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Lower Cost Of Combining Solar And Power System, New Research Shows

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The Solar Trade Association has released a new report [1] which quantifies the cost of integrating solar into the UK power market, for the first time, for today and in a 2030 scenario where solar will provide over 10% of annual UK electricity.

The report will be launched at the STA’s Smart Power event at the Conservative party conference today.

Concerns are sometimes expressed about the variability of solar power (which generates according to daylight intensity) imposing costs on the system; the need for ‘back-up’ is cited as a disadvantage of solar power by critics of renewable energy. There has been uncertainty about what these costs are today and will be in the future. However, the Aurora analysis shows that today the cost of integrating solar into the power system, including ‘back-up’, is negligible at only £1.30 per MWh, or less than 2% of the costs of solar today. [2]

STA Chief Executive Paul Barwell said;

“The tremendous growth in local, clean generation has challenged the old power supply model. Yet Ministers can be reassured that the rapid expansion in solar power over recent years has been absorbed efficiently and affordably by the system.”

The research shows that more than tripling solar generation to 40GW (over 10% of annual UK electricity) would increase the costs of managing variability modestly, to a maximum of £6-£7 per MWh.

This clarity on the costs of integrating large volumes of solar, together with further expected cost reductions in solar installations, supports the STA’s and other analysts’ expectation that solar can be the lowest cost form of energy generation in the 2020’s [3] [4].

However, strikingly the modelling shows integrating solar into a more decentralised, flexible, ‘smarter’ power system, including batteries, actually delivers more benefits than costs to the system. High battery penetration combined with high solar penetration reduces the cost of variability by £10.50 per MWh, resulting in a net £3.70 per MWh benefit. This is because solar combined with batteries allows output to match demand requirements exceptionally closely and requires only a small amount of back up.

The report also highlights and evaluates the portfolio effort of combining solar and wind in the energy system. The modelled scenario follows the ‘High Renewables’ pathway set out by the Committee on Climate Change as a generation mix consistent with the UK’s 2030 carbon budgets. This requires 40GW of solar and 45GW of wind, enough to power 55% of the UK’s electricity system in 2030. The cost impact of solar on the system falls by 25% in this scenario, due to the complementary generation profiles of solar and wind.

Dr Benjamin Irons, a Director at Aurora Energy Research and lead author of the report said;

Recent spectacular technological progress in renewable power generation puts the promise of cheap, low carbon power within reach.

“The challenge of integrating large volumes of renewables into the network in a way that provides reliable power to consumers and an attractive market for complementary generation technologies is the ‘last frontier’ in delivering the power system of tomorrow. Our analysis shows that such integration is possible and surprisingly affordable: the UK could more than triple the amount of solar power on the system by 2030, with associated costs of integration and backup so low as as to be dwarfed by the enormous cost savings anticipated from falling solar prices over the same period. Battery storage aids integration even further, as does a diverse renewable portfolio including wind.”

Welcoming the report, Angus MacNeil MP, Chair of the Common’s Energy and Climate Change Committee said;

“This welcome research puts numbers and maths behind the variability of solar power. It gives a concrete understanding of what solar has to offer compared to other technologies. Combined with reducing capital costs solar is going to be as cheap as source of power as you’ll find anywhere.”

Lord Adair Turner, Chair of the Energy Transitions Commission said;

“Aurora’s report for the Solar Trade Association confirms what an increasing number of analyses are now telling us – that we can build electricity systems with high shares of renewables such as solar and wind, using lower cost batteries, other storage technologies and demand management to deal effectively with intermittent supply. We should not be holding back from further renewables investment out of fear that we can’t keep the lights on.”

Paul Barwell, CEO of the STA added;

“Britain is concerned about its international competitiveness as it exits the EU and moves to ratify the Paris Agreement on climate change. The good news is backing solar power, the UK’s most popular energy technology [5], looks set to enhance UK competitiveness – so there need be no trade-offs.

The report also shows that solar sits right at the heart of the Smart Power agenda, which overall could save consumers billions every year. Solar is an enabling technology which brings down the cost of integrating wind and battery systems. We are on the cusp of an incredibly exciting technological transformation in the power system that the new Department has an exceptional opportunity to drive forwards. If we seize this agenda now, the UK can own the clean energy future.”

Interestingly, the variability cost of integrating 40GW of solar is further reduced by 55% to £3.10 per MWh if Hinkley C is not replaced, because the inflexibility of nuclear power also imposes costs and reduces the economics of flexible generation.

National Audit Office future projections of energy costs in 2025 anticipate solar power will be the most cost-effective technology option [4]. Future fossil prices are notoriously difficult to forecast but, based on recent NAO forecasts, the analysis suggests solar will be exceptionally cost competitive as well as zero carbon. However, the STA warns the solar industry requires a stable policy framework to deliver lowest cost solar.

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The Aurora analysis carefully details the costs of incorporating large volumes of renewable power but more work is required to understand the economic system benefits of a far greater reliance on distributed power; higher levels of UK energy independence & reduced energy imports etc.

The STA has set out an explanation of the report and next step recommendations in a separate document.

Energy

Is Wood Burning Sustainable For Your Home?

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Wood is a classic heat source, whether we think about people gathered around a campfire or wood stoves in old cabins, but is it a sustainable source of heat in modern society? The answer is an ambivalent one. In certain settings, wood heat is an ideal solution, but for the majority of homes, it isn’t especially suitable. So what’s the tipping point?

Wood heat is ideal for small homes on large properties, for individuals who can gather their own wood, and who have modern wood burning ovens. A green approach to wood heat is one of biofuel on the smallest of scales.

Is Biofuel Green?

One of the reasons that wood heat is a source of so much divide in the eco-friendly community is that it’s a renewable resource and renewable has become synonymous with green. What wood heat isn’t, though, is clean or healthy. It lets off a significant amount of carbon and particulates, and trees certainly don’t grow as quickly as it’s consumed for heat.

Of course, wood is a much less harmful source of heat than coal, but for scientists interested in developing green energy sources, it makes more sense to focus on solar and wind power. Why, then, would they invest in improved wood burning technology?

Homegrown Technology

Solar and wind technology are good large-scale energy solutions, but when it comes to small-space heating, wood has its own advantages. First, wood heat is in keeping with the DIY spirit of homesteaders and tiny house enthusiasts. These individuals are more likely to be driven to gather their own wood and live in small spaces that can be effectively heated as such.

Wood heat is also very effective on an individual scale because it requires very little infrastructure. Modern wood stoves made of steel rather than cast iron are built to EPA specifications, and the only additional necessary tools include a quality axe, somewhere to store the wood, and an appropriate covering to keep it dry. And all the wood can come from your own land.

Wood heat is also ideal for people living off the grid or in cold areas prone to frequent power outages, as it’s constantly reliable. Even if the power goes out, you know that you’ll be able to turn up the heat. That’s important if you live somewhere like Maine where the winters can get exceedingly cold. People have even successfully heated a 40’x34’ home with a single stove.

Benefits Of Biomass

The ultimate question regarding wood heat is whether any energy source that’s dangerous on the large scale is acceptable on a smaller one. For now, the best answer is that with a growing population and limited progress towards “pure” green energy, wood should remain a viable option, specifically because it’s used on a limited scale. Biomass heat is even included in the UK’s Renewable Heat Initiative and minor modifications can make it even more sustainable.

Wood stoves, when embraced in conjunction with pellet stoves, geothermal heating, and masonry heaters, all more efficient forms of sustainable heat, should be part of a modern energy strategy. Ultimately, we’re headed in the direction of diversified energy – all of it cleaner – and wood has a place in the big picture, serving small homes and off-the-grid structures, while solar, wind, and other large-scale initiatives fuel our cities.

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Energy

7 Benefits You Should Consider Giving Your Energy Employees

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As an energy startup, you’re always looking to offer the most competitive packages to entice top-tier talent. This can be tough, especially when trying to put something together that’s both affordable but also has perks that employees are after.

After all, this is an incredibly competitive field and one that’s constantly doing what it can to stay ahead. However, that’s why I’m bringing you a few helpful benefits that could be what bolsters you ahead of your competition. Check them out below:

Financial Advising

One benefit commonly overlooked by companies is offering your employees financial advising services, which could help them tremendously in planning for their long-term goals with your firm. This includes anything from budgeting and savings plans to recommendations for credit repair services and investments. Try to take a look at if your energy company could bring on an extra person or two specifically for this role, as it will pay off tremendously regarding retention and employee happiness.

Life Insurance

While often included in a lot of health benefits packages, offering your employees life insurance could be an excellent addition to your current perks. Although seldom used, life insurance is a small sign that shows you care about the life of their family beyond just office hours. Additionally, at such a low cost, this is a pretty simple aspect to add to your packages. Try contacting some brokers or insurance agents to see if you can find a policy that’s right for your firm.

Dedicated Time To Enjoy Their Hobbies

Although something seen more often in startups in Silicon Valley, having dedicated office time for employees to enjoy their passions is something that has shown great results. Whether it be learning the piano or taking on building a video game, having your team spend some time on the things they truly enjoy can translate to increased productivity. Why? Because giving them the ability to better themselves, they’ll in turn bring that to their work as well.

The Ability To Work Remotely

It’s no secret that a lot of employers despise the idea of letting their employees work remotely. However, it’s actually proven to hold some amazing benefits. According to Global Workplace Analytics, 95% of employers that allow their employees to telework reported an increased rate of retention, saving on both turnover and sick days. Depending on the needs of each individual role, this can be a strategy to implement either whenever your team wants or on assigned days. Either way, this is one perk almost everyone will love.

Health Insurance

Even though it’s mandated for companies with over 50 employees, offering health insurance regardless is arguably a benefit well received across the board. In fact, as noted in research compiled by KFF, 28.6% of employers with less than 50 people still offered health care. Why is that the case? Because it shows you care about their well-being, and know that a healthy employee is one that doesn’t have to worry about astronomical medical bills.

Unlimited Time Off

This is a perk that almost no employer offers but should be regarded as something to consider. According to The Washington Post, only 1-2% of companies offer unlimited vacation, which it’s easy to see why. A true “unlimited vacation” program could be a firm’s worse nightmare, with employees skipping out every other week to enjoy themselves. However, with the right model in place that rewards hard work with days off, your employees will absolutely adore this policy.

A Full Pantry

Finally, having a pantry full of food can be one perk that’s not only relatively inexpensive but also adds to the value of the workplace. As noted by USA Today, when surveying employees who had snacks versus those who didn’t, 67% of those who did reported they were “very happy” with their work life. You’d be surprised at how much of a difference this could make, especially when considering the price point. Consider adding a kitchen to your office if you haven’t already, and always keep the snacks and drinks everyone wants fully stocked. Doing so will increase morale tremendously.

Final Thoughts

Compiling a great package for your energy company is going to take some time in looking at what you can afford versus what’s the most you can offer. While it might mean cutting back in other areas, having a workforce that feels like you genuinely want to take care of them can take you far. And with so many different benefits to include in your energy company’s package, which one is your favorite? Comment with your answers below!

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