Thursday, September 27, 2012

Cloud computing efficiency gains to be wiped out by increase in online data storage

EuroCloud server project 3D chip

European researchers are developing a new microprocessor for use in data centres that uses 10% of the energy that chips currently consume.

But this saving is cancelled out by the fact that accessing data on the Cloud uses ten times more energy than doing the same task on a PC, as revealed by new analysis.

EuroCloud server project

An EU-funded research project called EuroCloud has adapted the low-power microprocessors found in mobile phones to work on a larger scale.

This has the potential to make data centres affordable for most European companies while saving data centre customers billions of euros.

European Commission Vice-President Neelie Kroes said: "Today's power-hungry cloud data centres are not sustainable in the long run. The Eurocloud chip addresses the core of this energy consumption problem. I hope further development of the Eurocloud chip will boost the position of European businesses in a sector currently dominated by non-Europeans."

The EuroCloud server project involves researchers in the UK, Cyprus, Finland, Switzerland and Belgium, and has received European funding of Euros 3.3 million year over three years.

The new chips will cost just 10% of the price of presently-used processors as well as consuming 1/10 of the energy. Hundreds of microprocessor cores may then be embedded in a single server, making data centres containing one million cores feasible in the future.

Key players include Nokia, ARM and IMEC,

Called the 3-D Server-on-a-Chip, it will enable the greening of European data centres.

Because they are three-dimensional, any one part of the chip has greater access to another part, meaning shorter journeys for electrons, which means less energy lost and faster performance.

The project has also developed Total Cost of Ownership analysis tools to help data centre designers rapidly assess the cost indications of different designs over the entire lifespan of the centre.

Cloud computing energy use

But will the projected savings result in a real reduction in energy use? Not according to research published this month by energy writer, Mark P. Mills, a respected blogger at

He calculates that using the Cloud to store data remotely on a server consumes ten times more energy than storing it on your own PC. This wipes out any savings that the new chip would make.

Mills says, “More energy is consumed in the Cloud, than on a PC, when the user accesses the Cloud frequently, or does high-intensity tasks. The data show that for uses that are common, the Cloud consumes over ten times more energy to store and access information than keeping it all on your laptop.”

He adds: "One person pulling one 1GB once a day from the Cloud requires the energy of three pounds of coal per year just for transporting the bits to their PC”.

EU may regulate the sector

Mills believes that most estimates of the future use of energy by the ICT sector are way to low.

This makes it an opportune time for the European Union to announce, as it did this week, that it is to re-examine its ICT policies, to determine whether it needs to be more proactive in greening the sector.

Few sectors are more central to the low carbon revolution than the ICT sector. It is behind the mobile Internet, smart grid, energy demand management and network controls to say the least.

"ICT is the enabler for a carbon-free society," says Stephen Gomersall, director and Group Chairman for Europe at Hitachi. "The IT component is the core of such solutions".

Within 15 years, trillions of intelligent devices, sensors and objects will be implemented around the world, all connected to the Internet and flooding data centres with massive amounts of raw data to be processed and analysed, not to mention stored.

Numerically, market analyst firm IDC estimates the amount of data stored will increase from 1.8 zettabytes (one zettabyte is a billion terabytes; one terabyte is a thousand gigabytes) in 2011 to 35 zettabytes by 2020.

If no action is taken, the sector's carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions will rise from 530 million tonnes in 2002, to 1.43 billion tonnes in 2020, according to the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI).

Mills believes this is an underestimate.

The European Commission's funding of research into greening ICT is due to increase by 46% under the EU's seven-year research programme, Horizon 2020, which is being funded through the 7th Framework Programme.

Next year, the EU executive will launch a working group to evaluate whether there is a need to regulate the entire sector to improve its environmental performance.

"That may mean light regulation or less light regulation, and there are ongoing discussions at the moment in order to get that balance right," said Philip Lowe, director general at the Commission's energy department.

It has opened a preliminary call for evidence to inform these discussions.

The leading companies in cloud computing Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon, have a chief responsibility and all adopting this integrated approach.

Microsoft pledged to go carbon neutral by July 2012 across its departments, and Google has created incentives to save as much energy as possible in the power management and cooling of data centres that store servers.

An investment of €19,000 in energy-saving design generates returns of €50,000 per year, Google said.

British electric supercar breaks land speed record

The first electric super car, the ‘Nemesis’, designed and built entirely in the UK, has today broken the UK electric car land-speed record, reaching a verified speed of 148 mph.

Nemesis is a battery-powered electric sports car developed by renewable energy company Ecotricity's MD Dale Vince.

As it sped up the runway at Elvington Airfield near York, it made no sound at all apart from wind resistance and tyre noise.

The previous record of 137mph was set by Don Wales, the grandson of legendary speed-merchant Sir Malcolm Campbell.

It was driven by estate agent Nick Ponting, 21, from Gloucester, who attained an average speed of 148.419mph during two runs along the mile-long course.

He said the torque was amazing, giving excellent acceleration response right up to top speed.

Further attempts are being made today, and Dale Vince is convinced that the 150 mile an hour barrier will be broken.

"It was quite straightforward. We're putting a bit of juice back in the batteries and we're going to go again. We built the Nemesis to smash the stereotype of electric cars as something Noddy would drive - slow, boring, not cool," he said.

Joe Wales, son of Don, attempted to beat his father's record in a car named Bluebird Electric at Pendine Sands in Carmarthenshire last year, but failed when its suspension was damaged by a pothole.

Friday, September 14, 2012

DECC "pleased with progress" towards climate change targets says chief civil servant

Phil Wynn Owen, Director General of DECC's International Climate Change and Energy Efficiency group
Welshman Phil Wynn Owen, Director General of DECC's International Climate Change and Energy Efficiency group.

The British Government is pleased with its progress towards meeting its climate change targets and in steering the European Union and the United Nations climate talks in a satisfactory direction, according to a senior official within the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

Speaking exclusively to me at The Energy Event at Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre yesterday, the official said that, given the long timescales involved, DECC is happy with progress so far.

Phil Wynn Owen is Director General of the International Climate Change and Energy Efficiency group. Before that, he was an official in the Treasury. His remarks, paraphrased below, give an insight into thinking within senior levels of government.

UN discussions

The top-level Conference of the Parties (COP) United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks, designed to reach global agreement on limiting greenhouse gas emissions, happen at the end of each year. At the last of these talks in Durban, it was agreed that nations would put in place by the end of 2015 a binding legal agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions that will take effect in 2020.

The UK government was pleased and surprised by this outcome, given the pessimism that preceded these talks.

In between these annual talks are interim negotiations. UK officials were disappointed by the progress made at the last of these, which took place in Bonn earlier this year and ended without agreement. They therefore led calls, together with Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of UNFCCC, for a further meeting, which happened in Bangkok at the end of August and beginning of September.

Whereas outside reports expressed dismay at the lack of progress made there, too, DECC officials believe that significant progress was made, laying the groundwork for a legal agreement.

There was also good progress in negotiating a successor framework to the Kyoto Protocol.

DECC had a large team negotiating in Bangkok, who played a significant part in the production of the first draft of a full negotiating text. This will be discussed at the next Conference of the Parties (COP 18) in Doha, Qatar in late November this year.

The UK Government believes it is very important that these forthcoming talks will take place in the heart of the oil-producing Gulf states.

Energy and Climate Change Minister Greg Barker told an All Party Parliamentary Group meeting at the House of Commons on Monday that he feels the talks “offer a unique opportunity to encourage the major oil and gas producing states to recognise the benefits of signing up to a low carbon agenda".

DECC is thinking particularly about Saudi Arabia, which has recently announced a huge commitment to solar power. At previous COP negotiations its team has resorted to blocking and delaying tactics and watering down mitigation targets. DECC believes that this November's talks offer an opportunity for Saudi Arabia to see the benefits of behaving otherwise.

The long view

The senior DECC official turned to the disparity between Government and business attitudes towards the low carbon agenda, the latter of which on the whole are enthusiastic, since the sector is one of the few areas of the economy which is experiencing significant growth.

Here, with the longsighted vision of a long-serving civil servant, Mr Owen paid tribute to the manner in which the UK Government conducts its consultations and discussions on developing its energy policies.

While recognising that some sectors would like government to move faster, most appreciated that, with resources tight due to the ongoing recession, it was necessary to have a debate which took in the views of all sides on the most cost-effective way to decarbonise the country and adapt to climate change.

Dominant thinking is now that the greatest opportunities lie in cutting energy use, reducing demand, and energy efficiency.

The beginning of Mr Owen's presentation to delegates yesterday morning was taken up with extremely depressing figures about the rate of increase of climate-warming emissions and their likely effects on overall average global temperatures.

At present trends, the world is headed for at least 3°C warming, which will create a “very high risk of economic impact", he said.

By 2020 there is likely to be an atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide greater than 550 ppm, which means that after that year emissions will need to reduce by up to 2.5% per year, a daunting prospect.

DECC is still very aware of the recommendations of the 2007 Stern Review, which said that early action to tackle climate change would be much cheaper than waiting and taking action later. Mr Owen reported that its author, Nicholas Stern, is “very pessimistic" these days.

He, however, remains optimistic. Turning around the behaviour of a whole country, let alone the whole world, is bound to take far longer than turning around the behaviour of any single company, no matter how large.

Moreover, companies have a completely different command structure to government and nations, unless they are totalitarian and can therefore act more quickly. This explains the long timescale required.

Mr Owen said that the measures contained in the Green Deal, the introduction of 53 million smart meters by 2019 in 30 million properties, and the Renewable Heat Incentive, which will increase the proportion of renewable heat from the current 1% to 12% by 2020, all give grounds for optimism.

Within the proposed Electricity Market Reforms, the capacity mechanism, the carbon price floor, and contracts for difference, will all help to leverage the £110 billion of investment required by 2020 to decarbonise the energy infrastructure.

He backed Ed Davey's defence of these measures, published yesterday, saying that they will create at least a quarter of a million jobs.

Moreover, energy intensive users will be compensated for the effects of the measures on their energy bills.

Mr Owen added that DECC is still lobbying within the European Union for it to commit to a 30% target for reducing emissions by 2020.

Mr Owen is clearly proud of his department's achievements; that it, and therefore the UK as a whole, is playing a vitally important role in steering the whole world away from completely disastrous climate change.

Government should set a 2030 decarbonisation target

Osborne's Liberal Democrat deputy, Danny Alexander
George Osborne's Liberal Democrat deputy, Danny Alexander will call for a target and criticise his boss's attitude to low carbon tech at the Lib-Dem party conference.

The role of gas-fired generation and the setting of a 2030 decarbonisation target for the electricity market has become the focus of a bitter battle between Lib Dems and George Osborne.

Yesterday, Edward Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, responded to a letter from the Committee on Climate Change, signed by its new Chairman, Lord Deben, criticising the recent Government statement that gas would continue to play an important role in the energy mix beyond 2030, not restricted to providing backup to renewables".

The letter added that this position could be illegal under the Climate Change Act 2008, and “weakens the signal provided by carbon budgets to investors" in clean tech.

It also recommends the setting of a clear carbon emission objective for electricity market reform, of around 50g of CO2 per kilowatt-hour by 2030.

Earlier this year George Osborne ruled out such a measure, expressing concern that such a target would undermine investor confidence in the gas industry, which he wants to build up.

In short, the argument between Osborne and DECC is about whether investment should be predominantly directed into renewables or gas. Gas, being cheaper, is favoured by Osborne.

But it is also an argument between the Lib Dems and Conservatives. Osborne's Liberal Democrat deputy, Danny Alexander, has signalled that he will call for a 2030 decarbonisation goal to be implemented when he speaks at the party's conference in two weeks.

He will also use his speech to attack the Conservatives for not acknowledging the economic benefits of investing in low carbon tech.

In reply to the CCC letter, Mr Davey, who this week adopted responsibility for renewables policy that was previously the ex-energy minister Charles Hendry's brief, issued a statement.

This said that a target is "under consideration" but argued that the Government's "existing plans are consistent with significant decarbonisation of the power sector".

Davey is known to believe that a limit on carbon emissions from the sector could be achieved using a statutory instrument instead of being included in the Energy Bill.

Osborne is currently sanguine about DECC's consultation on a carbon emissions limit for 2030, because he doesn't think it would make a material difference in practice.

But Davey's ace in his hand remains the carbon budgets that have been agreed by Parliament, which could trump Treasury policy provided that it is played with a strong suit.

Davey's response to the Committee's letter emphasises this, that the statutory carbon budgets that are set by the Committee, and agreed by Parliament, underscore all policy and planned market reforms.

“We have always said [our reforms] will include gas fired plant," the statement says, “which is quick to build and flexible." But "after 2030 we expect that gas will increasingly be used only as back up, or fitted with Carbon Capture and Storage technology.

"Alongside up-scaling of renewables, nuclear new build, and eventually with carbon capture and storage, gas has an important role to play in the transition to a low carbon grid."

But how much gas generation could be installed and still permit the UK realistically to meet its carbon budgets?

“Our numbers show that we can accommodate around 30 to 45GW of unabated gas over the next twenty years and still hit our carbon targets, but any further fossil fuels will need CCS, which is not yet commercially viable," Davey said on Wednesday.

This means over a dozen new gas-fired power plants in the next 15 years.

While the Committee's letter was greeted with approval by the clean tech sector, this response by Davey has been met with scepticism.

Utility company SSE tweeted that, contrary to the Treasury view, a "2030 decarbonisation target in EMR would provide much-needed certainty for low-carbon investors and developers".

Climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace, Joss Garman, calculated that “where you have as much as 45GW of unabated gas in 2030 (and if you assume demand by then of around 420TWh), this would require that all those gas stations are only operating for 15% of the time if we are to keep on track with carbon targets. It also requires all of the UK’s coal stations are shut down or operating with fully functioning Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)."

"The UK is already over-reliant on gas, which was the main driver behind recent energy bill rises," said Keith Allott, head of climate change at WWF.

The cross-party energy select committee, led by Tim Yeo, has also reiterated calls for a 2030 decarbonisation goal.

“Our gas generation strategy work is about providing certainty to investors to ensure sufficient investment comes forward, whilst also living within our legally binding carbon budgets,” concluded Ed Davey's statement.

To Garman and the other objectors, this seems like trying to have your cake and eat it.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Energy efficiency is cheapest energy reform, say top UK Government officials

 Chris Pook, Deputy Director of Green Economy, at the Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS)
 Chris Pook, Deputy Director of Green Economy, at the Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS)

Energy efficiency was affirmed by Government officials from two departments on Tuesday as being by far the cheapest way of meeting the UK’s climate commitments and decarbonising its electricity grid.

Speaking at The Energy Event at Birmingham's NEC, Trevor Hutchings, Head of Strategy and Delivery, DECC, and Chris Pook, Deputy Director of Green Economy, at the Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), both referred to sources of research, including studies by McKinsey, which show that most measures to reduce energy usage have negative costs, compared to building more energy generation plant or carbon capture and storage.

Trevor Hutchings said that DECC's Energy Efficiency Deployment Office (EEDO) is still compiling its evidence base, since its formation earlier this year, and will publish its recommendations in the autumn.

The key challenges, he said, were how to drive innovation to cut costs of both manufacturing and installation, and how to speed up installation.

Thinking up ways of getting the public onside and engendering behaviour change to make it the social norm for people to save energy, is also part of EEDO's work.

Hutchings said that he regarded it as an early success that the UK had played its part in the negotiation of the Energy Efficiency Directive.

This deal, struck in June, was formally adopted by the European Parliament yesterday in Brussels. It clears the way for the Directive to enter force by the end of October, and sets a voluntary 20% energy saving target for the whole of Europe.

However, earlier this month, Greg Barker cast doubt on whether the UK had really signed up to a 20% target, when he responded to a Parliamentary question from Zac Goldsmith by saying that the target “applies to the European Union as a whole. The UK does not currently have a target to reduce primary energy consumption by 20% by 2020 relative to business as usual.

"Under article 3 of the Energy Efficiency Directive, the UK is required notify the European Commission of its indicative target for final energy consumption in 2020 by 30 April 2013."

EEDO will play its part in overlooking the implementation of the Directive, Hutchings said.

The Coalition for Energy Savings believes that the Directive is only a first step towards making energy efficiency the prime consideration for European energy policy. It believes it can secure at least 15% energy savings by 2020, up from the currently projected 10%.

“It is the first time that the EU has established binding annual energy savings targets, combined with a broad range of new energy efficiency improvement requirements covering the whole energy system, from energy generation and distribution to consumption and building renovation," said Stefan Scheuer, Secretary General of the Coalition for Energy Savings.

Speaking for BIS, Chris Pook said that the department had signed up to the carbon budgets set by the Committee on Climate Change. "It aims underpin our policies, but determining those policies is complex," he admitted. “Electricity market reform, the Green Deal, and the carbon price floor, are all problematic."

The division in Government over energy policy is even more apparent since the Cabinet reshuffle, with Vince Cable's speech on his industrial strategy yesterday overshadowed by calls from business leaders to get the rest of the Cabinet on his side, if he wants it to be a success.

At this week's Energy Event, energy-intensive users expressed delight at the recent ministerial appointments. Andrew Bainbridge, Chairman of the Major Energy Users’ Council, said that at last they might "see some sense" in government energy policy. These users are worried that a planned carbon price floor will raise their electricity costs above those of European rivals.

The MEUC is encouraging its members to take on board energy efficiency, however, and launched yesterday the third in a series of workbooks linked to training sessions, called How To Accelerate Your Energy Efficiency Training Programme, written by Dr John Ryan.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Is promoting shale gas the real reason for Owen Paterson's appointment?

David Cameron appointed several new ministers last week who are suspected of being weak on climate change and green issues. These appointments demonstrate that anxieties from those on the right of the Tory party about losing seats at the next election take precedence in his mind over his previously stated aim of creating “the greenest government ever".

The appointments came in a week which saw stalemate amongst political leaders at U.N. talks on tackling climate change, that could secure us on the road to at least a 3°C rise in average temperatures, disastrous consequences.

This indicates once again that politicians are unable to take the radical action required of them when faced by a threat of this magnitude, but which operates over a longer term than the next election.

We are seeing a similar paralysis in American politics, although President Obama's announcement this week of strong support for combined heat and power, or cogeneration, is a step very much in the right direction. This alone could save as many greenhouse gas emissions by means of energy efficiency as the whole of Europe's solar electric installations put together: a staggering 40 GW.

The position of politicians is all the more startling when contrasted with the attitude of business. As we also reported this week, the cleantech sector is facing growth and prospects far above that expected by business on average around the world.

We also know that this sector accounts for one third of the growth occurring in this country.

And yet our Chancellor, since taking office, has not met with one single representative of this sector, whilst seeing many times representatives from Shell and other fossil fuel-extracting companies.

This is an ideological position completely at odds with the evidence.

It is a position apparently held by the Owen Paterson, the new Secretary of State for the Environment at Defra. When asked by a certain newspaper this week whether he was a climate change sceptic or not, he issued the following statement:

"Defra is responsible for a range of issues affecting the environment and the rural economy. One of these issues is the impact of climate change and the Secretary of State is committed to exploring and developing the response required by Government, business and communities."

Shale gas

It has been documented that this man is against regulation and wind farms as "clearly a massive waste of consumers' money". He has also, according to the Conservative Blog, asked the Cabinet to "end of all energy subsidies and fast-track the exploitation of shale gas".

As we reported on Friday, a major new report, the most thorough yet, of the dangers of shale gas extraction and of the regulations covering it, called for far more regulation and research. It documents eight high risks, and observes that fugitive greenhouse gas emissions from 'fracking' can cause the technology to be more harmful than coal extraction.

In this country, the technology is regulated by the Environment Agency. The man now in charge of this Agency is Owen Paterson. He is both in favour of shale gas and against regulation.

The question is, will he therefore act to lighten regulations to permit fracking to go ahead in the UK?

Laura Sandys, Tory MP for South Thanet, has complained that "Planning applications for shale gas, which I have had in my area, make onshore wind farms look like a walk in the park".

So is to make it easier to exploit the UK's shale gas reserves why Owen Paterson was appointed to post?

Regarding shale gas, Owen Paterson is not alone. This week in Parliament, Tim Yeo, head of the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change, argued in favour also of “exploiting our shale gas reserves". The Committee has already argued in favour of it.

John Hayes

At least the new Minister replacing Charles Hendry at the Department for Energy and Climate Change, John Hayes, recognises the importance of climate change.

He admitted this week that he is on “a steep learning curve" and catching up by reading the Select Committee's reports, but stated in Parliament that "the Climate Change Act 2008 committed the UK to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050. European legislation commits the UK to producing 20% of its energy from renewables. Those are most ambitious goals."

Sensibly, he spoke of the need to provide certainty to those in, or considering investing in, the cleantech sector. This is hugely encouraging.

He also spoke about reducing demand for energy, another encouraging sign. He promised that his department's Energy Efficiency Deployment Office will publish the Government’s energy efficiency strategy before the end of the year.

Owen Paterson's department is also responsible for waste. I wouldn't be surprised if we will also see the fast tracking of permits for more energy-from-waste incinerators, overriding the concerns of those living near to them.

The fact remains that whoever is in a ministerial position, the Government is committed to the requirements of the Climate Change Act. It is also committed to the agreements made at the beginning of the Coalition. Whatever the beliefs of individual ministers, they have, one hopes, to adhere to this.

Ideology is the enemy of the environment, as we see with the Republican Party in America at the moment. Scientific evidence, and the evidence of the financial benefits of working in the cleantech sector, are its friends.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Shale gas fracking needs tighter regulation - EU

Protest against fracking by Cuadrilla in Lancashire, UK, in 2011.
Protest against fracking by Cuadrilla in Lancashire, UK, in 2011.

A new report for the European Union warns that tough new regulations are required for the shale gas industry because of the high risk it poses to human health and the environment.

The study, 'Impacts of shale gas and shale oil extraction on the environment and human health', the most comprehensive analysis yet of the shale gas sector, says that drilling for shale gas poses a “high risks", worse than those posed by other fossil fuels.

Water contamination

Amongst these is water contamination caused by the hydraulic fracturing of rocks to obtain the gas, known as ‘fracking’. The report warns that no fracking should be allowed in areas where water is being used to drinking purposes.

Seven other risks are highlighted, including contamination and depletion of ground and surface water, degradation of biodiversity, land, air quality and the danger of earthquakes.

It also speculates as to whether the use of toxic chemicals for injection should be banned in general. At least, it says, “all chemicals to be used should be disclosed publicly, the number of allowed chemicals should be restricted, and their use should be monitored".

It notes that fracturing fluids contain heavy metals and radioactive materials, and that in the United States many accidents have happened which have harmed the environment and human health. There, recorded violations of legal regulations amount to up to 2% all drilling permits, a very high level.

There has been groundwater contamination by methane and potassium fluoride, leading to salinisation of drinking water in the vicinity of wells.

There also needs to be better monitoring of shale gas extraction and “a thorough cost/benefit analysis" as part of a life cycle analysis, to assess the overall benefits for society and its citizens.

All of this is because the technology is novel and the consequences heavily dependent upon particularities of the local geology in each case. This makes regulation a complex issue.

Impact on climate change

So-called ‘fugitive’ methane emissions from hydraulic fracturing, where the gas escapes into the rock and water as part of the extraction process, later to be released into the atmosphere, can also be high and have a huge impact on the greenhouse gas balance.

There have been no studies done yet on methane intrusion into aquifers and in different instances these emissions might vary by up to "a factor of ten", the report notes.

This means that emissions of greenhouse gases from shale gas extraction, relative to its energy content, can be either “as low as those of conventional gas transported over long distances, or as high as those of hard coal over the entire life cycle from extraction to combustion", the report observes.

It concludes that "the present privileges of oil and gas exploration and extraction should be reassessed in view of the fact that the environmental risks and burdens are not compensated for by a corresponding potential benefit as the specific gas production is very low."

Earlier this year, Fatih Birol, the IEA’s chief economist, warned that any energy strategy involving shale gas would be 'not the optimum path' for the environment or climate change.


Germany is already considering tighter regulation of fracking that occurs near water reservoirs and set to require developers to conduct environmental impact studies, according to a new report commissioned by the German Environment Ministry.

The EU study is one of five due to be released today, and identifies loopholes, gaps, scientific uncertainties and regulatory gaps in current EU regulation relevant to the industry.

As an example, the Urban Waste Water Directive does not allow the injection of pollutants into groundwater reserves. The authors of the report observe that this is likely to occur in shale wells.

Fracking could also fall foul of the Mining Waste Directive, which covers ‘flowback fluids’, or liquid containing toxic chemicals that flow into geological strata and could reach the surface. These are an inevitable part of the fracking process.

The new EU study recommends that environmental impact assessments should be made mandatory for proposed shale gas operations. As it stands, the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive does not cover this new sector, and only applies to facilities which extract over 500,000 cubic metres of gas per day, well over what shale wells produce.

Back in May, the new Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, told the Cabinet that it should fast-track shale gas exploitation. He is also in favour of deregulation.

The next step is for an expert forum to address this question in December, ahead of consideration by the European Parliament.

Another report being prepared for the European Parliament and due to be published later this month, also reportedly recommends “a thorough analysis of the EU regulatory framework regarding specifically UFF [unconventional fossil fuels] exploration and exploitation”, and calls on the Commission “to propose, as soon as possible … appropriate measures, including legislative [ones], if necessary”.

Fierce lobbying is said to be going on behind the scenes over the exact wording of this report.

MEP Claude Turmes, vice-chair of the Green Party in the European Parliament, said that, “without any new legislation, there is no adequate framework to protect citizens and the environment from shale gas. We need the European Commission to work on this."

A further report prepared by the industry committee earlier this summer also agrees that large-scale shale gas extraction “may require a comprehensive adaptation of all the EU's relevant existing legislation".

Next steps

The European Commission now needs to decide on its position on this new source of energy. It can either prepare a new directive that covers, amend all existing legislation, this particular industry or offer “soft guidance", the least preferred option by environmentalists, although the one preferred by the Energy Directorate.

The Environment and Climate Directorates believe that more strict action needs to be taken, especially since the industry is prohibited in countries such as France and has been linked to earthquakes.

Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, the Liberal vice-chair of the European Parliament’s environment committee, said, “There are a lot of potential dangers to water, the environment and biodiversity that we seriously have to look into. I don’t believe at this moment that a single directive for shale gas is the right approach."

Antoine Simon, shale gas campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe said: “This report silences industry rhetoric - shale gas is undeniably a high-risk activity. It threatens the health of local communities, and the environment, while locking Europe into fossil fuel dependency. These risks are a clear sign that a moratorium on this toxic technology in Europe should be a priority for decision makers.”

Yesterday, the South African government lifted a moratorium on fracking for shale gas in the country's semi-arid Karoo region, which contains gas reserves being investigated by energy company Royal Dutch Shell and petrochemical group Sasol.

A report published earlier this year by Policy Exchange in the UK, Gas Works? Shale gas and its policy implications also called for effective regulation.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Cleantech sector expects greater profits in next 12 months

Cleantech sector

Leaders of cleantech firms around the world are more optimistic than their counterparts in other sectors, a new survey has found.

A survey by Grant Thornton, published on Monday, of business leaders' attitude in the sector, finds the sector expects to continue rapidly expanding, despite the world's pervading economic uncertainties.

It finds that 68% of cleantech businesses expect revenues to increase over the next 12 months. This compares with 52% of businesses in general feeling the same way.

The International Business Report also finds that 62% in the cleantech sector expect profit to rise over the next 12 months, compared to just 38% of businesses in general.

Furthermore, these business leaders appear to be investing in the long-term growth of their businesses.

52% say they will increase research and development spending over the next year. 51% plan to invest more in plant and machinery. Both of these figures are well above the global averages for business in general.

The reason for that optimism is not hard to find. It is because the sector has already been expanding rapidly over recent years: by 31% per year in 2009 and 2010.

Although this rate of growth slowed to 10% in 2011, this is still well above average GDP growth rates.

Even in the United States, the sector expanded by 17% between 2010 and 2011, to $46.3 billion, while China experienced a rise of 77% between 2008 and 2011. The sector there is now worth over $72 billion.

Nathan Goode, global leader of cleantech at Grant Thornton, commented: “The cleantech sector continues to demonstrate remarkable rates of growth.

"Global economic uncertainty is weighing on short-term business growth prospects but the data suggests that dynamic businesses in the cleantech sector are willing to invest in bold growth plans to boost competitiveness."

Constraints on expansion

Regulations and red tape are cited by business leaders in the sector as being the major constraint on expansion. This was mentioned by 41% of respondents, compared to the all-sector average of 34%.

The second constraint is a shortage of skilled workers, mentioned by a further 38%, 10 percentage points above the all-sector average.

This is affecting pay levels in the sector: 79% of businesses are offering workers pay rise over the next 12 months, compared with only 68% of businesses in general.

“Demand for cleantech products and services is fairly robust. China, the United States and Europe account today for around 50% of total global output, but their share of cleantech output is nearer to 75% so we would expect them to drive future innovation and growth," said Nathan.

He added that this is still a relatively young sector, “so it's not surprising to see innovation outgrowing talent. However, with unemployment rates high, rapid growth in the sector clearly offers an opportunity for economies to boost employment and output."

He cited South Korea as an example of how policies the government has put in place are encouraging our R&D and manufacturing industries. There, there are incentives and targets for energy efficiency and renewable energy to attract investment.

Bangkok U.N. climate talks make little progress. World headed for 3°C rise.

climate protesters at Bangkok United Nations talks
 Protesters in Bangkok outside the UN climate talks.

The U.N. climate talks featuring delegates from 190 nations, that have been ongoing for the last week in Bangkok, Thailand, and which conclude today, have produced few concrete results.

The talks were happening against a backdrop of record Arctic ice melt, recent flooding in the Philippines, Asam and other areas, recent drought in the US, and an ongoing food crisis in the Sahel.

Last December at the Durban COP talks, the world's nations agreed that they would sign a legally-binding pact to cut emissions and help developing nations adapt to climate change, from 2020. Part of this agreement included a promise to deepen existing promises to cut emissions by the end of the decade.

However, after one week of talks in Thailand, not a single country has made a fresh commitment, and US negotiators stunned delegates by calling for any new treaty to be ‘flexible’ and ‘dynamic’ rather than legally binding, representing a complete U-turn on its previous position.

In response, 130 developing countries sought to put pressure on developed countries by threatening to deny them access to Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) credits, which developed countries use to offset their emissions by financing projects in the poor ones.

But this tactic could backfire, as Takehiro Kano, a senior climate negotiator with Japan, said that if they went ahead, Japan's response might just be to lower its voluntary target of cutting emissions 25% below 1990 levels by 2020, and Justin Lee, Australia's climate change ambassador, retorted that the Australian government would anyway "take international action that best supports Australia's domestic initiatives".

The United States and other developed countries blamed the global economic crisis for the lack of funds that they are able to make available to combat climate change. In a reaction to this, developing countries earlier tried to play down requests for finance and technology commitments, in favour of greater efforts by developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

But this created yet another deadlock, as Japan, Canada and Russia, which refused to sign up to an extension to the Kyoto Protocol as last December's climate summit, dug their heels in and refused to rejoin the process. The European Union argues that it cannot afford to up its reduction targets, and the United States is in an election year, which paralyses its ability to act.

This has led one observer, Sanjay Vashist, director of Climate Action Network South Asia, to comment that, "the existing deadlock on taking up ambitious climate action will only delay the necessary adaptation finance to vulnerable countries."

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN’s climate secretariat, Was putting a brave face on it. “Government negotiators have pushed forward key issues further than many had expected and raised the prospects for a next successful step in Doha," she said.

This leaves many political decisions that will have to be taken at this next meeting in Qatar.

With the present level of commitments to reduce emissions, the world is still on for at least a 3°C temperature rise, which would have catastrophic repercussions.

Rich nations failing to cut emissions

At the summit, the U.N. released a report showing that several rich nations will not even meet their existing pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the decade, made at Copenhagen in 2009.

These nations include Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, South Korea and the US.

The report, from the UN Environment Program, adds that even if all nations do meet their existing pledges, emissions of greenhouse gases will still reach between 50 and 55 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, that is 11 billion tonnes, or 20%, more than what is needed to try to keep temperature increases below 2°C.

“It's still possible to meet a 2°C pathway, if there is sufficient political will," commented Niklas Hoehne, and author of the report on Tuesday. "We’re not facing a participation gap here – it’s an ambition gap.”

Meanwhile, developed countries want the industrialised developing countries such as India, China and Brazil, to take more responsibility for cutting their emissions.

They say that if this was resolved, it would allow the issues of technology, finance, intellectual property lies and emissions from aviation and shipping, which are stymied, to be set aside while the responsibilities of the emerging economies are increased in the short and long-term and the rich countries take stronger action after 2020.

But this is unlikely to happen without further commitments from developed countries. Depressingly, it seems the stalemate continues.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Japanese consortium to invest £962 million in offshore wind power

wind lens turbines
 This new wind turbine design could soon be seen off the coast of Japan. It is up to 3 times more efficient than conventional designs.

As Japan abandons nuclear power, Toshiba, Hitachi and other partners have set up a consortium to invest £962 million in offshore wind power.

Toshiba Corp, Hitachi Zosen Corp, JFE Steel Corp, Sumitomo Electric Industries Ltd, Toa Corp and Toyo Construction Co. Ltd. together plan to invest 120 billion yen (£962 million) over ten years.

Japan faces a bill of at least 50 trillion yen (£401 billion) to install sufficient renewable energy infrastructure by 2030 if it decides to completely phase out nuclear power, the Japanese government estimated on Tuesday.

Potential sites for the wind farms are off the coast of the Kyushu region in southern Japan, where they could generate around 300 MW.

Pilot installations with a capacity of 7.5 MW will be constructed first, by 2016. The rest will be erected over the remaining six years.

The firms will raise the investment funds by setting up a special-purpose company and project financing.

Japan hopes to begin building commercial offshore wind farms, copying countries in Europe, especially Britain, following the post-Fukushima government decision to reduce reliance on nuclear power in favour of natural gas and renewable energy.

Its environment ministry has estimated the country can eventually build 1,600 gigawatts of offshore wind power capacity.

Currently, Japanese utilities are obliged to buy solar and wind powered electricity from generators at an especially generous feed-in tariff: 23.1 yen per kilowatt-hour for 20 years, almost double the market rate for industrial users.

New design

Japan's geography doesn't lend itself to onshore wind farms.

There is speculation that the new wind farms may use exciting new wind turbine designs, such as the one illustrated above, which has been undergoing field tests at Kyushu University.

Its designers estimate that it could generate two or even three times more energy than existing turbines. They call it a ‘wind lens’, and it aims to solve two problems faced by existing wind turbines: noise and inefficiency.

Their design includes an inward curving green around the perimeter of the turbine blafes, which increases by a factor of up to three the speed of the air blowing through the blade zones. It also serves as a safety improvement and reduces noise levels.

The team at the University has also designed a hexagonal-shaped base for the turbines, that is comparatively cheap but still strong enough to endure marine conditions. This design makes it easier to link turbines together and enlarge the wind farm.

Currently, wind power accounts for less than 1% of all energy produced in Japan.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Wind power myths blown away by new report

London Array offshore windfarm under construction
The London Array offshore windfarm under construction

Wind energy avoided at least 5.5 million tonnes of CO2 emissions in the UK last year and is making a meaningful contribution to cutting the country’s greenhouse gas output, according to a new report that counters claims by objectors that wind turbines are costly and inefficient.

The report, Beyond the Bluster, , from the think tank IPPRor Institute of Public Policy Research , concludes "unequivocally that wind power can significantly reduce carbon emissions, is reliable, poses no threat to energy security, and is technically capable of providing a significant proportion of the UK’s electricity supply with minimal impact on the existing operation of the grid".

Unfounded claims about wind power were recently made in a letter to the Prime Minister by a group of more than 100 MPs, who described the technology as inefficient and less reliable than other types of energy production.

It adds that while "it is right that the costs of government support for wind power and other low-carbon technologies are scrutinised, it is important to recognise that recent increases in energy bills are far less the result of subsidies for renewable power than they are due to rises in the wholesale cost of gas".

It notes that from 2004 to 2010, government support for renewables added £30 to the average energy bill, while rises in the wholesale cost of gas added £290.

Amongst the conclusions are that "it is inaccurate to describe the output from wind power as ‘unpredictable’," because “in the short term, wind power output is remarkably stable and increases and decreases only very slowly".

It also says that the risks associated with ‘long, cold, calm spells’ have been overstated. It will be possible to ‘keep the lights on’ given the level of wind power projected in this country by 2020.

The addition of a certain amount of wind power does not mean expensive upgrade to the edge electricity distribution system, either, contrary to some reports. National Grid has reported that up to 30GW of wind power can be accommodated even if no changes are made to the way that the electricity system functions.

And in the longer term, there are numerous technological options to facilitate much greater amounts of wind power, such as improved interconnection with other countries and intelligent management of supply and demand through a ‘smart grid’.

The IPPR model demonstrates that every megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity produced by wind power in Great Britain results in a minimum CO2 saving of around 350kg. On this basis, carbon dioxide emission savings from wind energy were at least 5.5 million tonnes in Great Britain in 2011, or around 2.5% of the emissions the UK is legally obliged to save annually from 2008 to 2012, as required by the Climate Change Act 2008.

The report's authors describe the government's recent approach to wind power as “worrying", because it is causing lack of certainty amongst investors and developers.

On intermittency, it says that, despite a prolonged period where wind production averaged less than 15% of wind capacity over a period of 14 days, from around 9–23 February 2010, in this case in Ireland, where there is far greater wind generation as a proportion of total generation than the current UK system, this did not impair the ability of the electricity system to provide secure and reliable energy supplies.

However, although the UK grid currently has sufficient fossil-fuel generation in reserve to meet this requirement during a cold, calm spell, should 20% of all grid electricity be supplied from wind, as expected in 2020, additional conventional reserves will need to be in place then, unless interconnection capacity with other countries and/or electrical storage technology improves.

To produce the report, IPPR worked with GL Garrad Hassan, a renewable energy consultancy, and the findings were reviewed by "a leading academic”.

Emissions from coal burning are rising. The Energy Bill must stop this.

Electricity Market Reform must address the continuing problem that the poor price of carbon is incentivising the burning of coal to generate electricity.

More bad news: burning coal to generate electricity in the UK increased by over a third in the first half of 2012, compared with a year earlier, as doing so became more profitable.

This has caused analysts at Thomson Reuters Point Carbon to forecast that the country's greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector will hit 158.7 million tonnes in 2012, up a staggering 14% on the previous year.

The news comes in figures released last Thursday by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, which show that coal-fired plants produced 67.2 terawatt-hours (TWh), compared to 49.56 TWh the year before in the same period.

This trend was helped by a drop of 50% in the price of carbon permits over the year, which meant that it became, and continues to be at times, cheaper to burn coal than gas. Coal is more than twice polluting as natural gas in greenhouse gas emission terms.

At the same time, the output of nuclear power fell by 5%, or 2.6TWh, due partly to the retirement of plants at Oldbury and Wylfa, Anglesey.

On the positive side, output from renewable sources increased over this period, with wind power rising 28.3% to 7.17TWh.

Even so, the whole of the UK's energy sector emitted 139.8 million tonnes of CO2 in 2011, according to EU data, causing it to leap 28 million tonnes above its permitted cap in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, which translates to the expensive purchase of emission credits.

The high profitability of coal means the UK is becoming more reliant on the dirtiest form of energy production, a trend that has been ongoing for the last few years, as I have warned before, both last December and in June this year.

The UK's greenhouse gas emissions increased in 2010 by 3.5%, more than double the 1.3% growth in the economy, and the previous years' statistics also show an increase in net carbon dioxide emissions of 3.8%.

Coal use hasn't been this high since the winter of 2007, and is attractive to generators due to the record low CO2 prices in the EU-ETS, which now stand at €7.65. These are prices which the European Commission seems unable to do anything about.

Hopes this week, that a linkup with the Australian carbon market would boost prices, were short lived.

U.N.-issued CERs also fell, even further, to a new record low of €2.5 last week, after a U.N. website showed that chemical companies were issued with almost 4 million offsets for destroying the potent greenhouse HFC 23, confounding expectations that the credits wouldn't be released for at least another few weeks.

Clearly the carbon market is failing abjectly, and having the opposite effect to what was intended.

If the European Commission and the United Nations cannot do anything about this, then there is a chance for the British government to show leadership, through its reform of the electricity market, the details of which are currently being finalised.

The bottom line is that the price of polluting must be higher than the price of buying renewable energy. This is the only way to reverse this trend.

If the combined weight of the Carbon Reduction Commitment and the European Emissions Trading Scheme is still failing to have the desired effect, the Energy Bill must rectify this.

As it stands, text of the draft Bill actually removes the obligation on the part of utilities to purchase renewable energy. This obligation must be kept.

Secondly, the Feed-in Tariffs with Contract for Difference (CfD) must be weighted so that the system rewards the purchase of renewable energy, and the carbon price floor should be set so that the relative cost of purchasing the most polluting forms of energy, i.e. coal, is always significantly more expensive.

This is more or less what was recommended by the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change, in July, when it sent the Government's plans back to the drawing board.

The Treasury should welcome such a move, since taxing coal-generation would raise further finance which could be directed into subsidising new renewable generation infrastructure, or paying off government debt.

The move would also guarantee that the country's emissions fall within those permitted by the Emissions Trading Scheme and that the UK remains on course to meet its 2020 reduction targets.

The International Energy Agency warned earlier this year that we are in the last moments in history for us to take action to avoid heading towards a 5°C increase in average global temperature and the most catastrophic of those scenarios predicted by the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) report.

In the last two weeks we have heard warnings from other impeccable sources. Richard C.J. Somerville, Distinguished Professor Emeritus and Research Professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography issued his warning last week, saying that "if the world as a whole continues to procrastinate throughout the current decade, allowing emissions to continue to increase year after year, then it will almost certainly have lost the opportunity to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius."

But Defra's scientific adviser, Prof. Sir Bob Watson, a former chair of the IPCC, went even further on 23 August by saying that any hope of restricting the average temperature rise to 2°C was already "out the window".

"If we carry on the way we are there is a 50-50 chance that we will get to a three-degree rise," he said, and he called upon the Chancellor, George Osborne, to reconsider his opposition to tough measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. He said that we should instead “demonstrate to the rest of the world that we can make significant progress here".

“We need more political will that we currently have," he concluded.

Well, Coalition Government, as you put the final touches to the Energy Bill, there is still time for you to demonstrate that leadership.