A somewhat abbreviated and late Blowout this week owing to pressure of other events. Readers are encouraged to link to any interesting articles the newsroom staff may have missed.
This week we feature the forthcoming UK general election. How might the results impact future UK energy policy?
In three weeks, the UK will go to the polls in one of the closest-fought and least predictable elections in a generation. Carbon Brief has already pored over the political parties’ manifesto views on climate and energy. But the chance of a multi-party coalition make it hard to extrapolate pre-election commitments into future government action. Carbon Brief asked a range of experts for their views on the May 7 poll’s implications, in particular:
• What are the key climate and energy dividing lines for the election?
• How do you see potential election outcomes affecting climate and energy policy, post-election and in the run-up to Paris?
Here’s what they had to say ……
More below the fold, including the latest pronouncements of OPEC, oil prices and the US Fed, layoffs at Schlumberger, yet more problems for Hinkley Point, the California drought, the EU to sue Gazprom, US tree exports to Europe and how global warming will cause giant super-fast spiders.
Time: OPEC Says U.S. Oil Boom Will End This Year
OPEC says the demand for oil – its oil – will rise during 2015 because the cartel is winning its price war against U.S. shale producers by driving them out of business. “Higher global refinery runs, driven by increased [summer] seasonal demand, along with the improvement in refinery margins, are likely to increase demand for crude oil over the coming months,” the cartel said in its Monthly Market Report, issued, April 16. OPEC forecasts demand at an average of 29.27 million barrels per day in the first quarter 2015, a rise of 80,000 bpd from its previous prediction made in its March report. At the same time, it said, the cartel’s own total output will increase by only 680,000 barrels per day, less than the previous expectation of 850,000 barrels per day, due to lower U.S. and other non-OPEC production.
The dramatic 10-month drop in the price of oil could be due to ultra-loose monetary policy by the U.S. Federal Reserve, according to a senior analyst at a major financial services company. Mark Lewis from Kepler Cheuvreux said on Monday that the boom in U.S. shale gas production over the last few years that had helped push down oil prices was partly driven by the Fed’s “very, very low interest rates.” “The financial dimension to the shale story is hugely important,” he told CNBC. “I think it’s questionable whether we would ever have had the increase in oil production we’ve had out of the shale plays over the last three or four years if we hadn’t been in this environment.”
The Advertiser: Schlumberger to lay off to 11,000 employees
Oilfield services giant Schlumberger announced Thursday it would lay off 11,000 employees in addition to the 9,000 layoffs it announced in January. Citing a downturn in exploration and production jobs, principally on U.S. land rigs, Chairman and CEO Paal Kibsgaard said the company’s earnings were down 19 percent sequentially in the first quarter. Kibsgaard was speaking at the company’s first-quarter earnings meeting. Schlumberger listed about 123,000 employees worldwide prior to the first layoffs.
RE News: Labour jobs pledge ‘too ambitious’
The UK renewables industry has welcomed Labour’s 2030 manifesto pledges but expressed fears that plans to create a million new green jobs by the date could be too ambitious. Renewable Energy Association head of external affairs James Court said: “While it is encouraging that Labour will look to grow our energy skills base, one million jobs is very ambitious. In order to succeed, we will need to really harness future technologies that the UK can excel in, such as solar, storage and marine, as well maximising technologies such as energy from waste, biomass and anaerobic digestion.” The REA added that while it welcomes the 2030 energy commitment, sustainable heat and transport are areas “that also need that level of leadership”.
ICIS, the independent authority on UK energy market pricing, has highlighted the continued fall in UK wholesale energy prices, shown by the ICIS Power Index (IPI) reaching its lowest point ever. ICIS’ analysis of trends during the first quarter (Q1) of 2015 details how global energy markets are having more impact on the UK, pulling down prices. The IPI, which reflects wholesale power prices over a year of delivery, shows that electricity prices have averaged their lowest in four years during Q1. ICIS analysts say that this is a result of continued gas oversupply, with rising production of liquefied natural gas (LNG) around the world and more coming to the UK, and also the influence of other global markets such as Brent crude oil and coal. Wholesale power prices have declined to their lowest point since the start of IPI calculation in 2011, hitting its lowest level to date on 26th January at £43.573/MWh.
The future of Britain’s energy needs is now hanging in the balance, after a “very serious” fault was found in the pressure vessel of the prototype EPR plant in Normandy, France. A second investigation is now required into the quality of the steel of the pressure vessel which encloses the new European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) reactor at Flamanville, near Cherbourg in Normandy, The Independent reports. As a result, the future of two new identical reactors at Hinkley Point in Somerset is now in doubt. “It’s a serious fault even a very serious fault, because it involves a crucial part of the nuclear reactor,” said Pierre-Franck Chevet, head of France’s nuclear safety inspectorate. The same steel has been used for the safety casings for Hinkley Point, which “have already been manufactured.” Although a final decision on Hinckley point is expected in June, the fault in the brand new French design could scare off Chinese state investors who are paying for some of the £14-billion project ($20.94 billion).
German plans to support the construction and operation of 20 offshore wind farms do not conflict with EU state aid rules, the European Commission has found. The 17 wind farms in the North Sea and three in the Baltic will further EU energy and environmental objectives without unduly distorting competition in the Single Market, the EU body has said. The Commission also expects these projects to enable new electricity providers to enter the German generation market. “This will have a positive effect on competition,” it added. In total, the projects approved will make available up to 7GW of renewable energy generation capacity. The total investment costs amount to €29.3bn. All wind farms are planned to start producing electricity by the end of 2019 at the latest. In total, they are expected to generate 28TWh terawatt-hours of renewable electricity per year amounting to almost 13% of Germany’s 2020 renewable energy target.
Brussels will on Wednesday accuse Russia’s Gazprom of illegal abuse of its dominant position in Europe’s gas market, unveiling antitrust charges that threaten to inflame already difficult relations with Moscow. Just a week after confronting Google over its market power, Margrethe Vestager, the EU competition chief, is pressing forward with a longstanding Gazprom case all but frozen by the Ukraine crisis, according to two people familiar with the situation. The decision to send a formal statement of objections is a gamble for the European Commission. The commission has always insisted that it is treating Gazprom as it would any other company operating in Europe, despite the geopolitical implications such a case could have. Russia sees the probe as a political weapon. Since launching the biggest antitrust raids ever mounted in Europe in 2011, the commission has honed a case around concerns that focus on whether the Russian company thwarted competition and pushed up prices in central and eastern Europe. Although the charge sheet has been ready since last year, Brussels held off amid fears that it could antagonise an increasingly belligerent Moscow and prompt a response, such as a gas cut-off, that dwarfed the overcharging issues the commission is trying to address.
The market for investors in renewable energy is about to become a lot more volatile as Governments around Europe wind down subsidy support. European renewable energy markets have historically been a low risk investment proposition, as Feed-in Tariff (FiT) support schemes protect renewable generators from wholesale electricity price fluctuations. However, many generation assets are approaching points when they cease to be eligible for subsidy support and they are exposed fully to the fluctuations of the market. In the UK, the ROC scheme will end for new projects in 2017 and be replaced the Contracts for Difference scheme. This will insulate projects from wholesale markets fluctuations, but leave them exposed to balancing costs. Similarly, many markets, including Germany and France, are evolving away from the traditional FiT schemes into ‘top-up’ tariffs. The new ‘top-up’ schemes expose renewable generators to significant risks if the generator is unable to generate and sell energy at the wholesale market price. New projects funded under the ‘top-up’ schemes will be far more exposed to the market than their predecessors under the old FiT regime.
The expansive forests of the Carolinas, Georgia, and other nearby states have survived many human threats over the last few centuries, but the latest is one of the most unexpected. The rapid growth of Europe’s biomass industry, driven by the region’s renewable energy targets, is chipping away at southeastern forests. The growth is being fueled by the conversion of coal-fired power plants to biomass-fired plants in Northern Europe and, increasingly, in South Korea and Japan, according to the company. Adam Macon, campaign director for Dogwood Alliance, a North Carolina forest preservation group, told ThinkProgress that “there was a general misunderstanding” when Europe included wood pellet biomass in their 2020 renewable energy target. The misunderstanding being that the industry would rely on scraps or waste left over from other manufacturing processes. Macon said that what has happened instead is that “utilities really like burning stuff” and they are now burning whole trees and large, coarse woody residues, like tree tops. This is harming both local forests and setting back climate targets in the short term.
Toledo Blade: What China closing coal-power plants means for emissions
China’s recent scrapping of small coal plants will avoid the release of as much as 11.4 million metric tons annually of climate-warming carbon dioxide, helping the country cut emissions for the first time in more than a decade. The impact is a sign of what’s to come as China pushes for a cap on coal and moves to shutter, or refit, its dirtiest coal- burning power plants. China overhauled or scrapped as much as 3.3 gigawatts of the facilities in 2014, according to a March statement from the National Bureau of Statistics. The reduction in greenhouse gases assumes most of the capacity was retired because it doesn’t meet current standards and estimates that the plants annually used 5.2 million tons of coal, producing 2.2 million tons of carbon emissions per million ton of coal, according to estimates from Sophie Lu, a Beijing- based analyst from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
The average citizen of Nepal consumes about 100 kilowatt-hours of electricity in a year. Cambodians make do with 160. Bangladeshis are better off, consuming, on average, 260. Then there is the fridge in your kitchen. A typical 20-cubic-foot refrigerator — Energy Star-certified, to fit our environmentally conscious times — runs through 300 to 600 kilowatt-hours a year. American diplomats are upset that dozens of countries — including Nepal, Cambodia and Bangladesh — have flocked to join China’s new infrastructure investment bank, a potential rival to the World Bank and other financial institutions backed by the United States. The reason for the defiance is not hard to find: The West’s environmental priorities are blocking their access to energy.
Daily Beast: The truth about the California Drought
Everyone who follows California knew it was inevitable we would suffer a long-term drought. Most of the state—including the Bay Area as well as greater Los Angeles—is semi-arid, and could barely support more than a tiny fraction of its current population. California’s response to aridity has always been primarily an engineering one that followed the old Roman model of siphoning water from the high country to service cities and farms. But since the 1970s, California’s water system has become the prisoner of politics and posturing. The great aqueducts connecting the population centers with the great Sierra snowpack are all products of an earlier era—the Los Angeles aqueduct (1913), Hetch-Hetchy (1923), the Central Valley Project (1937), and the California Aqueduct (1974). The primary opposition to expansion has been the green left, which rejects water storage projects as irrelevant.
It just keeps getting hotter. March was the hottest month on record, and the past three months were the warmest start to a year on record, according to new data released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It’s a continuation of trends that made 2014 the most blistering year for the surface of the planet, in to records going back to 1880. The animation below shows the Earth’s warming climate, recorded in monthly measurements from land and sea over more than 135 years. Temperatures are displayed in degrees above or below the 20th-century average. Thirteen of the 14 hottest years are in the 21st century, and 2015 is on track to break the heat record again.
National Journal: Americans Don’t Talk About Global Warming Very Often
Seventy-four percent of Americans “never” or “rarely” discuss global warming, while just 26 percent of Americans talk about it “often” or “occasionally,” according to a national survey from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication released Monday. And 25 percent of Americans say people they know never talk about global warming at all, despite the fact that a majority of the public believes the planet is heating up and the scientific consensus that global warming is driven primarily by human activity. The lack of buzz may signal apathy from the American public when it comes time to talk about climate change. People tend to be far less concerned about climate change than they are about other threats that they believe are more immediate, like a flailing economy or terrorist attack. The survey results are based on interviews with 1,263 Americans ages 18 and older with a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.
Forget floods, droughts, sea-level rise and even the melting polar ice caps. Here’s a really compelling reason to worry about global warming. Spiders. Research has already suggested that there will be more of them – and they will grow bigger – as temperatures rise. Now a new study, published in the journal Experimental Biology, has concluded that they are likely to be able to run faster and therefore, be harder to catch. (T)he researchers found that while they moved sluggishly at a cool 59F (15C), they sprinted around at three times the speed when the thermometer rose to a stifling 104F (40C).