This week’s Blowout features a drought. Not the California drought, which is hardly unprecedented, but one that is – the drought in major US hurricane landfalls. It is now almost ten years since the last major hurricane made landfall in the US, the longest drought since records began in 1851:
As of today, it has been a record 118 months since the last major hurricane struck the continental United States, according to records kept by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Hurricane Research Division, which list all hurricanes to strike the U.S. mainland going back to 1851. A major hurricane is Category 3 or higher hurricane. The last one to strike the continental U.S. was Hurricane Wilma, which made landfall in Florida on Oct. 24, 2005. President Obama is the first president in 122 years, since Benjamin Harrison was in office, who has not seen a major hurricane strike the U.S. during his time in office. In a statement on its website, NOAA expressed concern that Americans might suffer from “hurricane amnesia.” The second longest stretch between major hurricanes hitting the continental U.S. was the eight years between 1860 and 1869, NOAA records show. “It has been 10 years since Hurricanes Katrina (Aug. 29), Rita (Sept. 23/24) and Wilma (Oct. 24) made landfall along the Gulf Coast during one of the most active hurricane seasons in recorded history,” NOAA said in a statement marking the 10-year anniversary of the 2005 hurricane season. “Wilma is also the last major hurricane to strike the U.S.–an unprecedented stretch that could unfortunately lead to ‘hurricane amnesia’ for the destruction such a hurricane can cause.”
Hurricane Katrina, August 8, 2005 (image credit UA News)
Stories of interest below the fold include: oil price jumps after Venezuela asks for emergency OPEC meeting, Dutch rail to run entirely on wind power, UK to cut solar subsidies, nuclear in Sweden, El Hierro goes 100% renewable for four hours, Japan cuts oil usage, the costs of the Energiewende, Aberdeenshire approves Northconnect link, US and China to cooperate on clean coal, problems with ocean acidification models, C-Enduro, a solar/wind powered catamaran and SWET, the Solar Wind Energy Tower (don’t miss the video).
Oil futures jumped by more than 10% on Thursday, with the U.S. benchmark adding to already large gains following a report that Venezuela asked the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to hold an emergency meeting. A special meeting of key oil producers implies that they would discuss a possible production cut to help stem the recent drop in oil prices. Venezuela has also asked OPEC to consider a coordination with non-OPEC Russia to discuss a strategy to stem the recent rout in oil prices, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter. “It is no surprise that the drumbeat is building for an emergency OPEC meeting,” Matt Smith, director of commodity research at ClipperData, told MarketWatch in the wake of the WSJ report. “We have had comments out of Ecuador, letters from Algeria sent in recent days highlighting the pain that these OPEC members are feeling,” he said. “No one is feeling the pain worse than Venezuela, who subsidizes their fuel.”
A second oil price rout of 2015 has forced Arab OPEC members to cut their price expectations for this year, showing they are prepared to tolerate cheaper crude for longer to defend market share and curb rivals’ output. OPEC delegates, including those from core Gulf OPEC countries, see economic troubles in top energy consumer China as short term and unlikely to have much impact on demand for crude which will rise seasonally in the fourth quarter. But they also believe it will take more than just a few months for weak oil prices, which fell to a more than six-year low near $42 on Monday, to reduce supplies from higher-cost producers such as U.S. shale and stimulate demand. They expect the re-cent price drop will help reduce the crude oversupply towards the end of the year and thus lift oil prices slightly. The comments further indicate that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries is sticking to its policy of defending market share rather than cutting production to shore up prices – regardless of how low they would fall and how long it would take to balance the market. “It will be better to leave the market to correct itself. I don’t think this low price will continue,” said a Gulf OPEC delegate who declined to be identified. “Prices will be around $40-$50 a barrel until the end of the year and hopefully they will reach $60, assuming there will be a recovery in China.”
President Barack Obama on Saturday defended his decision to allow Royal Dutch Shell to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean under what he said were rigorous standards, fending off criticism by environmental groups. His message comes on the eve of a three-day tour of Alaska aimed at drawing attention to powerful images of melting glaciers and eroding coastlines as a “wakeup call” to Americans in the Lower 48 states about the urgent need to address climate change. The trip is part of a broad campaign to seal an international deal later this year to curb carbon emissions, something the White House hopes will cap Obama’s legacy on climate during his time in office. It also highlights inherent contradictions in his climate and energy policies. While Obama pushes the world to wean itself from fossil fuels, his administration gave Shell the green light earlier this month to drill in the oil-rich Chukchi Sea. Obama pointed out that Shell bought its exploration leases before he took office – when George W. Bush was president – and said his administration set “the highest standards possible” for the drilling. The U.S. economy needs oil and gas until it makes the “transition” to renewable energy and should count on domestic fossil fuels rather than imports, he said.
Wall Street Journal: Oil rig count up one, gas rig count down nine
The U.S. oil-rig count ticked up by one in the latest week to 675, marking the sixth consecutive week of increases, according to Baker Hughes Inc. The number of U.S. oil-drilling rigs, which is a proxy for activity in the oil industry, has fallen sharply since oil prices headed south last year. The rig count dropped for 29 straight weeks before climbing modestly in recent weeks. Despite recent increases, there are still about 58% fewer rigs working since a peak of 1,609 in October. According to Baker Hughes, gas rigs fell by nine from the prior week to 202. The U.S. offshore rig count fell to 30 in the latest week, down two from last week and 36 a year earlier. For all rigs, including natural gas, the week’s total was down eight to 877.
At least 10 billion barrels of potential oil in place is thought to lie in the Horse Hill shale license area in the south of the country, a British group said. U.K. Oil and Gas Ltd. said an independent assessment from oil services company Schlumberger found a mean 10.9 billion barrels of oil in pace in a 55 square-mile area of the Horse Hill basin. U.K. Oil and Gas Chairman Stephen Sanderson said the independent analysis predicts “significant” oil volumes and gives further support for development plans. The company early this year said the reserves at Horse Hill are in shale beds that are fractured naturally, meaning extraction may be carried out using conventional techniques. The discovery at Horse Hill comes as the country contemplates the future of North Sea oil fields. Operating expenses in the North Sea are up 8 percent while revenues for oil companies working in the region are at their lowest levels since 1998. Sanderson said the company expected to recover as much as 15 percent of the oil in Horse Hill, which he said would translate to the 2030 equivalent of 30 percent of the nation’s oil demand. Schlumberger, the world’s largest oilfield services provider, is acting as the sole adviser to UKOG on the Horse Hill prospect.
Hindustan Times: Japan cuts oil usage following first nuclear reactor restart
Japan’s Kyushu Electric Power is shutting down as many as five oil-fired generation units and cutting power purchases from other utilities as it ramps up its Sendai nuclear reactor, in another blow for an oversupplied crude market. Kyushu Electric began the restart of the Sendai No. 1 unit on Aug. 11, making it the first of the country’s 43 reactors to return to operation under new safety standards put in place after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. Japan’s utilities turned to liquefied natural gas and coal in record amounts to make up for lost nuclear capacity after Fukushima, but also switched on oil-fired units either mothballed or kept on standby for peak periods of demand. In July, utilities burned about 210,000 barrels a day of crude and fuel oil to produce electricity. Together they accounted for about 15 % of total power generation, compared with between 1 and 3 % in other industrialised economies such as South Korea, Europe and the United States.
Deseret News: China, US seek clean coal agreement
U.S. and China officials took a major step Tuesday toward an agreement to advance “clean coal” technologies that purport to reduce the fuel’s contribution to climate change. The agreement between the U.S. Department of Energy and China’s National Energy Administration would allow the two nations to share their results as they refine technologies to capture the greenhouse gases produced from burning coal, said Christopher Smith, the Energy Department’s assistant secretary for fossil energy. Terms of the deal were finalized late Tuesday. Officials said it would be signed at a later date. Smith spoke after he and other senior officials from President Barack Obama’s administration met with representatives of China’s National Energy Administration during an industry forum in Billings. Shi Yubo, vice administrator of China’s energy agency, told delegates to the forum that coal will continue to play a role in China’s developing economy. “But we need to pay special attention to developing clean coal technology,” he added through an interpreter. Shi said China was seeking to develop more demonstration projects that capture carbon to prevent it from escaping into the atmosphere. He acknowledged that efforts to put the greenhouse gas to beneficial use “are still far behind.”
• Making $1 billion in additional loan guarantee authority available and announcing new guidelines for distributed energy projects utilizing innovative technology and states look-ing to access this financing;
• Unlocking residential Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing for single-family housing to make is easier for Americans to invest in clean energy technologies;
• Launching a new HUD and DOE program to provide home owners with a simple way to measure and improve the energy efficiency of their homes, by increasing homeowners borrowing power;
• Creating a DOD Privatized Housing Solar Challenge, and announcing companies are committing to provide solar power to housing on over 40 military bases across the United States, while saving military families money on energy bills and making military communities more energy secure;
• Announcing $24 million for 11 projects in seven states to develop innovative solar technologies that double the amount of energy each solar panel can produce from the sun;
• Approving a transmission line that will support bringing online a 485-megawatt photo-voltaic facility that will be constructed in Riverside County and produce enough renewable energy to power more than 145,000 homes; and
• Creating an Interagency Task Force to Promote a Clean Energy Future for All Americans; and announcing independent commitments from local governments, utilities, and businesses that are stepping up to drive energy efficiency in more than 300,000 low-income households and investing more than $220 million in energy saving activities for veterans and low-income customers to help decrease their energy bills.
Having already announced plans to limit cash paid to on-shore wind generation and large-scale solar farms, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is now proposing significant cutbacks for small-sized green energy producers. Solar and wind energy installations of less than 5MW are supported by feed-in tariffs – schemes that pay producers a subsidy for the electricity they generate, plus a bonus for any electricity exported back to the national grid. Under the new proposals, the amount to be paid from next year will fall to 1.63p per kilowatt hour from a current level of 12.92p for a new residential solar system. The consultation says that government spending on feed-in tariffs should be limited to between £75m and £100m from 2016 to 2018/19. But DECC warns that if that limit is breached then “the only alternative would be to end generation tariffs for new applicants as soon as legislatively possible,” which is expected to be January next year. The Solar Trade Association (STA) says the proposals are not good news and the idea that the scheme might end for new entrants could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. “We regret that proposals to suddenly cut tariffs combined with the threat of closure of the scheme next January will spark a massive market rush,” said Mike Landy from the STA. “This is the antithesis of a sensible policy for achieving better public value for money while safeguarding the British solar industry.”
BusinessGreen: Could subsidy-free CFDs solve UK’s policy dilemma?
When it comes to wind farms, Energy and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd appears to be facing a dilemma. She has partially delivered on the Conservative manifesto pledge to end new subsidies for onshore wind power by promising to close the Renewables Obligation (RO) scheme to wind farms one year early in 2016, but questions remain over wind power’s role in the Contracts for Difference (CfD) scheme set up by the coalition government to support low carbon energy projects. According to a number of energy industry insiders, Whitehall officials are now actively considering a number of ways to solve this dilemma, including innovative proposals for the introduction of a so-called “subsidy-free” CfD. This would allow the government to continue providing mature clean energy technologies with a relatively low level of price support, without necessarily classing the contracts as “subsidies”. There appear to be a number of different proposals for reforming CfDs doing the rounds, at least two of which could be characterised as subsidy free. One option draws on Bright Blue’s recent work on CfD contracts that would see contract prices capped at a level set by new gas plants, effectively allowing wind and solar projects that can undercut this level to continue to compete for price support. The proposal works on the assumption that new renewable energy capacity is not really competing with established grid power, but the new fossil fuel capacity that would otherwise have to be built.
Cleantechnica: Onshore Wind Most Efficient Low Carbon Technology In UK
A new report has found that onshore wind is the most cost effective and scalable low carbon technology in the UK and should be supported. Published by public policy charity Policy Exchange, the report — Powering Up: The future of onshore wind in the UK — examined the future of onshore wind in the UK and its possible role as one of the major low carbon energy generation options available. According to the report’s findings, the cost of onshore wind is estimated to fall from £85/MWh to approximately £60/MWh by 2020 as larger turbines are introduced into high wind speed areas of the country, like Scotland. In fact, according to Policy Exchange, “this would put the cost of onshore wind in the same league as a new gas plant and significantly cheaper than offshore wind, biomass, or even nuclear.” However, to achieve any of the cost reductions outlined in the report, new onshore wind development must be allowed to partake in the UK Government’s Contract for Difference (CfD) auction mechanism — though subsidies can be phased out, with the authors of the report noting that “onshore wind still requires support, but this is diminishing over time.” Furthermore, if something is not done to current Government policy changes it would “signal an end to onshore wind development in England.”
Aberdeenshire Council has approved onshore works for the Northconnect interconnector between Scotland and Norway. Partners aim to lay shoreside cables and build an electricity converter station to begin operations in 2022. The link will in part help to facilitate increased renewables penetration in both countries. Plans for the £1.3bn Northconnect project will join the National Grid to Norway via a 650km underwater power cable. The next step for the partners – Agder Energi, E-CO, Lyse and Vattenfall – is to submit plans for the sea-based part of the interconnector. Northconnect UK project manager Richard Blanchfield said: “This major investment is an opportunity for the north east economy, it will help keep the lights on in Scotland, press down on household electricity bills and allow the green powerhouses of Scotland and Scandinavia to deliver their low carbon potential. “Northconnect is also an important European project as it has been designated as a project of common interest and is being considered for Electricity Highway status by the EU.”
Railway Technology: Dutch rail to run entirely on wind energy by 2018
Electricity generated by wind turbines already provides nearly half of traction power on the 2,900km ProRail 1.5kV DC network, out of total consumption of around 1.4 terawatt hours (TWh) per year. That figure is set to rise to 100% by 2018 under a new green energy contract – thought to be among the largest yet signed in Europe – between power supplier Eneco and VIVENS, an energy procurement joint venture comprising Netherlands Railways (NS), Veolia, Arriva, Connexxion and rail freight firms. Under the terms of the deal, half of the NS fleet of electric trains will run on green energy in 2015, rising to 70% the following year, 95% in 2017, with the goal of a 100% renewable network by 2018. Eneco will supply 1.4TWh of electricity for the rail system – equivalent to the amount consumed by all households in Amsterdam – from wind farms that are in the process of coming on-stream. Half of them are situated in the Netherlands, and the remainder in Belgium and Scandinavia. After 2018, about half of the electricity demand will likely need to be provided by foreign sources.
While a project to run a Spanish island off renewable energy which gathered media attention this week might only have successfully met the region’s energy demand continuously for four hours, the project is nonetheless “very significant”, an expert with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has said. Spain’s El Hierro, the most southerly of the Canary Islands, used a combination of only wind, hydro and energy storage to meet the energy needs of all of its 10,000 locals for four hours earlier this month. The island’s EUR80 million (US$91 million) facility includes five wind turbines, whose excess energy is stored by raising water via a pump system into an artificial reservoir. When there is not enough wind the water is channelled back through turbines to produce more electricity. Emanuele Taibi, Island Roadmaps Analyst for IRENA, told PV Tech Storage that the El Hierro project is “very significant” and marks the first time an island has been able to rely solely on renewable energy and this storage technology combined. “The project is indeed very significant,” Taibi said. “IRENA has been invited to the commissioning of this unique system, and it is indeed a first for an island to rely mostly on wind and pumped hydro storage for its electricity supply. And we hope that greater visibility of innovative projects like these can encourage others to act.”
Deutsche Welle: Renewables shift wallops traditional energy plants
Germany’s shift to renewable energy sources will have a greater impact on operators of traditional power plants than originally thought, according to new data from the country’s grid supervisor. Fifty-seven traditional gas and coal power plants are set to close in Germany as a consequence of Energiewende, or energy transition, which has diminished the profitability of operating non-renewable power plants. That’s nine more than had been slated for closure at the beginning of the year, Germany’s leading Bild tabloid reported on Monday, citing figures from the Federal Network Agency. Energy industry advocates have warned that a heavier reliance on wind and solar power could put Germany’s energy supply security at risk. Hildegard Müller, head of the German Association of Energy and Water Industries (BDEW), told Bild that modern power plants were an insurance policy against power shortages and deserved to be financially compensated as such.”The situation for existing power plants is getting worse,” Müller said. “An ice age is looming for the construction of new plants too. Every second planned facility is hanging by a hair,” Müller said.
Deutsche Welle (same article as above): Energiewende costs consumers 28 billion euros per year
Four years after German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced her decision to phase out nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, the costs of adding more renewables to the energy diet of Europe’s largest economy have exceeded initial estimates. Citing a recent estimate from a leading German economic think tank, the business daily Handelsblatt reported Monday that annual costs of 28 billion euros per year were being handed down to German consumers for the Energiewende. That means an average household, or one that consumes some 3,500 kilowatt hours in a year, pays about 270 euros annually for Germany’s pivot toward green energy. “The energy transition began with the assumptions that energy costs in this country would remain manageable and remain internationally competitive. Neither have materialized,” Barbara Minderjahn, the chief of Germany’s Association of the Energy and Power Industry (VIK), told Handelsblatt.
Oil Price: Sweden’s nuclear shutdown
While it is certainly true that many European countries have made enormous strides in renewable energy generation, there is another fuel source that is unusually important in many European countries compared to the rest of the world; nuclear power. Sweden is a prime example of this. The country generates almost 35 percent of its electricity from nuclear power – just shy of the amount that it generates from all renewable sources combined. It was big news and more than a little surprising then when Swedish utility company Vattenfall announced earlier this year it was closing its Ringhals 1 and 2 nuclear reactors. Combined, the Ringhals reactors generated 9.8 terawatt-hours of electricity in 2014 versus 11.6 terawatt-hours produced by all of the wind turbines in Sweden combined. The company shut down the reactors in response to a combination of relatively low wholesale power prices and the announcement by the Swedish government that taxes on nuclear power would increase starting in August. Nuclear power is in fact one of the cleanest power sources on earth, and given the production costs required to make enough solar panels or wind turbines to offset the loss of a single nuclear plant, one could make a credible argument that nuclear power is a greener technology than conventional renewables.
The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station on Cape Cod Bay in Plymouth remains closed Sunday after going into an automatic shutdown Saturday afternoon, according to station and government officials. The shutdown occurred at about 4:30 p.m. Saturday while the reactor was at 100 percent power, triggered by the closure of a single main steam isolation valve. A copper tube about a half-inch in diameter, called an air/nitrogen line, broke, triggering the valve closure, said Chip Perkins, a nuclear engineer and the regulatory assurance manager for Entergy. While the repair of the line shouldn’t be that complicated, the plant will do an investigation into what they call “extended circumstances,” followed by other independent investigations. There was no information available about when the plant would reopen. The shutdown follows an incident two weeks ago, on Aug. 9, in which the plant had to partially cut power. Sea water that flows into the plant had reached 75.09 degrees, exceeding the federally regulated temperature cap of 75 degrees, so power was cut by 10 percent for 3½ hours to cool the sea water. This is the Pilgrim station’s third automatic shutdown since Jan 1.
There will be no agreement at the international climate conference in Paris in December if industrialised countries do not pay the 100 billion euros needed annually to finance the transition to renewable energy in developing countries, French President Francois Hollande said Tuesday. “If we are to succeed in Paris it will require not only political commitment, but also financing,” he said in a speech to French ambassadors meeting in Paris. The pledge to raise that amount of money annually by 2020 “was a promise that already has not been kept,” Hollande said. “It is now a requirement. Without 100 billion, there will be no deal in Paris.” He said the sum is “indispensable” to help poorer nations cope with extreme weather and rising seas, and to develop their economies cleanly – as promised by rich governments in 2009.
As the oceans’ chemistry is altered by rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the response of sea-dwellers such as fish, shellfish and corals is a huge unknown that has implications for fisheries and conservationists alike. But the researchers attempting to find an answer are often failing to properly design and report their experiments, according to an analysis of two decades of literature. Oceans absorb much of the CO2 emitted by human activities such as coal burning. This leads to a variety of chemical changes, such as making waters more acidic, which are referred to as ocean acidification. Yet according to a survey published last month by marine scientist Christopher Cornwall, who studies ocean acidification at the University of Western Australia in Crawley, and ecologist Catriona Hurd of the University of Tasmania in Hobart, Australia, most reports of such laboratory experiments either used inappropriate methods or did not report their methods properly. Cornwall says that the “overwhelming evidence” from such studies of the negative effects of ocean acidification still stands. For example, more-acidic waters slow the growth and worsen the health of many species that build structures such as shells from calcium carbonate. But the pair’s discovery that many of the experiments are problematic makes it difficult to assess accurately the magnitude of effects of ocean acidification, and to combine results from individual experiments to build overall predictions for how the ecosystem as a whole will behave, he says.
Called the C-Enduro, the catamaran-style vehicle is autonomous and powered by onboard solar and wind power and a back-up diesel engine. Through a partnership between the National Oceanography Centre and the World Wildlife Fund, it will travel along the surface of the Celtic Deep, a deep area of the sea known for attracting marine predators like dolphins and sea birds that lies between Ireland and the UK. The vehicle will be using GoPro cameras, marine mammal acoustic detectors and a meteorological station to conduct research about that part of the ocean and its inhabitants. Other onboard sensors will help it to detect marine animals and gather information about the sea. The C-Enduro is capable of staying at sea for months at a time and will be minimally controlled by its maker ASV from its base in Portchester. The vehicle has a collision-avoidance system onboard to keep it from running into any other vessels and it also has a self-righting design in case it capsizes.
Energy Matters (not this one): The Solar Wind Energy Tower (SWET)
This tower of power could generate clean electricity in desert-type environments its creators says – a lot of it. SWET consists of a very tall hollow cylinder with a water injection system near the top and wind tunnels containing turbines near the bottom. Pumps deliver water to the Tower’s injection system and a fine mist is cast across the aperture. The mist evaporates and is absorbed by hot dry air; resulting in the air becoming cooler and heavier than the air outside. This denser air drops down the cylinder at speeds that can exceed 80km/h and is diverted to wind tunnels around the base. Turbines inside the tunnel power generators that produce electricity. The company behind SWET, Solar Wind Energy, Inc., says most of the water used can be reclaimed. So how does this technology stack up to solar PV or traditional wind power? It will come as no surprise the company says very well indeed. It says for a facility cranking 4,380,00 MWh annually, a site of 300 acres is needed; compared to 10,000 acres for solar and 100,000 acres for wind. In terms of cost, the SWET would be in the region of USD $1.5 billion compared to $5.3 and $5.7 billion for wind and solar respectively. The life of a SWET plant would be 50 years compared to 20 years for wind and 25 years for solar. Additionally, the company points out, the facility can generate power 24/7/365