EU Climate Summit Commits to 2030 Carbon Cuts

European leaders wrapped up a two-day climate summit in Brussels last week with a deal to cut the European Union’s total greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels. This would continue a downward trend – the EU is already on track to meet a 20 percent reduction from 1990 levels by 2020 – but the agreement is weak relative to Europe’s prior ambitions to confront climate change.

Investors in green tech pushed aggressively for the deal, seeking a longterm signal that the European market will continue to reward advances in energy efficiency and low-carbon energy production. The deal is also a shot in the arm for the Paris global climate talks, scheduled for December 2015, which will seek to achieve the decisive binding global targets for greenhouse gas reductions that failed to emerge from the 2009 Cophenhagen climate talks.

What the deal lacks is specificity and ambition regarding the mechanisms by which European countries are to achieve the carbon reduction. “Key aspects of the deal that will form a bargaining position for global climate talks in Paris next year were left vague or voluntary,” reported The Guardian. Continue reading “EU Climate Summit Commits to 2030 Carbon Cuts”

EC Sees Heavy Pricetag to UK Nukes Plan

UK prime minister David Cameron at Hinkley Point
UK prime minister David Cameron at Hinkley Point

Government incentives for a pair of proposed nuclear reactors could cost U.K. taxpayers as much as £17.62 billion, thus exceeding the reactors’ projected cost. The EC figure is a preliminary estimate included in an initial report to London published on Friday by European Commission competition czars. The letter notifies the British government that—as we predicted in December—Brussels is launching a formal investigation to assess whether the subsidies violate European state aid rules.

The preliminary findings suggest that the U.K. and E.C. are on a collision source. As the Financial Times summed it up this weekend: “The severity of [the EC’s] initial concerns will cast a shadow over government hopes to win approval for the deal.”

Continue reading “EC Sees Heavy Pricetag to UK Nukes Plan”

Europe Shortlists Capture Projects for Stimulus

European leaders shortlisted a dozen proposals to demonstrate large-scale carbon capture and storage at coal-fired power plants last month as eligible to share €900 million of the EU’s €5-billion stimulus funding package. The goal is to bring down the cost of carbon-neutral coal power — which the European Commission expects to continue to exceed the cost of conventional coal power in 2020 — and to gain more experience with underground storage of CO2.

Seven propose to capture CO2 post-combustion from the exhaust of conventional coal-fired power plants, a relatively inefficient process that nonetheless costs less up front — an attractive feature given today’s financial mess. Three are Integrated Combined Cycle Gasification or IGCC power plants that would pull CO2 out of coal-derived gases prior to combustion, akin to the U.S. FutureGen project that Bush killed and Obama may be reviving. Two more would concentrate their CO2 exhaust by burning coal in purified oxygen — the oxyfuel approach that Sweden’s Vattenfall is testing at a pilot plant in Germany.

Continue reading “Europe Shortlists Capture Projects for Stimulus”

Saying Adieu to the Mighty UCTE

By summer the Union for the Co-ordination of Transmission of Electricity (UCTE), whose 240,000 kilometers of high-voltage lines connect 26 European countries, may cease to exist. Europe is not giving up electricity. Electrons will still flow on the world’s largest interconnection of power grids. Rather, the 57-year-old UCTE will be subsumed within a new and broader organization designed to, among other improvements, make Europe’s grids renewables-ready: the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E).

CEOs from 42 transmission system operator companies in 34 European countries unanimously decided to create the new association last month. Whereas UCTE was limited to ensuring the interoperability of largely self-sufficient national grids, ENTSO-E is to play a proactive role in coordinating grid development to create a truly European grid that can operate on a larger scale. This is exactly what’s needed as Europe increasingly seeks to widely distribute electricity generated from concentrated renewable resources such as wind power in the North Sea and Baltic Sea and Mediterranean solar power.

Moving power across regions implies a European-scale supergrid, while the European Commission (EC) has struggled simply to add small interconnections between the states. Last month for Spectrum Online I profiled the EC’s latest desperate attempt to overcoming inertia in transmission expansion: recruiting high-profile volunteers to sell the interconnections.

One of those volunteers, Władysław Mielczarski, the Polish electric power engineering expert whom the EC recruited to unstick projects connecting Poland to Lithuania and Germany, minced no words in describing his best efforts to get things as no substitute for European institutions dedicated to grid planning. “If we’re going to do a professional job on interconnection,” said Mielczarski, “we must have professional people working full time, and we must have more support from the commission.”

add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank

This post was created for Energywise, IEEE Spectrum’s blog on green power, cars and climate

Probing for Fluff in Europe’s Supergrids Vision

European renewable energy supergrid map Credit Wibke von FlemmingLast month the European Commission (EC) called for construction of regional power transmission grids that would ultimately merge into a supergrid distributing Mediterranean solar energy and offshore wind energy across Europe. Today, in MIT’s Technology Review, I test the political reality of sharing power across Europe (see “Europe Backs Supergrids”) and show that the EC just might pull it off.

Why be skeptical? Because for over a decade the EC has been pushing the liberalization of the European electricity market. Whereas, given the limited capacity for exchange of power between many European countries one could fairly question whether a ‘European market’ for electricity even exists.

Wind power developer Eddie O’Connor, for example, told me that his priority – building an offshore grid to connect tens of gigawatts of North Sea wind farms to be installed in the coming decade – would remain a dream so long as the European states and their politically powerful utilities control tranmission planning. “The utilities are the enemy,” says O’Connor, founder of wind developer Airtricity and CEO of Mainstream Renewable Power. “Even at this stage they’re still the enemy.”

What my report for TechReview shows, however, is that change is possible. The best example is a French-Spanish agreement this summer — under intense prodding from the EC — clearing the way for a much-needed second powerline across the Pyrenees. A special envoy appointed by the EC broke what had been a 15-year impasse complicated by local environmental concerns, Catalan fury, and diverging interests of the utilities involved. 

Even O’Connor is optimistic. He believes that new international institutions must be created to conjur up the supergrid Europe needs to carry renewable energy. But, says O’Connor, both are possible: “I believe the building of the supergrid is imminent.”  

Stay tuned for more on the EC’s energy envoys.

This post was created for EnergywiseIEEE Spectrum’s blog on green power, cars and climate

add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank

Nukes, Gas, Oil and Coal All Losers in EU Energy Strategy

The European Commission issued its Strategic Energy Review yesterday, proposing energy efficiency investments, a shift to alternative fuel vehicles to end oil dependence in transport, and more aggressive deployment of renewable energy and carbon capture and storage to “decarbonise” the EU electricity supply. Figuring prominantly among its first six “priorities essential for the EU’s energy security” are the North Sea offshore electric power supergrid that Energywise covered in September and the Mediterranean Ring electric interconnection of Europe and North Africa that I’ve been harping on this week. 

The EC energy strategy not only endorses the MedRing, but views it as a component of a future supergrid traversing Europe and stretching beyond the Mediterranean to Iraq, the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa.

How would this new vision (and $100/barrel oil) alter the complexion of European energy consumption? The energy review projects that by 2020 total energy demand drops from the equivalent of 1811 metric tons of oil in 2005 to 1672 MTOE in 2020. Demand met by renewables such as wind, solar and hydro more than doubles in real terms from 123 to 274 MTOE, while their share of total demand leaps from 6.8% to 16.4%. Imported renewables – with the MedRing delivering North African wind and solar power – jump 10-fold from 0.8% in 2005 to 8.8% in 2020.

Oil, gas, coal and nuclear, meanwhile, all see a diminished role, both in real terms and as a share of European energy demand. Interestingly the role of natural gas – the low-carbon fossil fuel – drops the most, from 25% to 21%, reflecting EU concern over dependence on gas imports from Russia. Nuclear’s share drops the least, from just slightly over to slightly under 14% of demand; this assumes that nuclear phaseout plans, particularly Germany’s, are followed through. 

How to make it all come true? Accompanying the EC review is a ‘green paper‘ (the EU’s unbleached alternative terminology for what we’d call a ‘white paper’) outlining a variety of new regulatory and financial mechanisms. The EU is already a world leader in terms of incentives for lower carbon energy with strong price supports for solar and wind and a carbon cap and trade program up and running (though still lacking teeth as my Energywise colleague Bill Sweet notes). However, the energy review warns that the primarily national-level financing that drives energy projects today are inadequate to drive infrastructure that is pan-European or larger. A perfect example is the massive investment in high-voltage dc lines needed to turn the MedRing into a bulk power mover (see the second half of our feature on MedRing: “Closing the Circuit”). 

Even less viable under existing financing mechanisms are those projects that entail considerable “non-commercial risks” such as threats of political instability or terrorism. Did someone say North Africa?

add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank

This post was created for EnergywiseIEEE Spectrum’s blog on green power, cars and climate

The EuroParliament’s Schwarzenegger Clause and CCS

Carbon sequestration — the notion that carbon dioxide from coal-fired power stations and other major greenhouse gas emitters can be captured and stored underground — is taking a lot of hits from environmental activists bent on banning coal outright. For a taste, check out this recent post on the Gristmill green blog by Joseph Romm, a most articulate carbon capture critic. Political leaders, in contrast, appear far more supportive, and it’s not just American presidential candidates wooing coal-country voters. Last week European parliamentarians voted to finance largescale sequestration demo projects with a generous €10-billion fund and, better still, approved what they called a ‘Schwarzenegger Clause’ to mandate carbon capture for new generating stations from 2015. Like an existing requirement approved by California’s governor the clause sets a 500 gram CO2 per kilowatt-hour emissions limit that coal-fired plants can beat only with carbon capture.

The U.K.’s Environment Agency had already recommended a ban new coal-fired power plants that don’t use carbon capture and storage (CCS) the week before.

Part of the European motivation, as French and British leaders have made clear, is that CCS is more than a key to meeting agressive climate change action goals. They are also a critical means of keeping coal in the mix and thus limiting Europe’s dependence on imported oil and gas from Russia and the Middle East.

In the U.S., meanwhile, Al Gore is calling for civil disobediance to force adoption of the same CCS mandate. In fact, there are already steps in this direction even in North America beyond Schwarzenegger’s innovations:A panel appointed by Arkansas’ governor recommended last month the state approve no new coal plants until CCS is ready; the Canadian government floated a plan this spring to require CCS at new bitumen-to-oil plants in Alberta’s tarsands from 2012; and last fall British Columbia decreed a no-new CO2 from coal policy that stalled two proposed coal-fired plants (one may go forward as a biomass plant to burn trees killed by a warming-enabled infestation of beetles).

A wildcard to watch: weakening political resolve in the face of the global finance crisis. According to this report from Agence France Press yesterday, a few European leaders are wavering on greenhouse gas emissions as energy-intensive industries face tough times ahead.

add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : :