Category Archives: Energy

Australia’s sunshine could spare its blazing forests

The hellish sight of Australia’s blazing forests threatens to become all too familiar. But the future doesn’t have to be like this.



LONDON, 16 January, 2020 − Australia burns, and recent studies show that the severity of the heat waves there has been exacerbated by climate change, fuelling this year’s extensive bush fires and torching the blazing forests. And yet Scott Morrison, Australia’s Prime Minister, has not faltered in his support for the fossil fuel industry.

To be fair, he is in a difficult situation. A significant part of the Australian economy is dependent on coal, and the economy would take a real hit if coal mining was shut down. On the other hand, it is clear that the coal industry is a major driver of climate change, the consequences of which his voters are suffering from. There is no easy way out. Morrison’s approval ratings have fallen from +2 to -12 during the past month.

So what can Mr Morrison do if he wants to reduce the impact that climate change will have on Australia’s forests? In my opinion, the answer is obvious. He should make good use of the other natural resource that his country has in abundance: sunshine. Sunshine means energy. For a big country like Australia, it means lots of energy.

Exporting solar-powered electricity directly to neighbouring countries is impractical and not very cost-effective − not least because, for Australia, there are very few such neighbouring countries. However, solar energy could be used to produce synthetic hydrocarbons and be stored and transported that way.

“Mr Morrison, are you prepared to take the initiative in making use of your vast reserves of solar energy to help make the aviation industry significantly greener?”

To take a practical example, there is no prospect in the foreseeable future of airliners being able to run directly on electric batteries charged by renewable sources – to cross the Atlantic, say, the batteries would simply be too heavy. In this respect, kerosene is a remarkable chemical, storing so much energy per gram of fuel. We cannot simply stop aircraft flying – the world’s economy depends on aviation.

Kerosene, as burnt by today’s aircraft, derives from fossil carbon, and it is our emissions of fossil carbon that are causing the climate to change and the Australian bush to burn. But it doesn’t have to be made from fossil carbon.

It can be made by sucking carbon dioxide out of the air and combining it with hydrogen, which has been made by separating it out from oxygen in common-or-garden water (a process known as hydrolysis).

Of course, this process requires energy, and it makes no sense to create synthetic kerosene using energy from fossil carbon. But it makes sense if the kerosene is made using solar energy.

Cost problem

Research has shown that producing synthetic kerosene in this way is possible. The problem of producing it at scale is one of cost. According to recent estimates, the cost of oil would have to exceed US$100 a barrel for synthetic kerosene to become viable.

This is the time for the countries of the world, especially those who have signed up to the 2015 Paris Agreement, to make commitments. A concrete proposal would be that past 2030, aircraft that land and take off at airports in these countries will, if the planes run on fossil kerosene, be taxed by an amount that would make it economically much more attractive for them to run on synthetic kerosene.

Of course, this won’t make sense unless synthetic kerosene is available in sufficient amounts. Herein lies Australia’s unique economic opportunity. As a politically stable country, we would not have to worry about supplies getting shut off by political instability, a concern for some other sunny parts of the world. Australia could easily become the go-to country for synthetic kerosene.

The developed countries of the world should take the lead in announcing a date when planes landing or taking off at their airports will be taxed extra if they burn fossil kerosene. Mr Morrison, if they do so, are you prepared to take the initiative in making use of your vast reserves of solar energy to help make the aviation industry significantly greener? Even if it is only to safeguard your own forests. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Tim Palmer is a Royal Society Research Professor in Climate Physics at the University of Oxford, UK.

The hellish sight of Australia’s blazing forests threatens to become all too familiar. But the future doesn’t have to be like this.



LONDON, 16 January, 2020 − Australia burns, and recent studies show that the severity of the heat waves there has been exacerbated by climate change, fuelling this year’s extensive bush fires and torching the blazing forests. And yet Scott Morrison, Australia’s Prime Minister, has not faltered in his support for the fossil fuel industry.

To be fair, he is in a difficult situation. A significant part of the Australian economy is dependent on coal, and the economy would take a real hit if coal mining was shut down. On the other hand, it is clear that the coal industry is a major driver of climate change, the consequences of which his voters are suffering from. There is no easy way out. Morrison’s approval ratings have fallen from +2 to -12 during the past month.

So what can Mr Morrison do if he wants to reduce the impact that climate change will have on Australia’s forests? In my opinion, the answer is obvious. He should make good use of the other natural resource that his country has in abundance: sunshine. Sunshine means energy. For a big country like Australia, it means lots of energy.

Exporting solar-powered electricity directly to neighbouring countries is impractical and not very cost-effective − not least because, for Australia, there are very few such neighbouring countries. However, solar energy could be used to produce synthetic hydrocarbons and be stored and transported that way.

“Mr Morrison, are you prepared to take the initiative in making use of your vast reserves of solar energy to help make the aviation industry significantly greener?”

To take a practical example, there is no prospect in the foreseeable future of airliners being able to run directly on electric batteries charged by renewable sources – to cross the Atlantic, say, the batteries would simply be too heavy. In this respect, kerosene is a remarkable chemical, storing so much energy per gram of fuel. We cannot simply stop aircraft flying – the world’s economy depends on aviation.

Kerosene, as burnt by today’s aircraft, derives from fossil carbon, and it is our emissions of fossil carbon that are causing the climate to change and the Australian bush to burn. But it doesn’t have to be made from fossil carbon.

It can be made by sucking carbon dioxide out of the air and combining it with hydrogen, which has been made by separating it out from oxygen in common-or-garden water (a process known as hydrolysis).

Of course, this process requires energy, and it makes no sense to create synthetic kerosene using energy from fossil carbon. But it makes sense if the kerosene is made using solar energy.

Cost problem

Research has shown that producing synthetic kerosene in this way is possible. The problem of producing it at scale is one of cost. According to recent estimates, the cost of oil would have to exceed US$100 a barrel for synthetic kerosene to become viable.

This is the time for the countries of the world, especially those who have signed up to the 2015 Paris Agreement, to make commitments. A concrete proposal would be that past 2030, aircraft that land and take off at airports in these countries will, if the planes run on fossil kerosene, be taxed by an amount that would make it economically much more attractive for them to run on synthetic kerosene.

Of course, this won’t make sense unless synthetic kerosene is available in sufficient amounts. Herein lies Australia’s unique economic opportunity. As a politically stable country, we would not have to worry about supplies getting shut off by political instability, a concern for some other sunny parts of the world. Australia could easily become the go-to country for synthetic kerosene.

The developed countries of the world should take the lead in announcing a date when planes landing or taking off at their airports will be taxed extra if they burn fossil kerosene. Mr Morrison, if they do so, are you prepared to take the initiative in making use of your vast reserves of solar energy to help make the aviation industry significantly greener? Even if it is only to safeguard your own forests. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Tim Palmer is a Royal Society Research Professor in Climate Physics at the University of Oxford, UK.

Nuclear power ‘cannot rival renewable energy’

Far from tackling climate change, nuclear power is an expensive distraction whose safety is threatened by wildfires and floods, experts say.

LONDON, 14 January, 2020 – Nuclear power is in terminal decline worldwide and will never make a serious contribution to tackling climate change, a group of energy experts argues.

Meeting recently in London at Chatham House, the UK’s Royal Institution of International Affairs, they agreed that despite continued enthusiasm from the industry, and from some politicians, the number of nuclear power stations under construction worldwide would not be enough to replace those closing down.

The industry was disappearing, they concluded, while the wind and solar sectors were powering ahead.

The group met to discuss the updated World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2019, which concluded that money spent on building and running nuclear power stations was diverting cash away from much better ways of tackling climate change.

Money used to improve energy efficiency saved four times as much carbon as that spent on nuclear power; wind saved three times as much, and solar double.

“Nuclear is a waste of time and money in the climate fight”

Amory Lovins, co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, told the meeting: “The fact is that nuclear power is in slow motion commercial collapse around the world. The idea that a new generation of small modular reactors would be built to replace them is not going to happen; it is just a distraction away from a climate solution.”

On nuclear and climate change, the status report says that new nuclear plants take from five to 17 years longer to build than utility-scale solar or on-shore wind power.

“Stabilising the climate is urgent, nuclear power is slow. It meets no technical or operational need that these low-carbon competitors cannot meet better, cheaper, and faster,” the report says.

There was considerable concern at the meeting about the possible danger to nuclear plants caused by climate change. Mycle Schneider, the report’s lead author, said the reason why reactors were built near or on coasts or close to large rivers or estuaries was because they needed large quantities of water to operate. This made them very vulnerable to both sea and coastal flooding, and particularly to future sea level rise.

He was also concerned about the integrity of spent fuel storage ponds that needed a constant electricity supply to prevent the fuel overheating. For example, large wildfires posed a risk to electricity supplies to nuclear plants that were often in isolated locations.

Cost pressure

Loss of coolant because of power cuts could also be a serious risk as climate change worsened over the 60-year planned lifetime of a reactor. However, he did not believe that even the reactors currently under construction would ever be operated for that long for commercial reasons.

“The fact is that the electricity from new reactors is going to be at least three times more expensive than that from renewables and this will alarm consumers. Governments will be under pressure to prevent consumers’ bills being far higher than they need to be.

“I cannot see even the newest reactors lasting more than a decade or so in a competitive market at the prices they will have to charge. Nuclear power will become a stranded asset,” Schneider said.

The report shows that only 31 countries out of 193 UN members have nuclear power plants, and of these nine either have plans to phase out nuclear power, or else no new-build plans or extension policies. Eleven countries with operating plants are currently building new ones, while another eleven have no active construction going on.

Only four countries – Bangladesh, Belarus, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey – are building reactors for the first time. In the last 12 months only Russia and China have started producing electricity from new reactors – seven in China and two in Russia.

Unable to compete

One of the “mysteries” the meeting discussed was the fact that some governments, notably the UK, continued to back nuclear power despite all the evidence that it was uneconomic and could not compete with renewables.

Allan Jones, chairman of the International Energy Advisory Council, said one of the myths peddled was that nuclear was needed for “baseload” power because renewables were available only intermittently.

Since a number of countries now produced more than 50% of their power from renewables, and others even 100% (or very close) while not experiencing power cuts, this showed the claim was untrue.

In his opinion, having large inflexible nuclear stations that could not be switched off was a serious handicap in a modern grid system where renewables could at times produce all the energy needed at much lower cost.

Amory Lovins said the UK’s approach appeared to be dominated by “nuclear ideology.” It was driven by settled policy and beliefs, and facts had no connection to reality. “Nuclear is a waste of time and money in the climate fight,” he concluded. – Climate News Network

Far from tackling climate change, nuclear power is an expensive distraction whose safety is threatened by wildfires and floods, experts say.

LONDON, 14 January, 2020 – Nuclear power is in terminal decline worldwide and will never make a serious contribution to tackling climate change, a group of energy experts argues.

Meeting recently in London at Chatham House, the UK’s Royal Institution of International Affairs, they agreed that despite continued enthusiasm from the industry, and from some politicians, the number of nuclear power stations under construction worldwide would not be enough to replace those closing down.

The industry was disappearing, they concluded, while the wind and solar sectors were powering ahead.

The group met to discuss the updated World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2019, which concluded that money spent on building and running nuclear power stations was diverting cash away from much better ways of tackling climate change.

Money used to improve energy efficiency saved four times as much carbon as that spent on nuclear power; wind saved three times as much, and solar double.

“Nuclear is a waste of time and money in the climate fight”

Amory Lovins, co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, told the meeting: “The fact is that nuclear power is in slow motion commercial collapse around the world. The idea that a new generation of small modular reactors would be built to replace them is not going to happen; it is just a distraction away from a climate solution.”

On nuclear and climate change, the status report says that new nuclear plants take from five to 17 years longer to build than utility-scale solar or on-shore wind power.

“Stabilising the climate is urgent, nuclear power is slow. It meets no technical or operational need that these low-carbon competitors cannot meet better, cheaper, and faster,” the report says.

There was considerable concern at the meeting about the possible danger to nuclear plants caused by climate change. Mycle Schneider, the report’s lead author, said the reason why reactors were built near or on coasts or close to large rivers or estuaries was because they needed large quantities of water to operate. This made them very vulnerable to both sea and coastal flooding, and particularly to future sea level rise.

He was also concerned about the integrity of spent fuel storage ponds that needed a constant electricity supply to prevent the fuel overheating. For example, large wildfires posed a risk to electricity supplies to nuclear plants that were often in isolated locations.

Cost pressure

Loss of coolant because of power cuts could also be a serious risk as climate change worsened over the 60-year planned lifetime of a reactor. However, he did not believe that even the reactors currently under construction would ever be operated for that long for commercial reasons.

“The fact is that the electricity from new reactors is going to be at least three times more expensive than that from renewables and this will alarm consumers. Governments will be under pressure to prevent consumers’ bills being far higher than they need to be.

“I cannot see even the newest reactors lasting more than a decade or so in a competitive market at the prices they will have to charge. Nuclear power will become a stranded asset,” Schneider said.

The report shows that only 31 countries out of 193 UN members have nuclear power plants, and of these nine either have plans to phase out nuclear power, or else no new-build plans or extension policies. Eleven countries with operating plants are currently building new ones, while another eleven have no active construction going on.

Only four countries – Bangladesh, Belarus, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey – are building reactors for the first time. In the last 12 months only Russia and China have started producing electricity from new reactors – seven in China and two in Russia.

Unable to compete

One of the “mysteries” the meeting discussed was the fact that some governments, notably the UK, continued to back nuclear power despite all the evidence that it was uneconomic and could not compete with renewables.

Allan Jones, chairman of the International Energy Advisory Council, said one of the myths peddled was that nuclear was needed for “baseload” power because renewables were available only intermittently.

Since a number of countries now produced more than 50% of their power from renewables, and others even 100% (or very close) while not experiencing power cuts, this showed the claim was untrue.

In his opinion, having large inflexible nuclear stations that could not be switched off was a serious handicap in a modern grid system where renewables could at times produce all the energy needed at much lower cost.

Amory Lovins said the UK’s approach appeared to be dominated by “nuclear ideology.” It was driven by settled policy and beliefs, and facts had no connection to reality. “Nuclear is a waste of time and money in the climate fight,” he concluded. – Climate News Network

Can batteries help to limit bushfire horrors?

The Australian inferno has yet to reach its worst, but already minds are seeking ways to reduce the bushfire horrors. Could batteries help next time?

LONDON, 9 January, 2020 − With at least 27 human fatalities and a scarcely credible estimate by scientists that more than one billion animals have been killed nationwide by the unprecedented blazes  since September 2019, Australia’s bushfire horrors have stunned the world.

The climate crisis is contributing to the catastrophe, at least to its scale and intensity, whether or not it is its primary cause. And scientists revealed only this month that global heating is causing daily weather change.

But something else happened in Australia in 2019 which could point the way towards a fast route, not for Australia alone but globally, to renewable energy and a safer future.

In the state of South Australia the world’s biggest lithium-ion battery – 129MWh, able to power 30,000 homes for an hour during a blackout – was switched on just 60 days after the contract to build it was signed.

So ways of cutting the use of fossil fuels and reducing their contribution to climate heating, now clearly implicated in Australia’s catastrophe, are within reach.

The battery was commissioned in order to bring greater reliability and stability to the state’s electricity grid, preventing blackouts, improving reliability across the network and helping to even out price spikes.

The state’s efforts to increase its proportion of renewable energy had previously been hampered by freak weather which caused outages, which in turn sparked a political brawl over energy policy. The federal government blamed the supply failures on the use of renewable technologies.

40 days to spare

The state premier challenged the technology entrepreneur Elon Musk,  who replied by saying he would build a massive battery within 100 days of signing the deal. He managed it with 40 days to spare.

His approach − a familiar one in the renewable energy world − was to charge the battery packs when excess power was available and the cost of production very low, and then discharge them when the cost of power production rose.

The world is becoming increasingly reliant on battery power, largely because of the need to reduce carbon in the transport sector; almost 60% of new cars sold in Norway during March 2019 were entirely electric-powered. A recent World Economic Forum (WEF) report expects global battery demand to increase by more than 19 times its current levels in the next decade.

Batteries have historically been a dirty but convenient product, requiring the mining of metals such as nickel and zinc, yet considered disposable; landfills are strewn with these hazardous toxins, with more arriving every day. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), each year Americans throw away more than three billion batteries – 180,000 tons of waste.

Yet the WEF report projects that new generation batteries could not only enable 30% of the required reductions in carbon emissions in the transport and power sectors, providing access to electricity to 600 million people who currently have no access; they will also create 10 million safe and sustainable jobs around the world.

Batteries will probably play a large part in future energy supply systems; in 2018, South Australia invested $100 million in a scheme to encourage householders to fit batteries to their solar systems, enabling them to use their own power on site rather than exporting it to the grid. This helps to reduce demand at peak times.

“The federal government blamed the supply failures on the use of renewable technologies”

Electric cars are not the only part of the transportation sector that will be in need of batteries. A number of companies are currently working on electric-powered commercial aircraft designs, and Norway is working on battery technology for shipping, with an all-electric passenger vessel already operating.

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles . . . to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C”, with the slogan “Evidence-based hope for a warming world”.

It believes there is evidence that batteries can offer hope for Australia  and other countries facing similar lethal threats − provided they absorb several crucial lessons.

First, it says, technological leaps need both the flair of individual effort and the clout of institutional backing if they are to work at scale.

Then behavioural change must be practical and economically viable, because only a small minority of people will ever change for green reasons alone. Simply switching to electricity as a fuel source is not enough: to hit climate targets and maintain a habitable world, there needs to be an absolute reduction in energy consumption.

And finally, as batteries increasingly form part of the energy infrastructure, safeguards must be put in place around the mining involved in obtaining the minerals needed to make them, to ensure that poorer communities in the global South do not pay the price for cutting carbon emissions in richer countries. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

The Australian inferno has yet to reach its worst, but already minds are seeking ways to reduce the bushfire horrors. Could batteries help next time?

LONDON, 9 January, 2020 − With at least 27 human fatalities and a scarcely credible estimate by scientists that more than one billion animals have been killed nationwide by the unprecedented blazes  since September 2019, Australia’s bushfire horrors have stunned the world.

The climate crisis is contributing to the catastrophe, at least to its scale and intensity, whether or not it is its primary cause. And scientists revealed only this month that global heating is causing daily weather change.

But something else happened in Australia in 2019 which could point the way towards a fast route, not for Australia alone but globally, to renewable energy and a safer future.

In the state of South Australia the world’s biggest lithium-ion battery – 129MWh, able to power 30,000 homes for an hour during a blackout – was switched on just 60 days after the contract to build it was signed.

So ways of cutting the use of fossil fuels and reducing their contribution to climate heating, now clearly implicated in Australia’s catastrophe, are within reach.

The battery was commissioned in order to bring greater reliability and stability to the state’s electricity grid, preventing blackouts, improving reliability across the network and helping to even out price spikes.

The state’s efforts to increase its proportion of renewable energy had previously been hampered by freak weather which caused outages, which in turn sparked a political brawl over energy policy. The federal government blamed the supply failures on the use of renewable technologies.

40 days to spare

The state premier challenged the technology entrepreneur Elon Musk,  who replied by saying he would build a massive battery within 100 days of signing the deal. He managed it with 40 days to spare.

His approach − a familiar one in the renewable energy world − was to charge the battery packs when excess power was available and the cost of production very low, and then discharge them when the cost of power production rose.

The world is becoming increasingly reliant on battery power, largely because of the need to reduce carbon in the transport sector; almost 60% of new cars sold in Norway during March 2019 were entirely electric-powered. A recent World Economic Forum (WEF) report expects global battery demand to increase by more than 19 times its current levels in the next decade.

Batteries have historically been a dirty but convenient product, requiring the mining of metals such as nickel and zinc, yet considered disposable; landfills are strewn with these hazardous toxins, with more arriving every day. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), each year Americans throw away more than three billion batteries – 180,000 tons of waste.

Yet the WEF report projects that new generation batteries could not only enable 30% of the required reductions in carbon emissions in the transport and power sectors, providing access to electricity to 600 million people who currently have no access; they will also create 10 million safe and sustainable jobs around the world.

Batteries will probably play a large part in future energy supply systems; in 2018, South Australia invested $100 million in a scheme to encourage householders to fit batteries to their solar systems, enabling them to use their own power on site rather than exporting it to the grid. This helps to reduce demand at peak times.

“The federal government blamed the supply failures on the use of renewable technologies”

Electric cars are not the only part of the transportation sector that will be in need of batteries. A number of companies are currently working on electric-powered commercial aircraft designs, and Norway is working on battery technology for shipping, with an all-electric passenger vessel already operating.

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles . . . to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C”, with the slogan “Evidence-based hope for a warming world”.

It believes there is evidence that batteries can offer hope for Australia  and other countries facing similar lethal threats − provided they absorb several crucial lessons.

First, it says, technological leaps need both the flair of individual effort and the clout of institutional backing if they are to work at scale.

Then behavioural change must be practical and economically viable, because only a small minority of people will ever change for green reasons alone. Simply switching to electricity as a fuel source is not enough: to hit climate targets and maintain a habitable world, there needs to be an absolute reduction in energy consumption.

And finally, as batteries increasingly form part of the energy infrastructure, safeguards must be put in place around the mining involved in obtaining the minerals needed to make them, to ensure that poorer communities in the global South do not pay the price for cutting carbon emissions in richer countries. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Germany’s green energy quest stalls

Despite its ambitious goals and promising start, Germany’s green energy quest is faltering, and it has missed a key target.

LONDON, 8 January, 2020 – The city of Munich – one of Europe’s wealthiest urban conurbations – has expansive plans to tackle the fast-growing problems associated with climate change: its policies are a good example of Germany’s green energy quest, the Energiewende.

At the end of last year Munich, Germany’s third largest city with a population of just under one and a half million, joined a rapidly expanding group of countries, cities, towns and councils around the world in declaring a climate emergency.

Munich’s council has already announced plans to source all the city’s electricity from renewable sources by 2025. It has also pledged to make the city – its transport systems and building sector as well as its energy supplies – carbon neutral by 2035.

As the UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance and other similar organisations point out, switching energy sources away from fossil fuels, while vital for the future of the planet, is a considerable challenge. And transitions which start off at a gallop may as time passes risk slowing to a trot.

Under its Energiewende or energy transition policy unveiled 20 years ago, Germany has made substantial progress in transforming its energy sector, reducing the use of climate-changing fossil fuels and boosting energy from renewable sources.

“Critics of the Energiewende say the phase-out of nuclear power has meant that coal has continued to play a dominant role in Germany’s energy sector”

According to the latest figures, renewables – wind, hydro-power, biomass and solar – now account for just over 40% of Germany’s total energy production.

Along with this transition, there’s been a 30% drop in Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) over the last 30 years.

But, though the Energiewende policy was initially successful, making further progress on replacing fossil fuels with renewables and cutting back on GHG emissions is now proving ever more difficult.

The initial aim was to achieve an overall 40% drop in GHG emissions by the end of 2019 as compared to 1990 levels: clearly that target has not been met.

Several factors are in play: despite early progress on cutting back on coal use, Germany – which has Europe’s largest economy – has so far failed to wean itself off its dependence on what is the dirtiest of fossil fuels.

Coal burning persists

More than 25% of Germany’s total energy production comes from coal – one of the highest rates among European countries. Most of the coal burned is lignite, the most polluting form of the fossil fuel.

In 2011, in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, Germany announced it would be phasing out its use of nuclear power. Since then, 11 of its 17 nuclear reactors have closed, the latest at the end of 2019.

Critics of the Energiewende say the phase-out of nuclear power has meant that coal has continued to play a dominant role in Germany’s energy sector.

The German government says it will shut its more than 100 coal-fired power stations by 2038. Some say this is far too late, while others question Germany’s increasing reliance on imported energy – particularly gas from Russia.

Other factors are hindering the Energiewende. Though many German households and small businesses are switching to solar power, a large proportion of the country’s renewable energy – about 20% – is sourced from wind power, most of it land-based.

Out of sight

In recent years there’s been growing concern about the proliferation of land-based wind turbines: more restrictions have been brought in on their construction, resulting in a drastic cut-back in wind project start-ups.

All this means that the goals of the Energiewende will be tough to achieve for Munich – and for Germany.

Munich is the capital city of the southern state of Bavaria, home to BMW and many other leading German industries.

The state has brought in some of the country’s most stringent restrictions on wind power projects: to meet its ambitious decarbonisation targets and, at the same time, ensure its energy supply, Munich is now having to invest in wind power installations abroad, some as distant as Norway.

But such enterprises carry their own set of problems. Environmental groups in Norway have raised objections to wind power turbine installations which they say threaten the beauty of the landscape. In particular they criticise the construction of such projects solely for the export of energy. – Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Despite its ambitious goals and promising start, Germany’s green energy quest is faltering, and it has missed a key target.

LONDON, 8 January, 2020 – The city of Munich – one of Europe’s wealthiest urban conurbations – has expansive plans to tackle the fast-growing problems associated with climate change: its policies are a good example of Germany’s green energy quest, the Energiewende.

At the end of last year Munich, Germany’s third largest city with a population of just under one and a half million, joined a rapidly expanding group of countries, cities, towns and councils around the world in declaring a climate emergency.

Munich’s council has already announced plans to source all the city’s electricity from renewable sources by 2025. It has also pledged to make the city – its transport systems and building sector as well as its energy supplies – carbon neutral by 2035.

As the UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance and other similar organisations point out, switching energy sources away from fossil fuels, while vital for the future of the planet, is a considerable challenge. And transitions which start off at a gallop may as time passes risk slowing to a trot.

Under its Energiewende or energy transition policy unveiled 20 years ago, Germany has made substantial progress in transforming its energy sector, reducing the use of climate-changing fossil fuels and boosting energy from renewable sources.

“Critics of the Energiewende say the phase-out of nuclear power has meant that coal has continued to play a dominant role in Germany’s energy sector”

According to the latest figures, renewables – wind, hydro-power, biomass and solar – now account for just over 40% of Germany’s total energy production.

Along with this transition, there’s been a 30% drop in Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) over the last 30 years.

But, though the Energiewende policy was initially successful, making further progress on replacing fossil fuels with renewables and cutting back on GHG emissions is now proving ever more difficult.

The initial aim was to achieve an overall 40% drop in GHG emissions by the end of 2019 as compared to 1990 levels: clearly that target has not been met.

Several factors are in play: despite early progress on cutting back on coal use, Germany – which has Europe’s largest economy – has so far failed to wean itself off its dependence on what is the dirtiest of fossil fuels.

Coal burning persists

More than 25% of Germany’s total energy production comes from coal – one of the highest rates among European countries. Most of the coal burned is lignite, the most polluting form of the fossil fuel.

In 2011, in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, Germany announced it would be phasing out its use of nuclear power. Since then, 11 of its 17 nuclear reactors have closed, the latest at the end of 2019.

Critics of the Energiewende say the phase-out of nuclear power has meant that coal has continued to play a dominant role in Germany’s energy sector.

The German government says it will shut its more than 100 coal-fired power stations by 2038. Some say this is far too late, while others question Germany’s increasing reliance on imported energy – particularly gas from Russia.

Other factors are hindering the Energiewende. Though many German households and small businesses are switching to solar power, a large proportion of the country’s renewable energy – about 20% – is sourced from wind power, most of it land-based.

Out of sight

In recent years there’s been growing concern about the proliferation of land-based wind turbines: more restrictions have been brought in on their construction, resulting in a drastic cut-back in wind project start-ups.

All this means that the goals of the Energiewende will be tough to achieve for Munich – and for Germany.

Munich is the capital city of the southern state of Bavaria, home to BMW and many other leading German industries.

The state has brought in some of the country’s most stringent restrictions on wind power projects: to meet its ambitious decarbonisation targets and, at the same time, ensure its energy supply, Munich is now having to invest in wind power installations abroad, some as distant as Norway.

But such enterprises carry their own set of problems. Environmental groups in Norway have raised objections to wind power turbine installations which they say threaten the beauty of the landscape. In particular they criticise the construction of such projects solely for the export of energy. – Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Flagship reactor launch postponed again

As the French state continues to bail out its debt-ridden nuclear industry a new delay to its flagship reactor casts doubt on the future.

LONDON, 31 December, 2019 − The edifice already heading for the status of the largest and most expensive construction project in the world, the Hinkley C nuclear power station in the UK, is dragging its builder, the French giant EDF, into ever-deeper debt: the company’s flagship reactor is facing still more delay.

Although EDF is a vast company, owning 58 reactors in France alone, and is 85% owned by the French state, it owes around €60 billion ($67bn), a debt expected to increase by €3 billion ($3.35bn) a year.

This has led some city analysts, notably S&P Global, to downgrade the company’s prospects to “negative” − which is essentially a recommendation to shareholders to sell.

Apart from the problem that EDF’s fleet of reactors in France is operating well beyond their original design life and are in constant need of safety and maintenance upgrades, the company’s main problem is its flagship, the European Pressurised Water Reactor (EPR), which is getting into ever-greater difficulties.

In Europe there are four EPRs under construction: the two barely begun at Hinkley Point in Somerset in the west of England; one in northern France at Flamanville in Normandy; and the original prototype in Finland, known as Olkiluoto 3 (OL3).

The extraordinary fact is that, although OL3 was due to start up in 2009, it is still incomplete, and its start date has just been put back again – until 2021.

“Some have wondered how on earth EDF can still go forward with a project that looks like financial insanity for its own accounts”

In the midst of the Christmas festivities news was slipped out of another further substantial delay to this reactor, which is being built on Finland’s southwest coast.

Construction began nearly 15 years ago and was due to be completed within four years. But now the reactor is not expected to produce power until March 2021, instead of by the most recent estimate, September 2020.

Bizarrely, the delay is because some of the equipment in the station requires new spare parts to replace earlier versions that have never been used.

Or, as OL3 project director Jouni Silvennoinen said in a TVO statement: “Because of numerous delays we have to do maintenance to equipment and components already installed to ensure fluent start-up and continuous operation. The manufacturing and deliveries of the spare parts take time.”

The second EPR being built, at Flamanville, is in even deeper trouble. Work began in December 2007 on the 1650 megawatt unit, which was originally expected to start commercial operation in 2013, but that has now been put back to 2022.

The latest problem in this catalogue was the discovery of faulty welds inside the reactor’s containment vessel. These require replacement, an incredibly difficult, time-consuming and expensive operation. Because of these problems EDF has been forced to adjust both the schedule and the estimated cost of construction, to €12.4 billion ($13.85bn), three times the original estimate.

Delays expected

Because it has learned lessons from building these two prototypes, EDF says, it is confident that the giant Hinkley Point twin reactor project will go much more smoothly. The first Hinkley reactor is due for completion in 2025, although cost overruns and potential delays because of unforeseen “ground conditions” have already been announced.

But it is the delay at Flamanville that is having a knock-on effect at Hinkley Point and is partly causing EDF’s debt problems. The company was granted cheap loans to pay for the UK construction by the British Treasury, considerably reducing the cost to the company by saving it the need to borrow money at commercial rates.

However, the loan was conditional on Flamanville being up and running by the end of 2020, a condition clearly not going to be met. As a result the company is financing the build directly from its balance sheet – a big ask, because the estimated cost is more than $25bn (£19bn).

For comparison, the most expensive building in the world to date is the giant Abraj Al Bait hotel, in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, at $15bn. The latest EDF prediction is that Hinkley Point’s reactors will cost from £21.5bn to £22.5bn ($26.6bn-$27.9bn), and that is expected to rise.

David Toke, reader in energy politics at the University of Aberdeen, UK, in his regular blog on energy, puts it this way: “EDF faces massive financial losses as they continue to fund the building of Hinkley C.

“This is because they are paying for the power station from their balance sheet rather than use much cheaper UK Treasury loans that were originally agreed with the UK Government.

Shares depressed

“In short, paying for the construction costs out of shareholders’ dividends is very costly, something that depresses share prices and in effect loses tremendous amounts of money for the main shareholder, the French Government.

“In order to complete Hinkley C, EDF can only do so by issuing its own bonds, and thus accumulating debt that rests on its balance sheets. Such mounting debt reduces the possibility for issuing dividends to shareholders and thus depresses share prices.

“Some with expert knowledge have wondered how on earth EDF can still go forward with a project that looks like financial insanity for its own accounts.”

Dr Toke argues that the only reason for continuing with the project is French pride.

But so far the French Government, which ultimately foots the bill for the nuclear industry’s investments − and its failures − has continued to back all three projects.

The cost to the French taxpayer is already astronomical, and while none of the four reactors produces any power, their costs continue to escalate. How long this can continue, nobody knows. − Climate News Network

As the French state continues to bail out its debt-ridden nuclear industry a new delay to its flagship reactor casts doubt on the future.

LONDON, 31 December, 2019 − The edifice already heading for the status of the largest and most expensive construction project in the world, the Hinkley C nuclear power station in the UK, is dragging its builder, the French giant EDF, into ever-deeper debt: the company’s flagship reactor is facing still more delay.

Although EDF is a vast company, owning 58 reactors in France alone, and is 85% owned by the French state, it owes around €60 billion ($67bn), a debt expected to increase by €3 billion ($3.35bn) a year.

This has led some city analysts, notably S&P Global, to downgrade the company’s prospects to “negative” − which is essentially a recommendation to shareholders to sell.

Apart from the problem that EDF’s fleet of reactors in France is operating well beyond their original design life and are in constant need of safety and maintenance upgrades, the company’s main problem is its flagship, the European Pressurised Water Reactor (EPR), which is getting into ever-greater difficulties.

In Europe there are four EPRs under construction: the two barely begun at Hinkley Point in Somerset in the west of England; one in northern France at Flamanville in Normandy; and the original prototype in Finland, known as Olkiluoto 3 (OL3).

The extraordinary fact is that, although OL3 was due to start up in 2009, it is still incomplete, and its start date has just been put back again – until 2021.

“Some have wondered how on earth EDF can still go forward with a project that looks like financial insanity for its own accounts”

In the midst of the Christmas festivities news was slipped out of another further substantial delay to this reactor, which is being built on Finland’s southwest coast.

Construction began nearly 15 years ago and was due to be completed within four years. But now the reactor is not expected to produce power until March 2021, instead of by the most recent estimate, September 2020.

Bizarrely, the delay is because some of the equipment in the station requires new spare parts to replace earlier versions that have never been used.

Or, as OL3 project director Jouni Silvennoinen said in a TVO statement: “Because of numerous delays we have to do maintenance to equipment and components already installed to ensure fluent start-up and continuous operation. The manufacturing and deliveries of the spare parts take time.”

The second EPR being built, at Flamanville, is in even deeper trouble. Work began in December 2007 on the 1650 megawatt unit, which was originally expected to start commercial operation in 2013, but that has now been put back to 2022.

The latest problem in this catalogue was the discovery of faulty welds inside the reactor’s containment vessel. These require replacement, an incredibly difficult, time-consuming and expensive operation. Because of these problems EDF has been forced to adjust both the schedule and the estimated cost of construction, to €12.4 billion ($13.85bn), three times the original estimate.

Delays expected

Because it has learned lessons from building these two prototypes, EDF says, it is confident that the giant Hinkley Point twin reactor project will go much more smoothly. The first Hinkley reactor is due for completion in 2025, although cost overruns and potential delays because of unforeseen “ground conditions” have already been announced.

But it is the delay at Flamanville that is having a knock-on effect at Hinkley Point and is partly causing EDF’s debt problems. The company was granted cheap loans to pay for the UK construction by the British Treasury, considerably reducing the cost to the company by saving it the need to borrow money at commercial rates.

However, the loan was conditional on Flamanville being up and running by the end of 2020, a condition clearly not going to be met. As a result the company is financing the build directly from its balance sheet – a big ask, because the estimated cost is more than $25bn (£19bn).

For comparison, the most expensive building in the world to date is the giant Abraj Al Bait hotel, in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, at $15bn. The latest EDF prediction is that Hinkley Point’s reactors will cost from £21.5bn to £22.5bn ($26.6bn-$27.9bn), and that is expected to rise.

David Toke, reader in energy politics at the University of Aberdeen, UK, in his regular blog on energy, puts it this way: “EDF faces massive financial losses as they continue to fund the building of Hinkley C.

“This is because they are paying for the power station from their balance sheet rather than use much cheaper UK Treasury loans that were originally agreed with the UK Government.

Shares depressed

“In short, paying for the construction costs out of shareholders’ dividends is very costly, something that depresses share prices and in effect loses tremendous amounts of money for the main shareholder, the French Government.

“In order to complete Hinkley C, EDF can only do so by issuing its own bonds, and thus accumulating debt that rests on its balance sheets. Such mounting debt reduces the possibility for issuing dividends to shareholders and thus depresses share prices.

“Some with expert knowledge have wondered how on earth EDF can still go forward with a project that looks like financial insanity for its own accounts.”

Dr Toke argues that the only reason for continuing with the project is French pride.

But so far the French Government, which ultimately foots the bill for the nuclear industry’s investments − and its failures − has continued to back all three projects.

The cost to the French taxpayer is already astronomical, and while none of the four reactors produces any power, their costs continue to escalate. How long this can continue, nobody knows. − Climate News Network

Sun shines on Germany’s solar sector

A few years ago its future looked dim, but new technology is offering Germany’s solar sector a fast new lease of life.

LONDON, 18 December, 2019 – Not only does it promise the revival of Germany’s solar sector. It’s also the dream of any householder keen both to cut back on fuel bills and help in the fight against climate change – a combined solar and battery unit capable of supplying power to the home on a 24-hour basis.

Now the dream is being turned into reality – with Germany leading the way. Over the past five years more than 150,000 German homeowners and small businesses have installed combined solar and battery storage units.

Advances in technology mean that battery storage units for an average-sized house can be relatively small – about the dimensions of a medium-sized fridge.

Solar power for general household use is supplied from rooftop photovoltaic panels. Additional energy is fed into the battery storage unit – often placed in a basement – for use at night or on days when there is no sun.

Popularity rising

If there is more energy than battery capacity, a digital control system feeds any excess into the grid, with the owner being compensated by the grid operator.

While sales of the systems are still relatively small in comparison with Germany’s population of more than 80 million, the units – which let consumers be independent of power companies and escape increasing energy prices – are proving ever more popular.

Energy experts say that more than 50% of rooftop solar systems now being sold in Germany are installed along with a battery storage facility.

“Before 2013 such combined systems were not a commercial proposition”, says Kai-Philipp Kairies, an expert on energy storage technology at Germany’s RWTH Aachen University.

“What’s happened is that now, due to greater efficiencies, buyers are getting twice as much battery storage power for their money”

“Due to advances in battery storage capabilities and other improvements, sales in Germany over the past five years have been increasing by 100%, year on year.

“No one really anticipated this sort of growth, and German companies have been at the forefront of developments in the sector.”

The switch to small-sized combined energy systems forms another stage in Germany’s ambitious Energiewende project – a state-sponsored programme aimed at improving power efficiency and switching the country’s entire energy sector to renewables by 2050.

The UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance, which reports on programmes and projects both in the UK and worldwide that are following Energiewende-type policies, provides extensive further details.

Earlier fade-out

German companies have been piling into the combined unit sector with more than 40 enterprises at present involved.

In the past, the big power companies shied away from solar. In 2012 the head of RWE, Germany’s biggest energy company, said that giving support to the country’s solar power industry was like “farming pineapples in Alaska” – it was just not a viable proposition.

Now the giants of the power industry are entering the market: Shell, the Dutch-British energy conglomerate, recently purchased Sonnen, Germany’s leading supplier of home storage batteries. E.ON, the German power company, has teamed up with Solarwatt, another leading German renewables company. EnBW, one of the big four German utility companies, recently bought Senec, another supplier of battery storage units.

The systems are not cheap, though industry analysts say a fall in the cost of both batteries and solar panels in recent years has made such equipment far more affordable.

Rapid switch

“The units are getting cheaper at an incredible pace”, says Aachen University’s Dr Kairies. “We estimate that the relative cost of the systems has gone down by more than 50% over the past five years, though this may not be reflected in the price paid by the homeowner.

“What’s happened is that now, due to greater efficiencies, buyers are getting twice as much battery storage power for their money.”

Owners of a relatively small house would be likely to pay a total sum in the region of US$20,000 for both solar panels and batteries, though prices vary widely, dependent on actual house size, insulation and on how the building is positioned in regard to sunlight.

Sales of the units have provided a lifeline for Germany’s solar industry, which not so long ago was on its knees. Cheap solar panel imports from China had forced many domestic manufacturers out of business; a decline in the level of feed-in tariffs – the guaranteed payments consumers received for supplying energy to the grid – had further damaged the solar business.

Not so sunny

There were questions over Germany’s suitability for solar. “Germany is not exactly one of the world’s sunniest holiday destinations”, says a report on the sector by the Clean Energy Wire (CLEW),  a Germany-based journalism group which focuses on the country’s transition to renewable energy. “In fact, the central European country ranks among countries with the fewest hours of sunshine per year.”

According to CLEW, more than 150,000 people were employed in Germany’s solar sector in 2011. Six years later that number had shrunk to 36,000.

Today, according to figures from the International Energy Agency (IEA),  Germany is top of the world rankings in terms of installed solar capacity per capita, accounting for about 10% of total global installed solar capacity.

The bulk of solar panels and batteries are still manufactured in Asia, mainly in China. Retailers in Germany package the systems and make adjustments, as well as carrying out installation work and servicing. All systems come with a 10-year warranty.

Exports take off

Exports of the combined solar and battery units are rising. A recent report by Wood Mackenzie, the investment and research group, says other countries in Europe, particularly Spain and Italy, are following Germany’s example.

“Germany’s world-leading foray into the residential storage market has enabled Europe to claim the title of the largest residential storage market globally”, says the report.

“Off the back of Germany’s success, residential storage is beginning to proliferate in other European countries, particularly where market structures, prevailing power prices and disappearing feed-in tariffs create a favourable early-stage deployment landscape.”

The UK and Australia are seen as strong growth markets and – as long as the sun keeps shining – the future looks bright: McKinsey, the consultancy and research group, predicts that the costs of energy storage systems around the world will fall further – by more than 50% by 2025 – because of advances in design, more streamlined production processes and economies of scale as output is expanded. – Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

A few years ago its future looked dim, but new technology is offering Germany’s solar sector a fast new lease of life.

LONDON, 18 December, 2019 – Not only does it promise the revival of Germany’s solar sector. It’s also the dream of any householder keen both to cut back on fuel bills and help in the fight against climate change – a combined solar and battery unit capable of supplying power to the home on a 24-hour basis.

Now the dream is being turned into reality – with Germany leading the way. Over the past five years more than 150,000 German homeowners and small businesses have installed combined solar and battery storage units.

Advances in technology mean that battery storage units for an average-sized house can be relatively small – about the dimensions of a medium-sized fridge.

Solar power for general household use is supplied from rooftop photovoltaic panels. Additional energy is fed into the battery storage unit – often placed in a basement – for use at night or on days when there is no sun.

Popularity rising

If there is more energy than battery capacity, a digital control system feeds any excess into the grid, with the owner being compensated by the grid operator.

While sales of the systems are still relatively small in comparison with Germany’s population of more than 80 million, the units – which let consumers be independent of power companies and escape increasing energy prices – are proving ever more popular.

Energy experts say that more than 50% of rooftop solar systems now being sold in Germany are installed along with a battery storage facility.

“Before 2013 such combined systems were not a commercial proposition”, says Kai-Philipp Kairies, an expert on energy storage technology at Germany’s RWTH Aachen University.

“What’s happened is that now, due to greater efficiencies, buyers are getting twice as much battery storage power for their money”

“Due to advances in battery storage capabilities and other improvements, sales in Germany over the past five years have been increasing by 100%, year on year.

“No one really anticipated this sort of growth, and German companies have been at the forefront of developments in the sector.”

The switch to small-sized combined energy systems forms another stage in Germany’s ambitious Energiewende project – a state-sponsored programme aimed at improving power efficiency and switching the country’s entire energy sector to renewables by 2050.

The UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance, which reports on programmes and projects both in the UK and worldwide that are following Energiewende-type policies, provides extensive further details.

Earlier fade-out

German companies have been piling into the combined unit sector with more than 40 enterprises at present involved.

In the past, the big power companies shied away from solar. In 2012 the head of RWE, Germany’s biggest energy company, said that giving support to the country’s solar power industry was like “farming pineapples in Alaska” – it was just not a viable proposition.

Now the giants of the power industry are entering the market: Shell, the Dutch-British energy conglomerate, recently purchased Sonnen, Germany’s leading supplier of home storage batteries. E.ON, the German power company, has teamed up with Solarwatt, another leading German renewables company. EnBW, one of the big four German utility companies, recently bought Senec, another supplier of battery storage units.

The systems are not cheap, though industry analysts say a fall in the cost of both batteries and solar panels in recent years has made such equipment far more affordable.

Rapid switch

“The units are getting cheaper at an incredible pace”, says Aachen University’s Dr Kairies. “We estimate that the relative cost of the systems has gone down by more than 50% over the past five years, though this may not be reflected in the price paid by the homeowner.

“What’s happened is that now, due to greater efficiencies, buyers are getting twice as much battery storage power for their money.”

Owners of a relatively small house would be likely to pay a total sum in the region of US$20,000 for both solar panels and batteries, though prices vary widely, dependent on actual house size, insulation and on how the building is positioned in regard to sunlight.

Sales of the units have provided a lifeline for Germany’s solar industry, which not so long ago was on its knees. Cheap solar panel imports from China had forced many domestic manufacturers out of business; a decline in the level of feed-in tariffs – the guaranteed payments consumers received for supplying energy to the grid – had further damaged the solar business.

Not so sunny

There were questions over Germany’s suitability for solar. “Germany is not exactly one of the world’s sunniest holiday destinations”, says a report on the sector by the Clean Energy Wire (CLEW),  a Germany-based journalism group which focuses on the country’s transition to renewable energy. “In fact, the central European country ranks among countries with the fewest hours of sunshine per year.”

According to CLEW, more than 150,000 people were employed in Germany’s solar sector in 2011. Six years later that number had shrunk to 36,000.

Today, according to figures from the International Energy Agency (IEA),  Germany is top of the world rankings in terms of installed solar capacity per capita, accounting for about 10% of total global installed solar capacity.

The bulk of solar panels and batteries are still manufactured in Asia, mainly in China. Retailers in Germany package the systems and make adjustments, as well as carrying out installation work and servicing. All systems come with a 10-year warranty.

Exports take off

Exports of the combined solar and battery units are rising. A recent report by Wood Mackenzie, the investment and research group, says other countries in Europe, particularly Spain and Italy, are following Germany’s example.

“Germany’s world-leading foray into the residential storage market has enabled Europe to claim the title of the largest residential storage market globally”, says the report.

“Off the back of Germany’s success, residential storage is beginning to proliferate in other European countries, particularly where market structures, prevailing power prices and disappearing feed-in tariffs create a favourable early-stage deployment landscape.”

The UK and Australia are seen as strong growth markets and – as long as the sun keeps shining – the future looks bright: McKinsey, the consultancy and research group, predicts that the costs of energy storage systems around the world will fall further – by more than 50% by 2025 – because of advances in design, more streamlined production processes and economies of scale as output is expanded. – Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Politicians not markets slow new energy dawn

It is politicians, not economists, who stand in the way of wider adoption of cheap renewable energies across the world.

LONDON, 12 December, 2019 − Often blamed for society’s problems, politicians have now been brought to book for the slow take-up of renewable forms of energy.

These are now so cheap that installation worldwide is happening faster than governments have allowed for in their national plans for action, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

This shows, IRENA says, that it is politicians, many of whose election campaigns are still financed and overly influenced by the fossil fuel lobby, that are the barrier to tackling climate change, rather than any lack of available technology.

A report by IRENA, using calculations made by Carbon Action Tracker, says that as a result the so-called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that each government is supposed to produce to show how they will cut greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris Agreement of 2015 are woefully inadequate.

Even if implemented in full, they would still allow the world to warm by 2.6°C, 70% more than the 1.5°C regarded as desirable by the Agreement,  and well above the agreed danger level of 2°C. As it is, governments are not even reaching their declared NDC targets.

“By adopting targets to transform the global energy system, policymakers could finally begin to turn the tide against global warming”

A “profound transformation” is required, the report says. Higher renewable energy deployment amounting to 7.7 TW, or 3.3 times the current global capacity, could be achieved cost-effectively, and would bring considerable social and economic benefits.

“Given the competitiveness of technologies and the multiple benefits they bring the economy (e.g., job creation) renewables are a readily-available and cost-effective option to raise NDC ambitions today.”

“By adopting targets to transform the global energy system, policymakers could finally begin to turn the tide against global warming.”

The national plans that governments have produced to try to stem climate change currently allow for only a 4% annual growth in wind and solar power between 2015 and 2030 – even though annual renewable power growth averaged 5.8% between 2010 and 2014.

With current growth, the targets governments had set for 2030 would be met by 2022. According to the agency’s calculations, the progress made already means there could be 3.3 times as much global capacity installed by 2030.

Political refusal

The report, released during the current UN climate talks in Spain, is designed to show that combatting the climate emergency by using renewables to electrify the power system is well within the grasp of governments − if only politicians were prepared to endorse the idea.

The issue becomes critical next year at the climate summit due to be held in Glasgow, in the UK, when governments are due to ratchet up their commitments to tackle the climate crisis. The report notes that, despite the lack of government support, many financial institutions are already moving towards investment in renewables and climate-resilient investments.

However, this on its own will not achieve the estimated US$110 trillion dollars that need to be invested in the energy sector by 2050. There have to be positive policies from governments to switch from fossil fuels – what the report calls addressing “economic and social misalignments.”

At the moment the report notes it is not reluctance on the part of wider society that is preventing this change, merely the lack of action by politicians. For example, executives who run companies are driving the renewable energy build-up by buying renewables for their businesses.

In 75 countries, with 2,400 businesses, surveyed for the report, more than half said they actively looked for renewable energies to power their activities. These decisions were driven by the environmental and social benefits that renewables brought. − Climate News Network

It is politicians, not economists, who stand in the way of wider adoption of cheap renewable energies across the world.

LONDON, 12 December, 2019 − Often blamed for society’s problems, politicians have now been brought to book for the slow take-up of renewable forms of energy.

These are now so cheap that installation worldwide is happening faster than governments have allowed for in their national plans for action, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

This shows, IRENA says, that it is politicians, many of whose election campaigns are still financed and overly influenced by the fossil fuel lobby, that are the barrier to tackling climate change, rather than any lack of available technology.

A report by IRENA, using calculations made by Carbon Action Tracker, says that as a result the so-called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that each government is supposed to produce to show how they will cut greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris Agreement of 2015 are woefully inadequate.

Even if implemented in full, they would still allow the world to warm by 2.6°C, 70% more than the 1.5°C regarded as desirable by the Agreement,  and well above the agreed danger level of 2°C. As it is, governments are not even reaching their declared NDC targets.

“By adopting targets to transform the global energy system, policymakers could finally begin to turn the tide against global warming”

A “profound transformation” is required, the report says. Higher renewable energy deployment amounting to 7.7 TW, or 3.3 times the current global capacity, could be achieved cost-effectively, and would bring considerable social and economic benefits.

“Given the competitiveness of technologies and the multiple benefits they bring the economy (e.g., job creation) renewables are a readily-available and cost-effective option to raise NDC ambitions today.”

“By adopting targets to transform the global energy system, policymakers could finally begin to turn the tide against global warming.”

The national plans that governments have produced to try to stem climate change currently allow for only a 4% annual growth in wind and solar power between 2015 and 2030 – even though annual renewable power growth averaged 5.8% between 2010 and 2014.

With current growth, the targets governments had set for 2030 would be met by 2022. According to the agency’s calculations, the progress made already means there could be 3.3 times as much global capacity installed by 2030.

Political refusal

The report, released during the current UN climate talks in Spain, is designed to show that combatting the climate emergency by using renewables to electrify the power system is well within the grasp of governments − if only politicians were prepared to endorse the idea.

The issue becomes critical next year at the climate summit due to be held in Glasgow, in the UK, when governments are due to ratchet up their commitments to tackle the climate crisis. The report notes that, despite the lack of government support, many financial institutions are already moving towards investment in renewables and climate-resilient investments.

However, this on its own will not achieve the estimated US$110 trillion dollars that need to be invested in the energy sector by 2050. There have to be positive policies from governments to switch from fossil fuels – what the report calls addressing “economic and social misalignments.”

At the moment the report notes it is not reluctance on the part of wider society that is preventing this change, merely the lack of action by politicians. For example, executives who run companies are driving the renewable energy build-up by buying renewables for their businesses.

In 75 countries, with 2,400 businesses, surveyed for the report, more than half said they actively looked for renewable energies to power their activities. These decisions were driven by the environmental and social benefits that renewables brought. − Climate News Network

Coal is now too hot for insurers to handle

Empires were once built on it, but coal is now too hot for many former backers as more insurers withdraw.

LONDON, 5 December, 2019 − It’s rapidly running out of friends in the financial world: coal is now too hot for many big insurers to want anything more to do with it. The burning of coal is one of the key factors behind rising emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Now insurance companies, which play a vital role in the financing of coal plants, are announcing plans to withdraw from the sector, saying that backing organisations seeking to expand coal operations is incompatible with the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

AXA, the French insurance and financial services conglomerate, is the latest to announce its withdrawal from coal projects, though this divesting programme will in some cases be phased in over a number of years.

“The fight against climate change requires engagement in a global collective action”, says Thomas Buberl, AXA’s chief executive officer.

“A plus 4°C world is not insurable. As a global insurer and investor, we know that we have a key role to play. In the spirit of the Paris Agreement, we want to accelerate our commitment and confirm our leadership in the fight against global warming”.

European phase-out

AXA says it will stop insuring any new coal construction projects. It will also totally phase out its existing insurance and investments in coal in the European Union countries by 2030, and by 2040 everywhere else.

It’s estimated that approximately 400 companies with coal plant and mine expansion plans will be affected by AXA’s action.

In 2015 AXA announced it would begin withdrawing its investments and insurance from coal projects. Two years later it said it was divesting and ending insurance in oil tar sands projects in Canada, and withdrawing insurance from a number of pipelines in the US transporting tar sands-derived oil.

A number of other large insurance and investment companies have made similar moves on coal. Allianz, the Germany-based company which is Europe’s largest insurer, announced last year that it would end insurance for all coal-fuelled power plants and for coal mines: it would also completely withdraw from the sector by 2040.

“A plus 4°C world is not insurable. As a global insurer and investor, we know that we have a key role to play. We want to accelerate our commitment in the fight against global warming”

“Banks, investors and insurers are now under great pressure to up their game on climate with new coal policy announcements”, says Kaarina Kolle of Europe Beyond Coal, a group linking various non-governmental organisations across the EU.

“This is the minimum standard for any financial institution committed to the Paris Climate Agreement’s 1.5°C warming limit.”

While climate scientists have welcomed moves to limit coal use, many nations are still heavily dependent on what is the most polluting of fossil fuels. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that coal accounts for nearly 40% of electricity at present generated worldwide.

The IEA says demand rose by 1% in 2017, with a similar rise last year.  Latest statistics indicate coal use worldwide has dropped slightly this year, though total greenhouse gas emissions are still rising.

Economic slowdown

Coal consumption is forecast to drop by 11% in the US in 2019 while China, which accounts for half of total world coal consumption, is expected to use about 1% less of the fuel this year, mainly due to a slowdown in its economy.

Coal use within the EU dropped by nearly 20% in the first six months of this year.

Germany is responsible for about a third of total coal-generated power in the EU. Lignite, the most polluting coal, forms a substantial part of Germany’s energy mix.

Many countries in eastern Europe, including Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, are still heavily dependent on coal for power generation.

Eight EU countries have pledged to phase out coal use by 2030: industry analysts say other heavy coal users in the EU have to follow suit. If not, EU emissions reductions targets set under the Paris Agreement will not be met. − Climate News Network

Empires were once built on it, but coal is now too hot for many former backers as more insurers withdraw.

LONDON, 5 December, 2019 − It’s rapidly running out of friends in the financial world: coal is now too hot for many big insurers to want anything more to do with it. The burning of coal is one of the key factors behind rising emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Now insurance companies, which play a vital role in the financing of coal plants, are announcing plans to withdraw from the sector, saying that backing organisations seeking to expand coal operations is incompatible with the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

AXA, the French insurance and financial services conglomerate, is the latest to announce its withdrawal from coal projects, though this divesting programme will in some cases be phased in over a number of years.

“The fight against climate change requires engagement in a global collective action”, says Thomas Buberl, AXA’s chief executive officer.

“A plus 4°C world is not insurable. As a global insurer and investor, we know that we have a key role to play. In the spirit of the Paris Agreement, we want to accelerate our commitment and confirm our leadership in the fight against global warming”.

European phase-out

AXA says it will stop insuring any new coal construction projects. It will also totally phase out its existing insurance and investments in coal in the European Union countries by 2030, and by 2040 everywhere else.

It’s estimated that approximately 400 companies with coal plant and mine expansion plans will be affected by AXA’s action.

In 2015 AXA announced it would begin withdrawing its investments and insurance from coal projects. Two years later it said it was divesting and ending insurance in oil tar sands projects in Canada, and withdrawing insurance from a number of pipelines in the US transporting tar sands-derived oil.

A number of other large insurance and investment companies have made similar moves on coal. Allianz, the Germany-based company which is Europe’s largest insurer, announced last year that it would end insurance for all coal-fuelled power plants and for coal mines: it would also completely withdraw from the sector by 2040.

“A plus 4°C world is not insurable. As a global insurer and investor, we know that we have a key role to play. We want to accelerate our commitment in the fight against global warming”

“Banks, investors and insurers are now under great pressure to up their game on climate with new coal policy announcements”, says Kaarina Kolle of Europe Beyond Coal, a group linking various non-governmental organisations across the EU.

“This is the minimum standard for any financial institution committed to the Paris Climate Agreement’s 1.5°C warming limit.”

While climate scientists have welcomed moves to limit coal use, many nations are still heavily dependent on what is the most polluting of fossil fuels. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that coal accounts for nearly 40% of electricity at present generated worldwide.

The IEA says demand rose by 1% in 2017, with a similar rise last year.  Latest statistics indicate coal use worldwide has dropped slightly this year, though total greenhouse gas emissions are still rising.

Economic slowdown

Coal consumption is forecast to drop by 11% in the US in 2019 while China, which accounts for half of total world coal consumption, is expected to use about 1% less of the fuel this year, mainly due to a slowdown in its economy.

Coal use within the EU dropped by nearly 20% in the first six months of this year.

Germany is responsible for about a third of total coal-generated power in the EU. Lignite, the most polluting coal, forms a substantial part of Germany’s energy mix.

Many countries in eastern Europe, including Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, are still heavily dependent on coal for power generation.

Eight EU countries have pledged to phase out coal use by 2030: industry analysts say other heavy coal users in the EU have to follow suit. If not, EU emissions reductions targets set under the Paris Agreement will not be met. − Climate News Network

Our children await a radioactive legacy

We are leaving our children a radioactive legacy, the lethal waste that current governments still cannot make safe.

LONDON, 26 November, 2019 − After 70 years of building and operating nuclear power plants across the world, governments are bequeathing to future generations a radioactive legacy.

They remain unable to deal with the huge quantities of highly radioactive spent fuel they produce, says a group of independent experts − and as more reactors are reaching the end of their lives, the situation is worsening fast.

That is the conclusion of the first World Nuclear Waste Report (WNWR), produced by a group which says there are ever-growing challenges in waste management and no sustainable long-term solutions. They include two British academics: the economist Professor Gordon MacKerron, of the University of Sussex, and the independent radiation biologist Dr Ian Fairlie.

“Despite many plans and declared political intentions, huge uncertainties remain, and much of the costs and the challenges will fall onto future generations,” the report says.

Persistent risk

The waste, which can remain dangerous for more than 100,000 years, constitutes a continuous health hazard because of the routine release of radioactive gas and liquid waste into the environment. Yet it is likely to be another century before the problem is solved, the WNWR report says.

It notes: “The continued practice of storing spent nuclear fuel for long periods in pools at nuclear power plants (wet storage) constitutes a major risk to the public and to the environment.” There are now an estimated 250,000 tons of spent fuel in storage in 14 countries.

Despite its stark findings, the report makes no comment on the ethics of continuing to build nuclear stations when there is no way to get rid of the wastes they create.

The authors do not even quote the sixth report of the UK Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution from 1976, only 20 years after the dawn of the nuclear age, chaired by the physicist Sir Brian Flowers.

Beyond reasonable doubt

That said: “There should be no commitment to a large programme of nuclear fission power until it has been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that a method exists to ensure the safe containment of long-lived, highly radioactive waste for the indefinite future.”

Successive British governments, along with the rest of the world, ignored Flowers. 40 years on, there are massive stockpiles of radioactive waste in every nuclear nation across the planet.

However, because the problem is now so vast, this latest report concentrates on describing the issues faced in the democracies of Europe where there is a lot of official information available. Even here, governments have failed to properly estimate the true cost of dealing with the waste, and most are many decades away from finding any solutions.

Finland is the only country in the world currently building a permanent repository for its high-level waste. Many other countries have tried and failed, either because the geology proved unsuitable or because of objections from those affected.

“There should be no commitment to a large programme of nuclear fission power until a method exists to ensure the safe containment of long-lived, highly radioactive waste for the indefinite future”

As a result, spent fuel from reactors and other highly dangerous waste is in interim storage that carries severe safety risks, not least from loss of cooling water or terrorist attack. There are 60,000 tons of spent fuel in store in Europe alone.

The bill for dealing with the waste is huge, but no government has yet calculated accurately what it is, nor has any put aside enough funds to deal with it. By mid-2019 there were 181 closed nuclear reactors globally, but only 19 had been fully decommissioned, with just 10 restored as greenfield sites.

The report does not comment on governments’ competence or honesty, but it does make it clear they are not facing up to reality. For example, the UK has more than 100 tons of stored plutonium, for which it has no use − but it refuses to class plutonium as a waste. The report says it will cost at least £3 billion ($3.8bn) “to manage” whatever decision is reached to deal with it.

Each of the countries in Europe that has nuclear power stations is studied in the report. Spent fuel is the single most dangerous source of highly radioactive waste, and all 16 countries in Europe with highly irradiated fuel have yet to deal with it. France has the highest number of spent fuel rods with 13,990 tons in cooling ponds, Germany 8,485, the UK 7,700.

Information withheld

France has the largest unresolved stockpile of all categories of nuclear waste, plus the legacy of a uranium mining industry. The cost of decommissioning and waste management was put at €43.7 billion ($60.3bn) in 2014, but this is almost certainly an underestimate, the report says.

Looking outside Europe, the US probably has the largest and most complex volumes of nuclear waste in the world, the experts say. Yet it has no plans for dealing with it, and vast quantities of all types of waste are in temporary storage.

The authors admit that, despite their year-long study, the report cannot be comprehensive. This is because information from some countries, for example Russia and China, is not available. But they add that across the world all governments are failing to face up to the size of the task and its costs.

Although some countries had set notional dates for dealing with their wastes as far into the future as 2060, others had no idea at all. The authors promise to produce updated reports in future years. − Climate News Network

We are leaving our children a radioactive legacy, the lethal waste that current governments still cannot make safe.

LONDON, 26 November, 2019 − After 70 years of building and operating nuclear power plants across the world, governments are bequeathing to future generations a radioactive legacy.

They remain unable to deal with the huge quantities of highly radioactive spent fuel they produce, says a group of independent experts − and as more reactors are reaching the end of their lives, the situation is worsening fast.

That is the conclusion of the first World Nuclear Waste Report (WNWR), produced by a group which says there are ever-growing challenges in waste management and no sustainable long-term solutions. They include two British academics: the economist Professor Gordon MacKerron, of the University of Sussex, and the independent radiation biologist Dr Ian Fairlie.

“Despite many plans and declared political intentions, huge uncertainties remain, and much of the costs and the challenges will fall onto future generations,” the report says.

Persistent risk

The waste, which can remain dangerous for more than 100,000 years, constitutes a continuous health hazard because of the routine release of radioactive gas and liquid waste into the environment. Yet it is likely to be another century before the problem is solved, the WNWR report says.

It notes: “The continued practice of storing spent nuclear fuel for long periods in pools at nuclear power plants (wet storage) constitutes a major risk to the public and to the environment.” There are now an estimated 250,000 tons of spent fuel in storage in 14 countries.

Despite its stark findings, the report makes no comment on the ethics of continuing to build nuclear stations when there is no way to get rid of the wastes they create.

The authors do not even quote the sixth report of the UK Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution from 1976, only 20 years after the dawn of the nuclear age, chaired by the physicist Sir Brian Flowers.

Beyond reasonable doubt

That said: “There should be no commitment to a large programme of nuclear fission power until it has been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that a method exists to ensure the safe containment of long-lived, highly radioactive waste for the indefinite future.”

Successive British governments, along with the rest of the world, ignored Flowers. 40 years on, there are massive stockpiles of radioactive waste in every nuclear nation across the planet.

However, because the problem is now so vast, this latest report concentrates on describing the issues faced in the democracies of Europe where there is a lot of official information available. Even here, governments have failed to properly estimate the true cost of dealing with the waste, and most are many decades away from finding any solutions.

Finland is the only country in the world currently building a permanent repository for its high-level waste. Many other countries have tried and failed, either because the geology proved unsuitable or because of objections from those affected.

“There should be no commitment to a large programme of nuclear fission power until a method exists to ensure the safe containment of long-lived, highly radioactive waste for the indefinite future”

As a result, spent fuel from reactors and other highly dangerous waste is in interim storage that carries severe safety risks, not least from loss of cooling water or terrorist attack. There are 60,000 tons of spent fuel in store in Europe alone.

The bill for dealing with the waste is huge, but no government has yet calculated accurately what it is, nor has any put aside enough funds to deal with it. By mid-2019 there were 181 closed nuclear reactors globally, but only 19 had been fully decommissioned, with just 10 restored as greenfield sites.

The report does not comment on governments’ competence or honesty, but it does make it clear they are not facing up to reality. For example, the UK has more than 100 tons of stored plutonium, for which it has no use − but it refuses to class plutonium as a waste. The report says it will cost at least £3 billion ($3.8bn) “to manage” whatever decision is reached to deal with it.

Each of the countries in Europe that has nuclear power stations is studied in the report. Spent fuel is the single most dangerous source of highly radioactive waste, and all 16 countries in Europe with highly irradiated fuel have yet to deal with it. France has the highest number of spent fuel rods with 13,990 tons in cooling ponds, Germany 8,485, the UK 7,700.

Information withheld

France has the largest unresolved stockpile of all categories of nuclear waste, plus the legacy of a uranium mining industry. The cost of decommissioning and waste management was put at €43.7 billion ($60.3bn) in 2014, but this is almost certainly an underestimate, the report says.

Looking outside Europe, the US probably has the largest and most complex volumes of nuclear waste in the world, the experts say. Yet it has no plans for dealing with it, and vast quantities of all types of waste are in temporary storage.

The authors admit that, despite their year-long study, the report cannot be comprehensive. This is because information from some countries, for example Russia and China, is not available. But they add that across the world all governments are failing to face up to the size of the task and its costs.

Although some countries had set notional dates for dealing with their wastes as far into the future as 2060, others had no idea at all. The authors promise to produce updated reports in future years. − Climate News Network

Weights show the way to cheap stored power

New ways to generate renewable electricity will offer cheap stored power and a solution to balancing supply and demand.

LONDON, 22 November, 2019 − Finding effective ways to store energy until it’s needed is a major obstacle for the renewable electricity revolution, but two new mechanical systems mean cheap stored power could soon be widely available.

Cheaper than batteries, both have the virtue of being able to produce full power within a second of being switched on. And the energy they generate can also be stored for months without any loss of power.

Although developed by different teams completely independently and with different markets in mind, the two systems have great similarities. They use surplus electricity from renewables (wind or solar power) to winch a weight up a mineshaft or a mountain. When there’s a need to generate more electricity, the weight is released to fall to the bottom again, turning turbines attached to it by cables and so providing instant power to the grid.

One system envisages helping populations on isolated islands or in dry places where conventional hydro-electricity is not available, but where surplus sun and wind power can haul loads of sand or water up thousands of feet of mountainside.

The system, combining a technique known as Mountain Gravity Energy Storage (MGES) with hydropower, has been proposed by IIASA, the Austria-based International Institute for Applied System Analysis, and is described in the journal Energy. It allows the energy to be stored for months.

“Regions with high mountains could become important long-term energy storage hubs”

If a water source is available halfway or further up a mountain the empty containers can be filled nearer the top, making the system even more financially attractive.

Julian Hunt, a researcher at IIASA, said that cranes built on a mountaintop would haul sand or gravel to the summit rather like a ski lift. He said: “One of the benefits of this system is that sand is cheap and, unlike water, it does not evaporate – so you never lose potential energy and it can be re-used innumerable times. This makes it particularly interesting for dry regions.”

Unlike hydro-power systems that were limited to a height differential of 1,200 metres, MGES plants could cope with differences of more than 5,000m.

“Regions with high mountains, for example the Himalayas, Alps, and Rocky Mountains, could therefore become important long-term energy storage hubs. Other interesting locations for MGES are islands such as Hawaii, Cape Verde, Madeira, and the Pacific Islands with steep mountainous terrain,” Dr Hunt said.

50-year life

The mine shaft system, being developed by Gravitricity and based in the Scottish capital, Edinburgh, is designed to use weights from 500 to 5,000 tons. The company reckons its system will last at least 50 years without wearing out and will work with 80 to 90% efficiency, offering “some of the best characteristics of lithium batteries” at costs well below them.

It uses the same principle as MGES, but relies on old mines from the coal industry, where it uses surplus power to raise weights from the bottom of the shaft to the top. Many shafts, sometimes thousands of feet deep, remain in heavily industrialised areas of Europe.

Depending on the need, Gravitricity’s installation can be geared to produce between one and 20 megawatts of peak power within seconds, and depending on the output required can run for between 15 minutes and eight hours.

Gravitricity says it has already had a rush of interest from industrial partners and is working on a demonstration project.

There is already a different type of generation and storage system at work in the UK, known as pumped storage, which relies on transferring water from one underground reservoir to another. It is in use at Dinorwig in North Wales, where it is known as Electric Mountain. − Climate News Network

New ways to generate renewable electricity will offer cheap stored power and a solution to balancing supply and demand.

LONDON, 22 November, 2019 − Finding effective ways to store energy until it’s needed is a major obstacle for the renewable electricity revolution, but two new mechanical systems mean cheap stored power could soon be widely available.

Cheaper than batteries, both have the virtue of being able to produce full power within a second of being switched on. And the energy they generate can also be stored for months without any loss of power.

Although developed by different teams completely independently and with different markets in mind, the two systems have great similarities. They use surplus electricity from renewables (wind or solar power) to winch a weight up a mineshaft or a mountain. When there’s a need to generate more electricity, the weight is released to fall to the bottom again, turning turbines attached to it by cables and so providing instant power to the grid.

One system envisages helping populations on isolated islands or in dry places where conventional hydro-electricity is not available, but where surplus sun and wind power can haul loads of sand or water up thousands of feet of mountainside.

The system, combining a technique known as Mountain Gravity Energy Storage (MGES) with hydropower, has been proposed by IIASA, the Austria-based International Institute for Applied System Analysis, and is described in the journal Energy. It allows the energy to be stored for months.

“Regions with high mountains could become important long-term energy storage hubs”

If a water source is available halfway or further up a mountain the empty containers can be filled nearer the top, making the system even more financially attractive.

Julian Hunt, a researcher at IIASA, said that cranes built on a mountaintop would haul sand or gravel to the summit rather like a ski lift. He said: “One of the benefits of this system is that sand is cheap and, unlike water, it does not evaporate – so you never lose potential energy and it can be re-used innumerable times. This makes it particularly interesting for dry regions.”

Unlike hydro-power systems that were limited to a height differential of 1,200 metres, MGES plants could cope with differences of more than 5,000m.

“Regions with high mountains, for example the Himalayas, Alps, and Rocky Mountains, could therefore become important long-term energy storage hubs. Other interesting locations for MGES are islands such as Hawaii, Cape Verde, Madeira, and the Pacific Islands with steep mountainous terrain,” Dr Hunt said.

50-year life

The mine shaft system, being developed by Gravitricity and based in the Scottish capital, Edinburgh, is designed to use weights from 500 to 5,000 tons. The company reckons its system will last at least 50 years without wearing out and will work with 80 to 90% efficiency, offering “some of the best characteristics of lithium batteries” at costs well below them.

It uses the same principle as MGES, but relies on old mines from the coal industry, where it uses surplus power to raise weights from the bottom of the shaft to the top. Many shafts, sometimes thousands of feet deep, remain in heavily industrialised areas of Europe.

Depending on the need, Gravitricity’s installation can be geared to produce between one and 20 megawatts of peak power within seconds, and depending on the output required can run for between 15 minutes and eight hours.

Gravitricity says it has already had a rush of interest from industrial partners and is working on a demonstration project.

There is already a different type of generation and storage system at work in the UK, known as pumped storage, which relies on transferring water from one underground reservoir to another. It is in use at Dinorwig in North Wales, where it is known as Electric Mountain. − Climate News Network