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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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Urban form, public transit and climate change


by Felix Creutzig

Most inhabitants of Hong Kong commute with the subway system, but those living in Houston, US, commute by car. Of course, it is a question of which transport mode is available. Clearly, a dense city like Hong Kong enables the construction of a subway system that is financially viable: many people use it and ridership is high. In contrast, a subway system for the Houston metropolitan area would be pointless, as each ride would be rarely frequented. This has important implications for the GHG emissions from the transport sector.

Felix Creutzig, group leader at the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change in Berlin, has investigated this relationship in a paper just published in Urban Climate. “The results clarify the interaction between population density, modal share and GHG emissions from urban transport,” says Creutzig. “In a transition from a very sprawled city to a city of medium density, all GHG savings come from shorter distance traveled. However, when you cross a certain density threshold, possibly 50persons per hectare, the additional climate mitigation comes from a modal shift from car to public transit and cycling.”

The density of German cities mostly support public transit. “But as an important implication of the research results,” says Creutzig, “additional suburban development should focus on high public transit and bicycle connectivity, supported by sufficiently compact development.”

The study relies on both analytical methods from urban economics and data from world cities. As such, the paper is part of a broader research agenda that aims to utilize urban economics for questions of climate change mitigation, gauging models with real data.

The study can be downloaded on  the journal website of Urban Climate.

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Facts and fiction

By Dave Elliott

Is the truth out there? An extended Xmas Whimsy

It’s usual for there to be a spread of viewpoints on most issues, and it’s always worth looking at a range views, including ‘outlier’ ones! On that, this is fun: www.xonitek.com/press-room/company-news/the-stone-age-didnt-end-because-they-ran-out-of-stones/

However at times you can get weary of obsessive time wasters and yearn for clarity! Sadly that may not be easy to achieve.

Continue reading

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Why the debate over the Fracking Fallacy is a big deal

by Carey King

This post simply links to two posts by Art Berman on the recent controversy about a Nature article (not scientific journal article) discussing how a base scenario from a detailed analysis of the four major shale natural gas plays in the United States shows less gas future gas production than scenarios from the United States Energy Information Administration (EIA).

 

Read the links below and the original article and letters if …

you are interested in the future of energy,

you want to know if the U.S. will become a major natural gas exporter,

 

Art Berman: Friday, December 19, 2014: Nature Responds To EIA and BEG Denial Letters

Art Berman, Sunday, December 21, 2014: Why The Debate Over The Fracking Fallacy Is A Big Deal

 

The short story is …

1. the Bureau of Economic Geology (BEG), a large research unit at The University of Texas at Austin, has performed (still in progress) a detailed study of four major shale natural gas plays in the United States,

2. a reporter wrote a story on this work in Nature, with the interpretation that the production of natural gas from shale will likely not be as much as commonly stated by industry or the U.S. government,

3. the principal investigators of the research, as well as the U.S. EIA, took exception to the portrayal in the Nature article.

Since I work at The University of Texas at Austin, the home to the Bureau of Economic Geology that headed the detailed shale gas basins study, I will refrain from direct comment other than to say that (1) I agree with Art Berman:  it is important that academics, journalists, and the public discuss important findings and assessments regarding energy resources and learn how to have beneficial discussions, and (2) two persons can look at the same graph of numbers and come to two different conclusions as to the implications (given their background knowledge, motivations, and outlook).

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Renewable Impacts

By Dave Elliott

It has been an eventful year for renewables. While progress continues apace, with renewables now supplying around 15% of electricity in the UK and 22% of global electricity, in this pre- Xmas post, rather than spelling out all the good news, I will look at some of the less good stories from the year- concerning wind power and CSP. Continue reading

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AGU Fall Meeting 2014: new underwater vehicle discovers ‘slimeballs’

by Liz Kalaugher

The Arctic can seem like a barren landscape but huge numbers of “slimeballs” are lurking beneath the sea ice. As Antje Boetius of the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research, Germany, explained at an AGU Fall Meeting press conference, she discovered these larvaceans, as they are more correctly known, during a July 2014 test run of the brand new Nereid Under Ice (NUI) remotely operated vehicle. “It was the first time we could see such an abundance of life under the ice,” she said.

The larvaceans, first named because scientists thought they must be the larval stage of a creature that would later become more beautiful, feed on the algae growing beneath the sea-ice. And they’re gelatinous so they look pretty slimy. Copepods and ctenophores (comb jellyfish) were also in evidence, with the jellyfish feeding on the copepods. What’s not clear, according to Boetius, is which animals are feeding on the jellyfish and acting in turn as food for the seals, and ultimately the polar bears, also spotted during the tests.

NUI was ideal for this task because its fibreoptic link to the Polarstern icebreaker means it can stray further from the ship than a conventional tether would allow, reaching undisturbed ice or even beneath glacial ice tongues or ice shelves. The tethering system for NUI was originally developed for the Nereus deep-sea robot which explored the Mariana Trench in 2009 but was lost in May 2014.

Although polar explorer Nansen was first to describe, in Boetius’ words, the “brownish greenish mass of ice algae”, scientists hadn’t been able to map the algae until now. “People still assume zero production under the ice but that is wrong,” said Boetius. Previously, scientists were only able to observe algae underneath ice broken up as their research ships passed through it. Even buoys can’t reach the top two metres of the ocean beneath sea-ice – they’re at risk of damage from ice projecting below the surface.

Boetius first included NUI in a research cruise proposal five years ago, even though it didn’t then exist. “The biggest fun is when someone tells you that you can’t do something and you go ahead and do it anyway,” she said. “It was a real joy to be able to work with it.” The researcher was confident that Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), US, could develop such a vehicle in time for an Arctic research cruise by AWI’s icebreaker Polarstern. And the organization came up trumps. As well as the fibre-optic link, the $3 million vehicle incorporates under-ice and seafloor landing skids and an acoustic communication system in case the fibre breaks. “Usually ROVs are constrained to stay below the ship,” said Michael Jakuba, WHOI’s lead project engineer for NUI. “This one can be further away.”

This summer NUI made four dives in the Arctic, reaching up to 800 m away from the ship and to a maximum depth of 45 m. Now Boetius and colleague Christopher German of WHOI have 16 hours of video to examine in detail.

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AGU Fall Meeting 2014: territory dispute over Greenland helps climate researchers

by Liz Kalaugher

Old aerial photos of Greenland helped researcher Anders Bjork track glacier retreat.

Old aerial photos of Greenland helped researcher Anders Bjork track glacier retreat. Image credit Natural History Museum of Denmark.

You never know how history will turn out. Back in 1931, a group of Norwegians settled in south-east Greenland. Both they and the Danes, who reckoned Greenland belonged to them, began aerial mapping to prove their claims to the land in the international court in The Hague.

The science that helped the Danes win the dispute is now valuable to researchers studying the retreat of coastal glaciers. As Anders Bjork of the Natural History Museum of Denmark detailed in a press conference at the AGU Fall Meeting, he’s used some of the photos from these four years of flights to examine 110 years of changes in Greenland.

Denmark, according to Bjork, was “quite surprised” when Norway moved in to Greenland’s desolate uninhabited south-east.

Both the Danes, assisted by German pilots, and the Norwegians surveyed the region from the air, dealing with temperatures of -20°C and flight altitudes of 11,000 metres to avoid Greenland’s high mountains. This was a challenge for the aviators given that the largest peak in Denmark is just 500 feet, Bjork explained. Louise Boyd from Marin County, just down the road from the San Francisco meeting, also took aerial shots of the area.

By comparing the historic photos with data from IceBridge flights, Bjork found that one glacier retreated by 5 km between 1932 and 2013. The pictures also revealed that the glaciers retreated by 30 metres per year in the early part of last century, compared to 10 metres per year in the last fifteen years or so. The 1920s and 1930s saw temperatures rise by 2°C per decade as the effects of the Little Ice Age waned; from 1990 to 2010 the increase was 1.3°C per decade. Bjork says the massive meltdown after the Little Ice Age shows that glaciers respond fast to changes in climate and precipitation.

Bjork reckons the scientific data also had a big influence on the international court’s final decision. The Danes had explored the area since the mid-19th century, longer than Norway. “The Danish superstars were polar explorers,” he said. “Thousands of people were cheering when they left [on their expeditions].”

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