Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s outlook shows renewables will be cheaper almost everywhere in just a few years.
Solar power, once so costly it only made economic sense in spaceships, is becoming cheap enough that it will push coal and even natural-gas plants out of business faster than previously forecast.
That’s the conclusion of a Bloomberg New Energy Finance outlook for how fuel and electricity markets will evolve by 2040. The research group estimated solar already rivals the cost of new coal power plants in Germany and the U.S. and by 2021 will do so in quick-growing markets such as China and India.
The scenario suggests green energy is taking root more quickly than most experts anticipate. It would mean that global carbon dioxide pollution from fossil fuels may decline after 2026, a contrast with the International Energy Agency’s central forecast, which sees emissions rising steadily for decades to come.
“Costs of new energy technologies are falling in a way that it’s more a matter of when than if,” said Seb Henbest, a researcher at BNEF in London and lead author of the report.
The report also found that through 2040:
BNEF’s conclusions about renewables and their impact on fossil fuels are most dramatic. Electricity from photovoltaic panels costs almost a quarter of what it did in 2009 and is likely to fall another 66 percent by 2040. Onshore wind, which has dropped 30 percent in price in the past eight years, will fall another 47 percent by the end of BNEF’s forecast horizon.
That means even in places like China and India, which are rapidly installing coal plants, solar will start providing cheaper electricity as soon as the early 2020s.
“These tipping points are all happening earlier and we just can’t deny that this technology is getting cheaper than we previously thought,” said Henbest.
Coal will be the biggest victim, with 369 gigawatts of projects standing to be cancelled, according to BNEF. That’s about the entire generation capacity of Germany and Brazil combined.
Capacity of coal will plunge even in the U.S., where President Donald Trump is seeking to stimulate fossil fuels. BNEF expects the nation’s coal-power capacity in 2040 will be about half of what it is now after older plants come offline and are replaced by cheaper and less-polluting sources such as gas and renewables.
In Europe, capacity will fall by 87 percent as environmental laws boost the cost of burning fossil fuels. BNEF expects the world’s hunger for coal to abate starting around 2026 as governments work to reduce emissions in step with promises under the Paris Agreement on climate change.
“Beyond the term of a president, Donald Trump can’t change the structure of the global energy sector single-handedly,” said Henbest.
All told, the growth of zero-emission energy technologies means the industry will tackle pollution faster than generally accepted. While that will slow the pace of global warming, another $5.3 trillion of investment would be needed to bring enough generation capacity to keep temperature increases by the end of the century to a manageable 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the report said.
The data suggest wind and solar are quickly becoming major sources of electricity, brushing aside perceptions that they’re too expensive to rival traditional fuels.
By 2040, wind and solar will make up almost half of the world’s installed generation capacity, up from just 12 percent now, and account for 34 percent of all the power generated, compared with 5 percent at the moment, BNEF concluded.
When Blue Mountain Renewables (BMR) began operating its 36-megawatt wind farm in Potsdam, St Elizabeth, a few months ago, the facility became Jamaica’s largest private-sector renewable energy project.
Minister of Science, Energy and Technology Dr Andrew Wheatley, who gave the keynote address at the official opening on August 11, pointed out that the wind farm would help to diversify the country’s energy matrix and ease the dependence on imported fossil fuels.
“The wind farm is expected to reduce greenhouse gases by about 66,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, roughly equivalent to taking 13,000 cars off the road,” he informed.
Wheatley also applauded the relationship and assistance the company has given to the neighbouring schools, Munro College and Hampton High, as well as the treatment of farmers in St Elizabeth who were affected during the construction phase.
Principal of Hampton High Heather Murray said that she could literally see the ‘wind of change’ with the advent of the BMR wind project.
She bemoans the fact that nearly a quarter of her school’s budget is spent on high electricity cost, money that could be spent on building a state-of-the-art science laboratory.
“BMR brings hope and we welcome them wholeheartedly. We are also excited about the efforts to go green and we are doing our part here at Hampton. Earlier this year, we swapped all fluorescent light bulbs for more environmentally friendly LED bulbs,” Murray stated.
She also informed that Hampton had installed about 12 solar panels to integrate renewable energy into their electric supply. The panels, combined with small wind turbines on the campus, now provide about one-fifth of the school’s energy needs, she noted.
The BMR Jamaica Wind project will serve thousands of customers annually. Power will be sold to the Jamaica Public Service (JPS) Company, under a 20-year power-purchase agreement. This electricity is expected to be among the lowest cost sources of power available on the JPS system.
Jamaica currently relies on oil imports to meet 90 per cent of its energy needs. This leaves the country vulnerable to fluctuating oil prices, which can make it difficult to budget and plan effectively.
To ease the dependence, the country has set a target to generate 30 per cent of its energy from local renewable sources such as hydro, wind and solar power by 2030.
President of BMR Bruce Levy said construction of the project was made easier by the cooperation of the Potsdam residents and the appreciation they showed for the work being done in their community.
“We made sure there was significant benefit to the local and wider community, with billions of dollars of direct spending and employment of hundreds of Jamaicans during construction. We say, without any fear of contradiction, that we are committed to community development,” he said.
Levy informed that the wind farm was made possible through a US$62.7 million financing package, including a US$42.7 million loan from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC); a US$10 million loan from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), and a US$10 million loan from the IFC-Canada Climate Change Programme. BMR Energy provided an equity investment of US$26.9 million.
The United Nations (UN) climate change secretariat has added its voice to concerns being raised about a proposal made by China’s Jiuquan Iron and Steel Company (JISCO) for the construction of a coal-fired plant in St Elizabeth.
The proposal was announced after JISCO completed a deal to acquire the Alpart alumina factory from Russian company, UC Rusal. The new Chinese owners plan to upgrade the plant with an aluminum smelter that would be powered by a 1,000-megawatt coal-fired plant.
Based on calculations provided by the CoalSwarm Global Plant Tracker, a 1,000 megawatt coal plant would produce 5.6-5.8 million tonnes of CO2 annually, increasing Jamaica’s emissions of CO2 by 79-82 per cent. Greenpeace campaigner Lauri Myllyvirta has said that the construction of the plant would violate the Paris Agreement signed under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Commenting on the possible impact of the proposed coal plant on Jamaica’s UNFCCC standing, Nick Nuttall, UNFCCC spokesperson, pointed out that Jamaica had submitted an ambitious national climate action plan to the UN aimed at achieving a nearly eight per cent emission reduction by 2030. He also argued that the action plan promised commitments of greater investment in greener sources of homegrown energy such as wind and solar power rather than increases in oft-imported fossil fuels.
He argued that economic growth and job creation were not antithetical to environmental protection.
“Many complex choices will be made by governments over the years and decades to come, including with regard to energy sources, but today, there is an ever clearer consensus that overcoming poverty and growing GDP, which are critical for developing countries, can go hand in hand with generating new kinds of high-tech jobs; creating healthier, less polluted societies and a transition to a low carbon economy …,” he said in an email response to The Gleaner.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness has said that the Government is committed to balancing its economic-growth aspirations with its environmental and international commitments.
Comments solicited from Jamaica’s mission to the UN and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were not forthcoming up to press time.
Malvern, St Elizabeth — Eighteen months after ground was broken, the 36.3-megawatt wind farm run by BMR Jamaica Wind at Potsdam, Malvern, high in the Santa Cruz Mountains, was formally commissioned in mid-August.
Priced at US$89.9 million, the wind project, located across the road from another wind farm run by light and power company Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), is being described as the single largest investment in St Elizabeth since construction of the Alpart alumina plant at Nain in the late 1960s.
The BMR project includes eleven wind turbines, which will provide energy to JPS’s national grid at US12.9 cents per kilowatt-hour.
BMR Jamaica Wind is a subsidiary of US-based BMR Energy. Guests at the recent formal commissioning were told that billionaire British investor, Sir Richard Branson — who turned up for the commissioning — was in the process of acquiring BMR through his wide- ranging and far-flung Virgin Group.
Branson, who triggered laughter by ripping up and throwing away what he said were his speaking notes, told his audience that his motive for the acquisition was to promote a clean energy revolution.
“I decided recently that we needed to get one or two core (clean energy) companies under our belt so that we can actually get out there and speed up this revolution …” he said.
“ We were delighted to acquire BMR and we will be out there trying to hustle and bustle governments all over the Caribbean and other countries to hurry up towards carbon neutrality by 2050. Personally, I don’t need to make money out of it, if it makes a bit of money, fine; if it doesn’t, fine. I just want to get the wind out there get the solar out there, … be powered by sun, wind, sea… a green energy revolution and bring the cost of energy down for everybody; get rid of the dangers of coal and oil and the dirty energies that we are using today… ” said Branson, founder of the Virgin Group.
Funding for the BMR project in Malvern was sourced through a package including a US$42-million loan from the US quasi-government investment agency Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), which pushes US overseas investment globally; US$10 million from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), which promotes private sector development; US$10 million from the IFC-Canada Climate Change Programme and equity investment of US$26.9 million from BMR Energy.
Jamaica’s energy minister Andrew Wheatley said the BMR wind farm formed part of the government’s drive to significantly reduce reliance on fossil fuels and reduce the current annual oil bill of about US$2 billion. Ninety-two per cent of Jamaica’s energy needs are currently met by oil imports, he said.
The project was in line with the target of 30 per cent renewables in the national energy mix by 2030, as stated in the National Energy Policy, and in keeping with Vision 2030 Jamaica, the minister said.
“Projects like BMR continue to establish Jamaica as a clear renewables market leader within the Caribbean. By the end of this year, we would have added 80 MW of renewable energy to the national grid, through Wigton III (a wind farm at Rose Hill in southern Manchester), Content Solar (solar plant in Clarendon), and this facility,” Wheatley said.
Bruce Levy, president of BMR Energy, said the company had plans to expand the wind farm at Malvern by an additional three wind turbines. Small farmers would co-exist with the energy-generating operations, he said.
KHAN… what we want is for them to own, as much as possible, what has to be done in each sector
From the “historical momentum in favour of brown industries” – those overly dependent on fossil fuels – to “bias in the political system towards short-run and against long-run perspectives”, the deck appears stacked against Jamaica’s efforts towards a green economy.
These factors, according to the recently published Green Economy Scoping Study, in addition to others, include IMF prescriptions that preclude Government providing tax incentives to encourage greening.
Still, the study – done with United Nations Environment Programme and European Union support – notes that in as much as these factors are barriers, they are also justification for the transformation of the economy into one typified by efficient resource management, a low-carbon footprint, and which is socially inclusive.
And it cites a variety of opportunities that can be pursued across key sectors – agriculture, construction, energy, tourism, and water – from the private sector’s demonstrated leadership in some fields to existing policies and programmes.
Elizabeth Emanuel, one of the study’s authors, said the Vision 2030 Jamaica, for which she is programme director, is one such.
“One of the benefits Jamaica has in advancing to a green economy, compared to other states, is that our own national development plan had the foresight to include the green economy as a pathway to prosperity. That plan speaks to the green economy and what a green economy would look like for Jamaica,” she told The Gleaner.
And there are some good indicators of what’s possible, Emanuel added, noting that there have been, for example, advances in the diversification of the island’s energy mix.
“We also have a society that is more aware, companies that are thinking and talking green, and all of these are creating the demand for a green economy,” she noted.
According to Emanuel, there is no question of the need to pursue the transition – whatever the constraints.
“The green economy is not just about environmental protection, but it is our planet, our people, our economy and how we marry those three to create sustainable solutions that will advance the prosperity of our land of wood and water,” she said.
Eleanor Jones, head of Environmental Solutions Limited, agreed.
“When it comes to what we need, we need to look at our resources management because that is also a part of it … . But you can’t just wave a magic wand. It has to be a structured approach with legislation and incentive … ,” she said.
“We like to talk about the IMF putting in all these strictures, and they have, and you have to watch your budget. But not everything has to cost a lot of money… . We have to encourage our suppliers to retool and encourage our consumers to manage their resources,” Jones added.
Colonel Oral Khan, chief technical director in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, said the coming months should see a re-engagement of key actors towards the green economy.
“The various sectors were consulted in the preparation stage. We now need to re-engage with these sectors at the highest levels because there have been a number of changes,” he said.
“What we want is for them to own, as much as possible, what has to be done in each sector. We expect that they will go through the list of recommendations that are there and see which ones are to be done in the short to medium term, so they can embrace those and seek to work them into their respective strategic plans. That is the approach we will take,” he added.
Among the recommendations from the study are:
• Sustainable land management and water management systems for agriculture;
• Enforce the new building code, as well as adopt codes and standards that mandate green construction practices for the construction sector; and
• Promote and incentivise renewable energy use and water use reduction, as well as planning for climate change for the tourism sector.
There is, too, the recommendation to develop more extensive sewage recycling, as well as reduce energy cost and diversify sources for the water and sewerage sector.
Kelly Tomblin, president and chief executive officer of the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), is arguing that the visit of United States President Barack Obama to Jamaica last year has improved the energy prospects for the island.
Tomblin, one of the participants in a Gleaner project ahead of Friday’s one-year anniversary of Obama’s visit, said: “Obama’s visit gave Jamaica greater strength in gas negotiations with gas suppliers by signalling support for US gas to Jamaica, thus increasing competition and the number of available suppliers and supporting greater optimisation of Jamaica’s renewable resource.”
During his two-day visit to the island, Obama announced the formation of an energy fund to finance clean-energy projects in the region. He made the announcement at the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)-US Summit.
“Caribbean countries have one of the highest energy costs in the world. Today, we are announcing new partnerships and a new fund to mobilise private-sector projects in clean energy for the Caribbean and Central America,” he said at the conclusion of the summit.
The energy fund now forms part of the Caribbean Energy Security Initiative, which aims to reduce the region’s reliance on fossil fuels.
According to Tomblin: “Obama’s visit created more opportunities throughout the energy sector by voicing confidence in Jamaica’s landscape and supporting US investment in Jamaica’s energy sector.”
She called for Jamaica to act fast in capitalising on the opportunities created in the energy sector by the initiatives announced by Obama.
“The only threat exposed during Obama’s visit was the truth that if we don’t act fast, other Caribbean countries will take advantage of the new open door in the energy market and secure the hub position,” she said.
In giving further reflections on the anniversary of the visit, Tomblin highlighted the need for Jamaica to position itself as the hub for the provision of gasolene as a cheaper source of energy.
“Let’s make sure we step fully into this moment he opened up by driving this gas-procurement process through quickly and position Jamaica as an obvious hub for that product which will be key for our neighbours to meet their overall environmental commitments,” she said.
“We cannot afford bureaucracy now.”
PARIS, France (AFP) — Investment in renewable energy hit a record US$286 billion (256 billion euros) in 2015, more than half of which came from developing countries for the first time, according to a UN report released Thursday.
All told, new money put into solar, wind, biofuels and other cleaner energy technologies has exceeded US$2.3 trillion since 2004, when total investment was less than US$50 billion, it said.
“Renewables are becoming ever more central to our low-carbon lifestyles,” said Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Programme, which co-wrote the report.
“Importantly, for the first time in 2015, renewables investments were higher in developing countries than developed.”
That shift was led by China and India, both of which have invested heavily in clean energy even as their juggernaut economies continue to be mainly powered by carbon-intensive fossil fuels.
Renewables added more to global energy generation capacity in 2015 than all other technologies combined, including nuclear, coal, gas and mega-hydro projects of more than 50 megawatts.
Despite rock-bottom fossil fuel prices, new clean energy capacity — even excluding nuclear—- outstripped new coal and gas by more than 100 per cent, said the report, Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2016.
The rapid transition to renewables, especially in developing and emerging economies, is “helped by sharply reduced costs, and by the benefits of local power production over reliance on imported commodities”, said Michael Liebreich, chairman of the advisory board of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which co-launched the report.
As in previous years, the growth in clean energy in 2015 was dominated by solar photovoltaics and wind, which together added 118 gigawatts in generating capacity, nearly a quarter more than the year before.
Wind contributed 62GW and photovoltaics 56 GW, with more modest inputs coming from biomass, geothermal, solar thermal and ‘waste-to-power’, in which waste products are recycled.
The fact that renewables far exceeded conventional energy for new capacity in 2015 shows that a “structural change is underway”, the report said.
But the ultimate goal of a “carbon neutral” global economy enshrined by the world’s nations at UN climate talks in Paris in December is still a distant prospect.
Excluding major hydro projects, renewables still only account for 16 per cent of the world’s total power capacity, even if that figure has consistently climbed by double digits in recent years.
Actual electricity generated is even less — barely 10 per cent.
“Despite the ambitious signals from COP21 and the growing capacity of new, installed renewable energy, there is still a long way to go,” said Udo Steffens, president of the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.
The Paris Agreement inked at the 195-nation ‘COP21’ talks vowed to cap global warming at below two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), a goal that scientists say will require a wholesale shift away from fossil fuels.
Much of the record-breaking investment in clean energy last year came from China, which spent nearly US$103 billion (92 billion euros), 17 per cent more than in 2014 and 36 per cent of the world total.
India was a distant second, spending US$10.2 billion, followed by South Africa (US$4.5 billion), Mexico (US$4 billion) and Chile (US$3.4 billion).
Morocco, Turkey and Uruguay filled out the list of nations, investing at least US$1 billion.
Overall, developing countries poured 17 times more money into clean energy last year than in 2004.
Gov’t oil hedge underwater
In June 2015, the Government of Jamaica booked a hedge transaction to buy six million barrels of oil for delivery 15 months later at a strike price of US$66.74.
The mechanism used in this kind of transaction is called a ‘call option’, which gives the purchaser of the option the right, but not the obligation, to purchase the asset at a specified price the ‘strike price’ within a specified time. A month later, it bought another 15-month futures contract for two million barrels of oil and the average strike price of the two contacts is US$66.53.
We paid about $30 million to Citibank for the privilege of placing this bet on oil prices going higher than our strike price in 15 months.
When these contracts to buy crude oil were booked, prices on the world market was trading at about US$63 a barrel and had rebounded from about US$45 in January 2015. The government placed a bet based on its belief that crude oil prices would continue to rise well above the $66.53 strike price. If that were to happen and oil prices were to increase to, say, US$80-US$90 per barrel, the Government would be in the delightful position of having to pay only about US$66.53 per barrel for oil that would be trading at the much higher spot price on the international commodity market. The Government of Jamaica, senior executives at the Bank of Jamaica, and members of the oversight and technical committees created by the Government to manage the hedges, all seem to have bought into the belief that oil prices would climb higher than US$67 before the expiry date of the options.
The oversight committee is comprised of the financial secretary, Devon Rowe; the governor of the Bank of Jamaica, Brian Wynter; the managing director of the Development Bank of Jamaica, Milverton Reynolds; the managing director the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica, Winston Watson; and Dr Vincent Lawrence. Mr Watson is known to have experience in oil trading and markets. Only Michael Hewett, an executive at Petrojam, was named as a member of the technical committee.
One has to believe that the intention of the members of the government-appointed committees and all of those involved in the hedge transaction was a good one to try and protect Jamaica against that time in the 15-month period when oil prices might spike above US$67. While there is still considerable time to the maturity of the call options, right now the bet is not looking good and the best projections are for oil prices to fall even lower than the below-US$30 they traded at this week.
This week, three important financial institutions released projections indicating that oil prices could fall to US$10-US$20 per barrel and stay there for sometime. Goldman Sachs’ projection was at US$20, Morgan Stanley’s was US$20 and Standard Chartered, a bank with strong roots and connections in the Middle East and Asia, projected US$10 a barrel oil.
In the futures trading business, which is where these call options reside, when an option is bought with the expectation that the price of the commodity will increase but the opposite occurs, the option is said to be ‘underwater’. Given that these options were booked with the expectation for oil price to rise above US$66, and they are now heading in the direction of US$20, Jamaica’s call options on oil are seriously underwater.
A better alternative
In November 2014, a public official asked me about hedging because someone had written him an email to encourage Jamaica to hedge oil transactions on the upside, based on a scenario the email writer concocted about the state of affairs in the international oil industry. The public official was aware that I had traded oil futures for many years and had lived in the Middle East for more than two decades. I share below an excerpt from my reply:
“The recommendation needs study because taking a position means the Government and Jamaica will be guessing the direction of the movement of the price of this commodity. The writer makes it sound like making money on these bets (options) is a sure thing. It is not.
“There is always a risk. Suppose we bet on a certain price increase in a specific time frame, which we would have to if we are going to hedge, and prices instead of rising to, say, US$70/bbl from US$50 falls to US$35/bbl during our hedge horizon, we would suffer an important loss depending on the size of the contract. This is what apparently happened to that forward position Jamaica took on that futures contract on aluminium with the Russians and/or Glencore, the debilitating result of which you are very familiar.
“When oil went to US$9/bbl in the 1990s, if you had dared to tell anyone about the US$147 per barrel price which occurred in July 2008 they would have declared you mad. It’s a commodity; any card can play. On review, if the writer sees the prices as going one way, down, and OPEC is ‘dead’, why hedge? Do nothing, stay addicted to imported oil and go for the lovely ride to low-oil-price nirvana.
“The better alternative is to wean ourselves off the 98 per cent dependence on petroleum-based fossil fuels for our energy supplies. We really need to develop and use renewable energy from many sources, including bagasse, garbage, wind, water and solar.”
The new global climate deal, reached after two weeks of intense negotiations, is a signal to the private sector, local and international, of the need to reassess current investment flows.
Jamaican negotiator Dr Orville Grey said the private sector will be critical, given the stated goal of the new deal of “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 28C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.58C above pre-industrial levels, recognising that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change”.
“The private sector will at some point have to take the lead because the technologies that are likely to take us to carbon neutrality will likely come from the private sector and not the public sector, at least as it relates to technology,” Grey, coordinator for adaptation for the Alliance of Small Island States during the negotiations, told The Gleaner.
If the world is to meet the ‘well-below-two’ target, it will require a significant shift in the current high levels of consumption of fossil fuels, including coal and oil, towards renewables such as solar and wind.
Colonel Oral Khan, chief technical director in the Ministry of Water, Land, Environment, and Climate Change and himself a member of the Jamaica delegation to the talks, was in full agreement.
“The private sector is encouraged under this agreement to support the mobilisation of finance to support adaptation and mitigation,” he said.
On Jamaica’s private sector, Khan said: “The State has submitted its intended nationally determined contribution commitment to [reducing greenhouse gas emissions] to the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) Secretariat. Our commitment is consistent with the goal of our National Energy Policy. I would say to the private sector, look at investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency. In time, I hope that we will see more entities entering into public-private partnerships.”
Neither Grey nor Khan is alone in their thinking; international leaders in business have echoed their sentiments.
“The business case for eliminating greenhouse gases by 2050 is irrefutable. Indeed, solving climate change presents the greatest economic and social development opportunity of our time,” said Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, in a release to the media on Saturday.
“The new climate agreement is a historic turning point. Now business can and must innovate to lead the transition to a clean economy. Together, it is our duty as human beings, responsible citizens and business leaders to protect the environment. A transition to a clean and green economy will lift millions out of poverty, and ensure the planet’s health for generations to come,” he added.
Arianna Huffington, president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, mirrored his comments.
“This is truly a turning point in human history. We now have the chance to advance the well-being of people everywhere, while creating millions of new jobs and ending our reliance on fossil fuels,” she said in the same release.
“This will help us build a safer, more peaceful world for all. This is exactly what business needs in order to thrive in the long run,” added Huffington.