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Ditch climate arguments: they won’t help nuclear revive

By Dave Elliott

Steve Kidd, one time leading nuclear lobbyist with the World Nuclear Association, has had a rethink and left the WNA. In an article in Nuclear Engineering International he says ‘we have seen no nuclear renaissance’ and he outlines his new view- which is that the nuclear industry is in trouble and should stop using climate change arguments in its lobbying. Continue reading

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Just how big is an XL pipeline?

Today we have a lot of options for sizing our purchases. Small, medium, large, extra large, venti, grande, nano, and the list goes on.  These qualitative words are relative to cultures and languages across the world.   For instance, if I order a shirt from an American clothing brand, I might wear a small or medium depending upon the fit.  However, if I travel to China and my luggage is lost by the airline, I would have to buy replacement garments at XL, XXL, or maybe even XXXL to actually be the same absolute size as my normal S or M.  One label does not describe the same fit.

But I primarily concern myself with energy, not fashion (those who know me are chuckling).  Considering the topic of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to be built by TransCanada, just how “extra large”, or XL, is it?  In analyzing this question, most analyses focus so much on the small question of the relative impact of the pipeline that they miss the extra large picture: more pipelines mean more shipping options, more options provide (possibly) cheaper options, and cheaper options enable more consumption.  In short, more begets more, not less.

One of the major concerns regarding Keystone XL is whether or not it enables the world to produce and consume Canadian oil sands to such a degree as it undermines climate mitigation on the global scale. Usually economic and life cycle analyses come up with conclusions that GHG emissions changes related to Keystone XL will have little to no material impact on GHG emissions when considering alternative oil supplies (e.g., from Venezuela, as if somehow we can predict that economy) and transport options (e.g., other pipelines and rail).  For proponents, Keystone XL is somehow a GHG rounding error.  Using this logic, every oil well in the world is such a “small rounding error” that each one has no discernible impact on GHG emissions.  Yet somehow, if we add up thousands of indiscernible quantities of oil production and GHG emissions, we get quantities that are much greater than zero (If the Canadian government didn’t think oil sands production had a material impact on GHG emissions, perhaps they would have stayed part of the Kyoto Protocol). The same goes for population: somehow couple by couple we reached over 7 billion of us on the planet even though each couple produced a “rounding error” in terms of a number of children.

More shipping options for oil from the oil sands means just that: more shipping options and more shipping capacity.  See Maximillian Aufhammer’s discussion of the various proposed pipelines for oil sands for a good back-of-the-envelope quantitative discussion.  Four options for shipping oil sands is cheaper (and more) or at worst equal in price to only three of the options.  The same logic holds for three instead of two or two instead of one.  Aside from the pure cost of each shipping option, each has to compete with each other, again lowering the price of shipping.  It is possible that the Keystone XL as the next additional shipping option would be the cheapest option to get oil sands to refineries. If that is the case, then the worldwide marginal price of refined petroleum products would possibly decline. And if this price declines then people will be able to afford to produce and consume more, not less, petroleum as well as other goods and services.   TransCanada understands this concept, as the website keystone-xl.com states “… the Keystone XL Pipeline will also support the significant growth of crude oil production …”.

This increase in consumption due to lower cost is due to the rebound effect, or Jevons Paradox.  The Paradox is difficult to measure and model, especially in today’s globalized world.  Small-scoped and short term analyses, like most of those employed in Keystone XL political battles, simply can’t pick up the concept, yet its effect is clearly shown in the long-run data. The world has continually become more efficient, and so far we humans have continually consumed more energy resources and at an increasing rate due to more people and consumption.

Thus, Keystone XL would be one more investment in long line of investments to enable further access to energy resources.  Opponents of the pipeline are correct in stating that it acts against climate mitigation both physically and symbolically.  Anyone claiming that Keystone XL is neutral or insignificant on aggregate GHG emissions is myopically deluding themselves.  Preventing Keystone XL or any other oil sands transport option decreases GHG over the long-run by reducing the number of shipping options from one of the world’s largest fossil resource areas, and thus raising oil prices to some degree.  In almost no instances does a single person have sole authority over a GHG prevention option as does President Obama on denying the northern leg of Keystone XL (from Canada to the U.S.). If the President actually believes in reducing GHG emissions, he has no choice but to prevent construction of Keystone XL.

So just how big is Keystone XL?  Is it XL or is it small? It’s big enough for activists to rally around yet possibly too small for an economist to notice. It’s small enough to finance for TransCanada, yet too big to hide.  Perhaps the Keystone XL debates have taught pipeline companies they must find Goldilocks so they can ask her about the appropriate size that is “just right”: not so small that they can’t make a profit due to high costs and not so large that they can’t even get it approved.  My prediction, no company will again call their next oil pipeline “XL”.

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PV solar in Germany

By Dave Elliott

PV solar continues its spectacular price reduction and that’s led to large-scale deployment, as in Germany, which now has around 36GW in place, and globally, with around 180 GW. PV was initially expensive, but prices are now much lower, thanks in part to Feed In Tariff systems around the EU, as under the EEG law in Germany, which has helped create a large market. With FiT levels now cut, will it continue to expand?

Continue reading

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Wind power around the world

By Dave Elliott

Wind power is booming globally, with over 370GW of electricity generation capacity installed so far. It could jump to 2,000 GW, more than five times its current level by 2030, supplying up to 19 % of global electricity, the Global Wind Energy Council says, although that would require ‘unambiguous commitment to renewable energy in line with industry recommendations … [and] the political will to commit to appropriate policies’. Continue reading

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Wind power in the UK- still on the up

By Dave Elliott

Wind energy is doing well in the UK. There were periods last year when the UK’s 11GW of wind plant met up to 15% of power demand, over-taking nuclear, and even briefly achieved 24%: www.carboncommentary.com/2014/10/06/wind-power-exceeds-nuclear-output-for-a-few-minutes/

While there have been no shortage of complaints about the alleged high cost, Cambridge Econometrics has calculated that wind plants saved the UK £579m in fossil fuel imports in 2013: www.camecon.com/Libraries/Downloadable_Files/The_impact_of_wind_energy_on_UK_energy_dependence_and_resilience.sflb.ashx Continue reading

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Down on wave and tidal farms

By Dave Elliott

In my last post I looked at how solar farms were being constrained in the UK. But they are not alone. Marine renewables are also facing problems. Tragically, pioneering wave energy company Pelamis has gone into administration, after failing to secure development funding. And Siemens is to sell off Marine Current Turbines (MCT), the pioneering UK tidal company it look over in 2012, due to the slow pace of orders. Aquamarine Power, who have developed the Oyster inshore wave device, is also to “significantly downsize” its business. Continue reading

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Down on solar farms

By Dave Elliott

Solar, wave and tidal farms represent new ventures, adding to the renewable energy repertoire. But they are facing problems, in terms of finance and government support priorities, as I report in this two-part review of the UK situation, looking first at solar PV.

The good news is that PV solar overall is doing well in the UK, with more than 5GW in place, including roof-mounted arrays on private houses and the first wave of solar farms in fields. DECC says 10GW may be possible by 2020, perhaps even 20GW: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-solar-pv-strategy-part-1-roadmap-to-a-brighter-future  But DECC- and DEFRA -are  less keen on solar farms. Continue reading

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Capacity Market – the first UK auction

By Dave Elliott

In a fully free-market energy supply system there is no direct commercial incentive for generation companies to ensure that the lights stay on long term, by investing in new and/or backup capacity. Given that some old plants are scheduled for closure and more reliance on sometimes variable renewables is planned, the UK government has stepped in to create a new ‘capacity market’ to try to fill the potential gap in terms of reserve capacity and grid balancing capacity. Continue reading

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Nuclear – not the answer to climate change

By Dave Elliott

Although there are exceptions, as I noted in my last post, the UK being one, nuclear power seems to be in decline globally and this has led to what some might see as last ditch attempts to revive its fortunes. One such is the recent Open Letter to environmentalists, originating in Australia and backed by over 70 academics globally, though nearly half from Australia: http://bravenewclimate.com/2014/12/15/an-open-letter-to-environmentalists-on-nuclear-energy/   Continue reading

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New year, new nuclear: Hinkley fallout

A special extended bumper New Year edition

By Dave Elliott

The UK starts 2015 with a big new year headache- the Hinkley nuclear project. It is a huge uncertain project, and it is far from clear, if goes ahead, whether  it will prove to be a wise investment, given the fall in energy costs and the emergence of cheaper renewable alternatives. Continue reading

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