Thursday, 30 April 2009

Deals to bring expansion of UK nuclear energy

By Ed Crooks, Energy Editor
Published: April 30 2009 02:42

A big expansion of nuclear power was launched on Wednesday as a German consortium bought two sites for building new reactors and committed itself to a huge investment programme.
RWE and Eon, two German-owned companies that are already large energy suppliers in Britain and have teamed up to build new nuclear plants, bought the sites at Wylfa in Anglesey and Oldbury in Gloucestershire in an auction held by the government’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

They said they planned to build 6,000 megawatts of nuclear generation capacity, implying four to six new reactors on the two sites.
RWE plans to invest up to £15bn ($22bn) in Britain in nuclear and other power plants.
However, Andy Duff, chief executive of RWE’s UK business, warned he had been “very very concerned” about the government’s energy policy in recent years, and delivering the new reactors on time relied on “an energy policy that is low on surprises and high on predictability and stability”.
The German consortium’s announcement gives Britain a second strong nuclear generator to compete with EDF of France. Last year, EDF bought British Energy, owner of most of the working nuclear power stations, for £12.4bn, and said it planned to build 6,400MW of new nuclear capacity in four reactors, probably at Sizewell in Suffolk and Hinkley Point in Somerset.
In total, the French and German plans meant that new nuclear power stations could generate more electricity than the ageing reactors they would replace, the government said.
The NDA’s auction of three sites suitable for new nuclear development – the third at Bradwell in Essex – closed on Wednesday, raising £387m for the government to help pay for the costs of cleaning up nuclear sites.
One of the bidders, a consortium of Iberdrola of Spain, which owns ScottishPower; GDF Suez of France and Scottish and Southern Energy of the UK dropped out after deciding that the bidding had gone too high.
That consortium said on Wednesday it was still interested in investing in nuclear power, but would look at other sites put up for sale by the government.
Mr Duff said he planned to have the RWE/Eon consortium’s first new reactor operational by 2020, but that depended on staying on the “critical path” for planning approvals, the licensing of reactor technology by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, and a long-term solution being found for the disposal of nuclear waste.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Electric Citroën C1 car is ready, but government grants are not

The Times
April 30, 2009

Ben Webster

The shift to greener motoring is being delayed by the Government’s refusal to offer grants for electric cars until 2011, according to a British company that today introduces the first fully electric car available to buyers.
The Electric Car Corporation fears that drivers will be deterred from buying its Bedford-built car for two years until the Government starts giving grants of up to £5,000.
Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, and Geoff Hoon, the Transport Secretary, announced the Government’s £250 million electric car strategy two weeks ago. They promised grants of £2,000-£5,000 per car to help motorists to buy electric vehicles “when they hit the showrooms — which we expect from 2011 onwards”.
However, the electric adaptation of the Citroën C1, a four-seater available from today, meets all the criteria for the grants.

When asked yesterday by The Times whether the grants would be brought forward to apply to the C1, the Department for Transport said: “Incentives will coincide with the expected mass introduction of ultra-low carbon cars to the market so that consumers have the maximum choice of which car they buy — we expect this to be around 2011.”
David Martell, chief executive of the Electric Car Corporation, said: “It would have been better if the Government had not made any announcement. Offering free beer tomorrow does not persuade people to buy beer today. The grants should be available now because our car meets the criteria outlined by the Government.”
He said that the company had been planning to produce at least 4,000 cars a year for the British market but the Government’s announcement meant it was unsure of demand and might have to scale back plans for expanding production.
The electric C1 costs £16,850, double the cost of the petrol version. With a £5,000 grant, the electric model would still be about £3,500 more expensive but the driver could save that much in a year in reduced running, parking and congestion charge costs.
It costs 90p to charge the electric C1’s 26 batteries, which give the car a range of 70 miles. It costs £5 for the fuel to cover the same distance in a petrol C1.The electric version has a top speed of 60mph and takes about seven hours to recharge fully from a domestic 13-amp socket.

Vestas raises £700m a day after cutting 600 UK jobs

Vestas, the world’s biggest maker of wind turbines, has raised 5.98 billion Danish crowns (£700m) in a new share issue - a day after cutting 600 jobs in the UK.

By Telegraph StaffLast Updated: 8:35AM BST 29 Apr 2009

The fund raising follows its announcement that it was cutting 1,900 jobs, maining in Denmark and Britain, because of sluggish demand in northern Europe, despite reporting a 70pc rise in first-quarter profits to €56m (£50m).
The layoffs represent about 9pc of Vestas’ global work force of 21,000 and will lead to the closure of its UK turbine plant on the Isle of Wight.

Vestas said in a statement on Wednesday that it had raised the £700m via the placing of 18.5m new shares at 323 Danish crowns a share with institutions.
The fund raising was announced alongside the jobs cuts on Tuesday.
Commitments by European governments, including the UK and Germany, to increase the amount of electricity generated by green energy alternatives has not translated into increased demand, the company said.

Barack Obama's 100 days: Green measures

Environmentalists in general have been impressed by the speed and sheer sweep of Obama's efforts to leave behind the George Bush era of climate change denial

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Wednesday 29 April 2009 11.33 BST

Barack Obama promised on his very first day in the White House to help move America towards a new green future. Now, 100 days on, environmentalists in general have been impressed by the speed and sheer sweep of Obama's efforts to leave behind the George Bush era of climate change denial, and try to set in place the foundations of a low carbon future.
So how has he performed? Obama, of course, has not had time to put in place the long-term measures needed to wean America off oil and coal. His administration has also had to scale back some of its ambitions because of opposition from Congress, charged with passing cap and trade legislation, and an American public that – unlike Obama – has yet to see global warming as a priority threat.
The Senate has yet to take up climate change legislation, which sharply reduces the chances of introducing a market-based cap and trade system by the end of this year. The administration has also frustrated some environmentalists.
But most agree that Obama has moved faster, and acted across a wider, than any other president to lay the foundations of a new low-carbon economy.
Here are some of the highlights of the last 100 days:
January 20: Only hours after Obama takes the oath of office, the White House issues a memo staying a number of Bush's "midnight regulations". The regulations, issued in the final hours of the Bush administration, had sought to do away with a generation of environmental protections imposed on polluters from factory farms to the burning of hazardous waste and oil shales development. Obama orders a review of the measures, which had been deplored by conservationists.
January 26: The president signs a pair of executive orders intended to set stricter limits on car exhaust emissions. Obama directs the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its refusal, under George Bush, to allow California to cut car exhaust by 30%. The president also calls on the Transportation Department to draw up new fuel 35 MPG fuel standard for all cars rolling off the assembly lines from 2012.
February 17: Obama signs a $787bn economic recovery plan. The rescue package contained historic levels of green investment – well over $100bn by some estimates. There were billions for refitting existing buildings to make them more energy efficiency, high-speed rail lines and commuter transit and updating the electric grid.
"In a lot of respects the stimulus package was a gigantic climate and energy bill by itself in a very positive way," said David Gardiner, a senior adviser at the Energy Future Coalition. "We have never had a president who has focused on this ... with [that] intensity."
March 19: He pledges $2.4bn for the development of hybrid cars and advanced batteries.
March 20: Michelle Obama digs up a patch of ground behind the White House to plant the first presidential vegetable garden since the second world war. The Obamas plan to put in lettuce, spinach, herbs such as coriander, and hot peppers – but no beets because the president does not like them.
March 30: Obama sets aside 2m acres of public land spread across nine states as wilderness, from California's Sierra Nevada to Virginia's Jefferson forest, shielding it from mining, logging and other operations. Another provision protects 1,000 miles of river.
April 17: The Environmental Protection Agency formally declares that carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases are a danger to public health and welfare. The so-called endangerment finding is a first step towards regulating coal-fired power plants and to forcing US car manufacturers to make cleaner and more fuel-efficient vehicles.
April 27: The US hosts a two-day forum for 17 of the world's most polluting economies to try to get closer to a deal before the international climate change summit at Copenhagen in December. The secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, declares the US, after eight years of going missing under George Bush, is now committed to helping lead the world towards a planet-saving deal. She also makes a direct pitch to India and China, saying that a move towards a greener economy will not hold back development, but could help them reach greater prosperity.

It can be done but what is it we are doing?

The Times
April 30, 2009
Carl Mortished: Analysis

"Oh Lord, make me carbon-neutral, but not yet.”
If St Augustine were in charge of UK energy policy, he might utter such a prayer. The sheer scale and cost of putting Britain on the path towards zero carbon is only beginning to become apparent.
In its report, published on Thursday, the UK Energy Research Centre suggests that a carbon price signal of £200 a tonne, 15 times the present level, is needed if we are to reach the Government's target of an 80 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050.
Small wonder, then, that the centre is dismissive of the Government's aspiration of generating a third of electricity from renewables by 2020. That we have barely started — wind accounted for about 1 per cent of power generation last year — is reason enough to be sceptical. What is more important, however, is not whether we match some politically inspired timeline (always just beyond a minister's career horizon) but whether the practical steps that must be taken to get even halfway towards the desired goal are affordable.

Recessions have a way of concentrating minds over the nitty-gritty price tags that must now be stuck on policies dreamt up when we thought we were rolling in clover. We are almost a decade away from 2020. In the energy industry, a decade is the lifespan of one big project.
The notion that Britain has the engineering capacity to build 30 gigawatts of wind power in the time available is fanciful. It is highly doubtful, even after the recent increase in the value of the renewable obligation, that the private sector has the appetite to commit resources to such a gargantuan objective.
More relevant is the rarely asked question whether the public wants the British power industry to undertake this challenge, when the costs are fully understood. If we are to go down this road, we are more or less saying goodbye to a free market in energy. At present, power companies selling electricity generated from nuclear, coal or gas bid their capacity into the grid but must buy a certain amount of wind power — the renewable obligation.
Such a massive increase in wind-generated power is causing headaches for National Grid as it seeks to ensure that all those off-shore turbines have equal access to the system as the power stations sitting close to the economic centres in southeast England. To make matters worse, wind often does not blow, so the investment in expanding the grid is hugely inefficient. On average, wind turbines operate at 20 per cent of capacity, so we still need all those coal and gas power plants to fill the gap on cold, still days.
The solution, suggested by some, is to have a clever system that can prioritise wind. When it blows hard, the proposed 30GW of wind-generated power would become the base load. Every electron from every whirligig would be used — nuclear, coal and oil would pick up the slack.
That would make best use of the resource and it would cut out more carbon, but it would turn the market on its head. Instead of a system that rewards the most efficient and cheapest source of power, we would have a command to buy the most expensive and unreliable. By government diktat, the stuff that powered your fridge would be gold dust, not coal dust.
We can do these things, slowly, but must understand we are doing more than just building windmills. We are moving from a market economy to a planned economy. It will be hard to go back.

Generals must give us their exit strategy for climate change

It's not unreasonable for us to ask how today's sacrifices will meet tomorrow's climate change goals, says Myles Allen

Myles Allen, Wednesday 29 April 2009 18.02 BST

Like many of us in these cash-strapped times, I lead a double life, fitting the job of a climate physics lecturer around the implacable 3pm primary school pick-up time. I get a range of reactions at the school gates when other parents find out that I work on climate change. Some mention how much effort they put into recycling or ask whether it really is as bad as the papers make out. Others quietly change the subject when it looks as if our work on flood risk might affect house prices.
Like all scientists, most of what I do is arcane and technical and of very little interest to outsiders. For once, however, I'm involved in a couple of studies (published today in Nature), that my fellow parents might just find interesting. The headline result of both papers is that the risk of dangerous climate change is primarily determined by the total amount of carbon dioxide that we, the human race, release into the atmosphere over all time, not by emissions in any particular year.
For example, releasing a total of a trillion tonnes of carbon causes a most likely warming of around 2C, which many scientists and governments regard as a threshold above which the risks rise steeply. A most likely warming of 2C means, of course, a substantial risk of warming higher still. Keeping the risk of warming over 2C to odds of less than one in four makes the job even harder. It cuts the total "cumulative budget" that we can get away with releasing to under three-quarters of a trillion tonnes.
Given that we have released over half a trillion tonnes already since 1750, we are left with a budget in the region of half-as-much-again to the-same-again. On current trends we'll use that up in only 20-40 years. Emissions are clearly going to have to start going down soon.
So is this just another climate doom-story to make the parents at the school gate feel even more worried and guilty? Worry and guilt comes naturally to green-minded parents. Listening to environmentalists, it's easy to get the feeling that climate change is primarily their fault, and that it's up to them to solve it.
It is they who are left struggling to find the right size of low-energy lightbulbs in Homebase; turning down the central heating; finding an electricity supplier who is 30% renewable; nagging the kids about turning the television off at the wall. And now, to cap it all, they have to worry sending the kids to school on the bus is exposing them to swine flu.
As the cannon fodder in the forthcoming battle to curb climate change, my fellow parents are entitled to know their generals' strategy. Heroic efforts to reduce your family's carbon footprint will reduce your contribution to the current rate of emission of carbon dioxide. But what our research papers coming out today show is that emitting carbon dioxide slower will not prevent dangerous climate change unless it is a means to an end of phasing out carbon dioxide emissions altogether.
So the question I'd like to see posed to our politicians, speaking now not as a scientist but from the primary school gates, is: "What do you plan to do with trillionth tonne?" (And, of course, every tonne thereafter.)
There are only three options: we release it into the atmosphere, in which case we are committing, most likely, to dangerous climate change greater than 2C; we set up an emission control regime so stringent that no one, anywhere in the world, will dream of digging it up and burning it; or we accept it is going to get burnt and prevent it getting into the atmosphere. None are palatable options.
There are promising signs though. The UK Committee on Climate Change acknowledged the need for a cumulative budget in their report last year, and politicians of all stripes are talking about carbon capture and storage. But the proposals are for pilot plants, "capture ready" plants (which seems to mean as much as HD-ready television), deployment over the next 20 years and so on.But we won't find out until try.
So, as your local environmental group urges you over the top to capture the next ridge in the fight against climate change, it is neither defeatist nor disloyal to ask, "what is the exit strategy?" How will the sacrifices we will have to make today achieve what must at the very minimum be our long-term goal – to save the trillionth tonne?
Dr Myles Allen is generally known as Colette, John and Jim's Dad. He is also a university lecturer in the department of physics, University of Oxford

Climate countdown: Half a trillion tonnes of carbon left to burn

To avoid dangerous climate change of 2C, the world can only burn another half a trillion tonnes of carbon, climate change experts warn

David Adam, environment correspondent, Wednesday 29 April 2009 18.03 BST

The world has already burned half the fossil fuels necessary to bring about a catastrophic 2C rise in average global temperature, scientists revealed today.
The experts say about half a trillion tonnes of carbon have been consumed since the industrial revolution. To prevent a 2C rise, they say, the total burnt must be kept to below a trillion tonnes. On current rates, that figure will be reached in 40 years.
Myles Allen, a climate expert at Oxford University who led the new study, said: "Mother Nature doesn't care about dates. To avoid dangerous climate change we will have to limit the total amount of carbon we inject into the atmosphere, not just the emission rate in any given year."
The scientists say their research could simplify political attempts to tackle global warming, which encompass a range of targets and timetables. Such proposals usually set future limits on the amount of carbon dioxide allowed to build up in the atmosphere, such as 450 parts per million (ppm), or as future emission rates, such as the UK's pledge to slash emissions 80% by 2050.
The new study effectively re-frames such targets as an available budget - to avoid dangerous climate change of 2C the world can only burn another half a trillion tonnes of carbon.
Writing in today's Nature, Allen and colleagues say a trillion tonnes of carbon burnt would be likely to produce a warming of between 1.6C and 2.6C, with a "most likely" 2C rise.
Chris Huntingford of the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology said: "Research often reveals new complexities, but this analysis could actually simplify matters for policy makers. The relationship between total emissions and future warming can be inferred largely from quantities we can observe, and is remarkably insensitive to the timing of future emissions."
The key implication of the research, the scientists say, is that access to fossil fuels must somehow be rationed and eventually turned off, if the 2C target is to be met. "If country A burns it then country B can't," said Bill Hare, a climate expert with the Potsdam Institute in Germany. "It's like a draining tank."
The research also highlights that continued high rates of fossil fuel use in the next decade will demand extraordinary cuts in emissions in future decades to hit the 2C target. Allen said: "If you use too much [carbon] this year, it doesn't mean the planet will come to an end. It means you have to work even harder the next year."
A separate study, also published today in Nature, led by Malte Meinshausen at the Potsdam Institute, use a similar approach and sets a different carbon budget. They say the world can only emit 190bn tonnes of carbon between now and 2050 if it aims for a 2C rise. Emissions over 310bn tonnes in that time lead to a 50% chance of going over 2C.
The new research does not say anything about the likelihood of reaching the 2C target. They simply change the way progress towards the target is measured.
In an accompanying commentary article, the scientists behind both studies say: "These results are not incompatible with current proposals for near-term emission targets -- the small size of the cumulative emission budgets to 2050 reinforces the need for global CO2 emissions to peak around or before 2020 so that emission pathways remain technologically and economically feasible."
They add: "Having taken 250 years to burn the first half trillion tonnes of carbon we look set, on current trends, to burn the next half trillion in less than 40. No one could credibly suggest that we should carry on with business as usual to the 2040s and then somehow suddenly stop using fossil fuels, switch to 100% carbon capture or just shut down the world economy overnight."

Yes, the planet’s future is a worry, but we’ll carry on flying, consumers tell opinion poll

The Times
April 30, 2009
Marcus Leroux

Even consumers who care about the environment are not willing to fly less and are sceptical about the benefits of carbon-offsetting, a poll for The Times has found.
Only 38 per cent of concerned consumers said that they would take fewer flights in the next 12 months, down from 46 per cent last year, while just 10 per cent believe that offsetting is an effective way to tackle climate change, according to the Populus poll.
The findings will hearten the aviation industry as it faces the combined challenge of a global economic downturn, amid which passenger numbers fell by 11 per cent last month, and concern about the environmental impact of the growth in air travel in the past decade.
Cynicism about carbon-offsetting, by which a passenger or a company pays a premium for carbon-saving measures elsewhere, has convinced people that it is merely a “sticking plaster”, David Lourie, an analyst from Good Business, said.

Only 16 per cent of respondents had offset carbon emissions and 41 per cent said that it was “purely a gesture”. Concern about a lack of transparency on carbon-saving schemes associated with offsetting programmes appears to be well-founded: of those who had paid to offset flights, only 45 per cent knew where the money went.
However, the onus of environmental responsibility still rests upon airlines, according to concerned consumers. Some 38 per cent said that carriers bore responsibility, ahead of the Government and aircraft manufacturers, with 19 per cent each.
Passengers and oil companies were bottom of the list.
Respondents believing that the airline industry is taking its environmental impact seriously have risen by nearly half – to 39 per cent, from 27 per cent. Yet 84 per cent believe that airlines should be forced to retire older, more polluting aircraft.
Budget airlines, such as Ryanair, fare poorly in the survey on perceptions of ethical and environmental behaviour, even though they tend to use newer aircraft than larger rivals, and to fly with fewer empty seats.
This is likely to reflect environmental concern about the growth of budget air travel itself. Companies such as Ryanair and easyJet have comparatively low environmental impact per passenger mile.
Mr Lourie suggested that Ryanair’s bad showing may be related to Michael O’Leary, its outspoken chief executive, who has said: “We will take [passengers] off British Airways and the other old carriers who are flying gas-guzzling, ancient aircraft and pack them into fuel-efficient planes. So Ryanair will be saving the environment – not that we care much.” Mr O’Leary has also said: “I listen to all this drivel about turning down the central heating, going back to candles, returning to the Dark Ages. You do that if you want to. But none of it will make any difference. It just panders to your middle-class, middle-aged angst and guilt.”
Ryanair’s load factor – how full its aircraft are – was 77 per cent last month, against its 12-month average of 81 per cent. British Airways had a load factor of 73 per cent last month.
Mr Lourie said: “The aviation industry does have a huge impact on the environment, though its contribution is very little compared with overall emissions. It’s an issue that the motor industry has shirked in the past by ploughing on regardless. There’s still a long way to go for the airline industry.”
The Ryanair effect shows that how a company communicates its environmental message matters, Mr Lourie said. “Airlines need to show commitment with big steps like increasing load factor and increasing the efficiency of flights and retiring planes earlier,” he said. “But there’s also potential for small steps, such as on the supply chain, that will help to address these issues. That would help to demonstrate to the consumer that not only are they addressing the big issues where they can, but also the little issues that may be more about showing consumers they are serious.”
The airline industry has complained of being unfairly singled out on carbon emissions. In 2006 it was responsible for 6.4 per cent of Britain’s greenhouse-gas emissions, but campaign groups such as Plane Stupid say that air travel’s growth is unsustainable.
Yet even among concerned consumers the case against a third runway at Heathrow is not conclusive: two thirds support expansion of Britain’s aviation capacity, but two thirds oppose the building of a third runway.
More generally, the findings suggest a gap between perceptions and reality. Concerned consumers were asked which did most harm to the environment from a range of activities, including heating your home and flying to Europe twice a year. Heating ranked last, with only 11 per cent identifying it – rightly – as having most impact.
Overall, the concerned consumer poll indicates a better opinion of companies’ social and environmental records. Since people have become more critical of companies during the credit crunch, Mr Lourie cited the change as a sign of improved consumer sentiment.

Climate scientists warn of looming disaster

By Fiona Harvey, Environment Correspondent
Published: April 29 2009 18:59

Scientists have worked out how much greenhouse gas the world can emit in total without tipping climate change towards catastrophic levels of warming and have warned the world is on course for disaster.
Even the most drastic emissions cuts currently being discussed stand little chance of limiting global warming to safe levels, two studies by scientists in Oxford and Germany have found, prompting calls for a radical rethink on how to tackle climate change.

The findings, to be published on Thursday in the peer review journal Nature, mean that less than a quarter of the world’s proven and economically recoverable fossil fuel reserves can be burnt between now and 2050 to avoid a jump of more than 2ºC above pre-industrial levels, widely regarded by scientists as the limit of safety.
To remain on track with this “carbon budget” Canada would have to leave its oil sands untapped and Saudi Arabia would need to leave most of its oil reserves in the ground to avert disaster.
“If we continue burning fossil fuels as we do, will have exhausted the carbon budget in merely 20 years and global warming will go well beyond 2ºC,” said Malte Meinshausen, of the Potsdam Institute and lead author of one of the studies.
At more than 2ºC of warming, climate change becomes irreversible and in many cases catastrophic, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Sea level rises, droughts, floods, heatwaves and more intense storms would result, and large swaths of land, including parts of southern Europe, would become unsuitable for agriculture.
The conclusion has led to calls for governments to consider more drastic measures than emissions cuts, including ways to “geo engineer” the world’s climate through untried and exotic methods such as erecting mirrors in space.
“This changes the way we think about climate change,” said Myles Allen of Oxford University, one of the lead authors. “It’s something for policymakers to chew on.”
More than 100 governments have committed to halving global emissions by 2050, and many developed countries to reducing their emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, compared with 1990 levels. But the authors of Thursday’s studies said this was unlikely to be enough.
“In theory we could just make it,” said Martin Parry, of Imperial College London. “But this is the real world, not scientific theory – and who would bet on this, given our experience with the pace of [progress] in the past?”
Once the carbon budget, which the studies put at about 1,000bn tonnes of carbon, has been used up then the world will be committed to more than 2ºC of warming unless drastic alternative action is taken.
Another danger of reaching 2ºC of warming is that the climate might surpass some “tipping points” which amplify the warming effect, resulting in much more rapid rises in temperature. Tipping points result from feedback mechanisms in the climate – for instance, as permafrost melts in Siberia it uncovers marshes which release methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, adding to the warming.
Drastic actions such as “seeding clouds” to lighten their colour and reflect more sunlight could help to cool the earth by reflecting sunlight. Other suggestions including putting a sunshield or mirror in space to deflect some of the sun’s rays.
Prominent scientists including John Holdren, President Barack Obama’s chief science adviser, have mooted such methods recently. But these would have to be carried out alongside deep emissions cuts to have an effect.
We must also adapt the world’s infrastructure – through flood barriers, improving health services and other measures – to prepare for warming far above 2ºC, according to Professor Parry and colleagues, also writing in Nature. “We should be planning to adapt to at least 4ºC of warming,” they said.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Europe's green energy vision puts UK in dark

The Times
April 30, 2009
Robin Pagnamenta, Energy and Environment Editor

It is a dazzling vision of a clean energy future. An entire continent powered by solar panels, wind and wave turbines, geothermal and hydroelectric power stations — and all stitched together by a European “supergrid” stretching from the sunbaked deserts of the south to the windswept North Sea, from the volcanoes of Iceland to the lakes of Finland.
It may sound like the stuff of science fiction but this is a vision that the European Union wants to make a reality. The concept is gaining ground among policymakers, including leaders such as President Sarkozy and Gordon Brown, who are concerned about Europe's carbon emissions and its steadily growing dependence on Russian gas.
Adam Bruce, chairman of the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA), is convinced that a European supergrid that could eventually banish polluting fossil fuels altogether, is only a matter of time.
“We are only limited by our own ambition,” he says. “The capacity is there. There is the potential for wind alone to supply 50 per cent or more of our energy needs.”

Gregor Czisch, a German academic at the University of Kassel who developed the concept, claims it would cost €45 billion (£40.5 billion) to build. The numbers add up, he insists, and all of Europe's electricity supplies could eventually be harvested from the wind, water and the sun.
Such dreams of renewable energy certainly catch the imagination but for Britain, which generates just 1 per cent of its electricity from renewables — the least in the European Union after Malta and Luxembourg — the gap between ambition and reality seems particularly stark.
The truth is that, despite the Government's talk of a green energy revolution, Britain's renewable energy industry is in crisis.
About 40 per cent of the UK's power stations were built before 1975 and urgently need to be replaced. But the combined impact of the credit crunch, falling oil and coal prices and the weaker pound now threaten to hold up wind projects just as the UK has raised its commitment to green electricity.
“The economics a year ago were already tight but the cost of capital and the foreign exchange movement have made it much harder,” says Sarwjit Sambhi, director of power generation at Centrica, one of Britain's Big Six power companies, which is trying to build a 250 megawatt (MW) wind farm off Lincolnshire, big enough to supply 170,000 homes. “We are not going to make investments below our return on capital so my goal will be to spend as little as possible until the economics improve,” he said.
In last week's Budget, the Government announced incentives designed to bolster investment in huge offshore windfarms and ensure that Britain hits its target of raising the share of electricity produced from renewable sources to 35 to 40 per cent by 2020.
So will they work? Not according to Jim Skea, director of the UK Energy Research Centre. He has just undertaken a big research project into how the UK can slash its carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. “In none of the scenarios we looked at were renewables picked up nearly fast enough to meet the 2020 targets,” said Professor Skea. “It will be a big struggle. We are not spending nearly enough.”
Wind power, easily the most economically attractive form of renewable energy in the UK, remains hugely expensive when compared with gas and coal.
A recently approved gas-fired station in Pembroke will cost £1 billion and will be the largest in the UK, producing 2,000MW. It would cost six times as much to build a windfarm of similar capacity.
While a strengthened subsidy regime and up to £4 billion of extra funding from the European Investment Bank (EIB) announced in the Budget are welcome, Professor Skea believes that far more radical action will be required, including huge increases in research spending to accelerate the development of better technology, and a dramatic rise in the price of traded carbon emissions, up from £13 presently to £200 a tonne.
But that is not all. Sceptics scoff that wind, wave and solar power are inherently unreliable. A solution could lie in back-up gas and nuclear plants and a far smarter grid that includes technology to balance the load at moments of reduced supply.
This could range from sophisticated centralised networks right into homes, where chips embedded in non-essential appliances could force them to switch off for brief periods as and when the grid demanded it.
Such technology exists but it is a world away from today's grid, some of which dates back to the 1930s, and it will require vast investments and sweeping regulatory change to accomplish.
Until Europe's governments grapple with the fine detail of these issues, the Continent's dreams of a supergrid and a future free of fossil fuels are likely to remain in the realms of science fiction.
Ultimately, according to Professor Skea, an international deal at the UN climate talks in Copenhagen in December will be critical to achieving the political momentum required to achieve all of this.
Nevertheless, the BWEA's Adam Bruce remains upbeat: “It's certainly a challenge but these problems are not insurmountable. The more renewable energy you create the less it costs. People focus on the upfront capital cost but not the longer-term benefits.”

Small-scale green energy grants rise to £150,000

Published Date: 30 April 2009

THE level of grants to help communities develop small-scale renewable energy schemes has been increased by the Scottish Government.
Up to £150,000 is now available – a rise of 50 per cent – to fund technical support, training and installation of green energy equipment.The Communities and Renewable Energy Scheme (Cares) replaces an initiative which helped develop more than 400 projects. Energy minister Jim Mather said: "I want to maximise the benefits of renewable energy to communities throughout Scotland." Nicholas Gubbins, chief executive of Dingwall-based charity Community Energy Scotland, which is delivering the Cares project, said: "There is already a high level of interest and enthusiasm within communities for developing their own projects."These can bring real benefits to communities, helping to address energy costs and making a significant contribution to Scotland's carbon and renewable energy targets."

UK 'will struggle' to meet 2020 renewables goal

Coalition of energy and climate scientists reveal scenarios for how lifestyles and energy generation in Britain must change to reach 2050 emission reduction targets

Alok Jha, green technology correspondent, Thursday 30 April 2009 00.05 BST

The UK will "struggle" to meet its 2020 target to source 15% of its electricity from renewable sources, according to a leading energy expert who also advises the UK government on climate policy.
Jim Skea, research director of the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) and a member of the government's advisory Committee on Climate Change warned yesterday that, while renewable energy would play an important role in meeting the UK's target to reduce CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050, the more immediate 2020 goal of sourcing 15% of UK electricity from renewables would be "a very big struggle".
He made the comments at a briefing to launch a new UKERC report that presents scenarios for how lifestyles and energy generation in Britain would have to change reach the 2050 climate targets. The study concludes that investing in low-carbon energy technologies in the short term will save the UK billions of pounds in its goal to reach its long-term targets while consumer resistance to change would also raise the cost of a low-carbon Britain.
The scenarios were based on two years of work by a coalition of energy and climate scientists. Each study took in various constraints such as how willing consumers might be to use energy more efficiently or change the amount and way they travel. In all the scenarios, the electricity sector would be completely carbon free by 2050 through the use of nuclear power, renewables and carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. This clean electricity would then become the main source of power for homes and transport.
Skea said that none of the scenarios had a major role for renewables technology until at least the 2030s. "If you're looking at all the potential delays on the system of deploying renewable energy, getting grid connections in, getting planning permissions, 2020 is almost tomorrow and we'll have to struggle very hard to reach it," said Skea. "If these barriers could be removed, it's technically possible but a lot of political will is needed to push this through."
According to the report, achieving the 2050 target using the most economic methods would cost around £17bn, or around £700 per household per year. But this cost would rise if consumers were resistant to new technologies.
"Nimby" attitudes to building nuclear power, biofuel crops or onshore wind could push up the costs of reaching 2050 targets to £20bn or £800 per household per year. An ecologically active public that demands an end to all fossil fuels and all environmentally damaging practices such as open-cast coal-mining would push the price up even further, to £28bn, or £1,100 per household, though this scenario would also end up providing more clean energy for Britons to use.
Skea said that driving these required changes would be difficult but one way would be to raise the price of carbon so that businesses were incentivised to invest in cleaner, low-carbon technologies instead. A carbon price of £200 per tonne of CO2 by 2050 would be required, he said, leading to petrol prices of at least £5 per litre. But this would not necessarily mean that household energy bills would rise. "The price of energy might go up but the absolute amount you pay might go down," said Skea.
One of the UKERC scenarios involved wide-ranging changes in the way people lived their lives, for example, that could end up saving consumers and businesses more than £50bn in energy bills every year. This included taking up energy efficiency measures at home including lowering temperatures on thermostats from 20C to 17C, installing insulation and microgeneration. At the same time almost all car journeys for short distances would be cut out, and only ultra-low carbon or electric cars be used for longer journeys with more people working from home.
"In the residential and transport sector, energy demand will halve by 2050," said Jillian Anable, head of transport research at UKERC. "What that means for the total energy system is that energy use will reduce by a third. This means de-carbonisation could take place more slowly. The cost of delivering this low-carbon scenario would be reduced."
Another author of the study, Mark Winskel of the Institute of Energy Systems at Edinburgh University, highlighted the need for more support for research and development (R&D) of new energy technologies. "There has been an absolute decline in R&D spend which went down from £700m per annum in the mid 1970s. From the mid 1990s, we're averaging £100m per annum."
Raising the investment back to 1970s levels and using the cash to accelerate the commercial viability of energy systems including solar photovoltaics, wave and tidal energy, would save the UK around £1bn a year on average between 2010 and 2040, said Winskel, in not having to buy in more expensive carbon-reduction technologies in future to meet 2050 targets.
Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace UK, said that converting to a low-carbon economy was a task that demanded spending now, despite the economic downturn, to save money in the long run.
"Evidence from countries that have successfully developed big renewable industries shows that governments need to support domestic markets, encouraging rapid development with help on planning and incentives. Without a strong government lead the fossil fuel corporate dinosaurs will get in the way and prevent the growth in green-collar jobs which we need. Expanding renewables is about controlling corporate influence as well as government targets."
Friends of the Earth's executive director, Andy Atkins, said: "This report confirms what we have always said - slashing UK emissions and building a low carbon economy is both achievable and affordable. But the government must stop dithering over the urgent need to act."
"Putting energy saving and the development of green sources of power at the heart of policy-making would make the UK a world leader in tackling climate change, increase energy security, end fuel poverty and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs. A green energy revolution is desperately needed to meet the challenges we all face. Time is running out – Brown must show that he has the political courage to develop a safer, cleaner future."

UK Government green goals face failure

The Times
April 30, 2009
Robin Pagnamenta, Energy and Environment Editor

Government plans to generate more than a third of Britain's electricity from green energy sources, such as wind and solar power, by 2020 are doomed to failure without a dramatic increase in state support, according to a leading energy research group.
Despite fresh incentives to increase investment in offshore wind parks announced in last week's Budget, the UK Energy Research Centre (ERC) said on Wednesday that it was virtually impossible for the UK to meet the target imposed by Europe of generating 15 per cent of total energy from renewable sources by 2020 — which equates to about 35 per cent of total electricity.
Jim Skea, research director, said: “Renewables can make a significant contribution, but if you look at the scale of what is required, I think that is very, very challenging and 2020 is almost tomorrow when you look at what needs to be achieved.”
Professor Skea said that Britain urgently needed to set a higher carbon price to hasten the adoption of low carbon technologies and to boost investment in energy research — which has collapsed from £700 million a year in the 1970s and 1980s to just £100 million annually.

He also said that sweeping new measures would be needed to encourage dramatic cuts in energy use.
Speaking at the launch of a new study on how the UK can meet its long-term goal of cutting carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, the ERC said the carbon price would need to rise to £200 per tonne from £13. He said that this would equate to an increase in the price of petrol to about £5 a litre. Professor Skea said: “In almost every scenario we looked at, oil is driven out of the system. It would be cheaper for people to shift to biofuels or electric vehicles.”
Professor Skea said that the goal of cutting emissions by 80 per cent was achievable, but only with big changes in funding and in people's lifestyles, including a shift towards teleworking and phasing out petrol vehicles.
The ERC claimed that the cost of meeting these goals would be £17 billion a year — or £670 for every one of the 25 million UK households, which would be achieved through higher utility bills, extra transport costs and higher prices for goods and services.
The ERC, which consists of energy academics at universities across the UK, undertakes research that is supplied to the public sector and to government. It was established in 2004 after a recommendation from Sir David King, the Government's chief scientific adviser at the time.
Professor Skea said: “UK energy policy goals are extraordinarily ambitious. Meeting them will require efforts well beyond the bounds of historical experience. By looking at the energy system in the round, our researchers have shown not only that the goals can be met, but that it is possible to reconcile them with wider technological, social and environmental changes.”
The UK spends about £100 billion a year on energy, including domestic, transport and industrial use.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Australia's Loy Yang Power in landmark carbon deal

Reuters, Wednesday April 29 2009

SYDNEY, April 29 (Reuters) - Australian electricity generator Loy Yang Power has entered into a landmark deal to hedge some of its carbon emissions, ahead of the country's planned introduction of a carbon-trading system next year, Loy Yang said on Wednesday.
Loy Yang, part owned by AGL and Tokyo Electric Power Co <9501.t>, said it had entered into a certified emission reduction (CER) trade with local energy trader Arcadia Energy Trading, the first between two Australian counter-parties.
The deal covers 100,000 tonnes of carbon, deliverable in December 2011.
(Reporting by Mark Bendeich; Editing by Bruce Hextall)

How 'smart fridges' could slash UK CO2 emissions and help renewables

Instead of spikes in demand and coal-fired solutions, fridges and washing machines may soon be available that can regulate their own energy usage. Mark Anslow reports on a new generation of electrical appliances that 'listen' and learn. From The Ecologist, part of the Guardian Environment Network

Mark Anslow, Tuesday 28 April 2009 10.38 BST

"What do you think was happening here?"
Jon Fenn, electricity operations manager for National Grid, is standing pointing at a jagged graph projected on to the wall of his ofice in the grid's electricity control centre in Berkshire.
The graph shows the nation's total electricity demand during the first round 2006 World Cup match between England and Sweden. Demand steadily falls throughout the first half, followed by a sudden spike at half-time, followed by another steady fall, then another spike and a plateau at the end of the match. Fenn is pointing to the lowest point of demand, right at the end of the game's first half.
He asks: "What do you think we were looking for?"
I look blank. "We were looking to see if there was going to be any extra time played," he explains patiently.
For the controllers who staff the National Grid's control room 24 hours a day, extra time in a national football match means something very significant. They are waiting for hundreds of thousands of kettles to be boiled at half-time, countless fridge doors to be opened and a multitude of kitchen lights to be flicked on. At half-time in 2006, electricity demand soared by almost two gigawatts in a matter of minutes – equivalent to suddenly needing the combined output of nearly two Dungeness B nuclear power plants. Twenty minutes later, as everyone sat back down in front of the TV, the demand had disappeared.
To anticipate this sort of spike in demand, the grid engineers quickly need to bring extra power plants online. Extra time played in the game could mean they bring the power on too early, risking tripping fuses on the grid. Bring it online too late, however, and blackouts could result.
It's a fine balancing act, and also highly expensive and polluting. A key component of being able to match these sudden spikes in demand is what is known as 'spinning reserve' – essentially keeping a power station running but only using a part of its output, ready to ramp up to full power at a moment's notice.
Because this kind of use is unsuited to nuclear power plants, which take days to come on- or offline, and can potentially damage the more modern and sensitive natural gas plants, it tends to be the workhorse coal power stations that fulfil this 'balancing' role. One estimate suggests that more than 2.1 million tonnes of CO2 are produced every year simply keeping these power stations 'ticking over', waiting for us to flip the kettle on.
It's not just football matches that generate these spikes in demand, however. In fact, every winter's day our demand for electricity soars from a night-time low of around 35 to almost 60 gigawatts during the evening rush hour. In the summer, that profile is different still – flatter, but with different peaks when air conditioning equipment is switched on in the heat of the day. Fenn can point to little spikes in our electricity demand during the middle of the night when night storage heaters suddenly trip into life.
"We're students of collective public behaviour," he admits.
A cool innovation
Endearing as it may be, however, our electrical behaviour is becoming increasingly problematic. The current reliance on coal power plants to balance out demand will come to end as a result of the 2007 Large Combustion Plant Directive – legislation that regulates the non-CO2 emissions from coal and oil plants, and which will force several to close by 2015. And on the flip-side, as more wind energy is brought online the variability of the grid will increase. Although wind energy is not 'unpredictable' as some critics suggest – it can be accurately forecast hours in advance – it does prove a problem for the current grid setup, where supply has to be matched to demand at all costs. Wind may blow strongly in the middle of the night, when the demand is low, but slacken off during the evening rush hour.
What's clearly needed is some way of matching not only supply to demand, but also demand to supply – some sort of what the industry likes to call 'demand management'.
"Don't say demand management!" hisses David Hirst when we first meet. "Say demand. Only the electricity companies would be so arrogant as to talk about "managing" their customers."
A former IT expert and the inventor of a technology that might help even out the variability on the grid, Hirst has developed a small, cheap piece of electronics that could be built into all new home fridges and freezers. Currently being marketed by British company RLtec, the device would constantly 'listen' to the frequency of the grid – a direct indication of whether the grid is over- or underpowered. If the grid frequency drops then the fridge would know that lots of consumers had suddenly increased their electricity demand – perhaps for the half-time cuppa – and that operators in the grid control room would be about to open the throttle on a series of coal-fired power plants. In response, the fridge could switch its cooling unit off until the grid frequency had returned to a normal level – in effect reducing 'non-essential' demand until the grid operators had managed to balance the system again, hopefully without resorting to too much coal.
"The fridges would only remain off for between 15 and 30 minutes," Hirst says. "Any longer than half an hour, and the fridges would say to themselves, "stuff this for a laugh", and start working again. Food preservation is paramount."
Some good scientific modelling work has been done on this, which suggests that if each of the three million domestic fridges sold in the UK every year were fitted with this technology (known as 'dynamic demand'), then the equivalent electrical response of all these units would be 35 megawatts – the size of a small wind farm. If, however, all of the UK's 40 million fridges were eventually replaced with dynamic demand units, then the response level would rise to between 728 and 1,174 megawatts – a level that RLtec claims would make an entire spinning reserve power plant obsolete.
It's an attractive idea, and one that National Grid welcomes.
"Evening-out demand would make things very much simpler for us," Fenn says. "There's a great opportunity for technology here."
There is, however, also a great shrugging of shoulders when it comes to deciding who will pay for installing the dynamic demand equipment in the fridges. In theory, the rapid-response service provided by the fridges is worth a fair amount of money to National Grid – between £4.40 and £34.10 per fridge, in fact, according to Government commissioned research. This is because it offsets expensive charges made by coal power plant operators for their usual balancing services. National Grid, though, is reluctant to commit to funding the fridges without knowing exactly how effective they will be in aggregate. There is also talk of using money from the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (CERT) energy eficiency levy on the power companies – the tax that explains why your utility is throwing energy-saving light bulbs at you and offering to lag your loft. As yet, everyone is waiting for the result of a larger smart fridge trial, due to report back in 2010.
Fridges are only the tip of dynamic demand iceberg, however. For a start, Hirst says, they essentially only allow the grid to 'borrow' power for half an hour – after that, they all need cooling back down again. Where things get more exciting, though, is when you look at the possibility of shifting the 'on' times of other appliances, such as dishwashers.
Hirst calculates that if the UK's 10 million dishwasher owners were to load up the machines with crockery and then, rather than switch them on immediately after dinner, set the machines simply to have the load washed between 11pm and 7am, then the grid would effectively have 10 gigawatt hours (Gwh) of flexible storage. This vast amount is equivalent to the capacity of the Dinorwig pumped storage plant in Wales, which pumps water up into a huge reservoir when electricity is cheap and then lets it roar through turbines when demand surges in the evening. It could also save a considerable amount of CO2 often produced during the evening peak by gas power stations.
As electric-car ownership increases, so will electricity demand. It makes sense to charge cars at night when demand is low, but linked into smart meters, cars could charge whenever electricity is cheap – when the wind is strong, for example. They could also feed power back to the grid at times of high demand, like a giant battery.
The list goes on. Immersion heaters in our hot water tanks are, like fridges, currently a law unto themselves, tripping on when their thermostats tell them to. As long as water is hot for morning showers or evening baths, however, the exact time at which these devices run is not especially important to us – but very important in terms of running a low-carbon electricity system. Similarly, certain spaceheating systems, such as storage heaters or underfloor heating could become more flexible. What's needed is a way of bringing these appliances together so that they know when is the most eficient time to power up.
Enter the smart meter – the only part of the much-vaunted 'smart grid' that the householder will ever see. A smart meter is essentially a meter that allows two-way communication: the electricity company can read the meter remotely and the householder can see both how much power they are using, and how much it costs. Unfortunately, that's about where consensus on smart meters stops. Some would like the meters simply to give customers information on energy usage; others see the display part of the meters – sited in the house – as a tool to discourage householders from using energy at peak times; still others would like to see the meter communicate remotely with appliances in the house, allowing them to operate at the most efficient times of day.
Joe Short, an expert in the field and founder of the charity Dynamic Demand, warns that a mistake with smart meters at this early stage could spell disaster for developing truly energy efficient ways of running our homes.
"We need to be very careful that the smart meter agenda is not driven by the agenda of the large energy suppliers," he says. "The big players are interested in smart metering because of the automatic meter-reading element, but we need a signal to get into the house – either a carbon or price signal. We need not to miss the opportunity of all these smart meters."
David Hirst is worried about the influence of the energy companies on smart metering for a different reason.
"Do you really want someone to be able to control the appliances in your house? Least of all the electricity companies?" he asks, voicing a concern already raised by consumer groups.
Hirst has a different model for smart meters, one that explains why he insists on referring to demand 'participation' rather than 'management'. He wants to see smart meters tune into future price broadcasts from the electricity companies, sent out every few minutes. A high electricity price would indicate high demand on the grid (and hence, high CO2 emissions), while a low price would indicate either low demand or an abundance of wind or solar energy. Appliances – laundry machines, dishwashers and even electric cars – would calculate when would be cheapest to run and plan to wait until the best time to switch themselves on.
"It would mean you, and your appliances, would have a choice," Hirst says. "Occasionally, you may simply say, 'I need it urgently – I'll pay the extra'. That's participation."
The future of smart meters – and smart appliances – is yet to be written. A recent trial in the District of Columbia, US, saw 1,400 customers fitted with smart meters coupled to their air conditioning units. With the householder's day-to-day permission, the electricity company was able to deactivate the home's air conditioning system at times of peak electricity demand, and give customers a rebate on their bill as a result. The UK's own trials, conducted by Ofgem, have been disappointing, dogged by equipment problems. But elsewhere in Europe – notably in Italy, where almost 30 million meters have been installed – the response has been positive.
'Smart' appliances and demand-responsive fridges are, of course, only bits of kit. If householders and tenants fail to engage with the new devices – and in one of the UK trials a quarter of those using energy monitors didn't even bother to replace the batteries when they ran out – then no amount of technical wizardry will help. The purpose of all these devices is simple: in the words of Jessica Strömbäck of the VaasaETT Global Energy Think Tank at a 'demand response' conference in January: "It is important in the long run that customers change their view of electricity from a natural human right to the costly resource that it is".

BP solar profits slump

BP's renewables unit suffers as overall profits crash by two-thirds

Tim Webb and Graeme Wearden, Tuesday 28 April 2009 17.12 BST

BP has reported a slump in sales of solar panels and falling profits at its alternative energy division. Overall, BP group profits fell by almost two-thirds in the first three months of the year compared with the same period last year. The company mainly blamed lower oil prices and higher taxes at its Russian subsidiary TNK-BP.
Earlier this month the oil group said it was axing 620 jobs at its solar energy division in the US and Spain because of an oversupply of solar equipment in the market and the recession. The job cuts are equivalent to more than a quarter of the workforce.
BP said today its solar sales during the quarter would generate 15MW of power, down from 34MW in the same period in 2008. BP said this reflected "ongoing weak demand in the market".
Losses from the unit, which covers its alternative energy operations – also including wind farms and biofuels – totalled $800m (£547m). That compares with $193m of losses in the same period last year, although the unit now includes more overhead costs than it did before.
Overall, BP reported profits today of $2.39bn (£1.64bn) in the first three months of this year, down from $6.23bn a year ago. It blamed the fall in the price of oil, which fluctuated between $35 and $50 a barrel during the quarter; a year ago a barrel cost more than $100.
With profits also lower than in the last three months of 2008, when BP made $2.59bn, the company is now planning to spend less on finding and developing new oil and gas reserves. It warned it would spare less than $20bn for capital expenditure this year, down from an earlier target of $20bn-$22bn.
The cut in spending could have long-term consequences for BP's growth. It is not clear which projects will be affected by the cutbacks, but environmentalists are likely to welcome them, given the controversy over projects such as BP's recent investment in oil sands in Canada.
Shareholders will receive a dividend of 14 cents a share, the same as in the last quarter and nearly half a cent more than a year ago.
Earlier this year, Shell angered environmentalists when it said it was scrapping investment in solar and wind power to focus on developing biofuels and carbon capture and storage.
The former chief executive Lord Browne rebranded BP as "Beyond Petroleum" signalling that the group would seek to expand beyond fossil fuels. But the current chief executive Tony Hayward is thought not to share his predecessor's enthusiasm for renewables.
BP's total wind capacity stands at 678MW, almost four times the amount it had built this time last year. A spokesman declined to comment on plans to build any more wind farms.

Waxman Delays Action on Climate Bill


WASHINGTON -- House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman delayed until next week further action on his big climate bill, amid sharp divisions among committee Democrats.
The delay indicates that the House Democratic leadership is having difficulty rounding up votes to move the bill forward, amid disagreements over which industries and regions of the country should bear the burden for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions. Democrats from industrial and coal-dependent states have expressed concerns that the climate bill would sharply raise energy costs and hurt the economy in their states.
"The hearings have spurred productive discussions between members on the legislation, which are continuing this week," Rep. Henry Waxman (D, Calif.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a memo to members.
Mr. Waxman and Energy Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey (D, Mass.), had scheduled to mark up the American Clean Energy and Security Act this week. The main provision of the bill would mandate major greenhouse-gas-emission cuts and require emitters to buy and sell the right to emit gases such as carbon dioxide. It would also require a rising percentage of power to come from renewable-energy sources.
Messrs. Waxman and Markey left out one of the most controversial elements that will determine how much cutting emissions will cost, buying time for negotiations.
While the Obama administration and Democratic leadership want to auction off all the rights to emit -- called allowances -- representatives from regions heavily reliant on the coal industry, fossil-fuel generation and energy-intensive industries want the government to give out the emission credits to those sectors to soften the fiscal impact.
Last week, nearly a dozen moderate Democrats needed by leadership to pass a bill out of committee recommended weakening the emission-reduction targets in the early years of the program and giving out around 60% of the allocations to industries that would be hardest hit.
Under the proposal led by Virginia Democrat Rick Boucher, two-thirds of those allocations would go to the electric industry, one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the economy. While a majority of those valuable emission credits would be given to local distribution companies to offset rising energy costs for consumers, a share would be given directly to coal-generation firms.
Although Messrs. Waxman and Markey have said there will be free allocations to the power industry -- primarily through the retail-distribution side to prevent windfall profits for the generators -- they are concerned that giving away too many emission credits may undermine the program.
The division between the moderate and more left-leaning Democrats broke out into the open late last week when influential Rep. John Dingell (D, Mich.) gave the GOP fodder for their attacks against the bill by declaring it "a tax, and it's a great big one."
The GOP, meanwhile, said the mark-up delay would give Democratic leadership time for "arm-twisting and vote buying."
Write to Ian Talley at

Al Gore calls on world to burn less wood and fuel to curb 'black carbon'

Soot from engines, forest fires and partly burned fuel is collecting in Arctic and causing north pole to warm at alarming rate

John Vidal in Tromso, Tuesday 28 April 2009 17.48 BST

The world must burn less diesel and wood, Nobel peace prize-winner Al Gore said yesterday, as the soot produced is accelerating the melting of ice in polar and mountainous regions.
Gore, backed by government ministers and scientists, said that the soot, also known as "black carbon", from engines, forest fires and partially burned fuel was collecting in the Arctic where it was creating a haze of pollution that absorbs sunlight and warms the air. It was also being deposited on snow, darkening its surface and reducing the snow's ability to reflect sunlight back into space.
"The principle [climate change] problem is carbon dioxide, but a new understanding is emerging of soot," said Gore. "Black carbon is settling in the Himalayas. The air pollution levels in the upper Himalayas are now similar to those in Los Angeles."
The impact of the soot is as significant as it is surprising — it was not mentioned as a warming factor in the UN's major 2007 report on climate change. A study this month indicated that soot from industry, cars, farming and wood fuel burning has been responsible for half the total temperature increases in the Arctic between 1890 to 2007. Temperatures there are rising twice as fast as anywhere else on the planet, making it the region worst affected by climate change.
Gore warned that all the world's icy regions were experiencing rapid and dangerous global warming. "The cryosphere – the frozen water part of the Earth – is disappearing. Global warming is causing the permafrost to thaw. It contains more carbon than anywhere else and the risk is that it releases methane. That has the potential to double the global warming potential in the atmosphere," he said.
Norwegian foreign minister Jonas Store said action on black carbon was even more urgent than that on CO2: "Even if we turn the rising curve of greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years, the reduction will not occur quickly enough to preserve the polar and alpine environments. We must address short lived climate pollutants such as black carbon."
Glaciologists working in Latin America, Nepal, China and Greenland all reported at the meeting in Tromso that glaciers were losing ice more rapidly and becoming less thick as a result of global warming.
Dorthe Jensen, from the Niels Bohr Institute in Denmark, said: "In the last five years we have seen many ice streams double in speed. Their floating snouts have moved back 30km. We never imagined the ice discharge would change so much."
Glaciers in the Himalayas and on the Tibetan plateau, from which 40% of the world derives its fresh water, are retreating fast, said Yao Tandong, a researcher with the Chinese academy of sciences. "This is causing severe social problems as lakes get bigger and people are forced to move. Himalayan glaciers are mostly retreating at an accelerating rate."
The meeting also heard, in a new report from the international Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (Amap), that climate change was now affecting every aspect of life in the Arctic. Norwegian, Canadian, Russian, US and other polar scientists reported that, in the last four years, air temperatures have increased, sea ice has declined sharply, surface waters in the Arctic ocean have warmed and permafrost is in some areas rapidly thawing, releasing methane.
The report's main findings are:
Permafrost is warming fast and at its margins thawing. Plants are growing more vigorously and densely. In northern Alaska, temperatures have been rising since the 1970s. In Russia, the tree line has advanced up hills and mountains at 10 metres a year. Nearly all glaciers are decreasing in mass, resulting in rising sea levels as the water drains to the ocean.
Summer sea ice
The most striking change in the Arctic in recent years has been the reduction in summer sea ice in 2007. This was 23% less than the previous record low of 5.6m sq kilometres in 2005, and 39% below the 1979-2000 average. New satellite data suggests the ice is much thinner than it used to be. For the first time in existing records, both the north-west and north-east passages were ice-free in summer 2008. However, the 2008 winter ice extent was near the year long-term average.
The Greenland ice sheet has continued to melt in the past four years with summer temperatures consistently above the long-term average since the mid 1990s. In 2007, the area experiencing melt was 60% greater than in 1998. Melting lasted 20 days longer than usual at sea level and 53 days longer at 2-3,000m heights.
Warmer waters
In 2007, some ice-free areas were as much as 5C warmer than the long-term average. Arctic waters appear to have warmed as a result of the influx of warmer waters from the Pacific and Atlantic. The loss of reflective, white sea ice also means that more solar radiation is absorbed by the dark water, heating surface layers further.

Climate change hitting entire Arctic ecosystem, says report

Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme study tells of profound changes to sea ice and permafrost, among others

John Vidal in Tromso, Norway, Tuesday 28 April 2009 13.18 BST

Levels of summer sea ice in the Arctic have drastically reduced since 2005
Extensive climate change is now affecting every form of life in the Arctic, according to a major new assessment by international polar scientists.
In the past four years, air temperatures have increased, sea ice has declined sharply, surface waters in the Arctic ocean have warmed and permafrost is in some areas rapidly thawing.
In addition, says the report released today at a Norwegian government seminar, plants and trees are growing more vigorously, snow cover is decreasing 1-2% a year and glaciers are shrinking.
Scientists from Norway, Canada, Russia and the US contributed to the Arctic monitoring and assessment programme (Amap) study, which says new factors such as "black carbon" – soot – ozone and methane may now be contributing to global and arctic warming as much as carbon dioxide.
"Black carbon and ozone in particular have a strong seasonal pattern that makes their impacts particularly important in the Arctic," it says.
The report's main findings are:
Permafrost is warming fast and at its margins thawing. Plants are growing more vigorously and densely. In northern Alaska, temperatures have been rising since the 1970s. In Russia, the tree line has advanced up hills and mountains at 10 metres a year. Nearly all glaciers are decreasing in mass, resulting in rising sea levels as the water drains to the ocean.
Summer sea ice
The most striking change in the Arctic in recent years has been the reduction in summer sea ice in 2007. This was 23% less than the previous record low of 5.6m sq kilometres in 2005, and 39% below the 1979-2000 average. New satellite data suggests the ice is much thinner than it used to be. For the first time in existing records, both the north-west and north-east passages were ice-free in summer 2008. However, the 2008 winter ice extent was near the year long-term average.
The Greenland ice sheet has continued to melt in the past four years with summer temperatures consistently above the long-term average since the mid 1990s. In 2007, the area experiencing melt was 60% greater than in 1998. Melting lasted 20 days longer than usual at sea level and 53 days longer at 2-3,000m heights.
Warmer waters
In 2007, some ice-free areas were as much as 5C warmer than the long-term average. Arctic waters appear to have warmed as a result of the influx of warmer waters from the Pacific and Atlantic. The loss of reflective, white sea ice also means that more solar radiation is absorbed by the dark water, heating surface layers further.
Black carbon
Black carbon, or soot, is emitted from inefficient burning such as in diesel engines or from the burning of crops. It is warming the Arctic by creating a haze which absorbs sunlight, and it is also deposited on snow, darkening the surface and causing more sunlight to be absorbed.

Green zeal fades

By Fiona Harvey
Published: April 29 2009 03:00

Businesses are losing their enthusiasm for environmental issues, just as the government is ramping up its efforts to combat global warming, a new poll suggests, Fiona Harvey reports .
More than eight in 10 companies think the government's targets of cutting emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 are unattainable, according to a survey of 300 UK businesses by RWE npower, the energy company. The poll was carried out before the Budget when ambitious emission cuts were set out.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Clean coal can avert an energy crisis

Britain has enough coal reserves to last up to 300 years – so let's expand our mining and stop relying on unstable supplies abroad

Peter Lazenby, Tuesday 28 April 2009 11.30 BST

The debate on the development of "clean" coal technology needs to accept a key point. Britain is already dependent on coal-fired electricity. Use of coal-fired power stations continued despite the devastation of the mining industry after the strike against pit closures of 1984-85, and coal still provides 33% of Britain's electricity.
Britain simply stopped burning British coal and bought coal from overseas. Last year 43m tonnes of coal were imported, mainly from Russia, Poland and Australia.
Yet Britain has enough known coal reserves to meet the nation's needs for 200 to 300 years. Why not mine those reserves – resume and expand major coal mining in Britain, and to hell with reliance on foreign imports?
The need for investment in clean coal technology is paramount, both to end the damage being done by current coal burn and to make expansion of coal use environmentally viable.
First look at the background to Britain's looming energy crisis.For a quarter of a century the National Union of Mineworkers and others hammered home the argument that energy policy (or lack of it) under successive Conservative and Labour governments was driving Britain towards a future dependent on fuel from overseas.
The Thatcher government encouraged the "dash for gas", in which Britain's North Sea gas was burned in enormous quantities to make electricity. Had the gas been saved for domestic and community use – heating homes, hospitals, schools and the like – it would have lasted for centuries.
The result is a Britain dependent on gas supplies that come from, or travel across, some of the most unstable regions in the world.
Britain in the 1980s and 1990s had the most efficient, and safest, deep-mined coal industry in the world. Today it is even more efficient. At Kellingley colliery in Yorkshire, one of the handful of pits still open, 2,000 men used to mine 1m tonnes of coal annually. Today at Kellingley, 500 men produce more than 2m tonnes.
Britain was also making some of the greatest advances in research into clean coal technology. The Tories cost Britain almost two decades of practical research into solving the environmental problems surrounding the burning of coal by closing the coal industry's research centre at Grimethorpe in Yorkshire.
Had that not happened, carbon capture might be at a far more advanced stage of development. But it is not too late. The support of the climate change secretary, Ed Miliband, for a new wave of carbon-capture coal-fired power stations points the way ahead.
Britain should be opening more mines in tandem with rapid and substantial investment in clean coal technology research. About 20 new pits employing collectively 10,000-plus miners could meet current coal needs. More pits could be sunk to increase Britain's independent energy source. Britain could even become an energy exporter.
If the private sector is unwilling or unable to invest, let it be publicly funded. The future of Britain's energy supplies, indeed the country's very survival as an industrial nation, merits that investment.

Economy blows ill wind for renewable energy

Green energy faces setbacks as Shell, BP and others halt renewable projects

Alok Jha, Tuesday 28 April 2009 16.17 BST

This year has not been a good one for renewable energy, despite promises by politicians all round the globe to make it the centrepoint of economic recovery.
Vestas chief executive Ditlev Engel began 2009 by warning that the economic downturn had left it with a 15% excess in global manufacturing capacity – though he was optimistic about Gordon Brown's promises to create thousands of new jobs in Britain and China's pledge to invest $70bn (£58bn) on electricity grid connections.
A year-long study for the department for energy and climate change worked out that another 5,000-7,000 wind turbines could be built off the coast of Britain by 2020, generating 25GW of energy, equivalent to 25 large coal-fired power stations. The new capacity would be on top of 8GW already being built or in planning, making a total of 33GW.
Analysts at Goldman Sachs, however, were already warning that "the most important theme in 2009 within the alternative energy space will be a move from severe under-supply to one of at least a more balanced market and potentially serious oversupply."
The first big hurdle for wind cropped up in March, with oil company Shell pulling out of wind, solar and hydro power because it felt they were not economic. It said it would concentrate instead on cleaner ways of using fossil fuels, such as carbon capture and sequestration technology.
BP cut 620 jobs at its solar division, Siemens cut 400 jobs from its wind operations in Denmark and Iberdrola, owner of ScottishPower, cut investment in renewables by almost half so far this year.
A month later, developers of the London Array, a project to build the world's largest offshore wind farm in the Thames estuary, approached the European Investment Bank for a bailout, putting the future of the project in doubt.
This week the Guardian revealed that one of the country's most efficient wind farms, at Haverigg in Cumbria, could be dismantled to make way for a new nuclear power station.

Closure of turbine factory takes the wind out of Britain's low-carbon sails

• Environment Company boss blames 'nimbys' for sales slump• Budget measures seen as last glimmer of hope

Tim Webb
The Guardian, Wednesday 29 April 2009

Britain's only wind turbine manufacturing plant is to close, dealing a humiliating blow to the government's promise to support low-carbon industries.
Vestas, the world's biggest wind energy group, said yesterday it would close its Isle of Wight plant, which employs about 600 people and makes blades for windfarms in the US.
Announcing the move, the boss of the Danish company delivered a scathing attack on "nimbys" and the planning system, blaming them for holding up projects and causing paralysis in the industry. The company also pointed to "a lack of political initiatives [to support the wind industry]" and the weak pound. "It is extremely time-consuming and extremely complicated. Some of our developers, customers, will tell you it is so difficult. In the UK nimbyism is a huge challenge," Ditlev Engel told the Guardian.
The group had planned to convert the factory in Newport in June to make blades for the British market, but said yesterday that orders had ground to a halt. The low demand could not justify the investment, Engel said.
He said the group would consult workers for the next two to three months, and investment in the plant may still go ahead if orders picked up soon.
Engel said last week's budget, which increased subsidies available for offshore windfarms, as well as recent moves to free up the sluggish planning process, could boost the industry but it was too early to say whether orders would pick up enough to rescue the plant.
"The government has tried to improve the situation," he said. "Whether it's enough I don't know."
But the company's financial statement for the first quarter, released yesterday, blamed the credit crunch, a depreciation of sterling and "a lack of political initiatives" for the planned job losses.
The TUC called on the government to do more to protect "green jobs and skills". The union body's general secretary, Brendan Barber, said: "The loss of these jobs on the Isle of Wight would not only be a blow to the emerging green sector, but would also be a personal tragedy for the hundreds of workers affected locally."
Engel admitted that if Vestas makes its workers redundant it would be harder to reopen the plant if orders pick up, because it would have to find a new skilled workforce.
Vestas is also cutting just under 1,300 workers in Denmark. The group, which after the cuts will employ about 20,000 people worldwide, reported yesterday that profits had more than doubled in the first quarter of the year, to €76m (£68m). While scaling back operations in Britain and Denmark, Vestas said it was expanding manufacturing in the US and China where it said demand was higher.
In early March, Gordon Brown convened a low-carbon industrial summit aimed at finding ways to help the sector's manufacturers lead Britain out of recession. Vestas representatives attended.
Engel said the group was in "constant dialogue" with the government and had informed it of yesterday's move. He admitted that no aid or assistance had been offered by the government to try to save the plant. But he reserved his fiercest criticism for local politicians and "nimbys" who he said were holding up projects, particularly onshore, giving Britain one of the lengthiest planning processes for windfarms anywhere in the world.
"Since last summer, the order intake in the UK market has dropped significantly. Therefore it would be very difficult to substantiate the investment as we had already planned.
"The UK has large wind resources and it's a priority for the government but the orders didn't move. That's why we're telling employees that we're not reinvesting there.
"We are waiting to see in the coming period if the government initiative announced last week will get the market to move again. At least it gives some hope but it's too early to tell."
Engel said the weakness of the pound had also had an effect, making it more expensive to build windfarms in Britain, but the main problem lay in planning applications.
"People talk about big offshore parks. Why not put in onshore parks? The cost of installation is half compared to offshore."
The Isle of Wight facility will stop making blades in June. The R&D department, which employs about 150 people, will remain open.

Wind turbine maker to axe 600 jobs

By Fiona Harvey, Environment Correspondent
Published: April 29 2009 03:16

One of the biggest renewable energy manufacturers in Britain announced on Tuesday it is to cut more than half its UK jobs – blaming the government for failing to support the sector.
In a grave blow to the government’s ambitions to create a “green” export industry, Vestas, the world’s biggest maker of wind turbines, will axe about 600 of its 1,100 UK employees, probably closing its factory in the Isle of Wight and cutting jobs elsewhere in the UK.
Ditlev Engel, chief executive of Vestas, told the Financial Times: “We had been planning additional investment in the UK [because of government targets to increase renewables]. But the UK is probably one of the most difficult places in the world to get permission [for wind projects]. We can’t afford to keep on this capacity.”
The blow comes less than a week after Alistair Darling trumpeted the role of low-carbon industries in job creation, announcing new funding for renewables in his Budget.
Mr Engel said the cuts were not the result of the recession – the company’s order book had recovered and he predicted 20 per cent growth in 2009. The reason was rather the inability of the government to deliver the conditions needed for renewables growth.
“There are two sets of politicians, Whitehall politicians and local politicians,” Mr Engel said. While the former group encourages renewables, which bring new jobs, local politicians tend to oppose wind farms, meaning few are built.
Green zeal fades
Businesses are losing their enthusiasm for environmental issues, just as the government is ramping up its efforts to combat global warming, a new poll suggests.
More than eight in 10 companies think the government’s targets of cutting emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 are unattainable, according to a survey of 300 UK businesses by RWE Npower, the energy company. The poll was carried out before the Budget when ambitious emission cuts were set out.
Exchange rates, which have made imports of wind turbine components from Europe more expensive, also played a part in Vestas’ decision, Mr Engel said. “The UK currency has dropped significantly against the euro, which has made things difficult.”
But the main reason, he said, was the problem with building renewable energy in the UK. Although the UK has the best wind resource and the most generous subsidy system in Europe – paid for by electricity consumers – it has failed to generate the volumes of electricity necessary to meet European Union targets, which will require 35-40 per cent of electricity to come from renewables by 2020, against about 5 per cent today.
Mike O’Brien, minister at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, sought to play down the significance of the job cuts. He said: “It’s clear that Vestas recognises the potential of the UK wind market. Measures set out in the Budget will offer renewed support to the wind industry and help move potential projects towards construction, which could mean more business for Vestas.”
He said the government would be offering support to those affected by the redundancies.
But, making clear that he believed Vestas would continue to retain a production base in the UK, he added: “Vestas have indicated the steps we have taken [in the Budget] will have a positive influence on the possibility of them producing blades in the UK.”
Blades are the single component of turbines that Vestas makes in the UK. Other parts are imported.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009