Solar power takes giant strides as prices fall

Solar power takes giant strides as prices fall

Massive solar power stations are being built in the world’s “sun belts” − with the US and India competing to have the largest in the world.

LONDON, 26 August, 2015 – The US Navy is investing in what will be the largest solar farm in the world in order to provide power for 14 of its bases.

The climate of Arizona, where the two earlier phases of the Mesquite solar farm are already up and running, provides 300 days of sunshine a year. And the Navy’s deal to extend the farm is the largest purchase of renewable energy ever made by a US federal government agency.

The solar farm project is one of a growing number being installed across what is known as the American Sun Belt − the southern states of America, which have expanding populations, plenty of sunshine, but also large areas of arid and unproductive land.

The price of solar panels has now fallen so far worldwide that, in sunny climes, they can compete on cost with any other form of energy generation. This new generation of huge solar farms produces as much power as a large coal-fired plant.

China and India are also building similarly massive installations, taking advantage of their own sun belts and desert regions. It is doubtful that Mesquite 3, huge as it is, will manage to remain the world’s largest for long.

Barren land

In the same week that the US Navy disclosed its plans, the central Indian state of Madya Pradesh announced it was to construct a 750 MW plant (one megawatt is roughly enough to supply 1,000 typical British homes) on barren, government-owned land in the country’s Rewa district.

It is claimed that it would be the world’s largest solar plant, and the state’s energy minister, Rajendra Shukla, says the plan is to have the plant up and running by March 2017.

A number of other giant projects are also in the pipeline in India, as part of government plans for a dramatic expansion of the industry, although they have yet to be constructed.

The Navy boasts that Mesquite 3 will require
no water, so saving “this precious resource
for other needs”

Mesquite 3, which will be sited 60 miles west of Phoenix, Arizona, will provide the Navy with 210 MW of direct power. This means the installation of more than 650,000 extra solar panels, which will move to track the sun as it crosses the sky, to get the maximum value from the intense desert sunshine. The Navy says it will save $90 million in power costs over the 25-year lifetime of the contract.

Some solar power plants in India have caused controversy because they need teams of people to wash off the layer of dust and particles from air pollution to keep the panels efficient. This uses a lot of scarce water.

Illustration: US Navy/Austin Rooney

Illustration: US Navy/Austin Rooney

However, in the cleaner desert air of Arizona, this is not a problem. The Navy boasts that Mesquite 3 will require no water, so saving “this precious resource for other needs”.

The building of the plant will require 300 construction workers, but it will create only 12 long-term jobs. The plant also avoids controversy because it is sited on “previously disturbed land”, and so is not damaging a pristine environment. It is also near existing power plants and transmission lines, so will not need additional infrastructure.

Reduced emissions

The Navy estimates that the station will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 190,000 tonnes annually − the equivalent of taking 33,000 cars off the road.

Ray Mabus, the Secretary of State for the Navy, who opened the project, has been pushing hard for renewables to be used for military power generation.

In 2009, the US Department of Defense was instructed by Congress to get 25% of its energy from renewable resources by 2025, but Mabus accelerated that goal and directed that one gigawatt (1,000 MW) should be procured by the end of 2015.

The new contract adds to a 17 MW installation at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and another of 42 MW at Kings Bay, Georgia. The Navy says that, in total, its renewable energy procurement will be 1.2 GW by the end of 2015, which is well ahead of target.

It will use the power for Navy and Marine Corps shore installations in California and surrounding states.

Opening the project at one of the installations, the Naval Air Station North Island, in California, Mabus said the project was “a triumph of problem solving” and would help increase the Department of the Navy’s energy security by diversifying the supply. – Climate News Network

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Renewables raise challenge to coal in power league

Renewables raise challenge to coal in power league

Wind, solar and other renewable sources of clean energy are now second only to coal in generating the world’s electricity.

LONDON, 18 August, 2015 – It probably surprises nobody to learn that coal produces more of the world’s electricity than any other fuel. But it may provide food for thought to realise that the second most widely-used fuels for power generation are now renewables.

Electricity generation from renewable sources has overtaken natural gas to become the second largest source of electricity worldwide, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has announced.

In Europe, the main renewables used to generate electricity are wind and solar power. Since 1990, global solar photovoltaic power has been increasing at an average growth rate of 44.6% a year, and wind at 27.1%.

The IEA reports that electricity production last year in the 34 members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) fell slightly to 10,712 TWh (terawatt hours)  ̶ a decrease of 0.8% (86 TWh) compared with 2013. To put that in context, 1 TWh is 1 billion kilowatt hours, and each KWh takes about 0.36 kilograms of coal to generate.

Partially offset

This decline, the agency says, was driven by lower fossil fuel and hydro production, which were only partially offset by increases in non-hydro renewables. These grew by 8.5%, and nuclear energy by 0.9%.

In 2014, solar photovoltaic power overtook solid biofuels  ̶ used in power plants that burn biomass  ̶ to become the second-largest source of non-hydro renewable electricity in OECD countries of Europe, with a share of 17.3%.

The IEA says overall growth in electricity generation continues to be driven by non-OECD countries. Its latest statistics, which show world electricity generation increasing by 2.9% between 2012 and 2013, reveal two distinct trends.

Electricity generation is levelling off within the OECD, while it is rising strongly in the rest of the world. In 2011, non-OECD countries for the first time produced more electricity than members of the OECD.

By 2040, the world’s energy supply mix is likely to divide into four almost-equal parts: oil, gas, coal and low-carbon sources

Other milestones were reached in 2013, when global non-hydro renewable electricity exceeded oil-fired generation for the first time, and renewable electricity overtook natural gas to become the world’s second largest source of electricity, producing 22% of the total.

In the same year, electricity generated by coal reached its highest level yet at 9,613 TWh, representing 41.1% of global electricity production. The growth in coal generation was driven by non-OECD countries.

Globally, more renewable energy is consumed in the residential, commercial and public services sectors than elsewhere, but there are two distinct patterns of use.

In non-OECD countries, only 22.3% of renewables are used for electricity and heat production and 60.7% in homes, commercial and public sectors. In OECD countries, more than half of the renewable primary energy supply (58.5%) is used for electricity and heat.

Huge challenge

The IEA’s data will encourage renewable energy’s supporters, but they also show how much the world continues to rely on fossil fuels for its electricity.

In 1971, coal produced about 2 TWh of global electrical power, but that figure is now almost five times higher. Replacing that much generation with clean fuels will be a huge challenge, despite the very rapidly accelerating growth of renewables.

Fatih Birol, the IEA’s director, has said that, without clear direction from the UN climate summit to be held in Paris in December, “the world is set for warming well beyond the 2°C goal”  ̶  the internationally-agreed limit for global temperature rise that is intended to prevent climate change reaching dangerous levels.

The IEA World Energy Outlook 2014 said that, by 2040, the world’s energy supply mix is likely to divide into four almost-equal parts: oil, gas, coal and low-carbon sources.

This scenario, it said, “puts the world on a path consistent with a long-term global average temperature increase of 3.6°C”. – Climate News Network

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Clouds over China’s solar power industry

Clouds over China’s solar power industry

China is by far the world’s biggest producer of solar panels, but the industry could become a victim of its own success.

LONDON, 10 August, 2015 – The recent turmoil in China’s stock market has sent shockwaves through the country’s corporate sector, including its mighty solar power industry which in recent years has grown to dominate the world market.

Harnessing solar energy is considered a key way of cutting back on fossil fuel use and of meeting the challenge posed by climate change.

Seven out of the world’s top ten manufacturers of solar panels are China-based companies, together providing about 40% of global solar supplies.

But now the industry’s future expansion is under threat as companies try to cope with too much production capacity, very low profit margins and crushing amounts of debt.

In 2013 Suntech, a Chinese company which was at one time the world’s biggest manufacturer, went bust. International creditors are still trying to recoup millions lent to the company.

Earlier this year the Hanergy Thin Film Power Group, a Chinese company which is a world leader in the manufacture of solar products, lost half its share value amid concerns about its corporate structure and worries of over-capacity and falling profit margins in the solar market. 

Export boom

Meanwhile the China-based conglomerate Yingli Green Energy Holding, another world leader in solar production, has been beset with rumours of a slowdown in demand leading to a halt in production at some of its plants. 

Like many other industries in China, the solar sector has grown fast: in recent years companies rushed to join in a solar export boom, bolstered by generous loans from government banks. Exports of solar products surged.

But then US solar manufacturers complained of heavily subsidised China-made solar goods threatening to destroy their industry. 

Tariffs were imposed on a number of Chinese solar products. A slowdown in Europe’s economy also hit export sales.

China cut the price of its products: according to the Bloomberg New Energy Finance research group, China now sells solar panels for just over 60 US cents per watt of electricity generating capacity, down from US$4.50 per watt in 2008.

While that’s good news for those installing solar – and of considerable benefit in the fight against climate change – the price drop has put considerable pressure on China’s solar manufacturers. It has also meant many solar companies elsewhere in the world have gone to the wall.

Ailing industry

Varun Sivaram is a researcher at the US Council on Foreign Relationsspecialising in renewable energy.  He says that while China’s dominance of the solar market has led to low global prices, the industry is not in a healthy state.

“Solar is heading down a path of profitless prosperity”, says Sivaram. In effect, he says, China is subsidising the global solar industry.

Sivaram says one of the damaging side effects of China’s dominance of the solar market is that production has tended to stick to old technologies and innovation in the industry has been stifled.

“As panel manufacturers scrape by on razor-thin margins, kept afloat by government credit, investing in fundamentally new technologies is far from a priority.” 

Some relief for the China industry might be provided by a government-backed campaign to boost sales in the domestic market.  About a third of panels manufactured in China in 2014 were installed within the country. 

It’s estimated that China will install 14 GWs (gigawatts) of solar panels this year, mainly involving giant solar farms in the Gobi desert and elsewhere. In central Europe an installed capacity of one GW of photovoltaics alone would be expected to produce almost 900 GWh of electricity annually, supplying around 225,000 households.

In the first three months of 2015 China added the equivalent of the entire installed solar power of France to its electricity network. Climate News Network

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Canadians pull the plug on renewable energy scheme

Canadians pull the plug on renewable energy scheme

Canadian province cancels a successful project which rewarded people for generating renewable energy.

LONDON, 9 August, 2015 – The Canadian province of Nova Scotia, on the country’s Atlantic seaboard, has ended a programme which gave citizens an incentive to produce renewable energy.

The decision, which will initially mean lower prices for energy users, is at odds with widespread warnings that renewable energy must rapidly replace fossil fuels.

One Nova Scotian told the Climate News Network the government’s decision was a backwards step: “They have not only cut the legs out from under independent energy developers…they have stolen citizens’ right to access ownership of energy.”

The scheme is the Nova Scotia Community Feed-in Tariff (COMFIT), which was designed to encourage community-based, local renewable energy projects by guaranteeing a rate per kilowatt-hour for the energy the project fed into the province’s electrical grid. 

On 6 August the provincial government announced: This is the right time to bring COMFIT to a close; it has achieved its objectives. We are now at a point where the program could begin to have a negative impact on power rates. Nova Scotians have told us they want stability and affordability when it comes to power rates, and industry wants clarity on the future of the COMFIT program.

“The scheme benefitted small communities…The losers will be ordinary Nova Scotians

The announcement went on: “No new generation is needed to meet electricity demand, and adding capacity would negatively impact rates as Nova Scotians pay more for energy with small-scale, community-based projects than from other sources.

Andy MacCallum of Natural Forces, a company which develops renewable energy in eastern Canada, told the Network: “We’re disappointed. COMFIT was the previous provincial government’s programme: it’s a political decision: if the project continued then the opposition could accuse this government of forcing energy prices up in the short-term.

“But the scheme benefitted small communities, pulling in tens of millions of dollars in investments which without it would not have come here. The losers will be ordinary Nova Scotians.

COMFIT promoted the generation of electricity from wind, tidal, hydro and biomass resources. It was the world’s first feed-in tariff for locally-based renewable energy projects.

Lost exports

Canada is not the first country where a feed-in tariff (FIT) scheme has been ended. The UK, which has stopped supporting onshore wind and solar energy, in 2011 withdrew tax relief from some FITs, leading a number of the larger ones to close. 

But Nova Scotia does look set to lose more than it may hope to gain from closing COMFIT. Not only will small communities now not gain the investments which would have come to them. The entire province will lose the opportunity to generate the surplus electricity which it could then have profitably exported to its neighbours.

The other big loser will be the climate. Nova Scotia is still largely dependent on coal for its electricity, and the end of COMFIT means more dependence on that, or on hydropower.

In November world governments will assemble in Paris for this year’s UN climate summit, where they hope to reach an effective agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions enough to prevent the global average temperature rising by more than 2°C over its pre-industrial level (it has just reached the 1°C mark). 

The International Energy Agency says US$36 trillion of global investment will be needed in clean energy by 2050 to meet the UN goal $1 trillion a year. Perhaps its message has not reached Nova Scotia. – Climate News Network

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Chinese bid to rescue Europe’s nuclear industry

Chinese bid to rescue Europe’s nuclear industry

The UK still sees nuclear power as a way of combating climate change, but the massive costs mean it is struggling to get new reactors built.

LONDON, 8 August, 2015 – The Chinese are planning to come to the rescue of a European nuclear industry so short of money that it cannot build any new stations without outside help.

The problem is that EDF, the giant electricity utility owned by the French government, does not have the £25 billion (US$38.5bn) needed to build the two huge nuclear reactors in England that it has already agreed to construct, because it is in debt and its partners have pulled out.

The British government, despite its critics’ accusation that the proposed power station at Hinkley Point in the west of England will be an expensive white elephant, still wants to go ahead and is to sign an agreement with the Chinese to finance the deal.

China’s President, Xi Jinping, is due in London in October and is expected to agree with David Cameron, the UK’s Prime Minister, to fund the deal.

Important toehold

The Chinese generosity in helping out is because they will gain an important toehold in Europe, and hope to build their own nuclear reactors on British soil.

This extraordinary reversal in fortunes for the European nuclear industry − which always looked to sell its nuclear reactors to China, rather than the other way round − has come about because new-build nuclear in the west has become impossible to finance in a free market, where it is seen as too risky by investors wanting an early return on capital.

In contrast, the Chinese, have large reserves of foreign currency and no shortage of capital − particularly when there is a strategic aim of getting entry into new markets and gaining new spheres of influence.

The station planned for Hinkley Point is made up of two European Pressurised Reactors (EPR). They are a new design by the French company Areva, which is so badly in debt that it is being taken over by EDF in a merger. This was forced on the two companies by the French government, which owns an 80% stake in both.

These French companies are the only ones left in Europe offering to build large nuclear plants. Their current competitors are in Russia, China and the US.

Both of the French firms are in difficulties because the EPR prototypes they are building in Finland and in France are years behind schedule, costs have escalated, and neither is likely to be producing power any time soon.

“Time, you might think, for a plan B. What about filling in the low-carbon generation gap with subsidisable real renewables?”

Construction of the Finnish reactor began in 2005 and was due to be completed in 2009, but is still continuing. It will not now be finished until 2018.

The French reactor was started in 2007 and was due to be operational two years ago, but is also delayed until at least 2017.

The original programme for Hinkley Point was to have the reactors producing power by 2018, but this has already been put back to 2023, and a more likely date is 2030.

Foolish to start

There are doubts among those who oppose the reactors that they will ever be made to work. They believe the British government would be foolish to start building two new ones in the UK until at least one of those in France and Finland was seen to be producing power.

However, the government is so confident that new nuclear capacity will be built that it has already cut back on wind and solar power.

This optimism about overcoming the technical and cost difficulties of building the stations continues despite other potential setbacks.

The government is being challenged in the European Court by the Austrian government  and by a raft of renewable companies that see the EDF deal as a distortion of the European energy market. They base their case on European rules that ban direct state subsidies for nuclear power.

The UK seeks to avoid these rules by giving EDF a guaranteed price for electricity for 35 years as an inducement to build the station, as well as guaranteeing the loans needed to build it. This would make nuclear electricity nearly double the price that consumers currently pay for power in Britain.

Despite all these difficulties, Amber Rudd, the UK’s Energy and Climate Change Secretary, insists that the new nuclear stations are essential for Britain’s energy supply.

She says that the two reactors − at 1650 megawatts each, they will be the largest in the world and will produce 7% of the UK’s electricity − are needed to provide base-load electricity for the country because wind and solar renewables are unreliable.

She told a parliamentary committee this month: “I think we need as much investment as we can procure in order to support new nuclear going forward. We have to secure base-load, so you should not be surprised that we are prepared to pay more for that.

Part of the mix

“The requirement for nuclear is absolute, particularly in terms of wanting to have renewables as part of the mix, because, until we get storage right, renewables are unreliable.”

Critics of the government’s policy include Alan Whitehead, an opposition Labour party Member of Parliament and a member of its climate change committee.

He said the government’s plans for a new raft of nuclear stations by 2025 had as much likelihood of success as a “snowball’s chance in hell”. The Hinkley Point plant had already been delayed five years, and would probably be delayed further.

.“Time, you might think, for a plan B,” he said.“What about filling in the now almost certain low-carbon generation gap, at the very least, with much more easily deployable, speedily buildable, better financeable, lower subsidisable real renewables?”

The problem is that the government has just dismantled the wind and solar building programme. “A bit of a mess then, really,” Whitehead said. – Climate News Network

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Revolutionary fence is set to trap the sea’s power

Revolutionary fence is set to trap the sea’s power

Innovative turbines designed in the UK aim to harness tidal energy to produce cheaper electricity − without endangering marine life.

LONDON, 7 August, 2015 – A British company has announced plans for an array of unique marine turbines that can operate in shallower and slower-moving water than current designs.

Kepler Energy, whose technology is being developed by Oxford University’s department of engineering science, says the turbines will in time produce electricity more cheaply than off-shore wind farms.

It hopes to install its new design in what is called a tidal energy fence, one kilometre long, in the Bristol Channel − an estuary dividing South Wales from the west of England − at a cost of £143m (US$222m).

The fence is a string of linked turbines, each of which will start generating electricity as it is completed, until the whole array is producing power. The fence’s total output is 30 megawatts (MW), and 1MW can supply around 1,000 homes in the UK.

Power outputs

Peter Dixon, Kepler’s chairman, told Reuters news agency: “If we can build up to, say, 10 kilometres’ worth, which is a very extended fence, you’re looking at power outputs of five or six hundred megawatts. And just to visualise that, it’s like one small nuclear reactor’s worth of electricity being generated from the tides in the Bristol Channel.”

The new Transverse Horizontal Axis Water Turbine (THAWT) − whose design is compared to that of a water mill − will use the latest carbon composite technology, and should be suitable for the waters around Britain, as well as overseas.

How the rotor blades look installed in a tidal fence configuration. Image: Kepler Energy

How the rotor blades look installed in a tidal fence configuration. Image: Kepler Energy

Because the turbines sit horizontally beneath the surface of the sea, they can be sited in water shallower than the 30-metre depth typically required by current designs. And because the water is slow-moving, the company says, fish can safely avoid the turbines’ blades.

Although the technology is regarded as environmentally benign, Kepler says it will still undergo a rigorous environmental impact assessment during the planning process to ensure that it poses no significant risk to marine life and to other users of the sea.

“Its like one small nuclear reactors worth
of electricity being generated from the tides
in the Bristol Channel

There is more good news for proponents of renewable energy after the UK government − which is no longer encouraging onshore wind and solar energy − gave the go-ahead for a large offshore wind farm that could provide power for up to two million homes.

The new wind farm is to be built near the Dogger Bank in the North Sea and will have 400 turbines.

Its developers say it could create almost 5,000 jobs during construction. And, earlier this year, they obtained planning consent for another installation nearby which, with the new development, will form one of the largest offshore wind farms in the world.

North Seas assets

But the fossil fuel industry is far from abandoning its own interest in British waters as the energy giant BP has announced that it is to invest about £670m (US$1,040m) to extend the life of its North Sea assets.

It said it would be drilling new wells, replacing undersea infrastructure, and introducing new technologies to help it to produce as much as possible from the area, whose future would be secured “until 2030 and beyond”

In November, delegates to the UN Climate Change Convention annual negotiations will gather in Paris to try to conclude an ambitious and effective agreement on preventing the global average temperature rise caused by greenhouse gas emissions exceeding 2˚C above its pre-industrial level.

Last year, the Convention’s executive secretary, Christiana Figueres, said the world’s long-term goal was to reduce greenhouse gases to zero by 2100 − a target she said would require leaving three-quarters of fossil fuels in the ground. “We just can’t afford to burn them”, she said. – Climate News Network

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Obama plan’s boost for Paris climate conference

Obama plan’s boost for Paris climate conference

New targets set by the US for cutting carbon emissions send a clear signal to the rest of the world and raise hopes for a global agreement on tackling climate change.

LONDON, 6 August, 2015 − President Obama’s determination to reduce US carbon emissions by 32% below 2005 levels by 2030 sends a message to the rest of the world’s leaders that the UN climate talks in Paris could succeed in saving the planet from overheating.

Past talks have foundered on a range of political excuses, but now that the world’s two largest polluters, China and the US, have committed to far-reaching changes in their energy production to keep the world below the dangerous threshold of a 2°C temperature increase, the door is open for all the rest to follow.

The stumbling block to US action so far has been the refusal of die-hard members of the Republican Party to accept that climate change is happening, and the well-funded fossil fuel lobby’s legal and political campaign to block any legislation.

But Barack Obama’s use of an existing law − the Clean Air Act of 1970 − has allowed him to bypass Republican opposition simply by issuing new regulations.

Dangerous pollutant

The law says that the US Environmental Protection Agency must regulate any pollutant that is deemed a danger to human health and wellbeing. And the Supreme Court upheld the agency’s finding that carbon dioxide in large amounts did qualify as a dangerous pollutant.

The fact that Obama’s regulations are backed by a number of power companies that see the regulations as an opportunity to invest in renewables, and by corporate giants such as Coca-Cola, Walmart and Google, shows there is increasing support for him across America.

Of course, the Republicans will continue to challenge the new regulations in the courts, and they will be an issue in the next presidential elections. Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has already endorsed the Obama proposals.

The Republican opponents who say it will cost jobs in the coal industry will also have to explain whether they are in favour of the asthma, the premature deaths and the danger to the planet that coal plants cause.

The US political battle will come to a head long after the Paris talks have succeeded or failed. At the moment, the policy of both the US and China is far more forward-thinking and their actions more far-reaching than even the optimistic could have hoped for two years ago.

China has been under huge pressure from its increasing middle class to take action on air pollution, and so phasing out dirty coal power plants has become a national priority.

This will take a long time because the plants are so numerous and China needs more power, but a start has already been made and the country has a massive renewable energy programme, where it is already the world leader.

In the World Resources Institute list of the top 10 polluter countries, the EU’s 28 member states – ranked third behind China and the US − are classed together, since the EU has a joint reduction target.

The policy of both the US and China is far more forward-thinking than even the optimistic
could have hoped for two years ago

However, this masks massive differences in government approaches. For example, Germany is going for renewables in a big way and is phasing out nuclear power, while the UK is intent on building nuclear and is no longer encouraging on-shore wind and solar energy.

Further down the list are India in fourth place, Russia fifth, Japan sixth, and then Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico and Iran.

India is still trying to provide its vast population with access to regular electricity supplies, or in some cases any electricity at all, so its priority is still development, rather than curbing pollution.

That said, the Indian government, like China’s, is under heavy pressure because of the killer smogs that regularly envelop its major cities. The government is currently investing heavily in solar power, along with coal plants. It remains to be seen whether its targets to make a contribution to reducing emissions will improve in Paris.

Unknown quantity

The remainder of the top 10 are more difficult to assess. Russia remains an unknown quantity, Japan is still struggling with the closure of its nuclear power plants following the Fukushima accident in 2011, and the others are, like India, dominated by concerns for development over environment.

The Obama intervention, four months before the Paris talks, does demonstrate to every world leader that, in the world’s largest economy, the future is renewables and that no new coal-powered plants will be built. If this is the way forward for the richest nation, then the rest of the world should at least take note.

Canada and Australia, at 11 and 13 in the table of top carbon polluters, will come under pressure to at least accept some targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Both at the moment have ditched reduction targets in favour of exploiting fossil fuel resources.

Australia seems intent on denying climate change and providing the world with coal, but it may now find its exports suffering.

Obama’s announcement certainly tilts the balance towards a good outcome in Paris. – Climate News Network

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Good practice makes perfect sense for GHG cuts

Good practice makes perfect sense for GHG cuts

Reducing climate-warming gases enough to prevent global temperatures from exceeding a 2°C rise is simple – if all countries do as well as the best. 

LONDON, 31 July, 2015 – European researchers investigating ways to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to the internationally-agreed safety level have arrived at the good news that we can just about achieve it – provided all nations show the political will to do so.

They conclude that applying globally the climate policies that are already working in some countries could substantially reduce emissions, close to where they need to be to prevent global average temperatures rising more than 2°C above their pre-industrial level.

The researchers − from the NewClimate Institute, PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis − detail their findings in a report that examines the impact of “good practice” emission reduction policies in nine different areas globally and across six countries: China, Brazil, India, the US, Russia and Japan.

Energy efficiency

The areas examined include: renewable energy; a variety of energy efficiency standards for buildings, car fuel efficiency, appliances and lighting, and industry); hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs); emissions from fossil fuel production; electric cars; and forestry.

The researchers looked at the most ambitious “good practice” policies around the world that are being implemented now, and calculated the difference they would make if every country applied them. They say that difference is huge.

In the arcane language of the greenhouse gases, the unit the researchers use is known as the GtCO2e − an abbreviation for “gigatonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide”. It is a simplified way to put emissions of various greenhouse gases on a common footing by expressing them in terms of the amount of CO2 that would have the same global warming effect.

“If everybody were to work towards achieving such high standards in key areas, this would
have a significant impact”

The report says that implementing good practice policies is projected to stabilise GHG emissions at 49-50 GtCO2e by 2020, decreasing to 44-47 GtC02e by 2030 – not too far from the level needed to attain the 2°C emissions range (30-44 GtCO2e) that the world is aiming for by 2030.

Direct replication of good practice policies is expected to halt emissions growth significantly in most regions before 2030. In contrast, current policies are expected to see emissions continue to increase to around 54 GtCO2e by 2020 – and 59-60 GtCO2e by 2030.

“It is clear that governments can learn from each other to find effective policies to reduce emissions,” says Niklas Höhne, a founding partner of NewClimate Institute. “If everybody were to work towards achieving such high standards in key areas, this would have a significant impact.”

The study found that the good practice policy area that could reduce the most emissions was renewable energy (3.7-6.0 GtCO2e), where China, Costa Rica, Germany and Tuvalu’s policies were among the world’s best.

Interesting targets

With F-gases (fluorinated GHGs), where good practice policies could reduce emissions by around 1.1 to 2.2 GtCO2e, the EU, Mexico, China and the US had what the authors call “some interesting policies or targets”

On energy efficiency, the analysis shows that good practice policies can significantly reduce the impact on GHG emissions of economic growth, by decarbonising the energy supply and improving energy efficiency in the demand sectors, which it says is good news for developing countries.

The opportunities were particularly significant for China, whose emissions are projected to increase to approximately 15 GtCO2e by 2030. But under a good practice policy scenario, they would peak around 2020, and in 2030 would be at about 12 GtCO2e or lower.

However, the report says China is already among the leaders in policies in a number of areas.

Hanna Fekete, another founding partner of NewClimate Institute, says climate policy-making in China has picked up speed in recent years, and that  recent developments in reduction of coal consumption, for example, set a promising basis for further action in the future.. – Climate News Network

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Fossil fuel industry still winning the investment war

Fossil fuel industry still winning the investment war

The campaign to convince investors not to use their money to support the extraction and use of fossil fuels is failing to gain enough converts, experts say.

LONDON, 29 July, 2015 – There’s sobering news for campaigners trying to persuade investors to withdraw their funds from the fossil fuel industry: UK experts say their efforts are unlikely to achieve enough quickly enough.

One expert, using the term often applied to the global energy industry, told a meeting in London: “The incumbency is winning the cold war.”

Senior members of asset management firms and carbon risk specialists were invited this week by a prominent British charitable foundation, Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts, to discuss the prospects for disinvestment and the attitudes in the City of London to attempts to match investment policies with avoidance of climate change risks.

They say the continued confidence of the industry in the long-term viability of coal, oil and gas − despite the plunging cost of many renewable fuels − means that the UN climate change summit in Paris at the end of the year will fall short of its aims.

More face time

One participant, Mark Campanale, a former fund manager who founded the UK-based Carbon Tracker Initiative, told Climate News Network: “The key question is face time. The fossil fuel CEOs get far more face time with investors than they do with climate scientists, for example.

“There are some signs of hope, but we’re not seeing the City, as a group, changing its attitudes.

“Do the companies have the right people on their boards? Their approach is to say: ‘There’s doubt about the science. We’re ready to grow.’ And so, by default, they go back to business-as-usual, and Paris will not hit a home run.”

There was praise from many speakers at the meeting for the disinvestment campaigners’ commitment and imagination − and especially for Bill McKibben, co-founder of the 350.org campaign, for “brilliantly unleashing the naive energy of a generation of students”.

“You’re better off investing $100 billion in solar photovoltaics than in Canadian tar sands

Others questioned the language of the disinvestment campaign. One said: “The word ‘divest’ is campaigner talk, not a form of language that will advance the argument very far.” Instead, he suggested, it could be better to speak, in unthreatening language, of the need for “portfolio decarbonisation”.

But for many participants it was the basic facts and the simple arithmetic that the campaigners needed to assert.

One said: “The industry argues that the problem is cyclical, and that we’re now at the bottom of the cycle. But we need to know why, with crude oil now at US$55-60 a barrel, Shell is investing in projects that won’t break even until the price has gone back up to about $90 a barrel.”

Cleaner fuels

Another pointed to the rapid decline in the cost of cleaner fuels: “The economics of renewables are already much better than we’re often led to believe. You’re better off investing $100 billion in solar photovoltaics than in Canadian tar sands.”

The foundation that hosted the meeting supports Europeans for DivestInvest, part of a global movement that seeks to encourage charitable foundations and high net worth individuals to divest from fossil fuels and invest 5% or more of their portfolio in climate solutions − including renewable energy, clean technology, and energy efficiency.

In September 2014, more than 360 investors managing over $24 trillion in assets urged world leaders to agree to a strong global climate deal. – Climate News Network

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Norway pumps up ‘green battery’ plan for Europe

Norway pumps up ‘green battery’ plan for Europe

Hydraulic engineers in Norway aim to use surplus power from wind and sun to cut the need for fossil fuel plants to boost European electricity supplies.

LONDON, 26 July, 2015 − Norway is hoping to become the “green battery of Europe” by using its hydropower plants to provide instant extra electricity if production from wind and solar power sources in other countries fade.

Without building any new power stations, engineers believe they could use the existing network to instantly boost European supplies and avoid other countries having to switch on fossil fuel plants to make up shortfalls.

Norway has 937 hydropower plants, which provide 96% of its electricity, making it the sixth largest hydropower producer in the world − despite having a population of only five million.

Europe already has 400 million people in 24 countries connected to a single grid, with power surpluses from one country being exported to neighbours or imported as national needs change.

Supply and demand

As more and more renewables are installed across the continent, the problem of balancing supply and demand gets more difficult.

Because supply from wind and sun sources fluctuates, the grid needs back-up plants to keep the power constant. At present, this means that many countries have to keep gas and coal plants on standby to make up any shortage.

However, the Hydraulic Laboratory at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim believes it can engineer the country’s vast power plants so that they can themselves be a giant standby battery that can be turned on and off.

When there is surplus wind or solar power in Europe, the electricity it generates can be imported to pump water uphill to keep re-filling the Norwegian reservoirs. This is, in effect, electricity that is stored, because when energy is needed again the generators can be turned back on to produce hydropower.

“Norwegian mountains are full of water tunnels. It’s like an anthill.”

The problem at the moment is that even hydropower is not instant. This is because water takes time to flow through the vast network of pipes and the turbines to reach the correct speed to provide stable power to the grid at the correct frequency of alternating current.

Norway currently has more kilometres of pipes carrying water to its hydroelectricity plants than it has miles of road, so controlling the flow is the key.

But Kaspar Vereide, a doctoral student in the department of hydraulic and environmental engineering at NTNU, has designed a model solution, with funding from the Centre for Environmental Design of Renewable Energy.

By creating a sealed surge chamber in rock close to the turbines, engineers can feed electricity, at the right frequency, into the grid immediately. The empty chamber contains air that is compressed as the space is filled with water. So, when the valves are open, the water can instantly turn turbines at the correct speed.

Vereide says: “Norwegian mountains are full of water tunnels. It’s like an anthill.”

The length of the waterway, he says, can be many kilometres, though this will require the engineers to accelerate the water to reach the turbines.

His solution involves blowing out a cavern inside the water tunnel near the turbine where the electricity is to be generated, creating a surge chamber where water at the correct velocity can reach the turbines immediately.

Fluctuations in power

He admits that his design is still at the early stages of development. The surge chambers have to be designed to avoid fluctuations in power needs, which can cause uncontrolled blowouts of air into the power plants, risking damage.

“We have to be able to control these load fluctuations that occur,” he says. “Among other things, it’s important to determine how big surge chambers need to be to function best. My task is to figure out the optimal design for the chambers.”

Vereide says that plants have traditionally been run very smoothly and quietly, with few stops and starts to create these fluctuations. But to become the green battery of Europe, the power plants would need to be started and stopped much more often − and then the problem of load fluctuations would increase significantly.

“We’ll benefit a lot from developing these new technologies, both in order to keep electrical frequency stable and to run power plants more aggressively to serve a large market,” he says. – Climate News Network

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