Blowout week 88

In this week’s bumper-sized Blowout we await further developments on oil prices and OPEC and feature instead the future of renewable energy. We begin with the city of Peterborough, whose attempts to develop solar and wind power recently came to a grinding halt. Is Peterborough’s experience a sign of things to come elsewhere in the world?

Peterborough Council Leader Marco Cereste launches Peterborough’s solar panel scheme

Reuters:  Multi-million pound solar panel scheme for Peterborough faces uncertain future

A multi-million pound solar panel scheme for Peterborough has an uncertain future due to a government proposal to heavily reduce subsidies. The pioneering scheme to put solar panels on residents’ homes was expected to benefit property owners with around £200 of free energy every year and boost Peterborough City Council’s coffers by £1 million over 20 years. The scheme – the first of its kind in the country – was agreed by the council and Empower Community late last year and it was thought that eventually solar panels could be installed on the roof of every house in the city. However, the government has announced that it is looking to cut subsidies available for electricity generated from rooftop solar panels by nearly 90 per cent. The proposed cut is “far greater” than what the council expected and leaves it uncertain as to how its scheme will be impacted. A sharp reduction in government subsidies would be a further setback to the council after it was forced to scrap plans for three renewable energy parks harnessing wind and solar power on farmland. The projects were all finally shelved in the past year – despite the council having already spent more than £3 million on them – after the government announced that support for large scale solar projects would be scrapped.

Immediately below the fold we read that even Denmark is now planning to back off its commitment to renewables – followed by the usual eclectic mix of stories, including delays at Hinkley Point, farewell Eggborough, molten salt reactors, ENI’s gas discovery in Egypt, California divests from coal, Germany keeps it, the world still overheating, sea level rise to consume HUGE areas of the UK, Gazprom making deals, a breakthrough year for storage batteries, Britain wins CCS jackpot, Obama wants more icebreakers, another failed Met Office prediction and how climate change will kill more women than men.

Bloomberg:  Denmark’s Government Readies U-Turn on Ambitious Climate Targets

Denmark’s widening budget deficit is forcing its policy makers to take some hard decisions in the very area where they are considered global role models: the fight against climate change. Denmark’s Liberal government is to reverse ambitious CO2 emission targets introduced by the previous administration. It will also drop plans to phase out coal-fired power plants and become fossil-fuel free by 2050, according to leaked documents first reported by newspaper Information. The news about Denmark’s cost-cutting measures, which also include a reduction in green funding initiatives worth 340 million kroner ($51.5 million) through 2019, came on the same day on which U.S. President Barack Obama issued a global appeal for urgent action in the buildup to a United Nations summit in Paris in December. Danish Finance Minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen said growing pressure on the country’s public finances means the government needs to prioritize. “There are no areas” of the budget “that won’t be subject to a critical audit,” he told Bloomberg in an interview at his office in Copenhagen.

Reuters:  Finland to get less wind power as government overhauls subsidies

Finland’s government proposed setting a November 2017 deadline for granting subsidies to wind power plants as applications exceeded a previously set capacity limit. The decision, if approved by the parliament, would mean the end of the existing feed-in tariff system in Finland, and follows a decision by Britain to scrap all new subsidies for onshore wind from next April. “The present system can no longer be considered a sufficiently cost-effective and market-oriented incentive system,” Finland’s Ministry of Employment and Economy said in a statement. The measure could save 70-80 million euros in 2020, it added. The centre-right government has proposed the deadline to apply for subsidies as it has already received more applications than the system can accept under the 2,000 MW cap set earlier. Plants with total 800 MW capacity have been already granted subsidies, while another 720 are likely to receive them and there are applications pending for another 1,100 MW. “The aim of the proposal is, in accordance with the Government programme, to reduce spending in the state budget on production subsidies for wind energy,” the ministry said.

Reuters:  Germany’s Gabriel says coal reserve plan compatible with EU rules

German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel has dismissed concerns that his plan to pay companies to shift power capacity to a coal-fired reserve from 2017 would breach EU rules on state aid. “I think that it is compatible with EU law,” Gabriel was quoted saying in an interview with the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung on Thursday. The plan has been clouded with uncertainty after legal experts at the German parliament concluded it could be seen as a subsidy that would need approval from Brussels. Under the plan, some 2.7 gigawatts of power generation from brown coal, equivalent to the output from five power plants, will be closed but retained as reserve power in the event of power shortages arising from Germany’s switch to renewable energy. Companies, including RWE, would receive money for making the capacity available. Gabriel told the paper the plan to compensate utilities for reserve power was a central plank of this switch, known as the Energiewende. “We are building a completely new electricity market, which makes the Energiewende irreversible. It is presumably the most important decision of this legislative period for energy policy,” he said.

BusinessGreen:  Drax and Infinis launch legal action against government over renewables tax shake-up

The government is facing legal action over its controversial shake-up of the UK’s renewable energy policies, after low carbon power generators Drax and Infinis Energy today confirmed they were initiating a judicial review relating to Chancellor George Osborne’s decision to extend the Climate Change Levy to renewable energy. In his summer budget, Osborne announced the exemption from the Climate Change Levy (CCL) offered to clean power supplies would be removed, effectively turning the policy into an energy tax. The move led to sharp falls in the share prices of many clean power generators, while biomass and coal giant Drax recently confirmed the move would cost the company £30m this year and £60m next year. A spokesman for Drax told BusinessGreen the company was not challenging the change to the tax itself, but would instead focus on the short notice period that gave companies little time to react. He added the two firms had taken expert legal advice and had been told they had a “strong foundation” for a case, on the grounds a 24 day notice period for such a significant change was “not fair and proportionate”. At this stage it is unclear whether the judicial review will be granted and if so what the likely outcome would be if the government lost. However, Drax and Infinis are said to be “hopeful” other clean power firms impacted by the tax change may yet join the case. A spokeswoman for the Treasury said the government would “robustly defend” against the challenge.

Politico:  Toothless targets in EU’s renewables project

The EU has pledged that 27 percent of its energy will come from renewables by 2030 — but now the fight is over how individual countries are supposed to pitch in to reach that goal, addressed in a draft proposal issued by Luxembourg this week. At issue is how much flexibility member states should have when drawing up their national climate and energy plans, which will be key in reaching the collective target, and how strong the European Commission’s role should be in monitoring progress. Some countries, especially the U.K. and central and eastern Europeans, want a soft, non-legislative approach which would not interfere with their right to decide their energy mix. In other words, it would allow the U.K. to continue building nuclear power plants and exploring for shale gas, while coal would continue to play an important part in Poland’s power generation. But other countries keener on slashing emissions and switching to solar and wind, like Germany, Denmark and Sweden, want a tougher system to ensure that everyone is doing their fair share. The worry is that while the EU may reach its promised target by 2030, it could do so thanks to expensive and painful steps by some countries, while others free-ride and do much less. The dispute — known as “governance” — goes to the heart of the division of powers between Brussels and member states.

Fortune:  Oil’s downward spiral is spooking renewable energy investors

For the first half of 2015, the renewable energy sector appeared unstoppable, as costs around the world plunged and installed capacity soared. Ahead of an international climate summit in Paris at the end of the year, rosy projections of solar and wind adoption inspired optimism that the world could replace fossil fuels with zero-carbon energy and prevent catastrophic climate change. Few paid attention to an ironic trend: the same investors holding oil and gas assets had also piled into an obscure but crucial class of renewable energy investment vehicles called “Yieldcos,” stocks for dividend investors that that have helped drive down the financing costs of clean energy. As it turned out, renewable energy prospects hitched to the conventional energy bandwagon hit a bump in the road. In June and July, the bottom fell out of the oil market (again); the Fed strongly hinted at interest rate increases; and a number of renewable energy firms sought large sums from public capital markets. Together, these three unrelated developments conspired to spook fossil fuel investors, who dumped renewable energy Yieldco shares and plunged prices into a vicious downward spiral. Now the stakes are high: if Yieldcos fail, renewable energy could lose access to public markets and the low cost of capital necessary to scale up wind and solar. To recover, Yieldcos may have to restructure, seek help from parent developer firms, and hope for constructive public policy to further de-risk renewable energy investments.

Solar Power Portal:  Davey slams George Osborne’s green cuts as ‘bonkers economics’

The economics behind George Osborne’s decision to make cuts to a series of green policies are “bonkers”, former energy and climate change secretary Ed Davey has told the Guardian. In his first interview since losing his seat at the election, Davey said he struggled to comprehend the logic behind cuts to energy efficiency programmes and renewable energy incentives. “What is frightening is that, despite all that success in low-carbon energy infrastructure, [Osborne] is prepared to send those disastrous signals. It was bad enough in the coalition when they were sending mixed signals but now there is no ‘mixed’ about it,” he told the paper. “This is another thing I don’t get about Osborne’s economics,” he said. “They are really bonkers. The vast majority of this investment is private sec-tor. Compare that with roads or railways or flood defences where it’s always the taxpayer. We battled every day. There were some Conservatives who were supportive like Greg Barker and Charles Hendry but they were a minority and the push was against the green agenda,” he added.

Politico:  Dutch government to appeal renewables ruling

The Dutch government said Tuesday it plans to appeal against a court decision which ordered it to slash emissions, arguing the verdict could set a precedent for courts to interfere with government policy. In a June 24 ruling, a court in The Hague ordered the government to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020, saying that the more modest 17 percent cuts that it was expected to achieve by that year were not enough to combat global warming. The danger for the government is that if the verdict stands then courts could end up tying its hands on a host of other issues. Despite the decision to appeal, the government will still go ahead and begin carrying out the court’s emissions mandate. The verdict followed a lawsuit brought by Urgenda, a Dutch foundation, along with 900 co-plaintiffs, who argued the government was shirking its duty to protect its citizens.

BBC:  Hinkley Point nuclear plant delayed, says EDF

EDF has admitted that the construction of Britain’s first new nuclear power plant in decades has been delayed. The French energy company said Hinkley Point C in Somerset will not start generating power in 2023 as planned. EDF says it will provide a revised timetable for the £24.5bn plant when it takes a final investment decision on the project. The delay to Hinkley Point delay is bad news for the government. The UK’s old coal-fired power plants will be forced to close before 2023 under EU air quality rules and the gap in generating capacity will have to be filled some other way. “Business and domestic consumers face the very real prospect of power cuts and the lights going out in the years to come, if the final investment decision on Hinkley Point is not made very soon,” said national officer Kevin Coyne. The news comes as a report for the OECD says that the UK’s projected nuclear costs are the highest in the world. The OECD report shows that the cost of a nuclear plant in Britain is projected to be almost three times higher than in China or South Korea. Costs of nuclear are hard to compare from one country to another, but the gulf between projected costs in China and the UK is indisputable. Some experts want the UK to take back the nuclear industry into a form of state ownership.

Guardian:  Eggborough to close

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has insisted there is no danger of the country’s lights going out after the Czech owners of one of Britain’s biggest power stations announced its closure. Officials tried to reassure businesses and the public after they learned they would lose the 2,000 megawatts from the Eggborough plant in North Yorkshire at a time when spare power capacity at peak times is set to reach zero. Eggborough’s owners, Energetický a Průmyslový Holding (EPH), had previously said it would close in six months’ time. “This is obviously disappointing news for everyone connected with Eggborough, but people can be assured that energy security will be unaffected,” a DECC spokesman said. “The government takes security of supply very seriously and has worked with National Grid to put in place an effective plan which is flexible enough to adapt to individual plant closures,” he said. EPH said it was forced to act because the 51-year-old plant would need £200m of additional funding to keep firing for another three years. It said its application for government subsidies to keep Eggborough open had been turned down. Neil O’Hara, the plant’s chief executive, said he was saddened at the prospect of generation coming to an end. “Eggborough Power could have a significant part to play in ensuring security of supply in the UK electricity market, particularly while there remains great uncertainty around new-build gas-fired generation.”

Technology Review:  Meltdown-Proof Nuclear Reactors Get a Safety Check in Europe

For years nuclear scientists have talked about a revival of molten salt reactors, which are powered by a liquid fuel rather than solid fuel rods, that will help spark the long-awaited “nuclear renaissance.” Recent developments indicate that this alternative nuclear power technology is finally making gradual progress toward commercialization. A consortium of research institutes and universities working under the aegis of the European Commission, including the Technology University of Delft (TU Delft), in the Netherlands, France’s National Center for Scientific Research, and the Commission’s Joint Research Center, in Brussels, in August embarked on a four-year research program designed to demonstrate the safety benefits of molten salt reactors. Called “Safety Assessment of the Molten Salt Fast Reactor,” or Samofar, the effort will lead to the building of a prototype reactor in the early 2020s if all goes as planned. First built and tested in the 1960s, at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, molten salt reactors would be the first genuinely new technology for nuclear power generation to reach the market in the last three decades. Producing zero carbon, they use a radioactive solution that blends nuclear fuel with a liquid salt. They can run on uranium, but are also ideally suited for thorium, an alternative nuclear fuel that is cleaner, safer, and more abundant than uranium.

Reuters:  Japan nuclear power outlook bleak despite first reactor restart

The number of Japanese nuclear reactors likely to restart in the next few years has halved, hit by legal challenges and worries about meeting tougher safety standards imposed in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, a Reuters analysis shows. The country has been inching back to nuclear energy, turning on its first reactor in mid-August after a two-year blackout, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and many in industry looking to cut fuel bills despite widespread public opposition to atomic power. But the analysis shows that of the other 42 operable reactors remaining in the country, just seven are likely to be turned on in the next few years, down from the 14 predicted in a similar survey last year. The findings are based on reactor inspection data from industry watchdog the Nuclear Regulation Authority, court rulings and interviews with local authorities, utilities and energy experts. They also show that nine reactors are unlikely to ever restart and that the fate of the remaining 26 looks uncertain.

CNBC:  Eni ‘supergiant’ gas field discovery a gamechanger

Eni’s discovery of potentially the world’s largest natural-gas field off the Egyptian coast will be a gamechanger for Egypt and the Mediterranean in terms of energy stability, the CEO of the Italian energy giant told CNBC on Monday. On Sunday, Eni said in a press release that it had discovered a “supergiant” gas field that could hold “a potential of 30 trillion cubic feet of lean gas in place.” It said the discovery well was located off Egypt’s Mediterranean coastline at a depth of 1,450 metres with the prospective Zohr field covering an area of about 100 square kilometres (60 square miles). Eni said that the discovery could satisfy Egypt’s natural gas demand for “decades”. On Monday, Claudio Descalzi, CEO of Eni, told CNBC: “It is changing the game for Egypt…It is very important for Egypt, but also for the Mediterranean in terms of stability.” Descalzi could not give a timeline for when the gas might hit the market, but said developments would be quick as the gas field was in close proximity to Eni’s processing facilities.

Yahoo News:  Egypt gas find sparks panic in Israel about Israeli reserves

Egypt’s new natural gas bonanza is causing an uproar in Israel, with energy stocks plummeting and recriminations over indecisiveness and infighting that have delayed production from the country’s own gas fields. The government is currently struggling to get parliament to approve its natural gas business plan, but observers fear Israel may need to reassess everything now that Egypt, which had been cast as both an export destination and a partner, may have found its own independent solution. Israel’s offshore gas reserves had long been regarded as a future cash cow for the resource-poor country, and gas exporters in Egypt were expected to be the key customers of Israel’s yet untapped Leviathan field. But plans to develop Leviathan are suddenly up in the air after Italian energy company Eni SpA said Sunday it had found the “largest-ever” gas field in the Mediterranean Sea off Egypt’s shores. The field is located in shallower seas than Leviathan, likely making it easier for companies to extract, in a country with none of the regulatory chaos of Israel. “It adds a whole new layer of uncertainty to an already very messy situation,” said Gal Luft, an energy security expert and senior adviser to the United States Energy Security Council. “It essentially postpones any prospect for a deal.”

Marcellus News:  Gazprom seals big gas deals in Europe

Russia’s Gazprom has bolstered its industrial presence in the heart of Europe with two major gas deals that were announced on Friday despite ongoing tensions with Moscow over the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The first of the deals, an asset swap with German chemicals group BASF that gives Russia greater access to gas trading and storage in Germany, was a surprise as the companies had abandoned it only nine months ago, citing a “difficult political environment.” Pressed on what had changed since, BASF declined to respond directly. Its oil and gas production unit Wintershall, which will secure more stakes in Siberian gas fields under the swap, said only that it was convinced that Russian natural gas would help ensure energy security in Europe. The second deal would double the capacity of the Nord Stream pipeline to deliver gas to Europe through the Baltic Sea, bypassing Ukraine. The German government warned against interpreting the deals as a sign that relations with Russia were improving, saying there was no link with the Ukraine crisis or Western sanctions against Moscow. “These are company decisions that the German government has no influence over and does not try to influence,” Martin Schaefer, a spokesman at the foreign ministry.

Reuters:  Coal divestment bill passes California state legislature

A bill requiring California’s state pension funds Calpers and CalSTRS to sell their in-vestments in coal companies passed the Assembly on Wednesday, a major step for legislation that backers hope will inspire other funds to address climate change. The bill, which passed by a vote of 43 to 27, would require CalPers and CalSTRS – public employee pension funds that manage a combined $476 billion in assets – to liquidate holdings in companies that generate at least half of their revenue from coal mining by July 2017. “Coal is losing value quickly and investing in coal is a losing proposition for our retirees,” said Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León, the bill’s author. “It’s a nuisance to public health and it’s inconsistent with our values as a state on the forefront of efforts to address global climate change,” he said.

Telegraph:  Lucky Britain to win 21st century jackpot from carbon capture

Greater riches will accrue to those best able to capture carbon as it is burned, and are then able transport it through a network of pipelines and store it cheaply a mile or more underground. As it happens, Britain is perfectly placed to win the jackpot of the 21st century. Britain is poised to take the lead in Europe, approving two CCS projects later this year with a £1bn grant. One will be a retro-fit on SSE’s gas-fired plant at Peterhead in Scotland. The CO2 will be sent through the Golden Eye pipeline to storage sites in deep rock formations below the North Sea. The other will be Drax’s White Rose plant in Yorkshire, a purpose-built 448 MW “oxyfuel” plant for coal. With biomass, it promises negative carbon emissions. Bill Spence, the Shell executive leading the Peterhead project, said renewables have had a 20-year head-start over carbon capture but there will now be a “race down the cost-curve” as the UK’s subsidy regime levels the playing field. The take-off point will be around 2030. “We think costs will be significantly less than offshore wind,” he said. If so, it is far from clear why the UK should commit to any more nuclear power stations beyond the two hideously expensive plants being built at Hinkley Point.

Fortune:  This will be a breakout year for batteries

Batteries that let utilities, businesses, and solar panel owners store energy is a rapidly growing market. This year, there will be 220 megawatts of energy storage projects built across the country, according to a new report from research firm GTM Research. The vast majority of these projects will use batteries, and specifically low cost lithium-ion batteries. In short, this will likely be a breakout year for battery makers. In terms of power, 220 megawatts is not a whole lot. A large solar farm can generate hundreds of megawatts of energy while a large coal or natural gas plant can generate a thousand megawatts. But the quick growth, and the recent emergence, of the energy storage industry in the U.S. is really what matters. In the second quarter, the amount of energy storage projects installed was nine times higher than the amount built during the same time in 2014 and six times more than during the first quarter of 2015. Utilities are starting to buy big battery banks as a way to avoid building and operating new expensive natural gas plants. If they can use battery energy during peak grid times, instead of turning to this expensive so-called speaker power plants, they can save money in the long run. Solar companies are starting to pair batteries with solar panels as a way to store energy collected during daylight hours for use during the night. The solar and storage pairing can also make solar energy more competitive with fossil fuels, which can generate energy around the clock.

American Progress:  Climate Change Threatens Grid Reliability

The Midwest and Great Plains states are already facing many of these impacts of climate change. If left unchecked, climate change could stress the electricity grid in the Midwest and Great Plains by increasing the frequency and severity of extreme precipitation in some parts of the region and exacerbating drought in others. According to the National Climate Assessment, or NCA, heavy precipitation events will increase in intensity across the Midwest as global temperatures continue to rise. Recent history shows that extreme precipitation can damage coal-fired, nuclear, and hydroelectric power plants and cause power outages for businesses and residents. Droughts stress the electric grid in several ways. During times of drought, low reservoir levels mean that less water is available for power generation in hydroelectric plants. Thermoelectric and nuclear power plants also may struggle to obtain the volumes of water needed for cooling. As the climate continues to warm, Americans also will experience more frequent and intense heat waves, which will exacerbate droughts but also cause problems of their own. Heat waves increase demand for air conditioning during peak hours, which can strain the grid.

Deutsche Welle:  The world is still overheating

Four European research groups involved in a joint assessment said on Wednesday that emission cuts currently promised by nations for Paris were insufficient, and would still result in average warming of around 3 degrees Celsius by 2100, compared to pre-industrial levels. The UN’s stated target is to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius. To uphold that, overall emissions must be rapidly and jointly slashed, they insisted. So far, 56 governments have made pledges, known as Intended National Determined Contributions or INDCs. They are the focus of preparatory UN talks this week in Bonn to hone an 83-page text for the world body’s Paris summit in December. Those 56 nations account for about 70 percent of the world’s current emissions. The research groups looked at strategies outlined by 15 major countries for the period beyond 2020, using an assessment tool called the Climate Action Tracker (CAT). It lists seven nations as “inadequate” contributors in the attempt to limit warming: Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Russia. Six were rated for “medium” efforts, including top emitters, China, the European Union bloc, and the the United States. Only Ethiopia and Morocco were rated via the tracker method as making “sufficient” pledges to help restrain warming to 2 degrees.

PhysOrg:  1,800 years of global ocean cooling halted by global warming

Prior to the advent of human-caused global warming in the 19th century, the surface layer of Earth’s oceans had undergone 1,800 years of a steady cooling trend, according to a new study. During the latter half of this cooling period, the trend was most likely driven by large and frequent volcanic eruptions. An international team of researchers reported these findings in the August 17, 2015 issue of the journal Nature Geoscience. The study also indicates that the coolest temperatures occurred during the Little Ice Age—a period that spanned the 16th through 18th centuries and was known for cooler average temperatures over land. The concurrence of cooling events on both land and sea suggests that a global cooling phenomenon was erased by subsequent human-caused global warming. “Today, the Earth is warming about 20 times faster than it cooled during the past 1,800 years,” said Michael Evans, second author of the study and an associate professor in the University of Maryland’s Department of Geology and Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center (ESSIC). “This study truly highlights the profound effects we are having on our climate today.” The scientists are the first to combine 57 previously published marine surface temperature reconstructions that cover all of the world’s oceans, from near-polar to tropical regions. The team compiled the data within 200-year brackets to observe long-term trends, and then compared the findings to land-based reconstructions, which revealed similar cooling trends. “No matter how we divided the data set, the cooling trend stands out as a robust signal,” McGregor said.

Telegraph:  Soggy summer was impossible to predict, says Met Office

The Met Office has defended its forecast for a hot, dry summer despite some areas looking set to have the most rain since records began. As summer officially came to a close amid extreme downpours on Monday, the forecaster was left facing questions about why it predicted a ‘drier-than-average’ season even though a strong El Nino climate event was expected. Yet this weekend Met Office chief scientist Professor Dame Julia Slingo said that the El Nino phenomenon had disturbed weather patterns, which might have been predicted. “No-one can deny that we have had a pretty disappointing summer with a lot of unsettled weather and only a few warm spells, especially through July and August,” she said. “Looking back over past El Ninos, you could have expected that a more unsettled summer might be on the cards for the UK. Seasonal forecasts for this summer suggested that temperatures and rainfall would be near normal. However, as the season progressed all the leading models around the world failed to capture the signal for unsettled weather over the UK. We all know that forecasting months and seasons ahead is still in its infancy and much more research needs to be done.”

Express:  HUGE areas of British coast and HOMES may be lost as sea level rise accelerates

East Anglia, Kent and Essex, Yorkshire, south Wales and north-west Scotland would be worst affected. And scientists have warned there is little we can do to stop global seas ris-ing by an average of close to one metre by the end of the century. Nasa researchers have been studying the rate of sea level rise using data from satellites in space and concluded they are rising more quickly than previously expected. Their research showed global sea levels rose by an average of nearly eight centimetres (three inches) in the last 23 years, since 1992, because of warming waters and melting ice, and the rate of increase is expected to accelerate. 50 million people living within a metre of the sea across Asia could lose their homes, while low-lying land across Florida in the US (where Nasa is based) has been warned to expect catastrophic floods. And with its 7,700-mile coastline, the UK would also face serious problems.

AccuWeather:  Future Sea Level Rise May Not be as High as Assumed

Global sea level rise may not be as dire in the future as recent studies have shown. PhD students Matthew Winnick and Jeremy Caves at Stanford School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences looked into the distant past when climate conditions were similar to today and found that the global sea level might not have risen as much as previously thought, which could mean that sea level may not rise as fast in the future as predicted now. The students focused their attention on the middle Pliocene warm period (~ 3 million years ago) when atmospheric CO2 levels were close to what they are today. Also, during this period the continents were roughly where they are today, which means that ocean and climate circulation patterns are comparable, according to Winnick. The higher sea level estimates from previous research were determined because researchers assumed that the Antarctic ice of the Pliocene had the same isotopic composition as it has today. Winnick and Caves challenge that assumption in their report. Winnick and Caves recalculated the sea level rise of the Pliocene and found that it was 30 to 44 feet higher than today. Previous studies put that figure at 82 to 98 feet higher.

Christian Science Monitor:  Researchers concerned about ‘grey swan’ hurricanes

Unlike Black Swans, which are truly unpredictable events, grey swan (hurricanes) are highly unlikely but can be predicted with a degree of confidence. “We are considering extreme cases,” Ning Lin, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Princeton, said in a statement. “These are relevant for policy making and planning, especially for critical infrastructure and nuclear power plants.” Professor Lin teamed up with Kerry Emanuel, a professor of atmospheric science at MIT, to create computer models to examine potential storm hazards for three cities: Tampa; Cairns, Australia; and Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Their findings, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, show that powerful storms could generate devastating storm surges in all three cities. Professor Emanuel told The Washington Post that the purpose of the study was “to raise awareness of what a very low probability, very high impact hurricane event might look like.” But he and Lin both concede that such super storms are highly unlikely. Under current climate conditions, they have about a 1 in 10,000 chance of occurring in an average year. “With climate change, these probabilities can increase significantly,” they write in the paper.

CNN:  Melting Arctic ice means we need more icebreakers, says Obama

President Barack Obama on Tuesday will propose speeding up the timeline for purchasing and constructing new Coast Guard icebreakers in the Arctic, an area where the United States has fallen behind Russia in resources as the melting sea ice creates more opportunities for global commerce, tourism and scientific research. The United States, which once had seven icebreakers in its fleet, now has only two that are fully functional. This is compared to Russia, which has 40 icebreakers with 11 planned or under construction, according to a statement released by the White House. The President will call on Congress to approve funding for replacing a new heavy icebreaker by 2020, instead of 2022. Polar icebreakers are ships specifically designed to cut through open water ice and are in high demand as industries push closer to exploration of either of the earth’s poles, according to the Coast Guard.

Reuters:  Earth has 3 trillion trees but they’re falling at alarming rate

Earth is home to just over 3 trillion trees – the redwoods of California, the olive trees of Tunisia, the cherry trees of Japan, the eucalyptus of Australia and so many more – but they are being lost at an alarming rate because of human activities. Those are the findings of researchers who on Wednesday unveiled the most comprehensive assessment of global tree populations ever conducted, using data including satellite imagery and ground-based tree density estimates from more than 400,000 locations worldwide. The estimate of 3.04 trillion trees – an estimated 422 for every person – is about eight times higher than a previous estimate of 400 billion trees that was based on satellite imagery but less data from the ground. The new findings leave abundant reason for concern – with people at the root of the problem. The number of trees has fallen by about 46 percent since the start of human civilization and each year there is a gross loss of 15 billion trees and a net loss of 10 billion, said Yale University ecologist Thomas Crowther, who led the study published in the journal Nature. “There are currently fewer trees than at any point since the start of human civilization and this number is still falling at an alarming rate,” he said. “If anything, the scale of these numbers just highlights the need to step up our efforts if we are going to begin to repair some of these effects on a global scale.”

Vice News:  Climate change threatens women more than men

Particularly in developing countries, social structures that disadvantage women often put them at higher risks of harm and even death from climate change. For example, because women are frequently responsible for caring for children and the elderly, they’re often the last to leave when a disaster strikes. Women are also largely responsible for tasks that may become more difficult in a warmer world. In 63 percent of households in rural sub-Saharan Africa, for example, women must collect and carry the family’s water, according to a 2010 UN report. In only 11 percent of households does this job fall to men. Climate change, deforestation, and desertification are leading to declining water supplies, the report found, and that means women, and in some cases young girls, might need to spend more time finding water — time that could otherwise be spent on education or earning an income. “Climate change directly impacts the ability of women to achieve their own human rights and increases gender inequalities,” Eleanor Blomstrom, program director for the Women’s Environment and Development Organization, told VICE News.

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28 Responses to Blowout week 88

  1. Jeff Edzier says:

    1,800 years of global ocean cooling halted by global warming

    So global warming started in 1700? Why stop at 1900? Where’s the hockeystick?

    • They probably could have manufactured a hockey stick by splicing on the instrumental SST record after 1900. I guess we have to give them credit for not doing that.

      The plot actually doesn’t look all that different to other paleoclimate reconstructions that show the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age. But the spaghetti proxies it’s based on don’t exactly fill one with confidence. It would be interesting to see some error bars.

  2. Ken Gregory says:

    The CNBC story ” Eni ‘supergiant’ gas field discovery a gamechanger” has an obvious error:

    “the prospective Zohr field covering an area of about 100 square kilometres (60 square miles).”
    100 km^2 = 39 mile^2.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Right. Bat that’s not all that’s wrong:

      Eni’s discovery of potentially the world’s largest natural-gas field off the Egyptian coast will be a gamechanger for Egypt

      North Field in Qatar is the world’s largest with 896 TCF. Troll Field in the North Sea 59 TCF. Zohr an estimated 30 TCF. This is a great discovery to be sure and may help stabilise Egypt. Its way out in deep water on its own, and these things seldom occur alone. So expect more discoveries. But it may take 10 years before first gas. Three to four years of appraisal. Then a field development plan needs to be submitted and approved. And then a gigantic platform needs to be built and a pipeline to shore.

  3. Mike Mellor says:

    Trees: regrettably the Nature article is paywalled and the abstract doesn’t give us anything to sink our teeth into. As a sceptic’s sceptic I’m always looking for stuff that might change my mind about global warming and I would have liked to see where the tree losses are happening and why. The graphics on the Nature page only appear to show validations of model predictions. Fifteen billion trees is a lot, it’s two trees per human, and I’m at a loss to account for this. Surely the areas where this is happening should stick out like a dog’s tail? We know about forest clearances to grow palms for palm oil for biofuel, but that hardly scratches the surface. I’m guessing Africa and India, areas where wood is often the only source of energy. In South Africa we have reversed this through a massive electrification project over the last twenty years. I eagerly await deeper analysis of Thomas Crowther’s paper.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Google Earth is a good place to look. A while back I spent a bit of time looking around Brazil. Around the edge of the Amazon you’ll see civilisation encroaching, and I seem to recall VAST areas cleared in the west Amazon. Also in Nigeria you’ll see areas that were cleared being re-forested.

      I had / have a hunch that changing land surface changes radiative properties and potentially thermometer records – this has to be true. I personally believe deforestation and over-fishing are greater threats to our well being than CO2. S Africa and S Africans will be much better off cooking on coal electricity than wood. Much better to keep your forests. Also good for tourism.

      In Scotland, a lot of commercial forests planted 40 to 50 years ago are now being felled.

  4. JerryC says:

    Love the picture of the politician launching a solar panel scheme under grey English skies. I wonder if he’s ever noticed that it isn’t very sunny in Peterborough.

  5. Willem Post says:

    Regarding your upcoming post, I have added the following section to my article, which may be of use.

    Implications of Low ERoEI: Many RE aficionados make statements calling for 80%, 90%, or even 100% of ALL of our energy to be from renewable sources, not just electrical energy, but have little understanding regarding the implications. Here is an example of a big economic sector that, with help of various government subsidies, uses a very large input of fossil energy (high ERoEI) to produce a little bioenergy. Without the subsidies (that are made available by an economy that still has a high ERoEI), the sector would not exist, as its product likely would be too expensive.

    Example: The US ethanol industry supports over 380,000 jobs in all sectors of the economy. Ethanol production was 13.9 billion gal (= 1.061 quads) in 2013/14, which required 31 of the 90 million acres that were in corn, at 160 bushel/acre and 2.6 gal/bushel. On an ethanol equivalent basis, it took an energy investment EI = (13.9)/(1.2 – 1) = 69.50 b gal, plus biological energy input from the corn, to obtain an energy return ER = 1.2 x 69.50 = 83.40 b gal, for a net gain (ER – EI) = 13.9 b gal as bio-ethanol. Gasoline is 10% ethanol, 90% petroleum.

    How many people would be employed, if the above EI were 75% from low ERoEI sources, i.e., 75% of the corn to ethanol sector set up, operated and maintained with low ERoEI energy sources and 25% with higher ERoEI energy sources, to have gasoline that would be 100% ethanol, 0% petroleum? The US would not have enough farm acreage to grow corn and also not enough for other foods!!

    How many people would be employed, if 75% of all US PE were from low ERoEI sources, i.e., 75% of the US economy set up, operated and maintained with low ERoEI energy sources and 25% with higher ERoEI energy sources, to produce 100% of our goods and services? Would such an economy still be viable?

    Example: Typically, it takes about 1.2 – 1.5 years (depending on capacity factors, energy used during construction, etc.) to recover the EI that went into building, installing, and operation and maintenance of the wind turbines, and all the components, required for a complete, turnkey, multi-turbine, onshore, wind turbine plant, including connection to the HV grid. The energy should be measured from mine-mouth or well-head to the end of decommissioning of the wind turbine plant. Experience of the past 30 years indicates, wind turbine useful service lives average 15 – 25 years. Typically, they need major overhauls before their 25th year.

    What would be the ERoEI of wind energy, if 75% of the EI were from low ERoEI energy sources and 25% from higher ERoEI energy sources? Would wind energy still be viable?

    • gweberbv says:

      Bio-ethanol is a good example when low ERoEI kills you. Wind an PV are not. At least not, if ERoEI is your main issue. There is no principle limitation on how much wind or pv one can build. And a ERoEI of 10 does not look to bad for me. In particular when taking account that you can recycle significant parts of the installation. So the necessary EI of the ‘second generation’ will be lower.

      Big problem of RE is intermittency. Everything else is just a question of money.

      • Euan Mearns says:

        Everything else is just a question of money energy.

        Money and energy are the same thing at the end of the day.

        • gweberbv says:

          Euan Mearns,

          premier league is full of money, but seems to be depleeted of energy.

          • Euan Mearns says:

            So how much energy does it need to stage a Chelsea v Barcelona final in Munich? 60,000 fans all need to get there. And perhaps devote 2 days of their life to the event. So that is 120,000 Man days of energy use. And then millions of fans in pubs watching the event on screens. If energy became scarce, i.e. too expensive, it would eventually kill big soccer.

            I used to ask my students to come up with ideas of real GDP that did not consume energy. Perhaps the closest we got was JK Rowling. She has generated a huge amount of cash for very little energy expended. But a huge amount of energy is expended in consuming the product – millions of kids sitting up at night reading the books.

            But you are right to question the equivalence of energy and money. There are all sorts of distortions. But money saved is energy not spent. A pensioner off on vacation to Spain is expending energy earned decades before. An extension of this argument is the billionaires have done more than anyone else to conserve energy – they haven’t flushed their cash down the toilet. But they haven’t spent it either.

          • JerryC says:

            Well, yeah, but the money billionaires don’t spend isn’t sitting around in a Scrooge McDuck money swimming pool, it’s being invested in other endeavors that require energy.

      • Willem Post says:

        In case of ethanol from corn the obvious physical limitation is land.
        Where would we put all those wind turbines and solar panels for 75% of ALL of our energy from wind and solar?
        After you read my article, you will find the buffered ERoEIs of wind and solar, and an explanation.
        In most populated parts of the world, such as Germany, solar has a very low buffered ERoEI, and onshore wind is not much better, because of its low CF.
        Existing wind plants are built with high ERoEI energy sources. If they were built with low ERoEI energy sources, it likely would take 4 to 5 years to return the energy, instead of 1.2 to 1.5 years, which is a lot less attractive, and likely would make wind energy unfeasible.

        As I wrote, modern, high-level economies need an abundance of energy from high ERoEI sources, such as nuclear and hydro.

      • Willem Post says:

        Intermittency can be dealt with with energy storage systems. See my below comments to Euan.

        Money = Resources

      • Roberto says:

        “Bio-ethanol is a good example when low ERoEI kills you. Wind an PV are not. At least not, if ERoEI is your main issue.”

        Once one factors in the need for storage, wind and pv have buffered eroi too low to be sustainable, as well explained here:

  6. Syndroma says:

    Energetický a Průmyslový Holding (EPH) closes Eggborough coal power plant while planning to invest in two nuclear power units in Slovakia.

  7. Willem Post says:

    I added a paragraph after implications.

    Modern, high-level civilizations require an abundance of energy from high ERoEI energy sources. In 1800, the main energy source was biomass, i.e., wood, and the world’s economy was able to support about 1 billion people in a very basic lifestyle. Energy consumption per capita was ¼ of present energy consumption per capita. After 1800, the increased use of fossil fuels with high ERoEIs, enabled to world’s economy to support more than 7 billion people, with several billion with a modern high-level lifestyle. As fossil fuels deplete, an 80% to 100% move towards low ERoEI energy sources would be suicidal, as it would make it impossible to support the present population and their modern, high-level lifestyles.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Willem, it looks like we need some posts on ERoEI. ERoEI is an important attribute of energy production, but its only a part of the story. “Energy Quality” is equally important. For example, bio ethanol has ERoEI of 1 ± 0.5. It is therefore not a source of primary energy production but an energy conversion of fertilizer (nat gas) + solar energy to a storable liquid fuel that can power an automobile when we want to use it.

      This is similar to coal use in the OECD today. Very few use coal directly, but as secondary energy in the form of electricity. Take cheap coal with ERoEI of 50 and turn it into electricity the ERoEI may drop to 20 – that’s why it is so good.

      Wind and solar may at face value have high ERoEI, but they produce energy when nobody wants to use it. The ERoEI needs to be degraded for that. I’m inviting a guest post on this topic.

      A good analogy may be an atomic bomb. I’m sure it has monstrous ERoEI. But gives you an awful lot of energy not necessarily at a time that suits you.

      • Willem Post says:

        I agree. It is a much overlooked subject, up till now mostly analyzed by economists, not energy systems analysts.

        Regarding quality of energy, variability is burden on the rest of the system. The more of it, the more burden.

        How much will it cost to reinforce the rest of the system to deal with all variability in a reliable manner?

        With enough wind turbines, there always will be SOME energy, so intermittency reduces to near zero, but with solar panels, intermittency is a big deal, as the sun does not shine at night, i.e., expensive energy storage systems are needed.

        • With enough wind turbines, there always will be SOME energy, so intermittency reduces to near zero

          Sorry Willem, but I don’t think it does.

        • gweberbv says:


          you need a very, very big grid to average out local highs and lows in wind production. At least from Norway to Morocco and from Portugal to Ukraine. And even such a super grid would probably have fluctuations of +-50% in wind production if we stick to the current agenda that looks for high wind production but not stable wind production.

      • gweberbv says:

        Buffering is a non-issue as long as renewable production is usually lower than demand. Just ramp down your conventional plants and use your coal, oil and gas bunkers as ‘buffers’. Done.

        • Roberto says:

          In aa world of 100% renewables renewable production must be almost always close to demand if not higher, so buffering is mandatory.

          • gweberbv says:


            100% renewables will not happen, I fear.

            Could be possible with huge hydro installations that would be the biggest buildings on the planet.

  8. Charles Hall says:

    EROI musings

    Eaun sent me an email about the EROI of atomic bombs. I have no idea (probably huge), but the energy for infrastructural inputs (Oak Ridge, Hanford etc) were pretty large. The EROI of nuclear power has not been appropriately calculated for many decades (but see Lenzen). The old numbers were 5:1 with inputs and outputs measured in thermal units.

    To my knowledge I derived the concept of EROI in my doctoral work on migrating fish long ago, then applied the approach to oil and many other things, often originally with my then student Cutler Cleveland, who contributed much. The similar net energy concept had been around with my adviser HT Odum and others.

    I find EROI showing up more and more in the literature and the blogosphere, and am asked to review EROI scientific papers more or less weekly. Unfortunately there are may misconceptions, and too often the studies are done for advocacy, not objectively. In general it has been near impossible over the past 40 years to get adequate (or any) funding, and needed government sources are degrading with time as more and more analysis is turned over to mindless economics. We tried to generate a reasonable protocol in Murphy et al. 2011. We need a high level, objective, quantitative government institution/procedure for undertaking these studies….for example to try to understand what storage means to EROI.

    Unfortunately society needs not just a positive EROI but an EROI of ??? >10:1 for anything like what we are used to (see Lambert et al.) and as the threads above imply this may or may not be possible with fully accounted renewables. Pedro Prieto and I are very involved with trying to get accurate EROIs for PV in actual operating conditions — the results are much lower than theoretical.

    We will have a good place to publish these studies in the new Journal from Springer: BioPhysical Economics and Resource Quality soon to be officially launched.

    Hall, C.A.S. 1972. Migration and metabolism in a temperate stream ecosystem. Ecology 53 (4): 585-604. (Ph.D. Thesis, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 1970).

    Cleveland, C.J., R. Costanza, C.A.S. Hall and R. Kaufmann. 1984. Energy and the United States
    economy: a biophysical perspective. Science 225: 890-897.

    Hall, C.A.S., C.J. Cleveland and R. Kaufmann. 1986. Energy and Resource Quality: The ecology of
    the economic process. Wiley Interscience, NY. 577 pp.

    Murphy, D., Hall, C.A.S., Cleveland, C., P. O’Conner. 2011. Order from chaos: A Preliminary
    Protocol for Determining EROI for Fuels. Sustainability: Special Issue on EROI. 2011. Pages

    Hall, Charles A.S., Jessica G.Lambert, Stephen B. Balogh. 2014. EROI of different fuels
    and the implications for society Energy Policy Energy Policy. 64,: 141-151
    Lambert, Jessica, Charles A.S. Hall, Stephen Balogh, Ajay Gupta, Michelle Arnold 2014
    Energy, EROI and quality of life. Energy Policy Volume 64: 153-

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Charlie, thanks for comments and links. Good luck with the new journal. I am actually embarking upon a fund raising exercise that may include funding for ERoEI type research. At least you have had a job and salary all those years. I have now gone a decade without proper employment and that is becoming a problem now.

      I think ERoEI is of fundamental importance. But controllability and storability are perhaps equally so. I think it might be fun to work out the ERoEI of a nuclear bomb.

      Incidentally, the more recent numbers I’ve seen for nuclear power have ERoEI about 75. Someone posted links here a while back, maybe Roberto? Lenzen’s number of 5 has never made sense.

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