March 3, 2017
Nuclear industry: do or die
March 3, 2017
If you had to read one analysis of the current nuclear crisis, this is probably it: Michael Shellenberger’s hard-hitting piece on Energy Post.
What makes his analysis so valuable is that he is a supporter of nuclear power – and yet takes an extremely critical view of how the nuclear industry has been operating. Shellenberger does believe that unreasonable safety demands are being placed on the sector, and he is also convinced its reputation as a dangerous source of energy is wrong. Yet he places the blame for the crisis largely on the nuclear companies themselves.
Why is nuclear failing in the West, Shellenberger asks? In a nutshell for these reasons:
-lack of standardization and scaling
-the war on nuclear by environmentalists and policymakers
-too much focus on machines, not enough on human beings
What was the industry thinking, Shellenberger wonders, coming up with super-complicated, one-of-a-kind new designs, like Toshiba-Westinghouse’s AP1000 and Areva’s EPR, at a time when no new plants had been built in a long time and construction skills had been in decline? These new projects were bound to get way over budget and time.
What is more, the one thing they tried to achieve – more safety – would always prove to be elusive, argues Shellenberger, because safety is not found in better reactor designs, but in better operations. There was no need for these new constructions, he points out, since “how do you make a technology that almost never harms anybody any safer than it already is?”
But it is not too late yet for the nuclear industry to save itself, according to Shellenberger, if it follows the following guidelines:
Consolidation, standardization and scaling are the only way in which the sector can turn out economically efficient nuclear power plants, notes Shellenberger.
He thinks governments of countries like the US, Japan and France should make a joint effort to set up a nuclear company comparable to an Airbus or Boeing in the aircraft sector. The UK can play a key role by scrapping its existing nuclear plans and replacing them with a plan based on a single design.
At the same time, policymakers should thereby make it clear that they believe in a future for nuclear. If they don’t, the fate of the western nuclear industry may be sealed.
Full article: The nuclear industry must change – or die
Energiewende: “the report of my death is exaggerated”
March 3, 2017
We recently published an article by the well-known German economist Heiner Flassbeck, who more or less pronounced the death of the Energiewende. Flassbeck wrote that “one cannot simultaneously rely on massive amounts of wind and sunshine, dispense with nuclear power plants (for very good reasons), significantly lower the supply of fossil energy, and nevertheless tell people that electricity will definitely be available in the future.”
The article was a great hit: it has had 1500 shares on social media and generated 270 comments (we stopped the debate at that stage).
Flassbeck based his argument on the fact that in a particular period in December solar and wind contributed almost nothing to German electricity supply.
But according to Craig Morris, a well-known energy author (American, but based in Germany), who writes for the Energy Transition blog of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, Flassbeck is not saying anything new.
Morris notes that energy economists, including supporters of the Energiewende, are well aware that these days occur – they even have a word for it: Dunkelflaute, or dark doldrums, which has a Wikipedia entry in German.
The solutions to this problem are also well-known, Morris writes. In a nutshell, what are needed are “flexibility options”: power plants that can ramp, demand that can react, and storage – in that order.
According to Morris, the German Energiewende is currently in the second stage, where demand response will become increasingly important to help balance German electricity supply and demand.
Morris has a point of course, yet whether these three options will together suffice to allow 80-85% renewables (the German target) or what their cost will be, is something else again. That will surely continue to be part of the energy debate, both in Germany and other countries.
Full article: The end of the end of the Energiewende
The strange silence around the Southern Gas Corridor
March 3, 2017
You have all heard of the Southern Gas Corridor. But do we really know what is meant by it? Frankly I am not always sure. It is described on Wikipedia and by the European Commission in broad terms as an initiative of the European Commission to bring natural gas supplies from the Caspian region (and the Middle East) to Europe, in order to reduce Europe’s dependency on Russian gas.
In this sense, the famous Nabucco pipeline project, which was started in 2002, was part of the Southern Gas Corridor, until it was abandoned in 2013. Nabucco was to run through Turkey to a number of a South East European countries.
Essentially, what is left of the Southern Gas Corridor now is a route from the Shah Deniz fields in Azerbaijan through Turkey and then on to Greece and Italy. It now consists of three distinct parts:
- the South Caucasus Pipeline extension (SCPx) through Azerbaijan and Georgia
- the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) through Turkey
- the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) through Greece, Albania, and Italy
Now this is not just any project. BP, one of the main players involved, alongside Lukoil (Russia) and Socar (Azerbaijan), notes on its website that “it is arguably the global oil and gas industry’s most significant and ambitious undertaking yet. And it is a complex challenge involving many different stakeholders – including seven governments and 11 companies.”
The whole “corridor”, 3500 km in length, “is set to change the energy map of an entire region – connecting gas supplies in the Caspian to markets in Europe for the very first time”, notes BP.
First gas delivery “is targeted for late 2018, with supplies to Georgia and Turkey; gas deliveries to Europe are expected just over a year after first gas is produced offshore Azerbaijan”. BP adds that “the Southern Gas Corridor pipeline system has been designed to be scalable to twice its initial capacity to accommodate potential additional gas supplies in the future.”
Such a project is difficult to deliver without political support (including financial), and the EU and the European Investment Bank are involved in it in various ways. It is set to be backed with public money via the Connecting Europe Facility, the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the Project Bonds Initiative, and indirectly via a loan by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to Lukoil, reports CEE Bankwatch.
This “grassroots” NGO, based in Central and Eastern Europe, has been campaigning against the Southern Gas Corridor for some time. In a new article for Energy Post, Anna Roggenbuck of CEE Bankwatch, argues that the EU should not be involved in the project, for three reasons: first, because it provides support to the dictatorial regime of Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan. Second, because Europe does not need more gas, and gas as a fossil fuel is bad for the climate. And third, because, as it now turns out, it seems likely that the pipeline will actually be used at least partly for Russian gas to be transported to Europe. So it would not even lead to more diversification.
She could have added that it will also make Europe more dependent on Turkey as well as Azerbaijan, not a very reassuring prospect.
Whether or not Roggenbuck is right, it does seem strange that there is very little debate over the Southern Gas Corridor – unlike, for example, over Nord Stream 2, Gazprom’s project in the Baltic Sea.
To me personally the pictures of Ilham Aliyev meeting with Maroš Šefčovič in Baku on 23 February were rather embarrassing. Weren’t we supposed to reduce our dependence on Russia because Putin is a bad guy. What good will it do to replace him another, perhaps even worse guy?
Full article: Who needs the Southern Gas Corridor?
What’s the use of re-using carbon?
March 3, 2017
If carbon capture and storage (CCS) does not take off, should we turn to carbon capture and use (CCU)?
CCS, I know, is not the most sexy subject. It is widely known that CCS efforts are still far from what is needed to make the contribution they are expected to make to decarbonization.
What is, perhaps, less well appreciated is the importance of this contribution. It is instructive to read this key passage from the International Energy Agency’s 2016 Energy Technology Perspectives, which sets out what is needed for the energy sector to live up to its climate requirements:
“The transition requires massive changes in the energy system, and the 2 Degree Scenario (2DS) highlights targeted measures needed to deploy low-carbon technologies so as to achieve a cost-effective transition. With the appropriate policies, such large-scale transformation is realistic and can dramatically reduce both the energy intensity and carbon intensity of the global economy. Compared with a scenario wherein technology deployment is driven only by the policies currently in place (the
6 Degree Scenario [6DS]), in the 2DS, with the right support for low-carbon technologies in conversion processes and end uses, primary energy demand can be reduced by 30% and carbon emissions in the energy system by 70% (and by one-half relative to current levels) by 2050. The two largest contributions to cumulative emissions reductions in the 2DS over the period 2013-50 would come from end-use fuel and electricity efficiency (38%) and renewables (32%). Carbon capture and storage (CCS) would come in third place with 12%, followed by nuclear with 7%.”
In other words, without CCS, we are up sh*t’s creek without a paddle…
An alternative that is being increasingly pursued is something called carbon capture and use (CCU). The advantage of CCU over CCS is that the carbon is used for productive processes rather than just stored underground. This is the case for example when captured carbon is injected into oil fields for enhanced oil recovery.
The problem with CCU, though, is that the carbon that is re-used might re-enter the atmosphere after all.
According to David Hone, Chief Climate Change adviser (and blogger) at Shell, “these are two very different approaches to managing atmospheric carbon dioxide and don’t behave in the same way or necessarily give the same outcome.”
In a new post, Hone discusses a number of uses of carbon, e.g. in the production of building materials, or to manufacture synthetic hydrocarbon fuels, but notes that at this stage it is not clear for many processes what the result is in terms of carbon emissions. This is certainly the case in the longer term. Even building materials release their CO2 at a certain point – although this could be a long way out.
Hone concludes that work remains to be done: “Accounting plays a critical role. Assigning a mitigation value to CCS is a relatively simple task; each tonne stored can be counted as permanent mitigation and will contribute to the overall task of reaching net zero emissions. The same cannot be said for CCU yet. While it is clear that carbon can be embedded in urea or polycarbonates, there is no established protocol to define this as permanent mitigation.”
Full article: Carbon capture and use – how climate friendly is it?