As governments and industry scrambled to react to the coronavirus crisis, there was a danger that 2020 would pass without the policy fixes needed to aid renewables and accelerate the energy transition.
However, stimulus and recovery packages designed to deal with the economic repercussions of the pandemic presented chances for governments to pledge increased spending on renewables and help to frame a new, greener world. How these pan out in the years to come remains to be seen.
Familiar trends continued, with wind’s economic credentials on display in auctions, even though policies continued to create obstacles for the industry.
In Germany tenders were routinely undersubscribed, largely due to a lack of permitted projects, as they had been in recent years, although the year’s final tender in December saw a surge in interest. Meanwhile, prices plummeted in tenders in France, Greece and Italy, while projects were awarded without subsidy in the Netherlands and Lithuania — all examples of wind’s low and still declining costs.
But Covid-19 also presented unique problems and exacerbated existing challenges.
The pandemic and subsequent lockdown measures created obstacles to construction around the world — which were felt acutely by developers racing against the clock to secure support in the US and China, where subsidies were due to run out by the end of the year.
Still, the coronavirus pandemic may yet usher in new changes in climate and energy policy.
Governments around the world raised hopes of a global energy transition, with carbon-neutrality goals being announced in China, Japan, the US, South Korea and the EU. The US wind industry was in a particularly buoyant mood by the end of the year, anticipating greater support under president-elect Biden.
The Democrat was elected to office on a ticket promising to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement and set the US on track to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, with a 100% clean electricity mix by 2035.
But although progress in green policy has been made (or promised) around the world this year, analysts have warned that the energy transition might not be taking place fast enough to sufficiently combat global warming.
System integration goes further with power-to-x
With study after study confirming that technologies such as onshore wind and solar PV are now among the cheapest energy sources around the world, the economic argument over renewables was largely obsolete in 2020.
So perhaps unsurprisingly, there was an upswing in attention on how to ensure the best integration of these intermittent energy sources into the system so that electricity is supplied securely and consistently.
The industry’s efforts at system integration included using wind and solar to power sectors that require non-electric sources. Wind-power players are involved in a number of “power-to-x” projects — using electricity generation to create other fuels, such as hydrogen or methane. The likes of Ørsted, Vattenfall, RWE, Equinor, Enel all unveiled plans to develop green hydrogen projects or carry out further research into the sector.
Renewable hydrogen also featured in governments’ recovery packages in the wake of the pandemic, as the EU set targets to increase the bloc’s electrolyser capacity from about 1GW today to 40GW by 2030 through a new hydrogen strategy, and Germany approved plans to incentivise 5GW of green hydrogen output by 2030.
Projects to improve the availability and connectivity of wind power also received the green light this year.
Denmark approved plans for two “energy islands” to connect several offshore wind farms and distribute power to countries connected to them, while India awarded its first contract to provide continuous green energy from a portfolio of wind and solar PV projects.