Navigant Research Blog

Indirect Land Use Change from Biofuels Explained

— December 27, 2017

Full decarbonisation of transport will be hard without biofuels, but sustainability concerns have made policymakers weary of stimulating crop-based biofuels. The debate on the indirect impacts from biofuels in particular has increased recently. For example, on December 2, 2017, a group of Dutch scientists called on the Dutch cabinet to stop the use of food crops for biofuels. The lead argument refers to the GLOBIOM report, though it mainly follows the interpretation by the non-governmental organization Transport & Environment.

What Is ILUC?

Indirect land use change, or ILUC, is the rippling effect that an increasing demand for biofuels feedstock can have on global agriculture. This could lead to land expansion and deforestation elsewhere, with the subsequent effect of increased CO2 emissions.

ILUC is not measurable, as it takes place via complex economic interactions and is manifested only in small variations in the large dynamics of the global agriculture system. It can only be analysed through detailed modelling. In 2015 and 2016, the European Commission contracted Ecofys, a Navigant company, and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) to assess ILUC with the GLOBIOM model.

What Do We Know About ILUC?

From this study, we see that ILUC effects depends on the type of biofuels crop, among other factors:

  • ILUC impacts from sugar- and starch-based ethanol are small. The contribution of these types of biofuels can be increased without ILUC risks.
  • The same holds for wood- and straw-based biofuels.
  • Higher ILUC values are found for European oil crop-based biofuels, but ILUC is paid back within a few years by the savings resulting from replacing fossil fuels.
  • ILUC emissions are very large for soybean and palm oil. It is advised to decrease the volumes of biofuels based on these crops unless they are produced (certified) without ILUC.

It is crucial to be aware of the ultimate sources of ILUC emissions in tropical countries: mainly deforestation and peatland drainage caused by sectors that are not held accountable to EU biofuels standards. Top policy priority should therefore be to stop deforestation (globally) and agricultural expansion into peatland (mainly in Indonesia).

How to Avoid ILUC

From the biofuels production perspective, ILUC can be avoided in several practical ways:

  • Produce additional crops on abandoned agricultural or degraded land so that it does not interfere with normal crop production.
  • Use investments in biofuels to innovate in agriculture, to sustainably increase EU yields, and to bridge yield gaps in developing countries.
  • Produce additional crops within the current agricultural land; for example, through sequential cropping.

What Does This Mean for Biofuels in General?

It is important to remember that crop-based biofuels can contribute to the greening of transport in a sustainable way. The ILUC concept should not be used to categorically decrease their contribution. Other aspects should be considered in addition to ILUC. Specific considerations can put impacts in perspective and certain solutions can make the challenges manageable. This does not mean we should give carte blanche to increasing the levels of any and all biofuels. But it is possible to govern the sustainability performance and limit the ILUC impact. A generic call for the phaseout of all crop-based biofuels is ultimately counterproductive in the fight against climate change.


Is Mobility Key to Unlocking the Maximum Value of Energy Storage?

— December 27, 2017

The ability of distributed energy resources, including energy storage systems (ESSs), to defer investments in new transmission and distribution (T&D) infrastructure has emerged as one of the most attractive uses of the technology. Navigant Research has covered this topic in recent reports, including Energy Storage for Transmission and Distribution Deferral and Non-Wires Alternatives. In some cases, ESSs and other technologies can be used to entirely avoid the need for infrastructure upgrades, though these situations are rare. Most energy storage projects providing these services are designed to defer infrastructure upgrades for a period of 3-6 years on average. A deferral period of this length typically results in costlier T&D projects being profitably deferred with energy storage.

ESS vendors have worked for years to develop mobile storage technologies with the aim of overcoming this barrier and opening a much larger addressable market for potential T&D deferrals. While an ESS project may only defer T&D investments for 3 years, the storage system itself will last much longer. In theory, moving an ESS from one location to another every few years will allow for numerous T&D projects to be deferred and will maximize the value of a single storage system. The challenge with this concept has traditionally been designing a hardware platform capable of being moved from one location to another with relatively low costs, while not damaging sensitive batteries and power electronics. The maturation of the storage industry over the past few years has resulted in new designs for mobile ESSs that can be efficiently moved from site to site.

ESS Solution Product Testing

Con Edison in New York was one of the first utilities in the US to launch a project testing mobile ESS solutions. The mobile systems for this pilot project are designed to optimize existing T&D assets, defer investments and upgrades, and support the grid during emergencies or in response to unanticipated events. When not needed by the utility, the ESSs will be located at the Astoria generation plant, owned by project partner NRG Energy. At this facility, the systems can participate in the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) markets for frequency regulation, operating reserves, and day-ahead or real-time capacity.

Con Edison and NRG Deployable Storage Asset      

Source: Consolidated Edison

The concept of mobile energy storage is quickly gaining traction in the industry. New Jersey-based startup Power Edison has developed integrated ESS products designed from the ground up for mobility, which it claims can significantly lower the cost of transportable storage. The company’s products come preconfigured in shipping containers, with power ratings from a few tens of kilowatts to several megawatts. The systems are specifically engineered to handle vibrations, changing environmental conditions, and other disruptions due to transportation with a custom-built trailer that can protect sensitive hardware components and not void vendor warranties.

ESS Solutions Add Value

A growing number of utilities have expressed interest in these innovative ESS solutions; however, questions remain around the true cost to move systems from one location to another and the potential effects to system hardware. The upfront costs for mobile ESSs are typically much higher than a standard stationary system due to the need for custom-built enclosures, battery mounting hardware, and trailers. Despite these challenges, mobile ESSs present a major opportunity to enhance the value and flexibility of energy storage on the grid.


DER Developments Challenge Incumbent Grid Operating Models

— December 27, 2017

Net metering has been a key driver for the deployment of solar PV distributed generation in the US. The simplicity of net metering—merely deducting the electricity generated during a year from the total electricity consumed, with no regard to the time when these two activities occurred—is easy for customers to understand. It simplifies the design process of installations, lowers the barriers to entry for distributed solar and wind, and has allowed the industry to develop.

But net metering creates an artificial barrier for the adoption of other flexibility-related distributed energy resources (DER) technologies like energy storage and demand response, as utilities are forced to provide balancing at no cost. Although net metering is still leading in the US, regulators in the main solar markets are tweaking it to pass some of the balancing costs to the end user. For example, California is moving toward time-of-use tariffs for all new distributed solar installations, opening the market to flexible technologies.

DER Deployments Increasing and Shifting

Navigant Research forecasts the deployment of all DER technologies in its Global DER Deployment Forecast Database report. We expect North America to install 31.5 GW of new DER capacity in 2017 and 98.1 GW in 2026. The technology mix for 2017 is led by distributed generation (DG), which accounts for 61.9% of the total DER capacity installed. However, by 2026, DG is expected to drive only 31.4% of new DER capacity additions, leaving a large market share to other technologies. These include flexibility, microgrids, energy efficiency, and (driven by the electrification of transport) EV charging, which is expected to lead DER new capacity in 2026 with a market share of 43.2%.

Despite the US leaving the Paris Agreement and its move away from the Clean Power Plan, DER capacity additions in the US are expected to be almost 8 times more than central generation deployments over the next decade. This includes central renewables like utility-scale solar and wind and significant amounts of natural gas power plants. Navigant Research forecasts the US will install 519 GW of DER capacity between 2017 and 2026, while the US Energy Information Administration’s International Outlook projects that the US will add just 66 GW of net new central generation capacity.

DER as Percentage of Annual Additional Capacity, US: 2017-2026

Source: Navigant Research

DER Developments Bringing Challenges and Improvements

DER developments are challenging incumbent grid operating models, requiring a more dynamic and flexible network with advanced communications and orchestration to ensure stability, efficiency, and equality among diverse resources. From a utility perspective, the overarching goal of DER deployments is to integrate these resources effectively to make the electricity grid more efficient, resilient, cost-effective, and sustainable. However, DER is usually deployed behind-the-meter, where customers are more concerned with securing cost-effective and reliable onsite power. This raises questions about who DER should be optimized for and the pace and scale of DER deployments.

Despite the disruption that DER is bringing, it is already possible to see the first sprouts of DER investments: a cleaner, cheaper, consumer-focused, and far more innovative power sector. For this reason, the transition to DER will not be easy for organizations used to the centralized energy model, but focusing on happy customers over electrons will help companies to thrive.


Major Businesses, Beware Myopia

— December 21, 2017

Develop Peripheral Vision to Manage Industry Disruption

The past 50 years have witnessed the collapse of many corporate giants, often caused by the systemic myopia of business leaders. The likes of Blockbuster, Kodak, and Polaroid demonstrated a failure to recognize where the value lay in the digitization of their industries, for example. As we move into 2018, energy industry disruption is accelerating. Huge opportunities stem from increasing complexity and disruption, but the risks of utilities becoming the next Kodak are also increasing. To combat competitive threats, the industry must develop peripheral vision—the use of competitive early warning signals and scenario planning—to exploit opportunities and manage threats.

Identify and Monitor Early Warning Signals

A competitive early warning system delivers this peripheral vision. By maintaining a broad perspective, utility executives can focus on where changes are happening the fastest and identify where future value lies. However, it is imperative for executives to filter signals from noise and focus attention on the developments that have the highest potential to hurt a business in the coming decade. Scenario planning is a useful filtering tool: a signal such as the development of a new technology, product, or service is extrapolated into the future in several scenarios that gauge the likelihood of adoption and potential impact.

For example, there is a growing trend for residential customers in Europe to purchase solar PV bundled with storage. German battery vendor sonnen has developed a solar plus storage product—sonnenFlat—which requires customers to only pay a flat fee every month. As part of the deal, customers provide sonnen with access to their distributed energy resources (DER) to provide grid services. In return, sonnen guarantees customers free grid-sourced power when their DER is unavailable. sonnenFlat is a new, niche product. Nonetheless, utilities globally should be assessing the risk this poses, particularly when combined with community solar programs. A self-sufficient solar plus storage customer is lost to an incumbent supplier for 20 years.

Measure the Likely Impact on Business for Each Signal

No one can claim to know the future, but with careful planning, a company can prepare for the most likely scenarios. The potential scenarios for residential solar plus storage installations span from little or no growth through near ubiquity. The industry should be asking whether solar plus storage could kill the traditional grid supply model. Careful analysis of the market—for instance, using SWOT or PESTLE approaches—will help gauge the likelihood of different scenarios.

In many countries, the cost of financing solar plus storage is less than a household’s annual electricity bill; falling technology costs and rising power prices will make the solar plus storage option more compelling. While the economic argument is increasingly convincing, there are many reasons why adoption is relatively low, including apathy and ignorance.

Expect (and Plan for) the Unexpected

Customer preference is the biggest driver of solar plus storage, and therefore beyond the industry’s sphere of influence. There is little an incumbent energy provider can do to protect existing revenue from power supply by deterring customers from making solar plus storage investments. This strategy also fails to capture the value of solar plus storage. The industry should be planning strategies to respond to the growth of solar plus storage. These include the development of solar plus storage products, aggregation services, providing the infrastructure on which third parties can offer services, or partnering with or acquiring existing providers. It is possible to be as well-prepared as possible by recognizing the biggest threats and creating risk mitigation strategies in advance.

To mitigate risk, utilities must plan scenarios for a large number of signals in a well-defined early warning system.


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