We begin this week’s Blowout with a complete change of pace, ignoring oil price gyrations and the antics of OPEC and featuring instead the recently-issued UK Met Office’s five-year global climate forecast:
UK Met Office: Five-year global climate forecast
• Averaged over the five-year period 2015-2019, global average temperature is expected to remain high and is likely to be between 0.18°C and 0.46°C above the long-term (1981-2010) average of 14.3°C. This compares with an anomaly of +0.26°C observed in 2010 and 2014, currently the warmest years on record.
• Although the forecast generally indicates that global temperatures will remain high, it is not yet possible to predict exactly when the slowdown in surface warming will end.
A renewed focus on European energy security and renewables below the fold, including the EU’s proposed Energy Union, new hydro in UK, renewables to the rescue in South Africa, more problems for Hinkley, yet another wind power record and does anyone want to buy a used German power plant? Plus stories on whether nuclear can survive in a liberalized market, falling coal prices and how global warming is causing an infestation of pink sea slugs.
World Nuclear News: The EU’s proposed energy union
The European Commission has launched discussion on the creation of its proposed Energy Union. The initiative, it said, aims to “reform how Europe produces, transports and consumes energy.” The primary aims of the initiative, it said, are “diversifying of energy sources currently available to the Member States, helping EU countries become less dependent on energy imports and making the EU the world number one in renewable energy and leading the fight against global warming.” The project has five dimensions: ensuring security of supply; building a single internal energy market; raising energy efficiency; decarbonizing national economies; and promoting research and innovation.
Cleantechnica: Energy Union to save the EU energy market
An “Energy Union” in Europe means that an EU-level organisation will balance the flows of electricity, not national transmission system operators. And it means the EU will ensure security of supply – not the national member states. That is the vision of Jean-Arnold Vinois, until recently Director in charge of the internal energy market at the European Commission and co-author of a groundbreaking report from Notre Europe (Jacques Delors Institute) on the Energy Union. Vinois slams the current state of the European energy sector. The distribution system operators, he says, are ineffective, the generators are “dinosaurs”, almost no one is investing in R&D in energy, the decision to allow state aid to the nuclear project Hinkley Point C is “questionable” and the lack of solidarity EU countries show in regard to Putin is “sad”. He predicts IT companies may take over from the energy companies and the Chinese may blow away Alstom, Siemens and ABB.
No Tricks Zone: Germany on the verge of committing energy suicide
The result is a grid which at times is so oversupplied with power that something will have to give. Fossil fuel power plants have been throttled to the point where they are no longer profitable and many power companies have started mothballing them, so quickly in fact that Germany had to pass legislation forcing producers to keep their fossil plants on stand-by, and to do so even if they lost money. Even the reliable “classic” renewable power sources – e.g. hydropower – are starting to suffer because most are not supported by government schemes. As the build-up in renewable capacity continues, even the subsidized “renewable” power sources will sooner rather than later be forced into fierce competition for access to the grid whenever the weather conditions turn favorable. One can speculate that within just a couple of years, the first “renewable” energy sources will slowly be driven out of the market because of oversupply. Eventually the renewable power producers will be forced to cannibalize each other in an increasingly fierce competition for privileged access to the power grid as the unwanted events of over-supply become increasingly more frequent.
Renewable Energy World: Want to Buy a Used German Power Plant? Shipping Is Included
Germany’s utilities, battered by the country’s shift to wind turbines and solar panels, would be glad to sell you a power plant on the cheap. They’ll even pack it up and ship it to another country. The two largest power producers, RWE AG and EON SE, are especially keen to sell their gas-fired plants, rendered uncompetitive by the rise of renewable energy on the one hand and record low coal prices on the other. It’s a relatively easy task to take them apart, move them by truck and ship and reassemble them elsewhere. RAG Mining Solutions GmbH is a broker for used power plants and components stripped out of them. Its website advertises 10 different plants in Germany, both coal- and gas-fired, which are for sale as a whole, or in bits.
Astonishing figures show that the total cost of renewable energy infrastructure in Europe to the end of 2012 came to over €600 billion, excluding additional fees for grid connections and upgrades. And this enormous sum is one and a half times the cost of bailing out the Greek economy, which came to €320 billion and the Irish economy with a €70 billion loan, the Irish Energy Blog has calculated.
Foreign Policy: European shale gas drive goes off the rails
A year ago, Russia’s lunge into Ukraine seemed to be focusing European minds on the dangers of depending on Moscow for their energy supplies, pushing countries across the continent to scramble onto the shale-gas bandwagon in a quest to copy U.S. success and move towards having the ability to produce all the energy they need on their own. But now, after a series of disappointments from one end of Europe to the other, Europe’s shale dreams seem to have all but evaporated. And that makes it increasingly unlikely that Europe will be able to reap the kind of gas-fired benefits that have rejuvenated sectors of the U.S. economy and greatly reduced American reliance on foreign energy.
The project to build Britain’s first nuclear reactor in a generation has been delayed until months after the general election because its Chinese backers have demanded that the French government protect them if it goes bust. The fallout threatens to delay the £16 billion Hinkley Point scheme’s start date of 2023 and further undermines confidence in Britain’s faltering nuclear rennaissance. EDF Energy, the French state-backed company leading the project in Somerset, originally promised to give the go-ahead by July last year, but now it is expected to wait until this September or October. Tim Yeo, chairman of the Commons energy and climate change select committee, said: “I’m disappointed by the further delay and hope it can be resolved quickly.”
CRF Hydro Power Ltd., a Scottish hydro developer and operator, has completed negotiations with Clydesdale Bank Plc. to receive US$5.83 million to rehabilitate and upgrade the Garbhaig small hydroelectric project from 915 kW to 2 MW. The scheme is located in a rural area on Loch [Lake] Garbhaig in the Scottish Highlands in the Wester Ross area. Clydesdale Bank support will also help CRF Hydro and its three partners: MEG Renewables; the Richard Grubb Family, who co-own the Garbhaig project with CRF Hydro; and Here We Are, a local community organization. Together, the groups will develop the 1-MW Merk project in Glen [Valley] Fyne, which is scheduled for commissioning later this year.
Daily Post: £100m Llanberis hydro scheme
Developer Snowdonia Pumped Hydro wants to build a 600 MWh electricity storage facility at Glyn Rhonwy, near Llanberis. Based on the same principle as the nearby Dinorwig Electric Mountain, water will be pumped uphill to a reservoir when electricity is cheap and then released back down through a turbine to generate power, stored in a battery, and sold to the National Grid when it’s more expensive for suppliers to buy. SPH is applying to double the facility’s output from 49.9MW to 99.9MW. PH spokesman Kevin Fiske said: “The proposed change in output would be achieved by increasing the capacity of the underground turbines. It will give 12 hours of life rather than six. It will make the facility more useful and it will have more oomph.” The decision to apply for the change was reached after talks with the UK Government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change. Mr Fiske added: “Britain’s energy needs have evolved since the scheme was designed and the government has included storage in the 2014 Electricity Market Reform Act with the aim of helping ensure that Britain does not suffer blackouts.”
Cleantechnica: January a record month for UK wind
According to figures from National Grid, January was the UK’s most productive month ever for wind energy, generating 4.13 terawatt hours, or 14% of Britain’s electricity — that’s enough to power the equivalent of 8.7 million UK homes. January also saw the breaking of the weekly record, with 1,119 GWh generated, and half-hourly records on the 2nd of January, when wind energy supplied 31% of the country’s electricity demand. “The past few months have seen significantly high levels of generation for wind energy and January was no exception,” said RenewableUK’s Director of External Affairs, Jennifer Webber. “It’s great to see wind making such a positive contribution to Britain’s clean energy needs at a cold time of year when we need it most, and this can only continue with greater capacity coming online – reaching 12 gigawatts is an achievement which the industry and the nation can be proud of.”
HTXT South Africa: Wind and solar energy saved South Africa R5.3 billion last year
“The benefits earned were two-fold. The first benefit, derived from diesel and coal fuel cost savings, is pinned at R3.7 billion. This is because 2.2 terawatt-hours of wind and solar energy replaced the electricity that would have otherwise been generated from diesel and coal,” said Dr Tobias Bischof-Niemz, the chief engineer at the Integrated Energy Research Centre at CSIR, in a statement. According to CSIR, “the second benefit of R1.6 billion has been derived from almost 120 hours of ‘unserved energy’ avoided due to the contribution of wind and solar projects. The supply situation has been so tight that customers energy supplies may have had to have been cut (‘unserved’) if had not been for the energy generated by the renewables projects.”
New solar additions in 2013, totaling 3.3 GW, were down 55 percent from 2012, a record year with 7.6 GW of new capacity. Power production data for 2014 recently showed solar output rose 13.5 percent year-on-year to 35.2 billion kilowatt hours. The data, from energy industry group BDEW also showed that this accounted for 5.6 percent of all power produced.
World Nuclear News: Can nuclear survive in a liberalized electricity market?
In the USA, two nuclear power plants operating in liberalized electricity markets recently closed for financial reasons. Other operating nuclear power plants in liberalized electricity markets face similar issues and may also retire early. Moreover, all new nuclear power projects in U.S. liberalized electricity markets are on hold or have been cancelled. The UK electricity market caused financial problems for British Energy prior to its sale to EDF. The difficulty in developing a new nuclear power project in the UK electricity market is demonstrated by the complex Electricity Market Reform program and controversial incentive package for Hinkley Point C. Are liberalized electricity markets incompatible with nuclear power?
Wall Street Daily: The coal price collapse
While oil is grabbing all the headlines lately, another fuel used to generate heat and light has tumbled even more than the black gold. Global thermal coal prices have tumbled 52% since 2011 alone. And the rout shows no signs of abating with global seaborne thermal prices hitting $62 per metric ton (mt) recently. The reason behind coal’s fall is the same as oil’s – the shale revolution led to a surplus of thermal coal globally, just as demand from China and India started weakening. And like oil, producers around the world are ramping up production, even as prices fall for the fifth year in a row! The strategy is similar to OPEC’s – the lowest-cost coal producers around the world are trying to drive the higher-cost producers out of business.
The world’s richest sovereign wealth fund removed 32 coal mining companies from its portfolio in 2014, citing the risk they face from regulatory action on climate change. Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), worth $850bn (£556bn) and founded on the nation’s oil and gas wealth, revealed a total of 114 companies had been dumped on environmental and climate grounds in its first report on responsible investing, released on Thursday. The companies divested also include tar sands producers, cement makers and gold miners. As part of a fast-growing campaign, over $50bn in fossil fuel company stocks have been divested by 180 organisations on the basis that their business models are incompatible with the pledge by the world’s governments to tackle global warming. But the GPFG is the highest profile institution to divest to date.
With oil prices hitting a five-year low, building the Keystone XL pipeline extension could enable oil companies to expand development of Canada’s tar sands, increasing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, the Environmental Protection Agency said in a letter to the State Department this week. “Construction of the pipeline is projected to change the economics of oil sands development and result in increased oil sands production, and the accompanying greenhouse gas emissions, over what would otherwise occur,” the EPA said. President Barack Obama has said he would only approve the 1,179-mile pipeline if it did “not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”
The Obama administration looks at climate change as a threat to national security on par with terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and disease outbreaks. President Obama’s national security strategy released Friday updates the previous plan published in 2010, with focuses on Russia, Islamic militants and health. “Climate change is an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources like food and water,” the White House says in the 35-page strategy document.
President Obama, in presenting his proposed Federal Budget has proposed that the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) be extended permanently in the 2016 budget. Under the new budget, there would be funding of $7.4bn for clean energy alongside $4bn for states to accelerate their carbon reduction plans. Previously, the ITC had been scheduled to drop from 30% to 10% at the end of 2016. This has now been rescinded. The ITC, which was introduced in 2006, has allowed solar developers to write off tax equivalent to up to 30% of the development costs of solar projects once projects come into service.
A new study claims that volcanic eruptions along the ocean floor may impact earth’s climate cycle and that predictive models, including those that analyze humanity’s impact on climate change, may need to be modified. Until now, scientists presumed that seafloor volcanoes exuded lava at a slow and steady pace, but Tolstoy thinks that not only do the volcanoes erupt in bursts, they follow remarkably consistent patterns that range anywhere from two weeks to 100,000 years. The reason why the study is important is because it offers up the idea that undersea volcanoes may contribute to the beginning of a global warming cycle.
Voice Chronicle: Global Warming Is Causing Population Explosion Of Pink Sea Slugs
Global warming is increasing the temperatures of the ocean waters around the world. Warming of oceans is adversely affecting a lot of marine creatures. However, some of them are benefiting from it. One such species is the rare pink sea slug, called Hopkins’ Rose nudibranch. The Hopkins’ Rose nudibranch (Okenia rosacea) is common to Southern California but found only sporadically in Central California and rarely north of San Francisco. However researchers from UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz, the Bodega Marine Laboratory and the California Academy of Sciences have reported large number of these sea slugs in tide pools from San Luis Obispo to Humboldt counties, in the past few weeks. These are the highest numbers and the northernmost records of this species seen since the strong El Ninos of 1998 and 1983.