Court ruling on Clean Power Plan a significant victory for Trump administration
US President Trump has had a major victory in his bid to scupper the Clean Power Plan of his predecessor Barak Obama, with the US Circuit Court of Appeals granting a request to suspend a lawsuit about the plan for 60 days. The lawsuit had been brought to determine if the Clean Power Plan was valid under the Clean Air Act, the legislation which was to give it legitimacy, and according to Politico, many had believed that the Plan would be found to be legitimate in most part. The pausing of the suit is therefore something of a surprise, and the 60 days will give the Environmental Protection Agency a window to begin a review the plan. Given the agency’s vastly changed direction under the new administration, it seems likely to try to repeal the plan, which placed strict limits on carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. However, the repeal process could be lengthy, and could be challenged legally, meaning that any outcome now appears at least a few years away. During that time, it seems that the plan will not be enforced, though the legal grounds are described by Politico as ‘relatively unchartered’.
Indian power plans changing rapidly away from coal to renewables
Scientific American has looked at how plans for the power sector in India are rapidly changing, with the main point being a rapid turn away from coal. The speed at which planning is changing is, in fact, remarkable. In 2015, the International Energy Agency projected that around half of the world’s additional coal-fired capacity up until 2040 would be built in India. In July 2016, non-profit organisation CoalSwarm conducted a survey and found that there were 370 coal-fired plants in the planning stage, with a total capacity of 243 GW. A research paper based on the findings, which concluded that India could not meet its Paris Agreement climate change targets if it was to build those plants, was published in late April of this year, but in the meantime the Indian government adopted a new position, saying it would not need any new coal-fired power plants for the next decade. The main driver, according to Scientific American, is the increasing cost-competiveness of renewables. However, this is combined with a real demand for electricity that is lower than official demand figures estimate – utilisation rates of power plants are in fact declining, partly because electricity distributors, unable to raise tariffs, are declining to buy more electricity from producers, and partly because funding arrangements encourage optimistic demand projections. Regardless, the increasing cost-competitiveness of renewables is making potential investors in coal-fired capacity more ‘jittery’, although authors of the April paper believe that some of the currently planned plants will ultimately be built for reasons of ‘industrial inertia’.
Gasification of coal in China would be a headache for decision makers, paper finds
A new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has looked at the potential for China to increase its gasification of coal. While increased gasification of low-grade coal in the western provinces of the country would decrease particulate matter in the air, leading to an estimated 20,000-40,000 fewer deaths annually, it may at the same time increase carbon emissions substantially (with Greenpeace estimating that total national emissions could increase 4%). This, and the likelihood that gasification would be more expensive than firing the coal directly, but at the same time offer more energy independence, creates a headache for decision makers within government. LNG imports may be a cheaper and cleaner option.
US budget set to favour wood firing
In further news from the US, the budget bill, which was passed by the House of Representatives in early May, directs the EPA, the Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture to “establish clear policies that reflect the carbon neutrality of biomass.” While recent years have seen considerable debate about the carbon neutrality of wood burning, the move would be in line with the EU’s recognition of the fuel as such, and the subsidisation of its production. Predictably, the move has been welcomed by biomass industry groups, while attracting criticism from environmental groups. The bill was expected to be passed by the US Senate without change to the biomass provision.
Global Carbon Budget shows coal still the dominant source of fossil-fuel emissions
The Global Carbon Project has released its 2016 Global Carbon Budget presentation, which has a wealth of interesting charts. Of fossil fuel and industry emissions, 41% (15 Gt CO2-equivalent emissions/yr) came from coal-firing, 34% from oil, 19% from gas, 6% from cement making, and 1% from flaring. Coal has been the highest contributor since the early 2000s (taking over from oil), rising as coal-firing soared in China. Over the past five years, energy produced from coal firing has increased 1.1% annually, oil the same, gas 1.7%, hydro 2.9%, and renewables 15.2%, while nuclear has declined 1.4% per year over the same period (probably driven by Japanese closures). An interesting historical look at fossil fuel and cement carbon emissions from 1870-2015 has 26% coming from the US, 23% from the 28 EU countries, 13% from China, 7% from Russia, 4% from Japan and 3% from India (the rest of the world being 24%). In terms of intensity of carbon emissions per unit of economic production, of the countries shown, Russia emits the most CO2 (at 0.75 kgCO2/USD), followed by China (0.65), the USA (0.35), India , Japan, Germany, Indonesia, Brazil, Great Britain, and finally France (0.17) with the lowest intensity. When countries are examined in terms of their consumption of products, rather their production of them, significant proportions of the CO2-equivalent emissions of China and India are consumed by other countries, with the USA and the EU ‘importing’ embodied emissions.
US EPA removes climate change webpages
The US Environmental Protection Agency has taken down a number of its web pages relating to climate change and its impacts, replacing them with a heading saying “this page is being updated”. The move reflects the difference in approach between the former and new heads of the EPA, with the new director, Scott Pruitt, stating in various interviews over the past months that he believes the extent of human involvement in climate change is uncertain due to measurement difficulties. A spokesperson for the EPA said of the changes that “As EPA renews its commitment to human health and clean air, land and water, our website needs to reflect the views of the leadership of the agency.”
Clean tech patent filing in US edging towards a majority by foreign firms
The Brookings Institution has examined the rate at which clean technology patents are being filed in the US, and the split between domestic or foreign ownership of those patents. Looking at fields from geothermal energy to transportation, including air emissions reduction technology, energy efficiency, bioenergy and conventional fuels, there was a steep increase in patent filings from 2009, reaching a peak in 2014, afterwards beginning to fall. Different cities appear to specialise in different areas, suggesting the presence of research ‘clusters’, where a number of different firms concentrate in one geographical area. Of worry to Brookings is the finding that the percentage of domestically-owned new patents has fallen from 47% in 2001 to 39% in 2016, which the institute ascribes to a growing interest in clean technologies in Asia.
Siemens wins Argentinian turnkey plants contract
Late March saw a significant contract win for Siemens, who are to supply four turnkey industrial power plants to sites in Luján, Matheu, San Pedro and Zarate in Argentina. Six SGT-A65 TR aeroderivative gas turbines and six SGT-800 turbines will be employed across the four plants, to be owned by Canadian private equity companies Stoneway Capital and Araucaria Energy. The plant in Luján is to be 127 MWe, that in Matheu 254 MWe, the plant in Zarate 202 MWe, and the San Pedro facility 104 MWe, together helping ease Argentina’s power generation capacity issues. The value of the contract is US$570 million (€519 million), including a 10-year servicing contract for the four plants, with Siemens itself providing a US$115 million (€105 million) loan for their construction. The turbines are to be manufactured in the USA, Canada and Sweden, while the generators will be made in Germany. Commissioning is scheduled for late this year.