Until recently, the term ‘coal phaseout’ was taboo in Central Europe. But things are changing in Czechia and Slovakia. Hard coal mines are continuously shutting down because of low purchase prices of coal and strong foreign competition. Lignite mines, facing emissions regulations and pollution charges, are slowly following suit. Kateřina Davidová and Lenka Ilčíková explain.
People in coal regions are therefore starting to imagine a situation when coal mining will end altogether. In both Czechia and Slovakia, national strategic plans are being designed to help coal regions diversify their economies in order to boost development in the future.
In Czechia, the government has in place a programme (RESTART) aimed at stimulating the alternative development of the country’s three mining regions: the Moravian-Silesian region, the Ústí nad Labem region and the Karlovy Vary region.
In Slovakia, regional authorities in Upper Nitra have recently kicked off an effort for similar planning. The Slovak region has even qualified for the pilot programme of the European Union to support the transformation of coal mining regions, announced by the EU Energy Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič at the end of 2017.
Ending coal mining and burning brings benefits when it comes to air quality and climate. However, the question is what will happen to employees of the coal industry when their jobs are gone. How do miners look at the planned transformation of their regions away from coal?
We asked two former miners – one from Czechia and the other one from Slovakia – how hard it was for them to find a new job in their regions and what they think about the trend to phase out coal.
Petr Dvořák from Horní Jiřetín comes from a mining family and started working on a shaft in northern Bohemia as soon as he finished apprentice school.
But when mining began to diminish in the region and the shafts started being closed down, he decided to leave the industry. He has been running a plumbing business for two years now. He perceives the change of profession as positive.
“There is a lot of work on the market,’ Petr Dvořák said. “I myself had been doing business already while working on the shaft. My ex-colleagues also found new jobs. People who stop working on the shaft do not have a problem to find a different job. They are locksmiths, plumbers, bricklayers – all are needed on the market today.”
Branislav Ťažiar from Opatovce nad Nitrou is more ambiguous in talking about this big change in his life. He worked in the mines for most of his life, until 2011, when he was let go for health reasons. He received unemployment allowance for six months and then tried to work in several companies. Today, he finally has a stable job at the municipal office and he likes it.
“The most difficult was the period after I was let go and the occupational disease compensation still had not been recognised,” Branislav Ťažiar said. “You cannot imagine the uncertainty. But today I do not regret being out of the mine.”
What would he tell his colleagues who might face a similar situation?
“When they are skilled, they do not have to worry: they will always find work,” Branislav Ťažiar thinks.
But they should also count on having to live more modestly for a while. Ťažiar earns slightly less money today than he did before but he is happy. “I do not have to work in shifts, I often work outside, I see the sun – and I can even get tanned!”
Petr Dvořák has a similar view. “In my opinion, those who can run away from the shaft, they should do it. Today, no one wants to work with a shovel and be in the smoke all day for 21,000 (800 euros).”
The two former miners also agree that their new jobs carry fewer health risks.
Many people today still perceive mining as a prestigious and well-paid profession. But this is no longer the case. While before 1989 miners were earning sometimes five times more than the average wage and they enjoyed various above-standard benefits, since the 1990s both wages and benefits have gone down.
“It is not what it used to be,” Branislav Ťažiar said.
“The fact that miners get high salaries was true under Communism, but not any more,” Petr Dvořák agrees.
In addition, many miners live in uncertainty because they expect layoffs.
The future for today’s employees in the coal industry does not look rosy. The question is how to prepare miners and other mining staff for the likely future job change ahead of them. According to Petr Dvořák, rather than re-qualification programmes, being familiar with work in a different operation than the mines is what really helps miners.
“Some have known only a tram, a pub and a shaft for their whole life,” he explains.
He thinks that the best is to rely on oneself and to look for a job on one’s own. Neither Dvořák nor Ťažiar were helped in their transition periods.
At the regional level, however, economic development needs to be promoted, the ex-miners agree. According to Ťažiar, development of the infrastructure would help the Slovak coal mining region attract new investors. Business support would help too, the two ex-miners think, and not only large companies would benefit.
Petr Dvořák even goes as far as saying that distancing itself from coal would help the Ústí nad Labem region. Demand for coal is declining and people are more resilient than before. The region is thought to be ready to switch to new sectors such as the assembly industry or tourism. However, there is a need to invest more effectively in mine closures and re-ecologisation of open-cast mines. The European Union could also help with reclamation projects.
Photos and text by Kateřina Davidová (Center for Transport and Energy) and Lenka Ilčíková (Friends of the Earth-CEPA)
Reposted from Just Transition.
To continue leading the Energiewende it started, Germany now needs to follow other progressive nations and announce a swift coal exit. But the “Coal Commission” tasked with structuring the coal phaseout seems to be dragging its feet. L. Michael Buchsbaum takes a look.
Perhaps the most important long-term question for the current German government is “will Germany continue to play a leadership role in embracing clean energy? Or will it increasingly be eclipsed by other nations?” Angela Merkel and the latest version of the Grand Coalition between the conservative CDU and the left-of-center SPD parties will have to address coal or risk (?)
At an early stage, the Energiewende forged an international perception that Germany, with Merkel as its titular head, was committed to writing a new green chapter in its long history. Clearly demonstrating that an industrial power can successfully transition away from near total fossil fuel and nuclear energy dependence without sacrificing its economy, today almost 40% of Germany’s energy is regularly generated by renewables.
With ever more capacity coming online, generation costs continue to fall. Likewise, as part of long established plans, the nation remains on schedule to shut its last nuclear power plants by 2022, and this year, after centuries of underground coal mining, Germany’s last “hard coal” mines will finally close.
Though Germany did not create the renewable energy revolution, her early endorsement of its potential turned the tide in green energy’s favor, taking it off the drawing board and bringing it into the real world—simultaneously opening up new economic markets and creating tremendous opportunities.
Leapfrogging ahead of Germany, last year at the COP 23 held in Bonn, over 20 nations, including France, Austria, and Italy confidently joined the UK and Canadian-lead “Powering Past Coal Alliance” to take the next step of pledging to swiftly and purposefully phase out coal altogether. Notably missing, however, were the world’s biggest miners and burners: the US, Russia, China, India and sadly, Germany.
Indeed, despite the Energiewende, today over 40% of Germany’s energy still comes from coal as the nation remains the world’s largest miner and burner of brown coal or lignite – one of the worst greenhouse gas emitting fuel sources. This is a major reason why by March the nation had already exceeded its full-year quota of 217 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
One of the pledges of the new Grand Coalition is the creation of a “Coal Commission” tasked with making the decision of when and how to exit coal. However, its commissioners continue to prevaricate upon when they will even announce that a decision has been reached. Initially it was to be in 2018, then by the end of the year, and now increasingly “sometime in early 2019.”
Moreover, in what some fear a deliberate attempt to slow down its progress, at least four Cabinet ministers with very different mandates will “jointly” work upon it. As currently envisioned, economic minister Peter Altmaier (Christian Democrat), environmental minister Svenja Schulze (Social Democrat), labour minister Hubertus Heil (Social Democrat), and interior minister Horst Seehofer (Chrisitian Social Union) will somehow together steer the work of the officially entitled “special commission on growth, structural economic change and employment.”
But the actual taskforce is being housed in the more conservative economic ministry, signaling that all steerage won’t be equal, and Energy Secretary Altmaier seems to be taking the lead. At the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue, while praising the Energiewende as a globaly admired business model that other nations should follow, he rejected demands by the Greens and other environmental organizations for a quick coal exit, flatly stating that though Germany “will reduce coal production by half by 2030,” a final coal exit will not occur for several decades more. Note, Altmaier carefully referred to halving the mining, not burning of coal.
Though some coal-fired power plants are indeed being retired this year, these cuts are nothing like what has been done in the UK, which is acting much more like the European leader on climate change. While reducing emissions by more than 40% since 1990, over the last five years alone, they have also slashed coal generation by almost 85%. On April 6, Great Britain experienced its second coal-free 24-hour period since 1882—without blackouts.
But in Germany a key stumbling block seems to be finding a long-term solution for affected industries and the estimated 13,000 to 50,000 affected coal workers (depending on which economic study one accepts). While not a trivial concern, it’s not an impossible hurdle to overcome.
Last December, the European Commission announced that billions of euros of financial support and training schemes to assist impacted coal mining areas are being made available. The new “Platform for Coal Regions in Transition” program is precisely intended to facilitate the development of projects and long-term strategies throughout affected areas, with the aim of “boosting the clean energy transition by bringing more focus to social fairness, structural transformation, new skills and financing for the real economy.”
Maroš Šefčovič, vice-president of the European Commission in charge of the Energy Union, and one of the leaders of this Platform shared several stages with Altmaier as well as other officials at the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue. At a press conference, both men promised to soon travel to the coal fields of Lusatia in Saxony to meet with members of its state government, and regional union and mining officials with the goal of developing a transition plan. But local mining company Leag has stated that it doesn’t plan to end production at its opencast mines until sometime in the early 2040s.
However, if Germany doesn’t adopt a robust coal exit strategy, it be able to meet its promised emissions targets, and the goals of the Energiewende may go up in smoke along with hundreds of millions of tonnes of filthy lignite. Allowing for a slow burn will actually suffocate the green energy revolution while leaving a toxic mess for the leaders of other nations and future generations to clean up.
This year alone, the world has faced unprecedented floods, hurricanes, wildfires, and droughts on virtually every continent. A safe climate future requires ending the age of Big Oil. Tzeporah Berman and Lili Fuhr take a look.
The end of the fossil-fuel era is on the horizon. With renewables like solar and wind consistently outperforming expectations, growth in electric vehicles far exceeding projections, and governments worldwide acknowledging the urgency of tackling climate change, the writing is on the wall.
And yet somehow, the question central to it all is not being seriously addressed: what is the plan for weaning ourselves off oil, coal, and gas?
That question is becoming increasingly urgent, because governments around the world, from Argentina to Canada to Norway, are supporting plans to continue producing fossil fuels and explore for more. These governments claim that new fossil-fuel projects are consistent with their commitments under the Paris climate agreement, despite the fact that burning even the fossil fuels in already-existing reserves would push global temperatures higher than 2°C above pre-industrial levels – and thus far beyond the threshold established in that accord. It is a startling display of cognitive dissonance.
The reality is that limiting fossil-fuel production today is essential to avoid continued entrenchment of energy infrastructure and political dynamics that will make shifting away from fossil fuels later more difficult and expensive. Important questions about equity will arise: Who gets to sell the last barrel of oil? Who pays for the transition to renewables? And who compensates affected communities and workers? But, ultimately, these questions must be addressed, within a broader context of climate justice.
Climate change has been called the moral challenge of our age. This year alone, the world has faced unprecedented floods, hurricanes, wildfires, and droughts on virtually every continent. Yet the real storm is yet to come. If we are to avoid its most devastating impacts, phasing out coal – climate killer number one – will not be enough. A safe climate future requires ending the age of Big Oil.
The good news is that social change is not a gradual, linear process. Rather, it often happens in waves, characterized by “tipping point” moments brought on by the confluence of technological progress, financial incentives, political leadership, policy change, and, most important, social mobilization. We seem to be closing in on just such a moment.
For starters, technology is advancing faster than anyone thought possible. Twenty years ago, when we started working on climate issues, we sent faxes, made phone calls from landlines, and developed photos taken on 35mm film in darkrooms. Another 20 years from now, we will be living in a world that is powered by the sun, the waves, and the wind.
Moreover, popular opposition to fossil-fuel development is mounting, generating political pressure and financial and legal risks. Ordinary people everywhere have been working hard to halt projects inconsistent with a climate-safe future, whether by protesting against the Dakota Access Pipeline in the United States or the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline System in Canada; by joining the blockade by “kayactivists” of drilling rigs in the Arctic; or by using local referenda to stop oil and mining projects in Colombia.
Over 450 organizations from more than 70 countries signed the Lofoten Declaration, which explicitly calls for the managed decline of the fossil-fuel sector. The declaration demands leadership from those who can afford it, a just transition for those affected, and support for countries that face the most significant challenges.
Wealthy countries should lead the way. Norway, for example, is not just one of the world’s richest countries; it is also the seventh-largest exporter of carbon dioxide emissions, and it continues to permit exploration and development of new oil and gas fields. Proposed and prospective new projects could increase the amount of emissions Norway enables by 150%.
If Norway is to fulfill its proclaimed role as a leader in international climate discussions, its government must work actively to reduce production, while supporting affected workers and communities during the transition. Canada, another wealthy country that considers itself a climate leader yet continues to pursue new oil and gas projects, should do the same.
Some countries are already moving in the right direction. French President Emmanuel Macron has introduced a bill to phase out all oil and gas exploration and production in France and its overseas territories by 2040; the Scottish government has banned fracking altogether; and Costa Rica now produces the vast majority of its electricity without oil. But the real work is yet to come, with countries not only canceling plans for new fossil-fuel infrastructure, but also winding down existing systems.
A fossil-free economy can happen by design or by default. If we build it purposefully, we can address issues of equity and human rights, ensuring that the transition is fair and smooth, and that new energy infrastructure is ecologically sound and democratically controlled. If we allow it simply to happen on its own, many jurisdictions will be stuck with pipelines to nowhere, half-built mega-mines, and stranded assets that weaken the economy and contribute to political polarization and social unrest. There is only one sensible option.
Citizens around the world are championing a vision of a better future – a future in which communities, not corporations, manage their natural resources and ecosystems as commons, and people consume less, create less toxic plastic waste, and enjoy a generally healthier environment. It is up to our political leaders to deliver that vision. They should be working actively to engineer a just and smart shift to a future free of fossil fuels, not making that future harder and more expensive to achieve.
Tzeporah Berman is the former Co-Director of Greenpeace International’s Climate Program and co-founder of ForestEthics, a strategic adviser to a number of First Nations, environmental organizations, and philanthropic foundations and an adjunct professor at York University. She is the author of This Crazy Time: Living Our Environmental Challenge.
Lili Fuhr is head of the Ecology and Sustainable Development Department of the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s head office in Berlin. Before then she was in charge of International Politics. She focuses on International Climate, Energy and Resource Politics globally.
The authors wish to thank Hannah McKinnon of Oil Change International for her help with this commentary.
Emiliano Bellini of PV Magazine interviewed Luiz Augusto Barroso, the head of the Brazilian government-run energy agency EPE. He explains how the newly-implemented mechanism for power auctions increases competition. The upcoming A-4 auction, which includes solar, may have a bigger outcome than the auction held in December. The inclusion of solar in the A-6 auction, which is expected to be held in the second half of this year, is being considered.
pv magazine: Mr. Barrroso, on April 4, the Brazilian government will hold the A-4 energy auction, which will also assign PV projects. Can you estimate how much solar capacity will be awarded under the auction?
Barroso: Unfortunately, I cannot provide any specific figure on this. The auction demand is provided by the distribution companies and is confidential. We then allocate a share of this total demand volume to each technology, and this allocation method follows a technical procedure, currently under improvement, to make it compatible to how the electricity mix would look like in the future, according to EPE’s planning studies.
Compared to the latest A-4 auction, which was held in December and saw the allocation of around 574 MW of PV, will we see larger volumes for solar?
This is also difficult to predict, because it depends on total demand and the relative competitiveness of each energy source and their attributes desired for the system expansion. I can say it won’t be a big auction as a whole, but that it may be a bit bigger than the one we held last December. I also believe it will be a tough auction with fierce competition.
Do you believe this will result in lower prices?
In the case of solar PV, the price cap for April’s A-4 auction has been set at 312 BRL ($96)/MWh. This is a very attractive price cap for investors, which has raised big expectations among the auction’s participants and will ensure competition. Now there are more and more first-class companies competing in auctions that include solar, and the quality of bidders is improving significantly. However, there is not a demand for everybody, and only a fraction of the 20 GW of the A-4 auction’s pre-selected solar projects will be contracted. I believe these projects will very likely deliver power at a price close, or even lower than the average price of December’s A-4 auction, which was $44/MWh.
Will solar projects in areas with less grid constraints have higher chances?
The A-4 auction has an innovative regulatory mechanism, which is aimed at mitigating the risk of transmission capacity constraints for projects. Before the energy auction itself, there is a pre-allocation phase, where projects compete for the right to connect in areas where there is transmission capacity available as per the planning studies conducted by EPE and ONS, the system operator. We are not going to allocate more power than the network is ready to host. Brazil has still to improve its transmission system, and we cannot allocate more than needed. This will undoubtedly reduce risks for developers and for the system as whole.
Last year, solar was excluded from the A-6 auction. Do you believe there is a chance it will be included this year?
This is an option we are discussing, but nothing has been decided yet. In March, we will publish the A-6 auction’s guidelines, and by then a final announcement will be made. However, the auction is planned to assign capacity that will have to come online in 2024, a time frame that is not particularly favorable to a technology such as PV, which is seeing its costs being reduced drastically every year.
With such a significant reduction path, it may be safer – for the system and for the investor – to procure solar for 2024 in 2020 or 2021, for example. For the consumer, buying now something that may be bought in the future is giving away a free option. I understand that for the solar industry it is better to secure future volumes already today and there is a trade-off that we are considering.
The fact that solar delivered very competitive prices last year is something that cannot be ignored and this must be factored in our analyses. The A-4 auction, which is planned to see projects come online in 2022, definitely offers a better planning framework for solar project developers, but the 2024 option has not been discarded
Do you believe Brazil’s current auction mechanism is well designed for solar and renewables?
Brazil pioneered the auction-based scheme to procure renewables and we are very proud of it. As the technologies get more and more mature, we need to adapt the auctions too. For example, today the contracts offered to renewables have a settlement mechanism, which allows power to be delivered and settled on an annual basis with some tolerances. We are considering changing it by applying standard financial forward contracts, where the generation bears all the production risk – as happens nowadays with small-hydro generators – for wind and solar in the next A6 auction. This is a movement to level the playing field in the competition among sources.
We have also decided to move from Reserve Energy auctions (Leilões de Reserva), in which the amount of capacity allocated was decided by the government, to the A-4 and A-6 auctions, in which volumes of capacity are decided by the Discos. So, we decided to have a more market-oriented approach, as we chose not to interfere with the auction’s outcomes, and let the market evolve following a more fundamentalist approach. Last December’s auction, which was the first one to include solar under this new concept, delivered an average price for PV of $44/MWh. This was a strong message to the market.
Do you believe that the current growth trend, and the planned auctions, will enable Brazil to comply with its plan to mitigate CO2 emissions?
Brazil’s nationally determined contribution (NDC) is to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 37% below 2005 levels by 2025, with a subsequent indicative contribution of reducing GHG emissions by 43% below 2005 levels by 2030.
At first, it is important to say that the NDC sets an economy-wide target, that is: one sector can offset the other in achieving the total emission. In this sense, the Brazilian NDC was established based on prospective studies carried out by the main sectors and, in the case of the electricity sector, the respective emissions were obtained based on the projection of a large share of renewable and hydroelectric generation (23% and 66%, respectively) by 2030. This target is not an absolute value in MW, but a percentage of demand. Thus, if demand is reduced by energy efficiency gains, which is also part of the calculation that supported the contribution proposal associated with the production and use of energy, for example, it is possible that this goal will be achieved even sooner.
Regardless its share in total matrix, Brazil’s expansion will occur through renewable sources, as is indicated in the 10-year energy plan prepared by MME / EPE (PDE 2026). Renewables are price competitive and have several other attributes of interest to system planning and operation that are important. If proper policies and mechanisms are designed for a sustained increase in renewables, it is even possible that their share in the electricity mix surpasses 23%.
Brazil is Latin America’s largest economy. Despite the recent positive developments, do you believe it could have done more for solar?
The country’s economy is now recovering, and energy demand will very likely increase over the next years, while the costs of PV technology have a declining trend. Solar power started to be deployed in Brazil exactly during the economic downturn and of course it faced the challenge of smaller volumes. But the scale of Brazil is relevant and with the recovery of the economy, I am confident solar will be one of the pillars in Brazil’s future energy system, together with the other non-hydro renewables.
Solar also has, what for me is a very interesting and important market, the generation on the side of the consumer. Distributed generation has a tremendous role in Brazil, regulations are well developed and in place, solar prices are way below the retail tariffs, and the main challenge is indeed the financing and business models. This market is less accessible to the other technologies and solar can do a great job here.
Also, because the market space is less dependent on economic growth, as tariff competitiveness is what drives investment, it serves as a hedge against the bad economic years. If a significant reduction in the cost of storage technologies does occur as expected, integrated solar plus storage projects can generate an extremely attractive option for the electrical system in the future on the consumer side of the meter.
In summary, there is still a tremendous road ahead for solar. We are just starting.
This article was originally published at PV Magazine.Emiliano Bellini joined pv magazine in March 2017. He has been reporting on solar and renewable energy since 2009.
Renewable energy is making coal redundant in Germany – so why are lignite plants still being held as a reserve? The costs of keeping them on standby are massive, and the emissions are even worse. L. Michael Buchsbaum takes a look.
In early March, German coal fired plant operators Steag and Enervie announced they will close three more lignite burning units with a combined capacity of 817 MW. These announcements came on top of the recent shuttering of three other Steag lignite units (Voerde 1 and 2, and Herne 3) that were also recently determined to no longer be system-critical and came offline in 2017. Additionally, Steag announced that it will mothball its 195 MW Voelklingen plant in the Saar region from April through September both this year and next due to falling demand. All these decisions were reviewed and approved by grid regulators who deemed the plants redundant.
Germany now has so much renewable energy coming on line that keeping older coal fired power plants running no longer makes any economic sense. Simultaneous to reduced operating margins for lignite, output from hard coal burning plants, according to Platts, is also increasingly falling, down another 16% in 2017. Put simply, despite February’s recent cold snap, coal power is increasingly proving unnecessary to maintain grid stability.
But as more older dirty lignite coal plants go down, another question needs to be addressed by Germany’s new coalition government. Why are hundreds of millions of Euros in taxes being spent annually to maintain a 2.7 gigawatt lignite reserve—especially when that reserve hasn’t ever been tasked with generating electricity?
In early March, several publications reported that the controversial security standby lignite power plants have yet to be called into service. Nonetheless, power plant operators are to be paid at least 234 million euros in 2017 and 2018 to keep them at the ready.
This decision is the result of a 2015 compromise with utilities designed at the time to reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector while ensuring grid stability. So three years ago a plan was accepted to put roughly 13% of the nation’s lignite capacity (at the time) into temporary security standby for a period of four years, and then shut them down permanently. However, since then so much cleaner generating capacity has come on-line that its virtually impossible that the mothballed lignite plants will ever be required to operate again.
Moreover, while lignite is cheap, it’s far more pollution-laden than hard coal. And, adding insult to injury, many of Germany’s hard coal plants are newer, more efficient, and have more pollution controls than the mothballed plants—and they are designed to ramp up generation quickly. These plants, which have untapped capacity, would provide a cleaner back up in case of weather events or other operating emergencies. By contrast, the older lignite plants were engineered only for continuous operation. If they are actually pressed into service, during the ramp up and down period they are even more inefficient from an operator’s perspective. They require more coal as they fire up and convert even less heat into energy during that time, resulting in a spike in emissions on the way up and down.
So what is happening at these now-idle lignite plants? According to the Frankfurter Rundschau, virtually nothing. Five people remain employed around the clock in the control room of the old Buschhaus plant, the first to have gone into this reserve, as they wait for the call that their plant will need to be turned on within eleven to fourteen days. How they keep themselves awake is an open question, since they don’t really expect to be tasked with turning the plants on again.
Since Buschhaus went into the reserve, seven more units have been slated to follow its rather quiet footsteps. Though the government expects that putting these lignite plants into a strategic reserve will reduce overall CO2 emissions by 11 million to 12.5 million tonnes by 2020, that’s only the case if the plants are never used. Either way, the utilities will be paid handsomely for lost profits while their plants site idly on standby.
Critics warned long ago that the lignite reserve would just become a life-support system eventually costing consumers at least two billion euros. Rate payers are simply paying off “the coal industry with hundreds of millions of euros for doing nothing…while the federal government steps on the brakes regarding renewables,” said Oliver Krischer, deputy leader of the Greens’ parliamentary group in the Frankfurter Rundschau. Ultimately, of course, the costs for this standby electricity are being paid by regular citizens via network charges.
The new German government has pledged to come up with a coal exit plan by early 2019, but the question remains: what role will the lignite reserve play going forward, and how long will consumers keep paying for power that most hope will never be generated?
Since this website was launched in 2012, Craig Morris has been its main blogger and the lead author of its annually updated e-book. Four updates and more than 400 blog posts later, he is moving on to work for the Renewables Grid Initiative. Today, he bids us farewell.
In my previous post, I talked about whether the energy transition could succeed. Let me add two reasons why I am optimistic to this, my final blog post:
Reason 1: In 2004, Germany adopted a target of 20% renewable electricity by 2020, a target numerous detractors doubted. But the 2002 nuclear phase-out would have removed the roughly 30% share of nuclear power by that date as well – meaning that fossil electricity would have covered the missing 10%. Top politicians stated that new coal plants and gas turbines would need to be built, and the sector set out to do so. Those plants were built, but not needed. And the share of renewables, now already around the new target for 2020 of 35%, is to be increased to 65% by 2030.
Reason 2: In 2011, when Chancellor Merkel closed eight of 17 nuclear reactors, detractors warned about power outages and reliance on power imports. Then, starting in 2012, Germany began preventing power outages in France with exports, becoming the greatest net exporter in Europe in 2017. And power reliability reached a record high.
So when the naysayers tell you that some future obstacle is insurmountable, remember they have always said that about everything – and we have moved twice as fast as we ever imagined possible.
As recently as 2014, I produced some 600 blog posts a year, most of them at the now-defunct Renewables International website. A year and a half after stepping away from that project, I am leaving blogging altogether. On April 1, I joined the Renewables Grid Initiative, where I will help produce a scenario for future grid needs in a largely renewable power supply.
I will probably have withdrawal symptoms, but quitting blogging also feels like getting down from a bucking bronco in a rodeo. I had to cover a wide range of issues. I spent a few hours a day just reading in order to decide what topics were the most interesting. I’ll miss being able to publish my two bits regularly, but being able to focus on something with defined boundaries sounds like a relief.
This project was specifically launched to fill a gap that arguably no longer exists. In the wake of Germany’s reaction to the nuclear accident in Fukushima, few international onlookers were steeped in German energy policy, and neither the German government nor civil society had any international communication efforts in place. The result was what I call drive-by journalism: some foreign journalists hadn’t bothered to look deeply enough into the subject and wrote some obviously superficial stuff (that hasn’t changed much, unfortunately).
From 2002-2008, I had explained German energy policy to a German audience in German at the country’s biggest IT publisher. Some of those articles reached 200,000 readers and were circulated in German ministries and institutes. Since 2008, however, I have mainly written in English, my mother tongue. But with this decade of experience, I was well situated to explain what was happening in Germany in greater depth and against the historic backdrop. So in 2012, this project became the first platform that attempted to explain the Energiewende in English.
There was no Energiewende direkt newsletter in English from the German Economics Ministry at the time, no Clean Energy Wire (CLEW). Agora Energiewende had just gone into business but was not yet producing material in English, and the Agorameter came a few years later. I think Energy-Charts.de by Fraunhofer ISE’s Bruno Burger came into existence around that time; it has evolved over the years, partly because of my repeated pesky emails to Bruno asking for this or that extra visualization. To my never-ending surprise, he often made the additions. Hey Bruno, thanks so much!
You’re in good hands with those folks if you’re looking for overviews of German energy news and data in English. The German government also hosts an invitation-only top-level international energy transition conference. The German Foreign Office has an energy transition exhibition on the road.
But if this website still fills a gap, and I think it does, it’s related to political analysis. If a newspaper like Handelsblatt does a hack job on the Energiewende, CLEW preserves its neutrality and merely sums up the article. No one else comments. I had the freedom here to point out omissions. And make the charts above.
I won’t produce such analyses any longer. Part of me will miss them, but another part won’t – my rebuttals rarely reached the target audience of the article I was correcting, and my readers did not need to hear the same thing over and over.
I would like to thank everyone at the Heinrich Böll Foundation for their support and the content leeway I was always provided, especially Rebecca Bertram (who remembers that the Energiewende is a green peace dividend) and Silvia Weko. In previous years, Alexander Franke and Arne Jungjohann were also very supportive in this project.
Most of all, dear readers, I’d like to thank you. And if you’d like to stay in touch, I’ll still be there on Twitter.
The new third generation (EPR) nuclear reactor is being built in France and Finland and is also proposed in the UK. A similar design went into operation in South Korea in December 2016 – but it remains the only one running commercially worldwide. That could change soon, however, as Craig Morris explains.
On the 10 March 2018, the day before the seventh anniversary of the nuclear accident at Fukushima, India ordered six EPR reactors from French manufacturer EDF. The company has yet to complete even one.
Back in September 2016, I wrote an overview of third-generation nuclear reactor projects. The European ones are called EPRs. A similar design from Westinghouse is called the AP1000, and Korea has a similar APR-1400. The design is considered more inherently safe and flexible than the second-generation reactors currently in operation – and, indeed, still being built.
At least one nuclear expert once also considered the design “unconstructable.” No 3G units were online at the time; all were behind schedule. But in December 2016, Shin Kori 3, an APR-1400, went into commercial operation and ran perfectly for all of 2017 after a few years of delay when it was discovered that some safety cables installed did not meet specifications. It is currently off-line for three months of planned maintenance, a particularly long timeframe possibly explained by the reactor’s newness.
But Shin Kori 3 remains the only third-generation reactor worldwide that has gone into commercial operation. Shin Kori 4, where improper cables were also installed, is now expected to go online this September.
The EPR going up in Finland is now expected to commence generation in May of 2019; French reactor developer EDF will even have to pay (additional) penalties if that deadline is missed. Meanwhile, the EPR being built in Flamanville continues to make headlines for faulty workmanship. Nonetheless, it is to be loaded with fuel this year and start ramping up in 2019.
China is the country to watch, however. It is the only one trying out multiple 3G designs. But the Chinese are also having trouble sticking to timetables. In February, fuel loading was suspended at Sanmen 1, an AP1000 reactor, for safety reasons. It was originally to be finished in 2014. The reactor still reportedly has time to go into full operation this year, however. Sanmen 2 could also follow this year, along with Haiyang 1.
EPR in China also seems faulty
The Chinese are also building two EPRs of French design: Taishan 1 and 2. They are now expected in 2018 and 2019, respectively. In December, Reuters reported that a cracked component was detected “during tests of a deaerator.” The specifics are unclear, but Areva, the firm that is building the EPRs (and was recently taken over by EDF to prevent bankruptcy), has a history of welding issues pertaining specifically to EPR. Welding flaws have also been reported at the Flamanville EPR – the only other one being built. However, another report from December claimed that Chinese welding techniques may have been the problem – and that the matter was known as early as 2012.
An unrelated issue also apparently affects EPR units currently under construction in Europe and China: insufficient steel quality. In December, excessive carbon content was reported for part of the containment vessel at Taishan 2 (in Chinese). The quality of the steel is very high for such a large object; the containment vessel goes over the entire reactor. The carbon content cannot exceed 0.22% for the EPR; in China, the figure was 0.302%, roughly a third above the limit. However, the Chinese report says that excessively high carbon content was detected on the top cover of steam generators; the containment vessel itself is not mentioned. That component was made in Japan for all EPR units.
It thus seems that steel of such high quality is hard to make regardless of the size, and both the Japanese and French have failed, which suggests that the world’s best engineers find the task daunting. In France, a compromise was reached last year: Flamanville can go into operation for now (whenever it is finished), but a new vessel must be provided by 2024 – at a cost of 100 million euros within a project budget of 10.5 billion, roughly three times the initial estimate.
The next two years will reveal whether France and China can produce the next generation of nuclear power plants. For the moment, mainly one thing seems clear: if you want a third-generation nuclear reactor, call South Korea.
The energy transition not only needs to reduce carbon emissions, but also strengthen communities. The gap between social sciences and natural sciences must be breached. Craig Morris explains why.
When I am asked whether Germany will reach its goals for the share of renewables and/or carbon emissions, I never know how to answer the question. It could; it’s technically possible. But it won’t unless we expand our concern beyond coal power and start focusing on mobility and buildings today. Cars sold this year will affect the outcome in 2030; new buildings and renovations, the outcomes in 2040 and 2050. I see little effort being made to ensure that all construction and renovation today are carbon-neutral. A focus on behavioral change would help.
Sometimes, the tech to save the world exists, but we need behavioral change. How do you get people to want to live in compact cities, not detached surburban homes, for instance? Explain that cities make people happier: https://t.co/xoE1i9HqB2 pic.twitter.com/V0dFfrz8tk
— Craig Morris (@PPchef) March 25, 2018
Over the past two years, I have worked at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS), which brings the social sciences into the discussion. A book I co-authored with Arne Jungjohann (submitted in early 2016) is entitled Energy Democracy because we embed the energy sector in society, specifically investigating political-science findings about what makes Germany different, how its democracy functions comparably well, how the prevailing German philosophy of economics differs from the one in the English-speaking world, and why German conservatives are so often conservationists.
For instance, the recent rise of populism (such as Donald Trump’s election) took many by surprise, but not me and not sociologists. They have been pointing out the disparity between facts and feelings for decades. The American Republican Party increasingly listened to the sociologists – but worked to exploit that disparity, not close it, as the sociologists doubtlessly would have preferred.
Does populism show that democracy can’t be trusted to mitigate climate change? We increasingly hear calls for an “eco-dictatorship.” In calling for immediate, far-reaching action against climate change, James Lovelock said in 2010:
“Even the best democracies agree that when a major war approaches, democracy must be put on hold for the time being. I have a feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while.”
In his frightening book Climate crisis and the Democratic prospect, political scientist Frank Fischer provides a wonderful overview (viewable here at Google Books) summing up such prominent voices who have claimed over the past few decades that the crisis of the day – now the climate but previously resources – require that we (temporarily) shut down democracy, which doesn’t move fast enough.
China may be evolving into such an eco-dictatorship. The Chinese are stepping away from coal, building more wind and solar than any other country by far, buying more electric vehicles than anyone else, and Chinese leaders take climate change seriously. They do not coordinate policies with the public. Is that path better?
Technocracy is no answer
Fischer says no, and I concur. No group of experts can speak for everyone, which is why democracy will always be needed.
Take this podcast between Vox’s Ezra Klein and Harvard’s Steven Pinker. They present opponents of nuclear power as being unscientific and irrational. Of course, the country with the most experience integrating solar and wind in a nuclear-rich power supply is Germany, and the Germans have reached a different conclusion about nuclear as part of a mitigation toolbox. As I document in my recent IASS discussion paper entitled Can reactors react? (PDF), the debate in English sounds uninformed today compared to what the Germans were openly discussing a decade ago. Most importantly, calling opponents of nuclear unscientific and irrational does not address the actual issues hampering nuclear power. Klein and Pinker should explain why the French, who are genuinely concerned about climate change, are switching from nuclear to wind and solar – are they really just misinformed?
I’m glad people like Klein and Pinker, though I hold both in very high esteem, don’t make decisions for me. In the spirit of science, maybe we can agree that experiments are needed; some countries can try to keep or add nuclear, maybe even trying to mix it in with wind and solar (which will not work, as they will discover – see my discussion paper). Other countries can go with renewables and leave out nuclear, and we’ll meet in 2050 and see who has fared better.
If there is a golden path to climate change mitigation, experiments will waste time; several degrees of warming may occur. But we don’t agree on what that golden path is, and rather than work out our differences, we agree to disagree (which is not scientific).
Most of all, global action is needed, and there is no global government – not a democratic one nor a dictatorship. The discussion about the need to temporarily bench democracy is therefore beside the point.
So what really matters?
I recently reviewed the novel Unterleuten on the IASS blog. That book really made me realize that that our transition to low-carbon economies is a one-time, fundamental change from the public’s viewpoint. We are currently redesigning our world. That’s exciting, but it’s also not the way we talk about it.
We could ask people: how would you like to improve your community?
Instead, the discussion roughly breaks down into three camps:
- more technology is needed to save us from our current technology, and renewable energy alone will not suffice;
- renewables will help us live within planetary boundaries at a high enough living standard; and
- civilization is on a path to destruction because we will fail to do either of the above.
I roughly fall into the second category. While I don’t deny that we can screw this transition up, I like to remind people where happiness comes from: friendships and community. It specifically does not come from material well-being, at least not once a certain basic level of comfort has been attained (such as clean water, electricity, good housing, and personal safety). So the transition not only needs to reduce carbon emissions, but also strengthen communities and overcome the isolation that people increasingly suffer from (the British Minister for Loneliness could be a step in the right direction).
For instance, moving away from privately owned cars will not only help protect the climate, but also bring people together. Road rage will become a thing of the past. People help those needing assistance hoisting luggage onto a rack on a train. When I bump into someone on a train or bus, we look at each other, and I apologize. We may even start talking to each other. If a small lady needs help hoisting her bag into the overhead rack, of course I help. But you cut me off on a road at your peril. Long commutes, especially alone in cars, make us unhealthy and unhappy.
The need to bring people together is one reason I am skeptical of nuclear power. Up to now, the technology has required too much secrecy, thereby undermining good governance – and hence democracy. It creates a small group of powerful corporations, increasing market barriers for new players and alternative technologies. Communities and citizens have never made their own nuclear power. And nuclear continues to divide public opinion, not rally a population behind an idea the way the Energiewende has in Germany. For decades, France tried to make nuclear power part of a grand vision for the country. Today, the French remain divided over nuclear, and the past two governments have begun efforts to switch from nuclear to renewables. If the French cannot identify with nuclear after all of their experience, why do we think anyone else would?
Finally, I have met numerous people in the past few years who helped negotiate the Paris Accord. They are good folks doing good work. But the Paris Accord mainly reveals how far we have to go, not that we are going faster.
Carbon targets are too unambitious, probably won't even be reached, and reported data may not even be accurate https://t.co/dkfMkHIMjW
— Craig Morris (@PPchef) January 30, 2018
What’s more, the wording of the agreement itself shows how marginalized my focus on social benefits – the need for the transition to create community – still is. Novelist Amitav Ghosh put it best in his book The great derangement when he compared the Paris Accord with Pope Francis’ Laudato Si.
This absolutely blistering… a literary man, Amitav Ghosh, taking me out of my bubble. pic.twitter.com/9qCSh19SFI
— Craig Morris (@PPchef) February 1, 2018
So there I stand, a boy from the Bible Belt with a Catholic upbringing and two degrees in English and German literature, siding with a novelist and the Pope in the midst of a climate debate I find too technocratic.
Researchers at Germany’s Öko-Institut have published a review of nearly a dozen previous studies on the need for new power lines in a future renewable electricity supply. The main finding is that the research community isn’t yet speaking the same language. Craig Morris explains.
If Germany spread wind turbines and solar arrays more evenly across the country, fewer power lines would need to be added – this statement is widely accepted. But a new “meta-study” published by Öko-Institut tries to put a finer point on the matter. Its title (in German, but with an English summary) reveals the main finding: “Even a distributed energy transition needs grid expansion.”
Two competing worldviews (which the study called “narratives”) are in play here: centralized versus distributed. Electricity is cheaper when we build wind farms where it’s windy and solar arrays where it’s sunny, but this centralized approach entails additional costs when these sites need to be connected to cities via new power lines. In Germany, most studies indicate that the centralized approach remains cheaper in the end. But a country can decide to pay more for certain qualities; for instance, Germany’s energy transition began specifically as a grassroots effort to decentralize energy supply for political reasons. Ownership mattered for those people.
The problem is that “distributed” isn’t clearly defined. A solar roof on a private home is the textbook definition of distributed; the household can consume a lot of its own solar power directly, aka “behind the meter”; solar power consumed on site doesn’t touch public power lines. Giant offshore wind farms with dozens of turbines a hundred kilometers from the nearest city are the textbook example of centralized. But what about a ground-mounted array 100 times bigger and 500 meters from the next grid connection point? Where do you draw the line between distributed and centralized?
One could say distributed is where no new power lines need to be built. But Germany already has overloaded power lines. The problem is: Grid congestion occurs locally, but Germany only has price signals for the entire country. One proposal is to break the grid into sub-grids or “nodes,” each with its own prices. But the EU is pushing for greater power trading across the continent.
The meta-study therefore says nodal prices are unlikely to materialize: “nodal pricing… (which has not really been specified yet and remains quite vague) would very fundamentally change the current market and regulation model in the EU, which is hardly likely for the next decade at least.” This topic warrants its own blog post; there’s lots of talk within Germany and the EU about regional flexibility. One wonders whether the authors think existing EU policy cannot be made to accommodate nodal pricing or whether it simply cannot be done within the next 10 years.
How big should the nodes be? The maps below simplify the numerous options used in the literature. The colors represent, from red to blue, the share of power consumption that could be met with local renewables within a given area under realistic assumptions. On the left, we see Germany’s 402 counties (Landkreise); in the middle, its 16 states (Bundesländer); and on the right, six grid zones proposed for an investigation of distributed renewables (Germany has four transmission grid zones run by different companies, which don’t overlap with these six).
On the left, densely populated areas (in red) like Hamburg, Berlin, the Ruhr Area, and Munich would all have the hardest time meeting their own demand with renewables. But expand those zones to the 16 states, and the red disappears, with only two areas remaining yellow. At six zones, only one area is yellow.
The meta-study thus finds that larger (more centralized) zones are easier to manage; the smaller (and more distributed) the zones, “the greater the cost of power generation and flexibility options.” Why have nodal prices at all then – just centralize? Take the argument to its logical conclusion: instead of building solar in southern Germany and wind along the northern coasts, why not skip solar altogether in Germany and build it all in Spain, Italy, and Greece, connecting everything with power lines? We could even store really cheap wind and solar power from northern Africa as hydropower in Scandinavia. That was even the plan a decade ago.
We’re not doing this despite the apparent lower cost on paper because it’s unrealistic. The French are unlikely to fill up their landscapes with power lines so the Germans can get cheaper electricity. Likewise, a country might place great store on resilience: the ability to create your own reliable energy supply instead of being dependent on imports. (Distributed renewables are now sold as part of a resilience toolkit in areas of the US hit by extreme weather events.) And what applies across national borders can also apply within a single country. A low price isn’t everything; people are willing to pay more for certain qualities.
How much more would need to be paid is unclear because, the meta-study finds, there are no agreed metrics for scenarios. In addition to the two obvious parameters that scenarios set (how much distributed renewable energy can be consumed “behind the meter” and how much wind & solar need to be built where), the meta-study identifies two other crucial gaps for future investigations:
- we need a standardized way of assessing total cost and land consumption, and
- we need a metric with which to derive the need for grid expansion across different models.
Only then can we have a discussion about narratives: for instance, what extra amount a given level of resilience will cost. By highlighting these gaps, the meta-study is a true step forward in the discussion.
A major challenge for the German energy transition will be the adaptation of its grid infrastructure to an increasing share of renewables, especially wind and solar. Justus Irmen looks at how the country can become more flexible and avoid transmission bottlenecks.
The transformation from centralized to decentralized electricity generation from intermittent renewable energy sources poses entirely new demands to the management of the electric load on the transmission grid. The German term “Kupferplatte” (“copper plate”) is sometimes used to refer to the desirable, but far from accurate, image of a fully connected and conductive electricity grid in Germany.
As a matter of fact, the transmission lines are not able to perfectly cope with the load in some areas of the German electricity grid. Basically, there are two approaches to the problem of transmission lines congestion: sound planning of future grid expansion to adapt to new supply circumstances or reforming the wholesale market design to steer the demand through regional price differences. The latter approach might be cost-efficient alternative to the prevailing grid expansion strategy.
Currently, the German wholesale market design does not take into account the existence of such physical bottlenecks. A number of highly energy intensive industries are located in the South of Germany. And as nuclear plants are phased out in the Southern states, more and more electricity needs to be transferred from the North to the South of Germany.
Now imagine the following situation: A retailer in the South of Germany buys electricity from a large wind power plant in the North. It is a cloudy day in the South and heavy winds are blowing at the Northern coast lines. The shutdown of solar PV in the South and the continuous supply from Northern wind farms create an imbalance in the power system congesting the transmission lines to the South. In response, the system operator dispatches some of the generation from the wind power plant to a power plant in the South or imports additional electricity from Italy, Austria or Switzerland. Still, the Northern wind power plant operator is remunerated by the TSO for not being allowed to deliver all of the electricity, as agreed upon with the retailer.
The costs for this re-dispatch or other so-called ancillary services, that is adjustments performed close to real-time to balance the physical load in overall electricity supply, are integrated into the general electricity tariff. Consequently, the costs for inefficient load distribution due to structural shortcomings are borne by the consumers. And indeed, in Germany, the costs for ancillary services and re-dispatch measures in particular have risen significantly in the past years. Costs for re-dispatch measures alone rose from 186,7 million Euro in 2014 to almost 402,5 million Euro in 2015, then witnessing a drop in 2016 which could however be attributed to weak wind circulation in this year.
But it is not just that. The poor transmission grid infrastructure even affects Germany’s neighbors. If the conditions in Northern Germany are favorable, chances for congestion are high and therefore electricity is redirected through the grids of neighboring countries, simultaneously reducing their ability to export their own electricity. This has already led to some serious contention between Germany and its neighbors, particularly in the East.
Managing the congestion along the North-to-South transmission bottleneck could either be achieved by further expanding the grid infrastructure, or by applying a completely new market design. The German think tank Agora Energiewende, for instance, has suggested a splitting of the German wholesale market based on regional supply and demand characteristics. Similarly, the European Commission has suggested the division into two price zones, at least if new transmission lines from North to South are not built.
The creation of price zones would lower the price where much electricity is available and the grid is not working to its capacity, and alter the price, where electricity is short and the power lines are busy. Ultimately, this would incentivize a more even load distribution across the electricity grid, because large consumers settle where electricity is cheapest. It would also lower the costs related to congestion management. In Germany, electricity from Northern lignite plants might become more costly and, consequently, electricity from renewable energy sources more competitive. Finally, it would put an end to the congestion of neighboring power grids by allowing for more efficient cross-border regional electricity trading. Much opposition to the price zone model though stems from the industry in the South that would most likely face higher electricity prices.
The energy transition inevitably leads to a higher share of electricity from renewables energies in the grid and thus a fundamental change in how electricity distributed. In view of this changing environment and a commitment to regional cooperation with its neighboring countries, Germany has to think about how to manage the challenges that go along with that transformation when re-designing the regulatory framework of its future electricity market, in particular if the energy transition shall be conceived as a concerted European project.
The price zone model offers a market-based approach to transmission grid planning. After a transitional period, electricity consumers might evenly distribute across the grid following regional price signals. The conventional grid expansion planning that is meanwhile applied in Germany, is notoriously trying to catch up with the increasing pressures on the transmission infrastructure.
Justus Irmen is a young professional interested in climate and energy policy, power sector regulation and academic research. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in European Public Administration and a Master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Twente.
Poland has some of the worst air quality in the European Union, and 2017 was marked by grassroot efforts to fight smog. It seems that the Polish government is slowly getting on board. Michał Olszewski asks: will Poland cut emissions in time, or will 2018 bring fines from the EU?
The beginning of the year in Polish politics was marked by government reshuffles. Prime minister Beata Szydło was replaced by Mateusz Morawiecki, who was tasked with calming things down within Polish foreign policy and easing tensions between Brussels and Warsaw.
Whether this happens or not is a different question. But there is no doubt that one of the consequences of the change is that the minister of environment was sidelined: Jan Szyszko will go down in the history of environmental protection in Poland and Europe as the one responsible for the destruction of a part of the Białowieża Forest. Also, the minister of health, infamous for claiming that “smog is a theoretical problem,” was dismissed. The new environment minister is Henryk Kowalczyk, who had until now specialised in agricultural policy.
Even more importantly, the new prime minister has laid down that fighting smog is one of the priorities of the government. The Ministry for Enterprise and Technology has been designated as responsible (which may seem odd at first glance). Jadwiga Emilewicz is now the minister engaged in the fight for clean air, and Piotr Woźny is the undersecretary of state responsible for anti-smog policy. These changes have given people hope that the necessary solutions will be implemented more quickly.
In this way, the prime minister was trying to anticipate the likely developments. The politicians knew that the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg, which has been examining whether Poland adapted its legislation on air quality to EU requirements for the past two years, would soon hand down its ruling.
Poland is among the countries which most exceed particulate matter (PM) standards, often by several hundred percent. Every year, 48,000 Poles die prematurely due to air pollution. There could only be one verdict: the Court found that Poland had infringed the EU law on air quality and stressed that “the mere fact that the limit values applicable to PM10 concentrations in ambient air were exceeded is sufficient in itself to establish the failure of a Member State to fulfil its obligations.”
This decision may have a crucial impact: Poland has to immediately take measures to noticeably improve air quality and reduce levels of harmful substances. If this does not happen, penalties up to 300,000 euro per day that the failure continues are possible. Poland would then become the first EU Member State fined for disregarding air quality standards.
There is no doubt that the Court has issued a just ruling, as Poland has been asleep in recent years. At the same time, it has to be acknowledged that over the last four years Poles’ awareness in this regard has increased profoundly, which also concerns politicians.
The impetus for combating smog came not from political measures but a grassroots movement of several inhabitants of Krakow. They began their battle for clean air in 2012, which soon developed into the Krakowski Alarm Smogowy (Krakow Smog Alert – KAS), which became the driving force for a social movement that was too strong to be ignored by politicians. Members of the Civic Platform (PO) and Polish People’s Party (PSL) in the region got to work and drafted an anti-smog bill which was revolutionary for Poland and the whole of Central Europe. Next, the discussion was transferred to the national level, where it came up against resistance, including protests by the ruling party claiming that any anti-smog measures would mean death for Polish mining. Politicians have so far managed to introduce regulations on the quality of boilers.
The contradiction between grassroots measures at the local level and the sluggish legislative process in Warsaw is still visible today. Although local governments are adopting anti-smog resolutions, to a large extent they remain a dead letter. For example: in Małopolska, where inhabitants are forced to replace low-quality coal stoves and stop using the cheapest coal that is largely responsible for poor air quality. Meanwhile, the government refuses to introduce coal quality standards for manufacturers. This means that the most harmful coal cannot be used in stoves, but can still be sold in coal yards or even kept in basements.
Following the ruling of the Court, the prime minister and the undersecretary of state responsible for combating smog announced a nation-wide thermo-modernisation program which would include better insulation and energy efficiency. The government allocated 45 million euros (around $56 million) for its implementation, approximately half of what the Małopolskie Voivodship had spent on tackling air pollution in the past two years.
But the fight for clean air in Poland at the government is still chaotic and lacks determination. Under pressure from public opinion the prime minister decided to reduce the number of ministers – so Piotr Woźny, the official responsible for combating smog, had to resign after only two months. And in the beginning of March, the government adopted coal quality standards with a loophole enabling coal waste (largely responsible for smog) to stay on the market.
Meanwhile, harsh penalties hang over Poland. If the anti-smog battle does not gain momentum, they will finally be imposed.
President Moon wants South Korea to begin scaling down nuclear energy, but a citizen committee supports maintaining the share of nuclear energy in the energy mix. Nevertheless, grassroots renewable energy movements are growing. Yi hyun Kang looks at the latest from the Korean energy sector.
Last month, there was surprising news from the Korean peninsula. First, Kim Jong-un of North Korea and Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president, agreed to have a summit for the first time in ten years. Then shortly after, Kim Jong-un proposed a talk to Trump and Trump accepted it! This is a significant change from last year’s nuclear war threats.
But while the world is paying attention to North Korea’s nuclear weapons, interesting developments are going on in South Korea’s energy sector. However, this side of the Korean Peninsula is not often in international news.
Energy in South Korea
In May last year, President Moon was elected after the impeachment of the former president driven by peaceful protests against corruption. Moon pledged to pursue different policies from the previous president in every aspect. One of his pledges was making South Korea a nuclear-free country and increasing the share of renewable energy to 20% of the energy mix by 2030.
South Korea remains heavily dependent on fossil fuels and nuclear. The electricity mix is currently 40% from coal, 30% from nuclear, 22% from natural gas, and 4% from renewable energy. With 24 reactors in operation, South Korea has the highest density of nuclear power plants among those countries with more than ten reactors.
The government seemed to have strong political will for a transition away from nuclear energy. The oldest nuclear power plant (Kori 1) was shut down permanently last June. At the ceremony, President Moon made a speech announcing that new nuclear power plant plans will be cancelled; existing nuclear power plants will not have their service lives extended, and old nuclear power plants will be closed as soon as possible.
The first step was to stop the construction of two nuclear power plants (Shin-Kori 5 and 6) which were still in their early stages. However, almost one year has passed now and South Korea’s energy transition is still being pursued with those two nuclear power plants under construction. What happened?
Backlash against nuclear phaseout
Soon after the government stopped the construction, it faced backlash from nuclear scientists and the opposite party. The government suggested forming a citizens’ committee on the issue making the process democratic. 471 people who were randomly contacted by phone and decided to join the committee had discussions with experts and stakeholders on both sides. Three months later, in their last session, the committee voted whether to continue the construction of the two nuclear power plants or not. The result was: 59.5% voted for resuming the construction whereas 40.5% against it. The interesting point was that the percentage of support grew higher than the beginning of the committee. Although the majority of the participants agreed to reduce nuclear share in the future, 45% agreed to maintain it or even increase it. The committee therefore recommended the government to resume the construction of nuclear plants, which the government did.
The conclusion of the citizens’ committee can be seen rather shocking to many people, especially in Germany. Many environmental activists in South Korea were also surprised because anti-nuclear movements seemed to have grown stronger after the Fukushima disaster in neighboring Japan.
However, the committee’s conclusion implies the particular challenge that South Korea’s energy transition has to face. General opinion in Korea supports maintaining the share of nuclear energy in the energy mix even though the president who came into power through massive protests says that he wants South Korea to be a nuclear-free country.
Why do Koreans support nuclear energy?
Nuclear energy has been seen for a long time as cheap and efficient energy which will promote Korea’s economic growth. Under the Green Growth plan, the Korean government has strategically promoted nuclear by attempting to get contracts to build nuclear power plants in other countries as a way to export Korean technology.
Powerful interest groups have been created in the nuclear industry. Even though the new government is trying to cut itself from the previous government’s legacy, it is almost impossible for South Korean major parties to go against the aspiration for economic development. Nuclear technology is regarded as a symbol of achievement. In addition, many people are worried that electricity bills will increase during the energy transition, even though electricity bills in South Korea are relatively cheap.
The Korean government is still strongly pushing for an energy transition. According to the 8th Basic Plan for Electricity Supply and Demand announced last December, South Korea will gradually reduce nuclear share from 30% to 23.9% by 2030. However, the share will remain larger than that of renewable energy (20%).
How long will nuclear energy last in Korea? It is a difficult question both for North as well as South Korea. Hope is there; grassroots renewable energy movements are growing. Environmental awareness has been raised and concerns over nuclear have become bigger. If interest groups in renewable energy gain more power in the energy industry, they can accelerate energy transition in South Korea without nuclear.
Yi hyun Kang is a PhD student at the School of Governance, Technical University of Munich, former journalist at Pressian, a Korean online newspaper. She is interested in climate change, water and policy change issues.
California’s power sector is poised to undergo a major upheaval in the next few years. The direction looks good, but the public debate reveals how little the various stakeholders trust each other, says Craig Morris.
In January, my colleague Ben Paulos published an article here about how community choice aggregation (CCA) is set to boom in California. Under CCA, communities without a municipal utility aggregate household power purchases, giving households new purchasing options on wholesale markets. Individual households can still choose between the new CCA offer and the old power provider. In California, CCA offers retail customers such customer choice for the first time.
California is unique in another respect, too: CCA is offered in seven US states at present but only controversial in California. The reason seems to be a general lack of trust stemming from the electricity crisis of 2000. In 2002, CCA was launched in California in the wake of the crisis. Aggregators like Sonoma Clean Power view CCA as a direct reaction to the crisis. But in 2018, the chairman of CPUC (California Public Utilities Commission) warned that poorly regulated aggregators could lead to “power outages like those in 2001.”
The first aggregator was not formed until 2010 in Marin County. Resistance came swiftly: the largest power provider in the state, PG&E, spent 46 million dollars supporting Proposition 16 that same year. If a majority of voters had supported the proposition, a two-thirds majority of citizens would have been required to attempt to form an aggregator within a municipality. 52% of voters opposed the proposition, and – embarrassingly for the utility – opposition was even higher within the area served by PG&E.
At the time, both PG&E and the CPUC were losing public credibility. The press spoke of a “cozy relationship” between the two. When a gas pipeline blew up in 2010, both entities faced criminal charges; the commission was even accused of having paid off judges.
A court found the company guilty in 2016, and the firm faces new charges this year. It allegedly told a gas provider to cut off supplies to certain households that had reportedly not paid their bills. (PG&E still handles the billing even when it does not supply the gas.). The prosecution charges that the company was attempting to get households to switch back to PG&E after their competition had cut off supplies. This case is indirectly relevant for CCA because PG&E also handles the billing for electricity aggregators; the company could try the same tactic for power as well.
Aggregators in the area serviced by PG&E now also pay “exit fees.” The Power Charge Indifference Adjustment (PCIA) covers any losses the utility incurs when retail customers switch to a community aggregator. For instance, the utility has signed long-term power contracts, but it may not need the full volume if enough customers leave. Theoretically, all utilities run this risk, but only PG&E charges them.
The CPUC, California’s regulator, has new staff in the meantime that provide a greater distance towards PG&E. But its chairman, Michael Picker, remains skeptical of CCA, which he called “forced collectivization” that erodes the regulator’s role: the CPUC oversees investor-owned utilities; it cannot force community aggregators to comply, for instance, with state targets for renewable power. But the divisive CCA debate is already slowing down investments in renewables. And some CCA supporters still feel that the CPUC is biased, “favoring monopoly utilities against committee choice” (PDF).
In the end, I was left with the impression that Californians lack trust in their institutions. After all, all of these issues theoretically apply in the six other states with CCA, but concern about CCA is great mainly in California. People don’t know who they can trust.
The lack of trust in institutions worries me. As I recently explained, Americans tend to be individualistic, but we go faster and farther when we move collectively: the energy transition has to become a point of national pride. US-based climate scientist Kate Marvel recently wrote, “I have infinite, gullible faith in the goodness of the individual. But I have none whatsoever in the collective.” When collective efforts fail, as they currently are doing in the US, we question their very usefulness. But the biggest steps we can take in the transition for, say, mobility and heat will be in communities: walkable cities with district heat and renovation.
The CPUC thus needs to trust that aggregators will comply with state regulations. A step in that direction was taken in February, when the requirement for grid reliability services was expanded to include CCA. In return, the aggregators need to trust the CPUC – and households need to trust the entire system.
Journalist Ezra Klein recently wrote that America needed to unify over some domestic issue in order to overcome partisanship. He wasn’t sure what issue to propose, however. How about small-town, rural America supplying cities with homegrown renewable energy? Maybe CCA can be a step in that direction in California.
South Africa still gets most of its energy from coal, but in sunny Northern Cape province, a different electricity source is taking hold. Munyaradzi Makoni explores how thermal solar plants are affecting the region.
South Africa may still get most of its energy from coal, but in the country’s sunny Northern Cape province, a different electricity source is taking hold: solar steam.
A Spanish renewable energy company has opened three thermal solar plants – which use the sun’s heat to create electricity – in the province.
The plants – which use sun-heated salt to drive turbines – produce enough electricity to provide power to just short of a million people, or almost the province’s entire population, according its operators.
That represents an important shift in a country that suffered power shortages as recently as 2015, but that now has excess power to sell to neighbouring southern African countries.
Just as important, the plants have provided new jobs in a province with one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the country, at more than 40 percent, according to U.N. officials.
They recognised the clean-energy project at climate change talks in Bonn in November as a creative model for bringing scarce private cash into renewable energy projects in Africa.
The first solar steam plant – KaXu Solar One, opened in 2015 in Pofadder – provided about 80 new permanent jobs, and about 1,700 temporary jobs, according to Sarah Marchildon, a spokeswoman for the U.N. climate change secretariat’s Momentum for Change initiative.
The other two plants, including Xina Solar One, completed last year in Uppington, on the banks of the Orange River, have created another 45 permanent and 1,300 temporary jobs, she said.
“The region is now benefiting from stable, clean energy, and we are happy to have played a role in helping to solve South Africa’s electricity needs and improving the nation’s sustainability and energy security,” said Gerardo Rodriguez Pagano, the general director of Abengoa South Africa, which developed the plants.
More power, fewer emissions
The power plants – jointly owned by Abengoa Solar, the government’s Industrial Development Corporation and a community trust – are part of South Africa’s push to cut its climate changing emissions by 2030, in line with its promises under the 2015 Paris Agreement.
In 2011, the government announced plans for 28 renewable energy projects around the country.
The solar thermal technology is generally a more expensive way to produce clean energy than traditional wind or solar-panel energy, said Kruskaia Sierra-Escalante, a finance manager with the International Finance Corporation, a World Bank group organisation that provided part of the funding for the project.
But it produces a more stable and predictable supply of power as sun-tracking mirrors concentrate the sun’s rays to heat salt, which is then used to produce steam that powers turbines to produce electricity.
Energy can be stored as heat trapped in the salt, which can then be used to create electricity when there is demand for it, something crucial to building a reliable power grid, Sierra-Escalante said.
The World Bank came under huge criticism in 2010 when it agreed to provide a $3 billion loan to help South Africa build Medupi, one of the world’s largest coal-fired power plants, as world leaders were trying to seal a global deal to curb climate change.
The World Bank has since agreed, in 2013, that it would finance coal plants only in unusual circumstances, when there are no reasonable alternatives to meet basic energy needs.
More cash for clean energy
The solar project, with its mix of public and private finance, is seen as a model for helping boost large-scale clean energy projects in Africa.
“By involving private sector funds to begin operating in an emerging market, the KaXu Solar One project is an innovative and transformative financial solution that addresses climate change,” Marchildon said.
“Leveraging private sector finance has proven to be a major obstacle for the funding of renewable energy projects in emerging economies,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Up-front costs to build large-scale solar plants are significant, and international investors can be hesitant to jump into developing markets, she said.
But solar projects, once put in place, have lower operating costs, she said, which can be a draw for investors.
“KaXu has helped to unlock the South African concentrated solar power plant market, attract financiers, and drive down costs,” Marchildon said.
It is now “the first operational private-sector utility-scale concentrated solar power plant project in South Africa – and in the developing world,” she said.
Pagano, of Abengoa South Africa, said the Northern Cape’s sunny conditions – the best in the country – were the reason to put the first solar thermal plants there, but the company would be open to looking at replicating the plants in other areas of South Africa.
“We are more than willing to participate in new projects in the country if the conditions allow it,” he said.
This article has been republished from the Thomas Reuters Foundation.
Reporting by Munyaradzi Makoni; editing by Laurie Goering.
Mexico has some of the world’s most favorable conditions for the transition to renewable energy. And yet it is struggling with a lack of commitment from policymakers, without whom it can’t be a world leader in the low-carbon economy. Dileimy Orozco takes a look the political puzzle.
Mexico is arguably the poster child for Latin American action on tackling climate change. However, to date the buy in across the political spectrum in Mexico has been selective, with SEMARNAT (Ministry of Environment) and SENER (Ministry of Energy) being the principle contributors to climate change action.
Now that Mexico has made a commitment to the low carbon transition in its National Determined Contribution and Sustainable Development Goals, a proactive engagement from the Ministry of Finance (Hacienda) is the missing piece of the puzzle. Hacienda’s lack of engagement is holding up the country’s efforts to achieve the green economy. Without this, Mexico’s position as a Latin American leader in addressing climate change is under threat.
Shifting Hacienda’s perception of climate action as a cost, rather than as an opportunity , is necessary both to enable the transition and to reap its economic benefits. Leveraging the financial sector could relieve the burden on the public purse. Beyond this, innovative and well-executed policy reforms to encourage low carbon finance can both boost the country’s economic competitiveness and position it as a leader for green technology .
An example of Hacienda’s inaction is Mexico’s Climate Change Act (CCA). The CCA created the Climate Change Fund in 2013 to pool all the funds made available by the government, the private sector and international donors for climate protection. However, the current system prevents international donors providing donations directly to the Climate Change Fund. Furthermore, it was thought that revenues raised through the introduction of the national carbon tax in 2014 could be earmarked to support delivery of the ambition embodied in the CCA. However, in reality these revenues, as well as international donations, have been lost within the Ministry of Finance’s general budget pool. Over the last four years the Fund had only received US$ 10 million, making the creation of the Climate Change Fund only a token gesture to appease the international community.
The unpredictable funding combined with the political uncertainty disincentives ambitious and innovative low carbon schemes. Lack of progress on turning policies into infrastructure – currently reliant on the pet projects of individual politicians and policy makers – is also hindering wider buy in for strengthened climate action.
These problems could be debilitating to Mexico’s low carbon transition in 2018 for two reasons. Firstly the July election engenders a greater degree of policy uncertainty; second and more importantly 2018 represents a key year under the Paris Agreement marking the point at which countries begin to assess their progress towards their NDCs. Sustained funding and clear policy commitments are critical as greening the economy and making the transition cannot be done in a single leap.
Setting aside the possible economic benefits, addressing climate change is a must for Mexico. Its agricultural sector is extremely vulnerable to droughts, whilst its industry and residential populations are also threatened by extreme weather, water shortages, earthquakes and hurricanes. Mexico stands to suffer significant economic costs if it cannot realign its political economy to address climate change head on. Mexico City is sinking because of rapid unplanned urbanisation and climate change.
Mexico should put its money where its mouth is
Mexico should look to what other countries in the G20 are doing to ensure it maintains its climate leadership in Latin America. Above all, Mexico needs to develop a clear strategy to unlock the finance needed for the low carbon transition, which would also ensure all stakeholders in the economy – including industry, the financial sector, civil society, and policy makers – are engaged. The UK’s Green Finance Task Force (GFT) serves as good example of how to achieve this.
The GFT, right from its inception, has gone out of its way to involve a wide range of stakeholders in a process which aims to come up with proposals on how to increase investment in the low carbon economy. Critically, this is a joint initiative between those responsible for key financial decisions (HM Treasury) and those overseeing business, energy, industrial and environmental policies (BEIS). The Taskforce uses a holistic and multi-partner approach because the barriers to achieving the low carbon transition are not clear cut, and without the engagement of all stakeholders devising a path to a low carbon future would not be possible.
Mexico already possesses several of the integral elements required for a low carbon transition. Much of the policy framework is in place, it has the technical and manufacturing capacity to take advantage of the transition, and it also has some of the most favourable geography and climate conditions for low carbon energy. The key factor holding up the low carbon transition is the lack of commitment from Hacienda and policy makers; the missing piece of the puzzle for kick-starting a green economy. With that commitment, Mexico could be a world leader in the low carbon economy.
 The global transition is estimated to be worth tens of trillions of dollars over the coming decades
 Mexico’s renewable energy sector has already been ranked as the second most attractive in Latin America for investment, and ninth most attractive globally.
This article was originally published at E3G.
Dileimy Orozco is a Senior Researcher in the International Climate Finance team at E3G, focussed on promoting public policy innovation to accelerate the low carbon transition. Her current areas of work include Institutional Innovation in Mexico, supporting the UK’s Green Finance Taskforce, and evaluating the alignment of International Financial Institutions with the Paris Agreement.
Localized energy systems are more resilient than a traditional grid, and offer solutions to power outages around the world. Ben Paulos takes a look at microgrids, minigrids, and how Puerto Rico could get to 100% renewable energy.
Extensive damage to the Puerto Rico power grid has underscored the vulnerability of wires strung on wooden poles, connecting distant power plants to customers.
Since this is a standard feature of the twentieth-century power grid, systems all around the world are subject to outages. Fires in California, floods in Houston, sandstorms in Africa, and ice in cold climates are just a few of the many factors that can knock out power.
A solution emerging from the crucible of the long outage in Puerto Rico is the minigrid. New distributed-energy technologies like solar panels, battery-storage systems, and smart controls enable customers to provide services to the grid when things are running normally and separate from the grid if there is a broad outage.
First, it’s important to grasp the taxonomy of this emerging field. Microgrids are typically sized on the scale of a complex of buildings, like a college campus or a military base. Minigrids are larger, able to serve a village or a small city. Nanogrids are smaller, limited to a single building or load.
By dividing the grid into parts that can be independent if necessary, engineers hope to create greater resilience to damage or attacks on the power system.
Speaking on Greentech Media‘s Interchange podcast, Chris Shelton, chief technology officer of AES Corporation, an international energy company, describes AES’s concept for a rebuild of the Puerto Rican power system.
AES was responding to requests from the Puerto Rico Energy Commission for new approaches to restoring their power system.
“They wanted to hear transformative ideas from stakeholders,” said Shelton. The AES team spent 10 days locked in a room, developing a minigrid vision “with some surprising outcomes.”
The AES vision is a series of seven solar-plus-storage minigrids that ring the island. They would be connected with weather-hardened transmission lines, and would operate as a single system under normal circumstances, but could run independently if needed.
The result is a hybrid of a traditional centralized system and a fully distributed system. Shelton thinks both of those options have weaknesses. First, it’s hard to make a centralized system impervious to damage, he argues, and loss of any key part can cripple the whole system. The other extreme, all distributed energy, would also make it difficult to recover from an outage, due to the many individual devices that would have to be coordinated.
As shown in the map below, rural customers in the interior would be served with microgrids, eliminating the need for distribution grids meshing the rugged mountains.
Paying for Resilience
The key criteria for the AES team was to reduce fuel costs and inefficiency. Much generation on the island currently comes from oil burned in steam generators, “which is not an efficient combination,” according to Shelton. Electricity rates on Puerto Rico are the second highest in US regions, behind Hawaii.
Hawaii’s very high energy costs, also due to the state’s dependence on oil, have been the key driver in the Hawaiian Electric Companies’ push for a 100-percent renewable system. They will be a key driver in Puerto Rico as well.
“When you do the comparison, solar is the least-cost way to get energy onto the island, and maybe a decent amount of wind as well,” says Shelton.
“The fuel cost [savings] is a way to pay for the resiliency,” he says. “We estimate that a very large amount of solar and storage would be funded by avoiding fuel costs for 10 years.”
“To eliminate the fuel cost, you have to bring that [same amount of] energy onto the island.” The island would need 10,000 MW of solar to capture enough to meet current energy demand, which peaks at around 3,000 MW.
“The next thing you have to figure out is how we can actually use it,” he says. About 2,500 MW of 10-hour duration storage, combined with 1,000 MW of existing conventional generators to fill in the gaps should be sufficient.
“Plus, the grid itself can be very valuable,” Shelton says. The existing grid “serves as the core of the autonomous minigrids that are then interconnected into a larger system.”
Under the AES plan, most existing oil and gas power plants would be moved into “cold reserve,” to be available for the infrequent times when the primary solar and storage systems are inadequate. These plants are already built, but are expensive to run.
“Informing the state of the art today—what’s possible with today’s solutions, and at what cost—is critical at this time,” Shelton says.
And the timing is right. Gov. Richard Rossello announced plans on January 22 to begin the process of privatizing the government-owned utility, PREPA. Noel Zamot, the coordinator tasked by the Federal Oversight & Management Board for Puerto Rico with revitalizing the island’s critical infrastructure, sees the opportunity for tremendous change.
“The average consumer in Puerto Rico now speaks of ‘renewables,’ ‘microgrids,’ ‘distributed generation,’ and ‘grid resiliency’ with ease,” he wrote on Medium. “Two days after Hurricane Maria, only pundits were having lofty discussions regarding the future of Puerto Rico’s energy strategy. Now everyone on the island is asking ‘Why Not?'”
“Public entities now know that everything is on the table,” Zamot says.
Life in Grimsby, England has changed since the boom in offshore wind power in the UK. Government efforts to drive down the price of the technology and cut the country’s climate pollution have also helped out depressed communities, Chris Bentley reports.
Every weekday at 7 a.m. seafood wholesalers crowd into a warehouse on the docks in Grimsby, in northern England, to bid on yellow plastic tubs full of haddock, cod and plaice, touching and sometimes sniffing the product before they place their bids.
On one recent morning, the market auctioned off some 400 boxes, or about 20 tons of fish. That’s a slow day here, so the auction was over in about half an hour.
“We’ll just about break even today,” said Martyn Boyers, a former seafood wholesaler who now runs the fish market and the Grimsby port. So, Boyers said, as forklifts arrived to cart away the tubs of fish to their buyers. “In typical British style, it’s cup of tea time now.”
Not so many fish, a long tea break — it’s a familiar routine here these days. Grimsby and nearby Hull used to be home to one of the largest fishing fleets in the world. But that changed starting in the 1950s. A territorial row with Iceland over the cod-rich waters north of Scotland decimated the UK’s deep-sea fishing industry, and the area never recovered. It still has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation.
So when Boyers and others here got a pitch to turn Grimsby into a maintenance hub for some new offshore wind farms planned nearby, they listened. Sort of.
“I didn’t know anything about renewables. I wasn’t fully conversant. And to be truthful it sounded a load of rubbish,” Boyers said. “It was one of those things that we went into thinking, ‘OK let’s give it a go,’ and it’s turned out to be very good for us.”
That was about 10 years ago. Today the waters off Grimsby are home to seven wind farms generating enough electricity for more than a million homes.
It’s part of an unprecedented boom in offshore wind power in the UK, driven by a government effort to drive down the price of the technology and cut the country’s climate pollution.
Today offshore wind provides just over 5 percent of the country’s electricity, but that’s on track to quadruple by 2030, largely thanks to one massive facility under construction about 60 miles off the coast here that’s slated to be the biggest offshore wind farm in the world.
And the boom is having big ripple effects in and around Grimsby.
Just down the street from the fish market, the Danish firm Ørsted is building a massive new facility to support the construction of the wind farm. Ørsted is the world’s biggest offshore wind developer, and its work here is transforming Grimsby’s derelict Royal Dock — so named when Prince Albert laid the first stone here in 1849 — into a new hub for offshore wind energy.
It’s a dramatic change. Until recently, says Emma Toulson, the area was full of abandoned buildings and collapsing wharfs. Toulson grew up in the area and recently took a job managing community relations for Ørsted. She says by next year, the company will have poured more than $8 billion into the region, between wind farm construction and work revamping the Royal Dock.
“It’s breathed new life back into the port,” she says, “which arguably was a bit difficult to see before wind came.”
Ørsted is promising 2,000 jobs during construction, 200 full-time jobs after that, and hundreds more slots for contractors to service the new wind farms. That would make Grimsby the world’s largest maintenance and operations hub for offshore wind farms.
Across the Humber River, the regional capital of Hull is seeing a similar boom. It’s where engineers can be found sanding massive turbine blades in a warehouse on the waterfront.
“These are big units,” says Barry Denness, the director of port operations for the German company Siemens, which set up shop here last year.
It’s no exaggeration. Each blade weighs 30 tons and is nearly 250 feet long, the size of a commercial airplane, and they’re made almost entirely by hand. So far Siemens has hired nearly 1,000 people at the new factory.
When they’re done, the blades get stacked up outside, waiting to be paired with one of the 30-story high turbine towers lined up along the river and sent out to sea. The towers are so big that they dwarf every building in Hull. You can see them from the city center, like a new skyline at the old port, and a symbol of the area’s rebirth.
“The Hull area has struggled over the last 20 years,” Denness says. “But over the last five years I think there’s been a bit of a renaissance. I think it’s put us on the map as a place where you can do business.”
Of course, the history of this region has taught locals to be wary about the future. Grimsby’s docks were built to ship coal, then came fishing — both industries that rose and fell. And there are concerns that the offshore wind boom won’t last either, especially as Britain’s planned split from the European Union threatens to complicate things for foreign companies like Ørsted.
“We are in a global supply chain. It’s really important to us in terms of free movement of goods,” says Pauline Wade, director of international trade at the regional chamber of commerce. “If there is a significant change there, then that means extra cost, extra documentation, and perhaps hassle as well.”
Martin Boyers has his own concerns about the future of offshore wind. He watches a parade of boats carrying turbine technicians out to sea from a control tower overlooking the harbor lock. The hundreds of turbines off the coast of Grimsby need constant maintenance, and will for the foreseeable future.
But Boyers knows that Grimsby can’t count on its luck to last forever. After all, no one foresaw the demise of the fishing industry, and the wind business is changing fast.
“So who knows?” Boyers says. “They might even outgrow Grimsby and they might not come here at all. They might change the system.”
If that happens, Boyers says, Grimsby might have to fall back on the business that built it.
“People still eat fish,” he says. “Even if renewables comes and goes, they’ll still be eating fish.”
Maybe. Climate change is putting even more pressure on many fisheries that were already shrinking. But the whole point of offshore wind is to switch to energy sources that do less harm to the climate than fossil fuels.
And for now, at least, Grimsby finds itself in the right place at the right time, for the first time in as long as most people here can remember.
Chris Bentley is a freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter at @Cementley and on his website, cabentley.com
Ramping – when power plants adjust their output according to market needs – is crucial in an energy system that includes renewables. So can nuclear reactors ramp enough to accommodate significant shares of wind and solar? Craig Morris takes a look.
At the end of January, I published a discussion paper for the IASS (Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies) investigating whether the existing reactors are technically able to adjust to wind and solar. A lot has happened since then.
One of the main criticisms that climate hawks outside Germany have of the Energiewende is that Germany is closing nuclear before coal. They assume that nuclear reactors can ramp considerably more than they have historically; the plants simply didn’t need to do so. Nuclear has the lowest marginal costs: the fuel is cheap, but the plants are expensive – so once you have built them, you run them as much as possible.
The economic argument is correct. But what about the assumption that existing reactors have a technical ability they have never demonstrated?
1) Tweetstorm: My new discussion paper “Can reactors react” is out on possible mix of existing #nuclear with fluctuating #wind and #solar https://t.co/jsLyh7iZj2 so let’s discuss! pic.twitter.com/BUodlTZUwF
— Craig Morris (@PPchef) March 5, 2018
Last summer, I summed up my preliminary findings in this blog. The technical capability of reactors to ramp is clearly shown by individual units, but never as a fleet. The reactors seem to take turns ramping, as though the number of times they change output should be minimized.
In my discussion paper (PDF), I tried to find out whether, for instance, wear and tear is the reason. The answer is disappointing: we don’t know. As one researcher wrote in 2010, “no systematic study has been made on this topic.” I could not find such a study since 2010 either.
We do know that damage from ramping has only been reported for one reactor worldwide: Germany’s Brokdorf. Below is the quite limited ramping at that reactor in 2016 leading up to the damage.
For a comparison, here is the ramping that the entire German power plant fleet – nuclear, coal, and gas turbines – had to perform in 2017.
Fossil-fired power plants did most of the ramping, as we see once we take nuclear out – the ramping looks even greater below. Note that this ramping is required for a mere approximately 20% wind and solar.
The lack of past ramping does not, of course, demonstrate that reactors are technically incapable of more ramping, especially since there is a plausible economic reason for the lack of historic nuclear ramping. So what is the technical capability? Here, statements are contradictory, even among proponents of nuclear. For instance, a presentation given jointly by German utilities RWE and Eon in 2011 shows nuclear ramping faster than coal plants and combined-cycle gas turbines (the truly fast ones, open-cycle gas turbines, are left out in the chart below).
Here, the reactors ramp down by around 50%. But then we find the head of Germany’s (pro-nuclear) Atomic Forum stating (video in German) in the same year: “Major changes [in output] would cause wear and tear. The area below 60% is not desirable… We are not talking about economics here, though that does play a role… It’s a technical issue.”
Other studies show nuclear ramping less than coal and gas.
Individual French reactors take turns to drop down to 25%. Are French reactors more flexible? Possibly, but their flexibility also seems quite limited. Stephane Feutry, head advisor for nuclear production at Electricité de France, told Nucleonics Week in 2016 (vol. 57, no. 24, subscription only) that the French fleet had already reached its maximum flexibility, and no more than around two thirds of the country’s 58 reactors can operate in load-following mode (meaning ramping) at a given time. The problem is that reactors should not ramp for the first and last sixth of their fuel cycle, so each reactor is inflexible a third of the time.
In January, Feutry’s colleague Dominique Miniere told Bloomberg that the French fleet could change output by 21 GW in less than 30 minutes. Maximum output hovers in the upper 50s (installed capacity is 63 GW), so that reduction is equivalent to a third. French nuclear critic Thibault Laconde took a look at the data (in French) and found that the maximum demonstrated ramping within an hour since 2011 was 5.35 GW – a quarter as much electricity in twice as much time. Feutry later told Laconde that there had been a misunderstanding: France’s nuclear fleet can react in 30 minutes or by 21 GW, but not both.
I recently interviewed an EDF's senior staff about that, he told me there was a misunderstanding, according to what seems to be the new EDF's official position they can ramp up to 21GW and they can react in 30 minutes but not both at the same time.https://t.co/Coul0Bx6O5
— Thibault Laconde (@EnergieDevlpmt) March 6, 2018
Another thing is strange: if the French fleet needs to reduce output by, say, five GW (around 10%), the smallest possible number of reactors are clipped as much as possible down to around 25% of output until that reduction is reached. The rest of the fleet continues to run so unchanged that their rated output can be seen from their current output. This behavior is strange because a fleet of fossil-fired plants would more evenly reduce output across the entire fleet.
My discussion paper – indeed, the entire discussion – thus raises more questions than it answers. An absence of historic evidence does not prove inability; on the other hand, it is reasonable to be doubtful until proof has been given.
What we do know that a reduction of even a third of the French fleet’s entire output twice a day is not what is needed. French reactors can only go back up quickly if they just stay down for a few hours. For solar, that works well; for wind, it doesn’t – wind can blow strongly for days.
We also know that a reduction in nuclear by a mere third will block the integration of wind and solar power. To accommodate 20% wind and solar, fossil plants in Germany already ramp by much more.
Below, US researcher Jesse Jenkins visualizes a future power supply with roughly half wind and solar and a third nuclear – but the nuclear fleet ramps by 50%, sometimes twice a day. Jenkins assumption pushes the envelope of what EDF says is technically possible… and is far more than what has been attempted up to now.
We can do even better though if nuclear is somewhat flexible. Now let's assume nuclear can ramp down to 50% of its maximum output. Much less flexible than a gas plant, but helpful still. Overgeneration is down to a minor 0.7% of demand. Wind+solar up to 49%, nuclear down to 31%. pic.twitter.com/u8MizpVwJq
— JesseJenkins (@JesseJenkins) March 5, 2018
In the end, how you come down on this issue is a matter of faith: do you believe that an entire reactor fleet can ramp at each reactor’s technical limit regularly two thirds of the time (outside of times close to refueling) when, after four decades, no fleet has ever done so, including at times of negative power prices?
We need a lot more research and open discussion about the particular behavior of nuclear reactors ramping – and possible wear and tear on the facilities. My discussion paper is an invitation: let’s discuss. Based on what I found, I contend that existing nuclear is incompatible with significant shares of wind and solar. You either stick with nuclear, or you build wind and solar – and then nuclear has to go. A mix will not work; you have to choose.
In 2015, at an Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting, the governments of Southeast Asia announced a series of targets to increase the region’s share of renewables. Nicholas Newman takes a look at the progress made and remaining roadblocks.
Member states set a renewables target of 23 percent of the region’s fuel mix by 2025. They also agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent over the next decade. In fact, most of the ASEAN member states have already set their own target for renewable energy. These include Malaysia with a target of 4 GW by 2030; Singapore with 350 MW of Solar PV by 2020; Indonesia with 23 percent of the total energy mix in 2025; and the Philippines with 15 GW in 2030.
This is a big challenge, given ongoing regional growth rates of around 4.9 percent since 2014. This means that the region’s ongoing energy demand is forecast to jump by over 80 percent between 2013 and 2035, a rise equivalent to Japan’s current energy use.
How much renewable potential is there?
This region has a huge potential for renewables, but it is largely unexploited, reports the IEA. In fact, Indonesia and the Philippines have great geothermal potential, with current estimates for Indonesia put at 28,807 MW, or around 40 percent of the total geothermal resources worldwide. As for hydropower, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar have huge potential, some 30,000 MW in Lower Mekong Basin alone.
Situated in the tropics, all countries in the region enjoy good solar potential with average daily solar radiation of 4500 kWh m2 and abundant sunshine for about 12 hours day.
In the case of wind, the countries enjoy commercially useful wind potential include Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia. Yet the Philippines holds the largest potential (76,000 MW) for wind energy among the Southeast Asia countries. But, at present, hydro schemes of various sizes largely dominate the renewables.
However, there are several challenges to overcome if renewables are to take a greater share of the region’s fuel mix. One of these is that in the ASEAN region, the non-electrification rate now stands at 120 million people, out of a total population of 639 million.
Another significant factor lies is the power of the already established fossil fuel producers and exporters. For instance, both Malaysia and Indonesia are among the world’s top ten exporters of natural gas (LNG). Also, political resistance against the removal of subsidies for fossil fuels, and the lobbying efforts of traditional energy suppliers to maintain the ‘status quo’ have hampered adoption of sustainable energy solutions.
In addition, as with all energy projects worldwide, it is essential to ensure that the projects are sufficiently bankable to guarantee adequate finance can be raised. For governments, this means ensuring that Feed in Tariff rates paid to operators is profitable for investors and affordable for customers both large and small.
Lastly, there have been complaints by investors in some countries of poor policy making and regulatory uncertainty.
There are other reasons, both political and economic and including the Paris Accords, why adopting clean energy technologies are vital in terms of national and economic security. For some nations, such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, declines in domestic gas production mean that these countries have to find new sources of energy, either at home or abroad. Investing in renewables is therefore increasingly an attractive solution for both policy makers and investors.
With much of the region’s populations living in low-lying coastal regions, vulnerability to flooding and typhoons has been worsened by speeding up climate change. Many citizens of the major cities are protesting about increasing levels of smog in cities.
As a result, governments are turning their attention to solving this problem by cleaning up power generation.
The region has significant potential for wind power in Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Indonesia. So locating a wind farm is not a problem. For instance, Vietnam’s long coastline and good seasonal monsoon winds makes much of the country’s coast suitable for wind farm investment. A survey by the World Bank found about 8.6 percent of Vietnam’s territory suitable for wind farm construction, as compared to neighboring states. For instance, in next-door Laos, only 2.9 percent, and just 0.2 percent in Cambodia and Thailand reports the World Bank. One of the best spots for wind is off the southern most point of the country. Here, the average wind speed at sea of 10-11 kilometers per hour, reports the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE). At a height of 80 meters above sea level, turbines could generate 400-800 Watts per square meter per year.
However, having the right amount of wind does not mean investors will come. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Feed in Tariffproposed by Vietnam to pay for the electricity generated is not sufficient for investors to recover their investments. This tariff is also much lower than offered to investors in Indonesia ($0.11), Malaysia ($0.14), and Thailand ($0.19).
Already, given the more favorable Feed in Tariff available in Indonesia, one wind farm is being developed — Sidrap I. This is a 75 MW project located in Sidrap, South Sulawesi, that is targeted to generate power by early 2018. In addition, there are now plans to build 16 such plants throughout the country, each with a generating capacity of about 70 MW.
Malaysia is the world’s third largest producer of PV cells and modules. It has an industrial base in solar technology production of some 250 companies involved in all aspects of the technology. Companies are involved in upstream activities such as poly silicon, wafer, cell and module production and downstream activities such as inverters, and system integrators. Already, solar cells are available for individual commercial and residential customers in Malaysia. So it is not surprising Malaysia’s government’s targets, under the Economic Transformation Programme, are an ambitious 1,250 MW by 2020. In May, the Energy Commission auctioned off 360 MW in Peninsular Malaysia and 100 MW in Sabah and Labuan in the East.
Throughout the region, countries are developing hydro power projects of all sizes. In fact, some of the largest are being built along the Mekong River, which flows from China to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. It has been calculated that hydroelectric power potential in the Greater Mekong basin is between 175 GW and 250 GW. It is expected that by 2030 some 71 Mekong hydroelectric dams could be completed.
Further south in Indonesian Borneo, the country plans to build new hydroelectric generating capacity by 2021. One such scheme being developed is the 1,040 MW Upper Cisokan pumped storage power facility projected to be in service by the end of 2018.
ASEAN Power Grid
Across the ASEAN region, its member states are working together to link up national power networks with cross border power interconnectors. Such integration of the ASEAN member states grid networks improves the economic viability of renewables at the expense of fossil fuels.
For instance, due to completion in 2016 of the 275 kV inter-connector linking the island of Borneo regions of Sarawak in Malaysia with West Kalimantan in Indonesia. As a result, communities in Indonesia have been importing power from Malaysia’s 944 MW Murum dam.
It is clear there is much to be done in South East Asia, if the region is to be fully reliant on green energy. However, it is likely that the speed of adoption of carbon free energy will be slowed due to the availability in some countries of fossil fuel resources and the cost of such investment. It is fortunate that the cost of wind and solar, plus energy storage is making renewables a viable investment option for both businesses and governments to take.
This article was originally published at Eniday.
Nicholas Newman is a freelance energy journalist and copywriter who regularly writes for AFRELEC, Economist, Energy World, EER, Petroleum Review, PGJ, E&P, Oil Review Africa, Oil Review Middle East. Shale Gas Guide.
Wind power prices have plummeted in recent years since Germany switched to auctions. Now, a study has found what readers of this blog already knew: the prices only look low because they are reported as though future electricity were already being generated today. Craig Morris explains.
Last October, I wrote about how auction results seem to make wind and solar power much cheaper. Germany used to offer payments called feed-in tariffs, and the specific rate offered applied when the grid connection was made. With auctions, price announcements are made at the beginning of a project. We are thus comparing apples and oranges.
In a sector with rapidly falling prices, like with wind and solar, the timeframe makes a big difference. Projected future feed-in tariffs applicable when the auctioned projects will be completed are not so different than the auction prices.
Now, a group of German researchers have investigated the situation for onshore wind power (in German). Instead of merely drawing out the feed-in tariffs for the future, as I did in editing the chart above, they adjusted for project size and location. Feed-in tariffs were lower for windy areas, and much of the price reduction from auctions results from a focus on locations with a lot of wind.
They find that projects from the first round of onshore auctions were around a quarter more expensive than they would have been with feed-in tariffs. For the second round, the price was roughly the same, whereas the third round produced savings of around 10%.
All of these prices are based on the assumption that the projects will be completed near the deadline, so within four years for projects eligible for preferable treatment as citizen energy and two years for the rest. The authors say that the greater price reductions from auctions would result if the projects were completed considerably before the deadline. But this outcome seems unlikely; the authors surveyed project planners and permitting authorities and found that the general expectation is that projects will indeed not be completed until shortly before the deadline.
Overall, the price difference does not seem so great, but auctions entail more risks. The report sums up the general concern about whether the auction winners will actually build. Citizen energy projects did not have to acquire permits to participate in the auctions; if those permits are not granted in timely fashion, the wind farms might not be completed.
Furthermore, the low prices are based on assumptions about future advances in turbine technologies. Unfortunately, not all of these new turbines are well documented, which could further slow down the permit process. Finally, any citizen groups and environmental organizations that might oppose a wind farm will only become active now that it is known which projects placed winning bids and can proceed.
Of course, the trajectory of the price of auctioned wind power is down, so one might expect the gap to widen between projected feed-in tariffs and new auction results. But in the end, the authors say that the small savings up to now might not be worth the extra bureaucratic effort and the risk that projects might not be finished: “the at best marginal reduction in the compensation level,” they write, “is an extraordinarily expensive benefit from the change in wind power support brought about by policymakers.”
These findings were generally known, however, though perhaps not in such detail. It is therefore unlikely that this line of argumentation will lead German policymakers to reconsider feed-in tariffs, which are effectively no longer offered for wind farms; they remain available for projects smaller than 750 kW, which rules out almost all wind turbines, leaving only solar projects.
The study thus basically further documents the real reason for the shift from feed-in tariffs to auctions: it wasn’t about price, as lots of people assume; the goal was to give policymakers a way to control, and hence limit, the amount built annually. Auctions still do that well, so they may be here to stay.