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December, 2016:

It’s Official: Solar Energy Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels

enewable energy has reached an important milestone. The World Economic Forum (WEF) has determined that in many parts of the world, solar energy is now the same price or even cheaper than fossil fuels for the first time.

In a handbook released this month, the WEF observed how the price of renewable technologies, particularly solar, has declined to unprecedented lows.

While the average global LCOE [levelized cost of electricity] for coal and natural gas is around $100 per megawatt-hour, the price for solar has plummeted from $600 a decade ago to $300 only five years later, and now close to or below $100 for utility-scale photovoltaic. For wind, the LCOE is around $50.

According to the WEF, more than 30 countries have already reached grid parity—even without subsidies. (“Grid parity” is the point when an alternative energy source, say solar, can generate power at a LCOE that’s equal or even less than the price of traditional grid power.)

“It is relevant to note that the mentioned evolution, market share gain and continued potential for renewable energy do not hinge on a subsidy advantage,” the report added. “In fact, according to [International Energy Agency], fossil-fuel consumption has received $493 billion in subsidies in 2014, more than four times the value of subsidies to renewable energy.”


The WEF highlighted how the unsubsidized LCOE for utility-scale solar photovoltaic—which was not competitive even five years ago—has declined at a 20 percent compounded annual rate, “making it not only viable but also more attractive than coal in a wide range of countries.”

Countries that have already reached grid parity include Chile, Mexico, Brazil and Australia with many more countries also on the same track. The WEF projects that two thirds of the world will reach grid parity in the next couple of years, and by 2020, solar photovoltaic energy is projected to have a lower LCOE than coal or natural gas-fired generation throughout the world.

“Renewable energy has reached a tipping point,” Michael Drexler, who leads infrastructure and development investing at the WEF, told Quartz. “It is not only a commercially viable option, but an outright compelling investment opportunity with long-term, stable, inflation-protected returns.”

The report follows a recent analysis from the IEA which revealed that total clean power capacity increased by 153 gigawatts, overtaking coal for the first time. To illustrate, about 500,000 solar panels installed were installed around the world every day.

When life gave them air pollution, they made ink

Excited to arrive in Hong Kong, you’re enthusiasm quickly wanes. Your eyes and lungs burn from the smog, as air pollution levels have reached record highs in this cosmopolitan city. The dense haze lingers in the air as children crave to see a rare blue sky.

First looking for fresh ways to market their goods, Hong Kong-based Tiger Beer discovered inspiration from those soot-filled skies. Realizing what a big hazard air pollution had become and connecting with the need to raise awareness to influence new environmental laws and activism, Tiger saw opportunity where others could only focus on the problem.

The big idea? Turn air pollution into ink. A special device to capture pollution was designed and attached to trucks, smokestacks, and cranes, which allowed the team to turn harmful waste into useful art. One hundred and fifty liters of ink have been harnessed so far and transformed into art displayed in the streets of Hong Kong and on the project’s website,

“The streets are not only a great place to drink Tiger, they’re also the place where creativity, ideas and passion are born. By using our entrepreneurial spirit to repurpose pollution into ink — the lifeblood of creativity — we’re giving creative people the tools to enhance their streets, and empowering inventors to take small but impactful actions against air pollution,” said Mie-Leng Wong, director of international brands, Tiger Beer, Heineken Asia Pacific, in a company statement.

Tiger Beer tapped into a high visibility social problem and used their marketing might to both make a difference and fuel their brand. This unique marketing approach has generated millions of dollars worth of buzz and customer loyalty, while helping to improve the lives of the 7.2 million residents of Hong Kong. Certainly a much more effective — and impactful — approach than just another TV spot, billboard, or digital ad.

Too often, we look for inspiration in the obvious places. Rarely venturing beyond the four walls of our given fields, its no wonder that we get trapped into the echo chamber of our industries. To seek fresh and inspired approaches, look beyond. Peek up from your to-do list into the wide-open world of possibility. If Tiger Beer can transform pollution into art and enjoy a powerful marketing win as a result, think what you can do when you unleash your own creativity.
There’s opportunity all around us, even in the most unusual places. It’s your job to seize it — right out of thin air.

OPINION: Landfill Could be Best Option for Waste Plastics

Axion Polymers’ Keith Freegard explains why as global temperatures head for potentially catastrophic levels, landfilling rather than burning waste plastics might be better for the environment…

Large numbers of energy from waste (EfW) plants exist right across Europe and many of the UK’s municipal solid waste (MSW) and mixed recyclables ‘processing’ facilities are simply exporting a high proportion of mixed material refuse derived fuel (RDF) bales to utilise spare European capacity.

Globally, further waste to energy plants are being planned and built, while landfill is frowned upon as the accepted ‘worst option’ for disposal. Revisiting the decision-making metrics that have led to this ‘accepted waste hierarchy’ might point to a stark choice between the two waste disposal options.

There are valid arguments for the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of both waste disposal methods. But what if the true environmental cost of CO2 emissions was also factored into deciding the ‘best option’?

When the full carbon-cost of the disposal method is expressed in ‘pound notes’ – reflecting the impact that large-scale CO2 release has upon the Earth – then this metric could really change decisions about what is ‘good’ waste material to burn as a fuel and what is ‘bad’.

Energy Generation
The non-homogeneous nature of the waste fuels requires robust moving-grate burners to move the combustible materials through the unit. Water-filled side boilers must be used for heat transfer to capture the heat-energy produced.

Even the most modern burner designs are relatively inefficient at energy recovery, generating lower amounts of electrical power per tonne of fuel burned when compared to high-efficiency, combined cycle gas turbine systems (CCGT).

Both power generating units are ultimately doing the same task: converting carbon-rich fuels into electricity (and ideally combined with heat production), while sending atmospheric-polluting carbon emissions up the exhaust stack as a major environmental cost associated with the beneficial electrical power supplied into the local grid.

So what are the solutions? High-efficiency gas turbines are a much more efficient way to generate each kilowatt of power, plus some heat, from fossil fuel sources if measured in terms of the mass of CO2 released per unit of power output.

Waste Fuelled
However, large scale waste-burners consume huge tonnages of waste materials that would otherwise have been landfilled. Siting an EfW plant close to large urban areas can also deliver useful heating into local industry and households.

If the major components in the infeed waste fuel mix to a modern EfW unit are renewable carbon, such as wood, papers, cardboard or organic matters, then the ‘short-life’ carbon atoms released back into the atmosphere via the exhaust stack are ecologically balanced with their earlier carbon-capture in a tree, plant or living organism. So this fraction of the waste ‘fuel’ shows a carbon-neutral effect.

As for the plastic content in residual household or commercial waste, the carbon-rich molecules that create the long-chain polymers (e.g. ethane, propane, styrene, etc.) are derived from crude oil refineries and are then polymerised to make plastics.

Burning these is essentially the same as driving a petrol car or taking a flight – power created at the ‘expense’ of long-life carbon release.

But what if the waste plastic could be separated from the ‘organic or renewable carbon’ wastes and the ‘inert’ carbon-rich, stabilised plastic stored either in the ground or in a covered storage system?

That would represent a long-term carbon-sink and remove those fossil-based materials from the EfW infeed mix. Clearly it would be better to recycle these materials if a technically and economically viable process was available to do that.

The Carbon Balance
Using a CO2 metric alone suggests that it makes more sense to bury large amounts of plastic in a long-term ‘carbon sink’ in the ground and efficiently combust natural gas to satisfy our immediate power needs.

However, until world leaders are prepared to transform the taxation on fossil fuel use in a way that truly reflects the high cost of ‘free carbon release’, then this numeric analysis remains an esoteric academic study.

The Paris Agreement commits countries to taking action to hold temperature rises to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels – and to try to stabilise emissions at a level which would see a temperature rise of no more than 1.5C.

Following the agreement’s signing by the largest CO2 producers and as the COP22 meeting in Marrakesh draws to a close, some world-leading countries may start to introduce the taxation of fossil-fuel carbon release as a means to get the world’s atmosphere back under control and remain within the stated, and agreed, 1.5C global warming limit.

However the major contributors to global carbon emissions, USA and China, appear to remain heavily dependent upon coal-fired power plants and oil-based fuel systems in their economic activity.

Bigger Picture
Eminent scientists worldwide have calculated that a very large proportion of the known (and often privately-owned) reserves of oil, gas and coal already available for extraction and combustion will have to stay in the ground as part of tackling climate change and staying within agreed limits.

The huge shift in corporate and national energy-habits required to leave fossil fuels in the ground will only happen with a Carbon Tax; particularly on the creation of electrical power and directly linked to the tonnes of CO2 released into the atmosphere per unit of fossil carbon consumed.

If that happens, it might be the time to return to that ‘mine’ of carefully stowed thousands of tonnes of good plastic and look at the economics of turning it into new polymer.

With a huge carbon tax slapped on burning it, then the economics would probably work. So these plastics may not have to stay in the ground for too long.

Looking at the bigger picture, we should all be concerned about the wholesale damage of completely uncontrolled burning of fossil fuel. That’s what we’re doing when we’re burning plastic that’s encapsulated amongst the mixed MSW we put in our black bin bags.

Time for a ‘Sky-fill’ Tax?
The short-term political and economic viewpoint is that ‘we’re getting some electrical power from it so it must be a good thing to do’. But this I think reflects the market failure created by very high landfill taxes that are not balanced by an equivalent taxation method to discourage ‘sky-fill’.

It’s a complex and challenging issue that reaches out over the next 20 years; a critical period in our history.

Until we get a carbon tax that puts some seriously big costs on throwing carbon into the atmosphere, I don’t see there being any real change. After all, the Earth doesn’t have a bank account – it’s us humans who operate under that monetary metric.

$40m Contract for B&W Vølund to Supply “World’s Largest” Waste to Energy Plant in China

Babcock & Wilcox Vølund A/S has been awarded a contract worth close to $40 million to design the boiler for the huge 168 MW waste to energy plant being planned for Shenzhen, China.

Babcock & Wilcox Vølund A/S has been awarded a contract worth close to $40 million to design the boiler for the huge 168 MW waste to energy plant being planned for Shenzhen, China.

The company, the Danish subsidiary of Babcock & Wilcox Enterprises, Inc. (NYSE:BW), was awarded the contract by Shenzhen Energy Environmental Engineering Co. Ltd. in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, China.

When complete, the plant will provide a long-term waste management solution for the 5600 tonnes of the region’s waste per day while generating an estimated 168 MW energy.

It is claimed that this will make it the largest waste to energy plant in the world, although other plants built in multiple phases may have more processing capacity.

B&W Vølund will supply equipment, including a DynaGrate®combustion grate system, hydraulics, burners and other boiler components for the 168 megawatt plant. It will also provide construction advisors for the combined heat and power project.

“The demand for reliable and clean renewable energy is growing in China and throughout much of Asia,” said Paul Scavuzzo, senior vice president, B&W Renewable.

The circular Shenzhen plant will be built with sustainability in mind and will incorporate rooftop solar panels, a visitor education center and an observation platform into its architectural design. It also represents the first time B&W Vølund has deployed its DynaGrate® technology in China.

The plant is scheduled to begin commercial operation in mid-2019.

End derogations for polluting coal plants

Effective regulation of air pollutant emissions from coal-fired power plants could prevent 20,000 premature deaths every year.

Establishing and enforcing air pollution standards that are in line with the best available techniques, could reduce the annual number of premature deaths in the EU caused by emissions from coal-fired power plants from 22,900 to 2,600, according to a new study by a coalition of environmental groups.

The report was published in October, ahead of an EU technical committee meeting on the final draft of the large combustion plant (LCP) BREF document. The report called on the Commission and member states to remove derogations and other loopholes from the draft BREF document.

According to the authors of the report, current legislation is failing to deliver its intended health benefits because special exceptions have been granted that allow for emissions that are higher than the agreed minimum requirements of the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED). Currently more than half of the coal power plants in the EU have been granted permissions to pollute beyond the limits set in the IED, with serious implications for public health and the environment. The pollution from these plants alone was responsible for 13,700 premature deaths in 2013, which represented 60 per cent of all coal-related deaths in the EU, the report said.

Through the revision of the LCP BREF document, the EU and member states now have an opportunity to adopt improved environmental performance standards. By agreeing stricter standards and implementing effective emission limits on coal pollution, real progress can be made in improving the health of people across Europe.

The report also called on the Commission and member states to review the directive’s minimum binding emission limit values, and update them to reflect the levels set in the revised LCP BREF. Emission limits and monitoring requirements should reflect what is now technically possible to ensure that EU legislation serves as a driver towards improved environmental performance across the EU.

“The best available techniques we call for in this report are all tried-and-tested and were already being demonstrated under technically and economically viable conditions decades ago. The EU considers itself a world leader on environmental issues but when it comes to coal combustion, decision makers have their heads stuck in a dark cloud!”, says Christian Schaible, Policy Manager on industrial production at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB).

Medical professionals have expressed support for the report; “Air pollution kills,” says Professor Bert Brunekreef of the European Respiratory Society. “Experts in lung health want to see immediate remedial action. Inaction cannot be justified when it is human health and lives that are at stake.”

As there are no techniques that completely eliminate emissions from the burning of coal and with coal power plants responsible for 18 per cent of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions, the authors of the report conclude that truly lifting Europe’s Dark Cloud will require the complete phase-out of coal power.

“The health of European citizens cannot afford any further delay in enforcing new pollution standards. While the EU’s ultimate goal should be to commit to the complete phase-out of coal and to a transformation pathway to renewable energy and reduced energy consumption, the EU still needs to limit pollution from coal power plants with its deadly and costly impacts on people, health and the environment,” said Joanna Flisowska, Coal Policy Coordinator at CAN Europe.

Christer Ågren

The report “Lifting Europe’s Dark Cloud: How cutting coal saves lives” was produced jointly by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, WWF and Sandbag, and can be downloaded from:

EEB press release on the outcome of the 20 October IED forum:…

world gdp per region 2002

A Europe powered only with renewable energy

This vision was launched in 1992 from within the world-leading power equipment company ABB.

Europe can be powered by wind (mainly offshore) and by solar power (mainly as concentrating solar power) in North Africa and southern Europe. That was the futuristic vision of Gunnar Asplund in 1992, as shown in the map.

“It was not popular within ABB,” says Asplund in 2016.

Swedish Asea merged in 1988 with Swiss Brown Boveri to create ABB. At the time, ABB tried to market nuclear reactors of Swedish origin (eventually without success) and increased its nuclear power activities by the acquisition of US Combustion Engineering. ABB also developed PFBC coal and lignite plants at the time, but had no real stake in wind and solar.

By the year 2000, ABB would divest all power plant construction. But that was eight years ahead.

The idea of a gigantic grid and big centralised solar plants and big offshore wind power plants was also controversial in the NGO community. “Small is beautiful” had a strong resonance. ABB reached out to garner support from Swedish NGOs, but with no real success.

Asplund’s idea was that most of the cost for electricity is for generation, and that transport of the power even for very long distances, need not add more than 25 per cent. Power should be produced where conditions are the best: most wind power offshore or at the coast, solar where the sun shines most, and all connected by many, long power lines.

Storage was to be supplied by existing hydropower in Norway, Sweden, Iceland and continental Europe.

It took some nerve to claim by 1992 that wind and solar power could be the future, even in a 100-year perspective. All the wind power in the world produced less than 5 TWh in 1992, solar only 0.5 TWh, adding up to the equivalent of a single nuclear reactor. Offshore wind was nowhere in 1992 and was of no significance until the 2010s. Nuclear power produced 2,100 TWh, and was still on the increase. So was fossil power almost everywhere in the world.

The 1992 vision is still controversial, but nobody doubts that wind and solar have a bright future.

The belief in renewables went hand-in-glove with the emergent technology that Asplund led at ABB Ludvika: HVDC light, the slimmer version of the high-voltage direct current cable.

To the casual observer, the map of cables all over Europe looked as if the purpose was to maximise sales of high-voltage cables.

This was indeed not so far-fetched.

“The vision served to motivate our development work,” says Asplund frankly.

HVDC Light was first tested in the late 1990s and has since been a success story for ABB, sometimes exactly the way Asplund envisioned.

The technology is indeed impressive. Asplund has a sample in his office, about 12 cm in diameter. Such a cable can conduct 1000 megawatts, the output of a nuclear reactor. HVDC is well suited not only for connecting point A to point B, but also for creating a grid, like a spider’s web.

HVDC is used for bringing offshore wind power in the North Sea to the UK and connecting Norway to the Netherlands, Germany and the UK so intermittent power can be balanced by Scandinavian hydro. ABB has also built a 2,000 kilometre 800 kV transmission line in China so hydro in one part of the country can supply power to other parts, and balance wind and solar power, where China leads the world.

So the 1992 concept works, and 100 per cent renewables is possible.

“By 2092 I hope it has looked like that for a long time,” says Asplund.

Being an impatient person, he has moved on to another futuristic field: CO2-free transport.

There are not enough biofuels in most countries. There is a rich resource of renewable electricity, but electric cars are heavy, expensive and take a long time to charge.

His solution: electric highways, where electric cars can run on direct-feed power from the road, and recharge batteries at the same time.

His company Elways (“el” means electricity in Swedish) works with the practical aspects of designing rails and connectors, and has been granted 17 patents and filed for several more. The company has received substantial support from the Swedish Energy Agency.

The cost for the car-owner, for connectors, may be a couple of hundred euros.

“It would be extremely expensive to have all roads in Sweden rebuilt for direct feed. To have it for the big roads, not so expensive,” he says.

This second future looks a lot like the first one: an all-electric all-European spider-web.

Fredrik Lundberg

The scenario from 1992., with 700 GW from solar, 300 GW from wind and 200 GW from hydro.

The scenario from 1992., with 700 GW from solar, 300 GW from wind and 200 GW from hydro.

Vision 1992, actual results 2015

Share of renewables. In 2015, the 28 nations that are now the EU member states (EU-28) produced 29 per cent of their electricity from renewables. This is far from 100 per cent, but a big improvement on the 15 per cent in 1992. Renewable electricity in 1992 was almost exclusively hydro. Hydro production has not changed much and totalled 337 TWh in 2015. The “other” renewables (than hydro) have grown from 21 TWh in 1992 to 601 TWh in 2015. Most of this increase took place after 2008.

Which renewables? Wind and solar have developed roughly as in the scenario. Biomass, not in the scenario, is of some importance, and produced more electricity than solar in Europe in 2015. Biomass, and the so far insignificant tidal and geothermal power are not intermittent and do not need long power lines. Wave power, which was not in the scenario, but would fit well in a super grid, has still not taken off.

Wind. Wind power has, so far, mainly been on land. It is all a part of a centralised grid. Turbines are much larger, more efficient and more reliable than in 1992. The offshore wind parks are even larger, and are connected pretty much according to the 1992 map.

But wind power has mainly grown outside the utilities. Small community ownership of wind parks has however been of importance for acceptance of wind power, at least in Germany.

Solar. In the 1990s and the 2000s the main potential of solar power was often thought to lie in concentrating thermal power (CSP) based on systems of lenses or mirrors.

Heat can be stored, so output can match demand and also supply power at night. CSP promised higher efficiency than photovoltaics, at least in environments with few clouds, such as in deserts. But CSP requires large-scale installations and huge investments in one steep step. This essentially did not happen. There are a few big CSP plants in Spain and Morocco, but so far it has been a sideshow to photovoltaics (PV).

Most of the PV capacity is decentralised: rooftop or small ground-level solar farms. Some of the output is used locally so as to reduce the electricity consumption. The distance between producer and user is, in this sense, not long.

The large-scale installation (utility scale) of PV is growing even faster than rooftop solar and is now the top segment in many countries. Even so, the scale is modest compared to nuclear, coal and offshore wind.

Then again: practically all PV is grid-connected, so the millions of panels add up to big effects on national and European grids and markets. Unlike the 1992 map, much solar is in central Europe (Germany and the UK) rather than in the sunnier south.

Cables from Africa. This has not happened, but the idea lived on in the gigantic DESERTEC project, which was essentially abandoned after the disarray following the Arab Spring, the disintegration of Syria and Libya and the rise of the so-called Islamic State. One power line (though AC, not HVDC) between Europe and Africa has been in operation since 1997, between Morocco and Spain, later extended with a second cable, and a third is underway. So far the cables have been mainly used for Spanish exports of power.

Cables from Iceland. Iceland has huge hydro and geothermal resources, which could be used to balance other renewables. The cables are still not there, but a UK-Iceland government task force was set up in October 2015.

Other cables. Lithuania-Sweden went into operation in 2016, and the UK-Norway link is under construction. There are fairly recent interconnections between Norway-Netherlands-UK, Finland-Estonia, UK-France (several), Italy-Greece, and Estonia-Finland-Sweden.