Building consensus for variable renewables integration

In light of the growing importance of renewables and especially Variable Renewable Energy Sources (VRES) all over the world, policymakers and energy leaders are addressing emerging issues to ensure continued growth of variable renewables and their successful integration in electricity systems.

On 31 March, the Conseil Français de l’Énergie, the French member committee of the World Energy Council, organised a seminar on variable renewables integration in electricity systems, opened by its Chair Olivier Appert, that gathered a full house of energy experts in Paris.

The seminar was an opportunity for Jean Eudes Moncomble, Secretary General of the French member committee, to present the World Energy Council’s 2016 report, “Variable renewables integration in electricity systems: How to get it right”, produced in partnership with CESI SPA.

By 2015, 164 out of 196 countries in the world had set renewable energy targets, and 138 countries had renewable energy support policies in place, found the report. The recent wave of energy policies in support of RES has been led by 95 developing and emerging economies, an increase from only 15 countries in 2005.

It also found that the global installed RES capacity has more than doubled over the past ten years, from 814GW in 2004 to 1,712GW by the end of 2014. This growth was mainly driven by wind and solar power which increased from 48 GW and 3 GW in 2004 to 370 GW of wind and 181 GW of solar power in 2014, with an average annual growth rate of 23% and 51.0%, respectively.

The seminar convened experts from the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME), EDF and the International Energy Agency (IEA). They expressed a wide variety of opinion and touched upon recent studies on renewable energy by their respective organisations.

Key takeaways

The seminar was concluded by a roundtable with Alain Burtin, Director, Energy Management R&D at EDF, David Marchal, Deputy Director of Sustainable Production and Energy at Ademe; and Cédric Philibert, an energy and climate change analyst at the IEA. This helped give an overview of the different views expressed throughout the event, with each speaker presenting a key takeaway to the audience.

David Marchal, highlighted the importance of demand side management to accompany a policy of renewable energies. He also touched upon the importance of research and development in lowering technology costs, as well as the value of subjecting renewables to the “price signal” for technologies with the most effective system.

“It is essential to consider the integration of renewables as an economic opportunity for employment, for social benefits and valorisation of local resources in the territories,” said Mr Marchal. He also recalled the strong impact of the social acceptability of renewable energies. He also commented: “Introduction of capacity markets can help ensure security of supply, as energy-only based markets are often insufficient to guarantee supply in systems with a large share of variable renewables.”

Mr Burtin added: “It is important to have a framework that anticipates the development of variable renewable energy sources, and allows to manage it in the long term, therefore preventing and controlling risks.”

Vera Silva, Program Director, Electricity Systems and Markets, EDF, recalled that integrating a large proportion of variable renewable sources requires coordinated development of networks and stressed the need for a system with back-up capacity to enable security and quality of supply.
“Storage and flexible demand can to some extent supplement production for system balancing. She cautioned that the pace of development of renewables must be mastered to avoid shortages and to ensure an acceptable trajectory of evolution of the system costs,” she commented.

Cédric Philibert warned that aligning policies for energy efficiency and renewable become critical to achieving climate goals. For him, a shift reversal is needed with renewables providing over 60% of global electricity by 2050 or before. Increasing variable renewables will need more system flexibility: Next-generation wind and solar PV need ‘next-generation policies’ focusing on system value and not just costs: “It is important that the sector succeeds in combining a sufficient guarantee level of return on investment for the developers with indications of prices in place and especially in hour corresponding to the value of the kilowatt hour.”

Didier Laffaille, from the Commission de Régulation de l’Énergie, explained from a regulator’s perspective that renewables integration creates the need to reinforce the networks so that they can overcome the stresses in intensity and tension that these installations generate. He anticipated that while the balance of the network is mainly achieved by acting on supply, the equilibrium in the future will also be done by focusing more on the demand side.

Economist, Dominique Finon of CNRS-CIRED, stated: “There is a confusion between cost and economic value”. For him, the policy of electric decarbonation in the EU is based on an objective of renewables means, rather than on the search for an optimal mix, and the economic value of variable-contribution ENR capacities gradually diminishes as their development progresses.