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Will the new Mexican president take the energy reform to the next level?

23 November, 2018 - 14:00

With the upcoming inauguration of the Mexican president, a new parliamenterial confrontation is waiting. Attempted implementations of sustainable energy reforms, have never been implementated under the previous government due to corruption cases. Maximiliano Proaño asks about the feasibility under the new president.

Will Andrés Manuel López Obrador do it differently than his predecessor? (Photo by Presidencia de la República Mexicana, CC BY 2.0)

Andrés Manuel López Obrador (short: AMLO) will assume the Mexican presidency on December 1st, and his energy policy will play an important role in determining whether his term will be a success or failure, writes.

The last government of President Enrique Peña Nieto reached an agreement for an energy reform, and a series of laws was passed that called for energy auctions both in the oil sector and in renewable energies. However, the corruption scandals around his government prevented these reforms from being implemented.

AMLO’s new government will now be in charge of taking energy reforms to the next level. For this, he will have to make important decisions such as his promised review of oil contracts, a fracking ban, incentive policy for renewable energies, the future of public oil company PEMEX, among others. PEMEX is one of the fifteen largest oil companies of the world and the country’s biggest taxpayer.

Previous attempts at reform

Successive governments in Mexico have tried to reform the energy sector. However, always the critical point it was the constitutional change to allow private participation in oil, gas, and power sector. The reform was finally approved in December 2013, after a broad political agreement reached a year earlier with the signing of the “Pact for Mexico”.

This agreement – which included among many other issues an energy reform- was possible due to the consensus that PEMEX had to be modernized to be more competitive. Nine laws were approved and another 12 were amended, which opened the participation of private companies to the hydrocarbons, gas and electric power sectors.

Until this moment Peña Nieto´s credibility had not yet begun to plummet due to corruption scandals, which brought him the lowest presidential approval rating in Mexican history. In this way Peña Nieto no longer had a coalition with sufficient political support to adopt the next stage in Mexico’s energy reform. The reform during Peña Nieto’s government consisted of a sectoral liberalization and privatization process, and did not fulfill one of its main promises to Mexico’s citizens: a decrease in energy prices. All this resulted in reform rejection of more than 70% of the population.

AMLO and the energy sector

In this context, the energy reform was an important issue in the last Mexican presidential elections. AMLO campaigned on the promise to stop the privatization process of the energy sector and the liberalization of gasoline prices.

Another announcement during AMLO´s campaign was the review of oil contracts, where he promised to investigate possible corruption and the contradiction of national interests. Rocío Nahle García, the new Energy Secretary announced in August that 105 oil contracts, signed under Peña Nieto´s government, had already been reviewed and that work should be completed before the assumption of AMLO to the presidency on December 1. While AMLO has said that he will honor oil contracts, that does not mean that contracts stained by corruption will be fulfilled.

In July of this year, AMLO made a very important announcement that his government would not allow fracking. The announcement is important because Burgos Basin, in the northeast of Mexico, has the largest concentration of unconventional gas in the country and is one of the largest in the world. During the last years, there has been a real possibility that the exploitation large-scale fracking would begin. In fact, the drilling of experimental wells had begun but were suspended due to the fall in oil prices. However, last March, Energy Lewis – the largest producer of natural gas in Texas just north of the border – signed a contract for exploration and exploitation with fracking in Campo Olmos, located in the municipality of Hidalgo in central Mexico. This contract is one of the 105 that are currently being reviewed by the future Mexican government.

Renewable potential

While the Mexican energy debate is almost entirely about fossil fuels, Mexico has enormous potential for the development of renewable energies. The Energy Transition Law (LTE) set a goal of 25 percent renewables in electricity generation by 2018, which it is already reached. The energy mix should be 30 percent renewable by 2021 and 35 percent by 2024. Wind energy has already begun to play an important role. In 2017, Mexico reached an installed capacity of just over 4,000 MW, equivalent to 5.55% of total installed capacity. As we can see in the chart below, solar energy has reached only 0.89 of the Mexican installed electric capacity by 2017.

Source: Reporte de avance de energías limpias 2017, Secretaría de Energía México.

The chart above shows that if we discount hydroelectric energy, renewable energies make up almost 9% of Mexican electric installed capacity today. However, the prospects are much more ambitious: the first three long-term auctions committed to an installed capacity of 6,988 MW of wind and solar energy to 2020. The Mexican Wind Energy Association (AMDEE) affirms that by 2022, installed capacity could triple and reach 12,000 MW.

AMLO has not yet shown a clear policy push for renewable energies in Mexico. To achieve this, it will be key to generate adequate incentives for community and self-generation projects. So far, it is a good sign that AMLO has promised to close the door to corruption and fracking and to stop the privatization process of the energy sector while respecting legally concluded contracts made during the previous administration. If he manages to advance decisively in these matters, his government will be able to take the energy reform to the next step.

Kategorien: Blogs

When coal dies, what of the coal workers?

22 November, 2018 - 14:00

In principle, South Africa’s development agenda shows that the country understands the need for a just tradition to a low carbon economy. But what will this mean for the people working in the coal industry, whose livelihoods will slowly dwindle, asks science writer Leonie Joubert.

Policymakers need a more holistic plan than merely catering for the retirement of older workers (Public Domain)

 If coal is the blood that oxygenates South Africa’s economy, then Mpumalanga Province is the country’s beating heart. Here, in a radius of just 100 kilometers, the furnaces of more than three quarters of the country’s coal stations burn around the clock. Their wolfish appetite drives the business of harvesting coal from surrounding mines, and the energy that has poured out of them for decades has seeded a booming manufacturing sector whose industries have set up shop nearby.

These coal-fired power stations will shut down eventually. According to energy analysts here, it’s a question of when this happens, not if. When they do, the impact will ripple through the entire provincial economy: the jobs in the power stations themselves will dwindle, taking the mining and industrial jobs with them. Every household that relies on these jobs for a regular income, will have to absorb the economic shock.

“All of these workers are at risk,” explains researcher Jesse Burton, at the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Energy Resource Centre (ERC), “not because of the country’s climate policies, but because of the inevitability of the economics surrounding coal energy generation.”

Jobs in coal stations are threatened by increasing global pressure for countries to move away from fossil fuels. Meanwhile jobs in mining and manufacturing here – such as steel manufacture, and other heavy industries – are threatened by increasing mechanisation, and rising domestic electricity costs.

But in terms of job losses relating to the transition away from coal, the change doesn’t need to throw the region’s economy into a tail-spin, according to analysts. By learning from other countries’ mistakes, and planning holistically, South African policymakers can make sure that the transition for workers employed by the coal industry is as just as the wider objective of decarbonising the economy is intended to be.

Burton warns, though, that where similar moves away from coal have happened in other countries, these have often happened quickly. In some places, the local economies haven’t recovered yet (There is some interesting reading on this on the Coal Transitions website).

The ERC recently did the number-crunching on what the implications would be of phasing out coal in order for the economy to meet an emissions reduction target that’s comparable with South Africa’s contribution towards stabilising the global climate at no more than a 2°C increase in temperature, relative to pre-industrial levels. As with any gear-change in an economy, there will be trade-offs. In this case, the benefits of burning less coal in Mpumalanga will mean less local-scale environmental pollution associating with mining and burning the coal. There will also be the global benefits of reducing the carbon waste that’s being pumped into the atmosphere which is driving climate collapse.

But the impact of job and livelihood losses will be felt disproportionately in communities where there are already high levels of poverty and inequality, following decades of exploitative race-based labour practices under British segregation policies and the South African government’s pre-1994 apartheid state rule.

When it comes to planning for the job losses that’ll inevitably happen as a result of old power stations being mothballed, and new ones being scaled down, Burton says that policymakers need a more holistic plan than merely catering for the retirement of older workers who will eventually be given the golden handshake.

Many of these mines and heavy industries need semiskilled and skilled workers, and are actively involved in training people with the necessary skills to fill these posts. Mines are ideally placed to train people with transferable skills, so that when jobs in mining and manufacturing decline, workers can move across to other industries.

The mass roll-out of utility-scale solar and wind projects in South Africa in recent years can also help absorb the jobs shed by the coal industry: while photovoltaic panels aren’t made locally yet, the assembling and installation could soak up many of the more skilled jobs shed by the mining industry. But boosting this will call for strict policies on local procurement, to stabilised demand and produce a predictable market.

The country has strong environmental laws that call for mining companies to pay for and manage the rehabilitate of land and ecosystems that are damaged through mining or coal burning, but companies often don’t follow through on doing this restoration work because the state is slack in pushing for implementation of these laws. Rehabilitation processes could generate plenty of jobs, if the state forced them to follow through on their legal obligations to repair environmental damage.

Burton also argues that the country, and Mpumalanga Province itself, will need to boost other sectors within the region’s economy, such as agriculture and agricultural processing, which can be a lively jobs area.

Because this kind of planning and response spans the jurisdictions of more than one government department, an appropriate response can’t be housed in any single department, be it the Department of Energy, or Labour, or Trade and Industry. It would be better stationed within the Office of the Presidency and create policy and coordination bridges across the various departments, both at national level and down to provincial level.

The government recently created a presidential coordinating commission on climate change, which could oversee this sort of process, or it could set up a commission geared towards managing a just transition.

But one of the biggest constraints to helping communities make this transition in a way that’s fair and pro-poor, falls well outside the gambit of the national departments that manage energy, resources, and mining, argues Burton: the failure of our education system will continue to limit the prospects of so many people needing to find alternative forms of employment.

Kategorien: Blogs

Democrats won a clean energy victory in midterm elections

20 November, 2018 - 14:00

Though the 2018 U.S. Midterm elections didn’t produce a clear victory for the climate, it was far from a defeat. While three of four far-reaching state ballot initiatives didn’t pass, the Democrats will take over leadership of the House of Representatives and several energy progressive candidates also won key governor’s races, L. Michael Buchsbaum takes a closer look.

A true sign of hope for the climate comes from the victory of many progressive state legislators and gubernatorial candidates ( Photo by Rob Bulmahn, CC BY 2.0)

By taking the House, which has previously been at least as right leaning and anti-environmental as President Trump himself, Democrats now largely have control over the creation of future legislature. All new bills must originate and be passed by the House before moving into the Senate and ultimately, a Presidential signature.

Going forward, Democrats can hold hearings and launch new efforts to address climate change and energy-related issues, placing the environment front and center before voters ahead of the 2020 Presidential campaign.

More representative of America, over 100 women will also have seats in the new House. Also, reflective of Bernie Sanders’ continuing Socialist Democratic revolt, it’s set to become younger, more ethnically diverse, and potentially more liberal. And seven of the incoming Democrats are also scientists.

However the nation remains deeply enmeshed in an on-going crisis of democracy largely fueled by the Republican’s fight to maintain minority rule at all costs. They recognize that despite his victory, Trump received less votes than Clinton. Indeed the Republicans have actually lost five of the last six Presidential elections in terms of popular votes going back to 2000’s tainted victory for George W. Bush. And this year, despite winning over 40.5 million votes for Democratic Senatorial candidates (55.4%) compared to only 31.5 million (43%) for Republicans, the Senate is now poised to become even more deeply Republican.

As-of-press-time, charges of voter suppression, counter-charges of voter fraud and the still undecided Senate and governor’s races in Florida and Georgia, highlight the nation’s growing distrust with the system itself.

Indeed, largely out of this frustration with Washington, many environmental advocates also aimed their efforts at shaping state and local governments through four progressive energy and climate centered ballot initiatives. Sadly, all but one failed to pass.

In Arizona, voters said no to accelerating the shift to renewable energy to 50% by 2030. In Colorado, voters said no to an effort to sharply limit fracking on non-federal land. And a measure to make Washington the first state to tax carbon emissions also fell short. However, in Nevada voters passed a measure very similar to the one rejected in Arizona. But because of bizarre state regulations, before the measure can become law, it has to survive a second popular vote in 2020.

Indicative of the roll of money in U.S. politics, in proportion to each ballot initiative’s popularity, Big Oil & Co flooded the races with advertising, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the multiple campaigns. The industry-backed group, Protect Colorado, threw roughly $38 million into opposition spending against Proposition 112, an initiative that would have required new statewide measures preventing fracking wells being dug within 2,500 feet of all occupied buildings, hospitals, schools and “vulnerable areas” such as parks and irrigation canals–up from the current 250-400 feet.

Key to empowering local governments up and down the expanding populations around Denver, exactly where frackers are moving, 112’s backers hoped to keep drilling out of people’s backyards. On the other side, largely funded by Anadarko Petroleum and Exxon-Mobile, Protect Colorado filled the corporate media airwaves with messages that 112 would “wipe out thousands of jobs and devastate Colorado’s economy for years to come.”

By contrast, the main group backing the proposal, Colorado Rising for Health and Safety, raised about $1 million, relying on grassroots efforts and social media. While only winning 44% across the state, the major population centers in Denver, Boulder, and Broomfield Counties, as well as in many of the pricey skiing and scenic mountain areas around Aspen, Telluride and Steamboat Springs voted, often by over 70%, for it.

In Arizona, at least $54 million was spent fighting over its energy direction. The state’s biggest utility, Arizona Public Service, or APS, poured more than $30 million into an industry-sponsored political action committee called Arizonans for Affordable Electricity. They in turn spread mailers and messaging warning that generating 50% of the desert state’s energy from the sun would cost households an additional $1,000 in bills per year. They were opposed by an umbrella activist group called Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona. While supported by many grassroots organizations, the group got a huge assist from California billionaire investor and political activist, Tom Steyer, who donated the biggest chunk of the nearly $25 million raised.

Meanwhile, Washington ended up setting a state spending record over citizen’s attempts to put a fee on carbon pollution. The Clean Air, Clean Energy coalition, with help from Google’s Bill Gates and other billionaires raised more than $15 million. Meanwhile, oil companies belonging to the Western States Petroleum Association pumped over $31 million into activities and actions opposing the measure.

But a true sign of hope for the climate comes from the victory of many progressive state legislators and gubernatorial candidates. Throughout the 2018 campaign, many Democrats won on platforms of reshaping their respective states’ energy portfolios by mid-century. Jared Polis, Colorado’s new governor-elect vowed to put Colorado on a plan to be 100% renewable powered by 2040. Both Nevada’s new governor, boosted with support from Tesla’s Elon Musk and other clean energy investors and Michelle Lujan Grisham, the new governor of New Mexico, have backed sourcing 50% of their state’s electricity from renewables by 2030. Democrat and billionaire JB Pritzker, who won the governor’s race in Illinois, also vowed to harness the Midwestern state’s rich wind and solar resources and put the state on track to use 100% “clean energy” by 2050.


Kategorien: Blogs

Polish electricity prices on the rise

19 November, 2018 - 14:00

Poland has seen relatively low electricity prices in recent years. While prices have been growing for our neighbours (e.g. Germany), Poland has managed to keep them fairly flat. However, all the signs are that this state of affairs is about to end, writes Michał Olszewski.

The days of cheap electricity in Poland are coming to an end (Public Domain)

Recent weeks have brought a series of signs that electricity prices in Poland are going to rise. Wholesale market prices for energy have increased by about 25% on last year prices.

Wholesale power prices could rise up to 70 percent

For the time being, the alarms are primarily being sounded by local government officials negotiating contracts for the supply of electricity as summer turns to autumn. The Town Hall in the city of Olsztyn stated that the prices being tendered by suppliers are 35% higher than last year. Janusz Malinowski, the president of the Łódź Metropolitan Railway, told “Puls Biznesu” that one supplier suggested a rate 70% above last year’s. “A shock and an omen of horrors in the budgets of rail carriers,” Malinowski commented on Twitter. And not without reason: such a large increase in prices would inevitably entail a rise in ticket prices.

And what about households? The energy minister Krzysztof Tchórzewski reassures us that there is no question of price increases for private consumers. Energy prices in that sector are regulated, meaning that dramatic year-on-year price increase won’t happen. But in contrast, the head of the Energy Regulatory Office warns that with the current hikes in wholesale prices, a lack of increases for individual consumers would mean a loss of about PLN 3 billion for energy companies.

The most important question is: why the price hike? In recent years, Polish energy policy has focused on preserving the status quo with regard to coal. Independent energy market analysts have for years been warning that the cost of CO2 emissions allowances would increase. And that is precisely what happened this year. The response of the Polish energy minister was to visit Brussels and intimate that this was collusion against Poland.

Trouble trifecta: coal, no renewables, and poor infrastructure

But it doesn’t end there: Polish coal prices have risen by about 14% since the beginning of the year. For the Polish power industry, which is still built on coal, that is another problem. And paradoxically the raw material supposed to guarantee Poland’s energy independence is being imported in ever-increasing quantities from Russia.

The past three years have seen the archaic model of the energy system preserved: the Law and Justice government has inhibited the development renewable energy through regulations to keep private investors from developing renewables or becoming prosumers (both producers and consumers). This means that the anticipated increases in coal prices and emissions allowances cannot be dampened to any notable degree by renewable production.

And another issue: the Polish power industry needs serious amounts of money for investments and a refit of transmission lines, some of which are in terrible condition. Instead, the government has chosen to invest in even more coal power plants. One of the present government’s flagship investments is to be a new coal-fired power plant in Ostrołęka. Presented as low-emission, it will be key to the energy security of north-eastern Poland, which is devoid of major energy power plants. It is also a symbolic investment – the Law and Justice government has announced that it will be the last investment in a new coal-fired power generator. This symbol comes at a price – the construction cost for the power plant is estimated at over PLN 6 billion (about 1.4 billion Euros).

Expensive coal, no renewable energy, and no infrastructure investments mean that the days of cheap electricity in Poland are coming to an end. It is doubtful that this state of affairs will have been changed by the energy minister visiting Brussels and suggesting that this is a conspiracy by the energy companies.

Some analysts warn that after 2020 Poland may become the country with the most expensive electricity prices. It would be a sad punch line to the joke of inaction and years wasted by the Polish energy sector.

Kategorien: Blogs

What’s next for the energy transition in Uruguay?

16 November, 2018 - 14:00

Over just four years, Uruguay increased its share of wind power from one percent to 33 percent. And in September, the country made headlines as it reached a new historical wind record of 48.94 percent. This is of course an amazing development, but there are still issues to be solved, says Maximiliano Proaño.

Privatization of power generation pushes electricity prices in Uruguay (Public Domain)

Uruguay’s energy transition has made amazing progress. But at the same time, the privatization of power generation and the burden that the country has the highest electricity prices in all of South America are serious problems for Uruguay. The public energy utility company UTE must increase its power share from renewables further, and implement policies that reduce residential electricity prices.

The country has done a lot to get to where it is today by investing 3% of its annual GDP in renewable energies. Policy makers have focused on three key policies to drive this trend: auctions, fiscal incentives and net metering. Auctions have been carried out through tenders, assuring bidders that their produced electricity will be consumed for the next 15 to 20 years. The fiscal incentives are mainly tax credits and exemptions of the value-added tax (VAT) on items such as wind turbines and related technologies. And net metering allows consumers to sell excess electricity to the grid and be refunded for it. However, due the high cost of these three incentives, the government has warned that these subsidies will be removed soon.

Today, the renewable energy sector in Uruguay already employs more than 11.000 workers. As such, it is in need of investments in a specialized human capital in this new technological development. That is why, during the month of October 2018 in the small city of Durazno, the Center for Training in Operation and Maintenance in Renewable Energies (CEFOMER) was founded, which is the first of its kind in the country.

The center’s goal is to train people in all types of companies in the wind, solar, photovoltaic, solar thermal and biomass sectors. It was made possible thanks to joint cooperation between the National Institute of Employment and Vocational Training (Inefop), the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Mining, the Technological University of Uruguay (UTEC), the Chamber of Industries of Uruguay and the Intersindical Workers’ Plenary (PIT-CNT).

Privitization and the energy transition

Perhaps the biggest criticism that trade unions and NGOs have of Uruguay’s energy transition is that it has largely led to privatization of the electricity sector. Before this privatization, the public company National Administration of Power Plants and Transmissions (UTE), generated, transmitted, distributed and commercialized 100% of the electricity in the country.

Today, AUTE, the union workers of the company UTE, claim that more than 50 percent of electricity generation is in the hands of private companies. Gabriel Soto, the President of AUTE, has stated that: “The change in sources was made through a strong process of privatization, which generates an inefficient use of these energy when combining them with others. They freed companies from 100 percent of taxes.” Soto also added “There are investments of 3.5 billion dollars that did not leave any money to the state. The companies were offered a 20-year contract through which the UTE is committed to buy all the energy they generate and pay them in dollars at a fixed price”.

In addition, the high price of electricity (especially that in the residential sector) must be addressed by Uruguayan energy reform. Uruguay is the country with the most expensive electric power in all of South America, before Chile, Brazil and Argentina. Gabriel Soto claimed that a family of four spends about four percent of their income on electricity, while poor households pay up to ten percent.

Even though residential electricity prices are now almost 20 percent lower than in 2010, the energy transition has not changed Uruguay’s position in this regard. Over-generation seems to be a big part of the problem when private companies are secured buyers for the next 15 to 20 years as stated above.

It is undeniable that Uruguay through a decisive public policy has facilitated its massive growth of renewable energies, which has meant the transition in five years from a polluting and non-renewable matrix to a mostly clean and renewable electricity sector. However, there are two challenges that the Uruguayan energy sector must face to make it fit for the future. The first is to build up enough human capital to face these new challenges, the second is to reduce the residential electricity tariff to make the consumers benefit from the energy transition.




Kategorien: Blogs

Renewables in Germany close in on 40% of total generation

15 November, 2018 - 14:00

Germany is edging ever closer to its national target of 65% renewable energy by 2030: even as new government regulations slow down the speed of the Energiewende, market forces and Mother Nature have ensured that throughout 2018, renewable energy will cover at least 38% of Germany’s total electricity consumption. L. Michael Buchsbaum takes a look.

Germany’s renewables have enjoyed a record setting run throughout 2018 (Public Domain)

Germany will still miss its 2020 greenhouse emissions targets, and it may not meet its 2030 goals either. The slow greening of the heat and transport sector in Germany remains a continued concern. However, overall emissions from energy are trending downwards as renewables overtake coal.

So far in 2018, renewables (on- and off-shore wind, solar PV, biomass and hydro) covered a full 38% of gross electricity consumption in Germany. The new figures tallied by the Center for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Württemberg (ZSW) and the Federal Association of the Energy and Water Industry (BDEW) show an increase of 3% compared to the same period last year. In January, April and May 2018, renewables hit highs of 43% due to the extremely strong winds and the high number of hours of sunshine. Looking forward through the rest of the year, the groups believe that if wind demand stays at its average pace throughout 2018, the 38% renewable level will prevail.

During the first three quarters of 2018, almost 170 billion kilowatt hours (billion kWh) of electricity was generated by renewable sources. This is a sharp increase compared to last year’s 155.5 billion kWh in the same period. Moreover, renewables over this stretch were nearly on par with electricity generated from lignite and hard coal, which was around 172 billion kWh. Indeed, coal’s share of the energy mix was down almost 7% from last year, while natural gas also fell by almost 8% percent to around 59 billion kWh.

Overall, onshore wind energy continued to be the largest source of renewables during this period, generating almost 63 billion kWh, an increase of more than 13% over the same period last year. Likewise, solar PV generated more than 41 billion kWh over this period, jumping nearly 16% year over year. In the third and fourth places, respectively, were biomass with around 34 billion kWh (steady since last year) and hydropower, where there was a decline of almost 10 percent to around 13 billion kWh due to persistent drought.

Bringing up the rear for renewables’ share, offshore wind contributed around 13 billion kWh of overall power generation. However, this is extremely impressive considering that just four years ago, offshore wind was considered a niche technology. Today offshore wind is poised for major increases in the near term, and is seen by some experts as a potential renewable baseload.

“Renewables are clearly in the fast lane, while the contribution of conventional energy sources to cover gross electricity consumption is steadily declining. However, there is still a lot of work to do to reach the target of 65% renewables by 2030,” said Stefan Kapferer, Chairman of the BDEW Management Board. He is concerned that Germany’s energy grid may be the most fragile part of the overall system, especially with regards to offshore wind. “Everything must be done to press ahead with the urgently needed expansion of the North-South grid corridors and to create adequate framework conditions for the operation of electricity storage systems. These are prerequisites for making full use of the electricity generated from renewables and achieving the climate goals,” he said.

Indeed, Germany’s renewables have enjoyed a record setting run throughout 2018. By the end of June, they had produced enough to power every household in the country for a year as their combined power output hit a record 104 billion kilowatt hours (kWh), according to energy firm E.On. Year over year, that was 9.5 per cent more than in 2017 and a third more than three years ago, the company said, citing in-house analysts who supply data to its sales teams.

Energy consumption is expected to fall further next year. According to initial estimates by energy market research group AG Energiebilanzen (AGEB), the country’s energy consumption will likely drop by almost five percent over the entire year due to higher energy prices, warm weather and increasing efficiency, outweighing solid economic growth and a population increase.

So far, while renewables have increased and energy consumption has fallen, German CO2 emissions have largely stagnated. This is partially because transportation emissions have continued to rise. In addition, an increasing amount of Germany’s energy is simply exported to neighboring countries. A case in point is RWE’s sale of power generated from coal mined at the giant Hambach and other open pit mines to Belgium.

But this year, partially because of renewables’ sharp increase, Germany’s CO2 emissions are on course for their largest drop since the 2009 recession. Indeed, after remaining virtually unchanged for the four previous years, AGEB calculates a decline of about 7%. Ominously, another factor involved in this drop are the higher temperatures across Europe. The trend has likely continued throughout October, as Germany’s National Meteorological Service (DWD) reported an “exceedingly sunny and very warm” month. The DWD also said the first ten months of the year have never been as warm as in 2018, since German-wide weather measurements started in 1881.

However, this does not mean the nation is on track for further emissions reductions in the coming years. Hans-Joachim Ziesing, a member of the federal government’s independent Energiewende monitoring expert commission, said the drop was largely caused by one-off effects. While certainly good signs, Germany still remains short of its goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2020. “I would warn against calling this a trend,” Ziesing said. “I would also warn against believing that we are now taking big steps towards the 2020 climate targets. The gap is far too large to get there on the basis of this year’s developments.”


Kategorien: Blogs

Urban mobility: Berlin’s mean streets vs. Copenhagen’s sanity

13 November, 2018 - 14:00

“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci

Berlin’s bicycle infrastructure lags far behind. What measures would be necessary for positve change? (Public Domain)

It’s a nasty shock returning to the streets of Berlin after a week cycling in downtown Copenhagen. Never in all my many years biking here (I first moved to West Berlin in 1985, never owned a car) have I experienced such tension, animosity, and violence in traffic than today. And it’s not just cyclists versus cars; it seems everyone on the move is at one another’s throat:  cyclists, pedestrians, street-front store owners, the drivers of private cars, taxis, trailer trucks, and commercial vans. Parked cars are a huge factor, too, clogging Berlin’s many narrow, cobbled streets. And the severity of the mess in Berlin appears even uglier when compared to Copenhagen, dubbed the world’s most bicycle-friendly city for good reason.

Berlin has ten cycling fatalities by way of motor-vehicle-related accidents this year, which already equals last year’s total. And the number of cycling accidents is set to outpace last year’s gloomy statistic of 7,111 cycle-car mishaps (for some inexplicable reason this figure doesn’t count the cyclists injured, sometimes fatally, by car doors suddenly opened in their path.) Berlin is ranked a lowly 36th of 39 German cities for biking infrastructure.

These days, I’m not on my bicycle for more than about 15 minutes in central Berlin without experiencing some kind of altercation, crack-up or near-miss. Yesterday afternoon on Köpenickerstrasse, I saw a young lady on a mountain bike (hipster get-up, headphones, no helmet) very nearly get blindsided by a large commercial van taking a right-hand turn. At the very last second, the van driver slammed on the brakes, the woman swerved, and bloodshed was only just averted. I glared at the van driver as I passed him; he shouted back something at me that I fortunately didn’t quite get. And then on the return trip a fellow cyclist on a (too narrow) bike lane near Alexanderplatz barked at me sharply for coming too close as I passed him. Meine Güte! This is an average day on Berlin’s streets – and the sidewalks aren’t much better.

Sure, cyclists blame the cars, the motorized classes curse the bikes, pedestrians shout at cyclists on their pavements, the bikers retort there’s no bike lanes on the hyper-congested streets. My colleague’s wife bruised her collar bone last week when another cyclist slammed full-speed into her (she on bike, with helmet.)

The crux of the problem in Berlin is that it’s a city in transition – see Gramsci quote. It’s a growing city, which was never made for hundreds of thousands of autos in the first place, and is transitioning to a low-carbon, sustainable metropolis in which the likes of bikes will one day replace motor vehicles, as has happened, partially, in Copenhagen.

This transition is part of the left-wing Berlin government’s mandate. In 2016, cycling proponents in Berlin gathered enough signatures (over 100,000 in 3.5 weeks) to hold a popular referendum that would have compelled the city to have two-meter-wide bike lanes on every major street, 350 km of lanes for children, 200,000 bike parking spots at public transportation nodes, 100 km of fast lanes for commuters, and other adornments. But the Social Democrat-Greens-Left Party government that came to power negotiated with the referendum’s organizers to drop the petition and join them in formulating a “bicycle law.” City hall earmarked €20 million for new lanes and refurbishing older ones, and passed a so-called Mobility Law that prioritizes sustainable mobility in city planning. Ever more bike lanes will be protected from street traffic by iron poles that physically separate cycle and automobile traffic. The measures were heralded as visionary and deemed sufficient to catapult Berlin to the front of the pack in ten years, perhaps even enabling it one day to catch up with Copenhagen.

So far, though, there’s not much evidence of this happening. The increased traffic from the additional roughly 30,000 to 50,000 new Bürger that Berlin adds annually to its 3.6 million population renders any of the small-scale progress worthless.

And this gets to the heart of the problem: too many vehicles on the roads and parked on both sides of the streets. Berlin has to do what Copenhagen has done, not only create safe bike lanes and bike bridges but also make owning, driving, and parking a private car in the city prohibitively expensive. One notices immediately in Copenhagen that there are less cars; in fact, only 22% of households own a car. The city makes practitioners of the loud, polluting, climate-killing luxury of urban motorfare pay for it in taxes, registration fees, and parking. “Owning a car is very expensive in Denmark,” the website Expat Life in Denmark warns, “so if you do not really need a car on a daily basis, you are financially better off not owning one.” Newly purchased vehicles are taxed up to 150% of the sticker price. The portal estimates that car taxes and fees, including mandatory parking fees, can easily run to more than €3,700 a year, and more for older, dirty models.

Of course, these are also fewer car owners in Copenhagen because the bicycling infrastructure is so extensive. In both Denmark and Germany, surveys show that the majority of citizens say they’d rather bike to work than drive. In Copenhagen, they can because, say its urban planners, of the political and public will that turned it into a cycler’s Shangri-La . The making of a cycle-friendly city isn’t foremost a financial challenge, but rather an administrative one: one-way streets, parking on just one street side, and lots of white paint and metal posts.

In Copenhagen, I learned to my surprise, most cyclists don’t even wear helmets.




Kategorien: Blogs

Is the Czech energy sector about to become the “Wild East”?

12 November, 2018 - 14:00

Anybody following the Czech political debate about the future of the energy sector here must be confused. Sometimes it seems we have woken up back in 1985. Martin Sedlák attempts to give a sense of the current context of that debate.

The Czech government is planning to relay more on coal and nuclear power in the furture energy mix (Public Domain)


“Solar barons” and policy problems

Within the EU, the Czech Republic has long been among those states whose politicians are sceptical about climate change policy or increasing the share of renewables in energy production. There are several reasons for this attitude, but the main one is the nature of the country’s initial experiences with support schemes for renewables.

Previous administrations never managed to establish good conditions for the development of solar energy. The error was not in the amount of support available, but in the lack of annual targets for how much energy a given type of renewable was to produce. During 2010, therefore, there was a sudden increase of about 1 500 MW worth of capacity available from newly-installed solar parks.

Today Czech consumers’ annual electricity costs include roughly EUR 1 billion in support for all types of renewables, while that same amount of money is also contributed to the sector from the state budget.

For the Czech Republic, the scale of this expenditure is enormous. Unfortunately, when a scapegoat was sought to explain state deficits, it became renewable technology, with photovoltaic cells described as the main culprit. The most frequent argument against the further development of renewables here is the remark that we already contribute more than EUR 2 billion to them annually. The Ministry of Industry and Trade remains deaf to the fact that renewables today are cheaper than nuclear and is simultaneously preparing the conditions for the building of new nuclear reactors.

To complete the picture of the Czech context, we can probably best understand the problem if we remember what Czech President Miloš Zeman recently said in a live interview for the public broadcaster Radiožurnál. Zeman referred to a group of people (who, in his view, have harmed the Czech Republic) by calling them “economic assholes” (a direct quote), and included solar energy entrepreneurs among them (using the colorful label “solar barons”).

Retro-energy and our Russian friends

It is the government that is responsible for Czech energy policy, not the head of state. But after the introduction of direct presidential elections, the current head of state, Miloš Zeman, began to proactively exceed the limits of his office and to push the development of nuclear and coal.

Expertní tým pana prezidenta jednoznačně podpořil jadernou energetiku a její další rozvoj. Své místo v energetickém mixu mají nadále mít i tradiční elektrárny, např. uhelné. Tým v této souvislosti podpořil prolomení limitů.

— Jiří Ovčáček (@PREZIDENTmluvci) October 20, 2018

Zeman founded his own expert team on energy, comprised of current Industry Minister Marta Nováková, former Industry Minister Tomáš Hüner, and the president of the Czech Chamber of Commerce, Vladimír Dlouhý (another former Industry Minister). His permanent adviser on energy Martin Nejedlý , has close ties to Russia (in the past, for example, he was a representative of the Russian firm Lukoil). Zeman even brought Nejedlý – who surprisingly has never undergone a security vetting – to a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. According to the Czech media, Nejedlý also met with representatives of Rosatom in Russia, and the weekly RESPEKT reported that building new nuclear reactors in the Czech Republic was the subject of those meetings.

The most recent findings from Zeman’s expert team were released in October. The presidential spokesperson summarized those findings on Twitter: “The President’s expert team unequivocally supports the further development of nuclear energy. Traditional electricity production, e.g., by coal, should also continue to have its place in the energy mix. In that context, the team supports removing the existing limits to such production.”
Given the role played by the presidential advisers, their uncritical support for new nuclear reactors should not be surprising. Furthermore, Zeman has raised the subject of coal mining limits several times, always to argue in favor of expanding them.

Nevertheless, the government’s program declaration states that the territorial limits on coal mining – which are protecting the towns and villages of North Bohemia from being razed to the ground – will be respected. It is, therefore, unclear whether the opinion of the other presidential advisers on this issue is shared by the adviser who is also currently a member of the cabinet.

Czechs overwhelmingly want renewables, not nuclear

The Czech energy sector has been at a standstill for some time now, and the highest representative of the state feels the need to support the technologies that symbolized energy production during the 1980s.

Czech society, however, does not reject modern energy production.

A 2018 sociological study found that 81 % of Czechs assessed solar and wind as least harmful to the environment. On the other hand, coal was assessed by 71 % as most harmful. Nuclear is considered harmful by 24 % of Czechs, while 34 % believe it is safe. However, 71 % of respondents believe the relevant authorities are not providing enough information about the safety of nuclear power plants.

Similar results were found by a survey published in October on Czech public opinion about modern energy production, i.e., renewables or batteries, by the Modern Energy Union (Svaz moderní energetiky). Almost 80 % of respondents are in favor of further development in this branch, with strong support for it among the younger Generation.

The data show, therefore, that the development of modern, environmentally-friendly energy resources is supported by Czech society. The question is whether Czech political representatives will notice.

Martin Sedlák is program director of The Modern Energy Union (Svaz moderní energetiky), the Union contributes to national debates in Czech Republic. He is as well an author for the Blog Aktuálne.cz.

Kategorien: Blogs

Brazilian energy under Bolsonaro´s government: Brazil above all?

9 November, 2018 - 14:00

In the past few years, Brazil has experienced its worst economic recession in history, political crises, and corruption in the energy sector (especially the state company Petrobras). Now, the right-wing Jair Bolsonaro has become president of Brazil. What will be the consequences for energy, the environment, and the struggle against climate change? Maximiliano Proaño explains.

The new Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro may take the country back to a fossil fuel path (Photo by Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/Agência Brasil, CC BY 2.0)

Brazil is the ninth largest economy in the world, and a serious energy power worldwide. It is the ninth oil producer of the world, the second biofuels and hydropowerproducer of the world and the eighth largest country by wind power installed capacity. Brazil’s government is heavily involved in the energy sector: it owns half of Brazil’s major electric utility Electrobras, and half of the oil company Petrobras. How will this change under Bolsonaro?

The state of renewable energy in Brazil

Renewable energy is on the rise in Brazil. In an average month – for example, June of this year – renewable energy sources represented 81.9% of the installed capacity of electricity generation in Brazil (according to data from the Ministry of Mines and Energy).

Hydropower is still by far the main source of energy in the country and represents 63.7% of all electricity generated. This is a decrease from the usual average of around 70% of the total electricity matrix, as hydroelectricity has come under increased opposition from communities and environmentalists. In addition, the production of hydroelectricity has been reduced due to the recent years of drought in the Amazon and the south of the country, and cases of corruption such as millionaire bribes in Belo Monte dam project (which has been also criticized for displacing indigenous communities). Brazil has therefore begun to import electricity from countries such as Argentina and Uruguay.

All these reasons generated consensus in the country on the need to diversify the energy matrix towards renewable energies wind energy and biomass (from sugarcane, rice husks and wood residues, among others).

In the past years Brazil has experienced an important deployment of wind and solar power. Wind energy already represented 8.1 percent of the energy produced in June 2018, while solar plants added 1 percent. Although solar energy’s development in Brazil is still incipient, it grew explosively from 80 mw in 2016 to 1097 mw of installed capacity in 2017.

The growth of wind energy was promoted through tenders as well as credits for the private sector, for around nine billion dollars, granted by the National Development Bank (BNDES) between 2003 and 2016. Solar energy has grown by means of public incentives that allow domestic users to install their own solar panels and connect to the grid, supplying electricity to the grid when there is a surplus.

Bolsonaro’s government could stop energy transition

Unfortunately, Brazil’s new president-elect Jair Bolsonaro may take the country on a different path. Due to his neoliberal stance, subsidies and incentives in renewable energies such as solar and wind power could be eliminated. Instead of that, it is possible Bolsonaro´s government policies will invest in fossil fuels.

The future of Electrobras (the public electricity utility) and Petrobras (one of the 20 largest oil companies in the world) seems uncertain under Bolsonaro. His government plan first states that the energy sector “needs a liberal shock.” However, consulted on the privatization of Electrobras, Bolsonaro said “Electric power is vital, and therefore cannot be handed over to other countries,” and he added “I’m in favor of privatizing many things in Brazil, but not in the energy sector”. Regarding Petrobras, Bolsonaro´s chief economic adviser Pablo Guedes, has spoken of the company’s total privatization; yet, Bolsonaro said in an interview in October the “core” of Petrobras should be preserved.

One of the main concerns with respect to the energy policy of Bolsonaro´s government is in environmental matters. Brazil is the sixth largest country greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the world. Under the Paris Agreement, the country promised to reduce its GHG emissions by 37% by 2025 in relation to 2005 emissions. The focus has been on combating deforestation in the Amazon, investing in renewable energies, and better efficiency in the agricultural sector.

Yet Bolsonaro seems to disregard environmetal protections. His government plans to lower taxes on fossil fuels, stating that: “In the formulation of energy prices, including fuels, there is a strong influence of state taxes, which will need to be reviewed among all the federative entities, in order not to overload the Brazilian consumer.” In addition, Bolsonaro has often raised the need to speed up environmental licensing processes, including for new hydroelectric plants in the Amazon region. His government plan wants to push through environmental licensing for small hydroelectric power plants, promising that they will “ensure that the licensing is evaluated within a maximum period of three months. ”

Another concern for Brazilian energy are the 53 nuclear plants it already has, and other projects that are planned. According to a report from Reuters, Oswaldo Ferreira, one of several retired generals advising Bolsonaro, said that if he were elected, the government would also complete Brazil’s corruption-plagued Angra 3 nuclear power station on the coast between Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

If the measures described throughout this article are carried out during Bolsonaro´s government, there will be both local and global consequences. The negative socio-environmental impact of this energy policy would harm indigenous communities and the poorest sectors of society. And it will be impossible for Brazil to comply with its to reduce greenhouse gases – bad news for the already uphill fight against climate change.

Kategorien: Blogs

European rail transport is part of European climate policy

7 November, 2018 - 14:00

In Europe, the transport sector accounts for a quarter of all greenhouse gases. A transformation of European mobility is therefore crucial for combating climate change.

Rail transport is the most climate-friendly mode of Transport (Public Domain)

Since the recent diesel scandal, it is clear that the transport sector is responsible for health-endangering air pollution. A European mobility shift must tackle several challenges simultaneously: our mobility must become more climate-friendly, air quality must be improved, and services such as travel times must be more attractive to Europe’s citizens.

The answer to these challenges is a closer European rail network for European passenger and freight transport. This concern is not new, but so far it has been sluggishly implemented at the European level. Too much of European rail transport is shaped by national interests.

Even in Germany, the political starting position for European rail transport is not favorable. With its own investment and tax policy, the Federal Government sends the wrong policy signals: rail transport pays the full VAT rate of 19 percent, while air traffic is completely exempt. Germany is thus in last place in the EU, ahead only of Greece and Croatia, when it comes to promoting rail travel. Germany also invests a much higher percentage of its public spending in roads than rail transport, unlike, for example, our southern neighbors Austria and Switzerland. In terms of climate and transport policy, this favoritism for road and air traffic makes no sense.

If Germany and Europe are serious about the Paris climate targets, the transportation equation must change. After all, rail transport is the most climate-friendly mode of transport compared with buses, cars and planes. In the Paris Climate Agreement, the European Union is committed to reducing greenhouse gases in the transport sector by 20 percent by 2030 compared to 2008, and by 60 percent by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. However, looking at the current situation and projections for the year 2030, rail transport is the only mode of transport within these objectives. In air traffic, the discrepancy is particularly dramatic. Here, the 2030 projection is almost three times as high as the Paris climate target. A stronger European rail network is therefore urgently needed in terms of climate policy. Unfortunately, the current progress on a European network is nowhere near where it needs to be.

One reason for this is the general lack of prominent European support for the subject. In the EU Commission, it is not pursued by Directorates-General (DG) Transport, which is responsible for transport policy, but rather neglected by regional policy DG Regio. The liberalization of rail transport in Europe has not done much to improve the situation, and EU directives and regulations are being implemented sluggishly. Member states are reluctant to comply with the European Commission’s call for harmonization of standards in rail transport, such as signaling, security and power systems or other regulations.

The lack of strict European implementation deadlines has also hampered implementation. National railway companies, which are predominantly state-owned in Europe, usually have little interest in providing their national rail network to foreign competitors. Time and again, foreign railway companies have to pay extra if they use the rail network of their European neighbors. Often the locomotives have to be changed at the borders so that the train can continue on the other side. This slows down intra-European rail transport unnecessarily and makes it unattractive to Europe’s citizens.

But there is another important reason for this slow harmonization process: the alleged lack of economic efficiency. At first glance, it is often not worthwhile for railway companies to engage in intra-European rail transport. Changing locomotives and a long wait at the border costs money. Yet if you look more closely, companies have pursued different strategies. The Deutsche Bahn from Germany abolished all night trains, mostly intra-European, at the end of 2016 , as they deemed it just a niche business. Yet other railway companies have taken over the European business for themselves and are making it profitable. The Austrian Federal Railways ÖBB is increasingly focusing on intra-European night trains, for example for the routes from Hamburg to Vienna or Zurich to Berlin. Since ÖBB serves a geographically smaller area than Germany, it engages in intra-European night train traffic, which already accounts for 20 percent of passenger traffic. The ÖBB has thus placed itself well in intra-European rail transport.

In order to further boost intra-European rail transport, infrastructure measures are urgently needed. Such measures could be used to close existing infrastructure gaps that have existed since the post-war period, for example between Colmar (France) and Freiburg. In addition, it is essential that these gaps are also prioritized, rather than only sponsoring major infrastructure projects. For the project Stuttgart 21 over 10 billion euros are spent to shorten the travel time only a few minutes; travel time between Berlin and Wroclaw could be cut by more than two hours for 100 million euros if the political course were set for a European rail infrastructure. Infrastructure investments in cross-border rail transport pay off directly in terms of connecting Europe and climate policy.

A better-connected Europe would also benefit Europe’s citizens. Not only would European border regions benefit economically, with positive effects on local jobs, but better transportation could also create a new space for European encounters. In a Europe, where national states are drifting farther apart, the cohesion of citizens would be strengthened. In the train, unlike in an airplane or bus, it is easier to talk to one’s immediate neighbor. One takes time for each other and experiences Europe from its human – not just bureaucratic – side.

Therefore, intra-European rail transport should be understood as an integral element of European transport, climate, investment and structural policy. European policy must finally pave the way for the harmonization process to be stimulated, the Member States to adhere to fixed deadlines, and intra-European train services to be attractive to Europe’s citizens. Of course, this also means that tax, market and subsidy mechanisms allow European train journeys to compete at a competitive price with aviation. Only then can rail transport bring out its full potential in European climate policy.

Kategorien: Blogs

Americans vote on climate change today

6 November, 2018 - 13:00

In response to the Trump administration’s massive rollback of environmental regulations, citizens across the US have put forth ballot initiatives to restrict carbon emissions, stop fracking, and encourage renewable energy development. L. Michael Buchsbaum goes in-depth.

Americans in the west of the country are backing climate-friendly candidates and new laws (Photo by Tom Arthur, CC BY-SA 2.0)

For many voters, this year’s mid-term election is a way to fight back. With Trump controlling the executive branch and Republicans controlling both houses of Congress, state governors races and state legislature contests are some of the few tools progressives have left to advance their own energy agendas. While Democrats possibly could re-gain the House of Representatives, (and some even hope the Senate), voters are also concentrating on local races for state governors and legislatures.

But another powerful way to protect the environment is through state-level ballot initiatives. One of the few actual examples of direct democracy in the US, ballot initiatives are possible in twenty-four states, including most Western ones. Citizens who gather enough petition signatures are able to put new laws and regulations to a vote in general elections, with the winners added to State Constitutions.

Nationwide, 64 citizen-driven initiatives will appear on state ballots this November. In Washington State, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada and others, the proposed initiatives are designed to restrict carbon emissions, fracking or encourage renewable energy development — or all three.

In Arizona, Proposition 127, known as the Renewable Energy Standards Initiative, would require utility companies to get half their energy from renewable energy sources by 2030. California billionaire Tom Steyer has contributed over $8 million to the campaign through his political action organization, NextGen Climate Action, which is funding a similar initiative in neighboring Nevada. Question 6, also known as the Renewable Energy Promotion Initiative would also require Nevada utilities to get 50 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

In Colorado, Proposition 112 — the Safer Setbacks for Fracking Initiative — promoted and backed by a host of progressive, grassroots environmental groups, would prohibit new oil and gas wells and production facilities within 2,500 feet of schools, houses, playgrounds, parks, drinking water sources and more.

But perhaps the most far-reaching ballot measure this year is in Washington State, which could become the first state to pass a so-called “carbon fee.” Prop 1631 would impose a $15 per metric ton fee on carbon emissions starting in 2020, which would increase by $2 per year until the state’s 2035 carbon reduction goals are met. The state estimates that the levy would generate $2.2 billion in its first five years.

While the initiative’s supporters concede that gasoline prices would rise and citizens would pay about $10 a month, the State would also be directed to invest about 70% of the proceeds into projects that would accelerate the state’s transition from fossil fuels including public transportation, energy efficiency, wind and solar plants. The rest will be used to protect forests and streams and shielding low-income ratepayers from higher electricity bills.

In a recent editorial, the New York Times editorial board threw their support behind the measure, citing the call to action embedded within the recent United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. “It is thus encouraging that in this time of torpor and climate denial at the highest levels of the federal government, voters in the state of Washington will soon be given the chance to adopt, by initiative, a carbon pricing plan that would charge polluters like refineries a fee for emitting greenhouse gases.”

The fee, which is termed by economists a Pigovian tax after the British economist Arthur Pigou, would factor in the now unaccounted costs of more frequent and intense hurricanes, wildfires, droughts and other natural disasters linked to climate change. In the words of George Frampton, a senior environmental adviser to Bill Clinton and co-founder of a group that favors carbon taxes, Partnership for Responsible Growth, it’s an overdue stab at “honestly pricing carbon,” which industry has until now been able to hurl into the atmosphere pretty much for free.

Powerful backers including Google’s Bill Gates and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, as well as Gov. Jay Inslee (a Democrat) and many Native American groups. Polling so far suggests a close vote with the heaviest support coming out of the bigger cities of Seattle and Spokane. However, voters across the state remember the vast amounts of smoke from wildfires that clogged skies all summer.

Though in total, according to the Times, the initiative covers about 80% of Washington’s climate-warming emissions, there are some built in exemptions, including allowing the state’s only operating coal-fired power plant, already scheduled to close in 2025, to avoid paying. Boeing, the state’s largest employer will also be exempt, as well as paper companies, and a giant aluminum smelter. However, oil companies will have to pay. And for that reason, they are spending big, pouring at least $31 million into the race.

Supporter Governor Inslee, widely considered a potential presidential candidate for 2020, was deeply impressed by the new IPCC report that warned “unprecedented” action was needed over the next decade. “Given what the oil industry has done — unfettered, unlimited in time or amount — to the one atmosphere we have, it shouldn’t cause a lot of angst or tears to be simply asking them to not treat our atmosphere like a sewer,” he said.

Currently, about 40 governments around the world, including the European Union and California, have put a price on carbon. A yes vote in Washington State would add further momentum, and possibly convince a few in Washington DC that voters are ready for a US-wide carbon market. But its rejection would also be taken as a sign that carbon taxes are still not politically viable domestically.

Kategorien: Blogs

Climate Change Might Double the Cost of a Beer

5 November, 2018 - 14:00

Beer drinkers might pay more and find less of their favorite beverage as climate change comes for barley. Scientists expect that extreme droughts and heat waves will become more frequent and intense in the regions that grow the grain.  Eric Niiler takes a look at the facts:

Despite adapted cultivation techniques, it appears like problems in beer production cannot be avoided. (Public Domain)

Many farmers are already adapting to the slowly warming planet—with advanced plant breeding techniques to create more drought-resistant grains, for example, and by using more efficient irrigation systems to conserve water—but a new study out today in the journal Nature Plants says that many regions won’t be able to cope with the arid conditions of the future. The work was done by a group of researchers in China along with Steven J. Davis, an environmental scientist at the University of California Irvine.

The team looked at the areas around the world that grow barley, which is turned into malt for beer, and projected what will occur under five different climate warming scenarios by 2100. Using models of both economic activity and climate change, the group made predictions about what will happen to barley production, as well as beer price and consumption.

During the most severe climate events, the study predicts that global beer consumption would decline by 16 percent, an amount about equal to the total annual beer consumption of the United States in 2011. It also expects average beer prices to double. Each country would be affected differently. The price of a single pint of beer in Ireland, for example, will rise by $4.84, followed by $4.52 in Italy and $4.34 in Canada. American tipplers will see beer prices rise up to $1.94 under the extreme events, the study said, and barley farmers will export more to other nations.

Davis, who has published several papers on climate change and the Chinese economy, says many extreme drought and heat events will force farmers to feed barley to livestock instead of selling it to domestic breweries. “When we have these shortages, our models suggest people are going to feed the barley to the livestock before they make beer,” Davis said. “That makes sense. This is a luxury commodity and it’s more important to have food on the table.”
The effects of climate change are already being felt by craft brewers, says Katie Wallace, director of social and environmental responsibility at New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado. In 2014, the US barley-growing region—Montana, North Dakota and Idaho—was hit by an extremely wet and warm winter that caused crops to sprout early, rendering much of it useless. Farmers were forced to tap into reserves in storage. In 2017 and again this past summer, the Pacific Northwest was hit by severe drought that affected production of hops that give unique flavors to craft brews. Wallace says that climate change is on the minds of all craft brewers as they plan for how to avoid future shortages of both barley and hops. “Its stressful,” Newman said. “We are seeing an increased level of vulnerability and some near escapes in some cases. All of these things have happened periodically, but the frequency is growing.”

The craft beer industry is already planning for the future, says Chris Swersey, a supply chain specialist at the Brewer’s Association, a trade group that represents 4,500 small breweries across the country. Swersey says he is skeptical of the paper’s findings, mainly because it assumes that the amount and location of barley production will stay the same as it is today. He says barley growing is already moving north to Canada, while researchers are hoping to expand barley’s range with winter-hardy breeds.

“The industry is already aware that barley production is shifting,” Swersey says. “We need to be thinking ahead and be smart about what is our climate going to look like 50 or 100 years from now.”

It’s not just the little guys who are thinking of climate change. The king of US beer production remains Budweiser, which produces the number 1 (Bud Light) and number 3 (Budweiser) top-selling brands. Budweiser buys barley from a vast network of farmers in the northern US and is investing in new breeds of drought-resistant barley strains, according to Jessica Newman, director of agronomy for Budweiser. “It’s all about getting the right varieties, getting the right mix, and getting the right technology to our growers,” Newman says from her office in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

She says Budweiser’s crop science lab in Colorado is working on new barley strains dubbed Voyager, Merit 57 and Growler. “We are breeding for drought resistance and sprout resistance,” Newman said. “If we see rainfall coming earlier, or if it rains in the wrong time of year, the barley can sprout and it wouldn’t be used. We also want it to use less water and fewer agricultural chemicals.”

Climate scientist Davis says he and his colleagues wrote the study as a thought exercise to perhaps stoke conversation about how climate change affects our daily lives. “A paper on beer might seem a little bit frivolous when it’s dealing with a topic that poses existential threats,” Davis said. “But some of us have a personal love of beer and thought this might be interesting.” Climate change won’t just alter the weather; it’ll also hit our grocery tabs and hobbies.

Eric Niiler is a freelance journalist and contributing writer at WIRED he writes about science, technology, public policy and medical topics.”
This article has been republished from WIRED.

Kategorien: Blogs

Post-mortem: Auditors analyse EU’s failed carbon capture projects

1 November, 2018 - 14:00

EU-funded efforts to boost the uptake of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies have failed largely because of a lack of coordination and long-term strategies that scared away investors, according to a report by the European Court of Auditors.  Sam Morgan takes a closer look.

CCS is seen as one of the few options available to address emissions from process industries which are heavily carbon-intensive (Public Domain)

The EU watchdog looked into funding programmes launched between 2008 and 2017 in Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom but found that they fell short of their targets. Under the European Energy Programme for Recovery (EEPR) and the New Entrants’ Reserve (NER300), a war-chest of €3.7 billion was available to invest in projects that could show the commercial viability of CCS.

Only one project, funded under the EEPR in Spain, is currently operating but it is not of a commercial size. Four other projects were terminated early and another, in the Netherlands, did actually acquire a carbon storage permit but the facility is not in use.

NER300 aimed to fund eight projects but the first call for tender failed to award any grants after the European Commission concluded that none fulfilled the necessary legal requirements.
For example, three UK-based projects were cancelled because the British government made its contribution dependent on a national competition that was underway at the time. A second call for proposals was also unsuccessful after the UK nixed its support scheme in 2015.

CCS technology involves capturing emissions of industrial installations and burying them underground, often in depleted oil and gas fields. The technology was initially touted as a silver bullet to address emissions from coal power plants but failed to take off as renewable energies became cheaper.

Still, CCS is seen as one of the few options available to address emissions from process industries such as steel and cement which are heavily carbon-intensive. European scientists have recently tried to revive interest in CCS, warning that keeping global warming well below 2°C – the headline target of the Paris Agreement – will be “more difficult, a lot more expensive, and a lot more delayed” without it. CCS is still touted by the fossil fuel industry as a powerful mitigation tool and the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers told EURACTIV that it welcomed the report’s conclusions, adding that “the criteria of NER300 for projects were too strict”.

The association also warned that the fact that participating countries had to match funding contributions scared away investors and urged the Commission to learn from its mistakes.
The Auditors also concluded that coordination between Commission services and other instruments was mishandled and that investor uncertainty about policies was a large contributor to the failures of the programmes.Lead author on the report, Samo Jereb, told reporters that a “lack of proper long-term strategies on behalf of member states” was a contributing factor.
In late November, the Commission will present its long-term strategy for 2050, which is meant to drag the EU’s economy onto a Paris climate accord-compliant trajectory. Many industrial groups insist that CCS will be essential to that effort.

Market volatility

While the projects were active, the price of carbon plummeted in 2011 and the EU’s emissions trading scheme (ETS) became largely ineffective, which the report also cited as a reason for the lack of results.

A lower carbon price means that operators of large-scale power plants and other carbon emitters would prefer to merely buy ETS permits and pay to pollute, rather than invest in mitigation measures. This particularly affected NER300, as it was funded directly from the sale of 300 million ETS permits. The Auditors concluded that it was a mistake to insert its legal basis within the ETS Directive, as it did not reduce risk for investors.

That programme is due to be replaced by the so-called Innovation Fund in 2021 and the Auditors report recommended that the Commission ensure the new instrument benefits from better project selection and flexibility.

Leftover scraps

Given that funds were only allocated by NER300 to completed projects, the question of what to do with nearly €500 million in unspent money quickly arose.

The programme’s initial rules stipulated that leftover cash would be reimbursed to the member states but a decision by the Commission’s Climate Change Committee in late 2017 moved the goalposts and now the money will be used to top up European Investment Bank projects.

But NER300 was meant to apply to EU ETS sectors and EIB-managed schemes include the Connecting Europe Facility, which focuses primarily on transport.

The Auditors urged the Commission to make sure that the replacement Innovation Fund has clearer accountability provisions, particularly in the management of the unspent NER300 monies.

In response to the report’s recommendations, the Commission revealed that the new provisions will be spelled out clearly and that cooperation agreements with the EIB will be improved.
But the EU executive only partly accepted the report’s insistence that all funds are recorded on its annual balance sheet and, as such, subject to audit and approval by the European Parliament and Council.

The Commission pointed out that the new Fund will not be a part of its new Multiannual Financial Framework, the EU’s long-term budget, as it is financed by the ETS. However, it did concede that it will implement “sound financial management”.
The report also assessed the two programmes’ efforts to boost innovative renewable energy options, concluding that EEPR “contributed positively” to the offshore wind sector. But NER300 made “little progress”.

Sam Morgan is author of EURACTIV.com and writes about climate and energy.
This article has been republished from EURACTIV.com.

Kategorien: Blogs

Radioactive waste disposal in four words: “We do not know”

30 Oktober, 2018 - 13:00

Nuclear waste will remain dangerous for more than 100,000 years – so what are countries and producers doing to deal with this problem? Passing the buck, apparently: so far, not a single facility to safely store spent nuclear fuel has been created in Europe, or the world for that matter. Silvia Weko takes a look.

The dispose of nuclear waste in the Euopean Union is still not figured out (Public Domain)

Who is responsible for nuclear waste?

The issue of what to do with spent nuclear fuel has been on the table for more than forty years, but producers have yet to figure out a solution. The European Union stepped up after the Fukushima disaster: in 2011, the EU Nuclear Waste Directive declared that the producer is in fact responsible for its waste, which must be disposed of in the member state where it is produced.

For the first time in 2011, EU member states were urged to provide a plan for their radioactive waste disposal to the EU Commission, the goal of which was to encourage transparency and common standards throughout Europe. National plans were to be presented on August 23, 2015; the final reports were so badly prepared that the EU and Euratom were shocked, said MEP Rebecca Harms.

In fact, the EU could not come up with a sum of how many tons of radioactive waste existed on the continent – estimates range from 300,000 to 450,000 tons. This is partially because member states use their own national criteria when reporting, calling some waste “stored” or “disposed” when it is neither. In addition, some member states did not categorize materials that are radioactive as such (e.g. waste from uranium mining).

In addition, this process made clear that many European countries had no plans what they would do with radioactive waste and how to dispose of it. For example, the Czech Republic suggested using steel and granite repositories, which have been rejected as by Swedish experts. Overall, member states have made no progress on disposing of their radioactive waste safely. A 2017 report for the European Commission reveals that there are no disposal facilities for spent nuclear fuel operational in the EU, which is becoming problematic as the volume of waste increases. It cannot be understated how much of a security risk this presents for member states and Europe as a whole, given that radiation does not respect borders.

The European Commission has taken the lead by requiring that states present “adequate information” on their disposal plans every three years. But MEP Rebecca Harms seems pessimistic about decisions on final nuclear waste repositories being taken before the year 2075. She points out that the fundamental organization of waste disposal is still being discussed forty years later, even in “advanced” countries like Sweden and Switzerland.

The Swedish example

So let’s take a look at how an “advanced” country – Sweden – is dealing with radioactive waste. Its first research nuclear reactor was built in 1954, with commercial power plant operation beginning in the 1970s. And yet, there is still no final repository for spent fuel, simply because there’s realistically no technology that can keep such dangerous materials contained for more than 100,000 years.

Sweden follows the polluter-pays principle when it comes to nuclear waste: a fee per kWh of generated electricity is paid into the state-controlled Nuclear Waste Fund, which is responsible for managing and disposing of spent fuel. This fee is recalculated every 3 years and has been increasing fast (from around 0.4 to 0.6 €cent/kWh for 2018-2020). In addition, the Swedish nuclear industry is responsible for identifying sites and methods for final disposal of radioactive waste. The reactor operators have created a private company, the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company (SKB) to develop a method to safely dispose of spent nuclear fuel.

SKB’s proposed method for a final waste repository would use copper waste canisters and clay buffers, deposited in tunnels 500 meters underground in granite bedrock. However, experiments from the University of Stockholm have shown that the copper canisters corroded between 1,000 to 10,0000 times faster than SKB had initially estimated. The regulator has of course denied these findings, even though internal documents leaked to the media showing internal criticism of this stance.

Following this controversy, the Swedish Environmental Court recommended that the government deny the license permit unless the technological issue of copper corrosion was resolved. However, should the government decide to go ahead regardless, the community where nuclear waste would be stored has a possibility to veto the decision.

Determining repositories

The location of radioactive waste depositories is often a political and not technological decision, says Andrew Blowers. Blowers is a former Bedford, UK County Councilor who fought back when his community was proposed as a site for a radioactive waste dump, and has since examined how waste repositories are chosen in the UK and abroad. Waste is usually located in “peripheral” places, which are geographically remote and economically marginal; in addition, they are often politically powerless and already environmentally degraded, leading to a kind of cultural resignation and acceptance of nuclear waste.

These communities, like Hanford in the US or Sellafield in the UK, are exposed to environmental risks because they are already the “periphery,” while other communities refuse to accept nuclear waste. This leads to a pattern of spatial and intergenerational inequality.

So how should waste repositories be determined? The fairest and safest way is to look geographically for locations that have right geological conditions, as was the process in Sweden. Yet unlike the process in Germany to designate Gorleben as a waste facility, this process must be democratic and fair. It must happen quickly, as waste presents a real security risk for Europe as a whole.

Nuclear waste disposal is an incredibly complex issue, and one that producers must be forced to reckon with. If they cannot do so, which seems to be the case, then it’s yet another reason to stop using nuclear power altogether and transition to renewable energy.


Kategorien: Blogs