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Undersea energy storage

By Dave Elliott

In my previous post, I looked at airborne wind power devices, which some see as a big new energy option. One major attraction is that tapping the high speed jet streams offers access to a much more continuous and reliable energy flow than using surface level winds. It means that the problems of intermittency can be resolved without having to resort to energy storage or complex grid balancing systems. But if ‘flying wind turbines’  sound too much like ‘Blue Sky’ thinking, then, coming down to earth, or rather under the sea, there are some new large-scale storage ideas, although they too are quite exotic. They involve giant underwater compressed air storage systems.

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IPCC working group III – media coverage round-up

by Liz Kalaugher

Yesterday saw the release of the third installment of the IPCC’s fifth assessment report – working group III’s summary for policymakers of its report on climate change mitigation. As usual, the event attracted much media attention, even before the official release date as leaked copies emerged.

One key message from working group III was the need for a tripling to quadrupling of low-carbon energy.

Not surprisingly, numerous outlets focused on the costs of such mitigation, which are, as reported by the Guardian, “eminently affordable”. The IPCC found that mitigation could reduce the expected annual economic growth rates of 1.3%-3% by 0.06%.

“People are not going to have to sacrifice their aspirations about improved standards of living,” Jim Skea of Imperial College London and a co-chair of the working group III team told the Guardian. “It is not a hair shirt change of lifestyle at all that is being envisaged and there is space for poorer countries to develop too.”

As ever with bills, the question of who pays is crucial. Investment in renewables and other low carbon sources needs to at least treble by the middle of the century, while money flowing into fossil fuels has to diminish, the BBC reported, adding that developed and developing countries have clashed in Berlin over who should make emisisons cuts and who should pay for the switch to low carbon energy, in an echo of the divisions found in UN negotations.

One of the surprising endorsements in the report is natural gas, according to the BBC. Science editor David Shukman said environmentalists will not like one suggestion that many governments will welcome as pragmatic: that gas could replace coal as a “bridging technology” to reduce emissions over the next few decades.

Nuclear power and carbon capture and storage technology received more of a mixed reception from the IPCC. Indeed, one (external) expert considered that bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS) may be a “Cinderella” technology. “I don’t know which fairytale figure it is, it may be Cinderella, or Sleeping Beauty,” Henrik Karlsson from Swedish company Biorecro told the BBC.

Cities could also be part of the solution. “Smart choices in urban planning and investment in public transport could help significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions, especially in developing countries,” reports the Guardian.

The Independent praised the IPCC’s summary for its “tidy form” at just 33 pages, and its inclusion of “snippets of encouraging news that may shake us from our fatalistic slumbers”.

If you’d like to get the message directly, you can watch video statements from a selection of the Working Group III co-chairs and lead-authors.

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IPCC – Mitigation in transportation: tough challenge but considerable opportunities in cities

by Felix Creutzig

Here, I report on key messages emerging from the IPCC’s report that go beyond the general messages of the Summary for Policymakers. I start with the transportation chapter, my home turf.

The key overall message is that mitigation in the transport sector is a tough challenge but that considerable opportunities are emerging, especially when we start looking outside the box, or more specifically: outside the “technology” box.

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Flights of fancy: airborne wind turbines

By Dave Elliott

Airborne wind turbines are now being considered as a serious new energy supply option. “Flying-wind” technology is still of course only at development stage, with various kite and aerofoil wing designs being tested. However, the resource is very large and the US government has indicated interests. A US Lawrence Livermore Lab study noted that there was around four times more power available in high altitude winds than in ground level flows- in all around 1600TW globally. Continue reading

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Innovation: helping to sustain green growth

By Dave Elliott

Total global investment in clean energy fell 9% in 2013 to $254bn, following a 9% drop in 2012, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Some of this was due to the reduced costs of PV solar, and some to erratic government support. However, in the wake of the global recession, the growth of renewables does seem under some stress, with the EU’s proposal to abandon mandatory national renewable energy targets (see my last post) being another recent unwelcome development. Can the emergence of new technologies and techniques help rebuild momentum? Continue reading

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Do the math – no, the U.S. can’t punish Putin by exporting oil and gas

Since Russia has taken over the Crimea region of Ukraine, there have been several news articles written regarding the supposed ability of the United States (U.S.) to use our oil and/or natural gas as some sort of geopolitical weapon.  This weapon would somehow hurt Vladimir Putin (not Russian citizens) and probably help the Europeans and Ukrainians that buy natural gas from Russia. I link here a recent Bloomberg article (March 25, 2014) that is an example of an article that does not ask the most relevant questions on this topic. By not asking relevant questions and not using relevant data, the public is not being properly informed.

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IPCC Working Group II: media coverage round-up

by Liz Kalaugher

The IPCC juggernaut continues to roll: the early hours of Monday morning (for those based in Europe) saw the release of Working Group II’s contribution to the fifth assessment report – on climate impacts, adaptation and vulnerability.

Yet again, it’s a mammoth task; 309 authors from 70 countries created the report, receiving 50,492 review comments in the process. Not surprisingly, there’s been extensive media coverage, with different outlets focusing on different aspects of the report. Continue reading

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Euro Commission off target

By Dave Elliott

The European Commission (EC) has been negotiating new EU energy and climate targets for post-2020. There was a lot of lobbying. The UK, along with the Czech Republic, was strongly opposed to the EU setting a new renewable energy target for 2030, favouring an overall 50% by 2030 reduction target for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions instead. That it said would leave it up to each country to decide on how to achieve it optimally.

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Green energy for Africa

By Dave Elliott

The International Renewable Energy Agency says that Africa has the potential and the ability to utilise its renewable resources to fuel the majority of its future growth with renewable energy. It adds ‘doing so would be economically competitive with other solutions, would unlock economies of scale, and would offer substantial benefits in terms of equitable development, local value creation, energy security, and environmental sustainability’.

That seems a bold claim both technologically and economically, and also politically. But the renewable resource is very large (for solar especially) and the technologies are getting cheaper fast. However, with 54 very unevenly developed countries on the huge continent, whether the political and institutional cohesion is there for a co-ordinate push is  less certain. Continue reading

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Smart meters and smart grids

By Dave Elliott

The newly emerging energy system will need new grids of various types. In my previous two posts I looked at international low-loss High Voltage Direct Current supergrids, and suggested that though they may well be developed in the years ahead, the process could be uneven and incremental, starting with local/national smart grids designed to aid local balancing of variable supply and demand. Continue reading

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