New IPCC climate change summary report: humans are dominant cause of warming
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released its 2013 ‘Physical Science Basis’ summary report on climate change. It presents summary data of ‘unequivocal’ evidence that climate change is occurring, with warmer oceans, a warmer atmosphere, reduced ice and snow cover, and higher sea levels, and gives a 95% confidence level to human activities being the ‘dominant cause’ (5% more than the 2007 report). The trends have been accompanied by greater concentrations of greenhouse gases, and the report states that, between 1750 and 2011, fossil fuel combustion and cement manufacturing have accounted for around 365 Gt of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions, while deforestation and other land use changes have been responsible for around 180 Gt. In a ‘business as usual’ scenario, temperatures are projected to rise by the 2 oC, generally considered a threshold level of very serious impacts, within 30-60 years, and by 2.9 and 5.8 oC by 2100. Rapid and strong action is required to reduce emissions from all sectors in order to avoid the extremes in effects, which include more frequent and intense droughts (leading to reduced food production), more extreme precipitation (leading to flooding), further sea level rises, and increased cyclone activity. The report makes for sobering reading.
US EPA releases carbon emissions rules for new fossil-fired power plants
The US Environmental Protection Agency released on 20 September its keenly anticipated rules for carbon emissions from new power plants, after the draft rules, released last year, attracted two million public comments. The new limits are: 454 kg CO2/MWh for new larger gas-fired plants (those greater than approximately 249 MWe); 499 kg CO2/MWh for smaller gas-fired plants (less than or equal to approximately 249 MWe); and 499 kg CO2/MWh on average over a 12 month period for fossil-fuel fired boilers and IGCC units (i.e. coal-fired plants), or between 454 and 478 kg CO2/MWh over a seven year period, depending on which limit suits the plant best. The time-averaged limits for coal-fired plants are designed to give “operational flexibility”; the rules as a whole imply that carbon-capture and storage will be necessary for any new coal-fired plant. Announcing the new rules, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said “There needs to be a certain pathway forward for coal to be successful”. The US Chamber of Commerce reacted to the limits by saying the federal government’s strategy “will write off our huge, secure, affordable coal resources.” The rules are part of US president Barack Obama’s climate change plan, which he announced in June of this year. Rules for existing power plants are due to be released in June 2014, and the EPA has said that people should not assume the limits will be similar to those for new plants.
Southern Co warns against using its Kemper County plant as a standard
Meanwhile, Southern Co, currently building an advanced coal-fired power plant with carbon capture and storage in Kemper County in the state of Mississippi, has warned that its new plant should not be used by federal authorities as an example of how a new coal-fired plant could be commissioned under the new EPA carbon emissions rules. The company believes the new rules are based on the expected performance of the Kemper County plant, which is due to be completed in May 2014. It argues that the $US 5 billion (€3.7 billion), 582 MW coal-gasification plant achieves unusual efficiencies due to its close proximity to the mine that supplies its fuel and also to the oil fields where the separated CO2 is used for enhanced oil recovery, and that other sites will not enjoy such suitable conditions.
German subsidies for renewable power likely to drop after federal elections
The German federal election has returned Angela Merkel to the chancellorship of the country, with her party, the Christian Democratic Union, expected to form a coalition government with the Social Democratic Party, after the former coalition partner, the Free Democrats, failed to win any seats in the parliament. It is speculated that the new coalition will move to modestly reduce subsidies for renewable energy production, after pressure from German industry to reduce energy prices amid competition from US industry, which has been benefitting from cheap energy as a result of the North American shale gas boom. In a recent survey, two thirds of 2000 German companies cited energy prices as their top concern, and both the CDU and SDP are sympathetic to businesses’ concerns, though government moves to reduce subsidies will have to be careful not to make too dramatic an effect on the important renewables industry. Significantly, there is also speculation that the new coalition may consider a capacity market system to ensure that large fossil-fired plants stay online.
Bangladeshis protest over proposed new coal-fired power plant
Thousands of Bangladeshis have protested against plans to build a 1.32 GW coal-fired power plant in the south-west of the country, 14 km away from a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Sundarbans mangrove forests, which are the largest in the world. The planned Rampal Thermal Power Plant is a 50:50 joint venture between the Bangladesh Power Development Board and the Indian National Thermal Power Corporation, who signed three deals related to the plan in April of this year. The protesters, who staged a 200 km-long march from the capital Dhaka to the Sundarbans, claim that the Bangladeshi government’s environmental impact assessment was inadequate, and that the fly ash, SOx, and other emissions will cause significant harm to the mangrove forests and the local fauna and affect human health in the region. Furthermore, they are concerned about the long-term effects of carbon emissions arising from the plant, especially as Bangladesh is often cited as a country particularly vulnerable to climate change. Power experts are also said to be critical of the plans.
World Bank approves loan for Myanmar gas-fired plant
The World Bank has approved $US 140 million (€104 million) interest-free credit for refurbishment and upgrade of the ageing Thaton Gas Turbine Station in Mon State, Myanmar. The upgrade to the use of advanced combined cycle gas turbine technology will increase the capacity by 250% to 104 MWe, which the World Bank says amounts to around 5% of the country’s total power demand, and 50% of that within Mon State. Businesses and residents have been calling for increased electricity supply, with 70% of the population without access to electricity, and only 16% of people in rural areas connected to a grid supply of electricity. Myanmar has been receiving increased international aid since it transitioned to a partial democracy over the last few years.
EC gives notice to Italian government over Ilva steel plant
The European Commission has given formal notice to the Italian government that it must act to ensure that the Ilva steel plant, in the country’s south, cleans up its emissions, or face fines. The Riva Group, which owns the plant, has been carrying out a two-year program of works to improve the environmental performance of the plant, overseen by an independent commissioner appointed by the Italian government in June. The Ilva plant, near Taranto, is Europe’s largest, and hugely important to the Italian economy, employing 12,000 workers. While Riva seems to acknowledge some environmental problems at the plant, it claims (according to Reuters) that the plant complies with environmental standards and denies that it is responsible for the abnormally high rates of cancers and respiratory illnesses in the region, which are estimated as being as high as two to three times greater than Italian averages. The EC has said that testing of the Ilva site and the surrounding region has found high levels of pollutants in air and soil and in surface and ground waters, including dioxins and benzo(a)pyrene. In May, the Italian government seized around €8.6 billion worth of assets from the Riva family, as well as a further €1.2 billion in trust funds. Earlier this month, it seized a further €900 million from the family, which blocked access by the company to banking functions, and forced Riva to halt production at several of its northern Italian sites (putting economic pressure on the government). The EC has given the Italian government two months to respond to its notice. Ilva was state-owned from 1933 to 1995.
Andritz to supply biomass-fired heat and power plant to town of Mjölby, Sweden
Andritz Energy and Environment has been awarded a contract to supply a biomass-fired combined heat and power plant to the Swedish utility Mjölby-Svartadalen Energi, for installation in the town of Mjölby, in the south of Sweden. The company will supply their EcoFluid bubbling fluidised bed boiler technology, and the plant is to be sized at 35 MW, commencing operation in Autumn 2015, and servicing 26,000 residents.