By Roger Andrews
The US is the world’s largest economy, and what happens in the US has a significant impact on what happens in the rest of the world. So this week we lead off with the US mid-term elections and the potential impacts of the Republican landslide on U.S energy and climate policy.
Inside Climate News: GOP Election Rout Delivers Blow to U.S. Leadership Role on Climate Change
The role of the United States in confronting the global climate crisis has been cast into serious doubt after an election that stacked the deck in Congress in favor of fossil fuel industries. Republicans seized firm control, and added several new senators who deny that climate change is a problem. A solid majority of voters who spoke to exit pollsters said they regarded climate change as a significant matter, but most were on the Democratic side. By a huge margin, Republican voters said the opposite. And in state after hotly contested state, they elected their own to the Senate.
23 more stories below the fold, including the pros and cons of low oil prices, lawsuits over German nuclear plants, rising energy bills, promising results from the Bowland Shale, a remarkable new car paint, dry fracking and how CO2 makes you sneeze.
National Geographic: How the US election results could reshape US energy policy
The Republican takeover of the U.S. Senate, the result of Tuesday’s election, may alter the nation’s posture on energy and the environment. The power shift could put a climate change denier in charge of a key environment panel, pave the way for the Keystone XL pipeline, and lift a four-decade U.S. ban on crude oil exports.
Carbon Brief: Republican landslide puts Obama climate plan in jeopardy
Last year, President Obama announced his climate action plan. The centrepiece of the policy is a new regulation requiring power plants to cut emissions 30 per cent by 2030, known as the clean power plan. The Republican’s Senate leader-elect, Kentucky senator Mitch McConnell, describes the policy as “a massive, big-government boondoggle”, and has pledged to try and overturn it. There are a number of ways the Republicans may set about this. Congress can override the president if the House of Representatives and Senate both pass joint-resolutions – a kind of formal statement – as thinktank the Centre for American Progress and blog Climate Progress point out. The Republicans already controlled the House of Representatives. Yesterday they won an additional seven seats in the Senate, giving the party a majority. That means the Democrats do not have enough members of Congress to block such a move.
Oil Price: Keystone Pipeline now to go ahead?
The US Republican Party has reason to celebrate Tuesday’s victories at the polls. Not only will they now control both the Senate and the House of Representatives when Congress reconvenes in January, but they also can legislate Congress’ approval of the much-stalled Keystone XL pipeline and perhaps force President Obama to sign the bill. The bill is now undergoing a protracted study by the State Department because the pipeline, carrying Canadian oil sands, would originate in a foreign country before moving south through the US Midwest to Texas’ Gulf of Mexico coast. Further, Obama has expressed ambivalence about the project because it could contribute more greenhouse gases to the Earth’s atmosphere.
24/7 Wall Street: Is the US exporting oil already?
As for crude exports, that train has already left the station. In late June, a federal agency approved the export of a lightly refined condensate. Tuesday, BHP Billiton PLC said it would “self-classify” its own condensate production as exportable and start shipping the stuff without U.S. government approval. From here it is just a small step to exporting unrefined crude, and that step will almost surely be taken.
North American liquefied natural gas projects, once believed to be the panacea that would save Asia from paying top dollar for the super chilled fuel, are proving to be less of a gamechanger than originally expected. High costs, gruelling regulatory processes and mounting social opposition have slowed the development of new capacity in Canada and the United States, tempering early hopes that a flood of cheap western gas would drive down prices.
Oil prices slumped to multiyear lows on Tuesday after Saudi Arabia cut the price of oil sold to the U.S., a move that is shaking an already volatile market but is likely to give the world economy an unexpected stimulus. The 25 percent or so slide in oil prices since the summer could boost consumer spending and business investment in economies around the world as fuel bills fall.
BBC Scotland: Brent crude price decline puts brakes on investment
The sharp decline in the price of Brent crude – touching $82 on Wednesday before a rally – has focused minds, and made it look like investment will be cut in half within only three years. Oil & Gas UK said, before the fall accelerated, that an $80 price would mean a third of investment being put on ice, and the acceleration of closure plans for expensive, mature fields. That warning has now become all the more urgent. While some investment is going ahead following delays due to uncertainty over the independence referendum, firms in the supply chain are seeing orders slowing up due to the oil price. The industry body said last week that its members have turned distinctly gloomy due to falling oil prices and rising offshore costs.
British shale gas explorer IGas Energy has increased its estimates of how much gas is in its shale projects following the results of an exploration well in northwest England, the firm said on Tuesday. Earlier this year, IGas drilled Barton Moss exploration well, near Manchester, to assess the unconventional gas potential of the area. The firm said the clay, carbonate and quartz contents of the Bowland Shales in this area were comparable with U.S. shale plays Marcellus and Fayetteville. IGas said its net GIIP estimates now range between 34 trillion cubic feet (tcf) and 263 tcf, with 147 tcf deemed the “most likely”. Previously, the firm saw the range between 15 and 172 tcf, with 102 tcf the “most likely”. Its gross GIIP estimates range between 50 tcf and 352 tcf, with 192 tcf the “most likely”.
Britain will remain the most energy-secure country in the European Union, said Ed Davey. The energy secretary was asked about the margins of spare capacity, which have been much lower than under the former Central Electricity Generating Board. He said action taken by the government, along with the National Grid and Ofgem, meant supply levels would be “comfortably above our reliability standards” this winter.
Green levies on energy bills will more than double by 2020 and treble by 2030, new government analysis shows. Every household now pays £68 a year to subsidise renewable energy projects such as wind farms, solar panels and biomass plants and to fund carbon taxes, according to official analysis published on Thursday. The policies account for about 5 per cent on an annual energy bill of £1,369. But that sum is forecast to rise significantly in order to fund more wind farms and new nuclear plants, rising carbon taxes and a new scheme to ensure there are enough back-up power plants when the wind doesn’t blow. By 2020 such levies are forecast to total £141 a year – 11 per cent of an annual bill of £1,319 – and by 2030 they will hit £226 or 15 per cent of an annual bill of £1,524.
The Irish Academy of Engineering says that commitments that the State entered into in 2007 relating to the amount of renewable power on its electricity generating system are now driving policy. “This could lead to the addition over the next decade of more than 3,000 megawatts (MW) of wind power on to a system that has already excess capacity,” the academy says. It warns that this could displace around 1,000MW of existing gas- or coal-powered plants, that at current prices could add €200 million to the annual cost of electricity.
The number of people living in dire poverty in Britain is 300,000 more than previously thought due to poorer households facing a higher cost of living than the well off, according to a study released on Wednesday. A report produced by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that soaring prices for food and fuel over the past decade have had a bigger impact on struggling families who spend more of their budgets on staple goods. By contrast, richer households had been the beneficiaries of the drop in mortgage rates and lower motoring costs.
Guardian: UK ducking infrastructure decisions
Politicians are compromising British progress by failing to tackle the difficult decisions on long-term infrastructure, the CBI has warned. The business lobby group said progress had been marred by a “two steps forward and three steps back” approach for far too long. An overwhelming majority – 96% – of business leaders surveyed by the CBI said political uncertainty was discouraging investment. The UK’s infrastructure network is internationally weak, lagging behind North America, the EU, and Australasia according to respondents to the CBI/URS infrastructure survey: 61% of business leaders consider infrastructure in other EU countries to be better than the UK’s – an increase from 59% in 2011.
Energy digital: Another Scottish wind power record
In October, the renewable energy sector generated more than enough electricity to power all of residential needs in Scotland. In figures published by WWF Scotland, wind came out on top as the big winner generating 982,842 MWh of electricity. This is enough to power 3,045,000 homes in the UK and equivalent to 126 percent of the energy needs for residences within Scotland. Solar was also a critical component of the renewables landscape, as both PV and hot water panels met roughly 30 to 50 percent of electricity needs for homes in all of Scotland’s major cities. “While nuclear power plants were being forced to shut because of cracks, Scotland’s wind and sunshine were quietly and cleanly helping to keep the lights on in homes across the country,” WWF Scotland’s director Lang Banks said.
Nuclear Power Daily: German nuclear shutdown triggers lawsuits
Germany’s phase-out of nuclear energy has triggered over 20 lawsuits by big power companies who have demanded billions of euros in damages, said a government paper released Tuesday. Berlin after Japan’s 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster moved to immediately shutter the country’s eight oldest reactors and close all others by 2022 while boosting renewable energy such as wind, solar and biomass. Three large electricity companies — EON, RWE and Vattenfall — have responded with a spate of court challenges, which the environment ministry has listed for the first time in response to a request by the Greens party. The likely final bill if the lawsuits succeed is unknown but would probably run into the billions. The biggest known claim came from Swedish company Vattenfall, which has demanded 4.7 billion euros ($5.8 billion) compensation from the German federal government.
Energiewende – or “energy change” – is what they call it. Germany’s once world-beating Mittelstand of medium-sized enterprises has another term for it – “industrial suicide”. In an effort to cushion industry from the expense of marching Germany’s energy mix all the way from 23pc renewables today to 65pc in 20 years’ time, there are lots of exceptions and rebates for energy intensive industries, with the costs loaded substantially onto domestic consumers. But the overall economic costs are crippling, and by making domestic consumers pay, it further depresses consumer demand in Germany, and thereby adds to the scale of the eurozone crisis. In any case, just the change programme surcharge alone at $85 per megawatt hour is greater than the average absolute price paid for electricity in the US. Germany is in danger of greenifying itself to oblivion.
A local governor in Japan has given final approval to restart a nuclear power plant in southern Japan, the first to resume operations in the country under new safety rules imposed after the 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi meltdowns caused by an earthquake and tsunami. Kagoshima governor Yuichiro Ito said restarting two reactors at the Sendai power station would go ahead despite the concerns of residents. “All things considered, I must say that we still need to rely on nuclear energy, and it is extremely important for us to steadily carry out the plan,” Ito told a news conference.
Eco-business: EU plans supergrid to boost renewables
An electricity supergrid is being planned to connect all 28 European Union countries and provide them with insurance against power blackouts. Forty leading organisations from research, industry, utilities and grid operators are combining in a €63 million research programme aimed at incorporating all renewable energies into a supergrid that can balance intermittent sources of electricity and ensure uninterrupted supplies. It is part of a wider European Union policy to make the 28 states less reliant on imports of power. The new supergrid research will not bear fruit until 2018, but the EU is already spending billions on new interconnectors between states. These are to prevent states being threatened with being cut off from Russian gas − and also to help outposts such as the UK, whose energy policies are in disarray.
Guardian: Australia places faith in coal.
The Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, has stood by his defence of coal, saying it is the foundation of Australia’s foreseeable future, just days after a United Nations climate report called for an urgent reduction in carbon emissions. “For the foreseeable future coal is the foundation of our prosperity. Coal is the foundation of the way we live because you can’t have a modern lifestyle without energy,” the prime minister said on Tuesday. “You can’t have a modern economy without energy and for now and for the foreseeable future, the foundation of Australia’s energy needs will be coal. The foundation of the world’s energy needs will be coal.”
Humans are causing irreversible damage to the planet from burning fossil fuels, the biggest ever study of the available science concluded in a report designed to spur the fight against climate change. There’s a high risk of widespread harm from rising global temperatures, including floods, drought, extinction of species and ocean acidification, if the trend for increasing carbon emissions continues, a panel convened by a United Nations body said today in Copenhagen. Humans can avoid the worst if they significantly cut emissions and do so swiftly, it said. “We must act quickly and decisively if we want to avoid increasingly disruptive outcomes,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters.
Shale Forum: Dry fracking?
Researchers at the Colorado School of Mines claim they have developed a method to unlock hydrocarbons trapped in shale with(out) using any water at all. They are seeking to perfect Cryogenic fracturing, which replaces water with searing cold liquid nitrogen (or carbon dioxide). Used at temperatures below minus 321 Fahrenheit, it is pumped underground at high pressure. Once it comes into contact with the heated, pressurized shale, a reaction occurs which caused the shale to crack open and creates fissures through which the hydrocarbons can gush out. They liken it to pouring hot water onto a frozen car windshield, with the sharp and sudden temperature change causing the glass to crack.
According to Mercedes, the multi-voltaic paint acts like “a giant solar cell with excellent efficiency,” recovering solar energy and relaying it into the car’s internal system. In addition, it can be charged electrostatically, by the relative wind caused by driving or the natural wind when the vehicle is stationary. The G-Code also features what Mercedes calls “power on the move” suspension, which recovers energy from the motion of the suspension to generate electricity.
Health Care Professionals Live: CO2 makes you sneeze
The implications of increasing carbon dioxide for human health are clear. Stimulation of grass pollen production by elevated carbon dioxide will increase airborne concentrations and increase exposure and suffering in grass pollen-allergic individuals.