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How China has embraced renewable energy and Hong Kong hasn’t, and what’s behind city’s green power inertia

Summer 2016 saw record heat, and health problems from air pollution are rising, yet green energy projects have been shelved or denied funding; electricity firms lack incentives to go green, WWF says

Professor Johnny Chan Chun-leung is one of Hong Kong’s most eminent climate and energy scientists, and he is a very frustrated man. This month Beijing announced it would invest 2.5 trillion yuan (HK$2.8 trillion) in renewable energy technology by 2020 to establish the nation as world leader in sustainable and clean energy, and create 13 million jobs. Meanwhile, Chan and other respected scientists in Hong Kong are struggling to obtain financial support for their green energy projects.

Whereas China embraces wind, tide, solar and wave energy as essential tools to tackle climate change and its acute air pollution, attitudes in Hong Kong appear as fossilised as the fuel that provides 78 per cent of its energy needs.

Chan, chair professor of atmospheric science at the City University of Hong Kong’s School of Energy and Environment, outlined details of an innovative tidal turbine project at a conference on renewable energy last week, organised by the city’s Business Environment Council. Chan’s team has developed a system that can generate electricity even in low tidal streams, typical of the seas around Hong Kong. Though it is early days, trials staged at the Gold Coast Marina in the city’s Tuen Mun district produced encouraging results.

He now needs funding to scale it up, with a view to offering the city a viable green energy alternative, but his application to the Environment and Conservation Fund for HK$2 million was rejected. “The ECF told me today that I ‘did not demonstrate the merits and contributions of the proposed study to environmental protection’,” he says. “How ridiculous.”

It is not an isolated incident. Others complain privately that Hong Kong funding bodies are “overly risk averse” and are rarely enthusiastic about funding green energy research and development.

“I believe more can be done to promote local funding for R&D for all renewable energy components,” says Dr Walid Daoud, a solar energy expert from City University and another speaker at the council’s conference. Many believe these difficulties are just one symptom of a wider malaise when it comes to supporting green energy in Hong Kong.

“Hong Kong performs badly in overall carbon emissions and renewable energy,” says Cheung Chi-wah, senior head of climate and footprint programmes at environmental campaign group WWF-Hong Kong. He notes that the city’s emissions of greenhouse gases responsible for global warming have been rising steadily and are 23 per cent above their level in 2002. That was the same year the Hong Kong government published its first study of renewable energy, compiled by the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department. The report estimated that 17 per cent of Hong Kong’s energy needs could be supplied by solar power alone.

It also made a key primary recommendation that the government should set targets for renewable energy’s contribution to demand of 1 per cent, 2 per cent and 3 per cent for 2012, 2017 and 2022, respectively. Nearly 15 years later, with electricity consumption rising about 5 per cent a year, the city recording record-breaking temperatures last summer, and health problems due to worsening air pollution growing, very little has been achieved. Instead of the proposed 2 per cent target for 2017, the latest data shows that the proportion of energy used in the city that is produced by renewable means is still less than 1 per cent – far from the 17 per cent potential – and the targets have not even been implemented.

Indeed, by 2012 only 2.2 megawatts of solar photovoltaic panels, capable of meeting 0.01 per cent of Hong Kong’s energy needs, had been installed.

Hong Kong is also one of the few advanced cities in the world with no feed-in tariff scheme, or “net metering system”, in place. This means that, rather than small-scale green energy producers being paid for contributing any excess energy to the grid, they can only donate it.

Energy consultant Mike Thomas, of the Lantau Group, another speaker at the council’s event, thinks it is unhelpful to compare China and Hong Kong in terms of being “behind or ahead” because of the vast differences in the two economies’ scale, resources and political systems. He also believes Hong Kong is taking the right steps by implementing the government’s new fuel mix for energy supply by 2020, which consists of about 50 per cent natural gas, around 25 per cent nuclear power and more use of renewable energy sources. Natural gas is still a fossil fuel, but 30 per cent to 50 per cent cleaner than coal in terms of emissions.

“It is true that there is very little renewable energy, strictly speaking, but given the rabid debate about the use of green space for housing, I’m not sure that converting the hillsides to solar panels would appeal either,” he says. The issue of “low energy density” (the relatively high land area needed to produce 1 kilowatt of renewable electricity) is often cited by opponents of renewable energy in Hong Kong, which, including its 263 islands, has a land area of just 1,104 sq km.

Douad calculates the city would need to cover 20 per cent of its surface area with 10 per cent efficient solar panels to meet its energy needs, yet he remains a firm advocate of solar power.

“The 20 per cent is for the actual lateral 2D land use. However, we could also consider the vertical 3D of the urban landscape, using building walls as well as rooftops, sun-exposed roads and highways, sound barriers and water reservoirs,” he says.

While delegates at the council’s conference earnestly discuss the possibilities of using renewable energy locally, most leading cities have already embraced renewables and the smart grid – the use of digital technology to improve reliability, resiliency, flexibility, and efficiency – and have coherent policies in place to foster them.

Singapore is ramping up the use of solar panels through initiatives such as SolarNova, a government-led programme, and investing in green energy research via The Energy Research Institute. The city state is already seeing positive results. Figures for 2014 show that green energy sources contributed 3.7 per cent of total energy consumption (up from 2.4 per cent in 2005) and analysts expect that figure to top 5 per cent by 2020.

Hong Kong does have small-scale solar schemes designed for local consumption, and some government buildings generate solar power, but its approach to solar energy is piecemeal.

CLP Power, one of the city’s two electricity suppliers, commissioned its award-winning renewable energy power plant on Town Island in Sai Kung in January 2010, comprising wind turbines and solar panels, to supply the needs of the island’s drug rehabilitation centre, and says it has connected about 250 small-scale local schemes.

The other supplier, Hongkong Electric, says about 70 local use renewable systems have been connected to its grid over the past 10 years. It also operates a 1MW solar plant and the only wind turbine connected to Hong Kong’s power grid.

It might be imagined that geographical restrictions and a scarcity of available land would make harnessing offshore wind, wave and tidal power – as Chan proposes – more attractive, but there is little sign of progress on any of these. Detailed proposals from the electricity companies to build offshore wind farms were awarded environmental permits, but both schemes were shelved in 2013 and mysteriously disappeared from the local energy agenda.

“We are in the process of collecting wind, wave and other environmental data, along with a review of the engineering design, to complete the feasibility study,” a CLP spokesman says of its plan.

Hongkong Electric’s proposed wind farm in waters off Lamma Island was to supply 1.5 per cent of its total output. Asked about the proposal, a company spokesman says “field wind measurement has been going on since 2012”.

Cheung says no one in the industry understands why the company needs to collect five years of wind data. He suspects the real reason for offshore wind power being dropped is that the schemes of control both power companies have negotiated with the government, which regulate their profits on operations and investment, do not offer enough financial sweeteners for either company to proceed.

The current schemes of control are due to expire by end of 2018, and the government is negotiating terms with the companies to renew them. Cheung thinks it’s “a perfect time for the government to show its determination by introducing significant targets and incentives for energy consumption reduction and [renewable energy] development”.

One of the thorny issues that will need to be ironed out is tariffs. Hong Kong has some of the cheapest and most reliable power in the world (electricity costs about half what it does in New York). Although it is widely believed that greater use of green energy is essential, there is less agreement on who will pay for the higher prices or pick up the bill for integration of an intermittent power source to the grid.

While energy costs account for only 1.6 per cent of the average Hong Kong household’s budget, there is little commercial incentive for change and little political appetite for heaping extra costs on hard-pressed families.

There is more hope than expectation that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying will use his final policy address to announce Hong Kong will follow Beijing’s lead and reveal a bold new policy for renewable energy with defined targets, a credible strategy to achieve them, and support for home-grown innovations such as Chan’s.
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Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/article/2062467/how-china-has-embraced-renewable-energy-and-hong-kong-hasnt-and-whats

Costa Rica Ran Almost Entirely on Renewable Energy in 2016

http://readersupportednews.org/news-section2/318-66/41162-costa-rica-ran-almost-entirely-on-renewable-energy-in-2016

Costa Rica ended 2016 on a particularly green note.

The Central American nation ran entirely on renewable energy for more than 250 days last year, the country’s power operator announced.

Renewables supplied about 98.1 percent of Costa Rica’s electricity for the year, the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) said in mid-December. Fossil fuels provided the remaining 1.9 percent.

The country of 4.9 million people gets most of its electricity from large hydropower facilities, which are fed by multiple rivers and heavy seasonal rains.

Geothermal plants and wind turbines are also prominent sources of power, while biomass and solar power provide a tiny but growing share of electricity.

A few diesel-burning power plants round out the electricity mix, but Costa Rica has barely used them in the last two years.

The country enjoyed a 110-day stretch of carbon-free electricity from June 17 through Oct. 6, when the power company briefly turned on its fossil fuel plants. After that blip, Costa Rica resumed its run of consecutive, fossil fuel-free days, a spokesman for ICE told Mashable on Dec. 13.

In 2015, Costa Rica used 98.9 percent renewable energy, slightly more than 2016’s expected total.

Compared to larger, more industrialized countries, Costa Rica seems like a verdant gem amid a pile of black coal rocks.

But Costa Rica’s smaller economy and natural resources give it an advantage over an energy-hungry powerhouse like the United States.

Costa Rica’s population, for instance, is roughly 65 times smaller than the U.S.’s. It also generates about 373 times less electricity than the United States does, according to national energy data from both countries.

Given its huge energy appetite, the U.S. faces a bigger challenge in greening the electric grid.

Nearly 15 percent of the U.S. electricity supply for January-October 2016 came from hydropower, wind, solar and other renewable sources, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported on Dec. 23.

Coal and natural gas together accounted for nearly two-thirds of U.S. electricity generation over that period. Nuclear power provided the remaining 19 percent.

For Costa Rica, the clean energy success story is likely to continue into 2017.

ICE’s president Carlos Manuel Obregón said the power company expects renewable power generation to stay “stable” this year, thanks in part to the nation’s four new wind farms and favorable hydro-meteorological conditions, which are projected near the nation’s hydropower plants.

The Future of Gas in Decarbonising European Energy Markets

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It’s Official: Solar Energy Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels

http://readersupportednews.org/news-section2/318-66/41073-its-official-solar-energy-cheaper-than-fossil-fuels

enewable energy has reached an important milestone. The World Economic Forum (WEF) has determined that in many parts of the world, solar energy is now the same price or even cheaper than fossil fuels for the first time.

In a handbook released this month, the WEF observed how the price of renewable technologies, particularly solar, has declined to unprecedented lows.

While the average global LCOE [levelized cost of electricity] for coal and natural gas is around $100 per megawatt-hour, the price for solar has plummeted from $600 a decade ago to $300 only five years later, and now close to or below $100 for utility-scale photovoltaic. For wind, the LCOE is around $50.

According to the WEF, more than 30 countries have already reached grid parity—even without subsidies. (“Grid parity” is the point when an alternative energy source, say solar, can generate power at a LCOE that’s equal or even less than the price of traditional grid power.)

“It is relevant to note that the mentioned evolution, market share gain and continued potential for renewable energy do not hinge on a subsidy advantage,” the report added. “In fact, according to [International Energy Agency], fossil-fuel consumption has received $493 billion in subsidies in 2014, more than four times the value of subsidies to renewable energy.”

506-graph-data-energy

The WEF highlighted how the unsubsidized LCOE for utility-scale solar photovoltaic—which was not competitive even five years ago—has declined at a 20 percent compounded annual rate, “making it not only viable but also more attractive than coal in a wide range of countries.”

Countries that have already reached grid parity include Chile, Mexico, Brazil and Australia with many more countries also on the same track. The WEF projects that two thirds of the world will reach grid parity in the next couple of years, and by 2020, solar photovoltaic energy is projected to have a lower LCOE than coal or natural gas-fired generation throughout the world.

“Renewable energy has reached a tipping point,” Michael Drexler, who leads infrastructure and development investing at the WEF, told Quartz. “It is not only a commercially viable option, but an outright compelling investment opportunity with long-term, stable, inflation-protected returns.”

The report follows a recent analysis from the IEA which revealed that total clean power capacity increased by 153 gigawatts, overtaking coal for the first time. To illustrate, about 500,000 solar panels installed were installed around the world every day.

OPINION: Landfill Could be Best Option for Waste Plastics

Axion Polymers’ Keith Freegard explains why as global temperatures head for potentially catastrophic levels, landfilling rather than burning waste plastics might be better for the environment…

https://waste-management-world.com/a/opinion-landfill-could-be-best-option-for-waste-plastics

Large numbers of energy from waste (EfW) plants exist right across Europe and many of the UK’s municipal solid waste (MSW) and mixed recyclables ‘processing’ facilities are simply exporting a high proportion of mixed material refuse derived fuel (RDF) bales to utilise spare European capacity.

Globally, further waste to energy plants are being planned and built, while landfill is frowned upon as the accepted ‘worst option’ for disposal. Revisiting the decision-making metrics that have led to this ‘accepted waste hierarchy’ might point to a stark choice between the two waste disposal options.

There are valid arguments for the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of both waste disposal methods. But what if the true environmental cost of CO2 emissions was also factored into deciding the ‘best option’?

When the full carbon-cost of the disposal method is expressed in ‘pound notes’ – reflecting the impact that large-scale CO2 release has upon the Earth – then this metric could really change decisions about what is ‘good’ waste material to burn as a fuel and what is ‘bad’.

Energy Generation
The non-homogeneous nature of the waste fuels requires robust moving-grate burners to move the combustible materials through the unit. Water-filled side boilers must be used for heat transfer to capture the heat-energy produced.

Even the most modern burner designs are relatively inefficient at energy recovery, generating lower amounts of electrical power per tonne of fuel burned when compared to high-efficiency, combined cycle gas turbine systems (CCGT).

Both power generating units are ultimately doing the same task: converting carbon-rich fuels into electricity (and ideally combined with heat production), while sending atmospheric-polluting carbon emissions up the exhaust stack as a major environmental cost associated with the beneficial electrical power supplied into the local grid.

So what are the solutions? High-efficiency gas turbines are a much more efficient way to generate each kilowatt of power, plus some heat, from fossil fuel sources if measured in terms of the mass of CO2 released per unit of power output.

Waste Fuelled
However, large scale waste-burners consume huge tonnages of waste materials that would otherwise have been landfilled. Siting an EfW plant close to large urban areas can also deliver useful heating into local industry and households.

If the major components in the infeed waste fuel mix to a modern EfW unit are renewable carbon, such as wood, papers, cardboard or organic matters, then the ‘short-life’ carbon atoms released back into the atmosphere via the exhaust stack are ecologically balanced with their earlier carbon-capture in a tree, plant or living organism. So this fraction of the waste ‘fuel’ shows a carbon-neutral effect.

As for the plastic content in residual household or commercial waste, the carbon-rich molecules that create the long-chain polymers (e.g. ethane, propane, styrene, etc.) are derived from crude oil refineries and are then polymerised to make plastics.

Burning these is essentially the same as driving a petrol car or taking a flight – power created at the ‘expense’ of long-life carbon release.

But what if the waste plastic could be separated from the ‘organic or renewable carbon’ wastes and the ‘inert’ carbon-rich, stabilised plastic stored either in the ground or in a covered storage system?

That would represent a long-term carbon-sink and remove those fossil-based materials from the EfW infeed mix. Clearly it would be better to recycle these materials if a technically and economically viable process was available to do that.

The Carbon Balance
Using a CO2 metric alone suggests that it makes more sense to bury large amounts of plastic in a long-term ‘carbon sink’ in the ground and efficiently combust natural gas to satisfy our immediate power needs.

However, until world leaders are prepared to transform the taxation on fossil fuel use in a way that truly reflects the high cost of ‘free carbon release’, then this numeric analysis remains an esoteric academic study.

The Paris Agreement commits countries to taking action to hold temperature rises to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels – and to try to stabilise emissions at a level which would see a temperature rise of no more than 1.5C.

Following the agreement’s signing by the largest CO2 producers and as the COP22 meeting in Marrakesh draws to a close, some world-leading countries may start to introduce the taxation of fossil-fuel carbon release as a means to get the world’s atmosphere back under control and remain within the stated, and agreed, 1.5C global warming limit.

However the major contributors to global carbon emissions, USA and China, appear to remain heavily dependent upon coal-fired power plants and oil-based fuel systems in their economic activity.

Bigger Picture
Eminent scientists worldwide have calculated that a very large proportion of the known (and often privately-owned) reserves of oil, gas and coal already available for extraction and combustion will have to stay in the ground as part of tackling climate change and staying within agreed limits.

The huge shift in corporate and national energy-habits required to leave fossil fuels in the ground will only happen with a Carbon Tax; particularly on the creation of electrical power and directly linked to the tonnes of CO2 released into the atmosphere per unit of fossil carbon consumed.

If that happens, it might be the time to return to that ‘mine’ of carefully stowed thousands of tonnes of good plastic and look at the economics of turning it into new polymer.

With a huge carbon tax slapped on burning it, then the economics would probably work. So these plastics may not have to stay in the ground for too long.

Looking at the bigger picture, we should all be concerned about the wholesale damage of completely uncontrolled burning of fossil fuel. That’s what we’re doing when we’re burning plastic that’s encapsulated amongst the mixed MSW we put in our black bin bags.

Time for a ‘Sky-fill’ Tax?
The short-term political and economic viewpoint is that ‘we’re getting some electrical power from it so it must be a good thing to do’. But this I think reflects the market failure created by very high landfill taxes that are not balanced by an equivalent taxation method to discourage ‘sky-fill’.

It’s a complex and challenging issue that reaches out over the next 20 years; a critical period in our history.

Until we get a carbon tax that puts some seriously big costs on throwing carbon into the atmosphere, I don’t see there being any real change. After all, the Earth doesn’t have a bank account – it’s us humans who operate under that monetary metric.

$40m Contract for B&W Vølund to Supply “World’s Largest” Waste to Energy Plant in China

Babcock & Wilcox Vølund A/S has been awarded a contract worth close to $40 million to design the boiler for the huge 168 MW waste to energy plant being planned for Shenzhen, China.

https://waste-management-world.com/a/40m-contract-for-bw-vlund-to-supply-worlds-largest-waste-to-energy-plant-in-china

Babcock & Wilcox Vølund A/S has been awarded a contract worth close to $40 million to design the boiler for the huge 168 MW waste to energy plant being planned for Shenzhen, China.

The company, the Danish subsidiary of Babcock & Wilcox Enterprises, Inc. (NYSE:BW), was awarded the contract by Shenzhen Energy Environmental Engineering Co. Ltd. in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, China.

When complete, the plant will provide a long-term waste management solution for the 5600 tonnes of the region’s waste per day while generating an estimated 168 MW energy.

It is claimed that this will make it the largest waste to energy plant in the world, although other plants built in multiple phases may have more processing capacity.

B&W Vølund will supply equipment, including a DynaGrate®combustion grate system, hydraulics, burners and other boiler components for the 168 megawatt plant. It will also provide construction advisors for the combined heat and power project.

“The demand for reliable and clean renewable energy is growing in China and throughout much of Asia,” said Paul Scavuzzo, senior vice president, B&W Renewable.

The circular Shenzhen plant will be built with sustainability in mind and will incorporate rooftop solar panels, a visitor education center and an observation platform into its architectural design. It also represents the first time B&W Vølund has deployed its DynaGrate® technology in China.

The plant is scheduled to begin commercial operation in mid-2019.

End derogations for polluting coal plants

Effective regulation of air pollutant emissions from coal-fired power plants could prevent 20,000 premature deaths every year.

http://airclim.org/acidnews/end-derogations-polluting-coal-plants

Establishing and enforcing air pollution standards that are in line with the best available techniques, could reduce the annual number of premature deaths in the EU caused by emissions from coal-fired power plants from 22,900 to 2,600, according to a new study by a coalition of environmental groups.

The report was published in October, ahead of an EU technical committee meeting on the final draft of the large combustion plant (LCP) BREF document. The report called on the Commission and member states to remove derogations and other loopholes from the draft BREF document.

According to the authors of the report, current legislation is failing to deliver its intended health benefits because special exceptions have been granted that allow for emissions that are higher than the agreed minimum requirements of the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED). Currently more than half of the coal power plants in the EU have been granted permissions to pollute beyond the limits set in the IED, with serious implications for public health and the environment. The pollution from these plants alone was responsible for 13,700 premature deaths in 2013, which represented 60 per cent of all coal-related deaths in the EU, the report said.

Through the revision of the LCP BREF document, the EU and member states now have an opportunity to adopt improved environmental performance standards. By agreeing stricter standards and implementing effective emission limits on coal pollution, real progress can be made in improving the health of people across Europe.

The report also called on the Commission and member states to review the directive’s minimum binding emission limit values, and update them to reflect the levels set in the revised LCP BREF. Emission limits and monitoring requirements should reflect what is now technically possible to ensure that EU legislation serves as a driver towards improved environmental performance across the EU.

“The best available techniques we call for in this report are all tried-and-tested and were already being demonstrated under technically and economically viable conditions decades ago. The EU considers itself a world leader on environmental issues but when it comes to coal combustion, decision makers have their heads stuck in a dark cloud!”, says Christian Schaible, Policy Manager on industrial production at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB).

Medical professionals have expressed support for the report; “Air pollution kills,” says Professor Bert Brunekreef of the European Respiratory Society. “Experts in lung health want to see immediate remedial action. Inaction cannot be justified when it is human health and lives that are at stake.”

As there are no techniques that completely eliminate emissions from the burning of coal and with coal power plants responsible for 18 per cent of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions, the authors of the report conclude that truly lifting Europe’s Dark Cloud will require the complete phase-out of coal power.

“The health of European citizens cannot afford any further delay in enforcing new pollution standards. While the EU’s ultimate goal should be to commit to the complete phase-out of coal and to a transformation pathway to renewable energy and reduced energy consumption, the EU still needs to limit pollution from coal power plants with its deadly and costly impacts on people, health and the environment,” said Joanna Flisowska, Coal Policy Coordinator at CAN Europe.

Christer Ågren

The report “Lifting Europe’s Dark Cloud: How cutting coal saves lives” was produced jointly by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, WWF and Sandbag, and can be downloaded from: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0B9LWbY1olzldSFF6TW1MZjBTUms

EEB press release on the outcome of the 20 October IED forum: http://www.eeb.org/index.cfm/news-events/news/now-the-talking-s-over-it-…

world gdp per region 2002

A Europe powered only with renewable energy

This vision was launched in 1992 from within the world-leading power equipment company ABB.

http://airclim.org/acidnews/europe-powered-only-renewable-energy

Europe can be powered by wind (mainly offshore) and by solar power (mainly as concentrating solar power) in North Africa and southern Europe. That was the futuristic vision of Gunnar Asplund in 1992, as shown in the map.

“It was not popular within ABB,” says Asplund in 2016.

Swedish Asea merged in 1988 with Swiss Brown Boveri to create ABB. At the time, ABB tried to market nuclear reactors of Swedish origin (eventually without success) and increased its nuclear power activities by the acquisition of US Combustion Engineering. ABB also developed PFBC coal and lignite plants at the time, but had no real stake in wind and solar.

By the year 2000, ABB would divest all power plant construction. But that was eight years ahead.

The idea of a gigantic grid and big centralised solar plants and big offshore wind power plants was also controversial in the NGO community. “Small is beautiful” had a strong resonance. ABB reached out to garner support from Swedish NGOs, but with no real success.

Asplund’s idea was that most of the cost for electricity is for generation, and that transport of the power even for very long distances, need not add more than 25 per cent. Power should be produced where conditions are the best: most wind power offshore or at the coast, solar where the sun shines most, and all connected by many, long power lines.

Storage was to be supplied by existing hydropower in Norway, Sweden, Iceland and continental Europe.

It took some nerve to claim by 1992 that wind and solar power could be the future, even in a 100-year perspective. All the wind power in the world produced less than 5 TWh in 1992, solar only 0.5 TWh, adding up to the equivalent of a single nuclear reactor. Offshore wind was nowhere in 1992 and was of no significance until the 2010s. Nuclear power produced 2,100 TWh, and was still on the increase. So was fossil power almost everywhere in the world.

The 1992 vision is still controversial, but nobody doubts that wind and solar have a bright future.

The belief in renewables went hand-in-glove with the emergent technology that Asplund led at ABB Ludvika: HVDC light, the slimmer version of the high-voltage direct current cable.

To the casual observer, the map of cables all over Europe looked as if the purpose was to maximise sales of high-voltage cables.

This was indeed not so far-fetched.

“The vision served to motivate our development work,” says Asplund frankly.

HVDC Light was first tested in the late 1990s and has since been a success story for ABB, sometimes exactly the way Asplund envisioned.

The technology is indeed impressive. Asplund has a sample in his office, about 12 cm in diameter. Such a cable can conduct 1000 megawatts, the output of a nuclear reactor. HVDC is well suited not only for connecting point A to point B, but also for creating a grid, like a spider’s web.

HVDC is used for bringing offshore wind power in the North Sea to the UK and connecting Norway to the Netherlands, Germany and the UK so intermittent power can be balanced by Scandinavian hydro. ABB has also built a 2,000 kilometre 800 kV transmission line in China so hydro in one part of the country can supply power to other parts, and balance wind and solar power, where China leads the world.

So the 1992 concept works, and 100 per cent renewables is possible.

“By 2092 I hope it has looked like that for a long time,” says Asplund.

Being an impatient person, he has moved on to another futuristic field: CO2-free transport.

There are not enough biofuels in most countries. There is a rich resource of renewable electricity, but electric cars are heavy, expensive and take a long time to charge.

His solution: electric highways, where electric cars can run on direct-feed power from the road, and recharge batteries at the same time.

His company Elways (“el” means electricity in Swedish) works with the practical aspects of designing rails and connectors, and has been granted 17 patents and filed for several more. The company has received substantial support from the Swedish Energy Agency.

The cost for the car-owner, for connectors, may be a couple of hundred euros.

“It would be extremely expensive to have all roads in Sweden rebuilt for direct feed. To have it for the big roads, not so expensive,” he says.

This second future looks a lot like the first one: an all-electric all-European spider-web.

Fredrik Lundberg

The scenario from 1992., with 700 GW from solar, 300 GW from wind and 200 GW from hydro.

The scenario from 1992., with 700 GW from solar, 300 GW from wind and 200 GW from hydro.

Vision 1992, actual results 2015

Share of renewables. In 2015, the 28 nations that are now the EU member states (EU-28) produced 29 per cent of their electricity from renewables. This is far from 100 per cent, but a big improvement on the 15 per cent in 1992. Renewable electricity in 1992 was almost exclusively hydro. Hydro production has not changed much and totalled 337 TWh in 2015. The “other” renewables (than hydro) have grown from 21 TWh in 1992 to 601 TWh in 2015. Most of this increase took place after 2008.

Which renewables? Wind and solar have developed roughly as in the scenario. Biomass, not in the scenario, is of some importance, and produced more electricity than solar in Europe in 2015. Biomass, and the so far insignificant tidal and geothermal power are not intermittent and do not need long power lines. Wave power, which was not in the scenario, but would fit well in a super grid, has still not taken off.

Wind. Wind power has, so far, mainly been on land. It is all a part of a centralised grid. Turbines are much larger, more efficient and more reliable than in 1992. The offshore wind parks are even larger, and are connected pretty much according to the 1992 map.

But wind power has mainly grown outside the utilities. Small community ownership of wind parks has however been of importance for acceptance of wind power, at least in Germany.

Solar. In the 1990s and the 2000s the main potential of solar power was often thought to lie in concentrating thermal power (CSP) based on systems of lenses or mirrors.

Heat can be stored, so output can match demand and also supply power at night. CSP promised higher efficiency than photovoltaics, at least in environments with few clouds, such as in deserts. But CSP requires large-scale installations and huge investments in one steep step. This essentially did not happen. There are a few big CSP plants in Spain and Morocco, but so far it has been a sideshow to photovoltaics (PV).

Most of the PV capacity is decentralised: rooftop or small ground-level solar farms. Some of the output is used locally so as to reduce the electricity consumption. The distance between producer and user is, in this sense, not long.

The large-scale installation (utility scale) of PV is growing even faster than rooftop solar and is now the top segment in many countries. Even so, the scale is modest compared to nuclear, coal and offshore wind.

Then again: practically all PV is grid-connected, so the millions of panels add up to big effects on national and European grids and markets. Unlike the 1992 map, much solar is in central Europe (Germany and the UK) rather than in the sunnier south.

Cables from Africa. This has not happened, but the idea lived on in the gigantic DESERTEC project, which was essentially abandoned after the disarray following the Arab Spring, the disintegration of Syria and Libya and the rise of the so-called Islamic State. One power line (though AC, not HVDC) between Europe and Africa has been in operation since 1997, between Morocco and Spain, later extended with a second cable, and a third is underway. So far the cables have been mainly used for Spanish exports of power.

Cables from Iceland. Iceland has huge hydro and geothermal resources, which could be used to balance other renewables. The cables are still not there, but a UK-Iceland government task force was set up in October 2015.

Other cables. Lithuania-Sweden went into operation in 2016, and the UK-Norway link is under construction. There are fairly recent interconnections between Norway-Netherlands-UK, Finland-Estonia, UK-France (several), Italy-Greece, and Estonia-Finland-Sweden.

European partnership to investigate trans-sector technological potential to reduce carbon emissions

http://www.chemengonline.com/european-partnership-to-investigate-trans-sector-technological-potential-to-reduce-carbon-emissions/

Solvay S.A. (Brussels, Belgium; www.solvay), ArcelorMittal S.A. (Luxembourg; www.arcelormittal.com), Evonik Industries AG (Essen, Germany; www.evonik.com) and LafargeHolcim (Jona, Switzerland; www.lafargeholcim.com) today announce the formation of a new Low Carbon Technology Partnerships Initiative (LCPRi) across the steel, cement and chemicals industries. LCTPi is a set of programs, gathering 150 global businesses and 70 partners under the auspices of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, to accelerate the development of low-carbon technology solutions to stay below the 2°C ceiling.

This new partnership will look at the potential synergies that exist between the manufacturing processes of these three energy intensive sectors, and how these synergies could be harnessed to reducing CO2 emissions.

As a first step, and following preliminary research, the innovative partnership will produce a study, with the technical support of Arthur D. Little, to identify potential ways to valorize industrial off-gases and other by- products from their manufacturing processes to produce goods with a lower carbon footprint than through the fossil path. The preliminary research already allowed identifying significant potential in selected trans-sector pathways.

The study is aimed at bringing a fact-based overview of carbon and energy sources from industrial off-gases (first at a European level), and evaluating the technical, environmental and economic feasibility of different carbon capture and usage (CCU) pathways and their potential.

Initial findings from the first step already underway suggest that:

• Deploying cross-sector carbon capture and reuse opportunities on an industrial scale – something that does not happen today – could reduce up to 3 GT/y or 7% of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions
• Existing conversion technologies that could be deployed across the three sectors could utilise by- products in the off-gases to create building materials, organic chemicals and fuel. As an example, up to 1–2% (0.4–0.7 Gton/yr) of global anthropogenic CO2 could be reduced with the production of ethanol/methanol alone
• Increased availability and greater access to renewable energy sources, would significantly boost net carbon reduction efforts by those three sectors, within a supportive legislative framework
• Cross sector carbon capture and reuse should also result in job creation, to be further investigated

The study, carried out at European level, is building the ground for similar investigation extended at global level and paves the way for identifying and assessing industrial scale projects on CCU at the interface between the sectors.

Stefan Haver, senior vice president Corporate Responsibility of Evonik, said: “Cross-sector initiatives like this offer great opportunities to steer our economies towards improved sustainability and more circularity. That’s why Evonik strongly supports joined actions in low carbon technologies.”

Speaking in Marrakech, Michel Bande, Corporate Sustainability Officer and Liaison Delegate WBCSD of Solvay, said “The potential to reduce carbon emissions through better collaboration between the chemicals, steel and cement industries looks promising. European energy-intensive industries could, with new and innovative ways to work together, ultimately produce large volumes of final goods with a reduced carbon footprint. In this arena, the chemical industry is key thanks to its enabling technologies. Indeed, linking large sources of carbon with the expertise and processes of the chemical industry could become crucial to develop ground-breaking solutions helping to reach the 2°C goal. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development is instrumental in supporting the emergence of such partnerships that require long term cooperation and vision shared between industry and society”.

Carl de Maré, vice president head of Technology Strategy of ArcelorMittal, said: “We are excited to build a partnership that demonstrates our commitment to developing a low-carbon, circular economy steel business and explores the numerous efficiency opportunities across other energy intensive industries. We believe that steel is a perfect material for the circular economy, but key to exploiting our potential is establishing innovative cross-sector partnerships such as this. This will help us to develop and industrialize carbon re-use technologies, ensuring that waste products created from the steelmaking process are effectively harnessed and re-used, reducing our direct carbon footprint, but also creating commercially valuable products that have a lower carbon footprint than currently available alternatives.”

Bernard Mathieu, head Group Sustainable Development of LafargeHolcim, said: “Concrete offers the highest level of life-cycle sustainability performance and we are continuously developing new products and solutions for a low carbon society. This new ambitious partnership will support our mission to cut our net emissions per ton of cement by 40% towards 2030 (versus 1990) and to develop and further deploy low carbon solutions for the construction sector. But to make this a reality, we will need an enabling regulatory framework and support to innovation.”

Obama puts Arctic Ocean off limits for drilling in last-ditch barrier to Trump

US Department of the Interior says ‘fragile and unique’ Arctic ecosystem at risk if drilling allowed, possibly by pro-fossil fuels Trump administration

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/nov/18/obama-arctic-ocean-drilling-fossil-fuels-trump

Barack Obama’s administration has ruled out drilling for oil and gas in the pristine Arctic Ocean, throwing up a last-ditch barrier to the pro-fossil fuels agenda of incoming president Donald Trump.

The US Department of the Interior said that the “fragile and unique” Arctic ecosystem would face “significant risks” if drilling were allowed in the Chukchi or Beaufort Seas, which lie off Alaska. It added that the high costs of exploration, combined with a low oil price, would probably deter fossil fuel companies anyway.

“The plan focuses lease sales in the best places – those with the highest resource potential, lowest conflict, and established infrastructure – and removes regions that are simply not right to lease,” said the interior secretary, Sally Jewell.

“Given the unique and challenging Arctic environment and industry’s declining interest in the area, forgoing lease sales in the Arctic is the right path forward.”

The move, announced as part of the federal government’s land and ocean leasing program that will run from 2017 to 2022, has been cheered by environmentalists who called for the Arctic to be put off limits for drilling to help slow climate change and avoid a catastrophic oil spill.

“Today’s announcement demonstrates a commitment to prioritizing common sense, economics and science ahead of industry favoritism and politics as usual,” said Jacqueline Savitz, Oceana’s senior vice-president for the United States.

“The decades-long push to drill in the Arctic has put this unique and diverse ecosystem at risk, cost tens of billions of dollars and created significant controversy without providing the promised benefits. We now have the opportunity to put the old arguments behind us and work together toward a sustainable future for the Arctic region.”

The removal of the Arctic Ocean from federal leasing runs contrary to Trump’s vow to “lift the Obama-Clinton roadblocks” to large fossil fuel projects and throw open vast areas of land and water to drilling. But even if Trump reverses the Arctic ban, the economics are still unfavorable for offshore drilling in the region.

Shell spent more than $7bn on its attempt to exploit oil and gas reserves in the Arctic after being allowed to do so by the US government despite a high predicted risk of an oil spill in the frigid ecosystem. The Anglo-Dutch company abandoned its drilling operation in September last year, having faced huge costs and fierce opposition from green groups.

Fossil fuel interests have eyed the Arctic as a huge new frontier for oil and gas riches, with rapidly melting sea ice making areas of the Arctic Ocean more accessible for drilling rigs. The Arctic holds about 90bn barrels of undiscovered oil and 30% of the world’s untapped natural gas.

However, the International Energy Agency has warned that the drilling in the Arctic is not yet commercially viable, while environmental groups have warned that opening up new fossil fuel development will push the planet over the precipice into catastrophic climate change.

The Arctic is at the forefront of global warming, with the region heating up at twice the rate of the rest of the planet. This summer, Arctic sea ice shrank to its second smallest extent ever recorded, with the annual winter regrowth occurring at a “sluggish” rate, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. On current trends, ice is returning at a slower rate than the record low experienced in 2012.

The new federal leasing plan also makes the Atlantic off-limits to drilling, another success for environmentalists and coastal communities that fought initial plans to lease areas to fossil fuel firms. But the plan does include 10 new sales in the Gulf of Mexico, the epicenter of US offshore drilling.

The federal government, through the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, currently manages around 3,400 active oil and gas leases in federal waters, covering an area spanning 18m acres.

“Today’s decision is a victory for the Arctic and demonstrates the growing strength of the movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground. But we also need to protect communities along the Gulf of Mexico,” said Marissa Knodel, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

“Unfortunately, Donald Trump has made it clear that he wants to return to the days of ‘drill baby drill’. That’s why President Obama must use his remaining days in office to permanently keep as much of our lands and waters from Trump and his oil cronies as possible.”

The Obama administration has pushed through a number of climate-related measures since the election of Trump, who denies climate change exists and has promised to withdraw the US from the international effort to tackle it. The president-elect also proposes cutting all funding for clean energy and to dismantle Obama’s Clean Power Plan, the main policy designed to cut emissions.

This week, the department of the interior unveiled regulations to slash fugitive emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from natural gas operations. The US was also the first nation to submit to the United Nations a plan on how it will reduce emissions, with the Obama administration setting a goal of an 80% reduction by 2050.

John Kerry, the secretary of state, said this week that climate change is “bigger than one person, one president” and that international progress on the issue was unstoppable, despite the threat of US withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement.

Businesses have also stated their support for the international climate effort, with more than 360 companies, including Levi’s, Kellogg’s and Nike, urging Trump to keep up American efforts to ward off dangerous global warming.