Blowout Week 85

This week we feature biomass, which is coming under increasing scrutiny because of growing doubts as to how carbon-neutral it really is. Now the EU is beginning to have second thoughts:

Biomass awaits burning (Image Credit National Boiler Service)

Reuters:  EU takes aim at biomass

For many nations, wood burning, or biomass, provided a fast, affordable way to meet a European Union goal to get a fifth of all energy from renewable sources by 2020. Spurred by subsidies, EU nations will meet almost 60 percent of that target from biomass, according to European Commission data. But as forests, which absorb carbon dioxide, are replanted more slowly than they are burned, not all biomass is sustainable and an assumption that it is carbon neutral can be wildly inaccurate. The European Commission, the EU executive, has said there is a problem, but does not expect to deliver its strategy to address it until well after landmark United Nations’ talks in Paris late this year on a global climate deal. “The European Commission will propose a new renewable energy package in 2016-2017. This will include a new policy for sustainable biomass and biofuels,” an EU official said on condition of anonymity. Even then, it could take two years of negotiations to finalise law binding on the 28 member states, while the number of uncounted emissions will rise, campaigners say. For the purposes of the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS), meant to be the main EU weapon against climate change, electricity generated from biomass counts as zero emissions on the basis that every tree chopped down for fuel is replaced. Campaigners say that even if trees are planted, creating carbon sinks takes decades or even centuries. In some instances burning biomass can be more polluting than coal, especially if fragile environments such as wetlands are disturbed.

The usual mix below the fold, including the EPA’s unscheduled release of contaminated water from a Colorado gold mine, Poland rations electricity, IEA’s oil market predictions, Venezuela wants an OPEC meeting, wireless charging of EVs, Gazprom to expand Nord Stream, US shale oil gets even cheaper, Scotland needs a supergrid, Sendai nuclear plant threatened by volcano, the end of the global population explosion, Skywolf, a Solar Hybrid Diffused Augmented Wind Turbine and how climate change is bringing British butterflies to the brink.

ABC News:  Critics of Carbon Regulations Using Mine Spill to Skewer EPA

EPA and contract workers accidentally unleashed 3 million gallons of contaminated wastewater as they inspected the idled Gold King mine on Aug. 5, just two days after Obama unveiled his Clean Power Plan during an event at the White House. Authorities say rivers tainted by last week’s massive spill from an abandoned Colorado gold mine are starting to recover, but for the Environmental Protection Agency the political fallout from the disaster could linger. The federal agency’s critics are already seeking to use its much-maligned handling of the mine spill to undercut the Obama administration’s rollout of major regulations aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions at the nation’s power plants. Members of oversight committees in both the House and Senate say they are planning hearings after Congress returns from its August recess. “The EPA is supposed to help prevent environmental catastrophes, not cause them,” said Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., a member of the House leadership and the Energy and Commerce Committee. “But, sadly, President Obama’s EPA has been too busy threatening American jobs with radical regulations instead of focusing on what should be their core mission.” Over the last week, even Democrats representing states affected by the spill have publicly criticized the agency’s response as anemic. That has forced top administration officials off-message just as they were launching an effort to sell the new carbon rules to the American people.

The polluted Animas River flows through the center of Durango on August 7, 2015. (Brent Lewis / Denver Post via Getty Images)

IEA:  IEA’s oil market predictions

From the driller in the Bakken to the motorist at the pump, oil market players are adjusting to a world of lower prices. Our latest forecast shows stronger-than-anticipated demand and non-OPEC supply growth swinging into contraction next year. While a rebalancing has clearly begun, the process is likely to be prolonged as a supply overhang is expected to persist through 2016 – suggesting global inventories will pile up further. Oil’s plunge below $50/bbl from triple digits a year ago has seen demand react more swiftly than supply. As a result, the world is now expected to use 1.6 mb/d more fuel in 2015 than the previous year as economic growth consolidates and consumers burn more oil. That’s the biggest growth spurt in five years and a dramatic uptick on a demand increase of just 0.7 mb/d in 2014.

Moscow Times:  Venezuela wants emergency OPEC meeting

Cash-strapped Venezuela is pushing for an emergency OPEC meeting and joint coordination with Russia to stem a tumble in oil prices, President Nicolas Maduro said on Tuesday night. “We’re working toward a special OPEC meeting, in coming days we’ll announce. … We’re making contacts with OPEC governments,” Maduro said during an hours-long televised broadcast. “We’re evaluating the possibility that a very high ranking OPEC meeting be called, and that in coordination with the Russian Federation, President Vladimir Putin, we can advance in taking a series of actions to defend the oil market in the face of this latest fall,” he added. While members including Venezuela and Algeria are concerned by the drop in prices and want the group to reduce supply, Gulf members have rebuffed calls for an emergency OPEC meeting and show no sign of willingness to consider output cuts.

Bloomberg:  $30 oil no problem for some Bakken drillers

The breakeven price, based on production rates and drilling, completion and other costs, can vary widely within a play based on how prolific the geology is and the efficiency of the drilling company, according to Bloomberg Intelligence energy analysts William Foiles and Andrew Cosgrove. In McKenzie County, North Dakota, one of the core areas of the Bakken, the median breakeven price is a little more than $29 a barrel, Foiles said. That’s about a third less than in nearby Williams County, and it’s less than half the average breakeven price for the Bakken that banks and research firms estimated last fall. McKenzie County wells have shown the best returns amid the price drop. Drillers had 26 horizontal wells seeking oil in that county last week, the most in the state, according to Baker Hughes Inc. Bakken oil production in North Dakota has fallen less than 2 percent from its peak in December, while the number of oil rigs in the state has fallen by 60 percent. EOG Resources Inc., the largest shale driller, says it can make a 30 percent after-tax return on $50 oil in its best plays. Whiting Petroleum Corp., the largest Bakken producer, said it’s preparing to be able to grow production at $40 to $50 prices.“A single break-even price doesn’t actually exist,” Foiles said in a presentation. “Rather, what the model indicates is that at a realized oil price of $29.42, half of wells will generate returns exceeding 10%. This price is considerably lower than the $70 breakeven estimated by industry watchers at the start of the oil price slump.”

EUobserver:  Gazprom to expand Nord Stream

Gazprom recently proposed to expand its Nord Stream gas pipeline to ship more gas directly to Germany. This latest episode in the ongoing drama of Russian pipeline politics follows a popular (perhaps even correct) script of Russian proposals ‘with political strings attached’, designed to use national self-interest to undermine European solidarity on Ukraine and on Russia sanctions. The proposal to expand Nord Stream comes amid difficult negotiations on Turkish Stream, which, in December, replaced South Stream as the main transit proposal for Southern Europe and which is designed to further weaken Ukraine. Gazprom is in dire need of direct access to trading hubs in north-western Europe, as its old business model – ‘from wellhead to burner tip’ – is no longer fit for purpose and is detrimental to its market position in Europe. The economics of the Nord Stream route may also help Gazprom to rationalise its export strategy in Europe and convince its masters in the Kremlin not to turn it into an old-style Soviet ministry of gas.There are some real benefits of the Nord Stream extension proposal. Most obviously, the Nord Stream route is closer to Russia’s new production base in Yamal and costs would be lower for Gazprom to ship gas directly into its largest and most liquid market in north-western Europe. This is a major advantage compared to any current alternatives such as Turkish Stream or the Ukrainian route.

Bloomberg:  Germany Proves Russia’s Most Loyal Gas Customer as Price Plunges

Russia boosted natural gas supplies to Germany by almost 50 percent in the second quarter as prices plunged, while the world’s largest natural gas exporter struggled with weaker demand from its former Soviet allies. Gazprom PJSC’s deliveries to Germany jumped to 11.7 billion cubic meters compared with 7.8 billion a year earlier, the highest quarterly level since at least 2010, according to data on the Moscow-based exporter’s website. Gazprom’s average gas price at the German border fell 36 percent this year as crude plunged. The European Union, which gets about 30 percent of its gas from Russia, may be Gazprom’s only growing market this year, the government in Moscow said last month. Gazprom has boosted fuel sales to the 28-nation bloc since the end of May as Brent crude slumped 21 percent. Most of the company’s gas contracts are linked to the price of oil. “Germany has been a loyal customer for Russia for years,” said Alexander Kornilov, an oil and gas analyst at Alfa Bank in Moscow. “Such relationships stay in place, though volumes depend on a price — business is business.” Gazprom’s price to Germany fell to $6.68 per million British thermal units in July, the lowest level since December 2009, according to the International Monetary Fund. Germany is importing almost all of its gas from Russia now, energy broker Marex Spectron Group Ltd. said in a July 29 note. Germany was the only nation among Gazprom’s key clients that increased Russian gas purchases in the first half. The company’s total shipments of the fuel fell 10 percent to 222.8 billion cubic meters through June, mainly because of lower sales in Italy, Turkey, Central Europe, Ukraine and Russia, Gazprom said in its earnings report under Russian accounting standards on Friday.

Fitch:  Poland rations electricity

The recent period of unusually high temperatures and a drought in Poland resulted in lower power generation at some coal-fired power plants because of problems with water for cooling. This, combined with expected and unexpected shutdowns of some power units and increased power demand for air conditioning, forced the transmission system operator, Polskie Sieci Elektroenergetyczne S.A. (PSE) to introduce temporary restrictions on power consumption on Monday. The restrictions apply to more than 1,600 companies, mainly large industrial customers. Poland has limited power grid interconnections with neighbouring countries and is dependent on domestic power production. The country relies on electricity production from coal and lignite, representing about 85% of annual electricity production. However, the profitability of coal- and lignite-fired power generation has declined and will remain under pressure in 2015-2016 due to low wholesale electricity prices, declining free CO2 allowances, and a rising share of renewables supported by subsidies in the market. Another challenge is construction of back-up capacity units, such as gas-fired power plants. These are needed to replace production from wind farms in periods of weak wind conditions. Such units may also need capacity payments to support profitability.

ABC Australia:  Just-reopened Sendai nuclear plant threatened by volcano

Sakurajima, a mountain on the southern island of Kyushu 990 kilometres south-west of Tokyo, is one of Japan’s most active volcanoes and erupts almost constantly. But a larger-than-usual eruption could be in the offing, an official at the Japan Meteorological Agency said. “There is the danger that stones could rain down on areas near the mountain’s base, so we are warning residents of those areas to be ready to evacuate if needed,” the official added. The agency also said it had raised the warning level on the peak to an unprecedented 4 (prepare to evacuate), from 3. Roughly 100 people could be affected. On Tuesday, Japan restarted a reactor at the Sendai nuclear plant, just 50 kilometres from Sakurajima. It is the first reactor to be restarted under new safety standards put in place after the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Critics have long pointed out that the plant is also located near five giant calderas, crater-like depressions formed by past eruptions, with the closest one some 40 kilometres away. Still, the Nuclear Regulation Authority has said the chance of major volcanic activity during the lifespan of the Sendai plant is negligible.

Vox:  Why Japan is bringing back nuclear power

After a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami hit Japan’s northeastern coast in 2011, leading to the infamous reactor meltdown at Fukushima, the country decided to hit the pause button on nuclear power. Over the next two years, Japan took all 54 of its reactors offline as regulators reevaluated their safety rules. The adjustment turned out to be quite painful. Before Fukushima, nuclear power supplied 27 percent of Japan’s electricity. By 2014, that had dwindled to zero. To make up the gap, Japan has had to import more coal, oil, and natural gas from overseas: That took a toll. Japan’s trade deficit ballooned as energy imports rose. Household electricity rates have risen 19 percent since 2011, while factories and offices saw their rates go up 29 percent. The country has also had to grapple with the threat of looming blackouts by slashing energy use during summer months. And the surge in fossil fuel use wasn’t great for the environment: Japan’s carbon dioxide emissions leapt upward after 2011. That all helps explain why Japan’s central government is keen on bringing many of the country’s 43 remaining operable reactors back online. This week, officials hailed the news that a reactor on the island of Kyushu was being restarted under new safety rules, the first to flip on since 2013.

Reuters:  First new US nuclear plant since 1996 requests operating license.

The owner of a Tennessee nuclear power plant asked the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Com-mission (NRC) on Friday to issue an operating license for what could be the country’s first reactor to enter service since 1996. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) said the reactor for unit 2 at its Watts Bar nuclear plant in Spring City, Tennessee, is substantially complete. The notification to the NRC is a major construction and licensing milestone for the project and follows the completion of comprehensive testing on major unit 2 systems to demonstrate operational readiness, the company said. The 1,150-megawatt reactor, which the company started building in the 1970s before stopping construction in the 1980s due to lower energy demand, will be the country’s first new reactor since 1996 when Watts Bar 1 entered service. If NRC grants the license, it is not known when the reactor will enter service.

Guardian:  Hinkley? Or Gas?

Hinkley Point, the planned £24.5bn nuclear power station in Somerset, is under intensifying criticism from the energy industry and the City, even as the government prepares to give the final go-ahead for the heavily subsidised project. The plant, due to open in 2023, will cost as much as the combined bill for Crossrail, the London 2012 Olympics and the revamped Terminal 2 at Heathrow, calculated Peter Atherton, energy analyst at investment bank Jefferies. He said that, for the same price as Hinkley Point C, which will provide 3,200MW of capacity, almost 50,000MW of gas-fired power capacity could be built. “This level of new gas build would effectively replace the entire thermal generation fleet in the UK – much of which is old and inefficient – with brand new, highly efficient, low carbon, gas generation,” said Atherton.

Politico:  How Japan pushes coal on the world

After the Fukushima disaster shut down nearly all of the country’s nuclear capacity, which had represented 29 percent of Japan’s electricity generation, the nation filled the gap by turning back to fossil-fuel power, burning more natural gas, oil, and a massive influx of coal. This might seem like a short-term response to the nuclear crisis. It’s not. A recent trip to Tokyo, Nagoya and Yokohama by POLITICO found that Japanese utilities are in the midst of replacing many of their aging coal power units with more efficient new ones, a decision that locks in carbon dioxide emissions for decades. According to a tally kept by the Kiko Network, a Kyoto-based environmental group, there are more than 40 new coal plants slated for construction domestically. Even more worrisome to environmentalists, however, Japan’s power industry and government have turned their attention overseas, hoping to sell profitable, high-tech Japanese plants to other coal-burning nations, particularly in the developing world. Japan is now the planet’s top public financer of overseas coal plants, technology and mining, according to a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Oil Change International and the World Wide Fund for Nature released in June. The report found that Japan poured more than $20 billion into coal projects between 2007 and 2014—roughly a quarter of total international support for coal power. Since 2011, two of Japan’s main public financing arms have backed more than 22 gigawatts of new coal power from Vietnam to India to Chile. They’ve also put about $5 billion into coal mining projects around the world over the same period.

Bloomberg:  Goldman Closes an Era With Coal Mine Sale

The disposal is the latest sign of how Wall Street banks are responding to pressure from U.S. regulators and disappointing returns as raw materials prices plunged. Goldman Sachs has invested in physical commodity assets since 1981, when it bought what was then a small trading house called J. Aron. Over the years, the company has owned oil refineries in Rotterdam, power plants in Virginia and Colorado, and warehouses to store aluminum and copper around the world. The U.S. Federal Reserve has been working on a rule to rein in Wall Street ownership of commodity assets. Federal Reserve Governor Daniel Tarullo, who is spearheading the Fed’s regulatory efforts, questioned in March whether banks should be allowed to own such properties.“They’re the sort of things that are very hard to get a risk-management handle on as a banking regulator,” he told a U.S. Senate Banking Committee then. The mine that Goldman Sachs sold to privately owned Murray Energy Corp. on Thursday is the last holding the bank had in a commodities asset, according to a person familiar with the situation.

EE News:  New coal-fired power enjoys support among bankers in Germany and Asia

In the northern Greek city of Ptolemaida, a new 660-megawatt power plant that burns lignite, a plentiful soft brown coal, is scheduled to be built by 2020. The European In-vestment Bank has withdrawn funding from the project because of its high CO2 emissions and other pollutants, but the German government-owned development bank KfW, which has a large portfolio of green investments in Germany, is planning to provide half the money needed, roughly €800 million ($888 million) in loan guarantees. The deal has come at considerable expense to Germany’s reputation as a climate leader. By funding the plant in Ptolemaida, KfW is helping to block the expansion of renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, while cementing coal-fired power into Greece’s grid for decades. Up until the close of 2014, lignite use had been on the way down while renewables were trending up to roughly 20 percent of Greece’s total energy consumption, three-quarters of which came from wind power. In the last six months, those investments have all but dried up. The Greek government’s argument for an apparent policy turn toward lignite rests with the conviction that a power plant like Ptolemaida V reduces energy costs. In a time of economic crisis, Greece has to think about immediate needs, Greece’s energy minister Panayotis Lafazanis recently remarked. The minister also argued against renewables on the basis of their intermittency, saying they endanger the country’s future energy security.

Telegraph:  Protesters storm German open-pit coal mine

Environmental activists have stormed a lignite mine in western Germany to protest the use of coal, a major source of greenhouse gases. The German news agency dpa reports that several hundred people from a group calling itself EndeGelaende — which loosely translates as “it’s finished now” — broke through a police line in Garzweiler, west of Cologne. Police spokesman Anton Hamacher says officers used pepper spray to stop the crowd and are removing protesters from the site. A spokesman for German energy company RWE says several huge bucket-wheel excavators used at the open-pit mine had to be shut down for safety reasons. Spokesman Lothar Lambertz says RWE has canceled plans to bring employees onto the site to rally in favor of coal mining.

RTCC:  Kiribati president calls for coal mine moratorium

The president of Kiribati, one of the world’s most climate vulnerable countries, has written to fellow world leaders asking them to support to global moratorium on new coal mines. Anote Tong said the future safety of his people depended on collective and aggressive action to stem the use of coal, the largest source of the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change. “Kiribati, as a nation faced with a very uncertain future, is calling for a global moratorium on new coal mines. It would be one positive step towards our collective global action against climate change and it is my sincere hope that you and your people would add your positive support in this endeavour,” he said. The average land height across Kiribati’s 30-odd islands is two metres above the Pacific ocean. Projected sea level rises up to 2100 could make many of its citizens homeless.

EUobserver:  EU losing its climate change leadership role

For about 20 years, the EU has been a constructive leader in climate negotiations: benefitting from a growing economy, and support from public opinion. However, in the last few years, the EU’s leadership has been declining due to a series of internal and external factors. The EU has largely lost its ability to lead by example. The 2030 framework for climate and energy policies agreed last October, was criticised by NGOs for its lack of ambition. Although the 40 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 was generally welcomed, the non-binding targets for energy efficiency and the shy 7 percent increase in share of renewables over 10 years was considered too weak. Simultaneously, concerns about the influence of fossil fuel and other industrial lobbies on EU decision-making processes raise questions about the EU’s willingness to lead. Among the latest victims are the Fuel Quality Directive whose ambitions were reduced in the context of the ‘CETA/TTIP’ negotiations with North American countries, and the 2030 European renewable energy targets that were weakened following intensive lobbying by oil and gas giant, Shell. Calendar records show that some European Commissioners have dedicated a considerable amount of their time to business lobbyists. Around 83 percent of the meetings of climate commissioner Miguel Canete, and 70 percent of Maros Sefcovic’s, commission vice-president for the Energy Union, were with businesses, mostly representing heavy industry and fossil fuels. Knowing that, according to International Monetary Fund estimates, the EU is collectively allowing $330 billion in subsidies to fossil fuels annually, one could question the EU’s ability to lead a climate transition.

Infrastructure Intelligence:  UK needs to explore for shale says Energy and Climate Change Secretary

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd will this week write to planning authorities to make clear the national need to explore for shale gas. Writing in the Sunday Times Rudd said that the current system where planning decisions were delayed could spell the end of a potentially vital national industry. “We can’t continue with a system in which applications are dragged out for months or even years on end, a system that doesn’t give certainty to industry and that could spell the end of a potentially vital national industry. We need a system that delivers timely planning decisions and that works effectively for local people and developers,” she said. “As part of this work, the government will be writing to planning authorities this week to make clear there is a national need to explore shale in a safe, sustainable and timely way to help meet our objectives for secure energy supplies, economic growth and lower-carbon emissions.” Rudd’s comments come just weeks after energy firm Cuadrilla had its applications for hydraulic fracturing at two sites in Lancashire refused. It took a year for a decision to be reached and the process involved several delays.

Cleantechnica:  Scotland And Wales Join Forces Against The Motherland

A joint letter signed by Scotland’s Energy Minister, Fergus Ewing, and the Welsh Natural Resources Minister, Carl Sargeant, (warns) that “the lack of discussion from the UK Government on support for renewable energy is likely to cause disruption to community energy projects.” Of primary importance to the two Ministers is community and local energy, and how it can be better supported moving forward. “Local ownership gives communities more control over their own energy and will help us tackle challenges like grid constraints and fuel poverty – while at the same time sparking economic revival,” said Scotland’s Energy Minister, Fergus Ewing. “There are many communities who have invested significant amounts of money in renewables schemes and have now found the goal posts have been moved, putting crucial investment and jobs at risk.” “Community energy is a key priority for both our governments and we feel very strongly that those communities who have invested heavily, in time, money and commitment, in a cleaner energy future, are deserving of this consideration,” added Carl Sargeant, the Natural Resources Minister for Wales. “We both see that the future direction for energy is one of local generation and supply, based on renewable sources, and smart storage and local grid management, with significant local benefit. The current proposals will significantly damage the prospects for this future if the local ownership and benefits of projects are not considered within the support regime.”

Herald Scotland:  Scotland needs a supergrid

In the next decade ahead, Scotland will experience electricity shortages. Climate change legislation, certain to be tightened after the December UN gathering in Paris, will see the end of Longannet and like coal-fired power plants (unless the Scottish Government is willing to commit to carbon capture technology). The Scottish Government, for political reasons, has also decided that Scotland’s two remaining, zero carbon-emitting, nuclear power plants will close. As a result, Scotland will become a net electricity importer. Renewables are part of the solution, but they are bedevilled by issues of intermittency, and the reality that not everyone wants a windmill in their garden. Setting windmills offshore will address some – but by no means all – of these problems. However, sharing electricity across European grids mitigates against renewable intermittency (as indeed do pump action hydro plants which can store the ‘excess’ electricity). A North Sea grid has costs, but it offers extraordinary opportunities for Scotland. Sharing electricity across the North Sea addresses renewable intermittency, reduces excess electricity generation, helps address climate change, provides employment in ports across Scotland and in the medium term will moderate the ever increasing cost of electricity. Surely worth exploring?

Fortune:  This idea could help push electric cars into the mainstream

Electric cars have a big shortcoming that keeps many people from buying them: their limited range. After a couple hundred miles, drivers have to pull over and recharge the car or risk stalling on the highway. The UK government is testing a possible solution to the problem. This week, it announced that it’s testing under-the-road wireless charging technology that could someday let electric vehicles and hybrids “refuel” while driving. Highways England, the government division that oversees motorways and major roads, plans to start experimenting with the technology later this year on a dedicated track. The trials are part of a 500 million-pound ($780 million) five-year project on recharging low emission vehicles. If successful, the technology could help push electric cars into more of the mainstream. Electric car sales are growing, but could accelerate if drivers could avoid the hassle of recharging — or at least increase the range to something similar to gasoline-powered cars. Highways England didn’t say which vehicles will be tested or what companies might supply the wireless charging technology. The 18-month test, which could be followed by on road trials, will involve fitting vehicles with wireless technology and testing the equipment, installed underneath the road, to replicate motorway conditions.

Guardian:  Documents confirm Apple is building self-driving car

Apple is building a self-driving car in Silicon Valley, and is scouting for secure locations in the San Francisco Bay area to test it, the Guardian has learned. Documents show the oft-rumoured Apple car project appears to be further along than many suspected. In May, engineers from Apple’s secretive Special Project group met with officials from GoMentum Station, a 2,100-acre former naval base near San Francisco that is being turned into a high-security testing ground for autonomous vehicles. In correspondence obtained by the Guardian under a public records act request, Apple engineer Frank Fearon wrote: “We would … like to get an understanding of timing and availability for the space, and how we would need to coordinate around other parties who would be using [it]. Apple declined to comment.

Irish Times:  UN forecasts end of population explosion

To be clear, the forecasts do not show an imminent end to population growth – far from it. The UN’s medium-variant projection shows a rise to 9.7 billion people in 2050 and 11.2 billion by 2100. But recent data and short-term forecasts also show a dramatic slide in fertility rates. If the trend continues then, in decades, the global population will flatten out. The UN says there is a 23 per cent chance of that happening by 2100. The plunge in childbearing is startling. Eighty-three countries containing 46 per cent of the world’s population – including every single country in Europe – now have fertility below replacement rate of about 2.1 births per woman. Another 46 per cent live in countries where the birth rate has fallen sharply. In 48 countries the population will decline between now and 2050. That leaves just 9 per cent of the world’s population, almost all in Africa, living in nations with pre-industrial fertility rates of five or six children per woman. But even in Africa fertility is starting to dip. In a decade, the UN reckons, there will be just three countries with a fertility rate higher than five: Mali, Niger and Somalia; of these, only Niger will be higher than four. If more fecund nations follow this path of declining birth rates, a stable population could quickly be locked in.

Power Technology:  Skywolf, a Solar Hybrid Diffused Augmented Wind Turbine

US-based power equipment manufacturer SkyWolf Wind Turbine has unveiled Solar Hy-brid Diffused Augmented Wind Turbine technology with the capacity to generate both wind and solar energy. Integrating these two types of energy generation in one turbine is a world-first, claims the company. Static pressure behind the rotor blades has been reduced in the turbine, which has boosted its efficiency and electric energy output. Developed over a 12-year period, the equipment uses SkyWolf’s patented Diffused Augmented Wind Turbine (DAWT) technology, and can even generate increased amounts of energy at wind speeds as low as 3mph. Following a Beta installation, DAWT had been able to produce an average of around 600KwH to 800KwH of renewable power a month from an average wind speed of 16mph – 18mph, SkyWolf said. In addition to rotor blades, the turbine model features solar panels that enable it to capture energy from sun rays.

The Skywolf turbine. Note the downward-pointing solar panels

Care2:  Climate change brings British butterflies to the brink

According to a study — led by Dr. Tom Oliver and colleagues from the UK’s Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), Butterfly Conservation, Natural England and the University of Exeter — that was published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change, six species of drought-sensitive butterflies are at serious risk of extinction and could disappear entirely by 2050. “The results are worrying. Until I started this research, I hadn’t quite realised the magnitude and potential impacts from climate change,” Oliver said in a statement. The effects of climate change will be particularly felt by drought-sensitive butterflies who won’t be able to adapt quickly enough to withstand a rapidly changing environment and drier weather predicted to come. The six species of butterflies expected to vanish by mid-century even under the best-case emissions scenario include the large skipper, the speckled wood, the green-veined white, the cabbage white, the ringlet and the carbon white. Losing such seemingly innocuous little creatures might not seem like a huge deal, but butterflies play a vital role in the environment by pollinating plants that feed us and other wildlife, controlling pests, providing food for other animals and acting as the proverbial canary in a coal mine as indicators of healthy ecosystems.

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29 Responses to Blowout Week 85

  1. Euan Mearns says:

    Voting opens on the name of the new Apple car. Will it be the:



    Apple Cart

    and will it have Windows?

    Sorry Roger, I’ve been thinking about this all day. On another note, the USA has enough timber to keep going for 6 months, so good luck with that.

    • I vote for the “core car”. Windows 7 standard. Later versions optional 😉

      Lots of timber here in Mexico just waiting to be ground into pellets after the US runs out..

    • euanmearns says:

      Roger, I got that wrong. Its only 3 months energy supply for the USA.

      Standing timber is an energy and CO2 store, proto-coal. Only morons would advocate cutting down mature hardwood forests in favour of burning coal or gas in a power station. But of course the proper solution is nuclear.

      But I have two wood burners that are great fun, very effective, using offcuts from local saw mill. But even that is only a solution in the country since we would quickly get a smog if everyone burned wood in the city – but I think the UK government still offers a subsidy for installing a wood burner.

  2. Tim Kiser says:

    Shan. How much oil storage is there in U.S. and where can you find data on it. Most in storage in 80 years means nothing if we are only 50% full. Are we full 80% full or 20% full? Can anyone send me to the data? Thank you all. I have learned a lot on this site.

  3. JerryC says:

    Love the Skywolf. It’s a windmill AND a solar array! Two great tastes that taste great together! LOL.

  4. Willem Post says:

    Regarding biomass, this article has a good summary of the faulty thinking leading to stupid biomass “solutions”.

    The US exporting wood pellets to the UK is energy intensive, that, on a A to Z process of getting wood from the forest, turning it into pellets, transporting the pellets from the US to power plants in the UK, and burning the pellets, would release about 1.8/0.1 = 18 kg of CO2/kg of pellets!!

    CO2 Emissions of Exporting Wood Pellets to the UK:

    A 2013 study, published in Environmental Research Letters, analyzed the CO2 equivalent emissions of exporting wood pellets from the US Southwest to the UK.

    A breakdown of the biomass lifecycle, according to GHG emissions, is as follows:
    See Table 4, which shows 5 of the 7 CO2 emissions components.

    – Pellet production accounts for about 48%
    – Shipping the pellets across the Atlantic Ocean accounts for about 31%
    – Burning the pellets accounts for about 10%*

    * Emissions due to combustion are about 1.8 kg of CO2/kg of pellets, or 1.8 lb CO2/lb of pellets.

    That means the A to Z process of getting wood from the forest, turning it into pellets, transporting the pellets from the US to power plants in the UK, and burning the pellets, would release about 1.8/0.1 = 18 kg of CO2/kg of pellets.

    If the power production is at an efficiency of 30%, then 7,750 Btu/lb of pellets x 2.2 lb/kg x 0.30/(3,413 Btu/kWh) = 1.5 kWh/kg of pellets would be produced, or 18/1.5 = 12 kg of CO2/kWh for the A to Z process, if CO2 sequestering by regrowth would be ignored.

    EVENTUALLY, 100% sequestering would, at the very most, offset about 2 of the 12 kg!!! Such an environmentally harmful way of having the UK, Germany, etc., meet their EU CO2 obligations should not even be allowed to exist by EU rules, and the US should not be aiding and abetting. However, some folks are making money.

    This is a far worse boondoggle than the US corn-to-ethanol program, which, on an A to Z basis, is about CO2-emission neutral, but is derided by the EU.

    • roberto says:

      “That means the A to Z process of getting wood from the forest, turning it into pellets, transporting the pellets from the US to power plants in the UK, and burning the pellets, would release about 1.8/0.1 = 18 kg of CO2/kg of pellets.”

      Sorry, but you got this completely wrong, the 10% refers to the 1.8 kg… you should multiply by 0.1, not divide… notwithstanding that clearing (also) virgin forests on one continent to power another continent is completely crazy….

      • Willem Post says:


        If, according the report, burning the pellets account for only 10% of the A to Z emissions of CO2, then 1.8/0.1 = 18 kg of CO2 emissions for the entire A to Z process, because emissions due to combustion are about 1.8 kg of CO2/kg of pellets.

        • Willem Post says:


          At the very most, less than about 2 kg of these 18 kg are offset by ultimate regrowth of the forest!!.

    • According to these numbers biomass produces more CO2 than lignite even when you don’t ship it across the Atlantic:

      • Willem Post says:


        That table is meaningless, unless plant efficiencies are stated.

        China gets about 80% of its electricity and 70% its total energy from coal, much of it high-sulphur coal.

        Coal CO2 emissions are about 2.15 lb/kWh x 1 kg/2.205 lb = 975 g/kWh at rated output. China is planning to build plants with more efficient coal plants. Here are some numbers of what is possible.

        Boiler Type……………………….Eff, %…………..g CO2/kWh

        Standard boiler………………….33.2………………..975*
        Subcritical boilers………………38.6………………..838
        Supercritical boilers……………40.4………………..800
        Ultra-supercritical boilers…….42.0………………..770

        * Efficiencies of existing standard plants range from 30 – 35%.

        NOTE: Combined cycle gas turbines, CCGTs, with an efficiency at rated output of 60%, Lower Heating Value, or about 54%, Higher Heating Value, would consume (3,413 Btu/kWh)/efficiency 0.60 = 5,688 Btu/kWh and emit 117 lb of CO2/(million Btu x 1 kWh/5,688 Btu) x 1 kg/2.205 lb = 302 g of CO2/kWh, much less than even the most efficient coal plants.

      • A C Osborn says:

        Ah, but the Greens say that Biomass and Wood in particular is “Carbon Neutral”, so it can be discounted as a Greenhouse gas and that is all that matters.
        Only in Alice in Wonderland does that kind of thinking work.

      • Willem Post says:

        Here is an improved table. I added it to my article.


        Fuel……………………………………….CO2 Emissions
        Hard coal…………….94.6…………197.5……0.35……..874
        Fuel oil………………..77.4…………161.6……0.38……..658
        Crude oil………………73.3…………153.1
        Refinery gas…………66.7…………139.3
        Liquid pet gas……….63.1…………131.8
        Natural gas…………..56.1…………117.1……0.45……..403

        Wood energy is not sustainable without reforestation, including fertilizing the soil
        GJ = 0.947 MMBtu
        kg = 2.205 lb
        Power plant efficiencies are average values
        Source: Fachbuch Regenerative Energiesysteme and UBA

  5. roberto says:

    SkyWolf integrated turbine-PV concept for president!

    Bring the genius who designed it to the White House, presto!

    un-be-lie-va-ble… I am speechless.

  6. Willem Post says:


    Regarding Nordstream expansion from 2 lines to 4 lines, for a total of 110 bcm/y, BASF just signed an MOA with Gasprom to get the project going.

    Other major companies want to participate.

    European production is decreasing by about 2%/y and consumption is projected to increase by 0.6%/y.

    The project will face many hurdles, but Germany is Gasprom’s biggest customer, and all that gas will go to directly from Russia, under the Baltic Sea, to Germany, and feed into OPAL and NEL.

    • I’m beginning to get the impression that if Europe wants a secure source of gas to supply its future needs then Russia will be hard to beat.

      • A C Osborn says:

        Roger, except for the “power” it gives to Russia, just look at how they treat the ex USSR states when they want to influence them.
        The EU needs fracking and off shore drilling where ever it is available to prevent Russia controlling the EU energy theatre, that is one of the reasons that the EU has been pushing REs for “Energy Independence”.
        That is also why Russia has been paying Green Lobbyists to be so anti fracking.

  7. Jeff Edzier says:

    It may be overstating the case to say that forests are being cut down to feed Drax. Here in British Columbia, wood pellet plants ship the bulk of their product to Europe but they use residual wood left over from lumber operations. A forestry consultant told me that the southern US pellet plants depend mostly on fast-growing, low quality trees that are more suitable for pulp than construction and they are essentially farmed. If he is correct the picture of ruthless loggers ripping Bambi out of the ancient forest may be a bit overblown.

    As I recall it, the original attraction of biomass was that it was a “renewable resource”. In a world glutted with oil and coal, it may be hard to remember why we went into the forest in the first place. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t anything to do with GHG’s.

    That said, the pellet thing makes no economic or environmental sense today if it ever did.

    • Willem Post says:


      Your forestry consultant talks a good game, because his job depends on that game.

      Taking residual wood from the forest ultimately DEPLETES the soil to grow healthy trees.

      With repeated harvesting over the years, the tree stand become less and less robust.

      Acid rain will do the rest of the damage.

      • Jeff Edzier says:

        Loggers in BC know this and leave branches and bark on the ground as they log to promote regeneration. They don’t actually rape the “Great Bear Rainforest” as Greenpeace would have you believe. I imagine US foresters do the same as they usually own their own land, unlike in BC, so they have every incentive to maintain its productivity.

        The residual wood for pellets is usually collected at sawmills so it has already left the forest. It used to be burned so it is a value-add for BC.

        Nevertheless the whole Euro pellet scheme resembles something that Sir Humphrey would have come up with in the classic British TV show, “Yes, Minister”.

      • Lars says:

        “Taking residual wood from the forest ultimately DEPLETES the soil to grow healthy trees.”

        True to a certain extent. Research has been done on this in Scandinavia and probably elsewhere and the conclusion is that you can remove 2/3 of residual wood (branches, roots, tops) from the forest without affecting renewed forest growth. This applies to coniferous forests from what I have read.

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