Blowout week 96

Previous Blowout articles have highlighted the nuclear power deals Russia is making with other countries. This week’s Blowout features an article that puts the full scope of these deals together. If the world ever does decide to “go nuclear” Russia will be in the box seat:

Global Risk Insights:  Russia is creating a global nuclear power empire

Russia’s under-the-radar ambition to become the global provider of nuclear power appears poised to be successful and — as was also the case in Ukraine — largely unchallenged by the few major players capable of insisting a different course. The strategy has thus far been relatively straightforward. Russia’s nuclear energy program dates back to the advent of nuclear power, and Russia’s state-owned nuclear vendor — Rosatom — is the only company in nuclear capable of offering the “industry’s entire range of products and services.” Over the past five years, Rosatom has quietly cornered the market in nuclear energy, systematically seeking out agreements and contracts with roughly 30 nations interested in the installation of nuclear power plants. Countries that have signed on to Rosatom nuclear agreements span across all regions of the world, and include strategically significant players such as Argentina, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. As of 2014, 29 Russian reactors are planned for construction abroad, and Rosatom predicts that the number will grow to around 80 within a “few years.” While other countries such as the United States and France have the nuclear know-how required to export nuclear technologies abroad, no entity outside of Russia has aggressively sought to capitalize on international demand for nuclear energy. The Russian dominance of global nuclear energy that has followed holds important geopolitical connotations in the medium-term and beyond.

Following up below the fold is an example of why the Russians have little to fear from western competition. The usual mix after that, including US shale oil gets a stay of execution, coal-to-liquids in Botswana, CSP in Morocco, wind in the Irish Sea, CO2 emissions to keep rising, dismal earnings from oil majors, Turkey sues Gazprom, China to build offshore nukes, German coal plants now “facilities of last resort”, UK electricity rates now the highest in Europe, another advance in battery technology, the ozone hole as big as ever, the 26-million-year mass extinction cycle and the US Department of Energy’s Halloween costumes.

The Verge:  US allows a new nuclear reactor to open for the first time in 20 years

Last week, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued the first new operating license for a nuclear power plant in more than 20 years. The license was given to the Tennessee Valley Authority for its Watts Bar Unit 2 reactor located in Spring City, Tennessee, which has been in development limbo for the past 40 years. Watts Bar Unit 2 has had the “longest construction history of any reactor in the world,” according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Construction first began on the reactor in 1972, but things came to a halt in 1985 when it was only 60 percent complete. TVA only started working on the site again in 2007. But after the Fukushima disaster in 2011, the agency had to comply with a new host of safety regulations, further delaying completion of the reactor. Watts Bar Unit 2 is the first reactor to meet the new Fukushima-related safety orders issued by the NRC. The total cost of completing Unit 2 and complying with these regulations is thought to be around $4.5 billion.

Oil & Gas Daily:  Day Of Reckoning For U.S. Shale Will Have To Wait

October has been billed as a pivotal month in which indebted shale companies would see their credit lines cut, precipitating a faster consolidation in the industry that would sow the seeds of a rebound. But banks appear to be taking a more lenient approach than expected. A new Jeffries report says that only $450 million in borrowing bases have been cut, across more than 20 companies. That amounts to just 2 percent of available credit lines, much lower than the 15 percent reduction expected by analysts. In other words, banks are allowing drillers to continue to borrow, which could delay the inevitable balancing needed in the market. That doesn’t necessarily mean that indebted shale companies can right the ship. It may just delay the adjustment for oil markets. “It looks generally to me like it’s sort of kick the can down the road approach that’s being taken at this point but that really just pushes the day of reckoning into sort of the first quarter of next year,” Dave Lesar, Halliburton Chairman and CEO, told investors on October 19 when reporting quarterly earnings. In fact, Jeffries sees the spring of 2016 as a more critical deadline for struggling drillers hoping to keep their credit lines open. “We think that banks are generally giving producers more time to improve financial health and that spring ’16 redeterminations could be much tougher without significant commodity price improvement,” said Jonathan Wolff, an analyst with Jeffries, according to SNL.

New York Times:  Chevron and Exxon Post Declining 3rd-Quarter Results

Exxon Mobil and Chevron reported plunging revenues and profits on Friday, but their fortunes would have been even worse had it not been for a boom in their refining and chemical businesses. Still, those gains were not enough to stanch further job losses at Chevron, which said it planned to cut up to 10 percent of its work force. Exxon Mobil, the largest American oil company, reported a profit for the third quarter of $4.2 billion compared with $8.1 billion a year earlier. The plunge came with a 37 percent drop in revenue, in large part because of a 3 percent decline in United States production, including a 9 percent drop in natural gas output. Chevron’s performance was even more disappointing, with net income of $2 billion compared with $5.6 billion last year, although it was the best quarter so far in what has been the toughest year for the American oil business in more than a decade.

Guardian:  BP warns of further job cuts as profits fall 40%

BP has warned of further job cuts as the company further slashed spending plans after a profit slump caused by the oil price collapse. Profit for the three months to the end of September fell 40% to $1.8bn (£1.2bn), down from $3bn in the same period last year, although the result was better than the $1.2bn analysts had forecast. The plunge in profits is a direct result of the collapse in oil prices, with North Sea Brent blend averaging about $50 a barrel in the last quarter, compared with $102 during the same period in 2014. BP and other oil companies have responded to the low oil price by slashing costs and spending on projects. The company will cut capital spending to as low as $17bn a year in the next two years, from about $19bn this year, down from an estimate of up to $26bn a year ago. The company also slashed non-investment costs by $3bn in the first nine months of the year and plans to cut a further $3bn in the next two years. It is on track to sell about $10bn of assets by the end of this year. Bob Dudley, BP’s chief executive, said spending cuts and further job reductions were needed to keep BP financially strong and support its dividend as he did not expect oil prices to exceed $60 a barrel for the next two years.

National Public Radio:  Shell Reports $7.4 Billion Loss, Blaming Low Oil And Gas Prices

After posting a gain of around $4 billion in the second quarter of 2015, Royal Dutch Shell says it lost more than $7.4 billion in the third quarter. Lower oil prices played a role, as did the costs Shell incurred when it shut down large-scale projects. Faced with crude oil prices that have now been slumping for more than a year, Shell and other oil big companies are restructuring their businesses and cutting costs. In the third quarter of 2014, Shell had reported a profit of $4.46 billion. But Shell’s earnings also fell year-to-year, from $5.8 billion in the third quarter of 2014 to $1.77 billion in 2015. The company blames about $1 billion of that fall on changes in currency exchange rates. Despite the loss, Shell announced a dividend of $0.47 per share.

Reuters:  OPEC October oil output falls led by Saudi Arabia, Iraq

OPEC oil output has fallen in October from the previous month, a Reuters survey found on Friday, as declines in top producers Saudi Arabia and Iraq outweighed higher supply from African members. OPEC supply has fallen in October to 31.64 million barrels per day (bpd) from a revised 31.76 million in September, according to the survey, based on shipping data and information from sources at oil companies, OPEC and consultants. Even so, OPEC has boosted production by almost 1.5 million bpd since the November 2014 switch to defending market share. Despite the decline this month, output is not far below July’s 31.88 million bpd, the highest since Reuters records began in 1997. The big-gest supply drop in October has come from Saudi Arabia, which trimmed output due to reduced use of crude in domestic power plants and refineries, sources in the survey said, despite higher exports. Saudi output, at 10.10 million bpd, remains not far below the rec-ord high of 10.56 million bpd it pumped in June. Exports from Iraq’s main outlet, its southern terminals, were higher for much of October – reaching a record 3.1 million bpd in the first 27 days of the month – but have slowed since as poor weather delayed cargoes, shipping data showed.

Reuters:  U.S. rig count falls for 9th straight week

U.S. energy firms cut oil rigs for a ninth week in a row this week, increasing the pace of reductions from recent weeks, data showed on Friday, a sign low prices continued to drive drillers away from the well pad. Drillers removed 16 oil rigs in the week ended Oct. 30, bringing the total rig count down to 578, the least since June 2010, oil services company Baker Hughes Inc said in its closely followed report. That is about a third of the 1,582 oil rigs operating in same week a year ago. Over the last nine weeks, drillers cut 97 oil rigs. Energy traders noted the rate of oil rig reductions over the prior few weeks – about seven on average – was much lower than the 19 rigs cut on average over the past year since the number of rigs peaked at 1,609 in October 2014, due in part to expectations of slightly higher prices in the future. The pace of those reductions, however, has picked up this week.

Washington Post:  Super-low natural gas prices reshaping the US power market

This week, U.S. natural gas prices plunged briefly below $ 2 per million Btu, lower than they have been since early 2012. It’s part of a long term price drop that is closely tied to the fracking and shale gas boom, but also more immediately to high levels of natural gas storage and warm weather. Meanwhile, Duke Energy, the nation’s single largest utility company by market capitalization, purchased Piedmont Natural Gas for $ 4.9 billion, paying a premium for the natural gas distributor. The two overlapping stories hint at one of the most important consequences of the natural gas glut — it’s already changing not only what we pay to heat our homes in winter but also how we get electricity across the board. Natural gas displaced coal as the largest source of electricity generation in the U.S. for two months so far this year — a landmark development that has been long forecast — and if prices like these continue, that could become a much more frequent occurrence. “Thirty percent of our coal plants’ cost is in transportation,” says Duke’s Thomas Williams.  He says that while the company used to generate about half of its electricity from coal and half from nuclear, the ratio now is getting closer to one third coal, one third gas, and one third nuclear.

Oil Price:  Botswana Project Could Signal A Turnaround For Coal

Project backers in Botswana said they will go ahead with a massive investment in coal-to-liquids operations, projecting a total budget of $4.2 billion for a coal-to-liquids plant capable of producing 20,000 barrels of petroleum fuel per day — along with a subsidiary facility to produce by-product fertilizer. And things now appear to moving fast with the project with developers Coal Petroleum (a private Botswana company) and South Africa investment firm Kumvest saying that construction will begin during 2016. It also provides a way to monetize Botswana’s massive — but stranded — coal reserves which have gone largely undeveloped because of the lack of transport infrastructure to major regional sales points in southern Africa. If coal-to-liquids technology can gain momentum and profile through megaprojects like the one in Botswana, it could become an option for re-developing the flagging coal sector globally.

Hellenic Shipping News:  China to cap coal consumption

China will enforce a strict limit on total coal consumption, and continue to cut production, said a senior energy official. Li Haofeng, deputy director of the coal office under the National Energy Administration, made the remarks at an international coal summit. He said that measures were needed to ensure the sustainable development of the coal industry. To this end, he said, China will promote the clean, efficient usage of coal by using some of the world’s most advanced process to support the industrial upgrade. The country will step up coal market reform, and strengthen cooperation between China and other countries with huge coal production and consumption. China will reduce the ratio of coal in primary energy consumption from 66 percent this year to around 50 percent by 2050, said the National Coal Association. In the first three quarters this year, China produced 2.72 billion tons of coal, down 4.62 percent year on year, according to data by China Coal Transportation and Sale Society.

World Nuclear News:  Lloyd’s Register to help China develop floating nuclear plant

Lloyd’s Register of the UK announced today it has signed a framework agreement with the Nuclear Power Institute of China (NPIC) to support the design and development of a floating nuclear power plant utilizing a small modular reactor (SMR). Under the frame-work agreement, Lloyd’s Register and NPIC – a subsidiary to China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) – will cooperate on the development of the “first-of-a-kind floating nuclear vessel” which will be used in Chinese waters to supply electrical power to offshore installations. A Lloyd’s Register spokesman confirmed to World Nuclear News that the floating nuclear power plant would be based on a marine version of CNNC’s ACP100 SMR design, known as the ACP100S. This 100 MWe design with passive safety features has been under development since 2010 and its preliminary design was completed in 2014. The ACP100 is an integrated pressurized water reactor in which the major components of its primary coolant circuit are installed within the reactor pressure vessel. It is a multi-purpose reactor designed for electricity production, heating, steam production or seawater desalination.

Bloomberg:  China Considering Wind, Solar Power Tariff Cuts

China is considering cutting the preferential rate it offers wind and solar power developers because the surcharges slapped onto electricity bills to pay for clean-energy subsidies aren’t high enough. The National Development and Reform Commission, China’s top economic planning agency, plans to cut the tariffs annually in the five years through 2020 to make electricity from clean sources more competitive compared with coal power, ac-cording to a document seen by Bloomberg. China proposes reducing tariffs for wind farms by as much as 5.8 percent in 2016 from current levels and by another 19 percent in 2020 from the 2016 tariff levels. Reductions for solar power projects will be as much as 5.6 percent in 2016 and another 15 percent in 2020, according to the document. The mismatch between surcharges and what the government pays out to developers of renewable projects is threatening the nation’s plans to use clean energy as part of efforts to combat climate change.

UK Government:  UK, China sign clean energy partnership

The Clean Energy Partnership establishes co-operation in research and industry while transitioning to a low carbon global economy. This will strengthen the UK’s position as the partner of choice for China in low carbon energy and will help to pave the way for ef-fective energy relations between the two countries. Both the UK and China are determined to find the right solutions to deliver clean, secure, and affordable energy for all. The agreement will support our efforts to tackle climate change and provide energy security for decades to come, helping to reduce energy bills for hardworking businesses and families as well as growing the low carbon economy. The UK companies in the low carbon sector will gain more opportunities to access the largest energy market in the world; enabling them to share expertise in technology and innovation to secure new business. It is expected to encourage more investment in clean technologies, which in turn could help to reduce their costs in both countries.

New Europe:  Turkey sues Gazprom over gas prices

Turkey’s state owned pipeline operator Botas announced it would take Russia’s Gazprom to international arbitration over a price discount it said it was promised on imports of Russian natural gas. Turkey announced a deal in February under which it was to receive a 10.25 % price discount on gas from Gazprom but a final deal has proved elusive and state-run Botas said it had appealed to the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). “Gazprom has failed to sign the amendments regarding the agreement on price discount between the two companies,” Botas said in a statement. Turkey imports 60 % of its gas and 35 % of its oil from Russia. Russians also make up a growing proportion of Turkey’s tourist traffic, key for financing the country’s current account deficit. But political relations have soured since Russia began air strikes in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad, whose removal from power has long been advocated by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. Gazprom said this month it had decided to halve the planned capacity of TurkStream to 32 billion cubic metres of gas per annum and delay its launch, in further evidence of strained relations.

Christian Science Monitor:  World’s largest offshore wind farm

The largest offshore wind farm in the world will soon grace the Irish Sea. DONG Energy announced it will build what they are calling the “Walney Extension Offshore Wind Farm,” which will produce 660 megawatts of electricity. In combination with its other sites, the company will be responsible for providing power to a whopping 12.5 million Europeans. The project is expected be be complete in 2018, at which point it will top the London Array, another DONG offshore wind farm, by 30 megawatts. The site will be located about 12 miles off the west coast of Britain, nearby other DONG projects. Two different turbines will be utilized: 47 Siemens 7-megawatt units and 40 8-megawatt turbines from MHI Vestas Offshore Wind. The power coming from these turbines will be set at a fixed price for consumers during the first 15 years. As Bloomberg reported, Britain’s ambitious emissions goals have been at odds with its recent cuts to renewable energy, but offshore wind has been largely reprieved.

Ecowatch:  Statoil delays production at Mariner oil field

North Sea oil firm Statoil has announced it is delaying the start-up of the massive Mariner oil field. The Norwegian company has postponed production by a year, to the second half of 2018. It blamed delays at its construction yards in South Korea, adding that the move was not linked to the current North Sea downturn. The Mariner field lies about 93 miles (150km) east of Shetland. According to Statoil, Mariner is the largest field development on the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) in more than a decade, and will be in production for at least 30 years. Statoil said the delay in starting production would not impact on jobs – although some recruitment for the £4.6bn ($7bn) project will now be staggered. The firm insisted it was still “fully committed” to the North Sea.

Telegraph:  Engineers urge SNP to drop ‘irrational’ energy policy

Scotland will have to start importing electricity to keep the lights on unless the SNP changes its “irrational” energy policy, the country’s civil engineers have warned. In a damning verdict on the Scottish Government, the Institution of Civil Engineers Scotland said the debate on energy had to move beyond an “ill-informed discourse” to a more evidence-led approach. With 55 per cent of Scotland’s electricity generating capacity being closed down over the next eight years, it said the SNP had to set out a “clearly articulated vision for the future” on how this will be replaced. If this doesn’t happen, it warned, Scotland “will transition from being a net exporter to being a net importer of electricity” in the wake of the closure of the Longannet coal-fired power station in Fife next year and the Hunterston and Torness nuclear plants. Professor Gary Pender, the chair of the institution’s Scottish committee, said the debate over wind and nuclear power and onshore gas extraction had produced “particularly emotional and politically motivated responses.” Although energy policy is reserved to Westminster, SNP ministers have used their control of the planning system to block the construction of a new generation of nuclear plants and encourage the construction of hundreds of wind turbines that produce intermittent power.

Guardian:  Hinkley Point C will cost customers at least £4.4bn

The UK’s first new nuclear power station for a generation will cost electricity customers at least £4.4bn and the subsidy bill could reach £20bn, the government has revealed. The charges, which will be passed on to nearly 30 million customers, are a result of ministers’ decision to guarantee the new Hinkley Point C operators £92.50 for every unit of electricity – more than double the current market price. It comes less than a week after the government admitted the £24bn plant in Somerset will be subsidised – something it denied throughout the last parliament. Details of the costs – an average of about £150 to £660 per customer over the 35 years of the deal – are exposed in a document quietly put before parliament last week and which has only just come to light. It also reveals that taxpayers would have to pay up to £22bn compensation to the owners, French energy giant EDF and the Chinese government, if the UK government or the European Union do something that forces the plant to close early.

Telegraph:  PM promises fast action on steelmakers’ power bills

The Prime Minister has promised to reduce the high energy costs faced by Britain’s beleaguered steel industry. Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, David Cameron said he was seeking European Commission approval to refund the green levies that steel makers pay through their energy bills. British steelmakers have the highest energy costs in Europe as competitors across the Channel do not have to pay the green levies that make up a large proportion of UK energy bills. High energy costs are one of the factors that have contributed to a crisis in the steel industry. Ove the past few months, more than 4,000 jobs have been lost at Tata and SSI. Another 1,700 jobs are on the line after Caparo Industries went into administration earlier this month. The industry has been campaigning for relief on energy costs for over a year. However, the Government must get the green light from the EU to implement the so-called “energy intensive industries compensation package” as it could be classified as state aid.

Utility Week:  Market rigging concerns surface as winter supply crunch looms

Wholesale power prices typically spike in the event of a capacity crunch. But behind closed doors at an industry seminar this month concerns were raised that generators may be able to exploit this shortfall by demanding dramatically higher National Grid payment before the reserve capacity can be used. National Grid has removed three power plants from the market this winter to form a backup reserve to prevent blackouts. But the operator can only call on these units after all available plants in the market have been ramped up. This means the final market plant could name a price well above its costs with the guarantee that National Grid will have to accept the offer before it can draw on the supplemental balancing reserve (SBR). A similar phenomenon was seen in 2008 when Ofgem was forced to put in place rules to prevent generators ‘gaming’ the market at times of physical transmission constraint between Scotland and England.

Telegraph:  British energy firms charge most for electricity in Europe

Domestic electricity prices are now the highest in the Europe and 52pc more than median prices in the Continent, surpassing both Ireland and Spain for the first time, according to official figures. Experts blame ineffective competition between suppliers and warn that expensive energy projects, including the proposed “Hinkley C” nuclear reactor, could further drive up energy costs at home. The typical British household pays 14.8p for every unit of electricity or “kilowatt hour” (kWh) they use, before taxes are taken into account, according to analysis by the Department for Energy & Climate Change (Decc). By contrast, the pre-tax price in Denmark is just 9.35p/kWh and 5.75p/kWh in Bulgaria, according to the data collected from Eurostat.

Telegraph:  Cold winter could see UK power prices double

A prolonged cold snap could see electricity prices double this winter, forcing industries to ration their usage, the boss of one of the UK’s largest renewable energy firms has warned. Britain’s “very tight capacity margin” meant there is a “very realistic possibility” of power prices spiking if there is an unusually cold winter, said Ian Marchant, chairman of Infinis Energy. Mr Marchant said the “bearish” outlook for oil and gas prices and the growth of renewables meant power prices were forecast to stay low for the next two years or so. But he said: “There’s one thing that could push them up, which is the very tight capacity margin. And if we get a cold winter, we will see a spike in power prices.” National Grid last week confirmed that Britain faced the worst power crunch in a decade this winter as old coal power stations close.

Guardian:  Renewable energy and the politics of subsidies

According to the IMF, the UK will spend approximately £26bn on fossil fuel subsidies this year, factoring in new World Health Organisation estimates on harm to health from pollution exposure. By comparison, Department of Energy and Climate Change figures show the cost of supporting renewables in 2014-15 was £3.5bn, expected to rise to £4.3bn in 2015-16. Put another way, every UK citizen pays £412 in fossil fuel subsidies, and just £55 for renewables. How are we ever to wean ourselves off fossil fuels when government policy is so skewed in their favour?

Independent:  Cambridge chemists make break-through with “ultimate” battery

A research paper published in the journal Science details how the team at Cambridge University overcome obstacles in the development of lithium-air batteries. The batteries, touted as the “ultimate battery” theoretically have the ability to store ten times more energy than lithium-ion batteries. But until now, unwanted chemical reactions and problems with efficiency associated with lithium-air batteries have plagued efforts by scientists to develop them. The researchers at Cambridge are claiming to have solved a number of the issues and if the team’s laboratory experiment can be turned into a commercial product it will enable a car, on a single charge, to drive from London to Edinburgh. But the report’s authors do warn that a practical lithium-air battery still remains at least a decade away – there are several practical challenges that need the batteries become a viable alternative to gasoline.

Washington Post:  Nations’ climate pledges will still leave emissions rising for years, U.N. says

The United Nations has released a “synthesis” report assessing all of the emissions cutting pledges made by countries in advance of the (Paris) meeting. And the upshot is both that countries have raised their climate ambitions greatly, but also that even by 2025 or 2030, global emissions are expected to still be rising despite their best efforts. One hundred forty-six countries made pledges by Oct. 1 of this year, accounting for 86 percent of all of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. These pledges, or “INDCs” (intended nationally determined contributions), have been a major factor in raising hopes that Paris will succeed where Copenhagen failed in 2009. However, the United Nations’ assessment is sobering. If all of the INDCs are implemented, then global emissions will stand at roughly 55 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalents annually by 2025, and 57 gigatons by 2030, the report states. That’s an increase from current levels of about 48 gigatons in 2010.This finding also has major implications for the so-called carbon budget. As of 2011, the world only had about 1,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide left to emit in order to ensure a two-thirds or better chance of avoiding 2 degrees Celsius of warming, according to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The pledges have the potential to hold warming to 2.7 degrees Celsius, perhaps, but not 2 degrees without further steps, the United Nations said.

Australian Financial Review:  Turnbull rejects coal ban as chief scientist talks zero emissions

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has rejected calls for a moratorium on coal exports as he announced the appointment of a chief scientist who says his vision is for zero emissions electricity generation with no use for coal, oil or natural gas but which may embrace nuclear power “No I don’t agree with a moratorium on the idea of exploiting coal”, Mr Turnbull said on Tuesday. “If Australia were to stop all of its coal exports it would not not reduce global emissions one iota. In fact, arguably it would increase them because our coal, by and large, is cleaner than the coal in many other countries.” His comments came as he announced the appointment of Alan Finkel as the new Chief Scientist. Asked how he believed climate change fitted in to Australia’s future, Dr Finkel said “my vision is for a country, society, a world where we don’t use any coal, oil natural gas because we have zero emissions electricity in huge abundance and we use that for transport, for heating and all the things we ordinarily use electricity for”. Asked whether achieving this change in energy mix might include nuclear power, Dr Finkel said: “I think it’s not unreasonable to look at all viable alternatives”.

International Business Times:  2015 ozone hole fourth largest on record

The hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica has expanded to near-record levels, scientists from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said Thursday. Compared to the 1991-2014 period, the ozone hole’s average area this year was the fourth largest. Observations show that the hole — formed as a result of depletion of the crucial, radiation-shielding ozone layer — was spread across an area of 10.9 million square miles — covering a region larger than the continent of North America — on Oct. 2. In comparison, the hole peaked at 9.3 million square miles last year. While the large size of this year’s ozone hole is likely to result in an increase in the amount of harmful ultraviolet rays striking the Earth’s surface — particularly in Antarctica and the Southern Hemisphere — in the coming months, it does not reverse estimates of the projected long-term recovery in the coming decades, the World Meteorological Organization said, in a statement. Current estimates project a substantial recovery of the ozone layer over the Antarctic by around 2070.

PhysOrg:  Scientists find link between comet and asteroid showers and mass extinctions

For more than 30 years, scientists have argued about a controversial hypothesis relating to periodic mass extinctions and impact craters—caused by comet and asteroid showers—on Earth. In their MNRAS paper, Michael Rampino, a New York University geologist, and Ken Caldeira, a scientist in the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology, offer new support linking the age of these craters with recurring mass extinctions of life, including the demise of dinosaurs. Specifically, they show a cyclical pattern over the studied period, with both impact craters and extinction events taking place every 26 million years. This cycle has been linked to periodic motion of the sun and planets through the dense mid-plane of our galaxy. To test their hypothesis, Rampino and Caldeira performed time-series analyses of impacts and extinctions using newly available data offering more accurate age estimates. “The correlation between the formation of these impacts and extinction events over the past 260 million years is striking and suggests a cause-and-effect relationship,” says Rampino. Specifically, he and Caldeira found that six mass extinctions of life during the studied period correlate with times of enhanced impact cratering on Earth. One of the craters considered in the study is the large (180 km diameter) Chicxulub impact structure in the Yucatan, which dates at about 65 million years ago—the time of a great mass extinction that included the dinosaurs.

US Department of Energy:  Renewable Energy Halloween Costumes

SOLAR PANEL: Halloween may be dark and spooky, but you can bring some (renewable) energy to the party as a sleek, shiny photovoltaic solar panel. BONUS: Have a friend dress up as the Sun and spend the night basking in his or her glow. WIND TURBINE: Afraid to wear white after Labor Day? Don’t worry — clean energy never goes out of style. You won’t produce electricity, but at least you’ll generate conversations wherever you go, so why not impress your friends with the fact that U.S. wind energy prices reached all-time lows in 2014, or that wind could provide up to 35% of the nation’s power by 2050? BONUS: Add inflatable ankle floats or an inner tube to take your turbine offshore! ENERGY VAMPIRE: You are a creature of the night. You lurk in the shadows, draining the power of the unwary. No energy bill is safe! Far scarier than the stuff of Dracula or Twilight, energy vampires are home appliances and electronic devices that suck electricity even when they aren’t in use. This Halloween, unplug all the unused phone chargers in your house and attach them to yourself for a costume that will fill your friends with terror while saving you money.

DOE’s Renewable energy Halloween costumes. From left to right. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, solar panels, energy vampire, particle accelerator, wind turbine.

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44 Responses to Blowout week 96

  1. PhilH says:

    The most startling news of the week, if not the year, for me, which didn’t make it to the selection above, was:
    reporting the results of Chile’s latest (unsubsidised) electricity supply auction, in which all the winning bids were wind and solar, with an average price 25% less than a similar auction round just last year. Most amazing was that solar was the winner, ie the cheapest, for the night-time supply – yes, you read that right.

    The next electricity supply auction in Chile will be in April and will be much larger. It will be interesting to see if there will be enough wind & solar schemes to provide it all, as well as how much cheaper yet they will be.

    • After taking a look at this I remain unstartled. These auctions cover only 1.2TWh of annual generation, amounting to less than 2% of Chile’s ~70TWh annual consumption, and if solar isn’t economic in the Atacama Desert there’s no hope for it.

      • PhilH says:

        The relatively small size is why I was waiting for the next round, to cover ~10% of the national supply, before getting too amazed.

        My understanding is that while some of this power is for the northern grid which includes the Atacama region, much is for the main, central grid, which doesn’t.

      • roberto says:

        … and one important thing not to forget is that this is so only because the Chilean electricity authority (or whatever its name is) has decided a derogation of this kind of contracts towards assuring a 24h coverage of demand… obviously not even in the Atacama desert would PV be competitive with other sources were storage costs included.

        • Rik says:

          Zero-ing out the cost of storage is not as unreasonable as it appears because storage is an infrastructure cost. It enables a cheaper, more efficient and more reliable grid.

  2. garethbeer says:

    Oh God Phil H, have I had one too many sherry’s!

  3. Willem Post says:


    Regarding Russian Nuclear:


    Russian has sold a large number of nuclear reactors to various nations during the last half of 2014 and the first half of 2015, which indicates Russia is doing business as usual, despite sanctions. Is this how “isolating Russia” is meant to work?

    Country………. Qty………Capacity, MW……..Cap. Cost, $billion
    South Africa….….8…………..1200………..……50
    Saudi Arabia……16………….1200…………….100
    Argentina………MOA signed
    Indonesia………MOA signed

    These are orders Russia has contracts for. There is nothing theoretical about them. The rest of the world (not Europe, not Japan, not the US) is busy placing orders, designing, building and commissioning reactors. It is true, more capacity, MW, was shut down than was commissioned last year, but, as Russia’s order book shows, that trend may reverse itself over the next few years.

    US, Europe and Japan in a Nuclear Coma: While the US, Europe and Japan are in a self-induced nuclear coma, Russia and China will take advantage and supply reactors to the rest of the world. In case of Russia, at the 2015 Atomexpo, it was announced, at the start of 2015, Rosatom’s foreign portfolio totaled $101.4 b, of which $66 b was reactors, $21.8 b was contracted sales of EUP and SWU, and $13.6 b was sales of fabricated fuel assemblies and uranium. In September 2015, it was announced, the Rosatom foreign portfolio had increased to about $300 billion, including projects for 30 reactors in 12 countries!–Nuclear-Power/

    • Willem: Thanks for the numbers. When I add them up I get 70.6GW of installed nuclear capacity at a cost of $336 billion, which works out to $4,750/kW. Russian nukes are clearly a lot cheaper than French nukes.

      China is the odd man out at $10,000/kW installed. Are the numbers for China correct?

      • Willem Post says:

        Your China number looks high to me

        • It’s your number Willem. Twice what Jordan is paying for the same capacity.

          • Willem Post says:


            I’ll look into it. The usual number is about $5,000,000/MW

          • Willem Post says:


            The IEA-NEA Nuclear Energy Roadmap 2015 estimates China’s average overnight costs of approximately USD 3,500/kW are more than a third less than that in the EU of USD 5,500/kW.

            Costs in the US are about 10% lower than the EU, but still 30% higher than in China and India, and 25% above South Korea.

            In its main scenario, 2050 assumptions for overnight costs of nuclear in the United States and European Union are estimated to decline somewhat, reaching levels closer to those in the Republic of Korea, while costs in Asia are assumed to remain flat.

        • roberto says:

          China’s nuclear costs are a fraction of any other country’s.
          China’s EPR, the first of 2 will come on line next year, will cost between 5 and 6 billions (Euros-equivalent).
          Clearly they can do it because they apply to nuclear sites’ construction the same method applied to build this…

          … 19 days for a 57 storey bldg, finished!

          They work day and night, relentlessly, in areas which have climatic conditions way better than Finland’s or northern France, so I am not surprised at all about (at least part of) the delays at the European site.
          Talking about French-built reactor costs, AREVA does not only have the EPR on its catalog… they can also build cheaper, smaller, faster-to-build models…

          • Leo Smith says:

            Its not the work rate that reduces the cost,its the freedom from unnecessary bureaucratic regulatory burdens.

            You can build a reactor physically in about 2-3 years for a cost of around $2000 per kW.

            ALL the rest is in the delays and the expensive manpower deployed to meet regulations which result in delay upon delay and more weight of paperwork than the reactor would consume in uranium in its entire lifetime..;-)

      • Leo Smith says:

        China has a couple of Areva EPWR reactors in build. These are always expensive

    • Gavin Doyle says:

      Those figures look like a thumb-suck to me. Most estimates for the South African build for example (6 reactors, not 8), come in at close to 100 $billion excluding the cost of corruption and delays. And anyone with the capacity to do the simplest of arithmetic will tell you that South African’s simply cannot afford it. But nonetheless, for the sake of the kickbacks, the build will probably go ahead.

      • roberto says:

        “And anyone with the capacity to do the simplest of arithmetic will tell you that South African’s simply cannot afford it. ”

        Maybe you are right… but physics and technology tell us that if they can’t afford it via nuclear they won’t be able to afford it using intermittent renewables… which, by the way, are never a source of kickbacks and corrumption, right? 🙂

        • Gavin Doyle says:

          You’re assuming that I’m “one of those”. I’m not. I’m completely in favour of nuclear, but not for countries that can’t afford it. South Africa has abundant coal, which is really the only base-load solution for the country, but it also abounds with corrupt officials who will opt for the most expensive solution simply as a means of extracting maximum backhanders. I don’t think this is unique to South Africa either. The deals are complex and opaque.

          • Leo Smith says:

            There is some truth in that, but S Africa already has reactors, and it also has IIRC uranium.

            And it is not a poor country..

          • Euan Mearns says:

            S Africa is incredibly rich in natural resources with coal, gold, diamonds, platinum and uranium resources. If it is choosing to go nuclear as opposed to coal baseload that must be down to international pressure to reduce emissions. Unless it hopes to export its coal as the Gulf states hope to export more oil by using nuclear in power generation.

          • roberto says:

            I have assumed nothing!… I have simply stated what I think about what you wrote.

            Not only nuclear and renewables, but also coal can get kickbacks and corruption, is that even? 🙂

            As others have stated here below, SA already has reactors, so I don’t see any problem with having more reactors… considering the incredible and rising damage made to the environment and human health by SA’s rural population burning wood to cook indoor… I’d rather see them using electric ovens.

          • oldfossil says:

            South Africa (I’m a Saffer myself) has a huge under-capacity problem. Up to a few months ago we were accustomed to two or more power cuts a week, for four hours a time. This is called load-shedding. A couple of large solar projects came on line recently and that seems to have fixed it. Never mind the cost, business can’t operate without electricity.

            One of my clients was about to buy a 500kva Cummins backup generator then cancelled the order when the load-shedding stopped. Pity because I would have got a commission out of it. I don’t know whether to bless or curse Eskom.

          • Euan Mearns says:

            Tell more with technical details please about SA power supply and how solar fixed a peaking problem.

    • A C Osborn says:

      Iran, 9 Nuclear Reactors.
      I know that Obama has negotiated a removal of the Nuclear Ban on Iran, but this suggests that Russia was ignoring it anyway.

  4. RDG says:

    Russia is “selling” reactors to broke people. Hardly an empire

    • roberto says:

      @Guardian’s article on subsidies:

      “According to the IMF, the UK will spend approximately £26bn on fossil fuel subsidies this year, factoring in new World Health Organisation estimates on harm to health from pollution exposure. ”

      Well, that’s another BS statement… it is true that fossil fuels do not pay/account for “external” costs, mainly health (which is the only ones calculable in some form)… but someone should tell the green pasdarans working at Guardian that each liter (gallon, whatever) of gas or diesel sold in the UK is HIGHLY taxed already!… were it not for taxes its cost would be 1/3 of what it is… and all this money goes into the government’s coffers…
      Maybe one of the readers can find, or knows already, how many billion pounds go yearly to the government under the form of such taxes…. then I’d kindkly ask the GGG (Green Guard at the Guardian) to revise their BS statements.

      Thanks in advance for any data.

      • Paul R says:

        Funnily enough UK fuel duty receipts have been a fairly steady £27 billion per year, nicely balancing the supposed “subsidy”. See to download data (under Hydrocarbon Oils). This doesn’t include PRT/Supplementary Charge on UK oil production – just fuel duties – and I don’t think it includes the VAT on the duty (so you could justifiably increase the number by 20% since VAT is charged on duty).

  5. RDG says:

    Russia nuclear exports are subsidized by gas.

  6. Syndroma says:

    A Russian Orthodox priest blessed the BN-800 fast breeder reactor yesterday. It means the power plant is about to get operational. 🙂

  7. roberto says:

    @”the “Walney Extension Offshore Wind Farm,” which will produce 660 megawatts of electricity. In combination with its other sites, the company will be responsible for providing power to a whopping 12.5 million Europeans. ”

    Whopping bullshit!… 660 MW off-shore will possibly generate, intermittently and seasonally, 2.6 billion kWh (@45% CF)… divided by 12.5 million Europeans gives 208 kWh/European… even considering a household of 4 it gets to 830 kWh/year/household…. what are they talking about?

    • PhilH says:

      It says “In combination with its other sites”. Dong also owns, wholly or partly, the Barrow (90MW), Burbo Bank (90MW), Gunfleet Sands (185MW), Walney 1&2 (368MW), Lincs (270MW), West of Duddon Sands (389MW) & Westermost Rough (210MW) operational UK offshore windfarms (plus Burbo Bank 2 (258MW) & Race Bank (580MW) under construction), along with presumably lots more generation in Denmark and elsewhere.

  8. A C Osborn says:

    Euan, the BBC News this morning had a piece on the El Hierro Energy Production and how it will supply 100% of their energy needs and make them “energy independent”.
    It included a wide eyed El Hierro local explaining how good it all is.
    Perhaps you should have sent them your and Roger’s analysis on why it is virtually impossible for them to attain 100%.

  9. Re China’s “first-of-a-kind floating nuclear vessel which will be used in Chinese waters to supply electrical power to offshore installations”. Anyone care to hazard a guess as to which “Chinese waters” it will be used in?

  10. Hot off the press:

    NASA study: Net gains for Antarctic ice sheets

    According to a new NASA study, ice sheet gains outweigh losses on the Antarctic continent. The findings conflict with those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which in 2013 suggested gains were not keeping up with losses. The new study, published in the Journal of Glaciology, doesn’t totally undermine the handful of studies showing significant glacier, ice sheet and sea ice shrinkage. Instead, if offers evidence of previously unaccounted gains. The new tallies reveal an annual net gain of 112 billion tons between 1992 and 2001. Annual gains of 82 billion tons were observed between 2003 and 2008. “We’re essentially in agreement with other studies that show an increase in ice discharge in the Antarctic Peninsula and the Thwaites and Pine Island region of West Antarctica,” lead study author Jay Zwally, a glaciologist with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a press release. “Our main disagreement is for East Antarctica and the interior of West Antarctica — there, we see an ice gain that exceeds the losses in the other areas.”

  11. Peter F Gill says:

    I added the following comment at the original site regarding the Botswana projects:
    Botswana has probably got more coal than South Africa or Canada for that matter. I and a colleague recommended to the Government of Botswana a number of things that could be done with its coal resources following an EEC funded study in the early 1980s. One of the ideas was a world scale fertiliser plant. It seems there has been a short delay in moving on with that idea. As I recall we were talking about urea that that time.

  12. Pingback: Floating Nuclear Power Plants - Boston Commons High Tech

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