Emergence of renewables (part 1)

In the first of a two-part interview, DNV GL talks to Dr Andrew Garrad about the emergence of renewables following COP21.

Podcast: Emergence of renewables (part 1)

The COP21 agreement in Paris was a significant milestone in the renewables journey, with real consensus among nations. In this episode, Dr Garrad shares his ideas on what, apart from renewables, is leading us into a decarbonised future? What are the changes, both large scale and small, that must happen to move us forward? He discusses the need to integrate resources across countries. Dr Garrad looks back to the beginnings of the wind industry and examines the motivations that drove its evolution.


Read the transcription here


NARRATOR                   Welcome to the DNV GL Talks Energy Podcast Series. Electrification, rise of renewables and new technologies supported by more data and IT systems are transforming the power system. Join us each week as we discuss these changes with guests from around the industry.

MATHIAS STECK           As guest to today’s podcast episode I’d like to welcome Dr Andrew Garrad, co-founder of Garrad Hassan, former President of GL Garrad Hassan, member of the Supervisory Board of DNV GL – Energy, and Andrew, you also were Chairman of the British Wind Energy Association, President of the European Wind Energy Association, Chair of Bristol European Green Capital 2015 and Honorary Fellow of New College of Oxford. Very recently you have retired from DNV GL and in your letter to your former colleagues you mentioned that you have retired from DNV GL but not from the carbon reduction effort and from championing of renewables, and this statement leads us right into the topic of today’s episode. If we look into the targets which were agreed at COP21 in Paris December 2015 I think everybody signed up for imperative of climate change and there’s a lot of hope on renewables. But you clearly see differences where countries are today and where they plan to go, i.e. increasing energy demand in Asia-Pacific versus stranding assets in the Western world. So, if we talk about this whole decapitalisation employment change imperative, what would you see other than renewables is actually leading us into a de-carbonised future?


DR ANDREW GARRAD    Yes, well maybe I can just step back one stage, well two stages, because I was at the Copenhagen COP which as we all know was a pretty disastrous or ineffective event and I think COP21 in Paris really was an important milestone for all of us. It’s easy to have these huge talking shops and actually after Copenhagen I did wonder whether this was a sensible medium in which to have these discussions because it seemed to be so unwieldly. But COP21 I think really has been an important event, an important event in the sense that people really did come together and unlike in the previous COPs where the developed countries were telling the developing countries how to behave and what they should do, this COP seemed to be a much more cooperative one, with the poorer countries bringing to the table what they could do and what they wanted, and that was a very important different cultural shift, as well as of course China and America coming with a different attitude to Paris.


DR ANDREW GARRAD    So we have an opportunity to focus some changes around COP21 and of course the renewables is an important part of it. I have spent my whole life dealing with renewables and electricity generation, so I know that I do focus entirely on the electrical sector and I talk about energy when I mean electricity, and that’s a very lazy way to behave. So, I can only really talk about the power sector, less about the other important parts of our energy consumption. So, renewables will play a vital role, and as I mention today, it’s an important day in Britain with 7.4 GW going offline which is a very good step, but we have to replace it with something, or at least we have to replace some of it with something, because I think the other part of this discussion is how do we use less energy, and that’s a much less glamorous part of the jigsaw. So, the glamorous bit is generating electricity from new technologies and new forms, but perhaps as important or perhaps actually more important is using less, or indeed using our assets more wisely. So, there’s this ubiquitous word ‘smart’ that is now being banded around by everybody, and the lowest level of smart is actually just common sense. If you have an asset in the form of a power station or a grid, it just makes sense to use it as efficiently as you can and frankly we haven’t done that in previous times, really since electricity generation started in the industrial way, we’ve just had it on full blast and hoped for the best. And now we are getting really quite a different approach, partly as a result of better measurement, technology and cheap computers and communications, but partly I think as a result of us all thinking more deeply about what we should be doing.


So, to answer your question, for us certainly renewables is a key part. I think smartness or common sense, the smart grid, smart use. Also, electric cars I think can be a good medium of storage as well as a way of improving air quality.  But perhaps most importantly, and this is the most difficult thing and I’ve come across this in my last year having taken a year and a half out of the renewable energy business to do the European Green Capital, is cultural change. I think getting people to think differently about what they’re doing to scrutinise their own behaviour, their own energy use and see what they can do personally is an important step. So, it’s partly psychology, partly engineering, but renewables is an important part and it’s the part of which I know most about and probably which we are most concerned with in the company, but it’s only a small part of a much bigger picture.

MATHIAS STECK           I think one thing also I found quite relevant on this COP21 is that they are honest about the fact that we do not know all the answers yet how to get there. And that brings me to that point when we talk about renewables, if we look for example at Germany who have sometimes so much renewables that they have to send it out to other countries, and looking into your thought you had much earlier already that you said, let’s not look as the single wind turbine, let’s understand a wind farm maybe as a power plant, which I think we are more and more doing today. What would you think has to happen there on a bigger scale?  The interconnection of countries allows us obviously to do stuff which we couldn’t achieve in isolation. So, I think on that front there is a big chance, especially for big countries like China but also for countries who have said they want to work together like Europe to make that work, what can happen on that angle?


DR ANDREW GARRAD    Well I think an interesting thing about renewables is that things happen along a whole spectrum of size. So, I mentioned just a few minutes ago cultural shifts and what we’re now starting to see at the very small end is private individuals, householders or small communities, are starting to make their own electricity and they’re being allowed to make their own electricity, because for some time that was actually illegal in some countries. So, we have community energy groups starting and using actually often PV rather than wind, but could be either, to generate electricity and reduce their energy import from the grid. So, at the very small end you have an important change and that’s an important part of the cultural shift, because that’s people starting to think much more deeply about their own energy behaviour and energy consumption. And right at the other end of the spectrum you have what you’re referring to which is large scale integration between different national grids. And something which has been extraordinarily important but often is not recognised I think, particularly in Europe and let’s talk about Europe to start with then we can talk a bit further afield, but the success of renewables in Europe has been driven to a very large extent, not exclusively but to a large extent, by the 2020 goals or the 20-20-20 goals that were set some time ago, the legally enforceable requirement to deliver a certain amount of energy from renewables. I was responsible when I was president of the European Wind Energy Association trying to drive and have something similar in the 2030 goals and I’m sorry to say that I failed, so that was a pity although we have other goals in there.  In both the 2020 and the 2030 targets are targets for integration, which you don’t really read much about and people are often unaware of. But I think strategically that’s probably the most important thing.  So, there is a requirement to have a level of integration between neighbouring countries all over the European Union.


Now the level to which renewables can be exploited depends very much on geographical aggregation, so the aggregation of weather patterns over Europe, and we did a bit of work quite some time ago now when we compared the Netherlands with Ireland, similar sort of landmass, similar sort of wind exposure although Ireland’s a bit better, but completely different in terms of their electrical interconnectivity. So, a depression passing over the Atlantic and into Europe, goes over Ireland and then over Holland, but its impact and its available energy is dramatically different because of the level of interconnectivity. So, I think looking at this as a system, you mentioned wind farms, a wind turbine or a wind farm, an individual turbine or a power station, you broaden that to looking at the whole system and that’s what we have to do, and it’s actually what we have been amazingly bad at doing I would say, individually as countries but also as the European Union. This is an interconnected system and with the interconnection come problems but also come huge benefits. So, something which we as a company are very well placed to do with the legacy KEMA people particularly looking at the grids, the grid behaviour, and the system as a whole is vitally important. I think you may know when I was running GL GH we bought a small company in Texas doing grid integration work which was a very small step for us.  It was about 30 people, 30 excellent people, but with the legacy KEMA we got thousands of people.


And the reason why I did that was I thought we were very well placed, extremely well placed with the renewable technology, but very badly placed with understanding how that integrates with the grid and that is the key issue for us all to address. So, the interconnection gives us geographical aggregation which gives us an opportunity for much higher levels of penetration of renewables into our system as a whole. So, the whole spectrum is important, right down to the individual houses, right up to the European grid and maybe European market. And there are now quite a lot of interconnectors being built and we have a fascinating thing for example in Morocco, and as you know we’ve done a lot of work in Morocco, the wind speeds and the solar radiation in Morocco are really quite fantastic. There’s also lots of space. There’s an interconnector between Morocco and Spain where at the moment the electricity is mostly going the other way from Spain into Morocco, but it could easily be reversed.  And that sort of system thinking, a large-scale system thinking I think is key to the future proper use of renewables, and therefore decarbonisation.

MATHIAS STECK        That’s actually quite interesting also if you look at the time of the development of wind. One can probably argue that you have seen the birth of the wind industry and I myself remember that I was like an 11 year old boy when I stand in front of the Growian, the first research wind turbine in Germany, and so we have come now to be a part of the solution for fighting climate change and having all these big topics now with interconnection and how do we enter renewables in to the grid. I would like to go back a little bit in time and understand when you started with this making wind industry something people talk about or developing this into a technology, what were the hopes at that time? I can’t believe we had this big picture at that time already. What were the hopes in Europe at that time where we actually had enough energy, where I think the sense for environment wasn’t that well developed yet, what were the drivers that time to develop this technology?


DR ANDREW GARRAD    Yes, that’s a very interesting question and I think perhaps to answer that question properly there’s a slight tangent I’d like to take, which is to make sure that we give adequate credit to the engineers involved in this business. We’re now often talking about policy and finance and regulation and all that stuff which is very important and that’s what was going on in COP, but none of this works without the machines. And I think what we’ve seen over and over again in the last three or four decades is engineers rising to whatever challenge is put before them. So, we as a class of professionals in the engineering business don’t make enough of what we’ve achieved and got Airbus to build us an electric plane and that’s been really it’s a small step towards zero or low carbon aviation and it’s a very early one, but it’s a fascinating thing and it was very interesting to see the journalists seize upon this engineering development. I’m also very sure when I’ve had to deal with politicians or the press and we’re talking about windmills to ask them have you actually ever been to or seen close up a big wind turbine, because if you haven’t you have no idea what the experience would be. So, the awesome nature of the present generation of wind turbines is something to behold. So, the evolution, the technical evolution over my professional lifetime has been extraordinary.


DR ANDREW GARRAD    So what was the original motivation? The original motivation was actually I suppose similar to what we’re dealing with now but significantly different because it was before we’d ever heard of climate change. So, climate change was not the motivation. The motivation was twofold I think; the feeling that we should generate cleaner electricity and that was the way we put it, so without emissions and slag and ash coming from the coal power stations. So that was a very basic feeling. And then secondly it was the early oil crisis that came to Europe where we did have blackouts and outages as a result of the absence of oil and that made people think quite hard about what the future might hold and particularly countries like Denmark which didn’t have any of its own oil to speak of took a lead. So, there was an ideological motivation making cleaner energy, and there was an economic motivation which was reducing our reliance on imported fossil fuels. But at the same time when I started in the wind business in ’79 but I made my first windmill in ’71 at home, didn’t last very long, but it was my first gesture, and actually I can trace my own interest in this back to a single lecture that was given to me when I was in Oxford by Schumacher. He came and gave us a lecture about environmental issues and the future and that certainly got me thinking. It got me to make my first windmill and then seven/eight years later to get into the wind business. But it’s been a fascinating experience. I think it’s very unusual to experience really the birth and childhood or perhaps even adolescence of an industry like I have.  So, when I started in ’79 I could carry a wind turbine blowing on my back and now we designed I think the biggest windmill in the world for Samsung, maybe even superseded now, but that was two and a half times the size of Wembley Stadium. So, we’ve seen in my own professional experience I’ve seen that transformation take place. My wife’s uncle was the chairman of Cleveland Bridge which is a big company… it’s made a lot of the big suspension bridges around the world including Sydney Harbour Bridge, and my father talked to him at our wedding and my father said to my wife’s uncle, Andrew’s thinking he’s working seriously in this wind business, what do you think. And he said a complete and utter waste of time, you should stop him immediately. And that stuck not surprisingly in my father’s mind, although he was not put off. But it gives you a feeling of what the conventional engineers were thinking about at the time.


So, this was considered in those days to be a naïve, eccentric activity and when we grew up we would realise that the only way you can make electricity properly is through burning coal. I’m glad to say that I proved my wife’s uncle wrong and we now, I don’t have the global numbers, but I do know that last year in the UK 21% of our electricity was produced by wind, slightly more than by nuclear. That figure is rather higher in Germany clearly and also in other European countries, particularly Denmark and Spain. In Spain, more electricity is produced by the wind than any other form of generation. So, we have moved in 30 years I would say from nothing, naïve eccentrics to being a major supplier to the electricity grids around the world. But the motivation, economic and environmental, and I think you can say a big dose of ideology.


MATHIAS STECK        Thanks Andrew to share your very interesting thoughts on these things with us. Unfortunately, we have to leave it there today, but please join us next week when Andrew and I will continue this discussion.

NARRATOR                Thank you for listening to this DNV GL Talks Energy Podcast. To hear more podcasts in the series please visit dnvgl.com/talksenergy.