• Combustion Industry News

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      Patrick Lavery

      Combustion Industry News Editor

IEA’s World Energy Outlook sees demand falling in the EU, US and Japan, and ballooning in developing world, and renewables providing around 70% of net new power generation capacity to 2040

The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2017 has included some interesting projections of changes in energy demand up to 2040. In the US, Japan and Europe, energy demand is expected to fall somewhat; in India, China, Africa, South-East Asia, the Middle East, ‘Eurasia’ (presumably the ex-Soviet Union) and South America, demand is expected to increase, hugely in the cases of India and China (and to some extent Africa). Additional net annual power generation capacity is expected to be largely from renewables (at about 70% of the total, or 160 GW of installed capacity per year), with gas at about 21%, coal 7% and nuclear 3%. India is expected to become the third largest consumer of electricity by 2040, behind China and the United States (and ahead of the EU), and electricity will account for most of the increased demand in energy worldwide. China’s coal use is expected to increase slightly, its gas and nuclear use moderately, and its renewables capacities hugely. In the US, the unconventional oil and gas industry is expected to have a boom in exports of gas, peaking in 2030, also becoming a net oil exporter in the 2020s. World oil demand is expected to grow over the period, mostly because of petrochemical production, shipping, aviation and road freight, but with growth slowing over time. Demand for gas, on the other hand, is expected to grow enormously, particularly in the developing world, with only a slight fall in the EU. Air pollution (in the form of NOx, SOx and particulates), meanwhile, are projected to fall hugely in the EU and in the China, while NOx and SOx are to increase significantly in South-East Asia and somewhat in India. The Outlook is packed with interesting data and makes for interesting reading.

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IEA editorial argues need for clean coal technology

Deborah Adams, the Studies Manager of the International Energy Association’s Clean Coal Centre, has written an opinion piece in the Financial Times arguing that investment in clean coal technology is a sensible thing to do. With movements to divest in fossil fuel businesses prominent in the West, Ms Adams takes a conciliatory approach, agreeing that renewables and nuclear are likely to provide the power in the long term future, and arguing that in the interim making coal cleaner would be better for the planet. Ms Adams highlights the advantages of the fuel by pointing out that of the 1.2 billion people gaining access to electricity over the past 16 years, about 600 million have been because of coal (due of its low costs, availability and reliability). Furthermore, around 30% of electricity globally is still generated by coal firing, and the developing world is still building new plants, meaning that for some decades to come, coal will be a significant part of the global energy sector. With this as the context, it is difficult not to agree that to make plants cleaner – through upgraded technology, carbon capture and storage, improvements in fuel preparation, and cleaner mining practices – would be environmentally beneficial. Ms Adams also argues that while NOx, SOx, particulate matter and other emissions are all negative aspects of coal-firing, they can all be sufficiently controlled, and should not be seen as an impediment to the use of coal.

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Spanish government seeks to intervene to prevent coal fired plant closures

Testing the argument made by Ms Adams is the current situation in Spain with regard to the closure of coal-fired power plants. Spanish utilities Endesa and Iberdrola together wish to close four coal-fired plants with a total output capacity of around 3 GW, but the Spanish government has issued a draft Royal Decree which would give it the power to prevent the closure of the plants in the interests of security of supply and avoiding electricity price rises. The two utilities see no economic benefit in keeping the plants operational, and are instead heavily pushing their renewables capacities while also pursuing some additional gas-firing capacity. The government is also in the process of drafting its Energy Transition and Climate Law, which may give the utilities additional context in which to make decisions about the future of their coal-fired plants. Endesa for one expects financial compensation if the government forces coal-fired plants to stay open. Spain’s International Institute of Human Rights and the Environment has written a blog post implying that the costs to upgrade other Spanish coal-fired power plants such that their NOx and SOx emissions would be under guideline levels would be excessive, and unnecessary, seeing as though the country has a “minimum coverage index” (a measure of generation capacity to demand) of 1.3, well above the required minimum of 1.1. It also argues that preventing the closure of the plants would contravene Spanish citizens’ rights to the protection of health and to a healthy environment. The situation neatly illustrates the trade-off between costs of upgrading coal-fired power plant fleets, security of supply, and the potential to spend money instead on renewable power generation.

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Imperial College to be the centre of new European CCS research project, furthering its work in the field

A new international research consortium led by Imperial College in the UK has been launched to make carbon capture and storage an integral part of the industrial economy. The ELEGANCY research project has partners in Norway, the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland, as well as the UK, and has threefold aims: “to facilitate decarbonisation of power, heating and transport based on an existing fuel and infrastructure; to develop a commercial model for industrial CCS; and to broaden public awareness of CCS”. An increased use of hydrogen is seen as a key component in the overall strategy, as is utility-style CO2 transport and storage infrastructure servicing multiple industrial facilities. ELEGANCY’s modelling is to be open source, providing a resource that can be used worldwide.

In a separate development, Imperial researchers have conducted modelling that suggests that enhanced oil recovery may play a significant (but not a comprehensive) role in providing incentives for the development of CCS technology. Other factors, such as carbon tax levels and the rate at which learning from deployment occurs will also be crucial. The modelling points to the need for further government sponsorship to develop the technology.

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Global battery storage capacity set to reach 305 GWh by 2030

Bloomberg New Energy Finance has estimated that by 2030, the world will have installed 305 GWh of battery storage capacity for electricity, the market doubling six times in the next thirteen years. Most capacity will be installed in the U.S., China, Japan, India, Germany, U.K., Australia and South Korea (Australia having just installed the world’s largest lithium-ion battery, at 129 MWh capacity). Such a massive expansion in battery storage capacity will smooth the intermittency of solar and wind energy (although of course at the cost of battery installation), changing the energy sector, although the capacity will still be quite small in relation to total installed electricity generation capacity.

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UN climate talks seen as moderate success in surviving despite intended withdrawal of US

The UN climate talks held last month in Bonn, Germany, have been seen as a moderate success in that the Paris Agreement is still broadly on track despite the USA announcing its intention earlier this year to pull out of the deal. The talks made some progress in agreeing technical approaches to measuring and comparing national emissions. On the downside, the national emissions trading scheme that it was hoped China would announced did not materialise, with the Financial Times being under the impression it may instead launch early next year if not this year, with a staged implementation starting with ‘mature’ industries. In addition, there was less progress on funding for poorer nations to cope with the effects of climate change. The conference was notable for having over 100 attendees from US state and local governments, universities and businesses, there to pledge their support for the Agreement despite their federal government’s position.

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Keystone oil leak fails to prevent Keystone XL pipeline from gaining approval

A leak in the South Dakota part of TransCanada’s Keystone oil pipeline has raised fresh questions about the environmental suitability of the planned new Keystone XL pipeline. Around 5,000 barrels of oil spilled from Keystone in late November, disrupting supplies from Canada to the US and raising oil prices. However, the leak was not enough to prevent TransCanada from winning permission to build Keystone XL, which it did four days afterwards.

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Shell plans to halve carbon footprint by 2050 while Engie will go to 100% biogas and hydrogen

Shell has written to the United Nations to say that it plans to halve its carbon footprint by 2050, and reduce it by 20% by 2035. As part of its pledge, Shell is also to disclose information on its carbon footprint from its operations and the energy use of its products, bringing some level of accountability to its plans. For a company still largely based around fossil fuels, the plan is fairly ambitious, and will be watched closely.

Meanwhile, Engie has announced that by 2050, it will run its gas operations using biogas and renewable hydrogen, making it 100% ‘green’. It is an interesting strategy which appears smart at first glance, and is another indication that hydrogen is making a comeback as a major strategic product in the power sector.

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GE to cut 4,500 jobs in Europe

General Electric is planning to cut 4,500 jobs in its power generation businesses in Switzerland, Germany and Britain, according to a report from Reuters. GE acquired the businesses and workers in 2015, when it bought Alstom, but has struggled this year, its share price falling 44%, making it the worst performer on the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Demand for new conventional power generation equipment in Europe has been sluggish since the acquisition, forcing a shift in focus from the new chief executive.

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New Delhi air pollution so bad sportsmen are vomiting

In a sign of just how bad air pollution has gotten in New Delhi, two cricketers threw up during an Indian-Sri Lanka test match in early December, while other Sri Lankan players wore masks during the match. In overdue action, the state-run utility NTC has launched bids for pollution abating technology for two of its power plants in the region, while the Supreme Court issued a ban on the use of petcoke in Delhi, causing headaches for the oil refiners making the product, who are looking to sell it instead to other regions.

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