Saturday, August 15, 2020

Renewables up, gas down, and coal at less than half capacity

Interesting report by think tank Ember on state of energy transition, comparing the first half of 2020 to 2019 and also looking back to 2015. Over five years, solar and wind doubled worldwide from 5 to 10 percent of generation, and coal's share unsurprisingly decreased by 5 percent in that period.

Comparing first halves of 2020 and 2019, solar and wind generation rose 14% despite decreasing electricity demand due to covid, while gas decreased 1.6%. This is an especially early indicator of renewables starting to outcompete and reduce gas generation, not just coal, even without fully pricing carbon. I say "especially early" because I assume gas will bounce back for 5-10 years as electricity demand recovers and gas has more opportunity to replace coal. But as renewables rise into the range of 15-25% of the total, they'll take out some gas generation.

Coal took the biggest hit in generation in 2020, falling 8.3% compared to 2019, again unsurprising that in a period of reduced demand, the most expensive operating-cost input would decrease the most. With that, already somewhat-idle coal plants dropped to now using 47% of their capacity.

Plants straining at 100% capacity are probably not the most efficient, but neither are plants that are mostly unused. In a free market a lot of these plants would probably be closed down permanently. Most places don't have a free market, but they still are influenced by economic forces. If demand for coal doesn't go up after covid, and it's doubtful it will outside of Asia, then I'd expect to eventually see shutdowns.

So good news globally, although as the report says, this decline still isn't fast enough to keep warming to 1.5C. We're really going to have to work on carbon-negative policies.

In the US specifically, a mixed bag: coal's taken a huge hit, generation down 31% and capacity at 32%. OTOH gas generation increased 7% - not as much as solar/wind's 16% but more in overall watts, for now. Still not a bad result with an anti-science, pro-coal administration. Let's look forward to January 2021, hopefully.

Note BTW that I used "renewable" and solar/wind interchangeably for purposes of this discussion although renewables is a bigger/more amorphous category. Also some wags might point out that solar/wind typically operate at significantly less than 47% capacity, but the difference is that they are designed and priced at the level of generation compared to capacity, and coal is not.


David B. Benson said...

Despite it all the Keeling curve keeps rising:


"We're really going to have to work on carbon-negative policies."

Any room in your playbook for radiation forcing negative policies?

Unknown said...

Climate Wars - raising the albedo of built environments seems like a no-brainer to me, although limited.

Cloud-seeding to replace marine cloud layers lost to climate change may be a good idea, although I don't know enough about that.

There are some ideas to preserve snow cover and glaciers that sound pretty far-fetched but maybe something will come of them. is a great idea, AFAICT.

Stratospheric stuff sounds really sketchy to me, although we might get desperate enough to do a modest amount (not enough to fully counteract warming) while we ratchet emissions down.

Brian said...

That last one was me, btw.

bjchip said...

Keen, Grasselli and Garrett have published something new and interesting.