This week we kick off with the good news that the Antarctic sea ice area has changed little since the time of Scott and Shackelton. All those who have feared for the worse can breathe a huge sigh of relief. We continue with a number of stories on nuclear power – is it clean, is it dirty or is it even renewable? And then we move onto coal – are we using less or more of it?
Antarctic sea ice had barely changed from where it was 100 years ago, scientists have discovered, after poring over the logbooks of great polar explorers such as Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton.
Experts were concerned that ice at the South Pole had declined significantly since the 1950s, which they feared was driven by man-made climate change. But new analysis suggests that conditions are now virtually identical to when the Terra Nova and Endurance sailed to the continent in the early 1900s, indicating that declines are part of a natural cycle and not the result of global warming. Estimates suggest Antarctic sea ice extent was significantly higher during the 1950s, before a steep decline returned it to around 3.7 million miles (6 million square kilometres) in recent decades which is just 14 per cent smaller than at the highest point of the 1900s and 12 per cent bigger than than the lowest point.
President-elect Donald Trump’s nominees to lead energy and climate-related agencies hold views that could not be more different from the Obama administration. Here’s a guide to the things Trump’s cabinet picks have said on issues from natural gas fracking to wind energy to climate change science. Scott Pruitt, EPA: wrote that the evidence linking human activity to climate change was “far from settled.” Ryan Zinke, Interior: “It’s not a hoax, but it’s not proven science either. But you don’t dismantle America’s power and energy on a maybe.” Rex Tillerson, State: Since Tillerson took over the world’s leading energy company in 2006, Exxon Mobil’s political action committee has donated more than $7 million to Republican candidates, many of them outspoken climate change skeptics. Rich Perry, Energy: While Perry’s energy record is complex, his position on climate change is unambiguous. Perry — who ran for president in 2012 and again in 2016 — has consistently questioned the existence of climate change. At a 2011 event in New Hampshire, Perry said the climate has been in flux “ever since the earth was formed. There are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects,” Perry said. Other examples of Perry’s climate skepticism abound.
FBI Director James B. Comey and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. are in agreement with a CIA assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in part to help Donald Trump win the White House, officials disclosed Friday, as President Obama issued a public warning to Moscow that it could face retaliation. Russia has denied being behind the cyber-intrusions, which targeted the Democratic National Committee and the private emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. Trump, in turn, has repeatedly said he doubts the veracity of U.S. intelligence blaming Moscow for the hacks. At a “thank you” event Thursday night with some of her top campaign donors and fundraisers, Clinton said she believed Russian-backed hackers went after her campaign because of a personal grudge that Putin had against her. Putin had blamed Clinton for fomenting mass protests in Russia after disputed 2011 parliamentary elections that challenged his rule. Putin said Clinton, then secretary of state, had “sent a signal” to protesters by labeling the elections “neither free nor fair.”
Oregon State University: PBS: Climate change likely caused deadly 2016 avalanche in Tibet
On July 17, more than 70 million tons of ice broke off from the Aru glacier in the mountains of western Tibet and tumbled into a valley below, taking the lives of nine nomadic yak herders living there. To perform a kind of forensic analysis of the avalanche, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences joined with two glaciologists from The Ohio State University: Lonnie Thompson and Ellen Mosley-Thompson. The most important fact about the avalanche, said Thompson, is that it lasted only four or five minutes (according to witnesses), yet it managed to bury 3.7 square miles of the valley floor in that time. He said something—likely meltwater at the base of the glacier—must have lubricated the ice to speed its flow down the mountain. “Given the rate at which the event occurred and the area covered, I think it could only happen in the presence of meltwater,” Thompson said. Other nearby glaciers may be vulnerable, he added, “but unfortunately as of today, we have no ability to predict such disasters.” Researchers could not have predicted, for example, that a neighboring glacier in the same mountain range would give way just two months later, but it did in September 2016. That avalanche appears not to have resulted in any deaths, and the cause is still under investigation. The researchers used satellite data and GPS to get precise measurements of how much ice fell in the first avalanche and the area it covered. They’ve since pieced together more answers by working with computer modelers who were able to replicate the avalanche virtually. In those simulations, the only condition that led to an avalanche was the presence of meltwater.“We still don’t know exactly where the meltwater came from, but given that the average temperature at the nearest weather station has risen by about 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) over the last 50 years, it makes sense that snow and ice are melting and the resulting water is seeping down beneath the glacier,” Thompson said.
World Nuclear News: IEA urges decision on Czech nuclear power expansion
Speaking at the launch in Prague of the Energy Policies of IEA Countries: Czech Republic 2016 Review on 13 December, Fatih Birol noted that nuclear is “one of the major pillars” of the State Energy Policy (SEP). Adopted in 2015, the SEP targets the expansion of Czech nuclear energy capacity in order to strengthen energy independence and security of supply. The Czech Republic has six nuclear units at two sites with an installed capacity of 3924 MWe and electricity generation of 26.8 TWh. Nuclear accounts for 32.5% of the country’s electricity generation. The IEA report makes four recommendations on nuclear policy to the Czech government: to work with utility ČEZ to ensure that all nuclear power plant operating licences are renewed well before their expiration; determine mechanisms of government support for the construction and operation of new nuclear power plants; choose a specific technology by 2020 so that permits can be approved by 2025, and construction can be completed before 2035; “minimise the burdens” of used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste on future generations “in all ways possible; determine, with ČEZ, how each type of decommissioning waste will be managed.
Arizona Capital Times: Utility regulator wants nuclear energy to count as renewable
An Arizona utility regulator has suggested that nuclear energy should count as a renewable power source, allowing it to compete with solar and wind.
Arizona Corporation Commissioner Andy Tobin proposed the change in a letter that implies he never supported the Renewable Energy Standard the state passed in 2006, which didn’t include nuclear energy as a renewable source. That legislation requires utilities like the Arizona Public Service Co. to get 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025. Currently, solar, wind and geothermal energy count toward that goal but nuclear does not. Arizona Corporation Commission chairman Doug Little proposed doubling that goal in August. He said that would put Arizona more in line with the goals of other western states. Arizona is home to the country’s most productive nuclear power plant, Palo Verde Generating station, which is about 50 miles west of Phoenix. It supplies about a quarter of the electricity for the state’s biggest power company. If that plant counted as renewable energy, it would reduce the amount of solar, wind and other resources needed to fulfill the 2025 goal. Tobin has proposed setting a “Clean Peak Standard” that would include traditional renewable sources as well as the amount of nuclear energy power plants produce when electricity demand is highest.
“The Clean Peak Standard offers great promise in moving the commission away from an obsolete commitment to arbitrary renewable energy goals that ignore significant zero-emission resources like Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station or other emerging technologies like energy storage,” Tobin wrote in his letter.
Russia and Japan signed Friday a memorandum on cooperation in the sector of peaceful nuclear energy during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to the country. Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took part in the signing of the document. Moreover, Russia and Japan are planning to join efforts in development of innovative nuclear technologies, as well as in overcoming the consequences of Fukushima nuclear disaster, Russia’s Rosatom nuclear energy corporation said in a statement on Friday. The statement added that the memorandum also implied cooperation in coping with the consequences of Fukushima accident.
The nuclear reactors are still a plan on paper. But already the noxious debate over their future has made nuclear energy a dirty word in South Africa. To build or not to build – the stalemate over the proposed nuclear reactors to power the continent’s most advanced economy shows no sign of being resolved. The sharp divisions over a nuclear-powered future are now beginning to hurt South Africa’s nascent renewables industry. State power utility Eskom is dragging its feet on honoring government-brokered deals with private renewables companies. Its refusal to purchase 250 megawatts of power from wind and solar projects has left its Irish and Saudi Arabian suppliers fuming and in limbo. More than scuppering the deals, Eskom’s actions, critically, threaten to undermine the gains made by the country’s green energy program, which many have come to hail as the shining beacon of a renewables-based future . On the Fieldstone Africa Renewable Index or FARI, South Africa’s ranking has plummeted off the charts entirely, prompting concerns amongst investors over green energy’s future in the country. Its decline is ironic given the rainbow nation had topped the continent-wide list just four months ago.
New Europe: Germany to miss climate targets
Germany may not reach its 2020 target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from 1990, according to a new report released by the German environment ministry on December 14. Its coal power plants are to blame. As reported by Deutsche Welle Germany has implemented several measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions since 2014. But environmental activists have warned efforts need to be greater. By 2015, emissions were down by just 27%. According to environmental campaigners including Greenpeace, Oxfam, WWF, Friends of the Earth Germany and the network Klima-Allianz Germany, the gap between government pledges and needed cuts could be more than 20 million tonnes of CO2. While the 40% reduction currently looks unrealistic, the environment ministry is still hoping to reach at least 37%. But environmental groups say emissions are more likely to go down by only 33.5%.
IEA says global coal use is flatlining as China continues to restructure its economy. The volume of coal used across the world fell for the second year running in 2015 and is set to stay below peak levels in 2016, reported the International Energy Agency (IEA). The influential thinktank – an autonomous Paris-based organisation – has downgraded its medium-term coal market forecast for the fifth year in a row and expects demand to plateau until 2021, but not fall fast enough to align with the international goal of holding global warming below 2C.
Daily Caller: The World Is Burning More Coal Than Ever, says IEA
“The world is burning more coal than ever,” reads a new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA). “Now we are witnessing another halt, but, even so, if we consider coal consumption from a historical perspective, the world has never burned as much coal.” China is the main driver of global coal growth, and IEA expects coal use to keep growing until 2021 depending on what the Chinese decide. Environmentalists have tried to claim China is weaning itself off coal, but more recent reports indicate the communist country is mining more of it.
Times of India: Coal and cricket.
CHENNAI: The Indian spinners, led by local boy R Ashwin, would love a dry pitch to work their magic in the final Test against England starting here on Friday . But with cyclone Vardah wreaking havoc and the pitch for the Test match being under covers for the last few days, there’s some moisture still left on the pitch. The Tamil Nadu Cricket As sociation, though, found a novel method to try and prepare a pitch that is dry so that the England pace attack led by James Anderson doesn’t get too much advantage going into the Test. The groundsmen on Wednesday turned to burning coal in order to dry the strip to be used for the Test. They placed plates of burning coal over the stumps and then put it on the pitch to dry it quickly.
“Today we had probably kept the burning coal for about 30-45 minutes,” he told TOI. It’s not the first time that TNCA has come up with new ideas to keep a pitch in shape.Before a game in the 2011 50-over World Cup, a tent was set up over the pitch so that too much heat doesn’t lead to cracks. “It’s important to innovate to keep the track in shape,” the groundsman said.
Former frontier market darling Mongolia has had a tough time in a world of low commodity prices, with its government struggling to make ends meet, but a spike in global coal prices could see the country stage a comeback.
But following reforms in China this year to rein in overproduction, and growing demand in Asia Pacific, coal prices soared. The recovery in prices has spurred Mongolia’s hopes for a complex restructuring of the Tavan Tolgoi coal mine in the South Gobi desert, a move that would settle outstanding debt to Chinese aluminum producer Chalco Group. An end to the Tavan Tolgoi upset would make it easier to invite new investors such as Chinese state-owned firm Shenhua Group to help ramp up production and shipments to key market China at better prices. “Nothing has changed on the Mongolian side of the border, in terms of quality of the coal, the availability (and) the low production costs,” Layton Croft, an independent director at Mongolian real estate business Asia Pacific Investment Partners, told CNBC
According to Bloomberg’s analysis, the cost of solar power in China, India, Brazil and 55 other emerging market economies has dropped to about one third of its price in 2010. This means solar now pips wind as the cheapest form of renewable energy—but is also outperforming coal and gas. In a note to clients this week, BNEF chairman Michael Liebreich said that solar power had entered “the era of undercutting” fossil fuels. Bloomberg reports that 2016 has seen remarkable falls in the price of electricity from solar sources, citing a $64 per megawatt-hour contract in India at the start of the year, and a $29.10 per megawatt-hour deal struck in Chile in August—about 50% the price of electricity produced from coal. Ethan Zindler, head of U.S. policy analysis at BNEF, attributed much of the downward pressure to China’s massive deployment of solar, and the assistance it had provided to other countries financing their own solar projects.
A year after Congress extended generous tax credits for renewable energy projects, the U.S. wind industry is thriving. Solar power companies, meanwhile, are hunkering down for a rough 2017. The tax credit renewal has boosted the long-term outlooks for both industries. But in the short term, the subsidies are far more attractive for wind power, which has spurred utilities to launch wind projects while they scale back or delay solar installations. Advances in wind turbine technology are also opening up new locations for development and driving a wave of spending to upgrade existing projects.In the last few weeks, power companies with large renewable holdings – including Southern Co, NextEra Energy Inc and Xcel Energy Inc – have announced plans to invest billions of dollars in wind. “We’re making a pivot now away from solar,” Southern Chief Executive Tom Fanning told a meeting with Wall Street analysts in October.
The move has practical benefits for both separate organisations and their different memberships. But it is also hoped that the creation of this “renewables hub” in London will foster a healthy exchange of ideas on the key strategic issues that are facing the energy sector as a whole, and the renewables industry in particular. RenewableUK and Solar Trade Association (STA) have previously collaborated on community ownership, smart power and embedded benefits. The associations have many common goals including securing the cheaper, more flexible system that enables easy integration of variable generators. Hugh McNeal, RenewableUK CEO, commented: “We’re pleased to be welcoming the STA into this office. It makes sense for our two organisations to work alongside one another in this way, sharing space and sharing ideas on how we both deliver for our members and enable them to deliver vital, modern, and affordable power for UK consumers.”
Daily Caller: Global Warming Law Would Cost Average Household $13,703
According to The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) report, The U.K government Climate Change Policy passed in 2008 may charge every British household an average of $13,703 in the year 2030. Reports say, in 2014 alone, the total Climate Change Act average charges, including levies, taxes, and subsidies is $415 for every British household. This amount may increase to $791 annually by 2020 and $1,110 each year by 2030. While the overall cost of the policy will triple the annual British National Health Service (NHS) budget. In addition to GWPF’s report published by a Conservative Member of Parliament for Hitchin and Harpenden, Peter Lilley says, “that the government only considered about one-third of the Act’s total costs while simultaneously overestimating potential savings from energy efficiency. The MP published the report after consulting 27 academics and scientists. According to The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) report, The U.K government Climate Change Policy passed in 2008 may charge every British household an average of $13,703 in the year 2030. Reports say, in 2014 alone, the total Climate Change Act average charges, including levies, taxes, and subsidies is $415 for every British household. This amount may increase to $791 annually by 2020 and $1,110 each year by 2030. While the overall cost of the policy will triple the annual British National Health Service (NHS) budget.
Holyrood: Whither Scotland’s green revolution?
With its wealth of natural resources to generate power from, wind and water in particular, green energy is a potentially major growth area for Scotland’s economy. A report from Ricardo Energy and Environment, commissioned by WWF Scotland, Friends of the Earth Scotland and RSPB Scotland, which was published in October, found that the most cost-effective way to meet climate targets would be to produce half of Scotland’s energy across heat, transport and electricity from renewables by 2030. But the sector has been beset by funding problems. The Chancellor’s recent Autumn Statement marks one year since the withdrawal of a potential £1bn UK Government investment in a flagship carbon capture and storage (CCS) facility in Peterhead. Peterhead was one of two places in the UK bidding for the funding, with Shell and SSE behind the plans, which was a Conservative manifesto commitment for the 2015 general election. But on 25 November 2015, the UK Government confirmed it was cancelling the previously committed funding just weeks before the final bids in the competition were due. Had it gone ahead, the funding was due to be awarded this summer. And earlier last month, the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy published budgets for the next auction round of Contracts for Difference (CfD), which covered offshore wind, wave and tidal, but delayed access to the competition for remote islands, which the Scotland’s islands had been pinning their hopes on being included in.
The issue hinges on whether onshore wind power on the islands should be considered as a different technology from that on the mainland. The Conservatives committed to ending public subsidies for onshore wind farms in their 2015 general election manifesto, with funding to be focused on scalable technologies such as offshore wind.
according to new research from Oil and Gas Authority (OGA), The research suggests the “small pools” of oil are based in around 350 unsanctioned discoveries across the UK continental shelf. But OGA said new technologies will be needed to extract some of the reserves. OGA head of technology Carlo Procaccini said: “We recognise the challenges operators are facing to develop these marginal oil and gas accumulations. Small pools represent a very significant opportunity to maximise economic recovery from the UK continental shelf. The OGA estimates there are around 10 to 20 billion barrels of oil equivalent which remain recoverable from the UK continental shelf. Dr Gordon Drummond, project director of The National Subsea Research Initiative, said the reserves have a “national importance” in terms of achieving maximise economic recovery of oil and gas reserves, adding: “they must be considered as an industry asset if they are to be capitalised upon”. He said: “Following an extensive mapping exercise, we now know exactly where these small pools are located and what is required to unlock their potential. If the subsea industry can rise to the challenge of economically tapping into these pools, the North Sea could have a whole new lease of life.
One step off the grid Google plans to be 100 per cent renewable next year
For six years, Google has aggressively purchased renewable energy to power the email accounts, searches, app downloads, video streams and other services that have become an integral part of daily online life. In the process, it became the largest corporate buyer of renewable energy on the planet. Next year it plans to go one step further, ensuring that it purchases 100 percent of the energy it uses to power its entire sprawling digital empire from renewable sources.
The latest, greatest utility-scale battery storage technology to emerge on the commercial market is the vanadium redox battery, also known as the vanadium flow battery. V-flow batteries are fully containerized, nonflammable, reusable batteries, using 100% of the energy stored. Presently, the largest V-flow battery in the U.S. is a 2MW/8MWh installed at the SnoPUD Everett Substation in Washington State by UniEnergy Technologies that is scheduled to come online in January 2017. V-flow batteries are fully containerized, nonflammable, compact, reusable over semi-infinite cycles, discharge 100% of the stored energy and do not degrade for more than 20 years.Most batteries use two chemicals that change valence (or charge or redox state) in response to electron flow that convert chemical energy to electrical energy, and vice versa. V-flow batteries use the multiple valence states of just vanadium to store and release charges. V can exist as several ions of different charges in solution, V(2+,3+,4+,5+), each having different numbers of electrons around the nucleus. Fewer electrons gives a higher positive charge. Energy is stored by providing electrons making V(2+,3+), and energy is released by losing electrons to form V(4+,5+). Vanadium flow batteries use the multiple valence states of vanadium to store and release charges. Energy is stored by providing electrons making V(2+,3+), and energy is released by losing electrons to form V(4+,5+). Flow batteries consist of two tanks of liquid, which simply sit there until needed. When pumped into a reactor, the two solutions flow adjacent to each other past a membrane, and generate a charge by moving electrons back and forth during charging and discharging. This type of battery can offer almost unlimited energy capacity simply by using larger electrolyte storage tanks. It can be left completely discharged for long periods with no ill effects, making maintenance simpler than other batteries. Because of these unique properties, the new V-flow batteries reduce the cost of storage to about 5¢/kWh.