Downsizing may be the new nuclear option

Downsizing may be the new nuclear option

As delays and spiralling costs hit plans for big nuclear power stations, building thousands of small reactors could be part of a strategy to fight climate change.

LONDON, 9 October, 2015 – Nuclear reactors that will fit on the back of a truck are the great new hope for nuclear industry expansion.

These small modular reactors (SMRs) are being backed by the US, China and the UK as part of a low-carbon electricity strategy to deploy alongside renewables.

Several manufacturers are designing and building prototype reactors that are similar to the power providers for icebreakers and nuclear submarines. They vary in capacity up to 30 megawatts − enough to produce enough electricity for a small town.

All the major manufacturers, electricity suppliers, regulators and some enthusiastic politicians will attend an SMR summit in London for two days from October 20, with the aim of getting the reactors from the design and development stage to widespread deployment.

Critical time

The push to develop SMRs comes at a critical time for the nuclear industry as the building of traditional large nuclear power stations is increasingly marked by cost over-runs and delays.

They are also seen as out of step with modern grids, where small-scale renewables close to the point of use are beginning to dominate.

The idea of SMRs is that they can fit the modern pattern and be deployed close to population centres where the power is needed, so avoiding the 10% power loss from large reactors that is inevitable because of the vast distances the power is transmitted.

In most countries, safety and the need for large quantities of cooling water dictate that traditional large nuclear power stations are sited on the coast, or in remote places isolated far from big towns and cities.

The UK’s National Nuclear Laboratory, a government body, believes there is vast potential for SMRs, estimating that they could provide 65-85 gigawatts of new electricity production by 2035, valued at £250-£400 billion (about US$400-615 bn) of business.

If this estimate is anywhere near accurate, this would mean around 3,000 small reactors being deployed worldwide in the next 20 years.

“The next two or three years will be critical in development if small modular reactors are to be deployed extensively in the next 10 years”

Gordon Waddington, of Rowan House consultants, will chair the London meeting. He was formerly a leading engineer with Rolls-Royce, is an expert on the nuclear industry, and believes that SMRs are vital in combating climate change.

Despite this, he says that there are considerable technical problems in the UK over the  deployment of SMRs, with regard to meeting safety and security requirements − including the safeguarding of nuclear materials − while keeping the power produced at an economic price.

The price tag of £1bn-2bn per reactor is well below the £24 billion for current large reactors, but is still a considerable outlay for an as yet untried technology. “It would take a significant leap of faith for any utility to build the first reactor,” Waddington says.

There are also other problems, such as getting local approval for siting the reactors, and getting agreement on prices for the electricity.

However, Waddington also sees it as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to get involved in an industry as it takes off, and for a country like the UK to develop SMRs for the domestic market and also for export.

He says: “The next two or three years will be critical in development if small modular reactors are to be deployed extensively in the next 10 years.”

Amber Rudd, the UK government’s Energy and Climate Change Secretary, who has reduced wind and solar subsidies, is keen to underwrite the nuclear industry.

At the governing Conservative party’s annual conference this week, she praised the work of Sheffield University’s Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, and specifically its work on the next generation of SMRs.

Cost to consumers

However, she also revealed that the UK is reviewing its energy policy, which means that support for nuclear − with the extra cost to consumers it will involve − might not be acceptable when wind and solar are already much cheaper, and when electricity demand in the UK is going down.

So far, however, politicians and the nuclear industry keep repeating the myth that the UK’s existing nuclear stations are going to close down in the next decade.

George Osborne, the UK chancellor, last week gave this as the main reason for his government offering a £2 billion loan guarantee to the Chinese if they will help new nuclear construction in Britain.

This is despite the fact that the French company EDF, which owns all but one of Britain’s nuclear stations, has a policy of investing in the old stations and seeking five-year extensions in the lifetimes of all its reactors – in one case, for 20 years.

Some have already been granted extensions and, under British regulations, these extensions could be repeated every five years for decades, provided the reactors remain safe. – Climate News Network

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Scientists push boundaries to find alternative energy

Scientists push boundaries to find alternative energy

From algae to alloys, ingenuity in the world’s laboratories is fuelling experiments to find new ways of providing viable sources of clean energy.

LONDON, 8 October, 2015 – Wind and solar energy remain the only obvious replacements for fossil fuels, but recent research shows that scientists are clearly thinking outside the box to come up with future alternatives.

They have recently been able to report at least theoretical progress with nuclear energy, algae, and a novel alloy.

In just a few days, they proved that thermonuclear fusion – once somebody works out how to make it happen – will be economically viable.

They have worked out how to cultivate green algae for biofuel in huge quantities at US$50 a barrel, which is about the cost of crude oil.

They have even found a way to get electrical energy directly from cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae.

And they have exploited an alloy that can deliver a colossal pulse of electric power when you kick it.

Experimental stage

None of these technologies has advanced beyond the experimental stage, but all are testament to the ingenuity now being deployed in the world’s laboratories and experimental start-ups.

Fusion power – not to be confused with nuclear fission – exploits the thermonuclear conversion of hydrogen to helium with little or no noxious discharge and the generous release of energy.

This is what powers the sun and fuels the planet’s life. It is also the basis of the thermonuclear bomb. For the last 60 years, humans have been trying to make fusion work peacefully on Earth, with only tantalising flickers of success.

But if it does work, British scientists report in the journal Fusion Engineering and Design, it will not be too expensive.

They analysed the cost of building, running and ultimately decommissioning a fusion power station, and found it comparable to fission or nuclear energy.

The challenge of nuclear fusion is to heat stripped-down heavy hydrogen atoms to 100 million °C so that they fuse into helium, while finding a way to tap the released energy, and at the same time keep the reaction going.

“What we can say is that our predictions
suggest fusion won’t be vastly
more expensive than fission”

The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), now being built in the South of France, might in a decade show that it could happen. Assuming it works, the process should be affordable. There would be no high-level radioactive waste, no problems with finding fuel, and no by-product that could be turned into nuclear weaponry.

“Obviously we have had to make assumptions, but what we can say is that our predictions suggest fusion won’t be vastly more expensive than fission,” said Damian Hampshire, of the Centre for Materials Physics at Durham University, UK.

“Calculating the cost of a fusion reactor is complex, given the variations in the cost of the raw materials and exchange rates. However, this work is a big step in the right direction.”

Biofuel is currently based mostly on the conversion of agricultural crops – sugar cane, or corn – to feedstock for ethanol, which can be converted into gasoline or other fuels. But, in a hungry world, this is not an ideal solution.

So researchers have been looking at the microbial plant life in waste water and ponds as a possible answer, with promising experimental results on the small scale.

But now an Israeli company called Univerve has pioneered a cultivation system that gets ever more sunlight to speed up photosynthesis and get the algae working ever harder

They report in Technology journal that they bubbled air through a suspended, modular triangular structure with transparent walls so the algae get their solar energy from all sides and their oxygen at all times.

They promise green reactors up to 100 metres, holding 100 cubic metres of “production medium”, or algae. There is a bonus: algae make omega-3 oils, so it could also serve the food industry and deliver cattle feed, as well as feedstock for the biofuel business.

In Montreal, Canada, researchers report in the same journal that they can tap into the photosynthesis in the tank full of algae and directly retrieve clean energy in the form of electricity.

The process involves tapping into the electron transfer chains in the plant life that turn sunlight into carbon-based tissue. In essence, the tank of cyanobacteria serves as the anode in a biological battery.


Having demonstrated the principle, the next step is to work out how to get commercially-useful power from what becomes, quite literally, the power plant.

In the US, civilian and military scientists have been looking again at an alloy of iron doped with gallium that has been around for decades, but which has just shown that it can produce electricity.

It has been named Galfenol, and is described in the Journal of Applied Physics as magnetoelastic. Squeeze or deform it, and its magnetisation changes. Stick it in a magnetic field, and it changes shape.

The scientists found that when boxed in a clamp so that it could not deform, wrapped with copper wire and subjected to a powerful impact, Galfenol generated as much as 80 megawatts of instantaneous power per cubic metre. That is, it converted mechanical energy into electromagnetic discharge.

Right now, like the other advances, it remains a discovery awaiting an application. But energy researchers are certainly applying great ingenuity to the search for clean energy sources. – Climate News Network

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UK is accused of rigging market against renewables

UK is accused of rigging market against renewables

As electricity from renewable sources tops 25% in the UK, the government is challenged to create a level playing field by scrapping nuclear and fossil-fuel subsidies.

LONDON, 7 October, 2015 – One of the pioneers of the United Kingdom’s renewable energy industry says the British government is distorting the market in an attempt to support fossil fuels and nuclear power.

His accusation comes as the industry’s trade association, RenewableUK, announces that in the second quarter of this year renewable energy produced 25.3% of the country’s electricity − more than either nuclear power (21.5%) or coal (20.5%).

The accuser is Dale Vince, who in 1995 founded the green energy company Ecotricity, which supplies almost 170,000 British customers with wind and solar power.

He is challenging the government to scrap its subsidies for nuclear power and fossil fuels in order to “create a level playing field” after it cut support for renewable energy.

Abandon policies

Last month, the influential Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said countries should abandon fossil fuel support policies.

Vince said that in the second quarter of 2015 renewable energy had, for the first time, outperformed the nuclear and coal industries. And it had done so with a fraction of the subsidies that fossil fuels and nuclear power enjoyed.

He said: “Renewable energy receives one-tenth of the support that fossil fuels do, yet powers 25% of the country. And government says only renewable energy has to stand on its own two feet. It makes no economic sense.

“Britain is blessed with enough renewable energy to power our entire country several times over, safely, without pollution, and at the lowest cost of all energy sources.

“If there was a level playing field in Britain, renewable energy would win hands down”

Vince said the International Monetary Fund put UK subsidies to the fossil industries in Britain at £30 billion (US$45.5 bn) annually – more than £1,000 ($1,500) per household per year.

“In contrast, support for all renewable energy amounted to £2.6 billion last year, about £100 per household per year, with onshore wind − which is the main focus of government attacks − adding just £10 to household energy bills.

“Government says only renewable energy has to stand on its own two feet. It makes no economic sense.”

“Unfortunately, the government appears ideologically opposed to renewable energy and has moved to put a stop to this incredible success story.

“It is not just cutting all support and increasing planning hurdles, but even going so far as to make renewable energy pay the Climate Change Levy, which is (or was) a tax on fossil fuels to fund climate change measures. Renewable energy in Britain now effectively subsidises the fossil fuel industry – to the tune of £1 billion every year.”

Last week, the government announced it would pay a further £2 bn to encourage the Chinese to build a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in the west of England.

Vince said the plant would be paid twice the market price for power, for the next 35 years − “and then we’ll have to clean up the mess left behind, which already amounts to £120 billion for the current fleet of nuclear plants being decommissioned”.

Widespread criticism

Plans by the government to supplement its ageing fleet of nuclear power stations with a new reactor at Hinkley Point is attracting widespread criticism – not just from anti-nuclear campaigners, but also from the energy industry and investment banks.

The government is also intent on exploiting shale gas. As the energy and climate change secretary, Amber Rudd, explained in August: “We are backing the safe development of shale gas because it’s good for jobs, giving hardworking people and their families more financial security, good for our energy security, and part of our plan to decarbonise the economy.

“We need more secure, home-grown energy supplies – and shale gas must play a part in that.”

As claims mount that the UK’s energy policy is in disarray, the hapless Rudd has been renamed “Amber Rudderless” by some of her critics.

The UK government’s policy appears to ignore global trends. Worldwide, 2015 marks a doubling of the renewable energy sector from its size just 10 years ago. – Climate News Network

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Climate change threatens global financial crash

Climate change threatens global financial crash

The world’s most influential banker says an orderly switch from fossil fuels to renewables is needed to avoid turmoil on world stock markets.

LONDON, 2 October, 2015 − A warning that climate change might make the world’s stock markets and banks unstable and lead to a financial crash has come from Mark Carney, chairman of the G20 countries’ Financial Stability Board.

Carney, who is also Governor of the Bank of England, particularly warns about the effects on the market if panic selling occurs and there is a plunge in value of shares in fossil fuel companies and industries that produce a lot of carbon dioxide.

These companies, some of the world’s largest, control one-third of stock market assets. If investors realise these stocks are overvalued and try to sell them all at once, it will cause chaos, Carney said.

The stark warning is a “remarkable intervention” from one of the world’s most conservative and influential bankers, who says he will be advising the world’s richest nations at the G20 summit in November to put policies in place to prevent climate change causing future severe turmoil in the markets.

Unpaid loans

He warned that banks might become unstable because the billions of dollars in loans they have made to fossil fuel companies might not be repaid.

Carney suggests that there will be a switch of investments from carbon-intensive industries to renewables. He says investments in fossil fuel companies might be seen as overvalued because, to avoid dangerous climate change, more than two-thirds of fossil fuels will need to be left in the ground.

Carney’s warning is in stark contrast to the policies of George Osborne, the UK’s chancellor of the exchequer, who appointed him to his role as Bank of England governor in 2012.

Osborne has this year been demolishing the UK’s on-shore wind and solar subsidy programme, while providing tax breaks to North Sea oil companies to find more reserves and giving the go-ahead for fracking gas over large areas of England.

Carney did not comment on this policy rift, saying it was up to governments not bankers to make decisions about how to move to a low-carbon economy, but he said they must manage the transition in a way that did not cause market shocks.

The weight of scientific evidence and the dynamics of the financial system suggest that . . . climate change will threaten financial resilience
and longer-term prosperity”

Speaking to Lloyd’s of London, one of the biggest insurance markets in the world, he said giving investors maximum information would allow them to make sensible decisions about when to disinvest in fossil fuels.

Politicians had to manage this without suddenly revealing that some stocks were overvalued because company assets would be “stranded” because oil coal and gas would always have to remain in the ground.

He said he was going to recommend to G20 countries in November, ahead of the UN climate change conference in Paris the following month, that they start setting a carbon price so that investors could see how large companies emitting carbon dioxide would be affected.

Carney told the BBC: “The point is the risks build with time, and they build more rapidly with inaction, so climate change is a function of cumulative emissions, so the slower the action is today, the bigger the action has to be in the future.

“That would mean more abrupt change, that would mean bigger shocks to the value of financial assets, bigger strains on banks and insurance companies that are exposed to those assets, so what we’re trying to do is to promote as smooth an adjustment as possible. We think it can be done, and we think it can be done by providing better information.”

Zero emissions

He called for the setting up of a Climate Disclosure Task Force so that all companies would have to declare how much carbon they emitted or produced, and how they were going to proceed to zero emissions in the future. Since the G20 countries are responsible for 85% of emissions, they would be a good starting point.

“Our societies face a series of profound environmental and social challenges,” he said. “The combination of the weight of scientific evidence and the dynamics of the financial system suggest that, in the fullness of time, climate change will threaten financial resilience and longer-term prosperity.

“While there is still time to act, the window of opportunity is finite and shrinking.”

Jeremy Leggett,  founder of Solarcentury, the largest UK solar electricity company, and chairman of the CarbonTracker thinktank, described it as “a momentous announcement when such an eminent banker tells the world that climate change is the biggest issue of the future”.

He said: “Carney’s remarkable statement of position also raises the remarkable corollary that George Osborne might well now be party to the sabotage of the capital markets.” – Climate News Network

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Safer battery could spark investment in renewables

Safer battery could spark investment in renewables

Researchers have developed a battery that uses a common food additive to enable abundant solar and wind power to be stored cheaply and safely in homes and offices.

LONDON, 30 September, 2015 − The dream of a home battery – cheap, durable, safe, and as big as you like – that could store solar or wind power is a step nearer reality.

Researchers from Harvard University in the US report that they have tested a “flow battery” that uses cheap and abundant chemical elements, can be operated with plastic components, will not catch fire, and can operate at 99% efficiency.

Such batteries could be used to save and store surplus wind and solar power, which could then be used at times when neither form of renewable energy can deliver.

The latest advances are based on technology already tested by the same engineers, but made more attractive with a switch to chemical components that are non-toxic, non-flammable, and safe for use in homes and offices.

Electrical action

Typically, flow batteries have exploited a metal, such as vanadium, dissolved in acid to deliver electrical action.

Kaixiang Lin, a chemistry student at Harvard, Michael Marshak, now assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and colleagues report in Science journal that, instead of costly and difficult-to-handle metals, they have tested naturally-occurring, carbon-based molecules called quinines for the negative electrolyte component of the battery.

They had started their experiments with bromine-based electrolyte for the positive ions, but bromine is toxic and volatile. So they replaced it with a non-toxic, non-corrosive ion called ferrocyanide.

“It sounds bad because it has the word cyanide in it,” Dr Marshak says. “Cyanide kills you because it binds very tightly to iron in your body. In ferrocyanide, it’s already bound to iron, so it’s safe. In fact, ferrocyanide is commonly used as a food additive, and also as a fertilizer.”

“It can’t catch fire – and that’s huge when you
are storing large amounts of electrical energy anywhere near people”

The combination of a common organic dye and a cheap food additive in alkaline, rather than acidic solutions, meant that the researchers could increase their battery voltage by 50%.

It also means − at least in principle − that a domestic residence could store its own surplus solar or wind power and keep the refrigerator or the central heating running after sunset or on windless days. How much a house could store would depend only on the size of the tanks that held the two electrolytes.

“This is chemistry I’d be happy to put in my basement,” says Michael Aziz, a professor of materials and energy technologies at Harvard, who has led the research. “The non-toxicity and the cheap, abundant materials placed in water solution mean that it’s safe. It can’t catch fire – and that’s huge when you are storing large amounts of electrical energy anywhere near people.”

The improved flow battery stores energy in liquids contained in external tanks. Image: Kaixiang Lin/Harvard University

The improved flow battery stores energy in liquids contained in external tanks (here in red and green). Image: Kaixiang Lin/Harvard University

The storage problem has consistently been held against investment in solar and wind energy, but a safe, cheap and capacious technology could change the economics of renewable power generation.

Paradoxically, another group of researchers from the same university have, in the same week, argued that the storage shortfall might be a non-problem.

Hossein Safaei and David Keith, of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard, report in the Energy & Environmental Science journal that the supply of wind and solar power could be increased tenfold without any additional storage.

Energy shortfall

Even though wind and solar power deliver energy intermittently, relatively-low carbon gas turbines and zero-carbon sources − such as nuclear, hydropower and biomass − could be used to make up the shortfall.

The researchers do not argue that better batteries would be of no advantage. Their case is that the absence of better batteries need not, and should not, stop investment in renewables.

They are not the first to argue this. At least one group has calculated that the US could get 99% of its energy from zero-carbon sources.

“We’re trying to knock out a salient policy meme that says you can’t grow variable renewables without a proportionate increase in storage,” Professor Keith says.

“We could cut electric sector carbon emissions to less than a third of their current levels using variable renewable, with natural gas to manage the intermittency. But this will require us to keep growing the electricity transmission infrastructure.” – Climate News Network

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Elephant grass could offer viable alternative to coal

Elephant grass could offer viable alternative to coal

By adapting a tropical grass to grow in the British climate, scientists hope to be able to replace coal in power stations with biofuel.

LONDON, 29 September, 2015 − The UK government is spending £1.8 million on a scientific project that aims to breed a new seed-producing variety of tropical grass that could provide a viable source of fuel for power stations.

Miscanthus, better known as elephant grass, is already being used in Europe to produce biofuel to replace coal in power stations − but growing enough of it is the main drawback.

So scientists at Aberystwyth University in Wales are being given government funding to help develop miscanthus strains that like UK conditions and produce viable seeds, without losing the fast-growing and drying properties that make it ideal for biofuel.

The variety currently used is Miscanthus x Giganteus, which grows fast – up to three metres tall − on poor agricultural land in Europe to produce a cash crop for farmers in the spring, when the dried stalks from the previous year are ideal for burning in power stations.

Hybrid variety

However, the “giganteus” is a hybrid variety that does not produce viable seeds. To grow a new plant, farmers currently have to break off and sow a bit of the root, or rhizome, of another elephant grass.

Even with machines to plant dozens of chopped-up rhizomes, it is very time-consuming to plant enough elephant grass to feed a power station, or to make bio-fuel for cars. If the grass produced seed, areas could be planted 200 times faster.

Currently, the UK demand for biomass for electricity is more than 5 million tonnes a year, of which 75% is imported − which partly defeats the object, since transporting biomass uses fossil fuels.

The theory is that all of these imports could be replaced by elephant grass if UK farmers were given the means to plant enough.

“We need to develop our economy to take advantage of green technologies, as opposed to relying on a limited stock of fossil fuels”

In addition, smaller local biomass plants could be built near where the elephant grass grows, thus cutting transport costs. And any surplus could be used to produce liquid fuel to power lorries and cars.

According to enthusiasts, if a car engine used a gallon of fuel every 25 miles, one tonne of miscanthus could produce biofuel to drive over 750 miles.

Once the grass has been planted, it lives for 20 years and produces 10-20 tonnes of fuel per hectare. It is also said to be beneficial for birds and wildlife that live protected inside the almost impenetrable foliage and in the leaf litter between the rows.

In some parts of the world, miscanthus varieties that do produce seeds can be a problem as they can block watercourses and are hard to remove once their roots have become established.

However, the scientists at Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences are confident that they can produce a plant that reproduces and grows well in European conditions, while avoiding any environmental problems with careful management.

Reduce emissions

Dr John Clifford Brown, leader of the project, believes that the crop will benefit the agricultural industry and reduce the UK’s carbon emissions.

He revealed that the university has already spent 10 years working on developing miscanthus into a crop that can supply the UK’s growing biomass demand, and that the seeds of the new hybrids will be planted at four trial sites across the UK to see which performs best.

“Several harvesting approaches will be explored to maximise crop quality and quantity,” he said. “The overall goal is to develop new systems for miscanthus-based agriculture that increase profitability, and so enable transition of today’s niche crop into a large-scale biomass supply system.

“The UK needs to reduce CO2 emissions in order to mitigate climate change, and we also need to develop our economy to take advantage of green technologies, as opposed to relying on a limited stock of fossil fuels.” – Climate News Network

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All nations must share blame or lose climate battle

All nations must share blame or lose climate battle

Brazilian expert says developing countries must also play their part in cutting emissions if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change.

LONDON, 27 September, 2015 −The developing world’s most polluting nations must abandon the decades-old rhetoric that blames rich countries for climate change and share responsibility for reducing emissions to avoid dangerous overheating, according to Brazil’s best-known scientist.

José Goldemberg, who took office as president of the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) this month, named Brazil, India and Indonesia − which account for 14% of global emissions − as the three key developing countries that need to abandon an outdated vision of development and use more energy-efficient technologies.

“Without these countries – which were exempt from reducing their emissions by the Kyoto Protocol – making significant efforts, it will be impossible to avoid a global warming of 2°C by 2100, a value that scientists consider as the maximum tolerable to prevent more dramatic climate change than those already taking place,” he said.

Goldemberg, a nuclear physicist and alternative energy expert, said on taking office that it was time for Brazilian scientists to play a leadership role in society and shake off the “ivory tower” approach that prevents academics engaging with the outside world.

Danger threshold

In an open letter to delegates attending the Paris negotiations in December, which are aimed at reaching a global agreement to keep temperatures below the 2°C danger threshold, he called for a new approach from the developing world.

“The United States, China and the European Union, whose emissions account for about 45% of the [world] total have announced ambitious and quantifiable goals.

“Russia and Japan contribute to 7%. The remaining 48% of emissions originate from more than 150 other countries whose individual contributions are less than 1%, with the exception of India, Brazil and Indonesia, who represent 14%.

“Several developing countries have argued that reducing carbon emissions will seriously affect their development, and that the continued use of fossil fuels at low prices is still the best option available to them.

“This is an outdated vision of development. It was valid during the 19th and 20th centuries, when countries industrialised, but it was precisely the indiscriminate use of fossil fuels that has led to the serious pollution problems we are facing today.”

He held up China as a country that has embraced more energy-efficient technologies and renewable energy sources as a new avenue for sustainable development. It had enabled China to announce that, from 2030, it will reduce its coal consumption – and, consequently, greenhouse gas emissions.

“Several developing countries have argued
the continued use of fossil fuels at low prices
is still the best option available to them”

Goldemberg then launched into an attack on his own country’s failure to capitalise on its own success in producing ethanol from sugar cane − “an excellent substitute for gasoline”.

He said: “Ethanol is non-polluting, unlike gasoline, and is renewable because cane is a crop that grows every year. It’s like solar energy transformed into a liquid.”

He said Brazil had managed to produce large quantities as a cost that could compete with petrol and had assumed global leadership in the field, but government behaviour – “the result of personal and ideological idiosyncrasies” – had seriously damaged the industry.

Because the price of ethanol had been pegged to the price of petrol in order to try to reduce inflation, the production of ethanol had been hit, and 100 of the existing 450 plants faced serious financial problems and went out of business.

The industry could contribute to the sustainability of the planet and generate millions of jobs, but is now fighting hard to survive. The 25 billion litres of ethanol used in Brazil as a substitute for gasoline reduces carbon emissions by 50 million tonnes − 10% of the country’s emissions, excluding deforestation.

Great potential

He said that in 2008, before the Brazilian government began to interfere, ethanol production was expanding in Brazil and Central America and India.

Africa also had great potential because it was suitable for growing sugar cane, and there was a ready export market to Europe and the US, which could not produce ethanol so cheaply from corn and other crops.

He accepted that there had been criticism of ethanol because some experts claimed that it contributed towards deforestation in the Amazon and damaged food production, and some doubted that it actually reduced the emission of gases that cause global warming.

These issues, he said, had now been fully examined in a study involving 137 experts from 29 countries and 82 scientific institutions, in a report entitled Bioenergy and Sustainability.

Goldemberg hoped that the report would help to inform people and eliminate many of the barriers raised against the use of ethanol, which, in many countries, could significantly contribute to the overall reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. – Climate News Network

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Investors opt out of fossil fuels as climate summit nears

Investors opt out of fossil fuels as climate summit nears

As momentum builds for a new deal on climate change, investors are becoming increasingly nervous about having their cash in fossil fuels.

LONDON, 24 September, 2015 – A worldwide movement aimed at encouraging institutions and individuals to turn their backs on fossil fuel investment and so head off serious climate change is on a roll.

Altogether more than 430 investment firms and companies, and over 2,000 individuals, have so far pledged to withdraw investments from fossil fuels. That adds up to US$2.6 trillion in assets, says a report by Arabella Advisors, a US group which helps foundations and wealthy individuals make investment decisions.

The report says that a growing realisation of the risks involved in fossil fuel investments has created a surge in divestment activity over the past 12 months. A similar report produced by Arabella in September 2014 estimated that divestments from fossil fuels then stood at around $50 billion. 

The latest report, based on data collected from investment firms and individuals around the world, says growing numbers of pension funds, local governments, religious groups and private companies are pulling their cash out of the fossil fuel sector.

Backing for renewables

Those who have recently pledged to withdraw all or part of their investments in fossil fuels include the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the Norway Pension Fund, the Canadian Medical Association and the World Council of Churches.

At the same time, says the report, investments in renewable energies are increasing – with clean energy investments around the world reaching $310bn last year.

“The Arabella report shows that more and more investors are reducing their carbon risk today and diversifying their portfolios with the goal to harness the upside in the sustainable clean growth industries of the future”, says Thomas Van Dyck of the SRI Wealth Management Group

“That underscores what I see every day as a financial advisor – that demand for fossil-free investment products is increasing.”

Clear choice

Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, has been among those pushing for a shift in investments from fossil fuels to clean energies.

“Investing at scale in clean, efficient power offers one of the clearest no-regret choices ever presented to human progress”, said Figueres via video link at the New York launch of the Arabella report.

Various funds, foundations and individuals have adopted differing approaches to withdrawing their cash from fossil fuels. Some have divested entirely, while others are divesting from the worst polluters – and the greatest threat to the climate – such as coal companies and those involved in oil produced from tar sands.

Leonardo DiCaprio, the actor, who heads an environmental foundation, is among those who announced that they were withdrawing fossil fuel investments.

Message to leaders

“Climate change is severely impacting the health of our planet and all of its inhabitants, and we must transition to a clean energy economy that does not rely on fossil fuels, the main driver of this global problem”, said DiCaprio.

“Now is the time to divest and invest to let our world leaders know that we, as individuals and institutions, are taking action to address climate change, and we expect them to do their part this December in Paris at the UN climate talks.”

Analysts caution that, while there are signs that investors are becoming increasingly wary about putting their cash into fossil fuels, the industry is powerful and is not about to fade away

A recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development points out that governments around the world are still providing between $160bn and $200bn of support each year for the production and consumption of fossil fuels. – Climate News Network

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Forests move centre stage in India’s climate plan

Forests move centre stage in India’s climate plan

India, the world’s third-largest polluter, is planning to balance development with environment protection as it tackles climate change.

NEW DELHI, 23 September, 2015 – India is to put forests at the centre of its plans to mitigate the worst effects of climate change by encouraging more “green cover” and reducing the carbon intensity of its development.

India comes behind China and the United States in the most polluting countries’ list and defends its record by saying that emissions per capita are far below most developed countries’, and its priority is still to lift millions of citizens out of poverty.

However, the country has 13 of the 20 most-polluted cities on the planet, according to the World Health Organisation, and for that reason alone it needs to cut down on fossil fuel use.

The government is expected to announce its long-awaited national plan to reduce emissions ahead of the 1 October deadline set by the United NationsThese plans, known in UN jargon as Intended Nationally Determined  Contributions (INDCs), must be produced by all countries so that scientists can assess whether their sum total is enough to keep the world from overheating by 2°C – the limit agreed by politicians to prevent dangerous climate change.

Promising a “new prescription” from India to reduce greenhouse gases, Prakash Javadekar, India’s minister for environment, forests and climate change, said the country’s plans would go ahead whatever the outcome of the UN’s climate talks.

He expressed disappointment that the recent preparatory talks in Bonn had not made more progress ahead of the summit in Paris in December which is designed to produce an international agreement to reduce world emissions beyond 2020.

Dual strategy

He said: “We want to clean our air, our water, our environment, so we are addressing a  challenge which takes care of our climate change mitigation and adaptation measures as well.

“India has already started reducing emission intensity, reducing the energy intensity of development, increasing energy efficiency and also increasing the forest cover (to take more carbon out of the atmosphere). We are also having more renewables.”

One of the important subsidiary agreements on the agenda of the climate talks is about preserving the world’s forests, and India is putting great emphasis on this. Called REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), it allows for replanting existing forests and preserving them from logging to be counted as part of a countrys efforts to reduce its emissions.

“Our national plan will give you a new prescription from India on this issue. We will grow our forests, we will raise our forests, we will raise our carbon sinks … we will raise our benefits. We want to have more green cover,” Javadekar told the Climate News Network.

“I have a definite plan for the next 15 years. The forest quality will improve. We will improve it with people’s participation, with innovation, with technology, with many things.”


Despite his enthusiasm and promise of public participation, environment groups are suspicious of the proposed guidelines from the environment ministry (MoEF) stipulating that 40 % of “identified” degraded forests could be leased to private companies for plantations.

Pravin Mote and Debjit Nandi of the All India Forum of Forest Movements (AIFFM) claimed the “ambitious corporatised plantation programme” will be used to greenwash India’s emphasis on coal mining and the continuing use of coal as the primary source of electricity.

“The proposed private plantations can also be used in the dubious game of domestic carbon trading. This will feature as a REDD+ activity because it will help restock the depleting carbon stores in degraded forests.

“But in reality, the plantations will disempower and dispossess people, not only through land grab but also by promoting new mining throughout our forests,” the Forum said in a statement.

India has undertaken to reduce its emission intensity by 20-25% by 2020 compared with 15 years ago. In December 2014 it launched its ambitious solar power programme which aims to provide 100 GW by 2022. It also has plans to harness other renewables, including wind.


Javadekar claimed not a single country had asked when India’s emissions would peak, although China is committed to 2030 and with the US has agreed that both will converge at 14 tons of CO2 per capita.  

He said India would not have reached even two tonnes per capita by 2030, and emissions per head would always be less than the average in the developed world, which needed to do more on finance and technology for the poorer countries.

But environmental activists claim that India can always do much more. “Without disturbing its developmental interests, India can always increase its emission trajectory and maintain its leadership position for the developing countries,” said Ajay K. Jha, coordinator of the countrys Beyond Copenhagen Collective

And a new study, Assessing the missed benefits of countries’ national contributions, by the NewClimate Institute, says that with an increased emission reduction target India can save much more on fossil fuel, cut premature deaths caused by pollution,  and create green jobs.

Sanjay Vashist, director of Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA), said: “If India is supported by rich countries to act in line with its full potential, then it can continue to build on its emerging plan to secure a sustainable development pathway for the country that lifts its most vulnerable out of poverty.” – Climate News Network

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Query over UK’s civil and military nuclear links

Query over UK’s civil and military nuclear links

Experts are asking whether the UK government’s determination to build more nuclear power stations is linked to its wish to maintain its nuclear deterrent.

LONDON, 13 September, 2015 – Electricity from proposed new nuclear stations in the UK will be more expensive than from any other nuclear reactors in the world, yet the government is pressing ahead with its plan to build 11 new installations, despite mounting criticism.

This contrasts sharply with Germany’s policy of phasing out nuclear power altogether − and experts in nuclear policy now see a possible explanation in the fact that Britain is a nuclear weapons state, while Germany has no wish to be one.

The UK’s approach also differs from that of France, which is investing heavily in renewables to cut its reliance on the atom. All three countries say their policies are based on the need to reduce greenhouse gases.

Renewables have already created more jobs and wealth in Germany than nuclear power, while Britain is cutting back drastically on support for solar power and on-shore wind in favour of nuclear stations designed and built by companies from France, China, Japan and the US.

Strange mismatch

The strange mismatch between Europe’s two largest economies, Germany and the UK, is puzzling experts, especially since the International Energy Agency and the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency  say in the 2015 Projected Costs of Generating Electricity report that Britain’s plans will make its nuclear electricity the most expensive in the world.

The guaranteed subsidy for the new stations from the British government to the French government-owned company EDF makes the cost of electricity one-fifth more than nuclear energy in France, a third more than in the US, and twice that of China or Korea.

This has caused a number of influential figures in the UK to call on the government to reconsider its programme. The Financial Times business newspaper called it a “misconceived project”.

The Conservative government, elected in May, lacks a coherent energy policy after cutting subsidies for on-shore wind and solar, but sticks to its line that nuclear power is essential for turning Britain into a low-carbon economy.

“The government should seize the chance offered by this pause to look at the whole misconceived project again”

Academics have been examining Britain’s secretive decision-making processes to try to discover why two economies as similar as Germany’s and the UK’s − both countries wanting to reduce fossil fuel use in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions − should take such divergent decisions.

Britain has much better renewable resources, yet has decided to opt for nuclear power, even though it is more expensive than on-shore wind or solar.

Phil Johnstone and Andy Stirling, University of Sussex research experts in the nuclear policy area, have put forward the suggestion that the UK needs to continue to build and run civilian nuclear power stations to maintain enough nuclear expertise in the country to run its nuclear submarines independently, and so keep its status as a nuclear weapons state.

This possible link between civil and military nuclear power has never been debated in public, although the British government has repeatedly drawn attention to the lack of young people entering the nuclear industry, and has spent millions of pounds on training programmes to attract them.

Its declared position is that nuclear power is needed to combat climate change, and that there is no link between civil and military needs.

A spokesman for the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change told Carbon Brief: “Nuclear power remains the choice that gives reliable power when it is needed, at the same time as helping Britain meet its carbon emissions targets.

“When the cost of extra backup needed for intermittent renewables is included, the cost of nuclear is competitive with any other technology.

“The UK is one of relatively few countries that has well-developed new nuclear projects at the moment. As such, cost estimates for financing new nuclear in the UK are likely to be more realistic and up-to-date compared to most countries.”

Eye-watering cost

Plans for the first two reactors to be built, by EDF at Hinkley Point in south-west England, are well advanced, although preparatory work on the site has been halted and a starting date has been repeatedly put off.

The first reactor was due to open in 2018, but that was put back to 2023, and has just been postponed again because a final agreement over financing has yet to be agreed between EDF and the British government.

The government has already agreed to subsidise the cost of electricity from the station for 35 years, but financing the eye-watering £24 billion (US$ 37bn) construction cost has proved problematic.

A number of potential partners have dropped out, and EDF has found a potential new partner in the Chinese state-owned nuclear corporations, which wish to build their own nuclear power stations at other sites in Britain.

The latest delay and the escalating construction costs have led to the project being labelled the most expensive in the world.

According to The Independent newspaper, the UK chancellor, George Osborne, is still confident the deal with the French will represent good value for money.

White elephant

In the UK Parliament, the House of Lords economic affairs committee chairman, Lord Turnbull, a former chief secretary to the Treasury, suggested to Osborne: “This thing at £92 (US$142) per kWh is turning out to be incredibly expensive and a huge commitment, and for a design which the French can’t get to work.

“Shouldn’t we really go back to the drawing board, rather than plumping for what I think will be a kind of bottomless pit and a big white elephant?”

Osborne replied that he continued to back the project.

The Financial Times disagreed, and said in an editorial: “The UK should think again about Hinkley Point nuclear power station. The economics of EDF’s project look less and less desirable. The government should seize the chance offered by this pause to look at the whole misconceived project again.

“Backing out of Hinkley Point might upset the French and embarrass the government. But a wish to spare ministerial blushes is no excuse for saddling the country with costs it cannot afford.” – Climate News Network

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