Saturday, June 28, 2014

Think fast - reactors set to enter service in Russia and India

Russia celebrated two stand-out achievements for the world's nuclear industry today - the launch of the most powerful fast reactor and the 60th anniversary of the first civilian nuclear power plant.

Rosenergoatom engineers brought to criticality Beloyarsk 4 - a 789 MWe fast-neutron reactor of the BN-800 design...
Beloyarsk 4 is fuelled by a mix of uranium and plutonium oxides arranged to produce new fuel material as it burns. Its capacity exceeds that of the world's second most powerful fast reactor - 560 Mwe Beloyarsk 3. Russia plans to build a BN-1200 fast reactor power unit at Beloyarsk to start up by 2020.
Rosenergoatom said on 23 June that it was preparing for first criticality of its BN-800 and Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported that controlled nuclear fission had been started on 27 June.

Russia's BN-800 looks as if it will just beat India's Prototype Fast Breeding Reactor (PFBR)

Friday, June 27, 2014

German Lawmakers Vote to Reduce Renewable-Energy Subsidies

“Excessive” power-price gains are making the expansion of renewables unsustainable"
German Lawmakers Vote to Reduce Renewable-Energy Subsidies - Bloomberg:
German lawmakers backed an extensive revision of the country’s EEG clean-energy law to curb subsidies and slow gains in power prices that are the second-costliest in the European Union. The legislation, which introduces limits on how much onshore wind and biomass capacity qualifies for the full subsidies and lowers existing targets for solar and offshore wind, pulls energy policy “out of the quicksand,” Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel told reporters after the vote in the lower house. “We have to expand renewables with more planning security.” Chancellor Angela Merkel is seeking to curb subsidies in Europe’s biggest renewables market even as she pushes through an “energy switch” from nuclear power."
...Owners of clean-energy plants that consume their own power will have to pay 30 percent of the EEG-Umlage, a fee to finance the subsidies, starting next year. That share will rise to 35 percent in 2016 and 40 percent in 2017.
Read the entire article at Bloomberg

My favourite source of information on Germany's electricity sector, the German Energy Blog, is indicating it might take some time before the changes in the new legislation are understood.

From EEG 2.0 – Something to Run Away From?
The EEG 2.0 reform package is a difficult piece of legislation. Anecdotal evidence is starting to suggest that the new version will be difficult to master. So difficult that one of our energy sector group student interns has already decided to end his internship. He is now considering a military career.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Renewables Up, Nuclear Flat in French Energy Plan

Hopefully this article provides a fair overview of France's future energy mix plans, although the inclusion of, "a new nuclear electricity tax is expected to finance the installation of renewables... but details remain to be defined" indicates Hollande might prefer to be more foolish.
Not sure appointing an ex-spouse to push through an election promise doesn't indicate a similar preference, but...

Renewables Up, Nuclear Flat in French Energy Plan - IEEE Spectrum:
After months of negotiation, the French government has unveiled a long-awaited energy plan that is remarkably true to its election promises. The legislation's cornerstone is the one-third reduction in the role of nuclear power that President Fran├žois Hollande proposed on the campaign trail in 2012.
Under the plan, nuclear's share of the nation's power generation is to drop from 75 percent to 50 percent by 2025, as renewable energy's role rises from 15 percent today to 40 percent to make up the difference...
...Royal's plan merely caps the current level of nuclear power generated by Paris-based EDF. If renewable output and total electricity generation rises, the government could deliver its promised drop in the proportion of nuclear without shuttering a single reactor.
Royal's plan does call for a 50-percent cut in total energy consumption by 2050, but it aims to do that by cutting fossil fuel use in buildings and vehicles. One of the proposed avenues for accomplishing that is accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Tales of too cities, and more on the EPA's CO2 proposal

Some articles that grabbed my attention this week

The Anthropocene is an informal geologic chronological term that marks the evidence and extent of human activities that have had a significant global impact on the Earth's ecosystems. -wikipedia

...I’ll take the Anthropocene, with no regrets. I have a quality of life unprecedented in the history of humanity and I think everyone on the planet deserves to enjoy the same privileges and opportunities I have. This means much of the world has to still modernize for billions of people to enjoy higher living standards. You can’t wave a magic wand to achieve that. It’s going to require massive economic development and massive outlays of energy that is going to stress the planet. There is no way around that.
How we manage this challenge, how we meet the needs and aspirations of all of humanity while sustaining the planet’s ecology, is what the Anthropocene is all about. And I’m fine with that.
Please read Kloor's Facing Up to the Anthropocene.
I think there's a growing number of important voices that are both pro-people and pro-environment, and I am unconvinced that much of those opposed to things anthropogenic are not inherently misanthropes

Monday, June 16, 2014

Solar Powered Inequality

"In our energy policy discussions, we can’t forget those families who can’t afford an increase in costs due to an outdated policy that incentivizes high-income homeowners to install rooftop solar systems." - Monica Martinez
A number of recent articles on the distribution of distribution costs in a period of increasing solar panels.

In Forbes, former Michigan Public Service Commissioner Monica Martinez' The Poor Shouldn't Have To Bear The Cost Of Solar Power provides a refresher on the issue - which is policy favouring wealthier people:
Energy policy. Income inequality. Economic vitality. Why aren’t we talking about these concepts all together? Just last month I saw the articles with photos of solar panels at a Walmart in California, and once again heard power will be an important part of our nation’s future energy supply. I wholeheartedly agree that we have to diversify our energy resources and find ways to move to cleaner supply sources. And, if the result is less pollution, who would be opposed? I believe, however, that we must be both smart and holistic in our approach. I also think that we can’t bemoan income inequality while at the same time adopting energy policies that put low-income and middle-income families in worse economic shape.
Rooftop solar has a bright future and can benefit consumers. However, net metering policies ... are now having a detrimental impact on groups who can’t afford solar and are faced with higher electricity bills as a result of these policies. If you are not familiar with net metering, it is a billing system that allows those with rooftop solar systems on their homes to sell excess power that they generate back to their local power company.
Forbes also posted a report on Spain's passing of a long-discussed regulation clawing back payments on feed-in tariff contracts (setting a return rate at 7.4%), and lexology used that as inspiration to note roll backs in the Czech Republic, Italy, Romania and Bulgaria.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Coal's share of energy market at highest level since 1970

Coal's share of energy market at highest level since 1970 | Environment | The Guardian:

Coal has reached its highest market share of global energy consumption for more than 40 years, figures reveal, despite fears that its high carbon emissions make it a prime cause of climate change.

The use of coal for power generation and other purposes grew by 3% in 2013 – faster than any other fossil fuel – while its share of the market breached 30% for the first time since 1970, the BP Statistical Review reports.

The figures were published as Prof Nick Stern, author of the influential climate change report the Stern Review, said his latest research indicated the economic risks of unchecked climate change were bigger than previously estimated.

Europe is among the regions using more coal, increasing imports from the US...
Continue reading at The Guardian:

Saturday, June 14, 2014

IEA report notes market dysfuntion, government intervention, stifling required investment

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has produced a special report on the "World Energy Investment Outlook.

Decisions to commit capital to the energy sector are increasingly shaped by government policy measures and incentives, rather than by signals coming from competitive markets. In many countries, governments have direct influence over energy sector investment, for example, through retained ownership of more than 70% of global oil and gas reserves or control of nearly half of the world’s power generation capacity, via state-owned companies. Some governments, notably in the OECD, stepped back from direct influence when opening energy markets to competition, but many have now stepped back in, typically to promote the deployment of low-carbon sources of electricity. In the oil sector, reliance on countries with more restrictive terms of access to their resources is set to grow, as output from North America plateaus and then falls back from the mid-2020s onwards. In the electricity sector, administrative signals or regulated rates of return have become, by far, the most important drivers for investment: the share of investment in competitive parts of electricity markets has fallen from about one-third of the global total ten years ago to around 10% today. With current market designs, of the $16 trillion required in the power sector to 2035, investment in competitive parts of electricity markets would account for less than $1 trillion.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Carbon pricing and carbon caps in the eyes of beholders

If I seemed skeptical in my previous post, I am.
Taday, some articles not positive regarding carbon pricing, and/or capping

"Carbon pricing has been the go-to solution for economists and environmentalists alike since climate change was identified as one of the foremost social and environmental challenges of our time. Want a climate rescue plan? Carbon pricing. Want to raise revenue for clean energy deployment? Carbon pricing. It's the "silver bullet" for other things, too. Want to reduce reliance on foreign oil? Or raise revenue to correct other tax inefficiencies? Carbon pricing."
It is time to recognize that carbon taxes alone will not address global climate change. The fixation on carbon pricing within the climate debate has distracted the world from adopting a more effective and comprehensive set of climate policies that make economic sense. The debate needs to change for more viable, pragmatic, and high-impact solutions to emerge.
Carbon pricing won't solve climate change. Innovation will | Christian Science Monitor

Roger Pielke Jr.'s blog flags news out of China explaining the hints at a carbon cap there:
Any near-term regulation of China's greenhouse gas emissions would likely allow for future emissions growth, a senior government official said on Monday, discounting any suggestion of imminent carbon cuts by the biggest-emitting nation.
...Several options were being considered and China would choose policies in accordance with its conditions and stage of development.
"Our understanding of the word 'cap' is different from developed countries," Sun told a conference.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

pushing President Obama's carbon limits

President Obama joined the US Environmental Protection Agency to introduce a proposal for reducing emissions from power plants. The draft regulation is over 600 pages, so I've been waiting for a reliable synopsis. My understanding is that each state will have to have a plan to reduce power plant emissions by 30% by 2030 - as emissions currently vary so widely I have trouble believing that could be deemed a "standard', but...
What has come out is the political aspect of the standards being introduced, and some economic lessons from the structure of the suggested regulations

On December 18, 2009, Barack Obama flew to Copenhagen to address an international climate summit that was widely being described as a disaster. The aim of the summit was to produce a legally binding agreement on greenhouse-gas emissions, but, after two weeks of fruitless talks, virtually no one at the session still believed that this was possible. In his address to negotiators, Obama pledged that, for its part, the United States would cut carbon emissions “in the range of seventeen per cent by 2020, and by more than eighty per cent by 2050.”
...the Copenhagen Accord, which contained no national commitments or enforcement mechanisms, would turn out to be the only notable achievement of the summit, though, as even many of its backers observed, it wasn’t terribly notable.

...If the new regulations are fully implemented, they will reduce emissions from U.S. power plants twenty-five per cent below 2005 levels by 2020, and thirty per cent below those levels by 2030. (The rules will doubtless face years of litigation.)

...Emissions from power plants make up about forty per cent of the United States’ total emissions. Thus, cutting them by twenty-five per cent is a ten-per-cent cut in emissions over-all. This is obviously less than the seventeen-per-cent cut that Obama promised in Copenhagen, but his Administration has already put into place fuel-efficiency standards for new cars, which should make up for the difference.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

How to Make Mass Transit Financially Sustainable Once and for All

this article could be your most interesting read of the day

How to Make Mass Transit Financially Sustainable Once and for All - CityLab:

Like any other enterprise, transit should be successful and cover its costs. This is entirely feasible if we change the model of transit finance from a branch of government to a regulated public utility, as is done in much of Europe and Asia. A public utility provides a service, and in exchange, it is compensated for that service. The compensation comes from consumers (e.g. users, riders), and from the public for any unprofitable services that it wishes to maintain for other (e.g. political) reasons.
Read the entire article at CityLab

Monday, June 9, 2014

Ontario Election 2014: Electricity Promises

I've been tempted to write a summary of policies for the election, but maybe it's best if I just reference a relatively brief one.

Ontario Election 2014: Electricity Promises | AEGENT ENERGY ADVISORS INC:
  • Before the election was called, the Liberals announced ending the residential Debt Retirement Charge starting January 1, 2016. This would coincide with the planned end of the Ontario Clean Energy Benefit. If both changes happen together, the average household will see a net increase of $140 per year in its electricity bill.
  • The Progressive Conservatives have promised to put an end to wind and solar subsidies and estimate the associated savings at $1 billion per year. We estimate the savings would be $500 million per year and this represents a long-term savings of $43 per year on a typical residential bill - one that would not start to be realized until 2018 - 2019.
  • The New Democrats have committed to removing the provincial portion of the HST from electricity bills, starting in 2016. Based on projected residential costs in the Long Term Energy Plan, in 2016 this would save the average household $142 per year.
Ontario’s three major political parties have made energy policy promises part of their election platform. Let’s examine some of these promises through the lens of three electricity policy principles we think are important:
  1. Electricity consumers, not taxpayers, should pay for electricity 
  2. Consumers should pay the true cost of the electricity they use
  3. A culture of conservation should be maintained

I think this is probably a fair overview from a very reputable source, but I must add ...

Nuclear News and energy pricing risks

Earth's Energy provides a nice overview of where nuclear is moving forward.

Nuclear News | Earth's Energy:
Next Big Future says China and Russia are planning a nuclear future. China plans to start six new reactors every year from 2015 to 2020. The Asian country’s nuclear power plants, both those operational and those under construction, will have a combined electric power capacity of 58 gigawatts by 2015, which will expand to 88 GW by 2020. (1 GW = 1 billion watts) Currently, China has 21 reactors in operation, in addition to 28 units under construction. Russia envisages a 25-30% nuclear share in electricity supply by 2030, 45-50% in 2050 and 70-80% by the end of this century. Russia intends to build about 40 new reactors at home and as many as 80 in other countries by 2030. Included are reactors that would generate electric power and desalinate water such as in the Middle East.
Reuters suggests it will take longer than planned to reduce France’s reliance on nuclear power. Nuclear currently generates 75% of the country’s power but President Francois Hollande had hoped to reduce this figure to to 50% by 2025. However, the head of state nuclear agency CEA says this is not feasible...
Continue reading at Earth's Energy

In a separate entry at the same site ...

Germany moves closer to resolving loss-making power plants issue

A fresh news article serves as a reminder that:
1. there is another cost to be met if the Energiewende is to move on
2. prioritizing supply options with little capacity value result in additional systemic costs

Germany moves closer to resolving loss-making power plants issue - Pennenergy:
An official at the German ministry for energy has confirmed that the government is getting closer to finalising a strategy designed to keep conventional power plants open.
Reuters reports that Uwe Beckmeyer, parliamentary state secretary in the economy and energy ministry said, "We have had two studies done whose results will be put forward soon."
Speaking at a Franco-German energy conference, Mr Beckmeyer said, "We have to develop a capacity mechanism but this has to be developed in a synchronised way with our neighbours. We need an overall system.
"My own view is that the owners of conventional plants, those that have invested in them, must have a continued interest in keeping their plants on line," Beckmeyer added. "We will need conventional energy in the future."
 Continue reading at Pennenergy

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Berlin prepares to allow fracking

Germany is set to lift its ban on fracking as early as next year, after caving in to business demands that it should reduce its dependency on Russian energy and boost competitiveness with US manufacturers. Applications to carry out the controversial process for extracting the country’s estimated 2.3tn cubic metres shale gas reserves will be subject to an environmental impact assessment under new legislation to be discussed by the cabinet before the summer recess."

Fracking has been the subject of a fierce debate in Germany’s ruling coalition, with some politicians keen to reduce reliance on Russian energy imports, while others fear the impact of fracking chemicals on a densely populated country.
German manufacturers have been strong advocates of the new technology, which they believe has provided cheap shale gas energy to their US competitors while Germany grapples with a costly switch to subsidised renewables.
Details of the new regulations emerged in a letter from Sigmar Gabriel, German economy minister...
Continue reading at the Financial Times

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Kaya confirms Clueless Krugman

Roger Pielke Jr.'s latest blog post has a nice overview of the intertwined issues of economic growth and carbon caps. If one has the time, and the subscriptions, the sequence is a letter from RPJ to the Financial Times incited a silly column from Paul Krugman, which in turn inspired this educational response from RPJ

Roger Pielke Jr.'s Blog: Clueless Krugman:
The Kaya Identity is the centerpiece of the analyses found in The Climate Fix and a lot of my work. It is a very powerful tool for understanding the challenge of emissions reductions. It holds that carbon dioxide emissions are influenced by four factors:
  • population 
  • GDP per capita 
  • energy intensity of the economy 
  • carbon intensity of energy 
As an identity, it is expressed --> CO2 = P * GDP/P * E/GDP * CO2/E
(where P is population and E is energy consumption).
Now, the combination of population and per capita GDP is just GDP. Energy intensity reflects technologies of energy consumption (like cars and buses) and carbon intensity reflects technologies of energy production (like power plants and solar panels). Often it is useful to combine EI and CI into a metric of CO2/GDP, or the "carbon intensity of the economy."
The math here is simple. Increases in GDP, all else equal, mean that CO2 emissions go up. Improvements in technology (that is decreases in EI or CI) mean (all else equal) that CO2 emissions go down. Thus, we have two big levers with which to affect emissions - (a) GDP and (b) technologies of energy consumption and production.