The Saudis claim to be winning the oil war. Are they?
Saudi Arabia’s cash reserves are in free-fall and the country could have only five years of financial assets remaining due in large part to the fall in oil prices, according to a report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In its World Economic and Financial Surveys, released every October, the IMF said that the kingdom will suffer a negative 21.6 per cent “General Government Overall Fiscal Balance” in 2015 and a 19.4 per cent negative balance in 2016, a massive increase from only -3.4 per cent in 2014. Saudi Arabia currently has $654.5 billion in foreign reserves, but the cash is disappearing quickly. The Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency has withdrawn $70 billion in funds managed by overseas financial institutions, and has lost almost $73 billion since oil prices slumped, according to Al-Jazeera. Earlier this year the kingdom doled out a massive $32 billion spending spree distributed to the public, to celebrate the coronation of King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. In 2015 Saudi Arabia also bypassed Russia to take over the world’s third spot in military spending, with a defence budget of $80.8 billion. The country is now expected to run a deficit of more than 20 percent of GDP in 2015, according to the IMF.
Below the fold: North Sea in the red, billions in oil industry writedowns, Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions at record low, British steel in trouble, 24 US states sue the EPA, China chips into Hinkley, developed vs. developing countries at the Bonn climate talks, hurricane Patricia, the UK Climate Change Committee report, the first cancer case from Fukushima, Africa’s largest wind farm (with a 60% capacity factor), Einstein wrong, UK blackouts and Norwegian hybrid ships.
Guardian: North Sea tax revenues negative for the first time in sector’s history
North Sea tax receipts have plunged into the red for the first time in the sector’s history after the steep decline in global oil prices. HM Revenue and Customs figures show that offshore corporation tax receipts for April to September were only £203m, compared with a six-monthly peak of £3.3bn in 2011. The latest figures for the most important North Sea tax revenues – corporation tax and petroleum revenue tax – show the sector effectively cost the taxpayer £39m over the first six months of this financial year. Excluding other minor tax receipts, which will be calculated by the Treasury at the end of the financial year and may see a small overall surplus, the North Sea generated negative tax receipts from April to September after oil prices again crashed to as low as $43 (£28) a barrel. The new data has shattered the most recent official forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility, which had predicted in July the sector would generate £700m for the Treasury this year, and undermined even more optimistic predictions by the Scottish government.
The oil and gas industry’s earnings season is barely under way, and already there’s been $6.5 billion in writedowns. On Thursday, Freeport-McMoRan Inc. reported a $3.7 billion charge for the third quarter, while Southwestern Energy Co. — which has a market value of $4.5 billion — recorded $2.8 billion. And that’s just the beginning. Barclays Plc estimated in an Oct. 21 analysis that there could be $20 billion in charges among just six companies. Oil prices have tumbled 44 percent in the past year, and natural gas is down 35 percent, making the write-offs a foregone conclusion from an accounting standpoint. The companies use an accounting method that requires them to recognize a charge when estimates of future cash flow from their properties falls below what the companies spent buying and developing the acreage. The predictions of future cash flow have fallen along with prices.
Washington Times: Two dozen states challenge Obama Clean Power Act
A coalition of 24 states and a power company filed a lawsuit Friday challenging the Obama administration’s “Clean Power Plan,” calling it an unlawful federal bid to control state power grids. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on the same day that the Environmental Protection Agency published the plan, also known as the 111(d) rule, in the Federal Register. As part of the lawsuit, the states seek to place a hold on the “Clean Power Plan’s” deadlines for meeting its carbon emissions goals, which supporters have described as necessary to improve air quality but foes have criticized as arbitrary and unrealistically strict. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Friday that he and Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat, will file a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act in an effort to stop the agency’s rule against new coal-fired plants from taking effect. He said he plans to join another CRA effort spearheaded by Sens. Shelley Capito, West Virginia Republican, and Heidi Heitkamp, North Dakota Democrat, against the plan’s limits on existing coal-fired plants.
Financial Times: Dozens of companies sign Obama’s climate change pledge
Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, Nike and Ikea are among dozens of global companies that have signed a White House-sponsored pledge to take more aggressive action on climate change, as part of a broad push by President Barack Obama to corral corporate support for a global climate deal this year in Paris. The White House on Monday announced that 68 companies had joined the 13 original signatories to the “American Business Act on Climate Pledge”. Mr Obama later hosted the chief executives of five companies — Johnson & Johnson, Intel, Hershey’s, California-based utility PG&E and Berkshire Hathaway Energy — and some of their suppliers for a discussion about how companies can cut carbon emissions around the world.
Greenhouse gas emissions in Europe have plunged to the lowest level ever recorded after the EU’s member states reported an estimated 23% drop in emissions between 1990 and 2014. The bloc has now overshot its target for 2020 of cutting emissions by one-fifth – at the same time that its economy grew by 46%, according to the EU’s climate chief, Miguel Arias Canete. “We have shown consistently that climate protection and economic growth go hand-in-hand,” he said. “This is a strong signal ahead of the Paris climate conference.” (But) negotiators in Bonn are likely to note that the pace at which Europe is greening its economy is stalling, according to the European Environment Agency (EEA), which collated the report. It projects that on current trends, EU emissions cuts will slow to 24% in 2020 and 27% in 2030. This is substantially below a 40% emissions cut that EU states signed up to last October. Further measures planned by EU countries could add up to 3% to those figures, but new policies will also be needed before 2030, the report says. “To achieve our longer-term goals for 2030 and 2050, a fundamental change is needed in the way we produce and use energy in Europe,” said the EEA’s director Hans Bruyninckx.
Disputes over financing for poor nations hampered negotiations on Friday among almost 200 countries racing against the clock to seal an accord on combating global warming at a U.N. climate summit in Paris in December. Developing nations, which say their views are often ignored, said climate finance is the core issue, and all sides reported scant progress on the issue in Bonn. Poor nations want clear promises of rising contributions from industrialised nations beyond an existing goal of $100 billion by 2020, from public and private sources, to help them curb greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to changes such as floods and droughts. Rich nations led by the United States and the European Union want to make vaguer pledges beyond 2020 and for Paris to include new donors such as China, now outside the $100 billion plan, which last month pledged $3 billion for developing nations. “Developing countries need Paris to be a success. We have no other option. For developing countries, climate change is a matter of life and death,” said Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko, South Africa’s delegate, who speaks on behalf of more than 130 developing nations and China.
Financial Times: Mexico’s envoy tells Bonn delegates to “stop bickering”
Tense talks aimed at smoothing the way for a new global climate change accord ended on Friday with an emotional appeal from Mexico’s envoy for delegates to stop bickering as his country prepared to be struck by one of the strongest hurricanes on record. Struggling to hold back tears, Roberto Dondisch Glowinski told a meeting wracked by bitter squabbles that people were being evacuated ahead of the level-five Hurricane Patricia. “I don’t think I have to say more about the urgency of getting this deal done,” he said. “We ask you all to put aside your differences, come together so we can start working on this issue.”
By this time tomorrow, Mexico’s resort-speckled southwest coast will almost certainly have been thrashed by the strongest hurricane ever recorded. And the storm, unassumingly named Patricia, almost certainly owes its strength to a monster El Niño stacked atop climate change. “You can think of it like the ice skater analogy,” says James Kossin, atmospheric research scientist at the Space Science and Engineering Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “When the skater pulls their limbs in, they move faster and faster.” The storm’s size is due to its speed—conservation of momentum in action. And the storm’s speed is partly due to its energy, which it gets from favorable (if you’re a hurricane, that is) ocean conditions. “First of all, when you have an El Niño in place the surface waters are going to be very warm,” Kossin says. And this year’s El Niño—ranked as one of the strongest on record—is affecting waters that are already warmer, due to decades of climate change. “This is a fairly good example of what we expected to happen,” says Kossin. “The theory and models said one thing global warming would do is have the strongest storms get stronger.”
Guardian: China to take stake in Hinkley
China will take a one-third stake in a French-led project to build a new £24bn nuclear power station in the UK at Hinkley Point in Somerset, expected to be the most expensive ever built. The companies – France’s EDF and China General Nuclear Power Corporation – will be the only investors, having failed to attract others. The new completion date for the two reactors at Hinkley Point is 2025, eight years later than first suggested. The plant has been promised £92 per megawatt hour (MWh) for 35 years, double today’s average wholesale electricity price, with any shortfall being paid by consumers via household energy bills. Hinkley Point will also be backed by up to £17bn of UK government loan guarantees. The deal signed this week is also expected to mention Chinese involvement on additional nuclear plants at Sizewell in Suffolk and Bradwell in Essex. China hopes to build 110 nuclear power plants at home and wants to use its own designs at Bradwell as a showcase to help it sell its technology further afield.
Bloomberg: Cancer case linked to Fukushima
Japan’s health ministry confirmed for the first time that leukemia found in a worker at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi power plant is a result of the March 2011 atomic disaster. The male was in his 30s while working at the Fukushima facility north of Tokyo between October 2012 and December 2013, according to a statement from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. The worker received 15.7 millisieverts, or mSv, of radiation during his time at the Fukushima facility, while workers’ compensation insurance is awarded after receiving 5 mSv in a year, according to the ministry. So far, 13 workers at nuclear power facilities have received compensation for cancer due to radiation exposure. There is still debate, however, as to whether low doses of radiation, below a threshold of 100 mSv, has a direct link to leukemia.
Bloomberg: The UK Climate Change Committee’s report
The U.K. can cut three quarters of the carbon emissions it’s producing from making electricity without driving up bills too much by deploying more clean-energy technologies, the government’s climate change adviser said. Investments that are planned in the power industry in the next five years already are sufficient to reduce the so-called carbon intensity of electricity to 200-250 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour, from 450 grams today, the Committee on Climate Change said Thursday in an e-mailed report. Emissions below 100 grams are “an appropriate aim for 2030,” the committee said. Britain has already committed to cut its emissions in half from 1990 levels during its fourth carbon budget, running from 2023 through 2027. It’s aiming for an 80-percent cut by 2050. In the first half of the 2020s, onshore wind and ground-mounted solar panels will already represent “good value investments,” the panel said. Offshore wind, nuclear power and potentially coal plants equipped with carbon capture and storage units would become competitive in the second half of the decade, according to the committee. Low carbon forms of power would compete without subsidy if gas-fired power plants were required to pay the full cost their pollution and the cost of emitting carbon rises to 78 pounds a ton in 2030, the panel said.
Australian: Counting the cost of wind and solar
When considering climate change, most people think wind turbines and solar panels are a big part of the solution. But, during the next 25 years, the contribution of solar and wind power to resolving the problem will be trivial — and the cost will be enormous. Even in 2040, with all governments implementing all of their green promises, solar and wind will make up just 2.2 per cent of global energy. This is partly because wind and solar help to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions only from electricity generation, which accounts for 42 per cent of the total, but not from the energy used in industry, transport, buildings and agriculture. But the main reason wind and solar power cannot be a major solution to climate change stems from an almost insurmountable obstacle: we need power when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing. One reason is that cheaper wind in Germany and Britain is true only for new construction. Most existing coal and gas suppliers cost about half or less than wind and could run for decades; instead, we half-close them to accommodate wind. More important, wind is cheaper only when the wind blows.
Infinis Energy, the renewable power generator, is being taken back into private hands by Terra Firma after the fall in power prices and Government subsidy cuts saw its share price halve. Infinis is one of the UK’s largest renewable generators, with 121 landfill gas sites and 16 onshore wind farms. The offer, from Monterey, a Terra Firma subsidiary, values Infinis at £555m. Ian Marchant, Infinis chairman, attacked the Government over “ideological” policy changes that have hit the company’s revenues and stunted its growth prospects. But he admitted the biggest factor contributing to Infinis’s share price fall had been “a bad bet on the power prices”, which were “lower than anybody had expected”. Power prices are now about 30pc below the levels forecast at the time of Infinis’s IPO, due to the fall in gas prices and the effects of the proliferation of renewables, Mr Marchant said, directly affecting the company’s bottom line.
The UK will face rising global competition for energy investment beyond 2020 despite the raft of government measures designed to provide investor confidence, according to Scottish Power chief executive Neil Clitheroe. Scottish Power’s parent company Iberdrola has directed 40 per cent of its investment towards the UK through a current pipeline of projects including wind power generation and networks which will continue to the end of the decade, Clitheroe said. But he warned that questions remain over the UK’s ability to bring forward investment over the 2020-2025 period. “We take decisions at a country level,” Clitheroe told delegates of a London conference on Wednesday. “We go where the returns are strong, the demand is strong and the risks are lower.” Clitheroe praised the UK’s capacity mechanisms, saying that many European neighbours are crying out for the certainty provided by the Contracts for Difference (CfD) and Capacity Auction schemes. “[But] the key thing is to continue doing these things,” he said.
Utility Week: UK faces further GW capacity crunch in 2016
National Grid’s winter outlook last week confirmed concerns that the UK’s spare generating capacity would be just 2.1 per cent unless the operator secures a reserve supply of almost 2.5GW to guard against the heightened risk of blackouts. But analysts already forecasting demand for the winter of 2016 say the string of planned coal plant closures expected next spring will drive capacity as much as 10 per cent lower to negative margins unless action is taken. “National Grid is aware of this issue, as they have applied to Ofgem to extend the supplemental balancing reserve scheme beyond this winter, although the scale of the shortfall has not been publicly acknowledged yet,” said PA Consulting in an exclusive column for Utility Week. The UK’s generation fleet has steadily dwindled over recent years as older plants close to comply with environmental regulation and new investment has been slow to materialise. The heavy losses will more than offset the expected roll out of new investment in renewable energy and gas-fired power, PA Consulting said. And without National Grid’s emergency measures these coal plant closures expected in March 2016 would plunge the UK’s capacity margin to negative 5 per cent.
Power Engineering International: Renewables win out over coal in Q3
Energy data specialists EnAppSys has provided a dramatic snapshot of the UK’s power generation profile, demonstrating the downward spiralling fortunes of coal power and the ongoing rise in renewables penetration. The third quarter of 2015 saw energy generation output from Britain’s coal-fired power stations fall 54 per cent from the same period in 2012 as a result of lower gas prices and increased renewable generation. The period saw a 31 per cent increase in renewables generation from the same period in 2014, with an average daily output of around 6.5 GW, representing 20 per cent of total output. This growth in renewable generation has in part been driven by large increases in solar capacity. Developers have accelerated the building of solar farms to meet subsidy scheme deadlines. Britain has also seen higher than expected wind generation over the normally calmer summer months.
Telegraph: Scandalous incompetence as blackouts loom
New estimates by National Grid suggest that Britain is already perilously close to black and brown outs, and that’s before the big bulge in closures of ageing power stations really begins. The latest predictions point to a buffer between peak supply and demand this winter of a miserably shrunken 1.2 per cent, expanded to 5.1 per cent if the Grid takes emergency measures to depress demand. It may well have to, for it would only require a major outage for large areas of the country to lose power. In order to cope, businesses up and down the land are already being lined up – and paid – to unplug the mains and use their own generators instead, or otherwise reduce their demand. It’s an extraordinary situation for a major advanced economy to have got itself into, which has been decades of incompetence in the making. Successive governments have dithered, prevaricated and confused, constantly chopping and changing policy for often unfathomable political goals. The result is an investment strike which now threatens real damage to the economy and the Government’s credibility.
Energy company SSE has announced the re-opening of its 735MW gas-fired power station at Keadby in North Lincolnshire, from Monday 9th November. This follows announcements earlier this year of its intent for the plant to return to service. SSE has spent five months bringing the plant back into operation following its ‘deep mothballing’ in March 2013 due to adverse market conditions. The station’s return to service will provide an important contribution to maintaining security of supply this winter. In order to bring Keadby back into service, SSE has successfully applied to National Grid for Transmission Entry Capacity (TEC). The station will begin its return to service from 9th November, with full commercial availability expected by mid-December. Today’s announcement reflects the wider ‘coal to gas switch’ currently happening in the electricity market in response to changing policies and market conditions, enabling Keadby to help meet our national energy needs this winter and beyond.
The loss of so many jobs in the UK steel industry in such a short period of time is nothing short of a tragedy. But much of the finger-pointing that has accompanied news of the Redcar plant closure by SSI, lay-offs by Tata and Caparo falling into administration is misplaced. If it’s in the UK’s strategic interests to keep its steel industry alive, then the question becomes whether there’s the political appetite to do so. The main threats to the UK’s steel industry come from a strong pound (which makes British exports more expensive), a reduction in Chinese demand and hence an increase in global oversupply (which has resulted in prices halving over the past four years), and high energy costs. In reality, there is little that can be done about the first two. But British steelmakers pay nearly twice as much for their electricity as their German and French rivals, according to the industry. And that’s many multiples higher than in China, which is somewhat less concerned about how much carbon dioxide it produces, and the US, which enjoys an abundance of cheap shale gas. Dealing with this would require the UK government to row back on the green policies that slowly ratcheted up energy bills for British businesses.
Washington Post: Google to fund Africa’s biggest wind farm
Google has made a reputation for itself in recent years as a major investor in renewable energy. And this morning, the company announced its newest investment: a wind power project in Kenya that, when completed, will be the continent’s biggest wind farm. The Lake Turkana Wind Power Project, which broke ground in July, is expected to generate 1,400 gigawatt-hours of power per year, or 15 percent of the country’s electricity consumption, according to a fact sheet from Vestas, one of the project’s co-developers. The project will include 365 wind turbines, spread along the shore of Kenya’s Lake Turkana. Vestas, a global wind energy company, will be in charge of installing the turbines (likely early next year) and will also provide maintenance for the farm for 15 years. According to Vestas, the project will be one of the most efficient wind farms in the world, operating with a capacity factor of 60 percent, whereas many other wind farms have a capacity factor of less than 35 percent. Lake Turkana is an ideal location because the wind blows consistently, with speeds topping 24 mph, according to Vestas.
For nearly a century, scientists have struggled with the phenomenon of quantum entanglement, which appears to break the classical laws of physics. It seems to show that pairs of sub-atomic particles can be invisibly connected in a way that transcends time and space. Now, a groundbreaking experiment has provided the clearest proof yet that this quantum effect – which Albert Einstein famously dismissed as ‘spooky action at a distance’ – is in fact real. Quantum entanglement describes how the state of one sub-atomic particle can instantly influence the state of the other, no matter how far apart they are. This offended Einstein, since passing information between two points in space faster than the speed of light is supposed to be impossible. In 1964, the scientist John Stewart Bell devised an experiment designed to rule out hidden variables that could offer a non-weird explanation for ‘action at a distance’. But all the ‘Bell tests’ performed still contained ‘loopholes’ that, according to critics, could invalidate proof of entanglement. Now, writing in the journal Nature, scientists say two of the most important loopholes have been closed by a new version of the test. The Dutch team entangled electrons held in tiny diamond traps 0.8 miles (1.3km) apart on opposite sides of the campus at Delft University. They did this in such a way that there was no chance of them ‘secretly’ communicating. “The effect is instantaneous, even if the other electron is in a rocket at the other end of the galaxy.”
Maritime Executive: Norwegian shipping goes green
In a joint program with the Norwegian government, Oslo-based DNV GL recently launched the Green Coastal Shipping Programme which aims to create the most environmentally-friendly vessels in the world. The program is comprised of five pilot projects which chiefly use LNG and batteries as energy sources. “We envision a fleet of offshore vessels, tankers, cargo, container, bulk and passenger ships, ferries, fishing and aquacul-ture vessels, tugs and other coastal vessels, run entirely or partly using batteries, LNG or other green fuels,” said DNV GL’s Narve Mjøs, who is the program director for the Green Coastal Shipping Programme. Some of the technologies being employed to achieve this include electric heavy-duty vehicles and cranes. The green port will also be equipped with smart gates, offer cold ironing services and charging stations for plug-in hybrid ships.