High-efficiency “spacecraft” solar cells are coming down in price

Solar cells commonly used in spacecraft are highly efficient but too expensive to be used commercially down here on Earth. Two methods, HVPE (hydride vapour phase epitaxy) and the preferred MOVPE (metalorganic chemical vapour phase epitaxy), have been used to make these super-cells, reaching efficiencies of 29.1%. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) says its scientists have discovered a method, D-HVPE, that should achieve those efficiencies much more cheaply. They have found a new technique to create a surface – using aluminium indium phosphide (AlInP) – that maximises transparency to allow sunlight to reach the absorber layer below where the photons are converted to electricity. The result is a single-junction solar cell that can be made in under a minute by D-HVPE, something that takes over an hour using MOVPE.

Scientists at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) achieved a technological breakthrough for solar cells previously thought impossible.

The scientists successfully integrated an aluminium source into their hydride vapour phase epitaxy (HVPE) reactor, then demonstrated the growth of the semiconductors aluminium indium phosphide (AlInP) and aluminium gallium indium phosphide (AlGaInP) for the first time by this technique.

“There’s a decent body of literature that suggests that people would never be able to grow these compounds with hydride vapour phase epitaxy,” said Kevin Schulte, a scientist in NREL’s Materials Applications & Performance Center and lead author of a new paper highlighting the research. “That’s one of the reasons a lot of the III-V industry has gone with metalorganic vapour phase epitaxy (MOVPE), which is the dominant III-V growth technique. This innovation changes things.”

The article, “Growth of AlGaAs, AlInP, and AlGaInP by Hydride Vapor Phase Epitaxy,” appears in the journal ACS Applied Energy Materials.

High-efficiency (and expensive!) solar modules on Mars rovers

III-V solar cells—so named because of the position the materials fall on the periodic table—are commonly used in space applications. Notable for high efficiency, these types of cells are too expensive for terrestrial use, but researchers are developing techniques to reduce those costs.

The surface of Mars has been explored by rovers powered by III-V solar cells. The NASA rovers Spirit and Opportunity landed on Mars in January 2004 / Image source: NASA


One method pioneered at NREL relies on a new growth technique called dynamic hydride vapor phase epitaxy, or D-HVPE. Traditional HVPE, which for decades was considered the best technique for production of light-emitting diodes and photodetectors for the telecommunications industry, fell out of favour in the 1980s with the emergence of MOVPE. Both processes involve depositing chemical vapours onto a substrate, but the advantage belonged to MOVPE because of its ability to form abrupt heterointerfaces between two different semiconductor materials, a place where HVPE traditionally struggled.

That’s changed with the advent of D-HVPE.

Sample aluminium III-V solar cells, grown using HVPE, are shown as Alx(Ga1-x)0.5In0.5P thin films after removing the GaAs substrate bonded to a glass handle for transmission measurements. The difference in colour is due to the difference in the composition of Al and Ga. Specifically, the yellow samples are AlInP (no Ga) and the orange samples are AlGaInP. / Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

The earlier version of HVPE used a single chamber where one chemical was deposited on a substrate, which was then removed. The growth chemistry was then swapped for another, and the substrate returned to the chamber for the next chemical application. D-HVPE relies on a multi-chamber reactor. The substrate moves back and forth between chambers, greatly reducing the time to make a solar cell. A single-junction solar cell that takes an hour or two to make using MOVPE can potentially be produced in under a minute by D-HVPE.

“Wide band gap” aluminium

Despite these advances, MOVPE still held another advantage: the ability to deposit wide band gap aluminium-containing materials that enable the highest solar cell efficiencies. HVPE has long struggled with the growth of these materials due to difficulties with the chemical nature of the usual aluminium-containing precursor, aluminium monochloride.

The researchers always planned on introducing aluminium into D-HVPE, but first focused their efforts on validating the growth technique.

“We’ve tried to move the technology forward in steps instead of trying to do it all at once,” Schulte said. “We validated that we can grow high-quality materials. We validated that we can grow more complex devices. The next step now for the technology to move forward is aluminium.”

Schulte’s co-authors from NREL are Wondwosen Metaferia, John Simon, David Guiling, and Aaron J. Ptak. They also include three scientists from a North Carolina company, Kyma Technologies. The company developed a method to produce a unique aluminium-containing molecule, which could then be flowed into the D-HVPE chamber.

The scientists used an aluminium trichloride generator, which was heated to 400 degrees Celsius to generate an aluminium trichloride from solid aluminium and hydrogen chloride gas. Aluminium trichloride is much more stable in the HVPE reactor environment than the monochloride form. The other components—gallium chloride and indium chloride—were vapourized at 800 degrees Celsius. The three elements were combined and deposited on a substrate at 650 degrees Celsius.

Efficiencies of 29.1%

Using D-HVPE, NREL scientists previously were able to make solar cells from gallium arsenide (GaAs) and gallium indium phosphide (GaInP). In these cells, the GaInP is used as the “window layer,” which passivates the front surface and permits sunlight to reach the GaAs absorber layer below where the photons are converted to electricity. This layer must be as transparent as possible, but GaInP is not as transparent as the aluminium indium phosphide (AlInP) used in MOVPE-grown solar cells. The current world efficiency record for MOVPE-grown GaAs solar cells that incorporate AlInP window layers is 29.1%. With only GaInP, the maximum efficiency for HVPE-grown solar cells is estimated to be only 27%.

Now that aluminium has been added to the mix of D-HVPE, the scientists said they should be able to reach parity with solar cells made via MOVPE.

“The HVPE process is a cheaper process,” said Ptak, a senior scientist in NREL’s National Center for Photovoltaics. “Now we’ve shown a pathway to the same efficiency that’s the same as the other guys, but with a cheaper technique. Before, we were somewhat less efficient but cheaper. Now there’s the possibility of being exactly as efficient and cheaper.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office funded the D-HVPE research.

Source: https://energypost.eu/high-efficiency-space-craft-solar-cells-are-coming-down-in-price/



RX Antenna Coupler Enhancement

Solexy’s patented (7,057,577) Explosion-Proof Antenna Coupler permits the installation of Off-the-Shelf non-Ex certified antennas in hazardous areas.

This coupler is designed to be used directly with listed explosion proof housings or conduit fittings.
An integrated blocking circuit prevents hazardous energy reaching the antenna if a radio, modem or access point failure occurs. It also allows for antenna removal, and remote mounting, in hazardous areas.

The coupler’s robust design allows for connection to practically any RF device and antenna. It is a highly flexible and cost effective solution to traditional hazardous area RF system deployment.

The coupler can also be used as a coax cable bulkhead in NEMA/IP Ex rated enclosures.

The RX series coupler is approved for hazardous locations and can be installed with a simple wrench.
Isolated antenna groundOur (patent pending) isolated ground option (RX1..) provides isolation from the coax ground and housing ground, combined with a capacitive circuit, solves potential ground loop issues sometimes present in remote mount antennas and further isolates ground noise from the RF signal.
New updated Haz Loc approvalsThe RX Series is certified ATEX, IECEx and for USA & Canada as an apparatus, and can be installed
per the conditions of acceptability, without further assessment (no inspection required).
North America approval (USA & Canada) includes Class & Divisions, and Zones (AEx).
IECEx certification is issued from an Australian notified body, allowing the RX coupler to be installed in Queensland mines.

ATEX proof WiFi equipment for remote work

RX Antenna Coupler Enhancement

Solexy’s patented (7,057,577) Explosion-Proof Antenna Coupler permits the installation of Off-the-Shelf non-Ex certified antennas in hazardous areas.

This coupler is designed to be used directly with listed explosion proof housings or conduit fittings.
An integrated blocking circuit prevents hazardous energy reaching the antenna if a radio, modem or access point failure occurs. It also allows for antenna removal, and remote mounting, in hazardous areas.

The coupler’s robust design allows for connection to practically any RF device and antenna. It is a highly flexible and cost effective solution to traditional hazardous area RF system deployment.

The coupler can also be used as a coax cable bulkhead in NEMA/IP Ex rated enclosures.

The RX series coupler is approved for hazardous locations and can be installed with a simple wrench.
Isolated antenna groundOur (patent pending) isolated ground option (RX1..) provides isolation from the coax ground and housing ground, combined with a capacitive circuit, solves potential ground loop issues sometimes present in remote mount antennas and further isolates ground noise from the RF signal.
New updated Haz Loc approvalsThe RX Series is certified ATEX, IECEx and for USA & Canada as an apparatus, and can be installed
per the conditions of acceptability, without further assessment (no inspection required).
North America approval (USA & Canada) includes Class & Divisions, and Zones (AEx).
IECEx certification is issued from an Australian notified body, allowing the RX coupler to be installed in Queensland mines.

BARTEC NASP – New TR CU certificate for lighting fixtures.

New TR CU certificate for lighting fixtures

New TR CU certificate for lighting fixtures

BARTEC Nuova ASP is proud to inform about the achievement of the new TR CU certificate for its lighting fixtures. The new certificate number is RU C-IT-BH02.B.00254/19 and it is valid until 2024. This certificate includes the following lighting fixtures series: AVC, AVCX, AVF, EVAC, EVAC LED, EVFG, EVO, EVP100, AVNA, EVT, EXL, RCDE, RCDE LED, SFD – SDFE, SFD LED – SFDE LED, SFNR, SFLA/SFLJ/SFLP

Source: https://www.nuovaasp.net

Offshore Klaipeda 2020. 700 MW wind farm in the Baltic Sea.

Virtual workshop “Offshore Klaipeda”: over 150 participants from Lithuania and abroad


The Offshore Klaipeda online event brought together international audience to discuss about the new opportunities emerging together with the ambition to develop 700 MW wind farm in the Baltic Sea, nearly 30 kilometres from the Lithuanian shore.

Virtual workshop was attended by participants from Lithuanian and foreign business companies, government and science institutions.
Rytis Kėvelaitis, Vice-Minister of Energy stated in his presentation that further development of the project is already underway. In the next phase, another 700 MW capacity would be installed. Total potential of wind production in the Baltic Sea is almost 3.4 thousand MW.
“We must make every effort to ensure that the production and assembly of wind turbines would be established here in Lithuania. Today, when cargo volumes are limited, Klaipeda port is able to attract new cargo and create added value. The emergence of such activities in Klaipėda also means new jobs and additional income to the state budget. The Port Development Council asked us to find areas where the assembly of wind turbines or the production of their components can be developed. We identified several potential areas in the port where it is possible to collect or produce wind power plants”, – said Algis Latakas, Director General of the Klaipėda Port.
Programme of the virtual workshop also featured presentations by Western Constructions (Western Shipyard BLRT Grupp), Klaipeda University, Lithuanian Wind Power Association, Lithuanian maritime cluster partners Emerson, Schneider Electric, experts from Aker Offshore Wind, Lautec and DNV GL.

Source: https://www.kmtp.lt


Lithium-Sulphur batteries: cheaper, greener, hold more energy

The rapid expansion of electric power across the world is putting a strain on battery production. The standard lithium-ion battery depends on minerals and metals in limited supply, so alternatives are needed urgently. Mahdokht Shaibani at Monash University describes the work of her team on developing lithium-sulphur batteries. There are many advantages, not least the abundance of sulphur, the 16th most common element on Earth. Added to that, theory suggests they can store six times the energy as Li-ion for a given weight. The big challenge is battery life. Performance deteriorates rapidly due to the cycle of swelling and shrinking as this powerful battery charges and discharges. The team say they have solved this by creating a “binder” with a web-like network that leaves plenty of space for material to expand. It’s easy and cheap to manufacture. They are aiming for a commercial product in 2-4 years. No prediction can ever know what breakthrough innovations are round the corner that can make the Transition a success. Could this be one of them?

Lithium-ion batteries have changed the world. Without the ability to store meaningful amounts of energy in a rechargeable, portable format we would have no smartphones or other personal electronic devices. The pioneers of the technology were awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize for chemistry.

But as society moves away from fossil fuels, we will need more radical new technologies for storing energy to support renewable electricity generation, electric vehicles and other needs

Lithium-sulphur batteries

One such technology could be lithium-sulphur batteries: they store considerably more energy than their lithium-ion cousins – in theory as much as six times the energy for a given weight. What’s more, they can be made from cheap materials that are readily available around the world.

Until now, lithium-sulphur batteries have been impractical. Their chemistry allows them to store so much energy that the battery physically breaks apart under the stress.

However, my colleagues and I have engineered a new design for these batteries which allows them to be charged and discharged hundreds of times without breaking down. We hope to have a commercial product ready in the next 2–4 years.

The problem with Lithium-ion

Lithium-ion batteries require minerals such as rare earths, nickel and cobalt to produce their positive electrodes. Supply of these metals is limited, prices are rising, and their mining often has great social and environmental costs.

Industry insiders have even predicted serious shortages of these key materials in the near future, possibly as early as 2022.

Sulphur is abundant, cheap, stores much more energy

In contrast, sulphur is relatively common and cheap. Sulphur is the 16th most abundant element on Earth, and miners produce around 70 million tonnes of it each year. This makes it an ideal ingredient for batteries if we want them to be widely used.

What’s more, lithium-sulphur batteries rely on a different kind of chemical reaction which means their ability to store energy (known as “specific capacity”) is much greater than that of lithium-ion batteries.

The prototype lithium-sulphur battery shows the technology works, but a commercial product is still years away.

…but great capacity brings great stress

A person faced with a demanding job may feel stress if the demands exceed their ability to cope, resulting in a drop in productivity or performance. In much the same way, a battery electrode asked to store a lot of energy may be subjected to increased stress.

In a lithium-sulphur battery, energy is stored when positively charged lithium ions are absorbed by an electrode made of sulphur particles in a carbon matrix held together with a polymer binder. The high storage capacity means that the electrode swells up to almost double its size when fully charged.

The cycle of swelling and shrinking as the battery charges and discharges leads to a progressive loss of cohesion of particles and permanent distortion of the carbon matrix and the polymer binder.

The carbon matrix is a vital component of the battery that delivers electrons to the insulating sulphur, and the polymer glues the sulphur and carbon together. When they are distorted, the paths for electrons to move across the electrode (effectively the electrical wiring) are destroyed and the battery’s performance decays very quickly.

Giving particles some space to breathe

The conventional way of producing batteries creates a continuous dense network of binder across the bulk of the electrode, which doesn’t leave much free space for movement.

The conventional method works for lithium-ion batteries, but for sulphur we have had to develop a new technique.

To make sure our batteries would be easy and cheap to manufacture, we used the same material as a binder but processed it a little differently. The result is a web-like network of binder that holds particles together but also leaves plenty of space for material to expand.

A CT scan of one of the sulphur electrodes shows the open structure that allows particles to expand as they charge

These expansion-tolerant electrodes can efficiently accommodate cycling stresses, allowing the sulphur particles to live up to their full energy storage capacity.

When will we see working sulphur batteries?

My colleagues Mainak Majumder and Matthew Hill have long histories of translating lab-scale discoveries to practical industry applications, and our multidisciplinary team contains expertise from materials synthesis and functionalisation, to design and prototyping, to device implementation in power grids and electric vehicles.

The other key ingredient in these batteries is of course lithium. Given that Australia [where the author is based] is a leading global producer, we think it is a natural fit to make the batteries here.

We hope to have a commercial product ready in the next 2–4 years. We are working with industry partners to scale up the breakthrough, and looking toward developing a manufacturing line for commercial-level production.


Mahdokht Shaibani is a Research Fellow, Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering at Monash University, Australia

Source: https://energypost.eu/lithium-sulphur-batteries-cheaper-greener-hold-more-energy/


Biogas and Biomethane’s untapped potential across the world

The IEA’s World Energy Outlooks have no doubt that electrification alone cannot meet our climate goals. That’s why natural gas continues to play a major role. But biogas and biomethane have the potential to replace 20% of that gas, says the IEA’s special report “Outlook for biogas and biomethane: Prospects for organic growth”. At present only a fraction of that is being utilised. Here the IEA summarises their comprehensive report. Costs are the issue. They vary widely as every nation’s ability to process these biogases are different. But even today around 30 Mtoe of biomethane – mostly landfill gas – should be able to undercut the domestic price of natural gas. Meanwhile advances in technology, agriculture, transport and waste management will bring costs down. Policy coordination across these otherwise unconnected sectors is needed. The upside is that biogases can use the existing natural gas infrastructure, and are produced from organic residues and wastes so they’re an energy source available to most parts of the world. The full report includes a detailed assessment of feedstock availability and production costs across all regions of the globe.

This report provides estimates of the sustainable potential for biogas and biomethane supply, based on a detailed assessment of feedstock availability and production costs across all regions of the world. These form the basis of an outlook for biogas and biomethane supply and demand up to 2040, based on the scenarios presented in the annual World Energy Outlook.

Key focus areas include how big a role these gases can play in the transformation of the global energy system, where the opportunities and potential pitfalls lie, and what policy makers and industry can do to support sustainable growth in this sector.

Utilising rising amounts of organic waste

The case for biogas and biomethane lies at the intersection of two critical challenges of modern life: dealing with the increasing amount of organic waste that is produced by modern societies and economies, and the imperative to reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

By turning organic waste into a renewable energy resource, the production of biogas or biomethane offers a window onto a world in which resources are continuously used and reused, and one in which rising demand for energy services can be met while also delivering wider environmental benefits.

In assessing the prospects for “organic growth” of biogas and biomethane, this new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) explores how big a role these gases can play in the transformation of the global energy system, where the opportunities and potential pitfalls lie, and what policy makers and industry can do to support sustainable growth in this sector.

The answers to these questions rest on a major new IEA analysis of the sustainable potential for biogas and biomethane supply, including a detailed assessment of feedstock availability and production costs across all regions of the world.

Nations’ needs will vary

This provides a platform to explore the various services that biogas and biomethane can provide in different countries, which vary widely depending on circumstances and policy priorities. Biogas can be a valuable local source of power and heat, as well as a clean cooking fuel to displace reliance on the traditional use of solid biomass in many developing countries. There are also potential co-benefits in terms of agricultural productivity (as a result of using the residual “digestate” from biodigesters as a fertiliser) and reducing deforestation.

Upgraded biomethane can use natural gas infrastructure

When upgraded, biomethane (also known as renewable natural gas) is indistinguishable from natural gas and so can be transported and used in the same way. Biomethane can deliver the energy system benefits of natural gas while being carbon-neutral.

The value of biogas and biomethane is heightened in scenarios such as the IEA Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS), which meet in full the world’s goals to tackle climate change, improve air quality and provide access to modern energy. Projections from the SDS provide an essential benchmark for much of the discussion in this report.

Biogas and biomethane have the potential to support all aspects of the SDS, which charts a path fully consistent with the Paris Agreement by holding the rise in global temperatures to “well below 2°C … and pursuing efforts to limit [it] to 1.5°C”, and meets objectives related to universal energy access and cleaner air.

The other scenario referenced in the analysis is the Stated Policies Scenario (STEPS), which provides an indication of where today’s policy ambitions and plans, including national policy announcements and pledges, would lead the energy sector.

Comparison between the outcomes in these two scenarios provides an indication of the range of possible futures that are open to biogas and biomethane, and the policy and technology levers that will affect which pathway they ultimately follow.

1. Biogas and biomethane producers take organic residues and wastes and turn them into a valuable modern source of clean energy

Modern societies and economies produce increasing amounts of organic waste that can be used to produce clean sources of energy, with multiple potential benefits for sustainable development.

Biogas and biomethane are different products with different applications, but they both originate from a range of organic feedstocks whose potential is underutilised today. The production and use of these gases embody the idea of a more circular economy, bringing benefits from reduced emissions, improved waste management and greater resource efficiency. Biogas and biomethane also provide a way to integrate rural communities and industries into the transformation of the energy sector.

2. The feedstocks available for sustainable production of biogas and biomethane are huge, but only a fraction of this potential is used today

A detailed, bottom-up study of the worldwide availability of sustainable feedstocks for biogas and biomethane, conducted for this report, shows that the technical potential to produce these gases is huge and largely untapped.

These feedstocks include crop residues, animal manure, municipal solid waste, wastewater and – for direct production of biomethane via gasification – forestry residues.

This assessment considers only those feedstocks that do not compete with food for agricultural land.

Biogas and biomethane production in 2018 was around 35 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe), only a fraction of the estimated overall potential. Full utilisation of the sustainable potential could cover some 20% of today’s worldwide gas demand.

3. Possibilities to produce biogas and biomethane are widely distributed around the world

Every part of the world has significant scope to produce biogas and/or biomethane, and the availability of sustainable feedstocks for these purposes is set to grow by 40% over the period to 2040.

The largest opportunities lie across the Asia Pacific region, where natural gas consumption and imports have been growing rapidly in recent years, and there are also significant possibilities across North and South America, Europe, and Africa. The overall potential is set to grow rapidly over the next two decades, based on increased availability of the various feedstocks in a larger global economy, including the improvement in waste management and collection programmes in many parts of the developing world.

4. Biogas offers a local source of power and heat, and a clean cooking fuel for households

Biogas is a mixture of methane, CO2 and small quantities of other gases that can be used to generate power and to meet heating or cooking demand. 

Its uses and competitiveness depend on local circumstances, but a common element is that biogas offers a sustainable way to meet community energy needs, especially where access to national grids is more challenging or where there is a large requirement for heat that cannot be met by renewable electricity.

In developing countries, biogas reduces reliance on solid biomass as a cooking fuel, improving health and economic outcomes. In the SDS, biogas provides a source of clean cooking to an additional 200 million people by 2040, half of which in Africa.

Biogas can also be upgraded to produce biomethane by removing the CO2 and other impurities.

5. When upgraded, biomethane brings all the energy system benefits of natural gas without the associated net emissions

Biomethane is a near-pure source of methane produced either by “upgrading” biogas or through the gasification of solid biomass; since it is indistinguishable from the regular natural gas stream, it can be transported and used wherever gas is consumed, but without adding to emissions.

Biomethane grows rapidly in IEA scenarios. It allows countries to reduce emissions in some hard-to-abate sectors, such as heavy industry and freight transport. It also helps to make some existing gas infrastructure more compatible with a low-emissions future, thereby improving the cost-effectiveness and security of energy transitions in many parts of the world.

Biomethane in the SDS avoids around 1,000 million tonnes (Mt) of GHG emissions in 2040. This includes the CO2 emissions that would have occurred if natural gas had been used instead, as well as the methane emissions that would otherwise have resulted from the decomposition of feedstocks.

6. Most of the biomethane potential is more expensive than natural gas, but the cost gap narrows over time

With the exception of some landfill gas, most of the biomethane assessed in this report is more expensive than the prevailing natural gas prices in different regions.

The average price for biomethane produced today is around USD 19 per million British thermal units (MBtu), with some additional costs for grid injection. However, this report estimates that around 30 Mtoe (~40 billion cubic metres [bcm]) of biomethane – mostly landfill gas – could be produced today at a price that undercuts the domestic price of natural gas; this is already ten times more than total biomethane consumption today.

The cost gap is projected to narrow over time as biomethane production technologies improve and as carbon pricing in some regions makes natural gas more expensive. Recognition of the value of avoided CO2 and methane emissions goes a long way towards improving the cost-competitiveness of biomethane.

7. Low-carbon gases are essential to energy transitions; supportive policies are required to unlock the potential for biogas and biomethane

Multiple fuels and technologies will be required to accelerate energy transitions, and low-carbon gases – led by biomethane and low-carbon hydrogen – have critical roles to play.

The 20% share of electricity in global final consumption is growing, but electricity cannot carry energy transitions on its own against a backdrop of rising demand for energy services.

Biomethane is the largest contributor to low-carbon gas supply in the time horizon of the World Energy Outlook (WEO) Scenarios. How the biogas and biomethane industry evolves will vary by country depending on the sectoral focus, feedstock availability, prevailing market conditions and policy priorities.

In all cases, however, realising the multiple benefits of biogas and biomethane requires co‑ordinated policy-making across energy, transport, agriculture, environment and waste management.


This article is taken from the IEA Newsroom

Source: https://energypost.eu/biogas-and-biomethanes-untapped-potential-across-the-world/


Investing for tomorrow, because Energy subsidies will decline 25% by 2050 – analysis

IRENA has modelled energy subsidies to 2030 and 2050 for their pathway to meet the Paris targets. Here, Michael Taylor summarises their findings. Firstly, they estimate today’s global direct energy sector subsidies to be $634bn/year (2017 figures). The vast majority, $447bn, went to fossil fuels. (By the way, he points out that none of these figures include the externality costs – pollution, healthcare, environment – which equate to trillions and would surely be cut substantially by each step taken towards decarbonisation). Total direct energy sector subsidies will decline by 25% by 2050, mostly thanks to cuts to support for those fossil fuels. The other clean energy categories will increase their share of the smaller total, and as their costs evolve so too do their required subsidy as efficiencies, cost reductions, and growing demand register. Taylor looks at renewable power generation, energy efficiency, buildings, renewable heat, nuclear, electric vehicles and more. Given the current crisis, he stresses that governments now needing to stimulate their economies should prioritise the energy sector: though poorly understood in the mainstream media, the clean energy transition was always designed to cut medium to long term costs, just like the best stimulus packages should do.

In these exceptional times, as the COVID19 pandemic has resulted in far reaching impacts on societies and the economy, governments are rightly focused on managing the public health emergency and protecting their citizens. Although the world is, undoubtedly, going to need to manage this pandemic over the months and even years ahead; there will come a point where restrictions on the economy can be relaxed – in a way consistent with minimising the risk of the virus – and governments and policy makers around the world will turn to the next phase – recovery and growth.

When that time comes, policy makers will be looking at how to design a stimulus that can be rapidly scaled up, boost the flow of money in the real economy, create good-quality jobs and provide the basis for long-term economic growth and recovery that mitigates the economic harm done to the average citizen during this exceptional public health emergency. This stimulus when it comes is an opportunity for economies to invest in infrastructure and people that will boost the long-term prospects for sustainable growth, that also make the economy more resilient to the crises of the future. IRENA’s recently released Global Renewables Outlook, highlights a pathway to a sustainable energy future that identifies a range of potential investment opportunities, consistent with a green stimulus.

The cost of subsidies matter now more than ever

The contraction in economic activity caused by the lockdowns, necessary to contain the spread of the virus, and the corresponding additional government spending in relief packages to individuals, small businesses and crucial sectors of the economy is going to result in larger public sector deficits and borrowing over the short-term. The formulation of stimulus packages will therefore be influenced by the reduced fiscal margin for maneuver in many countries. Programmes’ abilities to generate jobs and boost long-term productivity growth will also be benchmarked against the fiscal affordability of the policies needed to support some stimulus spending.

Energy subsidy projections for the transition: trending down, not up

In this respect, recent analysis by the International Renewable Energy Agency sheds some light on the general affordability of the energy transition (in terms of macroeconomic impacts) and also the evolution of energy subsidies in the energy sector. This is useful, because the acceleration of the energy transition requires a scaling-up of investments in a wide range of areas from innovation in electrolysers, to heat pumps, to the use of alternative fuels in transport. But what they all have in common is an increase in investment over recent trends, effectively a stimulus to the real economy through greater investment in energy supply infrastructure and end-use technologies.

The macro-economic argument over the longer-term of the energy transition is compelling, with a payback of USD 3 to USD 8 for every dollar invested. However, as already noted the potential medium-term strain on public finances may impose constraints that might mean the optimal choices are not possible.

IRENA’s recent analysis of the evolution of energy sector subsidies in the energy transition, however, given reason to be optimistic that this will not be a constraint on ensuring the coming stimulus packages can be green, as well as good for jobs and the economy.

Current subsidy breakdown

Before looking at how energy sector subsidies evolve over the medium- to long-term, it’s worth noting that differing boundary conditions and accounting methodologies for energy subsidy calculation mean there is some confusion around what the exact level of energy sector subsidies actually are.

By combining analysis from a number of existing sources, IRENA has estimated direct energy sector subsidies to be, at least, USD 634 billion in 2017 (Figure 1). Of the total, USD 447 billion was attributable to fossil fuels, USD 128 billion to renewable power, USD 38 billion renewable transport (predominantly biofuels) and a placecholder estimate of USD 21 billion for nuclear in the absence of comprehensive global data. However, if the unpriced externality costs from fossil fuels are considered, the total rises significantly to USD 3.1 trillion.

Total subsidies lower in 2030, 2050

IRENA has used the analysis in the REmap Case (IRENA, 2020), in conjunction with the current estimates of total energy sector subsidies in 2017, to analyse how total energy sector subsidies out to 2050 might evolve if the world is to stay on track to achieve the Paris Agreement climate goal of restricting global warming to 2 °C or less. The analysis assumes that today’s fossil fuel subsidies would be rapidly reduced by 2030, but not entirely phased out by 2050.

The results show that between 2017 and 2030, total annual energy sector subsidies could decline from USD 634 billion to USD 466 billion per year, according to the REmap Case for the realistic acceleration in the worldwide deployment of renewables, and they would rise slightly to be around USD 475 billion in 2050 (Figure S-2). Total energy sector subsidies in 2050 would therefore be around 25 % lower than in 2017 and 45 % (USD 390 billion) lower than they would be based on a business-as-usual scenario.

This is before considering the reduction in the implicit subsidies from unpriced externalities, which could be reduced by between USD 620 billion to USD 2 160 billion relative to the Reference case in 2030 and between USD 2.5 trillion and USD 6.3 trillion in 2050.

Fossil fuel subsidies decline significantly

Direct subsidies for fossil fuels fall from USD 447 billion in 2017, to USD 165 billion in 2030 and to USD 139 billion in 2050 in the REmap Case, as per unit subsidies are reduced and fossil fuel demand declines. Existing subsidy programmes are reduced significantly and by 2050 over 90 % of the subsidies to fossil fuels are to support carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) in industrial applications.

Other subsidies increase, but evolve

As renewable power becomes increasingly competitive and early high-cost subsidies to solar PV, in particular, expire, the subsidies for renewable power generation decline to USD 53 billion in 2030 and are virtually eliminated by 2050, according to REmap projections.

With more effort to decarbonise the more difficult end-use sectors, their share of subsidies begins to increase. The subsidies needed over and above the Reference Case in Industry by 2050 reach USD 166 billion, with USD 100 billion for energy efficiency and the balance for renewable heat. In the Buildings sector, subsidies grow to USD 28 billion in 2050, predominantly (88 %) for renewable heating, cooling and cooking solutions.

EU outlook

The pattern in the European Union is similar to the global outlook: support needs to renewable power generation will peak before 2030, with the ongoing cost declines for solar and wind power technologies.

In the transport sector, the remarkable declines in electric vehicle (EV) battery pack costs mean decarbonisation, in conjunction with an increasingly renewables dominated power generation system, will not require the large subsidies that were required to drive down costs in solar and wind. Subsidies will rise, however, in the buildings and industrial sectors, notably between 2030 and 2050, as these more difficult to decarbonise sectors are tackled.

Overall, the energy transition can be consistent with lower subsidies in the energy sector and significant long-term economic benefits. Incorporating renewables and energy efficiency in stimulus packages is not only consistent with the short-term goals of stimulating investment in the real economy, creating quality jobs, and fostering long-term, resilient economic growth; but should not exacerbate medium-term fiscal challenges.


Michael Taylor is a Senior Analyst at IRENA



IRENA (2020a), Global Renewables Outlook: Energy Transformation to 2050, IRENA, Abu Dhabi

IRENA (2020b), Energy subsidies: Evolution in the global energy transformation to 2050, IRENA, Abu Dhabi


Source: https://energypost.eu/investing-for-tomorrow-because-energy-subsidies-will-decline-25-by-2050-analysis/


Clean Energy threatened by lockdown of critical minerals supply

Clean energy technologies depend on the reliable and growing supply of critical minerals and metals, far more so than the old fossil fuel world. An EV uses five times the quantity needed by a conventional car, and an onshore wind plant requires eight times that of a gas-fired plant of the same capacity. Hence, electric transport and grid storage are now the largest consumers of lithium and cobalt. Examples of rising consumption abound for other materials like copper and nickel. But the Covid lockdown has hit investment in maintaining and expanding supply, creating an obstacle to a clean energy rebound as well as any ambitious roll outs of Green stimuli. This comes on top of the existing problem with the geographical concentration of supply and processing and the geopolitical hazards that go with it. Tae-Yoon Kim and Milosz Karpinski at the IEA run through the challenges, breaking it down by mineral/metal, technology and nation. They end with their recommendations to governments and companies to promote security of supply. Such is its importance that the IEA has decided to step up its analysis of the security of mineral supplies to add to its traditional mandates covering oil, gas and electricity security.

Minerals have played a critical role in the rise of many of the clean energy technologies that are widely used today – from wind turbines and solar panels to electric vehicles. But ensuring that these and other key technologies can draw on sufficient mineral supplies to support the acceleration of energy transitions around the world is a significant and under-analysed global challenge.

Lithium, cobalt and nickel give batteries greater charging performance and higher energy density. Copper is essential for the increasing use of electricity throughout energy systems thanks to its unmatched ability to conduct electric currents. And some rare earth elements such as neodymium make powerful magnets that are vital for wind turbines and electric vehicles.

Mining lockdown

As the Covid-19 pandemic has pushed many countries into some form of lockdown and hit mining operations across the globe, the risks around clean energy supply chains, including those of minerals, have come into sharper focus.

Peru’s copper-mining activities, which are responsible for 12% of global production, ground to a halt because of the country’s confinement measures. South Africa’s lockdown disrupted 75% of the global output of platinum, a key material in many clean energy technologies and emissions control devices, although the country later allowed mines to operate at 50% capacity. Although prices for many important minerals have fallen as global demand has slumped, recent developments have highlighted a number of reasons why the world should not take secure supplies for granted.

Rising clean energy deployment will supercharge demand for critical minerals

Clean energy technologies generally require more minerals than fossil fuel-based counterparts. An electric car uses five times as much minerals as a conventional car and an onshore wind plant requires eight times as much minerals as a gas-fired plant of the same capacity.

Even in fossil fuel-based technologies, achieving higher efficiency and lower emissions relies on the extensive use of minerals. For example, the most efficient coal-fired power plants require a lot more nickel than the least efficient ones in order to allow for higher combustion temperatures.

As deployment of clean energy technologies picks up, demand for critical minerals is set to grow significantly. For some minerals, energy transitions are already the major driving force for demand growth. Since 2015, electric transport and grid storage have quickly become the largest consumers of lithium, together accounting for 35% of total demand today. Likewise, the share of these applications in cobalt demand has risen from 5% to almost 25% over the same period.

Rising prices, volatility

Such rapid growth has put strains on supply, as witnessed by the five-fold increase in cobalt prices between 2016 and early 2018. Although supply has responded, the volatility of prices in recent years has been a wake-up call for companies and governments in terms of the importance of reliable mineral supplies for clean energy transitions.

Geographical concentration of supply and processing means geopolitical hazards

The idea of energy geopolitics is typically associated with oil and gas. By contrast, solar, wind and other clean energy technologies are often seen as immune from such risks. But there are geopolitical hazards associated with the production of many minerals that are essential for energy transitions.

The production of many minerals that are central to energy transitions is more geographically concentrated than that of oil or natural gas. For lithium, cobalt and various rare earths, the top three producers control well over three-quarters of global output. In some cases, a single country is responsible for around half of worldwide production.

The concentration of refining operations is also high, with China alone accounting for some 50% to 70% of global lithium and cobalt refining. China also holds a dominant position along the entire rare earths value chain. It is responsible for 85% to 90% of the processing operations that convert mined rare earths into metals and magnets1.

This creates a source of concern for companies that produce solar panels, wind turbines and batteries using imported minerals, as their supply chains can quickly be affected by regulatory changes, trade restrictions – or even political instability in a small number of countries.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), for example, nearly tripled the royalty rate on cobalt in 2018 by classifying it as a “strategic” substance. Indonesia banned nickel ore exports starting this year. And China’s attempt to limit rare earths exports in 2010 had significant repercussions on the market. Geopolitics will therefore remain a wild card even in an electrified, renewable-rich energy world.

Concerns over ethical mining practices

In addition, current extraction practices in some cases are inefficient, unsafe, polluting and subject to social protests. Some 20% of cobalt production in the DRC relies on “artisanal” miners who extract minerals with rudimentary tools in hazardous conditions2. Rare earth processing involves large amounts of harmful chemicals and produces high volumes of solid waste and wastewater, which are not always appropriately handled. These pose additional challenges for stable sourcing of minerals amid growing social and environmental concerns.

Covid lockdown: Delayed or curtailed investments in minerals supply

Over the past few weeks, many companies have delayed or slashed their budgets for planned investments as a result of a prolonged crisis and low prices. Early data suggest that new project approvals are slowing and that annual exploration budgets are likely to fall by 30% compared with 2019, which will have longer-term implications for supply3. These spending cuts are disproportionately affecting new mines or new entrants to the market, limiting the scope for buyers to diversify sources of supply or localise supply chains.

The impacts of investment cuts vary by mineral. But some, especially copper and nickel, could soon feel strains when demand recovers. Demand and supply of copper and nickel were delicately balanced before the pandemic, and there were expectations that supply imbalances might emerge in the coming years.

Could shortages cause problems for Green stimulus plans?

Short-term pressures have weakened with the contraction in demand caused by the Covid-19 crisis. But both minerals could see demand grow rapidly as the world emerges from the crisis and boosts efforts to accelerate energy transitions, especially if many governments put renewables and batteries at the heart of their economic stimulus packages. Given that many of the copper and nickel mines operating today are near their peak production stage, there is a need to ensure adequate investment in new mines to meet rising demand for copper and nickel as well as other minerals that are produced as by-products.

Key challenges around supply of selected minerals

A renewed focus on mineral supplies is vital for accelerated energy transitions

As the deployment of clean energy technologies accelerates, most of their cost elements are likely to fall further, benefitting from technology learning and economies of scale. However, costs for minerals may well move in a different direction if investments fail to keep up with demand growth, sending ripples along the entire supply chain.

These issues should be put in context. An oil supply crisis has broad repercussions for all vehicles that run on it. A shortage or price spike of a mineral required for producing batteries affects only the supply of new battery-powered vehicles to the market, not the operation of every electric vehicle on the road. However, there is a risk that price volatility for minerals could delay clean technology deployment in many areas – a possibility the world can ill afford, given the urgency of reducing emissions.

There are a number of actions that governments and companies can take to promote security of mineral supplies:

  • Conduct periodic assessments of the demand and supply prospects for critical minerals to inform strategies aimed at ensuring security of supply. The strategies could also incorporate lessons from traditional energy security frameworks while acknowledging the unique nature of mineral resources, which require additional approaches to limit the impact of supply disruptions (e.g. long-term contracts and strategic partnerships).
  • Ensure timely investment in new mines, especially for those where current spending levels are not sufficient to cover projected long-term demand. This would require strong policy signals about the speed of energy transitions and the deployment of key technologies.
  • Importing countries need to strengthen the management of end-of-life products and components to promote recycling or retrieval of valuable minerals. This should happen well before solar panels, wind turbines and batteries approach the end of their lifetimes and cause waste volumes to grow exponentially. Stepping up research and development efforts and deploying results at large scale in recycling, substitution and material efficiency would also bring substantial environmental and security benefits.4
  • Countries producing minerals need to ensure that their resources are developed in a responsible and environmentally friendly manner. Mining companies can be part of the solution for combating climate change by putting in place stringent emissions targets.

In light of the critical importance of minerals for enabling a sustainable energy future, the IEA is stepping up its analysis of the security of mineral supplies to complement its traditional mandates covering oil, gas and electricity security. As a next step, the complex links between energy and minerals will be explored in detail in the World Energy Outlook. The energy sector is changing quickly: as energy transitions move higher up government agendas, policy makers need to be ready for new conversations about energy resources and energy security.


Tae-Yoon Kim is a WEO Energy Analyst at the IEA

Milosz Karpinski is an Energy Analyst at the IEA


Source: https://energypost.eu/clean-energy-threatened-by-lockdown-of-critical-minerals-supply/