Global Trends in Solar Energy Sector

Many countries around the world have switched to solar power in order to supplement or provide an alternative source of energy that is cheaper, more reliable and efficient, and friendly to the environment. Generally speaking, to convert solar energy to electricity, there are two kinds of technologies used by the solar power plants – the PV (photovoltaic) systems which use solar panels to convert sunlight directly into electricity, and the CSP (Concentrated Solar Power) that indirectly uses the solar thermal energy to produce electricity.

The solar PV systems, which are either placed in ground-mounted solar farms or on rooftops are considered cheaper than CSP and constitutes the majority of solar installations, while CSP and large-scale PV accounts for the majority of the general solar electricity-generation-capacity, across the globe.

Global Trends in Solar Energy

In 2017, photovoltaic capacity increased by 95 GW, with a 34% growth year-on-year of new installations. Cumulative installed capacity exceeded 401 GW by the end of the year, sufficient to supply 2.1 percent of the world’s total electricity consumption. This growth was dramatic, and scientists viewed it as a crucial way to meet the world’s commitments to climate change.

“In most countries around the world there is still huge potential to dramatically increase the amount of energy we’re able to get from solar. The only way to achieve this is through a combination of both governance and individual responsibility.” Alastair Kay, Editor at Green Business Watch

Both CSP and PV systems are undergoing a considerable amount of growth and experts claim that by 2050, solar power will become the greatest source of electricity in the whole world. To achieve this goal, the capacity of PV systems should grow up to 4600 gigawatts, of which 50% or more would come from India or China. To date, the capacity of solar power is about 310 gigawatts, a drastic increase on the 50 gigawatts of power installed in 2010.

The United Kingdom, followed by Germany and France led Europe in the 2016 general statistics for solar power growth with new solar installations of 29%, 21%, and 8.3% respectively. In early 2016, the amount of power across Europe was near 100 gigawatts but now stands at 105 gigawatts. This growth is regarded as slow and experts in the solar industry are calling upon the European Union to give more targets concerning the renewable source of energy. It is said that setting a target that is not less than 35% will revive the solar business in Europe.

Across the United States in places, such as Phoenix and Los Angeles, which are located in a sunny region, a common PV system can generate an average of 7500 kWh – similar to the electrical power in use in a typical US home.

In Africa, many nations especially those around the deserts such as Sahara receive a great deal of sunlight every day, creating an opportunity for the development of solar technology across the region. Distribution of PV systems is almost uniform in Africa with the majority of countries receiving about 2000 kWh/m2 in every year. A certain study shows that generating solar power in a facility covering about 0.3% of the area consisting of North Africa could provide all the energy needed by the European-Union.

Asia alone contributed to 66.66% of the global amount of solar power installed in 2016, with about 50% coming from China.

With these reports, it is clear that the development of solar energy technology is growing in each and every continent with just a few countries with little or no apparent growth.

The growth of solar power technology across every continent in the world is very fast and steady and in the near future, almost every country will have a history to tell about the numerous benefits of going solar. The adoption of solar power will help improve the development of other sectors of the economy, such as the electronics industry, hence creating a lot of employment opportunities.

An Introduction to Biomethane

Biogas that has been upgraded by removing hydrogen sulphide, carbon dioxide and moisture is known as biomethane. Biomethane is less corrosive than biogas, apart from being more valuable as a vehicle fuel. The typical composition of raw biogas does not meet the minimum CNG fuel specifications. In particular, the COand sulfur content in raw biogas is too high for it to be used as vehicle fuel without additional processing.

Liquified Biomethane

Biomethane can be liquefied, creating a product known as liquefied biomethane (LBM). Biomethane is stored for future use, usually either as liquefied biomethane or compressed biomethane (CBM) or  since its production typically exceeds immediate on-site demand.

Two of the main advantages of LBM are that it can be transported relatively easily and it can be dispensed to either LNG vehicles or CNG vehicles. Liquid biomethane is transported in the same manner as LNG, that is, via insulated tanker trucks designed for transportation of cryogenic liquids.

Compressed Biomethane

Biomethane can be stored as CBM to save space. The gas is stored in steel cylinders such as those typically used for storage of other commercial gases. Storage facilities must be adequately fitted with safety devices such as rupture disks and pressure relief valves.

The cost of compressing gas to high pressures between 2,000 and 5,000 psi is much greater than the cost of compressing gas for medium-pressure storage. Because of these high costs, the biogas is typically upgraded to biomethane prior to compression.

Applications of Biomethane

The utilization of biomethane as a source of energy is a crucial step toward a sustainable energy supply. Biomethane is more flexible in its application than other renewable sources of energy. Its ability to be injected directly into the existing natural gas grid allows for energy-efficient and cost-effective transport. This allows gas grid operators to enable consumers to make an easy transition to a renewable source of gas. The diverse, flexible spectrum of applications in the areas of electricity generation, heat provision, and mobility creates a broad base of potential customers.

Biomethane can be used to generate electricity and heating from within smaller decentralized, or large centrally-located combined heat and power plants. It can be used by heating systems with a highly efficient fuel value, and employed as a regenerative power source in gas-powered vehicles.

Biomethane to Grid

Biogas can be upgraded to biomethane and injected into the natural gas grid to substitute natural gas or can be compressed and fuelled via a pumping station at the place of production. Biomethane can be injected and distributed through the natural gas grid, after it has been compressed to the pipeline pressure. In many EU countries, the access to the gas grid is guaranteed for all biogas suppliers.

One important advantage of using gas grid for biomethane distribution is that the grid connects the production site of biomethane, which is usually in rural areas, with more densely populated areas. This enables the gas to reach new customers. Injected biomethane can be used at any ratio with natural gas as vehicle fuel.

Biomethane is more flexible in its application than other renewable sources of energy.

The main barriers for biomethane injection are the high costs of upgrading and grid connection. Grid injection is also limited by location of suitable biomethane production and upgrading sites, which have to be close to the natural gas grid.

Several European nations have introduced standards (certification systems) for injecting biogas into the natural gas grid. The standards, prescribing the limits for components like sulphur, oxygen, particles and water dew point, have the aim of avoiding contamination of the gas grid or the end users. In Europe, biogas feed plants are in operation in Sweden, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Switzerland and France.