Navigant Research Blog

Kauai and the Quest for More Renewable Energy

— March 13, 2017

Remote islands and microgrids have been a hotbed for renewable energy resources throughout the past several years. Historically, remote systems have relied on small diesel generators to support electricity needs, but volatile fuel prices can be high in comparison to renewable alternatives. According to a recent International Finance Committee (IFC) and Navigant Research co-sponsored white paper, more than 80% of growth in renewables and energy storage for both energy production and consumption will come from new and emerging markets by 2035. Remote islands will play a huge role in this development based on evolving grid and end-user needs, physical infrastructure, and decreasing technology costs.

Ambitious Goals

Specifically, on Kauai in Hawaii, the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) laid out an ambitious renewable energy goal in 2008. The strategic plan previously aimed to reach 50% renewable energy by 2023, but the cooperative now expects to hit that goal in 2018, 5 years earlier than expected. The new target is to reach 70% renewables by 2023. To put this goal in context, Kauai had just 5% renewables penetration in 2009. In 2015, the island reached 37.4% renewable generation.

One of the most notable projects in Kauai’s pipeline is a 28 MW solar array paired with a 20 MW/100 MWh lithium ion (Li-ion) battery system; this will bring the island’s renewables penetration up to 58% when it comes online in late 2018. AES Distributed Energy, Inc. and the KIUC also established a power purchase agreement of $0.11/kWh, below the cost of fossil fuel power currently used to provide baseload generation to the island. Several other renewable projects dispersed around the island are up and running, pushing the plan forward. The KIUC wants the island to reach 100% renewables by 2045.

Most of the Hawaiian islands experience peak solar generation during the day, and consequently have diesel generators ramp up during peak demand at night. Several new projects are being paired with storage to help eliminate the use of these generators. Diesel plants on islands typically operate at high variable load, resulting in high variations of demand, which often is incongruent with the large size of diesel plants. Islands generally have more fluctuating power demand than mainland areas; over a year, generation can fluctuate significantly due to seasonal variation in tourism, for example. The AES project alone is expected to reduce the KIUC’s fossil fuel usage by over 3.7 million gallons annually.

Cutting Edge

Kauai and the KIUC are committed to ensuring that customers are on the cutting edge of the energy industry. By deploying emerging technologies like solar, energy storage, and smart metering systems, the cooperative is giving its members more transparency in how they can track their own energy use and set personal goals for efficiency. Making these investments and meeting these short-term goals pushes the KIUC’s vision forward to being a leader in shaping a thriving state for future generations.

Other small island nations and areas can learn from the KIUC’s goals. By engaging customers, testing grid stability, and aggressively looking for new projects, smaller markets can drastically change their energy outlook in a short period of time. Additionally, smaller markets can change rapidly in terms of renewables or storage penetration with just one or two large projects. Every market faces its own unique challenges, so it will be important for the government and private and public sectors to engage in efforts to push for ecologically and economically sustainable futures.


As Future of US Energy Becomes Uncertain, China Moves Forward with Clean Energy Plans

— February 2, 2017

Cyber Security MonitoringChina is moving forward on its commitments to cutting back on coal generation. It recently announced that it was canceling the development of 103 coal-fired power plants. The announcement, made by China’s National Energy Administration on January 16, cites the goal of these cancellations as meeting a target in the country’s 13th Five-Year Plan to limit coal-fired power generation capacity to 1,100 GW by 2020. The plan includes canceling projects across 13 provinces, some of which are already under construction.

The cancellation of these plants comes in conjunction with another announcement made by the National Energy Administration stating that it intends to spend more than $360 billion on renewable energy resources, including solar and wind, through 2020. The plan includes creating more than 13 million jobs in the renewable energy sector, curbing the growth of greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global warming, and reducing the air pollution that hangs over cities like Beijing.

US Shifts Direction

These announcements come at a time when US President Donald Trump’s stated plans to revive the coal industry, scrap the Clean Power Plan, and focus on oil & gas have raised questions about the future direction of the US energy industry. Some experts claim that the Trump administration will only have so much power to change the fate of the coal industry; the economics behind the industry still point to a decline due to renewable resources becoming cheaper and natural gas proving to be a cost-competitive option in the United States’ current energy portfolio.

Based on statements in the first week of the Trump presidency, it seems unlikely that the United States will assume a leadership role in mitigating climate change. In fact, this shift in focus means that the United States risks losing ground to China in a race to lead the world forward in decreasing carbon emissions. This differs from the status quo just over a year ago at the Paris Climate Summit, where the United States and China both committed to fighting climate change.

Today, President Trump’s past claims that climate change is a Chinese hoax and suggestions of the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement could create a space for China to take on a leadership role in clean power. While the country still has a long way to go to prove its commitments to the environment, in the past few years it has made significant progress in terms of reducing its emissions, curbing coal generation, and ramping up investments in renewable energy resources. China has shown potential in its ability to lead the world toward a low carbon future.


As Natural Gas Electricity Generation Grows, Risks and Opportunities Emerge for Energy Consumers

— October 26, 2016

Natural gas is becoming increasingly vital to US electricity generation. With vast new resources made available by hydraulic fracturing, use of the fuel is growing across various sectors, especially in the area of electricity. Although coal has led electricity generation since before 1950, natural gas finally took the highest share for most of 2015 and almost all of 2016 (as seen in the chart below).

While many welcome the growth of this cheap, low-emissions fuel, some risks are arising for energy consumers. Put simply: a system that depends heavily on natural gas is more susceptible to supply shocks. With slumping production and demand from the electricity sector, prices are already trending up. The monthly Henry Hub price reached $2.99/MMBtu in September, the highest in 20 months. This may be exacerbated by a colder winter that is driving predictions of higher gas and electricity prices and volatility compared to last year. And this week marks 1 year since the largest natural gas leak in US history hit southern California, the fallout of which still reminds us how unforeseen disasters can shock supplies.

This type of volatility can affect everything from household budgeting to the balance sheets of multi billion-dollar utilities. Notably, commercial and industrial electricity consumers can be heavily affected to the tune of millions of dollars by volatility in gas prices, electricity prices, or both. Thankfully, advances in alternative generation options exist to mitigate these risks.

Monthly Net Electricity Generation, All Sectors (Jan 2011 – Dec 2016)

AForni Blog

(Source: US Energy Information Administration)

Alternative Generation Advances

Renewables include technology solutions like wind and solar, and (in this context) other zero-emissions complements like battery storage and demand response. These technologies are being broadly embraced thanks to government support, cost declines, and emissions reductions initiatives. The dramatic growth in corporate renewable power purchase agreements is one of the most powerful examples of the Energy Cloud in action.

Onsite gas-fueled generation may seem subject to the same market vicissitudes affecting natural gas, but it has some key advantages, even over renewables. First, customers installing fuel cells, gensets, or microturbines can purchase long-term gas contracts that will guarantee a certain rate for gas (and therefore electricity)—a key risk mitigation tool. Compared to centralized generation, onsite gas generation is installed faster and with less regulatory risk, while also eliminating the transmission and distribution energy losses (and risks) of the electric grid. Compared to renewables, these technologies can be installed in a far smaller footprint and, crucially, generate electricity without relying on the wind or sun.

Onsite dual-fuel generation consists of gensets, turbines, or microturbines that can operate on diesel and natural gas (and often, other fuels). Such equipment has many of the same advantages of onsite gas-fueled generation, with the added bonus of accepting multiple fuel types. While natural gas is often the preferred fuel (due to emissions requirements and lower cost), shocks to natural gas supply and/or price can make an alternate fuel like diesel favorable, if only for a short period. Diesel can also be stored onsite, ensuring access in a major catastrophe. This technology has been most embraced in the US oil & gas sector, but has growing applications both stateside and abroad. Watch for the coming revolution in liquefied natural gas to open new opportunities in flexible generation, too.

Natural gas will be an important electricity fuel for a long time to come. But in an era with baseload in decline and renewables on the rise, these tools should not only mitigate natural gas risk, but also build flexibility into an electric grid that sorely needs it.


Can Hybrid Projects Usher in the Next Generation of Renewable Energy?

— September 16, 2016

Wind and SolarIndia’s ambitious plans for renewable energy development are faced with a number of challenges. Chief among these challenges is the limited availability of land for wind and solar plants in the densely populated country, as well as the cost and technical challenges of interconnecting projects to the grid. These challenges have driven some developers and equipment manufacturers to explore hybrid renewable energy facilities, combining both wind and solar generation at a single site. This hybrid concept has been explored in other areas with limited land available for new development, most notably in Japan, where a 56 MW hybrid wind and solar project was commissioned in 2014.

Wind and solar development is often limited by the relatively high upfront costs for land acquisition, grid interconnection, and project development. The availability of grid interconnections can prohibit the development of many potential wind and solar sites, and the cost for interconnection often requires developers to build larger-than-ideal facilities. As a result, many of the optimal locations for wind and solar generation have already been developed, particularly in densely populated regions.

Hybrid Wind and Solar

The concept of a hybrid wind and solar project aims to eliminate many of the barriers to development by maximizing the value of a facility to overcome the costs for acquiring land and interconnecting to the grid compared to individual technologies. In the United States and other countries, select areas have already been set aside for renewables development. A hybrid system can allow developers to maximize the megawatts of capacity installed per each acre of available land. In addition to overcoming upfront costs, a hybrid project can take advantage of the complementary generation profiles of wind and solar. Wind is often most productive at night while solar power is naturally only generated during the day. By co-locating these generation sources at a single site, a project can more closely represent a baseload resource on the grid, facilitating easier integration and making the resource more valuable for grid operators. The improved predictability of generation output is further enhanced if an energy storage system is also combined at a single facility. This is exactly the aim of developer Windlab Ltd. for the Kennedy Energy Park it is developing in Queensland Australia. The project, scheduled to come online in 2018, will feature 30 MW of wind, 20 MW of solar PV, and 2 MW of battery energy storage capacity.

This hybrid power plant concept doesn’t stop on land, the Danish company Floating Power Plant is currently testing its hybrid wind and wave power generation platform known as Poseidon in the waters off of Northern Europe. While the concept of hybrid renewable plants holds significant potential, it will have to overcome the existing approach of both developers and utilities to typically work with only a single technology per project. However, as the industry matures and ideal sites become scarcer, the benefits of hybrid projects are likely to increase and these projects may eventually become the norm.


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