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See you in court: how the South African public sued the nuclear sector and won

21 June, 2017 - 13:00

When conventional forms of activism don’t reach the ears of a democratically elected government, the courts can provide a platform to hold the state accountable. A High Court ruling against the South African government’s efforts to buy in nuclear power is a case in point, writes Leonie Joubert.

Protest against the secret nuclear deal (Photo by Ashraf Hendricks/GroundUp, edited, CC BY-ND 4.0)

In the first week of May 2017, a rag-tag group of activists who had been gathering at the feet of the bronze horse and-rider outside Parliament in Cape Town, finally called to an end its weekly rush-hour vigils. For over two years, they’d been gathering there every Wednesday morning, brandishing placards that read things like ‘Hoot if you support renewables!’ and ‘No nuclear deal!’

Their final assembly outside Parliament was celebratory. A week earlier, the Western Cape High Court had ruled that the South African government’s attempt to buy nuclear energy generation technology from the Russian government had to be halted because it found that the state had not followed its own procedures around accountability, transparency, and public participation.

This regular gathering of volunteers was a small and publicly visible part of a much wider, and longer-term strategy by various activist organisations to represent the interests of the people against the state’s nuclear power ambitions.

The court case itself was a milestone in nearly two decades of campaigning, primarily by the energy activist group Earthlife Africa (ELA), with recent support from SAFCEI (the Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute), and it was not the first time that the courts were used to scupper the state’s nuclear plans. In 2006, ELA achieved a similar end by challenging the processes around the environmental impact assessment for a proposed demonstration ‘pebble bed modular reactor’ that was scheduled to be built at the Koeberg nuclear power station outside Cape Town.

In both litigation cases, the court action wasn’t about putting nuclear technology on trial, explains attorney Adrian Pole, who led the legal team in both these public interest law suits. It was about using the courts to test whether the state’s decision-making processes were ‘lawful, constitutional, and properly informed’. If a democratically-elected government is going to spend a trillion Rands’ worth of public money on infrastructure develop, activists argued, it needs to consult with the public about whether the technology is affordable, appropriate, and in everyone’s best interests.

For ELA former director Dr Tristen Taylor, who spearheaded the most recent litigation drive alongside SAFCEI’s Liz McDaid, the court action was part of the kind of multi-pronged campaigning needed to slow or halt a mega-project of this scale.

Secrecy, transparency, and the courts as public allies

The courts are increasingly becoming the stage upon which activists are seeking to redress climate justice issues, explains Amanda Luxande, programme manager at the Cape Town office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation (HBF). The HBF supported ELA’s campaign by providing some of the funding needed to cover the litigation process.

A recent survey of the status of climate change litigation around the world by the United Nations Environment Programme and the Columbia Law School confirms Luxande’s view. The study documents multiple lawsuits initiated by citizens and environmental groups, demanding various governments take responsibility for the damage caused by historic greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), or take action on cutting countries’ GHGs. Increasingly, lawsuits are challenging governments’ failure to tackle sea level rise; or they are demanding compensation to farmers for climate-related losses; or trying to halt various carbon-intense developments such as the building of new airports or coal-fired power plants, or allowing new oil drilling.

The number of litigation cases were found to be three times higher in the United States than else, although the number of countries with such cases are occurring ‘has tripled since 2014’, reports the UK newspaper, The Guardian.

The latest ELA nuclear court case, initiated in October 2015 and concluding with the ruling on 26 April 2017, is in step with this broader trend. While some experts, including Luxande, are concerned that this trend towards litigation is the result of activists responding to ‘shrinking spaces’ for conventional forms of civil engagement, Taylor argues that the ELA nuclear case was always part of their intended strategy for tackling government on the nuclear issue.

‘Secret’ and ‘Unconstitutional’: the nuclear deal up close

The specifics of the April 2017 High Court ruling are technically complex. Essentially, it overturned an agreement between South Africa and Russia, which committed SA to buy up to 9.6 gigawatts’ (GW) worth of nuclear power capacity from ROSATOM, Russia’s state nuclear energy corporation. The deal was made in secret between the then SA Minister of Energy Tina Joemat-Pettersson and ROSATOM in September 2014, and it hid behind a legal technicality: the Department of Energy (DoE) should have been tabled the agreement under a section of the Constitution that would have called for Parliamentary approval, and thus allowed for public engagement in the process, before it could become binding for South Africa (section 231(2) of the Constitution). Instead, it was tabled under another (section 231(3)), which didn’t call for transparency requirements.

This deal only came to light here because Russian media broke the news, and it filtered into international headlines. As soon as the story broke, it gave ELA the ammunition it needed to begin litigation.

Court papers were first filed in October 2015, following almost a year of written correspondence with the DoE and other state departments, which were largely fruitless, explains Pole.

Taylor reiterates the point, though, that the court case wasn’t initiated because activists had used up all other options. By keeping its decisions secret, and avoiding public participation and parliamentary oversight, the DoE gave ELA the leverage it needed in order to take the matter to court. Litigation dovetailed with various other anti-nuclear campaign strategies: grassroots activism within communities; media campaigning; lobbying government directly through letters and requests for meetings; and taking part in the formal public participation processes attached to various policy drafting processes, such as engaging with the design of the DoE’s Integrated Resource Plan.

Putting the brakes on corruption

In ELA’s bid to take on the latest nuclear procurement plan, it joined forces with other climate and green energy activists, including the HBF which contributed with funding, strategising, and mobilisation, and SAFCEI, which brought with it a faith-based constituency.

They then rallied the support of other civil society organisations, whose agendas were about wider issues of social justice, democracy, transparency, and development concerns such as state delivery on education and healthcare, explain SAFCEI’s Liz McDaid and ELA’s Tristen Taylor.

ELA and SAFCEI framed the state’s nuclear procurement plan not as an environmental cause, which is often seen as a middle class issue in South Africa, and therefore supported by a largely white population in this post-apartheid climate.

As Pole explains, they positioned it rather as a question of whether foundational constitutional principles of ‘openness, responsive, transparency, and accountability’ were being upheld by government. Organisations such as OUTA (Organisation for Undoing Tax Abuse), Equal Education (an education advocate), and Right2Know (concerned with access to information, transparency, and freedom of the press), brought their own grassroots bases to the cause.

The risk of corruption is particularly relevant in the case of mega-projects. Mega-builds like this are noted for their inefficiencies associated with cost- and time-overruns, but also for the potential for corruption as there are invariably many lucrative contracts and sub-contracts involved. The international nuclear industry is also notoriously secretive, making accountability and transparency difficult.

Concerns about ‘state capture’ were beginning to surface, firstly in various investigative media reports, but then consolidated in a 2016 report by the Public Protector’s office which looked into the ‘improper and unethical conduct’ of President Jacob Zuma in his dealings with private individuals with interests in the mining sector. The notion of ‘state capture’ – where political functioning and decision making is corrupted by private interests, which influence the state to their own advantage – became synonymous with Zuma and his relationship with three brothers from India, the Gupta family. The report confirmed that several Cabinet re-appointments, as well as the increasing bias of the state broadcaster, and the appointments of senior executives in the state utility Eskom, were heavily influenced by the Guptas, who were leveraging their political influence in order to further their own gains in the coal mining sector.

These findings were further corroborated in another recent piece of analysis. The report, Betrayal of the Promise: How the Nation is Being Stolen, was published by the Public Affairs Research Institute in May 2017.

The link between the Gupta family and SA’s nuclear procurement first surfaced when investigative reporting showed that the Guptas had interests in a uranium mine, and would thus benefit from South Africa’s expanded nuclear power infrastructure. But investigations also showed that Russia was exporting its nuclear technology aggressively in order to boost its own economic growth.

One particular event solidified the corruption claims in relation to the nuclear deal: in December 2015, finance minister Nhlanhla Nene was fired suddenly by the president, and replace by a little known backbench Parliamentarian Des van Rooyen. This came as the secret nature of various ministerial determinations on nuclear prior to December 2015 were emerging, and shortly after Nene had been outspoken against the nuclear deal to Cabinet, on the basis on its unaffordability.

An overnight collapse of the Rand against international currencies, and an outcry from the press, the business community, and opposition parties, forced Zuma to re-appoint a previous finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, to head the Treasury. But Treasury remained the only major government institution that was seen as an impediment to this deal going through, and Gordhan was also opposed to it. He too has subsequently been fired (in March 2017), and has since been publicly outspokenly about the links between his firing, and the ‘capture’ of the presidency by private interests.

As the various reports on state capture come to light, they help explain what court proceedings revealed about the degree to which the state embarked on its procurement process in secret and contrary to its obligations for accountability and transparency on such matters.

Litigation as activism: useful but costly

Taking a public interest case like this to court is part of a ‘symbiotic’ relationship with other forms of activism, such as lobbying government directly, or driving education campaigns through the media, or engaging in policy design through public participation processes. But, explains attorney Adrian Pole, litigation is also a way of enforcing a client’s rights, particularly in a situation where all other efforts have been exhausted.

In this case, the client was the people of South Africa. And the state was clearly embarking on its own agenda, regardless of what the people were demanding.

The tricky thing with litigation, explains Pole, is that it needs highly skilled and technically well-equipped individuals, and it takes time.

‘So whenever an issue like this gets to the High Court, it becomes expensive,’ he says.

ELA’s legal team included Pole, as the attorney of record, supported by attorney Angela Andrews from the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), as well as four advocates, and a candidate attorney.

Typically, these kinds of legal experts will charge half the going rate of commercial lawyers. In this case, they also gave ELA discounted rates. And once funds ran out in December 2016, the team clocked up many additional hours on a ‘contingency rate’. This meant that most of the hours put in between mid-December 2016 and the final court ruling in April 2017 were done in the hope of recouping costs later, but with no guaranteed of achieving that.

While the court eventually ruled that the DoE must cover ELA’s legal costs, that might not necessarily result in all the lawyers’ time getting remunerated. Legal action like this can be risky for both the legal team, as well as the clients, he says.

‘Ideally, from an activist position, you want to achieve your goals through public participation, but if government appears intent on a specific programme, then you have little choice but to litigate.’

Prior to litigation, the ELA legal team wrote a series of letters to the DoE, requesting engagement, but ‘did not receive a substantive response’, says Pole. Once legal proceedings got underway, they were then able to capitalise on the ‘right of discovery’, where the court applicant can request certain information, internal departmental communications, and other documentation that they might otherwise have struggled to access. Much of this material indicated there were problems with how the DoE handled both the administrative side of things (the public processes surrounding the drawing up of the IRP), and at an executive level (various ministerial decisions on nuclear were made in secret, and pushed a political agenda).

In a situation like this, Pole explains that it is then up to the courts to determine whether those administrative and executive processes have been ‘lawful, rational, and reasonable.’ In the end, the High Court found that the state had flouted its own democratic processes, and had to start the whole nuclear shopping process from scratch again, because its procurement processes until then had been unconstitutional and unlawful.

End of the road for nuclear?

The public support for the demonstrations outside Parliament, which SAFCEI’s Liz McDaid reported had gained such momentum over two years, seemed to reflect that the South African public was waking up to the problems with the nuclear procurement process. ELA’s Tristen Taylor says this didn’t happen in a vacuum: this was the result of sustained campaigning against nuclear over nearly 20 years.

What will happen now, following the court ruling?

Kumi Naidoo, formerly of Greenpeace, says this victory has bought civil society at least another year, as government will need to start the procurement process from scratch. ELA’s current Johannesburg branch coordinator Makoma Lekalakala says the next step is to ensure that the DoE is transparent in all its future procurement processes, and that the next draft of the IRP, which is due to be presented to Cabinet later this year, has included all the feedback given to the DoE in its public participation held in late 2016 and early 2017.

However, Taylor believes that this court ruling may finally be the end of the state’s nuclear ambitions: it is only President Jacob Zuma and his close circle who have vested interests in following through with this deal. Once Zuma’s terms in office end in 2019 – as both ANC president, and president of the Republic – there won’t be anyone left in the ruling party to take the nuclear baton from him.

‘Yeah,’ says a tired Taylor over the phone, ‘ELA kicked ass. We really kicked ass.’

Categories: Blogs

Renewable energy tops Turkish agenda

20 June, 2017 - 15:00

By developing a detailed system for renewable energy investment, Turkey is allowing investors to bypass the usual risks. The financial boost should help the country meet its ambitious 2019 sustainability targets. Gaye Spotilis takes a look.

Turkey set ambitious targets, including a fourfold increase in solar generation (Public Domain)

Turkey’s renewable energy market has been expanding and developing since the Renewable Energy Law was enacted in 2005, which marked a huge step towards meeting the country’s growing demand for energy. In the years since, a series of new regulations have demonstrated Turkish interest in making its renewables market a priority in the national energy agenda.

In October 2016, a regulation on renewable energy zones (REZs) was introduced. This allowed structured investments in green power sources, supported by an incentive scheme for licensed renewable energy generation.

The regulation could not have come at a more vital time, both in terms of environmental protection and the country’s renewable energy targets. According to a recent strategy paper by the Turkish Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources (MENRA), the state aims to increase wind generation to 10,000 MW and solar generation to 3,000 MW by 2019. If these targets are met, wind capacity will be doubled and solar capacity increased fourfold, compared with 2016 figures.

Furthermore, an independent market study by KPMG showed power generation in Turkey totalled 270 million MWh in 2016, including both licensed and unlicensed generation. Total consumption, by comparison, has been recorded as 274 billion kWh, with an increase of 2.1 percent.

Zone system

Under the regulation, REZs may be developed on public or private land. The regulation empowers MENRA to identify suitable areas by taking into account a set of criteria, including the type of power to be generated, generation potential, unit electricity costs and connection capacity. Once a site is chosen, an announcement of tender for right of use in the identified REZ is published in the Official Gazette, as well as on the MENRA website.

The eligibility criteria for investors interested in applying for tender in an REZ include the requirement to either manufacture certain equipment (as decided by MENRA) locally, or to commit to using locally manufactured equipment. In either case, the equipment must conform to conditions set out by the electricity licensing regulation.

The tender for each REZ is held as a reverse auction, starting from the maximum electricity purchase price set by MENRA per kilowatt-hour. The participant offering the lowest price is invited to execute a right-of-use agreement.

Consortiums are permitted to participate in the tender. It is a requirement, however, that a joint venture company with the same shareholding structure as submitted in the tender application is incorporated in order to sign the right-of-use agreement.

Complying with requirements

Additionally, the REZ regulation makes it mandatory for investors to acquire a pre-licence in order to engage in electricity generation activities within a REZ. The term of the pre-licence must not exceed 24 months, except in cases where unforeseen circumstances render this impossible. This pre-licence is an essential requirement for the right-of-use agreement to be effective.

Under the REZ regulation, the pre-licence holder must comply with existing legal requirements for allocations made in consideration of domestic production and the use of domestic goods. Essentially this means that, in order to qualify for a generation licence, strict compliance is required on the part of the pre-licence holder in construction of the manufacturing plant and the generation facility under the tender specifications.

The licence is granted for a maximum of 30 years. Upon expiry of the licence term, the generation facility will be subject to general regulation under the electricity licence regulation, and will be placed under the administration of whichever institution the right-of-use agreement was executed with.

The electricity generated by these means must be sold during the term agreed in the tender specifications and at the price set in the right-of-use agreement. Additionally, the agreement will remain subject to further regulation throughout the term. The agreed term for the sale and purchase of electricity in the tender specifications begins once the right-of-use agreement is executed.

From a practical standpoint, REZs are expected to overcome the existing financing difficulties facing renewable energy projects, which tend to depend on high volumes of external investment from lenders. The guaranteed purchase system is aimed at incentivising investment by providing a predictable cash flow over a predictable time period – i.e. the operational life of the facility – while substantially reducing the risk of capital loss, which will attract investors in the coming days ahead.

This article has been republished with permission from World Finance.

Gaye Spolitis is a partner in the Corporate Affairs Department of Erdem & Erdem, an international law firm focused on renewable energy projects and development.

Categories: Blogs

Trump can make it impossible to count global carbon emissions

19 June, 2017 - 15:00

You can’t manage what you don’t measure – and US President Donald Trump’s new budget for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will leave too little funding for the country to measure its carbon emissions. Craig Morris takes a look.

Trump faces opposition for his choice of EPA’s administrator, even as budget cuts to the EPA make it impossible to count climate emissions (Photo by Lorie Schaull, edited, CC BY-SA 2.0)

The United States currently has no ambassador to Germany. Half a year into Trump’s first year in office, he has yet to nominate anyone. As president-elect, he announced that all foreign ambassadors were fired upon his oath of office.

New presidents often replace almost all ambassadors, but what’s unusual about Trump is how many he has not replaced. According to this official list, the EU, Spain, France, the OECD, and the UK still lack ambassadors along with Germany. One has been appointed, but not yet approved, for Japan. Of the 188 positions on that list, 61 are still empty for a lack of nominations, with another 10 nominations pending.

At home, the picture’s no different. In March, Trump fired all the US attorneys (prosecutors from the Department of Justice or DOJ) appointed by Obama, also not unprecedented. Of the 94 positions, 62 are still held by interims according to this official list. Without attorneys, the DOJ can hardly do its work.

We currently lack an FBI head (but one is appointed), there is no one at the helm of FEMA (which handles natural disasters, such as hurricanes), the Drug Enforcement Agency, Transportation Security, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA, which monitors the climate). That list is probably not even exhaustive. But while the Chicago Tribune calls Trump “profoundly incompetent” for these omissions, the lack of leadership currently crippling US governmental agencies is a dream come true for those who have wanted small government all along. The US government is currently more rudderless and ineffective than it has ever been.

Keep in mind that US presidents have from early November (when the popular vote is tallied, thereby determining the electoral college) until mid-January to prepare. Other countries hold their entire election campaign during such a time-frame. US presidents have eight weeks to form an administration, even allowing for a two-week Christmas break.

Most people have focused on the appointments made, not those left vacant, so we have overlooked this major accomplishment towards the decades-old Republican agenda of limiting the government to protecting the US militarily. (“Government is not the solution to our problem,” President Reagan famously stated on Inauguration Day in 1981, “government is the problem.”) So we pay attention when climate denier Scott Pruitt is appointed head of the EPA, and when Trump steps away from the Paris Accord. But even if the US stayed in the Accord, the proposed budget cuts to the EPA would make it impossible for the US to fulfill the only actual requirement in the accord: reporting emissions.

Trump’s budget proposal cuts funding for emissions measurements at the EPA by 86 percent. The Greenhouse Gas Inventory (enjoy this website while you can) would be crippled. With the US making up a sixth of global GHG emissions, the world will have a much harder time estimating emissions (well, we still have ppm).

What’s worse, the flailing US may encourage other countries to be lax in their carbon reports. For the upcoming G20 meeting, German Chancellor and host Angela Merkel wanted the countries to reassert their commitment to the Paris Accord. According to Der Spiegel (in German), Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau has asked, however, for the mention of the Accord to be struck from the wording of a declaration to be signed at the meeting. Top leaders are thus already trying to accommodate Trump. Down the slippery slope we go.

It’s not certain that Trump’s EPA budget will go through as proposed, and not all Republican-friendly experts are happy about Trump’s climate agenda (my favorite here). But the Republicans in power want a small state, and Trump has given them a useful new tactic: utter chaos. Indeed, the main vacant office is arguably the presidency itself.

Furthermore, the Republicans have set up a frame in which they cannot fail. George W. Bush was never blamed for 9/11, but Obama would have been blamed had a major terrorist attack occurred under his watch. If one happens under Trump, it will be an opportunity, not a failure. As long as Republicans can’t fail, Democrats are on the defensive.

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

Categories: Blogs

The unknown climate risks for renewable energy projects

16 June, 2017 - 13:13

Just like every other form of power, renewable energy can be vulnerable to natural disasters (although considering the alternatives, the fallout is less dangerous). But as climate change makes storms more violent, it’s worth considering how to insure new renewable plants. Emilio Godoy takes a look at how Latin American countries are handling it.

Weathering the storm: climate-change related disasters pose a threat to renewable energies, too (Photo by Kevin Dooley, edited, CC BY 2.0)

In September 2014, the Odile hurricane devastated the Aura Solar photovoltaic plant, located in the city of La Paz in the north-western state of Baja California Sur.

Designed to be the largest solar plant in Latin America, with an 82 GWh/year generation capacity, the installation was inoperative for several months due to the damage caused by the hurricane. Neither the plant operator Aura Solar nor its sole client the state-owned Federal Electricity Commission admitted to any climate risks related to the installation.

The $US100 million project was planned to provide electricity to 160.000 inhabitants in La Paz, about 64% of the city population. To cover the population during the emergency, the city had to rely on energy from gas and thermoelectric plants nearby.

The Aura Solar case shows how renewable energy projects sometimes face climate risks. It is thus necessary to acknowledge them, just as the oil and gas industry was recently forced to acknowledge their climate risks and impacts. Renewable installations too may be exposed to the consequences of climate change – more and more cyclones, flooding or earthquakes.

However, in the renewable industry, private and multilateral banks, hedge funds and other financial stakeholders involved in the sector have not yet had to disclose those kinds of risks. Better transparency could improve location, planning, insurance, and emergency response. The possibility of renewable installations becoming stranded assets due to climate situations (as is happening to fossil fuel investments) is unlikely, but all stakeholders need to know the level of threat to the projects.

It is well-known that there are geopolitical, legal, financial, physical and humans rights risks associated with renewable energy installations, too. Moreover, the solar and wind industries leave an ecological footprint in the production of panels and batteries.

The environmental risk refers to any damage to the environment caused by the power plant, and the liability arising from such damage. Operational risk alludes to unplanned plant closure, for example owing to unavailability of resources, plant damage or component failure (like Aura Solar).

Mexico has already organised two electricity auctions in March of this year, with 18 projects winners. Last September, 53 ventures and a total capacity of 8,771 MW were awarded project bids. Currently, the government is developing a third round of renewable energy auctions, yet the companies still do not have to disclose anything regarding their associated climate risks despite there already being some guidelines in place.

Last December, the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) announced a set of recommendations on climate risks transparency. The group suggested measures on governance, strategy, risk management and metrics and targets, useful for every type of company, including those in the renewable sector.

In terms of strategy, the TCFD analysed the actual and potential impacts of climate-related risks and opportunities on the organization’s businesses, strategy, and financial planning. The Financial Stability Board (FSB), established after the G20 summit in London in 2009, is an international body that monitors and makes recommendations on the global financial system. It is expected that the TCFD will issue its final report in June, prior to the July G20 meetings in Hamburg.

Latin America and the Caribbean generate more than 200 GW from renewable sources, representing 11% of the global generating capacity. The region has attracted at least US$500 million in renewable investments, directed principally at Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and Mexico. These investment also lack climate risks assessment.

Builders, operators and financers can reveal the level of climate exposition of their projects based on an analysis of the tendencies of hurricanes or flooding that have historically hit the zones chosen to install the plants. So, all the stakeholders can improve their contribution to the planning and operation of the plants. For the insurance industry, it could be a way of extending their coverage of climate disasters, an already blossoming sector.

Institutions such as the Inter-American Development Bank, the International Finance Corporation (the World Bank’s private finance branch), the Andean Development Corporation, the United States Export-Import Bank, and the Brazilian Development Bank could benefit from taking into account these risks. They all have helped private project developers implement significant renewable energy and energy efficiency infrastructure in developing countries and throughout Latin America.

In conclusion, renewables need a movement for risk disclosure to have more transparent and accountable investment schemes (just as fossil fuels did in the past). I am not arguing that renewable energy projects are intrinsically bad, just that they need to be subject to the same “rules” of the fossil energy sector. Only when risk assessments are done holistically for renewable energy projects can we argue that they are “better” on all counts.

Categories: Blogs

Six years after Fukushima, much of Japan has lost faith in nuclear power

15 June, 2017 - 15:00

The 2011 Fukushima disaster was a huge turning point for how many countries saw nuclear energy. Years later, many Japanese people have not returned home but may be forced to help pay for the cleanup. Tatsujiro Suzuki looks at the current situation and recommends that the Japanese government take measures to regain public trust.

Anti-nuclear demonstration in front of the Japanese Diet, June 22, 2012. (Photo by Matthias Lambrecht/Flickr, CC BY-NC)

Six years have passed since the Fukushima nuclear disaster on March 11, 2011, but Japan is still dealing with its impacts. Decommissioning the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant poses unprecedented technical challenges. More than 100,000 people were evacuated but only about 13 percent have returned home, although the government has announced that it is safe to return to some evacuation zones.

In late 2016 the government estimated total costs from the nuclear accident at about 22 trillion yen, or about US$188 billion – approximately twice as high as its previous estimate. The government is developing a plan under which consumers and citizens will bear some of those costs through higher electric rates, taxes or both.

The Japanese public has lost faith in nuclear safety regulation, and a majority favors phasing out nuclear power. However, Japan’s current energy policy assumes nuclear power will play a role. To move forward, Japan needs to find a new way of making decisions about its energy future.

Uncertainty over nuclear power

When the earthquake and tsunami struck in 2011, Japan had 54 operating nuclear reactors which produced about one-third of its electricity supply. After the meltdowns at Fukushima, Japanese utilities shut down their 50 intact reactors one by one. In 2012 then-Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s government announced that it would try to phase out all nuclear power by 2040, after existing plants reached the end of their 40-year licensed operating lives.

Now, however, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took office at the end of 2012, says that Japan “cannot do without” nuclear power. Three reactors have started back up under new standards issued by Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, which was created in 2012 to regulate nuclear safety. One was shut down again due to legal challenges by citizens groups. Another 21 restart applications are under review.

U.S. Energy Information Administration

In April 2014 the government released its first post-Fukushima strategic energy plan, which called for keeping some nuclear plants as baseload power sources – stations that run consistently around the clock. The plan did not rule out building new nuclear plants. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which is responsible for national energy policy, published a long-term plan in 2015 which suggested that nuclear power should produce 20 to 22 percent of Japan’s electricity by 2030.

Meanwhile, thanks mainly to strong energy conservation efforts and increased energy efficiency, total electricity demand has been falling since 2011. There has been no power shortage even without nuclear power plants. The price of electricity rose by more than 20 percent in 2012 and 2013, but then stabilized and even declined slightly as consumers reduced fossil fuel use.

U.S. Energy Information Administration

Japan’s Basic Energy Law requires the government to release a strategic energy plan every three years, so debate over the new plan is expected to start sometime this year.

Public mistrust

The most serious challenge that policymakers and the nuclear industry face in Japan is a loss of public trust, which remains low six years after the meltdowns. In a 2015 poll by the pro-nuclear Japan Atomic Energy Relations Organization, 47.9 percent of respondents said that nuclear energy should be abolished gradually and 14.8 percent said that it should be abolished immediately. Only 10.1 percent said that the use of nuclear energy should be maintained, and a mere 1.7 percent said that it should be increased.

Another survey by the newspaper Asahi Shimbun in 2016 was even more negative. Fifty-seven percent of the public opposed restarting existing nuclear power plants even if they satisfied new regulatory standards, and 73 percent supported a phaseout of nuclear power, with 14 percent advocating an immediate shutdown of all nuclear plants.

Who should pay to clean up Fukushima?

METI’s 22 trillion yen estimate for total damages from the Fukushima meltdowns is equivalent to about one-fifth of Japan’s annual general accounting budget. About 40 percent of this sum will cover decommissioning the crippled nuclear reactors. Compensation expenses account for another 40 percent, and the remainder will pay for decontaminating affected areas for residents.

International Atomic Energy Agency experts review plans for decommissioning the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, April 17, 2013. Greg Webb, IAEA/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Under a special financing scheme enacted after the Fukushima disaster, Tepco, the utility responsible for the accident, is expected to pay cleanup costs, aided by favorable government-backed financing. However, with cost estimates rising, the government has proposed to have Tepco bear roughly 70 percent of the cost, with other electricity companies contributing about 20 percent and the government – that is, taxpayers – paying about 10 percent.

This decision has generated criticism both from experts and consumers. In a December 2016 poll by the business newspaper Nihon Keizai Shimbun, one-third of respondents (the largest group) said that Tepco should bear all costs and no additional charges should be added to electricity rates. Without greater transparency and accountability, the government will have trouble convincing the public to share in cleanup costs.

Other nuclear burdens: Spent fuel and separated plutonium

Japanese nuclear operators and governments also must find safe and secure ways to manage growing stockpiles of irradiated nuclear fuel and weapon-usable separated plutonium.

At the end of 2016 Japan had 14,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel stored at nuclear power plants, filling about 70 percent of its onsite storage capacity. Government policy calls for reprocessing spent fuel to recover its plutonium and uranium content. But the fuel storage pool at Rokkasho, Japan’s only commercial reprocessing plant, is nearly full, and a planned interim storage facility at Mutsu has not started up yet.

The best option would be to move spent fuel to dry cask storage, which withstood the earthquake and tsunami at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Dry cask storage is widely used in many countries, but Japan currently has it at only a few nuclear sites. In my view, increasing this capacity and finding a candidate site for final disposal of spent fuel are urgent priorities.

Japan also has nearly 48 tons of separated plutonium, of which 10.8 tons are stored in Japan and 37.1 tons are in France and the United Kingdom. Just one ton of separated plutonium is enough material to make more than 120 crude nuclear weapons.

Many countries have expressed concerns about Japan’s plans to store plutonium and use it in nuclear fuel. Some, such as China, worry that Japan could use the material to quickly produce nuclear weapons.

Now, when Japan has only two reactors operating and its future nuclear capacity is uncertain, there is less rationale than ever to continue separating plutonium. Maintaining this policy could increase security concerns and regional tensions, and might spur a “plutonium race” in the region.

As a close observer of Japanese nuclear policy decisions from both inside and outside of the government, I know that change in this sector does not happen quickly. But in my view, the Abe government should consider fundamental shifts in nuclear energy policy to recover public trust. Staying on the current path may undermine Japan’s economic and political security. The top priority should be to initiate a national debate and a comprehensive assessment of Japan’s nuclear policy.

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to reflect the fact that one ton of separated plutonium is enough to produce more than 120 crude nuclear weapons.

Tatsujiro Suzuki, Professor and Director, Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition, Nagasaki University

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

Categories: Blogs

Stronger together: The EU’s energy and climate governance

14 June, 2017 - 15:00

Governance is not about imposing new obligations to member states. It is about mobilising and coordinating all relevant actors, including cities and regions. Europe is changing. Europe is greening. Let’s embrace this change rather than falter, write Michèle Rivasi and Claude Turmes.

Let’s not lock ourselves in a carbon-intensive future, write Michèle Rivasi and Claude Turmes. The consequences are clear. [S.I.B. Fotos/Flickr]

While 2016 has been reported as the warmest year in history, the Energy Union needs to get their acts together and establish a strong governance system to deliver its commitment under the Paris Agreement.

Science is there, alerting us on the pace of global warming. Our report therefore calls for the adoption of a proper carbon budget for the EU, calculating the maximum quantity of greenhouse gases that the EU can still emit to allow us living in a world where climate change is limited to 1.5°C by the end of the century. We also call on the Commission to address the ‘poor relation’ of climate policy: methane. Given the high global warming potential and short atmospheric lifetime of methane, the Union should rapidly consider relevant policy options and come with a comprehensive Methane Strategy. Carbon budget and methane strategies should be the basis of a reliable long-term 2050 planning.

The only viable option for the Union is to achieve a net-zero emission, highly energy-efficient and fully renewables-based economy by 2050 at the latest. As a consequence, a strong and inclusive governance goes together with an increased ambition for our 2030 targets in terms of energy efficiency and renewable energy sources.

In a context where the cost of renewable energy technologies is falling, it is high time to unleash the immense potential of the numerous and powerful driving forces around us: cities and regions, citizens, cooperatives, investors, businesses… Governance is not about imposing new obligations to member states. It is about mobilising and coordinating all these actors. Europe is changing. Europe is greening. Let’s embrace this change rather than falter. Let’s keep a chance to keep global warming within reason. Let’s not lock ourselves in a carbon-intensive future. Let’s be stronger together for the benefit of common prosperity, jobs creation, cleaner air, and a more sustainable environment. Because indeed more energy efficiency and more renewables improve air quality for citizens, reduce geopolitical risk by limiting our import dependency and generate green growth together with millions of additional jobs located in Europe.

The EU needs to regain citizens’ confidence. In the wake of the French elections, a new pro-European impetus is expected. It goes with reliable EU legislation, binding targets and pan-European investment in sectors affecting citizens’ daily life such as the renovation of the building stock and electro-mobility.

The good news is that member states are not alone to deliver this increased ambition!

Local authorities (cities and regions) are already largely mobilised to deliver the energy transition, as shown by the 7,000 cities representing 226 million inhabitants gathered in the Covenant of Mayors with action plan to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% in 2030. Citizens-driven initiatives such as energy cooperatives flourish throughout Europe. Institutional investors are ready to invest massively in the energy transition: no later than yesterday, pension funds representing 18 trillion euros of investment (equivalent to more than the EU’s GDP, six times Germany’s) expressed their support to high energy efficiency ambition. The business sector does not want to be left out: companies gathered into the RE100 movement to move towards a 100% renewables-based mix. The multi-layer governance we propose is an asset to help member states reaching their targets and objectives. It requires full transparency as a pre-condition to build a large societal consensus around climate change and the energy transition.

We also propose that member states should gather beyond borders into macro-regional partnerships. These partnerships have the potential to deliver cost-optimised deployment of smart grids, renewables and energy efficiency. Northern Seas, the Baltic Sea, South-East Europe, Central-Western Europe, the Mediterranean basin are geographic areas where neighbouring member states have so much to win if they act together. Such macro-regional partnerships will identify renewable energy projects of Energy Union interest (such as off-shore wind farms, utility-scale photovoltaic plants, cross-border projects promoted by cities), and the Commission should establish a dedicated financial platform to support them.

We simply cannot afford not to act together. Our report on the governance of the Energy Union outlines these no-regret options. On the eve of a very important informal energy Council in Malta where some conservative member states attempt to reduce energy efficiency ambition, we urge European leaders not to halt and not to sacrifice our long-term vision in the name of short-term political horse-trading.

This article was originally published at Euractiv.com.

Disclaimer: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.com PLC.

Michèle Rivasi (France) and Claude Turmes (Luxembourg) are Members of the European Parliament for the Greens/EFA political group. They are co-rapporteurs of the regulation on the governance of the Energy Union.

Categories: Blogs

Dispatching with “dispatchable” nuclear

12 June, 2017 - 15:00

In the US, a debate on “deep decarbonization” is raging: going nearly zero-carbon in energy supply. Journalist David Roberts says we will need “dispatchable” nuclear. Via Twitter, he told readers that, to refute his argument, people need to move beyond their anti-nuke rant and show that we won’t need “dispatchable nuclear.” Craig Morris has a different take: Roberts needs to define “dispatchable.”

Can nuclear and renewables coexist? (Photo by Dirk Ingo Franke, edited, CC BY-SA 2.0)

At Vox.com, journalist David Roberts recently published a piece entitled “Is 100% renewable energy realistic? Here’s what we know” relying on two assessments of 100% renewable scenarios. Both of which were written by (non-German) proponents of nuclear. As I showed in a previous post, that wasn’t all we know – English speakers are ignoring the biggest studies from Denmark and Germany.

5. If you don't like this conclusion, the way to refute it is not w/ generic anti-nuke rants about current costs, current tech, etc.

— David Roberts (@drvox) April 8, 2017

Another thing is also overlooked: France. 100% is hard to do, as the French learned with nuclear. In 1974, they adopted their Messmer Plan for an all-electric, all-nuclear energy supply. It was a technocratic decision without any democratic input.

It failed. Though nuclear advocates point to France as a shining example, the country currently gets only two fifths of its energy from nuclear, far below the 100% envisioned by 2000.

One wonders what kind of electric mobility the French wanted back then. There seem to have been no grand schemes for Renault and Peugeot to make only electric cars – or for the French to forego cars altogether. Whatever the case, electric mobility seems more likely today; and yet, France is not revisiting its old plans (nuclear proponents should help us understand why). On the contrary, it has capped total nuclear capacity at 63 GW and will close its oldest reactors if / when then next one – an EPR – goes online.

The French wanted to get heat from nuclear power, but that didn’t work either. Demand for space heat from electricity already doubles demand for electricity. It peaked above 100 GW in 2012, more than 50% above the maximum output of the entire nuclear fleet.

France could have installed lots more nuclear to meet that demand; the Messmer Plan would have had three times more reactors by 2000. But the French essentially stopped adding reactors where the maximum output reached minimum power demand. The goal seems to have been avoiding the need to ramp reactor output up and down (that, at least, worked). If France had to meet that peak demand for heat with nuclear, French reactors would need to cut capacity utilization in half for most of the year, thereby roughly doubling the cost.

Electric heaters in France are found in a fifth of homes but double demand for power. Magenta area: power for heat. Blue area: all other electricity. Source: RTE.

In the power sector, nuclear makes up 75% of French supply. Clearly, France shows that nuclear can play a major role towards decarbonization. Today, the country could build twice as many reactors to cover peak heat demand and three times as many – in line with the original Messmer Plan – as everyone switches to EVs. Why France isn’t doing this is anyone’s guess. Roberts himself says he doesn’t want to talk about the problems with today’s nuclear fleet (such as microfissures requiring cooling water to be preheated so that faulty containment vessels don’t burst, one of which is now patched up with lime mortar), though he nonetheless wants to “keep {them} open as long as possible.”

The big challenge is societal, not technical

France may hesitate to go 100% nuclear because, in fact, only 20% of French homes have electric heat, so even tripling the nuclear fleet wouldn’t get us all the way. We need to renovate our buildings to the Passive House standard so that far less heat (and air-conditioning) is needed. When I am asked whether I think we will be 100% renewable in 2050, I always say no – we could, but we won’t because whenever I look out the window, I see unrenovated buildings everywhere. We are 33 years away from 2050, so any building renovated or constructed soon, but not to be completely carbon-free, will hold us back from being zero-carbon.

The real challenge to approaching 100% is thus not technical (not storage, grid stability, and other issues that engineers focus on), but societal: getting people today to renovate/build for a carbon-free 2050 even when there is no mid-term, much less short-term, financial payback (given low oil prices).

But let’s return to the dispatchability of nuclear. If France tripled its nuclear fleet, these reactors would have to ramp down every day. I described the actual flexibility of the French and German nuclear fleets here. Suffice it to say the reactors do react, just not the way needed for a 100% nuclear/wind/solar mix, which therefore cannot work.

Nuclear proponents say that reactors could ramp more (or be retrofitted to do so) but don’t because they provide the cheapest electricity based on low fuel prices; once you have built a reactor, you might as well leave it running all the time. This is true. Building a reactor is prohibitively expensive; the fuel rods, not so much.

However, this reading overlooks the limited flexibility of existing nuclear plants, which the World Nuclear Association sums up nicely. Note that reactors are less flexible just before and after refueling. The French nuclear fleet is commonly held to be the most flexible for load-following in the world, with Germany mentioned in second place (oddly, because German nuclear moves the least of all power sources). But notice the ending of this sentence from the OECD and the Nuclear Energy Agency (PDF): “Although some French and German NPPs are flexible and operate in the load-following mode, this is not a general case.”

Importantly, the world’s existing nuclear fleet ramps the least compared to coal and gas, as an OECD/NEA paper from 2012 shows (PDF):

The problem is that, if we are going to go 100% renewable largely with wind and solar, we need backup that ramps amazingly well. Here is what Germany’s residual load – power demand minus renewable power generation (largely wind and solar) – might look like in 2050 with 100% renewables.

The ramping French nuclear reactor shown here may look like it would be able to follow the residual load needed in 2050 for wind and solar, but in fact that reactor only ramps from 90% to 30% of its rated output. Current made-to-ramp reactors are designed to only have 400 cold starts (down to 0% and back up) in their entire lifetime – around once a month over forty years (including refueling downtime). They might not last two years in the chart above.

It’s quite possible that nuclear with wind & solar is cheaper in the mid-term, but eventually wind and solar peaks will hit the must-run capacity of nuclear, and then storage is needed. Storage will make everything much more expensive. So German researchers have argued for years that all inflexibility has to be removed if wind and solar are at the center of power supply.

Don’t forget sustainable biomass!

Both the Danish and German scenarios for 100% renewable energy/power, respectively, discussed here include biomass, locally sourced from waste to the extent possible. They call into question what Roberts calls (and the French called) “electrify everything” – the assumption that a 100% renewable energy supply will entail 100% electric mobility and heat. There simply is a certain amount of sustainable biomass available (such as from waste) for use as fuel, so not everything needs to be electrified.

Strangely, Americans in particular seem afraid to talk about biomass, perhaps because some nuclear proponents there like to misrepresent all biomass as pristine American forests. Not surprisingly, the main scenario for a 100% renewable America has no biomass at all in it. Acting as though no sustainable biomass exists is purely ideological, not based on any science.


My first conclusion is that our current nuclear fleet is incompatible with fluctuating wind and spikey solar. You can focus on nuclear if you want, but the more of it you have, the less space there is for wind and solar.

Second, mere dispatchability is irrelevant. If you want near 100% zero-carbon energy with wind and solar, you want backup that can shut down and ramp up from a cold start every day. Nuclear is worse at this than coal, gas, biomass, and hydro. Any future reactor designs will need to ramp like gas turbines to back up wind and solar.

Third, it’s worth adding that cost estimates for 2050 are like reading tea leaves. We have no idea, for instance, what fossil fuels will cost in 33 years, and recent estimates suggest that even modest sales of electric vehicles might bring oil prices down. It is prudent, however, to expect the cost of wind, solar and various storage options to drop. The cost of new nuclear is unclear; the price of power from the planned Hinkley addition is indexed to inflation, so it will rise, and small modular reactors do not yet exist. But heck, even the price of existing nuclear is disputed: “Nobody knows the total cost for nuclear energy,” French President Macron said this year. “I was minister for industry, and I could not tell you.”

In conclusion, we don’t need to answer Roberts’ question about whether there is a better “dispatchable” source of zero-carbon power than nuclear. Rather, we need to dispel the notion that “dispatchable” alone will suffice. You can try deep decarbonization based mostly on nuclear and look to the French model (which France is abandoning) to improve upon. Or you can follow Denmark and Germany with renewables – largely wind and solar, but you can’t leave out biomass.

Personally, I’d love to see an experiment based mainly on nuclear. In return, if you want nuclear, you will love to see the Energiewende play out. Let’s meet in 2050 and compare who performed better! I bet anyone a beer, it’s renewables – any takers?

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

Categories: Blogs

Poland to miss 2020 EU renewable energy target, Ecofys

9 June, 2017 - 15:00

Poland is set to miss its target of covering up to 15% of energy demand with renewables by 2020. Under the most favorable scenario provided by a report released by local consultancy Ecofys, new additions for solar may reach 695 GWh, while the country is expected to reach a target of only 13.8% by the end of the decade. Emiliano Bellini goes in-depth.

The Jaworzno Power Station, a complex of coal-fired thermal power stations at Jaworzno, Poland. (Wikipedia Commons)

Poland has a reputation as Europe’s most polluting country, still relying massively on coal power production and not supporting the development of renewable energies. In confirmation of this, renewable energy consultancy Ecofys recently published a report in which it clearly says that Poland will miss its 2020 renewable energy target.

According to the report, the country will miss the target even under the most favorable scenario, which predicts it will cover 13.8% of its energy demand with renewables by 2020, and not 15% as planned by the Polish government in the National Renewable Energy Action Plan (NREAP). Under the worst-case scenario, however, Poland is expected to reach a percentage of only 10.0%.

The authors of the report find that the mere continuation of the country’s current renewable energy policy would not be enough to meet the target, and that the government needs to take immediate action to provide further incentives for renewables.

In performing their analysis, Ecofys experts took into account the announced auctioned volumes for renewables under the Renewable Energy Act of 2015, which are already known only for 2016 and 2017 (and not for 2018 and 2019), and the effect of the existing net metering regulation.

Ecofys said that, under the most optimistic scenario, new additions would result in a further 3,850 GWh by 2020. Biomass would have the largest share in this scenario, followed by solar and on-shore wind, according to the report. New solar installations would be enough to ensure new generation of approximately 983 GWh, while biomass and wind would account for 1,709 GWh and 695 GWh, respectively.

Under the worst scenario, however, new power production from renewables would be “four times lower”, with biomass still having the lion’s share with 366 GWh, while solar would see the addition of just 184 GWh.

In order to meet the 2020 target, the report notes, additional support expenditures are required. Furthermore, the Polish government should ensure that investments for renewable energy power projects planned in the period 2016-2018 will be operational by the end of 2020. Ecofys analysts also stressed that new measures should be taken independently from the assumptions on final energy demand growth for the coming years.

Poland’s installed PV capacity had reached approximately 192.8 MW as of the end of December 2016. This capacity consists of 17,000 PV systems up to 40 kW, totaling 93.7 MW, and 473 installations exceeding 40 kW with a combined capacity of 99.1 MW. The Polish government is currently supporting solar through net metering and an auction mechanism for large-scale projects.

Through the first auction, which was held last year, Poland’s Ministry of Energy has selected total of 82 renewable energy projects up to 1 MW. The highest bid was PLN 408 ($100.2)/MWh and the lowest 253.5 PLN ($62.2)/MWh. For 2017, Poland’s Ministry of Energy has planned another auction. The government is considering setting a ceiling price of PLN 450 ($110.5)/MWh for the PV source. This compares to PLN 465 ($114.2)/MWh set for the auction held in December 2016.

Over 80% of Poland’s power production was covered by coal in 2015. Around 79.9 TWh (48.4%) was generated at hard coal-fired power plants, while another 52.9 TWh (32.1%) was provided by lignite-fired power plants. Solar had a share of only 0.04%.

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.

Categories: Blogs

UK leads the way on emissions reductions, despite overall increase across the EU

8 June, 2017 - 15:00

The UK recorded the largest decrease in greenhouse gas emissions in the European Union (EU) in 2015, although new research has found the emissions from the bloc increased for the first time in five years. Matt Mace of Edie Newsroom explains.

Lower emissions in the UK were attributed to the “liberalising of energy markets” and the switch from oil and coal to gas in electricity production

Analysis published by the European Environment Agency (EEA) found that EU emissions increased by 0.5% in 2015, largely driven by heat demand due to a colder winter and an increase in road transport.

Despite the increase, the UK recorded the largest decline in emissions amongst the Member States. Both the UK and Germany have accounted for 48% of the total reduction in EU emissions over the last 25 years. For 2015, the UK reduced emissions by more than 19,400kt of CO2 equivalent, a 3.7% decrease, more than the combined reductions of the eight other nations that recorded a decrease in emissions in 2015.

Lower emissions in the UK were attributed to the “liberalising of energy markets” and the switch from oil and coal to gas in electricity production. In fact, the UK’s electricity and heat production represents the largest emissions reduction across the bloc, accounting for 7.5% of the overall reductions.

The EU recorded a 4% decline in emissions in 2014. However, 19 Member States saw emissions increase in 2015, with Spain, Italy and Netherlands accounting for the largest increases. Rising emissions in these countries were triggered by “substantial” increases in coal generation and the use of gas in the residential sector.

It is believed that many of the EU’s legislative energy frameworks will be transposed into UK law during the Brexit negotiations. Former energy minster Andrea Leadsom claimed that energy policies wouldn’t be changed. But with the UK struggling to reach targets for transport and heat, concerns have been raised that legislation could be watered-down.

The poor performances found in the heat and transport sectors across the EU can also be found in the UK. The nation is not even halfway towards achieving the target of 12% of energy needs for heat generation coming from renewable sources, while the proportion of renewable energy used in transport has in fact fallen, from 4.9% to 4.2% over the past year.

In fact, the EEA analysis shows that the UK’s road transport emissions increased by more than 2% in 2015, and is the fourth largest contributor to the rise in emissions, behind Italy’s residential sector and Germany’s transport and residential sectors.

Across the EU, all increases in transport emissions, which is responsible for around 20% of total EU emissions, were “fully accounted for” by diesel consumption. International aviation is not included in national totals under the Kyoto Protocol. However, data from EEA suggests that emissions from aviation increased by 3.3% in 2015.

Economic decoupling

The UK accounts for around 12% of the EU’s emissions, and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed earlier this year that “basket emissions” – the seven greenhouse gases listed under the Kyoto Protocol – in the UK had fallen by 3.8% in 2015.

The decline has been generated while the UK economy continues to grow. A report by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) found that the UK has been more successful than any other G7 nation at decoupling emissions growth from that of the economy over the past 25 years.

The Word Resources Institute (WRI) also found that between 2000 and 2014, the UK achieved six years of “absolute decoupling”, where real GDP grew as carbon emissions declined. According to the analysis, the UK achieved an overall GDP growth of 27% along with a 20% cutback in CO2 emissions over the 14-year period.

The latest EEA figures reveal that the EU’s economy grew by more than 2% in 2015, the strongest annual economic growth since 2007, and could account for the increase in transport demand.

From 1990 to 2015, the EU reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 22.1%, surpassing its 2020 target of 20%. During this period, the EU’s economy grew by around 50%.

This article was originally published on Edie.net

Matt Mace is an Edie.net senior reporter.

Categories: Blogs

Workers fear radiation exposure after nuclear waste storage tunnels collapse in Washington

7 June, 2017 - 15:00

In this article, Democracy Now recaps what exactly happened at the Hanford nuclear site in Washington State. The most polluted nuclear weapons production site has been leaking for years, and the state’s Department of Ecology has taken legal action. Amy Goodman of Democracy now speaks to Tom Carpenter, executive director of Hanford Challenge.

The Hanford Site is the most polluted in the US and just narrowly avoided serious radiation (Photo by the US Department of Energy)

We are broadcasting from Washington state, where the Department of Energy declared a state of emergency at the Hanford nuclear site after a tunnel storing contaminated radioactive materials collapsed. The collapse, which was discovered Tuesday, forced hundreds of workers to take cover to avoid potential exposure.

Hanford is the nation’s most polluted nuclear weapons production site. The site has been leaking radioactive waste on and off for years. The Energy Department claims no radioactive contamination has been reported so far from Tuesday’s tunnel collapse. But Edwin Lyman from the Union of Concerned Scientists said, “Collapse of the earth covering the tunnels could lead to a considerable radiological release.” Now the Washington state Department of Ecology’s Nuclear Waste Program has announced on Twitter that it has taken legal action against Hanford. We speak with Tom Carpenter, executive director of Hanford Challenge, which advocates for workers at the Hanford nuclear site.

Transcript: This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to our last segment, and we continue to focus on what’s happening at a state and local level that’s happening all over the country. Next week, we’ll be traveling throughout California and broadcasting throughout there. You can check our website at democracynow.org to see where we’ll be. But right here in Washington state, where the Department of Energy declared a state of emergency at the Hanford nuclear site after a tunnel storing contaminated radioactive materials collapsed, is the subject of our last segment. The collapse, which was discovered Tuesday, forced hundreds of workers to take cover, to shelter in place, to avoid potential exposure. Local station KING 5 obtained this video from a worker describing the scene.

PA ANNOUNCER: All personnel report to their respective lunchrooms for further information and/or instruction. All personnel should refrain from eating or drinking until told it is safe to do so.

HANFORD WORKER: Well, so, it’s either a drill or an emergency. Gotta take cover.

AMY GOODMAN: Hanford is the nation’s most polluted nuclear weapons production site. The site has been leaking radioactive waste on and off for years. The Energy Department claims no radioactive contamination has been reported so far from Tuesday’s tunnel collapse. But Edwin Lyman from the Union of Concerned Scientists said, quote, “Collapse of the earth covering the tunnels could lead to a considerable radiological release,” unquote. Well, now the state of Washington’s Department of Ecology’s Nuclear Waste Program has announced on Twitter it’s taken legal action against Hanford.

For more, we’re joined here in Seattle by Tom Carpenter, executive director of Hanford Challenge, which advocates for workers at the Hanford nuclear site.

Tom, welcome to Democracy Now! Explain what’s taken place. I mean, given what’s happening in Washington, D.C., there’s very little national awareness about what you’re dealing with here in Washington.

TOM CARPENTER: OK, so this is the nation’s most contaminated site. In the state of Washington here, it was built to make nuclear weapons and plutonium for those weapons. And now we’re left with this legacy of radioactive waste. And so, what recently happened on Tuesday morning was one of the facilities at the site suffered a collapse of a tunnel, holding vast quantities of very highly dangerous radioactive materials. Now, the government is saying that none of that escaped, except, you know, radiation itself into the sky, but no particles escaped. And so, now the question really remains is: Is that true? Were workers contaminated? It appears not. But what is the next—you know, what is the next shoe that’s going to fall? So, what’s in this tunnel, right? So, we know that there are chemicals. There are explosive materials. There could be fires that happen. So we’re all watching with bated breath.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what the PUREX is, the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Plant?

TOM CARPENTER: Yes. So, this was a facility that was used to dissolve spent nuclear fuel made in nuclear reactors on the shores of the Columbia River. They had nine reactors. And this facility would dissolve this stuff in acid, separate out the plutonium. And they had this very large inventory of highly radioactive and chemical waste products left over. That’s what’s at Hanford now.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain the history of the Hanford site and its role in the U.S. nuclear program?

TOM CARPENTER: Sure. Hanford was the first production facility that came out of the work at Los Alamos during World War II. So, it made the plutonium for the very first nuclear test in the deserts of New Mexico and was the plutonium dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, in the Fat Man bomb. So, it went on then to make more and more plutonium. And it does this by irradiating uranium slugs and then taking that irradiated uranium, dissolving that in a process called reprocessing. And Hanford became the most contaminated facility as a result.

It’s hard to—it’s hard to describe exactly how bad this place is. It’s got two-thirds of the nation’s high-level nuclear waste. There are just 56 million gallons of this waste in underground, leaking tanks. This one little tunnel that was the subject of Tuesday’s collapse was really a small thing compared to what else is out at that site. So, you can imagine a collapse of a nuclear waste tank containing millions of curies of radioactivity. You’re talking about a multistate disaster. And those tanks are in no better shape than this tunnel. And that’s the concern, is that the federal government spent trillions of dollars to make nuclear weapons, but it’s shortchanging us on the cleanup at these sites. It’s supposed to take years and years. The money is being stolen. It’s a fraud factory, in a way. And, you know, so the public is really getting shafted on this one.

AMY GOODMAN: So, very quickly, you have sued the federal government on behalf of the workers at Hanford. We have less than a minute. Can you explain what you have sued over, what you’re demanding and, with this latest accident, what needs to happen?

TOM CARPENTER: OK. So we brought a lawsuit along with the union at the Hanford site, the pipefitters’ union in the state of Washington, to force the government to provide better protections for the workers out there who inhale chemical vapors and then get sick. And, you know, sadly, people are not being protected, even though there are some pretty grave health injuries that result. And we are demanding that people are protected with respiratory protection in the future and that they do something to protect these people. And, you know, this latest incident is a great illustration of how workers are on the front lines of harm out there.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Tom, I want to thank you for being with us, Tom Carpenter, executive director of Hanford Challenge, which advocates for workers at the Hanford nuclear site.

This article has been republished from Democracy Now under the Creative Commons 3.0 License. 

Categories: Blogs

Trump is normalizing climate skepticism

6 June, 2017 - 17:05

Lots has been said about Trump’s decision to back out of the Paris Accord, but have we overlooked one factor: like-minded politicians abroad feeling encouraged to speak up? Judging from German events, opponents of the Paris agreement are coming out of hiding. As the Germans would say, Trump is making skepticism salonfähig: literally, “suitable for the salon” – something that can be talked about in polite company. Craig Morris explains.

Climate skeptics can do a lot of harm to the Energiewende – and Germany should learn from the US example (Photo by Tammy Anthony Baker, edited, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Did I mention that we will have to fight for the energy transition the whole way?

The #Energiewende can definitely be stopped, and it will be if we don't fight for it https://t.co/D9Dw1SOjXA

— Craig Morris (@PPchef) April 5, 2016

One main spin on Trump’s decision to back out of the Paris Agreement is that it doesn’t matter: wind and solar can no longer be stopped, local governments will go ahead anyway, etc. Or that his decision is even good because it strengthens everyone else’s resolve.

This is the kind of denial that allowed Trump to win. Too many people didn’t take him seriously. His decision has strengthened the resolve of skeptics.

In our history of the Energiewende, my coauthor Arne Jungjohann and I write: “To the authors’ knowledge, no member of the German Bundestag denies anthropogenic climate change.” The wording is cautious; we weren’t complete sure. We just couldn’t find any statements suggesting that a German parliamentarian disputed the scientific consensus. But maybe they were too afraid to speak freely? Anyway, we mainly wondered whether our statement from the end of 2015 would survive the elections this fall, in which the German populist party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is likely to enter parliament. It definitely contains outright denialists.

We didn’t have to wait so long. At the end of March, when Trump announced his “review” of the US commitment to Paris, a group of ten Christian Democrat parliamentarians in a group calling itself the “Berlin Circle” (Berliner Kreis) submitted a position paper to Chancellor Merkel (who is from the same party). The Circle members are not nobodies: Wolfgang Bosbach is a frequent guest on TV talk shows in Germany.

The paper (in German) pulls all the old strings:

  • It begins with the words “without ideology,” which, in the energy policy debate, means anyone against nuclear is an ideologue.
  • It says climate research is becoming “a question of belief” and says there should be no “moral blackmail” – after all, the “announced/expected dramatic consequences of climate change are based on models, whose correctness and falsifiability are not as clear as often claimed.”
  • It doubts the “solitary role of the greenhouse effect,” meaning that solar flares, etc. may be significant factors (see this).
  • It stress “new opportunities” arising from climate change, particularly an “ice-free Northwest passage, new fishing opportunities, and resource extraction” – the benefits of which would “probably be even greater than any negative ecological effects” of climate change.
  • It calls the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) a “save-the-world circus.”
  • And it ends with a call for a single instrument to replace all the regulations on buildings weatherization, support for renewables, etc.: a carbon price or carbon tax. The market would then decide what the cheapest way is.

Instead of plump denialism, the Berlin Circle thus takes a pragmatic stance to seem reasonable while still pursuing the same goals as plump denialists: dramatically weakening climate change mitigation. This is the kind of party-internal opposition Merkel faces, and it is growing. In Germany’s most populist state of North-Rhine/Westphalia, the CDU had posters against wind turbines (top left here) in state elections this year, and the new coalition government with the libertarian FDP is considering stepping away from its Climate Act (in German). On Thursday, Social Democrat politicians also argued in the Bundestag (in German) that a German coal phaseout would be as insignificant as a “bag of rice falling over in China.”

Little of this would have been salonfähig before Trump entered office. Policy wonks speak of the Overton window; it includes everything considered reasonable, and it can shift. Many worried that Trump might move previously unacceptable things like overt racism into the Overton window, but he may be shifting the window of proposals people dare voice in the German climate debate.

The silver lining from Trump’s climate cloud is that we’ve all learned a lot about the Paris Accord. Yes, it’s legally binding, but only in the sense that countries (participating voluntarily) are obligated to report emissions (there are no penalties for non-compliance), and it doesn’t go far enough anyway. But US climate expert Michael Oppenheimer summed up best why it was a step forward anyway:

I think we would have wound up in a situation where commitments [to reduce carbon emissions] would have been met at probably the lower level, but a heck of a lot more would have been done than if Paris didn’t exist at all.

And then we could also have used the name-and-shame game: the business of having to report your emissions under a transparent system, and say what you did and what you didn’t do. And that technique is effective in some international circumstances, like human rights treaties. It’s not like there was nothing there.

So there we are, back in a fight over principles – at square one, struggling to defend tiny steps forward. Or, as we put it in our book: “the Energiewende consensus has to be renegotiated continually…. And the pushback is real.”

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

Categories: Blogs

How green are the manifestos? UK elections and climate change

5 June, 2017 - 15:00

Sam Fankhauser and Sini Matikainen review what the manifestos of the Conservatives, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats contain on the environment. They argue that all three parties are committed to taking action, but there is a risk that climate change will be forgotten by a new government preoccupied with other issues.

All the major parties agree on the need to take action – but how will they actually do it? (Public Domain)

Climate change and the environment do not feature prominently in this election. Just as the campaign got under way, a High Court ruling forced the government to publish its draft plans on air quality which they had hoped to delay until after the election, but since then, party leaders and candidates have been largely silent on the environment. The Conservative, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats’ manifestos all broadly agree on the need to take action. However, they disagree, sometimes in significant ways, on how they would go about it.

Unsurprisingly, the consequences of Brexit are one of the main areas of contention. Labour and the Lib Dems have pledged to safeguard all environmental regulations established under EU law. Under the Conservatives, EU environmental regulations could be amended or repealed by parliament, although the party commits to an energy policy that meets global commitments on climate change. Labour and the Lib Dems also emphasise links to the European energy market to secure energy supply. The Tories promote shale gas as a way of safeguarding energy security. The other parties oppose fracking (Lib Dem) or would ban it outright (Labour).

With an eye on Britain’s competitiveness after Brexit, all three parties stress the importance of new export markets which offer trade opportunities for the UK. Labour and the Liberal Democrats explicitly highlight low-carbon sectors. Focusing on these sectors makes strategic sense, since trade in low-carbon goods and services is growing rapidly and could be worth between £1 trillion and £1.0–£1.8 trillion a year by 2030.

The UK is well-placed to tap into these vast new export markets, but developing a comparative advantage in emerging technologies requires investment in innovation. All three manifestos support an increase in research and development (R&D) spending. The Lib Dems offer a wide-ranging list of low-carbon technologies they would support as part of their R&D commitment. The Conservatives strategically focus on battery technology, while Labour does not mention specific low-carbon technologies. None of the three parties pledge a specific amount of investment in low-carbon technology, though they may consider it under the infrastructure packages they have all put forward.

Energy costs have emerged as another point of contention. All three manifestos discuss the importance of keeping electricity costs low, with Labour targeting an annual price cap and the Conservatives proposing what they call a safeguard tariff cap. The desire to keep energy prices down is not consistently reflected in other proposals. Energy prices, like all prices, have to reflect the cost of production. Once the costs to the environment are included, this means moving towards low-carbon technologies. As part of a 60 per cent renewables target, Labour and the Lib Dems support a technology mix that includes relatively expensive solutions like tidal power.  The Conservatives continue to oppose more onshore wind, even though it is the cheapest form of renewable energy at the moment and competitive with fossil fuel-based electricity that covers its environmental costs.

Energy conservation is one of the most effective ways to reduce bills (as well as greenhouse gas emissions), and encouragingly it features in all three manifestos. Energy efficiency improvements have already saved the typical UK household around £290 per year since 2008. Labour and the Lib Dems each pledge to insulate 4 million homes, and the Lib Dems and the Conservatives want to upgrade more homes to EPC Band C.

These measures are unlikely to exploit the full energy savings potential that is available. One potential gap is low-carbon homes. All parties commit to house building programmes, but only the Lib Dems want to restore the zero-carbon standard for new homes. The Conservatives plan to review the energy efficiency requirements on new homes and Labour would consult on a zero carbon standard.

The three parties make promises in two areas where past governments have been caught out: air pollution and flood defence. Unsurprisingly, following recent media attention, there are explicit plans on air quality. Labour and the Lib Dems both propose a new Clean Air Act. The Conservatives acknowledge the importance of clean air, and (like the Lib Dems) make low-emission vehicles a key part of their transport strategy. These are important pledges. An integrated policy on renewable energy, energy efficiency and low-carbon transport can address multiple objectives, from air quality to climate change.

After a dry winter, flooding has temporarily disappeared from the headlines, but the need for more flood defences is noted by all three parties. Flooding is perhaps the most prominent climate risk Britain faces, but it is not the only one. The UK’s Climate Change Risk Assessment also highlights risks related to heat waves, water shortages, the natural environment and new pests and diseases. In addition to more flood investment, the next government must strengthen the national adaptation programme and communicate more clearly to businesses and households the risks that climate change will pose to them.

The next government will have to make some important decisions on climate change. The government has a statutory obligation, under the Climate Change Act, to detail as soon as practical its plans for meeting the 4th and 5th carbon budget, which cover the years 2023-2032. Shortly before the end of the next parliament, it will have to legislate the 6th carbon budget for the period 2033–37.

All three manifestos acknowledge these obligations. The Conservative manifesto implicitly so, with passing references to the Climate Change Act and its 2050 target. Labour explicitly promises to get ‘back on track’ on the carbon budgets. The Lib Dems go one step further, pledging a new 80% reduction target for 2040 and ‘net zero’ emissions by 2050, compared to the current 80% target for 2050. The Paris Agreement also gets name-checked in each manifesto, and all three parties are in agreement that the UK should be a leader in global action against climate change.

All this makes the manifestos of the three main parties not a bad read for climate change campaigners. The key challenge in the next parliament will be to remind all parties of their election commitments and make sure climate change does not take a back seat in a parliament preoccupied with other issues.

This article was originally published at LSE’s British Politics and Policy blog.

Sam Fankhauser is Co-Director of LSE’s Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, and Deputy Director of the ESRC-funded Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy (CCCEP).

Sini Matikainen is a Policy Officer at the LSE Grantham Research Institute and CCCEP.

Categories: Blogs

Plugging into renewables: the need for a long-term, renewables-based energy plan for India

31 May, 2017 - 15:00

India has made leaps and bounds in its renewable energy developments, and is shaping up to be a leader in solar energy. Some are calling for a 100% renewable energy mix by 2050 – and Manish Ram argues that with the right policy, India could make that happen.

A PV plant in the state of Gujarat, one of the leaders in solar generation (Photo by Citizenmj, edited, CC BY SA 3.0)

The Paris Agreement reached at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP) in December 2015 was a major milestone that capped more than two decades of global negotiations aimed at averting dangerous climate change. The outcome was reflective of wider acceptance that a low-carbon transformation of the world’s energy systems is indeed possible, even inevitable, in the context of rapidly falling renewables costs and an unprecedented degree of action by nations, civil society, businesses, industry, cities, and other stakeholders.

Prices for renewables-based electricity have been dropping globally and more so in India.

In this context, India has endorsed renewables as the future source to fuel the rapid growth engine. According to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), the country’s total renewable energy capacity including solar, wind, biomass, and small hydro grew by around 11,200 megawatts (MW) in FY 2016-17, which is at par with conventional thermal power capacity addition that registered a decline of 50 percent in comparison to the previous year. Across the country about 5,526 MW of new solar capacity (an increase of 83 percent over FY 2015-16) and roughly 5,400 MW of new wind capacity (up by 63 percent) was added in the year.

Source: Bridge to India.

Despite the impressive performance of the renewables industry, the Indian energy sector continues to be plagued with multifaceted challenges. These include but are not limited to increasing energy demands with the rapidly developing economy and rising population, increased fossil fuel imports, deficits in meeting the electricity demand, and high shares of greenhouse gases from the energy sector in national emissions stack and still a lack of access to electricity to almost one-fourth of its population (26 percent of rural households). The government has recently revised the target of renewable energy capacities in India to 175 gigawatts (GW) by 2022. However, a long-term strategy to integrate large-scale expansion of renewables in order to address the above-mentioned multi-dimensional challenges is still missing.

NITI Aayog, which was constituted by the Indian government to enhance the policy-making process, undertook an energy scenario building exercise—the ‘India Energy Security Scenarios (IESS), 2047’. This web-based planning tool presents two scenarios—the Maximum Energy Security Pathway (MESP) and the Maximum Clean and Renewable Energy Pathway (MCREP) in order to fulfil the energy demands in 2047. Considering the MCREP, the share of renewables in the enhanced proportion of electricity in the energy mix is estimated to be around 49 percent in 2047 in comparison to seven percent in 2012, whereas the share of coal is still around 37 percent of the primary energy supply in 2047 compared to around 46 percent in 2012, indicating a drop of just nine percent.

Source: Maximum Clean and Renewable Energy Pathway (MCREP)

From 2010–2015, the indicative global average onshore wind generation costs for new plants fell by an estimated 30 percent on average, while costs for new utility-scale solar photovoltaics (PV) declined by two-thirds. Further, over the next five years, 2015-20, new onshore wind costs are expected to decline by a further 12 percent, while new utility-scale solar PV will decline by an additional 25 percent. Based on these developments, expecting a coal share of 37 percent in the Indian energy mix by 2047 seems unrealistic and quite out of date.

Prices for renewables-based electricity have been dropping globally and more so here in India, as observed recently—the winning bid at the Kadapa solar park being set up by NTPC is at Rs 3.15 /KWh which is the levelised tariff for 25 years with no escalation. This is lower than the lowest bid received for the 750 MW solar park in Rewa, Madhya Pradesh (which was around Rs 2.97/KWh and works out to around Rs 3.30/KWh over the lifetime of the power plant). Wind power too has been registering low costs in the range of Rs 3.50/KWh.

The effects of this trend of cost reduction in renewables is changing the dynamics of the power sector and rendering investments in conventional power plants unfeasible. Recently, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis published a report which concluded that three new coal-fired power plants in the Netherlands are proving far less valuable than expected and are fundamentally out of step with power market trends across Europe. This is leading to debates on the economic feasibility of conventional power plants and calling for divestments of the fossil-fuel based power plants by some stakeholders. TERI recently published a report titled ‘Transitions in the Indian Energy Sector—Macro Level Analysis of Demand and Supply Side Options’ that suggests India should not consider building new power plants based on fossil fuels. There is a huge risk that these would turn into stranded assets in the near future.

There have been reports on a 100 percent renewables-based energy system for India: ‘The Energy Report—India 100% Renewable Energy by 2050’ by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and TERI and the ‘Energy Revolution: A Sustainable Energy Outlook’ by Greenpeace. Recently, researchers from Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) have modelled energy scenarios globally as well as for India at an hourly resolution and derived the least-cost energy mix for 2050. Most of their publications in the context of India concluded that energy supply, fully based on renewable energy, storage, and distribution is the best and only option from the economic, ecological, and technical points of view. Already today, wind and solar power are the most cost-effective options for energy investments. In 2030, fossil fuel and nuclear energy will be non-competitive with renewables.

The results of the paper, ‘Electricity System based on 100% Renewable Energy for India and SAARC’ indicate scenarios where a 100 percent renewables-based energy system is possible and lower in cost than alternate high-risk options.

Source: Conference Paper – ‘The Demand for Storage Technologies in Energy Transition Pathways Towards 100% Renewable Energy for India’.

With the storage, load-balancing, and demand-balancing components, it looks like it is technically and economically feasible to build an energy system with a high amount of renewables. An important complementary solution to intermittent renewables will be storage and as a virtuous circle, development of battery technology which has been spurred by increasing viability of electric vehicles (EVs), which should bring further applications into the power market. The price of lithium-ion battery packs for electric vehicles have fallen 65 percent since 2010 and the trend is likely to continue making batteries cost-effective even for power storage.

The government is playing an active role in promoting the adoption of renewable energy resources by offering various incentives, such as generation-based incentives (GBIs), capital and interest subsidies, viability gap funding, concessional finance, and fiscal incentives but needs to develop an integrated long-term plan with renewables at the heart of it.

Some of the key aspects that such a plan could focus on are:

  • Increasing the flexibility of power grids
  • Developing the infrastructure for increased EV expansion
  • Investing in storage facilities (a policy for storage technology development)

A future-oriented energy system in India will be based on solar PV, wind energy, battery storage, and flexible smart power grids.

This article was originally published on Yourstory.

Manish Ram is a renewable energy enthusiast and energy professional who has previously worked with leading organisations in India and is currently pursuing doctoral research at LUT. He can be reached at manish.thulasi.ram@lut.fi

Categories: Blogs

Leaked docs show UK lobbying to weaken EU climate targets despite Brexit

30 May, 2017 - 12:30

The UK government has attempted to sabotage the European Union’s climate goals – even though they won’t be affected after Brexit. So why would they target EU energy policy? Zachary Davies Boren of Energydesk investigates.

Some have accused the UK of attempting to weaken the EU’s energy policy and block the Paris Agreement (Public Domain)

On the very day Theresa May triggered Article 50, her government quietly issued another bold statement to Brussels.

Documents obtained by Energydesk reveal UK government attempts to significantly weaken draft EU climate and energy rules, even as Brexit is underway.

Key renewable energy and energy efficiency targets proposed by the European Commission should be reduced, made non-binding, or even scrapped altogether, the UK said, despite the fact that they would not take effect until after the UK had left the EU.

“This smells of obstructionism,” Jonathan Gaventa, director of environmental think-tank E3G, told Energydesk.

“The UK is pissing off countries it needs as allies.”

The news comes as the future of the Paris climate agreement hangs in the balance, with the United States refusing to commit to the deal at the G7 meeting.

“This leak shows Donald Trump has a mole in the EU, and she is called Theresa May,” Shadow Climate Change Minister Barry Gardiner said.

“It is calculated dishonesty to publicly embrace the Paris agreement whilst trying to block the very steps needed to implement it.”

The move also suggests a Conservative government alter European climate and environment rules once they are transposed into British law via the much-touted Great Repeal Bill.

Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party, said this is “a strong indication that, unless we fight back, Britain could become an offshore pollution haven where the environment is in the firing line of an aggressive Government with a blind and brutal deregulation agenda.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “Any future decisions on energy efficiency policy would be a matter for the next government.”

The Conservative Party failed to comment for this story, however the party has stated that it is committed to retaining the UK’s carbon reduction targets and its support for the Paris climate agreement.

Read the documents here


One of the laws the UK is lobbying to weaken is the revised Energy Efficiency Directive, a key component of the EU’s plan to tackle climate change by reducing consumption of fossil fuels.

The European Commission’s proposal would set a binding target of 30% increased energy efficiency by 2030 (compared to the ‘business as usual’ scenario), but the UK would like to see that ambition considerably scaled back, recommending it be reduced to 27% and made non-binding.

Every 1% improvement in energy efficiency means saving the (equivalent of the) annual CO2 emissions of 12 million cars, and averting thousands of premature deaths caused by air pollution, according to data compiled by Friends of the Earth.

The British delegation – which is formally part of the Department for Exiting the European Union – is also pushing to gut the proposed Directive’s key clause, that would require energy companies to to achieve annual energy savings of 1.5% post-2020.

“The UK does not believe Article 7 should be rolled forward beyond 2020 but if it is to continue targets should be indicative not binding,” the document reads.

Jan Rosenow, Senior Associate at the Regulatory Assistance Project, said: “Efforts by the UK to water down the EU’s energy efficiency mandate is not only concerning, but wholly inappropriate given that the targets apply to the period after 2020 at which point the UK will have left the EU.”

This, he suggested, is in keeping with the UK’s approach to energy efficiency, which “has been in reverse gear since 2012.”

“Unfortunately the UK’s position on EU energy efficiency targets does not instil hope for a change in direction after Brexit,” he added.

Energy ministers are reportedly divided on how ambitious the target should be, but an agreement on a common position is expected to be taken when they meet on June 26.

Read the UK’s comments on the Energy Efficiency Directive



The other proposed regulations the UK is trying to water down concern the governance of Europe’s internal energy market.

The UK’s comments – delivered the day before Article 50 was triggered – were similarly in favour of less oversight and weaker targets.

Most significantly, the UK takes issue with the clause calling for ‘linear progress’ on renewable energy in the lead up to the EU’s 2030 target, which is still being negotiated.

“We do not consider that linear progress to the target should not be expected or determined at the EU and, rather, that it should be for MS (member states) to determine based on their plans,” the

Member states would therefore not be required to steadily scale up their share of renewable energy — meaning they could simply could delay action until just before the target is due, and so burn more fossil fuels in the meantime.

The UK government’s feedback also repeatedly called for language – such as “if applicable“ – that would water down the strength of the agreement.

And it went even further, rejecting a call for “national objectives for total (public and private) spending in research and innovation” because the UK does not collect total figures on private sector activity.

Read the UK’s comments on the Governance of the Energy Union

This article was originally published at Energydesk.

Zachary Davies Boren is a reporter with Greenpeace’s Energydesk, and also writes for The Independent. On Twitter: @zdboren

Categories: Blogs

Can mini-grids tackle energy poverty in Africa?

29 May, 2017 - 15:00

Although mini electrical grids aren’t widely used in Southern Africa, a pilot project outside Cape Town is testing if these can be a financially sustainable off-grid way to address energy poverty here, writes Leonie Joubert.

Minigrids have helped South Africans cut their energy costs and stop using dangerous fuels like paraffin. (Photo via Leonie Joubert)

Even by mid-morning, the sun hasn’t made much headway in Megan Zaal’s lounge. It’s a typical autumn day in Cape Town – overcast and cold – and like many homes in the informal settlements around South Africa, there aren’t many windows to let in light or warmth.

The 26-year-old, who is on maternity leave from her catering job at a suburban hospital, is breastfeeding her infant daughter while she thinks about which aspect of the new solar PV-powered mini-grid she benefits from most since her family’s home was connected to the system that feeds basic energy though to a network of nine interconnected houses. She gets basic lighting inside and out; they can charge cellphones, and run a radio; and it powers a television set.

‘Oh, the lighting,’ she says, ‘when it’s cold, with the lights on we can see, and it even feels warmer.’

Instead of groping for matches and candles during the night when she needs to get up to feed her six-month-old, she flicks a switch, et voila!

Once her baby is satiated, she gives a tour of the family’s energy mix, a patchwork of sources so typical of this community which lives close to the breadline, and has yet to be connected to the national grid.

For Megan Zaal, the best thing about the mini-grid is that, with the flick of a switch, she has light at night by which to feed her infant daughter.

There’s the old petrol generator that takes up a chunk of floor space in the lounge, and which her grandfather Kenneth Halford hauls outside when they need to fire it up, usually between 6pm and 10pm. It goes outside when it operates, because of the exhaust fumes; then comes back inside to keep it safe from theft. But they don’t use it much anymore, now that they’re on the mini-grid.

In the kitchen, she points out the paraffin Primus stove. Few in the community like these, mostly because they reek, they’re dangerous, and the fumes they produce are a health hazard. There’s also a two-plate countertop stove that runs off gas. But they don’t use this much anymore, either. Too risky.

‘My grandpa doesn’t want to use gas,’ she explains. ‘He’s scared because of the children. If someone forgets to close the gas, and you light the paraffin stove, then maybe it’s going to explode.’

There’s a gas-operated chest freezer which they use in summer, when it’s hot. There’s no sign of candles or paraffin lamps because the PV system means they don’t need this inefficient and risky form of lighting anymore. Cooking, heating, and lighting with open flame is one of the greatest sources of house fires in these communities.

Petrol power: Megan Zaal and her family seldom use the expensive petrol generator to light the house at night anymore. It costs about R20 per hour to run.

The Zaal-Halford family lives in Jabula, an informal settlement in Philippi, a part of Cape Town where the state relocated people of colour during the forced removals under apartheid. They’ve remained economically marginal ever since, struggling to find minimum wage jobs and mostly surviving on social grants.

They’re still waiting for the municipality to connect them to the national grid, but because they’re on private land, there’s a delay in the state meeting its objective of ‘universal electrification’. So they take care of their energy needs themselves, hence the mix of gas, paraffin, candles, and the petrol generator.

But in 2016 they agreed to work with local energy entrepreneur, Zonke Energy, to test a pre-paid mini-grid electricity system.

There aren’t many examples of mini-grids in South Africa. This is partly because of the country’s universal electrification policy, which aimed to get power into all homes by 2012, through grid or non-grid supply, explains Damian Conway with the Sustainability Institute Innovation Lab (SIIL) outside Stellenbosch in the Western Cape.

For those who can’t connect to the grid, non-grid options usually involve solutions that are geared towards individual homes’ needs.

‘This could be single appliance solutions, such as individual solar lights or cellphone chargers. Or it could involve a system where a small PV panel and battery run basic appliances in a single home, such as lights and a TV,’ he says.

A mini-grid is a step between the national grid-scale solution, and the single solar home solution: it’s an off-grid, electricity generation system that links and supplies anything from 10 to 150 neighbouring households. In the African context, it’s usually used in rural communities that are too far from national infrastructure to be connected to the electricity supply network. In South Africa, it’s regarded as a stop-gap until the state links a community to the grid, and therefore hasn’t been used much.

A mini-grid needs fairly costly infrastructure – an energy source such as PV panels or a wind turbine, batteries, and a distribution and metering system – as well as technically competent maintenance and operating systems, says Conway.

It is generally only viable in a high-density community. The longer the distance between the power source and the user, the greater the energy loss along the cables, which calls for a higher voltage system (this means more heavy-duty hardware and higher technicians’ skill levels).

Zonke Energy’s Hendrik Schloemann scouted about Cape Town to find a community in which to pilot a fledgling mini-grid idea, to test both the technology as well as the financial model.

Homeward bound: Jabula is an informal settlement on private land in a part of Cape Town where the state relocated people of colour during the forced removals programme under the apartheid regime.

‘There are 54 families living here,’ explains Schloemann. ‘It is a stable community, which has been here for over 30 years. The landowner is happy for the project to be piloted here.’

There’s at least one employed person per household, so the community’s income is slightly higher than the average in the city’s informal settlements.

The Jabula system became fully operational in September 2016 and serves about 36 people in nine networked households, relying on a 1000 watt solar PV system. Kenneth Halford gets a discounted rate for having the hub in his home: the PV panels mounted above the roof on a sturdy metal frame; batteries and DC board inside the house; an internet connection to allow Zonke Energy to manage the energy supply remotely on a moment-by-moment basis. Wiring connects all additional houses to this centralised system, supplying 12 volts of electricity.

The entire system cost about R100 000 to install, with Zonke Energy covering the cost of the capital investment, and owning and operating the infrastructure. The company functions as a service provider, and has a rental agreement with the users.

The financial model works like pre-paid mobile phone airtime, where a family can choose one of two options: R220 per month gets six lights, two phone charging connections, and a radio; R370 also gets a television and DVD player.

‘How do we create a financially sustainable solution to energy poverty in Africa?’ asks Zonke Energy’s Hendrik Schloemann.

In 2016, a few households in the Jabula informal settlement agreed to work with energy entrepreneur Zonke Energy to pilot a privately owned and run mini-grid system, with 1 000 watts of PV-supplied electricity feeding a network of nine interconnected houses.

Schloemann describes it as a low-profit, private-sector social enterprise initiative that allows for partnerships with other organisations, or the state, who have their own development agendas.

One way to help fund this, could be to tap into the state’s free basic electricity policy: the Department of Energy has mandated that qualifying indigent households get 50 kilowatt hours (kWh) of free electricity each month, enough for lighting, cooking, and accessing media.

It’s easy to roll this out to grid-connected homes, but not so easy to support non-grid homes. An off-grid development project run by Conway’s SIIL in a low-income community outside Stellenbosch, gives renewable off-grid electricity to individual households and has managed after some years of negotiations with the Stellenbosch municipality to get the scheme subsided by the municipality through this free basic electricity policy. Here, the subsidy is equal to the nominal rand equivalent of 50kWh and is paid towards the running costs of each household served in the scheme. Schloemann thinks this might be worth pursuing in Jabula, too.

Although, as Conway points out, the current rand value of that free electricity ‘comes nowhere near to the true cost’ of providing 50kWh of off-grid electricity to an indigent household.

This means the community doesn’t have to shoulder the high start-up costs. But it is risky for the developer, and why Schloemann wants to boost capital injection, either through state subsidies, private sector investment, or partnering with NGOs.

A system like this does need community buy-in, in order to avoid things like cable theft, tampering, or vandalism. What Schloemann has learned, he says, is that those who have the system in their homes are happy; those who are still waiting for the mini-grid to be widened to include more homes, are frustrated by the slowness of delivery (Zonke Energy needs to raise the capital before it can extend the network); and some are worried that by having this system in place, the municipality won’t prioritise them for grid connection.

Two doors down from Megan’s home, is pensioner Christine Jacobs. The 71-year-old has signed up for the R220-per-month package. Like Megan, she needs the lighting more than anything.

‘My eyes don’t see so well at night anymore,’ the retired cleaner smiles.

She’s never had a generator – for many in Jabula, this option is too dear – but her lighting costs have dropped since she joined the mini-grid.

‘It’s cheaper than candles and paraffin lamps.’

In the dark: Pensioner Christine Jacobs can’t see well at night anymore, which is why she needs good overhead lighting.

Once a week, Christine walks to Shelly’s Tuckshop, about 300 meters away, and tops up her electricity. This is Zonke Energy’s vendor, where each of the nine clients do their energy shopping either weekly or monthly, depending on their cash flow. The shop owner then goes onto a web page using a computer tablet, and punches the details into an interface which immediately communicates to the hub of the system, releasing power to the client for the period of time they’ve just paid for.

Cash sales: Shelly’s Tuckshop, a small general dealer in the neighbourhood, has signed up to be Zonke Energy’s vendor, selling the pre-paid electricity to the nine clients on the network on a weekly or monthly basis.

Megan is starting out her life as a young mother. Christine is in her sunset years, living with her daughters and their children.

Both say that the mini-grid has made their lives easier, they’ve cut their energy costs, and they don’t have to live with the anxiety of dangerous forms of power.

This piece was originally published on African Climate Reality Project.

Categories: Blogs

EU biofuel policy needs a strong human rights dimension

26 May, 2017 - 18:25

With the growing emissions in the transport sector and limited technological alternatives, EU policy-makers are increasingly looking at biofuels as a major solution to decarbonise its mobility sector and curb emissions, in particular in the aviation industry. Radostina Primova explains.

Half of the EU’s palm oil is imported to make biofuels – with devastating environmental consequences (Photo by Aidenvironment, edited, CC BY-SA 2.0)

As the emissions from the aviation are expected to grow by 70% by 2020 compared to the 2005 levels and by 300-700% by 2050 according to the forecast of the International Civil Aviation organization (ICAO), biofuels are expected to play a key role in decarbonisation scenarios of the transport sector. EU institutions are looking at biofuels as a substitute for the huge oil dependency in this sector, which strongly relies on liquid fuels. The EU 2020 climate and energy package requires EU Member States to include at least 10% renewable energy sources in the transport fuels consumed by 2010, which has led to a significant increase in the demand in land-based biofuels. The net imports of biodiesel and bioethanol in 2012 represented respectively 22, 6% and 29, 2% of the EU consumption in 2012 according to Eurostat data.

A recent report commissioned by the Heinrich Böll Foundation European Union reveals that certain climate-motivated EU policy measures, including EU biofuel policy, could have implicit adverse impacts not only on the environment but also on the life of local communities, land rights and food security, if sustainability and human rights safeguards are not put in place. According to the report, the EU has impacted two global chains that are highly susceptible to human rights violations against local communities. Firstly, the international demand for biofuels has driven land grabs for growing large plantations for biofuel crops. Secondly, the transformation of productive land to biofuel crops has displaced agricultural production and endangered food security in some vulnerable regions.

The sustainability criteria adopted in the 2009 Renewable Energy Directive focus only on reducing the carbon intensity of biofuels and preventing biodiversity degradation but fail to tackle land rights issues and other rights-related implications of biofuel production and import. In its proposal for a revised Renewable Energy Directive launched in November 2016, the Commission does not address the possible extraterritorial impacts of biofuel production and import related to human rights and gender.

Furthermore, the scope of the safeguards for biomass does not extend beyond waste and residues to include the climate risk of other types of biomass. Setting adequate, comprehensive and human-rights based sustainability safeguards for the use of bioenergy is essential. Recent evidence shows that EU bioenergy policy has caused harm to communities in developing countries and is not in line with the SDGs. Cases of food displacement and land conflicts driven by EU bioenergy policies have been already witnessed in countries of the Global South, in particular in countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Peru and Tanzania.

Another major loophole in the EU energy and transport legislation is the lack of binding norms and certification schemes to prevent the import of palm oil for fulfilling Member States´ national renewable energy targets in the transport sector. It is alarming that 46 % of total palm oil imported by the EU is used for the production of biofuels, which requires the use of about one million hectares of tropical soils.

As the second biggest consumer of palm oil in the world, the EU carries a global responsibility in addressing these ecological and social impacts. Therefore, it should include horizontal safeguards to prevent the adverse effects of its external actions in third countries. An EU Commission report in 2013 already draws the attention to the wide range of adverse impacts of human rights that the imports of biofuels could potentially trigger. These include land rights, access to food, clean water, as well as to prior and informed consent for indigenous people. In addition, land use changes caused by biofuel production could affect women’s rights.

In order to prevent the negative impacts of these developments, the European Parliament adopted in March an important report addressing the issue of palm-oil related deforestation and its human and environmental consequences. As a result, MEPs voted to ban the use of palm oil in biofuels by 2020. In addition, the European Parliament also urged the Commission and Member States to develop multilateral certification schemes with environmental and social safeguards, prevent imports from unsustainably produced palm oil and tighten controls.

Apart from new certification schemes and more comprehensive sustainability criteria, the EU could also reinforce stricter norms and standards in its external trade policy instruments such as anti-deforestation articles in EU trade deals and customs duty reforms. The Heinrich Böll Foundation’s interim report recommends that sustainability criteria for biofuels should explicitly address land rights and gender issues. The use of biomass combustion to meet EU´s renewable energy targets for 2020 should also be restricted substantially or reframed.

In the rush to find innovative solutions to decarbonize its transport sector and reduce its oil dependency, the EU should not remain blind to the adverse and unintended consequences that its biofuel policies might lead to, and ensure their coherence with its human rights commitments and sustainable development goals.

Dr Radostina Primova is the Director of the Climate and Sustainable Development Programme at the Heinrich Böll Foundation office in Brussels. Prior to this, she worked as an EU Affairs Consultant at Hinicio. She also contributed extensively to the evaluation of Intelligent Energy Europe projects supporting sustainable energy communities. 

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Swiss referendum adopts energy transition with nuclear phaseout

24 May, 2017 - 15:00

On Sunday, 58 percent of the Swiss voted for the proposed Energy Strategy 2050. Starting in 2018, when the law takes effect, Switzerland will begin a nuclear phaseout and a transition to renewables – although the country already has nearly carbon-free electricity supply. Craig Morris takes a look.

Protest against the Gösgen nuclear plant in 2010 (Photo by Ch-info.ch, edited, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Back in 2011, six weeks after the nuclear accident in Fukushima, Swiss parliamentarian Doris Leuthard of the Christian Democrat People’s Party (CVP) presented her ideas for a Swiss energy strategy (in German). Six years later, the Swiss have voted for the plan that took shape during those years.

In 2015, nuclear power made up a third of electricity supply in Switzerland along with 35 percent hydropower from storage dams and 25 percent run-of-river hydropower. The Swiss thus have more than 98 percent low-carbon energy on their grid already if we throw in 4.3 percent non-hydro renewables. The remaining two percent is oil and gas in cogeneration. Outside the cement sector, the Swiss use almost no coal.

Only last year, a referendum found that a majority of Swiss voters did not want the ambitious phaseout plan proposed by the Greens, which would have closed the last reactors in 2029. Now, the country aims to do away with that 33 percent share of nuclear and replace it with more renewables. There is no strict phaseout plan, however. Rather, the reactors can continue running as long as the authorities find them to be safe enough for operation, but there will be no new nuclear plants in Switzerland. In 2019, the reactor in Mühleberg is, however, likely to be closed. Beznau 1, the oldest reactor in the world still technically in operation, has been offline for the past two years for safety reasons.

Outside the power sector, Energy Strategy 2050 aims to reduce consumption, with a target of cutting per-capita demand by 43 percent relative to 2000 by 2035. This goal will almost certainly not be met in such a short time frame, and the mere 47-page law lacks details about this strategy and a few other things. But the plan does set aside some 400 million euros annually for building renovation. For mobility, however, the plan for car emissions is merely in line with EU regulations. The same day, citizens of Basel rejected plans for a bike lane surrounding the center of Basel (in German).

To pay for Energy Strategy 2050, the “eco-power levy” is to double to roughly 2 cents per kilowatt hour. The total impact on households is to stay within 40 Swiss francs (around 37 euros) per year.

Critics warn that Switzerland might not only have to pay more, but also import dirtier power from neighboring countries, especially Germany. (Foreign demand for German power only increases the demand for electricity from fossil fuel because nuclear reactors already run full blast whenever possible and renewable energy already has priority dispatch.) Indeed, Leuthard herself said as much when opposing the Greens’ nuclear phaseout proposal last year (in German).

One main critic of the Swiss plan came from Germany: former top SPD politician Otto Schily, one of forty cosigners of the 2010 Energy Policy Appeal (in German), which stated that “Germany still needs nuclear and coal.” This time, Schily wrote a letter to the head of the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), which opposed Energy Strategy 2050, claiming that Germany’s energy transition is an “economic, financial, ecological, social, and climate-policy disaster.” However, the legacy cost impact of the Energiewende is hard to transfer to other countries; Germany built wind and solar when it was still expensive in order to bring costs down for the world.

This letter is hilarious, worth learning German for. Tip: Germany installed PV at 35 cents. It now costs 5 cents. Don't worry, go renewable. https://t.co/ePSzGOgl1K

— Craig Morris (@PPchef) May 22, 2017

The real test will come when the plan has to be implemented. How will the Swiss react when they see that their per-capita energy demand will not nearly reach the 43 percent reduction target by 2035? The cantons with nuclear stations voted against the plan; how will they react when wind turbines are to be built nearby (remember: wind turbines are not invisible)? Can the Swiss afford to subsidize their struggling hydropower long enough for it to become a “battery” for excess wind and solar from Italy and Germany? And the Swiss market is not fully liberalized; plans to do so were quashed last year (in German). Will costs be fairly distributed, or will small ratepayers subsidize large consumers as in Germany – even though the market there is liberalized?

Despite all this unclarity, one thing is clear: the Swiss referendum is a giant nail in nuclear power’s global coffin. If there ever was a country that proved nuclear is a pillar of low-carbon power supply, it was Switzerland. And the Swiss don’t want it.

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

Categories: Blogs

The Energiewende as a European project – What options do German policymakers have?

23 May, 2017 - 11:45

We’ve talked before about the European Union’s efforts to deliver clean energy for all Europeans, and the fact that Germany’s energy transition will need Europe to be successful. But how will that cooperation look in practice? Today, Rebecca Bertram discusses a recent report about how German policymakers can shape the European energy debate.

The road to the Energiewende can’t be traveled alone (Photo by Usien, edited, CC BY-SA 1.0)

Germany has been criticized for not having included Europe in its Energiewende project. Instead of advocating for a joint energy transformation with its European neighbors, Germany barged ahead regardless of how the influx of cheap wind power would affect the energy systems of its neighbors.

However, tides are shifting. The ongoing EU energy and climate policy negotiations, the so-called “EU Winter Package,” are forcing Germany to take on a stronger European stance on its Energiewende. In fact, Europe has the power to considerably slow down Germany’s Energiewende in the years to come. A recent study by the Heinrich Böll Foundation makes a number of recommendations on how German policymakers can engage with their European counterparts on energy and climate policy over the next few years.

The ongoing negotiations on Europe’s energy and climate goals by 2030 not only offer an opportunity for German policy makers to shape a Europe-wide debate on the Energiewende, but also to ensure that the European framework supports the further development of the Energiewende at home. Energy experts agree that Germany’s Energiewende will be cheaper and more efficient if embedded in a fully integrated European electricity market. As such, Germany would need to build less back-up and storage capacities for growing shares of fluctuating wind and solar power capacities and could instead rely on back-up from its immediate neighbors.

An important starting point for a European energy discussion is the realization that this requires more from Germany than a simple copy and paste strategy of its own energy goals throughout the continent. Instead, German policymakers need to acknowledge the various energy policy interests and positions in key European capitals. Only then can Germany positively influence the path for European energy and climate discussions by 2030 and frame the narrative of the Energiewende in such a way that it provides answers to its harshest critics as well.

What options do German policymakers have when shaping the European Energiewende debate? The Heinrich Böll Foundation proposes a set of recommendations:

  • Policymakers should not just focus on defending renewable energy support schemes. Instead, the key ingredient to developing and shaping the European energy mix after 2020 is the electricity market design. This market must ensure that renewables become truly competitive with conventional energy sources. Policymakers need to highlight the benefits of an integrated European electricity to all European citizens and energy consumers.
  • Policymakers need to do their own homework. The most important contribution that Germany can make to advance the European Energiewende is to continue the construction of its national electricity grid and to reduce its reliance on coal in its electricity mix. This would show that Germany is serious about the Energiewende, and make the project less vulnerable to European criticism.
  • Policymakers need to address the concerns of their European neighbors seriously. An open and thoughtful dialogue with European Member States can only result in better identification of common synergies and energy policy interests. And discussion about energy should continue at the local level, for example on the management of structural change in coal regions throughout Europe.
  • Policymakers need to structure the Energiewende as social policy. Many European citizens have justified concerns about how the Energiewende would negatively affect their lives. If the Energiewende is to become a truly European project, adequate answers in social policy are required, for example when addressing energy poverty and structural change in affected regions.
  • Policymakers need to show that Germany is not going it alone. Currently, Germany is often wrongly regarded as the lone advocate for the Energiewende in Europe. Germany needs to build a European coalition with other progressive Energiewende frontrunners to show breakthroughs in the Energiewende are not only made in Germany.

These proposals were discussed at the German Bundestag last month. Let’s hope German policymakers realize that the Energiewende will only succeed if it becomes an integral part of an overall European energy policy.

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

Categories: Blogs

The French Experiment

22 May, 2017 - 15:00

On Wednesday, France’s new President Emmanuel Macron appointed his cabinet – to great acclaim. The direction of the country’s energy transition remains unclear, however. Craig Morris investigates (and secretly hopes for a Sixth Republic).

The new president may shift towards more renewables in the French energy mix (Photo by Pablo Tupin-Noriega, edited, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Macron, the outsider, has put together a group of ministers that reflect his wish to be inclusive. There is something for everyone: new faces and old, left and right, politically established and newcomers.

One main concern after his election was whether he would be able to bring together support from the political apparatus as an outsider. His cabinet is an obvious attempt to form an umbrella government across party lines. Judging from the initial media reactions, his choices have at least met with admiration.

The appointment that has drawn the most attention seems to be the new Minister of Ecology and Solidarity – the new name for the old Ministry of Energy and the Environment headed by Ségolène Royal. The new focus indicates that social issues will be a priority when decisions about the energy transition are made.

The man who will direct the new ministry is Nicolas Hulot, who made a name for himself decades ago with a TV series on the environment entitled (my translation) Ushuaïa – the Magazine of the Extreme. Here he is 19 years ago warning us not to fetishize pretty fish over ugly ones, but instead to respect the diversity of the oceans.

Hulot could thus perhaps best be presented to the global audience as the French equivalent of David Suzuki, the famous Canadian who used television to educate the public about nature and then went on to launch an eponymous foundation (here is Hulot’s; the website is only in French). He thus comes with impeccable credentials, and indeed previous politicians have courted him as well – but to no avail. But something about Macron must have convinced him that his time had come in politics.

It will be interesting to see what “solidarity” means in the energy transition. For instance, concerning the closing of Fessenheim, France’s oldest nuclear plant, Hulot is quoted: “We cannot impose a transition by force. The transition has to be done in an acceptable manner.” This approach is similar to the way Germany is handling its coal phaseout: slowly in order not to detrimentally impact coal communities.

Former President Hollande aimed to have France reliance on nuclear drop from 75 percent of power supply to 50 percent by 2025; that goal is still law. Macron is generally considered to be pro-nuclear, Hulot less so, but Macron has also commented skeptically on the cost of nuclear: “Nobody knows the total cost for nuclear energy. I was minister for industry and I could not tell you.”

It thus seems likely that an approach will be taken to pursue an energy transition towards renewables and away from nuclear, but possibly not at the speed that Hollande’s law specified. The slowdown would then be justified with solidarity. If so, this approach seems logical. As I have been saying for years, France has put most of its eggs in the nuclear basket and can hardly afford to shut very many reactors.

It’s not just communities with reactors that will be affected by a nuclear phaseout. Rather, last November EDF – the utility than runs all French reactors – bought up the effectively bankrupt Areva, the firm that built them. Both companies are largely state-owned. In January, the EU approved France’s plans to inject a whopping 4.5 billion euros in Areva to keep it afloat.

Whatever compromises he is forced to make, Hulot will easily bring more expertise to the table than the French have become accustomed to. Royal made a showcase out of the awful idea of 1,000 kilometers of solar roads (really terrible). And let’s remember, one last time as she leaves office, her challenge to Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 to state how much nuclear power France has. They both got the answer wrong (Sarkozy was closer).

If nothing else, we can expect more expertise from Hulot. And if Macron’s recent video to American climate scientists is any indication (in great English with a charming French accent) we should brace ourselves. We’ll be facing five years of irresistible French leaders trying to find a middle ground in the rubble of their half-century-old Fifth Republic, whose party-based structures Macron’s success has called into question. The Fifth Republic was founded at the end of colonialism in 1958 and based on the idea that a strong leader was needed. But France is now embedded in the EU, and strong parties are needed to for democratic debate to flourish – especially if Macron wants to make good on his word that French history in Algeria needs to be dealt with.

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

Categories: Blogs

U.S. utilities try new tactics to discourage solar, but still aren’t getting what they want

19 May, 2017 - 15:00

In the US, utilities are trying to increase charges for their customers – disproportionately affecting those who use solar. Such changes can be catastrophic for the solar market. But very little utilitiy-sponsored legislation has been successful, and some states are even taking proactive steps to develop community solar. Christian Roselund of PV magazine explains.

The latest NCCETC report on state solar policies finds some new twists as part of an ongoing attempt by utilities to weaken the economics of customer-owned solar, but regulators still mostly aren’t on board.

North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center (NCCETC) has long been a solar policy research powerhouse, and the company’s 50 States of Solar report has emerged as the definitive report on state-level policies. And while the Q1 2017 version of 50 States reveals many of the same themes as previous reports, it also shows both new attempts by utilities to undermine the economics of distributed solar and pioneering work to value distributed generation.

Requested changes to policies or rates that affect solar were literally all over the map. Image: NCCETC

The biggest theme of the Q1 report is more attempts by utilities to increase fixed charges or minimum bills on customers. And while the large majority of these attempted charges were directed at all customers, not just those who own solar, these moves not only weaken the economics of solar ownership but discourage energy efficiency.

The good news is that, as before, utilities aren’t getting what they are asking for. During the quarter cases in which 46 utilities in 23 states and Washington D.C. attempted to increase such charges on all customers by at least 10% were either pending or decided, however regulators on average granted only 16% of the requested increase. No utility got the full amount requested, and two cases were withdrawn.

However, last quarter some some utilities tried new approaches. Texas utility Oncor may have the strangest request, with a bizarre hybrid of a fixed charge based on maximum historical demand, unique to each customer. Along the same lines Massachusetts’ Eversource has requested a hybrid of fixed charge, demand charge and minimum bill.

Both requests are still pending, however EQ Research has noted that demand charges have never been approved on residential customers by regulators. That doesn’t mean that utilities aren’t going to try. “The introduction of new fees that do not fit neatly within the traditional definitions of fixed charges, demand charges, and minimum bills is an area to watch,” notes NCCETC in the report’s executive summary.

Many states are also looking at net metering policies, following the scrapping of net metering in Nevada and Hawaii, and changes to California’s policy. 21 states either considered or took action on net metering during Q1, and NCCETC notes that at least 65 bills pertaining to net metering have been introduced in state legislatures as of mid-April 2017.

And while NCCETC notes that there bills cover a wide range, it says the majority address net metering credit rates and virtual net metering. “This is consistent with overall action observed during Q1 2017, where 15 states took action related to the development of a net metering successor tariff or adjusting credit rates for excess generation,” reads the report’s executive summary.

Net metering may be on its way out, and this is not good news for the solar industry. Even where changes to the policy have been relatively minor, such as in California, market disruption has been significant.

But not every action documented in 50 States was a rearguard attempt by a utility to squash solar, and NCCETC also documents some notable developments towards proactive policy moves. In particular 12 states took action on community solar, with Virginia becoming the 17th state to adopt a statewide community solar policy.

But the most exciting development during Q1 was New York regulators’ order on the Value of Distributed Energy Resources (VDER), a key step in its Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) process. The VDER order represents a possible step forward for the solar industry from net metering, with valuation based on the locational marginal value of energy plus a capacity payment and an environmental value.

It is far from clear what the market implications of this policy will be, but the VDER order has been hailed by solar groups as major progress. It is clear that New York is looking for a future where distributed solar is a major contributor to the grid, without net metering.

This post was originally published on PV Magazine.

Christian Roselund serves as Americas editor at pv magazine, and joined in 2014. Prior to this he covered global solar policy, markets and technology for Solar Server, and has written about renewable energy for CleanTechnica, German Energy Transition, Truthout, The Guardian (UK), and IEEE Spectrum.

Categories: Blogs