Aiming for 100% renewables
Reaching 100% renewable energy generation may seem like an audacious goal, advisory company Clean Edge says, but it is already happening. Hydropower has an important role to play, and will be a significant portion of many 100% renewable energy portfolios for many years to come.
“The goal of powering one’s company, utility, city, state, or nation with 50%, 75%, or even 100% renewable electricity would have seemed preposterous not long ago. But increasingly, a growing number of companies and governments are aiming to achieve such targets. And nobody is laughing,” technology advisory company Clean Edge says.
Reaching the highest achievable penetration of renewables requires an all-of-the-above clean-energy approach, the company adds, and both existing large-scale and new small-scale hydro have a role to play.
In an executive briefing published in November 2015, Clean Edge says that although reaching 100% renewables may seem like an audacious goal, it is already happening. For example the country of Costa Rica recently achieved a national first – receiving all electricity from renewables generation during the first 100 days of 2015. This was primarily from a mix of hydro, which typically supplies about 68% of Costa Rica’s electricity but received a huge boost from heavy rains early in the year, along with about 15% of geothermal.
Furthermore, Kodiak Island in Alaska also managed to reach 100% in 2015. It used 30MW of hydropower, backed by 9MW of wind and 3MW of battery storage, to supply power for its 15,000 inhabitants. Aspen in the US state of Colorado also scored top marks in 2015 for its population of 6700. This was achieved by 50% hydro, along with wind, solar and geothermal.
In 2014 the El Hierro government in the Spanish Canary Islands (population of 550,000) joined the ranks of the 100% club. Its 11.5MW wind farm was backed by pumped storage. While the Austrian state of Carinthia achieved the goal in 2013 for almost 11,000 inhabitants primarily though hydropower and pumped storage, along with some solar and wind installations. Most impressively Iceland achieved the 100% target way back in 1982. Its population of more than 317,000 is served mainly by hydropower, supplemented with geothermal sources.
“The growth of renewable energy since the start of the 21st century shows why reaching high penetrations of renewable electricity is no longer a pipe dream for many corporations and governments,” Clean Edge states.
As some of the examples above have shown, reaching 100% renewables is described as being currently very hard without large scale hydropower. According to the company briefing: “Although the much more mature hydro industry is not growing like wind and solar, long established hydro projects in places like Belize, Costa Rica and Scotland are making significant contributions to those nations’ ambitious renewable energy goals. With the added advantage of providing baseload, dispatchable power – and still providing the world’s leading source of energy storage – hydro will be a significant portion of many 100% RE portfolios for many years to come.”
Furthermore a growing number of businesses are also choosing access to hydropower resources to locate energy-intensive facilities, such as Google’s data centre in The Dalles, Oregon in the US.