Voerde plant closure and Britain’s first day without coal firing since Industrial Revolution symbols of coal-firing decline in Western Europe
Bloomberg has looked at the rapid decline in coal firing in Western Europe, where countries such as the UK, Portugal, France, Finland and Austria plan to severely reduce their coal-fired power generation capacities over the next ten years. The International Energy Agency has revised downwards its forecast for the amount of coal-fired capacity remaining in Europe by 2030 to 114 GW, which would mean a 36% fall from the installed capacity in 2014. A symbol of the decline is the closure last month of the Steag’s Voerde power plant, one of Europe’s largest coal-fired power stations at 2,234 MW across its two facilities. Voerde had been operating for 47 years, and had been upgraded with advanced technology, even becoming recognised as a ‘reference’ power plant for best-available-technology, but falling electricity prices rendered it unprofitable. Around 280 employees were affected. Meanwhile, Britain experienced in late April its first full day of not firing any coal since the Industrial Revolution, with half of its power coming from gas, 30% from renewables, and the remainder from nuclear. Altogether, 10 GW of coal-fired capacity closed across Europe in 2016, half of it in the UK. Installed solar capacity in Western Europe is set to outstrip installed coal-fired capacity this year, though because of different capacity factors, coal is still likely to generate more actual electricity. Still, Eurelectric, the Union of the Electricity Industry in Europe, has said that its members do not plan to install any additional coal-fired capacity after 2020, seeing the future instead in gas and renewables – Bloomberg New Energy Finance expects it to be cheaper to install new wind power generation capacity than to keep an existing coal-fired power plant running by 2030, which would be a highly significant milestone.
ExxonMobil report sees oil demand growing by 0.7% per annum until 2040
ExxonMobil has released its 2016 Energy and Carbon Summary, in which it gives its predictions for future world energy demand. It forecasts global energy demand to increase by 25% by 2040, even while factoring in efficiency savings, while the number of ‘middle class’ people in the world more than doubles to almost 5 billion of the world’s 9.3 billion. Most GDP growth will occur in non-OECD countries, and CO2 emissions will peak sometime in the 2030s, gradually declining afterwards. Demand for most energy sources will grow, with oil demand growing 0.7% per annum, gas by 1.5%, solar and wind by 5.8%, other renewables by 0.6%, and nuclear by 2.6%. Coal demand is set to fall by 0.1% per annum. All together, in the next 25 years, oil and gas is expected to supply 55% of all energy demand. Prediction being a difficult art, it will be an interesting exercise to review the report in another ten or fifteen years. In the same summary, ExxonMobil also spells out its expected reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from flaring and venting reductions and through energy efficiency and cogeneration measures. In addition, it details reductions in certain activities over the last ten years – a ~10% reduction in GHG emissions, a ~30% reduction in flaring, and an almost 50% reduction in emissions of NOx, SOx and volatile organic compounds.
UK government looking to remain within EU energy market
The UK energy minister, Greg Clarke, has said that Britain should try to remain within the European Union’s energy market after the UK leaves the EU. With the UK due to close the last of its coal-fired power plants by 2025, and with much nuclear power generation capacity also set to close over the next decade, the UK sees energy interconnection with the rest of Europe as a strategic need. Britain imported 6% of its electricity last year from countries such as France, the Netherlands, and Ireland, and several interconnectors are currently under development, a sign of the importance of the issue. Mr Clarke told the government’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee “It is very much in our interest to continue to participate in the energy market and expand those interconnections, especially in Ireland. Our ambition is to go more into interconnection. If we want to have a smarter grid and bring on lots of different types of sources of power, interconnection is important for that.” It is less clear if the UK wishes to remain part of the European Emissions Trading System for carbon trading.
Carbon capture and storage may receive boost under Trump administration
Vox has reported on positive signs for the development of carbon capture and storage in the US under the Trump presidency, where Republicans and Democrats have been working together on two bills to encourage CCS development and deployment, one focused on tax and the other on finance. The bills have received the backing of a diverse range of groups, from coal miner Peabody to the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental body, all seeing CCS as important in reducing carbon emissions, but supporting its development for different reasons. Vox reports that some “fossil-fuel allies” of Mr Trump are urging the president to make CCS a focus of international climate talks, and without a current climate plan, the Trump administration may be inclined to make the technology a centrepiece of domestic climate change efforts. The article notes that costs need to fall significantly, and companies must have greater incentives for the technology to become widespread. Each bill tries to tackle these hurdles, the first by introducing ‘private activity bonds’ to lower costs, and the second to increase the size of tax credits for each ton of CO2 captured and used in enhanced oil recovery from the current US$10/ton to something more like US$35/ton for EOR and US$50/ton for permanent sequestration. More widespread adoption of CCS may lead to sharing of transport infrastructure, which would then lower costs further. The article makes for interesting reading.
Bloomberg report suggests gas-firing will be next fuel to be assailed by environmental groups
Environmental groups will begin to target gas production and firing in a similar way to their activism against coal, according to a report by Bloomberg. While gas is promoted as ‘clean’ because firing it creates around half the emissions that coal does for the same energy produced, campaigners point to fugitive emissions of natural gas during production and storage, as well as the still substantial emissions from the firing itself. The Sierra Club, once supportive of gas as a bridge fuel in the transition to renewables, now says that there’s a “growing recognition that [gas is] a fuel we’ll have to leave behind.” Power generation companies and gas producers are in response developing CCS technology, as well as technology to reduce fugitive emissions, to present a very low-carbon option for the continued use of gas. Whether they are successful will be seen over the next decade. Gas currently constitutes around one quarter of the world’s power generation, but Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that this will fall to one-sixth by 2040.
Southern California Edison installs gas turbine/battery hybrid plants
Californian utility Southern California Edison has installed two of General Electric’s new hybrid electric gas turbine (EGT) units. Each incorporates one of GE’s 50 MW LM6000 aeroderivative gas turbines along with a 10 MW lithium-ion battery capable of storing 4 MWh of electricity, and a control system which integrates the functioning of the two while also improving fuel and water efficiency. Greenhouse gas emissions are expected to be reduced by 60%, while water consumption is expected to fall by 45%. The hybrid units are designed to allow more flexibility in the operation of the gas turbines – such turbines are usually run at full capacity, but the batteries will allow more change in the gas turbine loads. In fact, the inclusion of the batteries means that output from the facility is always available – the batteries can supply the power while the turbines start up, which allows better grid integration of stand-alone renewable resources. The two ‘peaker’ plants were installed rapidly, the intention to build them announced in only October last year, partly in response to a major leak at a natural gas storage facility in the state which generated concern about potential energy shortages. While comments from SCE implied that the plants were only economic at this stage because of California’s specific system of incentives, such technology seems likely to become more economic and widespread.
Insurance considerations may impede CCS development
Australian lawyers HWL Ebsworth have written a blog post about the role of insurance in the development and more widespread uptake of carbon capture and storage technology. The post focuses on the issue of storage, with questions surrounding its long-term security. If a major leak of sequestered carbon was to occur, and local climatic conditions failed to disperse the gas, there is the risk of human death, as occurred from a natural release of an estimated 100,000-300,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from Lake Nyos in Cameroon in 1986, killing 1,700 people. Such risks create the need for insurance, and while such insurance is presently available, there are many uncertainties, and this limits its availability and keeps prices high. While the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation considers that the risks from CCS are manageable, insurers may be more sceptical until there is further evidence of storage in practice.
CEZ looking to sell Bulgarian assets
Czech power company CEZ is looking to sell its Bulgarian assets, according to Reuters. The assets include a coal-fired power plant, two renewable plants, and a stake in an electricity distributor supplying two million customers, all bought during a round of privatisation in Bulgaria in 2004. A number of Bulgarian investors are said to be interested in their purchase.