Google Analytics Alternative

You are browsing the archive for Renewable energy.

First solar bread oven takes a bow

April 20, 2014 in Adaptation, Africa, Emissions reductions, Energy, Solar energy, Technology

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Makine injera the traditional way in Mekele:  The new oven should eliminate greenhouse emissions Image: Rod Waddington from Kergunyah, Australia, via Wikimedia Commons

Making injera the traditional way in Mekele: The new oven should eliminate greenhouse emissions
Image: Rod Waddington from Kergunyah, Australia, via Wikimedia Commons

By Paul Brown

Until now solar cookers have always needed fairly constant sunshine, but a new design which can store the Sun’s heat will finally mean fewer greenouse gas emissions..

LONDON, 20 April – Cooking using just the power of the Sun is not a new technology. Dozens of designs of solar cookers using mirrors and other shiny surfaces to concentrate the Sun’s rays are popular across the world, especially where electricity and wood for fires are in short supply.

Many thousands are in use in Africa, and they are very popular for large-scale communal cooking in China. They can be designed for boiling water, cooking stews, frying and baking.

But one problem is how to keep ovens hot enough, long enough, to cook such staples as bread, and how to maintain the temperature when the Sun goes in or at night.

Now an Ethiopian student working with colleagues in Norway thinks he has solved the problem. Instead of cooking the food directly with the Sun’s rays, his design concentrates the heat on a container holding a mixture of salts.

Traditional bread

These store the heat, releasing it gradually over 24 hours and maintaining a steady temperature of 220°C (428°F).  This would make it possible for people in developing countries to cook food efficiently, safely and in an environmentally benign way at any time of day.

Asfafaw Tesfay came from Ethiopia to Norway in 2008 with the clear idea of developing a solar oven able to bake his country’s staple food, a flat bread called injera, which is traditionally served at every meal.

The problem of cooking the bread, which needs a high temperature, is particularly acute because large parts of the country are without access to electric power or wood. Only 3% of Ethiopia is now forested, down from 35% in 2000, and 85% lacks an electricity grid.

Tesfay and other students from the the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) are now looking to sell the cooker commercially, particularly in Ethiopia itself where they believe it is most needed. The oven can reach a temperature of 250⁰C(482⁰F), which makes it well adapted to the country’s food traditions and resources.

Storing heat

Tesfay and his fellow students Mari Hæreid, Sebastian Vendrig and Dag Håkon Haneberg, who work from the NTNU School of Entrepreneurship, say the cooker is the first of its kind. According to Even Sønnik Haug Larsen, who doubles as both a student and a teacher: “This oven has several advantages compared to other solar-powered ovens on the market. The biggest difference is that it can reach a high temperature and store that high temperature over time, which makes it perfect for baking injera.”

The students see a potential market in organisations working in the countryside, schools, universities, hospitals, bakeries, restaurants and hotels. Later they hope to make the oven available to private individuals, but many are poor and would have to be trained how to use it.

Haug Larsen and his fellow student Sebastian Vendrig travelled to Ethiopia around mid-January to contact customers and potential partners. At the same time they wanted to see if it was possible to produce the oven locally in Mekele, the home city of Asfafaw, the man behind the idea.

They want to establish a viable business there and look at possible production workshops as part of a Norwegian scheme for technology transfer.

“It would be fantastic if our product could improve conditions in several developing countries, and if we can be part of creating jobs locally,” said Haug Larsen. – Climate News Network

The energy revolution is in reverse

April 18, 2014 in Climate, Emissions reductions, Energy, Fossil fuels, Greenhouse Gases, IPCC, Mitigation, Nuclear power, Policy, Shale Gas, Subsidies, Warming

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Not-so-calm waters ahead: The IPCC urges a move away from business as usual Image: Walter Siegmund via Wikimedia Commons

Not-so-calm waters ahead: The IPCC urges a move away from business as usual
Image: Walter Siegmund via Wikimedia Commons

By Henner Weithöner

The UN climate panel’s prescription for tackling climate change is admirably clear. The problem is that the world is heading in precisely the opposite direction.

BERLIN, 18 April – Keeping the rise in global average temperatures to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels will not be prohibitively expensive, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says, though it won’t be easy.

There’s just one problem: the atmospheric facts show that the world is not simply ignoring the IPCC. It’s moving smartly away from the clean energy future that the Panel says is attainable towards an inexorably hotter and more risky future.

Reaching the target will mean cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40-70% over 2010 levels by mid-century, the IPCC report says. Yet what is happening at the moment is the exact opposite: average global emissions rose by a billion tonnes a year between 2000 and 2010, faster than ever before.

To avoid the worst impacts of climate change as cheaply as possible, the report urges an energy revolution to end the dominance of fossil fuels. The IPCC says  investments in renewable energy need to triple, with subsidies to fossil fuels declining and a switch to natural gas to help countries to get rid of coal.

The path to lower emissions may cost the energy giants dear, the IPCC acknowledges. “Mitigation policy could devalue fossil fuel assets and reduce revenues for fossil fuel exporters,” Professor Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chair of the IPCC’s Working Group III, which produced the report, told a public meeting here. “To avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual.”

‘Negligible’ cost

Another controversial point is the report’s inclusion of nuclear power as a low-carbon option (it acknowledges that it has declined globally since 1993 and faces safety, financial and waste-management concerns). The report also advocates carbon capture and storage (CCS), noting that it remains untested on a large scale.

But the IPCC insists that diverting hundreds of billions of dollars from fossil fuels into renewable energy and cutting energy waste would shave just 0.06% off expected annual economic growth rates of 1.3%-3%. “Statistically you won’t notice,” said Dr Ryer Gerlagh, a co-ordinating lead author on the economics chapter of the report.

Li Shuo of Greenpeace China said: “Science has spoken: climate action is no burden, it’s an opportunity. As renewable energies are growing bigger, better and cheaper every day, the age of dangerous and polluting coal, oil and gas is over. The only rational response to this report is to start the phase-out of fossil fuels immediately.”

Wrong direction

Global temperatures have risen about 0.8°C since record-keeping started in 1850. Current pledges by governments to reduce emissions by 2020 have set the world on a path to between 3 and 5°C of warming by 2100, the IPCC says.

The Working Group III contribution to the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) is intended to provide a comprehensive assessment of the options for mitigating climate change through limiting or preventing greenhouse gas emissions. It may have shown that those options exist and are affordable. But that is very far from showing that governments can be persuaded to use them. – Climate News Network

Henner Weithöner is a freelance journalist in Berlin specialising in renewable energy and climate change.

Science finds new routes to energy

April 17, 2014 in Agriculture, Biofuels, Carbon Dioxide, Energy, Technology

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The research opens the way to more nutritious soya beans grown with less water Image: H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons

The research opens the way to more nutritious soya beans grown with less water
Image: H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons

By Tim Radford

Scientists in the US have found new ways to make biofuel, increase crop yields and exploit carbon dioxide through novel applications of familiar materials.

LONDON, 17 April – While politicians posture, and climate scientists sigh sadly, researchers in laboratories continue to devise ingenious new ways to save energy, increase efficiency, and make the most of solar power.

Darren Drewry of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and two colleagues from the University of Illinois have a computer model that could design soybean crops able to produce 8.5% more nourishment, use 13% less water and reflect 34% more sunlight back into space.

They report in the journal Global Change Biology that they can achieve all three goals by breeding for slightly different leaf distribution on the stalk, and for the angle at which the leaf grows, using a technique called numerical optimisation to try a very large number of structural traits to get the best results. “And surprisingly, there are combinations of these traits that can improve each of these goals at the same time,” says Dr Drewry.

In the great evolutionary challenge match, plants fight for the light and try to put each other in the shade. “Our crop plants reflect many millions of years in the wild under these competitive conditions,” said Stephen Long, a plant biologist. “In a crop field we want plants to share resources and conserve water and nutrients, so we have been looking at what leaf arrangements would best do this.”

Once future agricultural scientists have worked out what they most want from a crop – and in arid zones, water economy must rate highly – the programme can decide the best configuration of leaf. From that, future breeders could select traits from the enormous library of existing soybean variations.

Lomg-lasting benefit

They could reduce the canopy to let light through to lower levels to increase yield, or they could heighten the canopy to reflect light back into space and offset climate change.

“We can also model what these plant canopies can do in a future climate, so that it will be valid 40 or 50 years down the line,” says Praveen Kumar, an environmental engineer.

At Stanford University in California, other scientists have thought of a way to make biofuel without benefit of fields, plants or sunlight. They report in Nature that they have devised an oxide-derived copper catalyst that can turn carbon monoxide – the lethal gas in car exhausts and coal-burning power stations – directly into liquid ethanol of the sort now made from corn and other crops.

What’s more, they say, they can do this at room temperature and normal atmospheric pressures. The technique rests on the ability to turn copper oxide into a network of nanocrystals of metallic copper that would serve as a cathode in an electrolysis reaction and reduce carbon monoxide to ethanol.

Biofuel is expensive: it takes time, fields, fertiliser and water. It takes 800 gallons of water to grow a bushel of corn, which in turn yields three gallons of ethanol. The new technique could eliminate the crop, the time, and a lot of the water.

Ten-fold efficiency gain

And it opens another way to exploit captured CO2 as a power source. Carbon dioxide can be turned efficiently and easily into carbon monoxide. The new oxide-derived copper catalyst could then turn carbon monoxide into ethanol with ten times the efficiency of any normal copper catalysts.

The team would like to scale up their catalytic cell and see it powered by solar or wind energy. “But we have a lot more work to do to make a device that is practical,” said Matthew Kanan of Stanford.

Meanwhile, scientists in Oregon report in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal RSC Advances that they have tested a new way to tap the sun’s rays, and to use that power to make solar energy materials at the same time.

Once again, the match of nanoscience and copper has provided unexpected consequences. By focusing light continuously on a continuous flow micro-reactor, the researchers have synthesized copper indium nanoparticle inks that could make thin-film solar cells in minutes. Other processes might take hours to deliver the same materials.

“It could produce solar energy materials anywhere there’s an adequate solar resource and in this chemical manufacturing process, there would be zero energy impact,” said Chih-Hung Chang of Oregon State University. – Climate News Network

IPCC tries a gamble with shale gas

April 14, 2014 in Adaptation, Coal, Energy, Fracking, Greenhouse Gases, IPCC, Methane, Nuclear power, Renewables, Shale Gas, Solar energy, Wind power

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Non merci: A French protest against drilling for shale gas Image: Camster via Wikimedia Commons

Non merci: A French protest against drilling for shale gas
Image: Camster via Wikimedia Commons

By Alex Kirby

The latest IPCC report urges a dash for gas to allow us to reduce the burning of coal. And it accepts the use of shale gas, which threatens to be far more polluting than originally thought.

LONDON, 14 April – If you support fracking, you should be pleased with the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC). It’s given the green light to the use of shale gas as a short-term way to slow climate change.

The report is the third and final part of the latest IPCC assessment on climate change (known as AR5). While it puts considerable emphasis on the need for more renewable energy – including solar, wind and hydropower – it says emissions of greenhouse gases can be cut in the medium term by replacing coal with less-polluting gas, though the gas will itself ultimately have to be phased out.

On shale gas, obtained by the controversial fracking process, Ottmar Edenhofer - co-chair of the working group that produced the report – said it was quite clear that the fuel “can be very consistent with low carbon development and decarbonisation”.

Among the objections to fracking is the fact the process releases quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas often reckoned to be at least 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the atmosphere. That is the comparison we have often used in the Network’s reporting. It’s right, so far as it goes. But by some calculations it doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Own goal

Recently an observant reader pointed out that methane is 20 times more potent than CO2 when its impact is measured over a century. But in the short term it is a far greater problem. Over the space of two decades it is estimated to be at least 84 times more damaging than carbon dioxide.

Robert Howarth is professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell University. He and his colleague Drew Shindell of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have predicted that unless emissions of methane (and black carbon) are reduced immediately, the Earth will warm by 1.5°C by 2030 and by 2.0°C by between 2045 and 2050, whether or not carbon dioxide emissions are reduced.

Professor Howarth puts the global warming potential of methane higher still. He has written: “At the time scale of 20 years following emission, methane’s global warming potential is more than 100-fold greater than for carbon dioxide (Shindell et al. 2009).”

Some critics will conclude that the IPCC’s search for a bridging strategy to move us rapidly to a world of clean energy has scored an own goal by failing to rule out a fuel which entails a large and avoidable increase in greenhouse emissions. The cost of the infrastructure needed to exploit shale gas on a large scale may also work to prolong its use.

Affordable transformation

Ironically, the clean energy world the IPCC seeks need be no more than 15 years away, according to one US expert. Mark Z Jacobson is professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, California, and director of its atmosphere and energy program. He believes that wind, water and solar power can be scaled up cost-effectively to meet the world’s energy demands, ending dependence on both fossil fuels and nuclear power.

Professor Jacobson described in Energy Policy in 2010 how he and a colleague had analysed “the feasibility of providing worldwide energy for all purposes (electric power, transportation, heating/cooling, etc.) from wind, water, and sunlight (WWS)”.

He continued: “We suggest producing all new energy with WWS by 2030 and replacing the pre-existing energy by 2050. Barriers to the plan are primarily social and political, not technological or economic. The energy cost in a WWS world should be similar to that today.”

It sounds like a less risky path to a world of clean energy than the IPCC is urging. Fifteen years to build a different way of fuelling society, or 20 years of watching spiralling methane emissions, seems a no-brainer. – Climate News Network

Nuclear subsidy deal ‘will kill renewables’

April 7, 2014 in Energy, Europe, Nuclear power, Renewables, Subsidies, United Kingdom

EMBARGOED UNTIL 1101 GMT ON MONDAY 7 APRIL

Hinkley Point nuclear power station, up for renewal: But on what terms? Image: Barbara Cook via Wikimedia Commons

Hinkley Point nuclear power station, up for renewal: But on what terms?
Image: Barbara Cook via Wikimedia Commons

By Paul Brown

The battle over the UK’s plan to subsidise nuclear power will decide Europe’s energy mix for the next 50 years, say critics.

LONDON, 7 April – The United Kingdom’s plans to build heavily subsidised nuclear power stations have come under withering attack from a coalition of Members of Parliament, academics, energy industry experts and environmental groups.

Evidence has poured into the European Commission, which is investigating whether the deal with the giant French nuclear company EDF breaks EU competition rules. The evidence from many objectors, whose submissions had to be made by today, claims that if the contract goes through it will wreck Europe’s chance of building up renewable energies to avert the worst impacts of climate change.

They say renewables will have to compete in an unfair market where one generator, nuclear, is guaranteed to be able to sell all its electricity at a stable price and with a built-in profit until 2058.

The UK Government has agreed a minimum price of £92.50 (US $153) a megawatt hour from a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in the west of England from 2023 – roughly double the existing price of electricity in Britain. The price will rise with inflation and runs for 35 years, a deal unprecedented in the energy sector, and not available to renewable energies like wind and solar. The guarantee will continue for all future nuclear stations too.

The Government has gone further, guaranteeing loans for construction, and providing insurance and compensation payments if policies change for any reason. It claims that the deal will save £75 a year on the average consumer’s bill if electricity prices rise by 2023, as it forecasts. If they do not, then consumers will be paying far more for their electricity than they would otherwise.

EU test case

No-one involved in the investigation into whether the deal constitutes unfair state aid doubts that climate change is a severe threat and needs to be tackled. The argument is about which is the best set of technologies to help deal with the problem.

There are 12 states in Europe interested in nuclear power generation, slightly under half the EU’s members. All see the UK subsidies investigation as a test case into whether they also will be able to give state aid to nuclear stations.

One of the submissions, from the Nuclear Consulting Group, with more than 100 signatures from MPs from six parties in the UK and European Parliaments, plus engineers, academics and energy experts, says the proposed aid to guarantee nuclear’s profitability is incompatible with EU State Aid rules. The NCG says it unfairly discriminates in favour of nuclear and will damage renewable energies with far greater potential.

Given that this level of support is unavailable to other low carbon technologies, it is certain to significantly distort competition and strongly affect trade between member states.

“The development of sustainable and affordable low carbon energy remains a growing economic sector with huge potential for job creation. To seek to delimit this diversity through particular State Aid support of nuclear power at the expense of other, potentially more flexible, safe, productive, cost-effective and affordable technologies seems, at the very least, unwise,” says the submission.

It says the British Government has also not been completely honest about the prospects for existing nuclear power stations. In its announcement about subsidies the Government claimed that all but one of the eight existing nuclear power stations were due to close about the time the new Hinkley Point plant is finished in 2023.

In fact EDF, which owns the plants, and is also building the new one, intends to keep them open until 2030 or even longer if safety conditions allow. If the Government’s current power station-building plans succeed, then more than 50% of Britain’s electricity would be generated by subsidised nuclear stations, effectively cutting out renewables.

Delays and cost over-runs

One big problem for the UK’s plans, apart from the European Commission inquiry, is that the building schedule for the European pressurised water reactors (EPRs) planned for Hinkley Point, and for Sizewell in eastern England, is in doubt.

The first two prototypes, under construction in Finland and France, are subject to severe construction delays and cost over-runs. The Finnish Olkiluto 3 EPR was due to be completed in 2009 at a fixed price of €3 billion (US £4.1 bn), but the cost has now escalated to €8.5 bn and completion has been put back to 2018. The French new build by EDF at Flamanville is already four years behind schedule and the cost has more than doubled to €8.5 billion.

Other groups objecting to the UK subsidy plan also say that rather than promoting a diversity of supply, as ministers claim, the decision to back nuclear will reduce the scope for other technologies.

Bad value

Friends of the Earth says that currently there are seven to ten viable renewable energies being developed in the UK, among them wind on and off shore, solar, biogas, wave, under-sea turbines, small-scale hydro, biomass, and hot rocks, all of which could contribute to the energy mix if nuclear had no guaranteed unfair advantage.

These were all comparatively new technologies, where the price of generation was coming down all the time. In contrast, FoE says, nuclear has been operating for 60 years and still requires a 35-year price guarantee.

By the time Hinkley is in operation, solar and on-shore wind will be far cheaper, with costs falling fast, and it is likely that offshore wind will be in a similar position. The nuclear subsidy “represents extremely bad value for money for UK citizens,” the submission concludes. – Climate News Network

Bulgaria’s micro-hydro power surge

March 30, 2014 in Energy, European Union, Hydropower, Renewables, Technology

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

By Kieran Cooke

Bulgaria, one of the European Union’s more recent members, is in the midst of a micro-hydro boom. The hydro plants form part of an overall EU energy package which sets a binding target of achieving 20% of energy from renewables by 2020 in order to tackle carbon emissions and climate change. The plants are controversial, with allegations that they are not properly licensed and monitored – and that they threaten the environment.

BOROVETS, Bulgaria, 30 March -  Dimitar Lobutov, an entrepreneur investing in a micro-hydro plant here, has little time for environmentalists.

“They are the biggest racketeers in the country – they make all manner of accusations but can’t prove anything”, says Lobutov. “It’s people like me who are developing Bulgaria – the greens just do nothing but complain or try and sabotage our efforts.”

Unobtrusive, but not always uncontroversial: The micro-hydro plant at Borovets Image: Kieran Cooke

Unobtrusive, but not always uncontroversial: The micro-hydro plant at Borovets
Image: Kieran Cooke

Lobutov, among other things a property developer and importer of electrical equipment, stands proudly by his soon-to-be-completed 1,300 kilowatt micro-hydro power plant in a beautiful narrow mountain valley about 30 miles from Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital. Just down the road is one of the country’s main ski resorts. There is thick snow: the clear waters of the river Iskar flow nearby.

Micro-hydro is very much in fashion in Bulgaria, with plants being built on rivers throughout the country. They are relatively simple to construct and operate: pipes are laid perhaps two kilometres upriver, and water is then fed through the pipes, to flow down and drive turbines at a power station.

Electricity generated is sold to the national grid. Investors like Lobutov – he says he’s invested more than two million Bulgarian lev (€1 m/US $1.375 m) in his plant – are guaranteed a set price from the Government, in his case over a period of 15 years.

Threat to rivers

“I plan to get my investment back within six or seven years”, says Lobutov. “I want to leave a financial legacy for my grandchildren.”

Petko Tzetkov works for the Sofia-based Bulgarian Biodiversity Foundation. “Many people think micro-hydro is a clean energy solution and will help us achieve EU renewable targets. But the reality is these plants are being built without any overall energy plan and are often not properly licensed or monitored”, he says.

“They have a big and damaging impact on water resources and wildlife – many are being built within national parks and other protected areas.”

Ivan Mishev, head of a fishermen’s union, says: “It’s a dire situation. In the old communist days about 20% of the country’s rivers were destroyed by badly planned dam projects. Now rivers are being destroyed by micro-hydro.

‘Money launderers’

“Fish stocks are being ruined. Romania, our neighbour, is much bigger and has far more water resources than we have. Yet double the number of permits for micro-hydro have been issued here. If we continue on this path our rivers will exist in name only.“

Government officials defend the micro-power projects. A Ministry of Environment spokeswoman described environmental impact assessments – paid for by the developer – as “very comprehensive.” And she denied there was any corruption involved in the issuance of licenses.

Local opinions about the power plant being built here differ. “Those projects – they’re just a way of laundering money”, says a marketplace trader. Another local disagrees: “We need more entrepreneurs to build up the country. We can’t stand still, we have to develop.”

It’s been an exceptionally warm winter in the Bulgarian mountains: the skiing has not been good and snow-making machines have had to be used. Many feel the climate is changing.

“What happens if the river dries up, or when there’s much less water during the summer months?” asks a local fisherman. “Will the micro-hydro plant close down, or will the owner drain the river in order to protect his investment?”

Other renewables

As its contribution to overall EU renewable energy targets, Bulgaria has to produce 16% of its energy from hydro, wind, solar power and other renewable sources by 2020.

A large part of its energy comes at present from imports of gas from Russia and from heavily subsidised power produced by the Kozloduy nuclear plant, on the Danube in the north of the country. Plans for a second nuclear plant were shelved two years ago while negotiations continue with foreign contractors on updating Kozloduy.

A late 2011 report by the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) said Bulgaria had considerable wind resources which could be exploited. Energy could also come from biomass.

The IIED also called for greater transparency — and said the Government should address corruption and domination of the market by a monopoly in the energy sector. – Climate News Network

Offshore wind could calm hurricanes

February 26, 2014 in Climate, Coastal Threats, Energy, Extreme weather, Hurricanes, Technology, USA, Weather Systems, Wind power

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

It's smaller, but the same principle applies: Wind energy is dissipated as it crosses a wind farm Image: By Michael via Wikimedia Commons

It’s smaller, but the same principle applies: Wind energy is dissipated as it crosses a wind farm
Image: By Michael via Wikimedia Commons

By Tim Radford

US scientists say that very large wind farms could not only withstand a hurricane: they would also weaken it and so protect coastal communities.

LONDON, 26 February – US engineers have thought of a new way to take the heat out of a hurricane. Fortuitously-placed offshore wind farms could make dramatic reductions in wind speeds and storm surge wave heights.

Hurricanes are capricious consequences of peculiar sea temperature and wind conditions, while wind farms are the outcome of years of thoughtful design and investment, and not an emergency response to a severe weather warning.

But, according to new research in Nature Climate Change, a giant wind farm off the coast of New Orleans in 2005 could have lowered the wind speeds of Hurricane Katrina by between 80 and 98 miles an hour, and decreased the storm surge by 79%.

Katrina was a calamitous event that caught civic, state and federal authorities off-guard, and devastated the city. But an array of 78,000 wind turbines off the coast would, according to Mark Jacobson of Stanford University, and Cristina Archer and Willett Kempton of the University of Delaware, have defused its force dramatically – and turned a lot of hurricane energy into electricity at the same time.

Wind turbines turn in the wind to generate energy. The laws of thermodynamics are inexorable, so a national grid’s gain is the wind’s loss, because wind energy is dissipated as it crosses a wind farm. One turbine literally takes the wind out of the sails of another.

Tempest models

One of the three Nature Climate Change authors, Cristina Archer, last year examined the geometry of a hypothetical wind farm to work out how to place turbines most efficiently to make the best of a gusty day, rather than have one bank of turbines turning furiously while the others barely stir.

But this same translation of wind circulation to electrical circuitry suggested another accidental consequence. Mark Jacobson and his colleagues used sophisticated computer models to test the impact of a hurricane on a wind farm, and since the US has both cruel experience and highly detailed records of hurricane events, he and his Delaware partners decided to model three notorious tempests: Superstorm Sandy, which slammed into New York in 2012 and caused $82 billion damage in three US states, Hurricane Isaac, which hit Louisiana the same year, and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“We found that when wind turbines are present, they slow down the outer rotation winds of a hurricane,” Professor Jacobson said. ”This feeds back to decrease wave height, which reduces movement of air toward the centre of the hurricane, increasing the central pressure, which in turn slows down the winds of the entire hurricane and dissipates it faster.”

And Cristina Archer put it more vividly: “The little turbines can fight back the beast,” she said. Her colleague Willett Kempton added: “We always think about hurricanes and wind turbines as incompatible. But we find that, in large arrays, wind turbines have some ability to protect both themselves and coastal communities from the strongest winds.”

Double benefit

The conclusions are based entirely on computer simulations. Real world tests are for the moment unlikely, chiefly because wind farms tend to have dozens or, at the most, hundreds of turbines and the hurricane experiment was based on turbines in their tens of thousands, delivering hundreds of gigawatts.

But Professor Jacobson and Dr Archer tend to think big anyway. They argued in 2012 that four million wind turbines in the world’s windiest places could generate at least half the world’s electricity needs by 2030 without interfering too greatly with global atmospheric circulation.

The tempest-taming qualities of really big wind farms would deliver an added bonus: they could offer protection to vulnerable coastal cities. The costs of wind-farming on such a scale would be huge, but then the losses to coastal cities from flooding and storm damage in a rampant climate change scenario are expected to rise to $100 trillion a year by 2100.

The three authors calculate that the net cost of such projects – after considering all the good things that could come from them – would be “less than today’s fossil fuel electricity generation net cost in these regions and less than the net cost of sea walls used solely to avoid storm damage.”

A sea wall to protect one city might cost anything from $10 billion to $29 billion, and that is all it would do: protect that city. A really big wind farm would offer protection during cyclones, typhoons or hurricanes and generate carbon-free energy all year round. – Climate News Network

Carbon output ‘will climb 29% by 2035′

February 7, 2014 in Carbon Dioxide, Coal, Energy, Forecasting, Greenhouse Gases, Renewables, Shale Gas

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Spelling it out: A French "non" to the prospect of shale oil and gas Image: Eva Joly 2012 via Wikimedia Commons

Spelling it out: A French “non” to the prospect of shale oil and gas
Image: Eva Joly 2012 via Wikimedia Commons

By Alex Kirby

Climate scientists agree that global carbon dioxide emissions need to be sharply cut. A prominent player in the energy industry predicts they will go in the opposite direction.

LONDON, 7 February – The good news, from the climate’s standpoint, is that while global demand for energy is continuing to grow, the growth is slowing. The bad news is that one energy giant predicts global carbon dioxide emissions will probably rise by almost a third in the next 20 years.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says greenhouse gas emissions need to peak by 2020 and then decline if the world is to hope to avoid global average temperatures rising by more than 2°C over pre-industrial levels. Beyond 2°C, it says, climate change could become dangerously unmanageable.

But BP’s Energy Outlook 2035 says CO2 emissions are likely to increase by 29% in the next two decades because of growing energy demand from the developing world.

It says “energy use in the advanced economies of North America, Europe and Asia as a group is expected to grow only very slowly – and begin to decline in the later years of the forecast period”.

But by 2035 energy use in the non-OECD economies is expected to be 69% higher than in 2012. In comparison use in the OECD will have grown by only 5%, and actually to have fallen after 2030, even with continued economic growth. The Outlook predicts that global energy consumption will rise by 41% from 2012 to 2035, compared with 30% over the last ten.

Nor does it offer much hope that the use of novel energy sources will help to cut emissions. It says: “Shale gas is the fastest-growing source of supply (6.5% p.a.), providing nearly half of the growth in global gas.”

Renewables shine

Burning gas produces much lower CO2 emissions than using coal, but the sheer volume of shale production is expected to cancel out any possible emissions reductions. In fact the Outlook says of its predictions:  “…emissions [of CO2] remain well above the path recommended by scientists…Global emissions in 2035 are nearly double the 1990 level.”

An advantage claimed by some supporters of shale gas is that it will increasingly replace a much more polluting fossil fuel, coal. But at the moment many coal-producing countries are finding markets overseas for those they have lost to shale gas at home.

Oil, natural gas and coal are each expected to make up around 27% of the total mix by 2035, with the remaining share coming from nuclear, hydroelectricity and renewables. Among fossil fuels gas, conventional as well as shale, is growing fastest and is increasingly being used as a cleaner alternative to coal.

Bob Dudley, BP Group chief executive, said the Group was “optimistic for the world’s energy future”. Europe, China and India would become more dependent on imports, he said, while the US was on course to become self-sufficient in energy.

The Outlook does provide encouragement to the producers of renewables, which are expected to continue to be the fastest growing class of energy, gaining market share from a small base as they rise at an average of 6.4% a year to 2035. – Climate News Network

US fracking revolution dilutes EU climate & energy plan

January 23, 2014 in Economy, Emissions reductions, Energy, Europe, Policy, Renewables, UNFCCC, USA

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Spanish protest: Fracking divides opinion in Europe Image: By Zarateman via Wikimedia Commons

Spanish protest: Fracking divides opinion in Europe
Image: By Zarateman via Wikimedia Commons

By Kieran Cooke

Tackling climate change comes off second best in the European Union’s latest package of climate and energy targets. Instead, maintaining economic competitiveness – particularly with the US – is the priority.

LONDON, 23 January – On the face of it, this week’s EU climate and energy package, with its targets for cutbacks in emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) and the uptake of renewable energy up to the year 2030, looks impressive.

The central element in the package is a binding EU-wide 40% reduction in GHG emissions over 1990 levels by 2030. Significantly, this has to be achieved “through domestic measures alone” – meaning member states can’t meet emissions reductions obligations by making offsetting GHG cutbacks in other countries.

There’s also a binding target of achieving at least a 27% share of the European energy mix from renewables by the same year and plans for a major overhaul of the EU’s ill-performing Emissions Trading System (ETS), with the aim of lifting the market price for carbon and encouraging emission reductions across the industrial sector.

“If all other regions were equally ambitious about tackling climate change, the world would be in significantly better shape”, says Connie Hedegaard, the EU Climate Commissioner.

Yet while the figures might impress, it’s clear the fracking revolution in the US has the EU’s energy strategists on the run. According to the European Commission, US gas prices fell by 66% between 2005 and 2012 while in Europe they rose by 35% over the same period.

‘No contradiction’

Reflecting intense lobbying by Europe’s industrialists and several governments, the EU package repeatedly emphasises the need to retain economic competitiveness.

“Climate action is central for the future of our planet, while a truly European energy policy is key to our competitiveness” says Jose Manuel Barroso, the EC President.

Barroso insists that tackling the two issues simultaneously is not contradictory, but the EU’s critics say the latest package is designed more to satisfy short-term economic aims than to seriously tackle climate change.

The long-term goal of EU climate and energy policy is to reduce GHG emissions by up to 95% by 2050, limiting the rise in global average temperature to 2°C over pre-industrial levels and so hopefully averting runaway climate change.

Climate scientists and green groups within the EU say the 2030 targets are not nearly ambitious enough and make the 2050 goal very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

“We ask questions as if the science is in any real doubt. It is not.”

“We have to take into account that the 40% target is the death knell of 2°C and probably much more aligned with 4°C once all the trading/CDM/offsetting scams are factored in”, says Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester in the UK and deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

“As a climate community, we continually forget that not acting now has repercussions that in themselves change what the future will be – we ask questions as if the science is in any real doubt. It is not.”

The EU’s target for renewables has also come under fire, with critics saying the Commission has once again given in to powerful EU fossil fuel, nuclear and shale gas lobby groups.

Goal optional

Earlier proposals by a number of countries, including Germany, called for a 2030 renewables target of at least 30%.

At the insistence of countries such as Britain, which has both announced plans for a large-scale expansion of nuclear energy and is giving incentives to encourage the fracking industry, and Poland, which is heavily reliant on coal for its power and is also intent on exploiting shale gas, the target was lowered.

Furthermore the 27% goal for renewables is binding only on an EU-wide basis and not on individual member states: the result is likely to be that some countries will choose to reduce or opt out of meeting the target figure, leaving others to make up the shortfall by dramatically upping renewables use. In such circumstances, arguments could quickly develop.

By contrast, the present EU renewables target – a 20% share in the energy mix by 2020 – is binding on individual states.

Door open for shale

Ultimately, it is the need for Europe to maintain its economic competitiveness that is dominating EU strategy. That has meant scaling back on emissions cutbacks and renewable ambitions – and opening the door to the shale gas industry.

EC President Barroso says shale gas is changing the energy landscape in a dramatic way. Many in Europe are fiercely opposed to shale gas, yet the EU has stood back from imposing any EU-wide regulations on the industry, only issuing guidelines in its new package covering health and safety issues.

“It’s a good demonstration of the role the EU should play, setting the cross-border rules for environmental health and safety but not meddling in the energy mix that is chosen by member states”, says Barroso.

The package of EU proposals will now move on to be discussed by Europe’s leaders in March. – Climate News Network

EU’s new energy strategy faces doubts

January 21, 2014 in Business, Carbon Trading, Economy, Emissions reductions, European Union, Renewables

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Tidal electricity generator awaiting installation: Europe is rich in renewable energy potential Image: MyName (Fundy) via Wikimedia Commons

Tidal electricity generator awaiting installation: Europe is rich in renewable energy potential
Image: MyName (Fundy) via Wikimedia Commons

By Kieran Cooke

The European Union has been a world leader in establishing binding targets on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and building up renewable energy supplies. But as officials in Brussels unveil a new energy strategy, questions are being asked about Europe’s commitment to combatting climate change.

LONDON, 21 January – Governments have stated their positions. Legions of lobbyists have presented final arguments. On 22 January the European Commission is scheduled to release its latest comprehensive climate and energy package, focused on developments in the energy sector up to the year 2030.

Negotiations on the package have been long and arduous: power utilities and big industrial conglomerates within the EU have been particularly vociferous in their opposition to a further set of emissions reductions or renewables targets which, they say, will seriously undermine the EU’s economic competitiveness.

Key issues to be announced by the Commission are 2030 targets for reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) and the renewables share of the EU’s energy mix and – crucially – whether these targets will be made legally binding on states within the union.  Measures aimed at achieving greater energy efficiency within the EU will also form part of the new package.

Present EU legislation sets binding targets of a 20% reduction in GHG emissions from 1990 levels and achieving a 20% share of renewables in energy consumption by 2020. The legislation also sets an indicative, non-binding, target of making a 20% improvement in energy efficiency.

The big question now is at what level the Commission proposes to set its 2030 targets: while many countries in the EU, including Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain, support a binding target of a 40% cut in emissions by 2030, others – including Poland with its large coal industry – say that target is too high.

Meanwhile green groups and non-governmental organisations say the EU must be more ambitious. They say a 2030 emissions reduction target of at least 50% is needed if the internationally agreed goal of limiting the rise in the global average temperature to 2°C over pre-industrial levels by 2050 is to be achieved and runaway climate change prevented.

Resistance to renewables

They also say the EU cannot expect cutbacks on GHG emissions by other nations – particularly by high carbon emitters such as China and India – if the Commission fails to back continuing substantial GHG cutbacks within the EU.

The EU has declared a long-term target of cutting GHG emissions by between 80 and 95% by 2050.

Upping the target on renewables is proving even more contentious. Though most countries within the EU subscribe to the idea of achieving a greater share of renewables in their energy mix, several are opposed to the setting of legally binding targets. Included in this group is the UK, which has recently announced a major expansion in nuclear energy and also plans a large-scale programme for the exploitation of shale gas.

Latest figures indicate global investments in renewables and low carbon energy fell last year for the second year in a row, with investments in Europe falling by more than 40%.

The EU’s power utilities and other large industrial enterprises have been lobbying hard against setting binding renewables targets and have called for the reduction or abolition of subsidies given to the renewables sector.

‘Uncompetitive’

They say the EU, by emphasising renewables, is jeopardizing Europe’s economic future: they say EU industries can no longer compete with those in the US, where energy costs are substantially lower due to the large-scale take-up of shale-based oil and gas in recent years.

Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the EU Commission, is reported to be among those against any insistence on establishing a legally binding target for renewables for 2030.

On the other side of the argument members of the European Parliament’s environment and energy committees earlier this month voted in favour of legally binding targets for both emissions and renewables. They also said there must be more decisive action on reducing overall energy usage within the EU and called for a binding 40% target on energy efficiency by 2030.

The new EU climate and energy package is expected to include measures aimed at reforming the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), once touted as a key element in cutting industrial GHG emissions. The ETS has underperformed due to mismanagement and an oversupply of emissions allowances or so-called “pollution credits”.

In March 2014 leaders of the EU’s 28 member states are due to meet to decide whether or not to endorse the Commission’s new proposals. – Climate News Network