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December 2012 Archives

Citizens of Europe enjoy high accessibility to energy efficient modes of transportation, such as public transit, and often can cycle safely in cities. Still, CO2 emissions in urban transport measure about two tons per capita each year even in well-designed cities such as Barcelona, Freiburg, Malmö, and Sofia. For ambitious mitigation these numbers need to be cut considerably. But automobile-centered structure of the periphery makes decarbonizing a daunting task. In a new study in Environmental Research Letters Creutzig and colleagues investigated possible options for reducing the CO2 emissions in urban transport of the four cities mentioned above.

A first look suggests that European fuel efficiency regulation already contribute their relevant bit: In BAU scenarios with relatively low additional demand (demography; trend in transport policies) more efficient cars due to suggested 2020 regulation will lower GHG emissions about 40% until 2040. But the ERL-study focused most on urban transport policies. These were clustered into three classes: "Pull" policies that attracted citizens into more efficient modes, such as tram-ways, bus rapid transit, and bicycles; "Push" measures that made the use of CO2 and energy intensive modes less attractive, e.g. reduced and more expensive parking space; and "Land-use" policies that enable the use of public transit and cycling by increasing accessibility on short-to-medium distances.

The study reveals that the combination of pull, push and land-use measures reduces CO2 emissions by an additional 40-70%, measured from the technology BAU scenario, and brings per capita emissions down to around 0.6t annually. The pull scenario brings only a small contribution, as many commuters prefer to stay in their cars. However, if push measures are added on the pull measures, a significant modal shift is expected: Car driving becomes more expensive, and additional space for walking, cycling and busses makes those modes even more attractive. Land-use measures such as densification and the prohibition of big boxes outside the city proper contributes a few more percentages to decarbonizing. This is particularly so in Malmö, a city that is in now in commuter distance to Copenhagen and is expected to grow considerably in population size. New medium-dense and transit-oriented development would make a huge difference here.

Crucially, the study demonstrates huge benefits in public health, and transport efficiency, accompanying such a decarbonizing strategy. Fuel spending would be reduced by billions of Euros annually, keeping more of spent income within city regions. Congestion would be reduced, enabling faster traffic for taxis and a down-scaled car fleet. At the same time, more cycling and walking would decrease coronary and other diseases, and cleaner air would improve well-being and reduce asthma incidents. 

The paper by Creutzig and colleagues highlights that decarbonization might be beneficial on a societal level, changing the debate of climate change mitigation from costs to benefits. It would be interesting to integrate such perspectives into conventional cost-focused studies of climate change mitigation.




Christmas games

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If you are bored over the up-coming seasonal break, here are some energy related entertainments.

Power Grid is one of the best of the new wave of in-a-box multiplayer board games- a medium that has made an odd resurgence despite the massive advance and visual power of electronic/web-linked arcade games. Developed initially in Germany, you play meeting the grid power needs of cites in selected regions across the world, choosing from the full range of supply technologies, and then upgrading them, while having to constantly supply them with fuel, unless you choose renewable energy inputs! http://riograndegames.com/games.html?id=5 You can buy it for around £25 from Amazon

Board games need at least two players. But for the individual, here are some web based entertainments and resources.

With the recent floods in the UK and storms in the USA, the issue of sea level rise has moved up the agenda. There are some useful applets that display the new land contour maps for each region in the world, given different assumptions about sea level rises due to climate change: http://merkel.zoneo.net/Topo/Applet/

Pretty grim . But for light contrarian relief: http://notrickszone.com/2012/08/27/oh-no-six-thousandths-of-one-percent-0-006-more-of-the-worlds-ice-melted-this-summer/

And a correction http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/03/running-the-numbers-on-antarctic-sea-ice/

A bit more lively, if you want to watch energy supply systems in action, take a look at:

Live UK grid frequency balancing: www.dynamicdemand.co.uk/grid.htm

The complete UK grid system- monitor it direct via this data down load: www.gridwatch.templar.co.uk/

Watch PV solar inputs over (day) time in Germany: www.sma.de/en/news-information/pv-electricity-produced-in-germany.html

There are also some fascinating dynamics charts showing daily power supply patterns in Germany over the past year at: http://www.ise.fraunhofer.de/en/downloads-englisch/pdf-files-englisch/news/electricity-production-from-solar-and-wind-in-germany-in-2012.pdf

And if you want to try your hand at building a UK 2050 energy scenario see: www.decc.gov.uk/my2050

This is a much simplified version of DECCs full '2050 Pathways' model, which you can also tinker with by choosing different supply and demand levels. It includes access to web tool and an Excel calculator. Be warned it is quite complex! http://www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/whatwedo/lc_uk/2050/2050.aspx

You can store and share your results on the system and see some previous efforts: http://2050-calculator-tool.decc.gov.uk

If you are really intrepid (or obsessed!), you might like to try to use it to explore the details of the UK's new Electricity Market Reforms, which emerged at the end of November, to see how they match up to your favoured scenario.

A key issue is how the Contracts for a Difference (CfD) system will work. For example, will it support all the new low carbon energy supply options (renewables, CCS and nuclear) equally? The proposed new state owned 'counterpary' company will be in charge, and has to operate within the new overall Levy Control Framework, which sets a ceiling for the cost (which will be passed on to consumers) rising to £7.6m for 2020/21. In terms of which projects prosper, what matters is the level at which the CfD 'strike prices' are set- it's not going to be an open market, at least not for some while.

In its Electricity Market Reform: Policy Overview , DECC says that 'The CfD will be largely standardised across technologies. This provides a stable basis for investment, simplifies the process for allocating CfDs, and makes it easier to compare costs of different technologies. The standardisation of CfDs will also support the move to technology-neutral auctions in the longer term'. Note the phrase 'longer term'.

DECC adds 'However, initially there will be a degree of variation in CfDs for some technologies. First, there will be different generic CfD designs for low-carbon generation that is intermittent and baseload, reflecting the different ways that these plant operate. In addition, there may be some variation for some projects or technology types to recognise the different risk profiles of some projects or technologies.'

So maybe nuclear might be offered a better deal. A £100/MWh strike price? Or more? And less for wind? But DECC adds 'Any variations agreed will have to represent value for money and be consistent with state aid rules.

Then again, it may be that there won't be any new nuclear or CCS projects ready in time for CfD contracts by 2020, in which case the programme may initially focus on renewables. Adjust your scenarios accordingly! Although you will also have to factor in that there will be a long delay, until 2016, before carbon targets are set. So unabated (non CCS) gas plants may boom. In addition, there's the new Capacity Market auction system which may open up in 2014, ready for 2018/19, for backup and storage capacity- you may need some of that , as well as demand side measures. Plenty to play with. But we won't know which technologies the various scheme will back (except that those with CfD support will not be eligible of the Capacity Market contracts), so for now you are on your own! See www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/news/pn12151/pn12151.aspx

I hope some of the above entertain you! After the break, I'll be back with more hard info, including a report on my efforts at a 2050 scenario, using DECCs software, for the Pugwash UK group.

You may also be interested to know that from January, the long running renewable energy journal, Renew, which I edit, is shifting from a membership subscription delivery basis to free web delivery on-line via www.natta-renew.org

As a parting shot, I couldn't resist relaying this joke, recycled by European Energy Review: "did anyone calculate how much it will cost to dismantle the nuclear power stations in Germany and build them back up again in the UK?"

Some of the old German plants were Boiling Water Reactors, earlier versions of the ABWRs Hitachi are now planning to build in the UK, but perhaps more accurately the joke reference could be changed to Japan, since they have two ABWRs, currently closed and likely to stay that way.

Seasons greetings!

German hopes

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Germany has been pushing ahead with it bold energy transition, aiming to get 35% of its electricity from renewables by 2020, expanding in stages to 80% by 2050, with nuclear phased out by 2022. Confidence about achieving these targets seems high, indeed the 2020 target has now been raised to 40%, with offshore wind seen as playing key part. More than 20 offshore wind parks have been approved in the North Sea and three more in the Baltic, all outside the 12 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Inside the EEZ, four wind parks have been approved in the North Sea and two in the Baltic. PV is also continuing to expand- it's reached 30GW so far, the same as the wind capacity. However, getting coal and gas burn down is proving hard, as is cutting demand and taming the transport sector.

A recent paper by David Buchan from the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies "The Energiewende - Germany's Gamble," argues that "Germany is on track to meet only one of its three main targets (a one-third renewable share of electricity by 2020), that the country will fail to reach the second target (to cut energy consumption by a fifth by 2020), and that this failure will make attainment of the third goal (emission reduction) harder". However, he says that "in a broader sense, the gamble may still come off, provided future gains in renewable technology and jobs can be achieved with lower subsidy costs. No other country possesses Germany's combination of technical expertise from industry and of bottom-up activism from municipal companies and citizens' cooperatives in support of low-carbon energy." For example, private citizens own 40% of the country's renewable energy production capacity, individually and through cooperatives. The FiT system gives many consumers a direct role in energy production via PV.

All of this makes the big energy companies uneasy- their profits are falling. They may have grudgingly accepted the nuclear exit, but some would like to see fossil fuel retained as long as possible. And indeed it makes sense to see coal and gas as bridging fuels, while renewables get up to speed, as long as emissions can be constrained. That means Carbon Capture and Storage or Combined Heat and Power linked to District Heating /, but both take time and money, and CCS is still very uncertain.

There has certainly been speculation that Germany might not make it and dire warnings about grid crises, spreading out across the EU: https://www.entsoe.eu/fileadmin/userupload/library/news/BriefingpapertoE/120416BriefingPaperTOECENTSO-EassessemntinterconnectedsystemoperationinCCE.pdf

However so far it has managed to cope, despite the nuclear plant closures, with emissions still falling.

This might have been helped by a newly identified phenomena, the reduction in energy use below expected levels, which has been labeled the prebound effect- in contrast to the so called rebound effect- the tendency of people to use more energy net by re-spending the money they have saved form energy efficiency investment. A new study based on German data suggests that the potential fuel and CO2 savings through non-technical measures such as occupant behaviour may be higher than thought.. The research identified a recurring gulf between the quantity of energy predicted by governments for different types of housing and the amount homeowners actually use. Researchers found that the discrepancy was greatest among the least energy-efficient homes, where householders appear to be consuming far less than national energy usage standards predict. And even when comparing homes that fell into the same predicted energy bracket, it was commonplace to find cases where one house used six times as much energy as another. The study focused on data from Germany, although it then found similar patterns in several other European countries, including the UK.

'Introducing the prebound effect: the gap between performance and actual energy consumption', by Minna Sunikka-Blank & Ray Galvin Building Research & Information, 2012, volume 40(3), pp 260-273. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09613218.2012.690952

Longer term, the viability of the new German energy system will depend significantly on whether it can upgrade and balance its grid system. In addition to extra grid links, there will be a need for extra backup capacity. In 2050, by which time it is planned that renewable energy sources will supply 80% of annual gross electricity consumption, efficient gas and coal-fired power stations will have to be available to provide an estimated 60% of secured capacity - i.e. capacity available to cover demand at all times. This is the result of a study carried out by the Deutsche Energie-Agentur GmbH - the German Energy Agency (DENA): www.dena.de/studien

It says that by 2050 there would be 240 GW installed total capacity with 170 GW of renewable and 61GW of fossil fired plants. They would presumably have to be CCS linked to avoid carbon emissions, although it's also possible that some could be biomass/biogas fired.

Certainly bioenergy has been seen as a key option in German for a range of uses, not just power production, but also a heating and transport. However, a recent German National Academy of Sciences noted that biomass production and use has a greater impact on the environment than other alternative energy sources such as photovoltaic solar energy, solar thermal energy, or wind power. http://www.leopoldina.org/en/publications/detailview/?publication[publication]=434&cHash=9daf8d722e71e30bf2901cf01ee800d1

While that may be true for some types of biomass, transport biofuel production especially, AD biogas from wastes should be less of a problem, and, in any case, as an alternative/addition, use could be made of green gas (hydrogen and syngases) produced via electrolysis from excess wind power. In addition to helping with grid balancing, that would be less land constrained than biomass, and it would zero land using if the green gas was produced from offshore wind. Gas is also easy to store- much easier than storing electricity. T he development of storage capacity is of course the other big issue in Germany. To that end, 60 energy research storage projects have received financial support from the German government -which has provided €200 million for research on energy storage until 2014 to support the expansion of renewables in Germany.

Research projects are supported in the field of generating hydrogen or methane from excess wind power,; for projects aimed at connecting batteries for storage of decentralised renewable power, especially solar power, to distribution networks; projects in the area of energy system analysis, as well as thermal storage facilities. To build know-how for the transformation of the energy systems in the long-run, the programme sponsors junior research groups at five German universities which will carry out interdisciplinary research on various storage technologies. More information on the projects can be found (in German) at http://www.bmu.de/erneuerbare_energien/doc/48928.php

For regular updates on green energy developments in Germany see: http://www.germanenergyblog.de/

In parallel, on the nuclear front, Germany is to leave the 4 tonnes of plutonium that has been separated out from spent fuel it sent for reprocessing at Sellafield, in Cumbria, since it won't be needing it back (as MOX fuel) after 2022, when all it nuclear plants close. If any MOX is needed before then it will get it from France, in a multinational swop arrangement, which avoids long distance transport. The UK closed its poorly performing MOX production plant at Sellafield, after Fukushima, and the loss of Japanese requirements for MOX. There has been talk of using some of the stored plutonium in a new reactor at Sellafied, but otherwise the UK will become the final home for it all-over 100 tonnes.

Energy in the USA

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The boom in shale gas extraction may dominate the news headlines, but renewable energy is also moving head rapidly in the USA. It currently supplies about 15% of US electricity, if off-grid use is included, and the potential for expansion is very large. A new report from the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), 'The Renewable Electricity Futures Study' (RE Futures), found that the US renewable resource base was sufficient to support 80% renewable electricity generation by 2050, even in a higher demand growth scenario. It also looks at a 90% option, with 700GW of wind and solar PV.

To accommodate this large variable supply input, there would have to be major upgrades to the grid and up to 100GW of balancing back up/ load shifting/storage. But NREL's hourly modeling found that, with this backup in place, demand could always be met, even at peak times, although 8-10% of wind, solar, and hydro generation would need to be curtailed e.g. at times of low demand, under an 80%-by-2050 RE scenario, and more storage would be needed in the 90% scenario.

NREL say 'The direct incremental cost associated with high renewable generation is comparable to published cost estimates of other clean energy scenarios. Improvement in the cost and performance of renewable technologies is the most impactful lever for reducing this incremental cost'. http://www.nrel.gov/analysis/re_futures/

As yet, unlike in Germany with its 80% by 2050 target, there are no plans for expansion on anything like this a scale in the USA, but renewables are nevertheless moving ahead, in part since some are becoming commercially viable. Although the recession took its toll, with some company collapses, PV is approaching grid parity and is now expanding rapidly, with an annual market put at around 1GW. But wind power looks like being the main new renewable source, and on land wind is certainly is moving ahead very rapidly in the US: it has over 47GW in place now, much if it in the Mid West.

After a slow start, offshore wind could soon be catching up. The US government has announced $180m funding for four offshore wind projects in an effort to accelerate the country's efforts in the sector. The money is to be invested over 6 years, the first $20m being made available this year. The Dept. of Energy said the programme would focus on developing new technology and reducing the cost of energy for offshore projects. This is on top of the government plan, announced last year, to invest $43m in improving technology and infrastructure in the offshore windpower sector. It's been claimed that the USA could have 10 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2020, with 5 GW already planned: http://atlantic windconnection.com

However it's not just wind and PV. Biomass and geothermal continue to get support and 2011 saw $3.4 bn of DOE loan guarantees for 4 different Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) projects, with 1.8GW in construction and 10GW in the pipeline. There is also growing interests in wave and tidal power, with a US Department of Energy study suggesting that the US could ultimately get over 25% of its power from these new sources: www1.eere.energy.gov/water/pdfs/mappingandassessment.pdf

The US Water Power Program mission has a projected spend of US$50M for 2012, and plans for 23-38GW output by 2039, supported by the Production Tax Credit (PTC) system and the Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy R&D Act. Consultants Pike Research see an upcoming marine power boom resulting in a total revenue of at least $161.2 million in North America.

By contrast the US nuclear programme seem to be going very slowly. Under Obama, the US government has supported expansion, in part by offering loan guarantees to prospective private developers. However so far these have not been too successful. For example, the loan guarantees offered were evidently not enough for Constellation Energy, who, in 2010, pulled out of the proposed Calvert Cliffs-3 EPR reactor project in Maryland.

Following Fukushima, some projects were abandoned or delayed. NRG Energy Inc. pulled out from investment in Units 3 and 4 of a project in South Texas project. The company said: 'The tragic nuclear incident in Japan has introduced multiple uncertainties around new nuclear development in the United States which have had the effect of dramatically reducing the probability that STP 3&4 can be successfully developed in a timely fashion'.

Subsequently, Progress Energy put back its plans for two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors in Levy County, Florida, by three years, by which time they say the cost would be between $19-24 billion. They blamed the delay on 'lower-than-anticipated customer demand, the lingering economic slowdown, uncertainty regarding potential carbon regulation and current low natural gas prices.' Exelon has also halted work a proposed new nuclear plant in Victoria County, Texas, since falling gas prices would make it uneconomic.

Nevertheless, some new projects still look likely to go ahead. Earlier this year, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved the first new nuclear reactors in the USA for more than three decades, although the chair of the Commission abstained from the decision, calling for assurances that the lessons of Fukushima would be fully applied. He resigned later. But Southern Company has been given the go ahead for two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors at the Vogtle nuclear site in Georgia. The reactors could begin operation in 2016 and 2017 , although in May Nuclear Intelligence Weekly reported that the project was already up to $1bn over its $14bn budget.

There's also been a legal interruption- the NRC had to put a hold on nine construction and operating licenses, eight license renewals, one operating license, and one early site permit. This was in response to a US Court of Appeals ruling that the NRC had not provided sufficient guarantees that a final waste repository would be ready "when necessary", or indeed ever built at all. It further found that the NRC had failed "to properly examine the future dangers and key consequences" of storing fuel on nuclear sites for up to 60 years after licence expiration. The NRC said that some project permissions might be delayed by 2 years while new assessments were produced.

There are no specific targets for US nuclear expansion. In his State of the Union Address in 2011, Barack Obama said nuclear power, clean coal and natural gas, would all be needed, along with renewables, to meet a goal of 80% clean energy by 2035, but he did not specify the proportions of each.

However, in its provisional Annual Energy Outlook 2011, the US Department of Energy projected an increase in installed nuclear capacity of about 10 GW by 2035, about 10%, of which 6.3 GW would be new capacity (five reactors) and the rest coming from up-rating. But given projected rises in demand and other supply options, the overall nuclear share in electricity supply would shrink from 20% to 17%.

Even if the projected expansion of nuclear does materialize, the path ahead seems clear- with their costs falling, renewables will lead. This has already happened. Last year a key milestone was passed, with US renewable electricity production being 18 % more than that from nuclear, led by biomass and biofuels (46% of total renewables), followed by hydro (37%), and wind (13.4%) www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/monthly.

Last week's hurricane, humanized as Sandy, crashed the East Coast, killed more than 100 people and injured many more. Lower Manhattan got flooded, and New Jersey still looks like a disaster zone that we were used to see from the distant places such as the Caribbean islands. Our infrastructures are neither resilient to climate change, nor helpful in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.

There is no doubt that human-made climate change systemically caused this extremely powerful and unusual hurricane. Atlantic water temperature considerably exceeded its long-term average and the melting of Arctic ice produced a high-pressure system pushing the Hurricane to the most densely populated area of North America. The scary news is that hurricane Sandy won't be the exception. Climate change is happening and our action will determine whether such storms hit our coasts annually or only every other decade.

Climate change has for too long been regarded as a high-level abstract entity to be dealt with high-level policy instruments such as cap-and-trade. But climate change impacts real people, and it is time to bring action to those affected. No doubt, few things would be more effective than a tax or price on CO2 emissions (and this could easily be done in a revenue neutral way, for example reducing payroll taxes in return). But such a price instruments works on the margin, it ignores the stocks our society operates on, its infrastructure. We also need to make our infrastructures climateproof.

The hurricane exposed the weaknesses of existing infrastructures. Old above-ground transmissions lines went down, still leaving the poorer outskirts of New York, the commuter towns of New Jersey in a desperate situation. The backbone of New York transit was hit when the subway tunnels got flooded. As citizens reverted to cars, the city became clogged in congestion; gasoline shortages still impact many and endanger the most vulnerable. The hurricane effectively revealed inequality in infrastructure access - mirroring inequalities in income and wealth.

Fortunately, reshaping and reconfiguration of our infrastructures can reduce our carbon footprint, can increase our resilience to climate change, and improve the quality of everyone's life.

Let us take the example of urban transport. Here is a bold three-point transformation plan for New York:

First, make auto-mobility public. More than 95% of the time, cars are parking idly. That wastes much precious space in dense cities. Offering public cars, which can be accessed with smartphones and electronic IDs, saves parking space, and time for cruising. Significant resources can be saved on unnecessary car ownership. Cars would cease to be the default mobility option in cities, effectively reducing CO2 emissions. A car got crashed in an accident or in a hurricane? Public cars would provide collective insurance and guarantee accessibility. In rural or ex-urban areas, private cars would remain the predominant solution.

Second, improve infrastructure for cyclists. The Copenhagen example shows that expanding the bicycle network, and making it safe, can attract a huge number of users with modal shares exceeding 40%. Cycling is healthy and can make commuting a quality experience. E-bikes would enable routine 10 miles commutes. While cyclists also cause accidents, those accidents are less fatal, and cyclists cause neither air pollution nor noise nuisance. Cities become more livable. And cyclists are disaster resilient, as they neither need electricity nor gasoline.

Third, mass public transit should be put back into streets. Subways are incredibly expensive and remove citizens from daylight. Bus rapid transit and tram systems can be affordable even to tight municipal budgets. With pre-boarding ticketing and way of right, on-street public transit can speed up and carry high numbers of passengers. Bus rapid transit systems would also be more resilient to flooding, backing up more vulnerable subway tunnels.

Such a transformation is challenging, and politicians will struggle to address the concerns of many different constituencies. The barrier to this transformation is hardly a monetary one, but a question of leadership. But there are signs of hope that Bloomberg and other mayors can push us forward where federal government fails.