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Canada needs to speed up efforts to green its energy and transport sectors

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A reaffirmed commitment to fighting climate change has set Canada on a greener course, but the country needs to quickly implement planned measures to reduce the carbon intensity of its energy industry, particularly in oil sands, and green its transport sector in order to progress towards its 2030 emissions goals, according to a new OECD report.

The OECD’s third Environmental Performance Review of Canada says that although Canada has reached a stage where it can grow its economy without driving up energy use, air pollution and emissions, it remains the second most carbon-intensive OECD country (after Estonia) and the fourth-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. Rising emissions from transport and oil production mean that overall, Canada’s emissions have declined by just 1.5% since 2000 compared with an average decrease of 4.7% across the OECD area.

“We applaud Canada’s renewed determination under the current government to tackle climate change, and its leadership in international climate diplomacy at a crucial time,” said OECD Environment Director Anthony Cox. “That said, Canada’s own emissions-cutting objectives for 2030 will stay out of reach without swift and concrete policy action and greater use of economic instruments to wean the country off fossil fuels.”

While Canada’s electricity production is very low-carbon, with 82% coming from non-emitting sources like hydro or nuclear, the overall energy supply is not, with 74% coming from fossil fuels. The oil and gas industry – much of it in the province of Alberta and feeding both national needs and a large export market – accounts for a quarter of Canada’s total emissions, and the transport sector another quarter.

While emissions from electricity, heavy industry, buildings, waste and agriculture have fallen or stabilised, emissions from oil, gas and transport have risen significantly since 1990. Oil production from oil sands emits roughly four times as much greenhouse gas per barrel as conventional crude produced in North America. Alberta’s oil sands were behind much of the nearly 20% rise in emissions from oil and gas extraction in Canada over 2011-14.

In terms of progress on climate action, Canada has almost halved fossil fuel support since 2004, although support remains at provincial level. The announced phase-out of coal-fired power generation by 2030 and the planned establishment of a federal clean fuel standard should reduce C0₂ emissions from energy use. This shift is gaining international momentum with the newly launched Powering Past Coal initiative led by Canada and the UK.

Canada is also becoming a pioneer of carbon capture and storage and has made good progress on carbon pricing, with carbon taxes or cap-and-trade systems in place in the four most populous provinces and a plan under the 2016 Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change to introduce carbon prices nationally.

On the other hand, Canada’s use of environmental taxes is the third lowest in the OECD after Mexico and the US. In a country whose vast territory means it generates a great deal more road and rail freight transport per capita, and per unit of GDP, than the average, taxes on petrol and diesel for road use are very low, as are taxes on fossil fuels for industry, electricity and heating. Pickup trucks, which make up four of the country’s ten top-selling vehicles, are exempt from the “green levy” on fuel-inefficient vehicles.

Finally, the report calls on the federal government to fully factor in environmental impacts as it decides which projects to prioritise in its infrastructure investment programme.

Key recommendations in the Review include:

  • Ensure effective and timely implementation of the Pan-Canadian Framework and establish a mechanism for policy evaluation and adjustment.
  • Improve consultation with Indigenous communities on environmental issues and build their capacity to meaningfully participate in decision making.
  • Co-ordinate subnational climate policy and foster links between provincial carbon pricing systems. Exemptions aimed at smoothing the transition should be temporary and limited.
  • Review and adjust tax, royalty and subsidy regimes that encourage fossil fuel production to meet a pledge to phase out by 2025 inefficient subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption.
  • Review the taxation of energy use. In particular, reduce the petrol-diesel gap and revise taxes on fuel-inefficient vehicles to encourage the purchase of lower-emission vehicles.
  • Press ahead with the Canada-US commitment to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, regardless of a US decision not to implement the commitment.
  • Increase tariffs for wastewater services to secure funding for system upgrades.

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Renewables and Improved Cooling Technologies Key to Reducing India’s Water Use

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A new policy brief co-authored by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the World Resources Institute (WRI) finds that increasing the share of renewables, in particular solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind, in India’s power mix, and implementing changes in cooling technologies mandated for thermal power plants would not only lower carbon emissions intensity, but also substantially reduce water withdrawal and consumption intensity of power generation.

The brief, Water Use in India’s Power Generation – Impact of Renewables and Improved Cooling Technologies to 2030, finds that depending on the future energy pathways (IRENA’s REmap 2030 and the Central Electricity Authority of India), a power sector (excluding hydroelectricity) transformation  driven by solar PV and wind, coupled with improved cooling technologies in thermal and other renewable power plants, could yield as much as an 84% decrease in water withdrawal intensity by 2030, lower annual water consumption intensity by 25% and reduce carbon emissions intensity by 43%, compared to 2014 levels. It builds off of the findings of Parched Power: Water Demands, Risks, and Opportunities for India’s Power Sector, also launched today by WRI.

“India has emerged as a global leader in renewable energy achieving record-level growth in deployment, rapid cost reductions and many socio-economic benefits of the energy transformation.” said Dr Henning Wuester, IRENA Director of the Knowledge, Policy and Finance Centre (KPFC). “Scaling up the use of renewables, especially solar PV and wind, will yield further benefits, in particular long-term reductions in the dependency of the power sector on freshwater.”

More than four-fifths of India’s electricity is generated from coal, gas and nuclear power plants which rely significantly on freshwater for cooling purposes. Moreover, the power sector’s share in national water consumption is projected to grow from 1.4% to 9% between 2025 and 2050, placing further stress on water resources. Renewable energy, with the added potential to reduce both water demand and carbon emissions, must hence be at the core of India’s energy future.

“India’s move towards renewable energy is essential, especially as water stress puts increasing pressure on India’s thermal power plants,” said  Dr O.P. Agarwal, CEO, WRI India. “Water risks to thermal power plants cannot be ignored when considering the cost of thermal energy. Renewables, especially solar PV and wind energy, present a win-win solution for both water and climate.”

The joint brief was launched at the World Future Energy Summit 2018 in Abu Dhabi.

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Going Long Term: US Nuclear Power Plants Could Extend Operating Life to 80 Years

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The last couple of decades have witnessed increased interest in the extension of the operating life of nuclear power plants. Extending the life of a plant is more economical than building a new one, and where it makes business sense, many plant operators in the United States are seeking licence renewals. This helps avoid supply shortages and support the country in reducing carbon emissions.

“It is very important for us as a world community to care how electricity is produced,” said Maria Korsnick, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Nuclear Energy Institute. “You can produce electricity of an intermittent nature, like wind and solar, but you are going to also need 24/7 baseload energy supply that is kind to the environment, and nuclear is just that.”

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issues licences for nuclear power plants to operate for up to 40 years and allows licences to be renewed for up to 20 years with every renewal application, as long as operators prove that the effects of ageing on certain plant structures and components will be adequately managed.

About 90 percent of US plants have already renewed their licences once, extending their operation to 60 years. But most of these will soon reach the end of their 60-year term. If they cease to operate or are not replaced by new plants, the percentage of energy generated from nuclear will drop. A subsequent renewal extends a plant’s operation from 60 to 80 years.

Nuclear provides 20 percent of the United States’ electricity supply and more than 60 percent of the country’s CO2 emissions-free generation. Electricity demand is expected to rise by more than 30 percent by 2035.

To obtain licence renewal, a plant must provide the NRC with an assessment of the technical aspects of plant ageing and show how any issues will be managed safely. This includes review of system metals, welds and piping, concrete, electrical cables and reactor pressure vessels. It must also evaluate potential impact on the environment, assuming the plant will operate for another 20 years. The NRC verifies evaluations through inspection and audits, and its reviews of licence renewal applications can last anywhere between 22 and 30 months.

“In the very beginning, an NRC review took years to complete,” Korsnick said. “Now that the process is better understood, we are just under two years. For subsequent licence renewal, we will probably get the process down to 18 months.”

While there have not been any subsequent licence renewals yet, three plants have already expressed their intent to submit an application for such renewal.

“If a subsequent renewal is granted and plants are allowed to operate for 80 years, NRC could see increased interest by other utilities,” said Allen Hiser, Senior Technical Advisor for Licence Renewal Ageing Management at NRC. “NRC experienced a similar trend when the original licence renewals were granted back in 2000.”

Coping with government and market challenges

Most US Government policies favour renewables over nuclear, and according to Korsnick the market does not value all of the attributes that the nuclear plants bring. Three plants in the past six years have already shut down even before their original licence expired because they could not make sufficient money in the current market place. Korsnick maintains that the markets must be improved so that they value the products that nuclear is bringing — products that include clean air, constant 24/7 power and continuous operation for at least 18 months before needing to refuel. Full recognition of these benefits would prevent additional plants from shutting down prematurely.

“Fundamentally we want an electricity grid that boasts a diversity of generating technologies and that appropriately values the core attributes of each technology and the benefits they deliver to society,” Korsnick said.

The IAEA and long-term operation

The IAEA has benefited from NRC support in its long-term operation (LTO) activities. The NRC was an early funder and active participant in the IAEA International Generic Ageing Lessons Learned (IGALL) programme, which used technical information from the NRC’s Generic Ageing Lessons Learned report as its starting point. Other IAEA Member States added data for their plants to that US information, including information for pressurized heavy water reactor designs.

The USA has been an active participant in other IAEA activities related to LTO, including the development of safety guides on ageing management and LTO and presenting LTO workshops for international regulators and plants. The US also continues to provide expertise during IAEA Safety Aspects of Long-Term Operation (SALTO) missions to countries in Europe, Asia, North and South America.

Source: International Atomic Energy Agency

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New Global Commission to Examine Geopolitics of Energy Transformation

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The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), has today launched the Global Commission on the Geopolitics of Energy Transformation, with the support of the governments of Germany, Norway and the United Arab Emirates. The Commission will examine the immediate and longer-term geopolitical implications of global energy transformation driven by large scale-up of renewable energy in the context of global efforts to tackle climate change and advance sustainable development. The Commission will be chaired by Mr. Olafur Grimsson, the former President of Iceland.

“The global energy landscape is witnessing rapid and disruptive change that will have far reaching effects on geopolitical dynamics,” said Adnan Z. Amin, IRENA Director-General. “Renewable energy resources are abundant, sustainable and have the power to significantly improve energy access, security and independence.

“At the same time, the large-scale deployment of variable sources of renewable energy such as solar PV and wind, is fostering greater cross-border energy trade and cooperation between nations,” continued Mr. Amin. “Understanding these changing dynamics in a way that informs policy makers, will be the primary goal of the commission.”

“I am delighted to chair the Global Commission on the Geopolitics of Energy Transformation, and congratulate IRENA on this timely initiative,” said Mr.  Olafur Grimsson, former President of Iceland. “The geopolitical implications of energy transformation is becoming one of the most debated issues in the global energy agenda. The Commission can make an important contribution to these global discussions, on the basis of solid evidence and analysis as well as a diverse range of perspectives,” added Mr. Grimsson.

While most geopolitical analyses of energy related issues have focused on conventional fuels such as oil and gas, the Commission will review the implications of the ongoing global energy transformation underpinned by the surge in renewables and report on how it would impact the geopolitics of energy based on rigorous and credible evidence.

The Commission will be composed by twelve leaders and experts on international energy and global security issues, with particular emphasis given to ensuring diverse geographical and expert background representation. The Commission will present its report at the 9th Session of the IRENA Assembly in January 2019.

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