Tag Archives: Renewable energy

UK climate emergency is official policy

Major changes in the government’s policy on fossil fuels will be vital to tackling the UK climate emergency that Parliament has recognised.

LONDON, 3 May, 2019 − The United Kingdom has taken a potentially momentous policy decision: it says there is a UK climate emergency.

On 1 May British members of Parliament (MPs) became the world’s first national legislature to declare a formal climate and environment emergency, saying they hoped they could work with like-minded countries across the world to take action to avoid more than 1.5°C of global warming.

No-one yet knows what will be the practical result of the resolution proposed by Jeremy Corbyn, the Opposition Labour leader, but UK politicians were under pressure to act following a series of high-profile strikes by school students in recent months and demonstrations by a new climate protest organisation, Extinction Rebellion (XR),  whose supporters closed roads in the centre of London for a week.

The Conservative government ordered its MPs not to oppose the Labour resolution, and it was passed without a vote.

Zero carbon by 2050

Hours after the MPs’ decision, a long-awaited detailed report by the government’s official advisors, the Committee on Climate Change, was published. It recommends cutting the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. The current target is 80%.

The report says the government should accept the new target immediately, pass it into law in the next few months and begin to implement policies to achieve it. The committee says that will mean the end of petrol and diesel cars on British roads, a cut in meat consumption, an end to gas boilers for heating buildings, planting 1.5 billion trees to store carbon, a vast increase in renewable energy, and many other measures.

It says: “We conclude that net zero is necessary, feasible and cost-effective: necessary – to respond to the overwhelming evidence of the role of greenhouse gases in driving global climate change, and to meet the UK’s commitments as a signatory of the 2015 Paris Agreement; feasible – because the technologies and approaches that will deliver net zero are now understood and can be implemented with strong leadership from government; cost-effective – because of falls in the cost of key technologies.”

The CCC says striving to reach the target would bring “real benefits to UK citizens: cleaner air, healthier diets, improved health and new economic opportunities for clean growth. The science demands it; we must start at once. There is no time to lose.”

“ . . . it is a citizen’s duty to rebel, using peaceful civil disobedience, when faced with criminal inactivity by their government”

The problem for the government is that its current policies are chaotic and fall well short of reaching the existing target of 80% cuts by 2050, let alone the 100% the committee now proposes. Currently the government is expected to miss its existing 2025 and 2030 targets as well.

This is because there is no sign of the “strong leadership” the committee says is required, and all policy is at a standstill because the government is still mired in the Brexit controversy. It has no coherent energy policy, has cut schemes for energy efficiency and virtually banned on-shore wind power. In April ministers abolished subsidies for solar power.

The only bright spot for renewables is that the UK has the largest off-shore wind industry in the world, which is growing at a great pace and is encouraged by the government, although at the same time the Conservatives support fracking for gas and give large tax breaks and subsidies to the North Sea oil and gas sector.
It also has a policy to nearly double the size of London’s main airport, Heathrow, by building an extra runway, which will increase the already excessive air pollution in the capital and add to UK emissions generally.

Tytus Murphy, campaigner for 350.Org, a climate campaign, said after the climate emergency vote: “Now that Parliament has officially recognised the true scale of the climate crisis they must take appropriate measures. Across the UK people are demanding that MPs take emergency action to stop emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Huge change needed

“This requires an immediate and permanent ban on fracking, bringing the North Sea oil and gas sector into managed decline, kicking the third runway at Heathrow into the tall grass, ending UK finance that funds fossil fuel exploration and extraction around the world, and divesting pension funds from fossil fuel companies.”

Although many Conservative MPs are keen to take action on climate change, it will need a massive U-turn to change government policy on Heathrow expansion and building new motorways. There is also a rump of right-wing MPs in the party who still refuse to accept climate change as a fact.

Business leaders are backing the 2050 zero emissions target, including giants like Siemens, Legal and General and Coca-Cola. Rain Newton-Smith, chief economist of the Confederation of British Industry, said: “The [committee’s] recommendation marks a new dawn for climate change action”. What was needed was timely policy from government to implement it.

Extinction Rebellion, the group that through its actions showed the strength of public feeling on the issue, said the 2050 date for zero emissions was too little, too late, and they were clearly distrustful of the government taking any of the necessary action.

Delayed targets rejected

It seems likely that the group will plan more actions unless the government acts quickly. Nuala Gathercole Lam of XR said: “While we welcome the fact that MPs are talking about the emergency, change must start now. Targets that are set for 50 years in the future do not match the scale of the emergency.”

In a statement XR said: “Time has almost entirely run out to address the ecological crisis which is upon us, including the sixth mass species extinction and abrupt, runaway climate change. Societal collapse and mass death are seen as inevitable by scientists and other credible voices, with human extinction also a possibility, if rapid action is not taken.

“Extinction Rebellion believes it is a citizen’s duty to rebel, using peaceful civil disobedience, when faced with criminal inactivity by their government.”

The organisation’s key demands are that the government “tell the truth” about the climate emergency; act to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025; and form a citizens’ assembly on climate to lead on the issue. − Climate News Network

Major changes in the government’s policy on fossil fuels will be vital to tackling the UK climate emergency that Parliament has recognised.

LONDON, 3 May, 2019 − The United Kingdom has taken a potentially momentous policy decision: it says there is a UK climate emergency.

On 1 May British members of Parliament (MPs) became the world’s first national legislature to declare a formal climate and environment emergency, saying they hoped they could work with like-minded countries across the world to take action to avoid more than 1.5°C of global warming.

No-one yet knows what will be the practical result of the resolution proposed by Jeremy Corbyn, the Opposition Labour leader, but UK politicians were under pressure to act following a series of high-profile strikes by school students in recent months and demonstrations by a new climate protest organisation, Extinction Rebellion (XR),  whose supporters closed roads in the centre of London for a week.

The Conservative government ordered its MPs not to oppose the Labour resolution, and it was passed without a vote.

Zero carbon by 2050

Hours after the MPs’ decision, a long-awaited detailed report by the government’s official advisors, the Committee on Climate Change, was published. It recommends cutting the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. The current target is 80%.

The report says the government should accept the new target immediately, pass it into law in the next few months and begin to implement policies to achieve it. The committee says that will mean the end of petrol and diesel cars on British roads, a cut in meat consumption, an end to gas boilers for heating buildings, planting 1.5 billion trees to store carbon, a vast increase in renewable energy, and many other measures.

It says: “We conclude that net zero is necessary, feasible and cost-effective: necessary – to respond to the overwhelming evidence of the role of greenhouse gases in driving global climate change, and to meet the UK’s commitments as a signatory of the 2015 Paris Agreement; feasible – because the technologies and approaches that will deliver net zero are now understood and can be implemented with strong leadership from government; cost-effective – because of falls in the cost of key technologies.”

The CCC says striving to reach the target would bring “real benefits to UK citizens: cleaner air, healthier diets, improved health and new economic opportunities for clean growth. The science demands it; we must start at once. There is no time to lose.”

“ . . . it is a citizen’s duty to rebel, using peaceful civil disobedience, when faced with criminal inactivity by their government”

The problem for the government is that its current policies are chaotic and fall well short of reaching the existing target of 80% cuts by 2050, let alone the 100% the committee now proposes. Currently the government is expected to miss its existing 2025 and 2030 targets as well.

This is because there is no sign of the “strong leadership” the committee says is required, and all policy is at a standstill because the government is still mired in the Brexit controversy. It has no coherent energy policy, has cut schemes for energy efficiency and virtually banned on-shore wind power. In April ministers abolished subsidies for solar power.

The only bright spot for renewables is that the UK has the largest off-shore wind industry in the world, which is growing at a great pace and is encouraged by the government, although at the same time the Conservatives support fracking for gas and give large tax breaks and subsidies to the North Sea oil and gas sector.
It also has a policy to nearly double the size of London’s main airport, Heathrow, by building an extra runway, which will increase the already excessive air pollution in the capital and add to UK emissions generally.

Tytus Murphy, campaigner for 350.Org, a climate campaign, said after the climate emergency vote: “Now that Parliament has officially recognised the true scale of the climate crisis they must take appropriate measures. Across the UK people are demanding that MPs take emergency action to stop emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Huge change needed

“This requires an immediate and permanent ban on fracking, bringing the North Sea oil and gas sector into managed decline, kicking the third runway at Heathrow into the tall grass, ending UK finance that funds fossil fuel exploration and extraction around the world, and divesting pension funds from fossil fuel companies.”

Although many Conservative MPs are keen to take action on climate change, it will need a massive U-turn to change government policy on Heathrow expansion and building new motorways. There is also a rump of right-wing MPs in the party who still refuse to accept climate change as a fact.

Business leaders are backing the 2050 zero emissions target, including giants like Siemens, Legal and General and Coca-Cola. Rain Newton-Smith, chief economist of the Confederation of British Industry, said: “The [committee’s] recommendation marks a new dawn for climate change action”. What was needed was timely policy from government to implement it.

Extinction Rebellion, the group that through its actions showed the strength of public feeling on the issue, said the 2050 date for zero emissions was too little, too late, and they were clearly distrustful of the government taking any of the necessary action.

Delayed targets rejected

It seems likely that the group will plan more actions unless the government acts quickly. Nuala Gathercole Lam of XR said: “While we welcome the fact that MPs are talking about the emergency, change must start now. Targets that are set for 50 years in the future do not match the scale of the emergency.”

In a statement XR said: “Time has almost entirely run out to address the ecological crisis which is upon us, including the sixth mass species extinction and abrupt, runaway climate change. Societal collapse and mass death are seen as inevitable by scientists and other credible voices, with human extinction also a possibility, if rapid action is not taken.

“Extinction Rebellion believes it is a citizen’s duty to rebel, using peaceful civil disobedience, when faced with criminal inactivity by their government.”

The organisation’s key demands are that the government “tell the truth” about the climate emergency; act to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025; and form a citizens’ assembly on climate to lead on the issue. − Climate News Network

Fossil fuels outbid by renewable revolution

Rapid progress in the solar and wind industries mean they are outcompeting fossil fuels in key markets − a renewable revolution.

LONDON, 30 April, 2019 − There’s a renewable revolution under way: the cost of wind and solar power is now undercutting fossil fuels across the world.

One recent week brought news of the world’s longest turbine blade, a monster capable of producing enough electricity on its own to power a small town. The fact that solar power in combination with batteries is now a cheaper way than gas to produce electricity in the United States is cheering news for those battling against climate change.

The single blade, 107 metres long, was produced at a factory in Cherbourg in France, the country most reliant on nuclear power. After tests the blade will power a 12-megawatt turbine, the largest in the world, situated off the French coast, and capable on its own of powering thousands of homes throughout its 20-year design life.

In the US the states of California and Arizona, where sunshine is plentiful, have solar plants incorporating battery storage that are now a better investment than gas over a 30-year period – even though the US has some of the cheapest gas in the world, because of fracking.

“This is an amazing achievement, not only for LM Wind Power and GE Renewable Energy, but for the entire wind industry”

The key problem for solar power during its years of development has been that when the sun does not shine other generation systems have to be used. Advances in battery technology and in molten salt and other heat storage methods over the last 12 months mean that electricity can now be produced from solar power at any time of the day or night, obtaining the highest revenue returns at peak times.

American companies are now claiming that they can out-compete gas in any part of the country to produce peak-time electricity.

Across the world most new large solar farm developments are including energy storage facilities in their initial construction, either batteries, heat storage or electrolysis (passing electricity through water) to produce hydrogen.

In Scotland, surplus wind and wave power is being used to produce hydrogen for a number of schemes, including powering buses and ferries. But the hydrogen can also be sold to make more electricity at peak times, or to be fed into gas mains to top up natural gas supplies and reduce carbon emissions.

Cheaper than India

These developments in the US and France follow news that electricity produced by solar power is now about one-third cheaper than from coal plants in India.

This is forcing Indian coal plants to sell their electricity at lower than cost price, an unsustainable practice which threatens their future. Many coal plants are considered unviable even in a country desperate to increase energy production because of a national supply shortfall.

With more than 10 million people now employed in renewable energy industries worldwide, the sector is beginning to develop real political clout. This, plus the Extinction Rebellion protestors who have been causing disruption in London and other British cities and elsewhere, and the now worldwide schoolchildren’s strikes for the climate, is putting politicians under real pressure to change policies.

So far this does not appear to have affected President Trump and the Republican Party in the US, which still relies heavily on the fossil fuel industry for campaign donations, but many of the country’s coal plants are closing simply because they can no longer compete with cheap gas, wind and solar energy.

Prospects altered

The rapid development of offshore wind, spurred by ever-larger turbines which have both increased production and seen prices tumble, has changed the prospects of many coastal countries in their fight to reduce carbon emissions. Europe could now produce all its electricity from offshore wind.

The latest development by LM Wind Power in France shows how fast the industry is developing. It is only two years ago that the company was boasting about its eight-megawatt turbine blades, now able to generate half as much power again.

Lukasz Cejrowski, project director for the 107m blade at LM Wind Power, said: “The LM 107.0 P is one of the biggest single components ever built. This is an amazing achievement, not only for LM Wind Power and GE Renewable Energy, but for the entire wind industry.”

Alexis Crama, vice-president of the company, said ever-larger and more reliable rotor blades captured more wind, and would ultimately deliver lower cost energy. − Climate News Network

Rapid progress in the solar and wind industries mean they are outcompeting fossil fuels in key markets − a renewable revolution.

LONDON, 30 April, 2019 − There’s a renewable revolution under way: the cost of wind and solar power is now undercutting fossil fuels across the world.

One recent week brought news of the world’s longest turbine blade, a monster capable of producing enough electricity on its own to power a small town. The fact that solar power in combination with batteries is now a cheaper way than gas to produce electricity in the United States is cheering news for those battling against climate change.

The single blade, 107 metres long, was produced at a factory in Cherbourg in France, the country most reliant on nuclear power. After tests the blade will power a 12-megawatt turbine, the largest in the world, situated off the French coast, and capable on its own of powering thousands of homes throughout its 20-year design life.

In the US the states of California and Arizona, where sunshine is plentiful, have solar plants incorporating battery storage that are now a better investment than gas over a 30-year period – even though the US has some of the cheapest gas in the world, because of fracking.

“This is an amazing achievement, not only for LM Wind Power and GE Renewable Energy, but for the entire wind industry”

The key problem for solar power during its years of development has been that when the sun does not shine other generation systems have to be used. Advances in battery technology and in molten salt and other heat storage methods over the last 12 months mean that electricity can now be produced from solar power at any time of the day or night, obtaining the highest revenue returns at peak times.

American companies are now claiming that they can out-compete gas in any part of the country to produce peak-time electricity.

Across the world most new large solar farm developments are including energy storage facilities in their initial construction, either batteries, heat storage or electrolysis (passing electricity through water) to produce hydrogen.

In Scotland, surplus wind and wave power is being used to produce hydrogen for a number of schemes, including powering buses and ferries. But the hydrogen can also be sold to make more electricity at peak times, or to be fed into gas mains to top up natural gas supplies and reduce carbon emissions.

Cheaper than India

These developments in the US and France follow news that electricity produced by solar power is now about one-third cheaper than from coal plants in India.

This is forcing Indian coal plants to sell their electricity at lower than cost price, an unsustainable practice which threatens their future. Many coal plants are considered unviable even in a country desperate to increase energy production because of a national supply shortfall.

With more than 10 million people now employed in renewable energy industries worldwide, the sector is beginning to develop real political clout. This, plus the Extinction Rebellion protestors who have been causing disruption in London and other British cities and elsewhere, and the now worldwide schoolchildren’s strikes for the climate, is putting politicians under real pressure to change policies.

So far this does not appear to have affected President Trump and the Republican Party in the US, which still relies heavily on the fossil fuel industry for campaign donations, but many of the country’s coal plants are closing simply because they can no longer compete with cheap gas, wind and solar energy.

Prospects altered

The rapid development of offshore wind, spurred by ever-larger turbines which have both increased production and seen prices tumble, has changed the prospects of many coastal countries in their fight to reduce carbon emissions. Europe could now produce all its electricity from offshore wind.

The latest development by LM Wind Power in France shows how fast the industry is developing. It is only two years ago that the company was boasting about its eight-megawatt turbine blades, now able to generate half as much power again.

Lukasz Cejrowski, project director for the 107m blade at LM Wind Power, said: “The LM 107.0 P is one of the biggest single components ever built. This is an amazing achievement, not only for LM Wind Power and GE Renewable Energy, but for the entire wind industry.”

Alexis Crama, vice-president of the company, said ever-larger and more reliable rotor blades captured more wind, and would ultimately deliver lower cost energy. − Climate News Network

Global warming tips scales against the poor

The richest nations got richer through rising investment in fossil fuels – and the global warming they caused has made the poorest nations measurably poorer.

LONDON, 24 April, 2019 − Global warming has increased global economic inequality. Some countries have profited from climate change while the same rise in average planetary temperatures has dragged down economic growth in the warmer countries.

The gap between those groups of nations with the highest and lowest economic output per person is now around 25% larger than it would have been had there been no climate change.

“Our results show that most of the poorest countries on Earth are considerably poorer than they would have been without global warming,” said Noah Diffenbaugh, a climate scientist at Stanford University in California. “At the same time the majority of rich countries are richer than they would have been.”

He and his co-author, Marshall Burke, an earth system scientist at Stanford, report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they combed through 50 years of annual temperature readings and measurements of gross domestic product (GDP) for 165 nations, to tease out the effects of temperature fluctuation on economic growth.

“Many poor countries have been significantly harmed by the warming arising from wealthy countries’ energy consumption”

They found that during warmer than average years growth was accelerated in those nations with normally cool climates – such as Norway and Sweden – but was slowed significantly in those countries with tropical or subtropical climates such as India or Nigeria.

And between 1961 and 2010, they found that global warming depressed the wealth per person in the poorest nations by between 17% and 30%.

“The historical data clearly show that crops are more productive, people are healthier and we are more productive at work when temperatures are neither too hot nor too cold,” said Dr Burke. “This means that in cold countries, a little bit of warming can help. The opposite is true in places that are already hot.”

The two scientists put the message of climate injustice bluntly in their paper: “Our results show that, in addition to not sharing equally in the direct benefits of fossil fuel use, many poor countries have been significantly harmed by the warming arising from wealthy countries’ energy consumption.”

What if … ?

All such research is tortured by uncertainties, and none greater than what historians call counter-factual comparison: that is, what would have happened if global average temperatures had not risen by around 1°C in the last century.

To make their case, the researchers calculated 20,000 versions of what each separate country’s economic growth rate would have been without global warming, and based their estimates on the range of outcomes. So, they concede, there are uncertainties.

But their findings are in line with other separate studies. Geographers, economists and climate scientists have repeatedly pointed out that global warming consistently threatens the poorest people in any society and that economic inequalities tend to stoke conflict and drive migration while at the same time economic inequalities continue to ensure that the poorest will suffer even more.

And national studies of specific climate events have confirmed the link between temperature and output. Dr Burke has in an earlier study separately made the connection between rising temperatures and social conflict, and the Stanford two have already argued that even a small reduction in global warming would return huge economic benefits.

Renewable remedy

In effect, the latest research provides a kind of national climate audit. If greenhouse emissions are a measure of economic output, then the richest 10% produce atmospheric carbon dioxide almost as much as the bottom 90% together.

The Stanford study offers an estimate of the costs and benefits the richest and poorest have borne as a consequence of emissions. It also makes it clear that the poorer nations would benefit more from investment in renewable energy: that is, they could create more wealth in ways that did not intensify costly climate change.

“Our study makes the first accounting of exactly how much each country has been impacted economically by global warming, relative to historical greenhouse gas emissions,” said Professor Diffenbaugh.

“Historically, rapid economic development has been powered by fossil fuels. Our finding that global warming has exacerbated economic inequality suggests that there is an added economic benefit of energy sources that don’t contribute to further warming.” − Climate News Network

The richest nations got richer through rising investment in fossil fuels – and the global warming they caused has made the poorest nations measurably poorer.

LONDON, 24 April, 2019 − Global warming has increased global economic inequality. Some countries have profited from climate change while the same rise in average planetary temperatures has dragged down economic growth in the warmer countries.

The gap between those groups of nations with the highest and lowest economic output per person is now around 25% larger than it would have been had there been no climate change.

“Our results show that most of the poorest countries on Earth are considerably poorer than they would have been without global warming,” said Noah Diffenbaugh, a climate scientist at Stanford University in California. “At the same time the majority of rich countries are richer than they would have been.”

He and his co-author, Marshall Burke, an earth system scientist at Stanford, report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they combed through 50 years of annual temperature readings and measurements of gross domestic product (GDP) for 165 nations, to tease out the effects of temperature fluctuation on economic growth.

“Many poor countries have been significantly harmed by the warming arising from wealthy countries’ energy consumption”

They found that during warmer than average years growth was accelerated in those nations with normally cool climates – such as Norway and Sweden – but was slowed significantly in those countries with tropical or subtropical climates such as India or Nigeria.

And between 1961 and 2010, they found that global warming depressed the wealth per person in the poorest nations by between 17% and 30%.

“The historical data clearly show that crops are more productive, people are healthier and we are more productive at work when temperatures are neither too hot nor too cold,” said Dr Burke. “This means that in cold countries, a little bit of warming can help. The opposite is true in places that are already hot.”

The two scientists put the message of climate injustice bluntly in their paper: “Our results show that, in addition to not sharing equally in the direct benefits of fossil fuel use, many poor countries have been significantly harmed by the warming arising from wealthy countries’ energy consumption.”

What if … ?

All such research is tortured by uncertainties, and none greater than what historians call counter-factual comparison: that is, what would have happened if global average temperatures had not risen by around 1°C in the last century.

To make their case, the researchers calculated 20,000 versions of what each separate country’s economic growth rate would have been without global warming, and based their estimates on the range of outcomes. So, they concede, there are uncertainties.

But their findings are in line with other separate studies. Geographers, economists and climate scientists have repeatedly pointed out that global warming consistently threatens the poorest people in any society and that economic inequalities tend to stoke conflict and drive migration while at the same time economic inequalities continue to ensure that the poorest will suffer even more.

And national studies of specific climate events have confirmed the link between temperature and output. Dr Burke has in an earlier study separately made the connection between rising temperatures and social conflict, and the Stanford two have already argued that even a small reduction in global warming would return huge economic benefits.

Renewable remedy

In effect, the latest research provides a kind of national climate audit. If greenhouse emissions are a measure of economic output, then the richest 10% produce atmospheric carbon dioxide almost as much as the bottom 90% together.

The Stanford study offers an estimate of the costs and benefits the richest and poorest have borne as a consequence of emissions. It also makes it clear that the poorer nations would benefit more from investment in renewable energy: that is, they could create more wealth in ways that did not intensify costly climate change.

“Our study makes the first accounting of exactly how much each country has been impacted economically by global warming, relative to historical greenhouse gas emissions,” said Professor Diffenbaugh.

“Historically, rapid economic development has been powered by fossil fuels. Our finding that global warming has exacerbated economic inequality suggests that there is an added economic benefit of energy sources that don’t contribute to further warming.” − Climate News Network

Cocoa fuel combats climate change

If you like chocolate you’ll love this: the same tree that provides your indulgent treat is helping to slow climate change, thanks to cocoa fuel.

LONDON, 14 March, 2019 – Sometimes the best solutions to energy problems – and to the fight against climate change – are the simple ones, like cocoa fuel.

Ghana is one of the world’s leading producers of cocoa – the vital ingredient in the multi-billion dollar international chocolate industry.

Cocoa beans are extracted from inside the pod husks of the cocoa tree. Husks are usually discarded during the production process.

Now, in a project led by specialists at the University of Nottingham in the UK, the plan is to use the husks as feedstock in bio-fuel energy installations.

“Ghana is the second highest producer of cocoa in the world and every ton of cocoa beans harvested generates 10 tons of cocoa pod husks”, says Jo Darkwa, professor of energy storage technologies at Nottingham and one of the people behind the Ghanaian project.

Filling the gap

“In the past, this waste material was under-utilised. However, feasibility studies indicate that cocoa pod husks could be converted into valuable bio-fuels and become an important energy supply for rural areas that have only 15% electricity coverage at present.”

The plan is to design, build and put into operation small-scale bio-power electricity generation units that would burn cocoa pod husks in a gasification system. Each unit, which would include a gasifier, a small generator and a solar drier and pelletiser, would cost an estimated US$50,000.

Not only would the units help deal with Ghana’s chronic energy problems but it would also assist in the battle against deforestation, a serious problem for cocoa farmers.

Ghana’s population, now 30 million, is growing fast; about 80% of households in the country use wood as the main source of fuel for cooking and heating water.

As a result, Ghana’s forests are under considerable pressure, with severe consequences not only for wildlife and ecosystems but also for the climate.

“Every ton of cocoa beans harvested generates 10 tons of cocoa pod husks”

Forests are an essential element in the fight against climate change; trees absorb or sequester considerable amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases and help prevent global warming.

“Undoubtedly, provision of sustainable energy services through cocoa pod husks would go a long way towards improving the quality of lives and thus alleviate poverty in rural communities as well as fight against climate change”, Professor Darkwa told Climate News Network.

The aim is not only to build sources of sustainable energy; collection, treatment and processing of the pod husks would also create jobs and provide much-needed incomes in rural communities.

The specialists at Nottingham are collaborating on the project with the Ghana Cocoa Board and various other organisations in Ghana.

A prototype of the new bio-power unit is due to be installed and monitored at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology later this year. – Climate News Network

If you like chocolate you’ll love this: the same tree that provides your indulgent treat is helping to slow climate change, thanks to cocoa fuel.

LONDON, 14 March, 2019 – Sometimes the best solutions to energy problems – and to the fight against climate change – are the simple ones, like cocoa fuel.

Ghana is one of the world’s leading producers of cocoa – the vital ingredient in the multi-billion dollar international chocolate industry.

Cocoa beans are extracted from inside the pod husks of the cocoa tree. Husks are usually discarded during the production process.

Now, in a project led by specialists at the University of Nottingham in the UK, the plan is to use the husks as feedstock in bio-fuel energy installations.

“Ghana is the second highest producer of cocoa in the world and every ton of cocoa beans harvested generates 10 tons of cocoa pod husks”, says Jo Darkwa, professor of energy storage technologies at Nottingham and one of the people behind the Ghanaian project.

Filling the gap

“In the past, this waste material was under-utilised. However, feasibility studies indicate that cocoa pod husks could be converted into valuable bio-fuels and become an important energy supply for rural areas that have only 15% electricity coverage at present.”

The plan is to design, build and put into operation small-scale bio-power electricity generation units that would burn cocoa pod husks in a gasification system. Each unit, which would include a gasifier, a small generator and a solar drier and pelletiser, would cost an estimated US$50,000.

Not only would the units help deal with Ghana’s chronic energy problems but it would also assist in the battle against deforestation, a serious problem for cocoa farmers.

Ghana’s population, now 30 million, is growing fast; about 80% of households in the country use wood as the main source of fuel for cooking and heating water.

As a result, Ghana’s forests are under considerable pressure, with severe consequences not only for wildlife and ecosystems but also for the climate.

“Every ton of cocoa beans harvested generates 10 tons of cocoa pod husks”

Forests are an essential element in the fight against climate change; trees absorb or sequester considerable amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases and help prevent global warming.

“Undoubtedly, provision of sustainable energy services through cocoa pod husks would go a long way towards improving the quality of lives and thus alleviate poverty in rural communities as well as fight against climate change”, Professor Darkwa told Climate News Network.

The aim is not only to build sources of sustainable energy; collection, treatment and processing of the pod husks would also create jobs and provide much-needed incomes in rural communities.

The specialists at Nottingham are collaborating on the project with the Ghana Cocoa Board and various other organisations in Ghana.

A prototype of the new bio-power unit is due to be installed and monitored at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology later this year. – Climate News Network

For offshore wind turbines size matters

As turbines grow in size and costs tumble, offshore wind turbines, both floating and fixed to the seabed, have vast potential.

LONDON, 7 March, 2019 − Offshore wind power is set to become one of the world’s largest electricity producers in the next decade as costs fall and turbines grow in size.

Up till now turbines standing on the seabed near to the coast in Europe have been seen as the most promising technology for offshore wind farms. But the success of floating machines that can be deployed in deeper water has meant many more coastal communities can benefit. Japan and the US are among the countries with the greatest potential.

The speed with which the industry has grown in the last decade has defied all expectations. Large turbines used to have a two to three megawatt output, but now the standard size is 7.5 megawatts and turbines capable of generating up to 10 megawatts are in the pipeline.

As a result the output of one offshore turbine is thirty times greater than with the first ones deployed in 1991 − and the cost has fallen to half that of new nuclear power.

This, coupled with experience showing that the wind blows more steadily out to sea and produces far more consistent power than turbines on land, has led many more countries to see offshore wind as a major potential source of renewable energy. The turbines have shown themselves to be robust even in extreme storm conditions.

“Previous estimates of the growth of renewables, at least wind and solar power, have always been underestimates”

Production has just begun from the world’s largest offshore wind farm in the North Sea, where construction started only in January 2018 and which began feeding power ashore in England 13 months later. The project is enormous, all four phases covering nearly 2,000 square miles, and will produce up to 6 GW of power, the same as five large nuclear power stations.

Apart from the sheer size, the plan is to have the whole development completed by 2025, before the partly-constructed Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in the West of England will start up, and providing return on capital for the investors years before its nuclear rivals.

While the market for turbines fixed to the seabed is expected to continue to grow very fast, it is floating turbines that will be the next big player. These are again huge machines, taking advantage of the steadier
winds out to sea, and not needing expensive seabed foundations.

It took 15 years for the Norwegian state oil company Statoil, now rebranded as Equinor to emphasise its partial move to renewables, to develop the first offshore wind farm 15 miles of the coast of Aberdeen in Scotland.

Outrunning expectations

There are five turbines with blades 175 metres long and a counterweight extending 78 metres below the surface, which is chained to the seabed. The turbines started feeding into the grid in October 2017 and output was soon exceeding expectations.

The fact that it was Statoil that designed and developed the floating turbines is significant. The offshore wind industry uses many of the skills developed by offshore gas and oil ventures and provides an investment opportunity for oil majors under pressure to diversify and show they have green credentials.

A report, Wind Power to Spare, produced last year by a research and campaigning group, Environment America, showed that there was enough potential wind power just off the US east coast to provide more electricity than was currently used in the region’s maritime states – plus enough for powering electric cars and for providing heating for the entire population of the eastern coastal states in the future.

Since the report was published developers, looking at the success of Europe in exploiting this resource, have shown an escalation of interest. The same is true of Japan, where the nuclear industry remains in deep trouble as a result of the Fukushima accident in 2011, with many of its reactors not expected to restart.

Potential ignored

Back in Europe, where offshore wind was first developed, manufacturers are eyeing up potential new markets both in the North Sea and elsewhere. France for example has no offshore wind farms but could deploy hundreds of floating turbines.

Research suggests that water depths in the North Sea are ideal for floating turbines. If half the area available could be covered in turbines they would make enough electricity to power the whole EU four times over.

That prediction is made by Equinor. It also estimates in the same report that by 2030 Japan could have 3.5 gigawatts of floating wind power, France 2.9 GW and the US 2 GW, with a further 1.9 GW in the UK and Ireland.

This would make a significant contribution to reducing the world’s burning of fossil fuels, particularly since previous estimates of the growth of renewables, at least wind and solar power, have always been underestimates. − Climate News Network

As turbines grow in size and costs tumble, offshore wind turbines, both floating and fixed to the seabed, have vast potential.

LONDON, 7 March, 2019 − Offshore wind power is set to become one of the world’s largest electricity producers in the next decade as costs fall and turbines grow in size.

Up till now turbines standing on the seabed near to the coast in Europe have been seen as the most promising technology for offshore wind farms. But the success of floating machines that can be deployed in deeper water has meant many more coastal communities can benefit. Japan and the US are among the countries with the greatest potential.

The speed with which the industry has grown in the last decade has defied all expectations. Large turbines used to have a two to three megawatt output, but now the standard size is 7.5 megawatts and turbines capable of generating up to 10 megawatts are in the pipeline.

As a result the output of one offshore turbine is thirty times greater than with the first ones deployed in 1991 − and the cost has fallen to half that of new nuclear power.

This, coupled with experience showing that the wind blows more steadily out to sea and produces far more consistent power than turbines on land, has led many more countries to see offshore wind as a major potential source of renewable energy. The turbines have shown themselves to be robust even in extreme storm conditions.

“Previous estimates of the growth of renewables, at least wind and solar power, have always been underestimates”

Production has just begun from the world’s largest offshore wind farm in the North Sea, where construction started only in January 2018 and which began feeding power ashore in England 13 months later. The project is enormous, all four phases covering nearly 2,000 square miles, and will produce up to 6 GW of power, the same as five large nuclear power stations.

Apart from the sheer size, the plan is to have the whole development completed by 2025, before the partly-constructed Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in the West of England will start up, and providing return on capital for the investors years before its nuclear rivals.

While the market for turbines fixed to the seabed is expected to continue to grow very fast, it is floating turbines that will be the next big player. These are again huge machines, taking advantage of the steadier
winds out to sea, and not needing expensive seabed foundations.

It took 15 years for the Norwegian state oil company Statoil, now rebranded as Equinor to emphasise its partial move to renewables, to develop the first offshore wind farm 15 miles of the coast of Aberdeen in Scotland.

Outrunning expectations

There are five turbines with blades 175 metres long and a counterweight extending 78 metres below the surface, which is chained to the seabed. The turbines started feeding into the grid in October 2017 and output was soon exceeding expectations.

The fact that it was Statoil that designed and developed the floating turbines is significant. The offshore wind industry uses many of the skills developed by offshore gas and oil ventures and provides an investment opportunity for oil majors under pressure to diversify and show they have green credentials.

A report, Wind Power to Spare, produced last year by a research and campaigning group, Environment America, showed that there was enough potential wind power just off the US east coast to provide more electricity than was currently used in the region’s maritime states – plus enough for powering electric cars and for providing heating for the entire population of the eastern coastal states in the future.

Since the report was published developers, looking at the success of Europe in exploiting this resource, have shown an escalation of interest. The same is true of Japan, where the nuclear industry remains in deep trouble as a result of the Fukushima accident in 2011, with many of its reactors not expected to restart.

Potential ignored

Back in Europe, where offshore wind was first developed, manufacturers are eyeing up potential new markets both in the North Sea and elsewhere. France for example has no offshore wind farms but could deploy hundreds of floating turbines.

Research suggests that water depths in the North Sea are ideal for floating turbines. If half the area available could be covered in turbines they would make enough electricity to power the whole EU four times over.

That prediction is made by Equinor. It also estimates in the same report that by 2030 Japan could have 3.5 gigawatts of floating wind power, France 2.9 GW and the US 2 GW, with a further 1.9 GW in the UK and Ireland.

This would make a significant contribution to reducing the world’s burning of fossil fuels, particularly since previous estimates of the growth of renewables, at least wind and solar power, have always been underestimates. − Climate News Network

Ambitious Danish island ends fossil fuel use

A small Danish island ends fossil fuel use by combining ambitious aims with ensuring that local people have a say in cleaner replacements.

LONDON, 11 February, 2019 Tackling climate change is urgent. It’s too urgent to be feasible, say some critics. But as one Danish island ends fossil fuel use, its story shows it  may be time to think again.

In five years, by 2023, the UK Met Office says, global warming could temporarily rise by more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, the target agreed by 195 governments in 2015. So the world needs to switch fast from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

The island of Samsø, off Denmark’s east coast, has wasted no time. Between 1998 and 2007 it abandoned its total dependence on imported fossil fuels and now relies entirely on renewables, mainly wind and biomass. It’s been singled out as the world’s first 100% renewable island by the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), which says Samsø can teach the world some vital lessons about changing fast and radically.

In 1997 Samsø, with 4,000 inhabitants, entered a Danish government competition to develop a model renewable energy community, aiming to prove that the country’s target of reducing carbon emissions by 21% was achievable.

Samsø’s winning proposal was based on strong community engagement and a cooperative ownership strategy. It showed how to make renewables a social, economic and energy success.

“Policy-making is too often limited to what is do-able in the short-term; establishing an ambitious mission can help reframe a problem, making the impossible possible”

With wind power now projected to be Europe’s biggest energy source by 2027, the RTA says, one essential element in making it work successfully is how it is managed − and Samsø is a trailblazer.

What the islanders did was straightforward enough. By the year 2000 they had installed 11 wind turbines, covering their electricity needs. A further 10 offshore turbines were erected in 2002, generating enough energy to offset emissions from their cars, buses, tractors and the ferry to the mainland. Three-quarters of their heating and hot water now comes from biomass boilers fuelled with locally grown straw.

Samsø’s transition, the Alliance says, proved that a wholesale shift to renewable energy was possible with existing technology and limited government assistance.

Nowadays, residents are producing so much more clean energy than they need (and exporting what they don’t use) that, in effect, they have an average annual CO2 footprint of minus 12 tonnes per person, helping their fellow citizens to lower their emissions too (the average Dane emits 6.2 tonnes of CO2 a year, the average Briton 10 tonnes).

Active buy-in

Samsø, the argument runs, proves the effectiveness of setting ambitious targets – and meeting them. The Alliance says Samsø’s transition is impressive because it was achieved with the active buy-in (both figuratively and financially) of the local community.

Winning hearts and minds was crucial. People often oppose on-shore wind turbines as a visual intrusion, a blot on the landscape. So the transition organisers, Samsø Energy Academy, worked out how to include the islanders as the turbines’ owners.

They had a simple principle: if you could see a turbine from your window, you could sign on as a co-investor, meaning that anyone living with the technology had a stake in it and stood to.benefit

With so many islanders having a direct stake in the turbines there is now near unanimity that the renewable transition has been good for Samsø. Of the 11 onshore turbines, nine are owned privately by local farmers and two by local cooperatives. Five of the offshore turbines are owned by the municipality, three privately and two cooperatively by small shareholders.

Sceptical island

Before the transition began Samsø had relied mainly on oil, with its electricity generated in coal-fired power plants on the mainland. The potential for renewables had not been explored, and there was deep scepticism towards them. A lack of opportunities for education and work had led many young people to leave the island.

The islanders embraced the transition, but not because of climate change. Instead, most looked to its potential to provide jobs, strengthen the local economy and secure greater energy independence.

Key to Samsø’s success, the Alliance believes, was the insistence on transparency, consultation, and starting from what people wanted. From the start there was full disclosure of information, with the master plan published in the island’s library and information shared through the local newspaper and discussed in detail at regular community meetings.

Samsø’s long tradition of agricultural cooperatives also helped to ensure strong local engagement. There was ample time for discussion and decision-making, which helped to build confidence and a strong sense of collective ownership of decisions.

Listening to doubters

Sometimes the organisers’ focus on flexibility and committment to meeting local expectations came at a price. One site planned for an onshore turbine, for example, aroused concerns from birdwatchers, church members and holiday home owners.

So the plans were changed, even though this meant choosing another site where turbine installation was more difficult and less energy could be generated.

The Alliance says: “This meant that the community felt genuine ownership over the siting of the wind turbines, which helped to dispel any negative feelings around them.”

It draws another lesson from Samsø, too. The transition to 100% renewables was achieved, the RTA believes, because the Danish government had an ambitious mission, which everyone wanted to realise:

It says: “Policy-making is too often limited to what is do-able in the short-term; establishing an ambitious mission can help reframe a problem, making the impossible possible.” − 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.

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 small Danish island ends fossil fuel use by combining ambitious aims with ensuring that local people have a say in cleaner replacements.

LONDON, 11 February, 2019 Tackling climate change is urgent. It’s too urgent to be feasible, say some critics. But as one Danish island ends fossil fuel use, its story shows it  may be time to think again.

In five years, by 2023, the UK Met Office says, global warming could temporarily rise by more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, the target agreed by 195 governments in 2015. So the world needs to switch fast from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

The island of Samsø, off Denmark’s east coast, has wasted no time. Between 1998 and 2007 it abandoned its total dependence on imported fossil fuels and now relies entirely on renewables, mainly wind and biomass. It’s been singled out as the world’s first 100% renewable island by the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), which says Samsø can teach the world some vital lessons about changing fast and radically.

In 1997 Samsø, with 4,000 inhabitants, entered a Danish government competition to develop a model renewable energy community, aiming to prove that the country’s target of reducing carbon emissions by 21% was achievable.

Samsø’s winning proposal was based on strong community engagement and a cooperative ownership strategy. It showed how to make renewables a social, economic and energy success.

“Policy-making is too often limited to what is do-able in the short-term; establishing an ambitious mission can help reframe a problem, making the impossible possible”

With wind power now projected to be Europe’s biggest energy source by 2027, the RTA says, one essential element in making it work successfully is how it is managed − and Samsø is a trailblazer.

What the islanders did was straightforward enough. By the year 2000 they had installed 11 wind turbines, covering their electricity needs. A further 10 offshore turbines were erected in 2002, generating enough energy to offset emissions from their cars, buses, tractors and the ferry to the mainland. Three-quarters of their heating and hot water now comes from biomass boilers fuelled with locally grown straw.

Samsø’s transition, the Alliance says, proved that a wholesale shift to renewable energy was possible with existing technology and limited government assistance.

Nowadays, residents are producing so much more clean energy than they need (and exporting what they don’t use) that, in effect, they have an average annual CO2 footprint of minus 12 tonnes per person, helping their fellow citizens to lower their emissions too (the average Dane emits 6.2 tonnes of CO2 a year, the average Briton 10 tonnes).

Active buy-in

Samsø, the argument runs, proves the effectiveness of setting ambitious targets – and meeting them. The Alliance says Samsø’s transition is impressive because it was achieved with the active buy-in (both figuratively and financially) of the local community.

Winning hearts and minds was crucial. People often oppose on-shore wind turbines as a visual intrusion, a blot on the landscape. So the transition organisers, Samsø Energy Academy, worked out how to include the islanders as the turbines’ owners.

They had a simple principle: if you could see a turbine from your window, you could sign on as a co-investor, meaning that anyone living with the technology had a stake in it and stood to.benefit

With so many islanders having a direct stake in the turbines there is now near unanimity that the renewable transition has been good for Samsø. Of the 11 onshore turbines, nine are owned privately by local farmers and two by local cooperatives. Five of the offshore turbines are owned by the municipality, three privately and two cooperatively by small shareholders.

Sceptical island

Before the transition began Samsø had relied mainly on oil, with its electricity generated in coal-fired power plants on the mainland. The potential for renewables had not been explored, and there was deep scepticism towards them. A lack of opportunities for education and work had led many young people to leave the island.

The islanders embraced the transition, but not because of climate change. Instead, most looked to its potential to provide jobs, strengthen the local economy and secure greater energy independence.

Key to Samsø’s success, the Alliance believes, was the insistence on transparency, consultation, and starting from what people wanted. From the start there was full disclosure of information, with the master plan published in the island’s library and information shared through the local newspaper and discussed in detail at regular community meetings.

Samsø’s long tradition of agricultural cooperatives also helped to ensure strong local engagement. There was ample time for discussion and decision-making, which helped to build confidence and a strong sense of collective ownership of decisions.

Listening to doubters

Sometimes the organisers’ focus on flexibility and committment to meeting local expectations came at a price. One site planned for an onshore turbine, for example, aroused concerns from birdwatchers, church members and holiday home owners.

So the plans were changed, even though this meant choosing another site where turbine installation was more difficult and less energy could be generated.

The Alliance says: “This meant that the community felt genuine ownership over the siting of the wind turbines, which helped to dispel any negative feelings around them.”

It draws another lesson from Samsø, too. The transition to 100% renewables was achieved, the RTA believes, because the Danish government had an ambitious mission, which everyone wanted to realise:

It says: “Policy-making is too often limited to what is do-able in the short-term; establishing an ambitious mission can help reframe a problem, making the impossible possible.” − 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.

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.

Energy from greenhouse gases is possible

Laboratories can make energy from greenhouse gases, power smartphones with their own radiation, and cut shipping costs naturally. And each could become reality.

LONDON, 8 February, 2019 – Researchers have found ways to realise a modern version of the medieval alchemists’ dream  not turning base metals into gold, but conjuring energy from greenhouse gases, exploiting abundant pollutants to help to power the world.

Korean scientists have developed a sophisticated fuel cell that consumes carbon dioxide and produces electricity and hydrogen – potentially another fuel – at the same time.

Researchers based in the US and Spain have devised a nanoscale fabric that converts electromagnetic waves into electrical current.

The dream is that a smartphone coated with the fabric could, without benefit of a battery, charge itself from the ambient wi-fi radiation that it exploits for texts, calls and data.

German scientists have taken a leaf from nature’s book and applied it – so far in theory – to bulk cargo shipping. Salvinia molesta, a floating fern native to Brazil, isolates itself from water with a thin sheath of air. If the large carriers could adopt the Salvinia trick and incorporate a similar layer of air in the anti-fouling coating on the hull, this would reduce drag sufficiently to save 20% of fuel costs.

To the Urals

And in yet another demonstration of the ingenuity and innovative ambition on show in the world’s laboratories, another German team has looked at the large-scale climate economics of artificial photosynthesis – a system of semiconductors and oxides – that could draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and deliver stable chemical compounds.

To take 10 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere each year would demand a forest that covered all Europe as far as the Urals. But to do the same job, a commercial forest of “artificial leaves” would require a land area about the size of the German federal state of Brandenburg.

All these ideas are ready for further development. None is so far anywhere near the commercial market.

But all are evidence that chemists, engineers, physicists and biologists have taken up the great climate challenge: how to power modern society without fuelling even faster global warming and climate change that could, ultimately, bring global economic growth to a devastating halt.

And, as many researchers see it, that means not just by-passing the fossil fuels that drive climate change, but actively exploiting the ever-higher ratios of carbon dioxide now in the atmosphere, or soon to emerge from power station chimneys

“The best thing now would be to drastically reduce emissions immediately – that would be safer and much cheaper”

Scientists at UNIST, Korea’s National Institute of Science and Technology, report in the journal iScience that in collaboration with engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US they have already developed a hybrid sodium-carbon dioxide system of electrolytes that converts dissolved carbon dioxide to sodium bicarbonate and hydrogen, with a flow of electric current.

Efficiency is high – with 50% of the carbon dioxide exploited – and could be higher. And their test apparatus so far has run in stable fashion for 1000 hours. The system uses a new approach to materials to exploit something in the air everywhere.

And that too is exactly what researchers in the US have done: they report in the journal Nature that they have fashioned a flexible sheet of ultra-thin material that serves as what they call a “rectenna”: a radio-frequency antenna that harvests radiation, including wi-fi signals, as alternating current waveforms, and feeds them to a nanoscale semiconductor that converts it to direct current.

So far, the rectenna devices have produced 40 microwatts of power: enough to fire up a light-emitting diode, or power a silicon chip.

“We have come up with a new way to power the electronics systems of the future – by harvesting wi-fi energy in a way that’s easily integrated in large areas – to bring intelligence to every object around us,” said Tomás Palacios, an electrical engineer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and one of the authors.

Magic carpet

The waterweed Salvinia molesta exploits bubbles to keep itself afloat but out of the water: it literally rides in the water on a little magic carpet of air. The hydrophobic plant is regarded as an invasive pest, but the way it harnesses air to keep itself afloat and on top of things provides a lesson not just for evolutionary biologists but for engineers.

Researchers from the University of Bonn have been looking at the problem of the global shipping fleet: cargo freighters burn 250 million tonnes of fuel a year and emit a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, much of it because of the sheer drag of moving a hull through the waves. So anything that reduces drag saves fuel (which accounts for half of all transport costs).

The German scientists report in the Philosophical Transactions A of the Royal Society that their experiments with hull coatings based on the lessons of Salvinia could in the medium term cut fuel costs by up to 20% and on a global scale reduce emissions by 130 million tonnes a year. If the same coating discouraged barnacles as well, the saving could reach 300 million tonnes – 1% of global CO2 output.

To keep global warming to the promised level of no more than 1.5°C, an ambition signed up to by 195 nations in Paris in 2015, global fossil fuel emissions will have to reach zero by 2050.

Right now, nations are adding 42 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year. So there is pressure to find ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it.

Huge economy

German scientists report in the journal Earth System Dynamics that they did the sums and calculated that to take 10 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere using the machinery supplied by 3 billion years of evolution would require new forest plantations that stretched over 10 million kilometres. This is about the size of continental Europe.

But supposing artificial leaf systems developed in laboratories could be further developed on a massive scale? These leaves would draw down carbon dioxide and deliver it for permanent storage or for chemical conversion to plastic or building material.

If so, then efficient synthetic photosynthesis installations could do the same job from an area of only 30,000 square kilometres.

“These kinds of modules could be placed in non-agricultural regions – in deserts, for example. In contrast to plants, they require hardly any water to operate,” said Matthias May of the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin, one of the authors. It would of course come at a formidable cost – about €650 bn
or US$740 bn a year.

“The best thing now,” Dr May said, “would be to drastically reduce emissions immediately – that would be safer and much cheaper.” – Climate News Network

Laboratories can make energy from greenhouse gases, power smartphones with their own radiation, and cut shipping costs naturally. And each could become reality.

LONDON, 8 February, 2019 – Researchers have found ways to realise a modern version of the medieval alchemists’ dream  not turning base metals into gold, but conjuring energy from greenhouse gases, exploiting abundant pollutants to help to power the world.

Korean scientists have developed a sophisticated fuel cell that consumes carbon dioxide and produces electricity and hydrogen – potentially another fuel – at the same time.

Researchers based in the US and Spain have devised a nanoscale fabric that converts electromagnetic waves into electrical current.

The dream is that a smartphone coated with the fabric could, without benefit of a battery, charge itself from the ambient wi-fi radiation that it exploits for texts, calls and data.

German scientists have taken a leaf from nature’s book and applied it – so far in theory – to bulk cargo shipping. Salvinia molesta, a floating fern native to Brazil, isolates itself from water with a thin sheath of air. If the large carriers could adopt the Salvinia trick and incorporate a similar layer of air in the anti-fouling coating on the hull, this would reduce drag sufficiently to save 20% of fuel costs.

To the Urals

And in yet another demonstration of the ingenuity and innovative ambition on show in the world’s laboratories, another German team has looked at the large-scale climate economics of artificial photosynthesis – a system of semiconductors and oxides – that could draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and deliver stable chemical compounds.

To take 10 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere each year would demand a forest that covered all Europe as far as the Urals. But to do the same job, a commercial forest of “artificial leaves” would require a land area about the size of the German federal state of Brandenburg.

All these ideas are ready for further development. None is so far anywhere near the commercial market.

But all are evidence that chemists, engineers, physicists and biologists have taken up the great climate challenge: how to power modern society without fuelling even faster global warming and climate change that could, ultimately, bring global economic growth to a devastating halt.

And, as many researchers see it, that means not just by-passing the fossil fuels that drive climate change, but actively exploiting the ever-higher ratios of carbon dioxide now in the atmosphere, or soon to emerge from power station chimneys

“The best thing now would be to drastically reduce emissions immediately – that would be safer and much cheaper”

Scientists at UNIST, Korea’s National Institute of Science and Technology, report in the journal iScience that in collaboration with engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US they have already developed a hybrid sodium-carbon dioxide system of electrolytes that converts dissolved carbon dioxide to sodium bicarbonate and hydrogen, with a flow of electric current.

Efficiency is high – with 50% of the carbon dioxide exploited – and could be higher. And their test apparatus so far has run in stable fashion for 1000 hours. The system uses a new approach to materials to exploit something in the air everywhere.

And that too is exactly what researchers in the US have done: they report in the journal Nature that they have fashioned a flexible sheet of ultra-thin material that serves as what they call a “rectenna”: a radio-frequency antenna that harvests radiation, including wi-fi signals, as alternating current waveforms, and feeds them to a nanoscale semiconductor that converts it to direct current.

So far, the rectenna devices have produced 40 microwatts of power: enough to fire up a light-emitting diode, or power a silicon chip.

“We have come up with a new way to power the electronics systems of the future – by harvesting wi-fi energy in a way that’s easily integrated in large areas – to bring intelligence to every object around us,” said Tomás Palacios, an electrical engineer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and one of the authors.

Magic carpet

The waterweed Salvinia molesta exploits bubbles to keep itself afloat but out of the water: it literally rides in the water on a little magic carpet of air. The hydrophobic plant is regarded as an invasive pest, but the way it harnesses air to keep itself afloat and on top of things provides a lesson not just for evolutionary biologists but for engineers.

Researchers from the University of Bonn have been looking at the problem of the global shipping fleet: cargo freighters burn 250 million tonnes of fuel a year and emit a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, much of it because of the sheer drag of moving a hull through the waves. So anything that reduces drag saves fuel (which accounts for half of all transport costs).

The German scientists report in the Philosophical Transactions A of the Royal Society that their experiments with hull coatings based on the lessons of Salvinia could in the medium term cut fuel costs by up to 20% and on a global scale reduce emissions by 130 million tonnes a year. If the same coating discouraged barnacles as well, the saving could reach 300 million tonnes – 1% of global CO2 output.

To keep global warming to the promised level of no more than 1.5°C, an ambition signed up to by 195 nations in Paris in 2015, global fossil fuel emissions will have to reach zero by 2050.

Right now, nations are adding 42 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year. So there is pressure to find ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it.

Huge economy

German scientists report in the journal Earth System Dynamics that they did the sums and calculated that to take 10 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere using the machinery supplied by 3 billion years of evolution would require new forest plantations that stretched over 10 million kilometres. This is about the size of continental Europe.

But supposing artificial leaf systems developed in laboratories could be further developed on a massive scale? These leaves would draw down carbon dioxide and deliver it for permanent storage or for chemical conversion to plastic or building material.

If so, then efficient synthetic photosynthesis installations could do the same job from an area of only 30,000 square kilometres.

“These kinds of modules could be placed in non-agricultural regions – in deserts, for example. In contrast to plants, they require hardly any water to operate,” said Matthias May of the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin, one of the authors. It would of course come at a formidable cost – about €650 bn
or US$740 bn a year.

“The best thing now,” Dr May said, “would be to drastically reduce emissions immediately – that would be safer and much cheaper.” – Climate News Network

Pyrenees pipeline veto is setback for gas

The global gas industry’s prospects will suffer from the Pyrenees pipeline veto imposed by regulators, say opponents of fossil fuels.

LONDON, 30 January, 2019 − The Pyrenees pipeline veto announced by regulators in France and Spain, rejecting plans to complete a €3 billion (£2.6 bn) gas link between both countries, is being hailed as a major victory by climate change protestors.

The pipeline, which would have doubled the capacity for transporting natural gas through the mountains on the Franco-Spanish border, was supported by the European Union as a way to reduce its reliance on Russian gas, but the project now appears doomed.

Campaigners in both countries said it was a defeat for the fossil fuel industry and a major step in preventing the EU from continuing to rely on gas instead of renewables.

“MidCat”, as the proposed Midi-Catalunya pipeline was known, would have allowed the flow of gas in both directions across the Pyrenees. Significantly, it would have allowed liquefied gas from terminals in Spain to be pumped north to France to replace an estimated 10% of the gas coming south from Russia.

Energy corporations Enagás and Teréga have been promoting its construction since 2005, and in 2013 the European Commission added the project to its list of favoured “Projects of Common Interest”.

“The gas industry should realise that the party is over and that we can’t keep sinking taxpayer billions into more fossil fuels”

The companies presented the pipeline as a necessary piece of infrastructure to improve Europe’s energy security and to fight against climate change, but protestors said the money should instead have been invested in renewables.

Although it was only one of 90 projects designed to improve the transport of gas in the EU, it was one of the largest. Gas companies have lobbied hard everywhere in Europe to get the Commission and politicians to see gas as an interim step between coal and renewables, but campaigners say the climate cannot afford to burn gas either.

Clemence Dubois, a campaigner at 350.org, said: “All across Europe, we are building a future free of fossil fuels. Together we are making it harder and harder for dirty energy companies to build their pipelines and impose a destructive and outdated model of business.

“We have won an important victory because we have prevented the construction of a major piece of infrastructure that is totally incompatible with a liveable climate.”

Last week the French Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE) and the Spanish National Commission on Markets and Competition  (CNMC) issued a joint statement rejecting the scheme, not on climate grounds but because they said it was too costly and they could not see a sufficient need for it.

Red card

Antoine Simon, fossil free campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, said: “This dramatic red card to the MidCat gas pipeline marks a major victory in the fight to stop a new climate-wrecking fossil gas project. Activists, NGOs and local communities have been fighting this useless project for years, knowing it’s bad for taxpayers, consumers, local people, and the climate – and today they’ve been proved right.

“This is a major setback for the gas industry, and calls into question the hundred other gas projects that the EU has prioritised for support, all of which are similarly unviable. Gas is a dangerous fossil fuel which is killing the climate.

“The gas industry should realise that the party is over and that we can’t keep sinking taxpayer billions into more fossil fuels.”

Although there has been fierce opposition from environment groups in the region, the pipeline’s future was in doubt from the moment the Spanish Conservative government lost power in June last year and socialists took over the environment ministry.

When last November Spain pledged to switch to 100% renewable electricity by 2050 and to become carbon-neutral soon afterwards, it was clear that the new pipeline was unlikely to find favour. − Climate News Network

The global gas industry’s prospects will suffer from the Pyrenees pipeline veto imposed by regulators, say opponents of fossil fuels.

LONDON, 30 January, 2019 − The Pyrenees pipeline veto announced by regulators in France and Spain, rejecting plans to complete a €3 billion (£2.6 bn) gas link between both countries, is being hailed as a major victory by climate change protestors.

The pipeline, which would have doubled the capacity for transporting natural gas through the mountains on the Franco-Spanish border, was supported by the European Union as a way to reduce its reliance on Russian gas, but the project now appears doomed.

Campaigners in both countries said it was a defeat for the fossil fuel industry and a major step in preventing the EU from continuing to rely on gas instead of renewables.

“MidCat”, as the proposed Midi-Catalunya pipeline was known, would have allowed the flow of gas in both directions across the Pyrenees. Significantly, it would have allowed liquefied gas from terminals in Spain to be pumped north to France to replace an estimated 10% of the gas coming south from Russia.

Energy corporations Enagás and Teréga have been promoting its construction since 2005, and in 2013 the European Commission added the project to its list of favoured “Projects of Common Interest”.

“The gas industry should realise that the party is over and that we can’t keep sinking taxpayer billions into more fossil fuels”

The companies presented the pipeline as a necessary piece of infrastructure to improve Europe’s energy security and to fight against climate change, but protestors said the money should instead have been invested in renewables.

Although it was only one of 90 projects designed to improve the transport of gas in the EU, it was one of the largest. Gas companies have lobbied hard everywhere in Europe to get the Commission and politicians to see gas as an interim step between coal and renewables, but campaigners say the climate cannot afford to burn gas either.

Clemence Dubois, a campaigner at 350.org, said: “All across Europe, we are building a future free of fossil fuels. Together we are making it harder and harder for dirty energy companies to build their pipelines and impose a destructive and outdated model of business.

“We have won an important victory because we have prevented the construction of a major piece of infrastructure that is totally incompatible with a liveable climate.”

Last week the French Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE) and the Spanish National Commission on Markets and Competition  (CNMC) issued a joint statement rejecting the scheme, not on climate grounds but because they said it was too costly and they could not see a sufficient need for it.

Red card

Antoine Simon, fossil free campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, said: “This dramatic red card to the MidCat gas pipeline marks a major victory in the fight to stop a new climate-wrecking fossil gas project. Activists, NGOs and local communities have been fighting this useless project for years, knowing it’s bad for taxpayers, consumers, local people, and the climate – and today they’ve been proved right.

“This is a major setback for the gas industry, and calls into question the hundred other gas projects that the EU has prioritised for support, all of which are similarly unviable. Gas is a dangerous fossil fuel which is killing the climate.

“The gas industry should realise that the party is over and that we can’t keep sinking taxpayer billions into more fossil fuels.”

Although there has been fierce opposition from environment groups in the region, the pipeline’s future was in doubt from the moment the Spanish Conservative government lost power in June last year and socialists took over the environment ministry.

When last November Spain pledged to switch to 100% renewable electricity by 2050 and to become carbon-neutral soon afterwards, it was clear that the new pipeline was unlikely to find favour. − Climate News Network

Junk fossil fuel plants and stay below 1.5°C

The world could yet contain global warming to 1.5°C – but only if governments act now to junk fossil fuel plants and ditch all those smoking power stations.

LONDON, 24 January, 2019 British scientists have worked out how to make sure of a better-than-even chance that 195 nations can fulfill a promise made in Paris in 2015 to stop global warming at 1.5°C by the end of the century: junk fossil fuel plants.

The answer is simple: phase out fossil fuel hardware as soon as it reaches the end of its effective life. Scrap the old petrol-powered car and buy electric. Shut down the coal-burning power generator and get electricity from the wind or the sunlight. Find some renewable fuel for jet planes. Deliver transoceanic cargoes with a marine fuel that isn’t derived from oil or coal.

There is a catch. Those 195 nations should have already started doing all these things by the end of 2018. To delay a start until 2030 could mean failure, even if – little more than a decade from now – the world then accelerated its escape from fossil fuel addiction.

“Although the challenges laid out by the Paris Agreement are daunting, we indicate 1.5°C remains possible and is attainable with ambitious and immediate emission reduction across all sectors”, the researchers say in the journal Nature Communications.

Long working life

Their study is based on the match of climate models and a range of possible scenarios and is focused on energy generation, transport and industry: these account for 85% of the carbon dioxide emissions that have begun to warm the planet and change the climate, and for which researchers have the most reliable lifetime data.

“All fossil fuel infrastructure, such as coal power plants, carries a climate change commitment. A new coal plant will emit carbon dioxide for roughly 40 years across its lifecycle which in turn affects global warming,” said Christopher Smith, of the University of Leeds, who worked with colleagues from Britain, Norway, Austria, Switzerland and Canada to model a huge range of possibilities to identify a timetable strategy with a probability of success of 64%.

“Investments into carbon-intensive infrastructure and their development and maintenance lock us in to the associated carbon emissions and make the transition to lower-carbon alternatives more difficult.

“Our research found that the current amount of fossil fuel infrastructure in the global economy does not yet commit us to exceeding the 1.5°C temperature rise limit put forward by the Paris Agreement.

“Climate change policy does need some good news, and [the] message is that we are not (quite) doomed yet”

“We may have missed starting the phase-out by the end of 2018, but we are still within the margin of achieving the scenario the model put forward.”

The implication is that no new oil wells should be drilled, or mines opened; no more coal-burning or oil-burning power plant commissioned. Infrastructure in use now will be retired when it reaches the end of its life, perhaps 40 years from now.

The scientists don’t discuss how feasible – in political, economic and development terms – such a step will be. Their point is that, to keep the Paris promise, the world must start now.

And their assumption does not incorporate any of the much-feared and potentially catastrophic changes in the near future, as ice caps melt and permafrost thaws to release vast quantities of carbon trapped in once-frozen Arctic soils, and make global warming accelerate.

Series of warnings

The study is not the first to warn that the time available for ending fossil fuel dependence and switching to renewable energy resources is limited. Almost as soon as the world made its historic agreement in Paris many scientists warned that on the basis of pledges made at the time the target would be difficult or impossible to achieve.

The planet has already warmed by 1°C since the Industrial Revolution began to release ever greater levels of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. One study forecast that a world already at least 1.5°C warmer than it had been for most of human history could arrive by 2026.

Other scientists have welcomed the Leeds research. “Climate change policy does need some good news, and their message is that we are not (quite) doomed yet,” said Phillip Williamson of the University of East Anglia.

“If from now on the greenhouse gas-emitting power plants, factories, cars, ships and planes are replaced by non-polluting alternatives as they reach the end of their lifetimes, then the threshold of 1.5°C warming might not be crossed. Yet that is a very big ‘if’.” – Climate News Network

The world could yet contain global warming to 1.5°C – but only if governments act now to junk fossil fuel plants and ditch all those smoking power stations.

LONDON, 24 January, 2019 British scientists have worked out how to make sure of a better-than-even chance that 195 nations can fulfill a promise made in Paris in 2015 to stop global warming at 1.5°C by the end of the century: junk fossil fuel plants.

The answer is simple: phase out fossil fuel hardware as soon as it reaches the end of its effective life. Scrap the old petrol-powered car and buy electric. Shut down the coal-burning power generator and get electricity from the wind or the sunlight. Find some renewable fuel for jet planes. Deliver transoceanic cargoes with a marine fuel that isn’t derived from oil or coal.

There is a catch. Those 195 nations should have already started doing all these things by the end of 2018. To delay a start until 2030 could mean failure, even if – little more than a decade from now – the world then accelerated its escape from fossil fuel addiction.

“Although the challenges laid out by the Paris Agreement are daunting, we indicate 1.5°C remains possible and is attainable with ambitious and immediate emission reduction across all sectors”, the researchers say in the journal Nature Communications.

Long working life

Their study is based on the match of climate models and a range of possible scenarios and is focused on energy generation, transport and industry: these account for 85% of the carbon dioxide emissions that have begun to warm the planet and change the climate, and for which researchers have the most reliable lifetime data.

“All fossil fuel infrastructure, such as coal power plants, carries a climate change commitment. A new coal plant will emit carbon dioxide for roughly 40 years across its lifecycle which in turn affects global warming,” said Christopher Smith, of the University of Leeds, who worked with colleagues from Britain, Norway, Austria, Switzerland and Canada to model a huge range of possibilities to identify a timetable strategy with a probability of success of 64%.

“Investments into carbon-intensive infrastructure and their development and maintenance lock us in to the associated carbon emissions and make the transition to lower-carbon alternatives more difficult.

“Our research found that the current amount of fossil fuel infrastructure in the global economy does not yet commit us to exceeding the 1.5°C temperature rise limit put forward by the Paris Agreement.

“Climate change policy does need some good news, and [the] message is that we are not (quite) doomed yet”

“We may have missed starting the phase-out by the end of 2018, but we are still within the margin of achieving the scenario the model put forward.”

The implication is that no new oil wells should be drilled, or mines opened; no more coal-burning or oil-burning power plant commissioned. Infrastructure in use now will be retired when it reaches the end of its life, perhaps 40 years from now.

The scientists don’t discuss how feasible – in political, economic and development terms – such a step will be. Their point is that, to keep the Paris promise, the world must start now.

And their assumption does not incorporate any of the much-feared and potentially catastrophic changes in the near future, as ice caps melt and permafrost thaws to release vast quantities of carbon trapped in once-frozen Arctic soils, and make global warming accelerate.

Series of warnings

The study is not the first to warn that the time available for ending fossil fuel dependence and switching to renewable energy resources is limited. Almost as soon as the world made its historic agreement in Paris many scientists warned that on the basis of pledges made at the time the target would be difficult or impossible to achieve.

The planet has already warmed by 1°C since the Industrial Revolution began to release ever greater levels of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. One study forecast that a world already at least 1.5°C warmer than it had been for most of human history could arrive by 2026.

Other scientists have welcomed the Leeds research. “Climate change policy does need some good news, and their message is that we are not (quite) doomed yet,” said Phillip Williamson of the University of East Anglia.

“If from now on the greenhouse gas-emitting power plants, factories, cars, ships and planes are replaced by non-polluting alternatives as they reach the end of their lifetimes, then the threshold of 1.5°C warming might not be crossed. Yet that is a very big ‘if’.” – Climate News Network

Nuclear sunset overtakes fading dreams

As atomic energy gets ever more difficult to afford and renewables become steadily cheaper, a nuclear sunset awaits plans for new plants.

LONDON, 21 January, 2019 − Once hailed as a key part of the energy future of the United Kingdom and several other countries, the high-tech atomic industry is now heading in the opposite direction, towards nuclear sunset.

It took another body blow last week when plans to build four new reactors on two sites in the UK were abandoned as too costly by the Japanese company Hitachi. This was even though it had already sunk £2.14 billion (300 bn yen) in the scheme.

Following the decision in November by another Japanese giant, Toshiba, to abandon an equally ambitious scheme to build three reactors at Moorside in the north-west of England, the future of the industry in the UK looks bleak.

The latest withdrawal means the end of the Japanese dream of keeping its nuclear industry alive by exporting its technology overseas. With the domestic market killed by the Fukushima disaster in 2011, overseas sales were to have been its salvation.

UK policy needed

It also leaves the British plan to lead an international nuclear renaissance by building ten new nuclear stations in the UK in tatters, with the government facing an urgent need for a new energy policy.

Across the world the nuclear industry is faring badly, with costs continuing to rise while the main competitors, renewables, both wind and solar, fall in price. The cost of new nuclear is now roughly three times that of both wind and solar, and even existing nuclear stations are struggling to compete.

Plans by another Japanese giant, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, to build four reactors at Sinop on the Black Sea coast of Turkey in partnership with the French were also abandoned in December because of ever-escalating costs.

These reverses mean that the main players left in the business of building large reactors are state-owned – EDF in France, Kepco in South Korea, Rosatom in Russia, and a number of Chinese companies. No private company is now apparently large enough to bear the costs and risk of building nuclear power stations.

Sole survivor

In the UK only one of the original 10 planned nuclear stations is currently under construction. This is the twin reactor plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset in the West of England being built by EDF, a construction project twice as big as the Channel Tunnel, and at a cost of £20 bn (US$25.7 bn).

Already, almost before the first concrete was poured, and with 3,000 people working on the project, it is two years behind schedule and its completion date has been put back to 2027.

The problem for EDF and Kepco is that both France and South Korea have gone cool on nuclear power, both governments realising that renewables are a cheaper and better option to reduce carbon emissions.

“The cost of new nuclear is now roughly three times that of both wind and solar, and even existing nuclear stations are struggling to compete”

To keep expanding, both companies need to export their technology, which means finding other governments prepared to subsidise them, a tall order when the price is so high.

EDF’s current export markets are China and the UK. In England, in addition to Hinkley Point, EDF plans another two reactors on the east coast. How the heavily-indebted company will finance this is still to be negotiated with the UK government. China has bought two French reactors, but there are no signs of new orders.

Kepco is building four reactors in the United Arab Emirates,  a contract obtained in 2009 and worth $20 bn, but it has obtained no orders since.

That leaves Russia and China as the main players. Since nuclear exports for both countries are more a means of exerting political influence than making any financial gain, the cost is of secondary importance and both countries are prepared to offer soft loans to anyone who wants one of their nuclear power stations.

Growth points

On this basis Russia is currently building two reactors in Bangladesh and has a number of agreements with other countries to export stations. Last year construction started on a Russian reactor in Turkey.

China has been the main engine for growth in the nuclear industry, partly to feed the country’s ever-growing need for more electricity. In 2018 only two countries started new reactors – eight were in China and two in Russia.

Significantly, while China has accounted for 35 of the 59 units started up in the world in the last decade and has another dozen reactors under construction, the country has not opened any new construction site for a reactor since December 2016.

By contrast, in both 2017 and 2018 the Chinese have dramatically increased installation of both solar and wind farms, obviously a much quicker route to reducing the country’s damaging air pollution.

Maintenance problems

While there are 417 nuclear reactors still operating across the world and still a significant contributor to electricity production in some countries, many of them are now well past their original design life and increasingly difficult to maintain to modern safety standards.

There is little sign of political will outside China and Russia to replace them with new ones.

Even in the UK, with a government that has encouraged nuclear power, there is increasing resistance from consumers to new nuclear plants, as they will be asked to pay dearly through their utility bills for the privilege.

Despite the fact that the UK nuclear lobby is strong, its influence may wane when consumers realise that the country has ample opportunities to deploy off-shore and on-shore wind turbines, solar and tidal power at much lower cost. − Climate News Network

As atomic energy gets ever more difficult to afford and renewables become steadily cheaper, a nuclear sunset awaits plans for new plants.

LONDON, 21 January, 2019 − Once hailed as a key part of the energy future of the United Kingdom and several other countries, the high-tech atomic industry is now heading in the opposite direction, towards nuclear sunset.

It took another body blow last week when plans to build four new reactors on two sites in the UK were abandoned as too costly by the Japanese company Hitachi. This was even though it had already sunk £2.14 billion (300 bn yen) in the scheme.

Following the decision in November by another Japanese giant, Toshiba, to abandon an equally ambitious scheme to build three reactors at Moorside in the north-west of England, the future of the industry in the UK looks bleak.

The latest withdrawal means the end of the Japanese dream of keeping its nuclear industry alive by exporting its technology overseas. With the domestic market killed by the Fukushima disaster in 2011, overseas sales were to have been its salvation.

UK policy needed

It also leaves the British plan to lead an international nuclear renaissance by building ten new nuclear stations in the UK in tatters, with the government facing an urgent need for a new energy policy.

Across the world the nuclear industry is faring badly, with costs continuing to rise while the main competitors, renewables, both wind and solar, fall in price. The cost of new nuclear is now roughly three times that of both wind and solar, and even existing nuclear stations are struggling to compete.

Plans by another Japanese giant, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, to build four reactors at Sinop on the Black Sea coast of Turkey in partnership with the French were also abandoned in December because of ever-escalating costs.

These reverses mean that the main players left in the business of building large reactors are state-owned – EDF in France, Kepco in South Korea, Rosatom in Russia, and a number of Chinese companies. No private company is now apparently large enough to bear the costs and risk of building nuclear power stations.

Sole survivor

In the UK only one of the original 10 planned nuclear stations is currently under construction. This is the twin reactor plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset in the West of England being built by EDF, a construction project twice as big as the Channel Tunnel, and at a cost of £20 bn (US$25.7 bn).

Already, almost before the first concrete was poured, and with 3,000 people working on the project, it is two years behind schedule and its completion date has been put back to 2027.

The problem for EDF and Kepco is that both France and South Korea have gone cool on nuclear power, both governments realising that renewables are a cheaper and better option to reduce carbon emissions.

“The cost of new nuclear is now roughly three times that of both wind and solar, and even existing nuclear stations are struggling to compete”

To keep expanding, both companies need to export their technology, which means finding other governments prepared to subsidise them, a tall order when the price is so high.

EDF’s current export markets are China and the UK. In England, in addition to Hinkley Point, EDF plans another two reactors on the east coast. How the heavily-indebted company will finance this is still to be negotiated with the UK government. China has bought two French reactors, but there are no signs of new orders.

Kepco is building four reactors in the United Arab Emirates,  a contract obtained in 2009 and worth $20 bn, but it has obtained no orders since.

That leaves Russia and China as the main players. Since nuclear exports for both countries are more a means of exerting political influence than making any financial gain, the cost is of secondary importance and both countries are prepared to offer soft loans to anyone who wants one of their nuclear power stations.

Growth points

On this basis Russia is currently building two reactors in Bangladesh and has a number of agreements with other countries to export stations. Last year construction started on a Russian reactor in Turkey.

China has been the main engine for growth in the nuclear industry, partly to feed the country’s ever-growing need for more electricity. In 2018 only two countries started new reactors – eight were in China and two in Russia.

Significantly, while China has accounted for 35 of the 59 units started up in the world in the last decade and has another dozen reactors under construction, the country has not opened any new construction site for a reactor since December 2016.

By contrast, in both 2017 and 2018 the Chinese have dramatically increased installation of both solar and wind farms, obviously a much quicker route to reducing the country’s damaging air pollution.

Maintenance problems

While there are 417 nuclear reactors still operating across the world and still a significant contributor to electricity production in some countries, many of them are now well past their original design life and increasingly difficult to maintain to modern safety standards.

There is little sign of political will outside China and Russia to replace them with new ones.

Even in the UK, with a government that has encouraged nuclear power, there is increasing resistance from consumers to new nuclear plants, as they will be asked to pay dearly through their utility bills for the privilege.

Despite the fact that the UK nuclear lobby is strong, its influence may wane when consumers realise that the country has ample opportunities to deploy off-shore and on-shore wind turbines, solar and tidal power at much lower cost. − Climate News Network