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.

Nuclear power somehow always makes a loss

As the world recalls the atomic bombing of Hiroshima 74 years ago, researchers say nuclear power can offer nothing in the fight against climate change.

LONDON, 6 August, 2019 − Two new studies together make an eloquent case against nuclear power: that its civilian uses are inseparable from nuclear warmaking, and that it is always uneconomic and has to be subsidised by taxpayers.

The first report, by the Berlin-based German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), says that private economic interests have never played a role in nuclear power; instead the military have always been the driving force behind their construction. The report’s title sums up its contents: High-Priced and Dangerous: Nuclear Power is not an option for the Climate-Friendly Energy Mix.

The researchers calculate, after analysis of the 674 nuclear power plants built since the 1950s, that on average they make a loss of €5 billion (US$5.6 bn) each, and that is without taking into account the cost of getting rid of their radioactive waste.

The report does not simply investigate the past. It also looks ahead, reviewing the industry’s plans for a new generation of nuclear power stations, and particularly the small modular reactors (SMRs) in which the US, Canada, Russia, China and the UK are currently investing huge amounts of development money. The researchers conclude that they too are doomed to be an expensive failure.

“Nuclear power was never designed for commercial electricity generation; it was aimed at nuclear weapons”

The second study, specifically into SMRs, is by the Nuclear Consulting Group (NCG), an international team of academics and other experts [the writer of this news report is a member].  It reaches the same conclusion: that they will be expensive for the taxpayer and never live up to expectations.

The NCG, which works with Nuclear Free Local Authorities in the UK, says its opposition is based on close scrutiny of the industry. After examining all the designs of SMRs currently being developed globally, the NCG says: “It remains likely that no substantive deployment of the technology will be realised, with just a very few reactors built, at most.

“This will be despite large amounts of public money being invested in these projects and, worse, the neglect of other more viable non-nuclear options. It provides another example of the industry talking a good game but delivering little.” There are recurrent reports that SMRs are managing to break into the market, but so far without any sign of widespread success.

The German report from DIW is much more direct in condemning nuclear power. Christian von Hirschhausen, co-author of the study, says: “Nuclear power was never designed for commercial electricity generation; it was aimed at nuclear weapons.

Long-term danger

“That is why nuclear electricity has been and will continue to be uneconomic. Further, nuclear energy is by no means ‘clean’; Its radioactivity will endanger humans and the natural world for over one million years.”

The assertion by DIW that civilian and military uses of nuclear power are two sides of the same coin has been made before, with a US report two years ago saying that an essential component of nuclear weapons is made in civil reactors for the use of the armed forces.

The DIW authors examine the history, financing and political background to every nuclear power station built. With 10 countries gaining the knowledge to produce nuclear weapons (initially the US, UK, France and the Soviet Union, joined later by China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel, and South Africa), none of the ten now uses nuclear energy commercially via private, non-state-supported investment.

The German report’s conclusion is aimed at the Berlin government, but it would equally apply to any government not interested in developing nuclear power for military purposes, whether to make bombs or to power submarines and surface warships.

Not an option

It says: “The lack of economic efficiency goes hand-in-hand with a high risk with regard to the proliferation of weapons-grade materials and the release of radioactivity, as shown by the accidents in Harrisburg, known also as Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986), and Fukushima  (2011). Nuclear energy is not a relevant option for supplying economical, climate-friendly, and sustainable energy in the future.

“Energy, climate, and industrial policy should therefore target a quick withdrawal from nuclear energy. Subsidies and special tariffs for service life extensions are not recommended because they are life-support systems for the risky, uneconomical nuclear industry. This is even more true for new construction. Budgets for researching new reactor types should be cut.

“‘Nuclear energy for climate protection’ is an old narrative that is as inaccurate today as it was in the 1970s. Describing nuclear energy as ‘clean’ ignores the significant environmental risks and radioactive emissions it engenders along the process chain and beyond.

“The German federal government would be well advised to counteract the narrative in the EU and other organisations in which Germany is involved.” − Climate News Network

As the world recalls the atomic bombing of Hiroshima 74 years ago, researchers say nuclear power can offer nothing in the fight against climate change.

LONDON, 6 August, 2019 − Two new studies together make an eloquent case against nuclear power: that its civilian uses are inseparable from nuclear warmaking, and that it is always uneconomic and has to be subsidised by taxpayers.

The first report, by the Berlin-based German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), says that private economic interests have never played a role in nuclear power; instead the military have always been the driving force behind their construction. The report’s title sums up its contents: High-Priced and Dangerous: Nuclear Power is not an option for the Climate-Friendly Energy Mix.

The researchers calculate, after analysis of the 674 nuclear power plants built since the 1950s, that on average they make a loss of €5 billion (US$5.6 bn) each, and that is without taking into account the cost of getting rid of their radioactive waste.

The report does not simply investigate the past. It also looks ahead, reviewing the industry’s plans for a new generation of nuclear power stations, and particularly the small modular reactors (SMRs) in which the US, Canada, Russia, China and the UK are currently investing huge amounts of development money. The researchers conclude that they too are doomed to be an expensive failure.

“Nuclear power was never designed for commercial electricity generation; it was aimed at nuclear weapons”

The second study, specifically into SMRs, is by the Nuclear Consulting Group (NCG), an international team of academics and other experts [the writer of this news report is a member].  It reaches the same conclusion: that they will be expensive for the taxpayer and never live up to expectations.

The NCG, which works with Nuclear Free Local Authorities in the UK, says its opposition is based on close scrutiny of the industry. After examining all the designs of SMRs currently being developed globally, the NCG says: “It remains likely that no substantive deployment of the technology will be realised, with just a very few reactors built, at most.

“This will be despite large amounts of public money being invested in these projects and, worse, the neglect of other more viable non-nuclear options. It provides another example of the industry talking a good game but delivering little.” There are recurrent reports that SMRs are managing to break into the market, but so far without any sign of widespread success.

The German report from DIW is much more direct in condemning nuclear power. Christian von Hirschhausen, co-author of the study, says: “Nuclear power was never designed for commercial electricity generation; it was aimed at nuclear weapons.

Long-term danger

“That is why nuclear electricity has been and will continue to be uneconomic. Further, nuclear energy is by no means ‘clean’; Its radioactivity will endanger humans and the natural world for over one million years.”

The assertion by DIW that civilian and military uses of nuclear power are two sides of the same coin has been made before, with a US report two years ago saying that an essential component of nuclear weapons is made in civil reactors for the use of the armed forces.

The DIW authors examine the history, financing and political background to every nuclear power station built. With 10 countries gaining the knowledge to produce nuclear weapons (initially the US, UK, France and the Soviet Union, joined later by China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel, and South Africa), none of the ten now uses nuclear energy commercially via private, non-state-supported investment.

The German report’s conclusion is aimed at the Berlin government, but it would equally apply to any government not interested in developing nuclear power for military purposes, whether to make bombs or to power submarines and surface warships.

Not an option

It says: “The lack of economic efficiency goes hand-in-hand with a high risk with regard to the proliferation of weapons-grade materials and the release of radioactivity, as shown by the accidents in Harrisburg, known also as Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986), and Fukushima  (2011). Nuclear energy is not a relevant option for supplying economical, climate-friendly, and sustainable energy in the future.

“Energy, climate, and industrial policy should therefore target a quick withdrawal from nuclear energy. Subsidies and special tariffs for service life extensions are not recommended because they are life-support systems for the risky, uneconomical nuclear industry. This is even more true for new construction. Budgets for researching new reactor types should be cut.

“‘Nuclear energy for climate protection’ is an old narrative that is as inaccurate today as it was in the 1970s. Describing nuclear energy as ‘clean’ ignores the significant environmental risks and radioactive emissions it engenders along the process chain and beyond.

“The German federal government would be well advised to counteract the narrative in the EU and other organisations in which Germany is involved.” − Climate News Network

Only a climate revolution can cool the world

An academic book on fossil fuel consumption reaches a startling conclusion: only a climate revolution can force governments to act to stop the planet overheating.

LONDON, 31 July, 2019 − Governments have completely failed to make progress in tackling the planetary emergency, and a climate revolution is the sole hope that they will do so.

This sounds like a sound bite from Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who is inspiring schoolchildren worldwide to go on strike, or a slogan from Extinction Rebellion, which has been disrupting city life in the UK and elsewhere to secure an urgent government response to the climate emergency.

Both campaigns might agree with the statement, but it is in fact from a scholarly book, Burning Up, A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption, a detailed study into the burning of fossil fuels since 1950.  It looks at fuel consumption in individual countries but also at the political forces that have driven and still drive the ever-growing inferno of fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas, across the world.

The book illustrates the reasons behind the rather frightening fact that since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, despite many promises and warnings, governments have failed to take decisive action on climate change and in fact have made it decidedly worse by continuing to subsidise fossil fuels more than renewables.

Simon Pirani, a senior research fellow at the UK’s Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, takes the reader through an exhaustive examination of fossil fuel consumption and the driving forces behind it.  One point he makes is that governments, particularly in the US, have contrived to kill off the use of buses and trains and instead promoted private cars.

 

And even if people wanted a choice, they don’t have the chance to make one, so we have to contribute to the increased use of fossil fuels if we want to lead a normal life. Producing many consumer goods and nearly all food depends on fossil fuels. Agriculture depends on oil-based fertiliser; and buying cars, washing machines and fridges leaves customers willy-nilly indirectly consuming fossil fuels.

Pirani is also scathing about the rich world’s reaction to the sort of crisis that is here already and will become more commonplace in a warming world.  He gives the example of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, when there was indifference from the government to the poor and disadvantaged who were most affected – an attitude mirrored across the world in subsequent disasters, especially in developing countries.

Climate change is already affecting swathes of Africa, causing crop failures and famine – again largely ignored by the rich world, which he identifies as the main cause of climate change, continues to cause it, but refuses to take responsibility for its consequences.

His third example is our attitude to refugees. He admits that most of the migrants converging now on Europe and the US are on the move because of wars or political oppression, but says that when millions are forced to migrate by climate change the pattern has already been set.

“There is little hope of world leaders taking the action required to keep the world temperature from increasing more than 2°C, let alone 1.5°C”

The attitude of governments in the rich world, increasingly in the EU but already in the US, is to build walls to keep them out rather than tackle the problem at source.

Altogether it is a fascinating and disturbing analysis of how the influence of the fossil fuel industry and its short-term financial advantage has come to outweigh the scientific evidence and the welfare of humanity in the minds of politicians. It certainly demonstrates why there is little hope of world leaders taking the action required to keep the world temperature from increasing more than 2°C, let alone 1.5°C.

However, Dr Pirani claims that ordinary people can have an impact on governments.  He points to the example of China where the government, fearful of the reaction of its people to the effects of air pollution on its children’s health, has taken decisive action to reduce the damage. India is currently going through the same process.

His book was written and with the publisher before the rise of Extinction Rebellion and the school strikes, but perhaps that is exactly the sort of citizen action he would advocate.

His conclusion is that unless ordinary people reject the continued dominance of the fossil fuel industry and force governments to act by continued acts of civil disobedience. there is no hope of keeping the world temperature below a dangerous level. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Burning Up. A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption, Simon Pirani, Pluto Press, London

An academic book on fossil fuel consumption reaches a startling conclusion: only a climate revolution can force governments to act to stop the planet overheating.

LONDON, 31 July, 2019 − Governments have completely failed to make progress in tackling the planetary emergency, and a climate revolution is the sole hope that they will do so.

This sounds like a sound bite from Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who is inspiring schoolchildren worldwide to go on strike, or a slogan from Extinction Rebellion, which has been disrupting city life in the UK and elsewhere to secure an urgent government response to the climate emergency.

Both campaigns might agree with the statement, but it is in fact from a scholarly book, Burning Up, A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption, a detailed study into the burning of fossil fuels since 1950.  It looks at fuel consumption in individual countries but also at the political forces that have driven and still drive the ever-growing inferno of fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas, across the world.

The book illustrates the reasons behind the rather frightening fact that since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, despite many promises and warnings, governments have failed to take decisive action on climate change and in fact have made it decidedly worse by continuing to subsidise fossil fuels more than renewables.

Simon Pirani, a senior research fellow at the UK’s Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, takes the reader through an exhaustive examination of fossil fuel consumption and the driving forces behind it.  One point he makes is that governments, particularly in the US, have contrived to kill off the use of buses and trains and instead promoted private cars.

 

And even if people wanted a choice, they don’t have the chance to make one, so we have to contribute to the increased use of fossil fuels if we want to lead a normal life. Producing many consumer goods and nearly all food depends on fossil fuels. Agriculture depends on oil-based fertiliser; and buying cars, washing machines and fridges leaves customers willy-nilly indirectly consuming fossil fuels.

Pirani is also scathing about the rich world’s reaction to the sort of crisis that is here already and will become more commonplace in a warming world.  He gives the example of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, when there was indifference from the government to the poor and disadvantaged who were most affected – an attitude mirrored across the world in subsequent disasters, especially in developing countries.

Climate change is already affecting swathes of Africa, causing crop failures and famine – again largely ignored by the rich world, which he identifies as the main cause of climate change, continues to cause it, but refuses to take responsibility for its consequences.

His third example is our attitude to refugees. He admits that most of the migrants converging now on Europe and the US are on the move because of wars or political oppression, but says that when millions are forced to migrate by climate change the pattern has already been set.

“There is little hope of world leaders taking the action required to keep the world temperature from increasing more than 2°C, let alone 1.5°C”

The attitude of governments in the rich world, increasingly in the EU but already in the US, is to build walls to keep them out rather than tackle the problem at source.

Altogether it is a fascinating and disturbing analysis of how the influence of the fossil fuel industry and its short-term financial advantage has come to outweigh the scientific evidence and the welfare of humanity in the minds of politicians. It certainly demonstrates why there is little hope of world leaders taking the action required to keep the world temperature from increasing more than 2°C, let alone 1.5°C.

However, Dr Pirani claims that ordinary people can have an impact on governments.  He points to the example of China where the government, fearful of the reaction of its people to the effects of air pollution on its children’s health, has taken decisive action to reduce the damage. India is currently going through the same process.

His book was written and with the publisher before the rise of Extinction Rebellion and the school strikes, but perhaps that is exactly the sort of citizen action he would advocate.

His conclusion is that unless ordinary people reject the continued dominance of the fossil fuel industry and force governments to act by continued acts of civil disobedience. there is no hope of keeping the world temperature below a dangerous level. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Burning Up. A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption, Simon Pirani, Pluto Press, London

New premier plans new UK nuclear tax

Financing nuclear power stations is proving impossible for business, so Boris Johnson plans a new UK nuclear tax for all to pay.

LONDON, 29 July, 2019 − All electricity consumers in Britain will pay a new UK nuclear tax, a levy on their bills to finance the construction of nuclear power plants under a scheme announced by the UK government.

Called a Regulated Asset Base (RAB), but in reality a nuclear tax levied on electricity bills, the charge has no limits, so consumers will go on paying for any cost over-runs and delays, however long it takes to build a nuclear power station.

The plan, launched by the UK Department for Business, is also to finance the as yet unproven technologies of carbon capture and storage.

In both cases the consumer would be asked to pay for all the risks while the large nuclear companies got cheap finance for their projects.  Under the government’s proposal, the taxpayer would also foot the bill if the schemes were ultimately scrapped.

The nuclear industry, particularly EDF, the French government-owned utility, is delighted by the idea, because its power stations are so costly it can no longer afford to finance them itself. Getting the consumer to pay the costs up front will save billions of pounds in interest charges, and so the theory is that when the power station is finally up and running the electricity produced will be less expensive.

“The idea of paying extra for the privilege of major disruption and the threat of environmental damage to protected sites really sticks in our throats”

Many campaigners are appalled at the idea, partly because renewables like solar and onshore wind are less than half the price of new nuclear. They can see no need to force consumers to spend huge sums on a technology that many countries in Europe have already abandoned, among them Germany, Spain and Italy.

Initially they calculate that £6 a year would be added to every electricity bill to pay for nuclear energy, even if consumers were already committed to buying only from renewable sources.

Part of the problem with nuclear reactors is the uncertainty that surrounds them, because construction takes so long. The average delay of EDF’s current reactor projects in France and Finland is 10 years − and neither is yet operating.

So much concrete is poured for a new nuclear station that it adds to climate change before construction is complete. By the time any reactors financed by this scheme are up and running, the battle to avoid the atmosphere overheating could well be lost, according to scientists .

Successful try-out

The idea of charging consumers to pay the capital cost of large public schemes like sewage works as they are constructed has been tried successfully in the UK on the Thames Tideway Scheme in London, which is costing £4.2 billion ($5.25bn). The money from consumers was used as the scheme progressed, keeping down the overall cost because huge loans are not required, but the scheme has its critics because the profits went to shareholders of the water company.

The government’s view, represented by the business and energy secretary Greg Clark, in a comment made the day before he was sacked by the new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, was that it was essential to find a way of financing big projects so that Britain could transform its energy sector to avoid climate change. His successor, Andrea Leadsom, another nuclear enthusiast, is likely to take the same view.

Both carbon capture and storage and nuclear needed to be developed, Mr Clark said, and ultimately this way of raising finance as a levy from the consumer would cut the cost of raising the necessary capital and would bring costs down.

However, the size and scale of the Sizewell C nuclear power station project in Suffolk on England’s east coast, which would be the first to benefit from the UK government’s new scheme, is far larger than any other RAB scheme, costing at least £16 billion ($19.9bn). It is also longer-term and more risky than anything tried before.

A similar idea was tried in the US – getting consumers to pay up front for two nuclear power reactors in South Carolina – but it was abandoned when $9bn had already been spent.

Nothing to show

The cancellation of these two new reactors became inevitable when Westinghouse, which designed the reactors, filed for bankruptcy. The consumers got no electricity for their money.

It was the local opponents to the proposed Sizewell C power station who calculated that the RAB idea would add around £6 a year to customer bills across the UK, including those on renewable energy contracts.

Alison Downes, co-chair of a local action group, said: “Most of EDF’s EPR (third generation pressurised water reactor) projects have over-run and over-spent, so there is a high risk of even more costs being passed on to householders and taxpayers.

“Having campaigned for many years to get EDF to change its construction plans for Sizewell C, the idea of paying extra for the privilege of major disruption and the threat of environmental damage to protected sites really sticks in our throats.” − Climate News Network

Financing nuclear power stations is proving impossible for business, so Boris Johnson plans a new UK nuclear tax for all to pay.

LONDON, 29 July, 2019 − All electricity consumers in Britain will pay a new UK nuclear tax, a levy on their bills to finance the construction of nuclear power plants under a scheme announced by the UK government.

Called a Regulated Asset Base (RAB), but in reality a nuclear tax levied on electricity bills, the charge has no limits, so consumers will go on paying for any cost over-runs and delays, however long it takes to build a nuclear power station.

The plan, launched by the UK Department for Business, is also to finance the as yet unproven technologies of carbon capture and storage.

In both cases the consumer would be asked to pay for all the risks while the large nuclear companies got cheap finance for their projects.  Under the government’s proposal, the taxpayer would also foot the bill if the schemes were ultimately scrapped.

The nuclear industry, particularly EDF, the French government-owned utility, is delighted by the idea, because its power stations are so costly it can no longer afford to finance them itself. Getting the consumer to pay the costs up front will save billions of pounds in interest charges, and so the theory is that when the power station is finally up and running the electricity produced will be less expensive.

“The idea of paying extra for the privilege of major disruption and the threat of environmental damage to protected sites really sticks in our throats”

Many campaigners are appalled at the idea, partly because renewables like solar and onshore wind are less than half the price of new nuclear. They can see no need to force consumers to spend huge sums on a technology that many countries in Europe have already abandoned, among them Germany, Spain and Italy.

Initially they calculate that £6 a year would be added to every electricity bill to pay for nuclear energy, even if consumers were already committed to buying only from renewable sources.

Part of the problem with nuclear reactors is the uncertainty that surrounds them, because construction takes so long. The average delay of EDF’s current reactor projects in France and Finland is 10 years − and neither is yet operating.

So much concrete is poured for a new nuclear station that it adds to climate change before construction is complete. By the time any reactors financed by this scheme are up and running, the battle to avoid the atmosphere overheating could well be lost, according to scientists .

Successful try-out

The idea of charging consumers to pay the capital cost of large public schemes like sewage works as they are constructed has been tried successfully in the UK on the Thames Tideway Scheme in London, which is costing £4.2 billion ($5.25bn). The money from consumers was used as the scheme progressed, keeping down the overall cost because huge loans are not required, but the scheme has its critics because the profits went to shareholders of the water company.

The government’s view, represented by the business and energy secretary Greg Clark, in a comment made the day before he was sacked by the new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, was that it was essential to find a way of financing big projects so that Britain could transform its energy sector to avoid climate change. His successor, Andrea Leadsom, another nuclear enthusiast, is likely to take the same view.

Both carbon capture and storage and nuclear needed to be developed, Mr Clark said, and ultimately this way of raising finance as a levy from the consumer would cut the cost of raising the necessary capital and would bring costs down.

However, the size and scale of the Sizewell C nuclear power station project in Suffolk on England’s east coast, which would be the first to benefit from the UK government’s new scheme, is far larger than any other RAB scheme, costing at least £16 billion ($19.9bn). It is also longer-term and more risky than anything tried before.

A similar idea was tried in the US – getting consumers to pay up front for two nuclear power reactors in South Carolina – but it was abandoned when $9bn had already been spent.

Nothing to show

The cancellation of these two new reactors became inevitable when Westinghouse, which designed the reactors, filed for bankruptcy. The consumers got no electricity for their money.

It was the local opponents to the proposed Sizewell C power station who calculated that the RAB idea would add around £6 a year to customer bills across the UK, including those on renewable energy contracts.

Alison Downes, co-chair of a local action group, said: “Most of EDF’s EPR (third generation pressurised water reactor) projects have over-run and over-spent, so there is a high risk of even more costs being passed on to householders and taxpayers.

“Having campaigned for many years to get EDF to change its construction plans for Sizewell C, the idea of paying extra for the privilege of major disruption and the threat of environmental damage to protected sites really sticks in our throats.” − Climate News Network

The views we’ll lose with climate change

At Europe’s peak holiday season, a solar light company is showing tourists the views we’ll lose with climate change.

LONDON, 25 July, 2019 − Staff at a British company became so frustrated by the many adults still denying the scientific evidence of global warming that they are using graphic images of the effects on several famous tourist sites to show people the views we’ll lose.

The prediction from scientists that the city of Venice and London’s world-famous Big Ben are among the treasures that will be overwhelmed by flooding from heavy rains and sea level rise has led those who work at The Solar Centre to produce current and future pictures of these tourist magnets to ram home their point.

They have also created similar before-and-after images of the English Lake District, which will begin to dry up because of climate change, and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, where corals are already being wiped out and will vanish entirely under the worst-case scenario.

In the past tabloid newspapers have got into trouble for mocking up photographs of what will happen under rising temperatures, but the campaigners at The Solar Centre insist that their images recreate the scientific evidence.

They have used evidence from C40 Cities, Natural England, and National Geographic to show what changing weather patterns will do to some of the most famous sites in the world.

The UK: London’s Big Ben

 

How badly affected these places are and how quickly they will deteriorate depends on the efforts made now to reduce emissions to the atmosphere. But all of them could vanish within the lifetime of children now at primary school.

Hannah Buckley, from the company, said: “Our aim in these pictures is to raise further awareness of the damage we are inflicting on ourselves. We believe that people still choose to ignore the facts as they cannot see the damage today.

“Many people are choosing to go on holiday at this time of year and we picked out some of the tourist destinations, both in the UK and abroad, that are most at risk from climate change.

“Consistently climate scientists talk of rising sea levels and melting glaciers, whilst the reality is that people don’t think this will affect them as they don’t live near the sea or near a glacier.

England’s Lake District

“Action is needed to reduce the on-going sense of apathy towards climate change. Hence, here at The Solar Centre our climate awareness team decided to visualise what popular tourist destinations would look like in accordance with current research, using Photoshop. By visualising the effect on destinations that are immediately recognisable to everyone, we hope that people will start to take notice before it’s too late.”

Because London is one of the most popular destinations for tourists visiting the UK, and Big Ben one of its most iconic buildings, the company decided to show how climate change could threaten the 160-year-old clock.

Research has suggested climate change will cause storm surges from the North Sea coinciding with river flooding from the Thames. This would result in mass flooding of the city of London and create an abundance of surface water. Even walking across the Thames by Westminster Bridge could be problematic.

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system, located off Australia’s east coast. It attracts snorkelers and divers, and more importantly is home to many species of fish and other marine life. Climate change is already having a huge impact on the reef.

Italy: St Mark’s Square, Venice

Rising sea temperatures are the main reason, causing the coral to bleach and ultimately killing it. This trend is likely to increase, and soon there could be almost no marine life left in what is currently one of Australia’s world heritage sites.

Venice is sometimes called the floating city, but soon this could be the sinking city. It is already at constant threat from flooding because of its low-lying foundations. Any time there is heavy rain combined with high tides, seawater is driven into the city. Part could soon lie partly under water.

The Lake District – a popular holiday destination in north-west England – is famed for its mountain views and lakes. It faces multiple threats from climate change. Species likely to decline include the mountain ringlet butterfly. But there will be an increase in invasive species like pygmy weeds and Japanese knotweeds – not the type of plants you want in your back garden

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

Heavy rainfall will cause erosion, damaging footbridges and footpaths, which will increase the amount of soil in the lakes. In the summer months, lake levels will also fall drastically, altering cherished views. – Climate News Network

* * * * *

All images courtesy of The Solar Centre

At Europe’s peak holiday season, a solar light company is showing tourists the views we’ll lose with climate change.

LONDON, 25 July, 2019 − Staff at a British company became so frustrated by the many adults still denying the scientific evidence of global warming that they are using graphic images of the effects on several famous tourist sites to show people the views we’ll lose.

The prediction from scientists that the city of Venice and London’s world-famous Big Ben are among the treasures that will be overwhelmed by flooding from heavy rains and sea level rise has led those who work at The Solar Centre to produce current and future pictures of these tourist magnets to ram home their point.

They have also created similar before-and-after images of the English Lake District, which will begin to dry up because of climate change, and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, where corals are already being wiped out and will vanish entirely under the worst-case scenario.

In the past tabloid newspapers have got into trouble for mocking up photographs of what will happen under rising temperatures, but the campaigners at The Solar Centre insist that their images recreate the scientific evidence.

They have used evidence from C40 Cities, Natural England, and National Geographic to show what changing weather patterns will do to some of the most famous sites in the world.

The UK: London’s Big Ben

 

How badly affected these places are and how quickly they will deteriorate depends on the efforts made now to reduce emissions to the atmosphere. But all of them could vanish within the lifetime of children now at primary school.

Hannah Buckley, from the company, said: “Our aim in these pictures is to raise further awareness of the damage we are inflicting on ourselves. We believe that people still choose to ignore the facts as they cannot see the damage today.

“Many people are choosing to go on holiday at this time of year and we picked out some of the tourist destinations, both in the UK and abroad, that are most at risk from climate change.

“Consistently climate scientists talk of rising sea levels and melting glaciers, whilst the reality is that people don’t think this will affect them as they don’t live near the sea or near a glacier.

England’s Lake District

“Action is needed to reduce the on-going sense of apathy towards climate change. Hence, here at The Solar Centre our climate awareness team decided to visualise what popular tourist destinations would look like in accordance with current research, using Photoshop. By visualising the effect on destinations that are immediately recognisable to everyone, we hope that people will start to take notice before it’s too late.”

Because London is one of the most popular destinations for tourists visiting the UK, and Big Ben one of its most iconic buildings, the company decided to show how climate change could threaten the 160-year-old clock.

Research has suggested climate change will cause storm surges from the North Sea coinciding with river flooding from the Thames. This would result in mass flooding of the city of London and create an abundance of surface water. Even walking across the Thames by Westminster Bridge could be problematic.

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system, located off Australia’s east coast. It attracts snorkelers and divers, and more importantly is home to many species of fish and other marine life. Climate change is already having a huge impact on the reef.

Italy: St Mark’s Square, Venice

Rising sea temperatures are the main reason, causing the coral to bleach and ultimately killing it. This trend is likely to increase, and soon there could be almost no marine life left in what is currently one of Australia’s world heritage sites.

Venice is sometimes called the floating city, but soon this could be the sinking city. It is already at constant threat from flooding because of its low-lying foundations. Any time there is heavy rain combined with high tides, seawater is driven into the city. Part could soon lie partly under water.

The Lake District – a popular holiday destination in north-west England – is famed for its mountain views and lakes. It faces multiple threats from climate change. Species likely to decline include the mountain ringlet butterfly. But there will be an increase in invasive species like pygmy weeds and Japanese knotweeds – not the type of plants you want in your back garden

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

Heavy rainfall will cause erosion, damaging footbridges and footpaths, which will increase the amount of soil in the lakes. In the summer months, lake levels will also fall drastically, altering cherished views. – Climate News Network

* * * * *

All images courtesy of The Solar Centre

Ancient water-saving can help modern Peru

Ancient water-saving methods may help Lima, Peru’s capital, through its water crisis, caused by climate change and population growth.

LONDON, 2 July, 2019 − There’s plenty to learn in modern Peru from the designers of ancient water-saving methods, scientists are finding. Our forebears could even keep the capital’s taps running through the summer heat.

Lima, Peru’s desert capital, a city of 12 million people, expects to run out of water by 2025. It already faces a crisis each summer as the supply from the mountains dwindles to a trickle. Yet the quantity of rain in the wet season can be overwhelming.

Between the Andes and the Pacific ocean, Lima sits on a coastal plain where the average rainfall is a tiny 9 mm a year, and it has to rely on the snow melt from the mountains and glaciers to provide summer drinking water and the needs of industry and farming.

But with the glaciers disappearing because of climate change, and the population increasing, the city will soon become untenable for many of the poor in summer, unless water supplies can be improved.

A group of scientists has found that reviving systems developed 1,400 years ago by local people before the Inca empire existed could harvest water from the winter rainy season in the mountains to ensure Lima’s summer supplies.

“You’d be forgiven for wondering how ancient methods could apply to modern-day problems. However we have lots to learn from our ancestors’ creative problem-solving skills”

Researchers from Imperial College London and their colleagues at the Regional Initiative for Hydrological Monitoring of Andean Ecosystems studied a water system in Huamantanga, in the central Andes, one of the last of its kind.

The local people still use a method developed in 600 AD by Peruvian civilisations that created systems in the mountains to divert excess rainwater from source streams through ponds and canals onto mountain slopes and down through fissures in the rocks.

The water would take weeks or even months to trickle through the system and resurface downstream – just in time for the dry season.

The researchers used dye tracers and hydrological monitoring to study the system from the wet to dry seasons of 2014–2015 and 2015–2016. Social scientists involved also worked with Huamantanga’s local people to understand the practice and help map the landscape.

Big increase

They found the water took between two weeks and eight months to re-emerge, with an average time of 45 days. From these timescales, they calculated that, if governments upscale the systems to cater for today’s population size, they could reroute and delay 35% of wet season water, equivalent to 99 million cubic metres per year of water flowing through Lima’s natural terrain.

This could increase the water available in the dry season by up to 33% in the early months, and an average of 7.5% for the rest of the summer.

The method could essentially extend the wet season, providing more drinking water and longer crop-growing periods for local farmers.

The study, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, is the first to examine the pre-Inca system in this much detail to find answers to modern problems. The authors say their research shows how indigenous systems could complement modern engineering solutions for water security in coastal Peru.

Lead author Dr Boris Ochoa-Tocachi, from Imperial’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, said: “With the advent of modern science, you’d be forgiven for wondering how ancient methods could apply to modern-day problems. However, it turns out that we have lots to learn from our ancestors’ creative problem-solving skills.”

Growing too fast

Senior author Dr Wouter Buytaert, from the same department, said: “Like many tropical cities, Lima’s population is growing fast – too fast for water reserves to keep up during dry seasons. Upscaling existing pre-Inca systems could help relieve Peru’s wet months of water and quench its dry ones.”

The seasonal variability typical of coastal Peru is worsened by human impacts. Apart from glacier melting caused by global warming, humans also contribute to erosion, which renders soil too weak to support dams big enough to hold all the water needed in the summer.

Climate change also makes wet seasons wetter, and dry seasons drier − making the need for effective water storage in Peru even more urgent.

The authors say combining pre-Inca systems with classic structures, such as smaller dams, could also help to improve adaptability and water supply in an unpredictable climate. − Climate News Network

Ancient water-saving methods may help Lima, Peru’s capital, through its water crisis, caused by climate change and population growth.

LONDON, 2 July, 2019 − There’s plenty to learn in modern Peru from the designers of ancient water-saving methods, scientists are finding. Our forebears could even keep the capital’s taps running through the summer heat.

Lima, Peru’s desert capital, a city of 12 million people, expects to run out of water by 2025. It already faces a crisis each summer as the supply from the mountains dwindles to a trickle. Yet the quantity of rain in the wet season can be overwhelming.

Between the Andes and the Pacific ocean, Lima sits on a coastal plain where the average rainfall is a tiny 9 mm a year, and it has to rely on the snow melt from the mountains and glaciers to provide summer drinking water and the needs of industry and farming.

But with the glaciers disappearing because of climate change, and the population increasing, the city will soon become untenable for many of the poor in summer, unless water supplies can be improved.

A group of scientists has found that reviving systems developed 1,400 years ago by local people before the Inca empire existed could harvest water from the winter rainy season in the mountains to ensure Lima’s summer supplies.

“You’d be forgiven for wondering how ancient methods could apply to modern-day problems. However we have lots to learn from our ancestors’ creative problem-solving skills”

Researchers from Imperial College London and their colleagues at the Regional Initiative for Hydrological Monitoring of Andean Ecosystems studied a water system in Huamantanga, in the central Andes, one of the last of its kind.

The local people still use a method developed in 600 AD by Peruvian civilisations that created systems in the mountains to divert excess rainwater from source streams through ponds and canals onto mountain slopes and down through fissures in the rocks.

The water would take weeks or even months to trickle through the system and resurface downstream – just in time for the dry season.

The researchers used dye tracers and hydrological monitoring to study the system from the wet to dry seasons of 2014–2015 and 2015–2016. Social scientists involved also worked with Huamantanga’s local people to understand the practice and help map the landscape.

Big increase

They found the water took between two weeks and eight months to re-emerge, with an average time of 45 days. From these timescales, they calculated that, if governments upscale the systems to cater for today’s population size, they could reroute and delay 35% of wet season water, equivalent to 99 million cubic metres per year of water flowing through Lima’s natural terrain.

This could increase the water available in the dry season by up to 33% in the early months, and an average of 7.5% for the rest of the summer.

The method could essentially extend the wet season, providing more drinking water and longer crop-growing periods for local farmers.

The study, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, is the first to examine the pre-Inca system in this much detail to find answers to modern problems. The authors say their research shows how indigenous systems could complement modern engineering solutions for water security in coastal Peru.

Lead author Dr Boris Ochoa-Tocachi, from Imperial’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, said: “With the advent of modern science, you’d be forgiven for wondering how ancient methods could apply to modern-day problems. However, it turns out that we have lots to learn from our ancestors’ creative problem-solving skills.”

Growing too fast

Senior author Dr Wouter Buytaert, from the same department, said: “Like many tropical cities, Lima’s population is growing fast – too fast for water reserves to keep up during dry seasons. Upscaling existing pre-Inca systems could help relieve Peru’s wet months of water and quench its dry ones.”

The seasonal variability typical of coastal Peru is worsened by human impacts. Apart from glacier melting caused by global warming, humans also contribute to erosion, which renders soil too weak to support dams big enough to hold all the water needed in the summer.

Climate change also makes wet seasons wetter, and dry seasons drier − making the need for effective water storage in Peru even more urgent.

The authors say combining pre-Inca systems with classic structures, such as smaller dams, could also help to improve adaptability and water supply in an unpredictable climate. − Climate News Network

Solar future shines ever more brightly

Progress in China, the US and elsewhere shows an increasingly positive solar future as fuel from the sun grows cheaper and more abundant.

LONDON, 26 June, 2019 − The world’s solar future  continues to brighten, further and faster than seemed possible only a few years ago.

As the price of all types of solar technology goes on falling, it is becoming possible for large parts of the world to replace fossil fuels with cleaner and cheaper solar alternatives. A UN-backed report says much of Asia could meet all its electricity needs and ditch coal completely, by adopting solar power on a large scale.

After an initial drop of 2% in installations of solar equipment in the United States when President Donald Trump put a 30% tariff on overseas-manufactured solar panels, the market has picked up again and there are forecasts of a rapid growth rate this year.

The US Solar Energy Industries Association expects installations to rise by 25% in 2019 to a capacity of 13.3 gigawatts, about the output of 15 large coal-fired plants. This is more electricity than many smaller countries in Africa and Europe need to keep their lights on.

The boom in American solar power is due mainly to the continuous fall in the price of photo-voltaic panels, because of an over-supply in China. This has cancelled out the negative effect of Trump tariffs. States in the southern US, particularly Florida, are expecting to install large-scale solar farms this year that will produce electricity more cheaply than coal.

New technology

In China itself the solar boom continues. It has been strengthened by an innovation, a molten solar power plant in Dunhuang (in the north-western Gansu province, on the edge of the Gobi desert), costing three billion yuan (£345m/ $440m).

This uses 12,000 mirrors to concentrate the sun’s rays onto a tower containing molten salt which heats to a far greater temperature than water and creates steam to drive turbines and generate electricity.

The advantage of this concentrated solar power method over solar panels is that the heat can be stored in the salt and electricity produced in the evening when demand rises.

The 100 megawatt plant, enough to power a medium-sized city, can store energy for up to 15 hours, so it can work continuously and can re-charge itself when the sun comes up the following day. The Chinese engineers say the plant has already exceeded its design specifications.

The same technology is being used in Dubai, where an ambitious project, Noor Energy 1, will cover 44 square kilometres of desert. Costing $4.4 billion, it is the largest renewable energy project in the world, apart from hydropower, and combines both concentrated solar power and photo-voltaic technologies.

“The 1.5°C limit means a greatly reduced risk of drought and water stress in south and south-east Asia”

This combination is expected to produce 950 megawatts of power: it uses 550,000 tons of salt to store the heat. Again, the power output after sunset is expected to last for 15 hours. Dubai aims to generate 25% of its energy from solar power by 2030.

Although concentrated solar power plants take longer to construct and have a larger capital cost, the energy storage they provide makes them particularly attractive to desert states where the input from the sun is so reliable.

But the future for solar is bright over the whole of south and east Asia, according to a new report by Climate Analytics, which is supported by the United Nations. The study has seven country studies for India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Climate Analytics researchers estimate that covering just 1.5% of the territory in each south and east Asian country with solar installations could satisfy their combined electricity consumption 13 times over.

Costs for renewables and energy storage technologies continue to fall: the average cost of renewables was often already in the same range as fossil fuels in 2016, even without accounting for external costs like health and the environmental impacts of fossil fuels. It has now fallen further.

Key contribution

However, for the world to limit warming to 1.5°C, these  countries need to decarbonise their energy systems by 2050, and the power sector has a critical role to play.

According to the study, the share of zero carbon electricity generation needs to reach at least 50% in 2030 and 100% by 2050. Coal would need to be phased out of electricity generation by 2040.

“By decarbonising their energy systems, south and south-east Asian countries can make a fundamental difference in global efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C, in line with the Paris Agreement, and will reap large economic and sustainable development benefits by doing so,” said the report’s author, Bill Hare, Climate Analytics’ CEO.

Dr Fahad Saeed, climate scientist at Climate Analytics, said: “The 1.5°C limit means a greatly reduced risk of drought and water stress in south and south-east Asia, which would contribute to achieving zero hunger, good health and wellbeing, and clean water and sanitation.”

“It would also reduce the risk of flooding for large numbers of people living in coastal regions, as well as extreme heat that can otherwise reach intolerable levels for human health and labour productivity, particularly in densely populated cities in south Asia.” − Climate News Network

Progress in China, the US and elsewhere shows an increasingly positive solar future as fuel from the sun grows cheaper and more abundant.

LONDON, 26 June, 2019 − The world’s solar future  continues to brighten, further and faster than seemed possible only a few years ago.

As the price of all types of solar technology goes on falling, it is becoming possible for large parts of the world to replace fossil fuels with cleaner and cheaper solar alternatives. A UN-backed report says much of Asia could meet all its electricity needs and ditch coal completely, by adopting solar power on a large scale.

After an initial drop of 2% in installations of solar equipment in the United States when President Donald Trump put a 30% tariff on overseas-manufactured solar panels, the market has picked up again and there are forecasts of a rapid growth rate this year.

The US Solar Energy Industries Association expects installations to rise by 25% in 2019 to a capacity of 13.3 gigawatts, about the output of 15 large coal-fired plants. This is more electricity than many smaller countries in Africa and Europe need to keep their lights on.

The boom in American solar power is due mainly to the continuous fall in the price of photo-voltaic panels, because of an over-supply in China. This has cancelled out the negative effect of Trump tariffs. States in the southern US, particularly Florida, are expecting to install large-scale solar farms this year that will produce electricity more cheaply than coal.

New technology

In China itself the solar boom continues. It has been strengthened by an innovation, a molten solar power plant in Dunhuang (in the north-western Gansu province, on the edge of the Gobi desert), costing three billion yuan (£345m/ $440m).

This uses 12,000 mirrors to concentrate the sun’s rays onto a tower containing molten salt which heats to a far greater temperature than water and creates steam to drive turbines and generate electricity.

The advantage of this concentrated solar power method over solar panels is that the heat can be stored in the salt and electricity produced in the evening when demand rises.

The 100 megawatt plant, enough to power a medium-sized city, can store energy for up to 15 hours, so it can work continuously and can re-charge itself when the sun comes up the following day. The Chinese engineers say the plant has already exceeded its design specifications.

The same technology is being used in Dubai, where an ambitious project, Noor Energy 1, will cover 44 square kilometres of desert. Costing $4.4 billion, it is the largest renewable energy project in the world, apart from hydropower, and combines both concentrated solar power and photo-voltaic technologies.

“The 1.5°C limit means a greatly reduced risk of drought and water stress in south and south-east Asia”

This combination is expected to produce 950 megawatts of power: it uses 550,000 tons of salt to store the heat. Again, the power output after sunset is expected to last for 15 hours. Dubai aims to generate 25% of its energy from solar power by 2030.

Although concentrated solar power plants take longer to construct and have a larger capital cost, the energy storage they provide makes them particularly attractive to desert states where the input from the sun is so reliable.

But the future for solar is bright over the whole of south and east Asia, according to a new report by Climate Analytics, which is supported by the United Nations. The study has seven country studies for India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Climate Analytics researchers estimate that covering just 1.5% of the territory in each south and east Asian country with solar installations could satisfy their combined electricity consumption 13 times over.

Costs for renewables and energy storage technologies continue to fall: the average cost of renewables was often already in the same range as fossil fuels in 2016, even without accounting for external costs like health and the environmental impacts of fossil fuels. It has now fallen further.

Key contribution

However, for the world to limit warming to 1.5°C, these  countries need to decarbonise their energy systems by 2050, and the power sector has a critical role to play.

According to the study, the share of zero carbon electricity generation needs to reach at least 50% in 2030 and 100% by 2050. Coal would need to be phased out of electricity generation by 2040.

“By decarbonising their energy systems, south and south-east Asian countries can make a fundamental difference in global efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C, in line with the Paris Agreement, and will reap large economic and sustainable development benefits by doing so,” said the report’s author, Bill Hare, Climate Analytics’ CEO.

Dr Fahad Saeed, climate scientist at Climate Analytics, said: “The 1.5°C limit means a greatly reduced risk of drought and water stress in south and south-east Asia, which would contribute to achieving zero hunger, good health and wellbeing, and clean water and sanitation.”

“It would also reduce the risk of flooding for large numbers of people living in coastal regions, as well as extreme heat that can otherwise reach intolerable levels for human health and labour productivity, particularly in densely populated cities in south Asia.” − Climate News Network

Hydrogen can replace natural gas by 2050

Engineers say there is no technical reason why hydrogen cannot replace natural gas to make electricity, heat homes and for cooking.

LONDON, 17 June, 2019 − The UK government, which has just declared it aims to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050, has been told by Britain’s leading engineers that hydrogen can safely be used to replace natural gas in the country’s gas grid.

Since 85% of homes in Britain use gas for cooking and heating and 40% of electricity is currently generated by gas, this would be a major leap towards cutting emissions − and it could be done in the next 30 years.

It is an important development for all countries striving to reach zero emissions, because replacing gas central heating in homes and offices has always been described as one of the most difficult technical problems to overcome in order to attain a low-carbon future.

If Britain were to replace natural gas with hydrogen in the grid it would be the first country in the world to do so, and the engineers caution that being a pioneer might produce unforeseen teething problems.

“Using hydrogen in the UK’s gas grid for use by homes and businesses … could significantly contribute to the decarbonisation of the UK’s energy sector”

They announce their news in a report by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), using experts from five professional engineering institutions. It was commissioned by the government to assess the engineering risks and uncertainties around using hydrogen in homes, businesses and factories as a low-carbon fuel.

The snag about the report for environmentalists is that the engineers suggest converting existing supplies of natural gas into hydrogen using a process called gas reforming, which effectively strips the carbon out of it.

The problem with this technology is that the carbon would then have to be stored and used as a product, a technique that has yet to be properly developed on a large scale.

The report’s authors say this is cheaper than the alternative method of making hydrogen from renewable energy. That involves passing an electric current through water, known as electrolysis. When hydrogen is produced this way and burned it combines with oxygen to produce pure water and no carbon; so from an environmental point of view it is far cleaner.

High volumes needed

The engineers say electrolysis is considerably more expensive for producing the large volumes of hydrogen required to feed the entire national gas grid. However, many companies producing excess electrical power from offshore wind farms and tidal power are investing in plants to make hydrogen this way, so the process is already getting cheaper.

In order to use hydrogen rather than natural gas in the grid the engineers say that existing iron gas mains would need to be replaced by hydrogen-safe polyethylene pipes by 2030, a process that has already begun.

Existing gas boilers in homes would also have to be replaced with “hydrogen-ready” appliances.  The report says that could be done at little extra cost to consumers because boilers are replaced every 10 to 15 years, so by the time the hydrogen was flowing the boilers would be in place.

Lead author Dr Robert Sansom of the IET’s energy policy panel said: “We are now in a position to seriously consider the viability of using hydrogen in the UK’s gas grid for use by homes and businesses, which could significantly contribute to the decarbonisation of the UK’s energy sector.

Lack of experience

“Hydrogen has not been deployed at scale anywhere in the world and so any proposal will need to compensate for this lack of experience. Our report identifies key risks and uncertainties such as ensuring that we understand the impact on the public from a transition to hydrogen and can minimise any disruption that arises.

“We know hydrogen produces no carbon emissions when burned, but it is also important to fully investigate and understand the overall environmental impact a switch to hydrogen is likely to make.

“It is ambitious. To make a significant contribution to meeting the UK’s 2050 carbon reduction target the transition to hydrogen would need to be implemented over the next 30 years. This may seem a long time but in terms of the infrastructure required and the millions of homes and businesses affected it is relatively short.

“Action is required now, and we hope that our findings and subsequent recommendations can make a significant contribution to advancing the decarbonisation of the UK.” − Climate News Network

Engineers say there is no technical reason why hydrogen cannot replace natural gas to make electricity, heat homes and for cooking.

LONDON, 17 June, 2019 − The UK government, which has just declared it aims to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050, has been told by Britain’s leading engineers that hydrogen can safely be used to replace natural gas in the country’s gas grid.

Since 85% of homes in Britain use gas for cooking and heating and 40% of electricity is currently generated by gas, this would be a major leap towards cutting emissions − and it could be done in the next 30 years.

It is an important development for all countries striving to reach zero emissions, because replacing gas central heating in homes and offices has always been described as one of the most difficult technical problems to overcome in order to attain a low-carbon future.

If Britain were to replace natural gas with hydrogen in the grid it would be the first country in the world to do so, and the engineers caution that being a pioneer might produce unforeseen teething problems.

“Using hydrogen in the UK’s gas grid for use by homes and businesses … could significantly contribute to the decarbonisation of the UK’s energy sector”

They announce their news in a report by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), using experts from five professional engineering institutions. It was commissioned by the government to assess the engineering risks and uncertainties around using hydrogen in homes, businesses and factories as a low-carbon fuel.

The snag about the report for environmentalists is that the engineers suggest converting existing supplies of natural gas into hydrogen using a process called gas reforming, which effectively strips the carbon out of it.

The problem with this technology is that the carbon would then have to be stored and used as a product, a technique that has yet to be properly developed on a large scale.

The report’s authors say this is cheaper than the alternative method of making hydrogen from renewable energy. That involves passing an electric current through water, known as electrolysis. When hydrogen is produced this way and burned it combines with oxygen to produce pure water and no carbon; so from an environmental point of view it is far cleaner.

High volumes needed

The engineers say electrolysis is considerably more expensive for producing the large volumes of hydrogen required to feed the entire national gas grid. However, many companies producing excess electrical power from offshore wind farms and tidal power are investing in plants to make hydrogen this way, so the process is already getting cheaper.

In order to use hydrogen rather than natural gas in the grid the engineers say that existing iron gas mains would need to be replaced by hydrogen-safe polyethylene pipes by 2030, a process that has already begun.

Existing gas boilers in homes would also have to be replaced with “hydrogen-ready” appliances.  The report says that could be done at little extra cost to consumers because boilers are replaced every 10 to 15 years, so by the time the hydrogen was flowing the boilers would be in place.

Lead author Dr Robert Sansom of the IET’s energy policy panel said: “We are now in a position to seriously consider the viability of using hydrogen in the UK’s gas grid for use by homes and businesses, which could significantly contribute to the decarbonisation of the UK’s energy sector.

Lack of experience

“Hydrogen has not been deployed at scale anywhere in the world and so any proposal will need to compensate for this lack of experience. Our report identifies key risks and uncertainties such as ensuring that we understand the impact on the public from a transition to hydrogen and can minimise any disruption that arises.

“We know hydrogen produces no carbon emissions when burned, but it is also important to fully investigate and understand the overall environmental impact a switch to hydrogen is likely to make.

“It is ambitious. To make a significant contribution to meeting the UK’s 2050 carbon reduction target the transition to hydrogen would need to be implemented over the next 30 years. This may seem a long time but in terms of the infrastructure required and the millions of homes and businesses affected it is relatively short.

“Action is required now, and we hope that our findings and subsequent recommendations can make a significant contribution to advancing the decarbonisation of the UK.” − Climate News Network

Siberia expects mass migration as it warms

Scientists mapping the effects of increased temperature and rainfall across Siberia say it could expect mass migration in a warmer world.

LONDON, 7 June, 2019 − Siberia, currently one of the most sparsely populated places in the northern hemisphere, could become a target for mass migration as the climate warms.

By 2080, scientists report, melting permafrost and warming summer and winter temperatures will mean that agriculture could thrive and support between five and seven times the current population.

Lands to the south are becoming far less able to feed and sustain their existing populations, as heat makes crops harder to grow and cities untenable, and mass migration northward is likely, the scientists predict.

Their study, which is produced by the Krasnoyarsk Federal Research Centre in Siberia and the US National Institute of Aerospace, says the current problem of falling population in Russia will be reversed as conditions in Siberia become much better for growing food, and both summers and winters more pleasant to live in. It is published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

With 13 million square kilometres of land area, Asian Russia – east of the Urals, towards the Pacific – accounts for 77% of Russian territory. Its population, however, accounts for just 27% of the country’s people and is concentrated along the forest-steppe in the south, with its comfortable climate and fertile soil.

“In a future, warmer climate, food security, in terms of crop distribution and production capability, is predicted to become more favourable”

The findings have a certain irony, because at the close of the Communist era the Soviet government was not keen to take any action on climate change: it saw the warming of Siberia as a chance for the USSR to grow more wheat and challenge US dominance of the world’s grain supply.

The scientists warn, however, that mass migration will not be that simple. The melting of the permafrost threatens what little infrastructure there is in the region. Before a larger population could provide for itself, investments need to be made in new roads, railways and power supplies to support it.

They say warming in the region already exceeds earlier estimates. Depending on how much carbon dioxide humans continue to pump into the atmosphere, the scientists predict mid-winter temperatures over Asian Russia will increase between 3.4°C and 9.1°C by 2080. Increases in mid-summer will be between 1.9°C and 5.7°C, they say.

Permafrost, which currently covers 65% of the region, would fall to 40% by 2080, and crucially there will be increases in rainfall of between 60 mm and 140 mm, making the unfrozen area much more favourable for crops.

Migration ‘probable’

Using something called Ecological Landscape Potential, or ELP, to gauge the potential for land to support human populations, the scientists came to the conclusion that mass migration north was probable.

“We found the ELP would increase over most of Asian Russia, which would lead to a five- to seven-fold increase in the capacity of the territory to sustain and become attractive to human populations, which would then lead to migrations from less sustainable lands to Asian Russia during this century,” they say.

Dr Elena Parfenova, from the Krasnoyarsk centre, said: “In a future, warmer climate, food security, in terms of crop distribution and production capability, is predicted to become more favourable to support settlements in what is currently an extremely cold Asian Russia.”

She said that obviously people would flock first to the already developed areas in the south, but most of the area of Siberia and the Far East “have poorly developed infrastructure. The rapidity that these developments occur is dependent on investments in infrastructure and agriculture, which is dependent on the decisions that will be made in the near future.” − Climate News Network

Scientists mapping the effects of increased temperature and rainfall across Siberia say it could expect mass migration in a warmer world.

LONDON, 7 June, 2019 − Siberia, currently one of the most sparsely populated places in the northern hemisphere, could become a target for mass migration as the climate warms.

By 2080, scientists report, melting permafrost and warming summer and winter temperatures will mean that agriculture could thrive and support between five and seven times the current population.

Lands to the south are becoming far less able to feed and sustain their existing populations, as heat makes crops harder to grow and cities untenable, and mass migration northward is likely, the scientists predict.

Their study, which is produced by the Krasnoyarsk Federal Research Centre in Siberia and the US National Institute of Aerospace, says the current problem of falling population in Russia will be reversed as conditions in Siberia become much better for growing food, and both summers and winters more pleasant to live in. It is published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

With 13 million square kilometres of land area, Asian Russia – east of the Urals, towards the Pacific – accounts for 77% of Russian territory. Its population, however, accounts for just 27% of the country’s people and is concentrated along the forest-steppe in the south, with its comfortable climate and fertile soil.

“In a future, warmer climate, food security, in terms of crop distribution and production capability, is predicted to become more favourable”

The findings have a certain irony, because at the close of the Communist era the Soviet government was not keen to take any action on climate change: it saw the warming of Siberia as a chance for the USSR to grow more wheat and challenge US dominance of the world’s grain supply.

The scientists warn, however, that mass migration will not be that simple. The melting of the permafrost threatens what little infrastructure there is in the region. Before a larger population could provide for itself, investments need to be made in new roads, railways and power supplies to support it.

They say warming in the region already exceeds earlier estimates. Depending on how much carbon dioxide humans continue to pump into the atmosphere, the scientists predict mid-winter temperatures over Asian Russia will increase between 3.4°C and 9.1°C by 2080. Increases in mid-summer will be between 1.9°C and 5.7°C, they say.

Permafrost, which currently covers 65% of the region, would fall to 40% by 2080, and crucially there will be increases in rainfall of between 60 mm and 140 mm, making the unfrozen area much more favourable for crops.

Migration ‘probable’

Using something called Ecological Landscape Potential, or ELP, to gauge the potential for land to support human populations, the scientists came to the conclusion that mass migration north was probable.

“We found the ELP would increase over most of Asian Russia, which would lead to a five- to seven-fold increase in the capacity of the territory to sustain and become attractive to human populations, which would then lead to migrations from less sustainable lands to Asian Russia during this century,” they say.

Dr Elena Parfenova, from the Krasnoyarsk centre, said: “In a future, warmer climate, food security, in terms of crop distribution and production capability, is predicted to become more favourable to support settlements in what is currently an extremely cold Asian Russia.”

She said that obviously people would flock first to the already developed areas in the south, but most of the area of Siberia and the Far East “have poorly developed infrastructure. The rapidity that these developments occur is dependent on investments in infrastructure and agriculture, which is dependent on the decisions that will be made in the near future.” − Climate News Network

Reindeer turn to seaweed as winters warm

The world’s most northerly reindeer turn to seaweed as global warming puts their normal food beyond reach.

LONDON, 30 May, 2019 − Deep in the Arctic Circle, on the remote Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, nature has found a way to outwit climate change: deprived of their normal diet, the world’s most northerly reindeer turn to seaweed.

Strangely, it is not cold and snow that have threatened them with starvation, but rain. In the warmer winter weather rain falls instead of snow, causing a crust of ice too thick for the reindeer to break through and reach the plants beneath which they need to eat to survive.

The Svalbard reindeer are a sub-species adapted to the extreme climate and known locally as Arctic pigs, because of their round shape and stubby legs.

Normally even with deep snow the reindeer can use their hooves to scrape the covering layer away to reach the grasses and plants underneath and survive the long dark winter. But recently Svalbard, which is at the most northerly point of the Gulf Stream, has been experiencing warmer winters

.Frequently it rains heavily rather than snowing, and the rain turns to ice when it hits the frozen surface, cutting off the reindeers’ food supply. The animals have taken to moving down to the seashore to graze to get enough nourishment until the spring comes.

“The reindeer are surprisingly adaptive. They have different solutions for new problems like rapid climate change, and most are able to survive surprisingly hard conditions”

Scientists who studied the reindeer report in the journal Ecosphere that they had assumed that global warming would make life easier for the reindeer, but found that the 20,000 Arctic pigs were struggling to survive the rain.

An earlier study found that the impact of climate change on the vegetation the animals eat had caused their average weight to fall by more than 10% in a 16-year period.

To find out about their new eating habits the scientists, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), studied the droppings of the reindeer to establish what they had been eating.

This was no small task. Using GPS tracking devices attached to 2,199 animals the scientists tracked their movements over nine years. They compared the movements with nine years of data they had on ice thickness covering the snow, called basal ice: this showed that reindeer moved to the coast when the ice was thickest.

Biologist Brage Bremset Hansen and colleagues, who have been studying the reindeer for decades, were delighted to be able to prove that the newly acquired seaweed-eating habit was related to new conditions on Svalbard.

Varied diet

But the reindeer don’t exclusively feed on seaweed; the stable isotope and GPS collar data show instead that they eat it as a supplementary source of nutrition. “It seems they can’t sustain themselves on seaweed. They do move back and forth between the shore and the few ice-free vegetation patches every day, so it is obvious that they have to combine it with normal food, whatever they can find,” Hansen said.

Eating seaweed also comes at a cost – it gives the reindeer a lot of diarrhoea – probably from the salt, according to Hansen.

Although eating seaweed isn’t ideal, he said, it does show the animals are able to adapt, which is the good news. “The bigger picture is that, although we sometimes observe that populations crash during extremely icy winters, the reindeer are surprisingly adaptive,” he said.

“They have different solutions for new problems like rapid climate change, they have a variety of strategies, and most are able to survive surprisingly hard conditions.” − Climate News Network

The world’s most northerly reindeer turn to seaweed as global warming puts their normal food beyond reach.

LONDON, 30 May, 2019 − Deep in the Arctic Circle, on the remote Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, nature has found a way to outwit climate change: deprived of their normal diet, the world’s most northerly reindeer turn to seaweed.

Strangely, it is not cold and snow that have threatened them with starvation, but rain. In the warmer winter weather rain falls instead of snow, causing a crust of ice too thick for the reindeer to break through and reach the plants beneath which they need to eat to survive.

The Svalbard reindeer are a sub-species adapted to the extreme climate and known locally as Arctic pigs, because of their round shape and stubby legs.

Normally even with deep snow the reindeer can use their hooves to scrape the covering layer away to reach the grasses and plants underneath and survive the long dark winter. But recently Svalbard, which is at the most northerly point of the Gulf Stream, has been experiencing warmer winters

.Frequently it rains heavily rather than snowing, and the rain turns to ice when it hits the frozen surface, cutting off the reindeers’ food supply. The animals have taken to moving down to the seashore to graze to get enough nourishment until the spring comes.

“The reindeer are surprisingly adaptive. They have different solutions for new problems like rapid climate change, and most are able to survive surprisingly hard conditions”

Scientists who studied the reindeer report in the journal Ecosphere that they had assumed that global warming would make life easier for the reindeer, but found that the 20,000 Arctic pigs were struggling to survive the rain.

An earlier study found that the impact of climate change on the vegetation the animals eat had caused their average weight to fall by more than 10% in a 16-year period.

To find out about their new eating habits the scientists, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), studied the droppings of the reindeer to establish what they had been eating.

This was no small task. Using GPS tracking devices attached to 2,199 animals the scientists tracked their movements over nine years. They compared the movements with nine years of data they had on ice thickness covering the snow, called basal ice: this showed that reindeer moved to the coast when the ice was thickest.

Biologist Brage Bremset Hansen and colleagues, who have been studying the reindeer for decades, were delighted to be able to prove that the newly acquired seaweed-eating habit was related to new conditions on Svalbard.

Varied diet

But the reindeer don’t exclusively feed on seaweed; the stable isotope and GPS collar data show instead that they eat it as a supplementary source of nutrition. “It seems they can’t sustain themselves on seaweed. They do move back and forth between the shore and the few ice-free vegetation patches every day, so it is obvious that they have to combine it with normal food, whatever they can find,” Hansen said.

Eating seaweed also comes at a cost – it gives the reindeer a lot of diarrhoea – probably from the salt, according to Hansen.

Although eating seaweed isn’t ideal, he said, it does show the animals are able to adapt, which is the good news. “The bigger picture is that, although we sometimes observe that populations crash during extremely icy winters, the reindeer are surprisingly adaptive,” he said.

“They have different solutions for new problems like rapid climate change, they have a variety of strategies, and most are able to survive surprisingly hard conditions.” − Climate News Network

France’s nuclear industry struggles on

With its new reactors needing modifications and its older ones awaiting costly updates, France’s nuclear industry is in trouble.

LONDON, 27 May, 2019 − EDF, France’s nuclear industry leader and the last European company trying to build large reactors, has had further setbacks to its flagship project that make the company’s future prospects look bleak.

The giant Flamanville-3 European pressurised water reactor (EPR), in Normandy in northern France, has difficult-to-repair faulty welds that will delay its start-up, possibly for years, and add to an already overstretched budget.

The French nuclear regulator ASN is yet to decide exactly how EDF must repair 66 faulty welds that currently render the nearly completed 1,600 megawatt reactor too dangerous to load with nuclear fuel. Eight of the welds are inside the reactor’s containment and extremely difficult to reach and fix.

The company is due to meet ASN on 29 May to discuss the best way of tackling the problem that will require specialist skills and equipment. It makes EDF’s current start date for the reactor, March 2020, extremely unlikely to be met, and will probably put the whole project back at least a year, probably two.

Licence problem

Apart from the enormous extra costs involved, the delay will also extend the construction beyond the current licensing decree granted by the French government, another embarrassment for the company.

According to Reuters news agency, when construction started in 2007 the target date for completion was 2012, but a string of technical difficulties have meant delays, and costs have tripled. The latest delay adds €400 million to the cost, which is now estimated to be €10.9 billion ($12.2bn).

Although the meeting on the problem is to take place this month, it may be weeks before any decisions are made on exactly how the problems will be tackled.

“The renewables sector is booming in France, but EDF’s ageing nuclear fleet of 58 reactors requires immense investment to bring them all up to date”

The news about Flamanville-3 comes at the same time as further modifications have been ordered to another long-delayed EPR, which should have been completed in 2009 but has yet to become fully operational.

Olkiluoto 3 in Finland, the first prototype EPR, was “hot-tested” in preparation for loading fuel last year, but encountered unexpected vibrations during operation, making it potentially unsafe. The company TVO that is to run the plant says some bitumen cushions have been developed to stop the problem and these will “resolve the vibration issue.”

Under the latest schedule fuel will be loaded into the reactor in June and, all being well, it should start producing power to the grid in 2020 – 11 years late. It is due to produce 15% of Finland’s energy demand.

These events are being watched closely from the United Kingdom, where EDF is starting the building of two more EPRs at Hinkley Point in Somerset, in the West of England.

Older reactors affected

Both reactors are supposed to be completed by 2025, but this seems an extremely optimistic timetable when on average delays to the two built so far in Western Europe seem to be 10 years. For any civil engineering project apart from nuclear power, this kind of delay would be catastrophic.

The company, which has a separate British subsidiary, is also having trouble with its older reactors in the UK. They are long-abandoned UK designs with graphite cores to control the nuclear reaction, but inspections have revealed hundreds of cracks in the graphite.

Although some cracking in the ageing reactors, at Hunterston B in Scotland, is to be expected, the number far exceeds the existing safety case. The UK’s Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) is considering a new safety case put forward by EDF to allow the reactors to start up after many months of idleness. So far no permission has been granted.

Several deadlines have passed, and last week EDF wrote to local stakeholders advising them that the start-up had been delayed again, to 24 June for one reactor and 31 July for the second. On past performance it is unlikely that either of these dates will be met.

Operation in question

The issue is crucial for the future of EDF in the UK because all but one of the nuclear stations are advanced gas cooled reactors of the same generic design as Hunterston B and produce more than 10% of the nation’s electricity.

If the safety case for the two Hunterston reactors is rejected, then it puts a question mark over whether the remaining 12 should also be shut down.

It is clear that the French government is aware of the parlous state of the energy giant in which it is a majority shareholder. The government is considering splitting the company into two, separating the nuclear arm from the parts of the company that are now heavily investing in renewables.

The renewables sector is booming in France, but EDF’s ageing nuclear fleet of 58 reactors requires immense investment to bring them all up to date. Only by separating the renewable portfolio and renationalising the nuclear arm can the government hope to keep EDF from sinking deeper into debt. − Climate News Network

With its new reactors needing modifications and its older ones awaiting costly updates, France’s nuclear industry is in trouble.

LONDON, 27 May, 2019 − EDF, France’s nuclear industry leader and the last European company trying to build large reactors, has had further setbacks to its flagship project that make the company’s future prospects look bleak.

The giant Flamanville-3 European pressurised water reactor (EPR), in Normandy in northern France, has difficult-to-repair faulty welds that will delay its start-up, possibly for years, and add to an already overstretched budget.

The French nuclear regulator ASN is yet to decide exactly how EDF must repair 66 faulty welds that currently render the nearly completed 1,600 megawatt reactor too dangerous to load with nuclear fuel. Eight of the welds are inside the reactor’s containment and extremely difficult to reach and fix.

The company is due to meet ASN on 29 May to discuss the best way of tackling the problem that will require specialist skills and equipment. It makes EDF’s current start date for the reactor, March 2020, extremely unlikely to be met, and will probably put the whole project back at least a year, probably two.

Licence problem

Apart from the enormous extra costs involved, the delay will also extend the construction beyond the current licensing decree granted by the French government, another embarrassment for the company.

According to Reuters news agency, when construction started in 2007 the target date for completion was 2012, but a string of technical difficulties have meant delays, and costs have tripled. The latest delay adds €400 million to the cost, which is now estimated to be €10.9 billion ($12.2bn).

Although the meeting on the problem is to take place this month, it may be weeks before any decisions are made on exactly how the problems will be tackled.

“The renewables sector is booming in France, but EDF’s ageing nuclear fleet of 58 reactors requires immense investment to bring them all up to date”

The news about Flamanville-3 comes at the same time as further modifications have been ordered to another long-delayed EPR, which should have been completed in 2009 but has yet to become fully operational.

Olkiluoto 3 in Finland, the first prototype EPR, was “hot-tested” in preparation for loading fuel last year, but encountered unexpected vibrations during operation, making it potentially unsafe. The company TVO that is to run the plant says some bitumen cushions have been developed to stop the problem and these will “resolve the vibration issue.”

Under the latest schedule fuel will be loaded into the reactor in June and, all being well, it should start producing power to the grid in 2020 – 11 years late. It is due to produce 15% of Finland’s energy demand.

These events are being watched closely from the United Kingdom, where EDF is starting the building of two more EPRs at Hinkley Point in Somerset, in the West of England.

Older reactors affected

Both reactors are supposed to be completed by 2025, but this seems an extremely optimistic timetable when on average delays to the two built so far in Western Europe seem to be 10 years. For any civil engineering project apart from nuclear power, this kind of delay would be catastrophic.

The company, which has a separate British subsidiary, is also having trouble with its older reactors in the UK. They are long-abandoned UK designs with graphite cores to control the nuclear reaction, but inspections have revealed hundreds of cracks in the graphite.

Although some cracking in the ageing reactors, at Hunterston B in Scotland, is to be expected, the number far exceeds the existing safety case. The UK’s Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) is considering a new safety case put forward by EDF to allow the reactors to start up after many months of idleness. So far no permission has been granted.

Several deadlines have passed, and last week EDF wrote to local stakeholders advising them that the start-up had been delayed again, to 24 June for one reactor and 31 July for the second. On past performance it is unlikely that either of these dates will be met.

Operation in question

The issue is crucial for the future of EDF in the UK because all but one of the nuclear stations are advanced gas cooled reactors of the same generic design as Hunterston B and produce more than 10% of the nation’s electricity.

If the safety case for the two Hunterston reactors is rejected, then it puts a question mark over whether the remaining 12 should also be shut down.

It is clear that the French government is aware of the parlous state of the energy giant in which it is a majority shareholder. The government is considering splitting the company into two, separating the nuclear arm from the parts of the company that are now heavily investing in renewables.

The renewables sector is booming in France, but EDF’s ageing nuclear fleet of 58 reactors requires immense investment to bring them all up to date. Only by separating the renewable portfolio and renationalising the nuclear arm can the government hope to keep EDF from sinking deeper into debt. − Climate News Network