Covid-19 weekly briefing: Evidence abounds of renewable energy gains at the expense of fossil fuels as the clamor for a green recovery rises

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English consultancy Cornwall Insights today produced more evidence renewable energy sources are carrying the Covid-19 lockdown electricity mix, with gas and coal generation relegated to load peaking services.

The analyst calculated falls in power demand and in the carbon intensity of electricity generated in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the U.K. from March 23, when the U.K. lockdown started, until April 20. Year-on-year falls in average demand ranged from 11.5% in Germany to 17.2% in the U.K. and carbon intensity reductions varied from 15.9% in Italy to 35.9% in Germany.

“Many system operators are now proving able to manage grids at 70% or more renewable energy and with a much lower level of demand than would, even a few months ago, have been expected,” said Tom Andrews, senior analyst at Cornwall Insight. “The generation balance is likely to return to normal as countries come off lockdown. However, this has demonstrated that managing a grid with high renewable penetration is feasible. This may become the new normal as more renewable generation is deployed across Europe.”

Environmental campaign group Europe Beyond Coal reported Portugal yesterday set a new, 52-day record run without coal-fired power generation. Falling energy demand, driven by the Covid-19 shutdown has battered fossil fuel energy generation, with the share of Portugal’s electricity generation mix supplied by renewables having risen from 63% to 77% in the last two months, according to the lobby group.

A green recovery

U.K. industry body the Solar Trade Association (STA) has welcomed the recommendation made by government advisory body the Committee on Climate Change today to embed greenhouse gas emission reduction and address climate change as an essential part of the post-Covid-19 economic recovery. STA chief executive Chris Hewett said: “The government must not miss this golden chance to place renewables at the heart of the recovery. Solar and energy storage in particular offer swift, job-intensive opportunities for growth, with average ground-mount sites able to be built in a few months and rooftop installations often taking only a day or two. There is an 8 GW pipeline of solar projects ready to be unlocked.”

The Solea subsidiary of French automation company Sirea has developed a disinfectant maker which can produce 8-16 liters per day when powered by solar electricity. The machine, which uses hydrolysis to create the liquid, could be particularly suitable for Africa and other off-grid markets.

Lennie Moreno, chief executive of solar sales platform developer Sofdesk, will take part in a pv magazine USA webinar tonight discussing how PV installers and financiers can maximize their sales process in the age of social distancing. Registration is available here for the webinar, which is due to start at 8pm (CET).

Renewables role

In Australia too, calls have been made for a renewables-led economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis. Proponents say the approach could encourage investment and speed up the country’s energy transition. A report published by renewables association the Clean Energy Council yesterday suggested bringing forward gigawatts worth of clean energy projects in the development pipeline would create more than 50,000 new jobs directly – plus many more indirect construction jobs; would triple the amount of large scale renewable generation capacity installed in Australia by the addition of more than 30 GW of new projects; and would inject AU$50 billion (US$32.2 billion) of investment into the Australian economy – much of it in rural and regional areas.

Analyst the India Ratings and Research Agency yesterday reported thermal power generation during March was down 11.1% on last year’s figure as fossil fuels bore the brunt of falling power demand caused by the nation’s Covid-19 lockdown. Renewables – including hydro – and nuclear have been unaffected due to their ‘must-run’ status.

A study of permitting figures and online searches has revealed national residential solar installers are weathering the Covid-19 storm in the U.S. better than smaller rivals, who may suffer from less brand recognition and online presence. Wes De Silvestro and Raymond Wang, founders of the Civology start-up which uses tech to combat climate change, conducted research which revealed national player Vivint has experienced only a 2% fall-off in consumer interest since the U.S. lockdowns began. SunRun and Tesla were off 55% and 80%, respectively, and permitting numbers indicated local installers were carrying out 45% fewer projects than their national peers since the coronavirus measures were introduced.

Access denied

The Mexican electricity market regulator has blocked grid connections for all new solar and wind projects since Sunday, and until further notice, citing the need to protect energy security during the Covid-19 crisis. Critics allege a regime hostile to renewables is using the pandemic as an excuse.

Nigerian solar company Green Village Electricity (GVE) has installed PV systems to power Covid-19 isolation and treatment centers in the states of Enugu and Rivers, funded by the All On impact investment fund established by oil major Shell. Port Harcourt-based GVE said it is working with partners to supply free electricity to 21 health centers which feature on the mini-grids it operates in eight Nigerian states, as well as to other healthcare facilities nationwide. The project partners are The IEEE Smart Village impact investment fund operated by the New Jersey-based Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Chinese PV manufacturer JinkoSolar, French solar inverter supplier Schneider Electric, Nigerian oil and gas company Ardova plc and Lagos-based engineer Tranos.

The Turkish energy regulator has postponed the monthly meetings of a technical committee which evaluates solar net metering applications, effectively halting the roll-out of new net-metered arrays until further notice. The regulator cited the risk of Covid-19 spreading at the gatherings but solar companies have pointed out the committee could carry out its work remotely.

Back in business

Indian PV manufacturer, installer and project developer MicroSun Solar resumed operations on Monday. The Bangalore-based business said its manufacturing facility in its home city and its warehouses across India had been shut since a national Covid-19 lockdown was imposed on March 24. The company said its working arrangements now include social distancing, compulsory masks and twice daily monitoring of employee body temperatures.

Troubled solar cell and module maker China Solar’s long-running attempt to resume trading in shares suspended on the Hong Kong exchange since August 2013 has been interrupted by the Covid-19 outbreak. The public health crisis has held up due diligence on proposed transactions to help the company back into operation with the help of funding from real estate and logistics magnate Cheung Shun Lee.

With the government of Bangladesh extending a coronavirus-prompted industrial shutdown into the middle of the month, solar manufacturers have demanded a near-$59 million, five-year support package of loans, grants and tax incentives from the authorities, to help them survive the crisis.

Subsidies maintained

Plans to amend the level of subsidy for solar projects in the Brussels region of Belgium at the start of next month have been postponed until New Year’s Day, in a bid to help the local industry through the Covid-19 crisis.

Although the Covid-19 pandemic is threatening policies introduced to combat climate change, governments formulating state bail-outs for carbon-intensive industries should avoid the temptation to add short-term environmental conditions to any state aid, according to ETH Zurich senior researcher Bjarne Steffen. The academic – speaking at a machine learning and climate change workshop held by academic and machine learning industry group Climate Change AI at the International Conference on Learning Representations – said governments should instead take a longer-term view on abating carbon emissions, for instance by insisting on stakes in bailed-out companies.

Rise of renewables

The International Energy Agency (IEA)’s Global Energy Review report on Thursday supported the view renewables are the only power generation source which is experiencing rising demand and penetration amid the slump in energy demand brought on by Covid-19 industrial shutdowns. Priority dispatch for renewables and lower operating costs mean the IEA expects solar, wind and hydropower to experience an uplift during the public health crisis and subsequent economic recovery.

Chinese solar project developer GCL New Energy announced attendees to a crucial shareholder vote planned for May 21 in Hong Kong will have to bring their own face masks and temperature testing will be obligatory.

Israel’s ILS25 billion ($7.1 billion) Covid-19 recovery plan includes ILS6.5 billion to pay for 2 GW of new solar generation capacity.