“The Future is Now”: World Bank on Renewable Energy

I thought a good way to kick off this blog would be to write a short post that hammers home the point that renewable energy has come of age, and that the final barriers to widespread implementation are falling by the wayside. To highlight this, I call your attention to a featured article by the World Bank this month, “The Renewable Electricity Grid: The Future Is Now“, which summarizes a recently published report by the World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP).

A lot of changes have occurred in even just the last couple of years that render many traditionally-held views on integrating large amounts of renewable energy incorrect. As such, the report provides excellent information for policy-makers, regulators and utilities on integrating renewables into electricity grids.

Renewables are no longer a marginal business. We are talking about levels of energy that can bring light to thousands of households, grow businesses, meet the needs of cities, and drive entire economies. Anita Marangoly George
Senior Director, Energy and Extractives Global Practice, World Bank Group

Some highlights from the article/report include:

  • High levels of renewable energy like wind and solar can be incorporated into power grids without compromising reliability or affordability
  • Energy storage can address the most challenging aspects of integration
  • Utilities will need to rethink their business models in light of combined consumers and distributed generators (i.e. prosumers)
  • Natural gas power has the edge over coal or nuclear since it can ramp up and down quickly

While these points might be clear to those of us working in the renewable energy sector, in my work on policy I continue to discover that there are many persisting misconceptions among utilities, regulators, and the general public. For example, it is often repeated as “obvious” that wind and solar plants need one-to-one backup by fossil fuel plants for when the wind doesn’t blow or sun doesn’t shine — this report dispels this myth, and I hope this message can finally propagate far and wide!

It is an exciting time in the energy sector: green energy is undermining the US coal industry, and global carbon emissions have stopped rising for the first time in 40 years. It’s time for society to further accelerate the deployment of green energy — even conservative financial institutions like the World Bank are on board. The future is now!

P.S. As this is my first post, I will remind you that you can read more about New Energy Nation in the About section and more about me in the Authors section. And don’t forget to sign up for the mailing list and follow the site on social media. And do let me know your thoughts below!

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8 comments

  1. John Koontz says:

    Glad you’re taking this on Antonio… Some questions/thoughts for subsequent posts:

    Isn’t natural gas’ edge over coal and nuclear also ease of bringing on new capacity (v. nuclear) and current shale pricing and new CO2 regs from EPA? I’m interested in understanding what happens when fracking and methane leakage associated with nat gas are as unpopular as mountaintop removal, acid mine drainage, coal waste pond damn breaks and CO2 emissions (things that contributed to slow demise of coal generation). All well and good to switch away from coal to natural gas as a bridge, but are we truly prepared for the next bridge. Battery costs continue to come down but I often wonder why efficiency is still only given modest air time.

    I’m also curious about policy in developed nations versus developing nations and how we continue to convince the developing world to choose a different path to the prosperity we enjoy…

    Nuclear discussion seems relatively quiet a few years post Fukushima. Germany is replacing a lot of nuc capacity with coal, as so many Americans like to point out. Is anybody more credible than EIA projecting nuc capacity changes going forward? Have we considered what bridge to use if societies finally pull plug on nucs in a big way?

    Finally, water issues as they relate to energy production seem to only be coming to light. In VA we use some 7 billion gallons of water each day and over 5 billion go to a handful of nuclear and coal plants. Fracking and nat gas production have water footprints worth considering too. As water acquifers continue to fall and droughts persist, will the energy industry prepare in advance or are we doomed to learn late and play catchup?

    Good luck and I look forward to reading more…

    • Very interesting points you bring up John! In fact, each of them could take up several articles… You are right that natural gas should be a bridge, but we need to be prepared for the future beyond the bridge.
      Re: coal “renaissance” as reported by the US media — this is not exactly true. Rather, those plants were already green-lit before Fukushima. A good article on this is by Craig Morris http://energytransition.de/2014/06/german-coal-conundrum/ (“an in-depth look reveals that the growth of renewables has more than replaced nuclear power over the past decade. Coal is not making a comeback in Germany”).

      • Great start Antonio! I agree that John makes some great comments that are truly worthy of their own blog posts. Having just come back from a week in Germany learning about Energiewende, I agree the German coal ‘story’ presented is just that -a fiction – but needs hammering home (with a fist!). I would also agree that energy efficiency is the ‘ugly step sister’ in many people’s minds but again Germany’s national targets will blow up most utilities’ current business models: 20% by 2020 and 50% by 2050. Lastly, if the economics of decentralized power don’t kill new central plant (never mind just nuclear) construction then ‘one pass’ water use just surely be the nail in the coffin. I think New Energy Nation is on its way……hopefully with a velvet glove on that turbine clenching fist. After all we want to persuade not just pummel!

  2. Good luck with your blog Antonio!
    Now I will have a place to read provocative energy related posts and to answer back with more provocative comments 🙂

    Regarding renewables coming of age…sure we are there with respect to public demand and state funding (i.e. feed-in tariffs are becoming a thing of the past). However I am not quite sure if the economics of Renewable Energy are still able to compete one-to-one on an LCOE level (COE is easy 😉 ).

    Do we really have wind turbines running for 20 years without major damages? Do large scale PV plants do the same? Is that a…standard case or just the success stories?

    Overall I tend to agree with the world bank report…but there is also a lot improve. I believe that renewables…especially multi MW, grid connected. ..are still during their pre-maturity phase.

  3. Bertrand Guillot says:

    Hey Antonio, great idea!

    Actually coal power plants can be made flexible. This is just another proof that utilities are just lazy and don’t spend a dime on R&D. Another way of increasing flexibility is by having a link between the power demand and the heat/cold demand. See Denmark for both :

    http://www.martinot.info/renewables2050/how-is-denmark-integrating-and-balancing-renewable-energy-today

    Georges, maybe you should stop evaluating yourself and start comparing instead… Did you ever see one of those large fossil based power plants being built on time and budget ? And try to ask their owners to sell you power at a fixed price for 20 years (they won’t even do that for a length of time more than 2 years, insuring the intermittent affordability of fossil fuel is not cheap).

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