Tag Archives: Electricity generation

Nuclear cannot help against climate crisis

With new plants costing from five to ten times more than renewable options, and taking far longer to build, nuclear cannot help against global warming.

LONDON, 30 September, 2019 − Finding a way to head off the galloping climate crisis, although it’s taxing the world’s best brains, leaves one clear and inescapable conclusion, reiterated not only by researchers but acknowledged implicitly by the industry: nuclear cannot help.

Last week the French builders of the nuclear reactors being built in the United Kingdom announced a startling rise in construction costs. The news came on the day a report was published which said nuclear generation worldwide is now hopelessly uncompetitive in cost compared with renewable power.

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2019 also stresses that as far as climate change is concerned nuclear power has another huge disadvantage. Wind and solar power stations take only months to build before they produce power, so they quickly start to displace fossil fuels and save emissions of carbon dioxide.

Nuclear reactors, on the other hand, take at least five years to build and very often more than a decade and so the fossil fuel plants they are designed to replace continue to pump out greenhouse gases. With the need to cut carbon emissions increasingly urgent, this makes nuclear power the wrong solution to climate change, the report says.

The announcement by the French nuclear giant Électricité de France (EDF) of the rise in costs of the twin reactors being built at Hinkley Point C in the West of England put the cost of construction at up to £22.5 billion (US$27.9bn) an increase of up to £2.9bn ($3.6bn) from its last estimate in 2017.

“Nuclear new-build costs many times more per kilowatt hour, so it buys many times less climate solution per dollar”

With the construction of the station still in its initial stages, costs are expected to rise further before the first power is generated in late 2025 – even if there are no further delays.

Two similar pressurised water reactors close to completion in France and Finland have taken more than twice as long to construct as originally estimated and are still not producing power. Both projects have recently announced yet more delays.

The 2019 status report, produced by a group of independent energy consultants and academics, makes grim reading for the nuclear industry because it compares the cost of producing electricity from renewables – particularly wind and solar – with nuclear. It says nuclear now costs between five and ten times as much as solar and wind power.

The report says: “Nuclear new-build thus costs many times more per kilowatt hour, so it buys many times less climate solution per dollar, than these major low-carbon competitors. That reality could usefully guide policy and investment decisions if the objective is to save money or the climate or both.”

Existing plants affected

This gap is widening as nuclear costs keep rising and renewable costs falling. The report quotes the International Energy Agency which says: “Solar PV costs fell by 65 percent between 2012 and 2017, and are projected to fall by a further 50% by 2040; onshore wind costs fell by 15% over the same period and are projected to fall by another 10–20% to 2040.”

But the report also makes clear that it is not just in new build that renewables are a much better option than nuclear in combating climate change.

In many nuclear countries, especially the US, the largest nuclear energy producer, new renewables now compete with existing nuclear plants. If the money spent on operating expensive nuclear plants were invested instead in cheaper renewables, or in energy efficiency projects, then that would displace more fossil fuel generation than keeping nuclear plants running.

The report catalogues the dismal record of delays in nuclear new build across the world. At the beginning of 2018, 15 reactors were scheduled for startup during the year; seven of these made it, plus two that were expected in 2019; of these nine startups, seven were in China and two in Russia. Of the 13 reactors scheduled to start up in 2019, four have already been postponed to 2020.

The problem for the industry is that the capital cost of new stations is so great that outside totalitarian regimes the finance cannot be found without massive subsidies from the taxpayer or levies on electricity consumers.

Plans abandoned

Even in the UK, where the government has enthusiastically endorsed new nuclear power station projects, most planned projects for new stations have been abandoned.

Even before the latest cost escalation for Hinkley Point was announced, the Nuclear Status report was casting doubt that EDF’s follow-on project for another giant nuclear station on the UK’s east coast, Sizewell C, was likely to come to fruition.

The report says: “Given the problems EDF is having financing Hinkley, this makes the Sizewell project appear implausible.

“Over the past decade the extraordinary cost of the UK’s proposed nuclear power program has become apparent to a wider academic community and public bodies. Even when the Government was willing to invest directly into the project, nuclear costs were prohibitive.” − Climate News Network

With new plants costing from five to ten times more than renewable options, and taking far longer to build, nuclear cannot help against global warming.

LONDON, 30 September, 2019 − Finding a way to head off the galloping climate crisis, although it’s taxing the world’s best brains, leaves one clear and inescapable conclusion, reiterated not only by researchers but acknowledged implicitly by the industry: nuclear cannot help.

Last week the French builders of the nuclear reactors being built in the United Kingdom announced a startling rise in construction costs. The news came on the day a report was published which said nuclear generation worldwide is now hopelessly uncompetitive in cost compared with renewable power.

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2019 also stresses that as far as climate change is concerned nuclear power has another huge disadvantage. Wind and solar power stations take only months to build before they produce power, so they quickly start to displace fossil fuels and save emissions of carbon dioxide.

Nuclear reactors, on the other hand, take at least five years to build and very often more than a decade and so the fossil fuel plants they are designed to replace continue to pump out greenhouse gases. With the need to cut carbon emissions increasingly urgent, this makes nuclear power the wrong solution to climate change, the report says.

The announcement by the French nuclear giant Électricité de France (EDF) of the rise in costs of the twin reactors being built at Hinkley Point C in the West of England put the cost of construction at up to £22.5 billion (US$27.9bn) an increase of up to £2.9bn ($3.6bn) from its last estimate in 2017.

“Nuclear new-build costs many times more per kilowatt hour, so it buys many times less climate solution per dollar”

With the construction of the station still in its initial stages, costs are expected to rise further before the first power is generated in late 2025 – even if there are no further delays.

Two similar pressurised water reactors close to completion in France and Finland have taken more than twice as long to construct as originally estimated and are still not producing power. Both projects have recently announced yet more delays.

The 2019 status report, produced by a group of independent energy consultants and academics, makes grim reading for the nuclear industry because it compares the cost of producing electricity from renewables – particularly wind and solar – with nuclear. It says nuclear now costs between five and ten times as much as solar and wind power.

The report says: “Nuclear new-build thus costs many times more per kilowatt hour, so it buys many times less climate solution per dollar, than these major low-carbon competitors. That reality could usefully guide policy and investment decisions if the objective is to save money or the climate or both.”

Existing plants affected

This gap is widening as nuclear costs keep rising and renewable costs falling. The report quotes the International Energy Agency which says: “Solar PV costs fell by 65 percent between 2012 and 2017, and are projected to fall by a further 50% by 2040; onshore wind costs fell by 15% over the same period and are projected to fall by another 10–20% to 2040.”

But the report also makes clear that it is not just in new build that renewables are a much better option than nuclear in combating climate change.

In many nuclear countries, especially the US, the largest nuclear energy producer, new renewables now compete with existing nuclear plants. If the money spent on operating expensive nuclear plants were invested instead in cheaper renewables, or in energy efficiency projects, then that would displace more fossil fuel generation than keeping nuclear plants running.

The report catalogues the dismal record of delays in nuclear new build across the world. At the beginning of 2018, 15 reactors were scheduled for startup during the year; seven of these made it, plus two that were expected in 2019; of these nine startups, seven were in China and two in Russia. Of the 13 reactors scheduled to start up in 2019, four have already been postponed to 2020.

The problem for the industry is that the capital cost of new stations is so great that outside totalitarian regimes the finance cannot be found without massive subsidies from the taxpayer or levies on electricity consumers.

Plans abandoned

Even in the UK, where the government has enthusiastically endorsed new nuclear power station projects, most planned projects for new stations have been abandoned.

Even before the latest cost escalation for Hinkley Point was announced, the Nuclear Status report was casting doubt that EDF’s follow-on project for another giant nuclear station on the UK’s east coast, Sizewell C, was likely to come to fruition.

The report says: “Given the problems EDF is having financing Hinkley, this makes the Sizewell project appear implausible.

“Over the past decade the extraordinary cost of the UK’s proposed nuclear power program has become apparent to a wider academic community and public bodies. Even when the Government was willing to invest directly into the project, nuclear costs were prohibitive.” − Climate News Network

Coal-burning generators could swallow vital water

You need energy to develop. You also need water. So coal-burning generators that need water for cooling invite trouble.

LONDON, 24 September, 2019 – Economic development in Asia – hugely dependent on electricity from coal-burning generators – could be cramped by climate change.

That is because global heating could begin to constrain the supplies of water needed to cool thermal power installations.

So the generators that fuel global heating and the climate emergency by releasing huge quantities of greenhouse gases into the planetary atmosphere could create conditions in which nations could begin to experience power shortages made more likely by the extra carbon dioxide pouring from their new power station chimneys.

Power plants in Asia already account for 37% of global electricity generation and 41% of carbon dioxide emissions because 64% of this energy is already generated from coal, according to a new study in the journal Energy and Environmental Science.

And about 490 gigawatts of new coal-fired plant could be in operation by 2030 in China, south-east Asia, Mongolia and parts of India.

“What this study shows is that coal power development can expect reduced reliability in many locations across Asia”

“One of the impacts of climate change is that the weather is changing, which leads to more extreme events – more torrential downpours and more droughts,” said Jeffrey Bielicki, a civil engineer at the University of Ohio in the US, one of the authors.

“The power plants – coal, nuclear and natural gas power plants – require water for cooling, so when you don’t have the rain, you don’t have the stream flow, you can’t cool the power plant.”

He and European colleagues base their conclusions on simulations of what could happen to regional climate under conditions of rises in planetary average temperature of 1.5°C, 2°C and 3°C above the long-term average for most of human history.

The first is the ambition agreed by 195 nations in Paris in 2015. The second is the upper limit that nations vowed to keep global temperatures to and the third is – so far – the temperature the planet is likely to reach by 2100 under present emissions scenarios.

That is simply because at a time when nations should already be closing fossil fuel power plants, more are being built. Global average temperatures in the last century have already risen by around 1°C.

Faltering reliability

The simulations found, inevitably, that more coal-fired generation would step up demand for water precisely as climate shifts due to ever-increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would tend to reduce the reliability of water supply. Difficult decisions lie ahead.

“We know that coal power contributes significantly to global warming – more than almost any other electricity source – and what this study shows is that coal power development can expect reduced reliability in many locations across Asia,” said Edward Byers, of the energy programme of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria.

And Dr Bielicki said: “There is often a perceived tension between developing your economy and protecting the environment.

“Some of the results of this study are saying ‘Hey, we expect you’re going to run into problems, so you should selectively change your plans, but also thin out your existing power plants because, as you’re adding new power plants, you’re creating more competition for water.’

“Your economy needs water but your ecosystems and people need water too.” – Climate News Network

You need energy to develop. You also need water. So coal-burning generators that need water for cooling invite trouble.

LONDON, 24 September, 2019 – Economic development in Asia – hugely dependent on electricity from coal-burning generators – could be cramped by climate change.

That is because global heating could begin to constrain the supplies of water needed to cool thermal power installations.

So the generators that fuel global heating and the climate emergency by releasing huge quantities of greenhouse gases into the planetary atmosphere could create conditions in which nations could begin to experience power shortages made more likely by the extra carbon dioxide pouring from their new power station chimneys.

Power plants in Asia already account for 37% of global electricity generation and 41% of carbon dioxide emissions because 64% of this energy is already generated from coal, according to a new study in the journal Energy and Environmental Science.

And about 490 gigawatts of new coal-fired plant could be in operation by 2030 in China, south-east Asia, Mongolia and parts of India.

“What this study shows is that coal power development can expect reduced reliability in many locations across Asia”

“One of the impacts of climate change is that the weather is changing, which leads to more extreme events – more torrential downpours and more droughts,” said Jeffrey Bielicki, a civil engineer at the University of Ohio in the US, one of the authors.

“The power plants – coal, nuclear and natural gas power plants – require water for cooling, so when you don’t have the rain, you don’t have the stream flow, you can’t cool the power plant.”

He and European colleagues base their conclusions on simulations of what could happen to regional climate under conditions of rises in planetary average temperature of 1.5°C, 2°C and 3°C above the long-term average for most of human history.

The first is the ambition agreed by 195 nations in Paris in 2015. The second is the upper limit that nations vowed to keep global temperatures to and the third is – so far – the temperature the planet is likely to reach by 2100 under present emissions scenarios.

That is simply because at a time when nations should already be closing fossil fuel power plants, more are being built. Global average temperatures in the last century have already risen by around 1°C.

Faltering reliability

The simulations found, inevitably, that more coal-fired generation would step up demand for water precisely as climate shifts due to ever-increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would tend to reduce the reliability of water supply. Difficult decisions lie ahead.

“We know that coal power contributes significantly to global warming – more than almost any other electricity source – and what this study shows is that coal power development can expect reduced reliability in many locations across Asia,” said Edward Byers, of the energy programme of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria.

And Dr Bielicki said: “There is often a perceived tension between developing your economy and protecting the environment.

“Some of the results of this study are saying ‘Hey, we expect you’re going to run into problems, so you should selectively change your plans, but also thin out your existing power plants because, as you’re adding new power plants, you’re creating more competition for water.’

“Your economy needs water but your ecosystems and people need water too.” – Climate News Network

Plentiful renewable energy awaits the world

Cheap and plentiful renewable energy is possible: pure hydrogen power in the ground, enough wind in European skies to power the world.

LONDON, 29 August, 2019 − US and European researchers have shown the way to an era of cheap and plentiful renewable energy on a massive scale.

Canadian scientists have worked out how to extract pure, non-polluting fuel from spent or unexploited oil wells at a fraction of the cost of gasoline.

And British and Danish scholars have worked out that, in principle, Europe could generate enough onshore wind energy to supply the whole world until 2050.

Neither technology is likely to be exploited on a massive scale in the very near future. Wind energy development depends on national and local decisions, and the new study is a simple atlas of possible sites across the entire continent.

And although hydrogen is already driving trains, cars and buses in many nations, the technology is still essentially experimental and the infrastructure for a hydrogen economy has still to be built.

“The study does show the huge wind power potential right across Europe which needs to be harnessed if we’re to avert a climate catastrophe”

But both are instances of the sustained ingenuity and imagination at work in research laboratories and institutions as scientists confront the challenge of a world no longer dependent on the fossil fuels that drive global heating and the climate emergency.

The technology that can take hydrogen straight from existing oil reserves was presented at an international geochemistry conference in Barcelona and depends on university-patented technology now being developed by a scientific start-up.

In essence, the bedrock becomes the reactor vessel for a high-temperature reaction involving hydrocarbon molecules and water: oxygen-enhanced air is pumped downwards at the wellhead and injected deep into a reservoir of tar, bitumen or oil to begin a process that raises subterranean temperatures.

At 500°C the hydrocarbons fracture, and a patented system intelligently locates the hydrogen and filters it: the carbon stays in the ground.

“What comes out of the ground is hydrogen gas, so we don’t have the huge, above-ground purification costs associated with oil refining: we use the ground as our reaction vessel.

Steep cost cut

“Just taking Alberta as an example, we have the potential to supply Canada’s entire electricity requirement for 330 years,” said Grant Strem, of Proton Technologies, which is to commercialise the process at – the technology’s begetters say – a cost per kilo of hydrogen of between 10 and 50 cents. This is a fraction of the cost of gasoline extraction.

Hydrogen is in theory the ideal fuel: the visible universe is made of it. The only product of its combustion with oxygen is water. It is already being exploited as a battery fuel: surplus solar and wind power could be used to split water and store hydrogen as a reserve for electricity generation.

Researchers have proposed a hydrogen-powered bicycle, engineers have calculated that hydrogen could replace the world’s natural gas supplies in the next 30 years, and designers have even proposed a safe global bulk carrier hydrogen delivery system by automaton airships more than 2kms long.

Wind power, by contrast, is now a highly developed technology that is already advanced in Europe and the US, and, like solar power, it could supply national grids almost anywhere in the world.

One of the bigger remaining questions is: what is the right place to put a battery of wind turbines? European scientists report in the journal Energy Policy that the ideal of a European grid powered entirely by renewables is now within the collective technological grasp.

Hundredfold increase

A new map based on wind atlases and geographic information identifies 46% of the land mass of the continent that would be suitable for wind turbine generation. If all such space were exploited, the turbines could amplify the existing onshore wind supply a hundredfold and could generate energy equivalent to roughly a megawatt for every 16 European citizens.

That adds up to more than 11 million additional turbines over 5 million square kilometres in large parts of western Europe, Turkey and Russia.

“Our study suggests the horizon is bright for the onshore wind sector,” said Benjamin Sovacool, of the University of Sussex in the UK, one of the authors.

“Obviously, we are not saying that we should install wind turbines in all the identified sites, but the study does show the huge wind power potential right across Europe which needs to be harnessed if we’re to avert a climate catastrophe.” − Climate News Network

Cheap and plentiful renewable energy is possible: pure hydrogen power in the ground, enough wind in European skies to power the world.

LONDON, 29 August, 2019 − US and European researchers have shown the way to an era of cheap and plentiful renewable energy on a massive scale.

Canadian scientists have worked out how to extract pure, non-polluting fuel from spent or unexploited oil wells at a fraction of the cost of gasoline.

And British and Danish scholars have worked out that, in principle, Europe could generate enough onshore wind energy to supply the whole world until 2050.

Neither technology is likely to be exploited on a massive scale in the very near future. Wind energy development depends on national and local decisions, and the new study is a simple atlas of possible sites across the entire continent.

And although hydrogen is already driving trains, cars and buses in many nations, the technology is still essentially experimental and the infrastructure for a hydrogen economy has still to be built.

“The study does show the huge wind power potential right across Europe which needs to be harnessed if we’re to avert a climate catastrophe”

But both are instances of the sustained ingenuity and imagination at work in research laboratories and institutions as scientists confront the challenge of a world no longer dependent on the fossil fuels that drive global heating and the climate emergency.

The technology that can take hydrogen straight from existing oil reserves was presented at an international geochemistry conference in Barcelona and depends on university-patented technology now being developed by a scientific start-up.

In essence, the bedrock becomes the reactor vessel for a high-temperature reaction involving hydrocarbon molecules and water: oxygen-enhanced air is pumped downwards at the wellhead and injected deep into a reservoir of tar, bitumen or oil to begin a process that raises subterranean temperatures.

At 500°C the hydrocarbons fracture, and a patented system intelligently locates the hydrogen and filters it: the carbon stays in the ground.

“What comes out of the ground is hydrogen gas, so we don’t have the huge, above-ground purification costs associated with oil refining: we use the ground as our reaction vessel.

Steep cost cut

“Just taking Alberta as an example, we have the potential to supply Canada’s entire electricity requirement for 330 years,” said Grant Strem, of Proton Technologies, which is to commercialise the process at – the technology’s begetters say – a cost per kilo of hydrogen of between 10 and 50 cents. This is a fraction of the cost of gasoline extraction.

Hydrogen is in theory the ideal fuel: the visible universe is made of it. The only product of its combustion with oxygen is water. It is already being exploited as a battery fuel: surplus solar and wind power could be used to split water and store hydrogen as a reserve for electricity generation.

Researchers have proposed a hydrogen-powered bicycle, engineers have calculated that hydrogen could replace the world’s natural gas supplies in the next 30 years, and designers have even proposed a safe global bulk carrier hydrogen delivery system by automaton airships more than 2kms long.

Wind power, by contrast, is now a highly developed technology that is already advanced in Europe and the US, and, like solar power, it could supply national grids almost anywhere in the world.

One of the bigger remaining questions is: what is the right place to put a battery of wind turbines? European scientists report in the journal Energy Policy that the ideal of a European grid powered entirely by renewables is now within the collective technological grasp.

Hundredfold increase

A new map based on wind atlases and geographic information identifies 46% of the land mass of the continent that would be suitable for wind turbine generation. If all such space were exploited, the turbines could amplify the existing onshore wind supply a hundredfold and could generate energy equivalent to roughly a megawatt for every 16 European citizens.

That adds up to more than 11 million additional turbines over 5 million square kilometres in large parts of western Europe, Turkey and Russia.

“Our study suggests the horizon is bright for the onshore wind sector,” said Benjamin Sovacool, of the University of Sussex in the UK, one of the authors.

“Obviously, we are not saying that we should install wind turbines in all the identified sites, but the study does show the huge wind power potential right across Europe which needs to be harnessed if we’re to avert a climate catastrophe.” − Climate News Network

Balkan water reserves may soon run short

South-east Europe faces problems in the next decade as Balkan water reserves are expected to falter, imperilling hydropower.

TIRANA, Albania, 8 August, 2019 − The Balkans is one of the world’s most troubled regions, often the setting for outbreaks of territorial, ethnic and religious conflict.

Now the area is also having to face up to the problems caused by a changing climate – in particular the prospect of severe water shortages in the years ahead.

Albania, a mountainous country with a population of just under 3 million, has abundant water resources at present. But government studies predict that due to increasing temperatures and declining rainfall, there could be severe water shortages within ten years.

The government says that within a decade water levels in three of the country’s biggest rivers – the Drin, Mat and Vjosa – will be up to 20% lower than at present.

Albania, largely isolated from the outside world for much of the second half of the 20th century under the Stalinist regime of Enver Hoxha, is struggling to build its economy, with hopes of joining the European Union in the not too distant future.

“Kosovo, Montenegro and North Macedonia all depend on coal for a substantial segment of their power generation”

Falling water levels in its rivers could seriously impede economic progress. More than 80% of Albania’s power is derived from hydro. Even a slight drop in water levels in the nation’s rivers results in power black-outs.

In the summer of 2017 Albania suffered a widespread drought; it was forced to use precious foreign currency reserves for power imports.

Added to these problems is a chronic lack of investment in water infrastructure and mismanagement in the sector. The country has more than 600 dams, but 70% of these are believed to be in need of repair; estimates are that up to half the total water supply is lost in leaks.

In recent years rainfall patterns have become less predictable – with sudden storms causing extensive flooding. Deforestation and haphazard building development along Albania’s water courses result in rivers frequently bursting their banks.

Rivers and water resources, like climate change, do not obey borders. Albania is dependent for a third of its water on neighbouring countries.

Slow progress

The waters of the Drin, Albania’s major river, are shared with the newly independent states of Kosovo and Montenegro in the north and with North Macedonia in the east. Territory in northern Greece also forms part of the Drin river basin. The area is one of the most ecologically rich in Europe.

After many years of territorial, ethnic and religious conflict, efforts are now being made to manage the waters of the Drin on a cross-boundary basis, though progress is often painfully slow.

Ironically, some countries in the region are contributing to their own climate change problems. Kosovo, Montenegro and North Macedonia all depend on coal for a substantial segment of their power generation.

Coal-fired power plants are among the leading sources of climate-changing greenhouse gases. Lignite coal – the most polluting variety of the fuel – is mainly used in the western Balkans region. The small state of Kosovo has some of the largest lignite reserves in the world.

Due primarily to the burning of lignite at ageing power plants, air pollution is a big problem in the country. Pristina, the capital, is often blanketed in a thick black haze in the winter months and regularly tops the world league of cities with the worst air quality. − Climate News Network

South-east Europe faces problems in the next decade as Balkan water reserves are expected to falter, imperilling hydropower.

TIRANA, Albania, 8 August, 2019 − The Balkans is one of the world’s most troubled regions, often the setting for outbreaks of territorial, ethnic and religious conflict.

Now the area is also having to face up to the problems caused by a changing climate – in particular the prospect of severe water shortages in the years ahead.

Albania, a mountainous country with a population of just under 3 million, has abundant water resources at present. But government studies predict that due to increasing temperatures and declining rainfall, there could be severe water shortages within ten years.

The government says that within a decade water levels in three of the country’s biggest rivers – the Drin, Mat and Vjosa – will be up to 20% lower than at present.

Albania, largely isolated from the outside world for much of the second half of the 20th century under the Stalinist regime of Enver Hoxha, is struggling to build its economy, with hopes of joining the European Union in the not too distant future.

“Kosovo, Montenegro and North Macedonia all depend on coal for a substantial segment of their power generation”

Falling water levels in its rivers could seriously impede economic progress. More than 80% of Albania’s power is derived from hydro. Even a slight drop in water levels in the nation’s rivers results in power black-outs.

In the summer of 2017 Albania suffered a widespread drought; it was forced to use precious foreign currency reserves for power imports.

Added to these problems is a chronic lack of investment in water infrastructure and mismanagement in the sector. The country has more than 600 dams, but 70% of these are believed to be in need of repair; estimates are that up to half the total water supply is lost in leaks.

In recent years rainfall patterns have become less predictable – with sudden storms causing extensive flooding. Deforestation and haphazard building development along Albania’s water courses result in rivers frequently bursting their banks.

Rivers and water resources, like climate change, do not obey borders. Albania is dependent for a third of its water on neighbouring countries.

Slow progress

The waters of the Drin, Albania’s major river, are shared with the newly independent states of Kosovo and Montenegro in the north and with North Macedonia in the east. Territory in northern Greece also forms part of the Drin river basin. The area is one of the most ecologically rich in Europe.

After many years of territorial, ethnic and religious conflict, efforts are now being made to manage the waters of the Drin on a cross-boundary basis, though progress is often painfully slow.

Ironically, some countries in the region are contributing to their own climate change problems. Kosovo, Montenegro and North Macedonia all depend on coal for a substantial segment of their power generation.

Coal-fired power plants are among the leading sources of climate-changing greenhouse gases. Lignite coal – the most polluting variety of the fuel – is mainly used in the western Balkans region. The small state of Kosovo has some of the largest lignite reserves in the world.

Due primarily to the burning of lignite at ageing power plants, air pollution is a big problem in the country. Pristina, the capital, is often blanketed in a thick black haze in the winter months and regularly tops the world league of cities with the worst air quality. − Climate News Network

Nuclear power somehow always makes a loss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long-term danger

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

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

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

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

Not an option

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long-term danger

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

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

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

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

Not an option

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

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

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

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

New premier plans new UK nuclear tax

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Successful try-out

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing to show

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Successful try-out

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing to show

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

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

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

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

Nuclear Baltic: An open and shut case

One atomic power station heads gradually towards closure, another prepares to open. Northern Europe may yet see a revived nuclear Baltic.

VILNIUS, 24 July, 2019 – The arguments just won’t go away. And while they persist, a nuclear Baltic looks likely to continue in Europe.

Its backers say nuclear power is vital in order to meet the world’s growing energy requirements; they also say it’s a clean fuel, able to meet the challenge of climate change and an ideal substitute for fossil fuels.

Others disagree; critics say that despite various technological improvements over the years, nuclear power is still unsafe. The issue of disposing of mountains of nuclear waste – which can remain active and dangerous for thousands of years – has not been resolved.

The 2.8 million people of the small Baltic republic of Lithuania are keenly aware of these different points of view. In former times, when Lithuania was part of the Soviet Union, what was one of the most powerful nuclear plants in the world was built at Ignalina, in the east of the country.

As part of a 2004 agreement to join the European Union (EU), Lithuania agreed to close Ignalina. Brussels said the facility was unsafe: its construction and design is similar to that of the ill-fated nuclear plant at Chernobyl in Ukraine, with no proper containment shell to capture any escape of radioactivity.

“Officials at Ostrovets say strict building codes and all safety features have been adhered to”

Billions of euros are now being spent decommissioning Ignalina; spokespeople at the plant told Climate News Network it will take the 2,000 workers still at the site 18 more years to complete the work.

While Ignalina is being dismantled, another nuclear power facility is coming on stream across the border in Belarus – less than 50 kilometres from Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital.

The 2,400 MW plant at Ostrovets, in north-west Belarus, has been built mainly by ROSATOM, the Russian state-owned nuclear and energy company. Throughout its design and construction phases, Lithuania has raised strong objections to the Ostrovets facility.

Belarus and the Baltic states, including Lithuania, were among the territories most severely affected by radioactive fallout from the explosion at Chernobyl. Vilnius says ROSATOM and others involved in the construction at Ostrovets are not properly addressing safety issues.

Lithuania says it hasn’t been consulted on the environmental impact of the project. It also says that numerous accidents during construction work at the plant – reported to include a crane operator dropping and damaging a nuclear pressure vessel – indicate that building work has been rushed and not properly supervised.

Secrecy claim

Vilnius says that – as was the case at Chernobyl – any problems at the Belarus plant are hushed up and never disclosed.

Officials at Ostrovets say strict building codes and all safety features have been adhered to.

They point to a report last year by EU inspectors which gave a generally positive assessment of the project, though the EU said its findings were mainly concerned with seismic activity at the site and did not cover overall safety.

Russia has advanced a $10 billion loan to Belarus to cover the construction of the Ostrovets facility.

Critics of the plant say its cost is unlikely to be recouped. Belarus has limited use for the large amount of power Ostrovets will produce when it comes fully on stream. Lithuania and other neighbouring EU states are unlikely to import power from the controversial project. – Climate News Network

One atomic power station heads gradually towards closure, another prepares to open. Northern Europe may yet see a revived nuclear Baltic.

VILNIUS, 24 July, 2019 – The arguments just won’t go away. And while they persist, a nuclear Baltic looks likely to continue in Europe.

Its backers say nuclear power is vital in order to meet the world’s growing energy requirements; they also say it’s a clean fuel, able to meet the challenge of climate change and an ideal substitute for fossil fuels.

Others disagree; critics say that despite various technological improvements over the years, nuclear power is still unsafe. The issue of disposing of mountains of nuclear waste – which can remain active and dangerous for thousands of years – has not been resolved.

The 2.8 million people of the small Baltic republic of Lithuania are keenly aware of these different points of view. In former times, when Lithuania was part of the Soviet Union, what was one of the most powerful nuclear plants in the world was built at Ignalina, in the east of the country.

As part of a 2004 agreement to join the European Union (EU), Lithuania agreed to close Ignalina. Brussels said the facility was unsafe: its construction and design is similar to that of the ill-fated nuclear plant at Chernobyl in Ukraine, with no proper containment shell to capture any escape of radioactivity.

“Officials at Ostrovets say strict building codes and all safety features have been adhered to”

Billions of euros are now being spent decommissioning Ignalina; spokespeople at the plant told Climate News Network it will take the 2,000 workers still at the site 18 more years to complete the work.

While Ignalina is being dismantled, another nuclear power facility is coming on stream across the border in Belarus – less than 50 kilometres from Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital.

The 2,400 MW plant at Ostrovets, in north-west Belarus, has been built mainly by ROSATOM, the Russian state-owned nuclear and energy company. Throughout its design and construction phases, Lithuania has raised strong objections to the Ostrovets facility.

Belarus and the Baltic states, including Lithuania, were among the territories most severely affected by radioactive fallout from the explosion at Chernobyl. Vilnius says ROSATOM and others involved in the construction at Ostrovets are not properly addressing safety issues.

Lithuania says it hasn’t been consulted on the environmental impact of the project. It also says that numerous accidents during construction work at the plant – reported to include a crane operator dropping and damaging a nuclear pressure vessel – indicate that building work has been rushed and not properly supervised.

Secrecy claim

Vilnius says that – as was the case at Chernobyl – any problems at the Belarus plant are hushed up and never disclosed.

Officials at Ostrovets say strict building codes and all safety features have been adhered to.

They point to a report last year by EU inspectors which gave a generally positive assessment of the project, though the EU said its findings were mainly concerned with seismic activity at the site and did not cover overall safety.

Russia has advanced a $10 billion loan to Belarus to cover the construction of the Ostrovets facility.

Critics of the plant say its cost is unlikely to be recouped. Belarus has limited use for the large amount of power Ostrovets will produce when it comes fully on stream. Lithuania and other neighbouring EU states are unlikely to import power from the controversial project. – Climate News Network

Science can double the solar dividend

Researchers have found three new ways to double the solar dividend, making the sun work harder and deliver more to the renewable economy.

LONDON, 22 July, 2019 − A new, translucent material made of little more than silica and air can double the solar dividend, collecting solar heat and raising temperatures to 200°C, delivering new ways to heat homes or power industrial processes.

And other researchers in the same US city believe they may be on track to deliver much more electricity from solar cells. They have found a way to make a single photon of light dislodge not one electron but two.

A third team in Saudi Arabia has now shown that their solar arrays can not only generate electric power: they can also turn sea water into fresh drinking water at the same time.

All three technologies are at the laboratory stage. All three are a long way from commercial exploitation on any scale. But all three are also demonstrations of the extraordinary ingenuity and imagination at work in the world’s laboratories as scientists look for new ways to tackle the energy challenge of a zero carbon world, and deliver more power without raising planetary temperatures to hazardous levels.

Researchers have been working on ways to turn carbon dioxide back into fuel, to warm and light homes with transparent wood, to generate power from footsteps and to harvest electrical energy from evaporation.

Solar spurt

All three of the latest twists exploit sunlight in different ways, and use new materials to step up levels of efficiency.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology report in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano that they have developed an insulating material that is 95% translucent.

An aerogel is a foam made with silica and held together not with water but with air. These remarkable fabrics have been around for decades – the US space agency Nasa has been experimenting with them – and although these improbable structures have incomparable insulating properties, they have until now had limited transparency.

The researchers have developed a version so lightweight and so clear that it is all but invisible. Light gets through and generates heat – but the heat cannot escape, and builds up in a passive solar collector system made of dark, light-absorbing material. A test device on the roof of the MIT buildings during a freezing Massachusetts winter managed to raise temperatures of 220°C.

Rulebreaker

Other scientists at the same institution report in the journal Nature that their new fully operational solar cell seems to break one of the rules of physics: until now, any conventional silicon-based solar cell has been limited by simple arithmetic. It takes one photon of light to dislodge one electron and set up a current.

Because of this, the maximum theoretical efficiency of a solar cell is 29.1%. But a specialist team at MIT have been experimenting with a new class of materials called excitons, fabrics that exist in an excited state, and permit packets of energy to propagate, combine or divide.

And in the latest experiments, the exitonic material coating, only 10 billionths of a metre in thickness, of a silicon cell absorbs a photon of light, to form an exciton which then divides into two more.

The research breakthrough sounds simple, but has kept the MIT scientists busy for years before they found a way to transfer the extra energy into the silicon solar cell, and set two electrons in movement from one packet of sunlight.

“This strategy … has the potential to transform an electricity-generating plant from otherwise a water consumer to a fresh water producer”

So, in theory, the new turbocharged surface could take the maximum efficiency of a solar cell to beyond 35%. In practice, commercial application could be years away.

But a team from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia has coupled photovoltaic cells with advanced membrane technology to solve two problems at once.

Power generation is a water-greedy process: in Europe and the US half of all water use is in the service of energy production. Desalination – the act of distilling fresh water from brine – is a power-hungry operation. In Arab nations, more than 15% of total national electricity is consumed by the fresh water industry.

The Saudi-based team report in Nature Communications that they have managed to combine two solar-driven technologies in one operation.

Exploiting the heat

They designed a three-stage membrane distillation unit mounted on the back of a photovoltaic panel so that the heat normally dissipated by the panel is used to evaporate water. The device has all the efficiency of a commercial solar cell, but makes clean water at a higher rate than most existing devices. The trick is to exploit the heat normally wasted in photovoltaic power generation to drive an energy-demanding way of boosting fresh water supply.

By 2025, the researchers say, the world will be generating 969 Gigawatts from photovoltaic cells spread across 4 billion square metres of land. They assume there will be 200 days each year with suitable levels of sunlight. They make what they call a conservative assumption that their new arrays could deliver fresh water from brackish, waste or sea water at the rate of 5 kilograms per square metre per day.

In places where water supplies are not a problem, the surplus water could be used to wash dust from the solar arrays, or irrigate crops. Were all of these solar arrays fitted with the new membrane backing, they could also produce 4 billion cubic metres of fresh water a day. That is 10% of the total drinking water swallowed in 2017.

This strategy, say the scientists, has the potential “to transform an electricity-generating plant from otherwise a water consumer to a fresh water producer.” Climate News Network

Researchers have found three new ways to double the solar dividend, making the sun work harder and deliver more to the renewable economy.

LONDON, 22 July, 2019 − A new, translucent material made of little more than silica and air can double the solar dividend, collecting solar heat and raising temperatures to 200°C, delivering new ways to heat homes or power industrial processes.

And other researchers in the same US city believe they may be on track to deliver much more electricity from solar cells. They have found a way to make a single photon of light dislodge not one electron but two.

A third team in Saudi Arabia has now shown that their solar arrays can not only generate electric power: they can also turn sea water into fresh drinking water at the same time.

All three technologies are at the laboratory stage. All three are a long way from commercial exploitation on any scale. But all three are also demonstrations of the extraordinary ingenuity and imagination at work in the world’s laboratories as scientists look for new ways to tackle the energy challenge of a zero carbon world, and deliver more power without raising planetary temperatures to hazardous levels.

Researchers have been working on ways to turn carbon dioxide back into fuel, to warm and light homes with transparent wood, to generate power from footsteps and to harvest electrical energy from evaporation.

Solar spurt

All three of the latest twists exploit sunlight in different ways, and use new materials to step up levels of efficiency.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology report in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano that they have developed an insulating material that is 95% translucent.

An aerogel is a foam made with silica and held together not with water but with air. These remarkable fabrics have been around for decades – the US space agency Nasa has been experimenting with them – and although these improbable structures have incomparable insulating properties, they have until now had limited transparency.

The researchers have developed a version so lightweight and so clear that it is all but invisible. Light gets through and generates heat – but the heat cannot escape, and builds up in a passive solar collector system made of dark, light-absorbing material. A test device on the roof of the MIT buildings during a freezing Massachusetts winter managed to raise temperatures of 220°C.

Rulebreaker

Other scientists at the same institution report in the journal Nature that their new fully operational solar cell seems to break one of the rules of physics: until now, any conventional silicon-based solar cell has been limited by simple arithmetic. It takes one photon of light to dislodge one electron and set up a current.

Because of this, the maximum theoretical efficiency of a solar cell is 29.1%. But a specialist team at MIT have been experimenting with a new class of materials called excitons, fabrics that exist in an excited state, and permit packets of energy to propagate, combine or divide.

And in the latest experiments, the exitonic material coating, only 10 billionths of a metre in thickness, of a silicon cell absorbs a photon of light, to form an exciton which then divides into two more.

The research breakthrough sounds simple, but has kept the MIT scientists busy for years before they found a way to transfer the extra energy into the silicon solar cell, and set two electrons in movement from one packet of sunlight.

“This strategy … has the potential to transform an electricity-generating plant from otherwise a water consumer to a fresh water producer”

So, in theory, the new turbocharged surface could take the maximum efficiency of a solar cell to beyond 35%. In practice, commercial application could be years away.

But a team from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia has coupled photovoltaic cells with advanced membrane technology to solve two problems at once.

Power generation is a water-greedy process: in Europe and the US half of all water use is in the service of energy production. Desalination – the act of distilling fresh water from brine – is a power-hungry operation. In Arab nations, more than 15% of total national electricity is consumed by the fresh water industry.

The Saudi-based team report in Nature Communications that they have managed to combine two solar-driven technologies in one operation.

Exploiting the heat

They designed a three-stage membrane distillation unit mounted on the back of a photovoltaic panel so that the heat normally dissipated by the panel is used to evaporate water. The device has all the efficiency of a commercial solar cell, but makes clean water at a higher rate than most existing devices. The trick is to exploit the heat normally wasted in photovoltaic power generation to drive an energy-demanding way of boosting fresh water supply.

By 2025, the researchers say, the world will be generating 969 Gigawatts from photovoltaic cells spread across 4 billion square metres of land. They assume there will be 200 days each year with suitable levels of sunlight. They make what they call a conservative assumption that their new arrays could deliver fresh water from brackish, waste or sea water at the rate of 5 kilograms per square metre per day.

In places where water supplies are not a problem, the surplus water could be used to wash dust from the solar arrays, or irrigate crops. Were all of these solar arrays fitted with the new membrane backing, they could also produce 4 billion cubic metres of fresh water a day. That is 10% of the total drinking water swallowed in 2017.

This strategy, say the scientists, has the potential “to transform an electricity-generating plant from otherwise a water consumer to a fresh water producer.” Climate News Network

Brazilians reject Bolsonaro’s nuclear plan

The prospect of more atomic energy for Brazil, envisaged under President Bolsonaro’s nuclear plan, fails to impress many of his compatriots.

SÃO PAULO, 6 July, 2019 − President Jair Bolsonaro’s nuclear plan is leaving many of his fellow Brazilians distinctly unenthusiastic at the prospect not of pollution alone but also of perceptible risk.

A few days ago a procession of men, women and children carrying banners and placards wound its way through the dry parched fields in the country’s semi-arid region in the north-east. It was a Sunday, and the crowd was led by the local bishop. But this was not one of the customary religious processions appealing for rain.

This time, the inhabitants of the small dusty town of Itacuruba were protesting against plans to install a nuclear plant on the banks of the river where they fish and draw their water.

The São Francisco river, which rises in the centre of Brazil and meanders its way 1,800 miles north and east to the Atlantic, is Brazil’s largest river flowing entirely within the country.

Over the years five dams and a scheme to divert and channel water to irrigate the region have severely reduced its volume.

“If Brazil had an atom bomb we would be more respected”

Now the local population sees a new threat on the horizon: a nuclear reactor drawing water from the already diminished river, returning heated water that will kill the fish and bringing with it the risk of accidents and radiation.

So over 100 organisations have come together to form the Antinuclear Sertão (Semi-arid) movement, supported by the Catholic church, to challenge the planned reactor and denounce the risks it would bring.

The alarm was raised when the government’s proposed National Energy Plan 2050 was revealed. It includes plans for 8 new nuclear reactors, the first of them to be located in Itacuruba, and a £3 billion (R$14.4bn) contract to finish the Angra 3 reactor, begun over 30 years ago by Siemens KWU, but abandoned in 1986.

This is in spite of Brazil’s chequered history with nuclear power, and an abundant variety of renewable energy alternatives. Two pressurised water reactors (PWUs), Angra 1 and 2, were built over 40 years ago by Westinghouse and Siemens KWU respectively, near Rio de Janeiro.

Low output

Together they supply just 3% of national energy needs, while Itaipu, Brazil’s largest hydroelectric dam, a bi-national project with Paraguay, alone supplies 15%.

Hydropower provides over 60% of Brazil’s energy needs, and the share of other renewables, wind, solar and biomass, although still regarded as unreliable by the government, is steadily increasing. But nuclear energy remains a cherished dream for some in the government of Jair Bolsonaro.

Leonam Guimarães, president of Eletronuclear, the company responsible for the three Angra reactors (in Portuguese), likes to point out that Brazil is one of only three countries, along with the US and Russia, which possess the three conditions needed for the complete process: it has some of the world’s largest uranium reserves, it dominates enrichment technology, and it has reactors.

For Mines and Energy Minister Bento Albuquerque, finishing Angra 3 “is a priority project.” More alarmingly, one of President Bolsonaro’s sons, Eduardo, a federal congressman, said recently: “If Brazil had an atom bomb we would be more respected” (in Portuguese).  Nobody took him seriously, and Brazil did sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1998.

Finishing Angra 3 will cost approximately £3bn. The estimated cost of the proposed new reactor at Itacuruba is £6bn. Nobody knows where the money will come from or whether these figures are realistic. The Brazilian economy is stagnating, with growth at a standstill.

Leak possibility

And what about the risks? Professor Heitor Scalambrini Costa, an energy specialist, said the reactor at Itacuruba would bring risks to the entire São Francisco river basin.

“Installing a nuclear reactor next to the São Francisco river brings the possibility of a leak of radioactive material”, he said. He pointed out that the river passes through 5 states, inhabited by several million people.

The protestors also have a local law on their side. It bans the installation of any nuclear plant unless all renewable sources, including hydropower, have been exhausted. That could be a long way ahead.

Bolsonaro’s government might dream of nuclear energy, his son might even dream of a nuclear bomb, but the law and economic reality are likely to get in the way. − Climate News Network

The prospect of more atomic energy for Brazil, envisaged under President Bolsonaro’s nuclear plan, fails to impress many of his compatriots.

SÃO PAULO, 6 July, 2019 − President Jair Bolsonaro’s nuclear plan is leaving many of his fellow Brazilians distinctly unenthusiastic at the prospect not of pollution alone but also of perceptible risk.

A few days ago a procession of men, women and children carrying banners and placards wound its way through the dry parched fields in the country’s semi-arid region in the north-east. It was a Sunday, and the crowd was led by the local bishop. But this was not one of the customary religious processions appealing for rain.

This time, the inhabitants of the small dusty town of Itacuruba were protesting against plans to install a nuclear plant on the banks of the river where they fish and draw their water.

The São Francisco river, which rises in the centre of Brazil and meanders its way 1,800 miles north and east to the Atlantic, is Brazil’s largest river flowing entirely within the country.

Over the years five dams and a scheme to divert and channel water to irrigate the region have severely reduced its volume.

“If Brazil had an atom bomb we would be more respected”

Now the local population sees a new threat on the horizon: a nuclear reactor drawing water from the already diminished river, returning heated water that will kill the fish and bringing with it the risk of accidents and radiation.

So over 100 organisations have come together to form the Antinuclear Sertão (Semi-arid) movement, supported by the Catholic church, to challenge the planned reactor and denounce the risks it would bring.

The alarm was raised when the government’s proposed National Energy Plan 2050 was revealed. It includes plans for 8 new nuclear reactors, the first of them to be located in Itacuruba, and a £3 billion (R$14.4bn) contract to finish the Angra 3 reactor, begun over 30 years ago by Siemens KWU, but abandoned in 1986.

This is in spite of Brazil’s chequered history with nuclear power, and an abundant variety of renewable energy alternatives. Two pressurised water reactors (PWUs), Angra 1 and 2, were built over 40 years ago by Westinghouse and Siemens KWU respectively, near Rio de Janeiro.

Low output

Together they supply just 3% of national energy needs, while Itaipu, Brazil’s largest hydroelectric dam, a bi-national project with Paraguay, alone supplies 15%.

Hydropower provides over 60% of Brazil’s energy needs, and the share of other renewables, wind, solar and biomass, although still regarded as unreliable by the government, is steadily increasing. But nuclear energy remains a cherished dream for some in the government of Jair Bolsonaro.

Leonam Guimarães, president of Eletronuclear, the company responsible for the three Angra reactors (in Portuguese), likes to point out that Brazil is one of only three countries, along with the US and Russia, which possess the three conditions needed for the complete process: it has some of the world’s largest uranium reserves, it dominates enrichment technology, and it has reactors.

For Mines and Energy Minister Bento Albuquerque, finishing Angra 3 “is a priority project.” More alarmingly, one of President Bolsonaro’s sons, Eduardo, a federal congressman, said recently: “If Brazil had an atom bomb we would be more respected” (in Portuguese).  Nobody took him seriously, and Brazil did sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1998.

Finishing Angra 3 will cost approximately £3bn. The estimated cost of the proposed new reactor at Itacuruba is £6bn. Nobody knows where the money will come from or whether these figures are realistic. The Brazilian economy is stagnating, with growth at a standstill.

Leak possibility

And what about the risks? Professor Heitor Scalambrini Costa, an energy specialist, said the reactor at Itacuruba would bring risks to the entire São Francisco river basin.

“Installing a nuclear reactor next to the São Francisco river brings the possibility of a leak of radioactive material”, he said. He pointed out that the river passes through 5 states, inhabited by several million people.

The protestors also have a local law on their side. It bans the installation of any nuclear plant unless all renewable sources, including hydropower, have been exhausted. That could be a long way ahead.

Bolsonaro’s government might dream of nuclear energy, his son might even dream of a nuclear bomb, but the law and economic reality are likely to get in the way. − Climate News Network

Solar future shines ever more brightly

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

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

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

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

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

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

New technology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key contribution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New technology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key contribution

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

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

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

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

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