US EPA releases final rules regarding the disposal of coal ash
Mid-December last year saw the release of finalised US Environmental Protection Agency rules regarding the disposal of coal ash (officially, coal combustion residuals) from coal-fired power plants, the first federal rules in regard to the issue. The rules attempt to address the matters of, in the EPA’s words, “leaking of contaminants into ground water, blowing of contaminants into the air as dust, and the catastrophic failure of coal ash surface impoundments [i.e. holding ponds or landfills],” as well as record-keeping and reporting requirements. There are requirements for structural integrity of holding ponds and landfills, for monitoring of leaks, for lining any new pond or landfill, for the siting of new impoundments, and for preventing coal ash dust from becoming airborne. The rules also support the reuse/recycling of coal ash through the decision that it should be considered a non-hazardous waste material, despite containing some toxic substances such as arsenic and lead. This latter decision has been controversial amongst environmental groups, who were pushing for coal ash to be classified as a hazardous material. However, the new rules have also attracted criticism for being an economic burden on utilities. This balance appears to be what the EPA was aiming at, with Gina McCarthy, the head of the EPA, stating “This rule is a pragmatic step forward that protects public health while allowing the industry the time it needs to meet these requirements.” Regulation of the rules has been left to states, perceived as a weaker form of enforcement than a federal mechanism. The EPA has developed a ‘frequently asked questions’ to do with the ruling.
Taiwanese experts speculate on Taiwan’s energy future
Taiwanese energy experts have been speaking to the domestic media about Taiwan’s future energy strategy in the lead-up to the 5th International Conference on Future Environment and Energy, which is to be held in Taipei in late January. Only 3% of the energy consumed in Taiwan is produced from domestic energy sources, meaning the country is highly dependent on international markets, and the share of energy spending as a percentage of GDP has increased from around 4% in 2003 to around 13% in recent years, making the economic burden high. With 25% of the nation’s energy being produced from imported gas, the energy experts see coal firing (equipped with CCS) as a medium-term lower-cost means to produce electricity (which may be a misunderstanding on the part of the journalists, given the relatively high cost of CCS). In the longer term, they see renewable energy has having a huge potential for the country, with solar, wind, thermal and wave energy having the ability to produce around five times as much energy as is presently consumed.
Arizona State University report predicts bulk of innovation in certain energy sectors to come from industrialising world
December saw the release of a report by Arizona State University on the geographic areas in which innovation of certain clean energy technologies – shale gas, carbon capture and storage, nuclear, and solar – is currently taking place and where it is expected to occur in the future. The report describes such innovation as taking place more in industrialising countries than in industrialised countries (bearing in mind that innovation includes learnings from deployment, and the industrialising world will add the bulk of new generation capacity in the decades to come), and recommends that industrialised countries should move to develop closer innovation links with industrialising countries through government policy amongst other things. The report has some interesting maps showing innovation and diffusion of technology around the world for each of the technologies examined.
UK Department of Energy and Climate Change to give extra £2.5 million to finding carbon storage sites in North Sea
The UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change has announced that it will make available £2.5 million ($US 3.8 million/€3.2 million) of funding for further evaluation of site for CO2 storage in the North Sea. The announcement was made by the DECC’s Innovation Fund, and the research programme will be managed by the Energy Technology Institute, an energy research body jointly funded by government and industry (including EDF, Shell, BP, E.ON, Caterpillar and Rolls Royce). Research groups such as Scottish Carbon Capture & Storage are hoping to secure some of the work. The DECC hopes that the funding will help spur further private investment in identifying storage sites, with the UK government believing that CO2 storage has the potential to develop into a significant industry for the UK, serving continental Europe.
Petronas to develop CCS technology as it invests in projects to extract gas from high-CO2 reservoirs
On a rather different scale, Malaysia’s Petronas has said it will set aside $US 1 billion (€842 million) for the development of technology to recover gas from fields which have high CO2 concentrations. The first phase of the project will last until 2018, with the trial field being the Petronas K5 gas field, 80 m deep and 250 km offshore from Sarawak. The pilot project will include separation of natural gas from CO2, and the storage of the CO2 deeper underground, and if successful will be rolled out to other projects. The pilot will be run by Petronas Carigali (which is the upstream part of the business) in conjunction with four local and international partners: Technip Consultant (M) Sdn Bhd, UOP Malaysia Sdn Bhd, General Asia Sdn Bhd, and Twister BV. The aim, as global technical head Dr Nasir Darman stated, is to “position Petronas as a forerunner in offshore carbon capture and storage and provide a stepping stone for a greener oil and gas industry.”
Alstom Power Ltd (UK) facing bribery investigation
In concerning news for Alstom’s UK subsidiary, Alstom Power Ltd, the British Serious Fraud Office has laid charges against the firm in relation to bribery of officials of Lithuanian energy company AB Lietuvos Elektrine, which is alleged to have taken place (between 2002 and 2010) in order to secure a contract to supply burners to a power plant in town of Elektrenai, in the south-east of Lithuania. (Elektrenai, incidentally, was founded during Soviet times as a town for power plant workers to live in, hence its name.) A preliminary hearing into the case took place last week. It is one in a series of fraud-related cases being run in a number of countries, including the US, involving Alstom’s activities in a range of countries, including Poland, India, China and Indonesia. With Alstom’s energy business being bought by General Electric, there has been uncertainty over which company would pay any possible settlement monies, but Alstom CEO Patrick Kron has stated to shareholders that he expects Alstom will be made to pay for any settlement which may take place in the US.
Saudi Electricity Co to build integrated solar combined cycle plant
Saudi Electricity Co has signed a contract with what is believed (but unconfirmed) to be General Electric for the supply of generators for an integrated solar combined cycle (ISCC) power plant, with 500 MW of gas-fired electrical output and 50 MW of solar electrical output. The plant is to be built at Tabuk, near the Red Sea coast of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, at a price of around 2.5 billion riyals ($US 665 million/€558 million), and is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2017. It will be the Kingdom’s first ISCC plant.
Malaysian-built Vietnam plant to be first to import coal
Malaysia’s Teknik Janakuasa is to build a 1.2 GW coal-fired power plant in Vietnam under a build, operate and transfer contract, using Alstom-supplied plant equipment, according to Reuters. Preparations for the new plant, Duyen Hai 2, have been underway since 2009, although the project still requires an investment license to proceed. In a relaxing of state policy with the need to increase electricity generation, Duyen Hai 2 will be Vietnam’s first coal plant to use imported coal.