to achieve it. The study, titled ‘Pathways to Integrate 175 Gigawatts of Renewable Energy into India’s Electricity Grid,’ develops scenarios for India’s future energy development and analyzes the cost and operational impacts of strategies to implement the target. The publication finds that power system balancing with 100 GW of solar and 60 GW of wind is possible. This capacity would produce 22% of India’s expected energy consumption in 2022 and lead to a decline in demand for coal and gas of 20% and 32% respectively. India’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions would fall by 21%. The report also finds that Meeting India’s NDC target would require installing 250 GW renewable energy capacity, noting however that additional research in required to develop appropriate deployment strategies.
One of the most difficult sector in the transition to a low-carbon economy is transport. In an effort to decarbonize transport, the Indian Government has started to replace diesel by solar panels to power trains and auxiliaries such as air conditioning and lights. The first local train “solar powered” in this fashion was unveiled on 17 July and will be put into service by the Indian Railways shortly. The diesel electric multiple unit (DEMU) train is equipped with both solar panels and batteries to allow day and night operation using solar power. According to a news article published by the Indian Express, the train will reduce CO2 emissions by nine tonnes per coach per year.
Transport-related news have also come from Europe. The French Government revealed more details of its Climate Plan, including a phase-out of the sale of gasoline and diesel-powered cars by 2040. In addition, the replacement of existing cars made before 2001 will be supported with tax incentives. The French Government also committed to end oil and gas exploration on its territories, to eliminate coal-fired power plants by 2022 and encourage residential renewable energy production.
The French announcement to phase out gasoline cars coincided with Swedish car maker Volvo Car Group stating that every model launched after 2019 will include some form of electrification such as various forms of hybrid power trains and fully electric cars. Volvo’s long-term plan provides for five fully electric models by 2021 and to stop selling gasoline or diesel only cars in 2025.
Other European news have not focused on a single sector, but addressed the increasing share of renewable energy in the energy mix. In the UK, the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Statistical has reported that renewable energy sources generated a record 24.8 terawatt hours (TWh) during the second quarter of 2017. This amount represents an increase of 5% over the same period in 2016. The share of renewable electricity generation increased from 25.6% to 26.6% driven by a 16% increase in solar and a 20% increase in onshore wind generation, which compensated for declines in hydro and offshore wind generation due to unfavorable weather conditions. The share of coal-fired generation decreased from 15.85 to 11.3% over the same period.
A challenge related to some renewable energy sources is that they are not always available. Solar panels only produce electricity during the day, wind energy depends on favorable wind conditions. One option to reduce the resulting intermittency, is to combine different sources of renewable energy into hybrid systems. In Portugal, the world’s first combined hydroelectric and solar power plant began operations at the Alto Rabagao dam using floating solar panels. Excess energy produced by solar panels can be used to pump water into the reservoir for use during the night. The floating panels economize land use and can also help reducing erosion on the reservoir banks and algae build up. Designed at demonstration scale, the project is expected to provide insights for similar systems planned in other countries including Japan and the UK.