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May, 2015:

Chance to lead on energy cuts

The government has unveiled a fresh energy-saving blueprint ahead of a UN conference on climate change in November aimed at a new global treaty on emission reductions. It goes some way towards greening Hong Kong’s image in international environmental protection forums. The target envisages a cut in what is known as energy intensity – the amount needed to produce one unit of gross domestic product – by 40 per cent of the 2005 level by 2025. This is more demanding than a target adopted at an Apec regional forum of 45 per cent by 2035. In terms of the actual amount of energy used, it could cut total electricity consumption by 6 per cent compared with 2012, equal to reducing carbon emissions by about 2,340 kilotonnes.

The initiative is welcome and will boost the government’s environmental credentials. Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing described it as ambitious, although critics argue that the old target was not so demanding because it allowed for energy growth amid an expanding economy.

While welcoming the government’s new plan green groups have criticised the lack of both innovation and concrete incentives for the private sector. That said, the government has introduced a basket of support measures including extending product coverage under the mandatory energy-efficiency labelling scheme, further reducing energy consumption in government buildings, offering incentives to the private sector to build more green buildings and involving the Green Building Council in retrofitting existing buildings, which account for 60 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.

Given growing public awareness of the climate-change issue, officials may be counting on a positive response to a new campaign to encourage people to save energy on a daily basis. The initiative is timely, as we enter the season when air-conditioners begin to contribute heavily to energy waste. The government must try to build on last year’s achievement of support from 130 shopping malls, 1,000 offices, 142 housing estates and 80 residential blocks for a campaign to keep indoor air-conditioning at optimal levels for both comfort and economy.

Demand for energy rises with economic growth, including housing programmes and infrastructure projects. This only makes conservation more important. It is a chance for Hong Kong to take the lead and confound the sceptics.

Source URL (modified on May 21st 2015, 3:25am):

European coal and gas power on the way out

AcidNews June 2015

In a conference in mid-May organised in the run-up to the Paris climate negotiations in December 2015, gathering corporate executives from major power companies, Gérard Mestrallet, chief executive of Engie, one of the world’s biggest power companies said that fossil fuel electricity generation indeed is on its way out in Europe.

The profitability of gas and coal power generation have deteriorated to the point that future growth is more likely to come in big emerging markets such as India and China. According to Mr Mestrallet, power companies have stopped investing in thermal power generation in Europe and instead are investing in renewables.

European power companies are adapting to a market in which renewables are more profitable. Furthermore these power companies often struggle with overcapacity and competition from the growth of subsidised renewables. However, European power companies continue to build big power plants in emerging countries: Brazil, Chile, Peru, the Middle East and Asia.

Most of the corporate executives claimed to take climate change seriously and thus wanted to see Europe as a zero emissions area in 2050, with companies such as Czech CEZ taking the lead.

Source: Financial Times, 21 May 2015

Fossil fuels subsidised by $10 million a minute

AcidNews June 2015

Fossil fuel companies are benefitting from global subsidies of US$5.3 trillion a year, equivalent to $10 million a minute every day, according to a startling new estimate by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In per cent of GDP, global energy subsidies are estimated to increase from 5.8 per cent of global GDP in 2011 to 6.5 per cent in 2015.

The IMF describes the numbers as “shocking”. They exceed global public health spending, estimated by the WHO at US$4.3 trillion in 2013. “It is one of the largest negative externalities ever estimated”, says Vitor Gaspar at IMF.

Most subsidies (59%) are for coal. In dollar terms, the top five subsidisers are China, United States, India, Russia, and Japan. Subsidies in the European Union are similar to those in India.

Source: The Guardian, 18 May 2015

The IMF working paper ”How Large Are Global Energy Subsidies?” is available at

Gasification to turn 200,000 tpa municipal solid waste into jet fuel in Nevada

Airline company Cathay Pacific could be one of the off-takers for the 10 million gallons of biofuel expected to be produced from the gasification of organic waste at a new project in Nevada between Abengoa and Fulcrum BioEnergy…

Spanish firm Abengoa has secured a $200 million contract from Fulcrum BioEnergy to build a biorefinery using gasification technology to convert 200,000 tons (181,437 tonnes) of municipal solid waste (MSW) into syncrude that will be upgraded into jet fuel.

To be located at the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Centre, approximately 20 miles east of Reno, Nevada, the plant is expected to produce more than 10 million gallons (38 million litres) of biofuel per year.

Abengoa will deliver the plant using gasification technology from ThermoChem Recovery International, licensed to Fulcrum, as part of an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract.

The project is expected to start commercial operation in the third quarter of 2017.

Airline Cathay Pacific could be one of the fuel off-takers from the plant, following equity investment and a long-term fuel agreement with Fulcrum last year.

The process will begin with the gasification of organic material in the MSW feedstock to a synthesis gas (syngas) which consists primarily of carbon monoxide, hydrogen and carbon dioxide. This syngas is purified and processed through the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process to produce a syncrude product which is then upgraded to jet fuel or diesel.

During the gasification process, the prepared MSW feedstock rapidly heats up upon entry into the steam-reforming gasifier and converts to syngas. A venturi scrubber captures and removes any entrained particulate and the syngas is further cooled in a packed gas cooler scrubber.

Cleaned syngas is them processed through an amine system to capture and remove sulfur and carbon dioxide. The syngas then enters the secondary gas clean-up section that contains compression to increase syngas to the pressure required by the FT process.

E. James Macias, president and chief executive officer at Fulcrum, said: “Abengoa has the skill and horsepower to take our design and technology development and successfully turn it into an operating commercial plant.”

In October last year Abengoa opened its second generation cellulosic ethanol plant in Hugoton, Kansas, which processes biomass feedstocks.

UN climate chief says there is “no space” for new coal

AcidNews June 2015

On 7 May Christina Figueres, the UN climate chief, met with representatives from seven Australian governments to encourage the states and territories to assist the federal government to help deliver a strong global deal at the UN COP21 negotiations in Paris at the end of the year.

She told them that there is “no space” for new coal development and highlighted the benefits of ambitious clean energy.

Asked about the country’s reported lack of enthusiasm for ambitious carbon emissions reductions, Figueres said: “like the oceans, there are ebbs and flows about everything.

We welcome that the federal government is turning in its national target by July and I’m confident it will encompass what the states and territories are doing,” she said. “I’m confident we will be pleasantly surprised.”

Australia’s federal government has begun consulting over emission reduction targets beyond 2020, which will be the main focus of the COP21 climate meeting.

Source: Climate Action/ UNEP press release 7 May 2015

New Zealand city to divest from fossil fuels

The local government of Dunedin, a mid-sized New Zealand city, voted to divest from fossil fuels this week. The council’s $82.5 million fund currently holds about $1.5 million in fossil fuel shares after dumping about $500,000 more earlier this year because “outlook for those shares is not as good as it could be.” Carla Green reports.

Almost a year ago, international headlines hailed Dunedin as the first New Zealand city to divest from fossil fuels. Now, that title will finally be deserved – almost.

Back in May of 2014, the Dunedin City Council – or the DCC – voted to draft a “socially responsible investment policy.” The proposed policy would bar council fund investment in a number of industries, including pornography, tobacco, and fossil fuels.

Just under a year later, the DCC voted to approve that policy.

“Well it’s been a long time coming,” said Rosemary Penwarden, a spokesperson for Oil Free Otago, an activist group that has been campaigning for council divestment for over a year. While the Council has up to two years to implement the new policy, Penwarden sees its approval as a positive step. “It’s a very strong message that the council is quite aware of what is known as the carbon bubble. And what’s soon to be stranded assets. If we’re to keep the world below the two-degree level of warming that was agreed to by world governments in Copenhagen in 2009, we just cannot burn most of what these industries already had on their books.”

In the year that has elapsed since the initial vote last May, Dunedin has missed the metaphorical boat to be New Zealand’s first city to divest – Christchurch beat them to it.

Last year, Christchurch City Holding Limited, the company that holds the city’s investments, passed a policy not to invest in a number of industries like tobacco and “companies whose primary focus is the extraction and production of fossil fuels.”

Unlike Dunedin, though, the decision was not a public one voted on by councilors, so it mostly passed under the radar – and out of the public eye.

In any case, Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said being the first wasn’t the point. “The ambition wasn’t to lead the way, the ambition was A, to do what we thought was the best thing, the right thing, and B, it was prompted by our community,” Cull told FSRN. “We went out for consultation, asked them about socially responsible investing. We had already an informal policy excluding tobacco and armaments, and the community came back overwhelmingly and said ‘we want you to exclude fossil fuel extraction as well.’ So we listened to that.”

The vote was close – seven councilors and the mayor for, seven councilors against – and the council’s decision isn’t without its critics. “I feel it is hypocritical when we rely so heavily – all of us – doesn’t matter what side of the argument you’re on, all of us, to get by, by using fossil fuels, by burning fossil fuels,” remarked City councilor Andrew Noone, one of the seven who voted against adopting the policy.

Plus, he said, divestment from the fossil fuel industry might discourage oil and gas companies from setting up in Dunedin. Several companies are currently prospecting for fossil fuels in offshore New Zealand waters around the country, including areas off the coast of Dunedin.

But Mayor Cull says that divestment won’t discourage oil and gas companies from coming to Dunedin, and that it shouldn’t. “There are people who believe that the issue of divestment from fossil fuel extraction and the issue of Dunedin possibly being a support base for the oil and gas exploration off our coast are linked. I personally think that’s a lot of rubbish.”

The city council isn’t the only Dunedin institution to mull divestment. The University of Otago – one of the most well-known universities in New Zealand – is based in Dunedin. Its board said last month that, after receiving a letter from several high-level academics at the university, it too, was considering divestment.

The university noted that less than 1% of the fund is currently invested in the fossil fuel industry, but with a $169.1 million fund less than 1% could be over $1 million.

“The university divestment was really initiated by staff, who have got together and asked them to consider divesting,” says Penwarden of Oil Free Otago. “I don’t know where it is at now, but the students have come on board, so there’s a lot of encouragement, and a lot of support. We’re really encouraged by the support from students and from the staff about this.”

If the university does divest, it won’t be the first in New Zealand to do so – Victoria University in Wellington has already beat them to it.