This week we feature the fire at the 392MW Ivanpah Concentrated Solar Plant in California – already threatened with shutdown owing to its inability to meet performance goals – which took one of the three units off line. The fire is thought to have been a result of misaligned mirrors that melted steam ducts and cables rather than the salt working fluid they were supposed to melt.
SeeNews: Fire shuts down Ivanpah Unit
One of the three towers at the 392-MW Ivanpah concentrating solar power (CSP) plant is offline after sustaining damage due to a small fire Thursday morning. The San Bernardino County Fire Department posted a photo showing melted and burnt steam ducts at the tower. The department received reports of the fire at unit 3 of the solar park just after 0930 local time.
The fire was extinguished quickly and there were no injuries to civilians or fire-fighters, the department reported. The cause is currently under investigation. The Associated Press quoted fire captain Mike McClintock as saying that misaligned mirrors may have focused sun-beams on the wrong section of the CSP tower, with electrical cables catching fire as a result. The CSP park in the Mojave Desert is a partnership between NRG Energy (NYSE:NRG), Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and BrightSource Energy Inc. For many months it has been unable to meet the output levels agreed in its power purchase agreement (PPA). It was given an extension until July 31, 2016 to improve performance.
Image credit: San Bernardino Fire Department
We follow up with the usual mix of stories, including the best solar cells ever, Trump to renegotiate Paris climate deal if elected, Portugal runs on renewables for 4 days, the Saudi bond issue, Anglesey nuclear plant moves ahead, EU plan causes nuclear uproar in Germany, Japan lagging in divesting coal, South Australia running on renewables, Tory MPs favor Swansea Bay tidal, Nigerian militants control the global oil market, a cabinet shuffle in Scotland, Portland, Oregon bans “climate change denial” books in schools, possible blackouts in Southern California, Google’s human flypaper and Pakistan digs mass graves for anticipated future climate change victims.
Science Alert: Engineers just created the most efficient solar cells ever
Australian engineers have taken us closer than ever before to the theoretical limits of sunlight-to-electricity conversion, by building photovoltaic cells that can harvest an unheard-of 34.5 percent of the Sun’s energy without concentrators – setting a new world record. The previous record of 24 percent was held by a large, 800-square centimetre solar cell produced by a US company, but these new photovoltaic cells aren’t only more efficient, they also cover far less surface area, which means they’re going to make solar power even cheaper. The new cell is only 28 square centimetres (11 square inches) and it works by splitting the incoming sunlight into four bands. The infrared band of that light is reflected back towards a silicon solar cell, and the other three bands are directed into a three-layer, new type of solar cell, made of: indium-gallium-phosphide; indium-gallium-arsenide; and germanium. The sunlight passes through each of these layers, or junctions, and energy is extracted by each at its most efficient wavelength. Any unused light passes on to the next layer, and so on, to squeeze the most out of every single beam.
Portugal kept its lights on with renewable energy alone for four consecutive days last week in a clean energy milestone revealed by data analysis of national energy network figures. Electricity consumption in the country was fully covered by solar, wind and hydro power in an extraordinary 107-hour run that lasted from 6.45am on Saturday 7 May until 5.45pm the following Wednesday, the analysis says. James Watson, the CEO of SolarPower Europe said: “This is a significant achievement for a European country, but what seems extraordinary today will be commonplace in Europe in just a few years. The energy transition process is gathering momentum and records such as this will continue to be set and broken across Europe. An increased build-out of interconnectors, a reformed electricity market and political are all essential,” Joy said. “But with the right policies in place, wind could meet a quarter of Europe’s power needs in the next 15 years.”
Los Angeles Daily News: Heat wave could leave millions in dark after Aliso Canyon blowout
California generally has enough electricity on tap to keep air conditioners humming this summer, but a heat wave could leave millions of Southern Californians without power in the aftermath of a huge natural gas-well blowout in the San Fernando Valley, the state’s power-grid operator warned Wednesday. A lack of natural gas to fuel power plants during peak demand potentially could interrupt electricity on as many as 14 days this summer, according to an assessment from the California Independent System Operator. Southern California will need “deft management” of the power supply because of the partial shutdown of the vast natural gas storage field at Aliso Canyon, Steve Berberich, the system’s president and chief executive, said in a statement. Since February, officials have voiced concern that the lack of natural gas from the Aliso Canyon field threatens future energy reliability in light of a moratorium on injections at the Southern California Gas Co.’s natural gas storage facility. In April, utility regulators announced that Southern California could face 14 days of rolling blackouts if the facility above Porter Ranch remains depleted. That would mean residents from the Inland Empire to the coast would face power outages and higher electricity rates this summer, they warned.
Phys Org: 16 years of Earthshine albedo data
To check how the albedo has evolved, since the 1990’s it has been measured from space with instruments such as ERBE and CERES, whose estimations are made using absolute photometric measurements, which could be affected by any degradation in the instrument while in space. However, a complementary way to measure the reflectance, which does not suffer the same calibration errors since it is a relative measurement, is from the ground, using telescopes that observe the so-called earthshine (the light reflected from the Earth to the night-time face of the Moon). This method has been used during the period 1998-2014 from the Big Bear Solar Observatory (BBSO) in California, and also, since 2007 from the Earthshine telescope at the Teide Observatory (Tenerife), to measure this climate parameter. These observations were aimed at increasing the temporal coverage of the measurements, and reducing the measurement errors. The result of this study is the variations found in the value of the albedo not only agree in magnitude but also show identical, small annual variations over the 14 years that the two types of observations overlap. Philip Goode, lead earthshine researcher at BBSO explains that “Although the measurements that we have made of the albedo over the past 16 years show monthly and annual variations, there is virtually no change in the long term. This also coincides with a stabilization in the mean temperature of the planet”, he says.
Univ. of Dundee: A fracking art exhibition in Dundee
“When the Future Was about Fracking” is a sequel, specially designed for Scotland, of the Paris-based artist group HeHe’s Fracking Futures, which first took place in north-west England, also a contested site for hydraulic fracking. The Guardian wrote at the time: ‘It is one of the biggest, most polarising issues there is, but artists who have created an indoor fracking installation insist they are not trying to sway opinion either way.” “We want to create an emotionally engaging experience. People can then go away and come to their own conclusions,” said Heiko Hansen, who with his partner, Helen Evans, has recreated the sounds, tremors and flames you would get from a fracking operation. This time, the group re-enact a doomed landscape after extensive fracking, with leaking hissing ghostly wellheads, in the swirling mist of a post-apocalyptic abandoned excavation site, in the middle of a city centre. HeHe’s often mischievous yet accurate miniaturisations of potential and actual global disasters have intrigued audiences worldwide, and this is the first time their work will be seen in Scotland.
Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump on Tuesday said he would look to renegotiate the landmark United Nations climate change deal if he’s elected president this year. The deal, reached in Paris in December and signed by the United States last month, treats the U.S. unfairly compared to other countries, he told Reuters in a wide-ranging interview. Under the agreement, the United States committed to cutting its emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent, from 2005 levels, by 2025. Republicans, though, have criticized the pact, since growing economies like India and China have agreed only to slow the rate of growth in their emissions, not reduce them in real terms. Trump said in December he would have skipped the climate conference in Paris, and he has said he doesn’t believe the science behind climate change.
Google knows that its self-driving cars are going to get into accidents — maybe even accidents involving pedestrians — and so the company has patented a unique solution to minimize injuries if this happens: human flypaper. The patent, granted earlier this week, describes “an adhesive layer positioned on the front end of the vehicle” that pedestrians will simply stick to “in the event of a collision.” The adhesive bonds the pedestrian to the vehicle so that the pedestrian remains with the vehicle until it stops and is not thrown from the vehicle,” says the patent, adding that this prevents secondary impact between the pedestrian and the road surface or other object.” Of course, driving around with a coating on your car “similar to flypaper or double-sided duct tape” means you’d pick up dirt and bugs as well as pedestrians. So, Google envisions an exterior “eggshell” covering that goes on top of the adhesive layer. This would break instantaneously in the event of a crash, says the patent, “revealing the adhesive layer below, and bonding to the pedestrian.”
Image credit: United States Patent and Trademark Office
Saudi Arabia is preparing to sell its first bonds in the international capital markets as it seeks foreign financing to plug its budget deficit. The kingdom has sent invitations to banks to arrange the sale, according to three people familiar with the plans. It expects an issue of a “significant” amount and banks are expected to respond with proposals next week, one person said, asking not to be identified because the information is private. The sale will probably take place after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan ends July 5, he added. Saudi Arabia is poised to join other countries from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council in tapping foreign markets in a sign the world’s biggest oil-exporting region wants to move away from plundering rainy-day funds to bridge the $900 billion fiscal shortfall the International Monetary Fund estimates they will face through 2021. Abu Dhabi raised $5 billion in a Eurobond sale last month and Qatar is meeting investors this week before a possible deal, its first after a five-year break.
Business Insider: Nigerian militants are controlling the world’s oil prices
Oil prices are close to hitting $50 per barrel for the first time since November — but it has nothing to do with Saudi Arabia and Iran cutting oil production, as so much of the market has hoped. It’s all down to Nigerian militants. Nigeria was dethroned as Africa’s largest oil producer this month because the deteriorating political and security situations pose such a threat to Nigeria’s oil output. Militant activity from group Niger Delta Avengers is forcing supply disruptions and has made the country’s output fall by 800,000 barrels per day to 1.4 million barrels per day, according to Nigeria’s oil minister Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu. Data cited by RBC Capital Markets’ commodities team in an early May research note said Nigeria’s oil production slipped to 1.69 million barrels per day.
The president deployed troops this weekend claiming the US threatens to invade, as tensions escalate in the Latin American state. Troops have been deployed around Venezuela’s capital of Caracas and in ‘every strategic region’ this weekend during the country’s largest ever military exercise. The government claims the exercises are in response to the threat of invasion from the United States, but the real reason for the government’s state of emergency declaration is likely much closer to home. For over a year now, Venezuelans have been suffering under an ever deepening economic and political crisis. Bare supermarket shelves are common. Vital medicines are in short supply. Crime is rising. Blackouts occur daily. To save electricity, the government asked public sector workers to only show up on Mondays and Tuesdays – and this could soon extend to private companies as well. All this in one of the largest oil producing nations on earth.
Oil Price: Latest Oil Rally Has Come To An End
WTI breached our $38/$48 forecast this week as supply disruptions in Nigeria, Latin American and Africa (estimated by Morgan Stanley to be ~2m bpd in total) took center stage. Our bearish view of a +$50 WTI scenario is based on 1.) record inventory gluts at storage hubs from Cushing to Rotterdam exacerbated by supply gains from core OPEC members and improved hedging opportunities for U.S. producers 2.) demand risks of decreased Chinese stockpiling as prices increase and poor global refining margins 3.) waning bullish sentiment as evidenced by recent COT and USO data and 4.) potential for more USD strength with a June rate hike possible. Lastly, we aren’t impressed with a market that can’t aggressively punch through the $50 mark- or move spreads near backwardation- with help from such substantial supply outages.• Canada’s wildfires di-rupted output by more than expected this week and pushed the prompt 1-month WTI spread to a contango of just 48 cents. The median estimate for lost Canadian barrels we are seeing is still about 1m bpd. U.S. production dropped for a ninth straight week and rigs fell for the 20th time in the last 21 weeks. However, Cushing stocks and overall U.S. inventories both built to new record-highs with help from a flood of imports into the U.S. Gulf Coast. Overseas, Libya’s Hariga port loaded a 650k bbl tanker for the first time since April following the completion of a deal between Tripoli and eastern Libyans. Unfortunately, mayhem in Nigeria continues to build and analysts believe that disruptions have decreased output to somewhere between 1m and 1.4m bpd after pumping 1.7m bpd in April and 2.1m bpd in January.
Russia is ready to offer the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) nuclear electrical power plants of the next generation, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday. ASEAN comprises Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.“The level of cooperation be-tween Russia and ASEAN in the fuel and energy sphere needs to be taken to a new level. Moscow is ready to cover the market and is ready to offer ASEAN member countries projects on the construction of next generation nuclear electrical power stations,” Putin said at the Russia-ASEAN Summit in Sochi. The declaration is expected to be unveiled at the two-day Russia-ASEAN summit underway in the Russian resort of Sochi.
Plans to build a nuclear power station in Wales have taken an “important” step forward with the announcement of a delivery team for the £10 billion project. Menter Newydd is a joint venture of Hitachi Nuclear Energy Europe, Bechtel Management Company and JGC Corporation (UK) and will be responsible for the construction of Wylfa Newydd in Anglesey, over-seen by Horizon Nuclear Power. The UK Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom has welcomed the announcement, “I am pleased to see that Wylfa Newydd in Wales is progressing. We have to re-place our ageing energy infrastructure and new nuclear is an essential part of our plan to power the country now and for the next generation. Keeping the lights on is non-negotiable, and new nuclear is the only proven low-carbon technology that can provide clean, continuous power, irrespective of whether the wind is blowing and the sun is shining.”
Deutsche Welle: EU Nuclear study causes uproar in Germany
An alleged European Commission plan for nuclear power has set off an unforeseen chain reaction in Germany. German Federal Minister of the Environment Barbara Hendricks laid it on thick right out of the gate. She called the European Commission’s alleged ideas for the expansion of nuclear energy insane and irresponsible. Then German Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy Sigmar Gabriel, who just happened to be in Brussels, enthusiastically belted out the same, wrong, note. He voiced his strict opposition to using European taxpayer money for the resuscitation of a dying technology and said he felt blind-sided by the EU proposal. Nevertheless, the European Commission did not prepare a strategy paper as Germany’s “Spiegel Online” suggested, but rather it presented a discussion paper that is to be assessed by experts. The paper out-lines possible research projects in the nuclear technology sector. It’s a sector that, despite Germany’s decision to phase out the use of nuclear energy, still represents an enormous global market. Not to mention that nuclear power plants are still being built in Europe.
America’s competition with Russia over the supply of energy to Europe isn’t limited to US plans to move in on Gazprom’s turf by supplying the continent with US liquefied natural gas. Forbes contributor Kenneth Rapoza explains that there’s another area where the US is trying to squeeze out Russia: nuclear energy. In his analysis, published on Forbes.com, the economic analyst outlines how the Pennsylvania-based energy giant Westinghouse Electric (WEC), with the help of the State Department, been moving in on Russian Rosatom’s nuclear energy ‘home turf’ in Eastern Europe. “It’s a drawn-out and extremely costly game the US is trying desperately to win,” Rapoza writes. “The unstated goal,” Rapoza writes, is to “lessen Russian control of the nuclear power market in Eastern Europe, even if that does not translate into an immediate market share for Westinghouse.” Czech energy security studies analyst Martin Jirusek suggested that right now, it comes down to “Russians and Americans … fighting for [the] tenders in Eastern Europe.” French energy giant Areva “has no money. Siemens lost a lot of know-how when Germany shut its nuclear power program down. So you’ve got the America’s and now the Chinese are slowly coming in. The Russians support Rosatom, and the US supports Westinghouse. We never hear about the Japanese.” But the kicker, Rapoza explains, is that “Westinghouse,” which “used to be 100% American,” is now “90% Japanese and 10% Kazakhstani.”
Japan’s efforts to phase out coal-power generation remain the weakest among the seven most developed countries (G7), a report released this week shows. According to climate diplomacy and energy policy firm E3G, the US and the UK lead the charge, with Britain recently climbing to second place thanks mostly to coordinated efforts to cut dependency on coal. The study by the non-profit group, which promotes a low-carbon economy, comes as top leaders prepare to gather in western Japan for a meeting of G7 nations on May 26 and May 27. Environmental groups have used the lead-up to the gathering to increase pressure on Japan to review its policy on coal power. Japan is the only G7 country seeking to build new coal-power plants.
Hellenic Shipping News: Indonesian coal exports declining
Indonesia’s coal industry is highly fragmented and produces relatively low quality coal, mostly shipped to Asian markets. In 2015, the country’s steam coal exports dropped to a four year low of 366mt, with few indications of a recovery this year, largely due to declining import demand in the key Asian importing nations. India has recently provided a crucial source of steam coal import demand for Indonesian miners. However in 2015, India’s firm domestic steam coal output contributed to an 8% drop in Indonesia’s steam coal exports to the country, to 123mt. This decline accelerated in early 2016, with Indonesian shipments to India falling 23% y-o-y in January-February. Easing Chinese power generation growth and measures to reduce air pollution saw Indonesian steam coal exports to China fall 30% to 36mt in 2015. While Indonesia’s exports to China have stabilised in recent months, the country’s import demand is expected to slump in full year 2016. Finally, Indonesian steam coal exports to ‘other’ countries fell 8% in 2015 to 206mt, with growing shipments to developing Asian countries offset by a drop in exports to many developed Asian nations, such as South Korea and Taiwan.
Businessgreen: Tory MPs ‘overwhelmingly’ back Swansea Tidal Lagoon
Conservative Party MPs and councillors “overwhelmingly” back proposals for the Swansea Tidal Lagoon, according to a ComRes poll, with more than four in five saying they support the ambitious renewable energy project. The poll, which was commissioned by project developer Tidal Lagoon Power, revealed 83 per cent of Tory MPs and 84 per cent of Tory councillors surveyed are in favour of the plans to construct what would be the first power station of its kind in the world. The 320MW project … is one of six tidal lagoons in the early stage of development around the UK as part of a programme that Tidal Lagoon Power hopes will bring down the cost of tidal power. The project secured a Development Consent Order in June 2015, but negotiations over the Contract for Difference price support deal that would allow development to proceed are still ongoing alongside the government’s recently launched independent review of the potential for tidal lagoon energy in the UK
Solar power portal: Scottish Cabinet reshuffle
Energy policy in Scotland will be led by the newly appointed Keith Brown, who has been named economy secretary for the Scottish government and will take on the responsibilities of former energy minister Fergus Ewing. Brown will incorporate energy policy into his responsibilities as cabinet secretary for economy, jobs and fair work while Ewing, who had been serving as minister for business, energy and tourism, has been named rural economy and connectivity secretary. Environment and climate change will be represented on the cabinet by a dedicated secretary for the first time with appointment of Roseanna Cunningham. Sturgeon said: “The economy portfolio will be enhanced with a new post of cabinet secretary for economy, jobs and fair work to be filled by Keith Brown. He will build on his successful delivery of key infrastructure projects across Scotland and work intensively to secure investment into Scotland and support more people into work. With climate change one of the defining challenges of our generation, I can confirm Roseanna Cunningham will take up the new post of cabinet secretary for the environment, climate change and land reform.”
Washington Times: Oregon school board bans books that question climate change
The Portland Public Schools board unanimously approved a resolution this week that bans textbooks and other teaching materials that deny climate change exists or cast doubt on whether humans are to blame. The resolution, introduced by school board member Mike Rosen, also directs the superintendent and staff to develop a plan for offering “curriculum and educational opportunities that address climate change and climate justice” in all Portland public schools, the Portland Tribune reported. “It is unacceptable that we have textbooks in our schools that spread doubt about the human causes and urgency of the crisis,” Lincoln High School student Gaby Lemieux said during board testimony Tuesday. “Climate education is not a niche or a specialization, it is the minimum requirement for my generation to be successful in our changing world.”
Patricia Espinosa has been appointed the new Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) replacing Christina Figueres who is set to retire after six years in the role. The Mexican diplomat will start her new role in July when climate talks are set to start. Since 2013, Espinosa has been serving the position of Ambassador of Mexico to Germany and has more than 30 years of previous experience in climate change, global governance, sustainable development, gender equality and human rights according to UN News Center. The Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon chose Espinosa for the position about 30 days ago and the nomination was agreed upon by a governing council of countries. Many believe her to be a huge asset in the discussions and implementations of climate change agendas over the years to come as she previously gained widespread recognition for her role in guiding the Cancun climate summit in 2010 to a successful conclusion.
We have known for quite some time that those most affected by extreme climate change would be those in low-income nation like Pakistan, India, Iran, and others. These areas located near the equator suffer some of the most extreme temperatures in the world, even without the effects of climate change. The rising temperatures globally are concentrated in the most deadly levels in places like Pakistan which is trying to prepare itself for another deadly summer season. Last year, Pakistan was not as prepared, and a deadly heat wave killed thousands. Now, the nation is attempting to prepare by digging thousands of mass graves, just waiting for the latest victims of climate change. These efforts are no doubt just in time as Pakistan’s southern neighbor India suffered its highest temperature ever on Thursday at a volcanic 123.8 degrees fahrenheit.