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The teething problems of Mexico’s energy transition

2 July, 2018 - 13:45

About 18% of Mexico’s electricity comes from renewables, and decarbonization remains slow. Agustin Llamas suggests that smart microgrids, combined with electric vehicles, could give Mexico’s energy transition the push it needs.

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico  (Photo by Jezael Melgoza)

In 2013, the Mexican government embarked on a series of institutional reforms, ending a decade-long political gridlock to enhance economic growth and competitiveness. The government targeted the energy sector, among others, and set out a process of making it more competitive, cheaper and environmentally sustainable. The government amended Mexico’s constitution to allow private investment in both the electric and petroleum sectors.

These amendments, plus a series of laws enacted in 2014, would end the 80-year-old monopolies held by two state-owned behemoths — Pemex and CFE (Comisión Federal de Electricidad). The changes reflect both the government’s broader vision of modernising the Mexican economy, as well as its intention to show leadership on environmental issues — Mexico was among the first countries to submit a climate pledge in advance of the COP21 meeting in Paris to embed its clean energy target in domestic legislation.

Decarbonising Mexico

In the four years since the Mexican energy reform, renewables have become part of the energy mix. Yet only 18% of energy comes from renewable resources, and their growth has been constrained by the ghost of the CFE and the inefficient national grid.

The main issues with the energy reform are the time of procurement needed for permits and the confusing roadmap for implementation, which may delay projects by more than 18 months. There is also the inevitable preference for natural gas, which is considered a renewable resource, and a lack of incentives to rebuild and modernise the grid itself.

The combination of these factors hinders effective decentralisation of energy delivery and how users are accounted or incentivised for their excess energy or mitigation of greenhouse gases (GHG). The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recorded that energy losses represent about 27% of the energy generated in Mexico. This figure is partly due to technical issues such as a lack of maintenance or the consequences of corruption, and part is non-technical issues like thievery, where people and companies steal power via unauthorised connections to the grid.

We could view this as a threat to renewable energy penetrating the national grid, or embrace the situation as an opportunity to defy the status quo of CFE with Smart Microgrids (SMG). Since SMGs can be completely off-grid, there is no procurement needed for them to be built as a project. The contracts are peer-to-peer, so there is no middleman (in this case CFE) to charge a toll for faulty transformation or power distribution. Also, the GHG can be traced accurately, which could incentivise a system for rewarding users for their efficient use of energy. This type of infrastructure is the key to achieving an effective and profitable decarbonisation of Mexico’s energy grid.

The main challenge now for Smart Microgrids in Mexico is to go mainstream and let developers and users know that there are other options when it comes to energy supply. But resilient energy infrastructure comes at a price that most users would consider as expensive and that investors would look at as a crazy idea. This is backed up by the energy paradigm that has been implanted in the Mexican lifestyle. We feel entitled towards energy resources and have the belief that the government should subsidise energy.

Since that has been the reality for the past 80 years, people don’t understand that the tariffs are manipulated in the interests of a handful of political parties and a selected group of tycoons. This is why today, as the market has new stakeholders flowing in with innovative technology solutions, the only way the ghost of CFE can last for the next couple of presidential terms is by dumping prices in order to preserve major parts of the market as long as they can.

This paradigm could be shifted effectively if SMG use Electric Vehicles (EVs) as their cornerstone. EVs are key to making a successful integration of the SMG. This is due to mobility being a key way in which we can actually have a profound experience with clean energy. A good friend of mine, Archie Willkinson, once told me: “You can’t hug a solar panel, but you can ride in a sun powered vehicle”. EVs are crucial to the energy marketplace — they empower the decentralised energy infrastructure and offer new ways to capitalise energy through blockchain technology facilitating peer-to-peer action using smart contracts.

If we want to decarbonise Mexico’s grid, we need to better understand the needs around mobility. This will lead the way into more resilient and intelligent grids.

Author: Agustin Llamas, EVE

This article has been republished from The Beam.

Categories: Blogs

Fears for post-Brexit climate laws as UK green watchdog plans revealed

29 June, 2018 - 14:10

After Brexit, will the UK continue to enforce climate change regulations? A proposal for a post-Brexit green watchdog will not take climate change laws into account, and the UK lacks a direct replacement for EU institutions. Megan Darby takes a look.

Brexit campaigners 2016 outside Parliament (Photo by Bulverton, edited, CC BY-SA 4.0)

The UK government has excluded climate change from a proposed post-Brexit green watchdog, raising concerns about enforcement of climate laws when the country leaves the EU.

In a consultation document, the department for environment, food and rural affairs (Defra) outlined plans to establish a body that could issue “advisory notices” if the government fell short of its duty to implement environmental law.

It would not be empowered to take the government to court, nor would it cover “matters related to climate change”, which Defra argued were covered by existing bodies, principally the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).

CCC chair John Gummer, also known as Lord Deben, told the Observer that was not good enough. He is part of a group of lords seeking to inject strict environmental safeguards into the EU withdrawal bill going through parliament.

“The new watchdog has got to have the power that we now have as members of the European Union – to call the government to account,” he said. “There is no such power in the current consultation document.”

The environment ministry’s explanation for excluding climate-related matters from the remit of a proposed new green watchdog

Under its 2008 Climate Change Act, the UK already has stronger commitments than under EU law, but Brussels acts as a backstop.

At present, the European Commission can launch infringement proceedings against member states and ultimately fine them through the European Court of Justice if they breach the rules. When the UK leaves the bloc, a process due to finish by the end of 2020, it is not clear who can take on that role.

The CCC has warned of “significant gaps” in government climate policies. European regulations would have driven around 55% of the emissions cuts needed by 2030, it estimates – so quitting the bloc may make targets harder to meet.

Amy Mount of Greener UK, a coalition of 13 environmental charities, told Climate Home News it was “really surprising” to see climate change excluded from the watchdog’s brief. “It is quite an artificial carve-out,” she said, as many environmental policies have climate benefits and vice versa.

“The Committee on Climate Change is a really important body and we are not saying that any of its functions should be taken away from it,” she said. “What we are saying is in addition to that, you need a process for enforcing all of the environment laws including climate-related laws.”

Interdepartmental turf wars may come into it, as climate change falls under the remit of the business, energy and industrial strategy department (Beis).

That is overlaid by political differences between ministers. Environment secretary Michael Gove is an ardent Brexiter, while business secretary Greg Clark declared his support for staying in the EU.

“Given the very significant splits there about Brexit in cabinet at the moment, it is very difficult to drive consensus over cross-departmental policy areas,” said Shane Tomlinson of think-tank E3G. “This consultation reflects that.”

European negotiators are keen to ensure a “level playing field” for trade between Britain and the EU27, said Tomlinson, which means meeting similar environmental standards.

“There is a real concern on the EU side that the UK will try to cheat post-Brexit,” he said. “Domestic enforcement is one of the things they are looking at and the strength of enforcement.”

This article has been republished from Climate Home News.

Megan Darby is Climate Home’s deputy editor. She previously wrote about UK energy and water industries for leading sector publication Utility Week. She holds a Mathematics degree from Newcastle University.

Categories: Blogs

No plans to phase out coal in Romania, despite diverse energy mix

28 June, 2018 - 14:00

Coal accounts for about a quarter of energy produced in Romania, which is a net electricity exporter. Compared to countries like Poland where coal dependency is much higher, discussions about a coal phaseout could be more advanced. Why aren’t they? asks Claudia Ciobanu.

The carbon price today is too low to force a coal phaseout in Romania (Photo by Alexandru Mustata and Mihai Stoica for Bankwatch Romania)

According to data from Transelectrica, the national electricity transmission company, in 2016, coal accounted for around 23 per cent of energy produced in Romania, while hydro was responsible for close to 30 per cent, nuclear 17 per cent, gas 15 per cent and renewables about 14.5 per cent.

Coal covers about a third of domestic energy demand and is crucial for ensuring the stability of the system. While the country’s current energy strategy envisages a slowly diminishing role for coal, to  be eventually replaced with gas and nuclear, a coal phaseout looks far from imminent.

Sorin Boza, the director of the Oltenia Energy Complex (CEO), the main coal producer in the country, says there won’t be any reduction in production capacity at CEO facilities before 2025.

He also says he’ll be looking to get a ‘transitional period’ of up until 2024-2025 for implementing the new EU pollution standards for coal plants (Large Combustion Plant BAT) otherwise expected to be put in place by 2021.

‘Between 2009 and 2015 we spent one billion euros to implement the European standards required by 2016, only to have an unpleasant surprise this autumn and discover more new standards will be put in place,’ Boza told just-transition.info.

The director says upgrading to meet the new EU standards for coal plants will cost the company another 150 million euros, too expensive given that they’re already servicing loans to commercial banks contracted to put in place the previous requirements.

CEO operates four power plants in two counties, Gorj and Dolj, in southwest Romania, and the lignite mines feeding them.

Boza also argues there’s just not enough time for CEO to modernise all its units by 2021, given that the necessary coal burners are not easy to get and replacing them means temporarily shutting down units, which, according to Boza, provide energy Romania relies on.

Speaking about his plans to postpone the implementation of new EU standards by a few years, Boza didn’t give any sign the Romanian government would resist his request – on the contrary.

‘Poland already reacted to the new EU standards, Bulgaria allied with Poland and we will join them,’ Boza said.

‘Coal Fetish’

None of Romania’s governments in the last years, no matter which party was in power, challenged the idea that coal is crucial for meeting the country’s energy needs. Even a praised ‘technocratic’ government running the country in 2016 refused to challenge the need to expand coal mines.

‘Beyond the variations in the party politics layer on top, there’s a very powerful layer below made up of those who are really in charge of the energy system, people from the energy companies, administration, some union leadership,’ says Corina Murafa, an energy expert formerly with the World Bank. ‘And they have a fetish with coal as the backbone of the energy system.’

‘This fetish comes both from a belief in coal but also from opportunism,’ adds Murafa.

According to the expert, Romania could wean off coal dependency by relying increasingly on a mix of gas and nuclear to ensure the base load supply.

She says coal is artificially cheaper because externalities are not included in its cost and, over time, the industry has benefited from important governmental subsidies. The carbon price today, she says, is too low to force a coal phaseout in Romania.

Such a phaseout, then, would require a political decision, motivated by the reality of climate change and Romania’s obligations under EU law.


‘Every time somebody came out and wanted to introduce a change, there was immediately a threat that miners would come to Bucharest,’ says Murafa.

‘But the miners were not really the problem. There was never a real interest to change the status quo in Romania’s mining regions: those regions are a solid and reliable electorate and it is in the interest of politicians to have them there as mass of maneuver.’

Just Transition…what?

Over the last two decades, coal mines have been shutting down in Romania every couple of years, as coal ran out or was becoming too expensive to dig out.

Nevertheless, over this period, little thought has been put into how to create economic alternatives for the coal mining regions and new opportunities for the former miners.

In the early 2000s, Romania contracted a loan from the IMF to finance the closure of hard coal mines in Jiu Valley, Hunedoara county. More recently, in early 2016, the European Commission approved a state aid package of over 100 million lei (25 million euros) to close more hard coal mines in the same region.

Additionally, over the years, EU money from structural funds has been available for retraining programmes, fighting unemployment, regional development or environmental cleanup.

To date, there’s no overall assessment of how this money was spent in the former mining areas and whether it brought any benefits at all. Corina Murafa stated she once tried to look into how the money was spent, but it was an impossible feat as the information was very fragmented and non-transparent.

But statements from our interviewees and media reports seem to point to a picture where the funds were used for the physical closure of mines, paying off debts of the companies, direct compensation packages for the workers and retraining programmes of dubious quality. If any thought was put into how to reshape the local economies post-coal, those ideas usually ended up forgotten in the drawers of various state institutions.

‘In the old programming period (for EU funds), there was money for retraining programmes and the idea of retraining unemployed people was attractive to many companies,’ says Diana Tenea, general director at the Ministry for Regional Development. ‘But it turned out that these programmes brought very few clear results: few companies could say, from the 500 people we trained, this many got jobs in the new field.’

The retraining programmes may have been a profitable deal, but not for the unemployed.

When asked what her Ministry does to address the special needs of former mining areas, Tenea mentions a nationwide data collection project and a separate programme of the ‘technocratic’ government that sought to identify the needs of poorer regions in Romania including the Rosia Montana-Jiu Valley (Hunedoara) region. Some infrastructure investments were planned as a result of the latter.

Apart of that, ‘our ministry does not have a specific public policy in this area (post-coal development)‘, said Tenea, adding that this would not fall in the remit of her ministry, anyway.

‘There haven’t been many public programmes where we say lack of jobs is a social problem, let’s do something with the available labour force, let’s reconvert it,’ she adds.

‘But it is also a question of education,’ she thinks. ‘Romanians are not that good at entrepreneurship and even if they have the resources, they don’t know what to do with them.’

It doesn’t seem, however, that Romanian authorities ever tested that entrepreneurial spirit. Pressed to answer what her ministry does for the people of Gorj and Hunedoara, Tenes points to money for water, sewage and kindergartens, things that in Romania are basic obligations of the state and which are offered to all of Romania’s regions, regardless of their specific needs.

This post has been republished from Just Transition.

Text by Claudia Ciobanu, Photos by Alexandru Mustata and Mihai Stoica for Bankwatch Romania, Editing by Travis Cahill

Categories: Blogs

America’s coal plants closing despite Trump

25 June, 2018 - 13:50

US utilities will take 11.4 GW of coal-fired power plant capacity offline in 2018, in spite of Trump’s orders. Why? Simple economics, explains Michael Buchsbaum.

Trump digs coal – but operaters don’t! They want to move towards renewable energy (Public Domain)

His statement swept swiftly through the audience like a breeze of clean spring air.

“I will tell you it is not a matter of if we are going to retire our coal fleet in this nation, it’s just a matter of when,” said Ben Fowke, utility Xcel Energy Inc.’s chief executive officer, on stage at the Edison Electric Industry Group’s Annual Convention in San Diego, California on June 6th.

The company announced later that day in an electric resource plan that it wanted to retire two coal-fired units that produce a combined 660 megawatts (MW) of energy in Colorado and add 1,800 MW of capacity from renewable power, 275 MW of battery storage and another 383 MW of existing gas power.

Fowke was speaking just days after President Trump had ordered his Department of Energy to enact a legally dubious plan to halt the continued shuttering of more coal and nuclear plants in the name of national security. Indeed, a little over a decade ago, coal produced more than half of the electricity in the United States. But an unprecedented rate of plant retirements have cut that share to just 30.1% in 2017, and that number is swiftly spiraling downwards.

While coal producers, including major campaign contributor (and alleged co-author of the order) Murray Energy, cheered Trump’s directive, many within the industry remained skeptical. Despite the Republican Party’s rhetoric, producing energy from coal has become both increasingly unprofitable as well as technologically inefficient.

According to a report from S&P Global Market Intelligence, US power producers plan to take at least 11.4 GW of coal-fired power plant capacity offline in 2018, more than has been retired in a single year since 2015 (when 14.7 GW of coal capacity was retired). Another 19.8 GW of coal-fired power plant capacity is scheduled to go offline between 2018 and 2022. Moody’s Investors Service also calculates that some 35 gigawatts of capacity from coal and nuclear plants are now scheduled to be shut down over the next five years.

Indeed, since 2010, according to the industry-friendly American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, nearly 40% of the capacity of the nation’s fleet of coal-fired power plants has either been shut down or designated for closure. Additionally, more than a quarter of US nuclear power plants don’t make enough money to cover their operating costs, raising the threat of early retirements, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Once a massive burner of coal, Ohio-based American Electric Power Company Inc has retired some 7,200 MW of coal fired power since 2011. Even after Trump’s announcement, a spokesperson said the company was still likely to seek approval from regulators to shut its three-unit, 1,600MW coal-fired power plant in Conesville, Ohio if it doesn’t qualify for subsidies or “there are not other changes in the market,” company spokeswoman Tammy Ridout said in phone interview with Bloomberg.

“I think from our perspective we will continue moving toward a clean energy economy,” AEP Chairman Nicholas Akins related to Bloomberg. “When you look at the future and the investment potential and the risk associated with these investments by far the best approach is with natural gas, renewables and in fact technology.”

Why are all these utilities, despite Trump’s persistent pro-coal blather, bent on moving away from it? Economics. With the construction of 88% of the U.S. coal fleet dating back to before 1990, the plants are hitting or past their 40-50 year service life. And let’s face it: in order to fire a coal (or gas fired plant), you have to both buy and ship the resource to your plant. Neither the sun nor the wind sends you a bill for using it, and you don’t need trainloads of renewables to power your plant either.

“Certainly I think right now utilities are considering going forward with retirement plans as is,” Richard Glick, a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said told Bloomberg. “It’s pure economics. Gas prices are way down, renewable projects are getting much less expensive and they are beating other older technologies out in the markets.”

Renewable energy, while certainly not without overhead and maintenance costs, also simply doesn’t suffer from the same level of required tinkering. As Xcel wrote, while they could keep their coal plants in Colorado running, the clean energy proposal is more compelling because “it delivers lower costs along with substantial environmental and renewable energy gains.”

Moreover, the more renewable energy comes on line, the cheaper the costs. In January, Xcel released the results of a solicitation that returned a median price bid of $21 per megawatt-hour for wind-plus-storage projects and a median bid of $36 per megawatt-hour for solar-plus-storage. But in June the bids highlighted in Xcel’s new electric resource filing are even lower. Projecting “unprecedented low pricing”, it shows wind producing “at levelized pricing between $11-$18 per megawatt-hour, solar between $23-$27 per megawatt-hour, and solar-plus-storage between $30-$32 per megawatt-hour” according to the filing.

“We are making an enormous transition and renewables will play a big role in that,” said Xcel’s Fowke. “But to me, it’s not just renewables. The endgame is carbon reduction in the most affordable, pragmatic way possible.”

Categories: Blogs

The New Renewable Energy Directive: a new day for community energy in Europe

22 June, 2018 - 14:00

The three EU institutions have agreed on a new 2030 Renewable Energy Directive. With it come new opportunities for Europe’s community energy movement. Will national governments now support it? Josh Roberts takes a look.

European energy cooperatives have reasons to celebrate after the new EU renewable energy directive (Photo by Black Rock Solar, modified, CC BY 2.0)

There is currently a lack of political leadership on renewables in Europe. Europe’s 2030 ambition for renewables has just been agreed, but it is far from where it should be. Despite figures demonstrating that costs for renewables continue to drop, most EU Member States have stubbornly focused on maintaining a European target that is now below business as usual.

The German government, the Originator of the Energiewende, currently looks more like a boat drifting aimlessly at sea, failing to deal with its own internal energy politics, and creating problems on the European scene. It may even try to torpedo the agreement reached between the European Parliament and the Council.

However, this story overlooks a small but key player: the European citizen. Before Germany thought up its Energiewende and Denmark outlawed nuclear, it was citizens that built the first wind turbines. They did so through cooperatives, or ‘renewable energy communities’ as they are now called with the likely conclusion of the new Renewable Energy Directive.

Even without formal recognition at European level, and with limited support in certain Member States, since the 1970s community energy has grown into a movement. Yet, this movement has been under stress, in particular due to the development of more market-based mechanisms for renewables, such as auctions and tenders, and without acknowledgment of energy communities. If this continues, the energy transition will face major growing pains moving forward.

Therefore, June 14 2018 marks an important milestone in the energy transition: when the EU agreed to acknowledge energy communities and citizens, give them a concrete set of rights, and ensure the development of enabling frameworks at national level.

The agreement still needs to be formalised. Nevertheless, some important elements can already be identified:


In order to provide energy communities with support through an enabling framework, it was always going to be necessary to get the definition right. The challenge was to agree on a definition flexible enough to allow for different configurations consistent with various national laws, while also ensuring the definition was not so broad that it could be abused by larger energy companies looking to rebrand or gain a competitive disadvantage.

Largely, this balance has been achieved. The renewable energy community definition ensures that they are autonomous – both internally to ensure democratic governance, and externally to ensure communities are not beholden to outside company interests. The definition also ensures local control, that they are open for any local citizen to participate, and that they are primarily aimed at providing community or local benefits rather than financial profits.

Lastly, renewable energy communities are open to local authorities, creating up new opportunities for collaboration between local governments and citizens.

New rights and enabling frameworks

The new Renewables Directive will also include rights and provisions to support development of enabling national frameworks for renewable energy communities.

First, every final consumer will have a right to participate in a renewable energy community without worrying whether they will keep their traditional consumer rights.

Member States will also be required to assess the potential and the existing barriers to the development of energy communities. From this assessment, they will need to develop frameworks that allow communities to access markets without discrimination and on a level playing field.

Renewable energy communities will also have a right to set up energy sharing arrangements. Member States will need to ensure citizens that are vulnerable or energy poor benefit from participating in a renewable energy community, and that public authorities get proper support to participate. Lastly, Member States must put in place tools to facilitate access to finance and information – two key impediments for new renewable energy communities.

Access to renewables support schemes

The biggest threat for renewable energy communities is the development of auctions and tenders for new renewables installations. There is much evidence that competitive bidding is not appropriate for smaller market actors, in particular renewable energy communities.

The Renewables Directive will not solve this problem. However, it will require Member States to take the specificities of renewable energy communities into account when designing their support schemes. Therefore, there is an opportunity for renewable energy communities to advocate to their governments that they be able to access support on a level playing field with traditional energy companies.

The next big fight will come with the revision of the Commission’s State aid Guidelines. Gaining further recognition for energy communities under the new post-2020 guidelines will be essential to ensure they have equitable access to available renewable support schemes moving forward.

Where do we go from here?

The new Renewable Energy Directive does not solve all problems and there are a lot of unanswered questions. However, we have come a long way since this process started. Virtually overnight, energy communities have gone from having no explicit status to obtaining an important basis for participating in Europe’s energy transition.

If and where national governments fail to lead, citizens are ready to take the reigns. For the first time, they are now backed by European law. However, now they need the support of their national governments. Continued support from some of the first movers in citizen energy, especially Germany, wouldn’t hurt either.


Josh Roberts serves as Advocacy Officer of REScoop.eu, a federation that represents citizen cooperative and energy initiatives around Europe that work on renewable energy, energy efficiency, and other clean energy technologies. He is in charge of coordinating REScoop.eu’s input into the negotiations on the EU’s clean energy package legislation. 

Categories: Blogs

Greening Africa’s city transport

21 June, 2018 - 15:00

Africa’s cities need transport systems that are low-carbon and improve mobility for the poorest. Retrofitting established transport systems is crucial, as well as better management of existing infrastructure, and helping smaller cities avoid the dirty, high-congestion transport problems that bigger cities are locked into, writes Leonie Joubert.

Group taxis are a crucial means of public transport, but they’re expensive and polluting (Public Domain)

Let’s call her Phumzile – although the interviewers didn’t give her name when they spoke with her. She’s a single mother of four children, and she’s explaining what her average week day is like: she spends nearly five hours travelling to and from work in Pretoria, in the economic engine room of South Africa. But she’s an office cleaner, and so the wages she takes home each month are probably less than the monthly car repayments of the executives whose board rooms she cleans week after week.

She leaves home at 5 in the morning, the report in the resulting National Planning Commission study says. Her journey starts with a 2 km walk to the nearest taxi rank, followed by a train into the centre of town. She’s usually at work by 7:30am. Most nights, she gets home at 7pm.

The cost of this is enormous: the public transport fares eat up 40% of her salary, she says. But more than that, the commute uses up the time she should be spending grocery shopping, cooking wholesome meals for her kids, or helping them with their homework.

We’re all familiar with the environmental costs of today’s urban transport system – air pollution and the associated health costs, greenhouse gas emissions, car accidents, time spent stuck in traffic jams. But Phumzile’s story shows us the cost to those living on the margins when a city’s mobility networks are congested and expensive.

For people like Phumzile, who have so little cash to survive on anyway, to spend nearly half her income on transport is crippling when she also has to budget for food, electrify and water costs, school fees and uniforms, telephone and data, and so forth.

Her story illustrates why southern Africa’s cities need their transport systems to transition to ones that aren’t just low carbon, but are affordable and accessible for the poor.

A few important bits of research have come across my desk recently which highlight the importance of having efficient, affordable, and clean urban transport systems.

A team of urban geographers at the University of Cape Town are just wrapping up a project which looks at urban food systems in southern African cities, and come to an important finding: that informal markets are critical not only in terms of bringing food into our cities, but they also give people jobs, which allows them to earn money that lets them buy that food. And yet city officials often don’t appreciate the value of the informal economy, its supply chains, and the people operating in it.

The result is urban planning that favours shopping malls and supermarkets, and drives out informal traders and their supply routes. Informal transport – including the semi-regulated minibus taxi system – is an important part of this parallel economy which researchers say the state needs to foster. (A book on the subject, Tomatoes and Taxi Ranks, will be on the shelves in October 2018).

There are plenty of solutions to lowering the carbon footprint of today’s urban transport systems. Many of those solutions mean rebuilding existing hard-engineered infrastructure towards a network that

  • favours high-occupancy public transport like commuter rail and bus transport systems
  • densifies the city and creates mixed-use spaces, increaseing the turnover of passengers in public transport systems and making them more efficient
  • creates a road network which protects motorbikers, cyclists, and walkers from collision with cars.
  • eventually installs a city-wide recharging grid to support electrical and hybrid cars (see my previous article for an argument as to why southern African cities should not prioritise this grid over effective public transport solutions).

But this will take decades to achieve, at significant cost to local economies.

Smaller cities – so called ‘secondary cities’ that have a population of between about 500 000 and 3 million people – have an opportunity to leap-frog past the development steps that locked bigger, congested cities into their current, and less flexible high-carbon transport networks. These smaller cities are where the bulk of southern Africa’s population growth is expected to happen in coming decades, which means they will see a concentration of development challenges, but also of development opportunities.

Careful city planning and policy making, implemented now, can steer these cities towards much more sustainable transport solutions. National policy that, for instance, boosts an electric motorbike production industry here could be one of the ways of ‘leapfrogging’ past a car-intense transport system, says Prof Anthony Black from the University of Cape Town’s School of Economics.

But for the cities that are already locked into their fossil fuel intensive and congested mobility systems, what’s the answer, until they can be rebuilt to have transport systems that are cleaner and more accessible for the poor?

Ronald Aropet, a civil engineer with the University of Pretoria, made the following suggestions, after last year’s Southern African Transport Conference. Cities need to consider policies that encourage people to leave lower-occupancy cars at home. This could include bylaws that introduce congestion charges on single-occupancy cars, or fiscal incentives that favour car pooling and ride sharing, or deliberately reducing vehicle parking space in city centres. Getting employers to allow for more flexible work hours or working from home can also divert traffic away from peak hour travel.

These kinds of approaches need coordination from local and national governments, and innovation from the private sector too.

Categories: Blogs

On ecology without ecologists

19 June, 2018 - 15:00

Michał Olszewski has some concerns about the upcoming COP24 summit in Katowice. For one thing, the Polish government does not appear to be taking its decarbonization seriously. The government also appears to be afraid of ecologists and open debate: new legislation gives the police broad powers including surveillance of attendees and their private lives.

COP24 will take place under the shadow of a scandal, as Poland surveils its attendees (Photo by EwkaC, edited, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Will the approaching climate summit in Katowice be ground-breaking? That is what the officially expressed hopes of the main climate players seem to suggest, as they declare that in the December meeting they will hammer out the details for the Paris Agreement’s Implementation Package, the key agreement to combat global warming.

This is not the place to be sowing the seeds of defeatism so long before the first speeches have even been made, but in the interests of honesty it must be remarked that politicians have spoken about each climate summit of recent years with the same optimism. Sadly, this has usually ended with righteous declarations, while binding decisions are put off to some indeterminate future (for which, read “the next climate summit”).

I want to be clear here: I know what delicate and complex matters the politicians who negotiate climate agreements have to deal with: the particular interests of individual countries are utterly divergent on such issues. It is easy to agree on generalities, but the problems start in working out the details when it transpires that the interests of China or India are at odds with those of Sweden or Canada. This does not change the fact that climate negotiations in recent years have principally been exercises in the art of deferment. But time is running out.

Poland will host the COP for the third time (climate diplomats have previously met in Poznań and in Warsaw), but this time the meeting will take place in a symbolic location. Katowice is the coal capital of Poland, the capital of the province of Upper Silesia, which is slowly changing its image. The landscape of pit heaps, chimneys and mine shafts is undergoing a slow transformation – Silesia is becoming an ever-greener and more resident-friendly place.

But it is also a place that shows, as if through a lens, the problems of Poland’s coal economy – even the recently improved prices for coal will not change Poland’s coal companies’ difficult situation as they manage frequently inefficient mines with over-employment and high extraction costs.

But something else is more important: in recent years Polish delegations have specialised in delaying the negotiation process. That standpoint seems to be somewhat pragmatic, since the longer the decarbonisation process lasts, the milder social changes will be in places like Upper Silesia. Polish mining is slowly disappearing, shrinking and melting away, but politicians fear that excessively brusque actions will cause a union spill-over onto the streets with rocks being used in place of arguments.

As regards the tasks for Michał Kurtyka, secretary of state at the Ministry of Energy and representative for the COP presidency, considering the work of Polish diplomats in recent years, it is clear that he must effect a tortuous evolution: on the one hand Poland has long indicated that its energy raison d’État is coal and that it is in no condition to bear any further burdens, while on the other it is declaring that it will help in building a global agreement.

Polish politicians are also very happy to emphasise that Poland has made huge leaps since 1988, while at the same time reducing emissions by thirty percent and doubling GDP. They are convinced that in terms of climate protection, Poland has already done its share. This is a fundamentally flawed and destructive conviction – measuring the fight with global warming in terms of actions undertaken in the last few decades would show that the Germans, Danes or Swedes need not attend climate summits, because they have put their economies on a decidedly green track in recent years. Michał Kurtyna, a respected official in Berlin and Brussels, has a very tough task ahead of him.

Ahead of the Katowice conference, the number of question marks is great, but there is also one certainty: the Polish government is afraid of ecologists and open debate. COP24 will take place under the shadow of a scandal. Under the guise of the fight against terrorism the government has forced through legislation giving the special services very broad powers, including the monitoring of all registered participants. This gives the police very broad powers, including surveillance of people’s private lives.

And it does not end there: although the summit lasts from the 3rd to the 14th of December, there is a ban on unannounced gatherings across the whole of Katowice from the 26th of November until the 16th of December. This is an unambiguous and excessive blow to events accompanying the climate summit, which attracts ecologists from all over the world.

The law has already been criticised by UN experts, who accuse its authors of a human rights violation and impeding non-governmental organisations’ right to act. As the website oko.press reports, the law is referred to at the Ministry of the Environment as “Anti-Greenpeace”, which clearly describes its character and aim: the Polish government would like to discuss without the presence of those organisations that put things clearly and don’t defer them.

This may of course mean that the meeting will go ahead in a pleasant atmosphere of mutual understanding. But that isn’t what climate summits seem to be about.

Categories: Blogs

Frack Germany? Greens sounds the alarm as the frackers strike back

18 June, 2018 - 14:00

Though many environmentalists cheered two summers ago when Germany’s Bundestag seemingly banned fracking, natural gas production across the country has not stopped. L. Michael Buchsbaum explains how companies are pushing for shale gas fracking, despite its impacts on people’s health and the environment.

German activists demand a real fracking ban (Photo by Robin Wood, edited, CC BY 2.0)

According to figures provided by the German Environmental Agency, last year the country produced over 7.3 billion cubic billion meters of natural gas. And enough loopholes were built into the 2016 regulations to allow “conventional” fracking to continue relatively unabated. However, the permitting of more challenging “unconventional” fracking in shale, clay, and coal seams (coal bed methane), was halted. But this ban is really only a temporary moratorium that, while in effect through 2021, can be overturned.

If indeed the new German coalition government is moving to establish an expert commission on fracking as several Federal ministers are claiming, then it is likely that a behind-the-scenes group of fossil fuel proponents and big-oil companies, such as ExxonMobil, Germany’s largest producer, are using this as a Trojan horse-like tactic to pry the door open to all forms of fracking in Germany once again.

Fracking, shorthand for hydraulic fracturing, is a method used for extracting natural gas, crude oil and other fossil fuels from deep rock strata. In order to do this, drillers shoot a mixture of millions of liters of water and a toxic stew of various other chemicals, along with thousands of tonnes of sand at extremely high pressure into the ground to force out gas and oil. Fracturing the host rocks surrounding the targeted gasses and liquids through the uses of explosives, acids, and various abrasive chemicals allows drillers to extract previously out-of-reach resources or squeeze more out of declining reserves.

Since the 1960s, there have been over 350 conventional fracks in Germany supporting 140 drilled boreholes, but production continues to decline. As it does, standard industry practice is to use unconventional methods to drive out the remaining oil or gas. According to the German Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Ressources (BGR), the potential of technically recoverable shale gas in Germany using both conventional and unconventional techniques is about 800 billion cubic meters. Another 110 billion cubic meters of technically recoverable tight gas resources are also within reach, and drillers are hungry for all of it. The German Environment Agency has estimated that at least 48,000 boreholes would need to be drilled across over 9,300 square kilometres to “liberate” the estimated resources of shale gas out of the ground.

One of the central misunderstandings of natural gas is that it is an environmentally healthy alternative to burning coal, since associated CO2 emissions are roughly 50% less when combusted. But natural gas is essentially methane, a much more robust greenhouse gas that, when released into the atmosphere, is at least 86 times more powerful than CO2 in trapping heat over a 20-year period and at least 35 times more over a century. Fracking for gas along with creating a massive pipeline infrastructure will almost certainly lead to fugitive methane leakage of between 4% and 12% over the lifetime of production. Fugitive methane escaping from natural gas development is largely suspected to have caused a massive 30% spike in emissions across the US since 2002 according to a Harvard University study based on NASA satellite data. Currently, there is no regime in place in Germany for methane monitoring and whatever statistics exist, are largely based on company estimates.

“Existing legislation has not succeeded in mitigating the risks and impacts of ‘conventional’ oil and gas activities in Germany. This has resulted in a number of environmental incidents already occurring,” said Andy Gheorghiu, Policy Advisor for Food & Water Watch Europe. Mining authorities and environmental organizations have documented numerous leaks from wastewater pipelines (connected to water and soil contamination) and earthquakes. Questions about the toxicity of old mud pits and the health impacts generated by the oil and gas extraction activities are also now being raised as Germany begins investigating possible contamination and health impacts related to the oil and gas industry. F&WW Europe and other environmental groups have detailed these in several comprehensive reports.

One of the exemptions for unconventional fracking in the new German laws is the authorization of up to four experimental wells, to be accompanied and reviewed by an independent expert commission assembled by the Federal Government.

The intent is to investigate the impacts of the required technology upon the environment, particularly the subsoil (the area through the first major rock layers) and the hydrological regime (the networks of water systems beneath the subsoil and in the areas containing gas pockets). Additionally, the affected State or Bundesland must also approve. And while as of June, there is officially no application for such a well, there have been increasing rumblings out of Lower Saxony for both the authorization of test wells and calls for the establishment of such an expert panel—that is the aforementioned Trojan Horse tactic.

In the Bundestag, Green-party MP Dr. Julia Verlinden has sounded the alarm, warning that if the government is about to establish a commission, then a decision has likely already been made to revisit unconventional fracking. “Now the cat is out of the bag,” said Verlinden. This ostensibly is the Federal Government’s “starting signal for shale gas fracking in Germany.” Her statements follow the new Minister of Economic Affairs in Lower Saxony, Bernd Althusmann’s (CDU) public call for an end to the moritorium following elections last fall that created a coalition between his party and the SPD instead of the previous CDU/Green partnership.

Althusmann’s office, in reference to the current federal legislation, stated that a blanket exclusion of test bores in unconventional deposits is legally questionable while continuing to demand Lower Saxony becomes the location of a pilot drilling program.

In response to questions from Buchsbaum, Verlinden stated that given all the evidence already known worldwide, “we do not need new tests to know that fracking for oil and gas bears too many risks for environment, water and health. Tests for shale fracking serve only to open the door for commercial shale fracking projects.” Indeed, the Greens will “keep demanding a ban on fracking for oil and gas without any exceptions. We will also propose not to provide public money for the fracking commission.” At the end of the day, says Verlinden, “we need to leave most of the natural gas reserves in the ground and focus on energy saving, energy efficiency and renewables instead of holding on to fossil energies and their infrastructures.”

Categories: Blogs

Central Asia’s green horizons

13 June, 2018 - 14:00

Despite its huge potential in the region, solar PV has not yet gained traction in Central Asia. In Kazakhstan, two utility-scale PV projects have been realized, and a few are in the pipeline for Uzbekistan as it begins to attract international investors. But many challenges on the policy level have yet to be overcome, as Komila Nabiyeva explains.

Uzbekistan’s dirty power could be replaced by solar with the right support (Photo by Nurbolat Amanzholov, edited, CC BY-SA 4.0)

In June 2017, Central Asia suddenly moved into the spotlight of the international renewable energy scene. With the support of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the energy ministries of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan have all committed to accelerate the uptake of renewable energy.

This commitment is long overdue: Despite huge potential in the region, solar and other renewables have gained little traction. Currently, their share in the electricity mix – excluding large hydro – ranges from less than 1% in Kazakhstan to up to 3% in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Wind power and solar PV energy in Kazakhstan, solar energy and biogas in Uzbekistan, small hydropower plants in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and solar energy in Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have the highest prospects for power generation, according to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Solar water heating and decentralized off-grid power generation from renewables could offer a strong case in distant rural areas with limited access to the grid and to conventional energy sources.

A number of barriers hinder the development of renewables in this region: high fossil fuel subsidies and low electricity prices significantly reduce their competitiveness. Potential local investors in renewable energy have limited access to affordable bank loans and often cannot afford high initial investment costs. Another barrier is the lack of know-how and a limited number of local technology providers and specialists in the renewable energy sector. Yet, especially in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, things have started to move.

Graphic: pv magazine/Harald Schütt

Uzbekistan: On the starting block

Uzbekistan is at the initial stage in its renewable energy development, while Kazakhstan is a few steps ahead, says Viktor Wiederspan, CEO of German-based company NwComp Solar, who visited the Power Uzbekistan exbition in the Uzbek capital Tashkent in May. NwComp Solar, and its subsidiary in the former capital city of Almaty in southern Kazakhstan have also been working in Kazakhstan for five years.

Uzbekistan is the most populous country in Central Asia, with its 32 million people making up nearly half of the region’s total population. The gas-rich country is also the largest energy consumer in the area, and therefore potentially the biggest market for renewable energy.

The driver for the development of renewables is the increasing energy demand. Since President Shavkat Mirziyoev came to power in December 2016, the economy of Uzbekistan started booming, Wiederspan says; “The Uzbek government sees that prices for renewables are falling, and does not want to miss the train.” In March 2017, the Government of Uzbekistan announced that five 100 MW solar plants will be installed in the country in the period 2017-2021.

“There are no fixed feed-in-tariffs. A few companies active on the market have negotiated special rates directly with the government,” adds Wiederspan. “These rates are low, but the government guarantees that they are fixed in U.S. dollars or Euros, as well as providing tax exemptions, which is a good basis for doing businesses.”

In May 2018, Uzbekistan’s government announced that the country’s state-owned power utility, JSC Uzbekenergo, had signed an agreement with Canadian-based project developer, SkyPower Global for the construction of several large-scale solar PV plants with a combined capacity of 1 GW, across several regions of the country. The government issued a decree in April, according to which SkyPower will invest approximately $1.3 billion in solar PV facilities, which will be owned and operated by the company.

Troubled Solar ADB Projects

In May of last year, the President of Uzbekistan approved the State Action Plan on Renewable Energy, according to which 810 projects with a total value of $5.3 billion are planned for the period 2017-2025. The share of solar and wind energy should be increased from less than 1% to 2.3% and 1.3% respectively by 2025. According to this plan, the country has set the following targets for solar PV: 100 MW in 2018, 200 MW in 2019, 300 MW in 2021, 450 MW in 2025.

But, investors may remain cautious due to the trouble experienced by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). In 2013, ADB agreed to provide a $110 million loan to the Uzbek government to fund the construction of the country’s first on-grid solar PV power park, a 100 MW installation located in the country’s central Samarkand province. It also planned the construction of a 100 MW on-grid crystalline PV power plant in the Surkhandarya region, in the southeast of Uzbekistan. Since then, both projects were postponed several times and disappeared from the news radar.

In late 2017, all ADB solar projects in Uzbekistan had been cancelled at the Uzbek government’s request. Cindy Tiangco, ADB Senior Energy Analyst confirmed this in an email to pv magazine. “There is currently no ADB solar project programmed in UZB,” Tiangco said, not giving any reason. The only legacy seems to be the International Solar Energy Institute in Tashkent, launched with the support of ADB in 2012 to provide expertise for solar energy education and training.

Kazakhstan: Hidden Champion

With an area equal to the territory of the European Union, and a population equal to the Netherlands, oil and gas rich Kazakhstan has enormous potential for solar and wind. About 75% of the country’s electricity demand is currently covered by coal generation.
‘The green economy’ has been a buzz phrase in Kazakhstan ever since President Nursultan Nazarbayev unveiled his strategy to modernize the economy back in 2012. Under his plan, the share of renewable sources in electricity generation should increase from 1% today to 3% by 2020, to 10% by 2030 and to 50% by 2050. The country has introduced fixed feed-in-tariffs and a number of incentives, including grid-access and tax exemptions. In summer 2017, Kazakhstan hosted a World Expo under the slogan “Future Energy” in an attempt to improve the international image of the country, and to attract investors and high technology.

“In the World Bank’s Doing Business Index, Kazakhstan ranks 36 of 190 countries,” says Luc Graré, CEO of Belgian-based developer Qway Energy, which has a subsidiary in the Kazakh capital Astana. “Registering a company takes only three days. An international finance center with a British court system was introduced in Astana. You pay zero corporate and income tax”. Qway developed a 350 MW portfolio of utility scale solar PV projects in the southern provinces of Kazakhstan, and is going to take part in auctions this year.

“Surely, renewable energy targets could be more aggressive, and Kazakhstan has a big learning curve. But for me it is a hidden champion”, Graré says. He believes that China’s One Road One Belt initiative, and its other road and infrastructure prospects will generate interest from international investors in Kazakhstan.

Hitherto, two utility-scale projects were realized in Kazakhstan, both with the backing of the European B-ank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD): The 50 MW Burnoye Solar-1, in the southern region of Zhambyl, and a 50 MW wind power park near the capital Astana.

EBRD is currently co-financing the expansion of Burnoye 1 by another 50 MW, and the construction of the 50MW Baikonur Solar park in the Kyzylorda region in the south of the country, close to the border with Uzbekistan. The Baikonur Solar park will also be co-financed by the Clean Technology Fund and Asian Development Bank in a first joint international renewables project.

Both solar PV projects were developed by Samruk Kazyna United Green Energy Ltd., a joint venture between U.K. investment firm UG Energy Ltd and Samruk-Kazyna Invest, a division of the Kazakhstan’s sovereign wealth fund. EBRD also plans to fund the 14 MW Zadarya solar PV project developed by French-based Urbasolar in southern Kazakhstan.

Big challenges for private investors

Yet, EBRD’s projects have a different funding platform and are supported on ministerial level, Dr. Klaus Eichhorn, Managing Partner of German-based Auditax Management Beratung says. “These are state showcase projects, which have nothing to do with the real market, and with a lobby and a financing structure, which are not available to private project developers”.

In 2015, Auditax Management Beratung was invited together with IBC Solar AG by the office of Krymbek Kusherbayev, Governor of Kyzylorda region in the south of Kazakhstan, to develop a 30 MW solar PV project. As work on the project got underway, it turned out that many administrative processes were underdeveloped and not well thought through.

One of the biggest barriers was the linkage of feed-in-tariffs to Kazakhstan’s national currency the Tenge, and a missing linkage to U.S. dollar. “This is an absolute no-go for investors, because projects under such conditions are not bankable,” Eichhorn says. In August 2015, the Tenge saw a dramatic loss in value, which hit many investors hard. Despite numerous requests by international investors, the Kazakh government would not link the feed-in-tariff to U.S. dollars.

In March 2016, Kanat Bozumbayev, a former regional governeor with experience in the oil industry, was appointed the new Energy Minister of Kazakhstan. “The first thing Bozumbayev announced upon his appointment was a change to the auction system,” says Eichhorn. “And then for almost 1.5 years no information on procedures of auctioning was available. During this period all investors interested in the Kazakh RE market were in limbo”.

In March 2018, the energy ministry finally unveiled details of the planned series of auctions, allocating a total of 1 GW of large scale renewable energy capacity, including 290 MW of solar PV. Auctions planned for May, August and October will allocate not only capacity, but also projects in specific regions. In fall 2018, Auditax Management is planning to take part in the auction.

According to Auditax Management, the strongest opponents of renewables in Kazakhstan are the grid operator and the fossil fuel industry. “On several occasions we were told off the record that Kazakhstan does not need renewables due to huge coal and gas reserves, which would suffice for centuries,” Eichhorn says.

A sleeping small scale on and off grid sector

“Small scale on and off grid sectors are still largely sleeping. No specific schemes or rewards are there to financially support their deployment,” says Viktor Wiederspan. “At the moment they are just not economically attractive. Due to higher customs, transport and guarantee costs, solar PV systems are more expensive than in Europe. The costs for residential PV systems up to 10 kW are currently about € 1.600-1.800 in Kazakhstan compared to € 1.200-1.300 in Germany”.

Across Central Asia electricity retail prices are subsidized by the governments and are too low. “In Kazakhstan the average consumer price is five euro cents/KWh. This means return on investment takes 20-25 years, which is extremely long. The majority of local investors expect amortization within five years.”

Off grid PV solutions are as a rule at least 50% more expensive in Kazakhstan than in Germany. “The majority of population in rural areas, where such solutions are most needed, cannot afford them, and prefer to buy 1 or 2 kW solutions of lower quality, which do not last long”, Wiederspan says. He is hopeful that the sector might start to grow in three to five years, as electricity prices grow, and the costs of solar keep falling.

This article has been republished from PV Magazine.

Categories: Blogs

Mixed Mandate: Germany’s new coal commission struggles to balance environment and jobs

11 June, 2018 - 14:00

Germany’s coal commission has been launched, with the goal of a gradual exit from coal. Politicans have admitted that coal-fired output needs to be halved before 2030 to meet climate targets – but have so far refused to set a date for a complete phaseout. Michael Buchsbaum takes an in-depth look.

Coal produces around 40% of Germany’s electricity and employs 30,000 workers (Photo by Kateer, edited, CC BY-SA 2.5)

After months of wrangling, the German Federal government announced the launch of the “Special Commission on Growth, Structural Economic Change and Employment” on June 6th.

More commonly referred to as “the Coal Commission,” it is tasked with creating a plan to phase out coal mining and burning in Germany. This marks perhaps the most critical phase of the nation’s ongoing Energiewende that has seen the world’s fourth largest economy embark on a planned nuclear energy phase-out, a shutdown of hard coal mining and a massive embrace of renewable energy. Wind, solar and other forms of green energy now regularly fulfill over a third or more of Germany’s electricity demand.

However, the country remains the world’s largest lignite (brown coal) miner and burner. Overall, coal produces some 40% of the nation’s electricity while employing around 30,000 workers. Moreover, this cheap, domestically sourced lignite also produces 20% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. If Germany is serious about its pledge to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to half of what they were in 1990 by 2030, then lignite simply has to be phased out. That’s not politics, economics or wishful thinking: it’s simply physics.

Herculean Balancing Act

Illustrative of the German style of collective decision making, the Commission is comprised of 31 members including three lawmakers from the Federal ruling coalition parties (center-left SPD and center-right CDU) who are not able to vote with the other members. In order to create a balanced path forward, the Commission gathers around the same table policymakers, industry representatives, labor union leaders, environmentalists and scientists.

Though four Federal ministries – economy, finance, interior and labor – are involved, the Commission’s leaders are Deutsche Bahn board member and former member of Merkel’s government, Ronald Pofalla (CDU); climate economist and former deputy director of the environmental think-tank, Agora Energiewende, Barbara Praetorius; and former state premiers Stanislaw Tillich (CDU) and Matthias Platzeck (SPD). Their respective states, Brandenburg and Saxony, will be heavily affected by the coal exit because they include the (former East German) lignite mining region of Lusatia.

Environmental NGOs have three representatives in the group: Hubert Weiger of the BUND/Friends of the Earth Germany; Martin Kaiser of Greenpeace Germany; and Kai Niebert, of the German League for Environmental Protection/DNR.

Set to begin deliberations on June 26, they are expected to put forth a preliminary plan by October of this year that addresses recommendations for the social and structural re-development of the lignite mining regions and a second report including recommendations on how the energy sector should contribute to fill the “climate protection gap” by early December—in time for the COP24 global climate conference in Katowice, Poland. At the end of the year, they will submit a final report for public review.

Mixed Mandate

While 10 out of the 28 voting members can be viewed as “anti-coal”, the top priority for the commission is to create a new economic perspective for Germany’s coal mining regions. In discussing the task of the Commission, Chancellor Merkel told parliament in May that the government should first clarify what will become of the affected regions, and stop mining activities only later, rather than agreeing on an end date first. She added that the task force should follow the example of Germany’s hard coal exit, set for December of this year. “We have managed it in a way that the workers were able to cope with the changes. It was done together with them. That’s how it has to be with lignite as well,” Merkel said.

Her powerful deputy, energy minister Peter Altmaier (CDU), added that the new commission had a double mandate: “It’s about climate protection in the coming years, so we can keep our commitments, but prominently, it’s also about jobs…The people working in coal-fired power generation must not become victims of the decisions we must take with a view to the environment and the climate,” he said, promising that the coal exit “won’t be sudden and abrupt” but will take several decades.

Altmaier has also acknowledged that coal-fired output needs to be halved before 2030 in order to meet the government’s pledged 2030 climate targets. That dovetails with one of the central tasks of the Commission: developing a plan for Germany to meet its greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets for 2020, i.e., a 40% reduction compared to 1990 levels.

So far, the nation has only reduced those emissions by roughly 28% and will miss those 2020 targets. But that 12% “climate protection gap” could likely be filled if the 10 dirtiest lignite coal-fired power plans were closed. According to British climate think-tank Sandbag, seven of the nation’s lignite burning power plants are among the top ten CO2 polluters in Europe. A recent study by Friends of the Earth Germany also found that the country could shut down its dirtiest coal-fired power plants and all its nuclear power stations at once, and still have a reliable energy supply.

To help soften the blow of the coal exit, the German government has earmarked EUR 1.5 billion through 2021 for transitional assistance, job training and to help lure new industries such as battery cell research and production into the region. The European Commission will likely contribute more funds as well.

The Green Party and many others are understandably worried that the Commission’s mixed mandate will allow money to trump the environment. In an interview with Der Tagesspiegel, Green Party leader Annalena Baerbock called for an immediate ban on both new mines and all preparatory work for them, arguing that “At the moment coal miners, as well as those who fear that their houses and villages will be dug up, are completely left hanging…A serious end to coal can’t be discussed while simultaneously trees are still being cleared and villages are destroyed ahead of plans for new opencast mines.”

Categories: Blogs

South Korea’s move towards renewable energy

6 June, 2018 - 15:00

Since the Moon Jae-in administration launched in 2017, South Korea’s nuclear phase-out policy has begun to take shape. The Korean Energy Information Agency explains the process of a democratic energy transition, and how citizen concerns are being addressed.

The Hanbit nuclear power plant has been operating since the 1980s (Photo by IAEA, edited, CC BY-SA 2.0)

President Moon claimed during his campaign that he would support renewables and liquefied natural gas in order to boost safe and clean energy. The nuclear phaseout policy is due to partly to public safety concerns. Public support for nuclear power had started to decrease since the 2011 Fukushima meltdown in neighboring Japan. Then, in September 2016, Gyeongju was struck by the biggest earthquake recorded in recent Korean history. Shortly after the earthquake, Pandora (2016), a disaster movie about an explosion of a nuclear power plant due to an earthquake was released, increasing public anxiety.

Soon after the launch of the Moon administration, cancellation of the new nuclear plants Shin Kori No. 5 and 6 was discussed. However, at that time, the Shin-Kori No. 5 and 6 were 28% completed, and cancellation of the project would have cost around 2.6 trillion won(US$2.3 billion). Following backlash from builders and local residents, the government assembled a civilian-led committee to study the feasibility of the decision to cancel the construction.

The committee consisted of nine members from various industry areas; nuclear experts were not included as members of the committee to ensure it would represent the public opinion. A group of 471 citizens was formed to decide whether to cancel the nuclear plants after research and in-depth discussions. During the deliberative period, the construction of the two reactors was temporarily halted. The committee later recommended that the government resume construction. In the final survey of the 471 members, 59.5% supported resuming construction, outnumbering the 40.5% who wished to stop construction.

The South Korean government followed the recommendation of the committee that the nuclear plants under construction should continue, and announced its energy transition road map last October. The plan is to gradually phase out coal and nuclear, while expanding renewable energy to 20% of power generation by 2030.


Six planned nuclear reactors will be cancelled, and the licenses of old nuclear reactors will not be renewed. The 24 nuclear reactors currently in operation will be closed by 2080. In addition, the current bio- and waste energy-oriented portfolio of renewable energy will be transformed in to a solar- and wind power-oriented one. There will be support for cooperatives and citizen-based small scale solar panel businesses.

The 8th Basic Plan on Electricity Demand and Supply

Every two years, the South Korean government publishes a plan on the electricity supply and demand for the next 15 years. The 8th Basic Plan will cover from year 2017 to 2031. Peak power demand is estimate at 100.5GW for year 2030, which is 12.7GW (about 11%) lower than that of the 7th plan. The reduced amount 12.7GW is the amount that could be generated by nine units of APR 1400(1.4GW).In other words, the South Korean government expects that the power demand will decrease so much so that it will be safe enough to stop the operation of nine reactors.

So far, economic feasibility has been crucial in determining the share of sources in electricity generation. But starting from the 8th plan, environmental effects and safety will be given more importance. The National Assembly has also revised the Electricity Enterprises Act in an effort to put more emphasis on environment and safety issues. In addition to greenhouse gas mitigation, clean energy sources will reduce the problem of fine dust, which has tormented the Korean peninsula for years. Because of public concern about earthquakes near the east coast where many of the nuclear reactors in South Korea are located, the government will focus on reducing risk by closing down the nuclear power plants in this area.

However, there are concerns and criticisms over the government’s energy transition. Some experts insist that phasing out coal and nuclear power will increase electricity bills. The government expects that the increase in the electricity bill will be approximately 10.9% – lower than the increase in real electricity bills over the past 13 years of 13.9 percent.

Some have argued that the natural conditions of South Korea are unfavorable for large-scale renewable energy. Solar and wind power plants require large-scale sites, but South Korea has limited land space with lots of construction regulations. In addition, wind velocity is slow where the ocean is shallow, and in coastal areas, the locals may oppose the construction pointing out possible harm done to the landscape and fish resources.

The reliability of supply could be an issue as well. Energy independence is especially significant for South Korea for geopolitical reasons; the country is isolated from its continental neighbors such as North Korea, China and Russia. Because the 25GW of power facilities is more than enough, abolishing baseload units should not threaten energy security. The government also claims that due to technical progress in energy storage system, the reliability of renewable energy is fast improving.

As South Korea joins the global trend towards energy transition, there is will be some trial and error. Germany says the key to success for its energy transition has been long-term policy consistency. It will be important for the South Korean government to maintain long-term policy consistency as well as continuing to emphasize citizen participation to lead the country toward safe and clean energy.

Korea Energy Information Agency (KEIA) is a government-affiliated organization established to communicate and share objective and fair energy information, including about energy transitions, with the public. KEIA also hopes to exchange energy information and issues regarding energy transition with the world.

Categories: Blogs

The next wave of renewable energy?

4 June, 2018 - 12:54

Marine hydropower could make waves in renewable energy, if it can overcome technological and financial challenges. Chris Bentley takes a look at how harnessing the power of waves could help lower the price of electricity and dent greenhouse gas emissions.

For now, the wave and tidal energy industry remains in its infancy (Public Domain)

Anyone who has ever been tossed off their surfboard or clobbered by a wave breaking unexpectedly as they waded out from the beach knows there’s a lot of energy in the ocean.

Harnessing that power could unlock a major new resource of renewable energy that’s more predictable and energy-dense than wind or solar. According to the World Energy Council, wave and tidal energy could one day provide 10 percent of the world’s electricity. In the U.S. the Department of Energy says developing just one sixth of the available wave energy on the West Coast, Hawaii and Alaska could power more than 5 million homes and support roughly 33,000 jobs.

So far wave and tidal energy is largely in the test phase, but entrepreneurs in the field say that’s going to change soon. Last month the U.S. Department of Energy announced $23 million in new funding for “next-generation wave and tidal/current systems”—its biggest such block of grants yet.

“This administration has a particular focus on early-stage research, which works particularly well for wave and tidal,” says Alejandro Moreno, director of the Department’s Water Power Technologies Office. “Imagine wind and solar in the early 1970s: people in their backyards throwing up ideas and seeing what works.”

Every new technology has to make it through early-stage research and development, but wave and tidal face technical challenges that other renewable energy sources didn’t during their rise from obscure experiments to widely applied sources of electricity. The ocean is an unforgiving environment for delicate machinery. Stronger waves bring more energy that could power coastal communities, but they can also overwhelm wave power devices. Salt water corrodes the equipment. Algae, barnacles and other marine life flock to the underwater devices as they would a reef, gumming up moving parts in a process the industry calls “biofouling.”

“And if it breaks, it sinks,” says Moreno.

Research labs and private companies have so far struggled to harvest wave and tidal power economically, in part because the market hasn’t settled on a single solution or prototype.

“In a sports racecar you could say, ‘oh it’s the aerodynamics, let’s fix that and it doesn’t matter what it costs,’” says Jochem Weber, chief engineer of the Water Power Program at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “With wave and tidal there’s not a single thing going so wrong that it couldn’t be fixed, but it’s a multi-parametric optimization problem.”

As a result there’s a wide variety of designs and applications in development. Seattle-based Oscilla Power is pitching a wave electricity converter that has been compared to a “mechanical jellyfish.” Other designs anchor a large flap to the seafloor that sways back and forth as waves roll over it and use the motion to turn a turbine. The natural motion of the waves could also force air through a tube suspended in the water column, driving a turbine with forced air.

Some wave energy prototypes are tied to specific uses instead of general power generation. Boston-based Resolute Marine Energy is working with the African island nation of Cape Verde to develop a water desalination system powered by wave energy. In a video of their prototype, a fiberglass flap at the bottom of a shallow bay just off the coast of Cape Verde sways like seaweed beneath the waves. The motion pumps saltwater up to a reverse osmosis facility on the beach, which runs on energy collected from the waves.

Bill Staby, the company’s co-founder and CEO, says it’s a perfect situation for wave energy: Cape Verde currently imports expensive diesel fuel to power energy-intensive desalination for most of its freshwater. Wave energy is renewable and, according to Staby, cheaper than competing sources of energy when it’s part of such a system.

John Ferland, President and COO of Maine-based Ocean Renewable Power Company agrees the technology could find a foothold in remote communities where the cost of electricity is high. His company is working with the Alaskan village of Igiugig on an underwater river hydropower system to replace costly imported diesel.

“We’re lowering the price of electricity while also making a huge dent in greenhouse gas emissions in those areas,” says Ferland. “The global pitch is going to be that this is a clean, abundant, renewable source of energy particularly compatible with areas that have working ports. It’s a very local industry that provides jobs locally.”

Other companies have proposed using wave energy devices to power ships and unmanned submersibles so they don’t need to refuel in the middle of a trip. Another application might be open-water aquaculture, or fish farming in the middle of the ocean.

Wave and tidal energy systems could also be combined with other coastal infrastructure. The Basque Country in Spain and Japan have both experimented with seawalls that double as renewable energy projects.

Ideas for tidal energy—harvesting the power of the tides instead of the waves—are decidedly larger in scale. More than 100 billion metric tons of water course through in and out of The Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia every day, more than the flow of all the world’s freshwater rivers combined. That’s long made it a prime candidate for tidal power, but any place with dramatic tidal shifts could potentially produce renewable energy.

The Scottish company Atlantis Resources last year launched MeyGen—hailed as the world’s first large-scale tidal energy project—in the Pentland Firth, a strait between the Orkney Islands and the northern coast of Scotland. Eventually they hope to generate nearly 400 megawatts of electricity from 269 underwater turbines, enough to power 175,000 homes.

“That area is wild, very windy, very fast water … it’s famous for fast currents so it’s perfect,” says Genevra Harker-Klimes, who studies marine renewable energy at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

There are also efforts underway in the U.S. In 2012 Portland, Maine-based Ocean Renewable Power Company first tested their TidGen device in the Bay of Fundy and then installed another system in Cobscook Bay, along Maine’s border with Canada. Researchers at the University of Rhode Island and the Marine Renewable Energy Collaborative recently started testing a tidal turbine in the Cape Cod canal. The company Verdant Power is working on a pilot project in New York’s East River off of Roosevelt Island.

The U.S. Department of Energy is developing its own full-scale, grid-connected marine test facility off the coast of Newport, Oregon that is expected to be up and running in 2021. For now, however, the industry remains in its infancy.

“One problem is the difficulty of getting devices into the water to reduce these technological uncertainties,” says Harker-Klimes of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, “and the other is getting the financing.”

Another open question is tidal and wave energy’s impact on marine ecosystems.

“It’s a carefully considered aspect. Nobody can say at this stage what it means for a coastline if you take 30 percent of the wave energy out,” says Jochem Weber of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, “but we’re a long way from that point.”

Categories: Blogs

Leapfrogging over the gas bridge: how the UK can exit coal and gas

30 May, 2018 - 15:00

While Germany debates how it should wean itself off of coal, several other European nations have already made the decision to transition in that direction. L. Michael Buchsbaum takes a look at a new report by the World Wildlife Fund and Sandbag, which lays out a path for the UK to exit both coal and gas.

The UK’s coal use has dropped to historic lows – with gas to follow (Photo by Gaetan Lee, edited, CC BY 2.0)

Though Angela Merkel receives accolades for her role in the Energiewende, it’s actually another female leader, the UK’s Teresa May, who is presiding over the UK’s clean energy transformation (albeit one she didn’t enact and may actually slow down). But there can be no doubt about the swift and stunning decarbonization of the UK’s energy sphere.

Since 2012, coal usage in the UK has fallen off the proverbial cliff: declining from 40% of generation to just 7% last year, and knocking 12 plants totaling 15GW off-line in the process. A further 8GW of gas and oil capacity along with another 1.5GW of first-generation nuclear plant power have also shuttered during this period.

How did this transformation occur without massive blackouts? While there was certainly some overcapacity in the marketplace, renewables have blossomed from 11% of the electricity supply to over 28% today. Led by offshore wind, costs are rapidly closing in on the wholesale price of electricity, thanks to policies including Feed In Tariffs (FITs), the Renewables Obligation (RO), Investment Contracts and Contracts for Difference (CFDs) and the UK’s additional carbon taxes. Falling demand, increased electricity imports from other nations and several gas plants that came on-line since 2000 have also filled coal’s void.

But Westminster seems hesitant about whether to add more renewables or simply swap natural gas for coal. “The UK government is leading the way and has set an international precedent by sending coal to the dustbin of history,” said Gareth Redmond King, WWF Head of Climate and Energy. “However, it is essential the Government does not substitute one dirty power source for another.”

Once touted by both liberals and environmentalists as a bridge fuel to renewables, natural gas has retained widespread conservative backing. But despite the UK’s massive fossil fuel holdings, the underlying energy marketplace is being propelled by a rapidly evolving renewables sector that could, if unleashed, entirely leapfrog over this bridge.

Recently the World Wildlife Fund and the London-based think tank Sandbag published a report illuminating a pathway for May’s Government to follow, laying out a detailed argument for why the UK can both “phase out coal by 2025 and keep the lights on without building any new large gas plants.” The Coal to Clean study’s technological premise is that given the switch to a grid dominated by renewables, new gas capacity will only be required to run infrequently to smooth out renewable’s inherent intermittency.

Being relegated to mainly playing the role of peaker plant, or anything short of baseload, has proven unsuitable and uneconomic for many large gas plants (several examples of which can be found, mostly sitting on hot-idle, in Germany). According to the report, new gas plants may become obsolete before they are built due to the UK’s existing capacity, as well as its many interconnects to the European continent, which shouldn’t be affected by the Brexit.

Additionally, as coal is pushed out, the report demonstrates that 95% of the required renewables scheduled to replace it are already contracted or under construction. The government has also allocated a £557m pot of funding for more renewables subsidies between now and 2025 while conservatively expecting annual renewables output, led by offshore wind, to grow by 48TWh by then.

Though many conservatives continue to push for new gas-fired plants, and 10 large facilities with a capacity of 12GW have applied for 15-year contracts (with an additional five with a capacity of 10GW waiting in the wings), “not a single one has bid successfully for a capacity contract.”

Why not? Because since 2012, the underlying market has significantly changed. Back then, any renewable project required large subsidies to get off the ground. Now, no new fossil project can be built without significant capacity market subsidies, as onshore and offshore wind prices creep within spitting distance of wholesale prices.

Indeed, the report suggests that gas may have already hit its peak. Though as late as 2008 it accounted for 45% of UK electricity generation, that figure has fallen sharply since. The Government’s own Clean Growth Strategy calls for a reduction to just 15% by 2032. Some projections show it falling to even half of that as renewables and imported energy from the continent progressively squeeze it out further, relegating it to just a balancing and back-up role. This is not to say gas will disappear. But “Coal to Clean” hammers home the message that the UK’s renewable resources alone are enough to fill in the gap left behind by coal.

Another factor in the energy mix is the role of nuclear power, which is expected to further decline between now and 2025 as several existing reactors reach the end of their planned lifetimes in the early 2020s.

Beyond unleashing the full potential of all renewables, the report suggests an increase in innovation funding for long-term electricity storage technologies will ensure that gas stays in the ground. Storage, increasingly combined with hydrogen, is beginning to take off globally. As it becomes easier to deploy, storage will be better positioned than gas and imports to balance renewable fluctuations.

The report also suggests developing policies addressing emissions from small peaking plants, further ensuring they only come on-line to support the grid when absolutely necessary. It also calls for a gas phase-out similar to the coal exit. “Policy is needed immediately to mitigate the risk of a slower decline in gas use caused by: increasing demand; delayed or cancelled new-build nuclear projects; or a reduced volume of electricity imports.”

“We need to continue to look forward, doubling down on investment in renewables and targeting our efforts on long-term energy storage. We should focus next on removing gas from the energy mix altogether,” said the WWF-UK’s Redmond-King.

Categories: Blogs

The UK’s offshore wind boom is great for the climate. But what about the fish?

28 May, 2018 - 14:00

Fishing in some parts of the UK has been getting tougher in the past years – but can wind farms really be blamed? Chris Bentley takes a look at how costal communities are adapting to offshore wind.

Fisherman Steve Barratt says the area near Ramsgate was a prime fishing ground until a wind farm was built there a few years ago. But scientists aren’t so sure the wind farm is to blame. (Photo by Chris Bentley/PRI)

On the deck of the Razorbill, docked in the English port of Ramsgate, Steve Barratt runs thousands of feet of nets through a squeaky pulley, getting ready for another long night of fishing in the North Sea.

It’s a time-worn routine for him, but it has its rewards. As they whiz by, he snags a fish still stuck in one of the nets from the night before and tosses it to the side.

“That’s a Dover sole,” he says. “So that’ll be my dinner later!”

Barratt will head out this night in search of more sole and other fish and on his way, he’ll pass right through a relatively new feature on the water here — the Thanet Wind Farm, 100 turbines visible from shore that have been spinning since 2010.

But he won’t stop and set his nets there.

“For some reason — I don’t know if it’s the sound, the humming, the motors — I don’t know what it is, but the fish are not in the wind farm,” he says. “It’s virtually barren apart from a few whelks and a few lobsters.”

The English port of Ramsgate harbor (Photo by Chris Bentley/PRI)

Barratt says the area used to be a prime fishing ground. Now he says he’ll have to steam for three hours to get a good catch, almost all the way to the Netherlands.

Barratt is not fond of the wind farm and he’s not alone.

“You think to yourself it’ll never happen and then reality kicks in and it does,” says John Nichols, a retired fisherman and chair of the Thanet Fishermen’s Association. “And here we are with a wind farm that we don’t particularly want. If we had a choice as a fishing industry we would say no to it even today, but it’s there and we have to learn to live with it.”

Fishing here has never been an easy business, but Nichols says it’s getting tougher. The size of the fishing fleet in Thanet is just half of what it was 25 years ago.

It’s not just the Thanet wind farm, Nichols says, or the others popping up around here as part of the British boom in offshore wind energy. The sea in this part of England is also getting crowded with other things as well, like undersea cables connecting the U.K. and Europe.

Then there are the effects of climate change.

“We’re also seeing a massive increase in water temperature here,” says Nichols, “and we’re not seeing the hard northeasterly and easterly winds that we used to see.”

Both of those changes could be affecting fish habitat here. Still, Nichols believes the wind farms are part of the problem.

“Even if we did have a real hard easterly breeze now, it wouldn’t filter through like it used to because of all the turbines,” he says. “They act as a breakwater at sea.”

Fishermen say that’s altered the seafloor and the tides, subtle changes that they fear are helping drive fish away.

But it’s difficult to verify what fishermen say they’re seeing here because there’s been almost no research done on fish populations in the area, before or after the wind turbines were built.

“The problem is that no proper studies were done on the commercial fishing taking place prior to the construction of [the Thanet wind farm] and certainly no studies have been specifically done on the Thames Estuary sites since construction,” says Merlin Jackson, a longtime Thanet fisherman who also acts a government liaison to fishermen in the region.

“We also have to bear in mind here that the fishing has changed over the last 15 years due to multiple factors,” Jackson says, “and it is difficult to see which one to blame.”

Fisheries experts elsewhere in England have come to similar conclusions.

Fisherman Steve Barratt aboard his boat Razorbill in the Ramsgate harbor (Photo by Chris Bentley/PRI)

“Perhaps the biggest problem with how wind farms are [built] here is that there is generally no meaningful collection of baseline … data before construction starts,” says Mike Cohen, a marine biologist and chairman of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations.

But where those kinds of studies have been done, scientists say the impacts have been minor.

“In most cases, it’s been short-term,” says Helen Bailey, a professor at the University of Maryland who has studied the effects of other offshore wind farms in the U.K. and elsewhere.

Bailey says the biggest impacts are during construction.

“The process that has been of most concern is the pile driving, which is when they hammer the foundation of the turbine to the seafloor to secure it in place,” says Bailey. “That emits very, very loud sounds, and sounds travel very far underwater.”

Bailey says technologies to deaden those sounds don’t seem to help much. But she says marine creatures tend to come back just a few days after construction ends, and that in some cases, they even appear to thrive around the new turbines.

“They now had examples where they actually saw seals feeding at the turbine sites, so these seem to be acting presumably like artificial reefs and actually attracting them to the area,” Bailey says.

Jackson and Cohen agree that some marine species do seem to thrive around the wind farms, but not necessarily the ones attractive to commercial fishermen.

But like her colleagues in the UK, Bailey cautions that there haven’t been enough long-term studies done, and scientists don’t know what cumulative effects might result as more offshore wind farms are built.

For now, though, if some marine creatures are learning to adapt, some fishermen here are too.

“I’ve got used to it,” says Jason Parrott, who used to fish for Dover sole out of Ramsgate with his wife, Dawn. Parrott still works on the sea here, but he’s got a new job ferrying maintenance technicians out to service the wind turbines.

Dawn and Jason Parrott used to fish for a living. Now Jason is employed by a wind energy company to run technicians out to offshore wind farms. The pay’s good and stability is better than being a fisherman, but he says he misses the thrill (Photo by Chris Bentley/PRI)

“If you ask me whether I love it, I couldn’t answer that, not like I used to love the fishing,” Parrott says. “But it pays the bills and it’s enjoyable.”

There’s a certain unique thrill to commercial fishing, says Dawn Parrott.

“You’re just there on your own, you haven’t got a clue what’s coming up in the net,” she says. “Every day’s different, every day.”

Piloting a wind farm service boat just doesn’t have the same appeal.

Others here have taken advantage of a fund set up to compensate for lost fishing days because of construction at sea.

The Thanet Fishermen’s Association spent some of that money on a marine fueling pump.

“We’re like a service station on the motorway,” says Tom Brown, a retired fisherman. Ironically, he says the biggest customers are those maintenance boats for the wind farms.

“They’ll come in here overnight, fill up with fuel and away they go again,” he says, “So the fishermen get a little payment from the wind farms.”

For his part, Steve Barratt in Ramsgate is sticking it out with just fishing, and trying to take all the changes here in stride.

“I mean if somebody said to me 20 years ago, over half of these fishing boats are going to be gone and there’s going to 15 or 20 big catamarans servicing wind farms off here, I’d have said, ‘yeah alright,’ and laughed,” he says. “And look what’s happened.”

Barratt’s nearing retirement age and says he sees the future closing in on the few inshore fishermen left in the U.K. But he says no matter how many wind farms they put up around here, he’ll keep steaming the Razorbill through them to find fish, for as long as he can.

This reporting was supported by the Heinrich Boell Foundation.

This article has been republished from PRI.

Categories: Blogs

The digital energy revolution? Charge it with values!

25 May, 2018 - 15:00

The transition to renewable energy will require coordinating generation and consumption. However, a digitalized power system has many ethical challanges, as Stefanie Groll explains.

Digital energy meters help energy efficiency, but privacy concerns must be addressed (Public Domain)

Ethical aspects do not feature prominently in the debate about the digitization of the power system. “Convenience” and more cost-effective companies are cited as benefits of digitization. However, the goals of the energy transition including social participation and a decentralized power system tend to be lost from view.

The dark sides of digital technologies, such resource extraction, continue to be neglected. The only ethical aspect that is taken into account is privacy. But precisely because the energy transition cannot be realized without digitization, it is high time to lay its ethical foundation.

1. Greening and limiting: efficiency, consistency and sufficiency are the triad of the digital energy transition.

A power system is only ecologically sustainable if it does not overuse natural resources such as soil, water and the atmosphere. But the key technologies of the energy transition – solar, wind and batteries – rely on rare earths and high-tech metals. The largest deposits of these raw materials are typically in Latin America (copper, iron ores, silver, lithium, manganese), in African countries (platinum, bauxite, manganese) and in Asian countries (rare earths).

The hardware of digitization like smartphones and servers is resource-intensive. So-called (digital) future technology requires materials such as lithium and cobalt and leads to skyrocketing worldwide demand. The international rush for these raw materials has already begun to jeopardize fragile ecosystems.

Is metal recycling a solution? Yes and no. It is certainly more environmentally friendly to reclaim metals than to downcycle or dispose of them. But recycling is only the third-best solution within the waste hierarchy after waste avoidance and repair. The recycling potential of many new technologies like smart meters is limited, while other materials and technologies cannot be recycled at all.

Thanks to technological innovation, there will probably be additional possibilities in the future to make the hardware of the digital energy revolution more environmentally friendly. However, counting on as-yet nonexistent techno-fixes to solve the socio-ecological resource and waste problem at some point down the road would be a grave mistake. In addition, attention should be given to how sufficiency can be designed into the (digital) energy transition. Regulatory instruments and market incentives must be provided as soon as possible.

2. Broad participation: the diversity of actors is characteristic of the German energy transition. A broad civic base is a value in itself that should be preserved in the course of digitization.

Energy cooperatives increase the acceptance of renewable energy projects and contribute to regional value creation. Citizens energy initiatives form a bridge between the transition to renewable energy as a technology project and the desire for social participation. Digitization transforms citizens into flexible producers and consumers of energy. Marginal costs can be reduced using automation and algorithms, making action even on a small scale worthwhile.

What kind of political framework will this require? The expansion of broadband must be promoted by the government, ideally in conjunction with the expansion of power grids. Modern communication networks and grids are crucial to a decentralized, citizen-oriented transition to renewable energy. In addition, decentralized consumption communities must be relieved of levies and taxes. In Germany, the use of self-generated electricity must be exempted from the Renewable Energy Sources Act levy. So-called tenant electricity models must be expanded to residential areas and commercial tenants.

Digitization is an opportunity to diversify the energy industry and make it resilient. The current regulatory framework often still favors the established players, however. For example, much of the power data is only available to certain market players, such as grid operators. An open data base could reduce system costs. The downside is that such transparency would make the system more vulnerable, requiring investment in cybersecurity.

3. Clean energy supply, digitization and data privacy must be considered together. The primacy of data economy must apply at all levels.

Smart meters, which track power generation and consumption, are the flagship technology of the digitized power system. Data is transmitted directly to the metering operator, generally the local grid operator. When numerous producers and consumers have smart meters that exchange data automatically, this gives rise to a smart grid. This increases energy efficiency, creates potential savings and is essential for the flexibility necessary for 100 percent renewables.

In Germany, the Digitization Act of August 2016 (based on the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation) provides the legal basis for the gradual installation of smart meters. This law is seen critically by privacy advocates. The fact that the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) has developed the highest security standards for smart meters and smart meter gateways has not satisfied critical voices. There is a fundamental risk that the analysis, use, collection, exploitation and marketing of the data will endanger the informational self-determination of consumers.

Agora Energiewende (2016) Energiewende: Was bedeuten die neuen Gesetze?

The Greens are calling for energy data to be kept secret, for the informal right of self-determination over one’s own data to be enforced, and for consumers to be informed and educated. Innovative data protection concepts such as privacy by design and privacy by default should be given stronger political support.

Data security is a further work in progress. Events such as the hacking of the German parliament and railway system bear witness to the fact that even critical infrastructure is never completely secure.

The normative requirements for the digitization of the power system are:

  1. Digitization depends on preconditions that it cannot itself create. The preservation of natural, analog resources is the benchmark for good or bad digitization. Digitization must be put at the service of this objective.
  2. Digitization is a powerful tool. It is not a value or end in itself, however.
  3. The digitization of the power system must be reconciled with the ecological idea of ​​the transition to renewable energy. Ecological governance must set an ecological course for digitization.
  4. Digitization has the potential to broaden the social dimension of the power system. Decentralized prosumer models are simplified by smart networking. Digitization should contribute toward maintaining the diversity of actors in the power system, with the ultimate goal of creating a more democratic power system.
  5. Digitization and data privacy are not complementary by nature. A flexible power system based entirely on solar, wind, etc., requires real-time information about user behavior in order to function. Energy experts and data privacy advocates need to agree here on a pragmatic approach to data regulations.
Categories: Blogs

Open the window for fresh air? Not in Korea

23 May, 2018 - 15:00

South Koreans are more concerned with air pollution than with North Korea’s nuclear weapons – and with good reason. On some days in Seoul, the air is too full of fine particles to go outside. While some blame China, about half of Korean pollution is from diesel cars and coal plants. Yi hyun Kang looks at what can be done.

Seoul’s pollution is so extreme that children often have to stay indoors (Photo by taylorandayumi, edited, CC BY 2.0)

What do you do first when you go out? Probably many would check the weather to see if it will rain. But in South Korea, people check something else – the concentration of fine particles (also known as fine dust). Many Koreans have special apps on their smartphones to receive real-time fine dust information. When air pollution is too high, not only children and elderly people, but everybody is advised to stay indoors.

One of various applications for fine dust forecast and warning used in South Korea

This is not the only thing that fine dust has changed in South Koreans’ daily life. Air cleaner machines are an essential home appliance, particularly in households with children. Opening windows does not mean getting fresh air in – it’s the opposite! On the streets of Seoul, you can see many people walking with facial masks on. If you don’t like wearing such a mask because it doesn’t look cool, don’t worry. Masks with various colors and designs are available for every style, and many pop stars use facial masks as a fashion accessory.

Fine dust consists of sulfur, nitrogen oxides, carbon, soot, and more. The diameter of fine particles (PM10) is less than one fifth of that of a human hair. Ultrafine particles (PM2.5) are even smaller- the diameter of one ultrafine particle is 1/20 of a human hair’s diameter. Therefore, we inhale the particles without noticing, causing serious health risks such as heart and respiratory disease or cancer.

South Korea has one of the highest exposures to ultrafine particles in the world (out of 178 countries surveyed, it ranks 173rd for air quality). It is no wonder that fine dust is the number one source of concern for Koreans, more than nuclear weapons in North Korea, according to a poll conducted last year. The Korean government has announced a plan to reduce ultrafine dust by 30% by 2022, but fine dust concentration in Seoul is ever increasing due to internal and external causes.

Seoul covered by fine dust (Photo by Moonju Yang)

Typically, yellow dust (also known as Asian Dust) blown from the deserts of China and Mongolia affects Korea, especially in spring. The dust is carried by strong winds from west to east reaching Korea, Japan and even Eastern Russia. Because of the industrial development in China in the last few decades, the winds are now carrying industrial pollutants from factories and power plants.

The majority of Korean citizens therefore attribute increasing fine dust to China. Nearly 280,000 citizens signed on a petition last month asking the government to protest against the Chinese government. Their reaction is understandable. Although the Chinese government has made efforts to reduce fine dust concentration in its major cities, even more garbage incineration plants are being built in China, particularly on the east coast areas close to Korea.

However, factories and plants in China are not the only culprit. Recent studies concluded that normally almost half of the fine dust originates from Korea. Thus, many environmental experts point out that it is urgent to reduce internal sources.

One of the major sources of fine dust is vehicles. In the last ten years, the number of diesel cars sharply rose in South Korea because the government strongly promoted so-called ‘Clean Diesel’ and made diesel more affordable. The market share of diesel cars has been consistently increasing, making up nearly 43% of registered vehicles in 2016 (about 9.7 million cars). Some studies assert that the half of fine dust in Seoul can be attributed to diesel cars.

Another main source of fine dust is coal. After President Moon was elected, he ordered a temporary shutdown of old coal-fired plants from March to June every year when fine dust concentration is worst. Ten coal-fired plants will be closed permanently in the coming years. However, the 8th Basic Plan for Electricity Supply and Demand announced last December affirms that power supply from coal-fired plants will increase by 2030 with seven new plants, although the share of coal will be reduced in the energy mix.

Electricity generation in South Korea (Korean Electric Power Statistic 2016)

More action is necessary, and the governments of China and Korea will soon be working together, establishing the Korea-China Environmental Cooperation Center this June. Some researchers suggest that a voluntary emission reduction agreement among East Asian countries could be a viable option. Those efforts will yield more fruitful results if the international community (including consumers) pushes to make industry more environment-friendly.

Stricter regulation of vehicles, power plants, and factories within Korea is also essential. Proposals currently being discussed or suggested include reducing the import and production of diesel cars, running a rotation system of vehicles in downtown of Seoul, and stopping coal-fired plant construction. In the long term, the energy transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy is essential.

When my Korean friends try to arrange a gathering with their children, the first thing they do is check the fine dust concentration forecast. The whole plan depends on it, because nobody wants their children to breathe in particles. It is a sad reality that many Korean kids often cannot see blue sky or play outside even on a sunny day – it’s time for this to change.

Categories: Blogs

As United States looks to coal, China invests in renewable energy

21 May, 2018 - 14:30

While the Trump administration attempts to prop up fossil fuels, China has implemented policies to support renewable energy. The rapid expansion of solar power and investments in electric transport are pushing China’s energy transition forward, explains E.A. Crunden.

China is adopting solar power faster than any other country worldwide (Photo by Planet Labs, edited, CC BY-SA 4.0)

As the United States works to revitalize coal and other fossil fuel industries, China is reaffirming its efforts towards renewable energy, investing considerable resources in expanding solar power and clearing hurdles for businesses to shift towards sustainable energy options.

China’s National Energy Administration (NEA) announced on Thursday that the country would “ease the burden” on renewable power generators, ordering local governments to give priority access and to “promptly accept” such companies. Guaranteed purchase agreements must also be fortified and local governments failing to meet the standards laid out by the NEA will face repercussions.

That announcement comes only two days after the NEA announced that China installed nearly 10 gigawatts (GW) of new solar photovoltaic capacity in the first quarter of 2018 — a 22 percent increase over the same time period last year.

The country’s endeavors have global implications for consumers. Solar panels are becoming cheaper and cheaper thanks in large part to China, which has oversupplied the market and driven down costs in the process. China is also reportedly eyeing the electric bus market, something that could similarly incentivize investors globally.

China’s efforts stand in stark contrast to those of the United States. President Trump announced that the country would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement last June, arguing that the deal put the United States at a disadvantage while benefiting other countries. The prospect of a U.S. exit has placed pressure on countries like China to take on new climate leadership roles, with or without U.S. assistance.

Following Trump’s announcement, China reaffirmed its commitment to the Paris agreement’s targets, vowing that the nation would share responsibility in global sustainable development efforts. As the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases (closely followed by the United States), China’s role in combating climate change is largely seen as critical.

The country seems to be rising to the occasion: Despite ongoing investments in coal, China is also the world’s largest investor in renewable energy, according to a 2018 report from the U.S.-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA). That’s in keeping with trends from past years.

China passed the United States in renewable energy investment in 2009 by a mere $14 billion; in the time since, that gap has increased dramatically. In 2017, more than half of global renewable energy investment (nearly $280 billion) came from China. To put that into context, for every $1 the United States put into renewable energy last year, China spent $3.

Much of that investment went into solar power, followed by wind energy. According to Quartz, 26 percent of all national electric production came from renewables, as opposed to the global average of 12 percent.

Developing countries more broadly are proving key to driving investment in renewables. Brazil and India joined China to account for 63 percent of all investment (around $143.5 billion) in renewable energy across the world in 2017. That’s in stark contrast to Western nations: the United States and Europe account for more than 40 percent of all post-industrial era emissions, but collectively invested only a little over $80 billion in renewable energy in 2017, according to a 2018 U.N. report. China alone invested $126.6 billion.

But China still faces slowing demand for renewable energy domestically, along with rising U.S. trade issues as Trump weighs sweeping tariffs. The White House announced a 30 percent tariff on Chinese solar panels in January in an effort to retaliate against China’s efforts to corner the world market.

And economists have speculated that the industry is likely to take a hit this year. The Beijing-based Asia Europe Clean Energy (Solar) Advisory (AECEA) has projected that the country will install between 40 and 45 GW of solar capacity by the end of the year — down from 53 GW in 2017.

This article has been republished from ThinkProgress.

E.A. Crunden is a reporter at ThinkProgress focused on environmental and world issues, as well as immigration and social justice in the U.S. South and Appalachia. Texpat. She/her, they/them, or no pronouns. 

Categories: Blogs

The Intergenerational Call

16 May, 2018 - 14:00

Today we’re sharing something a bit different – a poem by Hazim Azghari, which he performed at COP22.  The piece is a dialogue between us today and the children of the future, illustrating the concept of intergenerational justice and the 1.5 degree climate target.

Fulfilling the Paris Agreement goals: “Act now, and the world won’t burn” (Public Domain)

The Intergenerational Call
by Hazim Azghari

One point five
Half a degree Celsius
Yet it can save us
From a huge strife

[Us Talking to Each Other]

See, even if it’s about shooting an arrow, far away
It is not about the work of tomorrow, but today
I say so and I think hey,
We can make a difference!
Act with a bit of wit, and intelligence?
What if our children in all innocence
Turn to us and ask: why?

[Child Asking]

Why did you lie
And talk about using paper
And not plastic,
Sustainable development
When you were not able
To develop a better ethic
for the environment?
Did you feel as bad as
The fish, the fauna
Did you feel it as they felt it
As you turned it all into a sauna
How could you even sleep?
Temperature creeps
And you still acted like a prima donna
Yes, I know it was hard to collaborate
But don’t give me excuses, don’t elaborate
You flooded our dictionaries with terms
“Intergenerational”, as if we’re just germs
And a whole alphabet porridge
CBDR? Yes, responsibility is as different as we are
But it’s not just about the poor and the rich
It’s also about love, that emotion, magic
And not committing crimes
Just like a wise man said many times
“Justice is what love looks like in public”
One point five
Half a degree of warming
That or we might be heading
To our own demise
I hear this call and I think,
When we get asked this, because we will
At least we can say we had the political will
But the outcome was otherwise
‘Cause our models were inaccurate, not precise!
The banks got desperate, the finance got jeopardized!
At least we could blame it on fate, lack of precision, or money
Not to say that we should
But not lack of faith, delusion or something funny
One point five
Half a degree
That can save you and me
And next generations too
Did you realize?

[Children Coming]

We now travel in time
Walking across the coastline
Or what is now called the deep sea
‘Cause we heard about the IPCC
The United Nations, and their triple Cs
And we heard you gathered researchers
Businesses, and people from policy
So please remember
As you consult with each other
That if our genetic intelligence
Cannot make us love yet
Those not in existence
Then let us not just aim to get
A world safe to drive
But also safe to conceive, be human, and thrive?
So that when one thinks of offspring
One does not think of carbon burdens
But rather songs to sing
Family, and beautiful gardens
One point five
A fact that all should learn
The fire of love shouldn’t melt the ice
Act now, and the world won’t burn


You can also see this piece performed live.

Hazim Azghari, graduate of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford, teaches local groups in Morocco local food security and empowerment through sustainable low-tech, particularly within the framework of climate adaptation. He has particular appreciation for slam poetry as a vector for calling to action and has performed this piece at COP22 and the 1.5 degree conference organized in Oxford, UK in 2016.

Categories: Blogs

Is the Middle East’s solar market breakthrough finally happening?

14 May, 2018 - 14:00

Solar’s time has (nearly) come in the Middle East – natural potential is high, and given the right policy environment, clean energy can thrive. Mike Munsell of Greentech Media takes a look at Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman and more.

Oman’s strong sun offers a powerful source of clean energy (Photo by Giorgio Parravicini, Public Domain)

According to GTM Research’s new Global Solar Market Attractiveness Index, the region is home to some of the most attractive markets for new-build solar in the world, and a steady stream of internationally competitive tenders — including more than 8 gigawatts expected in 2018 — has created a sizable pipeline of utility-scale projects in the Gulf, driven prices to record lows and caught the attention of the world.

GTM Research expects that Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, Oman and the United Arab Emirates will collectively install more than 22.4 gigawatts of cumulative capacity by 2023, all exceeding their renewable energy targets using competitive reverse auctions for utility-scale projects. But to date, most of the region has not seen the maturation of solar markets behind the meter, despite steep cost declines and the introduction or development of net metering policies.

To understand the competitiveness and bankability of solar in subsidized retail price environments, GTM Research has partnered with the Saudi Arabia Solar Industry Association, Blue Horizon Energy and Global Energy Analytics on a new report that estimates the maximum installed cost ceiling for solar PV to be cost-competitive with grid electricity by market and segment.

For decades, national governments in the Middle East have heavily subsidized domestic fuel and electricity prices with the stated purpose of promoting economic growth and providing a social safety net through the surplus distribution of nationalized oil production. Domestic energy subsidies have long been observed to distort markets, inefficiently reallocate benefits, depress foreign investment, drive overconsumption due to artificially low price signals, and create macroeconomic challenges for petrostates.

According to the International Monetary Fund, in the five markets analyzed in the report, fuel subsidies total nearly USD $150 billion in 2015, with Saudi Arabian outlays representing 72 percent of this total. In these focus markets, some estimates suggest that retail electricity subsidies ranged from 54 percent to 98 percent for residential electricity and from 16 percent to 96 percent for commercial electricity.

Source: International Monetary Fund, GTM Research

Non-cost-reflective retail tariffs result in a misalignment of incentives for solar development because the cost of offset energy decreases as the cost of solar decreases, according to GTM Research Solar Analyst Ben Attia. Because behind-the-meter solar is competing against artificially low residential and commercial tariffs, these tariff structures therefore offer a disincentive to developing behind-the-meter distributed solar.

Source: GTM Research, Saudi Arabia Solar Industries Association, Blue Horizon Energy, Global Energy Analytics

The recent fall in oil prices has caused several regional oil-producing governments to rethink their public subsidy programs and move toward rewriting their social contracts, cracking open the door for residential and commercial solar developers.

The report found that at average market installation costs, there are no highly attractive markets for residential solar PV development in the spotlight countries, and that only commercial-scale solar in Jordan and utility-scale solar in Dubai and Jordan are attractive investments with current retail subsidies. Additionally, captive PV generation may offer more competitive pricing than the grid in Bahrain, Jordan and Oman.

“These findings suggest that without below-market installation costs, accelerated phase-out of retail subsidies, or a comparable incentive program to level the playing field, it is unlikely that distributed generation solar will command a significant share of demand in markets where one-off utility-scale tenders dominate, creating a contracted project pipeline but little in the way of an underlying market ecosystem,” said Aaron Morrow, managing partner of Global Energy Analytics.

“Unlike nearly all its neighbors, Jordan has fostered a thriving local solar industry, primarily due to its removal of fuel subsidies and institutional support to encourage growth in the renewable energy sector across all segments of the market,” said Chris Ahlfeldt, energy specialist with Blue Horizon Energy Consulting Services. “It also established a national Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Fund (REEEF) to offer debt and equity-based incentives for small- and medium-scale projects in partnership with six commercial banks in the country to reduce the cost of debt and guarantee loans.”

In addition to the REEEF, provisions in the country’s energy transition law have led to a clean energy market that saw over USD $2.5 billion in investment between 2012 and 2016.

“A market designed to allow solar to compete will see prices fall and the creation of a local and regional marketplace,” said Browning Rockwell, CEO of Saudi Arabia Solar Industries Association. “Other markets in the Gulf Cooperation Council would do well to follow suit.”

This article has been republished from GreenTech Media.

Categories: Blogs

German government rejects calls for additional carbon tax

9 May, 2018 - 14:00

Despite calls from French President Macron to implement additional carbon taxes, the German coalition government refuses to hold polluters accountable. “We say no to a price on CO2,” say CDU members, once again punting on climate change leadership. L. Michael Buchsbaum goes in-depth.

Coal power plants like Jänschwalde are partly responsible for Germany’s high emissions (Photo by Michael aus Halle, edited, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Established thirteen years ago, the European Union’s Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) is finally beginning to show its teeth—but some question how sharp those fangs really are.

The ETS is the world’s largest carbon market, including more than 11,000 power stations and industrial plants across the region. In an effort to speed up the transition towards renewables and ensure that polluters are held accountable, France’s President Emmanuel Macron has begun actively seeking partners to further decarbonize through the adoption of additional carbon taxes.

After setting France’s own coal exit, Macron has made a series of high-level international speeches calling for the establishment of a minimum carbon price, saying current levels are simply not enough to force investment in cleaner technologies (in April 2018, the EU carbon price was around €14 per tonne). His government believes decarbonization must be further underpinned by stronger financial market reforms. Recently, France set a price on carbon of €44 per tonne for petroleum products on its domestic market – a fixed price that will rise to €84 per tonne effective from 2022.

“But it won’t be sufficient,” Macron admitted. A carbon price floor on the European level “is the only way” to reach Europe’s long-term objective of becoming carbon neutral. “I know it is not easy. Everywhere, we will face resistance,” he said while vowing to defend the idea at the June EU summit. Acknowledging the possibility of collateral damage if adopted, he called for accompanying social policies for affected regions where jobs will be lost, along with assistance for companies involved the economic transformation.

Sadly, Macron’s appeals have seemingly been rejected by Europe’s largest economy. Germany’s new Grand Coalition between the center left SPD and conservative CDU continues to disappoint green energy advocates by slowing down the Energiewende.

Already embracing a tepid approach towards a German end of coal, the CDU-SPD alliance appears unwilling to embrace a greater carbon price mechanism or join Macron’s new coalition. The combined pressure has only exposed the fault lines between the two coalition parties on virtually all issues related to the Energiewende and climate change.

Presenting at April’s Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue, German Minister for the Economy and Energy, Peter Altmaier (CDU), seemed unmoved by France’s appeals despite supporting Germany’s official climate objectives, including a 60% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030. From a back bench, however, the CDU’s Hermann-Josef Tebroke unambiguously rejected the French proposal crying: “We say ‘no’ to a price on CO2.”

Across the ideological divide, environmental minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) indicated support for the idea. Given that there is already a CO2 price in place for about half of Germany’s emissions as power plants and many industrial facilities are covered by the EU ETS, she believes it’s now “logical” to think about other ways of CO2 pricing within sectors “coupled” but not directly covered by the existing system such transport and heating.

Ironically, despite Brexit, in the UK a robust CO2 pricing system is actually hammering coal. The policy was adopted in 2013, and operates in combination with the EU ETS, establishing a “carbon price floor” (CPF) that functions as the minimum price fossil fuel producers must pay to emit CO2. When EU prices are lower than the UK’s price floor, electric generators have to buy credits from the UK treasury to make up the difference. King Coal’s market share in the UK has fallen 84 percent since the CPF was adopted. As more renewables have come online, increasingly uncompetitive coal plants have announced they’ll shut down in 2018 or convert to other fuel sources before 2025, when the UK’s own formal coal-exit begins.

Right now: Solar is generating more UK electricity than any other source (even gas) and zero coal on the system pic.twitter.com/PEJphJwVzd

— Simon Evans (@DrSimEvans) May 6, 2018

In contrast, Germany officially acknowledges that a CO2 price “can generally lead to a cost-efficient reduction of emissions,” but seems to have no intention of joining any additional European CO2 pricing systems other than the EU ETS. In an answer to a parliamentary inquiry submitted by the Green Party, the government said that the carbon pricing schemes used in other countries, such as the UK, would not be applicable in Germany due to “the respective national circumstances” of (coal) power production and demand.

Critics of Macron’s scheme are quick to point out that France, with its major reliance on nuclear energy, has already largely de-carbonized its electricity sector—though it too is adopting more renewables. Thus, higher carbon prices won’t cause much economic disruption domestically. The UK and other northern European nations that have also phased out coal could absorb an additional carbon tax as well. Germany, which is still largely coal-dependent, wouldn’t get off so easily.

However, a reformed EU emissions trading system, aligned with agreements made at the Paris COP 21 to keep global warming below 2C, could deal a knockout blow to EU coal. Carbon prices have already risen from a low of €4.38 per tonne last year to nearly €14 per tonne in May, and are set to double by 2021 to 25-€30 per tonne.

If this happens, even the most efficient coal and lignite power plants will be rendered unprofitable, claims author Mark Lewis, who recently joined Carbon Tracker from Barclays and Deutsche Bank. That is, unless flailing coal burners and feckless politicians adopt strategies to exempt coal, delaying its demise and putting a warming planet in ever-greater peril.

Categories: Blogs