Tag Archives: Renewable energy

Geo-engineering could make poor countries richer

There is still no certainty that geo-engineering could save the world. But, paradoxically, if it did work it might repair climate injustice.

LONDON, 15 January, 2020 – Californian scientists have just made a case for geo-engineering as a solution to the climate crisis. One stratospheric technology – the reflection of incoming sunlight back into space – could do more than just lower global average temperatures.

It could also enhance the economic performance of some of the world’s poorest countries and reduce global income inequality by 50%.

“We find hotter, more populous countries are more sensitive to changes in temperature – whether it is an increase or a decrease,” said Anthony Harding, of Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of California at San Diego.

“With solar geo-engineering, we find that poorer countries benefit more than richer countries from reductions in temperature, reducing inequalities. Together, the overall global economy grows.”

Uneven benefits possible

Harding and his colleagues report in the journal Nature Communications that they simply applied climate models to the consequences of a successful international collaboration to systematically reduce or reflect incoming sunlight, to compensate for the consequences of a steady increase in global average temperatures as a consequence of greenhouse gas emissions.

Geo-engineering requires technologies that are not yet proven and that many scientists think may never work in any way that helps all nations evenly.

The authors acknowledge that many climate scientists are “reluctant to pursue one global climate intervention to correct for another” – a tacit recognition that humans have already inadvertently geo-engineered the climate crisis driven by global heating simply by burning fossil fuels and destroying forests. Nor do they specify a preferred version of any technology that puts sulphate aerosols or other reflecting particles into the stratosphere to reduce incoming radiation.

They simply consider the economic impacts of global temperature reductions under four different climate scenarios: if climates stabilised naturally; if temperatures went on soaring; if they were stabilised by geo-engineering; and if geo-engineering worked too well and lowered the planet’s temperature.

“A robust system of global governance will be necessary to ensure any future decisions about solar geo-engineering are made for collective benefit”

They identified historical connections between the heat of the day and the wealth of a nation. Rainfall didn’t seem to matter so much. What was important was the temperature. And in the models, temperature seemed to make all the difference.

If tomorrow’s world, thanks to geo-engineering, cooled by 3.5°C – and right now the planetary temperature seems set to rise by about that much – average incomes in countries such as Niger, Chad and Mali would rise by more than 100% in a century.

In southern Europe and the US, gains would be a more modest 20%. Impacts from country to country might vary according to each scenario. But changes in temperature driven by solar geo-engineering consistently translated, they say, into a 50% cut in global income inequality.

“We find that if temperatures cooled, there would be gains in gross domestic product per capita,” Harding said. “For some models, these gains are up to 1000% over the course of the century and are largest for countries in the tropics, which historically tend to be poorer.”

Poorest hit hardest

Researchers have consistently found that global heating brings yet more economic hardship, and even social conflict, to the world’s least developed nations: these are the countries that have benefited least from the exploitation of oil, coal and natural gas to drive wealth, and therefore contributed least to the creation of a climate crisis.

The latest study suggests that although the best way to confront the challenge is to reduce and eventually reverse greenhouse gas emissions, concerted global action – carefully agreed and executed – might in theory cool the globe and limit the losses of everybody, but especially the poorest.

There is a catch: nobody has yet agreed on the technology that would work best. And nobody knows how to achieve the other prerequisite: international co-operation.

“Our findings underscore that a robust system of global governance will be necessary to ensure any future decisions about solar geo-engineering are made for collective benefit,” the authors write. – Climate News Network

There is still no certainty that geo-engineering could save the world. But, paradoxically, if it did work it might repair climate injustice.

LONDON, 15 January, 2020 – Californian scientists have just made a case for geo-engineering as a solution to the climate crisis. One stratospheric technology – the reflection of incoming sunlight back into space – could do more than just lower global average temperatures.

It could also enhance the economic performance of some of the world’s poorest countries and reduce global income inequality by 50%.

“We find hotter, more populous countries are more sensitive to changes in temperature – whether it is an increase or a decrease,” said Anthony Harding, of Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of California at San Diego.

“With solar geo-engineering, we find that poorer countries benefit more than richer countries from reductions in temperature, reducing inequalities. Together, the overall global economy grows.”

Uneven benefits possible

Harding and his colleagues report in the journal Nature Communications that they simply applied climate models to the consequences of a successful international collaboration to systematically reduce or reflect incoming sunlight, to compensate for the consequences of a steady increase in global average temperatures as a consequence of greenhouse gas emissions.

Geo-engineering requires technologies that are not yet proven and that many scientists think may never work in any way that helps all nations evenly.

The authors acknowledge that many climate scientists are “reluctant to pursue one global climate intervention to correct for another” – a tacit recognition that humans have already inadvertently geo-engineered the climate crisis driven by global heating simply by burning fossil fuels and destroying forests. Nor do they specify a preferred version of any technology that puts sulphate aerosols or other reflecting particles into the stratosphere to reduce incoming radiation.

They simply consider the economic impacts of global temperature reductions under four different climate scenarios: if climates stabilised naturally; if temperatures went on soaring; if they were stabilised by geo-engineering; and if geo-engineering worked too well and lowered the planet’s temperature.

“A robust system of global governance will be necessary to ensure any future decisions about solar geo-engineering are made for collective benefit”

They identified historical connections between the heat of the day and the wealth of a nation. Rainfall didn’t seem to matter so much. What was important was the temperature. And in the models, temperature seemed to make all the difference.

If tomorrow’s world, thanks to geo-engineering, cooled by 3.5°C – and right now the planetary temperature seems set to rise by about that much – average incomes in countries such as Niger, Chad and Mali would rise by more than 100% in a century.

In southern Europe and the US, gains would be a more modest 20%. Impacts from country to country might vary according to each scenario. But changes in temperature driven by solar geo-engineering consistently translated, they say, into a 50% cut in global income inequality.

“We find that if temperatures cooled, there would be gains in gross domestic product per capita,” Harding said. “For some models, these gains are up to 1000% over the course of the century and are largest for countries in the tropics, which historically tend to be poorer.”

Poorest hit hardest

Researchers have consistently found that global heating brings yet more economic hardship, and even social conflict, to the world’s least developed nations: these are the countries that have benefited least from the exploitation of oil, coal and natural gas to drive wealth, and therefore contributed least to the creation of a climate crisis.

The latest study suggests that although the best way to confront the challenge is to reduce and eventually reverse greenhouse gas emissions, concerted global action – carefully agreed and executed – might in theory cool the globe and limit the losses of everybody, but especially the poorest.

There is a catch: nobody has yet agreed on the technology that would work best. And nobody knows how to achieve the other prerequisite: international co-operation.

“Our findings underscore that a robust system of global governance will be necessary to ensure any future decisions about solar geo-engineering are made for collective benefit,” the authors write. – Climate News Network

Nuclear power ‘cannot rival renewable energy’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cost pressure

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

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

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

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

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

Unable to compete

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cost pressure

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

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

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

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

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

Unable to compete

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

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

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

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

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

Can batteries help to limit bushfire horrors?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

40 days to spare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

40 days to spare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

Germany’s green energy quest stalls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coal burning persists

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

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

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

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

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

Out of sight

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coal burning persists

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

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

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

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

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

Out of sight

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

Sun shines on Germany’s solar sector

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

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

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

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

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

Popularity rising

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Earlier fade-out

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

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

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

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

Rapid switch

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

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

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

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

Not so sunny

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

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

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

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

Exports take off

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Popularity rising

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Earlier fade-out

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

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

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

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

Rapid switch

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

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

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

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

Not so sunny

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

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

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

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

Exports take off

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

Politicians not markets slow new energy dawn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Political refusal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Political refusal

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

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

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

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

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

Iceland put people first to save melting economy

Faced in 2008 with a melting economy, Iceland acted fast to avoid total collapse. Icelanders’ own needs were its priority.

LONDON, 27 November, 2019 − What can you do if you’re a smallish island in the North Atlantic with a lot of snow and a melting economy? Quite a lot, it turns out, if you’re prepared to put local people’s needs first.

Iceland was hailed recently for erecting a memorial plaque to one of its most striking features, Okjökull, which shrank so drastically because of climate breakdown that it lost its status as a glacier. It was the first in Iceland to do so, and is now known, fittingly, by a diminutive, as Ok.

Barely 10 years ago, when the country was in the grip of a different crisis, the pace of its far from glacial response showed how quickly rapid changes of government policy can turn a crisis around.

Iceland was at the heart of the global financial crisis in late 2008 and was nearly destroyed by it; 97% of its banking sector collapsed in just three days. its three largest banks − Glitnir, Kaupthing and Landsbankinn − had accumulated a debt of $85 billion (£66bn), equivalent to 10 times the country’s national income (GDP), or 20 times the national budget.

These losses amounted to $330,000 for every man, woman and child on the island, whose stock market then collapsed, with huge numbers of businesses going bankrupt. Iceland approached the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for emergency aid − the first western country to do so since 1976 − and obtained a loan of $2.1bn (£1.4bn).

“It is possible that the Icelandic way of governing also played a part. Was their natural reflex to protect the many, rather than the few?”

So how did it manage to survive? First, it allowed a default on the $85bn in debt accumulated by the banks. A new national mood set in, creating lasting conditions for change and the desire for new economic approaches.

Other countries had largely let banks off the hook, but in 2015 Iceland’s Supreme Court upheld convictions against bankers at the heart of the crisis. Finance is now so sensitive that when the Prime Minister was caught up in revelations from the release of the so-called Panama Papers, he was forced from office.

The debts are now largely paid off, but most multinational businesses have left Iceland, for fear of the capital controls. A huge expansion in tourism has rescued the nation’s economy, though average wages are now much lower.

The government protected Icelanders’ bank deposits and forgave debts for a quarter of the population. As Bloomberg News reported in 2012, “Iceland’s approach to dealing with the meltdown has put the needs of its population ahead of the markets at every turn.”

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), a global initiative which aims to learn from rapid change to address urgent environmental problems, believes Iceland’s way of extricating itself quickly from the global crisis has lessons for other countries, some of which are still paying a heavy price for the events of 2008 and the way they reacted.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom that individual countries cannot independently follow radically different economic policy and control capital flows, says the RTA, Iceland shows they can, and quickly;

Radical change can usher in a virtuous circle, by becoming a habit: once you’ve started, new opportunities may open up for yet more change;

And, perhaps most surprisingly of all, the Alliance says, it is possible to put people before the demands of financial markets and still run a successful economy. Citizen engagement and economic reform can go hand in hand.

Iceland’s economy had thrived on speculative finance but, after the meltdown, rather than making the public pay for the crisis, as the Nobel economist Paul Krugman points out, Iceland “let the banks go bust and actually expanded its social safety net”. Instead of placating financial markets, it introduced temporary controls on the movement of capital to give itself room to manoeuvre.

Following this, a “pots and pans” revolution kick-started a process that led to a new citizen-drafted constitution, which succeeded in engaging half the electorate.

The constitutional exercise proposed a new approach to the ownership of natural resources for the public good, which has had a lasting effect on the country’s choices: all its electricity and heat today comes from renewable sources, and transparency has become a central part of Icelandic public life.

The RTA thinks there were several key factors that enabled such rapid and fundamental change: the extent to which the economic system was irreparably damaged; the decision by the government to respond to the people’s demands and not to those of the banks; and the decision to punish those at fault and start anew.

It concludes: “It is possible that the Icelandic way of governing also played a part, because they have a longstanding history of deeply embedded democracy and a culture that discourages hierarchy. Was their natural reflex to protect the many, rather than the few?” − Climate News Network

* * * * *

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

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

Faced in 2008 with a melting economy, Iceland acted fast to avoid total collapse. Icelanders’ own needs were its priority.

LONDON, 27 November, 2019 − What can you do if you’re a smallish island in the North Atlantic with a lot of snow and a melting economy? Quite a lot, it turns out, if you’re prepared to put local people’s needs first.

Iceland was hailed recently for erecting a memorial plaque to one of its most striking features, Okjökull, which shrank so drastically because of climate breakdown that it lost its status as a glacier. It was the first in Iceland to do so, and is now known, fittingly, by a diminutive, as Ok.

Barely 10 years ago, when the country was in the grip of a different crisis, the pace of its far from glacial response showed how quickly rapid changes of government policy can turn a crisis around.

Iceland was at the heart of the global financial crisis in late 2008 and was nearly destroyed by it; 97% of its banking sector collapsed in just three days. its three largest banks − Glitnir, Kaupthing and Landsbankinn − had accumulated a debt of $85 billion (£66bn), equivalent to 10 times the country’s national income (GDP), or 20 times the national budget.

These losses amounted to $330,000 for every man, woman and child on the island, whose stock market then collapsed, with huge numbers of businesses going bankrupt. Iceland approached the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for emergency aid − the first western country to do so since 1976 − and obtained a loan of $2.1bn (£1.4bn).

“It is possible that the Icelandic way of governing also played a part. Was their natural reflex to protect the many, rather than the few?”

So how did it manage to survive? First, it allowed a default on the $85bn in debt accumulated by the banks. A new national mood set in, creating lasting conditions for change and the desire for new economic approaches.

Other countries had largely let banks off the hook, but in 2015 Iceland’s Supreme Court upheld convictions against bankers at the heart of the crisis. Finance is now so sensitive that when the Prime Minister was caught up in revelations from the release of the so-called Panama Papers, he was forced from office.

The debts are now largely paid off, but most multinational businesses have left Iceland, for fear of the capital controls. A huge expansion in tourism has rescued the nation’s economy, though average wages are now much lower.

The government protected Icelanders’ bank deposits and forgave debts for a quarter of the population. As Bloomberg News reported in 2012, “Iceland’s approach to dealing with the meltdown has put the needs of its population ahead of the markets at every turn.”

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), a global initiative which aims to learn from rapid change to address urgent environmental problems, believes Iceland’s way of extricating itself quickly from the global crisis has lessons for other countries, some of which are still paying a heavy price for the events of 2008 and the way they reacted.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom that individual countries cannot independently follow radically different economic policy and control capital flows, says the RTA, Iceland shows they can, and quickly;

Radical change can usher in a virtuous circle, by becoming a habit: once you’ve started, new opportunities may open up for yet more change;

And, perhaps most surprisingly of all, the Alliance says, it is possible to put people before the demands of financial markets and still run a successful economy. Citizen engagement and economic reform can go hand in hand.

Iceland’s economy had thrived on speculative finance but, after the meltdown, rather than making the public pay for the crisis, as the Nobel economist Paul Krugman points out, Iceland “let the banks go bust and actually expanded its social safety net”. Instead of placating financial markets, it introduced temporary controls on the movement of capital to give itself room to manoeuvre.

Following this, a “pots and pans” revolution kick-started a process that led to a new citizen-drafted constitution, which succeeded in engaging half the electorate.

The constitutional exercise proposed a new approach to the ownership of natural resources for the public good, which has had a lasting effect on the country’s choices: all its electricity and heat today comes from renewable sources, and transparency has become a central part of Icelandic public life.

The RTA thinks there were several key factors that enabled such rapid and fundamental change: the extent to which the economic system was irreparably damaged; the decision by the government to respond to the people’s demands and not to those of the banks; and the decision to punish those at fault and start anew.

It concludes: “It is possible that the Icelandic way of governing also played a part, because they have a longstanding history of deeply embedded democracy and a culture that discourages hierarchy. Was their natural reflex to protect the many, rather than the few?” − Climate News Network

* * * * *

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

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

Weights show the way to cheap stored power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

50-year life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

50-year life

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

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

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

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

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

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