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Found 135 results

  1. Energy companies in Calgary, Alberta, are attempting to make their first network of natural-gas export terminals as lucrative a business as their counterparts in Texas. The first step, however, is finding almost 50,000 workers willing to make the move to Alberta. Over the next decade, the Petroleum Human Resources Council of Canada estimate that as many as 47,900 oil and gas jobs will need filling over the next decade, and if British Columbia’s efforts are included, more than 100,000 jobs could be created. In order to tempt workers to make the trip, housing complexes with significant amenities are in the process of being constructed. Workers will find their homes boast indoor golf driving ranges, two-story gymnasiums and even private movie theaters. Calgary-based company, Atco, has even added squash courts, a running tack, and recreation rooms with Ping-Pong and foosball tables.The atmosphere and entertainment options are a not-so-hidden attempt to mitigate the isolation workers from across the globe may feel if they do decide to join one of the many future projects. It’s difficult to tell if any perk will overshadow the isolated West Coast, but perhaps the wage inflation might. Remoteness may become more bearable when considering that labor shortages in Canada have already resulted in many oil and gas workers’ wages skyrocketing as much as 60 percent higher than the same job pays in the United States, according to both U.S. and Canadian labor data. Workers in Texas, often envied for their high wages, make approximately $29.50 an hour. Those same positions in Canada can earn up to C$44.80 ($42.01) an hour, according to the numbers from Nabors Industries. The main instigator for Canada’s sudden wave of gas export construction is the country’s desire to meet rising demand in Asia. Last year, Japan alone imported $58 billion of liquefied natural gas last year. Chevron, which is among the Alberta Natural Gas companies looking to profit from this venture, is aiming to build a pipeline across Canada’s western mountains as well as a plant on the country’s freezing Pacific Coast to allow shipping to Asia. That project alone will require as many as 5,500 workers. Other companies looking to benefit from Asia’s need are Royal Dutch Shell, and Petroliam Nasional. The project leaders, which include Chevron, intend to secure financial partners and long-term contacts with suppliers before proceeding with the proposed ten export LNG terminals already looking to receive building permits. If even five of the projects are built by 2021, then at a minimum, 21,600 workers will be needed, and an estimated C$47.8 billion will be spent. The housing alone will cost Canadian energy companies an average of $200 a day per person, since competition to acquire workers has resulted in work camps that function more similarly to a hotel than the previous dorm style living standard. Now, labor costs can make up to as much of half the construction budget of a typical LNG plant, and Canadians can expect the living price to continue to rise. In Australia, similar competition resulted in resort-style living. In addition, due to the demand for skilled workers, such as those who could weld cryogenic equipment, some workers earn as much as $500,000 a year. B.C. Premier Christy Clark is hoping for British Columbia to make a similar, if not bigger contribution to the natural gas energy market as Alberta. Clark says that as much as 150 years worth of natural gas reserves can be found in B.C. fields, as much as Alberta has in their oilsands. Clark believes that B.C. and Alberta will be doing the “biggest favor for the environment” by helping China and the rest of Asia reduce dependence on coal. As she says: “[Canada] would be doing a huge favor to the world in reducing greenhouse gas emissions because we all share that air.”
  2. One might see it as a good development that the federally-owned Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is planning to shut down eight coal-burning generating stations across Alabama and Kentucky. While, indeed, this will be a blow to the profiteering coal industry (reducing coal production by 3,300 megawatts in those states), it could be little more than a false triumph in terms of health and the environment. That's because the TVA is planning on replacing those stations with nuclear plants and natural gas facilities. The Obama administration has cracked down on carbon and mercury output, particularly when it is triggered by coal-fired power plants. And TVA board members were obligated to respond by phasing out some of these coal facilities, though not without Republican opposition. Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., met with the president of the TVA in an attempt to stop the coal plant shutdowns, albeit unsuccessfully. Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, praised the shutdowns, remarking, "This is a great move for public health, clean air and water, and our climate. It will also help protect families across the southeast from rising energy bills as the cost of coal-generated electricity continues to increase. I grew up in the Smoky Mountains of east Tennessee and went to college at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, so I know firsthand how much that region has struggled with coal pollution. Residents, businesses, and industries have spoken loud and clear: they want the TVA to provide affordable, reliable, and clean power." Unfortunately, the TVA seems to have no plans for implementing renewable energy, and that is why many environmentalists' reactions to the victory have now soured. According to TVA spokesman Duncan Mansfield, coal usage is "dropping fast as a drilling boom in the U.S. pushes down the price of natural gas, the fuel that competes with coal for power generation." He failed to mention the destructive practices associated with natural gas facilities, particularly fracking and chemical dumping. Currently, TVA executives are looking to build a new 800-megawatt natural-gas-fired plant in either Alabama or Kentucky. But perhaps just as disconcerting to activists is the fact that the TVA is now constructing a new nuclear power plant in Oak Ridge, Tenn., after having signed a contract with the Babcock & Wilcox Company. That company owned the reactor that was destroyed by a nuclear meltdown in the infamous Three Mile Island disaster. The new plant is only the first step in the TVA's campaign to step up its atomic output, in addition to natural gas. Hitt, from the Sierra Club, stressed the importance of replacing these dangerous, unreliable fossil and nuclear fuels with cleaner, safer energy. "TVA's next steps are critical," she said. "The utility must consider the workers and communities and make sure their livelihoods are protected. But we urge the TVA to focus on replacing these retiring coal plants with clean and affordable energy technologies that will help create jobs and affordable electricity for decades to come. Wind and solar power are cleaner and cheaper than fossil fuels like natural gas, and there are dozens of examples of for-profit and public power utilities that are making huge investments in clean energy. "We urge the TVA not to choose to rely on natural gas. It's time to leapfrog over dirty fossil fuels that will continue to exacerbate environmental and public health issues. This is the TVA's choice. They can get their fiscal house in order by developing and deploying groundbreaking energy efficiency programs that deliver real results, and by seizing this moment and leading on clean energy." This article was first published in People's World by Blake Deppe. Photo credit: Paul Joyce (cc)
  3. Emissions shrank rapidly during the recession, then bounced back slightly as the economy recovered. But shifting market conditions, pollution regulations, and changing behaviors are also behind the decline. Oil is the largest source of carbon emissions in the United States. After a steep drop following the 1979 oil crisis, emissions from oil climbed steadily until 2005, when they peaked at 715 million tons of carbon. Since then, these emissions have fallen by 14 percent, or 101 million tons of carbon - the equivalent of taking 77 million cars off the road. (See data.) Oil is mostly used for transportation, so vehicle fuel efficiency and the number of miles driven determine the amount of emissions. On both fronts things are improving. Average fuel efficiency, which had been deteriorating for years in the United States, started to increase in 2005 and keeps getting better. Americans are traveling farther on each gallon of gas than ever before. Furthermore, people are driving less. For many years Americans as a group drove billions more miles each year than the previous one. But in 2007 this changed. Now more cars stay parked because more people live in urban areas, opt for public transit, work remotely, or retire and thus no longer commute to work. Coal - the dirtiest fossil fuel - has dominated the U.S. power grid, but its grip has weakened in recent years. As the price of natural gas has fallen, utilities are dropping coal. They are also deciding to retire old, inefficient coal plants and invest elsewhere rather than pay for retrofits in order to meet increasingly stringent pollution regulations. Strong grassroots work, too, is helping to close the curtain on coal even faster. The Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, which coordinates efforts across the country to retire old plants and prevent new ones from being built, tallies 149 coal plants that plan to retire or switch fuels out of more than 500. As falling natural gas prices, pollution regulations, and shrinking electricity demand reduce coal use, U.S. carbon emissions from coal have fallen 20 percent from their peak in 2005. Meanwhile, natural gas consumption for electricity generation and heating has increased. Carbon dioxide emissions from burning natural gas hit an all-time high of 373 million tons of carbon in 2012, up 17 percent above 2006 levels. They are projected to remain at that level in 2013. Natural gas emits about half as much carbon dioxide per unit of energy as coal does. With domestic production on the rise, the share of carbon emissions from natural gas are likely to continue to increase. But electricity does not have to come with a huge carbon hangover. Wind and solar power - carbon-free energy sources with no fuel costs - have been taking off. U.S. wind power capacity has more than tripled since 2007 and now produces enough energy to power over 15 million homes in the United States. Solar power capacity, starting from a smaller base, increased 14-fold in the same time period. Although wind and solar power currently account for only a small share of total energy production, their prices will continue to drop as deployment increases. In some areas wind is already cheaper than coal. This is just the beginning of reductions in carbon dioxide emissions as the explosive growth of wind and solar power cuts down the use of dirty fossil fuels. The switch to renewables cannot come soon enough. Accumulating greenhouse gas emissions from the United States and other countries have led to a global temperature increase of 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius) since the Industrial Revolution. Higher emissions will lead to higher temperatures that will bring more heat waves, melting glaciers, and rising sea levels. In 2009, President Obama set a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. Putting a price on carbon would help accelerate the trends that are cutting the United States' carbon contribution and allow the country to exceed this goal. By Emily E. Adams. For more information on the U.S. transition to wind power, see "Iowa and South Dakota Approach 25 Percent Electricity from Wind in 2012," by J. Matthew Roney. Photo credit: freefotouk (cc).
  4. U.S. Nuclear Power in Decline

    Nuclear power generation in the United States is falling. After increasing rapidly since the 1970s, electricity generation at U.S. nuclear plants began to grow more slowly in the early 2000s. It then plateaued between 2007 and 2010 - before falling more than 4 percent over the last two years. Projections for 2013 show a further 1 percent drop. With reactors retiring early and proposed projects being abandoned, U.S. nuclear power's days are numbered. The nuclear industry's troubles began well before the 1979 accident at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island nuclear plant sowed public mistrust of atomic power. In 1957, the country's first commercial nuclear reactor was completed in Pennsylvania. By the mid-1960s, excitement over an energy source predicted to be too cheap to meter had created a frenzied rush to build reactors. But utilities soon pulled back on the throttle as the realities of construction delays and cost overruns sank in. Annual orders for new reactors, which peaked at more than 40 in 1973, fell sharply over the next several years. The two reactor orders placed in 1978 would be the last for three decades. Of the 253 reactors that were ordered by 1978, 121 were canceled either before or during construction, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists' David Lochbaum. Nearly half of these were dropped by 1978. The reactors that were completed - the last of which came online in 1996 - were over budget three-fold on average. By the late 1990s, 28 reactors had permanently closed before their 40-year operating licenses expired. A number of factors played a role in this, including cost escalation, slower electricity demand growth, and a changing regulatory environment. Despite these closures, the United States was still left with 104 reactors totaling some 100 gigawatts (100,000 megawatts) of generating capacity”by far the most of any country. Then, spurred on by new tax credits and loan guarantees promised in the 2005 Energy Policy Act - as well as by high prices for natural gas, a competing fuel - the industry has recently had visions of a nuclear renaissance. By 2009, utilities were planning more than 30 new reactors. But in the years since, the vast majority of these plans have been shelved. Even with huge subsidies, private lenders still see new nuclear projects as too risky to finance. Meanwhile, the U.S. shale gas production boom sent natural gas prices plummeting, further darkening nuclear's prospect. In 2012, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved four new reactors for construction, two each at the Vogtle plant in Georgia and the Summer plant in South Carolina. These reactors are all of the same commercially untested design, purportedly quicker to build than previous plants. Both projects benefit from fairly new state laws that shift the economic risk to ratepayers. These advanced cost recovery laws, also passed in Florida and North Carolina, allow utilities to raise their customers' rates to pay for new nuclear plants during and even before construction - regardless of whether the reactors are ever finished. Construction at both sites began in March 2013. Even as the first concrete was poured at the $14-billion Vogtle project, it was reportedly 19 months behind schedule and more than $1 billion over budget. The Summer project, a $10 billion endeavor, also quickly ran into problems. In June its owner, Scana Corp., admitted that it was running about a year behind and faced $200 million in additional costs. With these delays, the earliest projected completion date for any of these reactors is some time in late 2017. The only other reactor currently under construction in the United States is Watts Bar 2 in Tennessee. It broke ground in 1972 and, after being on hold for two decades, was finally scheduled for completion in 2012. But that year, the owner - the Tennessee Valley Authority - announced it would be delayed again until 2015 and that the cost of the project would rise by up to 80 percent, to $4.5 billion. Several utilities have recently dropped plans for new reactors or for uprates, where an existing reactor's generating capacity is increased. For example, in May 2013 Duke Energy suspended its application to the NRC for two proposed reactors in North Carolina, citing slow electricity demand growth. Then in August, Duke pulled plans for a two-reactor, $24.7-billion project in Florida, on which it had already spent - and mostly recovered from its ratepayers - $1 billion. The company worried that mid-2013 amendments to the state's advanced cost recovery law would make it more difficult to fund ongoing projects with higher customer bills. In June, the nation's largest nuclear utility, Exelon, canceled uprate projects at plants in Pennsylvania and Illinois. (These are two of at least six uprates dropped by utilities in 2013 as of early September.) Just over a month later, the French utility EDF announced it was bowing out of a partnership with Exelon that operates nuclear plants in New York and Maryland. In fact, EDF will no longer pursue U.S. nuclear projects at all, instead focusing its U.S. efforts on renewables. This year has also already witnessed the permanent shutdown of four reactors totaling 3.6 gigawatts of capacity. The first to fall was Duke's Crystal River reactor in Florida. Although the plant was licensed to run until 2016, Duke decided to close it rather than pay for needed repairs. Then Dominion Energy's 39-year-old Kewaunee reactor in Wisconsin closed, citing competition from low gas prices. It had recently been approved to operate through 2033. And in June, Southern California Edison shuttered its two San Onofre reactors after 18 months of being offline due to a leak in a brand new steam generator. These retirements leave the United States with 100 reactors, averaging 32 years in operation. (France is second, with 58 reactors.) More closures will soon follow, particularly among the roughly half of U.S. reactors in so-called merchant areas where nuclear competes with other technologies and prices are set by the market. A 2013 report by Mark Cooper at the Vermont Law School indicates that there are nine merchant reactors that, like Kewaunee, were granted 20-year life extensions but are especially at risk of closure. Epitaphs are already being written for two of them: Vermont's lone nuclear power plant will close in 2014, and the country's oldest reactor, Oyster Creek in New Jersey, will retire by 2019. Regulated areas, where state authorities set electricity prices such that nuclear operators are guaranteed a profit, contain the rest of the U.S. reactors. Even for many of these plants, the economics may not allow for survival much longer. According to Credit Suisse, the cost of operating and maintaining the aging reactor fleet is rising at 5 percent a year and the nuclear fuel cost is growing even faster, at 9 percent annually. Wind and solar power costs, on the other hand, continue to drop as their electric output grows rapidly. Dealing with nuclear waste is another expensive proposition. Over the past 30 years, the U.S. government has spent some $15 billion trying to approve a central repository for nuclear waste, and for most of that time the only site under consideration has been Nevada's Yucca Mountain. Amid concerns about the site's safety and its extreme unpopularity in Nevada, the Obama administration has moved to abandon the project entirely and explore other options. A federal appeals court ruled in August 2013 that the NRC must resume reviewing the site's suitability. In the meantime, the waste keeps accumulating. The 75,000 tons of waste now stored at 80 temporary sites in 35 states is projected to double by 2055. All this has implications for nuclear power's prospects for expansion: nine states, including California, Connecticut, and Illinois, have prohibited new nuclear plants until a solution to the waste issue is found. The low level of liability for nuclear operators in case of an accident also puts taxpayers on the hook. Plant owners pay into an insurance pool of just $12 billion; the public would cover any further damages. For comparison, cleanup and compensation for the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan is projected to cost at least $60 billion. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that a catastrophic accident at New York's Indian Point plant could cost 10 to 100 times that amount. This risk will be underscored on September 29, 2013, when one of Indian Point's two reactors becomes the first ever to operate with an expired license. If the reactors now under construction in Georgia and South Carolina actually come online, they are projected to generate electricity that is much more expensive than nearly any other source, including wind and solar power. New nuclear plants are simply too expensive to replace the aging fleet. And with uprate proposals for existing reactors being pulled, it appears the industry cannot depend on this option to increase capacity much either. The NRC has approved 20-year operating life extensions for more than two thirds of existing U.S. reactors; most of the rest will probably be granted extensions as well. Even if these units reach the end of their licensed life”which past experience says is unlikely”if no new plants come online to replace them, the last U.S. reactor will be shut down by the late 2050s. Any industry hopes ride heavily on the success of the Vogtle and Summer projects. As U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in a recent interview, if these plants now under construction keep racking up huge cost overruns and delays, it is very hard to see a future for nuclear power plants in the United States. By J. Matthew Roney. Data and additional resources available at www.earthpolicy.org. Photo credit: Jim Muckian (cc). The photo shows a reflection of the abandoned nuclear power plant in Elma, WA.
  5. The world installed 31,100 megawatts of solar photovoltaics (PV) in 2012"”an all-time annual high that pushed global PV capacity above 100,000 megawatts. There is now enough PV operating to meet the household electricity needs of nearly 70 million people at the European level of use. While PV production has become increasingly concentrated in one country - China - the number of countries installing PV is growing rapidly. In 2006, only a handful of countries could boast solar capacity of 100 megawatts or more. Now 30 countries are on that list, which the International Energy Agency (IEA) projects will more than double by 2018. PV semiconductor materials convert the sun's rays directly into clean, carbon-free electricity. Traditional solar cells - made of crystalline silicon - are combined into flat panels or "modules." While residential rooftop systems are measured in kilowatts, large ground-mounted systems can reach thousands of megawatts of capacity. (One megawatt equals 1,000 kilowatts.) Today roughly 60 percent of PV is manufactured in China. A decade ago, China produced almost no PV. But in a kind of gold rush spurred by easy bank loans and government tax incentives and subsidies, China hurtled past PV technology pioneers the United States (in 2006) and Japan (in 2008). The flood of new companies entering the Chinese PV industry over the last several years created a massive oversupply of panels at the global level and accelerated the already fast-paced drop in world PV prices. Many firms in other countries went bankrupt or shut down factories, and now even some Chinese companies are folding as the industry consolidates. Worldwide, PV production in 2012 declined 2 percent from 2011, the first annual drop on record. But this contraction will be short-lived as demand continues to rise. Solar power installations are growing more than 40 percent annually, and falling PV prices are making solar power more affordable. China, where PV had previously been too expensive to be widely adopted, may soon lead the world in generating electricity from PV. Each year since 2006 China has at least doubled the amount of new PV installed nationwide. After installing 5,000 megawatts in 2012, China is number three in the world with 8,300 megawatts of total PV capacity, trailing only Germany and Italy. And in July 2013, the government officially set a new national PV capacity goal of 35,000 megawatts by 2015. Depending on China's 2013 final tally, Japan could well install the most PV this year, perhaps more than 9,000 megawatts. This would give Japan some 16,000 megawatts of solar capacity"”over halfway to its official 2020 target of 28,000 megawatts. Historically, Japan has been the world's leading market for residential rooftop PV; in 2011, some 85 percent of PV capacity added there was residential. After the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, though, the government introduced a generous incentive encouraging larger projects, thus spurring huge investment in utility-scale PV capacity. The other big Asian solar story comes from India, a country of 1.2 billion people where an estimated 290 million still lack electricity. According to the solar energy consultancy Bridge to India, the country had 1,700 megawatts of PV installed by May 2013, with 80 percent of it in the sun-drenched northwestern states of Gujarat and Rajasthan. Bridge to India projects that figure will jump to 12,800 megawatts by 2016. India's National Solar Mission calls for 22,000 megawatts of solar power nationwide by 2022, including 2,000 megawatts of off-grid PV. Going solar is becoming increasingly attractive in India due to notoriously frequent blackouts and climbing grid power prices - not to mention that solar is now cheaper than diesel for electricity. Even though Asia's PV installations are soaring, it will be some years before it can unseat the European Union (EU) in regional PV dominance. The EU boasts 68 percent of world PV capacity. In 2012, for the second year running, the EU added more PV than it did any other electricity-generating technology. EU countries now annually installing hundreds or thousands of megawatts include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Germany, France, Greece, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Germany remains the world's solar capital, home to nearly one third of global PV capacity. For the third straight year, Germany added more than 7,000 megawatts of PV in 2012, reaching 32,000 megawatts. Accounting for some 5 percent of national power use, the electricity flowing from Germany's solar panels in 2012 was enough to supply more than 8 million homes. After adding a world-record 9,400 megawatts of new PV to the grid in 2011, Italy connected 3,400 megawatts in 2012 to keep its second-place spot in installed PV, with 16,300 megawatts total. Italy got 5.6 percent of its electricity from PV in 2012. (See data.) The main policy driver that has allowed Germany and Italy to amass their world-leading solar capacity is the feed-in tariff (FIT), which guarantees renewable energy generators a long-term purchase price for the electricity they supply to the grid. As these markets mature and solar system costs decline, FIT incentives are being reduced. But worldwide more than 70 countries - the majority of them now in the developing world - use some form of FIT. Until recently, the United States lagged badly in PV capacity despite its abundant solar resources. (Nearly every state gets more sun than Germany does.) But annual U.S. solar installations doubled in 2011, and nearly did so again in 2012, when 3,300 megawatts of PV came online. As of mid-2013, U.S. PV capacity had passed the 10,000 megawatt mark. Renewable portfolio standards (RPS) - laws now in 29 states typically requiring that renewables account for a specified share of the electricity that utilities sell - have historically driven U.S. PV development. In California, the U.S. solar leader, utilities must get one third of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Federal tax credits and cash grants are also PV catalysts, as are the increasingly popular arrangements allowing homeowners to lease a system from solar developers like Sunrun and SolarCity rather than footing the entire upfront cost. More than half of U.S. residential systems are now leased. Another solar-rich country finally starting to seriously ramp up its PV capacity is Australia. Residential rooftops host the majority of its 2,400 megawatts, 42 percent of which were installed in 2012. In the state of South Australia, one in five homes is solar-powered. Large PV projects are announced seemingly every week in countries with little or no previous solar capacity. For example, in mid-2013 construction finished on an 84-megawatt project in Thailand. The 96-megawatt Jasper Solar Project, financed in part by Google, is under way in South Africa. And two projects of over 100 megawatts gained local approval in Chile. These large projects illustrate another global PV trend: the rise of the mega-project. Only a few years ago, the 10 largest solar farms were between 30 and 60 megawatts. Now PV parks of 100 megawatts or more are becoming commonplace. Arizona's Agua Caliente PV project became the world's largest at 250 megawatts when its fourth phase finished construction in 2012. (It will eventually be 290 megawatts.) Developers have announced a 475-megawatt PV farm in Nagasaki, Japan, due in 2016. Several projects between 500 and 3,000 megawatts are under development in California. Even as PV deployment moves toward larger applications, it is well worth noting the virtues of smaller-scale solar, especially for developing countries. In rural areas with no grid access, installing solar PV at the home level is often cheaper than building a central power plant and electric grid. Bangladesh, working for over a decade with the World Bank, had installed 1.4 million rural solar home systems as of mid-2012, for example. Peru recently announced that the first phase of its national home electrification program will equip a half-million off-grid homes with PV. Analysts expect a new PV installation record of 35,000 megawatts in 2013. Even with the possibility that Europe's annual installations will fall below 10,000 megawatts over the next few years, China, Japan, and the United States, along with the growing number of "newcomer" PV countries, will more than pick up the slack. The IEA estimates, perhaps conservatively, that world PV capacity will more than triple by 2018 to 308,000 megawatts - at peak power, the generating equivalent of 300 large nuclear plants. By J. Matthew Roney. For a plan to stabilize the Earth's climate, see "Time for Plan B." Data and additional resources at www.earth-policy.org.
  6. In the article, Cameron writes that he wants to see fracking in all parts of Britain - and not just in the less populated areas in the north. "It's been suggested in recent weeks that we want fracking to be confined to certain parts of Britain. This is wrong," he said. "I want all parts of our nation to share in the benefits: north or south, Conservative or Labour. We are all in this together." Fracking is a controversial method of extracting gas. The word fracking comes from its technique, which involves fracturing rocks deep underground with water and chemicals to extract natural gas. The British Geological Survey has estimated that there could be around 1300 trillion cubic feet of gas in northern England alone. Cameron claims that only 10% of that is the equivalent of 51 years' worth of gas supply. Besides cheaper gas and energy bills for the British people, Cameron also promises that fracking will bring money to local neighborhoods and create new jobs in a struggling economy. He estimates that around 74 000 news jobs, in and around the gas sector, could be created. "If neighborhoods can see the benefits - and are reassured about its effects on the environment - then I don't see why fracking shouldn't receive real public support," Cameron said. "The Prime Minister's claim that UK shale gas will reduce energy prices doesn't stack," Greenpeace Energy Campaigner Leila Deen said in a response Cameron's pro-fracking comments. "Experts from Ofgem to Deutsche Bank to drilling company Cuadrilla itself agree UK shale will not bring down bills, because unlike the US, the UK is part of a huge European gas market," she said. "The government must come clean about where its getting its advice from, and the role shale gas lobbyists are playing in it." Fracking will bring potential dangers to the local environment, the climate and people's health. Fracking is a fossil fuel which production creates greenhouse gas emissions. It's no more different than coal and more conventional gas - in fact, its carbon footprint could even be worse than coal. Considering all the chemicals involved in the fracking process and the numerous reports of gas leaking into people's water supply, fracking could also become a real threat to people's health. In the US, at least eight states have reported surface, ground, and drinking water contamination due to fracking. In Pennsylvania alone, over 1,400 environmental violations have been attributed to deep gas wells utilizing fracking practices. Fracking will also bring pollution from truck traffic, chemical contamination around storage tanks, and habitat fragmentation and damage from drilling in environmentally sensitive. But Cameron claims that fracking is safe for both the public and the environment. "There is no reason why the process should cause contamination of water supplies or other environmental damage," Cameron said. At least if it's "properly regulated." And if "any shale gas well were to pose a risk of pollution, then we have all the powers we need to close it down," Cameron promises. "Our countryside is one of the most precious things we have in Britain and I am proud to represent a rural constituency. I would never sanction something that might ruin our landscapes and scenery." But, Cameron added, "the huge benefits of shale gas outweigh any very minor change to the landscape." If Cameron gets what he wants, which is thousands of shale gas pads scattered across Britain, he will just lock Britain into another form of fossil fuel addiction for another generation. And we cannot afford that. We need truly green and renewable energy sources.
  7. German manufactuer Siemens have constructed off-shore wind turbines with record-breaking rotors. These enormous rotor blades are 75 meters long, which makes a single blade almost as big as the wingspan of an Airbus A380. All in all, the gigantic rotor measures 154 meters and covers about two and a half football fields. Despite its size the rotor blade weighs 20% less than more conventionally produced blades. This is made possible because of Simenes patented technologies which uses special lightweight materials in its construction process. As you can see from the photo below the entire blade is made as a single piece of "glass fiber-reinforced epoxy resin and balsa wood". Besides making it lightweight, in relation to its size of course, these construction processes also makes the wind turbine extremely strong. And this is a good thing considering that they will be hit with the energy of around 200 tons of air per second out in the sea where these wind turbines are designed to be used. According to Siemens the tips of the 75 meter long blades will be able to move at up to 80 meters per second, or 290 km per hour. The B75 blade is the world's largest fiberglass component cast in one piece. So why are manufactures like Siemens trying to build bigger and bigger wind turbines? Well it’s simple really. As the turbine blades get longer the amount of electricity they produce increases very rapidly. And because offshore wind projects are quite expensive it makes sense to build a fewer big wind turbines than lots of small ones. A prototype 6-megawatt turbine will be erected at the Østerild test station in Denmark later this fall. And in a few years time, 300 of these huge wind turbines will be installed by the Danish energy supplier Dong just off the British coast.
  8. Never gamble with George Monbiot

    George Monbiot was celebrating "victory" the other week in a bet he alleges to have made with Jeremy Leggett of SolarCentury. Jeremy Leggett had claimed, that solar power would achieve grid parity by 2013. George Monbiot managed to get him to turn that into a bet though inevitably when George started getting all legal and turning it into some sort of personal vendetta Jeremy seems to have backed away. Anyway, Monbiot claims he won the bet by virtue of the fact that Solar PV hasn't achieved "grid parity". Of course that depends how you define "grid parity". Monbiot uses a straw man argument to suggest that "grid parity" means ""¦the point at which government support for a technology is no longer required". He claims this was the definition he was given by the DECC, although I've yet to see anything on the DECC website to substantiate this claim. My guess is he interviewed some press advisor for the DECC and asked him a loaded question which got the guy to say what Monbiot wanted to hear. Of course Monbiot perhaps missed the point that if we apply his definition for grid parity to other energy sources, very few if any energy sources are capable of achieving it. For example Monbiot has never been shy of his enthusiasm for Nuclear power, which he describes glowing terms as "UK's most viable sources of low-carbon electricity""¦.is it? Well not according to the BBC's business editor Robert Peston. As I pointed out on my blog sometime ago EDF energy have admitted that the subsidy they would need to make any new nuclear plants in the UK viable would require a strike price of at least £100 per MWh for 40 years, v's a price for onshore wind of £80 per MWh for 15 years (although its claimed as low as £65 or $98/MWh according to the EIA and £40 or $69/MWh according to the NREL) with offshore wind projected at a cost of £100/MWh by the 2020's (the earliest date any new reactor could be operational is 2022). So by Monbiot's own definition nuclear has failed to achieve "grid parity", indeed it falls below the overnight prices for wind energy, which makes his "UK's most viable source of low-carbon electricity" claim very hard to justify. But what about other energy sources? Have they achieved "grid parity"? Well not according to Monbiot's definition. I've just put up a post describing the tales of woe afflicting the UK coal industry. While foreign imported coal is certainly competitive (if we ignore the cost of all that pollution of course!), but UK mined coal is anything but. Government support is needed to keep the UK's coal mines working (the point of my article was to question why we'd want to spend public money a carbon intensive energy source), indeed its likely coal mining in the UK could be all but over within the next decade without significant state sponsored support. So certainly as far as UK coal is concerned, that isn't at a level of "grid parity" either. Indeed when we talk of fossil fuels one often forgets how much is spent, both directly or indirectly, subsidising them. As I've previously pointed out on my blog, of the energy subsidies worldwide much more is spent shoring up fossil fuel consumption, than on renewables. The whole idea of subsidising renewables (or nuclear) was always part of a messy compromise to get governments from having to enact unpopular policies that would have forced people to pay the true costs of our fossil fuel addiction. So Monbiot has managed to reveal the shadowy murkiness of the global energy industry, well no s%it Sherlock is all I can say! (how long have you been a environmental correspondent?) But going back to Jeremy Leggett grid parity comment. I suspect he was referring to solar PV achieving grid parity with other renewable resources by 2013. Indeed as Leggett himself points out in his response "...the cost of solar power has fallen by 60% in the last 3 years while nuclear's costs have gone up by 70%". While PV isn't quite there yet, at least as far as the UK is concerned, it's certainly achieved grid parity in other sunnier climates (....could someone let Monbiot know he owes Jeremy Leggett £100 ;o ) and its expected to achieve as much in the US within a window of 2014-2017. So while perhaps one accuse Jeremy Leggett in letting his enthusiasm for solar PV getting the better of him, but one can certainly understand where that enthusiasm is coming from. If you'd asked me ten years ago how much electricity we could get from solar PV, I'd have thought getting 34 GW's installed capacity from a less than sunny country like Germany was wishful thinking. Any hope for bulk electricity generation from solar I would have argued would only be achieved using solar CSP (Concentrating Solar Power), a technology neither the UK nor Germany has an ideal climate for. Now I would have covered myself by throwing in the caveat that it's always difficult to judge the pace at which any technology will mature (I'd have probably also laughed at the suggestion you could cram 1Terrabyte into a laptop hard drive) and I'd have pointed to theoretical studies which suggested solar panels could be made much more efficient and produced more cheaply"¦.at least "in theory". However, even I have to admit that the performance and growth of solar PV has exceeded all expectations. According to the latest REN global status report 29 GW's of solar PV was added in 2011-2012 for a total installed capacity of 100 GW's of PV (around 103 GW's of renewables was installed worldwide in the same period according to the REN 21 report, for a total capacity of not far off half a terrawatt). Meanwhile nuclear power (which Monbiot favours), according to the IAEA grew by just 4 GW's, although this figure has to be put in the context of a significant decline in nuclear power output over the last few decades. And the fact that many of the world's nuclear plants are ageing and likely in need of replacement (average age of reactors worldwide is about 28 years) and its questionable if global capacity can increase significantly while such "turn over" is being undertaken. Indeed the IAEA report I've cited above, suggests a rate of installation per year of just 6.65 GW/yr between 2010 and 2030, less than a quarter the current installation rate for solar PV and just 1/15th the current installation rate of renewables as a whole. As far as the UK is concerned, despite the Tories attempts to derail the solar industry with cuts to the subsidies, approximately 8 MW's worth of PV is being installed in the UK every week, or about 400-450 MW per year. In March the total installed capacity of PV in the UK stood at 2.5 GW's in March 2013. By contrast the UK's nuclear fleet is in a state of terminal decline and even those who are pro-nuclear seem to accept the fact that new facilities cannot be built before all but one (or possibly two) of the UK's current fleet is shut down. Of course everything is far from rosy in the renewables garden. Personally, while I reckon PV has a role to play in the UK's grid (if the Germans can get 34 GW's from a few roof tops, we'd be fools not to try and do the same), I would still prioritise technologies such as wind and biomass, as well as offshore energy (notably tidal power), as they are better suited to our climate. Also as I've pointed out in prior posts, only about 20% of the UK's energy demand is electricity. The rest is a mixture of heat demand (which tends to hit for a few months in winter) and transportation fuel (cars, buses, trains, planes, etc.). Given the large daily and seasonal fluctuations in demand from these two, energy storage facilities are a key priority (and of course nuclear hits the some problem here as renewables, the need to "bunker" energy to deal with such fluctuations in demand). Indeed PV is now at the centre of a trade dispute between the EU and China over subsidies to their respective solar industries. Of course, I'd argue that clearly the EU and China would only be taking this matter up at the WTO if they thought PV has a future, i.e. that if it hasn't achieved grid parity yet its going to do so at some point. So again, while I tend to agree there are limits to what can be achieved with PV, credit has to be given where it is due. Monbiot can nitpick all he likes but far more low carbon capacity has been added to the UK energy grid from PV than the nuclear energy he favours. Indeed with a £70 billion clean up bill for existing waste stockpile and at least £7 billion a pop for new reactors, its questionable how much, if any of the UK's future energy capacity can be sourced from nuclear.
  9. Increasing global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), a heat-trapping gas, are pushing the world into dangerous territory, closing the window of time to avert the worst consequences of higher temperatures, such as melting ice and rising seas. Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels have grown exponentially. Despite wide agreement by governments on the need to limit emissions, the rate of increase ratcheted up from less than 1 percent each year in the 1990s to almost 3 percent annually in the first decade of this century. After a short dip in 2009 due to the global financial crisis, emissions from fossil fuels rebounded in 2010 and have since grown 2.6 percent each year, hitting an all-time high of 9.7 billion tons of carbon in 2012. Carbon emissions would have risen even faster were it not for the 7 percent drop among industrial countries since 2007 - a group that includes the United States, Canada, Europe, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. The United States, long the world's largest emitter until it was eclipsed by China in 2006, cut carbon emissions by 11 percent over the past five years to 1.4 billion tons. The biggest drop was in emissions from coal - which is primarily used to generate electricity - as power plants switched to cheaper natural gas and as the use of carbon-free wind energy more than quadrupled. U.S. emissions from oil, mostly used for transportation, also dipped. (See data.) Carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning in Europe, as a whole the third largest emitter, fell 9 percent from 2007 to 2012. Emissions in Italy and Spain shrank by 17 and 18 percent, respectively. The United Kingdom's emissions dropped by 11 percent to 126 million tons. Germany's emissions fell by 4 percent to 200 million tons. These countries have been leaders in either wind or solar energy or both. Russia and Japan are two industrial countries that did not see an overall decline in carbon emissions over the past five years. Russia had an uptick in oil use, increasing its emissions by 2 percent to 449 million tons. And in Japan, the quick suspension of nuclear power generation after the Fukushima disaster led to more natural gas and oil use, pushing emissions up 1 percent to 336 million tons in 2012. CO2 emissions in developing countries surpassed those from industrial countries in 2005 and have since continued to soar. China's carbon emissions grew by 44 percent since 2007 to 2.4 billion tons in 2012. Together the United States and China account for more than 40 percent of worldwide emissions. Emissions in India, home to more than a billion people, overtook those in Russia for the first time in 2008. From 2007 to 2012, India's emissions grew 43 percent to reach 596 million tons of carbon. Carbon emissions in Indonesia, another fast-growing economy, have exploded, growing 52 percent to hit 146 million tons in 2012. Although emissions from developing countries now dominate, the industrial countries set the world on its global warming path with over a century's worth of CO2 emissions that have accumulated in the atmosphere. Furthermore, emissions estimates discussed here include only those from fossil fuels burned within a country's borders, meaning that the tallies do not account for international trade. For example, emissions generated from producing goods in China destined for use in the United States are added to China's books. When emissions are counted in terms of the final destination of the product, the industrial countries' carbon bill increases. On a per person basis, the United States emits 4.4 tons of carbon pollution - twice as much as in China. The highest per capita carbon emissions are in several small oil and gas producing countries. In 2012, Qatar spewed out 11 tons of carbon per person. Trinidad and Tobago is next with 9 tons of carbon per person, and Kuwait follows at 7.5 tons. Fossil fuels are not the only source of CO2 emissions. Changing the landscape, for example by burning forests, releases roughly 1 billion tons of carbon globally each year. Brazil and Indonesia have high levels of deforestation and are responsible for much of the current carbon emissions from the land. About half of the CO2 that is released through fossil fuel burning or land use changes stays in the atmosphere. The other half is taken up by the oceans or by plants. As more CO2 is absorbed by the world's oceans, the water becomes more acidic. This change in ocean chemistry can strip away the building blocks of coral reefs, weakening an important link in the oceanic food chain. Scientists warn that the oceans could eventually become saturated with CO2, compromising their capacity to absorb our carbon emissions, with serious consequences for the global thermostat. For some 800,000 years, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere did not go above 300 parts per million (ppm). But in the 250 years following the start of the Industrial Revolution, enough CO2 built up to bring the average concentration to nearly 394 ppm in 2012. Throughout each year, the concentration of the gas fluctuates, reaching its annual peak in the spring. In May 2013, the CO2 concentration briefly hit 400 ppm, a grim new milestone on the path of climate disruption. Never in human history has the atmosphere been so full of this odorless and colorless yet powerfully disruptive gas. CO2 acts like the glass of a greenhouse, trapping heat. Since humans began burning fossil fuels on a large scale, the global average temperature has risen 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius), with most of the increase occurring since 1970. The effects of higher temperatures include rising sea levels, disappearing Arctic sea ice, more heat waves, and declining yields of food crops. More warming is in the pipeline as the climate system slowly responds to the higher CO2 concentrations. Reports from international institutions, such as the International Energy Agency, based on work by thousands of scientists emphasize that little time remains to cut emissions and avoid a climate catastrophe. The World Bank notes that absent any policy changes, the global average temperature could be 9 degrees Fahrenheit warmer by the end of this century, well above what human civilization has ever witnessed. But a different future - one based on a clean energy economy - is within our reach. Germany, not a particularly sunny country, has harnessed enough of the sun's rays to power some 8 million homes, for example. The United States has enough wind turbines installed to power more than 15 million homes. Kenya generates roughly a quarter of its electricity from geothermal energy. This is but a glimpse of the enormous potential of renewable energy. The question is not whether we can build a carbon-free economy, but whether we can do it before climate change spirals out of control. By Emily E. Adams. For a plan to stabilize the Earth's climate, see "Time for Plan B" and more at www.earth-policy.org.
  10. Wind power anywhere with MARS

    If I say Mars, what do you think of then? No, the planet Mars is the wrong answer. The correct answer is Magenn's Power Turbine MARS. MARS is a new simple solution to produce wind energy, anywhere. According to Magenn their MARS has all advantages over current existing wind turbines. But how does it work and why is it better than ordinary wind turbines? MARS produces its energy 1000 feet up in the air. That means MARS can generate electricity on a regular basis. Another upside with MARS compared to the more ordinary wind turbines is that it can't produce the so called "ground turbulence" and that, according to Magenn, MARS won't kill any birds due to its big compact size. MARS is bird and bat friendly with lower noise emissions and is capable of operating in a wider range of wind speeds - from 4 mph to greater than 60 mph. Magenn says MARS is as silent as an air conditioner. No wonder when it's located 100 feet up in the air. But how does it get so high up in the air you might wonder? Well, Magenn's Air Rotor System is filled with helium which makes it lighter than air. Just like how an airship works. With MARS Magenn is trying to attract developing nations that has a limited or non existent energy infrastructure. MARS will go into production sometime this year.