This week marks the 200th anniversary of the eruption of Tambora in Indonesia, the largest volcanic eruption yet witnessed by humans (although not the loudest. The eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 was heard almost 3,000 miles away):
Weather Underground: 200th Anniversary of the Tambora Eruption
(O)n April 10, 1815, the mightiest volcanic explosion ever witnessed and recorded by humans rent Tambora in a cataclysmic eruption heard more than 1,200 miles (2,000 km) away. The Tambora eruption threw so much sulfur dioxide (SO2) gas into the stratosphere that a “Volcanic Winter” resulted. The sulfur pumped by this eruption into the stratosphere dimmed sunlight so extensively that global temperatures fell by about 0.4–0.7 °C (0.7–1.3 °F) for 1 – 2 years afterward, triggering the infamous Year Without a Summer in 1816. In Western Europe, summer temperatures in 1816 were up to 3°C (5.4°F) below average, resulting in crop yields that plunged more than 75%. Tens of thousands died of starvation, and tens of thousands more died in the typhus epidemic that followed. The situation was even more dire in India, where the eruption caused the failure of the monsoon rains from June through August 1816–the longest recorded break in the Southwest Monsoon in recorded history. The resulting famine and cholera epidemic that erupted ended up killing millions over the next few decades. Unprecedented July snows also hit Yunnan, China in 1816, resulting in widespread famine, and killing frosts in June, July, and August 1816 in Eastern Canada and New England caused widespread crop failures. A cold wave on June 5 – 11 dumped up to a foot of snow on the Northeast U.S., and lake and river ice were observed as far south as Pennsylvania in July and August.
Below the fold we have another rig count decrease, more production from Saudi Arabia, more nukes from Rosatom, an oil discovery at Gatwick Airport, a blackout in Washington DC caused by a coal plant closure, Denmark and Germany squabbling over Danish wind imports, storing energy in hybrid flywheels, making hydrogen from corn husks, the Shell/BG acquisition, how CO2 emissions threaten another mass species extinction and “The Blob”.
Arab News: Saudi oil output reaches 10.3m barrels per day :
Saudi Arabia’s oil production reached 10.3 million barrels per day in March, Petroleum and Mineral Resources Minister Ali Al-Naimi has said. “Average daily output hit 10.3 million bpd in March,” Al-Naimi, cited by the Saudi Press Agency, said on Tuesday night. The minister expects Saudi Arabia production to continue at around 10 million bpd and also expects crude prices to improve. Saudi Arabia is prepared to help improve oil prices but needed cooperation from major OPEC and non-OPEC producers, he said.
The number of U.S. rigs drilling for oil fell the most in a month, a sign that America’s cutbacks aren’t over yet. Drillers idled 42 oil rigs (excluding gas rigs), reducing the number to 760, Baker Hughes reported on Friday. The rig count has dropped 53 percent since October, an unprecedented retreat, as the decline in oil prices has made production less profitable. But production isn’t slowing yet, and new efficiencies in U.S. drilling and pumping may make raw numbers of rigs in the field misleading. The U.S. will pump 9.3 million barrels a day this year, the most since 1972, despite the fewest rigs in the field in almost four years, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Forbes: Shell to acquire BG Group
Shell plans to acquire BG Group in a cash and stock deal valued at 1,350 pence per BG share. The company will pay BG shareholders 383 pence in cash and 0.4454 class B shares in itself for each share of BG held. This translates into a total valuation of around 47 billion pounds or $70 billion – at yesterday’s closing price – which represents a 52% premium to the 90-day volume-weighted average trading price for BG’s stock. The boards of both the merging companies have approved the terms of the deal, and it should be a reality by early next year if all the regulatory and shareholder approvals fall in place as planned. The combined entity will have net proved hydrocarbon reserves of approximately 16.7 billion barrels of oil equivalent and a reserves to production ratio of around 12.4 years, based on the latest annual figures reported by both companies.
At net return on capital of 11.9% last year, UK plc (excluding the finance sector) is at its most profitable this century, and comparable numbers don’t go much further back than that. That was a rise from the 9.7% low point for profitability in 2009. The ONS breaks down profitability figures by sector, and the service sector looks particularly strong. Its net profitability was at 16.7% during last year. It peaked in the third quarter at 18.4%. This should be no great surprise to those who have watched the price of Brent crude fall in recent months. But the evidence is described by industry group Oil and Gas UK as “shocking”. At 10.4% net rate of return in the final quarter of 2014, it doesn’t look too bad by comparison with other sectors. But the oil and gas sector thrives on big profits, for which it pays heavily in tax and without which it doesn’t take the necessary exploration risks. This is also an industry which deploys its capital where it can get the best return. And Oil and Gas UK’s Malcolm Webb points out that the UK is now at the bottom of the league table for profitability.
There could be up to 100 billion barrels of oil onshore beneath the South of England, says exploration firm UK Oil & Gas Investments (UKOG). Last year, the firm drilled a well at Horse Hill, near Gatwick airport, and analysis of that well suggests the local area could hold 158 million barrels of oil per square mile. But only a fraction of the 100 billion total would be recovered, UKOG admits. “We think we’ve found a very significant discovery here, probably the largest [onshore in the UK] in the last 30 years, and we think it has national significance,” Stephen Sanderson, UKOG’s chief executive told the BBC. UKOG says that the majority of the oil lies within the Upper Jurassic Kimmeridge formation at a depth of between 2,500ft (762m) and 3,000ft (914m).
Prime Minister Narendra Modi aims to advance the purchase of massive nuclear reactors and fuel from France and Canada to power a resurgent economy, overriding domestic opposition and concerns over liability laws as he embarks on a foreign tour. In France, where Modi is making his first visit since taking office last year, he will seek to speed up price negotiations for the building of two reactors by state-run Areva SA of 1,650 megawatts each in the western state of Maharashtra. Modi has made nuclear power a key element of his clean energy strategy, and in January announced a “breakthrough” pact with US President Barack Obama to help clear a logjam of stalled projects. India needs foreign nuclear technology and fuel to ramp up capacity by a planned 14 times from 4,560 megawatts over the next two decades. For decades it was shut out of nuclear trade because of its weapons programme but a 2008 agreement with the United States gave it access to foreign suppliers without giving up arms that are primarily meant as a deterrent against nuclear-armed China.
Nuclear Street: Rosatom pressing ahead with nuclear export business
On Monday, the head of the state-run corporation Rosatom Sergei Kiriyenko, said that the company was undeterred by economic headwinds and would press ahead with its nuclear export business. (N)earing completion are discussions of the two-unit project at the Tianwan Nuclear Power Plant in eastern China. In recent months, Rosatom’s ‘s international presence has grown to include deals or cooperation agreements with Hungary, Egypt and Jordan. In late March, Rosatom signed a $10 billion deal to construct Jordan’s first nuclear power plant. If all proceeds smoothly, Jordan is expected to have a nuclear power plant operational by 2021. Rosatom and Finland are also moving forward on the proposed Hanhikivi nuclear power plant in central-western Finland with plans that call for construction of a Russian-designed VVER-1200 pressurized water reactor. In addition, Rosatom subsidiary Akkuyu NGS Electrik Uretim Corporation is scheduled to construct and operate a four-unit plant in Turkey, consisting of four 1,200 MW VVER reactors. Kiriyenko noted Monday that Rosatom’s international deal-making had tripled in the past three years. “The macroeconomic situation helps us,” he said.
A six-party majority in Norway’s parliament aims to negotiate a deal that would force the country’s sovereign-wealth fund to divest from coal this year, against the advice of the minority government, the parties’ spokesmen told The Wall Street Journal on Friday. Parliament was expected to decide last year to ban the $885 billion fund from investing in coal-intensive companies, but postponed it, pending a review of the fund’s climate strategies. The review and the government advised against coal divestment, but spokesmen from all six opposition parties said Friday that they were still ready to discuss the move. Together, the six parties have a 92-seat majority in Norway’s 169-seat parliament.
Foreign Policy: Japan Bets on Nuclear, and Coal, for Future Power
(Prime Minister) Abe’s blueprint envisions stable, round-the-clock power sources such as nuclear, coal, and hydroelectric growing from about 40 percent of the electricity mix today to 60 percent in 2030. The rest of Japan’s electricity would come from natural gas and renewable energy like wind and solar power, complemented by increasingly aggressive efforts to boost energy efficiency. While there are no hard-and-fast targets yet for nuclear power in the new plan, officials say it would represent about 20 percent of the total — slightly more than the 15 percent that Abe had sought, but much less than the 30 percent of Japan’s electricity in the years before Fukushima. Hydroelectric and geothermal power will be hard-pressed to grow beyond 10 percent of the total. This means that coal will be the only baseload option left to power about 30 percent or more of the Japanese electricity sector, a significant uptick compared with the pre-Fukushima period and a stark contrast to other advanced economies, like the United States, that are trying to nudge polluting coal out of the energy mix. “I think Japan is preoccupied with trying to survive economically in a world where carbon emissions are not priced and in a world where fossil fuels are cheap and abundant,” said Yvo de Boer, former head of the United Nations’ climate body and currently the director-general of the Global Green Growth Institute, in Seoul.
European Council on Foreign Relations: Europe’s alternatives to Russian gas
Energy insecurity in the European Union has two main sources: gaps in the integration of the European energy market, especially in regions such as Central and Eastern Europe, and disruptions of imports. Part of the aim of the Energy Union is to diversify the EU’s gas supplies away from Russia, which has already proved to be an unreliable partner, first in 2006 and then in 2009, and which threatened to become one again at the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine in 2013-2014. The February Communication mentions strengthening four alternative routes and sources of gas supplies, as well as creating regional hubs to deal with potential disruptions. Among the alternatives are: Importing gas from the Middle East and North Africa, Intensifying work on the Southern Gas Corridor through Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan and Importing Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) from the United States and Australia as well as from East Africa.
RE News: Global clean energy investment dips
Global investment in clean energy was $50.5bn in the first quarter of 2015, down 15% from the same period in 2014 and the lowest level in the period for two years as deal-making slowed in first quarter from a year earlier at $31.8bn, wind was down 30% at $15.1bn and biomass and waste-to-energy was up 94% at $1.7bn. Figures show that investment in Europe slipped 30% compared with the year-ago period to $9.7bn. The busiest market in Europe was the UK, where a deadline of 31 March for solar accreditation under the Renewables Obligation regime fuelled hectic PV activity, pushing overall investment up 12% year-on-year to $4.3bn. China was down 24% to $11bn while investment in the US edged up 2% to $9.6bn and Brazil slid 62% to $1.1bn with the rest of the Americas dropping 17% to $2bn. The report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance said the strongest performance came from South Africa, where investment surged to $3.1bn from almost nothing in the same quarter a year earlier.
EurActiv: Momentum swells behind North Seas Grid
The North Seas Grid should be one of the building blocks of the Energy Union, companies and campaigners have told EU energy ministers, as momentum builds behind the project connecting offshore wind farms in ten countries. Environmental think tank E3G today (9 April) separately called for ministers and the European Commission to work together to bring rapid agreement on a new way of coordinating nations to deliver the electricity infrastructure investment needed. The grid would boost interconnection and renewables capacity, fight climate change and bolster energy security, which are the central goals of the Energy Union, E3G said. Members of the European Parliament have backed the project, which will connect Ireland, Scotland, the UK, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway.
In a growing spat that is undermining the European Union’s 150 billion euro ($160 billion) program to strengthen the bloc’s electricity links, leaders in Bavaria and other German regions are turning down wind power from the north. Their biggest objection is the aesthetics of it all: New transmission lines would have to be put up across centuries-old German towns to bring in more of the electricity. For the wind companies, the losses are starting to add up. The Danish Energy Association estimates that Nordic generators are missing out on $87 million in annual sales as the Germans reject as much as 71 percent of the electricity being sent over from mainland Denmark. “What’s taking place on the interconnectors goes against all the vision of the internal market — free flow of goods and services across borders,” Carsten Chachah, a senior adviser at the Danish Energy Association, said April 9 by phone. “The problem is getting worse.” The opposition is strongest in Bavaria, Germany’s largest state and home to companies including Allianz SE, BMW AG and Siemens AG. It has the biggest share of Germany’s solar power production and wants to have generating plants fueled by natural gas make up the gap in electricity production when the sun isn’t shining. Protesters argue that new power lines would be eyesores as well as health hazards.
Several federal agencies were forced to shut down Tuesday amid a power outage in Washington, and while most of the country might not care, the role of anti-coal crusaders deserves more attention. A mechanical failure and fire at a transfer station in Maryland caused a dip in voltage that cascaded across the grid. The blackout was relatively minor, but it likely could have been prevented if D.C. was still served by a coal-fired power plant called Potomac River Generating Station in Alexandria, Virginia. That “must run” 482-megawatt unit used to help manage electric demand in downtown Washington at peak times and would have been tripped as a substitute in emergencies like the one in Maryland. While the 60-year-old Potomac station was rarely run, it was a particular target of the anti-fossil fuel movement given its proximity to Washington. In 2011 Michael Bloomberg even announced a $50 million donation to the Sierra Club on a boat docked in front of the station, with its smoke stacks as the political backdrop. The former New York City mayor’s gift financed the “Beyond Coal” campaign that targets individual plants for closure. The project claims credit for 188 coal scalps so far, and one of them was Potomac River Generating Station, which was shut down in late 2012.
Foundations for an energy storage plant in Ireland that could “revolutionise” the integration of renewable power into electricity supplies will be laid within weeks. The plant will use a motor-generated flywheel to harness kinetic energy from the grid at times of over-supply. This will then be released from submerged turbines at times of supply shortfalls. The project in Rhode, County Offaly, is expected to launch commercially in 2017, with an operating capacity of 20MW. Although the system will initially feed off all energy in the grid – clean and dirty alike – it has the potential to resolve the transmission system operators’ dilemma of how to store large amounts of energy created during windy or sunny conditions for instantaneous use when the weather changes. At the moment, such energy shortfalls are compensated for with fossil fuel generators such as coal or gas-fired power plants, or by hydro pump storage. Unlike conventional coal and gas generators which have an efficiency ratio of 35-40%, the flywheel operates at upwards of 85-90% efficiency.
International Business Times: Hydrogen fuel made from corn husks could be renewable energy breakthrough for cars
Researchers from Virginia Tech have discovered a new biological way of creating hydrogen fuel that takes a lot less time and is much cheaper, which could be a breakthrough to help end the human race’s dependence on fossil fuels. Hydrogen fuel is a green fuel that has almost zero carbon emissions, and at the moment, it is produced primarily using high processed sugars. It costs a great deal to produce the gas in large enough quantities for it to be used in fuel cell vehicles, and it is also a challenge just to transfer the gas into fuel cells. Instead, the Virginia Tech method involves using dirty biomass, i.e. the husks, cobs and stalks of corn plants in order to create the fuel. This means that it is much cheaper to produce the fuel and means that processing plants that make other corn-based products could also make the fuel and use it to power their operations.
Australia’s power generation and transport fuel use will be left to the market to decide, the Abbott government says in its long-awaited energy white paper, which does not discuss climate change as a driver of energy policy. The government promises a hands-off “technology neutral” approach to the electricity market and the future of transport fuels, saying it will not try to shut down old coal-fired power plants or push new technologies into the market to try to reduce greenhouse emissions. Unlike the former Labor government’s 2012 white paper, which predicted rising gas exports but also a domestic switch from fossil fuels to renewables, or John Howard’s 2004 white paper which devoted an entire chapter to the impact of climate change on energy policy, the Abbott government’s 2015 white paper mentions climate change just once, and does not see emissions reductions as an energy policy goal.
(A) new overview of what we know about the permafrost carbon problem has just come out in Nature, written by a group of 17 experts on the matter. In other words, this is probably the most thorough scientific look at the issue yet. And the researchers, led by Edward Schuur of Northern Arizona University, basically confirm that we have a serious problem — if not necessarily a catastrophe — on our hands. The bottom line is that the permafrost carbon problem doesn’t look like it’s going to just go away as researchers better refine their estimates. Rather, it’s something that the world, and especially its leaders who are the ones making climate agreements, will have to deal with. “Initial estimates of greenhouse gas release point towards the potential for substantial emissions of carbon from permafrost in a warmer world, but these could still be underestimates,” the study notes.
Scientists are warning CO2 is being emitted into the atmosphere today at a comparable rate to the amount released millions of years ago which caused the biggest extinction event in the history of the planet. Around 90% of marine life is thought to have been wiped out in an extinction event known as “the great dying”, which was the bridge between the Permian and the Triassic periods 252 million years ago. The cause of the event has been a matter of debate in the scientific community. But a team of researchers coordinated by the University of Edinburgh say they now have evidence that volcanic activity releasing huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere caused the acidification of the oceans, wiping out the majority of life on earth. “It’s been debated for a long time as to what the actual killing mechanisms were and there’s a fairly good consensus that the eruption of huge volcanoes in Siberia, known as the Siberian traps, produced global warming because it sent a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere,” says Professor Rachel Wood, one of the authors of the report.
Nature World News : ‘The Blob’ Leaves US with Weird Weather, Say Experts
It’s no secret that North America has seen some pretty odd weather recently. Now new research has revealed that a natural phenomenon called “The Blob” might be a primary cause behind this weird weather. “In the fall of 2013 and early 2014 we started to notice a big, almost circular mass of water that just didn’t cool off as much as it usually did, so by spring of 2014 it was warmer than we had ever seen it for that time of year,” Nick Bond, a climate scientist at the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, with the University of Washington (UW) and the NOAA, explained in a statement. Bond started calling this mass “The Blob,” just last June, after it refused to dissipate even months after it was first noticed. And just like its horror movie namesake, the Blob even started to grow, reaching 1,000 miles in each direction and 300 feet deep. Now, 10 months later, The Blob is still around, just offshore from northern Mexico and reaching 1,000 miles up through Alaskan waters. Its waters remain about 2 degrees Celsius warmer than normal, regardless of the season. However, Bond and his colleagues are arguing that this is not some obscure consequence of climate change. Instead, they say it is a natural abnormality that they are struggling to wrap their heads around.