This week we feature Tesla’s Snakebot, an autocharging device which allows Tesla owners to charge their batteries without the drudgery of having to plug them in. No information is available as to whether current flow is reversed when the wind stops blowing:
Business Finance News: Tesla Motors Inc Unveils Snakebot Autocharger Prototype
Last December, Elon Musk, co-founder and chief executive Tesla Motors Inc, tweeted that the company was striving to roll out an automated charger that “moves out from the wall and connects like a solid metal snake.” The robotic snake charger is currently in testing phase, but the company said it could work on its premium sedan, the Model S, on the road. When the snake charger senses a charging point nearby, the charging port of the Model S automatically opens. The technology is similar to when the vehicle’s door handle senses the driver approaching towards the car with the keys, it automatically opens the door. Although, the company has not given many details regarding the upcoming automated charger, it is expected to be initially installed in more than 480 Supercharger stations across the US.
Stories below the fold include: Saudi Arabia having to borrow money, BP to invest in N. Sea oil, nuclear risks are all in the mind, renewables self-destructing, Jeremy Corbyn on rooftop solar and nationalization, Germany’s neighbors blocking imports of unwanted German wind & solar, emissions wars in Australia, a cold summer in Iceland, US rig count up again, how corals can survive ocean acidification, why sucking CO2 out of the air won’t work and the latest weapon in the fight against climate change – bovine dietary supplement 3-nitrooxypropanol.
CNN Money: Saudi Arabia is having to borrow money
The oil kingdom is facing a big hole in its budget, caused by the slump in oil prices and a sharp rise in military spending. That’s forcing the government to raid its reserves, and it may even borrow from foreign investors, analysts say. Saudi Arabia has already burned through almost $62 billion of its foreign currency reserves this year, and borrowed $4 billion from local banks in July — its first bond issue since 2007. Its budget deficit is expected to reach 20% of GDP in 2015. That’s extraordinarily high for a country used to running surpluses. Capital Economics estimates that government revenues will fall by $82 billion in 2015, equivalent to 8% of GDP. The IMF is forecasting budget deficits through 2020. Oil’s slump from $107 a barrel last June to $44 right now is largely responsible for the squeeze. Half of the country’s economic output and 80% of government revenue is generated by the oil industry.
South China Morning Post: Non-Opec, non-shale producers caught in oil’s crossfire
The biggest losers from the current price war between Opec and the shale producers seem set to be producers outside the Middle East and North America caught in the crossfire. Expensive production from the North Sea, Canada’s oil sands, offshore mega projects, weaker African and Latin American members of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, and frontier exploration areas around the world are all being squeezed by the price slump. According to oilfield services company Baker Hughes, the number of rigs drilling for oil outside North America has fallen by over 200, or about 19 per cent, since July last year. Rig counts have fallen in every region, with 28 fewer in Europe, 47 in the Middle East, 33 in Africa, 66 in Latin America and 34 in Asia Pacific. Proportionately, the hardest hit regions have been Europe and Africa, where more than 30 per cent of rigs operating in the middle of last year have since been idled. But the slowdown is broad-based, with big downturns in countries as far apart as Mexico, India, Turkey, Brazil, Iraq, Colombia and Ecuador.
The Week: BP to invest in North Sea oil
BP has said it will invest £670m to extend the life of North Sea oil fields for more than 15 years, even as major cost savings in response to the oil price slump have forced it to cut projects elsewhere. The investment in the Eastern Trough Area Project (Etap) comes despite the firm announcing it would cut $3bn (£1.9bn) from capital spending in this current financial year as continuing low prices eat into profits. Trevor Garlick, BP’s regional president for the North Sea, told The Times that in spite of “challenging times” that are forcing it to make “hard choices”, BP remains “committed to improving the competitiveness of the North Sea and to maximising economic recovery from our fields”. The Motley Fool says BP is one of the companies that is “well placed to ride out low oil prices”, as its ‘downstream’ operations such as refining and marketing have seen profits rise five-fold due to falling oil prices, to offset some of the declines in its ‘upstream’ exploration activities.
Oilfield services company Baker Hughes Inc. says the number of rigs exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. increased by 10 this week to 884. Houston-based Baker Hughes said Friday 670 rigs were seeking oil and 213 explored for natural gas. One was listed as miscellaneous. A year ago, 1,908 rigs were active. Among major oil- and gas-producing states, Texas gained eight rigs, Louisiana gained four, Kansas increased by three, West Virginia gained two and California, and North Dakota each increased by one. Alaska, Arkansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming were unchanged.
The Hill: Obama spurns natural gas in climate rule
The president once touted gas as an essential clean bridge fuel to wean the United States off dirtier fossil fuels and onto renewable energy, and it was seen as a key to his landmark climate change rule for power plants. But when Obama unveiled the finalized rule this week, he barely spoke about natural gas. Instead, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) boasted that the new regulation will accommodate a large transition from coal power directly to renewables like wind and solar, skipping over natural gas altogether. The White House said the proposed rule encourages a boom in natural gas use because of a set of carbon reduction deadlines for states in 2020, which would be too soon for many states to deploy renewables. “The proposed rule relied on a large, early shift of coal generation to natural gas,” officials said in a fact sheet. “For example, the share of natural gas in the generation mix was projected to be significantly higher in 2020 than in the baseline.” But that deadline was pushed back two years. “Instead, the rule drives early reductions from renewable energy and energy efficiency, which will drive a more aggressive transformation in the domestic energy industry,” it said.
The Obama administration gave the struggling U.S. nuclear industry a glimmer of hope this week by allowing new reactors to count more toward meeting federal emissions limits. States can take more credit for carbon-free electricity to be generated by nuclear power plants under construction as they work to comply with emission-reduction targets set in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan released Monday. Cuts from existing reactors won’t count, casting the fate of units at risk of premature retirement in doubt. Under last year’s draft of the plan, the yet-to-be completed reactors were counted as existing units that wouldn’t be fully credited for carbon reductions generated in the future after they had started operating. The nuclear power industry complained that amounted to a penalty on the plants and made state targets harder to achieve. “We tend to view new rules as potentially the first bit of good news for the struggling nuclear industry,” Julien Dumoulin-Smith, an analyst for UBS, wrote on Monday in a research note.
Power Technology: EDF to purchase majority stake in Areva’s nuclear power unit for $2.2bn
French electric utility firm EDF has signed a $2.2bn agreement with nuclear group Areva to acquire a majority stake of up to 75% in the latter’s reactor business, Areva NP. The deal is part of Areva’s plan to settle its financial obligations by 2017, and is likely to be concluded in the second half of 2016. Areva intends to divest €400m worth of assets and raise €3.4bn in order to fund €7bn in expenditure. In addition, EDF will be looking for partners to sell a minority stake in Areva NP; however, the firm aims to retain up to 75% of its stake in the nuclear unit, if potential joint venture partners cannot be finalised. The transaction is, however, dependent on the progress checks of a nuclear reactor vessel built by Areva for an EDF facility in western France. The evaluation checks were initiated as the state-controlled regulator EDF identified faults, reports Bloomberg.
Ministers in the Department of Energy and Climate Change have reached an agreement with the French energy company EDF to develop Hinkley Point C, near Bridgwater in Somerset, and are ready to approve the project after parliament’s summer recess. The Guardian understands that David Cameron and China’s president, Xi Jinping, are expected to sign the deal at a meeting in the UK in October. More than two thirds of the upfront investment costs for the controversial project will be provided by two Chinese companies. As part of the contract, EDF and China General Nuclear will be responsible for any cost overruns in the construction of the plant, which is supposed to meet 7% of Britain’s electricity needs. However, once it is in operation the government has agreed to pay £92.50 per megawatt hour (MWh) of electricity generated for the 35 years of the contract. This is well above the current wholesale price of electricity, which is about £50 per MWh. Ministers say the subsidy represents value for money as it is the only realistic way of reducing UK carbon emissions while ensuring a consistency of supply.
In a series of studies on nuclear power published in the Lancet, researchers have discovered that the fear of a nuclear reactor or power plant malfunctioning or overheating causes many, many more health problems than the actual, physical effects of an actual malfunction or meltdown. “Although the radiation dose to the public from Fukushima was relatively low, and no discernible physical health effects are expected, psychological and social problems, largely stemming from the differences in risk perceptions, have had a devastating impact on people’s lives.” Though in 1986, the physical effects of the Chernobyl nuclear power accident were much worse on nearby residents, a 2006 study performed by the United Nations on the worldwide effects of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant determined that the accident’s “most serious public health issue” was adverse effects on the mental health of the public. The United Nations report said that poor communication about the health risks “associated with radiation levels made the problem worse.”
According to data compiled and reported by Fraunhofer-Institut für Solare Energiesysteme ISE—a German-based solar energy research institute—from July 1 through August 5, solar and wind energy produced 6.24 TWh and 7.09 TWh of electricity respectively, compared to 5.94 TWh of nuclear power generation in Germany. Although it’s not the first time wind production has exceeded nuclear generation over a period of a month or more, it does mark a first for solar power. It’s not likely to be the last either, because Germany intends to eliminate nuclear power from its energy mix by 2022. Considering all of the publicity that the German energy transition Energiewende has received, it may come as a surprise that coal remains the largest source of electric power generation in the country. During the July 1 to August 5 period, coal-fired generation accounted for 22.26 TWh—44.25% of all electricity produced in the country, and more than solar, wind, and nuclear combined.
Politico: German winds make Central Europe shiver
Germany’s shift to renewable energy has been hailed as an historic policy move — but its neighbors don’t like it. The country’s move away from nuclear power and increase in production of wind or solar energy has pushed it to the point where its existing power grids can’t always cope. And it’s the Czech Republic, Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium and France that have taken the brunt. “If there is a strong blow of the wind in the North, we get it, we have the blackout,” Martin Povejšil, the Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic to the EU said at a briefing in Brussels recently. Germany’s north-south power lines have too limited a capacity to carry all the power that is produced from wind turbines along the North Sea to industrial states like Bavaria or Baden-Württemberg and onto Austria. That means the extra electricity is shunted through the Czech Republic and Poland. To put an end to the often unexpected power flows from Germany — so-called loop flows — the countries are taking the matter into their own hands. Concerned about the stability of their own grids, additional costs and the ability to export their own power, the Czechs, for example, are installing devices to block the power from 2016 onwards. Poland is also working on the devices, known as phase shifters, and expects to have some operating this year. To the west, the Netherlands, Belgium and France have also installed phase shifters to deal with the flows.
E&T Magazine: Renewables boost EU greenhouse gas savings
The amount of greenhouse gases saved in the EU due to the use of renewable energy rose by 8.8 per cent from 2009 to 2012, according to new data. The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) report said that nearly two thirds of the total savings were due to renewable energy development in Germany, Sweden, France, Italy and Spain. Data for the study was reported by member states to check progress towards meeting an EU directive that requires the EU as a whole to meet at least 20 per cent of its total energy needs with renewables by 2020, through a series of individual national targets. Researchers from the JRC looked at how renewable energy had contributed to greenhouse gas emission savings in three sectors: electricity, heating and cooling, and transport. They found that, combined, these three sectors avoided the emission of the equivalent of 716 metric tonnes of CO2 in 2012, when total emissions reached 4,546 metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent.
Financial Times: Renewable energy sector runs the risk of overpowering the market
Another day, another billion-dollar renewable energy deal. That has been the story of the past few weeks as a raft of companies have made eye-catching solar and wind-power investments. But what if the extra-clean electricity eventually generated is doomed to make no money? Or to be more precise, not enough money to keep the companies producing it profitable without a lot more renewable subsidies? This unsettling idea has emerged from research by a German energy economist, Lion Hirth, a former renewables analyst at Swedish utility Vattenfall who now runs a Berlin energy consultancy. This is because of the unusual nature of wholesale electricity markets, where benchmark prices are set by traders buying and selling power by the hour, half hour or less. The hours in which solar and wind farms produce the most — such as midday for solar when the sun is strongest — are precisely the same hours that those farms depress the wholesale electricity price, because higher supplies flatten prices. That means that on average, over the course of a year, the price these renewable generators get for selling their electricity is going to be lower than, say, a gas plant, which does not depend on intermittent sun or wind and therefore produces power in high-price hours as well as low ones. The idea is not hypothetical. When hurricane-strength winds swept across Germany in March this year, wind and solar generators produced about as much as 30 nuclear power plants at one point in the afternoon, briefly making wholesale electricity worthless.
Politico: The “CO2 three”
Tired of waiting for new European rules, three countries in the region are funding controversial and costly projects to siphon off greenhouse gases from some of the most polluting industries. The Netherlands, the U.K. and Norway are backing initiatives to capture carbon from industries like cement, fertilizer and waste. The CO2 could then be sent by ship or pipeline and buried under the North Sea in depleted oil and gas reservoirs, for example, or sold and reused to make fizzy beverages. The countries are leapfrogging the European Commission, which last month proposed reforming the Emissions Trading System. With prices too low and the number of allowances too high, the system is defunct and still faces fierce opposition. New rules are still years away and are not expected to take effect before 2020. Carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) has been seen as a bridge to reducing emissions, said Jonas Helseth, director of the environmental NGO Bellona Europa. “But when you look at industries such as steel and cement, CCS is not a bridge, it’s a need for the future.”
… with 75% of people expressing backing for green power, according to DECC’s latest tracking survey. The survey, which monitors public attitudes to the department’s main business priorities, said support for renewables has been consistent between 75% and 82% in all the tracker re-ports. While strong support for renewables is lower than previous surveys at 24%, down from 33% previously, DECC said opposition to renewables was low at 4% and only 1% of the public were strongly opposed. The report found that support is particularly high in social grade AB, with 85%, and with those that have comes over £50,000 (88%). Opposition was slightly higher from over 65s (10%), social grade DE (6%) and those on incomes below £16,000 (6%).
British public support for nuclear power and shale gas has fallen to its lowest ever level in a long-running official government survey. Nuclear and fracking for shale gas are key planks of the Conservative government’s energy policy, but the polling published on Tuesday shows just one in five people now support shale gas and one in three support nuclear.
Solar Power Portal: Corbyn backs solar… but only on rooftops
Potential Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has backed the widespread deployment of solar PV in the UK, but expressed concern about its use on high-grade agricultural land. “I’m in favour of the highest possible use of PV to generate electricity, but I find it rather sad when I see farmland being taken over to be given to solar energy generation, thus using crop space or grazing space, while nearby there’s acres and acres of roofs and warehouses and other things not being used for generation. Every new building should essentially be covered in PV cells. It’s a question of funding that through national investment strategies through the green energy bank,” Corbyn said. Corbyn also provided insight into what his national energy structure would look like, which would include the renationalisation of the National Grid, reduced power of the Big Six energy firms and a much stronger focus on local generation. But while Corbyn did talk expressively about bringing much more of the UK’s energy infrastructure under public ownership, he said doing the same with energy generation would be “impossible” if it was to include hundreds of thousands of homes with solar PV installations.
Deutsche Welle: Australian government attacks renewables
Since Abbott’s conservative coalition came into power in 2013, it has been accused of launching an unprecedented attack on the renewable energy industry. One of its first acts in government was to remove the price on carbon – becoming the first country in the world to repeal a market mechanism aimed at tackling climate change. It has since reduced the renewable energy target, sacked the independent advisory body on climate change and appointed a “wind commissioner” to investigate complaints about turbines. Most recently, the government directed the Clean Energy Finance Corporation – Australia’s “green bank” – to stop investing in wind, as well as in small-scale solar power. The renewable energy industry says the moves have frightened off potential investors, resulting in a freeze on new projects over the past 18 months. Some in the renewable sector fear the government’s measures could kill off the industry in Australia altogether.
Telegraph Australia: No grand gestures will fix renewable energy, says Abbott
You’d never know it listening to critics more keen on promise than performance, but Australia has a strong record on emissions reduction. We exceeded our Kyoto target and are on track to meet and beat our 2020 target. By 2020, Australia’s emissions will be at least 13 per cent below 2005 levels. On a per capita basis, this will be a better reduction than Canada, the US, Japan and the EU. Despite this, we will take a strong 2030 emissions reduction target to the upcoming climate change conference in Paris — while protecting our economy. We will continue the practical approach which has seen Australia enter its 25th year of growth while decreasing the emissions intensity of production more rapidly than the US, Europe or Japan.
Iceland Monitor: Iceland’s cold summer
The first thirteen weeks of summer this year have been the coldest in Reykjavik in over twenty years, reveals Icelandic meteorologist Trausti Jónsson. The northern city of Akureyri fares even worse – one has to go back around thirty years to find a colder summer. Last year was Akureyri’s warmest summer in 67 years. Summer in Reykjavik has not been this cold since 1992, although the summer of 1979 was by far the coldest. The warmest summer in Reykjavik in the past 67 years was in 2010. Summer in Akureyri has not been this cold since 1983.
A new study from scientists at the University of Hawai’i — Mānoa’s (UHM) Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB) reveals that preconditioning adult corals to increased temperature and ocean acidification resulted in offspring that may be better able to handle those future environmental stressors. This rapid trans-generational acclimatization may be able to “buy time” for corals in the race against climate change. Hollie Putnam, lead author of the Journal of Experimental Biology-featured study and HIMB assistant researcher; and Ruth Gates, co-author and HIMB senior researcher, exposed two groups of parental corals to either ambient ocean conditions or IPCC-predicted future ocean conditions — warmer and more acidic water. As expected, the harsher future conditions negatively affected the health of the parental coral — lowering photosynthesis and production to consumption ratios. Surprisingly, however, the offspring of parents who were exposed to future conditions appeared healthier when re-exposed to the harsher environment. “By preconditioning the corals while the offspring are being brooded it may be possible to increase the offspring’s potential to perform under stressful environmental conditions,” said Putnam.
Science Magazine: Sucking carbon from the sky may do little to slow climate change
As U.S. President Barack Obama finalizes plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions today, climate researchers are wondering whether even more extreme measures will be needed—such as using machines to suck carbon dioxide from the environment. Now, a new study of these so-called carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies finds that the strategy would have only a minimal impact. The authors used computer simulations to figure out what would happen if engineers removed a whopping 5 gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year. Achieving that goal, equivalent to removing roughly half the amount of CO2 that is now emitted from manmade sources, would require a gargantuan global effort. Yet the scientists found the environmental benefits of such a massive technological campaign were surprisingly small, especially in terms of protecting the ocean from the impacts of climate change. Without the CDR the surface pH was reduced by 0.75 units by 2200; with CDR the acidification was reduced 0.7 units, the team reports online today in Nature Climate Change. In another experiment, the scientists examined how, beginning in 2150, removing an even more whopping 25 gigatons each year would work—an effort to “go negative” and remove more CO2 from the atmosphere than humanity was dumping. That approach restored surface ocean pH, but only by 2300. “I expected CDR would have a bigger effect,” Mathesius says.
Carbon Engineering has proposed massive carbon dioxide removal towers like this one to filter the sky of greenhouse gases.
Business Insider: Cow dietary supplement may help in climate change fight
A new dietary supplement given to cows has shown a 30 percent drop in methane emissions from the animals, dampening the production of a greenhouse gas that impacts global warming. Cattle on farms account for 44 percent of global methane emissions stemming from human activity — in this case, the breeding of cattle. And the reduction could be a boon for the fight against climate change, according to the authors of a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “If approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and adopted by the agricultural industry, this methane inhibitor could have a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions from the livestock sector,” said Penn State professor Alexander Hristov. Fermentation in the stomachs of cattle, sheep and goats produces methane as part of digestion. Each cow emits some 500 grams of methane per day. A substance called 3-nitrooxypropanol developed by the Dutch company DSM Nutritional Products and given as a dietary supplement blocks the enzyme used for methane production without affecting digestion, the study found.