Blowout Week 122

Rejoice! The world is going green after all, courtesy of man-made CO2 emissions:

Science Daily:  CO2 fertilization greening Earth, study finds

From a quarter to half of Earth’s vegetated lands has shown significant greening over the last 35 years largely due to rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

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David MacKay: the final cut

Sir David MacKay, author of Sustainable Energy – without the hot air died of cancer on 14th April 2016. Mark Lynas interviewed Sir David on April 3rd and has provided a very fitting tribute. The video, is twenty-three minutes long and there is a lot to like.

David was an occasional commenter on Energy Matters. Here’s a selection of his more recent comments:

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Decarbonising UK Power Generation – The Nuclear Option

Guest Post by Andy Dawson who is an energy sector systems consultant and former nuclear engineer.

How to decarbonise UK Power generation is a topic of heated debate, with renewables enthusiasts often keen to argue that there are a range of obstacles to the use of nuclear generation to meet more than a small proportion of total demand. Reasons cited are availability of space/sites, grid integration and the challenges of meeting variable demand. So, is an all-nuclear UK grid (with the small sleight of hand of pumped storage hydro in support) potentially viable?

I’ll set out an argument that it is indeed so, and more so that it comfortably exceeds any current carbon intensity targets.

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Can OPEC “freeze” production, or is it already frozen?

Between July 2014 and January 2015 the price of  OPEC’s oil “market basket” fell from over $100/bbl to less than $50/bbl, causing considerable hardship to the OPEC countries who rely on oil exports to finance their national budgets – which is all twelve of them. Under these circumstances the logical reaction for a cash-strapped, oil-rich country would be to pump more oil to increase revenues , yet only two – Saudi Arabia and Iraq – actually did so. The remaining ten, which account for over 50% of OPEC’s current total output, seem to have already been pumping as fast as they could or were prevented from doing so by civil war (Libya) or sanctions (Iran) or by other factors outside their control. The implication is that all the talk about freezing OPEC production at January 2016 levels may be just so much hot air. With Saudi Arabia also now pumping at capacity according to Euan’s March vital statistics post OPEC may no longer be capable of increasing production above current levels even if it wanted to.

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EU and BP Renewable Electricity Accounting Methodologies

Every EU country has a renewable energy target to be met by 2020 where the target is set as a percentage of gross final energy consumption. Since most countries are using combinations of hydro, solar and wind electricity (primary electricity) to achieve their targets, one needs a way of comparing primary electricity with energy from coal, oil and gas etc. The standard way adopted by the EU and by BP is to convert all forms of energy to tonnes of oil equivalent (toe). If coal, oil or gas is used to make electricity then there are large thermal losses doing so. BP account for this by grossing up renewable electricity by a factor of 100/38 (2.63) to account for “thermal gain” when converting from primary electricity to a fossil fuel equivalent. The EU does not do this, hence the toe figures reported by the EU and BP differ. Which methodology is correct?

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Blowout Week 121

Finally we have news to report on OPEC – and it turns out to be no news at all. The much-anticipated meeting in Doha, which was attended by Russia and other non-OPEC producers and which was expected to lead to an agreement to freeze production at January 2016 levels, ended without agreement because Saudi Arabia refused to consider a production freeze unless Iran did too. So, back to square one.

Washington Post:  Doha oil meeting ends without a deal

Hopes on the part of investors, oil companies and oil exporting nations for a negotiated “freeze” in global output melted away on Sunday after 16 major petroleum producers meeting in Doha, Qatar failed to reach an agreement, possibly setting the stage for further weakness in crude oil prices.

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Net metering and the death of US rooftop solar

“Net metering” allows anyone with a solar installation to sell surplus solar power to the grid when the sun is shining and to purchase power back from the grid when it isn’t. Net metering has been described as the lifeblood of solar in America, and it’s probably true to state that without it there would be few, if any domestic rooftop solar installations anywhere in the country. However, the program is now coming under attack, with Hawaii and Nevada recently rolling back net metering benefits and with a number of other states also considering changes. What happens if enough states impose similar rollbacks, or maybe do away with net metering altogether? This post reviews this question and concludes that domestic solar in the US will slowly wither and die.

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More revelations on Venezuela’s “drought” and the Guri Dam

Just when I thought my recent post on the Venezuela drought was dead and buried a comment appeared. It was posted by Miguel Octavio, a physicist by training who lives in Miami but who visits Venezuela frequently, and it linked to a follow-up post on Miguel’s blog that contained a lot of local rainfall and stream flow data that weren’t available to me but which prove beyond any doubt that there is no drought at or around the El Guri dam. This post presents Miguel’s post in its entirety and adds two other items as footnotes:

  • A video claiming that Venezuelan authorities are undermining a rockfill dam to supply more water to the El Guri turbines, thereby threatening the dam’s integrity. (Note that Energy Matters cannot confirm the veracity of this claim).
  • A revealing Twitter exchange between Miguel and Luis Motta Dominguez, Venezuela’s Minister for Electricity and Energy, who refuses to acknowledge that there isn’t a drought despite all the evidence to the contrary.

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EU 2020 Renewable Energy Targets: Part I

The progress being made in attaining the 2020 renewable energy (RE) targets is reviewed for 10 EU countries and for the EU as a whole using BP 2015 data. There are two main targets to be met 1) 20% of all primary energy from RE sources and 2) 10% of transport fuel from RE sources. The EU as a whole is projected to narrowly miss the 20% RE target by about 1%. The transport fuel target is less easy to estimate but will likely be missed by a substantial margin.

There is a wide range in achievement levels between individual countries that were allowed to set their own targets but with the EU aggregate being 20%. The UK looks set to narrowly miss its target of 15%. France, Poland and the Netherlands are set to miss their targets of 23, 15 and 14% by a mile. Germany and Ireland are on course to meet their targets of 18 and 16%. Italy, Spain, Portugal and Denmark look set to far exceed their targets of 20, 20, 31 and 30%.

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Blowout Week 120

To provide a little light relief from weightier issues this week’s Blowout features the extraordinary capacity of the human mind to invent new ways of generating low-carbon energy. We already generate biogas from rotting garbage, waste food, vegetable oils and animal manure, and now we generate it from – cheese:

Clearfleau’s Lake District cheese-to-biogas plant at left.


Telegraph: Gas made from cheese to heat hundreds of homes

Hundreds of homes in Cumbria will be heated using cheese from next month, as a new government-backed green energy plant starts producing gas from cheddar manufacturing waste.

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CO2 Emissions Variations in CCGTs Used to Balance Wind in Ireland


The island of Ireland functions as a single electricity grid linked to the British mainland by two interconnectors with a combined capacity of 1 GW. The Republic of Ireland in the south has set a goal to have 40% of electricity generated from renewables, mainly onshore wind, by 2020. Variable intermittency will be balanced using frame type combined cycle gas turbines (CCGTs). As the level of wind penetration grows the CCGTs need to work harder ramping up and down to compensate for variable wind. This causes increased wear and tear on the CCGT plant and also significantly reduces the energy efficiency of the CCGTs raising their specific CO2 production. During 2014 and 2015, average wind penetration was 22%, the CCGTs produced 575 Kg of CO2 per MWh and the average fuel efficiency was 32% compared with a design specification of 55%.

Guest post by Maria Tsagkaraki and Riccardo Carollo, Incoteco (Denmark) ApSData Source: EirGrid

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Drought, El Niño, Blackouts and Venezuela

It’s fashionable these days to blame everything that goes wrong with anything on human interference with the climate, and we had yet another example last week when President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela fingered drought, El Niño and global warming as the reasons Venezuela’s lights keep going out. In this post I show that his Excellency has not a leg to stand on when he makes these claims, but that because no one ever looks at the data everyone believes him.

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Bond Cycles and the Role of The Sun in Shaping Climate

Bond cycles are defined by petrological tracers from core samples in the N Atlantic that link to the pattern of drift ice distribution. They provide a record of shifting ocean currents and winds, in particular periodic weakening of the North Atlantic current and strengthening of the Labrador current. These cycles shape what we perceive as climate change in the circum North Atlantic realm, for example the Little Ice Age and Medieval Warm Period. They leave a small mark on global average temperatures that are difficult to resolve in the proxy temperature records

Bond Cycles correlate with cosmogenic 10Be suggesting that variations in solar and terrestrial magnetic field strength somehow link to changes in atmospheric circulation and ocean currents. My favoured explanation is changes in solar spectrum that accompany changes in the magnetic field.

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Blowout Week 119

The Obama Administration is becoming progressively more strident in its attempts to bring home the perils of climate change to a largely disinterested public. Last week it published the results of a 300-page multi-year study involving “scores of researchers and the work of eight federal agencies”. The study’s conclusion was that climate change could kill tens of thousands of Americans each year by the end of the century. One wonders how many lives could have been saved if the cost of preparing the report had been spent on mosquito nets instead.

Washington Post:  As the climate changes, risks to human health will accelerate, White House warns

More deaths from extreme heat. Longer allergy seasons. Increasingly polluted air and water. Diseases transmitted by mosquitoes and ticks spreading farther and faster. Those are among the health risks that could be exacerbated by global warming in coming decades, the Obama administration warned in a new report Monday.

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Is large-scale energy storage dead?

Many countries have committed to filling large percentages of their future electricity demand with intermittent renewable energy, and to do so they will need long-term energy storage in the terawatt-hours range. But the modules they are now installing store only megawatt-hours of energy. Why are they doing this? This post concludes that they are either conveniently ignoring the long-term energy storage problem or are unaware of its magnitude and the near-impossibility of solving it.

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Is ARES the solution to the energy storage problem?

Every so often an item appears in Blowout Week that’s worthy of further discussion, and Blowout Week 118 has one. It’s the article on ARES – Advanced Rail Energy Storage – a simple combination of three proven technologies – railroads, potential energy release and regenerative braking – which reportedly has a number of advantages over its numerous energy storage competitors:

* All it needs is a rail line, heavy rail cars with regenerative braking, and a hill.  It needs no reservoirs, pump houses,  penstocks, underground cavities, salt mines, submarine bladders or even water.

• Environmental impacts are usually minimal, energy efficiency, costs and ramp rates are reportedly comparable to pumped hydro, there are no limits on the number of charge/discharge cycles and no degradation with time.

• There’s no lack of ARES natural resources (hills) in many parts of the world. Storage capacity can be made as large or as small as needed in these areas.

The ARES concept has been tested at a pilot project in Tehachapi, California. No results are provided but some intriguing images are:

The ARES gravity train used at the Tehachapi, California, pilot plant

So let’s take a closer look at ARES:

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Oil Production Vital Statistics March 2016

Since the possible double bottom at $26 formed on February 11th the oil price has staged a rally to $40 (WTI). Traders lucky enough to buy at $26 and sell at $40 have pocketed a tidy 54% profit. Very few will have been this lucky. The trade was stimulated by news that Saudi Arabia and Russia had agreed to not increase production this year which is hollow news since neither country could significantly increase production no matter how hard they tried. Profit taking has now driven WTI back towards $37 as of 1 April.

What next? There is precious little sign of significant production falls anywhere. US and international rig counts continue to plunge. And there is little sign of global demand recovering as OECD economies buckle under the weight of misguided energy policy and debt. There is a risk of the plunge in oil price resuming.

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Blowout Week 118

This week we focus on solar power in the United States. A report by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory has concluded that the country can fill 39% of its electricity needs with rooftop solar PV alone. And that doesn’t include the “immense potential” of ground-mounted PV units. Is an all-solar America on the horizon?

Popular Science:  Rooftop Solar Panels Could Power Nearly 40 Percent Of The U.S.
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A preliminary reservoir balance calculation for El Hierro.

There are a number of key variables related to the Gorona del Viento (GdV) project that we have no data for, basically because GdV has declined to send us any. One of the most important is the reservoir balance, which up until recently we have only been able to guess at. However, thanks to the valued participation of Rainer Strassburger, our man on El Hierro, we now have some recent dated photographs of water levels in the upper and lower reservoirs. Are they good enough to allow us to make meaningful reservoir balance estimates? This post looks briefly into this question and concludes that they are.

GdV upper reservoir at the pre-construction stage, image credit vistaire

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EU to Introduce Two New Time Zones

Earlier today Mr Donald Trunk, EU Commissioner for Social Adjustments, launched an initiative that will see two new time zones introduced before the end of 2017. Mr Trunk explained that spreading electricity demand more evenly across the continent will help integrate the new electricity market and reduce peak demand. What better way to achieve integration than to divide the continent into 5 time zones?

Mr Trunk went on to explain that importantly this simple measure will mean that the wind will now blow and the Sun will shine at different times across the continent and this will help resolve the intermittency problem. The press release details are below the fold.

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