Oct 14, 2020

IEA: energy investment to drop by 18% in 2020

Dominic Ellis
3 min
World Energy Outlook 2020 report calls for faster structural changes but hails solar the 'new king' of electricity
World Energy Outlook 2020 report calls for faster structural changes but hails solar the 'new king' of electricity...

Global energy demand is set to drop by 5% in 2020 and energy investment by 18%, according to the International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook 2020 report.

The estimated falls of 8% in oil demand and 7% in coal use stand in "sharp contrast" to a slight rise in the contribution of renewables, though natural gas and electricity demand are set to fall around 3% and 2% respectively. 

While the pandemic has reduced CO2 emissions back to where they were a decade ago (2.4Gt), there may not have been a similar falls in methane - a powerful greenhouse gas - from the energy sector, despite lower oil and gas output, the report notes. "Despite a record drop in global emissions this year, the world is far from doing enough to put them into decisive decline," said Dr Fatih Birol, IEA Executive Director.

Uncertainty over the duration of the pandemic, its economic and social impacts, and policy responses open up a wide range of possible energy futures.

The report forecasts global energy demand rebounds to its pre-crisis level in early 2023 in a stated policies scenario, which would be delayed until 2025 in the event of a prolonged pandemic and deeper slump, in the case of a delayed recovery - whereby the global economy is 10 percent smaller than under a stated policies scenario.

Solar crowned 'new king' of electricity

On the bright side, renewables are growing rapidly in all scenarios, with solar at the centre of this new constellation of electricity generation technologies, the report states.

Supportive policies and maturing technologies are enabling very cheap access to capital in leading markets. With sharp cost reductions over the past decade, solar PV is consistently cheaper than new coal- or gasfired power plants in most countries, and solar projects now offer some of the lowest cost electricity ever seen.

In the stated policies scenario, renewables meet 80 percent of the growth in global electricity demand to 2030. Hydropower remains the largest renewable source of electricity, but solar is the main driver of growth as it sets new records for deployment each year after 2022, followed by onshore and offshore wind.

The advance of renewable sources of generation, and of solar in particular, as well as the contribution of nuclear power, is much stronger in the stated policies scenario and Net Zero Emissions by 2050 case. The pace of change in the electricity sector puts an additional premium on robust grids and other sources of flexibility, as well as reliable supplies of the critical minerals and metals that are vital to its secure transformation. 

Storage plays an increasingly vital role in ensuring the flexible operation of power systems, with India becoming the largest market for utility-scale battery storage. 

Grid concerns and reaching NZE targets

However it warns grids could prove to be the "weak link" in the transformation of the power sector, with implications for the reliability and security of electricity supply. 

While it foresees the growth era in global oil demand coming to an end within ten years, in the absence of a larger shift in policies, it is still too early to foresee a rapid decline in oil demand. Natural gas fares better than other fossil fuels, but different policy contexts produce strong variations.  

Many oil and gas producers, notably those in the Middle East and Africa such as Iraq and Nigeria, are facing "acute fiscal pressures" as a result of high reliance on hydrocarbon revenues. 

Reaching net zero globally by 2050 would demand a set of dramatic additional actions in the next decade. Bringing about a 40 percent reduction in emissions by 2030 requires that low-emissions sources provide nearly 75 percent of global electricity generation in 2030 (up from less than 40 percent in 2019), and that more than 50 percent of passenger cars sold worldwide in 2030 are electric (from 2.5 percent in 2019).  

Share article

Jul 26, 2021

Form Energy receives funding power for iron-air batteries

Dominic Ellis
3 min
Startup Form Energy receives $200 million Series D financing round led by ArcelorMittal’s XCarb innovation fund to further develop iron-air batteries

Form Energy believes it has cracked the conundrum of commercialising grid storage through iron-air batteries - and some of the biggest names in industry are backing its potential.

The startup recently announced the battery chemistry of its first commercial product and a $200 million Series D financing round led by ArcelorMittal’s XCarb innovation fund. Founded in 2017, Form Energy is backed by investors Eni Next LLC, MIT’s The Engine, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Prelude Ventures, Capricorn Investment Group and Macquarie Capital.

While solar and wind resources are the lowest marginal cost sources of electricity, the grid faces a challenge: how to manage the multi-day variability of renewable energy, even in periods of multi-day weather events, without sacrificing energy reliability or affordability.

Moreover, while Lithium-ion batteries are well suited to fast bursts of energy production, they run out of energy after just a few hours. Iron-air batteries, however, are predicted to have theoretical energy densities of more than 1,200 Wh/kg according to Renaissance of the iron-air battery (phys.org)

The active components of Form Energy's iron-air battery system are some of the cheapest, and most abundant materials: iron, water, and air. Iron-air batteries are the best solution to balance the multi-day variability of renewable energy due to their extremely low cost, safety, durability, and global scalability.

It claims its first commercial product is a rechargeable iron-air battery capable of delivering electricity for 100 hours at system costs competitive with conventional power plants and at less than 1/10th the cost of lithium-ion and can be optimised to store electricity for 100 hours at system costs competitive with legacy power plants.

"This product is our first step to tackling the biggest barrier to deep decarbonisation: making renewable energy available when and where it’s needed, even during multiple days of extreme weather, grid outages, or periods of low renewable generation," it states.

Mateo Jaramillo, CEO and Co-founder of Form Energy, said it conducted a broad review of available technologies and has reinvented the iron-air battery to optimise it for multi-day energy storage for the electric grid. "With this technology, we are tackling the biggest barrier to deep decarbonization: making renewable energy available when and where it’s needed, even during multiple days of extreme weather or grid outages," he said.

Form Energy and ArcelorMittal are working jointly on the development of iron materials which ArcelorMittal would non-exclusively supply for Form’s battery systems. Form Energy intends to source the iron domestically and manufacture the battery systems near where they will be sited. Form Energy’s first project is with Minnesota-based utility Great River Energy, located near the heart of the American Iron Range.

Greg Ludkovsky, Global Head of Research and Development at ArcelorMittal, believes Form Energy is at the leading edge of developments in the long-duration, grid-scale battery storage space. "The multi-day energy storage technology they have developed holds exciting potential to overcome the issue of intermittent supply of renewable energy."

Investors in Form Energy's November 2020 round included Energy Impact Partners, NGP Energy Technology Partners III, and Temasek.

In May 2020, it signed a contract with Minnesota-based utility Great River Energy to jointly deploy a 1MW / 150MWh pilot project to be located in Cambridge, MN. Great River Energy is Minnesota's second-largest electric utility and the fifth largest generation and transmission cooperative in the US.

Last week Helena and Energy Vault announced a strategic partnership to identify additional opportunities for Energy Vault’s waste remediation technologies as the company begins deployment of its energy storage system worldwide. It received new investment from Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures (SAEV) in June.

Maoneng has revealed more details of its proposed 240MWp / 480MWh Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula in Australia (click here).

The BESS represents hundreds of millions of dollars of investment that will improve electricity grid reliability and network stability by drawing energy from the grid during off-peak periods for battery storage, and dispatching energy to the grid during peak periods. 

Share article