Author: Paul Brown

About Paul Brown

Paul Brown, a founding editor of Climate News Network, is a former environment correspondent of The Guardian newspaper, and still writes columns for the paper.

Hot rocks can help to cool the warming Earth

Energy from hot rocks below the Earth’s crust will help to replace fossil fuels and speed Europe’s path to carbon neutrality.

LONDON, 8 May, 2020 − The Romans were the first people to exploit Europe’s geothermal energy, using underground springs warmed by hot rocks for large-scale public bathing pools and as central heating for their houses.

Two thousand years later, the European Union is using modern technology to renew its efforts to exploit the same resource to make electricity and provide district heating as part of its plan to replace fossil fuels and become carbon-neutral by 2050.

With wind and solar power and biogas already well-developed, expanding rapidly and already competing with fossil fuels, the EU has decided that geothermal energy should also now be exploited as a fourth major renewable resource.

The European Commission’s Green Deal aims to exploit what officials admit has been the neglect of a potentially large renewable energy industry, which they think should be harnessed to reduce carbon emissions. As a result, the Commission is spending €172 million (£151m) on 12 different developments, described in what it calls a Results Pack.

“The cost of harnessing geothermal energy has tumbled in recent years, making it far more competitive with coal and gas. Shallow boreholes using heat pumps have cut the cost of harnessing it by 20-30%”

Some countries in Europe with active volcanoes, notably Italy and Iceland, have been exploiting hot rocks for decades to heat water, produce steam and drive turbines to make electricity. More recently engineers in Iceland, exploring further and drilling down to 4,650 metres (15,250 feet), have reached rocks at 600°C, potentially providing vast quantities of renewable energy.

The EU believes that, with hot rocks found everywhere below the Earth’s crust, it is only a question of boring deep enough. It says the technologies being developed in Europe to exploit this heat can be used anywhere in the world, and have great potential for the international efforts to wean countries off fossil fuels.

Its Results Pack says heating and cooling accounts for about half of all the continent’s energy consumption. Currently about 75% of that is provided by fossil fuels. However, drilling deep enough would mean all Europe’s buildings could be heated and cooled using subterranean energy.

Like wind and solar, the cost of harnessing geothermal energy has tumbled in recent years, making it far more competitive with coal and gas. Shallow boreholes using heat pumps have cut the cost of harnessing it by 20-30%.

Rare metal bonus

One of the most interesting of the 12 examples in the Pack is a way of extracting heat for energy while at the same time obtaining rare and expensive metals from far below the Earth’s crust. This is being developed at the University of Miskolc in Hungary.

Cold water is pumped 4-5 kilometres into a borehole at high pressure. It passes through natural fissures in the hot rock and comes to the surface through another drill hole as hot vapour. This gas is used to produce electricity and for heating.

The rocks with their many cracks form a natural underground heat exchanger, but the scheme offers an added bonus. As the cold water is pumped through the cracks it gradually dissolves the rock, making the cracks larger and the system more efficient, and over time increasing the output of both electricity and heat.

But also important, as a potential resource, is the fact that the return borehole brings up precious metals in the vapour. Using patented gaseous diffusion techniques, the vapour can yield the metals with a near-100% recovery rate. The metals’ market value dramatically improves the return on investment, the paper says. − Climate News Network

Energy from hot rocks below the Earth’s crust will help to replace fossil fuels and speed Europe’s path to carbon neutrality.

LONDON, 8 May, 2020 − The Romans were the first people to exploit Europe’s geothermal energy, using underground springs warmed by hot rocks for large-scale public bathing pools and as central heating for their houses.

Two thousand years later, the European Union is using modern technology to renew its efforts to exploit the same resource to make electricity and provide district heating as part of its plan to replace fossil fuels and become carbon-neutral by 2050.

With wind and solar power and biogas already well-developed, expanding rapidly and already competing with fossil fuels, the EU has decided that geothermal energy should also now be exploited as a fourth major renewable resource.

The European Commission’s Green Deal aims to exploit what officials admit has been the neglect of a potentially large renewable energy industry, which they think should be harnessed to reduce carbon emissions. As a result, the Commission is spending €172 million (£151m) on 12 different developments, described in what it calls a Results Pack.

“The cost of harnessing geothermal energy has tumbled in recent years, making it far more competitive with coal and gas. Shallow boreholes using heat pumps have cut the cost of harnessing it by 20-30%”

Some countries in Europe with active volcanoes, notably Italy and Iceland, have been exploiting hot rocks for decades to heat water, produce steam and drive turbines to make electricity. More recently engineers in Iceland, exploring further and drilling down to 4,650 metres (15,250 feet), have reached rocks at 600°C, potentially providing vast quantities of renewable energy.

The EU believes that, with hot rocks found everywhere below the Earth’s crust, it is only a question of boring deep enough. It says the technologies being developed in Europe to exploit this heat can be used anywhere in the world, and have great potential for the international efforts to wean countries off fossil fuels.

Its Results Pack says heating and cooling accounts for about half of all the continent’s energy consumption. Currently about 75% of that is provided by fossil fuels. However, drilling deep enough would mean all Europe’s buildings could be heated and cooled using subterranean energy.

Like wind and solar, the cost of harnessing geothermal energy has tumbled in recent years, making it far more competitive with coal and gas. Shallow boreholes using heat pumps have cut the cost of harnessing it by 20-30%.

Rare metal bonus

One of the most interesting of the 12 examples in the Pack is a way of extracting heat for energy while at the same time obtaining rare and expensive metals from far below the Earth’s crust. This is being developed at the University of Miskolc in Hungary.

Cold water is pumped 4-5 kilometres into a borehole at high pressure. It passes through natural fissures in the hot rock and comes to the surface through another drill hole as hot vapour. This gas is used to produce electricity and for heating.

The rocks with their many cracks form a natural underground heat exchanger, but the scheme offers an added bonus. As the cold water is pumped through the cracks it gradually dissolves the rock, making the cracks larger and the system more efficient, and over time increasing the output of both electricity and heat.

But also important, as a potential resource, is the fact that the return borehole brings up precious metals in the vapour. Using patented gaseous diffusion techniques, the vapour can yield the metals with a near-100% recovery rate. The metals’ market value dramatically improves the return on investment, the paper says. − Climate News Network

Sea level rise threatens UK nuclear reactor plans

Sea level rise may consign the planned UK site for two large nuclear reactors to vanish beneath the waves.

LONDON, 28 April, 2020 – Controversial plans by the French nuclear giant EDF to build two of its massive new reactors on the low-lying east coast of England are causing alarm: the shore is eroding and local people fear sea level rise could maroon the station on an island.

A newly published paper adds weight to the objections of two local government bodies, East Suffolk Council and Suffolk County Council, which have already lodged objections to EDF’s plans because they fear the proposed sea defences for the new station, Sizewell C, will be inadequate.

EDF, which is currently expecting the go-ahead to start building the station from the British government, says it has done its own expert assessment, had its calculations independently checked, and is satisfied that the coast is stable and the planned concrete sea defences will be adequate.

The argument is whether the coastal banks which prevent storm waves hitting this part of the coast will remain intact for the next 150 years – roughly the life of the station, taking into account 20 years of construction, 60 years of operation and then the time needed to decommission it.

The paper is the work of a structural engineer, Nick Scarr, a member of the Nuclear Consulting Group, which is an independent, non-profit virtual institute that provides expert research and analysis of nuclear issues.

As relevant, though, is his knowledge of the coastal waters of Suffolk, where he spends time sailing. He believes the coast is inherently unstable.

Catastrophic accident risk

With sea level rise and storm surges, he says, the site will become an island with its defences eroded by the sea well before the station reaches the end of its active life, risking a catastrophic accident, which is why he wrote his report.

He told the Climate News Network: “Any sailor, or lifeboat crew, knows that East Coast banks need respect – they have dynamic patterns, and even the latest charts cannot be accurate for long.

“I was deeply concerned by EDF’s premise that there is micro-stability at the Sizewell site, which makes it suitable for new-build nuclear. It is true if you restrict analysis to recent historical data, but it is false if you look at longer-term data and evidence-based climate science predictions.

“Climate science not only tells us that storm surges have a higher median level to work from, but that they will also render the banks ineffective for mitigating wave power on the Sizewell foreshore (because of reduced friction, as the water depth is greater).”

The longer-term data Scarr mentions are not altogether reassuring. Less than 10 miles from the site are the remains of Dunwich, once a thriving medieval port that disappeared in 1338 because of coastal erosion and a huge storm.

Nick Scarr added: “Note that Sizewell security needs to last at least from now to the year 2150. A shorter period than this, 1868-1992, shown in hydrographic charting, tells us clearly how unstable the offshore banks are over a longer time frame, and that is without sea level rise.”

“Any sailor, or lifeboat crew, knows that East Coast banks need respect – they have dynamic patterns, and even the latest charts cannot be accurate for long”

Sea level rise is expected to be up to a metre on this coast by the end of the century, but that is only part of the problem – the “once in a century” storm surges are expected to occur as often as once a year by 2050.

This is not the first time that ambitious plans by the government to build nuclear power stations on the British coast have been questioned. A proposed station at Dungeness in Kent, on England’s south-east coast,  has already been shelved because the existing station there is in danger from the sea.

The Suffolk site already has two stations. Sizewell A has been closed and is being decommissioned. The second, Sizewell B,  owned by EDF, has been operating since the early 1990s and is due to close some time in the 2030s.

The new reactors, together called Sizewell C, will be built further out to sea than A and B and will rely on an undersea ridge, a coralline crag, as a bastion against storm waves crashing into the station.

EDF’s contention that the site is safe is partly based on a report by engineers Mott Macdonald, compiled in 2014 and based on historical data, which says that this undersea ridge is stable and will continue to be a form of natural coastal defence.

However, East Suffolk and Suffolk County Councils, in their joint response to EDF’s consultation, make it clear that Sizewell C’s development has not in their view been shown to be able to be  protected from erosion or flood risk over the site’s life.

Fuel storage problem

Scarr’s report goes further, concluding: “This threat to the Sizewell foreshore is clearly an untenable risk.”

One contentious issue on nuclear sites, including those at Sizewell, is the need for decades-long storage of large quantities of highly dangerous spent nuclear fuel in cooling ponds once it is removed from the reactors. Currently the UK has no such disposal route.

Asked about Starr’s report and the councils’ objections, EDF told the Network: “The design of the power station, including its sea defence and the raised platform it will be built on, will protect Sizewell C from flooding.”

It added: “Sizewell C will safely manage the spent fuel from the station on the site for its lifetime, or until a deep geological repository becomes available.

“Sizewell is located within a stable part of the Suffolk coastline between two hard points and the offshore bank of sediment, the Dunwich-Sizewell bank.  We have undertaken extensive studies of the coastline in developing our plans.

“We have performed a great deal of modelling to forecast potential future scenarios along the Sizewell coast, with and without Sizewell C, to fully assess the effect of the station on coastal processes. We then asked independent experts to critique the forecasts to provide the very best assessment of long-term coastal change.

Dungeness jeopardy

“When built, the permanent sea defences would protect the power station from a 1 in 10,000-year storm event, including climate change and sea level rise. We’ve designed flexibility into our permanent coastal sea defence, meaning it could be raised during the lifetime of Sizewell C if needed.”

Another of EDF’s existing reactors, at Dungeness, which is built on a vast shingle bank, was taken offline seven years ago for five months while an emergency sea wall was built to prevent it being flooded.

For decades the defences of the twin reactors have had constantly to be reinforced because the shingle banks on which they stand are being eroded by the sea.

That station was designed more than 30 years ago, before scientists realised the dangers that sea level rise posed, and apparently without understanding how the shingle constantly moves.

Although it is due to shut later this decade it will still represent a serious danger to the public for another century until it can be safely decommissioned and demolished.

During that time millions of pounds will have to be spent making sure it is not overwhelmed by storms and sea level rise. – Climate News Network

Sea level rise may consign the planned UK site for two large nuclear reactors to vanish beneath the waves.

LONDON, 28 April, 2020 – Controversial plans by the French nuclear giant EDF to build two of its massive new reactors on the low-lying east coast of England are causing alarm: the shore is eroding and local people fear sea level rise could maroon the station on an island.

A newly published paper adds weight to the objections of two local government bodies, East Suffolk Council and Suffolk County Council, which have already lodged objections to EDF’s plans because they fear the proposed sea defences for the new station, Sizewell C, will be inadequate.

EDF, which is currently expecting the go-ahead to start building the station from the British government, says it has done its own expert assessment, had its calculations independently checked, and is satisfied that the coast is stable and the planned concrete sea defences will be adequate.

The argument is whether the coastal banks which prevent storm waves hitting this part of the coast will remain intact for the next 150 years – roughly the life of the station, taking into account 20 years of construction, 60 years of operation and then the time needed to decommission it.

The paper is the work of a structural engineer, Nick Scarr, a member of the Nuclear Consulting Group, which is an independent, non-profit virtual institute that provides expert research and analysis of nuclear issues.

As relevant, though, is his knowledge of the coastal waters of Suffolk, where he spends time sailing. He believes the coast is inherently unstable.

Catastrophic accident risk

With sea level rise and storm surges, he says, the site will become an island with its defences eroded by the sea well before the station reaches the end of its active life, risking a catastrophic accident, which is why he wrote his report.

He told the Climate News Network: “Any sailor, or lifeboat crew, knows that East Coast banks need respect – they have dynamic patterns, and even the latest charts cannot be accurate for long.

“I was deeply concerned by EDF’s premise that there is micro-stability at the Sizewell site, which makes it suitable for new-build nuclear. It is true if you restrict analysis to recent historical data, but it is false if you look at longer-term data and evidence-based climate science predictions.

“Climate science not only tells us that storm surges have a higher median level to work from, but that they will also render the banks ineffective for mitigating wave power on the Sizewell foreshore (because of reduced friction, as the water depth is greater).”

The longer-term data Scarr mentions are not altogether reassuring. Less than 10 miles from the site are the remains of Dunwich, once a thriving medieval port that disappeared in 1338 because of coastal erosion and a huge storm.

Nick Scarr added: “Note that Sizewell security needs to last at least from now to the year 2150. A shorter period than this, 1868-1992, shown in hydrographic charting, tells us clearly how unstable the offshore banks are over a longer time frame, and that is without sea level rise.”

“Any sailor, or lifeboat crew, knows that East Coast banks need respect – they have dynamic patterns, and even the latest charts cannot be accurate for long”

Sea level rise is expected to be up to a metre on this coast by the end of the century, but that is only part of the problem – the “once in a century” storm surges are expected to occur as often as once a year by 2050.

This is not the first time that ambitious plans by the government to build nuclear power stations on the British coast have been questioned. A proposed station at Dungeness in Kent, on England’s south-east coast,  has already been shelved because the existing station there is in danger from the sea.

The Suffolk site already has two stations. Sizewell A has been closed and is being decommissioned. The second, Sizewell B,  owned by EDF, has been operating since the early 1990s and is due to close some time in the 2030s.

The new reactors, together called Sizewell C, will be built further out to sea than A and B and will rely on an undersea ridge, a coralline crag, as a bastion against storm waves crashing into the station.

EDF’s contention that the site is safe is partly based on a report by engineers Mott Macdonald, compiled in 2014 and based on historical data, which says that this undersea ridge is stable and will continue to be a form of natural coastal defence.

However, East Suffolk and Suffolk County Councils, in their joint response to EDF’s consultation, make it clear that Sizewell C’s development has not in their view been shown to be able to be  protected from erosion or flood risk over the site’s life.

Fuel storage problem

Scarr’s report goes further, concluding: “This threat to the Sizewell foreshore is clearly an untenable risk.”

One contentious issue on nuclear sites, including those at Sizewell, is the need for decades-long storage of large quantities of highly dangerous spent nuclear fuel in cooling ponds once it is removed from the reactors. Currently the UK has no such disposal route.

Asked about Starr’s report and the councils’ objections, EDF told the Network: “The design of the power station, including its sea defence and the raised platform it will be built on, will protect Sizewell C from flooding.”

It added: “Sizewell C will safely manage the spent fuel from the station on the site for its lifetime, or until a deep geological repository becomes available.

“Sizewell is located within a stable part of the Suffolk coastline between two hard points and the offshore bank of sediment, the Dunwich-Sizewell bank.  We have undertaken extensive studies of the coastline in developing our plans.

“We have performed a great deal of modelling to forecast potential future scenarios along the Sizewell coast, with and without Sizewell C, to fully assess the effect of the station on coastal processes. We then asked independent experts to critique the forecasts to provide the very best assessment of long-term coastal change.

Dungeness jeopardy

“When built, the permanent sea defences would protect the power station from a 1 in 10,000-year storm event, including climate change and sea level rise. We’ve designed flexibility into our permanent coastal sea defence, meaning it could be raised during the lifetime of Sizewell C if needed.”

Another of EDF’s existing reactors, at Dungeness, which is built on a vast shingle bank, was taken offline seven years ago for five months while an emergency sea wall was built to prevent it being flooded.

For decades the defences of the twin reactors have had constantly to be reinforced because the shingle banks on which they stand are being eroded by the sea.

That station was designed more than 30 years ago, before scientists realised the dangers that sea level rise posed, and apparently without understanding how the shingle constantly moves.

Although it is due to shut later this decade it will still represent a serious danger to the public for another century until it can be safely decommissioned and demolished.

During that time millions of pounds will have to be spent making sure it is not overwhelmed by storms and sea level rise. – Climate News Network

UK plutonium stockpile is a costly headache

This story is a part of Covering Climate Now’s week of coverage focused on Climate Solutions, to mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Covering Climate Now is a global journalism collaboration committed to strengthening coverage of the climate story.

 

The end of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel has left an expensive UK plutonium stockpile with no peaceful use.

LONDON, 23 April, 2020 − For 70 years Britain has been dissolving spent nuclear fuel in acid, separating the plutonium and uranium it contains and stockpiling the plutonium in the hope of finding some peaceful use for it, to no avail: all it has to show today is a UK plutonium stockpile.

To comply with its international obligations not to discharge any more liquid radioactive waste into the Irish Sea, the United Kingdom government agreed more than 20 years ago under the Ospar Convention on the protection of the north-east Atlantic to shut its nuclear fuel reprocessing works at Sellafield in northwestern England at the end of this year.

As well as 139 tonnes of plutonium, which has to be both carefully stored to prevent a nuclear chain reaction and protected by armed guards as well, to avoid terrorist attack, there are thousands of tonnes of depleted uranium at Sellafield.

The reprocessing plant shut down prematurely as a result of a Covid-19 outbreak among its employees, and most of the 11,500 workers there have been sent home, leaving a skeleton staff to keep the site safe. Whether the plant will be restarted after the epidemic is unknown.

Fewer than half Sellafield’s workers are involved in reprocessing. Most are engaged in cleaning up after decades of nuclear energy generation and related experiments. There are 200 buildings at the massive site, many of them disused. It costs British taxpayers around £2.3 billion (US$2.8bn) a year to run Sellafield and keep it safe.

Solution needed soon

While the British government has been reluctant to make any decision on what to do about its stockpiled plutonium and uranium, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has expressed alarm about the danger it poses.

“The United Kingdom has to find a solution for its plutonium stockpile, and quickly,” its report says.

The scientists point out that there is enough plutonium to make hundreds of thousands of nuclear weapons, and that it is a permanent proliferation risk. The annual cost of £73m to keep the plutonium safe is dwarfed by the much larger cost of trying to make safe the whole site with its thousands of tonnes of nuclear waste.

The Bulletin reports that the original reason for the reprocessing works was to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. The UK supplied the US at times, as well as producing its own weapons. A 2014 agreement between the British and US governments gives an outline of the nuclear links which then existed between them.

“The British government, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and reactor operators in general should accept that separated plutonium is a burden, not a resource”

For decades there were also plans to use plutonium in fast breeder reactors and to blend it with uranium to make Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) .

This was a time when governments believed that the world’s supply of uranium would run out and that re-using it with plutonium would be a way of generating large amounts of electricity, as a way to avoid burning fossil fuels and as part of the solution to climate change.

MOX was one possible fuel. Using recycled plutonium in fast breeder reactors was another possibility. And a third option was new-style reactors that burned plutonium, theoretically possible but never built.

But uranium did not run out, and MOX did not prove economic. It and the new reactors proved so technically difficult they were abandoned.

Despite these setbacks, successive British governments have continued reprocessing, always refusing to class plutonium as a waste, while still exploring ways of using it in some kind of new reactor. This is likely to remain the official position even after reprocessing ends in December.

The UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, the agency that runs Sellafield, faced by this indecision, continues to store the plutonium behind three barbed-wire barricades, guarded by the only armed civilian police force in the country.

Here to stay?

One of the tricky political problems is that 23 tonnes of the plutonium is owned by Japan, which sent its spent fuel to be reprocessed at Sellafield but is unable to use the recycled material, which cannot be returned to Japan in its current state because of nuclear proliferation concerns.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has examined all the potential options suggested to put the 139 tonnes of plutonium to some useful peaceful purpose (in other words, to create energy), but concludes that none of them is viable.

It says: “The British government, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and reactor operators in general should accept that separated plutonium is a burden, not a resource, and authority should again take a closer look at immobilisation options.”

Among the solutions that have been suggested is to mix the plutonium with ceramics to immobilise and stabilise it, so that it can be safely stored or disposed of, not used for weapons. The government has so far rejected that option. − Climate News Network

This story is a part of Covering Climate Now’s week of coverage focused on Climate Solutions, to mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Covering Climate Now is a global journalism collaboration committed to strengthening coverage of the climate story.

 

The end of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel has left an expensive UK plutonium stockpile with no peaceful use.

LONDON, 23 April, 2020 − For 70 years Britain has been dissolving spent nuclear fuel in acid, separating the plutonium and uranium it contains and stockpiling the plutonium in the hope of finding some peaceful use for it, to no avail: all it has to show today is a UK plutonium stockpile.

To comply with its international obligations not to discharge any more liquid radioactive waste into the Irish Sea, the United Kingdom government agreed more than 20 years ago under the Ospar Convention on the protection of the north-east Atlantic to shut its nuclear fuel reprocessing works at Sellafield in northwestern England at the end of this year.

As well as 139 tonnes of plutonium, which has to be both carefully stored to prevent a nuclear chain reaction and protected by armed guards as well, to avoid terrorist attack, there are thousands of tonnes of depleted uranium at Sellafield.

The reprocessing plant shut down prematurely as a result of a Covid-19 outbreak among its employees, and most of the 11,500 workers there have been sent home, leaving a skeleton staff to keep the site safe. Whether the plant will be restarted after the epidemic is unknown.

Fewer than half Sellafield’s workers are involved in reprocessing. Most are engaged in cleaning up after decades of nuclear energy generation and related experiments. There are 200 buildings at the massive site, many of them disused. It costs British taxpayers around £2.3 billion (US$2.8bn) a year to run Sellafield and keep it safe.

Solution needed soon

While the British government has been reluctant to make any decision on what to do about its stockpiled plutonium and uranium, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has expressed alarm about the danger it poses.

“The United Kingdom has to find a solution for its plutonium stockpile, and quickly,” its report says.

The scientists point out that there is enough plutonium to make hundreds of thousands of nuclear weapons, and that it is a permanent proliferation risk. The annual cost of £73m to keep the plutonium safe is dwarfed by the much larger cost of trying to make safe the whole site with its thousands of tonnes of nuclear waste.

The Bulletin reports that the original reason for the reprocessing works was to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. The UK supplied the US at times, as well as producing its own weapons. A 2014 agreement between the British and US governments gives an outline of the nuclear links which then existed between them.

“The British government, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and reactor operators in general should accept that separated plutonium is a burden, not a resource”

For decades there were also plans to use plutonium in fast breeder reactors and to blend it with uranium to make Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) .

This was a time when governments believed that the world’s supply of uranium would run out and that re-using it with plutonium would be a way of generating large amounts of electricity, as a way to avoid burning fossil fuels and as part of the solution to climate change.

MOX was one possible fuel. Using recycled plutonium in fast breeder reactors was another possibility. And a third option was new-style reactors that burned plutonium, theoretically possible but never built.

But uranium did not run out, and MOX did not prove economic. It and the new reactors proved so technically difficult they were abandoned.

Despite these setbacks, successive British governments have continued reprocessing, always refusing to class plutonium as a waste, while still exploring ways of using it in some kind of new reactor. This is likely to remain the official position even after reprocessing ends in December.

The UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, the agency that runs Sellafield, faced by this indecision, continues to store the plutonium behind three barbed-wire barricades, guarded by the only armed civilian police force in the country.

Here to stay?

One of the tricky political problems is that 23 tonnes of the plutonium is owned by Japan, which sent its spent fuel to be reprocessed at Sellafield but is unable to use the recycled material, which cannot be returned to Japan in its current state because of nuclear proliferation concerns.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has examined all the potential options suggested to put the 139 tonnes of plutonium to some useful peaceful purpose (in other words, to create energy), but concludes that none of them is viable.

It says: “The British government, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and reactor operators in general should accept that separated plutonium is a burden, not a resource, and authority should again take a closer look at immobilisation options.”

Among the solutions that have been suggested is to mix the plutonium with ceramics to immobilise and stabilise it, so that it can be safely stored or disposed of, not used for weapons. The government has so far rejected that option. − Climate News Network

UK gas plans a carbon-free future with hydrogen

This story is published as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

Committed to a carbon-free future by 2050, the UK gas industry is to switch to green hydrogen and biogas.

LONDON, 20 April, 2020 − A mixture of green hydrogen produced by surplus solar and wind power and bio-methane coming from farms and waste food will ensure the British gas industry a carbon-free future in 30 years, according to the country’s gas network operators.

The ambitious plans for the first carbon-free gas grid in the world have been declared both technically possible and one of the less expensive options in solving the tricky problem of how to heat UK homes, office buildings and factories, said to be the most difficult task in decarbonising the energy system.

The programme, called Gas Goes Green, involves using the existing gas networks that supply 85% of Britain’s homes, as well as business and industry but converting boilers and other appliances to use hydrogen.

Although the plan is ambitious, its authors, the Energy Networks Association (ENA), which includes the transmission and distribution operators for gas and electricity in the UK and Ireland, point out that a similar programme was carried out in the 1970s to convert the entire British gas grid from supplying coal gas to natural gas.

The plan, which involves 23 million properties, will be closely watched across the rest of Europe and in many other developed countries that have extensive gas networks.

“Gas Goes Green will tackle some of the biggest challenges facing decarbonisation policy”

Currently Europe depends heavily on Russian natural gas, and there have been a number of disputes about pricing which have led to threats to cut off the supply.

This has led to political pressure to find alternatives, with compressed natural gas imported from the Middle East and the US a candidate to provide a possible alternative supply.

Now the pressure is on to decarbonise the sector entirely. The UK is well placed to do so because it has enormous potential for producing far more electricity than it needs from renewable sources: wind, solar and various tidal and wave schemes.

The aim of going carbon-neutral by 2050 is enshrined in UK law, but the country’s new Conservative government, elected last December, has yet to come up with a plan for achieving this. Clearly, though, the gas industry thinks it has found a solution.

The big argument so far has been that green hydrogen, produced by electrolysis from electricity, is too expensive to compete with hydrogen produced from natural gas. However, with electricity from renewable fuels falling in price and becoming ever more plentiful, the economics of green hydrogen are expected to compete with what gas can do, the industry argues.

Potential for transport

There is also increasing interest in using hydrogen for transport, including trains, to avoid the expense of electrifying lines. It has a distinct advantage over electricity: it can be stored for long periods.

ENA commissioned a report from the accountants KPMG which concluded that conversion from natural gas to hydrogen was both technically feasible and one of the cheapest options for the nation’s heating systems.

ENA, whose members pipe gas to 21.5 million UK customers, finally came up with its plan: to switch its networks entirely to hydrogen and biogas.

There are already a number of schemes that inject both fuels into the national network, and there are experiments with closed systems which provide heating and cooking on 100% hydrogen systems. The industry is confident these could be scaled up.

Matt Hindle, head of gas at ENA, told Business Green: “We’re delighted to not only be launching this exciting new programme, but also to be making clear our commitment to creating the world’s first zero-carbon gas grid.

Political impetus

“Gas Goes Green will deliver the greenprint needed to do that, and in doing so tackle some of the biggest challenges facing decarbonisation policy.”

The first step will be to work out a plan to switch UK boilers from burning natural gas to a mixture that is mostly hydrogen but contains some bio-methane.

This ambitious plan faces some competition from the advocates of ground-source heat pumps as an alternative for heating homes. The pumps have the advantage of running on green electricity, and cut out the need for gas entirely, but they need to be installed in large numbers.

The pumps’ supporters argue that scaling up green hydrogen production to fulfil the entire needs of the gas network is nearly impossible in the 30 years left until the UK should have reached carbon neutrality.

What is interesting, however, is that a number of competing technologies now exist to decarbonise heating, cooking and transport entirely. All that is still lacking is the political will to press ahead. − Climate News Network

This story is published as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

Committed to a carbon-free future by 2050, the UK gas industry is to switch to green hydrogen and biogas.

LONDON, 20 April, 2020 − A mixture of green hydrogen produced by surplus solar and wind power and bio-methane coming from farms and waste food will ensure the British gas industry a carbon-free future in 30 years, according to the country’s gas network operators.

The ambitious plans for the first carbon-free gas grid in the world have been declared both technically possible and one of the less expensive options in solving the tricky problem of how to heat UK homes, office buildings and factories, said to be the most difficult task in decarbonising the energy system.

The programme, called Gas Goes Green, involves using the existing gas networks that supply 85% of Britain’s homes, as well as business and industry but converting boilers and other appliances to use hydrogen.

Although the plan is ambitious, its authors, the Energy Networks Association (ENA), which includes the transmission and distribution operators for gas and electricity in the UK and Ireland, point out that a similar programme was carried out in the 1970s to convert the entire British gas grid from supplying coal gas to natural gas.

The plan, which involves 23 million properties, will be closely watched across the rest of Europe and in many other developed countries that have extensive gas networks.

“Gas Goes Green will tackle some of the biggest challenges facing decarbonisation policy”

Currently Europe depends heavily on Russian natural gas, and there have been a number of disputes about pricing which have led to threats to cut off the supply.

This has led to political pressure to find alternatives, with compressed natural gas imported from the Middle East and the US a candidate to provide a possible alternative supply.

Now the pressure is on to decarbonise the sector entirely. The UK is well placed to do so because it has enormous potential for producing far more electricity than it needs from renewable sources: wind, solar and various tidal and wave schemes.

The aim of going carbon-neutral by 2050 is enshrined in UK law, but the country’s new Conservative government, elected last December, has yet to come up with a plan for achieving this. Clearly, though, the gas industry thinks it has found a solution.

The big argument so far has been that green hydrogen, produced by electrolysis from electricity, is too expensive to compete with hydrogen produced from natural gas. However, with electricity from renewable fuels falling in price and becoming ever more plentiful, the economics of green hydrogen are expected to compete with what gas can do, the industry argues.

Potential for transport

There is also increasing interest in using hydrogen for transport, including trains, to avoid the expense of electrifying lines. It has a distinct advantage over electricity: it can be stored for long periods.

ENA commissioned a report from the accountants KPMG which concluded that conversion from natural gas to hydrogen was both technically feasible and one of the cheapest options for the nation’s heating systems.

ENA, whose members pipe gas to 21.5 million UK customers, finally came up with its plan: to switch its networks entirely to hydrogen and biogas.

There are already a number of schemes that inject both fuels into the national network, and there are experiments with closed systems which provide heating and cooking on 100% hydrogen systems. The industry is confident these could be scaled up.

Matt Hindle, head of gas at ENA, told Business Green: “We’re delighted to not only be launching this exciting new programme, but also to be making clear our commitment to creating the world’s first zero-carbon gas grid.

Political impetus

“Gas Goes Green will deliver the greenprint needed to do that, and in doing so tackle some of the biggest challenges facing decarbonisation policy.”

The first step will be to work out a plan to switch UK boilers from burning natural gas to a mixture that is mostly hydrogen but contains some bio-methane.

This ambitious plan faces some competition from the advocates of ground-source heat pumps as an alternative for heating homes. The pumps have the advantage of running on green electricity, and cut out the need for gas entirely, but they need to be installed in large numbers.

The pumps’ supporters argue that scaling up green hydrogen production to fulfil the entire needs of the gas network is nearly impossible in the 30 years left until the UK should have reached carbon neutrality.

What is interesting, however, is that a number of competing technologies now exist to decarbonise heating, cooking and transport entirely. All that is still lacking is the political will to press ahead. − Climate News Network

Offshore wind hopes for a livelier future

With more countries realising how offshore wind can help cut carbon emissions, a massive building boom looks likely.

LONDON, 15 April, 2020 − Generating electricity from offshore wind looks like an idea whose time has come, with the emerging technology set to grow at extraordinary speed in the next decade. But despite its great potential, deployment may still not be fast enough to avert the climate crisis.

The prospect that offshore wind energy will grow from 22 Gigawatts (GW) in 2018 to 177 GW by 2030 is based on predictions from the industry that makes and installs the turbines, with manufacturers taking orders from 12 major markets across the globe. The International Energy Agency has said it expects the sector to become a $1 trillion industry within 20 years.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) says there is a staggering compound annual growth rate of 19% in offshore wind faster than any other industry on the planet.

One GW is reckoned to be enough to provide electricity to 500,000 North American homes, so offshore wind will provide enough power for many a coastal city. New offshore turbines currently being developed in Europe are extremely large, generating as much as 10 MW each.

Because of their height and their marine locations, these giant turbines can tap winds that blow at constant speeds. There is almost always some breeze at sea, so their power supply is far more reliable and predictable than smaller installations can manage.

“Based upon the current forecasts, it would take around 100 years to build enough offshore wind to decarbonise Europe. We don’t have 100 years”

One reason for the renewed interest in offshore technology is that its cost has dropped dramatically. This is partly because of the increased size and improved design of the latest turbines, but also because of the growing experience in building them, both standing in shallow seas and as floating turbines anchored to the sea bottom by cables.

Until now, to encourage offshore wind, governments have guaranteed a price for the electricity produced, but the cost of generation has been falling fast. China expects to remove all subsidies by 2022, in the belief that offshore wind will by then be successfully competing with fossil fuels.

One significant feature of recent developments is that much of the installation expertise is the same as that used in the offshore oil industry. This has given Europe a head start because the North Sea oil industry is in decline and places like Aberdeen, the UK’s offshore oil capital, are repositioning themselves as offshore wind hubs instead.

The bullish predictions for offshore wind were compiled from information provided at a conference, Offshore and Floating Wind Europe 2019, where all the world’s major offshore wind contractors were represented, and are summarised in a conference report published by Reuters Events – New Energy Update.

The report predicts that while currently the UK has the most extensive offshore wind installations in the world, China, which is fast catching up, will overtake it before 2030. Currently the US, which so far has just one 5-turbine, 30-MW wind farm, off the coast of Rhode Island, is expected to install new turbines in 2021 and to be in third place by 2030. Six states on the US eastern seaboard have found potential sites and are pushing forward developments.

Eastern Europe’s enthusiasts

In western Europe Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark already have established industries and plan more turbines. Both France, which has an extensive windy coastline, and Ireland, with enormous potential, have impressive ambitions for offshore wind, along with several other European countries.

In eastern Europe Poland, currently heavily reliant on coal for its electricity, is expected to take advantage of its coastline on the shallow Baltic Sea to diversify into offshore wind.

But it is in Asia that the largest market is expected to develop. China is already investing heavily, but Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and India all have ambitious programmes too.

The US, despite President Trump’s reluctance to take any action on climate change, is seen as a very large potential market. While Texas and California have been taking advantage of cheap onshore wind and solar power, it is the wealthy states on the eastern seaboard that are going for offshore wind. Many have most of their population on the coast. Cities like New York have ambitious targets to reach zero emissions and see offshore wind as vital to achieving that.

These predictions of enormous growth, though, are still not enough to solve the problem of keeping the world temperature to below 1.5°C, which governments around the world have agreed is their ambition.

Pandemic slowdown

The executive chairman of Mainstream Renewable Power, a global wind and solar power developer, is Eddie O’Connor. He says: “As an industry, we are not nearly ambitious enough to deal with global warming.

“If we are going to decarbonise in Europe, for instance, we need to build 900,000 MW (900 GW) offshore. Based upon the current forecasts, it would take around 100 years to build enough offshore wind to decarbonise Europe. We don’t have 100 years.”

With the current Covid-19 pandemic, it is not clear how much even the predicted developments will be slowed down, let alone the 10-fold increase on current projections that Mr O’Connor thinks is necessary to reach climate targets.

Another European offshore wind conference, due to be held in London in November this year, should hear an update on industry developments, if it takes place. By then it may also be clearer how the pandemic has affected the oil industry (see WindEurope’s COVID-19 Wind Information Hub).

Possibly even more oil executives may think that offshore wind is a more attractive proposition than investing more capital in their own dying industry. It presents European oil companies with an opportunity to redeploy some experienced workers, particularly as in the last few months some oil majors have already spoken of their intention to take climate change seriously. − Climate News Network

With more countries realising how offshore wind can help cut carbon emissions, a massive building boom looks likely.

LONDON, 15 April, 2020 − Generating electricity from offshore wind looks like an idea whose time has come, with the emerging technology set to grow at extraordinary speed in the next decade. But despite its great potential, deployment may still not be fast enough to avert the climate crisis.

The prospect that offshore wind energy will grow from 22 Gigawatts (GW) in 2018 to 177 GW by 2030 is based on predictions from the industry that makes and installs the turbines, with manufacturers taking orders from 12 major markets across the globe. The International Energy Agency has said it expects the sector to become a $1 trillion industry within 20 years.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) says there is a staggering compound annual growth rate of 19% in offshore wind faster than any other industry on the planet.

One GW is reckoned to be enough to provide electricity to 500,000 North American homes, so offshore wind will provide enough power for many a coastal city. New offshore turbines currently being developed in Europe are extremely large, generating as much as 10 MW each.

Because of their height and their marine locations, these giant turbines can tap winds that blow at constant speeds. There is almost always some breeze at sea, so their power supply is far more reliable and predictable than smaller installations can manage.

“Based upon the current forecasts, it would take around 100 years to build enough offshore wind to decarbonise Europe. We don’t have 100 years”

One reason for the renewed interest in offshore technology is that its cost has dropped dramatically. This is partly because of the increased size and improved design of the latest turbines, but also because of the growing experience in building them, both standing in shallow seas and as floating turbines anchored to the sea bottom by cables.

Until now, to encourage offshore wind, governments have guaranteed a price for the electricity produced, but the cost of generation has been falling fast. China expects to remove all subsidies by 2022, in the belief that offshore wind will by then be successfully competing with fossil fuels.

One significant feature of recent developments is that much of the installation expertise is the same as that used in the offshore oil industry. This has given Europe a head start because the North Sea oil industry is in decline and places like Aberdeen, the UK’s offshore oil capital, are repositioning themselves as offshore wind hubs instead.

The bullish predictions for offshore wind were compiled from information provided at a conference, Offshore and Floating Wind Europe 2019, where all the world’s major offshore wind contractors were represented, and are summarised in a conference report published by Reuters Events – New Energy Update.

The report predicts that while currently the UK has the most extensive offshore wind installations in the world, China, which is fast catching up, will overtake it before 2030. Currently the US, which so far has just one 5-turbine, 30-MW wind farm, off the coast of Rhode Island, is expected to install new turbines in 2021 and to be in third place by 2030. Six states on the US eastern seaboard have found potential sites and are pushing forward developments.

Eastern Europe’s enthusiasts

In western Europe Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark already have established industries and plan more turbines. Both France, which has an extensive windy coastline, and Ireland, with enormous potential, have impressive ambitions for offshore wind, along with several other European countries.

In eastern Europe Poland, currently heavily reliant on coal for its electricity, is expected to take advantage of its coastline on the shallow Baltic Sea to diversify into offshore wind.

But it is in Asia that the largest market is expected to develop. China is already investing heavily, but Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and India all have ambitious programmes too.

The US, despite President Trump’s reluctance to take any action on climate change, is seen as a very large potential market. While Texas and California have been taking advantage of cheap onshore wind and solar power, it is the wealthy states on the eastern seaboard that are going for offshore wind. Many have most of their population on the coast. Cities like New York have ambitious targets to reach zero emissions and see offshore wind as vital to achieving that.

These predictions of enormous growth, though, are still not enough to solve the problem of keeping the world temperature to below 1.5°C, which governments around the world have agreed is their ambition.

Pandemic slowdown

The executive chairman of Mainstream Renewable Power, a global wind and solar power developer, is Eddie O’Connor. He says: “As an industry, we are not nearly ambitious enough to deal with global warming.

“If we are going to decarbonise in Europe, for instance, we need to build 900,000 MW (900 GW) offshore. Based upon the current forecasts, it would take around 100 years to build enough offshore wind to decarbonise Europe. We don’t have 100 years.”

With the current Covid-19 pandemic, it is not clear how much even the predicted developments will be slowed down, let alone the 10-fold increase on current projections that Mr O’Connor thinks is necessary to reach climate targets.

Another European offshore wind conference, due to be held in London in November this year, should hear an update on industry developments, if it takes place. By then it may also be clearer how the pandemic has affected the oil industry (see WindEurope’s COVID-19 Wind Information Hub).

Possibly even more oil executives may think that offshore wind is a more attractive proposition than investing more capital in their own dying industry. It presents European oil companies with an opportunity to redeploy some experienced workers, particularly as in the last few months some oil majors have already spoken of their intention to take climate change seriously. − Climate News Network

Fossil fuels add to world’s marine dead zones

Air pollution from burning fossil fuels is adding to fertiliser run-off and sewage to kill marine life in global dead zones.

LONDON, 6 April, 2020 − Cutting out coal-burning and other sources of nitrogen oxides (NOx) from heavy industry, electricity production and traffic will reduce the size of the world’s dead zones along coasts where all fish life is vanishing because of a lack of oxygen.

Researchers in Hong Kong report in the journal Environmental Science & Technology that cutting fossil fuel use in China would benefit not only the climate but also the fisheries along all the country’s coasts.

The finding is significant because many countries concerned about the loss of their coastal and lake fisheries caused by dead zones have been concentrating only on reducing agricultural fertiliser run-off from fields and sewage discharges, which are known to load the rivers with nutrients.

When the nutrients reach lakes or the open sea they feed algae, which rapidly grow into huge green masses. When these so-called algal blooms die they sink to the bottom and decompose, using up nearly all the oxygen in the water.

This process, known as eutrophication, leads to hypoxia, a level of oxygen that is too low for most organisms to survive. Fish usually swim away to healthier waters, but life forms which cannot easily move simply die.

“I hope our study brings more attention to the potential benefit of reducing fossil fuel burning on human and ecosystem health, but also on local economic activities like fisheries”

NOx emissions from fossil fuel burning and fertiliser manufacture lead to the formation of ground-level ozone, smog and acid rain, and contribute to global warming through the greenhouse effect.

What the new research shows is that while fertiliser and sewage are very important in creating dead zones, the aerial input of NOx makes a bad situation far worse.

The report’s lead author, Yu Yan Yau, an MPhil student at the University of Hong Kong’s Swire Institute of Marine Science (SWIMS), and her colleagues studied the South China, East China, Yellow and Bohai Seas.

They found that the atmospheric deposition of nutrients from fossil fuel burning on the mainland increased the amount of organic matter decomposing at the bottom of the sea by 15%, and increased the dead zones by 5%. The South China Sea was the most sensitive to fossil fuel burning.

Investigation needed

The good news in their research was that cutting this burning would considerably reduce the size of the dead zones.

Yu Yan Yau said: “I hope our study brings more attention to the potential benefit of reducing fossil fuel burning on human and ecosystem health, but also on local economic activities like fisheries, which are severely affected by hypoxia.”

Her supervisor, Dr Benoit Thibodeau, added: “Low levels of oxygen are observed in many coastal seas around the world and it is important to find better ways to tackle this problem.

“While we understand that sewage and nutrient input from the Pearl River drive most of the hypoxia in the Greater Bay Area, we observe low levels of oxygen in regions that are not directly under the influence of these sources. Thus it is important to investigate the impact of atmospheric deposition more locally.”

These findings will be important to many countries that are trying to rescue their coastal fisheries from dead zones. There are about 400 of these globally, including parts of Europe’s Baltic Sea.

Industrial impact

The largest is in the Arabian Sea, covering about 63,000 square miles, and the second largest a vast area in the Gulf of Mexico next to the Mississippi Delta, where a dead zone devoid of marine life develops every summer.

Every year winter rains wash fertiliser from fields in the US corn belt into the river. Combined with sewage overflows, this creates a huge quantity of nutrients that sweep down the river into the sea.

Depending on the size of the winter floods, scientists try to predict the extent of the resultant dead zone. However, the banks of the lower river are also crowded with heavy industrial sites, many burning large quantities of fossil fuels and creating large amounts of NOx, something that previously has not been taken into account.

If the Hong Kong research is correct, then cutting the pollution from these industries will also reduce the size of the Mississippi’s dead zone. − Climate News Network

Air pollution from burning fossil fuels is adding to fertiliser run-off and sewage to kill marine life in global dead zones.

LONDON, 6 April, 2020 − Cutting out coal-burning and other sources of nitrogen oxides (NOx) from heavy industry, electricity production and traffic will reduce the size of the world’s dead zones along coasts where all fish life is vanishing because of a lack of oxygen.

Researchers in Hong Kong report in the journal Environmental Science & Technology that cutting fossil fuel use in China would benefit not only the climate but also the fisheries along all the country’s coasts.

The finding is significant because many countries concerned about the loss of their coastal and lake fisheries caused by dead zones have been concentrating only on reducing agricultural fertiliser run-off from fields and sewage discharges, which are known to load the rivers with nutrients.

When the nutrients reach lakes or the open sea they feed algae, which rapidly grow into huge green masses. When these so-called algal blooms die they sink to the bottom and decompose, using up nearly all the oxygen in the water.

This process, known as eutrophication, leads to hypoxia, a level of oxygen that is too low for most organisms to survive. Fish usually swim away to healthier waters, but life forms which cannot easily move simply die.

“I hope our study brings more attention to the potential benefit of reducing fossil fuel burning on human and ecosystem health, but also on local economic activities like fisheries”

NOx emissions from fossil fuel burning and fertiliser manufacture lead to the formation of ground-level ozone, smog and acid rain, and contribute to global warming through the greenhouse effect.

What the new research shows is that while fertiliser and sewage are very important in creating dead zones, the aerial input of NOx makes a bad situation far worse.

The report’s lead author, Yu Yan Yau, an MPhil student at the University of Hong Kong’s Swire Institute of Marine Science (SWIMS), and her colleagues studied the South China, East China, Yellow and Bohai Seas.

They found that the atmospheric deposition of nutrients from fossil fuel burning on the mainland increased the amount of organic matter decomposing at the bottom of the sea by 15%, and increased the dead zones by 5%. The South China Sea was the most sensitive to fossil fuel burning.

Investigation needed

The good news in their research was that cutting this burning would considerably reduce the size of the dead zones.

Yu Yan Yau said: “I hope our study brings more attention to the potential benefit of reducing fossil fuel burning on human and ecosystem health, but also on local economic activities like fisheries, which are severely affected by hypoxia.”

Her supervisor, Dr Benoit Thibodeau, added: “Low levels of oxygen are observed in many coastal seas around the world and it is important to find better ways to tackle this problem.

“While we understand that sewage and nutrient input from the Pearl River drive most of the hypoxia in the Greater Bay Area, we observe low levels of oxygen in regions that are not directly under the influence of these sources. Thus it is important to investigate the impact of atmospheric deposition more locally.”

These findings will be important to many countries that are trying to rescue their coastal fisheries from dead zones. There are about 400 of these globally, including parts of Europe’s Baltic Sea.

Industrial impact

The largest is in the Arabian Sea, covering about 63,000 square miles, and the second largest a vast area in the Gulf of Mexico next to the Mississippi Delta, where a dead zone devoid of marine life develops every summer.

Every year winter rains wash fertiliser from fields in the US corn belt into the river. Combined with sewage overflows, this creates a huge quantity of nutrients that sweep down the river into the sea.

Depending on the size of the winter floods, scientists try to predict the extent of the resultant dead zone. However, the banks of the lower river are also crowded with heavy industrial sites, many burning large quantities of fossil fuels and creating large amounts of NOx, something that previously has not been taken into account.

If the Hong Kong research is correct, then cutting the pollution from these industries will also reduce the size of the Mississippi’s dead zone. − Climate News Network

Blue energy revolution comes of age

With green energy from wind and solar out-competing fossil fuels, governments now hope for another boost − blue energy from the oceans.

LONDON, 31 March, 2020 − The amount of energy generated by tides and waves in the last decade has increased 10-fold. Now governments around the world are planning to scale up these ventures to tap into the oceans’ vast store of blue energy.

Although in 2019 the total amount of energy produced by “blue power” would have been enough to provide electricity to only one city the size of Paris, even that was a vast increase on the tiny experiments being carried out 10 years earlier.

Now countries across the world with access to the sea are beginning to exploit all sorts of new technologies and intending to scale them up to bolster their attempts to go carbon-neutral.

Blue energy takes many forms. One of the most difficult technically is harnessing the energy of waves with devices that produce electricity. After several false starts many successful prototypes are now being trialled for commercial use. Other experiments exploit the tidal range – using the power of rapidly rising and falling tidal streams to push water through turbines.

The most commercially successful strategies so far use underwater turbines, similar to wind turbines, to exploit the tidal currents in coastal regions.

More ambitious but along the same lines are attempts to capture the energy from the immense ocean currents that move vast quantities of water round the planet.

“Our latest report underlines the considerable international support for the marine renewable sector. The start of this new decade carries considerable promise for ocean energy”

Also included in blue energy is ocean thermal energy conversion, which exploits the temperature differences between solar energy stored as heat in the upper ocean layers and colder seawater, generally at a depth below 1000 metres.

A variation on this is to use salinity gradients, the difference between the salt content of the sea and fresh water entering from a large river system. Some of these schemes are being used to produce fresh drinking water for dry regions rather than electricity.

The potential from all these energy sources is so great that an organisation called Ocean Energy Systems (OES), an offshoot of the International Energy Agency, is pooling all the research in a bid to achieve large-scale deployment.

There are now 24 countries in the OES, including China, India, the US, most European nations with a coastline, Japan, Australia and South Africa. Most of them have already deployed some blue energy schemes and are hoping to scale them up to full commercial use in the next decade.

As with wind and solar when they were being widely developed ten years ago, energy from the oceans is currently more expensive than fossil fuels. But as the technologies are refined the costs are coming down.

Profiting already

Already China has encouraged tidal stream energy by offering a feed-in tariff three times the price of fossil fuels, similar to the rate used in many countries to launch solar and wind power. One Chinese company is already finding this incentive enough to feed power into the grid and make a profit.

Among the leading countries developing these technologies are Canada and the United Kingdom, the two countries with the highest tides in the world. Canada has a number of tidal energy schemes on its Atlantic coast in Nova Scotia, with several competing companies testing different prototypes.

Scotland, which has enormous potential because of its many islands and tidal currents, has the largest tidal array of underwater turbines in the world. The turbine output has exceeded expectations, and the MeyGen company is planning to vastly increase the number of installations.

But this is only one of more than 20 projects in the UK, some still in the research and development stage, but many already being scaled up for deployment at special testing grounds in Scotland’s Orkney islands and the West of England.

OES chairman Henry Jeffrey, from the University of Edinburgh, said the group’s new annual report communicates the sizeable global effort to identify commercialisation pathways for ocean energy technologies.

Both Canada and the US can now see big potential, and political leaders across Europe have identified ocean energy as an essential component in meeting decarbonisation targets, fostering economic growth and creating future employment opportunities.

Lower costs essential

“Our latest report underlines the considerable international support for the marine renewable sector as leading global powers attempt to rebalance energy usage and limit global warming. The start of this new decade carries considerable promise for ocean energy,” he said.

However, Jeffrey warned that while the sector continued to take huge strides forward, there were several challenges ahead “centred around affordability, reliability, installability, operability, funding availability, capacity building and standardisation.

“In particular, significant cost reductions are required for ocean energy technologies to compete with other low-carbon technologies.”

Currently the cost of wind power, taking into account construction costs over the turbines’ lifetime, is being quoted as around €0.8-10 (one eighth to one tenth of a Euro, about £0.07-9 or US$0.9-11) per kilowatt hour, but this is still going down.

The European target is to get tidal stream energy down to €0.10 by 2030 and wave power down to €0.15, which would also make them competitive with fossil fuels if gas and coal were obliged to pay for capturing and storing the carbon dioxide they produce. − Climate News Network

With green energy from wind and solar out-competing fossil fuels, governments now hope for another boost − blue energy from the oceans.

LONDON, 31 March, 2020 − The amount of energy generated by tides and waves in the last decade has increased 10-fold. Now governments around the world are planning to scale up these ventures to tap into the oceans’ vast store of blue energy.

Although in 2019 the total amount of energy produced by “blue power” would have been enough to provide electricity to only one city the size of Paris, even that was a vast increase on the tiny experiments being carried out 10 years earlier.

Now countries across the world with access to the sea are beginning to exploit all sorts of new technologies and intending to scale them up to bolster their attempts to go carbon-neutral.

Blue energy takes many forms. One of the most difficult technically is harnessing the energy of waves with devices that produce electricity. After several false starts many successful prototypes are now being trialled for commercial use. Other experiments exploit the tidal range – using the power of rapidly rising and falling tidal streams to push water through turbines.

The most commercially successful strategies so far use underwater turbines, similar to wind turbines, to exploit the tidal currents in coastal regions.

More ambitious but along the same lines are attempts to capture the energy from the immense ocean currents that move vast quantities of water round the planet.

“Our latest report underlines the considerable international support for the marine renewable sector. The start of this new decade carries considerable promise for ocean energy”

Also included in blue energy is ocean thermal energy conversion, which exploits the temperature differences between solar energy stored as heat in the upper ocean layers and colder seawater, generally at a depth below 1000 metres.

A variation on this is to use salinity gradients, the difference between the salt content of the sea and fresh water entering from a large river system. Some of these schemes are being used to produce fresh drinking water for dry regions rather than electricity.

The potential from all these energy sources is so great that an organisation called Ocean Energy Systems (OES), an offshoot of the International Energy Agency, is pooling all the research in a bid to achieve large-scale deployment.

There are now 24 countries in the OES, including China, India, the US, most European nations with a coastline, Japan, Australia and South Africa. Most of them have already deployed some blue energy schemes and are hoping to scale them up to full commercial use in the next decade.

As with wind and solar when they were being widely developed ten years ago, energy from the oceans is currently more expensive than fossil fuels. But as the technologies are refined the costs are coming down.

Profiting already

Already China has encouraged tidal stream energy by offering a feed-in tariff three times the price of fossil fuels, similar to the rate used in many countries to launch solar and wind power. One Chinese company is already finding this incentive enough to feed power into the grid and make a profit.

Among the leading countries developing these technologies are Canada and the United Kingdom, the two countries with the highest tides in the world. Canada has a number of tidal energy schemes on its Atlantic coast in Nova Scotia, with several competing companies testing different prototypes.

Scotland, which has enormous potential because of its many islands and tidal currents, has the largest tidal array of underwater turbines in the world. The turbine output has exceeded expectations, and the MeyGen company is planning to vastly increase the number of installations.

But this is only one of more than 20 projects in the UK, some still in the research and development stage, but many already being scaled up for deployment at special testing grounds in Scotland’s Orkney islands and the West of England.

OES chairman Henry Jeffrey, from the University of Edinburgh, said the group’s new annual report communicates the sizeable global effort to identify commercialisation pathways for ocean energy technologies.

Both Canada and the US can now see big potential, and political leaders across Europe have identified ocean energy as an essential component in meeting decarbonisation targets, fostering economic growth and creating future employment opportunities.

Lower costs essential

“Our latest report underlines the considerable international support for the marine renewable sector as leading global powers attempt to rebalance energy usage and limit global warming. The start of this new decade carries considerable promise for ocean energy,” he said.

However, Jeffrey warned that while the sector continued to take huge strides forward, there were several challenges ahead “centred around affordability, reliability, installability, operability, funding availability, capacity building and standardisation.

“In particular, significant cost reductions are required for ocean energy technologies to compete with other low-carbon technologies.”

Currently the cost of wind power, taking into account construction costs over the turbines’ lifetime, is being quoted as around €0.8-10 (one eighth to one tenth of a Euro, about £0.07-9 or US$0.9-11) per kilowatt hour, but this is still going down.

The European target is to get tidal stream energy down to €0.10 by 2030 and wave power down to €0.15, which would also make them competitive with fossil fuels if gas and coal were obliged to pay for capturing and storing the carbon dioxide they produce. − Climate News Network

Efficient energy cuts UK electricity’s carbon output

The United Kingdom leads the way in cutting carbon output from electricity production, to the surprise of its political leaders.

LONDON, 24 March, 2020 – Carbon output from the power sector has been falling faster in the UK than anywhere else in the world – despite the British government’s belief that electricity consumption would rise.

Part of the explanation is the closing of coal-fired power stations and their replacement by renewable energy technologies such as wind turbines and solar panels.

But the main savings have been in energy efficiency from the wholesale introduction of LED lighting to improved industrial processes.

This remarkable transformation has been repeated across many advanced countries in Europe and beyond. Even with many economies growing, communities have managed to reduce electricity use.

Emissions exported

Environmentalists and some academics would argue that part of the reason for the reduction is that Europe has exported some of its dirty energy-intensive industries, like steel-making, to China – so that China’s emissions have gone up while Europe’s have gone down.

This is partly true, but the UK’s Department of Environment says that even taking into account imported goods the UK’s overall carbon footprint has shrunk, not simply the energy sector’s contribution. The total of the three main greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, peaked in 2007 and had dropped 21% by 2017.

Andrew Warren, chairman of the British Energy Efficiency Federation, is highly critical of the way this energy revolution is being reported, saying the emphasis on the adoption of solar and wind technologies is misleading:

“The biggest decarbonising driver of the lot has not been the switching of supply sources (from coal to renewables). It has happened entirely as a result of investments in more energy-efficient technology.”

Constant drop

Writing on the Energyzine website, Warren says that from the beginning of this century energy consumption in the UK has been “falling. And falling. And falling. It is now over 20% lower than it was in 2000.

“In the case of the main heating fuel, natural gas, the impact has been even more pronounced. Sales have dropped by approaching one-third, largely due to better insulation and more efficient boilers and heating systems.”

He says this is totally contrary to British government predictions. As recently as 2010 the incoming Conservative government was officially planning on the doubling or even tripling of electricity consumption by 2050. But by 2010 sales were already falling, and they have continued to do so.

The 2005 White Paper, which set out the government’s proposals for future legislation, reckoned that by 2020 electricity consumption would have risen by 15%. In fact it has fallen by 16%; an error of more than 30% in forecasting.

“That old ‘Real Men Build Power Stations’ mentality still survives”

The same White Paper was used to justify the building of a series of nuclear power stations to satisfy the new demand – a policy that remains in place even though it is clear there is no need for the stations.

One station is under construction in the UK, but plans for up to five more are currently in limbo awaiting a government decision on whether to underwrite their cost with an electricity tax on consumers.

Despite figures showing that electricity consumption is continuing to fall, the government is still predicting that the demand for electricity will increase from 2025, particularly because of the switch to electric cars.

But Warren points out that many experts in the field, including the people who run the UK’s National Grid, doubt that this will happen.

Critical but neglected

Given how critical energy efficiency is in reducing demand when adopted across housing and industry, Warren says it is remarkable how little political attention is devoted to it. Very little is published about how and where critical savings are being made, and how much unfulfilled potential for improving efficiency there still is.

While some other western European nations have finally understood the importance of energy efficiency, sometimes called “the first fuel”, Warren says, many of the former Communist countries, even if they have now joined the European Union, still see building large new power stations as the way forward.

He told the Climate News Network: “The broad picture is that, over the past decade, most western European countries are seeing energy consumption stabilise, in many cases fall (even as GDP grows).

“But sadly too many of the old Comecon countries still can’t get their collective minds around demand-side management as a concept. That old ‘Real Men Build Power Stations’ mentality still survives.” – Climate News Network

The United Kingdom leads the way in cutting carbon output from electricity production, to the surprise of its political leaders.

LONDON, 24 March, 2020 – Carbon output from the power sector has been falling faster in the UK than anywhere else in the world – despite the British government’s belief that electricity consumption would rise.

Part of the explanation is the closing of coal-fired power stations and their replacement by renewable energy technologies such as wind turbines and solar panels.

But the main savings have been in energy efficiency from the wholesale introduction of LED lighting to improved industrial processes.

This remarkable transformation has been repeated across many advanced countries in Europe and beyond. Even with many economies growing, communities have managed to reduce electricity use.

Emissions exported

Environmentalists and some academics would argue that part of the reason for the reduction is that Europe has exported some of its dirty energy-intensive industries, like steel-making, to China – so that China’s emissions have gone up while Europe’s have gone down.

This is partly true, but the UK’s Department of Environment says that even taking into account imported goods the UK’s overall carbon footprint has shrunk, not simply the energy sector’s contribution. The total of the three main greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, peaked in 2007 and had dropped 21% by 2017.

Andrew Warren, chairman of the British Energy Efficiency Federation, is highly critical of the way this energy revolution is being reported, saying the emphasis on the adoption of solar and wind technologies is misleading:

“The biggest decarbonising driver of the lot has not been the switching of supply sources (from coal to renewables). It has happened entirely as a result of investments in more energy-efficient technology.”

Constant drop

Writing on the Energyzine website, Warren says that from the beginning of this century energy consumption in the UK has been “falling. And falling. And falling. It is now over 20% lower than it was in 2000.

“In the case of the main heating fuel, natural gas, the impact has been even more pronounced. Sales have dropped by approaching one-third, largely due to better insulation and more efficient boilers and heating systems.”

He says this is totally contrary to British government predictions. As recently as 2010 the incoming Conservative government was officially planning on the doubling or even tripling of electricity consumption by 2050. But by 2010 sales were already falling, and they have continued to do so.

The 2005 White Paper, which set out the government’s proposals for future legislation, reckoned that by 2020 electricity consumption would have risen by 15%. In fact it has fallen by 16%; an error of more than 30% in forecasting.

“That old ‘Real Men Build Power Stations’ mentality still survives”

The same White Paper was used to justify the building of a series of nuclear power stations to satisfy the new demand – a policy that remains in place even though it is clear there is no need for the stations.

One station is under construction in the UK, but plans for up to five more are currently in limbo awaiting a government decision on whether to underwrite their cost with an electricity tax on consumers.

Despite figures showing that electricity consumption is continuing to fall, the government is still predicting that the demand for electricity will increase from 2025, particularly because of the switch to electric cars.

But Warren points out that many experts in the field, including the people who run the UK’s National Grid, doubt that this will happen.

Critical but neglected

Given how critical energy efficiency is in reducing demand when adopted across housing and industry, Warren says it is remarkable how little political attention is devoted to it. Very little is published about how and where critical savings are being made, and how much unfulfilled potential for improving efficiency there still is.

While some other western European nations have finally understood the importance of energy efficiency, sometimes called “the first fuel”, Warren says, many of the former Communist countries, even if they have now joined the European Union, still see building large new power stations as the way forward.

He told the Climate News Network: “The broad picture is that, over the past decade, most western European countries are seeing energy consumption stabilise, in many cases fall (even as GDP grows).

“But sadly too many of the old Comecon countries still can’t get their collective minds around demand-side management as a concept. That old ‘Real Men Build Power Stations’ mentality still survives.” – Climate News Network

Hunger threat as tropical fish seek cooler waters

As climate heating drives tropical fish to seek survival elsewhere, humans will be left without the protein they need.

LONDON, 2 March, 2020 − Stocks of tropical fish that have provided vital protein for local people for generations may soon disappear as the oceans warm, leaving empty seas in their wake, scientists believe. But there could be help in international protection schemes.

Already researchers have found that fish are voting with their fins by diving deeper or migrating away from equatorial seas to find cooler waters. But now they have calculated, in a study published in the journal Nature, that tropical countries stand to lose most if not all of their fish stocks, with few if any species moving in to replace them.

Although scientists have known that the composition of stocks is changing in many world fisheries, they have not until now fully appreciated the devastating effect the climate crisis will have on tropical countries.

In the North Sea, for example, when fish like cod move north to find cooler and more congenial conditions for breeding, they are replaced by fish from further south which also have a commercial value, such as Mediterranean species like red mullet. But when fish move from the tropics there are no species from nearer the equator that are acclimatised to the hotter water and able to take their place.

Now Jorge García Molinos of Hokkaido University and colleagues in Japan and the US have undertaaken a comprehensive study of 779 commercial fish species to see how they would expand or contract their range under both moderate and more severe global warming between 2015 and 2100, using 2012 as a baseline for their distribution.

“The exit of many fishery stocks from these climate change-vulnerable nations is inevitable, but carefully designed international cooperation could significantly ease the impact on those nations”

The computer model they used showed that under moderate ocean warming tropical countries would lose 15% of their fish species by the end of this century. But if higher greenhouse gas emissions continued, fuelling more severe heat, that would rise to 40%.

The worst-affected countries would be along the north-west African seaboard, while south-east Asia, the Caribbean and Central America would also experience steep declines.

Alarmed by their findings, because of the effect they would have on the nutrition of the people who relied on fish protein for their survival, the scientists examined existing fisheries agreements to see if they took into account the fact that stocks might move because of climate change.

Analysis of 127 publicly-available international agreements showed that none contained language to deal with climate change or stock movements to other waters.

Some dealt with short-term stock fluctuations but not permanent movements, and did not deal with the possible over-fishing of replacement stocks.

Global help

The scientists suggest an urgent look at the issue at the annual UN climate talks because of the loss of fish stocks and the financial damage that warming seas will do to the economies of some of the world’s poorest countries.

They go further, suggesting that poor countries could apply for compensation for damage to their fisheries during negotiations under the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (WIM), and also raise the possibility of help from the Green Climate Fund, set up to help the poorest countries adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.

Professor García Molinos, based at Hokkaido’s Arctic Research Center,  said: “The exit of many fishery stocks from these climate-change vulnerable nations is inevitable, but carefully designed international cooperation together with the strictest enforcement of ambitious reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, especially by the highest-emitter countries, could significantly ease the impact on those nations.”

While the research relies on computer models to see how fish will react to warming seas in the future, the scientific evidence available shows that they are already responding. It also shows that keeping the world temperature increase down to 1.5°C, the preferred maximum agreed at the 2015 Paris climate talks, would help fisheries globally.

And the Hokkaido research demonstrates yet again how it is the poorest nations, which have contributed least to the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change, that will suffer most from their effects. − Climate News Network

As climate heating drives tropical fish to seek survival elsewhere, humans will be left without the protein they need.

LONDON, 2 March, 2020 − Stocks of tropical fish that have provided vital protein for local people for generations may soon disappear as the oceans warm, leaving empty seas in their wake, scientists believe. But there could be help in international protection schemes.

Already researchers have found that fish are voting with their fins by diving deeper or migrating away from equatorial seas to find cooler waters. But now they have calculated, in a study published in the journal Nature, that tropical countries stand to lose most if not all of their fish stocks, with few if any species moving in to replace them.

Although scientists have known that the composition of stocks is changing in many world fisheries, they have not until now fully appreciated the devastating effect the climate crisis will have on tropical countries.

In the North Sea, for example, when fish like cod move north to find cooler and more congenial conditions for breeding, they are replaced by fish from further south which also have a commercial value, such as Mediterranean species like red mullet. But when fish move from the tropics there are no species from nearer the equator that are acclimatised to the hotter water and able to take their place.

Now Jorge García Molinos of Hokkaido University and colleagues in Japan and the US have undertaaken a comprehensive study of 779 commercial fish species to see how they would expand or contract their range under both moderate and more severe global warming between 2015 and 2100, using 2012 as a baseline for their distribution.

“The exit of many fishery stocks from these climate change-vulnerable nations is inevitable, but carefully designed international cooperation could significantly ease the impact on those nations”

The computer model they used showed that under moderate ocean warming tropical countries would lose 15% of their fish species by the end of this century. But if higher greenhouse gas emissions continued, fuelling more severe heat, that would rise to 40%.

The worst-affected countries would be along the north-west African seaboard, while south-east Asia, the Caribbean and Central America would also experience steep declines.

Alarmed by their findings, because of the effect they would have on the nutrition of the people who relied on fish protein for their survival, the scientists examined existing fisheries agreements to see if they took into account the fact that stocks might move because of climate change.

Analysis of 127 publicly-available international agreements showed that none contained language to deal with climate change or stock movements to other waters.

Some dealt with short-term stock fluctuations but not permanent movements, and did not deal with the possible over-fishing of replacement stocks.

Global help

The scientists suggest an urgent look at the issue at the annual UN climate talks because of the loss of fish stocks and the financial damage that warming seas will do to the economies of some of the world’s poorest countries.

They go further, suggesting that poor countries could apply for compensation for damage to their fisheries during negotiations under the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (WIM), and also raise the possibility of help from the Green Climate Fund, set up to help the poorest countries adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.

Professor García Molinos, based at Hokkaido’s Arctic Research Center,  said: “The exit of many fishery stocks from these climate-change vulnerable nations is inevitable, but carefully designed international cooperation together with the strictest enforcement of ambitious reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, especially by the highest-emitter countries, could significantly ease the impact on those nations.”

While the research relies on computer models to see how fish will react to warming seas in the future, the scientific evidence available shows that they are already responding. It also shows that keeping the world temperature increase down to 1.5°C, the preferred maximum agreed at the 2015 Paris climate talks, would help fisheries globally.

And the Hokkaido research demonstrates yet again how it is the poorest nations, which have contributed least to the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change, that will suffer most from their effects. − Climate News Network

US state plans fossil fuel tax to fund schooling

The US state of Maryland is proposing a fossil fuel tax to pay for pre-school education and to promote electric cars.

LONDON, 27 February, 2020 − Maryland, an eastern US state badly hit by climate change, wants to introduce a fossil fuel tax on polluting industries and gas-guzzling cars in order to fund improvements to its education system worth $350 million (£271m) a year.

The Climate Crisis and Education Bill is currently being considered by the Maryland General Assembly’s 2020 session. With a strong Democrat majority in both upper and lower houses of the state’s legislature, it could soon become law – even though the ideas behind it are extremely radical by US standards.

The bill would establish a Climate Crisis Council to develop an energy policy that reduces statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by 2030, and 100% by 2040 – and trusts in achieving net negative emissions after that, using 2006 as a baseline.

There has been widespread concern in Maryland about falling education standards compared with other states, and an inquiry, the Kirwan Commission, has called for $350m a year to be invested in improvements.

These include extra funding for teacher salaries, additional counselling and career preparation, stronger health programmes, and money for pre-school activities.

“We have a climate crisis. It’s not a concern, it’s a crisis, and we must begin to address it, and that’s exactly what this legislation does”

The bill would introduce a gradually escalating fossil fuel fee, starting at $15 a ton for non-transport sources and $10 a ton for vehicles.

There would also be a graduated registration fee on new cars and light trucks that are gas guzzlers, revenues from which would be used to provide rebates to electric vehicle (EV) purchasers and to pay for the installation of statewide EV charging points.

Maryland has suffered more than most of the US from climate change and is severely threatened by sea level rise on the shores of Chesapeake Bay. Some small towns are already losing the battle against the sea.

The frequency of street flooding in the state capital, Annapolis, and larger cities like Baltimore has increased about ten-fold since the early 1960s.

Salt feeds concerns

Salinisation of farmland on the Eastern Shore is also a concern, as the salt water has begun intruding into the water table. Across the state the frequency of extreme weather events continues to increase, including events like flash flooding, heavy thunderstorms, extreme heat and droughts.

Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo, the leading General Assembly supporter of the bill, said the state’s taxpayers had already been paying for damage caused by the climate crisis: “In the 2019 session, we passed an emergency appropriation in the General Assembly for one million dollars to mitigate flooding in Annapolis.

“That’s just one city in the entire state − one million dollars. Why should the taxpayers pay for that when fossil fuel companies make $400 million a day in profits?”

Emphasising the urgency of the situation and the need for immediate action, the bill’s Senate sponsor, Senator Benjamin F. Kramer, said: “We have a climate crisis. It’s not a concern, it’s a crisis, and we must begin to address it, and that’s exactly what this legislation does.

“And the legislation is a win, win, win. It’s a win for our health, it’s a win for the environment, and it’s a win for education.”

Support detected

Both men are conscious that despite the concern of Democrats about the climate crisis, and the fact that the party has a large overall majority, their bill is radical and may meet some resistance. However, recent polling suggests that the public supports action on the crisis.

The bill is also up against legislators who favour other ways of paying for the education reforms, including taxes on gambling, alcohol and digital commerce.

In order to allay fears about new taxes on fossil fuels the provisions of the bill insist that the carbon taxes protect low- and moderate-income households, as well as “energy-intensive, trade-exposed businesses”, and help fossil fuel workers who may lose their jobs to find new ones in the clean economy.

There are also clauses that specifically prevent the fossil fuel companies from passing the cost of carbon taxes on to Maryland consumers. − Climate News Network

The US state of Maryland is proposing a fossil fuel tax to pay for pre-school education and to promote electric cars.

LONDON, 27 February, 2020 − Maryland, an eastern US state badly hit by climate change, wants to introduce a fossil fuel tax on polluting industries and gas-guzzling cars in order to fund improvements to its education system worth $350 million (£271m) a year.

The Climate Crisis and Education Bill is currently being considered by the Maryland General Assembly’s 2020 session. With a strong Democrat majority in both upper and lower houses of the state’s legislature, it could soon become law – even though the ideas behind it are extremely radical by US standards.

The bill would establish a Climate Crisis Council to develop an energy policy that reduces statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by 2030, and 100% by 2040 – and trusts in achieving net negative emissions after that, using 2006 as a baseline.

There has been widespread concern in Maryland about falling education standards compared with other states, and an inquiry, the Kirwan Commission, has called for $350m a year to be invested in improvements.

These include extra funding for teacher salaries, additional counselling and career preparation, stronger health programmes, and money for pre-school activities.

“We have a climate crisis. It’s not a concern, it’s a crisis, and we must begin to address it, and that’s exactly what this legislation does”

The bill would introduce a gradually escalating fossil fuel fee, starting at $15 a ton for non-transport sources and $10 a ton for vehicles.

There would also be a graduated registration fee on new cars and light trucks that are gas guzzlers, revenues from which would be used to provide rebates to electric vehicle (EV) purchasers and to pay for the installation of statewide EV charging points.

Maryland has suffered more than most of the US from climate change and is severely threatened by sea level rise on the shores of Chesapeake Bay. Some small towns are already losing the battle against the sea.

The frequency of street flooding in the state capital, Annapolis, and larger cities like Baltimore has increased about ten-fold since the early 1960s.

Salt feeds concerns

Salinisation of farmland on the Eastern Shore is also a concern, as the salt water has begun intruding into the water table. Across the state the frequency of extreme weather events continues to increase, including events like flash flooding, heavy thunderstorms, extreme heat and droughts.

Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo, the leading General Assembly supporter of the bill, said the state’s taxpayers had already been paying for damage caused by the climate crisis: “In the 2019 session, we passed an emergency appropriation in the General Assembly for one million dollars to mitigate flooding in Annapolis.

“That’s just one city in the entire state − one million dollars. Why should the taxpayers pay for that when fossil fuel companies make $400 million a day in profits?”

Emphasising the urgency of the situation and the need for immediate action, the bill’s Senate sponsor, Senator Benjamin F. Kramer, said: “We have a climate crisis. It’s not a concern, it’s a crisis, and we must begin to address it, and that’s exactly what this legislation does.

“And the legislation is a win, win, win. It’s a win for our health, it’s a win for the environment, and it’s a win for education.”

Support detected

Both men are conscious that despite the concern of Democrats about the climate crisis, and the fact that the party has a large overall majority, their bill is radical and may meet some resistance. However, recent polling suggests that the public supports action on the crisis.

The bill is also up against legislators who favour other ways of paying for the education reforms, including taxes on gambling, alcohol and digital commerce.

In order to allay fears about new taxes on fossil fuels the provisions of the bill insist that the carbon taxes protect low- and moderate-income households, as well as “energy-intensive, trade-exposed businesses”, and help fossil fuel workers who may lose their jobs to find new ones in the clean economy.

There are also clauses that specifically prevent the fossil fuel companies from passing the cost of carbon taxes on to Maryland consumers. − Climate News Network