In more and more regions around the world, solar energy is rapidly becoming competitive with traditional energy sources – and profitable without government support. An impressive example is Italy’s largest unsubsidized PV project, which was recently commissioned in Montalto di Castro in Central Italy.

The Montalto di Castro project consists of five solar power plants owned by Octopus Energy Investments with a combined output of 63 MWp. The plants do not receive any government incentives and deliver their produced energy to Italian power trader Green Trade for a fixed price under a biennial contract. Octopus chose SMA to deliver 58 Sunny Central CP-XT outdoor inverters and perfectly matched medium voltage solutions for the project. They ensure that the PV power is produced cost-efficiently and reliably fed into the grid.

Valerio Natalizia

Valerio Natalizia

A new era for Photovoltaics

“The Montalto di Castro project heralds a new era of photovoltaics in Italy and we are very proud to be part of it,” said Regional Manager of SMA South Europe, Valerio Natalizia. “Competitiveness with conventional energy sources is opening up new possibilities for our industry not only in Italy. The next years will become very exciting for us.”

Sunny Central inverters and perfectly matched medium voltage technology combined in the SMA Medium Voltage Power Station provide for reliability and cost-efficiency in the project.

Sunny Central inverters and perfectly matched medium voltage technology combined in the SMA Medium Voltage Power Station provide for reliability and cost-efficiency in the project.

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New paper from IRENA sheds light on the conditions needed for renewable energy innovation to flourish

Keeping the rise of global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius means reducing energy-related carbon dioxide emissions by more than 70 per cent by 2050 (compared to 2015 levels). Analysis by IRENA for the G20 Presidency has shown that renewable energy and energy efficiency could potentially achieve 90 per cent of those reductions.

However, further technological breakthroughs and new business models are still needed to fulfil this potential. IRENA’s new working paper seeks to identify priorities for the innovation that will enable the decarbonisation of the energy sector.

Based on the current status and future needs for low-carbon technologies in thirteen distinct sectors, renewables could account for two-thirds of primary energy supply in 2050, up from just 16 per cent today. But this means the growth rate of the share of renewables in total final energy consumption needs to rise seven-fold and be sustained until 2050.

“Renewable energy innovation is starting to really change gears,” says Dolf Gielen, Director of the IRENA Innovation and Technology Centre. “As more and more technologies become cost effective, there is now a shift of attention from technology innovation, towards business-model innovation, innovation in markets and regulation, and innovation in financing. The combination of all of these innovations together is creating a great momentum, and we are going to see a lot of pleasant surprises in the coming years.”

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Economical and scalable solutions based on renewables exist for around two thirds of the world’s energy supply. For these options, the focus should be on innovations to speed up deployment, such as system integration strategies and new business models. But for about one-third of the total energy supply, strengthened research, development and demonstration is needed to bring the latest technologies to market as soon as possible. A holistic innovation approach, including technology innovation along with enabling policy, financial and social measures, will be crucial to ensure a viable transition that achieves global decarbonisation goals.

Nurturing ideas and decarbonising

The paper shows that the business case for renewable power is increasingly strong. Renewable generation technologies are already economically viable, and innovation, together with economies of scale, will continue to reduce their costs and attract investment. The next step for the power sector is to focus innovation efforts on integrating high shares of variable renewable energy in power systems.

IRENA’s analysis indicates that the sectors with the least progress in decarbonisation innovation are those where proper policy incentives and long-term perspectives are lacking. This includes heavy industry, freight transportation, and aviation. Electrifying end-use sectors offers an alternative, by reducing emissions and supporting the integration of higher shares of variable renewable energy, meaning wind and solar. However, these sectors need more than electrification. Action here is urgent, as new innovations can take decades to go from the research and development stage to commercialisation and deployment.

Beyond research and development

“Integrating high shares of renewables requires innovations in all components of energy systems. That includes new system operations, innovative market designs and regulations, out-of-the-box business models, and the enabling infrastructure,” says Gielen.

Policy frameworks to stimulate innovation can ensure a balance of new technologies and in other areas.

“Governments have the ability to accelerate the transformation of the energy sector through immediate action, which can stimulate innovation and enable the private sector to effectively play its role,” Gielen adds.

For an in-depth analysis on the holistic innovation approach and its implications for the transformation of the power sector, see IRENA’s paper, Accelerating the Energy Transition through Innovation.

Countries pledge to further boost renewables through regional collaboration with IRENA

Central Asian countries have committed to scaling up renewable energy deployment and to further collaborate with IRENA to meet their targets under the Paris Agreement. Building on a meeting held in April in Abu Dhabi, a newly released Communiqué from the five Central Asian countries highlights ongoing efforts across the region to create more conducive policy, regulatory, institutional and financing frameworks for renewable energy investments.

"The collaboration between Kazakhstan and IRENA continues to be fruitful, and together we have made significant strides in assessing the future development of renewable energy in the region. We recognise that renewable energy can help the region with the imperative to modernise its energy system and to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement." — Bozumbayev Kanat Aldabergenovich, Kazakhstan’s Energy Minister“The collaboration between Kazakhstan and IRENA continues to be fruitful, and together we have made significant strides in assessing the future development of renewable energy in the region. We recognise that renewable energy can help the region with the imperative to modernise its energy system and to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.” — Bozumbayev Kanat Aldabergenovich, Kazakhstan’s Energy Minister

“Covering over four million square kilometres, the countries of Central Asia are endowed with rich renewable energy sources that can drive sustainable economic development and growth,” said IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin. “With renewable energy targets in place for 2020 and beyond, the region can now seize this transformative opportunity for a sustainable energy future, and the IRENA Regional Action Plan will help boost efforts at renewable energy uptake.”

Released during the Energy Ministerial meeting at Astana Expo 2017, the Astana Communiqué on Accelerating the Uptake of Renewables in Central Asia establishes six key areas to facilitate increased renewable energy deployment in the region.

‘We welcome a concerted effort to promote renewables and lesson sharing in Central Asia’ — Aida Sitdikova, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development‘We welcome a concerted effort to promote renewables and lesson sharing in Central Asia.’ — Aida Sitdikova, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development

Hydropower already contributes a significant proportion of Central Asia’s energy mix, but the region holds vast potential for biomass, wind and solar energy. Taking advantage of the sharp cost reductions and improved cost-competitiveness of these technologies, the region hopes to harness its potential to provide clean, indigenous, cost-effective and sustainable energy supply from renewable sources.

Countries confirmed their readiness to take additional steps and address key challenges to enable increased renewable energy uptake.

‘I’m glad IRENA is taking the initiative to increase Central Asia renewable energy generation"— Sulton Rakhimzoda, First Deputy Minister of Energy, Tajikistan‘I’m glad IRENA is taking the initiative to increase Central Asia renewable energy generation.”— Sulton Rakhimzoda, First Deputy Minister of Energy, Tajikistan

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and others have said IRENA can play a valuable role to help meet regional goals.

IRENA will provide support to Central Asia in several key areas:

  • Resource Assessments: ensuring detailed and up-to-date information on the renewable energy potential available in each country, supporting the planning process for the expansion of power generation and transmission.
  • Integration of Variable Renewable Energy into Power Grids: improving understanding of technical and regulatory aspects, including design, operation and planning; and facilitating the planning, construction and operation of power grids with substantial shares of variable renewables.
  • Policies and Regulations for Renewable Energy Deployment: strengthening enabling frameworks for renewables, including support schemes to facilitate investments, and ensuring decision-making based on reliable data.
  • Renewable Energy Statistics and Data Collection: helping to advance the collection of data for renewables and harmonising it with international standards, as well as making the resulting information freely accessible through publications or online resources.
  • Project Development Support: supporting the private sector’s involvement in renewable energy development in the region, through a range of actions, including improving the bankability of renewable energy projects, demonstrating best practices, and encouraging enhanced regional dialogue on renewable energy finance and risk mitigation.
  • Awareness Raising: advancing understanding among decision makers and the public about cost-competitiveness and related macro-economic and socio-economic benefits of renewables, along with facilitating a regional dialogue to help improve the perception and visibility of renewable energy in Central Asia and beyond.

To learn more about Central Asia’s increasing efforts to accelerate its renewable energy deployment, read IRENA’s press release and the Communiqué (PDF).

IRENA, FAO and IEA agree bioenergy can help meet sustainable development goals

Bioenergy is the most widely used renewable energy source worldwide, and IRENA estimates it could account for half of the renewable energy needed in 2030 to meet climate targets. But to gain the support of the public, expanded use of bioenergy must be socially, economically and environmentally sustainable.

A Round Table at the European Biomass Conference and Exhibition on 13 June 2017 in Stockholm, Sweden, provided an opportunity for IRENA, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the Bioenergy Cooperation Programme of the International Energy Agency (IEA) to set forth a joint briefing paper on Bioenergy for Sustainable Development.  The paper points out that bioenergy can help meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for climate change action, food security, sustainable land use, and access to affordable, reliable, modern sustainable energy for all.

“Significant amounts of bioenergy can be produced without jeopardizing food production or emitting carbon to the atmosphere,” says Jeffrey Skeer, a Senior Programme Officer engaged in IRENA’s bioenergy work. “As pointed out by the panellists and participants, bioenergy can also promote development, create jobs, enrich the land and improve livelihoods.”

Bioenergy’s flexibility means it can play a role in every energy end-use sector: in the power sector, by balancing variable renewables like wind and solar; in process heat and materials for industry; in heating systems and stoves for buildings; and in displacing fossil fuels for transport — especially for aviation, marine shipping and heavy freight transport.  “Policy makers need to know that bioenergy development can be done sustainably so they will feel motivated to actively support it,” says Skeer.

In the briefing paper, IRENA and partners argue that substantial amounts of bioenergy can be produced sustainably from farm and forest residues. They also note that large amounts of land can be made available for energy crops, while meeting food needs, by boosting food crop yields, restoring degraded land, and reducing losses in the food chain.

A recently released IRENA report, Biofuel potential in Southeast Asia: Raising food yields, reducing food waste and utilising residues, highlights Southeast Asia’s considerable resources to produce biofuels sustainably while avoiding carbon-dioxide emissions or food supply interference.  A global picture of such resource potential is presented in an earlier IRENA report on Boosting Biofuels.


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