Category Archives: Energy

A new city rises in the desert, under a fake moon

The world’s biggest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, is planing a new city entirely dependent on clean energy.

LONDON, 18 January, 2021 − Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, who has not till now shown any great enthusiasm for tackling climate chaos, is working on designs for an environmentally-friendly new city in the kingdom.

At successive international climate meetings Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, has been among those states which have obstructed rather than encouraged attempts to tackle the increasingly urgent problems associated with a fast-warming world.

But recently Prince Mohammed, seen very much as the power behind the Saudi throne, has been talking of building a zero emissions city and establishing what he describes as “a blueprint for how people and planet can co-exist in harmony.”

In a glitzy presentation high on vision but low on detail, the prince outlined plans for a new, futuristic urban area to be carved out of the desert in the province of Tabuk, in north-west Saudi Arabia.

The city, to be called The Line, will stretch inwards for 106 miles from the Saudi Red Sea coast. It will be powered by 100% clean energy, says the prince, with no roads or cars. Instead “a belt of hyper-connected future communities” will be established.

Future techno-hub

There will be flying taxis, and scores of robot servants. The whole scheme will be built around nature, Prince Mohammed says. “Why should we sacrifice nature for the sake of development?”, he asks. “Why should seven million people die every year because of pollution?”

The cost of the project will be between US$100-200 billion: initial construction work will begin early next year, and an airport has already been built.

The Line is just one element in an overall Saudi plan called Vision 2030,  which seeks to wean the country off its dependence on oil revenues – which account for a major part of gross domestic product.

The aim is to turn Saudi Arabia into one of the world’s technological hubs. A multi-billion dollar tourist industry will also be established. Eventually, says Prince Mohammed, desert lands bordering Egypt and Jordan covering more than 10,000 square miles – an area roughly the size of Belgium – will be developed.

The Line, built to house a million people, will form part of a much larger US$500bn project called Neom – a combination of the Greek word Neos, meaning new, and the Arabic word mustaqbal, or future.

“Why should we sacrifice nature for the sake of development? Why should seven million people die every year because of pollution?”

Details about Neom are scarce: the project website says it will be home to both a Saudi and an international community, composed of “dreamers and doers.”

Attractions will include beaches with glow-in-the-dark-sand. There will even be a large fake moon to light the sky on cloudy nights.

If all this sounds a trifle fantastical, look no further than the Gulf cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi where, over a relatively short time, small fishing and trading settlements have been turned into international centres of commerce and tourism. Prince Mohammed’s ambitions, though – and his talk of a sustainable, emissions-free future – are open to doubt.

Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most profligate users of energy – almost all of it derived from the country’s plentiful reserves of fossil fuels. Renewable energy projects, announced in the past with much fanfare, have often come to nothing.

The Arabian peninsula is among the fastest-warming areas on the planet. For several years scientists have been warning that parts of the region will become uninhabitable if temperatures continue to rise.

Champion desalinator

Saudi Arabia has severely depleted water resources: the Neom project says it will help tackle this problem through extensive cloud seeding. Whether this will work is also open to question: cloud seeding can lead to its own set of environmental problems.

The project and its offshoot The Line will need to process water by using desalination technology. Saudi Arabia is already home to more desalination plants than any other country: the brine discharged in large quantities by such plants is harmful, particularly in such fragile ecological areas as the Red Sea.

Prince Mohammed and the Saudi planners have made little mention of those living in the north-west of the country who will be severely disrupted by Neom. The Huwaitat tribe, native to the area, say they are being forcibly relocated. A spokesman for the tribe was killed recently: reports say he was shot by government security forces.

Whether The Line and Prince Mohammed’s emissions-free Neom zone are built might ultimately depend on finance. Even for the deep-pocketed Saudis, the cost of the scheme represents a considerable challenge.

The project’s backers are wooing international investors: though many foreign companies will be licking their lips at the prospect of being involved in Neom, international banks and other financial institutions might be reluctant to invest funds, particularly in the wake of the brutal killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident, and the ongoing imprisonment of others who voice any opposition to the prince and the kingdom’s hierarchy. − Climate News Network

The world’s biggest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, is planing a new city entirely dependent on clean energy.

LONDON, 18 January, 2021 − Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, who has not till now shown any great enthusiasm for tackling climate chaos, is working on designs for an environmentally-friendly new city in the kingdom.

At successive international climate meetings Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, has been among those states which have obstructed rather than encouraged attempts to tackle the increasingly urgent problems associated with a fast-warming world.

But recently Prince Mohammed, seen very much as the power behind the Saudi throne, has been talking of building a zero emissions city and establishing what he describes as “a blueprint for how people and planet can co-exist in harmony.”

In a glitzy presentation high on vision but low on detail, the prince outlined plans for a new, futuristic urban area to be carved out of the desert in the province of Tabuk, in north-west Saudi Arabia.

The city, to be called The Line, will stretch inwards for 106 miles from the Saudi Red Sea coast. It will be powered by 100% clean energy, says the prince, with no roads or cars. Instead “a belt of hyper-connected future communities” will be established.

Future techno-hub

There will be flying taxis, and scores of robot servants. The whole scheme will be built around nature, Prince Mohammed says. “Why should we sacrifice nature for the sake of development?”, he asks. “Why should seven million people die every year because of pollution?”

The cost of the project will be between US$100-200 billion: initial construction work will begin early next year, and an airport has already been built.

The Line is just one element in an overall Saudi plan called Vision 2030,  which seeks to wean the country off its dependence on oil revenues – which account for a major part of gross domestic product.

The aim is to turn Saudi Arabia into one of the world’s technological hubs. A multi-billion dollar tourist industry will also be established. Eventually, says Prince Mohammed, desert lands bordering Egypt and Jordan covering more than 10,000 square miles – an area roughly the size of Belgium – will be developed.

The Line, built to house a million people, will form part of a much larger US$500bn project called Neom – a combination of the Greek word Neos, meaning new, and the Arabic word mustaqbal, or future.

“Why should we sacrifice nature for the sake of development? Why should seven million people die every year because of pollution?”

Details about Neom are scarce: the project website says it will be home to both a Saudi and an international community, composed of “dreamers and doers.”

Attractions will include beaches with glow-in-the-dark-sand. There will even be a large fake moon to light the sky on cloudy nights.

If all this sounds a trifle fantastical, look no further than the Gulf cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi where, over a relatively short time, small fishing and trading settlements have been turned into international centres of commerce and tourism. Prince Mohammed’s ambitions, though – and his talk of a sustainable, emissions-free future – are open to doubt.

Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most profligate users of energy – almost all of it derived from the country’s plentiful reserves of fossil fuels. Renewable energy projects, announced in the past with much fanfare, have often come to nothing.

The Arabian peninsula is among the fastest-warming areas on the planet. For several years scientists have been warning that parts of the region will become uninhabitable if temperatures continue to rise.

Champion desalinator

Saudi Arabia has severely depleted water resources: the Neom project says it will help tackle this problem through extensive cloud seeding. Whether this will work is also open to question: cloud seeding can lead to its own set of environmental problems.

The project and its offshoot The Line will need to process water by using desalination technology. Saudi Arabia is already home to more desalination plants than any other country: the brine discharged in large quantities by such plants is harmful, particularly in such fragile ecological areas as the Red Sea.

Prince Mohammed and the Saudi planners have made little mention of those living in the north-west of the country who will be severely disrupted by Neom. The Huwaitat tribe, native to the area, say they are being forcibly relocated. A spokesman for the tribe was killed recently: reports say he was shot by government security forces.

Whether The Line and Prince Mohammed’s emissions-free Neom zone are built might ultimately depend on finance. Even for the deep-pocketed Saudis, the cost of the scheme represents a considerable challenge.

The project’s backers are wooing international investors: though many foreign companies will be licking their lips at the prospect of being involved in Neom, international banks and other financial institutions might be reluctant to invest funds, particularly in the wake of the brutal killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident, and the ongoing imprisonment of others who voice any opposition to the prince and the kingdom’s hierarchy. − Climate News Network

Rising heat forces big growth in electricity demand

As temperatures increase, rising heat will mean many power stations falter, leaving homes dark, chilly and short of energy.

LONDON, 13 January, 2021 − US scientists have identified a new anxiety for a world of heat extremes. As the thermometer climbs, they warn, the efficiency of thermal power plants will fall, as the rising heat makes it harder to keep the generators cool.

In a world in which billions of urban dwellers could be exposed to temperatures at the moment experienced in the Sahara desert and other  hotspots, and in which heat and humidity could reach potentially lethal  levels, the problems ahead for energy companies may seem of less consequence.

But rising city temperatures will inevitably be matched by ever-greater demand for electrically-driven air conditioning. And as air and water temperatures rise, and demand increases, turbines driven by coal, oil and gas combustion must, to operate efficiently, be cooled by air or water.

But if the air and water are warmer too, efficiency and then capacity could fall, by as much as 10%, causing periods when power suddenly becomes unavailable.

“We are already feeling the impacts of global warming. Governments should be preparing for the large increases in electricity demand that will come with increased temperatures”

And on the latest calculations, in the journal Environmental Research Letters, if global average temperatures increase by 2°C, then the number of outages on hot days could double.

In fact, global average temperatures have already climbed by more than 1°C, and could hit 1.5°C as early as 2027. Demand for air conditioning has already begun to affect US energy supplies.

“Our work demonstrates a harmful interaction between human adaptation and infrastructure vulnerability in a warming world,” said Ethan Coffel, a geographer at Syracuse University in New York, who led the research into the likely impacts of rising heat.

“As hot days become more frequent, people will want air conditioners to protect themselves from unpleasant and dangerous heat. But these air conditioners need electricity, which further increases the greenhouse emissions that drive global warming further.”

Big shortfall

And that puts a strain on the grid that distributes power around a nation. It also sets a challenge to those nations that have yet to invest heavily in renewable energy sources such as wind power and photovoltaic cells, and to phase out thermal generators.

“By the middle of the century we find that 100 to 200 additional average-sized global power plants could be required to make up for the electricity generating capacity lost due to heat,” Dr Coffel warned.

“Major progress has been made to reduce the cost of wind and solar power − these zero-carbon sources are now often cheaper than fossil fuels. So making the transition away from coal, oil and gas not only makes climate sense, but also economic sense.

“However, we are already feeling the impacts of global warming. Governments should be preparing for the large increases in electricity demand that will come with increased temperatures.” − Climate News Network

As temperatures increase, rising heat will mean many power stations falter, leaving homes dark, chilly and short of energy.

LONDON, 13 January, 2021 − US scientists have identified a new anxiety for a world of heat extremes. As the thermometer climbs, they warn, the efficiency of thermal power plants will fall, as the rising heat makes it harder to keep the generators cool.

In a world in which billions of urban dwellers could be exposed to temperatures at the moment experienced in the Sahara desert and other  hotspots, and in which heat and humidity could reach potentially lethal  levels, the problems ahead for energy companies may seem of less consequence.

But rising city temperatures will inevitably be matched by ever-greater demand for electrically-driven air conditioning. And as air and water temperatures rise, and demand increases, turbines driven by coal, oil and gas combustion must, to operate efficiently, be cooled by air or water.

But if the air and water are warmer too, efficiency and then capacity could fall, by as much as 10%, causing periods when power suddenly becomes unavailable.

“We are already feeling the impacts of global warming. Governments should be preparing for the large increases in electricity demand that will come with increased temperatures”

And on the latest calculations, in the journal Environmental Research Letters, if global average temperatures increase by 2°C, then the number of outages on hot days could double.

In fact, global average temperatures have already climbed by more than 1°C, and could hit 1.5°C as early as 2027. Demand for air conditioning has already begun to affect US energy supplies.

“Our work demonstrates a harmful interaction between human adaptation and infrastructure vulnerability in a warming world,” said Ethan Coffel, a geographer at Syracuse University in New York, who led the research into the likely impacts of rising heat.

“As hot days become more frequent, people will want air conditioners to protect themselves from unpleasant and dangerous heat. But these air conditioners need electricity, which further increases the greenhouse emissions that drive global warming further.”

Big shortfall

And that puts a strain on the grid that distributes power around a nation. It also sets a challenge to those nations that have yet to invest heavily in renewable energy sources such as wind power and photovoltaic cells, and to phase out thermal generators.

“By the middle of the century we find that 100 to 200 additional average-sized global power plants could be required to make up for the electricity generating capacity lost due to heat,” Dr Coffel warned.

“Major progress has been made to reduce the cost of wind and solar power − these zero-carbon sources are now often cheaper than fossil fuels. So making the transition away from coal, oil and gas not only makes climate sense, but also economic sense.

“However, we are already feeling the impacts of global warming. Governments should be preparing for the large increases in electricity demand that will come with increased temperatures.” − Climate News Network

Cyclones reduce India’s wind power generation

The risk of damage to turbines from cyclones has cut India’s electricity output, despite a longer windy season.

CHENNAI, 5 January, 2021 − Although India’s windy season was longer than usual in 2020, a series of cyclones that hit the country’s coasts reduced the amount of electricity generated by wind. The storms forced operators to shut down the turbines to prevent damage, which caused a 20% drop in production.

India witnessed five cyclones last year, with the two latest, Nivar and Burevi, making landfall in November. Altogether the combined onslaught of the five obliged turbine operations to be suspended for two weeks.

This has knocked confidence in the renewable energy industry at a time when the government of Narendra Modi is working hard to expand it.

Wind power generation capacity has significantly increased in recent years. It is concentrated across India’s windiest southern, western and northern regions. By the end of September 2020 the total installed capacity was 38,124 megawatts (MW), surpassed only by China, the US and Germany.

Unlike other parts of the world where the wind blows in fairly regular patterns all year round, India gets 70% of its wind between May and September, coinciding with the south-west monsoon. Once the rains and the clouds have gone, solar power largely replaces wind in supplying renewable energy.

“There is a need for a clear ten-year roadmap to boost clean energy technologies and create standards for innovation”

But in 2020 the normal pattern was different, with the windy season in southern India lasting till November. This brought no benefit, though: the turbines could not be left to operate at all, as the wind speed during the cyclones was very high.

Even though World Bank experts and others are predicting a large expansion of wind power in India, including offshore, its unpredictability is sapping the market’s confidence.

It is too early to say whether climate change has anything to do with the change in weather patterns. Ajay Devaraj, secretary-general of the Indian Wind Power Association, says that although wind power production varies from one year to the next, its decline was particularly significant last year because it knocked investor confidence.

“We are hoping this shortage will be met in 2021. But we can’t promise, since wind generation is based on nature’s laws. Due to cyclones there is a 20% shortage of wind power generation in India this year. Since offshore wind projects need huge capital, that doesn’t attract investors,’’ he said in 2020.

There was also a safety issue with some of the older turbines in very high winds, although if in good condition they could continue to operate for far longer, Dr Devaraj said. The alternative was to “repower” wind farms, replacing smaller turbines with larger, more efficient ones − which were also more expensive.

Renewable energy critical

But instead of repowering, he suggested the government could simply check turbine safety. This would encourage their owners to stay in business instead of disinvesting. Turbines as old as 30 years were still in operation in countries like Germany and Denmark, he said.

India produced 37,505 MW of wind power in 2019. It also set a new target of installing 175 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy capacity by 2022 and 450 GW by 2030. Wind energy is expected to provide the lion’s share of this target. The government recently set up a national committee to co-ordinate more urgent action on climate.

In a recent virtual event on clean energy, Amitabh Kant, who heads India’s Niti Ayog (National Institution for Transforming India), said renewable electricity generated by clean technology was critical for the country.

“We need to get into a whole range of clean energy deployments. It is very important for India to get into cutting-edge technology. There is a need for a clear ten-year roadmap to boost clean energy technologies and create standards for innovation”, he said.

“India is the only country among the G20 nations that is on track to meet its climate change mitigation commitments, made in 2015 under the Paris Agreement, and has formulated forward-looking policies for energy efficiency measures.’’ − Climate News Network

The risk of damage to turbines from cyclones has cut India’s electricity output, despite a longer windy season.

CHENNAI, 5 January, 2021 − Although India’s windy season was longer than usual in 2020, a series of cyclones that hit the country’s coasts reduced the amount of electricity generated by wind. The storms forced operators to shut down the turbines to prevent damage, which caused a 20% drop in production.

India witnessed five cyclones last year, with the two latest, Nivar and Burevi, making landfall in November. Altogether the combined onslaught of the five obliged turbine operations to be suspended for two weeks.

This has knocked confidence in the renewable energy industry at a time when the government of Narendra Modi is working hard to expand it.

Wind power generation capacity has significantly increased in recent years. It is concentrated across India’s windiest southern, western and northern regions. By the end of September 2020 the total installed capacity was 38,124 megawatts (MW), surpassed only by China, the US and Germany.

Unlike other parts of the world where the wind blows in fairly regular patterns all year round, India gets 70% of its wind between May and September, coinciding with the south-west monsoon. Once the rains and the clouds have gone, solar power largely replaces wind in supplying renewable energy.

“There is a need for a clear ten-year roadmap to boost clean energy technologies and create standards for innovation”

But in 2020 the normal pattern was different, with the windy season in southern India lasting till November. This brought no benefit, though: the turbines could not be left to operate at all, as the wind speed during the cyclones was very high.

Even though World Bank experts and others are predicting a large expansion of wind power in India, including offshore, its unpredictability is sapping the market’s confidence.

It is too early to say whether climate change has anything to do with the change in weather patterns. Ajay Devaraj, secretary-general of the Indian Wind Power Association, says that although wind power production varies from one year to the next, its decline was particularly significant last year because it knocked investor confidence.

“We are hoping this shortage will be met in 2021. But we can’t promise, since wind generation is based on nature’s laws. Due to cyclones there is a 20% shortage of wind power generation in India this year. Since offshore wind projects need huge capital, that doesn’t attract investors,’’ he said in 2020.

There was also a safety issue with some of the older turbines in very high winds, although if in good condition they could continue to operate for far longer, Dr Devaraj said. The alternative was to “repower” wind farms, replacing smaller turbines with larger, more efficient ones − which were also more expensive.

Renewable energy critical

But instead of repowering, he suggested the government could simply check turbine safety. This would encourage their owners to stay in business instead of disinvesting. Turbines as old as 30 years were still in operation in countries like Germany and Denmark, he said.

India produced 37,505 MW of wind power in 2019. It also set a new target of installing 175 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy capacity by 2022 and 450 GW by 2030. Wind energy is expected to provide the lion’s share of this target. The government recently set up a national committee to co-ordinate more urgent action on climate.

In a recent virtual event on clean energy, Amitabh Kant, who heads India’s Niti Ayog (National Institution for Transforming India), said renewable electricity generated by clean technology was critical for the country.

“We need to get into a whole range of clean energy deployments. It is very important for India to get into cutting-edge technology. There is a need for a clear ten-year roadmap to boost clean energy technologies and create standards for innovation”, he said.

“India is the only country among the G20 nations that is on track to meet its climate change mitigation commitments, made in 2015 under the Paris Agreement, and has formulated forward-looking policies for energy efficiency measures.’’ − Climate News Network

Chill out the easy way: science can cool you down

There’s more than one way to chill out. White paint and watery windows could help. So could the deep blue sea.

LONDON, 21 December, 2020 − It’s getting simpler and cheaper to chill out: US scientists have developed an ultra-cool white paint that can reflect more than 95% of the sun’s rays and keep the house cooler on the hottest days.

Across the Pacific in Singapore, researchers have developed a “smart window” clever enough to block the incoming sunlight and regulate the building’s internal temperature. It’s pretty good at blocking the noise from the streets, too.

And people who live on tropical islands and find the heat a bit much can cool their homes with a steady flow of cold seawater from the ocean depths.

Austrian researchers calculate that a cubic metre of water from 700 metres below the ocean surface can deliver the same cooling power as 21 wind turbines, or a solarpowered-farm the size of 68 football fields.

Prototypes tested

None of these developments is anywhere near commercial scale exploitation. But two have been tested in prototype and each is a reminder of the ingenuity and imagination at work in the world’s laboratories in bids to confront the energy crisis, limit climate change and find new and carbon-free ways to solve the planet’s mounting challenges.

One of the biggest of those challenges is the soaring thermometer: as global heating driven by profligate fossil fuel use steadily drives up the mercury, yet more and more people, if they want to chill out, are being forced to invest in air-conditioning, a technology that demands even more energy use and heightens the temperature in the city streets.

So the case for passive, or sophisticated, or simply new ways to turn to stay cool is irresistible. Researchers from Purdue University in Indiana in the US write, in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science, that they have developed a technology that could be used in commercial paints, that could be cheaper to make, and that could reflect so much sunlight back into space that the surface of the property could be cooler than the air around it. And it used calcium carbonate − think chalk, or limestone − rather than the more difficult-to-find titanium dioxide to do the trick.

Tests in West Lafayette, Indiana found that when the sun was at its zenith the paint surface stayed 1.7°C cooler than the atmosphere around it. At night, the paint temperature dropped to 10°C below the ambient surroundings.

“Scientists in Singapore have developed a liquid sandwiched between two glass panes that in tests can cut 45% of the energy needed to heat, ventilate and air-condition a property”

Windows are vital in building design, but they can be the least energy-efficient part of any construction. Scientists at Nanyang Technical University in Singapore report in the journal Joule that they have developed a hydrogel-based liquid sandwiched between two glass panes that − in tests − can cut 45% of the energy needed in heating, ventilation and air-conditioning a property.

This could be big business: buildings account for 40% of global energy usage, and half of that goes out of the world’s windows. With savings on that scale possible, all will be able to chill out.

So researchers have been experimenting with glass coatings that cut down the infra-red traffic − the waves that carry heat − from within and without the building, but which do not regulate visible sunlight, which heats the interior as it shines through the glass.

The Singapore scientists found that their micro-hydrogel could respond to temperature change, and turn opaque when exposed to heat. So it could block incoming sunlight, and return to clear glass when things got cooler. At the same time, the trapped hydrogel water stored a lot of thermal energy rather than let it into the building during the heat of the day, but gradually released it at night.

District cooling

In midsummer noonday tests in Beijing, when a normal glass window registered 84°C, the smart window glass stayed at 50°C and saved 11% of the energy required to maintain the same indoor air temperature.

They tested the smart glass in Shanghai in China, Las Vegas in the US, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia and in Singapore: in each case, it performed better than regular glass or low-emission windows. It also reduced noise 15% more efficiently than normal double-glazing.

And rather than cool indoor air, and pump the hot air back into the streets with an electric motor − the basis of most air-conditioning − scientists at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria report in the journal Energy Efficiency that for those who live on tropical or subtropical coasts, a short distance from the deep ocean, in places where electricity costs are high, it might be much cheaper to cool whole districts − universities, airports, data centres, hotels and resorts and so on − with pumped deep ocean water at temperatures of around 3°C to 5°C.

Stored tanks of cold seawater could even make chiller facilities more efficient, and reduce the costs of food storage. But, the IIASA team warns, there might be problems with the impact on coastal wildlife while returning the used seawater to the ocean surface. − Climate News Network

There’s more than one way to chill out. White paint and watery windows could help. So could the deep blue sea.

LONDON, 21 December, 2020 − It’s getting simpler and cheaper to chill out: US scientists have developed an ultra-cool white paint that can reflect more than 95% of the sun’s rays and keep the house cooler on the hottest days.

Across the Pacific in Singapore, researchers have developed a “smart window” clever enough to block the incoming sunlight and regulate the building’s internal temperature. It’s pretty good at blocking the noise from the streets, too.

And people who live on tropical islands and find the heat a bit much can cool their homes with a steady flow of cold seawater from the ocean depths.

Austrian researchers calculate that a cubic metre of water from 700 metres below the ocean surface can deliver the same cooling power as 21 wind turbines, or a solarpowered-farm the size of 68 football fields.

Prototypes tested

None of these developments is anywhere near commercial scale exploitation. But two have been tested in prototype and each is a reminder of the ingenuity and imagination at work in the world’s laboratories in bids to confront the energy crisis, limit climate change and find new and carbon-free ways to solve the planet’s mounting challenges.

One of the biggest of those challenges is the soaring thermometer: as global heating driven by profligate fossil fuel use steadily drives up the mercury, yet more and more people, if they want to chill out, are being forced to invest in air-conditioning, a technology that demands even more energy use and heightens the temperature in the city streets.

So the case for passive, or sophisticated, or simply new ways to turn to stay cool is irresistible. Researchers from Purdue University in Indiana in the US write, in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science, that they have developed a technology that could be used in commercial paints, that could be cheaper to make, and that could reflect so much sunlight back into space that the surface of the property could be cooler than the air around it. And it used calcium carbonate − think chalk, or limestone − rather than the more difficult-to-find titanium dioxide to do the trick.

Tests in West Lafayette, Indiana found that when the sun was at its zenith the paint surface stayed 1.7°C cooler than the atmosphere around it. At night, the paint temperature dropped to 10°C below the ambient surroundings.

“Scientists in Singapore have developed a liquid sandwiched between two glass panes that in tests can cut 45% of the energy needed to heat, ventilate and air-condition a property”

Windows are vital in building design, but they can be the least energy-efficient part of any construction. Scientists at Nanyang Technical University in Singapore report in the journal Joule that they have developed a hydrogel-based liquid sandwiched between two glass panes that − in tests − can cut 45% of the energy needed in heating, ventilation and air-conditioning a property.

This could be big business: buildings account for 40% of global energy usage, and half of that goes out of the world’s windows. With savings on that scale possible, all will be able to chill out.

So researchers have been experimenting with glass coatings that cut down the infra-red traffic − the waves that carry heat − from within and without the building, but which do not regulate visible sunlight, which heats the interior as it shines through the glass.

The Singapore scientists found that their micro-hydrogel could respond to temperature change, and turn opaque when exposed to heat. So it could block incoming sunlight, and return to clear glass when things got cooler. At the same time, the trapped hydrogel water stored a lot of thermal energy rather than let it into the building during the heat of the day, but gradually released it at night.

District cooling

In midsummer noonday tests in Beijing, when a normal glass window registered 84°C, the smart window glass stayed at 50°C and saved 11% of the energy required to maintain the same indoor air temperature.

They tested the smart glass in Shanghai in China, Las Vegas in the US, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia and in Singapore: in each case, it performed better than regular glass or low-emission windows. It also reduced noise 15% more efficiently than normal double-glazing.

And rather than cool indoor air, and pump the hot air back into the streets with an electric motor − the basis of most air-conditioning − scientists at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria report in the journal Energy Efficiency that for those who live on tropical or subtropical coasts, a short distance from the deep ocean, in places where electricity costs are high, it might be much cheaper to cool whole districts − universities, airports, data centres, hotels and resorts and so on − with pumped deep ocean water at temperatures of around 3°C to 5°C.

Stored tanks of cold seawater could even make chiller facilities more efficient, and reduce the costs of food storage. But, the IIASA team warns, there might be problems with the impact on coastal wildlife while returning the used seawater to the ocean surface. − Climate News Network

Dubai heads backwards to its clean energy future

A clean energy future is what Dubai says it’s aiming for. So why has it built a huge new coal-burning power station?

LONDON, 3 November, 2020 − Dubai, surrounded by desert but with its skyscrapers, luxury hotels, beach resorts and kilometres of shopping malls, promotes itself as a city with a clean energy future.

Yet when it comes to meeting the challenges posed by climate change, the Gulf state is going smartly backwards.

Within the next few months, what will be the Gulf’s first coal-fired power plant will start operations in the desert south of Dubai city.

The 2,400 MW Hassyan coal plant, when fully operational in 2023, aims to supply up to 20% of Dubai’s electricity, a big step towards a clean energy future.

The state-controlled Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) describes the project as a clean coal facility fitted with the latest technology, including facilities for carbon capture and storage – the aim being to bury harmful greenhouse gas emissions from the plant deep underground.

“Talk of clean coal is a contradiction in terms. Burning coal is the most polluting way of producing energy. Carbon capture and storage is still a relatively untried way of coping with carbon emissions”

But a number of questions surround the plant’s operations. Under the Dubai clean energy strategy 2050, unveiled five years ago, the emirate aims to turn itself into what it calls a global clean energy centre by mid-century, with Dubai city having the smallest carbon footprint of any urban centre in the world.

As part of its clean energy future strategy, Dubai aims to produce 75% of its energy from what it calls clean sources by 2050.

Talk of clean coal is a contradiction in terms. Burning coal is the most polluting way of producing energy. No matter what equipment and technology is installed at the Hassyan plant, substantial carbon emissions will be produced.

Carbon capture and storage is still a relatively untried and disputed way of coping with carbon emissions: many power firms have shied away from implementing projects due to their complexity and great expense.

Cheaper solar

Then there is the question of the cost of the Dubai coal project. The Hassyan plant has a price tag of US$3.4bn (£2.5bn). Under prices agreed four years ago, DEWA agreed to buy electricity from Hassyan for about 5 US cents (£0.04) per kilowatt hour (kWh).

Since then solar power has expanded considerably in the emirate – with prices dropping to less that 2 US cents per kWh.

At present the bulk of Dubai’s electricity is sourced from gas-powered plants. Part of the reasoning behind the Hassyan project was worries over dependence on imports of gas from Qatar – now at loggerheads with the Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Though it awaits development, one of the world’s biggest gas fields was recently discovered in Dubai and neighbouring Abu Dhabi.

While many global financial institutions have turned their backs on funding for coal plants, China continues to be one of the biggest sponsors of coal projects around the world. China’s banks, including the state-owned Bank of China, have given loans to the Hassyan plant.

Much of the construction work there will be carried out by Chinese companies, including the giant Harbin Electrical International group.

Gulf penguins

Per capita emissions of climate-changing CO2 gases in Dubai and its fellow United Arab Emirates (UAE) states are among the highest in the world.

In order to meet ever-growing power needs, the first nuclear plant in the Arab world began operations in the UAE emirate of Abu Dhabi in August this year. The Barakah nuclear plant came on stream three years behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget.

And despite the talk of reducing emissions and clean energy targets, Dubai is still one of the most energy-wasteful territories on the planet: its desalination plants, air-conditioned shopping malls, skyscraper office blocks and luxury hotels use enormous amounts of energy, making a clean energy future a very ambitious goal.

The desert city even has an enclosed snow and ski complex, complete with a 1.5km ski slope – and penguins. − Climate News Network

A clean energy future is what Dubai says it’s aiming for. So why has it built a huge new coal-burning power station?

LONDON, 3 November, 2020 − Dubai, surrounded by desert but with its skyscrapers, luxury hotels, beach resorts and kilometres of shopping malls, promotes itself as a city with a clean energy future.

Yet when it comes to meeting the challenges posed by climate change, the Gulf state is going smartly backwards.

Within the next few months, what will be the Gulf’s first coal-fired power plant will start operations in the desert south of Dubai city.

The 2,400 MW Hassyan coal plant, when fully operational in 2023, aims to supply up to 20% of Dubai’s electricity, a big step towards a clean energy future.

The state-controlled Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) describes the project as a clean coal facility fitted with the latest technology, including facilities for carbon capture and storage – the aim being to bury harmful greenhouse gas emissions from the plant deep underground.

“Talk of clean coal is a contradiction in terms. Burning coal is the most polluting way of producing energy. Carbon capture and storage is still a relatively untried way of coping with carbon emissions”

But a number of questions surround the plant’s operations. Under the Dubai clean energy strategy 2050, unveiled five years ago, the emirate aims to turn itself into what it calls a global clean energy centre by mid-century, with Dubai city having the smallest carbon footprint of any urban centre in the world.

As part of its clean energy future strategy, Dubai aims to produce 75% of its energy from what it calls clean sources by 2050.

Talk of clean coal is a contradiction in terms. Burning coal is the most polluting way of producing energy. No matter what equipment and technology is installed at the Hassyan plant, substantial carbon emissions will be produced.

Carbon capture and storage is still a relatively untried and disputed way of coping with carbon emissions: many power firms have shied away from implementing projects due to their complexity and great expense.

Cheaper solar

Then there is the question of the cost of the Dubai coal project. The Hassyan plant has a price tag of US$3.4bn (£2.5bn). Under prices agreed four years ago, DEWA agreed to buy electricity from Hassyan for about 5 US cents (£0.04) per kilowatt hour (kWh).

Since then solar power has expanded considerably in the emirate – with prices dropping to less that 2 US cents per kWh.

At present the bulk of Dubai’s electricity is sourced from gas-powered plants. Part of the reasoning behind the Hassyan project was worries over dependence on imports of gas from Qatar – now at loggerheads with the Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Though it awaits development, one of the world’s biggest gas fields was recently discovered in Dubai and neighbouring Abu Dhabi.

While many global financial institutions have turned their backs on funding for coal plants, China continues to be one of the biggest sponsors of coal projects around the world. China’s banks, including the state-owned Bank of China, have given loans to the Hassyan plant.

Much of the construction work there will be carried out by Chinese companies, including the giant Harbin Electrical International group.

Gulf penguins

Per capita emissions of climate-changing CO2 gases in Dubai and its fellow United Arab Emirates (UAE) states are among the highest in the world.

In order to meet ever-growing power needs, the first nuclear plant in the Arab world began operations in the UAE emirate of Abu Dhabi in August this year. The Barakah nuclear plant came on stream three years behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget.

And despite the talk of reducing emissions and clean energy targets, Dubai is still one of the most energy-wasteful territories on the planet: its desalination plants, air-conditioned shopping malls, skyscraper office blocks and luxury hotels use enormous amounts of energy, making a clean energy future a very ambitious goal.

The desert city even has an enclosed snow and ski complex, complete with a 1.5km ski slope – and penguins. − Climate News Network

World Bank helps developing countries’ wind spurt

Wind power is the cheapest way to produce electricity, but some are not persuaded. The World Bank is out to change minds.

LONDON, 1 December, 2020 − Europe and the United States now accept onshore wind power as the cheapest way to generate electricity. But this novel technology still needs subsidising before some developing countries will embrace it. Enter the World Bank.

A total of US$80 billion in subsidies from the Bank has gone over 25 years to 565 developing world onshore wind projects, to persuade governments to invest in renewables rather than rely on fossil fuels.

Central and Latin American countries have received the lion’s share of this investment, but the Asia Pacific region and Eastern Europe have also seen dozens of Bank-funded developments. Now the fastest-growing market is in Africa and the Middle East.

But while continuing to campaign for more onshore wind farms, the World Bank in 2019 started encouraging target countries to embrace offshore wind as well. This uses two approaches: turbines in shallow water, which are fixed to the seabed, and also a newer technology, involving floating turbines anchored by cables at greater depth.

The extraordinary potential for offshore wind, which is being commercially developed very fast in Europe, China and the US, is now seen by the Bank as important for countries like Vietnam – which could harness enough offshore wind power to provide all its electricity needs.

“We have seen it work in Europe – we can now make use of global experience to scale up offshore wind projects in emerging markets”

Other countries it has identified with enormous potential for offshore wind include Brazil, Indonesia, India, the Philippines, South Africa and Sri Lanka, all of them countries that need to keep building more power stations to connect every citizen to the national grid.

The Bank began investing in wind power in 1995, with its spending reaching billions of dollars annually in 2011. The biggest single recipient has been Brazil, receiving US$24.2 bn up to the end of 2018, 30% of the total the Bank has invested worldwide.

Many private companies have partnered with the Bank to build the wind farms. The biggest single beneficiary is Enel, the Italian energy giant, which has received US$6.1 bn to complete projects in Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, Romania, Morocco, Bulgaria, Peru, and Russia.

Among the countries now benefitting from the Bank’s continuing onshore wind programme are Egypt, Morocco, Senegal, Jordan, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Offshore wind now costs less than nuclear power, and is able to compete in most countries with fossil fuels. Currently the fastest-growing industry in the world, its progress is scarcely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Persistent coal demand

Particularly in Asia, some countries are continuing to burn large quantities of coal and are considering investing in yet more fossil fuel generation unless they can be persuaded that renewables are a better option.

Last year the World Bank began a pilot scheme to explore funding investment in offshore wind in these countries. Launching the scheme Riccardo Puliti, a senior director at the Bank, said: “Offshore wind is a clean, reliable and secure source of energy with massive potential to transform the energy mix in countries that have great wind resources.

“We have seen it work in Europe – we can now make use of global experience to scale up offshore wind projects in emerging markets.”

Using data from the Global Wind Atlas, the Bank calculated that developing countries with shallow waters like India, Turkey and Sri Lanka had huge potential with fixed turbines, while others − the Philippines and South Africa, for example − would need floating foundations to reach greater depths, up to 1,000 metres.

For countries like Vietnam, with a mix of shallow and deep water, wind power could solve their entire electricity needs. In theory offshore wind power could produce ten times the amount of electricity that the country currently gets from all its current power stations, the Bank says. − Climate News Network

Wind power is the cheapest way to produce electricity, but some are not persuaded. The World Bank is out to change minds.

LONDON, 1 December, 2020 − Europe and the United States now accept onshore wind power as the cheapest way to generate electricity. But this novel technology still needs subsidising before some developing countries will embrace it. Enter the World Bank.

A total of US$80 billion in subsidies from the Bank has gone over 25 years to 565 developing world onshore wind projects, to persuade governments to invest in renewables rather than rely on fossil fuels.

Central and Latin American countries have received the lion’s share of this investment, but the Asia Pacific region and Eastern Europe have also seen dozens of Bank-funded developments. Now the fastest-growing market is in Africa and the Middle East.

But while continuing to campaign for more onshore wind farms, the World Bank in 2019 started encouraging target countries to embrace offshore wind as well. This uses two approaches: turbines in shallow water, which are fixed to the seabed, and also a newer technology, involving floating turbines anchored by cables at greater depth.

The extraordinary potential for offshore wind, which is being commercially developed very fast in Europe, China and the US, is now seen by the Bank as important for countries like Vietnam – which could harness enough offshore wind power to provide all its electricity needs.

“We have seen it work in Europe – we can now make use of global experience to scale up offshore wind projects in emerging markets”

Other countries it has identified with enormous potential for offshore wind include Brazil, Indonesia, India, the Philippines, South Africa and Sri Lanka, all of them countries that need to keep building more power stations to connect every citizen to the national grid.

The Bank began investing in wind power in 1995, with its spending reaching billions of dollars annually in 2011. The biggest single recipient has been Brazil, receiving US$24.2 bn up to the end of 2018, 30% of the total the Bank has invested worldwide.

Many private companies have partnered with the Bank to build the wind farms. The biggest single beneficiary is Enel, the Italian energy giant, which has received US$6.1 bn to complete projects in Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, Romania, Morocco, Bulgaria, Peru, and Russia.

Among the countries now benefitting from the Bank’s continuing onshore wind programme are Egypt, Morocco, Senegal, Jordan, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Offshore wind now costs less than nuclear power, and is able to compete in most countries with fossil fuels. Currently the fastest-growing industry in the world, its progress is scarcely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Persistent coal demand

Particularly in Asia, some countries are continuing to burn large quantities of coal and are considering investing in yet more fossil fuel generation unless they can be persuaded that renewables are a better option.

Last year the World Bank began a pilot scheme to explore funding investment in offshore wind in these countries. Launching the scheme Riccardo Puliti, a senior director at the Bank, said: “Offshore wind is a clean, reliable and secure source of energy with massive potential to transform the energy mix in countries that have great wind resources.

“We have seen it work in Europe – we can now make use of global experience to scale up offshore wind projects in emerging markets.”

Using data from the Global Wind Atlas, the Bank calculated that developing countries with shallow waters like India, Turkey and Sri Lanka had huge potential with fixed turbines, while others − the Philippines and South Africa, for example − would need floating foundations to reach greater depths, up to 1,000 metres.

For countries like Vietnam, with a mix of shallow and deep water, wind power could solve their entire electricity needs. In theory offshore wind power could produce ten times the amount of electricity that the country currently gets from all its current power stations, the Bank says. − Climate News Network

Western Europe cools on plans for nuclear power

As more reactors face closure, governments in Europe may prefer renewable energy to replace nuclear power.

LONDON, 25 November, 2020 – News that two more reactors in the United Kingdom are to shut down on safety grounds earlier than planned has capped a depressing month for nuclear power in Europe.

The news came after weeks of unfounded speculation, based on “leaks”, that the British government was about to take a stake in a giant new French-designed nuclear power station planned at Sizewell in Suffolk on the east coast of England as part of a “Green New Deal.” Taxpayers’ backing would have enabled the heavily-indebted French company EDF to finance the project.

In the event Boris Johnson, the prime minister, in his 10-point “green” plan  for the UK, boosted a far more speculative alternative scheme from a Rolls-Royce consortium which was helping to pay for research and development into a full-blown proposal to construct 16 small modular reactors (SMRs).

He failed to mention the Sizewell scheme at all, and instead of singing the praises of nuclear power extolled the virtues of offshore wind power, in which the UK is currently the world leader.

Johnson hopes that offshore wind will produce enough electricity to power every home in Britain, leaving little room for a nuclear industry. He has referred to the UK as “becoming the Saudi Arabia of wind power.”

Meanwhile across the English Channel in Belgium the Electrabel company – the Belgian subsidiary of French utility Engie – has cancelled any further planned investment in its seven-strong nuclear reactor fleet because of the government’s intention to phase out nuclear power by 2025.

“The cause of this damage [at Hunterston] is not fully understood, and it is entirely possible that this form of age-related damage may be much more extensive”

Plans will only be re-instated if a Belgian government review fails to find enough alternative electricity supply to replace the reactors’ output. The seven Belgian reactors currently produce half the country’s electricity supply.

These reversals come seven years after British governments promised a nuclear renaissance by encouraging French, Japanese, American and finally Chinese companies to build ten nuclear power stations in the UK. Only one station has been begun, a £22 billion (US$29 bn) joint venture between EDF and Chinese backers.

The French, with a 70% stake and the Chinese with 30%, began work on the twin reactors, to be known as Hinkley Point C, in Somerset in the West of England more than two years ago. The station was due to be completed in 2025, but is behind schedule and has cost overruns.

The two partners wanted to replicate these reactors at the planned Suffolk plant, Sizewell C, but EDF has not found the necessary capital to finance it, hoping that the London government would either take a stake or impose a nuclear tax on British consumers to help pay for it.

The idea was for Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C to replace the 14 smaller reactors that EDF owns in Britain, thus keeping the nuclear industry’s 20% share of the UK’s electricity production. Johnson appears to have dashed these hopes. At best Hinkley Point C will produce 7% of the nation’s needs.

Meanwhile there is a question mark over the future of EDF’s remaining reactor fleet in Britain. Two of the 14, also at the Sizewell site, are French-designed pressurised water reactors opened in 1991, and have plenty of life left in them, but the other 12 are all older British-designed advanced gas-cooled reactors (AGRs) that use graphite blocks to control nuclear reactions.

Premature closure

A serious safety flaw has emerged in this design, involving hundreds of cracks in the graphite, causing doubts over whether the reactors could be turned off quickly in an emergency.

After a long stand-off with the UK’s nuclear safety watchdog, the Office for Nuclear Regulation, EDF decided earlier this year to prematurely close two of the worst affected reactors – both in a station known as Hunterston B in Scotland. Now, for the same reason, two further reactors at Hinkley Point B in Somerset will also close. All four reactors will be defuelled in 2022.

Currently six of these 12 AGR reactors are turned off – out of service for maintenance or safety checks. Two of them, at Dungeness B on the south-east coast of England, have been undergoing repairs since 2018 – this time because of corrosion of vital pipework – although cracks in the graphite blocks are also a safety issue here too.

While EDF remains upbeat about its prospects in developing nuclear power and is keeping its remaining ageing AGR reactors going until they can be replaced, it is hard to see where the company will get the money to build a new generation of reactors or attract government subsidies to do so.

The UK’s decision to back the British company Rolls-Royce to develop SMRs means it is unlikely the government has the money or the political inclination to back the French as well.

Rolls-Royce has been badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic because a large part of its business relies on the struggling aviation business, while it needs support because it makes mini-reactors to power British nuclear submarines. The proposed SMR research programme will allow nuclear-trained personnel to switch between military and civilian programmes.

Long out of office

The Rolls-Royce SMRs are a long shot from the commercial point of view, since they are unproven and likely to be wildly expensive compared with renewable energy. However, they have the political advantage of being British, and their development lies so far into the future that the current government will be out of office before anyone knows whether they actually work or are economic.

As far as the current crop of reactors is concerned, it is clear that at least those with graphite cores are nearing the end of their lives. Nuclear power has some way to go before it can expect a renaissance in the UK.

Paul Dorfman is a research fellow at University College London. He told the Climate News Network: “It is apparent that the graphite cores of Hunterston B, Hinkley B, and possibly all UK AGR reactors have developed and continue to develop significant structural damage to graphite bricks, including keyway cracks in the fuelled section of the reactor.

“It is also clear that the cause of this damage is not fully understood, and it is entirely possible that this form of age-related damage may be much more extensive.

“Given that weight loss in graphite blocks and subsequent graphite cracking occurs in all UK AGRs, what’s happening with Hunterston B has significant implications for the entire UK AGR fleet.

Dr Dorfman concluded: “Given the parlous finances of EDF, who are already struggling with their own reactor up-grade bills in France, it is entirely likely that UK nuclear generation will be reduced to  just Sizewell B, with electricity generation relying almost entirely on renewables by the time Hinkley C comes online, very late and over-cost as usual.” – Climate News Network

As more reactors face closure, governments in Europe may prefer renewable energy to replace nuclear power.

LONDON, 25 November, 2020 – News that two more reactors in the United Kingdom are to shut down on safety grounds earlier than planned has capped a depressing month for nuclear power in Europe.

The news came after weeks of unfounded speculation, based on “leaks”, that the British government was about to take a stake in a giant new French-designed nuclear power station planned at Sizewell in Suffolk on the east coast of England as part of a “Green New Deal.” Taxpayers’ backing would have enabled the heavily-indebted French company EDF to finance the project.

In the event Boris Johnson, the prime minister, in his 10-point “green” plan  for the UK, boosted a far more speculative alternative scheme from a Rolls-Royce consortium which was helping to pay for research and development into a full-blown proposal to construct 16 small modular reactors (SMRs).

He failed to mention the Sizewell scheme at all, and instead of singing the praises of nuclear power extolled the virtues of offshore wind power, in which the UK is currently the world leader.

Johnson hopes that offshore wind will produce enough electricity to power every home in Britain, leaving little room for a nuclear industry. He has referred to the UK as “becoming the Saudi Arabia of wind power.”

Meanwhile across the English Channel in Belgium the Electrabel company – the Belgian subsidiary of French utility Engie – has cancelled any further planned investment in its seven-strong nuclear reactor fleet because of the government’s intention to phase out nuclear power by 2025.

“The cause of this damage [at Hunterston] is not fully understood, and it is entirely possible that this form of age-related damage may be much more extensive”

Plans will only be re-instated if a Belgian government review fails to find enough alternative electricity supply to replace the reactors’ output. The seven Belgian reactors currently produce half the country’s electricity supply.

These reversals come seven years after British governments promised a nuclear renaissance by encouraging French, Japanese, American and finally Chinese companies to build ten nuclear power stations in the UK. Only one station has been begun, a £22 billion (US$29 bn) joint venture between EDF and Chinese backers.

The French, with a 70% stake and the Chinese with 30%, began work on the twin reactors, to be known as Hinkley Point C, in Somerset in the West of England more than two years ago. The station was due to be completed in 2025, but is behind schedule and has cost overruns.

The two partners wanted to replicate these reactors at the planned Suffolk plant, Sizewell C, but EDF has not found the necessary capital to finance it, hoping that the London government would either take a stake or impose a nuclear tax on British consumers to help pay for it.

The idea was for Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C to replace the 14 smaller reactors that EDF owns in Britain, thus keeping the nuclear industry’s 20% share of the UK’s electricity production. Johnson appears to have dashed these hopes. At best Hinkley Point C will produce 7% of the nation’s needs.

Meanwhile there is a question mark over the future of EDF’s remaining reactor fleet in Britain. Two of the 14, also at the Sizewell site, are French-designed pressurised water reactors opened in 1991, and have plenty of life left in them, but the other 12 are all older British-designed advanced gas-cooled reactors (AGRs) that use graphite blocks to control nuclear reactions.

Premature closure

A serious safety flaw has emerged in this design, involving hundreds of cracks in the graphite, causing doubts over whether the reactors could be turned off quickly in an emergency.

After a long stand-off with the UK’s nuclear safety watchdog, the Office for Nuclear Regulation, EDF decided earlier this year to prematurely close two of the worst affected reactors – both in a station known as Hunterston B in Scotland. Now, for the same reason, two further reactors at Hinkley Point B in Somerset will also close. All four reactors will be defuelled in 2022.

Currently six of these 12 AGR reactors are turned off – out of service for maintenance or safety checks. Two of them, at Dungeness B on the south-east coast of England, have been undergoing repairs since 2018 – this time because of corrosion of vital pipework – although cracks in the graphite blocks are also a safety issue here too.

While EDF remains upbeat about its prospects in developing nuclear power and is keeping its remaining ageing AGR reactors going until they can be replaced, it is hard to see where the company will get the money to build a new generation of reactors or attract government subsidies to do so.

The UK’s decision to back the British company Rolls-Royce to develop SMRs means it is unlikely the government has the money or the political inclination to back the French as well.

Rolls-Royce has been badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic because a large part of its business relies on the struggling aviation business, while it needs support because it makes mini-reactors to power British nuclear submarines. The proposed SMR research programme will allow nuclear-trained personnel to switch between military and civilian programmes.

Long out of office

The Rolls-Royce SMRs are a long shot from the commercial point of view, since they are unproven and likely to be wildly expensive compared with renewable energy. However, they have the political advantage of being British, and their development lies so far into the future that the current government will be out of office before anyone knows whether they actually work or are economic.

As far as the current crop of reactors is concerned, it is clear that at least those with graphite cores are nearing the end of their lives. Nuclear power has some way to go before it can expect a renaissance in the UK.

Paul Dorfman is a research fellow at University College London. He told the Climate News Network: “It is apparent that the graphite cores of Hunterston B, Hinkley B, and possibly all UK AGR reactors have developed and continue to develop significant structural damage to graphite bricks, including keyway cracks in the fuelled section of the reactor.

“It is also clear that the cause of this damage is not fully understood, and it is entirely possible that this form of age-related damage may be much more extensive.

“Given that weight loss in graphite blocks and subsequent graphite cracking occurs in all UK AGRs, what’s happening with Hunterston B has significant implications for the entire UK AGR fleet.

Dr Dorfman concluded: “Given the parlous finances of EDF, who are already struggling with their own reactor up-grade bills in France, it is entirely likely that UK nuclear generation will be reduced to  just Sizewell B, with electricity generation relying almost entirely on renewables by the time Hinkley C comes online, very late and over-cost as usual.” – Climate News Network

Greek island ditches fossil fuel cars to go green

For one Greek island the future is green. It’s switching from internal combustion-driven transport to electric vehicles.

LONDON, 12 November, 2020 – Not a lot happens in the winter months on Astypalea, a butterfly-shaped Greek island in the Aegean Sea.

The thousands of summertime tourists have gone: the locals – there are about 1,300 of them – work the land and busy themselves painting their neat white houses and tidying up ready for the next holiday season.

But this year life on the island is set to be a little different.

In what’s considered as a groundbreaking experiment with implications for the battle against climate change, the Greek government has teamed up with the Volkswagen car group to establish a complete system of sustainable energy on Astypalea.

Under the scheme, VW will provide the island with 1,000 of its electric vehicles (EVs), replacing 1,500 internal combustion vehicles.

Police cars, ambulances and the island bus service will all become electric. The more than 70,000 tourists who visit Astypalea each year will be encouraged to hire EVs and electric scooters and motorbikes.

Climate-neutral vision

The Greek government is said to be giving considerable state aid and tax incentives to the project.

“Politics, business and society have a common responsibility to limit climate change”, said Herbert Diess, the VW group CEO.

“Our long-term goal is climate-neutral mobility for everyone – and with the Astypalea project, we will explore how to realise that vision.”

Astypalea, part of the Dodecanese group of islands in the south-east Aegean, is 18 kms long and 12 kms wide at its broadest point.

VW says it will install more than 200 private and public charging points on the island. The government says Astypalea will become a pioneer for sustainable tourism throughout the country.

At present four diesel generators supply the island’s power. Within two years, the government says, Astypalea will become completely self-sufficient in energy, with wind turbines and solar panels replacing the ageing and inefficient generators.

“Electric transport and a holistic, green and sustainable action plan will have a positive impact on the everyday life of the island’s inhabitants”

“Today is a great day for Astypalea and all of Greece”, said Konstantinos Fragogiannis, Greek deputy foreign minister.

“We are launching the first ‘smart green island’ project in our country, which marks a major change in our outlook.

“Electric transport and a holistic, green and sustainable action plan will have a positive impact on the everyday life of the island’s inhabitants. Combined with a pioneering public transport system, we are turning futuristic ideas into reality.”

Tourism plays a central role in the economy of Greece: the country has a population of under 11 million but in recent times more than three times that number have visited each year, putting considerable strain on local infrastructure and on the environment.

Scandal to forget

Many Greek islands suffer severe energy and water shortages during the peak tourist season. Air pollution caused by growing numbers of cruise ships is another problem.

VW says it’s committed to adjusting its production processes in order to meet the challenge of climate change.

The company, considered by some measures to be the world’s biggest car maker, aims to manufacture more than a million electric cars a year by 2025.

In recent days VW announced that Bentley cars – the luxury UK brand now owned by the German carmaker – will cease manufacturing diesel and petrol-driven vehicles by 2030 and concentrate solely on hybrid vehicles and EVs.

The German conglomerate has been struggling to repair its image after a widespread scandal in 2015, when it was forced to admit it had sold nearly 600,000 cars in the US which had been fitted with devices deliberately designed to circumvent emissions regulations and to falsify exhaust gas tests.

VW had to pay out billions of dollars in compensation as a result of what US prosecutors described as an “appalling” fraud – Climate News Network

For one Greek island the future is green. It’s switching from internal combustion-driven transport to electric vehicles.

LONDON, 12 November, 2020 – Not a lot happens in the winter months on Astypalea, a butterfly-shaped Greek island in the Aegean Sea.

The thousands of summertime tourists have gone: the locals – there are about 1,300 of them – work the land and busy themselves painting their neat white houses and tidying up ready for the next holiday season.

But this year life on the island is set to be a little different.

In what’s considered as a groundbreaking experiment with implications for the battle against climate change, the Greek government has teamed up with the Volkswagen car group to establish a complete system of sustainable energy on Astypalea.

Under the scheme, VW will provide the island with 1,000 of its electric vehicles (EVs), replacing 1,500 internal combustion vehicles.

Police cars, ambulances and the island bus service will all become electric. The more than 70,000 tourists who visit Astypalea each year will be encouraged to hire EVs and electric scooters and motorbikes.

Climate-neutral vision

The Greek government is said to be giving considerable state aid and tax incentives to the project.

“Politics, business and society have a common responsibility to limit climate change”, said Herbert Diess, the VW group CEO.

“Our long-term goal is climate-neutral mobility for everyone – and with the Astypalea project, we will explore how to realise that vision.”

Astypalea, part of the Dodecanese group of islands in the south-east Aegean, is 18 kms long and 12 kms wide at its broadest point.

VW says it will install more than 200 private and public charging points on the island. The government says Astypalea will become a pioneer for sustainable tourism throughout the country.

At present four diesel generators supply the island’s power. Within two years, the government says, Astypalea will become completely self-sufficient in energy, with wind turbines and solar panels replacing the ageing and inefficient generators.

“Electric transport and a holistic, green and sustainable action plan will have a positive impact on the everyday life of the island’s inhabitants”

“Today is a great day for Astypalea and all of Greece”, said Konstantinos Fragogiannis, Greek deputy foreign minister.

“We are launching the first ‘smart green island’ project in our country, which marks a major change in our outlook.

“Electric transport and a holistic, green and sustainable action plan will have a positive impact on the everyday life of the island’s inhabitants. Combined with a pioneering public transport system, we are turning futuristic ideas into reality.”

Tourism plays a central role in the economy of Greece: the country has a population of under 11 million but in recent times more than three times that number have visited each year, putting considerable strain on local infrastructure and on the environment.

Scandal to forget

Many Greek islands suffer severe energy and water shortages during the peak tourist season. Air pollution caused by growing numbers of cruise ships is another problem.

VW says it’s committed to adjusting its production processes in order to meet the challenge of climate change.

The company, considered by some measures to be the world’s biggest car maker, aims to manufacture more than a million electric cars a year by 2025.

In recent days VW announced that Bentley cars – the luxury UK brand now owned by the German carmaker – will cease manufacturing diesel and petrol-driven vehicles by 2030 and concentrate solely on hybrid vehicles and EVs.

The German conglomerate has been struggling to repair its image after a widespread scandal in 2015, when it was forced to admit it had sold nearly 600,000 cars in the US which had been fitted with devices deliberately designed to circumvent emissions regulations and to falsify exhaust gas tests.

VW had to pay out billions of dollars in compensation as a result of what US prosecutors described as an “appalling” fraud – Climate News Network

Japan faces another Fukushima disaster crisis

A plan to dump a million tonnes of radioactive water from the Fukushima disaster off Japan is alarming local people.

LONDON, 3 November, 2020 − The Japanese government has an unsolvable problem: what to do with more than a million tonnes of water contaminated with radioactive tritium, in store since the Fukushima disaster and growing at more than 150 tonnes a day.

The water, contained in a thousand giant tanks, has been steadily accumulating since the nuclear accident in 2011. It has been used to cool the three reactors that suffered a meltdown as a result of the tsunami that hit the coast.

Tritium is a radioactive element produced as a by-product by nuclear reactors under normal operation, and is present everywhere in the fabric of the reactor buildings, so water used for cooling them is bound to be contaminated by it.

To avoid another potentially catastrophic meltdown in the remaining fuel the cooling has to continue indefinitely, so the problem continues to worsen. The government has been told that Japan will run out of storage tanks by 2022.

Announcement delayed

As often happens when governments are faced with difficult problems, the unpalatable decision to release the contaminated water into the sea has not been formally announced, but the intention of the government to take this course has been leaked and so widely reported.

Immediately both local and worldwide adverse reaction has resulted. There are the direct effects on the local fishermen who fear that no one will want to buy their catch, but over a wider area the health effects are the main concern.

As ever with the nuclear industry, there are two widely different views on tritium. The Health Physics Society says it is a mildly radioactive element that is present everywhere, and doubts that people will be affected by it. But the Nuclear Information and Resource Service believes tritium is far more dangerous and increases the likelihood of cancers, birth defects and genetic disorders.

The issue is further complicated because the Fukushima wastewater contains a number of other radionuclides, not in such high quantities, but sufficient to cause damage. Ian Fairlie, an independent consultant on radioactivity in the environment, is extremely concerned about Japan’s plans and the health of the local people.

“Ten half-lives for tritium is 123 years: that’s how long these tanks will have to last – at least. This will allow time also for politicians to reflect on the wisdom of their support for nuclear power”

In a detailed assessment of the situation he says other highly dangerous radioactive substances, including caesium-137 and strontium-90, are also in the water stored at Fukushima.

They are in lower quantities than the tritium, he says, but still unacceptably high – up to 100 times above the legally permitted limit. All these radionuclides decay over time − some take thousands of years − but tritium decays faster, the danger from it halving every 12.3 years.

In a briefing for the Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA), a UK based organisation, another independent analyst, Tim Deere-Jones, discusses research that shows that tritium binds with organic material in plants and animals.

This is potentially highly damaging to human health because it travels up the food chain in the marine environment, specifically accumulating in fish. This means fish-eating communities on the Japanese coast could ingest much larger quantities of tritium than some physicists think likely.

Relying on dilution

Tim Deere-Jones is also concerned that the tritium will be blown inshore on the prevailing wind in sea spray and will bio-accumulate in food plants, making it risky to eat crops as far as ten miles inland. Because of the potential dangers of releasing the water the NFLA has asked the Japanese government to reconsider its decision.

The government has not yet responded though, because officially it is still considering what to do. However, it is likely to argue that pumping the contaminated water into the sea is acceptable because it will be diluted millions of times, and anyway seawater does already contain minute quantities of tritium.

Dr Fairlie is among many who think this is too dangerous, but he admits there are no easy solutions.

He says: “Barring a miraculous technical discovery which is unlikely, I think TEPCO/Japanese Gov’t [TEPCO is the Tokyo Electric Power Company, owner of the Fukushima Daiichi plant]  will have to buy more land and keep on building more holding tanks to allow for tritium decay to take place. Ten half-lives for tritium is 123 years: that’s how long these tanks will have to last – at least.

“This will allow time not only for tritium to decay, but also for politicians to reflect on the wisdom of their support for nuclear power.” − Climate News Network

A plan to dump a million tonnes of radioactive water from the Fukushima disaster off Japan is alarming local people.

LONDON, 3 November, 2020 − The Japanese government has an unsolvable problem: what to do with more than a million tonnes of water contaminated with radioactive tritium, in store since the Fukushima disaster and growing at more than 150 tonnes a day.

The water, contained in a thousand giant tanks, has been steadily accumulating since the nuclear accident in 2011. It has been used to cool the three reactors that suffered a meltdown as a result of the tsunami that hit the coast.

Tritium is a radioactive element produced as a by-product by nuclear reactors under normal operation, and is present everywhere in the fabric of the reactor buildings, so water used for cooling them is bound to be contaminated by it.

To avoid another potentially catastrophic meltdown in the remaining fuel the cooling has to continue indefinitely, so the problem continues to worsen. The government has been told that Japan will run out of storage tanks by 2022.

Announcement delayed

As often happens when governments are faced with difficult problems, the unpalatable decision to release the contaminated water into the sea has not been formally announced, but the intention of the government to take this course has been leaked and so widely reported.

Immediately both local and worldwide adverse reaction has resulted. There are the direct effects on the local fishermen who fear that no one will want to buy their catch, but over a wider area the health effects are the main concern.

As ever with the nuclear industry, there are two widely different views on tritium. The Health Physics Society says it is a mildly radioactive element that is present everywhere, and doubts that people will be affected by it. But the Nuclear Information and Resource Service believes tritium is far more dangerous and increases the likelihood of cancers, birth defects and genetic disorders.

The issue is further complicated because the Fukushima wastewater contains a number of other radionuclides, not in such high quantities, but sufficient to cause damage. Ian Fairlie, an independent consultant on radioactivity in the environment, is extremely concerned about Japan’s plans and the health of the local people.

“Ten half-lives for tritium is 123 years: that’s how long these tanks will have to last – at least. This will allow time also for politicians to reflect on the wisdom of their support for nuclear power”

In a detailed assessment of the situation he says other highly dangerous radioactive substances, including caesium-137 and strontium-90, are also in the water stored at Fukushima.

They are in lower quantities than the tritium, he says, but still unacceptably high – up to 100 times above the legally permitted limit. All these radionuclides decay over time − some take thousands of years − but tritium decays faster, the danger from it halving every 12.3 years.

In a briefing for the Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA), a UK based organisation, another independent analyst, Tim Deere-Jones, discusses research that shows that tritium binds with organic material in plants and animals.

This is potentially highly damaging to human health because it travels up the food chain in the marine environment, specifically accumulating in fish. This means fish-eating communities on the Japanese coast could ingest much larger quantities of tritium than some physicists think likely.

Relying on dilution

Tim Deere-Jones is also concerned that the tritium will be blown inshore on the prevailing wind in sea spray and will bio-accumulate in food plants, making it risky to eat crops as far as ten miles inland. Because of the potential dangers of releasing the water the NFLA has asked the Japanese government to reconsider its decision.

The government has not yet responded though, because officially it is still considering what to do. However, it is likely to argue that pumping the contaminated water into the sea is acceptable because it will be diluted millions of times, and anyway seawater does already contain minute quantities of tritium.

Dr Fairlie is among many who think this is too dangerous, but he admits there are no easy solutions.

He says: “Barring a miraculous technical discovery which is unlikely, I think TEPCO/Japanese Gov’t [TEPCO is the Tokyo Electric Power Company, owner of the Fukushima Daiichi plant]  will have to buy more land and keep on building more holding tanks to allow for tritium decay to take place. Ten half-lives for tritium is 123 years: that’s how long these tanks will have to last – at least.

“This will allow time not only for tritium to decay, but also for politicians to reflect on the wisdom of their support for nuclear power.” − Climate News Network

World makes haste too slowly on cutting energy use

The annual report card on the global energy industry says progress towards lower energy use must be much faster.

LONDON, 16 October, 2020 – The world is dragging its feet on efforts to tackle the climate crisis by reducing its energy use, according to a global watchdog.

In its World Energy Outlook 2020, the lnternational Energy Agency (IEA) says that while emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2, the main climate-changing greenhouse gas), are falling, the reduction needs to be far steeper to make any meaningful impact.

“Despite a record drop in global emissions this year, the world is far from doing enough to put them into decisive decline”, says Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director.

The Agency says energy demand is set to drop by 5% in 2020, with an overall decline of 7% in emissions of CO2 from the global energy sector. This means that annual emissions of CO2 are back to where they were a decade ago, the report says.

Oil demand this year is likely to be down by 8%, while coal use will fall by 7%.

“Solar projects now offer some of the lowest-cost electricity ever seen”

That’s the headline good news: the bad news is that emissions of methane – among the most potent of greenhouse gases – are rising, says the report.

Total global investment in the energy sector is also falling dramatically, and is set to be down 18% year on year.

That means that despite the rise of renewable energy, particularly of solar power, governments, utilities and corporations around the world are still not spending enough to bring about a major transition in energy use – and to meet the challenge of catastrophic climate change.

“Only an acceleration in structural changes to the way the world produces and consumes energy can break the emissions trend for good”, says the IEA.

Problem grids

While hydropower is still the leading source of renewable power, solar is described as the new king of electricity.

“With sharp cost reductions over the past decade, solar PV [solar photovoltaic energy] is consistently cheaper than new coal- or gas-fired power plants in most countries, and solar projects now offer some of the lowest-cost electricity ever seen.”

A major problem is that as solar and wind projects are installed and expanded, other parts of the energy sector also need to be developed, particularly infrastructure associated with electricity grids.

In many parts of the world energy utilities are in severe financial straits and have little or no money to maintain or invest in achieving more efficiencies and in infrastructure.

“Electricity grids could prove to be the weak link in the transformation of the power sector, with implications for the reliability and security of electricity supply”, says the IEA.

Covid-19’s effects

The report says it’s not just the energy industry that has to change. “To reach net-zero emissions, governments, energy companies, investors and citizens all need to be on board – and will all have unprecedented contributions to make.”

The Covid crisis is a major factor in assessing the global energy outlook.

The pandemic, says the IEA, has caused more disruption in the energy sector than any other event in recent history, with impacts for years to come.

“It is too soon to say whether today’s crisis represents a setback for efforts to bring about a more secure and sustainable energy system, or a catalyst that accelerates the pace of change”, the report says. – Climate News Network

The annual report card on the global energy industry says progress towards lower energy use must be much faster.

LONDON, 16 October, 2020 – The world is dragging its feet on efforts to tackle the climate crisis by reducing its energy use, according to a global watchdog.

In its World Energy Outlook 2020, the lnternational Energy Agency (IEA) says that while emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2, the main climate-changing greenhouse gas), are falling, the reduction needs to be far steeper to make any meaningful impact.

“Despite a record drop in global emissions this year, the world is far from doing enough to put them into decisive decline”, says Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director.

The Agency says energy demand is set to drop by 5% in 2020, with an overall decline of 7% in emissions of CO2 from the global energy sector. This means that annual emissions of CO2 are back to where they were a decade ago, the report says.

Oil demand this year is likely to be down by 8%, while coal use will fall by 7%.

“Solar projects now offer some of the lowest-cost electricity ever seen”

That’s the headline good news: the bad news is that emissions of methane – among the most potent of greenhouse gases – are rising, says the report.

Total global investment in the energy sector is also falling dramatically, and is set to be down 18% year on year.

That means that despite the rise of renewable energy, particularly of solar power, governments, utilities and corporations around the world are still not spending enough to bring about a major transition in energy use – and to meet the challenge of catastrophic climate change.

“Only an acceleration in structural changes to the way the world produces and consumes energy can break the emissions trend for good”, says the IEA.

Problem grids

While hydropower is still the leading source of renewable power, solar is described as the new king of electricity.

“With sharp cost reductions over the past decade, solar PV [solar photovoltaic energy] is consistently cheaper than new coal- or gas-fired power plants in most countries, and solar projects now offer some of the lowest-cost electricity ever seen.”

A major problem is that as solar and wind projects are installed and expanded, other parts of the energy sector also need to be developed, particularly infrastructure associated with electricity grids.

In many parts of the world energy utilities are in severe financial straits and have little or no money to maintain or invest in achieving more efficiencies and in infrastructure.

“Electricity grids could prove to be the weak link in the transformation of the power sector, with implications for the reliability and security of electricity supply”, says the IEA.

Covid-19’s effects

The report says it’s not just the energy industry that has to change. “To reach net-zero emissions, governments, energy companies, investors and citizens all need to be on board – and will all have unprecedented contributions to make.”

The Covid crisis is a major factor in assessing the global energy outlook.

The pandemic, says the IEA, has caused more disruption in the energy sector than any other event in recent history, with impacts for years to come.

“It is too soon to say whether today’s crisis represents a setback for efforts to bring about a more secure and sustainable energy system, or a catalyst that accelerates the pace of change”, the report says. – Climate News Network