Tag Archives: Renewable energy

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

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

Cheap renewables will price out oil on roads

Petrol- and diesel-driven cars will soon vanish, as oil-based fuel already costs three times more than cheap renewables.

LONDON, 16 August, 2019 − The days of oil as a fuel for cars, whether petrol or diesel, are numbered − because the economies offered by wind and solar energy and other cheap renewables, combined with electric vehicles, are irresistible, a French bank says.

BNP Paribas Asset Management calculates that oil majors like Exxon, BP and Shell will have to produce petrol from oil at $10 a barrel (the current price is $58) to compete with electricity on price, while for diesel, it says, oil can cost no more than $19 a barrel.

“The oil industry has never before in its history faced the kind of threat that renewable electricity in tandem with electric vehicles poses to its business model,” the bank says. Electric vehicles (EVs) could easily replace 40% of the current market for crude oil.

The far lower cost of driving electric vehicles, plus the environmental benefits of cleaner air and the reduction in carbon emissions, will make it overwhelmingly attractive to governments to switch from fossil fuels to renewables for powering the world’s light vehicles.

“The economics of oil for gasoline and diesel vehicles versus wind- and solar-powered EVs are now in relentless and irreversible decline”

Warnings that Big Oil’s position is precarious have been sounding for several years. Some see the global industry reaching its peak within the next decade. In several countries car plants are being converted to all-electric production, a move perhaps prompted by a wish to regain market share after a less than happy episode in consumer relations.

But the bank’s report for professional investors, Wells, Wires, and Wheels, will certainly make bleak reading for the oil industry. Its conclusions are based on the bank’s calculations of how much it costs to get energy to the car wheels.

Its analysis concludes that “after adjusting for all of the costs and all of the energy losses of delivering oil from the well to the wheels on the one hand, and renewable electricity to the wheels of EVs on the other, new wind and solar projects combined with EVs would deliver 6.2 to 7 times more useful energy than petrol”.

This is with oil at its current market price of $60 a barrel. Renewables would also provide 3.2 to 3.6 times more power than diesel for the same cost.

Rising efficiency

The report says: “Moreover, this is on the basis of the costs and efficiency rates of the renewable electricity technologies as they exist today. Yet, over time, the costs of renewables will only continue to fall, while their efficiency rates will continue to rise.”

The report concedes that at the moment the oil industry has huge advantages of scale, because it is already servicing the world’s vehicle fleet. To take its business away, renewables have to scale up and provide the quantity of electricity and the number of charging points required for a mass electric vehicle market.

It argues, however, that oil has a major disadvantage. For every dollar spent at the pump on petrol, nearly half that cost has already gone on refining the oil, transporting it to the pump, marketing and tax. Electricity on the other hand is delivered to cars along wires at only a tiny fraction of the cost of oil-based fuels.

The bank concludes that the oil industry also has another huge disadvantage. It has to decide on future investments in new oil fields without knowing in advance the occasional wild fluctuations in oil price.

Declining oil yield

Each year the oil majors have to make such decisions about fields which need to be added to production to replace the 10% annual decline in the yield from old fields, leaving them working 10 years in advance.

By the bank’s calculations, unless the new oil can be brought on stream at $10 a barrel or less, the oil companies will have to sell petrol and diesel at a loss to compete on price with electric cars running on renewables.

Investment decisions made now on the basis of an oil price of $60 a barrel risk creating assets that cannot be sold profitably and would have to be left in the ground.

The report says: “We conclude that the economics of oil for gasoline and diesel vehicles versus wind- and solar-powered EVs are now in relentless and irreversible decline, with far-reaching implications for both policymakers and the oil majors.” − Climate News Network

Petrol- and diesel-driven cars will soon vanish, as oil-based fuel already costs three times more than cheap renewables.

LONDON, 16 August, 2019 − The days of oil as a fuel for cars, whether petrol or diesel, are numbered − because the economies offered by wind and solar energy and other cheap renewables, combined with electric vehicles, are irresistible, a French bank says.

BNP Paribas Asset Management calculates that oil majors like Exxon, BP and Shell will have to produce petrol from oil at $10 a barrel (the current price is $58) to compete with electricity on price, while for diesel, it says, oil can cost no more than $19 a barrel.

“The oil industry has never before in its history faced the kind of threat that renewable electricity in tandem with electric vehicles poses to its business model,” the bank says. Electric vehicles (EVs) could easily replace 40% of the current market for crude oil.

The far lower cost of driving electric vehicles, plus the environmental benefits of cleaner air and the reduction in carbon emissions, will make it overwhelmingly attractive to governments to switch from fossil fuels to renewables for powering the world’s light vehicles.

“The economics of oil for gasoline and diesel vehicles versus wind- and solar-powered EVs are now in relentless and irreversible decline”

Warnings that Big Oil’s position is precarious have been sounding for several years. Some see the global industry reaching its peak within the next decade. In several countries car plants are being converted to all-electric production, a move perhaps prompted by a wish to regain market share after a less than happy episode in consumer relations.

But the bank’s report for professional investors, Wells, Wires, and Wheels, will certainly make bleak reading for the oil industry. Its conclusions are based on the bank’s calculations of how much it costs to get energy to the car wheels.

Its analysis concludes that “after adjusting for all of the costs and all of the energy losses of delivering oil from the well to the wheels on the one hand, and renewable electricity to the wheels of EVs on the other, new wind and solar projects combined with EVs would deliver 6.2 to 7 times more useful energy than petrol”.

This is with oil at its current market price of $60 a barrel. Renewables would also provide 3.2 to 3.6 times more power than diesel for the same cost.

Rising efficiency

The report says: “Moreover, this is on the basis of the costs and efficiency rates of the renewable electricity technologies as they exist today. Yet, over time, the costs of renewables will only continue to fall, while their efficiency rates will continue to rise.”

The report concedes that at the moment the oil industry has huge advantages of scale, because it is already servicing the world’s vehicle fleet. To take its business away, renewables have to scale up and provide the quantity of electricity and the number of charging points required for a mass electric vehicle market.

It argues, however, that oil has a major disadvantage. For every dollar spent at the pump on petrol, nearly half that cost has already gone on refining the oil, transporting it to the pump, marketing and tax. Electricity on the other hand is delivered to cars along wires at only a tiny fraction of the cost of oil-based fuels.

The bank concludes that the oil industry also has another huge disadvantage. It has to decide on future investments in new oil fields without knowing in advance the occasional wild fluctuations in oil price.

Declining oil yield

Each year the oil majors have to make such decisions about fields which need to be added to production to replace the 10% annual decline in the yield from old fields, leaving them working 10 years in advance.

By the bank’s calculations, unless the new oil can be brought on stream at $10 a barrel or less, the oil companies will have to sell petrol and diesel at a loss to compete on price with electric cars running on renewables.

Investment decisions made now on the basis of an oil price of $60 a barrel risk creating assets that cannot be sold profitably and would have to be left in the ground.

The report says: “We conclude that the economics of oil for gasoline and diesel vehicles versus wind- and solar-powered EVs are now in relentless and irreversible decline, with far-reaching implications for both policymakers and the oil majors.” − Climate News Network

Hot future prompts new ideas for cool cities

Higher temperatures must mean more energy just to cool cities – which means even more heat. But ingenuity is already proposing answers.

LONDON, 15 August, 2019 − The world could need a quarter more energy by 2050, to cool cities and survive the global heating expected by then. And that assumes that nations will have taken steps to control greenhouse gas emissions and that the rise in temperature will be moderate.

If, on the other hand, the world goes on burning fossil fuels under the notorious “business as usual” scenario, then according to new research the people of the planet could demand up to 58% more energy, just to drive the extra air conditioning and refrigeration in ever more frequent and ever more intense extremes of heat.

The latest study, by researchers based in Boston, Massachusetts and Venice in Italy, helps to settle one of the more intricate questions that accompany climate projections and energy demand: yes, there will be more people and bigger cities which demand more power anyway, and yes, warm zones will get hotter and demand more expense on keeping cool. But chilly and temperate nations will enjoy milder winters and spend less on staying warm. Which wins?

The new paper, in the journal Nature Communications, either settles the matter or provides fellow scientists with a methodology and a set of results to examine more closely.

Risky faster heating

A warmer world will also be vastly more energy-expensive. And if nations invest in coal, oil or natural gas to provide the extra electricity to provide the air-conditioning, drive the electric fans and refrigerate food and medical supplies, then global heating would accelerate to ever more dangerous levels.

“At this point, we don’t know. To cool my house, I could buy a bigger air-conditioner. Or if higher demand makes electricity more expensive, I could choose to open my window or run a fan,” said Ian Sue Wing, an earth and environment scientist at Boston University, who led the study.

“We could use coal or we could use renewable sources, and those two choices mean very different things for our future. With coal, it will mean more greenhouse gas emissions. That’s what keeps me up at night.”

By 2050, there could be between 8.4bn and 10bn people on the planet. Gross domestic product per person (an economist’s measure of income and spending) could have all but doubled or even in some places more than trebled. Tropical and mid-latitude zones could, if warming is only moderate, experience as many as an extra 50 uncomfortably hot days each year. If the warming is vigorous, the number could soar to 75.

“We could use coal or we could use renewable sources. With coal, it will mean more greenhouse gas emissions. That’s what keeps me up at night”

Researchers have warned, consistently and repeatedly, that even a modest rise in average planetary temperatures will take the form of longer and more intense heat waves. By 2100 three out of four people on the planet could be exposed to heat extremes, and those most at hazard will be living in the tropical and subtropical megacities.

Extremes of heat can kill – one group has already identified 27 ways in which to die of rising temperatures – and scientists began warning years ago that ever more needed investment in air-conditioning equipment would only make energy demand, and perhaps greenhouse gas emissions, worse, while also contributing to ever greater outdoor temperatures.

So researchers have been looking at other approaches. The puzzle has already tested the levels of ingenuity and fresh thinking in the world’s energy laboratories. Researchers have cheerfully proposed reflector roofs that could send 97% of the sunlight back into space.

They have explored nature’s answer to the unforgiving sun: more trees in cities could take temperatures down by as much as 5°C and even make cities wealthier and healthier. And already this month, scientists and engineers have suggested two new ways to address the challenge of the overheating cities.

One US team at the University of Buffalo, working with the King Abdullah University in Saudi Arabia, has devised an inexpensive polymer-aluminium film that keeps itself cool, packed in a specially designed solar shelter. The film absorbs heat from the air and converts it to thermal radiation that can be beamed back into space.

Deep cuts possible

The researchers report, in the journal Nature Sustainability, that in the laboratory temperatures could be lowered by up to 11°C. On a clear, sunny day in New York state, they achieved outdoor all-day temperature reductions of 2°C to 9°C.

This exercise in entirely passive cooling – no electricity, just rooftop boxes – is in its infancy. But there are other approaches to the “heat island effect” that already makes modern cities uncomfortable.

Researchers at the University of Rutgers in the US simply looked at the ground beneath their feet. Pavement and road surfaces made of concrete or asphalt cover 30% of most cities and in high summer these surfaces can reach 60°C.

So, the Rutgers engineers report in the Journal of Cleaner Production,  roads could be made of permeable concrete, through which water could drain. It might give off more heat on sunny days, but after rainfall the water could run through, and evaporate through the pores, to reduce pavement heat by up to 30%.

And in addition, their concrete treated with fly ash and steel slag would make a huge difference to stormwater management and reduce the risk of urban flash floods. − Climate News Network

Higher temperatures must mean more energy just to cool cities – which means even more heat. But ingenuity is already proposing answers.

LONDON, 15 August, 2019 − The world could need a quarter more energy by 2050, to cool cities and survive the global heating expected by then. And that assumes that nations will have taken steps to control greenhouse gas emissions and that the rise in temperature will be moderate.

If, on the other hand, the world goes on burning fossil fuels under the notorious “business as usual” scenario, then according to new research the people of the planet could demand up to 58% more energy, just to drive the extra air conditioning and refrigeration in ever more frequent and ever more intense extremes of heat.

The latest study, by researchers based in Boston, Massachusetts and Venice in Italy, helps to settle one of the more intricate questions that accompany climate projections and energy demand: yes, there will be more people and bigger cities which demand more power anyway, and yes, warm zones will get hotter and demand more expense on keeping cool. But chilly and temperate nations will enjoy milder winters and spend less on staying warm. Which wins?

The new paper, in the journal Nature Communications, either settles the matter or provides fellow scientists with a methodology and a set of results to examine more closely.

Risky faster heating

A warmer world will also be vastly more energy-expensive. And if nations invest in coal, oil or natural gas to provide the extra electricity to provide the air-conditioning, drive the electric fans and refrigerate food and medical supplies, then global heating would accelerate to ever more dangerous levels.

“At this point, we don’t know. To cool my house, I could buy a bigger air-conditioner. Or if higher demand makes electricity more expensive, I could choose to open my window or run a fan,” said Ian Sue Wing, an earth and environment scientist at Boston University, who led the study.

“We could use coal or we could use renewable sources, and those two choices mean very different things for our future. With coal, it will mean more greenhouse gas emissions. That’s what keeps me up at night.”

By 2050, there could be between 8.4bn and 10bn people on the planet. Gross domestic product per person (an economist’s measure of income and spending) could have all but doubled or even in some places more than trebled. Tropical and mid-latitude zones could, if warming is only moderate, experience as many as an extra 50 uncomfortably hot days each year. If the warming is vigorous, the number could soar to 75.

“We could use coal or we could use renewable sources. With coal, it will mean more greenhouse gas emissions. That’s what keeps me up at night”

Researchers have warned, consistently and repeatedly, that even a modest rise in average planetary temperatures will take the form of longer and more intense heat waves. By 2100 three out of four people on the planet could be exposed to heat extremes, and those most at hazard will be living in the tropical and subtropical megacities.

Extremes of heat can kill – one group has already identified 27 ways in which to die of rising temperatures – and scientists began warning years ago that ever more needed investment in air-conditioning equipment would only make energy demand, and perhaps greenhouse gas emissions, worse, while also contributing to ever greater outdoor temperatures.

So researchers have been looking at other approaches. The puzzle has already tested the levels of ingenuity and fresh thinking in the world’s energy laboratories. Researchers have cheerfully proposed reflector roofs that could send 97% of the sunlight back into space.

They have explored nature’s answer to the unforgiving sun: more trees in cities could take temperatures down by as much as 5°C and even make cities wealthier and healthier. And already this month, scientists and engineers have suggested two new ways to address the challenge of the overheating cities.

One US team at the University of Buffalo, working with the King Abdullah University in Saudi Arabia, has devised an inexpensive polymer-aluminium film that keeps itself cool, packed in a specially designed solar shelter. The film absorbs heat from the air and converts it to thermal radiation that can be beamed back into space.

Deep cuts possible

The researchers report, in the journal Nature Sustainability, that in the laboratory temperatures could be lowered by up to 11°C. On a clear, sunny day in New York state, they achieved outdoor all-day temperature reductions of 2°C to 9°C.

This exercise in entirely passive cooling – no electricity, just rooftop boxes – is in its infancy. But there are other approaches to the “heat island effect” that already makes modern cities uncomfortable.

Researchers at the University of Rutgers in the US simply looked at the ground beneath their feet. Pavement and road surfaces made of concrete or asphalt cover 30% of most cities and in high summer these surfaces can reach 60°C.

So, the Rutgers engineers report in the Journal of Cleaner Production,  roads could be made of permeable concrete, through which water could drain. It might give off more heat on sunny days, but after rainfall the water could run through, and evaporate through the pores, to reduce pavement heat by up to 30%.

And in addition, their concrete treated with fly ash and steel slag would make a huge difference to stormwater management and reduce the risk of urban flash floods. − Climate News Network

Airship’s return can boost hydrogen economy

For a sustainable world, aim high and try some abandoned technology: the airship. It could be the latest, coolest way to deliver the hydrogen economy.

LONDON, 7 August, 2019 − The airship could be on the way back. Tomorrow’s fuel could be delivered at all-but zero carbon cost by the ultimate in high-technology supertankers: vast dirigibles, sailing round the world at stratospheric heights on the jet stream.

Enormous balloons or airships more than two kilometres in length, laden with hydrogen and an additional burden of cargo could, according to new calculations, circumnavigate the northern hemisphere in 16 days. They could, on route, deliver their heavy goods, and at the same time transfer 60% or even 80% of their hydrogen in gas form.

And then, the holds empty, the same airship could float back home in the same direction on the jet stream with the remaining hydrogen to provide the necessary lift, for another trip.

Transport accounts for almost a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions generated by humankind: marine cargo delivery accounts for at least 3% and is projected to grow.

“Cheap and clean transportation of hydrogen would be convenient for the implementation of a global hydrogen economy. This would ultimately promote sustainable development on a global scale”

But as city authorities and inventive motor engineers and laboratory ingenuity around the world have already demonstrated, hydrogen can serve as a combustion fuel. And as solar and windpower investors have already found, surplus renewable energy can be stored as hydrogen, if the unwanted power is used to apply electrolysis to water. And that could be a cue for the return of the airship.

Dirigible development more or less ceased in 1937, when the Hindenburg caught fire and crashed in New Jersey: hydrogen is highly flammable. But a new study of the possibilities of lighter-than-air machines in the journal Energy Conversion and Management: X suggests that safety is now less of a problem.

With advances in computing and communications in the last eight decades, and vastly more accurate weather observation systems, such ships could be fuelled, flown, guided, landed and emptied entirely by robotic control. In effect, the hydrogen would provide the lift, the permanent stratospheric winds would provide the propulsion; in emergency the cargo would also provide the additional fuel.

Julian Hunt of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria and colleagues did the sums.

Big is beautiful

The Hindenburg class airship was 245 metres in length. Tomorrow’s hydrogen bulk carriers could be ten times that. Big here is beautiful: a tenfold increase in length would yield a thousandfold increase in volume at the cost of only a hundredfold of the fabric in which the hydrogen is enclosed.

One of those 2.4km giants could be loaded with 3,280 tonnes of hydrogen, lift it to 15km, and glide with the jet stream on a one-way route around the hemisphere. Assuming such a behemoth could make 25 deliveries a year, a fleet of 1,125 lighter-than-air supertankers could deliver enough energy stored in the form of hydrogen to account for a tenth of the global electricity consumption.

The combination of vast bulk carrier (the same cargo could also be transported in a monster balloon, the scientists argue) and a free ride at high altitude carries additional possibilities, they say. Hydrogen to be liquefied must reach a temperature of minus 253°C. Temperatures in the stratosphere can get as low as minus 70°C: altitude makes the process more economical because the fuel would already be at minus 60°C when it landed.

Hydrogen can also be used as fuel for landing and lift-off and course changes, but a big enough airship could also carry solar arrays to exploit the available sunlight. Hydrogen when burned to produce power also delivers nine times its weight as water: sprays of water at high altitude could be used to trigger the complex process that ends in rainfall over drought-stricken farmlands.

Slow but sure

But the researchers see the real bonus simply as a delivery system for hydrogen without the need to liquefy it (a process that consumes about 30% of the available energy of the hydrogen). Delivery might be slow compared to air freight, and always be in the direction west-to-east, but it would outpace most marine shipping – and a dirigible could load at, and deliver directly to, regions far from the coast: from Denver in the US to Islamabad in Pakistan, the researchers instance.

There are problems to overcome: wind and storm stresses could create real problems for structures of such size. Descent and landing could be problematic. But lighter-than-air travel comes with its own economies. Dirigibles are already being revived for a number of commercial uses.

And that’s not all a really vast airship could offer: a dirigible could deliver supplies to space, to be fired into the emptiness by pressure gun. Or a doughnut-shaped airship in the stratosphere could support a spaceship at its centre of gravity, to become the launch pad for its final lift-off.

Above all, the authors say, “cheap and clean transportation of hydrogen would be convenient for the implementation of a global hydrogen economy. This would ultimately support the widespread adoption of intermittent renewable energy technologies, such as solar and wind, and promote sustainable development on a global scale.” − Climate News Network

For a sustainable world, aim high and try some abandoned technology: the airship. It could be the latest, coolest way to deliver the hydrogen economy.

LONDON, 7 August, 2019 − The airship could be on the way back. Tomorrow’s fuel could be delivered at all-but zero carbon cost by the ultimate in high-technology supertankers: vast dirigibles, sailing round the world at stratospheric heights on the jet stream.

Enormous balloons or airships more than two kilometres in length, laden with hydrogen and an additional burden of cargo could, according to new calculations, circumnavigate the northern hemisphere in 16 days. They could, on route, deliver their heavy goods, and at the same time transfer 60% or even 80% of their hydrogen in gas form.

And then, the holds empty, the same airship could float back home in the same direction on the jet stream with the remaining hydrogen to provide the necessary lift, for another trip.

Transport accounts for almost a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions generated by humankind: marine cargo delivery accounts for at least 3% and is projected to grow.

“Cheap and clean transportation of hydrogen would be convenient for the implementation of a global hydrogen economy. This would ultimately promote sustainable development on a global scale”

But as city authorities and inventive motor engineers and laboratory ingenuity around the world have already demonstrated, hydrogen can serve as a combustion fuel. And as solar and windpower investors have already found, surplus renewable energy can be stored as hydrogen, if the unwanted power is used to apply electrolysis to water. And that could be a cue for the return of the airship.

Dirigible development more or less ceased in 1937, when the Hindenburg caught fire and crashed in New Jersey: hydrogen is highly flammable. But a new study of the possibilities of lighter-than-air machines in the journal Energy Conversion and Management: X suggests that safety is now less of a problem.

With advances in computing and communications in the last eight decades, and vastly more accurate weather observation systems, such ships could be fuelled, flown, guided, landed and emptied entirely by robotic control. In effect, the hydrogen would provide the lift, the permanent stratospheric winds would provide the propulsion; in emergency the cargo would also provide the additional fuel.

Julian Hunt of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria and colleagues did the sums.

Big is beautiful

The Hindenburg class airship was 245 metres in length. Tomorrow’s hydrogen bulk carriers could be ten times that. Big here is beautiful: a tenfold increase in length would yield a thousandfold increase in volume at the cost of only a hundredfold of the fabric in which the hydrogen is enclosed.

One of those 2.4km giants could be loaded with 3,280 tonnes of hydrogen, lift it to 15km, and glide with the jet stream on a one-way route around the hemisphere. Assuming such a behemoth could make 25 deliveries a year, a fleet of 1,125 lighter-than-air supertankers could deliver enough energy stored in the form of hydrogen to account for a tenth of the global electricity consumption.

The combination of vast bulk carrier (the same cargo could also be transported in a monster balloon, the scientists argue) and a free ride at high altitude carries additional possibilities, they say. Hydrogen to be liquefied must reach a temperature of minus 253°C. Temperatures in the stratosphere can get as low as minus 70°C: altitude makes the process more economical because the fuel would already be at minus 60°C when it landed.

Hydrogen can also be used as fuel for landing and lift-off and course changes, but a big enough airship could also carry solar arrays to exploit the available sunlight. Hydrogen when burned to produce power also delivers nine times its weight as water: sprays of water at high altitude could be used to trigger the complex process that ends in rainfall over drought-stricken farmlands.

Slow but sure

But the researchers see the real bonus simply as a delivery system for hydrogen without the need to liquefy it (a process that consumes about 30% of the available energy of the hydrogen). Delivery might be slow compared to air freight, and always be in the direction west-to-east, but it would outpace most marine shipping – and a dirigible could load at, and deliver directly to, regions far from the coast: from Denver in the US to Islamabad in Pakistan, the researchers instance.

There are problems to overcome: wind and storm stresses could create real problems for structures of such size. Descent and landing could be problematic. But lighter-than-air travel comes with its own economies. Dirigibles are already being revived for a number of commercial uses.

And that’s not all a really vast airship could offer: a dirigible could deliver supplies to space, to be fired into the emptiness by pressure gun. Or a doughnut-shaped airship in the stratosphere could support a spaceship at its centre of gravity, to become the launch pad for its final lift-off.

Above all, the authors say, “cheap and clean transportation of hydrogen would be convenient for the implementation of a global hydrogen economy. This would ultimately support the widespread adoption of intermittent renewable energy technologies, such as solar and wind, and promote sustainable development on a global scale.” − 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

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

France’s nuclear industry struggles on

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

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

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

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

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

Licence problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Older reactors affected

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

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

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

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

Operation in question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Licence problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Older reactors affected

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

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

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

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

Operation in question

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

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

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

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

Changing rainfall poses dilemma on dams

A changing climate usually means changing rainfall patterns. And that means a headache for dam builders.

LONDON, 23 May, 2019 − For the builders of hydro-electric schemes – usually multi-billion dollar projects involving vast amounts of complex engineering work – changing rainfall is a serious problem.

With climate change either on the horizon or already happening in many regions of the world, rainfall patterns, on which hydro schemes ultimately depend, are becoming ever more unpredictable.

Christian Rynning-Tonnesen is CEO of Statkraft AS, Norway’s biggest power producer and a major player in the international hydro power business.

In an interview with the Bloomberg news agency, Rynning-Tonnesen says his company has had to double its spending over the last 10 years to reinforce dams in order to cope with heavier rains. He says climate change is hard to ignore when you’re in the hydro-electric business.

“Depending on water as the main source of power in future when we’ll have less of this natural resource looks like an unreliable strategy”

“The general trend all over the world is areas that are dry become more dry and areas that are wet become more wet.”

Norway has seen a 5% rise in rainfall over recent years, says Rynning-Tonnesen.

Others say planning processes behind dam building have to be revised in the face of climate change.

Emilio Moran, a visiting professor at the University of Campinas in São Paulo state in Brazil, says that in one of the world’s biggest hydro-electric building programmes, a total of 147 dams have been planned in the Amazon Basin, with 65 of them in Brazil.

Output fears

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, Moran and his co-authors say many of the dams in Brazil − either completed or still in the planning stages − are likely to produce far less power than anticipated, owing to climate variability.

The Amazon Basin is predicted to receive less rainfall and to be hit with higher temperatures in future.

“Depending on water as the main source of power in future when we’ll have less of this natural resource looks like an unreliable strategy”, says Moran.

“To reduce its vulnerability with regard to energy in the context of global climate change, Brazil must diversify its energy mix. It’s still too dependent on hydro-electricity. It needs to invest more in other renewable sources, such as solar, biomass and wind.”

Rainfall drops

Deforestation is expected to create further water shortage problems for hydro plants in the Amazon region. About half the area’s rainfall is due to recycling within the forest.

“Deforestation will, therefore, lead to less precipitation in the region aside from the expected decline due to global climate change”, say the study’s authors.

They say that if the building of large dams in developing countries is to continue, full consideration has to be given to their social impact, the overall cost to the environment and to climate change.

International tensions

In many cases, this doesn’t seem to be happening. Turkey is spending billions on ambitious dam building projects on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in the south-east of the country. Climate change is predicted to alter the amounts of water available to drive the operation of these dams.

The rivers flow onwards into Syria and Iraq: already water flows downstream are severely reduced at certain times of the year, creating regional tensions and putting in jeopardy the livelihoods of millions dependent on the rivers for drinking water and for agricultural production.

One of the world’s biggest dam projects is in East Africa − the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile, which flows into the Nile itself. Ethiopia wants to sell electricity generated by the dam to neighbouring countries.

Critics of the GERD project say climate change, including reduced rainfall in the Blue Nile’s catchment area, could seriously affect the dam’s generating capability. − Climate News Network

A changing climate usually means changing rainfall patterns. And that means a headache for dam builders.

LONDON, 23 May, 2019 − For the builders of hydro-electric schemes – usually multi-billion dollar projects involving vast amounts of complex engineering work – changing rainfall is a serious problem.

With climate change either on the horizon or already happening in many regions of the world, rainfall patterns, on which hydro schemes ultimately depend, are becoming ever more unpredictable.

Christian Rynning-Tonnesen is CEO of Statkraft AS, Norway’s biggest power producer and a major player in the international hydro power business.

In an interview with the Bloomberg news agency, Rynning-Tonnesen says his company has had to double its spending over the last 10 years to reinforce dams in order to cope with heavier rains. He says climate change is hard to ignore when you’re in the hydro-electric business.

“Depending on water as the main source of power in future when we’ll have less of this natural resource looks like an unreliable strategy”

“The general trend all over the world is areas that are dry become more dry and areas that are wet become more wet.”

Norway has seen a 5% rise in rainfall over recent years, says Rynning-Tonnesen.

Others say planning processes behind dam building have to be revised in the face of climate change.

Emilio Moran, a visiting professor at the University of Campinas in São Paulo state in Brazil, says that in one of the world’s biggest hydro-electric building programmes, a total of 147 dams have been planned in the Amazon Basin, with 65 of them in Brazil.

Output fears

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, Moran and his co-authors say many of the dams in Brazil − either completed or still in the planning stages − are likely to produce far less power than anticipated, owing to climate variability.

The Amazon Basin is predicted to receive less rainfall and to be hit with higher temperatures in future.

“Depending on water as the main source of power in future when we’ll have less of this natural resource looks like an unreliable strategy”, says Moran.

“To reduce its vulnerability with regard to energy in the context of global climate change, Brazil must diversify its energy mix. It’s still too dependent on hydro-electricity. It needs to invest more in other renewable sources, such as solar, biomass and wind.”

Rainfall drops

Deforestation is expected to create further water shortage problems for hydro plants in the Amazon region. About half the area’s rainfall is due to recycling within the forest.

“Deforestation will, therefore, lead to less precipitation in the region aside from the expected decline due to global climate change”, say the study’s authors.

They say that if the building of large dams in developing countries is to continue, full consideration has to be given to their social impact, the overall cost to the environment and to climate change.

International tensions

In many cases, this doesn’t seem to be happening. Turkey is spending billions on ambitious dam building projects on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in the south-east of the country. Climate change is predicted to alter the amounts of water available to drive the operation of these dams.

The rivers flow onwards into Syria and Iraq: already water flows downstream are severely reduced at certain times of the year, creating regional tensions and putting in jeopardy the livelihoods of millions dependent on the rivers for drinking water and for agricultural production.

One of the world’s biggest dam projects is in East Africa − the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile, which flows into the Nile itself. Ethiopia wants to sell electricity generated by the dam to neighbouring countries.

Critics of the GERD project say climate change, including reduced rainfall in the Blue Nile’s catchment area, could seriously affect the dam’s generating capability. − Climate News Network

Brazil spurns do-it-yourself solar power

Brazilian Customs imagine that parts for a do-it-yourself solar power scheme in remote communities are luxury goods and tax them accordingly.

SÃO PAULO, 16 May, 2019 − Cheap and simple do-it-yourself solar power sounds a good way to help poor communities. But try telling that to Brazil’s customs authority.

Since 2009, when the government of President Lula launched a national programme called Luz para Todos  (Light for All), Brazil has extended electricity to almost all corners of this vast country. The extra costs of extending the grid to more distant regions has been spread among all users.

But 47 localities, with a total population of 3 million people, still remain unconnected to the national grid, most of them in small, remote communities in the Amazon.

They include the 300,000 or so residents of Boa Vista, capital of the northernmost state of Roraima, which gets most of its energy from a hydro-electric dam across the border in Venezuela.

Long haul for oil

But with that country experiencing increasing chaos, with frequent blackouts, the supply has become unstable. When the power goes down, expensive thermo-electric plants running on diesel oil must be used, the oil brought by road from Manaus, 750 kms (465 miles) south.

Although Roraima enjoys even more hours of sunshine and strong winds than the rest of Brazil, these renewable alternatives have been largely ignored.

Boa Vista, though, is an exception. Most of those unconnected to the national grid live in small, isolated communities in the Amazon region. Some have diesel-powered generators, noisy, polluting and expensive, switched on for only 2 or 3 hours a day.

The disadvantages of living without a regular supply of energy are many – children cannot study at night, food cannot be preserved in fridges or freezers, fish catches cannot be sold, because without a freezer they will rot.

Health posts cannot stock medicines or vaccines. There is no TV, no access to the internet. Without a pump, people spend a lot of time on activities like carrying water.

“Inexplicably, the Brazilian Customs authority insists on taxing these imported components at 50%, as though they are luxury items”

The Ministry of Mines and Energy has plans to “universalise” energy provision, linking even these remote communities to the national grid within the next ten years. In some places photovoltaic panels have been installed, but their maintenance depends on technical assistance from the nearest town, which can be several hours’ boat ride away.

The proposed privatisation of the national energy company Eletrobras could also see an end to the plan to provide universal access, because profit-making companies will not want to spread the costs through higher tariffs.

Villi Seilert, a solar energy researcher, believes this top-down solution is not the answer. Together with engineer Edson Kenji Kondo, of the Universidade Católica de Brasília, he has developed what they call a social solar factory, a system of mini-factories which can be based in low-income communities, making cheap solar panels.

The idea was born during a project for start-ups developing innovative projects in the context of climate change, which at the same time offered decent jobs to people on low incomes.

At first they made solar panels out of recycled cartons. Then they developed a wafer thin panel with 6 photovoltaic cells, just 4.55 mm thick and weighing only 1.75 kg., making it easy to transport and mount. This is called the i920W-Slim.

Meeting basic needs

A micro-system of these panels mounted on a roof generates 165 kilowatts of electricity a month, the average consumption of a low-income family in Brazil.

The idea is that local communities will easily be able to understand the technology, produce their own panels and generate their own electricity, without depending on outside companies or technicians.

Seilert reckons that 1,000 such mini-factories could be installed in 5 years – providing not only energy, but jobs as well.

He says two monitors could train up to 10 people in a six-day course, covering general principles, soldering techniques and mounting circuits.

The training venue and the factory can be set up in any available covered space. The kiln for firing the glass can be a pizza oven with a temperature regulator, transportable in the back of a car. Each panel will cost about US$40, $28 of it for components, including several that have to be imported from China.

Unfortunately, and inexplicably, the Brazilian Customs authority insists on taxing these imported components at 50%, as though they are luxury items, not basic elements for a low-cost energy system.

Little help offered

The basic cost of setting up a social solar factory varies between $2,000 and $3,000, plus the cost of accumulators or storage batteries.

Seilert is hoping to persuade local authorities, NGOs and local communities to give his project a go. He is trying to persuade the customs authority to lower the import tariff on the imported components, which would reduce the overall cost.

But while solar energy is definitely gaining ground in Brazil, with projects springing up in different places, the government remains wedded to the fossil fuel economy, unwilling to offer to renewables even a fraction of the subsidies, incentives and tax holidays they give to that sector.

So it is left to pioneers like Seilert to battle for recognition, and to NGOs and enlightened local authorities to fund projects,.One of the few mini-factories to have been successfully installed is in a prison in the central state of Minas Gerais, where inmates near the end of their sentences learn to make the solar panels. − Climate News Network

Brazilian Customs imagine that parts for a do-it-yourself solar power scheme in remote communities are luxury goods and tax them accordingly.

SÃO PAULO, 16 May, 2019 − Cheap and simple do-it-yourself solar power sounds a good way to help poor communities. But try telling that to Brazil’s customs authority.

Since 2009, when the government of President Lula launched a national programme called Luz para Todos  (Light for All), Brazil has extended electricity to almost all corners of this vast country. The extra costs of extending the grid to more distant regions has been spread among all users.

But 47 localities, with a total population of 3 million people, still remain unconnected to the national grid, most of them in small, remote communities in the Amazon.

They include the 300,000 or so residents of Boa Vista, capital of the northernmost state of Roraima, which gets most of its energy from a hydro-electric dam across the border in Venezuela.

Long haul for oil

But with that country experiencing increasing chaos, with frequent blackouts, the supply has become unstable. When the power goes down, expensive thermo-electric plants running on diesel oil must be used, the oil brought by road from Manaus, 750 kms (465 miles) south.

Although Roraima enjoys even more hours of sunshine and strong winds than the rest of Brazil, these renewable alternatives have been largely ignored.

Boa Vista, though, is an exception. Most of those unconnected to the national grid live in small, isolated communities in the Amazon region. Some have diesel-powered generators, noisy, polluting and expensive, switched on for only 2 or 3 hours a day.

The disadvantages of living without a regular supply of energy are many – children cannot study at night, food cannot be preserved in fridges or freezers, fish catches cannot be sold, because without a freezer they will rot.

Health posts cannot stock medicines or vaccines. There is no TV, no access to the internet. Without a pump, people spend a lot of time on activities like carrying water.

“Inexplicably, the Brazilian Customs authority insists on taxing these imported components at 50%, as though they are luxury items”

The Ministry of Mines and Energy has plans to “universalise” energy provision, linking even these remote communities to the national grid within the next ten years. In some places photovoltaic panels have been installed, but their maintenance depends on technical assistance from the nearest town, which can be several hours’ boat ride away.

The proposed privatisation of the national energy company Eletrobras could also see an end to the plan to provide universal access, because profit-making companies will not want to spread the costs through higher tariffs.

Villi Seilert, a solar energy researcher, believes this top-down solution is not the answer. Together with engineer Edson Kenji Kondo, of the Universidade Católica de Brasília, he has developed what they call a social solar factory, a system of mini-factories which can be based in low-income communities, making cheap solar panels.

The idea was born during a project for start-ups developing innovative projects in the context of climate change, which at the same time offered decent jobs to people on low incomes.

At first they made solar panels out of recycled cartons. Then they developed a wafer thin panel with 6 photovoltaic cells, just 4.55 mm thick and weighing only 1.75 kg., making it easy to transport and mount. This is called the i920W-Slim.

Meeting basic needs

A micro-system of these panels mounted on a roof generates 165 kilowatts of electricity a month, the average consumption of a low-income family in Brazil.

The idea is that local communities will easily be able to understand the technology, produce their own panels and generate their own electricity, without depending on outside companies or technicians.

Seilert reckons that 1,000 such mini-factories could be installed in 5 years – providing not only energy, but jobs as well.

He says two monitors could train up to 10 people in a six-day course, covering general principles, soldering techniques and mounting circuits.

The training venue and the factory can be set up in any available covered space. The kiln for firing the glass can be a pizza oven with a temperature regulator, transportable in the back of a car. Each panel will cost about US$40, $28 of it for components, including several that have to be imported from China.

Unfortunately, and inexplicably, the Brazilian Customs authority insists on taxing these imported components at 50%, as though they are luxury items, not basic elements for a low-cost energy system.

Little help offered

The basic cost of setting up a social solar factory varies between $2,000 and $3,000, plus the cost of accumulators or storage batteries.

Seilert is hoping to persuade local authorities, NGOs and local communities to give his project a go. He is trying to persuade the customs authority to lower the import tariff on the imported components, which would reduce the overall cost.

But while solar energy is definitely gaining ground in Brazil, with projects springing up in different places, the government remains wedded to the fossil fuel economy, unwilling to offer to renewables even a fraction of the subsidies, incentives and tax holidays they give to that sector.

So it is left to pioneers like Seilert to battle for recognition, and to NGOs and enlightened local authorities to fund projects,.One of the few mini-factories to have been successfully installed is in a prison in the central state of Minas Gerais, where inmates near the end of their sentences learn to make the solar panels. − Climate News Network