Energy storage has been a subject of discussion recently, so in this edition of Blowout we feature the entry of General Motors and Nissan into the battery storage market. Why buy Teslas, they ask, when you can use recycled EV batteries?
GM is proposing to power homes, businesses and utilities with recycled used electric car batteries from cars like its Chevrolet Volt, which has both batteries as a gas engine. Electric-car maker Tesla is going to enter the stationary power business with new, not used, units. GM says its approach is not only more ecological because it promotes reuse, but could be more cost effective. “Even after the battery has reached the end of its useful life in a Chevrolet Volt, up to 80% of its storage capacity remains,” said Pablo Valencia, senior manager of GM’s battery life cycle management. “This secondary use application extends its life, while delivering waste reduction and economic benefits on an industrial scale.” At its headquarters in downtown Detroit, GM executives showed how five Volt battery packs are already helping light offices at the company’s Milford, Mich., data center. A new solar array and two wind turbines feed the Milford data center’s circuit breaker panel, where the Volt batteries work in parallel to supply power to the building. The batteries also can provide back-up power to the building for four hours in the event of an outage and stores it when it’s unneeded. Excess energy is sent back to the grid that supplies the Milford campus. (Image credit Edmunds).
Used Nissan Leaf batteries will form the basis of commercial energy storage systems, under a new deal between the Japanese carmaker and energy storage provider Green Charge Networks. The two firms announced earlier this week that the first systems will be installed at an unspecified Nissan facility later this summer, with plans to make them generally available in the fourth quarter of 2015. “A lithium-ion battery from a Nissan LEAF still holds a great deal of value as energy storage, even after it is removed from the vehicle, so Nissan expects to be able to reuse a majority of LEAF battery packs in non-automotive applications,” said Brad Smith, director of Nissan’s 4R Energy business in the U.S. The 24kwh Nissan Leaf battery can reportedly retain up to 80% of its power for its commercial afterlife. The cost of the system has not been announced, but Green Charge has promised it will be “substantially less than new lithium-ion batteries”.
The usual mix below the fold, including a renewed focus on shale oil, Gatwick gets even bigger, a new Pemex discovery, Grafenrheinfeld and Killingholme plants to close, UK scraps onshore wind subsidy, Spain’s war on solar, war brewing in the Middle East, CO2 emissions from Drax, yet more problems at Hinkley, Minnesota to charge for residential grid hookups and how the Earth is already locked into its sixth major mass species extinction.
Business Insider: US oil rig count falls for 28th straight week
The latest data from driller Baker Hughes showed that the number of oil rigs in operation fell by four to 631, the lowest since August 6, 2010. The combined count of oil and gas rigs fell by two to 857, the lowest level since January 17, 2003. This is the 28th straight week of a decline. Last week, the number of oil rigs in operation fell by seven to 635, the lowest count since August 6, 2010. The combined count fell by nine to 859. Even with the plunge in the rig count, US oil production has continued to surge. But that is forecast to change. According to the Energy Information Administration’s latest short-term outlook, oil output hit a peak in May, and will likely decline until early 2016.
Drillers are devoting more revenue than ever to interest payments. In one example, Continental Resources Inc., the company credited with making North Dakota’s Bakken shale one of the biggest oil-producing regions in the world, spent almost as much as Exxon Mobil Corp., a company 20 times its size. Interest payments are eating up more than 10% of revenue for 27 of the 62 drillers in the Bloomberg Intelligence North America Independent Exploration and Production Index, up from a dozen a year ago. Drillers’ debt ballooned to $235 billion at the end of the first quarter, a 16% increase in the past year, even as revenue shrank. “The question is, how long do they have that they can get away with this,” said Thomas Watters, an oil and gas credit analyst at Standard & Poor’s in New York. The companies with the lowest credit ratings “are in survival mode,” he said. The problem for shale drillers is that they’ve consistently spent money faster than they’ve made it, even when oil was $100/bbl. The companies in the Bloomberg index spent $4.15 for every dollar earned selling oil and gas in the first quarter, up from $2.25 a year earlier, while pushing U.S. oil production to the highest in more than 30 years. “There’s a liquidity issue, and you start looking at the cash burn,” Watters said.
As oil prices have crashed big trading companies are storing their crude in hopes of selling it for higher prices down the road. With U.S. production continuing to expand, that’s led to the fastest increase in U.S. oil inventories on record. For most of this year, the U.S. has added almost 1 million barrels a day to its stash of crude supplies. As of March 11, nationwide stocks were at 449 million barrels, by far the most ever. Not only are the tanks at Cushing filling up, so are those across much of the U.S. Facilities in the Midwest are about 70 percent full, while the East Coast is at about 85 percent capacity. This has some analysts beginning to wonder if the U.S. has enough room to store all its oil. If oil supplies do overwhelm the ability to store them, the U.S. will likely cut back on imports and finally slow down the pace of its own production, since there won’t be anywhere to put excess supply. Prices could also fall, perhaps by a lot.
Sinopec, the world’s second-biggest oil refiner, is on the hunt for minority investments in U.S. shale oil and gas projects as it seeks to diversify China’s supply sources, a senior company official said. The Chinese state energy firm is keen to take a 10-15 percent stake in projects to export liquefied natural gas (LNG), said Jack Yu, managing director of Sinopec D.C., which handles government relations in the U.S. Sinopec is at the fore of China’s drive to diversify energy supplies to meet growing demand. While it has been successful in sourcing more oil globally, it has made little headway building out a global LNG portfolio, which is critical for reaching Beijing’s target of a 10 percent share for natural gas in China’s energy mix in 2020 – double the current share. “LNG contracts are for 20-25 years. If you miss the window to export to China, there will be no window for you.”
Guardian: Mexico’s Pemex unveils large oil find
Mexican state oil company Pemex has announced one of its biggest discoveries in years, unveiling new shallow water oil fields in the southern Gulf of Mexico that it says could produce 200,000 barrels per day by mid-2018. The total proven, probable and possible reserves of the fields could be as high as 350m barrels of crude-oil equivalent, said Pemex’s chief executive officer, Emilio Lozoya. The new fields off the coast of Tabasco and Campeche states comprised three of light crude and one of heavy crude, and could start coming onstream in 16 months, Pemex said. “It’s a recent achievement and one of great magnitude,” Lozoya said. The fields would take around three years to reach their full 200,000 barrel per day capacity, said Jose Antonio Escalera, director of exploration for Pemex. Pemex described the finds as its biggest exploration success in the last five years after the discoveries in Tsimin-Xux and Ayatsil, also in the southern Gulf. Lozoya said the discoveries could also make the company reconsider its production forecasts.
Business Insider: We just got more proof that there’s loads of oil near Gatwick Airport
The board of oil and gas company Doriemeus just unveiled another independent report that confirmed that there is a whole glut of oil underneath the ground near Gatwick Airport. Doriemeus said in a regulatory statement that Horse Hill-1 oil field, which was at one point tipped to garner 100 billion barrels of oil for Britain by the oil exploration group UK Oil & Gas Investments (UKOG), has 9,245 million barrels of oil in just 55 square miles covered by the Horse Hill licences (PEDL137 and PEDL246). The independent analysis by Nutech follows only a couple weeks after Schlumberger’s report, entitled “Petrophysical Evaluation of the Horse Hill-1 Well,” which said Horse Hill has 271.4 million barrels of oil in place per square mile. This is more than the UKOG touted in April when they suggested the local area had around 158 million barrels of oil per square mile. This is one of the biggest onshore oil discoveries in Britain.
Linking the development of enhanced oil recovery in the North Sea to low-carbon electricity can bring significant benefits to the wider UK economy while accelerating carbon storage and providing the most cost-effective pathway to UK decarbonisation targets, a new report proposes. This comprehensive new analysis by an SCCS-led Joint Industry Project has been made of injecting carbon dioxide (CO₂) derived from low-carbon electricity production and industry to enhance oil recovery from existing North Sea fields (CO₂-EOR). The report, launched today in London, shows that a synergy between CO₂-EOR and Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) could be the driver for developing both technologies in the UK Continental Shelf. Part of the CO2 that would otherwise go directly to dedicated storage in CCS projects could be used to drive CO₂-EOR, bringing significant benefits to the wider UK economy – including extending the producing life of the North Sea, reducing imports of oil, maintaining employment, developing new capability to drive exports, and additional direct and indirect taxation revenues.This approach could also provide the most cost-effective way to accelerate an energy transition between 2018 and 2030 to meet UK Committee on Climate Change decarbonisation pathways, say the authors.
The Pentagon’s top arms provider and firms partly funded by Silicon Valley billionaires Bill Gates and Paul Allen are among dozens of companies collectively betting more than $1.3 billion that a new wave of nuclear power can be a force to fight climate change. Advanced nuclear power plants, which will employ techniques such as using fuels other than uranium and coolants other than water, have attracted private investments from more than 40 companies from Florida to Washington state. The reactors, which could come into development in 10 to 15 years, can help curb U.S. carbon emissions and make investments in electricity generation less costly, researchers at Washington, D.C.-based Third Way said in a report seen by Reuters and to be released as soon as Monday. Companies expressing faith in advanced nuclear power range from Lockheed Martin, the Pentagon’s largest supplier, to Holtec International, which is building a $260 million technology campus in economically depressed Camden, New Jersey. Gates has partially funded TerraPower, a company that aims to build reactors cooled by liquid metal, and Allen has partially funded TriAlpha, a company that plans to make nuclear fusion plants.
Sydney Morning Herald: Grafenrheinfeld nuclear power plant to close
Germany will permanently close the Grafenrheinfeld nuclear power plant in the country’s south on Saturday, the latest in a phase-out that is scheduled to see the European power-house’s last nine fissile fuel plants closed by about 2022. Leaving nuclear is not without its critics, especially among big utilities: Sweden’s Vattenfall is reportedly suing the German government for €4.7 billion ($6.9 billion) to compensate for its losses. And yet, German policymakers seem determined to stick to an ambitious – and unilateral – goal of slashing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent on 1990 levels, even if that means shutting near zero-carbon nuclear plants along the way. The cuts deepen to 55 per cent by 2030 and 80-95 per cent by 2050. The country is also betting big that renewable energy mainly from wind, solar and hydro power will continue to surge beyond its current share of about 28 per cent of total supply.
Express and Star: Killingholme power station to close
Energy firm E.ON is to close the Killingholme gas-fired power station in North Lincolnshire. The decision follows a review by the company, which the GMB union said could lead to the loss of hundreds of jobs. E.ON said market conditions for both gas and coal-fired electricity generation were “very challenging” and were too big to overcome. The plant stopped generating power in March and will be totally closed by the end of the year. Tony Cocker, chief executive of E.ON UK, said: “Ultimately, the decision to close the power station is not one we have taken lightly and, as our actions have shown, we have exhausted every possible option to try to keep the plant viable. The reality, however, is that market conditions for both gas-fired electricity generation and coal-fired are very challenging and in this particular case too big to overcome which has resulted in 900MW of generation capacity being permanently removed from the UK’s power network. New low carbon generating capacity is needed but we are watching a funding crisis develop around building new power stations in the UK. We need a long term plan for energy in UK. Leaving it to the market won’t work.”
Financial Times: UK government concerned about Hinkley
Problems with a reactor in northern France have triggered deep concern in the British government about the future of the UK’s first new nuclear power station for 20 years at Hinkley Point in Somerset. EDF Energy, the French state-owned company behind Hinkley, has suffered a five-year delay and escalating costs at its flagship Flamanville project in Normandy. Further concerns mounted last week when a leaked report from France’s nuclear safety watchdog highlighted faults in Flamanville’s cooling system. That followed a warning in April by the French Nuclear Safety Regulator that there was an excessive amount of carbon in the steel of the reactor vessel. EDF’s struggles in France have prompted worries at a senior level of the Treasury about the £24bn Hinkley scheme. “I think there are serious questions about the technology,” said one Treasury figure. Senior officials have discussed whether to “start from scratch” with a different, more established reactor technology from elsewhere.
German engineering services firm Bilfinger plans to put its Power business up for sale, its new chief executive said on Wednesday, cutting its losses after five group profit warnings in the past year. The loss-making unit, which accounts for about a fifth of Bilfinger’s total output and employs 11,000 people, has failed to keep pace with upheaval in Germany’s energy sector that has hit some of its biggest clients, while forays abroad have had little success. “We are confident that we will be able to find a new owner with experience in the project business that can take advantage of the future potential of the segment, primarily outside of Germany,” said CEO Per Utnegaard, who took over on June 1. The unit carries out maintenance and servicing of power plants. Utnegaard said the unpredictable project business, which accounts for about 60 percent of the Power business’s output, no longer fitted Bilfinger’s risk profile.
The UK, France and Netherlands are set to miss a key EU renewable energy target and should review their policies to get back on track, the European commission has said. A progress report for all 28 member states, published on Tuesday, said that those three countries plus Malta and Luxembourg should “assess whether their policies and tools are sufficient and effective” to meet the target. Adopted in 2009, the binding target requires the EU to source 20% of energy from renewables such as wind, solar and biomass by 2020. The UK’s share of energy from renewable sources – which includes heating as well as electricity – was 5.1% for 2013. Britain must source 15% of energy from renewables by 2020. A spokeswoman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: “The UK is making good progress towards the EU 2020 target on renewables. The UK has come a long way already; in 2005 1.4% of energy was from renewable sources, for 2013 5.1% of energy was from renewable sources. We are on track to meet the next interim target of 5.4% for 2013/14 and will work across sectors to deliver clean, secure and affordable energy for the UK.”
The decision on Thursday by Energy Secretary Amber Rudd to cut off assistance to onshore wind leaves the country reliant on more expensive technologies to take up the slack from the underperforming heat and transport sectors, said Infinis Energy Plc Chairman Ian Marchant. “The question you have to ask now is what makes up the gap?” Marchant said by phone. “Heat and transport are already failing. They’re not going to make it. If you say ‘I’m not going to subsidize any more onshore wind,’ the only thing that can take up the slack is offshore wind. That costs 40-50 pounds a megawatt-hour more.” The U.K. is under pressure to show how it will meet the EU goal of deriving 15 percent of its energy from renewables by 2020. The European Commission on Tuesday expressed concern about whether existing policies would be sufficient. Only three of the bloc’s 28 members produced a smaller proportion of energy from renewables than Britain in 2013. To reach the renewables goal, Britain is seeking renewables to build a 30-percent share in the power sector, 12 percent in heat and an EU-mandated 10 percent in transport. The separate transport goal means power can only pick up slack from the heat sector, where renewables provide about 3 percent of energy. In 2014, renewables provided 19.2 percent of the U.K.’s electricity.
Financial Times: Scotland attacks ‘irrational’ onshore wind decision
Scotland’s government has described the decision by UK ministers to end subsidies for onshore wind a year early as “deeply regrettable” and “irrational”. Ending the subsidy scheme from April 2016 would have a disproportionate impact in Scotland, which is host to 70 per cent of onshore wind projects in the UK planning system, said Fergus Ewing, Scotland’s energy minister. However, the proliferation of onshore turbines is also a divisive issue within Scotland, with anti-wind farm groups hailing the announcement of an early end to the Renewables Obligation subsidy scheme. “Scottish communities besieged by subsidy-chasers can at last look forward to some respite,” said anti-wind alliance Scotland Against Spin.
Subsidies make wind power the logical investment for energy companies, while the pref-erence given to it on the grid reduces the profitability of conventional generation. Hence no dependable generation is being built and Scotland’s largest such generator, Longannet, is almost certain to close due to lack of profitability. In 2010 Scotland had a secure electricity supply: two nuclear, two coal and one gas-fired power stations, and hydro stations providing dispatchable, or available on demand, power of about 8.4GW. There was a nominal wind capacity of just over 2.5GW. With peak demand about 6GW, Scotland’s electricity needs were secure. By 2015 a major transformation has taken place. The system is still secure but only just. Cockenzie (coal) has closed and Peterhead (gas) has reduced capacity. There is still 6.7GW of dispatchable power, above peak demand but susceptible to a nuclear outage. Wind now represents 7.1GW nominal capacity, but when the wind blows hard, there is still flexible capacity to take off line. But problems are beginning to emerge. Wind load factors of less than 1 per cent can occur so that generation can be lower than 0.1GW. (At 2:20pm on 3 April 2015, total UK wind generation was 0.079GW, a load factor of 0.475 per cent.) When this coincides with a reduction in dispatchable generation, power has to be imported, as it has been on 162 days in the past three years.
Drax was once Britain’s biggest coal-fired power station. It now burns millions of tons of wood pellets each year, and is reputed to be the UK’s biggest single contributor towards meeting stringent EU green energy targets. But astonishingly, a new study shows that the switch by Drax from coal to wood is actually increasing carbon emissions. It says they are four times as high as the maximum level the Government sets for plants that use biomass – which is defined as fuel made from plant material that will grow back again, therefore re-absorbing the CO2 emitted when it is burnt. At £80 per MW/hr, Drax’s biomass energy is two-and-a-half times more expensive than coal – a cost passed on to customers. Last year Drax soaked up £340 million in ‘green’ subsidies that were added to British consumers’ power bills – a sum set to rocket still further. Without these subsidies, its biomass operation would collapse. Perhaps most damningly of all, its hunger for wood fuel is devastating hardwood forests in America, to the fury of US environmentalists, who say that far from saving the planet, companies like Drax are destroying it.
As part of the White House’s plan to combat climate change and reduce dependency on fossil fuels, two federal agencies on Friday jointly announced a proposal to further reduce carbon emissions and fuel consumption by medium- and heavy-duty vehicles on U.S. roads, beginning in six years. The Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Transportation on Friday announced the draft standards, which are engineered with global warming and fuel efficiency in mind. The agencies said the strategy will also spur mechanical innovation, as engineers work to make heavy-duty gasoline combustion engines more efficient and less thirsty. The proposed standards intend to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 1 billion metric tons, cut fuel costs by $170 billion, and reduce oil consumption by as many as 1.8 billion barrels over the lifetime of the vehicles sold under the program, the agencies said. “We are delivering big time on President Obama’s call to cut carbon pollution,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said.
MPR News: Minnesota lawmakers OK new “grid fee”
For 30 years, local power companies have had to buy excess electricity from Minnesota homeowners who have solar panels on their roofs and farmers with small wind turbines. The utilities must also sell electricity to those customers when they need it. The arrange-ment is known as net metering. Beginning next month, however, a municipal utility or a co-op can begin charging new net metering customers a “reasonable and appropriate” fee simply for being part of their electric grid system. The change was part of a larger jobs and energy bill that lawmakers passed in last week’s special session. It was needed, said Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, chair of the House panel that deals with energy issues. “Under the current system, people who have distributed generation, solar panels on the roof or their own personal windmills, they’re able to use the grid without charge and this means higher rates for other consumers,” he said. “We fixed that so it will no longer be a problem moving forward.”
The Spanish government wants to impose new fees on consumers that use batteries to store electric power produced by their own solar panels. In early June, the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism released a draft of proposed legislation designed to discourage the use of solar charged batteries by people who produce their own electricity. Under the proposed legislation, consumers that owned small solar-plus-storage systems would be forced to pay about $10 per kilowatt (kW) of installed capacity. In the residential sector, the fee would nearly double the payback period from 16 years to about 31 years for solar plus storage systems. Consumers that owned larger solar-plus-storage systems (i.e., > 15 kW) would be charged about $41 per kW. To add insult to injury, the proposed legislation also says that anyone who violates the self-consumption rules would be subject to fines of as much as $68 million. The fee would not apply to off-grid solar plus storage systems or instantaneous consumption of power generated by solar equipment. Even with these limitations, the proposed legislation would effectively destroy the Spanish market for cutting-edge products like Tesla’s Powerwall battery if it is approved.
An academic who published a research paper claiming the incidence of breast cancer near a Welsh nuclear power station was five times what it should be has defended himself against critics who have cast doubt on his findings. Dr Chris Busby, who concluded there were elevated risks of various types of cancer downwind from Trawsfynydd Nuclear Power Station in Gwynedd, challenged his detractors to undertake a critique of his research to academic standards. His critics have included the well-known environmentalist and Guardian columnist George Monbiot and other proponents of nuclear power. Another prominent environmentalist, who did not wish to be named, said: “This is a very serious claim which could cause considerable concern to people living near the power station. However the research behind it is extremely weak and unreliable.” This is not reputable information, is not supported by wider research and Chris Busby is not a reliable source.”
Pope Francis’ call for dramatic action on climate change drew a round of shrugs from congressional Republicans on Thursday, while many of the party’s presidential candidates ignored it entirely. “I don’t want to be disrespectful, but I don’t consider him an expert on environmental issues,” said Texas Rep. Joe Barton, a senior Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, in a comment echoed by a number of other Republicans. Even Capitol Hill’s many Catholics, despite their religion’s reverence for the holy father, seemed unmoved by his urgent plea to save the planet. The reactions suggested that the pontiff’s desire to translate his climate views into real action to combat greenhouse gases could fall flat, at least as far as the American political system is concerned. Despite his status as an exalted spiritual figure and leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, his pronouncements on climate were received much as a presidential address might be: with enthusiastic embraces from those who already agreed with him, and disavowals or silence from most everyone else.
The Middle East crisis that peaked one year ago Wednesday when the Islamic State captured Mosul may result in the breakup of Iraq and an indefinite continuation of a war in Syria that’s already out of control, analysts say. Yet still worse things could happen. “The conditions are very much like 1914,” says Michael Stephens of the Royal United Service Institute in London. “All it will take is one little spark, and Iran and Saudi Arabia will go at each other, believing they are fighting a defensive war.” Hiwa Osman, an Iraqi Kurdish commentator, was even more blunt: “The whole region is braced for the big war, the war that has not yet happened, the Shiite-Sunni war.”
Irish Times: Start of Earth’s mass extinction ‘already triggered’
Humans have already triggered the start of Earth’s sixth mass extinction, thereby threatening their own future as a species, a hard-hitting new study has claimed. The window of opportunity to prevent the worst diversity disaster since dinosaurs were swept from the planet 65 million years ago is “rapidly closing”, warn the authors. In the last century vertebrates have been disappearing at a rate 114 times higher than would normally be expected without the destructive influence of humans, according to the scientists, who insist their analysis is “extremely conservative”. If the current pace of extinction is allowed to continue, species loss will have a significant effect on human populations in as little as three generations, it is claimed. Once the damage is done, it could take millions of years for nature to recover, said the researchers. Professor Paul Ehrlich, from Stanford University in California, a leading member of the team, said: “Without any significant doubt … we are now entering the sixth great mass extinction event. “There are examples of species all over the world that are essentially the walking dead. We are sawing off the limb that we are sitting on.”