The electric grid, prosumers’ and climate change risks

The blog post was the runner-up at Masdar Blogging contest, 2017

Electricity generation accounts for nearly 50% of CO2 emissions in the world. Renewable Energy (RE) sources have begun to account for a significant share in the grid mix thereby reducing the emissions Year on Year (YoY). An increasing RE in the electric grid is not a straight solution to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change.  RE is intermittent and in order to completely leverage it there is a need for a technological solution that also captures the economic benefits of this low carbon transition.

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The electric grid of today

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In most parts of the world the electric grid is predominantly unidirectional with a small percentage of bidirectional flow originating from grid connected rooftop systems. Even with increase in RE in the grid the impact on climate change mitigation will remain insignificant if the end consumer doesn’t interact with the system.

The electric grid of the future

The transition to a low carbon world implies switching to a fuel source that is not only environment friendly but is free thereby reducing the overall operational costs in the long run.  The grid infrastructure wouldn’t transfer the net benefit unless there is a seamless bidirectional communication between the source and the consumer in other words it has to turn into a ‘smart grid’.

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Image © Author

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Image © DOE

According to EPRI “Smart grid represents, the migration from the current grid with its one-way power flows from central generation to dispersed loads, towards a new grid with two-way power flows., two way and peer to peer customer interactions, distributed generation, distributed intelligence, command and control”

Prosumers’

Installing distributed energy systems like solar photovoltaic panels empowers people to shift from being a passive consumer of electricity to a Prosumer who sells power to the utility. The financial incentives like Feed in Tariff (FiT) are quite popular around the world. But the real potential of such systems will be leveraged when technological advancements like smart grids are in place and smart meters are the norm.

Smart Meters

In the evolving connected world every device around us meteris turning smart and its quite natural that the source powering them all is smart too (if not smarter). Germany and Italy have been pioneers in smart meter implementation, the former driven by a buoyant adoption of rooftop solar PV.

Why do we need a smart grid?

RE is intermittent as widely known. In an ideal case we would prefer power production at times when we consume. In real world to meet power demand when RE generation is low there is a need to look for alternatives which in general happens to be turning on the fossil fuel power plants just to ‘keep the lights on’ as the utility would claim.

In order to mitigate the potential damage caused by these scenarios it is critical to ensure the fossil fuel powered plants are not turned on, let alone operate them at a lower efficiency thereby compounding the damage. Battery storage will be a key breakthrough but unless the devices and the grid is in place, the net effect of energy storage will be minimal.

Can prosumers make an impact?

Technology at the RE generator level enables forecasting at a better accuracy on a day ahead level.  The information if shared to the consumers by utilities along with the price incentive will enable them to shift loads to low price periods thereby reducing the net overall demand. Demand Side Management (DSM) is another possibility considering the penetration of smart meters at residential consumer level. Utilities and DSM service providers anticipate that with technological advancements, prosumers will not only be able to sell their excess PV but also be able to automate their battery backup systems to respond to utility signals by discharging energy back to the grid during peak load.

Overall, technological adoption will be key to ensure a successful RE transition. The idea of smart grid and smart meters controlling the devices has been mooted for long but with an increasing RE capacity addition, the technology will be indispensable. The penetration of intelligent appliances in households will leverage the smart grid technology in delivering value thereby providing the prosumers’ (who will be a significant majority) with a tool to know more about their electricity use, reduce demand, cost and carbon emissions.

The blog post was the runner-up at Masdar Blogging contest, 2017

 

India ratifies Paris Agreement, what next?

The Indian Government surprised everyone when in 2015 it released its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) on Gandhi Jayanthi invoking his thoughts on the moral responsibility of human beings in preserving natural resources. An even bigger surprise followed in 2016, when intense speculation on India’s stance on the accord preceded its sudden decision to ratify the agreement, again on Gandhi Jayanthi (Read more).

The Paris agreement was subsequently ratified by a few more countries (75 as on date) and will come into force on Nov 4th, 2016. (How the entire process unfolded?)

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Upon ratification countries are expected to submit their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) which will serve as a yardstick for monitoring by all the parties at the meetings of Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA). India however has submitted its INDC as its first NDC which brings the focus back on the INDC (India’s INDC:Towards Climate Justice; An earlier blog post).

The premise of the INDC brings in the equation of ‘Climate Justice’ , clearly highlighting a need to consider the past of the global emitters.

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A need to clearly map the present and future scenarios was illustrated in the INDC.

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A key point of contention that will remain is the electricity demand per capita.

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electric-power-consumption-kwh-per-capita (Cty: WB)

INDC key highlights

  • India plans to cut emissions by 33-35% by 2030 from 2005 level.
  • India projects to achieve a renewable energy capacity addition of 175GW by 2022 and increase the renewable energy in the mix to 40% by 2030. It seeks funds explicitly from the Green Climate Fund. (The fund the developed countries agreed to create for projects in under developed/developing countries).
  • To create a carbon sink of 2.5-3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through forests and trees by 2030.
  • India estimates its Climate Change mitigation plan will cost $2.5Trillion between now and 2030.

The way forward will see some challenges

  • Enforcing policy regulations.
  • Creating a finance mechanism that utilizes the coal cess, Renewable Purchase Obligation(RPO), Perform Achieve & Trade (PAT) etc.
  • Creating a Green Energy Corridor (est. $6Bil) to facilitate power evacuation from renewable energy plants.
  • Not to compromise on Human Developmental Index of the nation. 300Million people in India still have no access to electricity. Hopefully we achieve the national target of ‘Electricity for All’ by 2019.
  • A need to cut subsidies and increase tax in fossil fuels.
  • Securing fuel for proposed 63GW of nuclear power projects.

At the moment, Indian government through its various ministries is trying to establish a framework to gather emissions data from concerned sectors. Recently aviation sector which dint find traction @ COP21 managed to agree for a global cap by 2020(Read more). India however decided to remain out of the pact until it establishes relevant frameworks in the sectors (read more). The next phase in this deal will be more clear once it is enforced and the first meeting kicks off in COP 22 until then its fair to rejoice the moment of clinching this deal.

What is common between Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio?

After January 2016 turned out to be the hottest month in record with temperature seeing a 2C rise for the first time, February saw important speeches made on climate change, one was on expected lines but the other one wasn’t. Nevertheless the two speeches have since received critical acclaim. First it was Al Gore who spoke at the Annual TED conference on The Case for optimism on Climate Change and then unexpectedly we got to hear about Leo Caprio talk about climate change during his Oscar acceptance speech. The second event got me wondering on what Leo would have spoken at the Oscars had he won his first award long time ago. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have been climate change. Well, this just reflects on how much climate change means to an average person in America now (considering there are a lot of people who still deny it) and also for someone to talk about it on a night when you picked up an award that you were yearning for long meant something. In case you missed it…

I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have spoken this way a decade ago, talking of which reminds me of Al Gore’s speech in 1999 before the presidential election. Well, its not about climate change for once.

Yes, Al Gore claims to have created the internet!!

Now, onto the real Al Gore speech. We would have probably heard Al Gore talk about how global warming is real and what it is doing to the planet and its balance. But, after watching this TED talk I see a real optimism (the talk is aptly titled as well) in his voice that we could in fact turn this mess around. The talk is around his three questions and the possible answers from our actions.

  1. Do we have to Change?
  2. Can we change?
  3. Will we change?

We all probably believe to an extend that we have to change both at the level of individual and society. We continue to witness higher temperatures year on year. The return period of extreme events like floods and droughts are increasing. (Read more about the climate risks and cities). Al Gore calls this as a systemic effect with every event has its own causal linkages in the system with definitive feed-backs. An interesting case in point which is now recurring time and again is the Syrian crisis between 2006-2010 and what has now happened to it. (Well, even I have talked about it). A conflict for food and water could turn into a massive Geo-political crisis. An interesting point that could catch the attention of economists is the cost of this crisis and it has indeed caught their eyes this time around in Davos. (this article has a different opinion though).

So, can we change?

The argument is well structured around the development of new technologies especially the renewable energy technologies. The key graphs on how wind has developed in the recent years on the backdrop of falling prices and how the solar energy capacity has exceeded predictions are well portrayed.

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This one though is cliche which even I don’t endorse now!

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The biggest takeaway from the argument was the correlation to the development and penetration of mobile telephony against the backdrop of decreasing prices, increasing quality and the opportunity to leapfrog through technological advancements.

And finally will we change?

Herein lies the optimism. On the backdrop of Paris Agreement and aggressive commitments from all the countries there is hope. It is only a matter of time, the national targets will either motivate the individuals or rather enforce regulations that make them comply. But, motivation from within is what will save the planet. As he concludes, we are in fact solving the climate crisis, it is now just a matter of time before we finally get there.

Hope we get there soon!