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Battle for Hydro in the War against Climate Change

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Propelled by the 2016 Paris Agreement there is global impetus towards clean renewable energy. The need now is to invest in ‘paradigm shifting technology’ to fuel clean development,and with the help of think tank reports and energy expert analysis we have clearer understanding of what the harbingers of this endeavour are: biomass, geothermal, wind power, solar, ocean energy, biofuel, and hydro*. 

An asterisk (or parentheses) after hydropower alerts one about the numerous caveats surrounding this technology. Hydropower (other than small hydro) is not considered new or paradigm shifting. Indeed, the parentheses for small hydro being the lack of consensus of what it means; reports define it to be anywhere from  <10 to <50 MW. Yet, it is this caveat that determines the future of investments into hydropower — and the future of the countries who rely on them–in our climate conscious world.

The investments into hydropower, especially in climate vulnerable developing countries, are complicated because they interlace with the Right to Development and the principle of climate justice. Radical arguments for starving investments from hydropower without consideration of historical and political complexity is a disservice against the fight to eradicate poverty and manage climate change.

Global Investments

In early April, a letter, addressed to the Board of Directors of the Global Climate Fund, and signed by 272 environmental organisations asked that no investments to be made on “large” hydropower. The letter highlighted three projects that were at in the GCF pipelines: Qairokkum Hydropower Rehabilitation (126 MW), Tajikistan; Tina River Hydro Project (20 MW), Solomon Islands; and Upper Trishuli-1 (216 MW), Nepal. The last of which was not up for the April review.

They argued that technology used in large hydros – regardless of whether its reservoir or run-off-the-river, as in the case of Upper Trishuli 1 – was not paradigm-shifting and its climate resilient reputation was doubtful.

GCF is the financial mechanism under the UNFCCC, which helps finance investment in climate-resilient development. The fund “helps developing countries limit or reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and adapt to climate change. It seeks to promote a paradigm shift to low-emission…taking into account the needs of nations that are particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts.”

The question of whether hydro ought to be considered clean or not – or will continue to be considered clean – is an important one for investment starved countries like Nepal, Tajiskistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Solomon Islands (all countries either low or medium in human development). In countries with immense hydro potential, it is this sector that continues to be the most attractive for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). The competition for access to infrastructure investment is already high. According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Asia needs to invest USD 26 trillion by 2030 to resolve a serious infrastructure shortage, to maintain growth and address climate change, i.e. an estimated demand of USD 1.7 trillion per year to meet its infrastructure gap. The gap is particularly wide in the power sector. Only a fraction of which is currently met, whether through international financial mechanism, through public-private investments or institutional investors. As demand for clean infrastructure increases and the supply of capital remains limited, the priority given to infrastructure investments – especially by international financial institutions — will change.

Hydropower plants, with huge political and environmental risks will be a financially treacherous.

The GCF board has given the go-ahead to Qairokkum Hydropower Rehabilitation, and Tina River Hydro Project. But the concerns about hydro are unlikely to die down. Protest against hydropower rage from Brazil to Kenya. Increasingly Green Chip investors in the developed markets are weary about the future of hydro. The climate and political risk continue to put them off as they find new and less capital intensive renewables in which to to invest. For instance, while investments in wind and solar have been rising, investments in small hydro –defined as <50 MW — has continued to decline since the 2010. It stands at USD 3.5 billion compared to USD 113.7 billion for solar and USD 112.5 billion for wind. The 48 percent decline in hydropower investment between 2015 and 2016 reflect the trend of shrinking interest. 

Development Banks, a major backer of hydro, are cautious of adding large hydro to their portfolio. Compelling projects and governments to be more creative with capital generation in order to stay attractive to new classes to investors. Improved investments require a stable and conducive policy and an environment which ensures payment security. None of which is facilitated by environmental fear mongering over hydropower, making the task of these countries more difficult.

Case against hydro

To be certain, the case against certain hydropower projects, especially the reservoir type, is unflattering. Studies show that reservoirs emit methane, which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) estimates has a  Global Warming Potential (GWP) of 34 – it has 34 times the impact of carbon dioxide on the atmosphere over a 100-year period. The GWP for a 20 year period is estimated to be more devastating at 84, before it decays into CO2. Further, hydro projects endanger fish from migrating, alter ecosystems, and destroy carbon sinks. Additionally, there is the problem that climate change itself is altering river flows and making it harder to sustain hydro projects. A 2012 study, in the journal Nature Climate Change, concluded that emissions from hydropower, especially in tropical regions, were often underestimated and could exceed those of fossil fuel for decades. The study also makes the case that Clean Development Mechanism should stop helping fund large dams without considering their carbon footprints.

Even notwithstanding the debate about the exactitude of climate changes impact on hydropower generation (or hydropower generation’s impact on climate change)  consider a list of other climate findings: Nepal’s contribution, for instance, to global climate change is negligible, its CO2 emissions (metric tons per capita) are at mere 0.2 versus 11.7 of Norway, 37.8 for Qatar, and 16.4 for the USA. IEA reports suggest Nepal’s per capita electricity consumption is at 128 kwh/capita versus the Asian average of 918. Yet it suffers tremendously from climate change – a problem for which it has no historic blame. The stats are similar for countries like Tajikistan with a CO2 emissions (metric tons per capita) 0.44,  and Kyrgyzstan is at 1.72 metric tons.

 Methane as reported in CO2 equivalent over 100 years conversion period is at 5,408 for Tajikistan, and 1,449 for Solomon Island  versus 499,809 for the US, and 106,847 for Canada. Then there is a question of atmospheric trade offs. Studies of life cycle assessments show that majority of life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emission estimates for hydropower – run off the river- cluster between about 4 and 14 g CO2eq/kWh, whereas the figures for coal, across all technologies, was at 979 g CO2e/kWh. Natural gas weighed in at  450g CO2e/kWh. The figures of coal and natural gas are important. In the lack of stable renewable sources much electricity being produced or imported into these growing economies comes from these energy sources.

For instance,  Nepal is economically burdened by the import of petroleum and LPG, choked by the haze of black carbon, and reduced to buying coal-fuelled electricity from India. This despite having the potential to produce and export enough hydroelectricity for its own needs and then some for a growing economy like India. Lack of institutional investments and continued obstructionism intensely harms economic and environmental health of this climate vulnerable country. How environmentalists can recommend obstructing international investments to develop hydropower in Nepal seems incomprehensible. As historian and environmentalist Martin W Lewis writes, “Environmental opposition to such plans and projects is understandable, as they all come at a big cost to nature. But the huge atmospheric trade offs must also be acknowledged.” 

If the argument of right to develop, climate justice and the principle of common but differentiated responsibility are to have any validity then rants against investing in  countries in need of capital must stop. This is not to argue that countries that have been historic non-polluters should have a pass to develop irresponsibly. Reform in the hydropower sector, and investing criterion calls for intense environmental and social impact assessments into project feasibility. And governments and international institution that stand as guarantees are increasingly responsive and open to such consideration. Risk screening for project financing include an increased emphasis on climate change impacts and natural disaster risk, with both the World bank and IFC working to make projects climate smart and resilient. 

Then there is the issues of human rights. Land, often belonging to indigenous people is allocated and flooded with little consultation or just compensation. And even when there is stakeholder engagement it is often limited, not particularly inclusive and alienating. The issue of resettlement is an important one, and is of intense consideration during project impact studies. Hydro sector has come a long way to acknowledge and systematically address many complex issues. Stakeholder engagement, consultation, impact assessment and resettlement programs are legally mandatory. Any project that damages human settlement without stakeholder consultation, timely and just compensation or grievance redress mechanisms is a non-starter. Could project developers, funders and governments do more when these protocols are violated? Of course. But to suggest that they haven’t tried or regardless of attempts to move towards implementing ever rigorous standards hydro is inherently as condemnable as fossil fuels is disingenuous.

Any argument that seeks to limit access to finance for hydro in countries with untapped potential must be accompanied by an argument for transfer of technology, increased finance for improved grid connectivity, and other renewables. For now other forms of renewables cannot meet the growing demand — regardless of how carefully the demand side is managed. Without any acknowledgment of trade-offs or the potential of these investments to lift millions out of poverty, limiting access to finance in hydropower rich but energy poor countries is fighting the wrong fight.

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Australia’s commitment to affordable, secure and clean energy

MD Staff

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Australia should rely on long-term policy and energy market responses to strengthen energy security, foster competition, and make the power sector more resilient, according to the International Energy Agency’s latest review of the country’s energy policies.

In line with global trends, Australia’s energy system is undergoing a profound transformation, putting its energy markets under pressure. Concerns about affordable and secure energy supplies have grown in recent years, following several power outages, a tightening gas market in the east coast and rising energy prices.

Besides assessing progress since the IEA review of 2012, the Australian government requested the IEA to focus on how Australia can use global best practices in transitioning to a lower-carbon energy system. This question points to safeguarding electricity supply when ageing coal capacity retires, increased variable renewable energy comes on line and natural gas markets are tight. In this context, the IEA also contributed to the Independent Review into the Future Security of the National Electricity Market (NEM) by Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel.

“The government’s efforts to ensure energy security and move ahead with market reforms have been impressive. Australia can develop its vast renewable resources and remain a cornerstone of global energy markets as a leading supplier of coal, uranium and liquefied natural gas (LNG), securing the energy for growing Asian markets.” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director, who presented the report’s findings in Canberra. “A comprehensive national energy and climate strategy is needed for Australia to have a cleaner and more secure energy future. The National Energy Guarantee is a promising opportunity for Australia to integrate climate and energy policy.”

Along with the United States, Australia is leading the next wave of growth in liquefied natural gas (LNG). As a major exporter of coal, Australia is also a strong supporter of carbon capture, utilization and storage technologies. The report commends Australia’s efforts which can be critical globally to meeting long-term climate goals.

The IEA’s review points out that the sustainable development of new gas resources is critical for natural gas to play a growing role in the energy transition, satisfying a growing domestic gas demand in power generation and industry and to honor export contracts at the same time. The report calls on Australia to continue efforts to improve transparency of gas pricing, boost market integration and facilitate access to transportation capacity.

Welcoming the government’s energy security focus, including the creation of the Energy Security Board, the Energy Security Office, and Australia’s plan to return to compliance with the IEA’s emergency stock holding obligations, the IEA recommends regular and comprehensive energy security assessments to identify risks early on, and foster the resilience of the energy sector.

In terms of power system security, the report offers a series of recommendations on how to improve the market design of the National Energy Market (NEM), one of the most liberalised and flexible power markets in the world. To accommodate higher shares of variable renewables, the IEA recommends that the NEM prioritises measures to safeguard system stability, enhance grid infrastructure, including interconnections, and regularly upgrade technical standards. As consumer choice and prices in retail markets are liberalised across Australia, the government needs to focus on wholesale competition and demand-side flexibility, in recognition of the changing ways energy is produced and consumed, thus contributing to reducing peak demand.

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5 myths about solar panels, debunked

MD Staff

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Home solar panels can drastically cut or even eliminate electricity bills, reduce a home’s carbon footprint, increase resale value, and may even help a home sell faster.

The cost of rooftop solar systems has fallen dramatically in recent years, and most homeowners have the option of buying the system, leasing it on reasonable payment terms, or having a third-party pay for and install the system at no up-front cost at all for the homeowner. Plus, home solar systems are eligible for federal tax credits.

All of this explains why the number of homeowners installing solar has sky-rocketed across America. Nevertheless, many homeowners remain skeptical about taking control of their energy use and installing solar. Why? The various myths that still persist around solar power could be the reason.

“Solar technology has been around for a long time, but even though it’s entered the mainstream, many homeowners are still skeptical,” says renewable energy expert Roger Ballentine, president of Green Strategies, a leading Washington-based consulting firm. “That’s because a number of myths persist, pointing to the need for better consumer education about the benefits of home solar installations.”

Ballentine points to private and government studies providing real information that debunks the myths surrounding solar power. For example, research by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found solar panels help homes sell faster and for more money than those without solar.

If you’re considering installing a solar panel system on your home, here are five common myths — and why you shouldn’t believe them:

Myth 1: Solar panels only work if you live in a warm, sunny climate

While solar panels work best when they get a lot of sun, a lack of bright sun doesn’t mean they’re not working. Panels can still absorb ambient sunlight, even on cloudy days or in regions that get less bright sun. What’s more, today’s solar panels are more energy efficient than ever. Newer systems like the “LG NeOn R” maximize sunlight absorption and generate the maximum possible output — as much as 26 percent more than other comparably sized solar panels. This higher efficiency means that solar panels can work in virtually any climate and every season.

Myth 2: You need a lot of roof space for solar panels

Just like other amazing technologies (think microchips), solar panels are getting smaller, more powerful and more efficient. High-efficiency panels take up less space because fewer panels are required to produce the electricity needed to power your home. So even a smaller home could have enough roof space to fit the number of panels needed to generate the necessary power and save you money.

Myth 3: Installation is a long, drawn-out hassle

While adding solar panels to your home isn’t a DIY project, installation usually takes only a day or two. New models streamline the process further, eliminating the need to install a separate inverter. Most solar panels require a separate inverter to bring electricity into your house, but new panels from LG, for instance, incorporate the inverter, simplifying and accelerating the installation process.

Myth 4: If something goes wrong, you’re on your own

As with any major investment in your home, you should make sure you understand the manufacturer and installer warranties for your solar panels, including how long the coverage lasts and what types of problems are covered. One leading solar player, LG, even offers an industry-leading, 25-year product and power warranty. And unlike a furnace or an air conditioning system, a solar installation has no moving parts to wear out and typically requires little maintenance and repair.

Myth 5: Solar panels will look big, bulky and ugly on your roof

Solar panels are becoming smaller, sleeker and more aesthetically pleasing. Higher-efficiency models are also offering increased flexibility of configuration. Instead of having to cover an entire roof with panels in a specific arrangement in order to generate power, modern options allow you to arrange panels to meet your sense of aesthetics.

Adding solar power to a home offers homeowners many benefits, from reducing energy costs, to increasing the value of your home and helping the environment, Ballentine says. “Overall, it’s a decision most homeowners feel positively about once they’ve made it.” The NREL notes in its study: “Buyers of homes with (solar panel) systems are more satisfied than are comparison buyers. A significantly higher percentage … indicate they would buy the same houses again.”

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ADB-Supported Kyrgyz Republic’s Largest Hydropower Plant Achieves Key Milestone

MD Staff

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photo: ADB

JSC Electric Power Plants (EPP), the major state-owned power generation company in the Kyrgyz Republic, today announced the award of a turn-key contract for the Asian Development Bank-supported (ADB) modernization of the Toktogul hydropower plant (HPP) to a joint venture of GE Hydro (France) and GE Renewables (Switzerland) for $104 million.

The modernization project includes new state-of-the-art units which will improve safety, efficiency, reliability, and availability of the Toktogul HPP, located on the Naryn River in the Jalal-Abad Province and considered the country’s largest and most important hydropower plant, increasing its overall capacity to 1,440 megawatts. The additional capacity will be sufficient to supply about 200,000 households for an entire year.

ADB and the Eurasian Development Bank (EDB) financed the replacement of four units of the Toktogul HPP, which has been generating about 6,000 gigawatt hours per year for 43 years. Because of aging equipment, however, the plant has experienced increasing number of failures in recent years.

“ADB has been supporting the energy sector in the Kyrgyz Republic since 1996 as the rehabilitation, replacement, and augmentation of power sector assets are critical for energy security in the country”, said Candice McDeigan, ADB’s Country Director for the Kyrgyz Republic.

“The phased rehabilitation of the Toktogul plant has been the key priority for ADB’s energy sector support in the Kyrgyz Republic and its timely rehabilitation is key to the country’s plan to export summer surplus to Afghanistan and Pakistan through the CASA-1000 power transmission line”, said Ashok Bhargava, Director for the Energy Division at ADB’s Central and West Asia Department.

EPP commenced phased rehabilitation of the Toktogul HPP project in 2012, starting with the refurbishment of the secondary electrical and mechanical equipment, the rehabilitation of two Toktogul units, and later completed by the remaining two Toktogul units, with an overall target completion by 2024-2026. The latest milestone was a result of the extensive competition among all major players and EPP’s innovative approach to procurement and design, which brought in competitive pricing and accelerated completion of the project by 3 years.

“In 2016, EPP decided to fast track the procurement of the four turbines and generators of the Toktogul HPP through single procurement for economies of scale, resulting to completion three years early. With ADB support, the EPP conducted multiple roadshows to improve the

procurement design based on industry feedback and international best practice to increase completion for the project,” said EPP General Director Uzak Kydyrbaev.

GE Capital, the ultimate parent of the GE consortium, has provided a guarantee to support its operation in the Kyrgyz Republic. GE has committed to commission the first unit by November 2020, and one additional unit each year by November 2023

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