Renewable Energy is Gaining Ground…And the Future is Digital
March 01, 2016
GE Reports Canada
When the international Globe 2016 Leadership Summit on business and sustainability opens tomorrow in Vancouver, delegates will have fresh statistics to consider. Among them: Renewable energy accounted for 50 percent of all new electricity-generating capacity installed worldwide in 2014 and renewables are now the second largest source of global electricity generation, behind only coal.
Those data points come from a new white paper, “The Renewable Energy Era,” by Brandon Owens, Director of Strategy and Analytics for GE Ecomagination. It demonstrates that cost-competitive and environmentally sustainable technologies are no longer a distant dream. They are a reality. That’s an important theme for the business, government and social leaders attending Globe 2016 in the wake of climate commitments flowing from last fall’s COP21 meetings in Paris.
Deb Frodl, executive director of Ecomagination, will take a deeper look at the findings from “The Renewable Energy Era” during her own presentation on the opening day of the conference (which follows a keynote address by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau). In the meantime, here are some of the paper’s key takeaways:
Lower Prices, Greater Efficiency and Demand
The transition to renewable energy is being driven by several factors, most notably: the growth in worldwide demand for electricity; policies that have developed in response to climate change and the desire for increased domestic energy security around the world; and because renewable power technologies have become increasingly cost competitive over the last decade. The most dramatic cost reductions have occurred in solar photovoltaics (PV) technologies, which have seen price reductions of more than 50 percent since 2009. With declining costs and expanding capacity, and with government support, solar power has taken off.
GE has also made major strides in wind technology by improving the effectiveness of wind turbines through innovation in designs, materials, process and logistics. The latest innovation is GE’s Digital Wind Farm, a “wind-energy ecosystem” that, over the course of a wind farm’s life, can improve its energy output by up to 20 percent, compared to an average North American installation.
The ultimate goal is to increase the productivity of wind turbines without increasing the size and weight of the turbines so that they can more easily be removed to remote locations.
Canada is a major contributor to the worldwide trend in building renewable energy capacity. To mark the opening of the Globe 2016 Leadership Summit in Vancouver, GEreports.ca has released a new version of its Wind Energy in Canada map, an interactive view of 248 wind projects (completed or in development), coast to coast to coast. All told, these projects are now generating more than 11,000 MW of power. Click here to explore the interactive map.
More Innovation is Needed
Challenges still need to be overcome in order to deliver reliable and low-cost power with a reduced environmental footprint. There is a need to expand access, improve system operations and develop rules for market evolution. Technologies within the electrical system must become more flexible, and there needs to be greater utilization of the existing grid-friendly capabilities of renewables, and new capabilities developed. As well, more sophisticated methods of forecasting the wind and sun, and cost-competitive energy storage solutions, will be needed to allow renewables to become more predictable and to better manage variability.
The Future of Renewables is Digital
GE forecasts that renewables (hydropower, wind, solar) will account for 50 percent of total global electric power capacity additions between 2015 and 2020. The company further estimates that this will lead to a 13 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020, compared to what there would be without renewable sources. All told, GE estimates that 730 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy capacity will be added to the global power system through 2020.
GE believes the future of clean energy lies in a blend of physical and digital technology. One key is making renewable forms of technology grid friendly. Increasingly, renewables are being added as part of integrated systems that can contain conventional and renewable energy technologies. Hybrid natural gas and solar PV systems are one example of this emerging trend.
More than 100 years ago, GE imagined a world where humankind was able to successfully harness the power of the sun, wind, and sea. Today that world is finally taking shape.