Category Archives: Energy

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

Fossil fuels are rapidly losing favour with investors

From leading the market 20 years ago the big fossil fuels companies are plunging in value, as investors turn to renewables.

LONDON, 15 October, 2020 – Everyone has heard of ExxonMobil, one of the world’s biggest companies exploiting fossil fuels and a common target for those battling global warming and catastrophic climate change. But does the name NextEra Energy ring any bells?

In terms of stock market value, the Florida-based company – which describes itself as the world’s largest producer of wind and solar energy – has surpassed the size of ExxonMobil.

In recent days NextEra’s value on the US stock market was above $144bn (£110bn) – up more than 60% over two years.

Back in the early 2000s, ExxonMobil – a global conglomerate with more than 70,000 employees – was valued at more than $500bn (£383bn). Earlier this month the valuation was under $138bn (£106bn).

Biggest return sought

The contrasting fortunes of the two companies are an indication of just how much the energy market is changing – and hard-nosed financiers,  altering their buying priorities, clearly prefer to move away from fossil fuels.

“People believe that renewable energy is a growth story and that oil and gas is a declining story”, a leading energy analyst told the Bloomberg news service.

Investors, particularly in the US, are queuing up to put their money into renewables. “Today hundreds of billions of dollars of capital are flowing into clean energy”, Bruce Usher, a professor at Columbia Business School in New York, told the CBS news network. “That bucket for investors is not about policy”, said Usher. “It’s about where you can get the biggest return.”

Several factors are driving investments in renewables. Lower economic growth rates in many countries and more efficient energy systems have sapped demand for oil.

“The US majors, for them to get into the renewables business, I think you need some kind of tectonic shift in their thinking. I can’t imagine it”

In 2008, before the world financial crash, the global oil price was $150 per barrel. Nowadays oil is selling for about $40 per barrel. The big oil producers have failed to reach agreement on limiting output. The US shale industry has added to the oil glut.

The Covid pandemic has dented economic growth further. Oil demand in sectors such as the airline and wider travel industry has slumped dramatically in recent months.

At one stage earlier this year the price of US oil turned negative – meaning producers were paying buyers to take their oil – mainly due to shortages of storage capacity.

Despite the drop in oil prices, renewables have been outperforming fossil fuels on price, mainly due to economies of scale and more efficient manufacturing processes.

Time warp

Consumers, in the US and elsewhere, are increasingly spurning fossil fuels and opting for clean alternatives – particularly wind and solar – for their energy.

The world energy outlook is changing but the oil majors, such as ExxonMobil, seem to be stuck in a time warp, insistent that the oil boom days will return.

James Robo, CEO of NextEra Energy, told a recent investor conference that though some oil companies were making investments in renewables, many of their projects had major flaws.

“I don’t worry about the oil majors at all”, said Robo. “The US majors, for them to get into the renewables business, I think you need some kind of tectonic shift in their thinking. I can’t imagine it.” – Climate News Network

From leading the market 20 years ago the big fossil fuels companies are plunging in value, as investors turn to renewables.

LONDON, 15 October, 2020 – Everyone has heard of ExxonMobil, one of the world’s biggest companies exploiting fossil fuels and a common target for those battling global warming and catastrophic climate change. But does the name NextEra Energy ring any bells?

In terms of stock market value, the Florida-based company – which describes itself as the world’s largest producer of wind and solar energy – has surpassed the size of ExxonMobil.

In recent days NextEra’s value on the US stock market was above $144bn (£110bn) – up more than 60% over two years.

Back in the early 2000s, ExxonMobil – a global conglomerate with more than 70,000 employees – was valued at more than $500bn (£383bn). Earlier this month the valuation was under $138bn (£106bn).

Biggest return sought

The contrasting fortunes of the two companies are an indication of just how much the energy market is changing – and hard-nosed financiers,  altering their buying priorities, clearly prefer to move away from fossil fuels.

“People believe that renewable energy is a growth story and that oil and gas is a declining story”, a leading energy analyst told the Bloomberg news service.

Investors, particularly in the US, are queuing up to put their money into renewables. “Today hundreds of billions of dollars of capital are flowing into clean energy”, Bruce Usher, a professor at Columbia Business School in New York, told the CBS news network. “That bucket for investors is not about policy”, said Usher. “It’s about where you can get the biggest return.”

Several factors are driving investments in renewables. Lower economic growth rates in many countries and more efficient energy systems have sapped demand for oil.

“The US majors, for them to get into the renewables business, I think you need some kind of tectonic shift in their thinking. I can’t imagine it”

In 2008, before the world financial crash, the global oil price was $150 per barrel. Nowadays oil is selling for about $40 per barrel. The big oil producers have failed to reach agreement on limiting output. The US shale industry has added to the oil glut.

The Covid pandemic has dented economic growth further. Oil demand in sectors such as the airline and wider travel industry has slumped dramatically in recent months.

At one stage earlier this year the price of US oil turned negative – meaning producers were paying buyers to take their oil – mainly due to shortages of storage capacity.

Despite the drop in oil prices, renewables have been outperforming fossil fuels on price, mainly due to economies of scale and more efficient manufacturing processes.

Time warp

Consumers, in the US and elsewhere, are increasingly spurning fossil fuels and opting for clean alternatives – particularly wind and solar – for their energy.

The world energy outlook is changing but the oil majors, such as ExxonMobil, seem to be stuck in a time warp, insistent that the oil boom days will return.

James Robo, CEO of NextEra Energy, told a recent investor conference that though some oil companies were making investments in renewables, many of their projects had major flaws.

“I don’t worry about the oil majors at all”, said Robo. “The US majors, for them to get into the renewables business, I think you need some kind of tectonic shift in their thinking. I can’t imagine it.” – Climate News Network

Food, waste, power: Ingenuity helps the climate

Electricity from the gentlest winds, plastic from exhaust, old packing turned into lunch: human ingenuity helps the climate.

LONDON, 7 October, 2020 − Chinese scientists have found a way to harness wind power when there is no wind, just a gentle breeze: one way in which human ingenuity helps the climate crisis towards a resolution.

There are others. Californian researchers have tested a copper wire catalyst that can convert carbon dioxide into ethylene. In effect, fuel exhaust could fuel industry − and help contain global heating.

And a team in the US Midwest has begun a military project to develop a portable system that could turn waste plastic and paper into food for soldiers in the field. If it works, it could add new resonance to the term “iron rations” and deliver another answer to the challenge of plastic waste.

All three advances are so far on a very small scale. Two of them depend on nano-engineering, the making of materials at scales of a billionth of a metre, while the third calls on help from the microbial world. None of them is yet near commercial exploitation.

But all of them are yet further examples of the astonishing ingenuity and resource at work in the world’s laboratories and universities, in pursuit of ways to recover energy, reduce fossil fuel dependence, recycle detritus, and contain climate change.

“Our intention isn’t to replace existing wind power generation technology. Our goal is to solve the issues that traditional wind turbines can’t solve”

Wind power worldwide is now big business, but not on days when there is no wind. Researchers in Beijing, Chongqing, Shanghai and Singapore write in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science that they have created a nanogenerator that can salvage energy from a breeze as mild as 1.6 metres a second. Worn on a sleeve, it could generate energy to power a cellphone while its wearer walks along a street

It works on a principle known as the tribo-electric effect. There is no turbine. Two plastic strips in a tube flutter and collide against each other in an airflow. When separated from contact, these two strips become electrically charged, and the energy can be captured and stored. The prototype can already power 100 LED lights and temperature sensors. It could be scaled up to 1000 watts.

“Our intention isn’t to replace existing wind power generation technology. Our goal is to solve the issues that traditional wind turbines can’t solve,” said Ya Yang, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

“Unlike wind turbines that use coils and magnets, where the costs are fixed, we can pick and choose low-cost materials for our device. Our device can be safely applied to nature reserves or cities, because it doesn’t have rotating structures.”

Quicker reaction

Ethylene is a chemical used to make plastics, solvents and cosmetics. Scientists report in the journal Nature Catalysis that they have exploited specially-shaped copper surfaces to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) to ethylene, C2H4. Other researchers are attempting to turn CO2 into methane, or even jet fuel. Methane, or natural gas, is used industrially to make ethylene.

The latest study aims to cut out the natural gas, and make ethylene directly: world demand stands so far at 158 million tonnes, for plastic packaging or polyethylene, and other products.

“The idea of using copper to catalyse this reaction has been around for a long time, but the key is to accelerate the rate so it is fast enough for industrial production,” said William Goddard, of the California Institute of Technology, and one of the authors.

“This study shows a solid path towards that mark, with the potential to transform ethylene production into a greener industry, using CO2 that would otherwise end up in the atmosphere.”

The ambition to convert plastic and paper waste into food is so far just that, an ambition: the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has put up $2.7 million (£2.1m) towards a co-operative effort to solve a rubbish problem and deliver edible single-cell food rich in proteins and vitamins.

Appetite for plastic

Yeast is a nourishing single cell protein. So is the spread popular with Australians, called Vegemite. What the US researchers want is a system that soldiers could carry into the field, and concentrate waste into mouthfuls of high-protein nourishment. It is based on trials with biomass pyrolysis to turn paper into sugar, and the conversion of plastics into fatty compounds with heat and a little help from microbes.

“Plastics are in fact biodegradable but the process is very slow, as evidenced by the accumulation of plastic waste in the environment,” said Robert Brown of Iowa State University, principal investigator.

“We can dramatically increase oxo-degradation of plastics to fatty compounds by raising the temperature a few hundred degrees Fahrenheit. The cooled product is used to grow yeast or bacteria into single cell proteins suitable as food.”

The system would, the researchers say, “improve military logistics resiliency and extend military missions.” Beyond that, it could go a long way to helping with the challenge of growing plastic waste worldwide, and creating an extra source of food for an increasingly hungry world. − Climate News Network

Electricity from the gentlest winds, plastic from exhaust, old packing turned into lunch: human ingenuity helps the climate.

LONDON, 7 October, 2020 − Chinese scientists have found a way to harness wind power when there is no wind, just a gentle breeze: one way in which human ingenuity helps the climate crisis towards a resolution.

There are others. Californian researchers have tested a copper wire catalyst that can convert carbon dioxide into ethylene. In effect, fuel exhaust could fuel industry − and help contain global heating.

And a team in the US Midwest has begun a military project to develop a portable system that could turn waste plastic and paper into food for soldiers in the field. If it works, it could add new resonance to the term “iron rations” and deliver another answer to the challenge of plastic waste.

All three advances are so far on a very small scale. Two of them depend on nano-engineering, the making of materials at scales of a billionth of a metre, while the third calls on help from the microbial world. None of them is yet near commercial exploitation.

But all of them are yet further examples of the astonishing ingenuity and resource at work in the world’s laboratories and universities, in pursuit of ways to recover energy, reduce fossil fuel dependence, recycle detritus, and contain climate change.

“Our intention isn’t to replace existing wind power generation technology. Our goal is to solve the issues that traditional wind turbines can’t solve”

Wind power worldwide is now big business, but not on days when there is no wind. Researchers in Beijing, Chongqing, Shanghai and Singapore write in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science that they have created a nanogenerator that can salvage energy from a breeze as mild as 1.6 metres a second. Worn on a sleeve, it could generate energy to power a cellphone while its wearer walks along a street

It works on a principle known as the tribo-electric effect. There is no turbine. Two plastic strips in a tube flutter and collide against each other in an airflow. When separated from contact, these two strips become electrically charged, and the energy can be captured and stored. The prototype can already power 100 LED lights and temperature sensors. It could be scaled up to 1000 watts.

“Our intention isn’t to replace existing wind power generation technology. Our goal is to solve the issues that traditional wind turbines can’t solve,” said Ya Yang, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

“Unlike wind turbines that use coils and magnets, where the costs are fixed, we can pick and choose low-cost materials for our device. Our device can be safely applied to nature reserves or cities, because it doesn’t have rotating structures.”

Quicker reaction

Ethylene is a chemical used to make plastics, solvents and cosmetics. Scientists report in the journal Nature Catalysis that they have exploited specially-shaped copper surfaces to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) to ethylene, C2H4. Other researchers are attempting to turn CO2 into methane, or even jet fuel. Methane, or natural gas, is used industrially to make ethylene.

The latest study aims to cut out the natural gas, and make ethylene directly: world demand stands so far at 158 million tonnes, for plastic packaging or polyethylene, and other products.

“The idea of using copper to catalyse this reaction has been around for a long time, but the key is to accelerate the rate so it is fast enough for industrial production,” said William Goddard, of the California Institute of Technology, and one of the authors.

“This study shows a solid path towards that mark, with the potential to transform ethylene production into a greener industry, using CO2 that would otherwise end up in the atmosphere.”

The ambition to convert plastic and paper waste into food is so far just that, an ambition: the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has put up $2.7 million (£2.1m) towards a co-operative effort to solve a rubbish problem and deliver edible single-cell food rich in proteins and vitamins.

Appetite for plastic

Yeast is a nourishing single cell protein. So is the spread popular with Australians, called Vegemite. What the US researchers want is a system that soldiers could carry into the field, and concentrate waste into mouthfuls of high-protein nourishment. It is based on trials with biomass pyrolysis to turn paper into sugar, and the conversion of plastics into fatty compounds with heat and a little help from microbes.

“Plastics are in fact biodegradable but the process is very slow, as evidenced by the accumulation of plastic waste in the environment,” said Robert Brown of Iowa State University, principal investigator.

“We can dramatically increase oxo-degradation of plastics to fatty compounds by raising the temperature a few hundred degrees Fahrenheit. The cooled product is used to grow yeast or bacteria into single cell proteins suitable as food.”

The system would, the researchers say, “improve military logistics resiliency and extend military missions.” Beyond that, it could go a long way to helping with the challenge of growing plastic waste worldwide, and creating an extra source of food for an increasingly hungry world. − Climate News Network