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.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, refused to go along with the plan — which would have capped production at January levels for the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries as well as non-OPEC producers such as Russia. News agency reports said that in talks that lasted ten hours longer than scheduled, the kingdom would not limit its own output if Iran did not do the same. But Iran, which did not even attend the Doha meeting, has said it is determined to crank up production now that a deal to limit its nuclear program has resulted in a lifting of international economic sanctions. “The ongoing geopolitical tension with Iran is clearly a key consideration in Saudi Arabia’s oil policy, preventing it from joining in even a vague agreement to freeze oil production at already inflated levels, and knowing that an oil price drop is likely as a result,” said Jason Bordoff, director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.
We continue with more on OPEC and oil, Russia and Norway struggle to preserve gas market share, China’s floating nuclear plants, Poland’s new wind law, Germany tells Begium to shut down nuclear plants, electronics from coal, 100% renewables for Australia and for Europe too via the MENA supergrid, there is no Obama “war on coal”, SNP wants 50% renewables by 2020, UK shale oil ready to boom, Hinkley delayed yet again, objections to Drax subsidies, the Times says the wrong things about climate change and Subsidy Sam – the answer to Tommy Turbine.
Wall Street Journal: OPEC May Discuss Oil Freeze at June Meeting
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries could revive talk of freezing oil production along with nonmembers at its next meeting in June, said top oil officials on Thursday. A production freeze was an idea that had helped send prices rallying more than 50% from 12-year lows last winter. But after the 13-nation producer group ultimately failed to strike a production deal with Russia in Qatar over the weekend, investors didn’t react much to the news that freeze talks could soon be renewed. Oil prices were up slightly Thursday after OPEC Secretary General Abdallah Salem el-Badri said imposing limits on oil producers could be on the table again. But prices then fell as much as 2% in afternoon trading in London. Some investors said they were looking to numbers like falling U.S. production or the rising dollars as their guideposts on oil, not OPEC statements.
Addressing Japan’s International Finance and Economic Assessment Council, International Energy Agency chief Fatih Barol warned that oil supplies from outside of OPEC would fall by 700,000 barrels per day in 2016 – the largest fall since 1992. Investment in upstream activities fell by 24% in 2015 and was set for another 18% drop in 2016, the largest back-to-back decline since the 1980’s, he said. However, US light tight oil output was expected to recover, with the country being expected to contribute the most to growth in non-OPEC supplies from 2016 to 2021. That would come as global demand for oil was set to continue growing by an average of 1.2m barrels per day between 2016 and 2021, crossing the symbolic 100m b/d threshold in 2019 or 2020, according to the IEA. “With the fall in non-OPEC production we are seeing, we can expect the market to come back to balance in 2017. From 2018 onwards there will be stock draws, leading to a gradual increase in price levels,” Birol said in prepared remarks for a speech to be delivered to the council.
Tax receipts from offshore oil and gas slumped to just £35m in the last financial year, according to figures from HM Revenue and Customs. The figure is the lowest recorded since the early days of North Sea production. Corporation tax from offshore drilling raised £538m but that was offset by rebates on Petroleum Revenue Tax, totalling £503m. The latest figure compares with £2bn of tax revenue in the 2014-15 financial year. Four years ago, the Treasury raised £11bn from the two sources of tax on offshore production profits. Much of last year’s fall reflects lower profits from oil and gas, after the oil price slumped, as well as tax deductions for a high level of investment. The Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast negative tax returns for the next few years.
Business Insider: Oil rig count falls to new 6-year low
The US oil rig count fell by 8 to 343 this week, according to driller Baker Hughes. That was the fifth straight weekly drop. The tally of gas rigs fell by one to 88, taking the total down 9 to 431, a new low. Last week, we saw the combined tally fall to a new low of 440. The oil rig count fell by 3, while the gas rig count was unchanged at 89.
Wall Street Journal: What Oil Glut? Outages Put Supply, Demand Close to Balance
Oil-producing governments across the world are scrambling to address petroleum outages that have taken nearly 2 million barrels a day off the market and sent crude prices rallying. The outages have been caused by an oil-worker strike in Kuwait, alleged pipeline sabotage in Nigeria and payment disputes in Iraqi Kurdistan. The missing oil supply—about 1.85 million barrels a day—has essentially brought the oil market’s supplies back into balance with demand, if only temporarily, and raised questions about big producers’ ability to quickly ramp up during supply outages. The situation offers a glimpse of what the oil market would look like if the current glut were to end after nearly two years of weighing on prices. “This is definitely the famous canary in the coal mine telling us something about the state of the oil market. It is telling us that the oil market is more in balance than widely assumed,” said Bjarne Schieldrop, chief commodities analyst at SEB, a leading Nordic corporate bank.
Russia and Norway have been dominant suppliers to the region since the first pipelines were laid more than four decades ago. Together they provide more than half the region’s natural gas, according to lobby group Eurogas. Gazprom, the world’s biggest producer, has an incentive to maintain market share and maximize revenue in dollars after the ruble plunged, Norway, Europe’s second-biggest supplier, is playing catch-up. Troll, the nation’s biggest field, got a permit to produce 10 percent more gas in the year from Oct. 1. The country also plans to boost capacity at the Kaarstoe and Kvitebjoern facilities. While Russia has said sales to Europe will probably reach a record this year, Norway expects a level similar to last year’s record. “They are trying to defend market shares because they see — like everybody else — that failure to do so is going to allow more LNG — not just U.S. LNG but any LNG — to displace their pipeline supplies,” Jonathan Stern, chairman of the gas research program at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, said.
New York Times: China to Develop Floating Nuclear Power Plants
All the radar systems, lighthouses, barracks, ports and airfields that China has set up on its newly built island chain in the South China Sea require tremendous amounts of electricity, which is hard to come by in a place hundreds of miles from the country’s power grid. Beijing may have come up with a solution: floating nuclear power plants. A state-owned company, China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation, is planning to build a fleet of the vessels to provide electricity to remote locations including offshore oil platforms and the contentious man-made islands, the state-run newspaper Global Times reported on Friday. The paper quoted an executive at the company, Liu Zhengguo, as saying that “demand is pretty strong” for the floating power stations, which would be built by one of its subsidiaries. In January, Xu Dazhe, the director of the China Atomic Energy Authority, told reporters in Beijing that China was planning to develop offshore floating nuclear energy plants, saying they “must undergo a rigorous, scientific evaluation,” but also linking these to China’s desire to become a “maritime power.”
EUobserver: Shut your nuclear plants, Germany tells Belgium
Germany has asked Belgium to close two of its nuclear power stations over safety concerns, in the latest sign of EU states getting involved in their neighbours’ nuclear policies. The German federal environment minister Barbara Hendricks said on Wednesday (20 April) that reactors in Doel and Tihange should be closed after a report by the German Reactor Safety Commission said their safety was not guaranteed. “I consider it right that the plants are temporarily taken offline at least until further investigations have been completed. I have asked the Belgian government to take this step,” Hendricks said. She said that there were “no concrete indications that the reactor pressure vessels will not resist the strain”, but that it was however “not possible to be sure they would resist every possible strain”. In a statement on Wednesday, Belgium’s Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC) replied that their conclusions regarding the two reactors’ safety “remain unchanged, despite what minister Hendricks says”.
International Business Times: Germany: Safety checks at 2 nuclear power plants were faked
Workers at two nuclear plants in Germany faked safety checks on radioactivity measuring equipment, German media reported this week. Workers of energy giants EnBW and RWE in Germany reportedly failed to conduct routine safety checks at two nuclear power stations, but passed off fake readings, according to Deutsche Welle (DW), which cited regional public broadcaster SWR. EnBW said in a statement this week that the fake readings had occurred in December and that “the same employee had apparently faked seven further routine checks on similar installations. Legal options against the worker are being examined.” The company’s nuclear power station in Philippsburg, Baden-Württemberg, which was meant to be restarted next month, has now been ordered shut by the state’s environment ministry, DW reported. RWE also reported a similar case with regard to its closed nuclear power station in Biblis, Hesse, where radioactivity levels continue to be monitored. “This is highly unsettling and unacceptable,” Baden-Württemberg Environment Minister Franz Untersteller reportedly said.
The Hill: There is no Obama ‘war on coal’
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is dismissing Obama administration critics who have accused the president of waging a “war on coal” through his environmental policies. In an interview with the Lexington Herald Leader on Thursday, Moniz said the Obama administration has worked to develop policies to help the coal industry even while it pursues a lower-carbon energy sector in the future. “Make no bones about it — we start with the assertion, the commitment, that we are talking about a progressively lower carbon future,” Moniz told the paper. “But we have not abandoned coal as part of that future.” Moniz pointed to Obama’s support for research into carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, which would remove carbon from power plant emissions. Obama proposed $6.5 billion for carbon capture technology in his 2017 budget request. “We wouldn’t have put $6 billion into CCS” if the administration was waging a war on coal, Moniz said.
Discovery: Could We Turn Coal Into Electronics?
MIT researchers are looking at other ways to utilize coal’s molecular complexity and harness it to make a new generation of electronic devices — including some that could become part of the switch to renewable energy. In an article in the journal Nano Letters, the MIT scientists describe how various types of coal could be used to create thin films with adjustable electrical properties. Eventually, according to the scientists, coal could be used to fashion solar panels, batteries, or various types of electronic devices. For the first time, the paper characterizes in detail the chemical, electrical, and optical properties of thin films of four different kinds of coal: anthracite, lignite, and two bituminous types. Some naturally occurring coal varieties have a range of electrical conductivity that spans seven orders of magnitude, making them suitable for a wide range of electronic uses — and without the extensive purification and refining that silica, a standard raw material in electronics manufacturing, requires. For that reason, coal might provide a cheaper alternative.
Science Magazine: US Senate to study “albedo modification”
Budgetmakers in the U.S. Senate want the Department of Energy (DOE) to study the possibility of making Earth reflect more sunlight into space to fight global warming. Earth’s reflectivity is known as its albedo, and the request to study “albedo modification” comes in the details of a proposed spending bill passed by the Senate appropriations committee to fund DOE, the Army Corps of Engineers, and related agencies for fiscal year 2017, which begins 1 October. The bill does not specify how much money should be spent on the research. The call for further research comes in a bill that would provide $5.4 billion for DOE’s Office of Science next year. It also builds on the recommendations of a February 2015 report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) entitled Climate Intervention: Reflecting Sunlight to Cool Earth. That report warned explicitly that albedo modification shouldn’t be deployed now because the risks and benefits were far too uncertain. Still, the committee urged further research to find out what those risks and benefits might be.
On April 19, the city’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to become the first major US metropolitan area requiring that new buildings install solar photovoltaic (PV) panels on their roofs. California already mandates that new buildings with 10 floors or less designate at least 15% of their rooftop area (pdf, p8) as being ready for solar panel installation. The city of San Francisco now requires that builders actually install solar panels in these areas (at a minimum) starting in 2017. Larger buildings are exempt for now. The Better Roofs Ordinance, introduced by supervisor Scott Wiener, is expected to add 50,000 solar panels and avert 26.3 million tons of carbon dioxide annually—equivalent to emissions from 5,000 cars driven for a year—just based on construction already in the pipeline, according to the bill’s supporters.
Power Engineering International: New law threatens survival of Polish wind power industry
A new bill submitted to Poland’s parliament threatens the very survival of the wind energy industry in the country. The bill will make it illegal to build wind turbines within 2km of other buildings or forests — a measure campaigners said would rule out 99 per cent of land — and quadruple the rate of tax payable on existing turbines — making most unprofitable. Another clause in the bill would give authorities the power to shut down each turbine for weeks at a time during monthly inspections, said industry figures. Violations would result in hefty fines or two years’ imprisonment. The threatened legislation would represent a complete reversal of the progress made by the industry in Poland last year when it saw the largest amount of installed wind turbine capacity in the EU after Germany, taking total industry investment to €8bn. Turbines, including those owned by EDF, RWE and Eon, produce about 13 per cent of the country’s electricity.
Renewecconomy: Australia saves money by going 100% renewable
A new report from the Institute for Sustainable Futures in Sydney says a rapid transition to a 100 per cent renewable energy system can save Australia money – with avoided fuel costs to quickly offset the extra capital expenditure of building wind, solar and other renewable energy installations. “The transition to a 100 per cent renewable energy system by 2050 is both technically possible and economically viable in the long term,” the report says. And by 100 per cent renewable, it means all energy use, including transport and heating. The report canvasses two renewable energy scenarios, one based on a high level of renewable energy in the electricity grid, but with transport largely reliant on fossil fuels. The second is the Advanced Renewables scenario, which canvasses a totally renewable electricity system by 2030 and a fully renewable energy system by 2050.
A megalithic ‘Supergrid’ connecting Northern Africa with Europe could help both regions reach near-100% renewable energy share. This is the primary conclusion from a new report published by Fraunhofer ISE, which was worked on by five separate Fraunhofer institutes, each using their individual expertise to examine the idea of a Supergrid which would connect the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region with Europe. The report, which developed several Supergrid scenarios, evaluating their potential as well as the necessary technologies and policies, found that decarbonization of the electricity systems in the EU and MENA by focusing on renewable energies “is possible and economically practicable.” If this near-100% expansion of renewable energy in North Africa were to benefit Europe, however, a transition to “a meshed superimposed HVDC grid with bipolar VSC technology which allows the transmission of fluctuating power from renewable power plants over long distances” would be necessary.
The EU abandoned or weakened key proposals for new environmental protections after receiving a letter from a top BP executive which warned of an exodus of the oil industry from Europe if the proposals went ahead. In the 10-page letter, the company predicted in 2013 that a mass industry flight would result if laws to regulate tar sands, cut power plant pollution and accelerate the uptake of renewable energy were passed, because of the extra costs and red tape they allegedly entailed. The measures “threaten to drive energy-intensive industries, such as refining and petrochemicals, to relocate outside the EU with a correspondingly detrimental impact on security of supply, jobs [and] growth,” said the letter, which was obtained by the Guardian under access to documents laws. BP’s warning of a fossil fuel pull-out from Europe was repeated three times in the letter, most stridently over plans to mandate new pollution cuts and clean technologies, under the industrial emissions directive. A BP spokesman said that the letter was intended to “highlight the risk of ‘carbon leakage’, where EU policy to reduce carbon emissions may result in industry relocating outside the EU, rather than achieving any actual reduction in emissions. Avoiding this perverse outcome is of critical importance to climate policy.” In his reply to BP, Oettinger said that his department was finalising an energy prices report and “your thoughts are very valuable in this context”.
Deutsche Welle: RWE endures a bruising shareholders’ meeting
RWE, Germany’s second-largest energy company, had to answer to the anger of protesters and stockholders alike during its annual general meeting on Wednesday. Environmental activists from Greenpeace and Fossil Free stormed the stage at the start of the meeting. “Your time is over,” they chanted, in response to the company’s continued generation of coal power. “I don’t have a problem with such protests,” said RWE chief executive Peter Terium once police and security officers removed the demonstrators. “I also have children who are of an age when they are interested in protesting.” But Terium too came to cause a stir, warning politicians that the turmoil facing conventional energy companies could have devastating effects. “We can’t afford further massive losses in our power station business in the long run,” he said. He raised the prospect of a future without any conventional power generation to back up renewable energy of rather shallow, and sometimes variable capacity. “That’s a horror scenario, and not just for the whole energy industry, but for Germany and for Europe as a whole,” he said.
U.K. Oil & Gas Investments commissioned Ernst & Young to examine the future potential of oil production from the Weald shale basin. “Assuming it can be extracted from a development site at the volumes projected by U.K. Oil & Gas, has the potential to generate significant economic value to the U.K. economy,” the report read. Oil & Gas U.K., the industry’s lobbying group, said the North Sea oil sector is in for a long period of decline, with less than $1.4 billion in new spending expected in 2016. Inland shale, meanwhile, has the potential to add between $10 billion and $74.6 billion to the British economy in gross value, the commissioned report said. Operators are working to assess the potential in the shale area by testing the Horse Hill-1 oil discovery. Preliminary estimates made by the company last year put the entire Horse Hill reserve total as high as 100 billion barrels of oil. If its full potential is reached, the future production from the area could provide as much as a quarter of the nation’s total oil demand over its lifespan, based on 2014 demand levels.
Guardian: Yet more delays at Hinkley
The Hinkley Point C nuclear plant, at the heart of government energy plans, has been hit by fresh delays in another blow to confidence surrounding an already troubled project. EDF, the French energy company promoting the £18bn reactor scheme, admitted there would be no final investment decision at least till the summer. The latest setback comes less than a week after the French economy minister, Emmanuel Macron, told the BBC that the project would be given the go-ahead in the “coming week or month”. EDF was itself aiming to be able to give the green light at the company’s annual general meeting on 12 May but has bowed to pressure from employees to consult an internal union-management council. The company said in a statement after a board meeting: “The board has decided to undertake a formal, non-binding consultation process with the comité central d’enterprise. This is [a] well understood statutory process of 60 days and the company will work with the CCE to define the detailed steps to reach a conclusion this summer.”
Drax faced protests during its annual general meeting in London over its use of public subsidies to support its massive coal and wood-burning power station. Banners were unfurled by campaigners seeking to “axe Drax” outside its AGM in the capital on Wednesday, as well as at the Drax power station site near Selby, North Yorkshire. Duncan Law, from the Biofuelwatch campaign group, said: “DECC [the Department of Energy and Climate Change] are calling biomass burning in power stations like Drax a ‘transition technology’, and a closer look at Drax’s strongly suggests that the power station’s lifespan is indeed limited. But the impacts of the logging in the US, which is feeding Drax today, will be long-lasting, if not permanent. Precious wetland forests, once they have been cut down, may never recover.” Protesters claim Drax is receiving more than £1m a day of renewable energy subsidies for burning wood, ultimately paid for by bill payers.
The Times newspaper has been criticised for “poor quality” and “distorted coverage” of global warming by a group including some of the UK’s most eminent scientists, the chair of the government’s official advisers on climate change and a former chair of oil giant Shell. The group says the Times’s coverage: “appears designed systematically to undermine the credibility of climate science and the institutions that carry it out, and the validity of programmes aimed at reducing emissions. Climate science has proven remarkably robust to repeated scrutiny, and multiple lines of evidence indicate that climate change and ocean acidification pose serious and increasing risks for the future,” the group says. “There is abundant evidence also that decarbonised energy systems can provide energy security at reasonable cost if they are properly planned.” The group say they find two aspects of the Times’s coverage “particularly concerning”. “The first is that neither the quality bar that broadsheet newspapers regularly apply to scientific evidence, nor the simple concept of balance, appear to exist in all of your paper’s reporting on climate change. The second concern is that many of the sub-standard news stories and opinion pieces appear to concern, in some way, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF).”
Nicola Sturgeon will this week attempt to boost the SNP’s green credentials by announcing one of the world’s most ambitious targets to reduce carbon emissions. Scotland on Sunday can reveal that a commitment to raise Scotland’s 2020 climate target from the current 42 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions to more than 50 per cent will be put at the heart of the SNP manifesto. The announcement will be made by Sturgeon on Wednesday at an event, which will see 1,400 invited guests attend the launch of the SNP’s election prospectus. The new target will be contained in a Climate Change Bill, which will be put before Holyrood if, as expected, the SNP returns to government on 5 May.
ChannelBiz: Power outages see big jump in UK
The latest Blackout Tracker report, from power management company Eaton, says there were 640 outages in 2015, a marked increase on the 537 incidents recorded in 2014. The report also found that a total of 2,564,827 people were affected by the outages, which lasted for an average of 50 minutes. The statistics in the Blackout Tracker highlight the problem of unreliable electricity supply at a time when the UK’s ageing energy infrastructure is coming under increasing pressure. A report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers warns that as many older coal-fired power stations are shut down, the UK is facing a 40-55 percent electricity supply gap – resulting in the likelihood of more frequent power outages.
A total of 175 countries have signed the Paris climate agreement at the United Nations in New York City, a record for a one-day signing of an international accord, the UN says. French President Francois Hollande and Canada’s Justin Trudeau joined US Secretary of State John Kerry for the record turnout that has boosted hopes of quick action on combating global warming. “This is a moment in history,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said. “Today you are signing a new covenant with the future.” While the United States, China and India — the world’s top green-house gas emitters — were not represented by their highest officials, some 60 heads of state and government were set to be among the signatories. The Paris Agreement will come into force as soon as 55 countries responsible for 55 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gases have ratified the accord. The target date for the agreement to begin is 2020, but momentum is building to ensure the accord enters into force much earlier.
A large majority of Americans have enjoyed more pleasant weather due to global warming over the past 40 years, research has found, but there is set to be an unpleasant sting in the tail as temperatures escalate further this century. Vast areas of the contiguous US have warmed considerably during winters without becoming unbearably hot during the summers, making the climate generally more agreeable to the public. A new study has found that 80% of the American population lives in areas where the weather has become more “preferable” since 1974. According to the analysis by Duke University and New York University, 99% of Americans live in places where the average January temperature has increased, with just 60% in locations where the July temperature has risen. Rainfall and humidity changes have also, largely, changed by a favorable degree for many Americans. This shift to more temperate conditions means that “virtually all Americans are now experiencing the much milder winters that they typically prefer, and these mild winters have not been offset by markedly more uncomfortable summers or other negative changes,” the paper found.
Tommy the Turbine has a fictional rival to liven up the debate about windfarms. A leading High-land objector has created “Subsidy Sam” to challenge a character used by the industry. Sam highlights the massive public subsidies used to finance the technology. Beauly-based Lyndsey Ward, who today publishes her story online, claims youngsters have been “indoctrinated” by a host of school activities including visits to windfarms. “Tommy the Turbine” is already online and been used in schools in Ireland. She said: “What’s been happening is similar to what fast food and fizzy drink makers did previously – sponsoring school sports equipment and leaving us with an obesity epidemic. The wind industry goes into schools in Scotland and never is the other side of the story told. Youngsters are being brainwashed into thinking we’d be doomed without wind farms. It’s a cynical ploy to keep the subsidies flowing into the next generation.”