One of the biggest challenges with using renewable energy for electricity generation—specifically wind and solar power—is intermittency. The wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine. Affordable, reliable, and deployable storage is seen as the holy grail of renewable energy integration, and recent advances in storage technology are getting closer to finding it.

The current electricity grid has virtually no storage—pumped hydropower is the most prevalent, but is largely location dependent. As higher levels of solar and wind energy are added to the grid, however, storage will become increasingly fundamental to ensuring that the power supply remains stable and demand is met. Utilities and businesses around the globe are starting to use large-scale batteries to complement their renewable energy generation: in Texas, for example, Duke Energy installed a 36 megawatt lead-acid storage system to balance its wind power.

Storage system ratings

Credit: Energy Storage Association

Storage technologies not only provide utilities with grid reliability for renewable integration, but also offer additional benefits such as ancillary services, ramp rate control, frequency regulation, and peak shaving, which can lower costs and improve the performance of the transmission system. Power system operators have always had to match electricity demand with supply, and energy storage is an additional tool in their grid-management toolbox.

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batteries, CAES, compressed air energy storage, electricity, electricity grid, intermittency, lithium-ion batteries, pumped-hydro storage, renewable energy, solar power, Storage, wind power

In the coming years, Latin American countries will have to make major investments in electricity generation and grid infrastructure in order to meet growing energy demand and provide universal energy access. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, power generation in Latin America and the Caribbean will have to double by 2030, requiring an investment larger than $700 billion. Over 31 million people in the region lack access to electricity and many countries still depend on fossil fuels for power generation, causing economic vulnerability due to volatile prices. Hydroelectric power is the other main source of electricity for many Latin American countries, but recent changes in precipitation patterns signal an uncertain future for this traditionally reliable baseload energy source in the face of climate change.

Creating integrated regional power systems by connecting national electricity grids can alleviate some of these challenges facing Latin America, especially for those countries seeking to provide affordable and reliable electricity to their citizens while constrained by limited natural resources, poor infrastructure, and low investment levels. By pursuing regional integration, countries benefit from economies of scale, complementary energy resources, lower costs of energy infrastructure development, and stronger regional cooperation. A regionally integrated power system can provide energy security at lower costs by increasing power generator and utility access to markets and diversifying the mix of energy sources. Furthermore, it facilitates the penetration of renewable energy by creating a market for financing large-scale projects and by providing increased grid stability necessary for high levels of intermittent energy sources like solar and wind.

Latin America could benefit greatly from regional power systems integration (source: commons.wikimedia.org)

In April 2012, at the Sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, the Connect 2022 initiative was introduced. Its aim is to ensure universal access to electricity to people in the Americas by 2022. This past June, in support of the Connect 2022 initiative, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the U.S. Department of State hosted a dialogue in which commitments for energy integration in Latin America were strengthened.

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Central America, Connect 2022, developing countries, electricity, energy policy, grid integration, IDB, Latin America, Proyecto Mesoamerica, regional electricity integration, renewable energy, SIEPAC, SINEA

The U.S. power grid is a modern engineering marvel, but it’s overdue for an overhaul. Participants at the recent Transactive Energy Conference in Portland, Oregon, came together to discuss the changing system and to develop the concept of transactive energy as the future of the grid.

Transactive Energy seeks to engage all devices and resources in the electrical grid in a market-based system. (Source: Edward Cazalet, "Transactive Energy: Public Policy and Market Design." May 2013)

As the first such conference of its kind, the gathering was initiated by defining exactly what transactive energy is. In an interview with Sustainable Business Oregon, Carl Imhoff, manager of the electricity infrastructure sector for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and a moderator at the conference, provided a succinct definition: “Transactive energy is a means of using economic signals or incentives to engage all the intelligent devices in the power grid—from the consumer to the transmission system—to get a more optimal allocation of resources and engage demand in ways we haven’t been able to before.”

If consumers need proof of what a smarter grid could do for them, transactive energy is a concept that can provide it. Transactive energy systems integrate both utility-owned and third-party-owned resources—including power generation, ancillary services, and load management services, among others—in order to utilize the lowest-cost electricity in real time. The key driver of transactive energy systems is the market-based approach, which allows every service provided to the grid, even those by consumers, to be valued.

This way, those providing the services, whether they are generating power or providing load reduction services or something else, can be compensated, thus splitting the benefits and savings of the increased efficiency of the electricity system between the customer and the utility. This system is a long way from the traditional unidirectional flow of power (from utility companies to consumers) and supply side-focused mindset of the historical electricity sector.

Employing the increasingly prevalent two-way information and communications technology deployed as part of smart grid development efforts, consumers can begin to interact within the electricity system in ways that were not possible in the past. A transactive energy system utilizes smart grid infrastructure to send signals back and forth between utilities, grid operators, and individual assets in the grid system, communicating the real-time flow and cost of power.

These assets can include everything from large centralized power plants to residential solar photovoltaic arrays to demand-response programs. Signals can even be sent to and from electric vehicles (EV), integrating EVs into the electrical grid.  In a transactive energy system, instead of being passive energy consumers, you and I could become what are being referred to as “prosumers,” not only receiving electricity from the grid, but providing our own services to the grid system and getting paid for it. 

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electricity, energy, energy efficiency, grid, Innovation, renewable energy, transactive energy, United States, utilities

By Cinthya Alfaro Zúñiga

As a native Costa Rican and Worldwatch Institute/INCAE Research Fellow, I was excited to attend the Energy and Environment Partnership’s (EEP) 21st Regional Forum in my home country earlier this month. EEP’s primary objective is providing finance for renewable energy projects, but it also seeks to build capacity by exploring diverse topics such as different energy technologies, policies needed for successful implementation, and regional obstacles and opportunities through stakeholder dialogues.

Worldwatch and INCAE presented Phase 1 of "The Way Forward for Renewable Energy in Central America" in Costa Rica in March.

Under the title “Biogas and Energy Efficiency in Central America,” the most recent Forum convened a group of 200 experts, project developers, governmental representatives, financiers, and the general public. The speakers addressed topics such as the contribution of energy efficiency policies and renewable energy toward carbon emissions reductions. Other important themes included the status of biogas and energy efficiency in Central America, as well as a run-through of EEP energy efficiency and biogas projects in the region.

The three-day event featured speakers from the German Cooperation Agency (GIZ), the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE), the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), and the Worldwatch Institute, among others.

On behalf of Worldwatch, President Emeritus Christopher Flavin presented on the global status of renewable energy and Climate & Energy Director Alexander Ochs summarized the results from the first phase of the Worldwatch/INCAE project, “The Way Forward for Renewable Energy in Central America,” which applies the Institute’s sustainable energy roadmap methodology to the region. Dr. Ana María Majano, Associate Director of the INCAE Business School’s Latin American Center for Competitiveness and Sustainable Development (CLACDS), joined Ochs as the lead in-country implementation partner.    

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Central America, development, electricity, emissions reductions, energy, energy efficiency, energy policy, renewable energy, sustainable development

Schematic of Phase 1 of ContourGlobal’s Project KivuWatt (source: BBC)

Along the western border of Rwanda, an innovative energy project on Africa’s 2,700 square kilometer Lake Kivu is generating electricity in a region beset by both geochemical and geopolitical instability.

Lake Kivu is one of the world’s three known “exploding lakes,” presenting a threat as well as an opportunity for local communities. Volcanic and bacterial activity in the lake generates substantial methane deposits that, if untapped, could erupt violently with disastrous effects on local lives, wildlife, and the environment. If safely extracted, however, the methane could provide a source of electricity and reduce the geochemical risks associated with the untapped gas.

To harness the lake’s energy potential, private sector investors are financing Project KivuWatt, a unique technological solution that translates potential risks into both socioeconomic development and geochemical stability. The initiative offers a model for successful power-producing projects in Rwanda and other developing countries.

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developing countries, electricity, Green Technology, Innovation, Lake Kivu, Methane, natural disasters, Project KivuWatt, Rwanda

A team of Worldwatch researchers spent last week in Haiti meeting with energy sector stakeholders and visiting important energy project sites. The stakeholder meetings were incredibly enlightening and we learned a great deal about the obstacles to achieving improved and more widespread energy services throughout the country.

One successful energy project in Haiti is the solar installation on the roof of Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais. (Photo Credit: Matt Lucky)

Overall, there are a lot of determined people doing great work in Haiti, with the hope that they can improve the energy sector, including helping to expand electricity services beyond the 25 percent of the population that currently receives these services. A major barrier to expanded energy services, however, and something that was a common theme throughout our stakeholder meetings, is that Haiti currently lacks a clear and long-term energy framework.

While many energy plans have been developed by various government agencies, institutions, and consultancies, they remain interim, uncoordinated, and lack a common vision. As a result, plans often go unfulfilled or only accomplish isolated goals on a short-term basis. It is true that Haiti needs plans that can provide rapid results, as it is still recovering from the devastating 2010 earthquake and dealing with a number of other urgent, immediate challenges. However, Haiti is also in dire need of long-term and stable infrastructure development that will help it to prosper in the future, and a forward-thinking energy framework will go a long way in helping Haiti to accomplish this goal.

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Caribbean, developing countries, development, electricity, energy, energy policy, Haiti, low-carbon, renewable energy

The full text of this Vital Signs Online article can be found here.

Smart meters are just one component involved in emerging smart grid networks. Smart meter deployments are increasing, with many nationwide installations planned worldwide. (Source: Wired)

Global investment in smart grid technologies rose 7 percent in 2012 from the previous year. On top of direct investments, numerous countries around the world are making headway on smart grid regulatory policies, development plans, and frameworks to support future grid infrastructure upgrades.  Smart grids consist of many different technologies serving different functions. Smart grids are commonly defined as an electricity network that uses digital information and communications technology to improve the efficiency and reliability of electricity transport. Such modernized grids are becoming more important as current grid infrastructure ages and regions begin connecting more variable generation from renewable energy sources into the electricity network.

The United States had the highest investment of all countries in 2012 despite seeing a 19 percent decrease in smart grid spending from 2011. While the U.S. federal government has funded smart grid development and supported deployment projects throughout the country, many individual utilities are contributing their own efforts to update grid infrastructure. At the beginning of 2012, U.S. smart grid development efforts had installed 37 million smart meters, covering 33 percent of American households. Continued efforts by utilities to deploy smart grid solutions will become increasingly important in the U.S. as federal funding initiatives enacted under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 begin to expire.

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electricity, energy, energy storage, Green Technology, smart grid, smart meters, Vital Signs Online

Kerosene lamps, such as this one, are used widely for illumination in eastern Africa, but contribute to numerous health and economic problems (Source: Firesika).

The United Nations recently declared the beginning of the Decade of Sustainable Energy for All, continuing the focus on energy access that it began in 2012 with the Year of Sustainable Energy for All. Energy access is widely recognized as a key component of achieving the Millennium Development Goals set out by the United Nations, with impacts on the improvement of health, education, and economic development.

This international focus on energy access stems from the fact that, in many developing areas of the world, energy use is still mostly limited to traditional biomass use (i.e. burning wood for cook fires) and kerosene for lighting, with extremely limited or zero access to modern energy services. In Ethiopia, only 2 percent of the population in rural areas has access to electricity. In Kenya, the inhabitants of remote areas are only slightly better off, with 4 percent electrification rate for the rural population.

However, the use of kerosene for illumination brings with it numerous health, environmental, economic and social problems.  Indoor use of the fuel use significantly deteriorates air quality in homes, leading directly to respiratory illnesses and fatalities. And, as if chronic illnesses are not enough, the risk of fire from overturned kerosene lamps is extremely high. In an interview with an in-country energy expert in Kenya, Worldwatch learned that estimates ranged between 6,000 and 12,000 deaths per year from kerosene fires in Kenya alone, with many of them being children. Overturned kerosene lamps are known to ignite homes quickly and the impacts disproportionately affect women and children, who spend much more of their time within the house.

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Africa, developing countries, development, distributed generation, electricity, Energy Access, Ethiopia, Kenya, kerosene, rural electrification, sub-Saharan Africa

The DR’s National Energy Commission leads by example using Net Metering to reduce monthly bills. This solution also provides surplus renewable energy to the grid, reducing the country’s total amount of fossil fuel-based energy.

Since October 2012, the energy sector in the Dominican Republic has been in the spotlight as a result of President Danilo Medina’s efforts to deal with the country’s larger fiscal crisis. Over the years, decisions made within the sector have led to an unsustainable level of debt, poorly maintained infrastructure, and a reliance on fossil fuels that, in 2010, cost the government US$2.6 billion.

With all of this attention, the opportunity exists to overhaul the floundering electricity sector and bring it in line with the country’s vision of a sustainable future. The Dominican Republic has a stated goal of obtaining 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. And at the recent United Nations climate talks in Doha, Qatar, Mr. Omar Ramirez, Executive Vice-President of the Dominican National Council for Climate Change and the Clean Development Mechanism (CNCCMDL), said the country will reduce its carbon emissions 25 percent from 2012 levels by 2030.

These are ambitious targets for a country that relies on fossil fuels for more than 90 percent of its primary energy. But they can be achieved if decision makers seize this moment and embrace new thinking. It will not be enough to just add more generating capacity to the mix. Real reform will come when subsidies not longer hide the true cost of fossil fuel use, when renewable energy promotion is prioritized, and when energy sector agencies are structured in a way that provides transparency and accountability and is in line with stated long-term energy goals.

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Caribbean, Climate Change, developing countries, Dominican Republic, electricity, emissions reductions, energy policy, energy security, renewable energy, sustainable development

Worldwatch's Shakuntala Makhijani presents early findings of the Sustainable Energy Roadmap for Jamaica.

Recently, members of Worldwatch’s Climate & Energy program traveled to Kingston, Jamaica to conduct a Stakeholder Consultation for the ongoing Sustainable Energy Roadmap project. The workshop comprised a morning session where the Roadmap’s early findings were presented to members of the country’s electricity sector followed by an afternoon dialogue addressing some of the key questions at the heart of the team’s ongoing research. The consultation came at a very key time as Jamaica is in the midst of some significant changes in the electricity sector while it faces an ongoing energy crisis.

The Sustainable Energy Roadmap for Jamaica is part of a multi-year project sponsored by the International Climate Initiative of the German Ministry of Environment. Worldwatch is examining recently assessed renewable resource potential, current energy policy frameworks, the potential for adding energy efficiency measures, technical challenges to renewable energy integration and underlying economic factors to try and help decision makers understand the choices available for making the country’s electricity sector more sustainable. Not surprisingly, the country has a tremendous solar resource, an average of 5 to 7 kilowatt-hours per meter squared per day (kWh/m2/day), similar to the Southwest of the United States. It also has strong wind potential including some significant locations off the Southeast coast of the island.

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Caribbean Sustainable Energy, electricity, emissions reductions, energy efficiency, Jamaica, low-carbon, Sustainable Energy Roadmaps