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168 Hours on 100% Renewables

168 Hours on 100% Renewables: Qinghai’s Trail Means More Potential for Governments and Companies to Go Green.

For seven days — from June 17th to 23rd — China’s Qinghai province ran on 100% renewable energy, including solar, wind, and hydropower. During that time, the province generated 1.1 billion kilowatt hours of energy for over 5.6 million residents. That’s equal to burning 535,000 tons of coal.

The week was part of a trial conducted by the State Grid Corporation of China, which aims to test the viability of relying on renewables long-term. This successful experiment in part proves China’s dedication to fulfill its commitment to the Paris Agreement, peaking its coal consumption and reducing its carbon intensity by 60%-65% by 2030, as well as its hope to produce 20% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. It also demonstrates that running largely on renewable power — at least in certain places — is technically feasible. We hope this will embolden governments and companies to envision a future with more renewables in their energy mix.

Big Hydro and Weak Demand Critical

The geographic location of Qinghai is rich in solar and hydro resources. Out of Qinghai’s 23.4 GW of total power generation capacity, around 82% is from renewable sources (including hydro). Solar alone accounts of 29.1% of all capacity installed, registering as the second largest power source of the province. By 2020, the province plans to expand its clean energy capacity to 35 GW, which could supply 110 TWh of clean energy annually. Ample summer rainfall is a significant contributor, as hydropower accounted for approximately 72% of the electricity generated during the seven days.

Apart from strong hydro output, Qinghai’s low power demand is also an important reason for this trail to success, something difficult for other places to replicate. The average daily power demand is 150 million kWh, only 15% of that of the much more developed Zhejiang province (1 billion kWh daily demand) for example.

Running on solar, wind and hydro, Qinghai has shown the technical viability of going 100% renewable and it proved that the grid is stable when supported by a variety of renewable sources. This test helped China’s grid operators to accumulate technical experience in deciding how much power should be supplied by which sources.

More renewable energy also makes economic sense for Qinghai. “On-grid price of hydro power is 0.201 yuan/kWh, while coal power is 0.325 yuan/kWh. Coal is 0.124 yuan more expensive than hydro per kWh. It´s also cheaper for grid companies obviously. In another word, it is economically viable.” Xiaoping Xie, president of Huanghe Hydropower Development Company said in an interview.

Calling Higher Ambitions

Yunnan, Sichuan and other provinces rich in renewable resources, that have installed many renewables are also in the condition of accomplishing something similar, although they have not announced such intentions as of yet. Such government-led pilot schemes have shown that the Chinese government is willing to fulfill its commitment to clean energy.

In addition to the government’s role, companies around the world have stepped up  their effort by setting renewable targets. 23 Leading Fortune 500 companies have gone a step further by integrating a 100% renewable energy commitment into their business strategy. For example, Google has promised that by 2018, every click on Google will be powered by renewable energy.

Qinghai’s 100% renewable energy trail provides an important signal to governments and companies alike, that high percentage of renewable energy power mix is no longer just a vision but a reality, and that adoption will only grow higher going forward. For companies that care about their energy footprint, this trial — and the broader direction it signals — not only mean that their own effort to procure clean energy will create synergies with government initiatives, but also that electricity generated from their renewable projects will be better absorbed by their grids and communities, allowing them to reduce curtailment risks and contribute more to local communities.

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Future Energy: China leads world in solar power production

Ten years ago, Geof Moser had just graduated with a master’s degree in solar energy from Arizona State University – but he didn’t feel much opportunity lay at his feet in his home country.

So he headed for China.

“The solar industry was fairly small and there weren’t a lot of jobs,” he remembers. “Just a few for installation.” But the Chinese government had big ambitions to expand solar and Moser saw his chance.

He spent some years accumulating knowledge about the Chinese solar industry, before co-founding Symtech Solar, which designs solar panel systems using Chinese parts.

Market access

The idea is to make it easy for organisations outside China to access components without the hassle of having to source and assemble lots of different parts.

“You don’t want to buy a car door or a car engine, you want to buy a car,” he explains.

Symtech now has a portfolio of small projects dotted around the world and it is hoping to increase installations in the Middle East, thanks to a new office in Oman.

Moser isn’t the only US entrepreneur who turned to China. Alex Shoer, of Seeder, helped to launch a business that brings solar panels to the roofs of buildings within the country.

He deals with foreign businesses who, say, want to make their Beijing office a little greener. The firm says it has so far erected three megawatts’ worth of solar installations, with another 28 megawatts on the way for various clients.

“We will source the capital to finance, pay for the whole project and then sell the power at a discount,” Shoer says. Again, the model relies on sourcing the right parts at a favourable cost.

These kind of installations are known as “distributed generation” projects, in which electricity is produced on a small scale, at or very near to a specific point of consumption.

Within China, distributed generation is growing at an extraordinary rate, driven in large part by farmers who use the panels to power agricultural equipment that might not be connected to the grid.

Shoer comments that he was attracted by Beijing’s commitment to the solar industry. For years it has encouraged local authorities to do what they can to boostproduction, research and development.

Renewables growth

China’s rapid expansion of renewable energy facilities has since caught headlines around the world.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the country installed more than 34 gigawatts of solar capacity in 2016 – more than double the figure for the US and nearly half of the total added capacity worldwide that year.

Early figures for 2017 show China has added another eight gigawatts in the first quarter alone.

“It’s a huge market,” says Heymi Bahar at the IEA. Most of the world’s solar cells are made in China and Taiwan, he adds – more than 60%.

The impressive scale doesn’t stop there. The largest solar farm in the world – Longyangxia Dam Solar Park, all 30sq km of it – is a Chinese project. And the country recently opened the world’s largest floating solar farm, in Huainan, Anhui Province.

It has been constructed over an old coal mine, which over the years had filled with rainwater. Sungrow, the Chinese firm that provided solar cells for the venture, says its system automatically monitors current and voltage generated by the cells, along with humidity, which can affect their efficiency.

Because of the abundant water nearby, cleaning the panels – an endless task for solar farmers – will be easier, according to those behind the facility.

These mega projects have become possible, and indeed more common, thanks to the rapidly falling cost of solar cells.

“What we were all hoping for 20 years ago when the idea of cheap solar was just a dream, was that someone would come into this on an industrial scale and drive down the cost,” recalls Charles Donovan, at Imperial College Business School.

“That is exactly what China has done.”

But today, solar energy production accounts for just 1% of China’s total energy demand. A huge 66% of demand still comes from coal, something that the country’s National Energy Administration wants to change drastically by 2050 – not least because of China’s well-known air pollution problems.

But by that key date of 2050, a very different mix of energies could be powering China, should some projections become reality. One government report even suggested that renewables could supply 86% of the country’s energy needs, with solar providing around a third of that.

Can China do it? According to one expert observer, the answer is, “maybe”.

“What China is trying to do is rationalise a very large, fast growing system,” explains Jeffrey Ball at Stanford University’s Center for Energy Policy and Finance. Ball is the lead author of a recent report that details China’s success as an innovator in the solar panel industry.

Lofty ambitions

But as Ball points out, the revolution has not been without teething issues. For one thing, Chinese subsidies, which some argue are unsustainable, have not always been smoothly administered. The “feed-in tariff”, for example, often offered to solar companies that generate electricity, has sometimes been paid late.

“The government is often a year or more late in delivering that revenue – that wreaks havoc with the financials on a project,” says Ball.

The value of subsidies has recently been cut, too. What’s more, China’s large solar farms are largely in less densely populated areas in the west of the country, far from population centres like Beijing or Shanghai, in the east.

Building extra grid capacity to transfer it is time-consuming and expensive. This leads to a problem known as curtailment – a solar farm produces, say, 20 megawatts of electricity but can only find buyers for 15 megawatts.

More from Future Energy

“Depending on who you talk to in the provinces that have by far the largest amount of solar production, curtailment rates are 30% and in some cases significantly higher than 30% – that’s extraordinary and that’s a real problem,” explains Ball.

Whether China can achieve its lofty ambitions for renewable energy remains to be seen – but it has certainly proved its ability to foster a world-leading solar industry. For US entrepreneurs like Geof Moser, that’s enough to propel his own business towards further growth for now.

“The reality is that renewable energy is very cheap – especially solar energy,” he says. “And the reason is China.”

Reference link: http://www.bbc.com/news/business-40341833

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China Paves Way to Allow Clean Energy Purchase from Nearby Distributed Sources

Corporations keen to source clean energy understand the advantages of distributed generation. Apple, a leader in corporate renewable energy purchase, wrote in its Environmental Responsibility Report that “Apple’s renewable energy approach goes a step further to make sure we ‘deposit’ on the same grid as the energy we are ‘withdrawing.’” This preference is because distributed generation (DG) faces less power loss during transmission, no curtailment risks, and corporates can contribute to local economies and communities.

But China’s not-so-liberal power market has so far prevented a consumer from buying electricity from nearby distributed generators. Electricity from a rooftop solar project, for example, can either be used by the building directly beneath, or be sold back to the grid – and dispatched just like electrons from any other source.

This past month, China’s National Energy Administration (NEA) finally made a big step to break that restriction, by introducing a draft policy on “distributed power trading pilots.” In the draft, distributed energy projects can sell power to nearby consumers, and the grid company will charge a “transmission fee” when delivering power. Some preliminary details below:

  • For the first batch of pilots, power retail would only be allowed in very small areas. Power sellers and buyers should be in the same 35kV power supply network – which is normally a district in cities like Shanghai – or the same 110kV network when it is the lowest voltage network, such as in industrial parks.

  • Distributed power generators can sell power in three ways: 1) They can trade directly with an end consumer within an 110kV network; 2) They can also delegate the grid company to sell power; 3) Or they can choose not to participate in the retail market and have the grid company purchase all of its electricity. For a buyer, this means it can purchase power from a DG source directly or from the grid for DG electricity.

  • The government will acknowledge clean energy purchased through this mechanism when measuring a company’s clean energy and energy saving efforts. For carbon credits, the buyer and seller can settle attribution among themselves directly.

  • The policy is subject to distributed power projects with installed capacity below 20MW. City- and province-level grid companies will set up trading platforms.

Testing the water cautiously, the government will announce the first batch of pilots by May 31st, and trading is to start on July 1st. At the end of 2017, it will decide whether and how to expand the pilot area.

We expect power retail pilots to be set up in limited areas at first – an easy starting point would be in industrial parks where power networks are more independent. Even with the small scale, this is an encouraging sign that Beijing is opening up power retail specifically for the distributed market. Furthermore, NEA specifically mentioned that the retail policy will not affect the current subsidy scheme for distributed renewables.

For corporations, this policy means that in the near future, more clean energy sourcing options will be available. Corporates will be able to support distributed projects that will create environmental and economic value locally.


For Greener Skyscrapers, Basic Building Materials Are Being Reinvented

Originally published here on November 12, 201411:48 PM ET

The world's tallest timber residential tower, 10 stories, in currently in Melbourne, Australia, though a 14-story Norwegian project may top it in 2015.

The world’s tallest timber residential tower, 10 stories, in currently in Melbourne, Australia, though a 14-story Norwegian project may top it in 2015.

Courtesy of Lend Lease

In a head-spinning step, a handful of researchers from Cambridge, England, are experimenting with one of man’s oldest building materials — the kind from trees — instead of steel as the primary structure for big buildings. And they’re aiming really, really high.

Already, there is one timber apartment building with nine stories in London, a 10-story structure in Melbourne and a 14-story building in Norway. But all that is dwarfed by talk of a wooden building that someday could reach 70 stories into the sky. That’s just seven fewer floors than the Chrysler Building in New York City.

Architectural engineers behind the idea, which has recently been gaining momentum, say they are looking for cheaper and more environmentally friendly materials to use than steel and concrete, the materials that have dominated tall buildings since the early part of the 20th century. But relying on timber takes some doing; for it to succeed, it will require not just great architectural skills but the expertise of biochemists.

It doesn’t take a degree in architecture, of course, to know that wood has long been considered too weak for high rises — not to mention a towering inferno just waiting to ignite. Indeed, builders have been far more likely to opt for steel for both medium- and large-scale structures.

Yet environmentalists long have argued that the construction world urgently needs to become greener. For years, the creation of homes, offices and skyscrapers has been one of the biggest contributors to climate change. All told, these activities lead to nearly half of the U.S. global CO2 emissions. By 2050, the U.N. estimates that nearly 80 percent of the world will live in urban areas, adding up to a lot of planet-damning construction unless something changes — and soon.

Scientists are making inroads by studying certain building materials, including wood and concrete, at the molecular level.

To Go Big, Starting Small

Cambridge University has set its sights set on creating that 70-story skyscraper made out of timber. For now, it’s in the design stage, but by better understanding the molecular and cellular structure of wood, professor Michael Ramage and his team from the university’s department of architecture say they are certain they can strengthen the materials of a wooden building at the weakest points — where the giant timber slabs connect at walls and floors.

“I think there’s quite a lot to be gained from looking at the smallest level of building blocks and working upwards,” says Ramage.

To accomplish this, they will need to deconstruct how plants get their strength from the rigid cellulose wall surrounding each cell, which means the architecture department is partnering with the department of biochemistry and professor Paul Dupree, who is applying what he’s learned studying biofuels.

Translation: They’re genetically engineering stronger plants and unlocking the potential for (sun-fed, sustainable) wood.

Ramage and his researchers also are working to strengthen existing plant materials by impregnating them with polymers. Already the team has had enough success in modifying the structures of spruce and willow to net a five-year, $2.8 million grant to advance its research and attract commercial interest.

Charring Vs. Melting

Surprisingly, wooden skyscrapers aren’t as prone to fire as one might think. While small homes go up like kindling, “massive timber buildings are not flammable,” Ramage says, because the surface of timber burns and chars just enough to provide a good insulator that protects the interior.

“Looked after properly, wood can be just as sturdy as brick, and is more resilient,” he says.

Steel, meanwhile, is more vulnerable to heat than people often realize. The material itself doesn’t burn, but everything around it does, heating up the alloys and weakening them.

Saving Cement

Then there’s concrete. While hugely useful — concrete absorbs heat by the day and releases it by night — it’s not considered a green material. On its own, concrete’s primary ingredient, cement, accounts for 5 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, and its production is growing 2.5 percent annually.

As the most-used construction material on the planet, concrete is an easy target for environmentalists, but nobody has fully understood how it worked at the molecular level — until recently. By getting to the heart of what’s in the substance, MIT professor Roland Pellenq and his team may just save concrete’s reputation.

“There’s no other solution to sheltering mankind in a durable way,” Pellenq has said.

While cement combines different materials in various ratios, no one had studied the material’s differing molecular structures in detail until Pellenq came along. His work has proven that reducing the ratio of certain materials can make concrete nearly twice as resistant to fractures, while cutting concrete emissions by as much as half. In short, he and his team are paving the path for stronger, greener concrete.

The next steps will require ratcheting up production to suit the building sector, and Pellenq expects a great deal of interest from construction, gas and oil industries.

China Embraces Growth with Vertical Cities

The United States has 9 cities with a population of 1,000,000 or more. China has 140- and that number is growing. China’s cities will not be like Los Angeles or Phoenix, however. Instead of sprawling expanses of suburbs and single family homes that stretch from horizon to horizon, China wants its cities to grow UPWARD rather than outward.

Thirty years ago, most people in China were farmers. By 2011, half lived in cities. By 2030 it is estimated one billion people, or 70% of the population, will be urbanites. After the great global economic meltdown of 2008 caused a dramatic decrease in Chinese exports, the government decided to focus more on domestic spending.  Premier Li Keqiang has called urabanization a “huge engine” for growth. What the Chinese government wants now is more and bigger cities to fuel that engine.


The 2000' Shanghai Tower Photo: Imaginechina/Rex


Construction in China, then, is booming. The world’s second-tallest building, the Shanghai Tower, is due to be completed next year- and that’s just one of many examples of mega-architecture going up. In fact, within 5 years, experts expect that 6 of the 10 tallest buildings in the world will be located within its borders.

Architects and city planners are focusing on creating enormous interconnected vertical cities- structures like the Cloud Citizen in the city of Shenzen, which will be a mini-city within a city and which are similar, in concept, to the “self contained” city in a mine concept we shared a few weeks ago. It will have offices, parks, cultural facilities and homes with an ability to harvest rainwater, produce food and create power from the sun, wind and algae. Some think the denizens of these enormous structures may be born, live their entire lives and die without ever leaving their designated building.

Antony Wood, executive director of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, a non-profit organisation that keeps the world’s largest database on skyscrapers, tells The Guardian, “It’s no accident that every science-fiction film, from Metropolis to Blade Runner through to Star Wars, envisages the dense, multi-level city of the future. The reason is because it completely makes sense.”


Zhongnan Centre will be the world's 3rd tallest building.

Zhongnan Centre will be the world’s 3rd tallest building.


Vertical Cities are the Future

The United Nations Population Division projects that by 2050, two thirds of the world’s population will live in urban environments, up from 54% today. Factoring in population growth, that translates into 2.5 billion more people living in cities than there are today.

Yosuke Hayano, principal partner of MAD Architects in Beijing says “We have to find the solution of how to move towards more density but to keep the human scale. People are very sensitive to space.” MAD uses the concept of shan shui (“mountain water”) in its designs – a reference to the way cities were strategically positioned in ancient China near rivers and mountains.

The mammoth 5 million square foot Zendai Himalayas Center under construction in the city of Nanjing features a ring of undulating hill-shaped “towers” around a cluster of low buildings with vertical louvers creating the impression of waterfalls. This mimicry of nature, MAD believes, imbues urban environments with humanity.

Ole Scheeren, a German architect based in China and Hong Kong, thinks architects need to “move away from the isolation that is embedded in the typology of the tower”. He adds, “Where towers used to be relatively monotonous and simple repetitive structures, they’re becoming more integrated and connected and also vertically diverse. In that sense they will, I believe, attain more aspects of the words everybody likes to use: ‘vertical cities’.”


This article was originally published here