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Revision of European buildings law offers chance for ‘multiple benefits’ wins

6 hours 31 min ago

Renovating existing buildings and making sure new builds are fit for purpose are the crucial tenets of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), which the European Parliament’s industry committee voted on last week. Sam Morgan of Euractiv.com takes a closer look.

Fitting insulation, just one of a whole host of building performance-enhancing measures, can lead to many benefits (Photo by Marcel S, edited, CC BY-SA 3.0)

On October 11, members of the European Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) voted to back the draft report on the directive, penned by Danish centre-right lawmaker Bendt Bendtsen.

The vote comes a month after the environment committee (ENVI) adopted its own opinion on the directive, in which MEPs decided to clarify what “decarbonised building stock” actually means and to put increased focus on indoor air quality.

Bendtsen has managed to put together a draft report that enjoys strong support from all the main political groups.

The Danish lawmaker has brokered an amendment that defines decarbonised building stock as “building stock performing to Nearly Zero-Energy Building (nZEB) level”.

Building efficiency is playing a crucial role in the EU’s drive to decarbonise the economy, meet its climate goals and improve public health. Inefficient buildings, after all, require more energy and are often detrimental to people with respiratory illnesses.

While the Emissions Trading System (ETS), power plant emissions limits and renewable energy targets are large-scale examples of climate action and efforts to cut energy use, improving building performance is seen as a potentially equally effective measure that is literally right on our doorstep.

Changes in the air

The revision of the directive aims to tap into the enormous energy-saving potential that still remains unused in the building stock, given that annual renovation rates are only between 0.4 and 1.2%, depending on the member state.

A big part of the EPBD revision is the requirement for national roadmaps and strategies, where member states will be obligated to hit certain milestones in their decarbonisation efforts. As each country has different building portfolios, an EU-wide one-size-fits-all strategy was never a serious option.

And it is not just a case of installing a new carpet or better windows either. Europe’s building stock, both residential and non-residential, accounts for 36% of CO2 emissions and 40% of the EU’s primary energy consumption. A grand total of 75% of the stock remains inefficient.

Just 1% of new constructions are nZEB and a recent publication by the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned that this will have to rise to 40% by 2050 if the Paris Agreement’s 2 degrees Celsius global-warming target is to be met.

Trigger points

As things stand, renovations are only carried out when it makes financial sense and when the proper incentives are in place to justify the investment.

Bendtsen told EURACTIV.com that “public money does not solve everything. Private investors need security and energy efficiency projects offer that”.

That is why his report also amended the Commission’s proposal to include ‘trigger points’, where a building’s energy efficiency would be improved at an opportune moment, for example, during a necessary or scheduled renovation, or as part of an agreement between tenants.

There are many synergies between the EPBD and its broader piece of sister-legislation, the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED), which is also doing the rounds in Brussels and Strasbourg.

Lawmakers in the Parliament’s environment committee recently backed a 40% energy efficiency target in the EED, ramping up the ambition of the Commission’s initial 30% legally-binding proposal and the member states’ 27% suggestion.

A 40% target enjoys wide support among building performance experts, as that alone would push renovation rates up to 3% and could create a million jobs, as well as doing wonders for investor confidence and lowering energy imports.

Ambition really is the watchword to look out for in the energy efficiency talks, especially given the results of an in-depth study commissioned by the EU executive into the potential benefits of doing more with less energy.

Cambridge Econometrics essentially found that the higher the ambition, the greater the benefits. For example, research showed that a 40% 2030 efficiency target could increase GDP by 4%, create 3 million new jobs and save €77bn in annual healthcare costs.

They also claimed that a 47% cut in greenhouse gas emissions could be attainable by pursuing the higher efficiency target.

Insulation a day keeps the doctor away

Public health was given top billing in ENVI’s opinion and now ITRE will be expected to follow suit on ensuring it is made a central part of the final legislation.

Renovations are now even being used as a healthcare tool by doctors, in order to improve patient well-being, cut down on the number of appointments and reduce costs. Ireland, for example, is trialling a scheme that provides free insulation to certain people that suffer from respiratory illnesses.

One French group has estimated that an ambitious national renovation strategy could create over 100,000 jobs and cut healthcare costs by three-quarters of a billion euros. This is in addition to emissions reduction benefits and increased security of supply.

Warm and secure

Improved building performance also has the potential to play a significant role in increasing Europe’s security of supply, one of the main objectives of the EU’s ambitious Energy Union plans.

Many countries in Eastern Europe face security of supply issues, due to dependence on gas to heat homes and businesses, and a lack of diversity in sourcing their fuel.

According to one recent study, Slovakia and Hungary face a “severe risk” of not being able to provide heating, while Bulgaria is in an even more precarious situation. Energy Union policies, including increased interconnection and an emphasis on diversification of suppliers, are intended to mitigate this, but there is also potential in more efficient buildings.

It is estimated that building renovation could cut gas needs by 70% over the next two decades. Admittedly, the upfront costs involved would run into tens of billions of euros but the end gains outweigh the investment, through reduced fuel bills alone.

Electric cars: An unnecessary add-on?

The Commission has also seized upon the EPBD revision to push its electro-mobility agenda. In the initial proposal, the EU executive wanted all new non-residential buildings with more than ten parking spaces to be fitted with electric-vehicle charging points.

ENVI’s opinion downgraded that significantly to merely ensuring that the same amount of parking spaces are equipped with the infrastructure needed to eventually install the charging facilities. It is likely that ITRE will back a similar amendment to the proposal.

When EU environment minister agreed on their so-called “general approach” in June, the member states also diluted the EU executive’s proposal. Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete said it was a “significant reduction” in the Commission’s ambition and claimed that the Council had reduced the scope by 96%.

The Commission will announce its proposals on decarbonising the transport sector on 8 November. It is still unclear to what extent those plans will rely on EV charging infrastructure.

Once MEPs agree on their common position, the ITRE committee will decide whether the file should go to a full sitting of the plenary or proceed straight to trilateral talks.

A meeting of the three main EU institutions behind closed doors during the trialogue process is already pencilled in for 7 November. It can only become law once a compromise is hammered out.

Sam Morgan is a reporter and translator for Euractiv.com.

This article has been republished from EURACTIV.com. It has been updated to reflect the results of the October 11th vote.

Categories: Blogs

The new German government must align the Energiewende with the European Union

17 October, 2017 - 15:00

Germany has been seen as a leader in renewable energy in the European Union, but there is still a long way to go. To revitalize both European and German energy transitions, Rebecca Bertram proposes three strategies for Germany’s new government to put in place at the EU level: better goals, binding goals, and the long-awaited coal phaseout.

Europe’s energy transition could be more ambitious – Germany can choose now to push it, or watch the EU fall behind (Public Domain)

The German elections last month have lead to drawn-out negotiations between parties to build a coalition.  The most likely result is a “Jamaica” coalition between the Conservatives of Angela Merkel (CDU/CSU – black), the Libertarians (FDP – yellow) and the Greens. But meanwhile, the rest of Europe is discussing how it wants to position itself in terms of climate and energy by 2030.

In Germany, the coalition agreement forms the basis for the following four years of government priorities, and mentions here are important if the government is to prioritize energy and climate. The Heinrich Böll Foundation recently published a strategy memo for Germany’s new government, suggesting that it push the ongoing European energy and climate negotiations forward in order to provide a supporting framework for the country’s own Energiewende.

Germany has set itself the goal of fundamentally transforming its energy system by the middle of this century. By that date, carbon emissions are to be lowered by 80 to 95 percent (compared to 1990 levels) through a set of various measures: energy efficiency and the rapid build-up of renewables. Today, Germany already produces 30 percent of its electricity supply by renewable energy.

Yet Germany’s energy transition can only succeed together with its European neighbors. The reasons for this are manifold: A Europe-wide integrated electricity grid would lower the costs of integrating renewables and offers valuable flexibility options increasingly necessary for the energy system of the future. And only European climate efforts can play a meaningful role in assuming the continent’s international obligations in reaching the Paris climate goals.

As a basis for the European energy and climate discussions, the European Commission laid out a set of eight policy proposals in the “Clean Energy for All Europeans” policy package last November. These will continue to be discussed between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council consisting of the heads of states from all EU member states. Negotiations are likely to last until the next European elections in May 2019, thus it is important that the next German government realizes soon how important the European dimension is to reaching its own Energiewende goals.

The next German government should therefore use these European energy and climate negotiations to set the framework for pushing the German energy transition further.

First, Germany’s new government should step in to raise the proposed Europe-wide energy goals. The transformation of the energy system requires massive investments, and clearly defined goals serve as a main policy instrument to provide such investment security. The European Commission has proposed a Europe-wide goal for renewables of 27 percent and an energy efficiency target of 30 percent by 2030. Yet both of these goals are not ambitious enough to put Europe in line with its Paris climate obligations. The European Parliament has realized this shortcoming and is likely to push for a higher renewables goal as well as a separate long-term goal for the middle of this century. That means that there is still room for maneuvering while these goals are being discussed and finalized between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the individual member states. Germany could play a decisive role in this debate if it builds strong alliances with other progressive EU member states that favor higher targets.

Second, Germany’s new government should push for the inclusion of checks in the system. Energy goals are only useful if they involve mechanisms by which progress can be monitored and ultimately altered. As it stands now, the proposal by the European Commission is not sufficient: it is only binding on the European level, not for individual EU member states. Germany has an interest in maintaining a stable investment climate for renewables and efficiency options that can only be met by goals accompanied by a functioning monitoring system, to stop the European Union of falling short.

Third, Germany’s new government should use the European Commission’s proposals to initiate a national and European coal phase-out. The energy transition will only achieve its climate goals if the rapid build-up of renewables and the deployment of energy efficiency measures are being matched by a gradual retreat of conventional power sources, especially coal. The European Commission has laid out a proposal on how structural change in coal regions throughout Europe can be supported financially, opening a European debate on a continent-wide coal phase-out. These proposals should be used by the new German government as a basis to think through structural change options in affected coal regions in Germany and Europe.

Coalition talks to form the new German government are likely to begin soon. Let’s hope that policymakers realize the importance of the European energy transition when driving its own Energiewende forward, and that this gets a mention in the important coalition agreement.

For those of you who read German, continue reading the full strategy memo here.

Rebecca Bertram leads the European Energy Transition work at the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s Headquarters in Berlin. Her work focuses on integrating the various European energy discussions into the German energy decision-making process. 

Categories: Blogs

The slow demise of diesel cars in Europe

16 October, 2017 - 15:58

There are signs that the diesel scandal is starting to turn customers away from the technology. A list of sales by manufacturer reveals the reliance of German carmakers on diesel. Craig Morris investigates.

Clean diesel was shown to be a pipe dream – now, diesel is becoming a technology of the past (Public Domain)

In September 2015, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its discovery of software manipulations in Volkswagen diesels. Two years later, have car buyers given up on the technology?

Not really. Norway, France and the UK have since announced plans to end sales of new cars with international combustion engines (ICEs, so gasoline and diesel), and similar decisions may soon be made in the Netherlands and Germany. But the deadlines are as far away as 2040. (Nice overview here.)

But the move to ban diesel cars from city centers could have an immediate effect. Cities such as Paris have begun banning old diesels from parts of town. A German court recently ruled that Stuttgart, Germany (home to Mercedes and Porsche) could implement a similar ban on old diesels. Depending on how you read the ruling, the city might even have been obligated to instate the ban as soon as 2018. But in early October, the state government of Baden-Württemberg (led by the Greens) asked the court to review a number of legal aspects, thereby postponing the ban indefinitely (report in German).

In the first half of 2017, more gasoline cars were sold than diesels in Europe for the first time since 2009. But as the chart below shows, there hasn’t really been a major change since the diesel scandal broke. Diesel sales are down, but other factors seem to be bigger. France has seen a slowdown since 2012. And the big dip in 2009 was the result of the economic crisis – even though the chart shows the percentage of diesel in all car sales, not absolute sales numbers for diesel cars.

In France, one reason for the shift in sales away from diesel is the increase in smog in Paris, which has been an attention-grabbing problem since at least 2014, when the government raised the tax on diesel. In Spain, sales also started slipping in 2011, but the real downturn came in 2016, when Madrid began discussing banning diesels (see this great blog post from the International Council on Clean Transportation).

In Germany, the outlier is 2009 – and the reason was the country’s Cash for Clunkers program of 2009. After the financial crisis of 2008, German carmakers saw sales plummet as people kept their cash in their pockets out of uncertainty about their economic future. Then, the German government offered a bonus of 2,500 euros for people trading in cars at least nine years old for a new one. The program’s name was actually the Environmental Bonus, and it could not target German carmakers lest trade rules be violated.

This brief change in the market may have also helped German carmakers, but the real winners were manufacturers of small cars, such as Hyundai, Suzuki, and Fiat (report in German). Luxury car sales were down, and since German carmakers produce lots of them, they benefited less from the policy. The incentive mainly gave drivers of inexpensive vehicles an incentive to upgrade immediately. And as the chart below shows, foreign car firms mainly sell (small) gasoline engines.

Here, we see that – with the exception of Jeep – German carmakers top the list in terms of the percentage of diesels in total sales. At the bottom, we find leading international players. And the share of diesel of dropping for all of them.

In the end, the data suggest that there have been much bigger factors in the downward trend in diesel sales than the software scandal. But maybe the effect is just getting started, as news about cities possibly banning diesel remains in the headlines. In October, the German Office of Motor Vehicles announced that the share of diesel in September had dropped to 36%, down a full 21 percentage points from September 2016 (press release in German).

And for the first time ever, plug-in electric vehicles made up one percent of sales in Germany. All-electric cars also came in just below one percent. Put together, this may not sound like much. But the demise of diesel may have finally reached critical mass in Germany, the country that arguably made diesel what it is today: a technology of the past.

Craig Morris (@PPchef) is the lead author of Global Energy Transition. He is co-author of Energy Democracy, the first history of Germany’s Energiewende, and is currently Senior Fellow at the IASS.

Categories: Blogs

How Trump could undermine the US solar boom

13 October, 2017 - 16:32

The US solar industry has been booming, employing far more people than coal and helping cut American emissions. But President Trump’s administration could end up slapping tariffs on imported solar cells and panels. Llewelyn Hughes describes how this will affect the industry.

The proposed measures put 88,000 solar jobs at risk and slows progress toward cutting greenhouse gas emissions (Public Domain)

Tumbling prices for solar energy have helped stoke demand among U.S. homeowners, businesses and utilities for electricity powered by the sun. But that could soon change.

President Donald Trump – whose proposed 2018 budget would slash support for alternative energy – will soon get a new opportunity to undermine the solar power market by imposing duties that could increase the cost of solar power high enough to choke off the industry’s growth.

As scholars of how public policies affect, and are affected by, energy, we have been studying how the solar industry is increasingly global. We also research what this means for who wins and loses from the renewable energy revolution in the U.S. and Europe.

We believe that imposing steep new duties on imported solar equipment would hurt the overall U.S. solar industry. That in turn could discourage choices that slow the pace of climate change.

Trade complaints

A bankrupt manufacturer has petitioned the Trump administration to slap new duties on imported crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells, the basic electricity-producing components of solar panels – along with imported panels, also known as modules.

This case follows earlier and narrower complaints filed by SolarWorld, a German solar manufacturer with a factory in Oregon, that Chinese companies were getting an unfair edge as a result of subsidies and dumping.

Due to those cases, the U.S. has imposed duties on solar panels and their components imported from China and Taiwan. The punitive Chinese tariffs averaged 29.5 percent last year, according to the Greentech Media research firm.

Suniva, a U.S. company that – oddly enough – is majority-owned by a Chinese company, lodged this complaint in April under a rarely activated 1974 Trade Act provision called Section 201. SolarWorld Americas joined in a month later.

The key difference in this new case is that it will potentially lead to tariffs on all imported solar cells and panels, rather than specific kinds from particular countries.

Suniva’s petition calls on the Trump administration to set a 40-cent-per-watt duty on cells and a minimum 78-cent-watt price for panels.

Prior to the complaint, global prices for solar panels had fallen to 34 cents a watt.

Enormous progress

This big increase in import duties could undermine the enormous progress the industry has made in cutting the cost of solar-generated electricity. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory finds that tumbling solar module prices contributed a lot to the 61 percent reduction in the cost of U.S. household solar power systems – typically located on rooftops – between 2010 and 2017.

The Solar Energy Industries Association, which represents the sector in the U.S., calculates a blended average price that takes residential, commercial and utility-scale systems into account. It finds prices fell more sharply, dropping by more than 73 percent during that period.

Likewise, the Energy Department’s SunShot Initiative declared in September that U.S. utility-scale solar systems were already generating electricity at the competitive rate of 6 cents per kilowatt-hour – three years ahead of the program’s ambitious target for 2020. Falling costs for solar panels played a big part in helping the industry hit this milestone ahead of time.

The International Trade Commission issued a preliminary finding on Sept. 22 that imported cells and panels are “substantial cause of serious injury, or threat of serious injury” to domestic manufacturers. The independent, bipartisan U.S. agency will hold a hearing on Oct. 3 to explore ways to respond.

Regardless of what remedies the commission recommends, the White House would get broad powers to increase the cost of imported solar cells and panels to at least theoretically protect Suniva.

Jeopardizing jobs

Imposing duties on imported solar equipment will not help the U.S. industry as a whole. Like most experts, we believe that the remedy sought in this case will make solar power more expensive for businesses and consumers, which will reduce its competitiveness against other sources of energy.

Imposing new import duties also ignores the fact that the U.S. solar industry employs an estimated 260,000 people in installation, manufacturing, sales and other related activities, according to the Solar Foundation, but only a small fraction of these workers are involved in cell production.

Protecting certain manufacturers would thus come at the costs of harming other parts of the industry. The Solar Energy Industries Association, which opposes Suniva’s petition, estimates that 88,000 jobs may be at risk. Steep duties could thus undermine the contribution solar power makes to the U.S. economy.

Solar globalization

Along with ignoring the effects on jobs across the entire industry, the petition misses the bigger picture. Cell and panel manufacturing composes a small part of a much larger industry that takes advantage of the global manufacturing base.

The rise of China as a solar manufacturing hub is an integral part of what has helped drive costs down for installation companies and consumers around the world. Lowering the cost of solar power systems makes solar energy more competitive against more carbon-intensive sources of electricity, including coal-fired power plants.

The growth of solar energy is one factor helping many U.S. states reduce their energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.

Experts disagree about how much the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change matters, particularly as states like California continue to work hard on reducing their carbon footprints.

But there is no debate over whether imposing duties on imported solar cells and panels would hinder the growth of renewable energy in the U.S. – reversing climate progress.

Timeline and punishment

Section 201 cases differ from more standard trade complaints because they do not require a determination of unfair trade practices. They also open the door to broader trade restrictions to remedy the perceived problem in a given industry.

The International Trade Commission is expected to give the White House its recommendations by Nov. 13. Trump will probably respond within 60 days.

It took decades of research and investment to drive down the cost of solar power to the point where it is competitive with conventional sources of electricity. Should these latest trade woes increase the cost of going solar, it would be likely to kill domestic jobs and slow progress toward cutting greenhouse gas emissions across the nation.

Editor’s note: This is an updated version of an article originally published on Sept. 20, 2017.

Llewelyn Hughes, Associate Professor of Public Policy, Australian National University and Jonas Meckling, Assistant Professor of Energy and Environmental Policy, University of California, Berkeley

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Categories: Blogs

France wants a carbon price. How high should it be?

12 October, 2017 - 15:00

French President Macron has proposed closer cooperation with Germany to strengthen the EU. One aspect is higher carbon prices. Craig Morris explains what impact different CO2 prices would have on Germany’s energy system.

Germany’s lignite plants give off massive amounts of CO2, but a carbon price looks unlikely (Photo by Harald Hillemanns, edited, CC BY-SA 3.0)

A new study by Energy Brainpool (PDF in German) comes to an unsurprising finding: Europe’s carbon emissions trading scheme (EU-ETS) has no effect on shares of gas, hard coal, and lignite in Germany. The price of carbon continues to flail along below 10 euros per ton of CO2; it’s closer to seven euros at present and even fell below four euros in 2016.

French President Macron has now called for the price to be set at a minimum of 25-30 euros. France has long been a supporter of higher carbon prices, but the German government remains lukewarm about such ideas, which would make France more competitive relative to Germany due to the high share of low-carbon nuclear power in France (around 75%) and the high share of coal power in Germany (around 40%).

In recent years, the carbon intensity of German power has been roughly ten times greater than France’s, partly because the French are clamping down on the already small share of coal power. However, the French have had a plan for a minimum carbon price for some time now; unlike the UK, they simply refuse to implement one unilaterally – in particular, they want Germany in.

Source: EEA

Macron’s idea is thus unlikely to meet with more approval in Berlin than his many other ideas about stronger Franco-German cooperation – but let’s wait to see what coalition Merkel brings about.

Energy Brainpool identifies the following price signals:

  • Below 10 euros per ton of CO2, the price of carbon has no fuel-switching effect on power markets in Germany, meaning that none of the fuels (gas, hard coal, and lignite) start to shift market shares.
  • At 10 euros per ton of CO2, combined-cycle gas turbines (CCGTs) start to become competitive with hard coal plants.
  • At 32 euros, CCGTs start to be competitive even with lignite plants.
  • At 50 euros, practically all CCGTs are cheaper than all coal plants, hard coal or lignite.

GuD stands for CCGT, Steinkohle = hard coal, and Braunkohle = lignite. The marginal price of lignite in Germany – a domestic resource – is dirt cheap. At Macron’s lower proposal of 25 euros, lignite just starts to be replaced by natural gas in CCGTs. Source: Energy Brainpool

These findings are, for what it’s worth, nothing new. Germany’s Öko-Institut came to similar conclusions years ago in a paper for the WWF (PDF in Germany). For that matter, so did Energy Brainpool in 2013 (PDF in German). Back then, the price where CCGT would replace all coal was estimated at 55 euros.

It thus seems that the necessary carbon price remains fairly stable even though the price of gas imported to Germany nearly fell by half from 2013 until today, according to the latest data from the German Statistics Office. Note that the chart below is an index (100 = 2010).

The price of light heating oil (solid green line) and natural gas (all other lines) imports is quite low at present but still not competitive with German lignite. Source: German Office of Statisticss

At the same time, the German Office of Statistics shows that the price of hard coal imports is slightly rising. The price of gas thus cannot realistically fall low enough to replace domestic lignite in Germany, and the shift in prices for natural gas and hard coal imports (Germany will close its last hard coal mine next year) is not enough for a fuel switch either. In other words, the market will not take care of this by itself. We need a carbon price.

If the Jamaica coalition of the CDU, FDP, and Greens comes about in Germany, it is unlikely that the new German government will play along with Macron towards a minimum price, however. The Greens have long called for one and continue to do so (in German). The CDU opposes the idea (in German): “The ETS is a tool to control the volume of emissions, not to control prices,” a leading CDU member states in August. As for the FDP, its opposition to a floor price for carbon was prominent in the election campaign (in German).

In all likelihood, Germany will continue to oppose a minimum carbon price, preferring a market failure – the current ETS – to any “governmental intervention.”

Craig Morris (@PPchef) is the lead author of Global Energy Transition. He is co-author of Energy Democracy, the first history of Germany’s Energiewende, and is currently Senior Fellow at the IASS.

Categories: Blogs

Another blackout, another tweet, and Tesla’s Musk sets out to save another grid

11 October, 2017 - 15:21

Puerto Rico has been left without power for weeks and is now facing a humanitarian crisis. Could solar and battery systems from Tesla help get electricity to those who need it now? Sophie Vorrath of RenewEconomy investigates.

Elon Musk is a famous businessman and tech personality – hopefully for Puerto Rico, he will be able to deliver on his promises (Photo from the Henry Ford’s OnInnovation project, by Michelle AndoniCC BY-ND 2.0)

Extreme weather event –> grid outages –> Twitter exchange –> major contract for Tesla.

That’s how things seem to play out these days for the US-based EV, solar and battery storage maker, which last week made overtures at coming to the rescue of Puerto Rico, whose grid was decimated by Hurricane Maria in September.

In a familiar looking social media exchange between Ricardo Rossello, the governor of Puerto Rico, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, the two agreed to start a conversation about how Tesla could work with the Caribbean Island to “showcase the power of its technology” and re-electrify the US territory.

Could @elonmusk go in and rebuild #PuertoRico’s electricity system with independent solar & battery systems? https://t.co/BYiwBfGQPM

— Scott Stapf (@stapf) October 5, 2017

@elonMusk Let's talk. Do you want to show the world the power and scalability of your #TeslaTechnologies? PR could be that flagship project. https://t.co/McnHKwisqc

— Ricardo Rossello (@ricardorossello) October 6, 2017

Let’s talk today; I will be in touch. I have no doubt #Teslasolar will work w/#PuertoRico to globally showcase the power of its technology. https://t.co/wJcm9fCNVV

— Ricardo Rossello (@ricardorossello) October 6, 2017

Just over six months ago, a similar exchange was sparked over South Australia’s grid problems, which – although nothing like Puerto Rico’s – are focused on getting it through another hot long summer by making the most of the state’s high renewable energy penetration.

As RE readers would no doubt know, this Twitter exchange ultimately resulted in Tesla winning a bid to build a big battery in the state, to help balance the grid and get it through the coming summer: a project that is almost complete.

For Puerto Rico, however, the problem is a different one – not to mention bigger and more urgent. Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico 100 per cent without power when it hit more than two weeks ago, after ravaging the territory’s “already-dilapidated” energy system.

This week, another substation failure at the island’s capital, San Juan, cut the number of residents there with power from almost 12 per cent to about 7 per cent. The station is expected to be operational again by Sunday night.

As Business Insider reported, the storm damage comes on top of major economic issues that has long seen public infrastructure on the island deteriorate. Puerto Rico effectively sought bankruptcy protection in May, according to the New York Times, and is currently $US123 billion in debt.

The power solution for Puerto Rico – obvious to many, and not just Musk – will need to be based on distributed renewable energy generation and battery storage. And Musk, after some Tweets and a phone call, believes Tesla can do the job with its own Powerwall and Powerpack batteries and solar power.

“The Tesla team has [built solar grids] for many smaller islands around the world, but there is no scalability limit, so it can be done for Puerto Rico too,” he tweeted on Thursday. “Such a decision would be in the hands of the PR govt, PUC, any commercial stakeholders and, most importantly, the people of PR.”

And, in light of how quickly things progressed from a tweet to a major new project for South Australia, this could well be very good news for Puerto Rico. Musk and Rosello are reportedly in discussions.

Meanwhile, as CleanTechnica reports, Tesla has already shipped hundreds of its Powerwall battery systems to be paired with solar panels to help restore power to the island’s 3.6 million people as quickly as possible.

Which works out to be bad news for Australia – both for those consumers awaiting delivery and installation of their pre-ordered Tesla Powerwall 2 units, and for the industry as a whole.

As Nigel Morris put it in a recent Solar Insiders podcast, “there are a lot of people who are sitting on their hands, who’ve placed orders for Powerwall 2s, they aren’t available at the moment, there’s no stock coming into the country… but there’s a lot of people sitting and waiting.

“So the challenge now for everyone around them is to try and grab those customers and convince them to go another way, or else, we could well see a slow year.”

Meanwhile, in Puerto Rico, the state-owned electricity company says that some households could be without power for as much as six months. A slow year, indeed.

This post has been republished with permission from RenewEconomy.

Sophie Vorrath is Deputy editor of RenewEconomy.com.au and writes about climate and energy.

Categories: Blogs

Court stalls new coal plant in South Africa

10 October, 2017 - 15:00

Civil society has used many forms of activism to push for a transition to a greener electrical grid in South Africa. This year, they’ve had to take their battle to the courts, winning two significant rulings which have put the brakes on new-build coal and nuclear plants. Leonie Joubert takes a look at a court challenge to halt the approval by the state of a new coal-fired mega-station north of Johannesburg.

Coal in South Africa: could legal action stop construction on another mega-station? (Photo by JMK, edited, CC BY-SA 3.0)

When the Minister of Environmental Affairs approved the environmental application for a proposed new coal-fired power station about four hours’ drive north of Johannesburg, it was not good enough that she did so on the basis that the environmental impact assessment (EIA) merely listed the size of the power plant’s projected carbon emissions, the regional High Court ruled in March 2017. The minister should also have taken into consideration the likely impacts of the climatic changes that would result from this power plant’s considerable greenhouse gas emissions, before giving her departmental go-ahead. By approving the EIA, the Department of Energy (DoE) would then have been able give the final approval of the Thabametsi power plant, which was shortlisted as part of a new state initiative to commission a series of privately built, owned, and run coal power stations.

According to the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), which supported the plaintiff Earthlife Africa (ELA) in the court bid, the Thabametsi Power Company’s new plant would be one of the largest carbon emitting power stations of its kind globally, not just in South Africa, and would have been as carbon-intensive as the state utility’s current old-technology power plants.

The court overturned the environment minister’s approval, thereby stalling the development of this particular plant. But the wider implications are that all similar new coal power stations that come before the DEA for environmental clearance will need to also show a clear analysis of their anticipated climate change impacts, and how they will offset those.

According to the CER, all similar EIA processes will need to quantify the possible climate change implications, such as the impact on health or water in the vicinity of the plant. It will also have to show whether the viability of the plant will be compromised by climate change – for instance, could water shortages owning to localised extreme drought, worsened by climate change, threaten the plant’s operations?

Ultimately, the EIA must show that it has considered what ‘measures are required to reduce (the plant’s) emissions, and ensure the resilience of the project and the surrounding environment to those impacts’, according to the CER.

The approval of the plant is currently on hold, pending final decisions on various possible courses of action available to both the Departments of Environmental Affairs, and Energy. The deadline for commercial and financial sign-off of the plant is 3 November 2017 and Earthlife Africa is waiting to hear whether the energy department will extend this deadline to accommodate the various delays.

This is the second time this year that civil society has had to turn to the courts to stall a large and risky mega-infrastructure development that had provisionally been approved by the state. In April this year, the High Court in Cape Town overturned the South African government’s agreement to buy nuclear energy generation technology from the Russian government, because the court found that the state had not followed its own procedures around accountability, transparency, and public participation.

Both of these cases show that using legal technicalities and questions of due process to throw a roadblock in the way of the South African government’s approval of new coal or nuclear power stations, is a viable process, even if it is slow and costly. It requires a team of skilled legal practitioners in order to be effective, and considerable funding. But the cases also indicate how potent the courts still are as a mechanism for accountability and transparency in the state approval of big and carbon-intensive infrastructure projects that have implications for how the taxpayers’ money is spent, and how clean and appropriate the technology is that drives the country’s energy economy.

The DoE’s nuclear ambitions would have committed South Africans to paying off a suite of up to six nuclear power stations, capable of generating 9.6 gigawatts (GW) of power, at a cost which the Treasury argued was potentially crippling to the economy.

The Thabametsi power station would have generated the equivalent of nearly 10 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per year across its 30 years lifespan. Its greenhouse gas emission intensity of 1.23 tons of CO2e per megawatt hour, would be ‘roughly equivalent, if not slightly worse, than (the country’s) oldest coal-fired power plants’, says the CER.

Neither project is definitively stopped, but at least they have been delayed. In the mean time, political ambitions are shifting, and the cost of renewable power continues to fall, making these coal and nuclear plants increasingly less economically and politically viable.

Categories: Blogs

The state of auctions in Germany

9 October, 2017 - 15:00

Germany has now conducted auctions for wind, solar, and biomass. But if the headlines are optimistic, the outcome is massively oversold. Craig Morris takes a closer look.

Will the switch to auctions endanger the Energiewende’s success? (Photo by High Contrast, modified, CC BY 3.0 DE)

Numerous commentators continue to praise Germany for switching from feed-in tariffs to auctions. The screenshot below is from an Energy Post newsletter from this summer. A lot of it is wrong.

Feed-in tariffs guarantee a price, not revenue; the amount of power generated is not set by law. And it’s amazing that we hear that FITs “don’t provide an incentive” to lower costs. In the chart below, FITs accounted for almost all of the solar installed worldwide from 2014 until 2015, and prices fell by two thirds.

Are auctions at least driving down costs faster? They do keep costs low in one respect: by shutting out expensive projects. But they can also drive up costs because losing bids lead to losses that firms price in for future bids.

But the main effect is that prices for the future are reported as though they applied today. Take a look at the chart below from Clean Energy Wire (a site you should follow if you are interested in the Energiewende).

To understand the chart, we need to know that the top line represents a higher FIT for the first five years at least, followed by a lower rate for the remaining maximum of 15 years (20 years total in any case). If a site has poor wind conditions, it stays at the higher rate longer with the aim of providing a similar profit margin for all investors. Note as well that the FITs in both lines have plummeted since 2014; if that’s not an incentive to lower cost, I don’t know what is.

The recent wind auctions (the yellow dots) are clearly lower than the top line but unremarkable compared to current FITs. But in reality, almost all of those projects have 4 and a half years to be built. The prices thus reflect the future, whereas FITs apply when the project is connected to the grid – today, so to speak.

Adjusted for the effect, the comparison looks significantly different, as the chart below shows (my markups). Assuming that the trend in FITs from 2014 continues (which, to be fair, we cannot know for certain), the auction outcomes are hardly remarkable at all. In fact, the price of 5.71 cents per kWh is even higher than the upfront bonus FIT that could be available by then.

When I contacted Energy Post about this matter, the editor ceded no ground: “Why did Germany replace FITs with auctions if not to bring down costs?” Answer: the German government switched policies to keep wind, solar, and biomass from growing faster than expected. Cost was always the stated reason; who could be against keeping costs in check? But a government cannot simply say they want to slow down new builds – at least, not in Germany. Yet, that is the main result.

The solar auctions have been successful in terms of cost and realization rates: the winning bids are generally finished on time, which is not the case worldwide – as this Energy Post article explains. But it also writes, “no cooperative was visibly successful in any of the PV auctions over the last two years.” The wind coops that swept up the first two rounds of auctions are considered fake; not even German citizen energy groups want that policy setup to continue.

The recent biogas auction also led to a sobering result: less than a quarter of the already paltry amount tendered will be built for a lack of interest (in German). The minimum price will simply too low. But the sector is not complaining; FITs were also set too low. The government decided years ago that too little sustainable biomass is left, so these firms are happy to get whatever options they can.

What about the last claim from Energy Post’s newsletter above: the switch to auctions won’t endanger the Energiewende’s success?

I’m not so sure. German citizens have not complained about the cost impact much because they cherish the opportunity to make their own energy. Increasingly, however, they are being told, sorry, you can’t build because the utility you dislike – in 2014, 80% of German customers surveyed said they wanted to be “less reliant” on their provider – can generate this power for 0.5 cents less.

People in rural areas are especially shut out because they can build lots of solar, wind and biomass. To put this into American terms, country folk are not saying “Walmart is too expensive,” but rather “there’s nothing here but Walmart.” FITs gave them economic options they now lack. In other countries, citizens dislike wind farms because so many are built by big firms. Why do we think that will be any different in Germany?

Craig Morris (@PPchef) is the lead author of Global Energy Transition. He is co-author of Energy Democracy, the first history of Germany’s Energiewende, and is currently Senior Fellow at the IASS.

Categories: Blogs

What do deniers get out of their denial?

4 October, 2017 - 15:00

Climate change deniers include small number of influential professional doubters, and masses of laypeople. Why does this large group remain skeptical? Craig Morris says team spirit will help more than facts.

The US hasn’t always been so divided on science – so what happened? (Photo by Steve Rapport, edited, CC BY 2.0)

These days, “tribalism” is frequently cited as the cause of the social rift in America. People tend to believe what their in-crowd believes. Such folks respect authority and view questioning accepted wisdom as a threat.

The opposite of “in-crowd thinking” is science; these folks debate each other’s findings openly. It can get personal, but scientists are supposed to welcome challenges. The two camps thus have different ways of speaking. Scientifically minded people (like me) thrive on intellectual challenges because we love to learn. But whenever I go home to my Trump-voting relatives in Louisiana and Mississippi, I have to change my tone. It becomes more important to signal that I’m one of them. Otherwise, I risk sounding like an elite who thinks he knows best but doesn’t understand the realities of life for them. They will only listen to my opinion on climate change if they accept me as part of their crowd, and I can’t gain that trust with facts, but only by showing them respect.

Living in both worlds – in-crowd and debating – allowed me to come up with my own answer years ago to a question recently tweeted by Allyn West, editor at the Houston Chronicle, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

Serious question: What motivates someone to deny the impacts of human-influenced climate change? What do deniers get out of their denial?

— Allyn West (@allynwest) September 2, 2017

No one calls themselves a “denier.” The term is an insult. A small group uses a rather scientific approach to come up with alternative causes (such as solar flares), and latch into data upticks (like polar bear populations possibly rising) to cast doubt on climate science. There will always be (hobby) doubters, and that’s cool – scientists willing to find results that appease the fossil fuel sector, not so much.

With Harvey and Irma, its now 5 Cat 4-5 landfalls over the past 47+ years,
There were 14 in the 47 years before that. https://t.co/9ylYWjWiS5

— Roger Pielke Jr. (@RogerPielkeJr) September 18, 2017

Roger Pielke Jr. is an example of a researcher some have called a denier (he rejects the label), but whose critiques of the science are convincing to skeptics. He has also been accused of taking money from the fossil sector, but no evidence has ever been produced.

Most laypeople called “deniers” don’t conduct their own research, however, but remain skeptical about change science because they just aren’t sure, and there is no peer pressure for them to take a leap of faith. In the US, leaps of faith are frequent. People are, say, Catholic or Muslim not because they studied all the religions and found one to be best, but usually because they grew up in a Catholic or Muslim community. Americans are more religious than Europeans, so the in-crowd effect is greater.

Take universities: they should be places where young people learn not to take intellectual inquiries personally. But American students learn to identify with their alma mater in a way that European students don’t. The highest paid public employee in 39 of 50 US states is a university coach. German universities don’t even have such sports teams. In the US, we have artificially created rivalries between universities that need not exist – and don’t in Germany. Americans thus create in-crowds even where science should be in the foreground.

Too many Americans view the scientists who warn us about climate change as being from another “team.” People then feel that scientific elites are criticizing their way of life: eat less meat, drive cars less, walk more, stop wasting energy, recycle, etc. That’s personal; there’s no denying it.

Accepting climate change means changing your lifestyle. The argument is thus ethical and must be made by moral leaders, not scientists. The biggest change will come in the US when churches preach climate change. Conservative Germans have always been on board.

Last fall, I gave a lecture on renewable energy in a church in Holland. The Dutch built massive high-tech levees to protect themselves from the seas. Such solutions are not beyond US engineering prowess by any means. But Americans are not so good at devoting tax money to large infrastructure projects that benefit rich and poor equally, which the Dutch did. The Netherlands is also changing urban planning to live better with the water instead of trying to control it – but that requires strong government, something individualistic America is also not so good at.

Wherever progress is made in sustainability, a sense of common identity is in the foreground. Finland has become a global leader in circular economics because the campaign is understood as a way for the Finns to be number one worldwide. In our history of the Energiewende, we also argue that the Germans support the energy transition because they identify with it as a national goal.

What do “deniers” get out of denial? A sense of identity. Team spirit. So let’s make mitigating climate change a rallying cry to bring the country together. The challenge is thus to heal the rifts in America, overcome the rivalries between teams. The Germans see the Energiewende as their “Man on the Moon Project.” America can do that, too.

Craig Morris (@PPchef) is the lead author of Global Energy Transition. He is co-author of Energy Democracy, the first history of Germany’s Energiewende, and is currently Senior Fellow at the IASS.

Categories: Blogs

After two weeks without power, civilization collapses

2 October, 2017 - 15:00

And by the time you read this, Puerto Rico and several other Caribbean Islands will have been without electricity for that long. A German study from 2010 investigated the matter for Europe, just months before Fukushima. Craig Morris retells the tale.

The devastation from the recent hurricanes in the Caribbean, which is becoming increasingly vulnerable to disruption (Public Domain).

It’s not often that a novel gets presented by a bureaucrat. But in the case of Blackout by Austrian Marc Elsberg, there was a good reason for the head of Germany’s Network Agency (the grid regulator, a bit like FERC in the US) to do so in 2012: Elsberg’s book describes a Europe-wide blackout.

Cases of cholera now being reported in Puerto Rico.

I cant believe this is America. We're too incompetent or uncaring to get them water?

— Kurt Eichenwald (@kurteichenwald) September 29, 2017

The timing couldn’t have been better in terms of sales. After the accident in Fukushima, Chancellor Merkel had shut down eight of the country’s 19 nuclear reactors. There was much discussion about whether a blackout would occur in the winter (because of a power shortage) or in the summer (when solar power maxed out – no country had as much solar as Germany did at the time). Elsberg’s book became a bestseller, and readers learned that almost nothing today works without electricity: from water supply to gasoline pumps at filing stations.

In the process, Elsberg’s book may have contributed to the exaggerated concern that Germany’s nuclear phaseout and the fast growth of wind and solar might endanger civilization itself. But Germany made it through the winter after Fukushima without any blackouts and has had none since.

Elsberg started work on the book in 2008. Just before he finished, Germany’s Office of Technology Assessment (TAB) published its own scientific study on what an extended blackout would look like (PDF in German). Entitled “The vulnerability of modern societies: a case study of a large-scale blackout,” the study revealed lots of scary things.

For instance, people would not only be without drinking water, but the piping itself would become “irreparably” contaminated within weeks. Chaos would quickly break out because all forms of communication – cell phones, radio, television, internet, etc. – would stop working, and people would lack power for batteries in their devices anyway (how many of you have a hand-crank flashlight or radio?). Those with backup generators would run out of fuel because the authorities would confiscate the available supply (fuel pumps require power) for emergency services.

The mayor of San Juan is begging. "If anybody out there is listening to us: we are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency" pic.twitter.com/xXI3ScVAtK

— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) September 29, 2017

Elsberg took account of some findings from the study in his novel, but he says he basically already had the situation described well. For the first few days, people deal with the inconvenience well. Everyone has a little food and water at home, and grocery stores contain a few days of supplies as well. But without power, you can’t withdraw money from the bank. There is a run on the stores, and prices quickly stretch out of control. Things not needed for survival become worthless, while food and water become unaffordable.

After the first few days, people begin to starve. The strong start to force their will on others; the rule of law collapses. Those with guns use them (Germans have lots of guns). Citizens are reduced to barbarians as they fight to survive.

Current heat index in Puerto Rico is an even 100°F — the 20th consecutive day of above normal temperatures.
1.5M people there have no water pic.twitter.com/FKutfg76sU

— Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus) September 27, 2017

Of course, the situation in the Caribbean is not quite the same as in Elsberg’s novel, in which every still had their homes. Puerto Rico, Barbuda, and several other Caribbean islands are practically uninhabitable at present. Their suffering has only begun. Solar panels with battery storage are great in case of blackouts, and the role of distributed renewables is the biggest factor disregarded in Elsberg’s novel. But solar is only good if your roof and walls are still intact. On the other hand, if your house is the only one with power, the neighbors will soon come by, and you’ll be asked to share – possibly at gunpoint. In Elsberg’s novel, the government’s first action when power is restored after 13 days is a general amnesty; no crimes committed during the blackout will be investigated. Courts could not have handled all the cases.

When I visited my home town of New Orleans five months after Katrina in 2005, the city had been reduced from some 600,000 to only 80,000 people. I saw no children at all during those two weeks and few women. No school was open. Many of the men present were Hispanics doing the dirtiest work. Residents were at least able to move elsewhere while the city was rebuilt.

If most people are left on these Caribbean islands, their civility will be tested to the extreme. Power grids need to rebuilt entirely, and then water and sewage lines may need to be completely overhauled. The help must be massive and long-term.

Modern civilization is highly complex, efficient in many ways, but increasingly vulnerable to disruption. As British historian Timothy Gordon Ash put it in the wake of Katrina, “Katrina’s big lesson is that the crust of civilisation on which we tread is always wafer thin. One tremor, and you’ve fallen through, scratching and gouging for your life like a wild dog.”

Craig Morris (@PPchef) is the lead author of Global Energy Transition. He is co-author of Energy Democracy, the first history of Germany’s Energiewende, and is currently Senior Fellow at the IASS.

Categories: Blogs

Bangladesh Can Transition Its Energy Markets Onto a Lower-Cost, Sustainable Pathway

29 September, 2017 - 15:00

Developments in China, Germany, and India are paving the way for countries across the globe; Bangladesh does not have to depend on risky fossil fuels to sustain growth. Tim Buckley and Simon Nicholas take a look at what Bangladesh’s grid could look like, with an emphasis on solar power.

Experts say that solar power is better placed than fossil fuels or nuclear to meet Bangladesh’s growing electricity needs (Photo via Wikipedia, edited, CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis said today that the ongoing electricity transformation now occurring globally has significant implications and opportunities for Bangladesh. With the economy and hence electricity generation/grid system set to double this coming decade, Bangladesh has the opportunity to reorient the foundations for sustained growth.

Tim Buckley, Director Energy Finance Studies at IEEFA, said, “With the nation of Bangladesh developing fast, increasingly cost-effective renewable energy combined with energy efficiency will be crucial to diversifying and securing Bangladesh’s electricity system in order to support further economic growth.”

Electricity Sector is Transforming Around the World

Buckley noted that, building on Germany’s global leadership last decade, China and more recently India together are now leading the global push to transform the energy sector to leverage new lower cost and deflationary technologies to drive to a lower emissions economy. These investment trends are underpinned by strong central government policy support and sound economic fundamentals that have now reached critical mass and cost competitiveness.

“China has taken world leading renewable energy technologies and added enormous economies of scale to manufacturing and design,” Buckley said. “With solar module costs having fallen 50 percent in the last two years, and battery system costs likewise exhibiting 20 percent annual cost declines, this has made redundant any electricity system design envisaged even 12-24 months ago.”

Energy security couples with water and food security as the three key strategic imperatives facing all governments and nations. A diverse, domestic oriented and more sustainable energy system has clear, compelling advantages over an imported thermal power model proving out-dated, polluting and uncompetitive.

With 2016 global installations of renewable energy reaching 160GW, renewables have overtaken thermal power as the electricity infrastructure investment of choice. Investment decisions by top global financial institutions are increasingly incorporating stranded asset and climate policy risks; as witnessed by recent moves by Norway’s SWF, Blackrock, Axa SA, Swiss Re, Deutsche Bank and Westpac.

In May 2017 solar became cheaper than domestic coal in India for the first time. Solar tariff hit a record low of Rs2.44/Unit (0.038USD/kWh), significantly lower than the average Rs3.30/kWh which NTPC Ltd, India’s biggest coal power utility, wholesaled electricity for in 2016/17. Rs2.44/kWh is down 44% on the then Indian record low of Rs4.34/kWh solar tariff awarded to Fortum of Finland in January 2016. May 2017 also saw Indian wind tariffs fall 20-30% to Rs3.46/kWh. The opportunity for Bangladesh to leverage this success is clear.

Bangladesh Can Take Advantage of Declining Costs and Technological Advantages of Solar Energy

In November 2016, IEEFA modelled and published a future path for the Bangladesh electricity system which taps into this fast growing global trend in a report entitled “Bangladesh Electricity Transition: A Diverse, Secure and Deflationary Way Forward”.

IEEFA concluded that, subject to appropriate policy settings being put into place, improved energy efficiency coupled with domestic solar energy and increased imported electricity from neighbouring countries is a commercially viable and preferable alternative to an electricity system reliance on imported fossil fuels.

Simon Nicholas, an Energy Finance Analyst at IEEFA, stated that “Bangladesh is a fast developing nation, but it is important that its electricity sector sees 21st century development. The current trajectory for development is based on 20th century imported coal, LNG and nuclear power will leave Bangladesh behind as the rest of the world moves on and will necessitate another round of expensive development in the future”.

“Furthermore, a system based on imported fossil fuels places rising economic risks and undermines energy security in Bangladesh, a risk that the developing nation cannot afford to take” Nicholas added.

IEEFA’s alternative electricity generation profile models a more diverse and secure system out to 2025 that is better able to support Bangladesh’s economic development.

By taking advantage of the huge cost and efficiency gains made in solar power across the world, Bangladesh can significantly increase the proportion of electricity that is truly domestic and not reliant on fuel imports.”

Although there are some clear land use constraints, there is scope for smaller distributed utility-scale solar PV infrastructure in addition to increased rooftop solar in both domestic and Commercial & Industrial markets as well as greatly increased ambition in solar irrigation pumps.

Nicholas noted, “Another great advantage of solar is the speed at which it can be constructed. Fossil fuel and nuclear plants face long construction periods and continuing delays meaning that solar power is better placed to meet Bangladesh’s growing electricity needs in the near future”.


This article was originally published at IEEFA.org.

Tim Buckley is the Director of Energy Finance Studies, Australasia for IEEFA. Simon Nicholas is an IEEFA research associate.

IEEFA conducts research and analyses on financial and economic issues related to the global electricity sector transformation. The Institute’s mission is to accelerate the transition to a diverse, sustainable and profitable energy economy and to reduce dependence on coal and other non-renewable energy resources. http://ieefa.org/

Categories: Blogs

A visit to Gorleben, Germany’s former final nuclear repository

28 September, 2017 - 15:00

It is commonly held that Germany’s nuclear phaseout was a major victory for the Greens. But when the first agreement was signed in 2000, the Greens paid bitterly for the compromise. Today, Germany still lacks a final repository for nuclear waste. Craig Morris investigates.

Protests near Gorleben in northern Germany where a trainload of treated waste arrived from France (Photo by Paula Schramm, edited, CC BY-SA 2.0)

For decades, Gorleben was the planned final resting place of Germany’s nuclear waste. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the site. There were two big surprises. The first was a “cemetery” located in a field along a road leading to town for the entire German parliament of 2000. Local nuclear protesters built this fake cemetery when the nuclear phaseout was signed. What sense does that make?

The “Cemetery of Honor” for the German Parliament of 2000. (Photo: Craig Morris)

The government had just agreed with reactor operators that nuclear plants would be closed after 32 years of power production. But what sounds like an accomplishment for the nuclear protesters was treachery for hardcore anti-nuclear campaigners at the time. The Greens had called for a phaseout in five years during the election campaign of 1998, which they won as a junior coalition partner with the Social Democrats. The phaseout they got in 2000 would allow the last plants to continue running for more than two more decades. The Greens lost considerable support for this compromise, and some residents from the Gorleben area, who were to live with the waste from those additional decades, were incensed.

When we remember that the German parliament is the largest in the world, the cemetery is quite an achievement. 669 concrete crosses, each with the name of a member of the 1998-2003 Bundestag, were made and arranged in a semi-circle, mirroring the seating arrangement of the actual seats in lower house of parliament. Another 69 crosses were set up for the members of the Bundesrat, the upper house. Each has a small metal plaque indicating who it’s for. No one was spared. Even the other main politicians behind the Renewable Energy Act have a gravestone.

The cross for Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker, one of the most respected politicians in parliament at the time and coauthor of a classic book on sustainability from 1998: Factor Four.

The second biggest surprise was a ship on the edge of the forest: Greenpeace Germany’s old Beluga. When the boat needed to be decommissioned, it was put there in secret (without a permit) in order to mark the site where tens of thousands of Germans had come to protest for decades, creating a permanent base camp in the process called “The Free Republic of Wendland.”

Behind the boat stands a series of panels chronicling the events that took place there. In 1977, Gorleben was chosen as the final repository, primarily because the area stuck the furthest into the former East Germany. (Ironically, it now lies close to the center of the reunited country.)

A reprocessing facility was also planned nearby but abandoned; nuclear waste was to be turned into fuel for a different reactor type, thereby creating an infinite supply of fuel – or, if you prefer, a perpetual motion machine. No country has such a “closed nuclear cycle” today in which nuclear waste is recovered to produce an endless cycle of fuel.

Visiting the site is surreal. At the temporary waste facility, a lone guard with the most boring job in the world watches over an entrance in the middle of nowhere. (Our appearance must have been the highlight of his day.) The cemetery’s homemade crosses are already falling apart, and several are missing. The chronicle panels behind Beluga include a quote from then-Environmental Secretary Angela Merkel. During a visit to the site in 1995, some problems had occurred with a waste shipment. Merkel commented on the mishandling of the nuclear waste: “Every housewife knows that a little bit of baking powder gets spilled.”

The cemetery and Beluga have no permits and were therefore declared “works of art” so they don’t need one. The idea came when artist Joseph Beuys took part in a protest. Locals who opposed the waste site put up a large yellow X to show which side they were on. Police took some on public property down, so Beuys went around signing as many as possible, thereby declaring them to be art – and hence not easily removable under German law.

Germany has reopened the entire search for a final site, and Gorleben is still in the running (overview here). A decision is expected by 2031.

Craig Morris (@PPchef) is the lead author of Global Energy Transition. He is co-author of Energy Democracy, the first history of Germany’s Energiewende, and is currently Senior Fellow at the IASS.

Categories: Blogs

Germany just re-elected Greens to power and far right to office

26 September, 2017 - 15:00

Germany might remain without a new government for some time, due to fundamental differences between the parties likely building a coalition: the conservative CDU, the libertarian FDP and the German Greens. But, says Craig Morris, the rise of the far right should not be overestimated.

The likely coalition includes the Greens (green, 67 seats), the FDP (yellow, 80 seats) and the CDU/CSU (black, 246 seats). (Public Domain)

First, the good news: 75 percent of Germans voted on Sunday, up from 71 percent in 2013. One reason is that the far-right AfD (Alternative for Germany) gave voters a broader spectrum of parties to vote for. In this respect, the party strengthened German democracy. In other respects, statements its politicians make cut at the root of democracy.

It will thus be interesting to see how the next four years will shape the AfD. The party could embarrass itself out of office or transform into a more respectable version of a party to the right of the CDU and its Bavarian sister the CSU.

The bigger story tonight:
Merkel lets more than one million refugees into Germany and then still manages to become Chancellor again.

— Wolfgang Blau (@wblau) September 24, 2017

After two years in which #Germany took in over a million refugees and migrants, 87% voted against hate. That's something. Good night.

— Christian Odendahl (@COdendahl) September 24, 2017

We should not underestimate, however, how strongly German civil society will reject the current AfD. Already, #87Prozent has become the rallying cry for AfD opponents (the party got 13 percent of the vote). Even Germany’s biggest tabloid, Bild-Zeitung, will have none of the far-right nonsense and has bashed the AfD consistently over the past few years.

#btw17 commentary by largest tabloid @BILD – "It could have been worse (still)" – asking: "Will we now get Jamaika" pic.twitter.com/aRfTJfjBNK

— Sven Egenter (@segenter) September 24, 2017

Without wishing to conflate different political trends, I would also remind readers that Trump received 46 percent of the vote with anti-immigrant ideas in 2016, and Le Pen got 34 percent in France. Perhaps the Netherlands is a better comparison; there, Geert Wilders got 13 percent of the vote this year, and six parties entered parliament with at least 9 percent of the vote. Germany now also has six parties in parliament, with the far-right at 13 percent of the seats. That comparison is encouraging: the Dutch have a resilient democracy and are keeping their far-right party in check while also allowing it to participate in the democratic system.

Difficult coalition of #CDU, libertarian #FDP and #Greens only option now that #SPD pledges to enter opposition https://t.co/lvJ2dXHy9j pic.twitter.com/dcORwRl1KH

— Craig Morris (@PPchef) September 25, 2017

As the chart above shows, the “Jamaica” coalition (named after the parties’ colors) is the only feasible option now that the SPD has declared it will not enter a new grand coalition (GroKo) with the CDU. On the one hand, GroKo isn’t so grand anymore; it fell from 68 percent of the vote to 54 percent. The SPD got a lot of its program implemented, but voters do not tend to reward a successful smaller coalition partner. On the other, the SPD did not want to let the AfD become the largest party in the opposition.

It may be some time, however, before Germany gets a new coalition. Fundamentally incompatible positions between the FDP and the Greens will slow down talks. For instance, the FDP wants the market to take care of everything, so it will call for all support for renewables to be done away with; instead, the (ineffective) emissions trading platform would be the only instrument to mitigate climate change. The Greens will point out that a bouquet of policies are needed; emissions trading is fine (in theory) for cleaning up industry, but not in helping coal communities where jobs are lost or in rolling out a mix of technologies needed for the future.

One other obstacle is the state elections coming up in mid-October in Lower Saxony. Earlier this year, a Green Party member of the state parliament switched to the CDU, costing the SPD/Green coalition its majority (in German). Though it has shrunk to only 20% of the vote at the national level, the SPD is still the strongest party at the state level – and hence in the Bundesrat. The CDU could get a majority of seats if it takes back Lower Saxony, but only including coalitions with the SPD.

Regardless of the outcome of the upcoming election in Lower Saxony, the Jamaica coalition in Berlin will not have support in the upper chamber of parliament. In the meantime, coalition negotiations in Berlin might hang in the lurch while everyone awaits the outcome in Lower Saxony.

Via the Heinrich Böll Foundation: The distribution of seats in the Bundesrat before the elections in Lower Saxony in mid-October. The Jamaica coalition has no majority.

And this is the real obstacle: German politics could be paralyzed over the next few years with a difficult coalition that lacks support in the Bundesrat, and the AfD might – against all odds – manage to stop its infighting long enough to benefit. It’s unlikely, given the party’s previous incompetence, but stranger things have happened. In the process, the Greens could suffer greatly; the CDU and the FDP have more in common, so the Greens are the “third wheel,” so to speak. Whatever happens, German energy and climate policy is on hold for now.

Craig Morris (@PPchef) is the lead author of Global Energy Transition. He is co-author of Energy Democracy, the first history of Germany’s Energiewende, and is currently Senior Fellow at the IASS.

Categories: Blogs

Nuclear cannot keep up with wind, and solar is coming next

25 September, 2017 - 15:00

Even countries with long-standing nuclear aims are adding wind power much faster, as Brazil, China, and India show. Those interested in the fastest way to mitigate climate change can forget nuclear, says Craig Morris.

Solar plants like this one are cheap, fast to build, and making huge leaps in Brazil, China and India (Photo via Wikipedia, edited, CC BY-SA 2.0)

China has long had ambitions for nuclear power and it still does; under current plans, installed capacity will double by 2020. But even China has experienced delays in reactor construction. In contrast, it has repeatedly had to increase its targets both for wind and solar. What’s more, wind power has taken off like a rocket, clearly outstripping nuclear power generation. The solar target for 2020 implicitly more than doubled last month. Note in the chart below, we are comparing kilowatt-hours – the actual electricity generated – not kilowatts (installed capacity).

Things are no different in India. It now aims to increase nuclear capacity some threefold by 2024, but the country has also failed to meet previous targets for nuclear. The new target for 2024, for instance, is a third smaller than the one for (not from!) 1987. Both India and China have targets for rooftop solar that they are likely to miss, but India has otherwise managed to grow wind power impressively, with solar likely to come next.

And then there is Brazil. The country initially had nuclear ambitions, which it has not completely abandoned. But since discovering wind power a few years ago, there seems to be little hope that nuclear will ever keep up. Brazil has yet to properly discover solar, but significant volumes have been tendered recently. Unfortunately, many of the winning bids were withdrawn due to the overall economic situation. But when power demand picks up again, Brazilians will not doubt see that solar and wind are the cheapest way to quickly add capacity.

In studies proposing nuclear as a solution to mitigate climate change, one rarely finds an admission that massive new builds would be needed. By 2050, the reactors completed around 1980 (almost all of those in North America and Europe, for instance) would be roughly 70 years old. The average age of the French nuclear fleet will surpass 40 by 2025. The oldest technically still operating reactor in the world, Beznau 1 in Switzerland, is only 48 years old (commissioned on 1 September 1969), but it has been offline since March 2015, when microfissures were discovered in the containment vessel. In addition, indentions considered “not relevant for safety” were reported in August 2017; they had previously been discovered in the pressure chamber but not made public (in German).

If all the aging reactors online today worldwide were replaced by 2050, more than 400 would need to be added – around one per month from 2018-2050. And even then, nuclear only made up 2.3% of global final energy demand in 2015. If one reactor per week were added, the share could be quadrupled to around 10% if energy demand stagnated at the level of 2015. Reaching 70% would require a new reactor every day. How likely is any of that?

Critics of renewables often claim that wind and solar energy cannot grow quickly enough. There is no doubt that green energy is not currently growing fast enough to replace fossil fuels. One of the main findings in IRENA’s REmap 2030 report is that renewables are only growing in line with energy demand and are therefore unable to offset fossil fuel consumption significantly. What nuclear supporters fail to mention, however, is that nuclear is falling behind. Its share of final energy dropped from 2.6% in 2012 to 2.3% in 2015 according to REN21’s Global Status Report.

Next year, China could become the first country to put the EPR reactor design into operation after years of delay. The EPR (which is also to be used at the Hinkley site in the UK and elsewhere in Europe and the US) is to bring nuclear into its next era. But as we waited on the EPR to deliver, solar and wind have plummeted in price. Now, so much is being built that the question is no longer whether solar and wind can be cheaper than new nuclear, but whether nuclear can be cheaper than wind and solar plus storage.

For your convenience, the charts above are collected below. Feel free to share the image!

Craig Morris (@PPchef) is the lead author of Global Energy Transition. He is co-author of Energy Democracy, the first history of Germany’s Energiewende, and is currently Senior Fellow at the IASS.

Categories: Blogs

NAFTA 2.0 – an avenue for more dirty energy

22 September, 2017 - 15:00

A renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) could result in a much stronger trade focus on fossil fuels, which would imply an increase in CO2 emissions and undermine previous efforts made by its three trade partners to lower emissions. Emilio Godoy explains.

Canada, the US and Mexico should be working on their climate goals – but that won’t be included in the NAFTA renegotiations.

The original NAFTA agreement, in force since 1994 between Canada, Mexico and the United States, left out energy issues altogether, essentially because Mexico refused to open its energy sector to the North, at the time dominated by PEMEX (hydrocarbons) and CFE (electricity) state monopolies.

NAFTA renegotiations talks began on August 16th in Washington DC. One of the issues now on the table is energy. Both the US and the Mexican governments and businesses have published their negotiation priorities and favor the prospect of opening the borders for energy trade. Renegotiations have a special focus on oil and gas, because the US has huge inventories that need access to new markets, and its companies have a growing interest to invest abroad. Mexico, on the other hand, lacks financial investments in its energy sector, and financial “aid” from the US would be warmly welcomed.

Moreover, the energy businesses want to formalize Mexico’s energy reform conducted since 2014 opening hydrocarbons and electricity markets up to private capital within the NAFTA bloc. In its development, the Mexican government carried out seven oil and gas tenders and three rounds for electricity generation that have attracted millions of US dollars.

If concluded, the new NAFTA energy chapter would diminish Mexico’s power to relinquish from deepening oil and gas exploration and extraction, as it would expose the country to an international arbitration scheme allowing corporations to sue Mexico if the country were to suddenly adhere to more sustainable energy policies, such as setting a ban fracking.

Since March of this year, Mexican gas extraction declined from 5.383 thousand cubic feet per day (mcfd) to 5.253 mcfd in June. In contrast, natural gas imports, mainly from the US, grew from 1.537 mcfd in April to 1.847 mcfd in June. That gas derives mainly from fracking, the method that requires thousands of gallons of water and a mix of chemicals. Fracking has negative impacts on the environment and human health, as numerous studies continue to show.

Moreover, the oil and gas gluts is pushing for the construction of pipelines throughout Mexico, which in itself represent a potential source of methane, a more polluting-power gas than CO2. Methane leaks exist throughout the whole production chain, from gas wells to storage and transportation infrastructure.

But a new energy chapter in NAFTA would be the basis of the allegedly North American energy integration, according to think tanks and the three governments.

In the last years, the energy trade balance with Mexico have been favorable to the US, thanks to its exports of gasoline and gas. Mexico sends oil and receives processed hydrocarbons, due to its lack of refining capacity.

More trade advantages for oil and gas may hold up the growth of renewable energy, even though they have become increasingly competitive with gas.

In 2016, the three NAFTA partners committed themselves to reach 50 percent in clean power generation by 2025 and to lower methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 percent by the same year. Moreover, in 2015, Mexico presented before the UNFCCC a voluntary 25 percent greenhouse reduction target by 2030.

The NAFTA push towards conventional fuels will put those figures at risk. If Mexico is serious about its climate targets, more than 70 percent of the country’s oil and gas reserves should remain in the ground.

Categories: Blogs

Energy and climate not big topic in German elections

20 September, 2017 - 15:00

On Sunday, Germans will vote for a new parliament. Despite recent floods in the Caribbean and the Southeast Asia, climate change and the Energiewende did not take center stage. So what are Germans concerned about, and how will Germany’s energy transition fare under the most likely coalitions? Craig Morris investigates.

Angela Merkel and Martin Schulz haven’t mentioned energy and climate – probably because Germans are more worried about security. (Public Domain)

Much to the dismay of climate activists and renewable energy proponents in Germany, the TV debate between Chancellor Merkel and her rival Martin Schulz of the Social Democrats avoided the Energiewende altogether. But this outcome is not surprising; it’s never been any other way. Even in the last big TV debate of 2013 – just two years after Merkel’s nuclear phaseout in the wake of Fukushima – the word “Energiewende” was not mentioned at all.

After the TV debate this month, there were lots of complaints about one of the moderators’ excessive focus on questions about refugees, but none of the other moderators asked questions about the climate or energy either. Look at reader comments under articles about the debate, and it’s also hard to find people complaining about the oversight – unless you are on an environmental website.

Rather than complain about the public, the media, and politicians not paying enough attention to renewables in the climate, we should probably just accept the facts: the Energiewende is one of the five most important issues, generally coming in fourth or fifth – and we only take time to talk about the top three or four. Only under rare circumstances will energy and the climate take the foreground, and we haven’t had such circumstances yet.

So what are the Germans concerned about? Back in 2013, it was the financial crisis, the proposal for a general minimum wage, and the impact of the Greek crisis on the Europe. This time, the top three topics of general concern are slightly different.

Germany concerned about education, terrorism, and retirement pensions, not energy and climate in elections #BTW17 refugee issues minor pic.twitter.com/epex46RhL4

— Craig Morris (@PPchef) September 15, 2017

Terrorism in second place is a major accomplishment for the security theater. Germany is not a major spot for terrorist attacks (top ten here). Over the past 20 years, less than one person annually on average has died in Germany from terrorist attacks (in German). In comparison, some 9 people a day die in car crashes in Germany (in German).

The chart above shows that only 34% of Germans are worried about “the integration of refugees” and only 27% about “refugee immigration.” That’s good news: Germany successfully absorbed roughly one percent of its population as new refugees in 2015-16. In that chart, the Energiewende is somewhere in the space in the middle that the German nightly news skipped.

Possible coalitions

The Christian Union (CDU/CSU) and the SPD could form another coalition; indeed, this outcome is numerically the most likely. The only other coalition with an historic precedent would be the Union with the libertarian FDP, but the numbers don’t add up to 50% in the most recent poll. Alternative for Germany (AfD) could become the third largest party, but no one will form a government with them because of the party’s far-right-wing stance.

#GroKo only safe bet in last poll before German elections on Sunday, right-wing populist #AfD could be third #BTW17 pic.twitter.com/QYMvRcbMJH

— Craig Morris (@PPchef) September 15, 2017

Neither Union voters nor Social Democrats seem particularly excited about the prospect of a continued Grand Coalition. For the Energiewende, the “GroKo” (große Koalition) would mean a continuation of the current lack of ambition.

Germans prefer renewed grand coalition #GroKo to difficult experiment with #CDU, #Greens, and #FDP

— Craig Morris (@PPchef) September 19, 2017

The Union, FDP, and Greens would be the only option unless the numbers change significantly. That coalition would be the hardest to accomplish (in German), and it might not be better for the Energiewende anyway. The FDP has long wanted to stop it. In the best case, the Greens would insist on determining climate policy and offer to give the FDP something it campaigned on, such as the digital economy. The Union might even go with that. But it’s a long shot – the Greens are still attacking the FDP while merely stating they “would not rule out” a coalition with them and the Union (in German).

In another TV show on Sunday, Merkel answered questions from the audience for 90 minutes (video in German). The fate of diesel was mentioned (by a car dealer no longer able to sell diesels), and a young woman voting for the first time did ask about Germany’s climate targets (video in German). Merkel promised to “find ways” to meet the 2020 carbon targets (she won’t). But as with the 90 minutes of audience questions for Martin Schulz the previous evening, energy and the climate did not take center stage. People have other concerns.

Those of us working to mitigate climate change and develop renewable energy should move beyond complaining about our topics being overlooked and focus on explaining things in terms important to people. Renewable energy provides well-paying jobs, offers educational opportunities, and relieves the tension over scarce fossil resources now worsening the refugee crisis – and terrorism where it is truly a daily event: outside Europe.

Craig Morris (@PPchef) is the lead author of Global Energy Transition. He is co-author of Energy Democracy, the first history of Germany’s Energiewende, and is currently Senior Fellow at the IASS.

Categories: Blogs

Germans are not always great engineers. For instance, in mobility.

19 September, 2017 - 12:45

Tunnel construction under train tracks in southwest Germany has damaged the only line for fast trains connecting Switzerland to Germany. Freight is also impacted. One Swiss paper says the Germans have “third-world infrastructure.” Craig Morris investigates.

German high-speed trains only have one connection to Switzerland, and it’s down (Photo by Sebastian Terfloth, edited, CC BY-SA 3.0

You’d think that engineers digging a tunnel under the main train lines directly connecting Germany to southern Europe would be careful not to collapse the lines. And you’d think that “German engineering” could do such an easy job well. And you’d be wrong.

In mid-August, a 160-meter tunnel led to undulations in the tracks above, which have been closed until at least October 7 (Deutsche Bahn press release in German). The tunnel is now to be filled with concrete. It is unclear at this point whether a new tunnel nearby will be built later.

The map below shows how crucial the line is. The damage was caused near Rastatt, just south of Karlsruhe at the bottom left. As you can see, that’s the only connection for high-speed trains. Southwest Germans and the Swiss have been partly cut off from northern Europe.

The ICE trains in Germany only have one connection to Switzerland, and it’s down. Note as well that, although the trains can theoretically reach 320 km/h, they only do so in France. German tracks have never been upgraded to accommodate such speeds. Deutsche Bahn now plans to give up such ambitions altogether: the new ICE 4 trains expected in 2023 will have a top speed of 250 km/h (report in German). (Image source)

Granted, German railway operator Deutsche Bahn (a state-owned company) is providing a bus connection around the blockage, but that detour adds an hour to the trip. When I travelled on the autobahn in late August, I was expecting great traffic, but it seemed unchanged. People might simply be opting not to travel at all if they can avoid it. (I know some people who have done so.)

Freight is also being affected. The route is heavily used to transport goods. Shipping on the Rhein is an option, water levels permitting. Otherwise, all freight has to go on the road. The local newspaper Der Sonntag reports that low water levels can, however, cause much greater disruption because so many containers fit onto a single ship. The trucking sector is thus used to such fluctuations, and there are also north-south roads along the French side of the Rhine. In other words, the extent of the problem is not really new, though the cause is, and the problem is not overwhelming the roads.

Nonetheless, Deutsche Bahn faces lots of claims for damages as freight is rerouted and arrives late. BASF, the world’s largest chemicals firms (located in Ludwighafen just north of Stuttgart on the map above), is already running short of some material. And the Swiss logistics sector will also want its losses covered.

Some Swiss are not pleased. In an article entitled “Germany is a Third-World Country,” Basler Zeitung says the Swiss might want to redirect some development aid to Germany: “Germany… likes to tell Third-World countries and others… what successful climate, economic, and security policy looks like.” In this case, Germany has pledged to expand transport connection with Switzerland – and failed to do so in time. Judging from the comments below that article, lots of Germans are happy to have the Swiss bash them – and join in the bashing themselves.

This setback is yet another sign that, for whatever reason, the Germans can’t get mobility right. In addition to dieselgate, there is the “farcical saga” (The Telegraph) at Berlin’s new airport, where delays cost a million euros a day with no end in sight.

German politicians have spoken of the Energiewende as the country’s Man on the Moon project. As we point out in our history of the Energiewende, the comparison is interesting in a way not intended: Apollo 1 burned up on the launchpad, killing all the astronauts aboard. The Energiewende may still have its Apollo 1. But I always thought that disaster might be a major blackout. Increasingly, I wonder whether the Energiewende’s biggest failure might not occur in the power sector at all. Maybe it’s already happening… in mobility.

Craig Morris (@PPchef) is the lead author of Global Energy Transition. He is co-author of Energy Democracy, the first history of Germany’s Energiewende, and is currently Senior Fellow at the IASS.

Categories: Blogs

Cows, coal and cars: Ireland’s energy transition challenge

18 September, 2017 - 15:00

Ireland has set some important emissions reductions goals for 2050 – but greenhouse gases from agriculture remain a stumbling block. In addition, Ireland’s share of renewables in the energy mix is relatively low. Claire Dupont takes a look at what the country can do to jump-start the energy transition.

Agriculture makes up a third of Irish emissions – so energy is going to have to decarbonize fast (Photo by Dirk Ingo Franke, edited, CC BY-SA 2.0 DE)

Ireland’s energy sector is set for a transition to a decarbonised, climate-friendly system, if the targets set out by the Irish government are achieved. In 2015, Ireland adopted its Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act – making Ireland one of a handful of countries globally to adopt such legislation – and promised to transition towards sustainability by 2050.

In July 2017, the National Mitigation Plan outlined what such a transition would mean:

  • “An aggregate reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of at least 80% (compared to 1990 levels) by 2050 across the electricity generation, built environment and transport sectors; and
  • In parallel, an approach to carbon neutrality in the agriculture and land-use sector, including forestry, which does not compromise capacity for sustainable food production.”

With the agricultural sector in Ireland protected from serious efforts at greenhouse gas emissions reductions (although agriculture counts for nearly a third of total GHG emissions in Ireland), the bulk of the efforts in the transition to decarbonisation will have to be borne by the energy sector.

Transitioning to a renewable energy system has the double payoff of increasing sustainability and increasing energy independence for the country. Ireland is highly dependent on energy imports to meet its energy needs (89% of energy dependence in 2015), but it also has a high potential for renewable energy generation. Ireland’s energy consumption includes coal, and some local natural gas and peat, but renewable energy represents the main option for domestic energy. At the end of 2016, Ireland was among the leading countries globally for total wind power capacity per inhabitant (after Denmark, Sweden and Germany), and a high of 27% of its total electricity generation was estimated to come from wind that same year.

Despite the progress already made and the further high potential for renewable energy, especially in wind and marine power, Ireland is far from meeting its 2020 renewable energy target. Under the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive (2009), Ireland is committed to achieving a 16% share of renewable energy in final energy consumption by 2020. Yet, the pace of growth of renewable energy has been too slow and the target risks being missed. In 2004, the share of renewable energy in final energy consumption stood at 2.4%. This has increased steadily to 5.6% in 2010 and 9.2% in 2015. However, with an increase of, on average, between 0.5 and 1 percentage points per year since 2004, the 2020 target will remain out of reach without new measures to speed up the deployment of renewable energy across all sectors.

Furthermore, Ireland’s decarbonization and climate agenda has been critiqued for high long-term ambition, but low short-term implementation strategies. The lack of a stepwise implementation plan is jeopardizing the credibility of the transition trajectory, and emphasizing a risk of carbon lock-in if stronger steps towards transition are not taken soon.

The drivers and barriers to a more credible pathway towards sustainability are manifold – political, institutional, structural and economic. Political commitment and adequate institutional structures to promote, support and monitor the implementation of decarbonization are required. In a recent report for the Irish Environmental Protection Agency, Dr Diarmuid Torney outlined several institutional and political strategies to ensure that decarbonization of the Irish electricity sector is achieved. He emphasizes the need for a stronger and more positive decarbonization narrative, for stronger government direction, for better implementation structures, for a better funding framework, and for more research, among others.

The structure of the Irish economy and energy sector also leads to certain drivers and barriers: with high potential for renewables in electricity, heat and transport, but inadequate infrastructure investments to ensure a quick transition; and high (and rising) levels of land-based and agriculture-based GHG emissions shrinking benefits arising from improvements in energy efficiency and increases in renewable energy use. The objective of the 2017 National Mitigation Plan to aim for ‘an approach to carbon neutrality’ indicates a clash of priorities: Ireland’s aim to increase its capacity for food exports by, especially, increasing its bovine agriculture sector sits uncomfortably with climate objectives.

Externally, the Irish energy transition will depend also on several factors that remain to be seen: the evolution of Brexit and the form of the Internal Energy Market, and future technological developments, for example.

High potential exists for Ireland to transition to sustainability, and Ireland has clear commitments for the year 2050. Real progress has so far been slow, however, and the lack of mid-term targets, the clash of policy priorities or low level of political prioritization of decarbonization, and external contexts, raise questions about the credibility of the Irish commitment to an energy transition.

Claire Dupont is a postdoctoral researcher, originally from Ireland, and based at the Institute for European Studies at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium. Her research interests include climate and energy policy, and the governance of the transition to decarbonization.

Categories: Blogs

Lithuania’s energy transition at a crossroads

15 September, 2017 - 15:00

Lithuania is a net energy importer, and many in the country are worried about security, especially because of their reliance on Russian gas. Nuclear is not an option – the government needs to invest in renewables if they want to improve their energy system, says Monika Kokstaite.

Wind power plant under construction near Vilkyčiai, Lithuania (Photo by Kusurija, edited, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Lithuania is one of the smallest energy consumers in the Baltic region and the EU, and it represents one of the most complex examples of energy security problems in the region.

Lithuania has been struggling with its external energy dependency since 1990. It was the first country to receive imported gas from Russia (at that time, the USSR) back in the 1960s. Currently, imports from Russia still make up a high share of the Lithuanian gas market.

As for the electricity sector: the BRELL (Belarus, Russia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) electricity ring, part of integrated larger IPS/UPS synchronized zone, has been meeting the domestic electricity demands for almost five decades. Designed under Soviet regime and centrally controlled by Moscow, the system is now perceived as a great risk to Lithuania’s energy security.

European energy systems: the IPS/UPS zone is pictured in red (Photo via Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Although the Lithuanian government has been examining other interconnection options with continental Europe since 1998, various feasibility studies show that the envisioned energy system transfer (the import/export of both gas and electricity from the EU countries or energy interconnections) will not take place till 2025. Thus, the physical isolation of Lithuanian energy market continues to be an issue.

However, there has been some progress in developing new interconnections in the recent years. The grid-extension projects linking Lithuania with Poland and Sweden were finalised in 2016, transporting Nordic electricity. Moreover, the LNG terminal and floating storage in 2014 opened the doors to Nordic gas. Meanwhile, market liberalisation has been progressing at a full speed. The unbundling of generation from transmission activities in the gas and electricity sectors in 2013 made both markets compatible with EU norms.

At the same time, the closure of the Ignalina’s nuclear power plant exacerbated dependency on Russia and energy security issues. In 2012, Lithuania imported almost all of its annual gas demand (~2,4bcm) and 63% of its total electricity needs from Russia. Before 2009, Ignalina’s nuclear power plant met 77 % of the country´s electricity needs, while 58 % of its total output was exported to other countries. However, after the plant closed, Lithuania turned from an exporter to an importer of electricity – 2/3 of the country´s electricity is imported.

Low levels of energy efficiency, low income, the lack of competitiveness, and no long-term strategy for the domestic energy sector posed a significant threat to the state’s energy security. The first long-term energy plan was the 2012 National Energy Independence Strategy, which incorporated EU’s 2020 energy and climate goals. Renewable resources and nuclear energy were seen as a way to reduce excessive imports and heavy reliance on Russian gas, paving the way to a fossil fuel free Lithuania by 2050.

However, the referendum on the nuclear power plant that was planned to be built in October 2012 sent the project to oblivion by population’s negative vote, casting a shadow on country’s capacity and ability to reach its goals by 2020. Due to the national parliamentary elections in October 2016, the new National Energy Strategy has been delayed since September 2016, which makes it even more unclear how the country is going to reach the targets on time and ensure energy security. As the country with the highest energy poverty in the EU, Lithuania’s priority remains affordable energy, reducing energy intensity and cutting its domestic energy bill. Meanwhile, one third of the population cannot afford to keep their homes sufficiently heated.

The closure of the old nuclear power plant and the vote against a new one paved the way for the development of renewable energy sources (RES). Comprising barely 15% of the total energy consumption in 2009, RES increased by one fifth in the following 5 years.

Biomass (86.5 %) and biofuel (4.4 %) represent the biggest share of RES, whereas hydropower and wind energy, account each for 3.9% of the total distribution. Solar power, unfortunately, has limited potential due to the geographic conditions. Wind energy continues to be the most sustainable RES compared to the environmental impact of biomass. However, the government’s plans to increase the existing wind power capacity by 50 % could not be realised without support mechanisms or other incentives. Opinion polls show that more than 80 % of Lithuanians support RES energy and the majority is also willing to pay more for green energy. With a new coalition of Peasant and Green parties, Lithuania could finally opt for the long awaited real solutions to ensure energy security and sustainability in the country.

To conclude, Lithuania’s self-sufficiency continues to be a political priority, but without a clear vision on how to achieve it, the huge imports of gas and electricity will not be replaced. The list of suppliers expanded, but the import itself did not shrink much. The government’s reluctance to support the expansion of wind and solar power is partly due to the lack of financial means. The increasing energy consumption is expected to pose more challenges, as the country’s future energy system remains unclear. However, the reduction of administrative and grid-related barriers, combined with a stable and predictable regulatory framework that attracts investments, could play a significant role in Lithuania’s energy transition.

Monika Kokstaite is a PhD Researcher at IMT LUCCA (Italy) and Senior Consultant-Project Manager at everis, NTT DATA Company (Brussels office). She has been working with energy issues since 2008 in various EU countries, analysing renewable resources, energy policies, efficiency and technology.

Categories: Blogs

Yes, I want renewables in my backyard

12 September, 2017 - 15:00

The government of Canada has made the fight against climate change a top priority. A corner stone of this endeavor is the rapid adoption of renewable energy, especially wind power. But there is a challenge: acceptance. Helmut Herold and Nicole Risse say engaging residents will help.

The Bull Creek Wind Project began operating in December 2015 in the Alberta municipal district of Provost. (Photo courtesy of BluEarth Renewables Inc)

A Canadian study recently revealed that community engagement and economic benefit in local wind energy projects ensures local buy-in and social license. The conclusions of the study aren’t surprising: The German energy transition was – and still is – powered by Germany’s citizens, making the country one of the global leaders in renewable energy.

New Brunswick is the only province that has defined a clear commitment to community participation in non-residential renewable energy. Saskatchewan has announced that it wants First Nations participation in renewable energy projects but has yet to reveal any concrete ideas on how this will be achieved.

This is surprising, since politicians increasingly need to prove that the investments they are making will pay off and are in the best interests of their voters. To effectively fight climate change, we need to change the way we produce, supply and use energy.

Engagement fends off Not-In-My-Back-Yard (NIMBY) opponents who feel they are being steamrolled

Engaging residents and citizens through equity ownership in wind and other renewable energy projects is a proven way to turn the residents of host communities into champions, supporters and beneficiaries rather than militant Not-In-My-Back-Yard (NIMBY) opponents who feel they are being steamrolled.

The Quebec government recognized this and focused its procurement on community participation resulting in broad-based support and a significant manufacturing industry. Model projects include the Pierre De-Saurel wind farm, the province’s first 100-per-cent community-owned wind farm, and the Mesgi’g Ugju’s’n project, an equal partnership between developer Innergex and the communities of three Mi’gmaq First Nations.

In Ontario, wind energy has become a political football, despite being less expensive and financially volatile than most of Ontario’s power options. The push-back, caused by the lack of a policy and procurement framework encouraging community engagement, has resulted in process delays and a significant increase in costs for many flagship projects.

When you dig down to the root of the issue, residents have said they don’t feel like they have a say in what is being built and that the benefits aren’t really accruing to them, but to outsiders. There is a community where this isn’t the case, in Woodstock at the site of the Gunn’s Hill wind farm. The ten-turbine project owned by Prowind Canada, the Oxford Community Energy Co-op and the Six Nations of the Grand River highlights the importance of community partnership for other jurisdictions echoing Germany’s success.

There are municipalities, community groups and First Nations across the country, ready to partner and develop renewable energy projects. In communities where this isn’t the case the establishment of a new partner is not difficult. It can take some investment of time and resources though.

Community involvement is a proven route to success

Significant Canadian experience and support for both Community Power proponents and developers who choose to work with them can be gleaned from organizations like the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association (OSEA). The same can be said of governments shaping policy and procurement processes.

Unfortunately, policymakers in Canada’s Western provinces are focusing on price and process at the moment. Social acceptability questions and community engagement don’t seem to be the first priority. Fortunately, it is not too late. In addition to resources like OSEA, the German embassy has secured the authors of “Energy Democracy: Germany’s Energiewende to Renewables,” Arne Jungjohann and Craig Morris, for a tour of Canada later this spring.

The bottom line is, it is in everybody’s interest to create the policy framework as well as the economic conditions that ensure community involvement. The time to act is now. Critics may say that the current market scheme out West that requires rock-bottom prices and the creation of economies of scale doesn’t allow for community participation. They may have a point. Enough learning has been done the hard way though. We need to get on with effectively tackling climate change and the development of green and prosperous local economies where people say “Yes, in my backyard!”

This article was originally published at the National Observer.

Helmut Herold is a renewable energy advocate and was formerly the CEO of Senvion, a global wind turbine manufacturer which has installed more than 600 wind turbines in Canada.

Nicole Risse is the former Executive Director of the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association (OSEA). She has championed community-owned power generation and the development of an integrated, sustainable energy system in Ontario for almost a decade. Nicole is a specialist in sustainable energy, with a particular focus on the Ontario energy sector. She was instrumental in driving forward the Ontario Green Energy Act Campaign, as well as the development of other important policy initiatives.

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