Tag Archives: Renewables

Gas, pumped storage and energy futures

Craig Emerson says we can get the gas we need, but is it necessary?

Craig Emerson has an article in the AFR, also on his site, suggesting that politicians need to urgently turn their minds to gas supply in east Australia. Emerson had warned them back in 2014, but they took no notice, and AEMO assured everyone there was no problem.

Suddenly there is. The price of gas-fired electricity threatens manufacturing jobs, and gas is needed to replace coal-fired power. Continue reading Gas, pumped storage and energy futures

Australia trashes its renewables industry

Climate Progress has picked up on the story:Australia’s clean energy development plummets below Algeria, Myanmar, Thailand, and Uruguay .

Large scale clean energy development is basically dead in Australia, thanks to the Abbott Government’s negativity and delays. Giles Parkinson says that the Government is effectively trashing the industry:

Bloomberg New Energy Finance data shows that Australia is on track to record its lowest level of asset financing for large-scale renewables since 2002 – as just $193 million was committed in the third quarter of the year. From ranking No 11, in the world in 2013, Australia has fallen behind Algeria and even Myanmar.

This graph tells the story:

bnef-investment-590x308

Australia, which should be one of the world’s leaders in the industry, is seeing its industry collapse. The three biggest Australian investors in renewable energy are in deep trouble.

Industry Funds Management is being forced to write down the value of Pacific Hydro, the largest specialised investor in renewables in the country, by $685 million, according to the Australian Financial Review. This from a business that was to have been floated a year or so ago with a value of more than $2 billion.

Infigen Energy, the largest listed investor in renewables, has said it is facing massive writedowns, and potentially taking dramatic action to protect shareholder funds. It has brought Australian investments to a halt. So has Silex Systems, which has effectively abandoned the solar industry.

International investors have also made clear that their investment in Australia will end soon un less policy stability is restored. These include First Solar, Chinese wind turbine leader Goldwind, and numerous others. The US-based Recurrent Energy has already packed its bags, Spanish based FRV has said its $1.5 billion pipeline is at risk.

Australia’s year-to-date investment of $238 million in large-scale renewables development so far this year compares to Canada’s $3.1 billion.

The world leaders are now China and Japan.

China may add more than 14 gigawatts of solar capacity this year — almost a third of the global total, according to BNEF.

China is fast approaching its goal of installing 35 gigawatts of solar by the end of 2015.

Apparently they believe in picking winners and subsidies, as does Japan:

Japan, the world’s second-largest solar market, increased spending 17 percent to $8.6 billion in the third quarter. Japan has approved about 72,000 megawatts of clean energy projects since the country’s feed-in tariff program started in 2012, with about 96 percent being solar projects.

Meanwhile the LNP have entered into negotiations with Labor on the Renewable Energy Target, presumably having given up on PUP and the cross bench. Labor seems to favour a numerical target similar to the status quo, whereas the LNP favours an actual 20% target, which would be a reduction and disastrous for the industry. Labor seems to be prevailing. There is talk of an exemption for aluminium processing.

We’ll have to wait and see whether what comes out is too little too late, and whether the LNP plays fast and loose with yet another industry sector.

Chair of RET Review Not Looking Good

Climate Spectator had this post on Dick Warburton, the Chair of the RET review committee and his performance on a Fran Kelly interview after his review had been released. It gives a picture of a man who doesn’t understand his own report or anything much else apart from the need to recommend the destruction of the RET and all the jobs it has created. Continue reading Chair of RET Review Not Looking Good

Climate clippings 104

This edition begins with the weather and ends with a sad tale of revenge and tribalism as the basis for climate policy.

1. June the hottest on record

When we have some cooler than normal weather people are apt to say “So much for global warming!” They should realise how small a part of the globe we are.

The warmest May on record for the planet has been followed by the warmest June:

June 2014_201406-600

In fact June was the highest departure from average for any month on record.

The last below-average global temperature for any month was February 1985. The last below average June was in 1975 when Gough Whitlam was PM!

2. El Niño still favoured

The majority of models still favour a spring El Niño:

Warming in the tropical Pacific Ocean since the beginning of 2014 has primed the climate system for an El Niño in 2014, although an atmospheric response is yet to be observed. As a result, the transition towards El Niño conditions has slowed in recent weeks. While five out of eight climate models surveyed by the Bureau suggest El Niño will become established by October, all have eased their strength over the past few months. Three models suggest an El Niño will not occur in 2014, while another indicates only a brief period of El Niño-like conditions.

3. Temperatures poised to rise rapidly

El Niño years are often associated with a higher than average temperature rise. However, there’s another reason temperatures may be about to rise. You may recall that around 93% of the extra global warming goes into the ocean and only 2.3% into the atmosphere:

GW_Components_570

In recent years the trade winds have speeded up causing deep mixing in the ocean, taking warm water deeper displacing cooler water which rises to the surface to be warmed. Sooner or later this will stabilise, with more heat going into the atmosphere.

The article also points out the recent correction of the Hadley Centre temperature record, adding in an estimate for the polar regions, where there are no weather stations. This correction virtually eliminates the famous ‘pause’. The heavy lines show the corrected data:

Cowtan-600

4. Onshore wind is now the cheapest form of new energy in Denmark

6250146831_ffa2f45d46_b-500

A new analysis from the government of Denmark found that wind power is by far the cheapest new form of electricity in the country. New onshore wind plants coming online in 2016 will provide energy for about half the price of coal and natural gas plants, according to the Danish Energy Agency (DEA), and will cost around five cents per kilowatt hour.

5. Abbott bets the house on coal

Meanwhile our visionary PM bets the house on coal as the world price is collapsing and countries turn to renewables.

The price for thermal coal has plunged more than 10 per cent in the last two months as the presumed major customers – China and India – make it clear that renewable energy is offering a competitive alternative to coal and gas.

The current spot market has been below the cost of production.

China may cease to import coal in a few years. The Europeans are talking about ramping up targets for emission reductions, energy efficiency and renewable energy. The Indians are

building of “mega” capacity solar farms, off-grid solar pumps for irrigators, solar installations over canals, cuts in tariffs for solar components and a doubling of the tax on coal – has been followed by an announcement that the country will look to expand a “rent-a-roof” program from solar installations initially begun in Gujarat, the home state of new PM Narendra Modi, who has promised a “saffron revolution” of solar power.

Tata Power is providing interest free loans up to $4,000 for rooftop solar.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance last week predicted solar would beat coal plants on costs by 2020. Chile has announced a whole series of large scale solar plants. On and on it goes.

Here in Sydney there was concern at the Clean Energy Week conference that Abbott can cripple renewables by doing nothing. According to one speaker

even if the 41,000GWh target was retained, and long term certainty provided, the removal of the carbon price will make it difficult to obtain financing for wind and solar farms from financial institutions.

That’s because the carbon price and the RET were designed to work together. If the carbon price is removed, then there is a massive shortfall in revenue when the certificates issued under the RET expire in 2030…

John D has been calling it but here’s a dramatic graph showing how large scale investment has stopped in its tracks:

bnef-finance-s-590x329

6. Tribal wars and revenge

I couldn’t find a decent review of Ian Chubb’s excellent book Power failure, which traces climate policy in Australia from before the 2007 election to the installation of the Abbott government. The link in the heading is to a revealing interview with the author by The Fifth Estate. Chubb:

“[Climate change denial] is a cultural issue for the Coalition. It’s nothing to do with rationality or reason or the future or business – it’s tribal. While this government is in power we can’t recreate the consensus.

“For this government burning coal to make electricity is the equivalent to eating red meat – if you don’t, you’re a sissy. So this government will never have sympathy for making renewable energy – only sissies do that. The government has attempted to shut down everything to do with renewable energy.”

He the goes on to talk about revenge, tribalism and well-flung mud.

He describes the current policy situation as current policy situation as a “ridiculous and expensive mess”. Two things might change it. One is leadership from the US. The other is that nasty things may have to happen from the climate itself.

My sense is that the damage to confidence wrought by this mob is such that a change of government with new policies may not be enough. We need the Tea Party to get real before confidence can be restored.

I need to say more about Chubb’s book which is clear-eyed about the strengths and weaknesses of both Rudd and Gillard. Anyone wondering why some of Rudd’s colleagues thought he had to go should read this extract in The Age.

Recent articles on renewable power

1. Radical ideas for renewable energy policy

Investment bank UBS came up with this list:

1.  Mandate time of use meter roll out over remaining States in the NEM (NSW, QLD, SA, TAS)

2.  Reinstate the carbon tax with zero exemptions and zero compensation, but start it at a lower level, say  $10/t. This would raise around $5bn of revenue and continue to discourage electricity consumption. It would send a price signal to all carbon producers, however of itself it would not induce much fuel shifting.

3. Encourage the construction of distributed PV solar on any building where the majority of the electricity consumption is during the day or where the costs of being connected to the grid are high. Examples of the former category include many Federal and State Government owned buildings, factories and warehouses. All that flat Western Sydney metal roofing is ideal for solar.

4. We would use some of the funds raised to subsidise the take-up of onsite storage and encourage grid defection and the creation of micro grids, particularly in rural areas. Network investment and pricing models would need to be sharply revised.

5. Networks in general would have their monopoly pricing status revoked. In the world of the “Nu-tility”, the network is no longer a monopoly – it competes with distributed electricity and possibly with other distribution business models. If networks put prices up too much they will face competition of their own.

6. We would incentivise closure of some brown coal fired electricity in Victoria, possibly via means of environmental regulation, but possibly with a capacity closure auction.

7. Likely continue with the current renewables target.

I can’t say I like all of these but they are a starting point for discussion.  The article also had this table comparing renewable and fossil “subsidies”.  (Excluding state subsidies which are quite significant.)

UBS subsidies

2.  Queensland power price goes negative in the middle of the day

Last week, for the first time in memory, the wholesale price of electricity in Queensland fell into negative territory – in the middle of the day.  For several days the price – normally around $40-$50 a megawatt hour – hovered in and around zero. Prices were deflated throughout the week.

There were several reasons for this. A restricted interconnector to NSW added to the volatile trading, as did uncertainty about the carbon price. But the overall softening of prices was primarily the result of the newest and one of the biggest power stations in the state – rooftop solar PV.

There is 1,100MW of it on more than 350,000 buildings in Queensland alone (3,400MW on 1.2 million building across the country), and  it is producing electricity just at the time that coal generators used to make hay (while the sun shines).

The article also had this table showing just how large the grid owners and retailers are costing consumers.

aemc electricity prices

3. Solar fuels exports from the Pilbara

This article argues that the Japan free trade agreement may hasten the production of solar fuels from the Pilbara.  A key argument is based around Japanese fears of LNG supplies being exposed to deteriorating relationships with China (as well as price uncertainty.)

Liquid ammonia is the logical solar fuel for production in the Pilbara.  Renewable ammonia can be produced from renewable power, water and nitrogen from the air.  Theoretical water consumption is 1.6 litres water per kg of ammonia so this shouldn’t be a problem even if desalination is required. (Other solar fuels such as gasoline require a source of CO2)

Liquid ammonia could be transported using LNG facilities.  The big disadvantage of liquid ammonia is that one kg of LNG has the same energy as 2.9 kg of liquid ammonia.   However, to some extent this disadvantage will be off set by the fact that ammonia can be used in fuel cells.

4. Turkey nest dams may be key to pumped storage in Australia

This article argues that “off river pumped storage” using small turkey nest dams overcomes the problems of using pumped storage systems with the dams in river valleys.

Off-river electricity storage has several advantages over typical on-river facilities:

– There are vastly more potential sites

– Sites can be selected that do not clash with environmental and other values

– The upper reservoir can be placed on top of a hill rather than in a valley, allowing the elevation difference to be maximised

– No provision needs to be made for floods (typically a major cost).

A system comprising twin 10ha reservoirs, each 30m deep, with a 750m elevation difference, can deliver about 1000 megawatts for five hours.

Between 20 and 40 of these systems would be enough to stabilise a 100 per cent renewable Australian electricity system.

How much does it cost?

As the reservoirs are tiny (just a few hectares) compared with typical hydro reservoirs, they are a minor component of the cost. Most of the cost is in the power components (pipes, pumps, turbines, transformers and transmission). Initial estimates suggest that the cost of an off-river system at a good site is around $1000 per kilowatt of installed capacity.

One m3/sec of water falling one m will generate 9.807 kW

Shredding the fig leaf

Direct Action was always a fig leaf for a government pretending to have a climate policy. Now the climate change denialists in Abbott’s cabinet have taken the opportunity to shred the fig leaf to the complete embarrassment of Greg Hunt.

Giles Parkinson thinks the 2014 budget is Abbott settling old scores, and dumping clean energy in favour of the asphalt economy.

With proposals to repeal the carbon price, dismantle the Climate Change Authority and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and the dilution of the Renewable Energy Target already in train, these budget measures – which include the closure of ARENA, the dumping of the million solar roofs program (both contrary to election promises) and the research funding cuts at the CSIRO, Bureau of Meteorology and elsewhere – mean that the obliteration of the Clean Energy Future package will be complete, if it can get past the Senate.

Dumping ARENA is particularly stupid, as the fund was leveraging private investment at the rate of $2.50 to one and doing much to support the off-grid activities of the mining industry.

ARENA will maintain funds of $1 billion for around 190 projects – mostly R&D – that have already been contracted since its creation in 2012, but it will have a measly budget of just $15 million over each of the next two years for new projects.

Some 150 of its 180 projects already allocated are in support of research and development, a core competency not valued by the Government.

The Emissions Reduction Fund ($2.55 billion) has been spread over 10 years, rather than four. Tristan Edis explains that $2.55 billion will be allocated over the next four years, but the scheme only pays on completion. However, this does call into question the efficacy of the scheme.

Clive Palmer wants to divert the funds to pensions and is prepared to vote it down.

The million solar roofs scheme was a featured election promise.

The million solar roofs program, once a $1 billion centrepiece of Direct Action to bring solar to lower-income earners and renters, has sunk without trace — replaced by a derisory $2.1 million program to install solar on RSLs and bowling clubs in seven electorates, many of them marginal (yes, really).

But not to worry we still have “$525 million to pay up to 15,000 under-25s to pick up litter at below-award wages under the guise of the Green Army”.

Parkinson further reports

the abrupt closure of the Energy Efficiency Opportunities, as well as rejecting calls for the revival of Low Carbon Australia, which also supported investments in energy efficiency. It has also brought an end to support for ethanol and algae fuel programs.

The Energy Efficiency Opportunities program, which was to cost $20 million to run over the next five years, had helped deliver more than $1 billion a year in savings since 2006.

Alan Pears at The Conversation has more. He says the Clean Energy Finance Corporation which has already mobilised $2.5 billion of mostly private funding for low-emission energy and agriculture projects would make a profit for the government if allowed to continue. Like ARENA the CEFC will continue trading until stopped by legislation.

Pears says that leaves the Renewable Energy Target (RET) scheme as “the last major remaining piece of federal government policy that supports ongoing investment.” It has already led to $20 billion worth of investment, but is under review with climate sceptic Dick Warburton at the helm.

There’s more at The Guardian and at Planet Oz. There Graham Readfearn tells of the axing of a small $1.3 million program, which has been supporting more than a 150 local and state-based conservation groups across the country since 1973. Such is the depth and thoroughness of the attack on the environment.

Meanwhile global renewable energy jobs surged to almost 6.5 million in 2013. In Germany, where the government strategy was to take first mover advantage, renewable energy production reached 74% the other day.

We are striving to be last.

Climate clippings 95

Climate clippings_175

1. Pacific winds slow global warming

A team of Australian scientists has found that stronger winds in the Pacific are slowing global warming (paper here, paywalled).

The study found that the winds were churning the Pacific like a washing machine, bringing the deeper colder water to the surface and pushing the warmer water below.

Scientists do not expect the effect to last. Matthew England of the University of New South Wales:

“The phase we’re in of accelerated trade winds particularly lasts a couple of decades,” Professor England said.

“We’re about 12 to 13 years in to the most accelerated part of the wind field.”

There’s more at The Conversation, at Open Mind plus Matthew England at RealClimate and Mike Mann at Huff Post.

The heat is only at a depth of 100 to 300m, so may easily become available to the atmosphere again. Mike Mann thinks the winds and the La Niña effect may be the result of global warming.

2. Animals and plants on the move

The CSIRO have developed a fascinating map showing species on the move due to climate change. I’ve done a screenshot here, but the animated version in the link is best:

species migration copy_cropped

Blue areas indicate significant change and pink areas show “corridors” where animals and plants may be able to move through to more favourable conditions.

“Sink” areas, in orange, show where the movement of land-based species is likely to hit a dead end, by reaching a coastline or mountain range.

Something strange is happening in the middle of Queensland.

3. The year’s weather in 8 minutes

Gareth at Hot Topic has posted a live map of the weather for 2013 as seen from weather satellites. I recommend using the full screen button.

It’s interesting not so much for 2013, but as an overview of how the global system works.

4. Half new energy is green

Fully 44% of all generating capacity installed last year around the world was renewable, says the latest UNEP Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment, despite a 14% decline in renewables investment, and in new electricity generally.

Europe has cut investment in renewables by 44%. China now leads with $56 billion invested last year.

Shares in clean energy companies rose 54% last year.

5. Germany turns to brown coal

Germany has more wind turbines and solar panels than any other industrialised country, but it also burns more brown coal (lignite) than any other.

As Germany turns off its nuclear power, gas is expensive and a third of it comes from Russia. In these circumstances Germany is turning to lignite to solve the intermittency problem. Because lignite takes 8 hours to fire up plants are run at 40% whether needed or not.

There are three options:

  • storage systems, such as pumped water or hydrogen
  • improving and extending electricity grids so that surpluses can be moved to areas of need
  • organising tariffs to manage demand from big energy users that have intermittent demand.

None of these is being implemented so far to the extent that makes a real difference.

6. Energy use in UK and Germany

Germany generates considerably more energy than the UK, even when population is taken into account.

This graph shows the source of Germany’s power generation for the first quarter of 2014:

Germany_screen-shot-2014-04-30-at-153528_549x170

Nuclear, being phased out over a decade, is a considerable source. Biomass is larger than gas.

Renewable energy is expected to be the main source of electricity generation in Germany by 2030, but policy in both countries is a concern:

In the UK, the Conservative party has recently announced that it will put a cap on onshore wind expansion if it gets into power in 2015. Subsidies for solar power are also likely to be cut, according to media reports – suggesting that Conservatives are increasingly hostile to plans to expand renewables.

In Germany, the government’s putting in place a new renewables plan – possibly in response to concern about rising energy prices. The new rules mean from 2017 energy providers will no longer get guaranteed prices for their power, according to media reports. The effects are unclear, but could slow the growth of German green energy.

7. But then, in Germany at least…

…energy policy is very complex.

In Germany governments attempt to control markets, it seems.

Germany’s energy transition – the Energiewende – has largely been a bottom-up grassroots movement over the past 25 years. Citizens and energy cooperatives account for roughly half the investments. Large utilities are only just now getting on board.

Current changes in policy are aimed at tipping the balance back towards the large corporates, while keeping renewable energy development on track. Policy is also favouring offshore rather than onshore wind.

The article mentions that discussion will now turn to “capacity payments”. I suspect such payments will be necessary to provide backup capacity for intermittency problems, especially if weather forecasts are wrong. For continuity of supply the corporates may have to be paid for unused reserve capacity.

Reminder: Use this thread as an open thread on climate change.

Climate clippings 94

Climate clippings_175

1. CO2 concentrations passing 400 ppm

Each year the atmospheric concentrations measured at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii surge as spring turns into summer. We are now at the point where earlier each year they surge past 400 ppm, this year as early as March. By 2016 they will probably remain permanently above 400 ppm.

Dr Pep Canadell says crossing the 400 parts per million threshold will make it more difficult and expensive to limit climate change to two degrees.

The second part of this century we need to reduce emissions to zero and on top of it, to be removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere so that by the end of 2100, we can stay stable under two degrees.

Canadell is head of the Global Carbon Project at the CSIRO.

2. Bio-energy with Carbon Capture & Storage

Speaking of sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere, bio-CCS is the new buzz word (I’ve also seen BECCS). The Climate Institute has released a report by Jacobs SKM Moving Below Zero: Understanding Bio-energy with Carbon Capture & Storage . Their modelling finds that

bio-energy with carbon capture and storage, or bio-CCS using food wastes, sustainable forest biomass, or crop residues, has the potential to contribute significantly to climate change efforts in Australia.

This process could remove and displace about 63 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (MtCO2-e) annually by 2050, around 1.5 times current emissions from all cars in Australia. As well it would generate 12% of the country’s electricity.

Globally the process could remove up to 10 billion tonnes of pollution per year by 2050, according to the International Energy Agency.

The report may be downloaded from this page (scroll down). Go here for an interview with Malte Meinshausen.

3. Are coal miners responsible for greenhouse gas emissions?

No, said the Queensland Land Court in its judgement on the giant Alpha coal mine project which would dig up about 30 million tonnes of coal a year from the state’s Galilee Basin.

That’s the central fact in Graham Readfearn’s interesting story about what’s un-Australian.

Burning Alpha coal would generate 1.8 billion tonnes of CO2 over 30 years. That’s more than three times Australia’s annual emissions.

4. Abbott calls climate concerns “clutter”

In the lead up to the G20 meeting in Sydney in February, Abbott said

he didn’t want to “clutter up the G20 agenda with every worthy and important cause, because if we do, we will squander the opportunity to make a difference in the vital area of economic growth.”

The post, correctly, I think, sees Abbott as rolling back environmental and climate initiatives as hostile to economic growth, relying for economic impetus on the fossil fuel industry.

Heather Zichal, until recently President Obama’s lead climate and energy adviser, thinks otherwise:

Zichal suggests that focusing on economic productivity could be the sweet spot that Australia could use to balance climate concerns and economic growth goals. Reducing pollution and emissions from power plants and imposing strong energy efficiency measures on transport and infrastructure can boost energy productivity, save money, create jobs, and reduce emissions. “Ultimately, across all economic sectors, energy productivity is the most reliable, cleanest, and cheapest resource,” Zichal said.

Countries have to front up with their revised mitigation plans by April next year ahead of the Paris UNFCCC conference in December, hence leaving climate off the G20 agenda is simply not an option. Abbott has been told, by Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, and other powerful players.

One wonders what we will front up with next April. I predict nothing that would make a difference. We’ll see what others are doing and then do as little as possible.

5. Direst Action is a figleaf

Clive Palmer has spotted the figleaf and plans to pluck it away, says Ben Eltham. The Direct Action funding may be part of the budget, which Labor will not vote down. The Government needs no further legislation to enable expenditure, but Abbott can’t get rid of the dreaded carbon ‘tax’ without legislation. When he comes to negotiate that with PUP Direct Action will be on the table.

Eltham is right on the demographics:

While this [having no climate policy in place] may not unduly trouble the climate sceptics on the Coalition backbench, it also removes the chief utility of Direct Action, which is political, rather than environmental. Direct Action has always been used by the Coalition as a handy tool to deflect unwelcome scrutiny of its profoundly anti-environment attitudes. Without it, the Government will find it increasingly difficult to defend itself against charges of destroying the planet.

In the last Nielsen poll the 55+ group was the only one where Abbott had a clear lead, with LNP/Labor/Green at 49/33/10. This should be causing concern for the future of the conservative parties. For the young it was 32/36/26.

6. Direct Action is not scalable

Lenore Taylor points out that while Direct Action may or may not achieve 5% reductions in emissions by 2020, (most experts say, no) the policy is not scalable when the world gets a bit more serious about climate change mitigation.

according to the available modelling, even if Australia spent $88bn from 2014 to 2050 on Direct Action-type policies, emissions would still rise by around 45%. Most economists conclude that big emissions reductions under Direct Action are just not possible.

7. Green groups to use legal strategies

Given the above and the LNP’s farcical attitude to the Renewal Energy Target Review, green groups see lobbying as a waste of time and are increasingly planning legal challenges.

The Australian Conservation Foundation will be targeting voters in marginal electorates to encourage MPs to take climate change seriously. The aim is to change the current race to the bottom to a race to the top.

Reminder: Use this thread as an open thread on climate change.

Climate sceptic heads RET review

The law says that the Renewable Energy Target (RET) should be reviewed every two years, so a 2014 review is mandatory.

The law also says that the review should be undertaken by the Climate Change Authority (CCA), which still exists courtesy of the senate. The CCA in a draft report on the emissions target suggested the current 5% emissions reduction target was not enough if we are to pull our weight in the world. In the text they appeared to favour a 25% target, but recommended at least 15% pointing out also the an additional 4% could be added courtesy of Kyoto credits.

I believe the RET has been one of the more successful factors in restraining emissions.

Giles Parkinson reported two months ago now that the RET Review will be headed by Dick Warburton, a climate change “denier”. Warburton told RN’s AM program that the science was not settled.

I am not a denier, nor a sceptic actually, of climate change per se. What I am sceptical is the claims that man-made carbon dioxide is the major cause of global warming. I’m not a denier of that, but I am sceptical of that claim.

When asked whether he believed renewable energy had its role to play in Australia’s energy mix Warburton replied:

Yes it does. Renewable energy does have a place to play. The review is asking us to look to see whether it is an efficient and effective way of doing it as we’re doing it at the moment.

warburton_250I understand he did overtly oppose carbon pricing.

In my opinion Warburton is a denier. Given the degree of certainty in the science you either accept the science or deny it. There’s no room left for fence sitting. That being said, Warburton had a fine reputation as a businessman leading Dupont’s Australian operations, was used by the Keating government in industry renewal, has been a member of the Reserve Bank board and has had various company board roles.

It has emerged that Warburton has been the subject of an investigation into his role as a former director of a firm involved in Australia’s worst foreign bribery scandal. I would suggest that Abbott has done his due diligence and found him in the clear.

Both Abbott and Macfarlane have been emphasising their concern over renewables contributing to the cost of electricity. A second panelist is Matt Zema, the CEO of the Australian Energy Market Operator. As such he was responsible for a study recently

that found 100 per cent renewables would be possible in Australia, and concluded that the cost of electricity would be little different to business as usual, although AEMO declined to do a full cost analysis.

Greg Hunt parrots his boss’s concerns:

“We are a government that is unashamedly doing our best to take pressure off manufacturing and households through anything that can lower electricity prices,” he said in a theme frequently repeated by the conservative government.

If they are concerned about the future cost of electricity they could begin by looking at the policy of privatisation, found to be “a dismal failure” by Professor Quiggin.

A third panel member, Shirley In’t Veld, is the former head of WA government owned generation company Verve Energy which

has had a history of snubbing renewable energy and chose instead to invest in the refurbishment of the ageing Muja coal-fired generator. The refurbishment has proved to be a financial disaster, with the WA government admitting that nearly $300 million had gone down the drain.

The fourth member is Dr Brian Fisher, the former long-term head of ABARE until he left for private enterprise in 2006 to head up a fossil fuel lobby group, Concept Economics. At ABARE he gained notoriety for his positions on climate policies and is a noted free-market hardliner. Under Fisher:

ABARE was responsible for the infamous “MEGABARE” model that made Australia a laughing stock in connection to the Kyoto negotiations.

Sounds like a merry crew, Abbott’s idea of ‘balance’, and bound to add to the climate recalcitrance now so common in the Anglo-Saxon world.

There is a question as to whether the LNP deliberately lied and misled the public prior to the election. The SMH cites specific bi-partisanship as late as July 2013. Labor’s view:

“At every possible point, they tried to assure the community that there was a bipartisan consensus around the RET, and therefore the growth of renewables,” Labor climate change spokesman Mark Butler says. “What’s clear now is that it was just an utter falsehood.”

Albo:

“They made it very clear; Greg Hunt staked his reputation on the maintenance of the renewable energy target,” he told said in the island state of Tasmania.

“It’s important for jobs. It’s important in terms of positioning Australia as a clean energy economy into the future.

“We’ll wait and see what they do but we’ll be holding them to account,” Mr Albanese said.

Update: Giles Parkinson tells how the Warburton Review is getting down to business today by looking at what the RET of 20% means. Presently it is a number – “41,000GWh of large-scale developments and an uncapped amount of small-scale generation”. It seems that more than half of that number can be made to disappear by changing definitions.

The end of coal?

This post started out as four related items in Climate clippings. When a fifth showed up I decided to extract them and put them in a separate post. Hence it is a collection of opinions and perspectives rather than an analysis of the future of coal as such. Still, a message seems to emerge.

BHP calls for carbon pricing

Believe it or not Andrew Mackenzie, CEO of BHP Billiton, has called for a price to be put on greenhouse gas emissions to address the threat of global warming.

Talking in Houston Texas on the future of fossil fuels and carbon emissions Andrew Mackenzie said BHP needs to think carefully about controlling its carbon emissions. He wants BHP to lead the way. BHP is the world’s largest mining company and the third biggest company in the world.

Beyond coal the company is also a major player in shale gas in the USA, investing a cool $US20 billion in 2012.

Mackenzie was on message about ‘clean coal’, spruiking the virtues of carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Rio weighs in

Rio Tinto’s head of energy, Harry Kenyon-Slaney, also weighed in saying “Idealistic discussions” about climate change should be abandoned and Australians should recognise that coal will remain an important energy source for decades.

Coal will continue to “do the lion’s share of heavy lifting” to meet energy demand, he says.

Rio has invested $100 million in carbon capture and storage.

Martin Ferguson, now an adviser to the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association:

stepped up criticism of the Coalition government’s emissions-reductions policies and called for the watering down of the renewable energy target, which he said was undermining the national electricity market.

Tristan Edis comments

Tristan Edis comments on Rio Tinto’s clean coal idealism.

He reckons CCS would be great if you could also retrofit it to existing coal-fired power stations, implement it at large scale and a reasonable cost and start doing it by, say, 2025.

The Australian Coal Association instituted an industry-funded initiative to progress zero-emission coal with a levy and created ACA Low Emissions Technology Ltd (ACALET) to undertake initiatives. Unfortunately from 2012-13 the requirement to pay the levy was suspended and ACALET is now concentrating on promoting the use of coal in Australia and overseas.

Edis reports that Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane seems to be willing to acknowledge that carbon capture and storage is a pipedream.

One senior Liberal referred to it as ‘vaporware’ (new computer software promised by companies to be delivered in the future that never eventuates but scares off competing software development).

The end of coal?

Paul Gilding has called the end of coal and the dawn of renewables, especially solar.

He believes the fossil fuel industry live in a delusionary analytical bubble, convinced of their own immortality. They are about to be swept away. Markets can be brutal.

The top 20 European utilities have lost $600 billion in value over the past 5 years.

Tesla, presumably because it makes electric vehicles (see also below), is now worth more than half GM although GM makes 300 times as many cars.

HSBC’s Global Solar index rose 65% last year and is already up 23% in 2014.

Underground coal gasification

Trials are underway or planned in diverse parts of the world in burning in situ coal that can’t be mined, according to an article by Fred Pearce in the New Scientist (paywalled). The process is underground coal gasification (UCG).

The potential is enormous, with enough coal available to supply the world with energy for 1000 years. For example, 70% of the coal in the UK has never been mined. One company has a licence to prospect for UCG sites beneath more than 400 square kilometres of the North Sea.

The attraction of UCG is not just power production. The process produces methane, carbon monoxide, hydrogen as well as CO2. The Brits see potential to use these chemicals as feedstock to revitalize their industrial chemicals industry. The article lists the following uses:

  • Gas to electricity Power stations can burn methane to produce electricity for the grid
  • Gas to chemicals Hydrogen, methane and CO all have value as feedstock for the chemicals industry
  • Gas to liquid Methane can be liquefied (LNG) for storage or transport, or the CO and hydrogen converted through the Fischer-Tropsch process to synthetic diesel fuel for vehicles
  • Gas to tech Hydrogen can provide an alternative transport fuel

CO2 can be reinjected into the void created by the burnt coal.

The article refers to a 2007 MIT study which found that commercial CCS was unlikely before 2030. Undaunted Myles Allen, an Oxford University climate scientist, reckons that CCS is the “only practical way forward”.

Christiana Figueres is hopeful

Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), points to 60 countries with 500 pieces of climate legislation, and is confident that an international climate change agreement will be delivered on time in 2015. She looks forward within 20 years to the time where everything new we do will be carbon neutral.

She does see a need for research into energy storage – batteries – and into CCS.

It is only with marketable CCS that we will be able to use the fossil fuels that we need. Storage and CCS would be my top two choices for technology investment.

If so someone, for example BHP and Rio, get cracking.

Meanwhile…

Meanwhile

Investment bank Morgan Stanley says it has been overwhelmed by the response to its recent analysis which suggested that the falling costs of both solar modules and battery storage presented a potential tipping point that would encourage huge numbers of homeowners and businesses in the US to go off grid.

And Tesla is building a $5 billion ‘gigafactory’ for battery production, then providing an

emergency power service by monitoring the power levels in home batteries and delivering replacement batteries in the event home batteries run out of power.

Someone should tell Andrew Mackenzie and Harry Kenyon-Slaney they’ll need to shake a leg with CCS. Schumpeter’s creative destruction seems to be at work in the energy industry.

Update: Murray Energy, the largest independent coal producer in the US, is suing the EPA for not taking into account job losses when formulating emissions regulations.

Climate clippings 92

Climate clippings_175 This is a continuation of the Climate clippings series familiar to readers of Larvatus Prodeo

While this edition was finished about a week ago I actually started writing stuff from about mid-February and have several others queued in the draft bin. They’ll be fed in periodically at the rate of perhaps more than one a week until I catch up with myself.

1. Strong El Niño rated an 80% chance

That’s according to Paul E. Roundy of the University at Albany, New York.

The sub surface temperature of the eastern Pacific Ocean is measuring an ‘astounding’ six degrees warmer than normal for this time of year.

The only time anything similar has happened was in March 1997, before the whopping 1998 El Niño.

An El Niño normally means dry conditions and reduced monsoons in Australia and Indonesia, but wetter weather in Central America.

Climate Progress shows this interesting graph:

gistemp_nino_s-600

Since 1998 there have been six La Niña years warmer than any El Niño years prior to 1998.

At Mashable Andrew Freedman quotes the same people but found at least one scientist who thinks there’s perhaps a 40% chance there will be no El Niño at all.

Worth watching. Could be spectacular.

2. Wave and tidal energy

Climate Progress reports on wave energy projects at Morro Bay in California and elsewhere.

A 2012 report prepared by RE Vision Consulting for the Department of Energy found that the theoretical ocean wave energy resource potential in the U.S. is more than 50 percent of the annual domestic demand of the entire country. The World Energy Council has estimated that approximately 2 terawatts — 2 million megawatts or double current world electricity production — could be produced from the oceans via wave power.

3. The Pacific Ocean is turning sour

Much faster than expected, according to a new study.

Apparently CO2 concentrations are not uniform around the world and the tropical Pacific is getting more than its fair share. Hence the ocean in that area is acidifying faster than elsewhere.

4. Oxfam on food futures

From Huff Post, Oxfam has just completed a report (downloadable here) which suggests that climate change could delay the fight against world hunger for decades. Global food prices could double by 2030, with half the increase attributable to climate change. In the next 35 years there could be 25 million more malnourished children under the age of five than there would otherwise be.

Oxfam analyzed ten gaps that measured how prepared – or unprepared – 40 food-insecure countries are to tackle climate change impacts.

We assess ten key factors that influence a country’s ability to feed its people in a warming world – these include the quality of weather monitoring systems, social safety nets, agricultural research and adaptation finance.

As expected, the poorer countries will be most affected.

5. Will we still be able to have a decent cup of tea?

At the foot of the Huff Post Oxfam link above is a graphic showing the top “endangered” crops listing in order chocolate, coffee, beer (at least in Germany), peanuts, durum wheat to make pasta in Italy, maple syrup, honey, wine (at least in France). It must be said that I couldn’t find that list in the Oxford report which is mainly about staples such as rice and vegetables.

Now it seems that Assam tea is being affected by hotter, drier weather with more erratic rainfall. Indeed tea growing all over the world is becoming more difficult.

There’s more at the BBC.

6. More on global food security

A separate study found that from 2030 onwards, the world’s crop yields will be more and more impacted by climate change.

The study found that Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia showed significant yield reductions for the second half of the century, while regions of the world with temperate climates, such as Europe and most of North America, could withstand a couple of degrees of warming without a noticeable effect on harvests, or possibly even benefit from a bumper crop.

One of the most important findings of this study is that adaptation may not be as effective for rice and maize as it is for wheat.

7. On the other hand

If you need a more cheerful story, here’s one about peasant farmer Vu Thi Ngoc who has adapted to crazy weather in the uplands of northern Vietnam by growing a different range of crops and changing farming practices.

It shows adaptability at work, this time with the help of CARE and Vietnam’s Agriculture and Forestry Research and Development Centre for the Northern Mountainous Region.

Reminder:

These posts are intended to share information and ideas about climate change and hence act as an open thread.

But as ever, I do not want to spend time in comments rehashing whether human activity causes climate change.