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Germany’s Coal Commission Won’t Solve Europe’s Power Struggles

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By the end of this year, the German government’s “Commission on Growth, Structural Change and Employment” (known more simply as the coal exit commission) has been given a unenviable task. The thirty or so individuals who will sit on it must map out the end of coal power in Germany, determine how the German economy can cut emissions to meet climate targets, and find ways to soften the blow to German coal regions.

This would qualify as a monumental remit under any circumstances. As the recent controversy over commission co-chair Ronald Pofalla’s proposal shows, overcoming the influence of the German coal sector will be no easy task. Germany, however, presents one additional challenge that will make it far more difficult for this commission to find an optimal solution for the nation’s energy security: an irrational fear of (and opposition to) nuclear energy that Berlin has transformed into official policy and is now trying to impose on the rest of Europe.

From a purely domestic perspective, Angela Merkel’s 2011 decision to shut Germany’s nuclear plants and rely on coal instead (ostensibly on safety grounds) has made her countrymen less safe, not more. Two years after the decision, in 2013, over 3,600 people in Germany died for reasons related to coal – a higher rate than any other EU member state. Just over half of those deaths were attributable to coal use in Germany itself, but nearly 1,800 of them could be traced back to coal burned in other EU countries.

While that human cost is tragic, it should hardly have come as a surprise. In that same year, a NASA study co-authored by James Hansen (a pioneering figure in the science of global warming) found that use of nuclear energy over fossil fuels had saved 1.8 million lives worldwide between 1971-2009. While the German public fears the theoretical danger of a (highly unlikely) nuclear accident, the lignite and hard coal that together provide 36.6% of their country’s energy mix are responsible for thousands of premature deaths every year.

Instead of pushing its own industries and its neighbors towards less polluting power sources, the German political class has spent the past several years sheltering domestic coal interests while Merkel’s government pressures other EU member states to follow its now militantly anti-nuclear lead. Their most immediate target: the Czech Republic.

Germany is currently trying to bloc Prague from expanding its Temelin nuclear power plant, working in tandem with Austria – which is so anti-nuclear it sued Britain over state aid to Hinkley Point C and is suing the EU for letting Hungary move ahead with its Paks II plant. The Czech Republic, already behind on its emissions targets, has limited renewable energy potential and would be forced to resort to burning more fossil fuels without nuclear energy. The 2015 State Energy Policy calls for nuclear power to provide somewhere between 46-58% of Czech electricity by 2040. To reach that target, however, Prague will need to overcome opposition from Berlin and Vienna to obtain exemptions from the EU laws governing government bids.

Temelin is just one of several European nuclear energy projects that have transformed into lightning rods of interstate tensions, and Germany and Austria are not the only EU member states subtly advocating for fossil fuels. The polemic surrounding the Astravets nuclear energy plant on the Lithuania-Belarus border offers another example of how European debates over nuclear energy often have only tangential links with reality.

Lithuanian lawmakers have sought EU support to block Astravets, built with Russian technology, on the grounds it constitutes a threat to their national security. Vilnius consistently raises the spectre of Russia using the plant as a geopolitical weapon. Not only has Lithuania vowed to prohibit energy exports from Astravets to counter this perceived threat, but also seeks to disconnect from the BRELL agreement governing its electric grid entirely. BRELL has regulated the Lithuanian grid – along with those of Estonia, Latvia, Russia, and Belarus – since the end of the Soviet Union.

The three Baltic countries now plan to join a more “European” network, which is to say reinforcing existing links with the Nordic countries and Poland. Desynchronizing from BRELL will cost €800 million, and the EU will have to bear much of the cost.

The countries justify this transition by raising the specter of Russian “energy blackmail” leveraging their shared electric grid. As one expert recently made clear in the National Interest, however, Lithuania has more than enough installed power capacity (counting both domestic capacity and imports from its neighbors in Sweden and Poland) to provide a healthy security margin in the event of any disruption. Lithuania’s peak winter load is estimated at no more than 2.3 GW. Between its own generation capacity and the power provided by the LitPol and NordBalt, it has 3.2 GW of capacity entirely independent of its eastern neighbors.

Lithuania’s complaints that Astravets cut nuclear safety corners follow a similar pattern. The plant recently passed EU stress tests and has also gotten the green light from a number of IAEA missions. In 2016, the IAEA’s director Yukiya Amano singled Belarus out as one of the most advanced “newcomer” countries developing nuclear energy.

Most importantly, staunch Lithuanian opposition to Astravets – like the German public’s opposition to their domestic nuclear capacity – ignores the benefits of the plant’s low-carbon energy to the benefit of polluting fossil fuels. Lithuania closed its own Ignalina nuclear plant (which provided 70% of the country’s electricity) at the EU’s behest in 2009. To make up for the resulting shortfall, Lithuania has since launched a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal at Klaipeda and is now supporting importing LNG from the United States to ensure a diversified supply.

Between them, Germany, Austria, and Lithuania form three members of a growing European club whose efforts, if successful, will effectively torpedo one of the EU’s best clean energy bets. While policymakers in Berlin, Vienna, and Vilnius may claim they are acting in the name of safety, their discreet advocacy of fossil fuels has direct human costs that far outweigh the hypothetical threats they are supposedly protecting Europe against.

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Energy

Four Things You Should Know About Battery Storage

MD Staff

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The global energy landscape is undergoing a major transformation. This year’s Innovate4Climate (I4C) will have a priority focus on battery storage, helping to identify ways to overcome the technology, policy and financing barriers to deploy batteries widely and close the global energy storage gap.

Here are four things about battery storage that are worth knowing.

First, energy storage is key to realizing the potential of clean energy

Renewable sources of energy, mainly solar and wind, are getting cheaper and easier to deploy in developing countries, helping expand energy access, aiding global efforts to reach the Sustainable Development Goal on Energy (SDG7) and to mitigate climate change. But solar and wind energy are variable by nature, making it necessary to have an at-scale, tailored solution to store the electricity they produce and use it when it is needed most.

Batteries are a key part of the solution. However, the unique requirements of developing countries’ grids are not yet fully considered in the current market for battery storage – even though these countries may have the largest potential for battery deployment.

Today’s market for batteries is driven mainly by the electric vehicles industry and most mainstream technologies cannot provide long duration storage nor withstand harsh climatic conditions and have limited operation and maintenance capacity. Many developing countries also have limited access to other flexibility options such as natural gas generation or increased transmission capacity.

Second, boosting battery storage is a major opportunity

Global demand for battery storage is expected to reach 2,800 gigawatt hours (GWh) by 2040 – the equivalent of storing a little more than half of all the renewable energy generated [today] around the world in a day. Power systems around the world will need many exponentially more storage capacity by 2050 to integrate even more solar and wind energy into the electricity grid.

For battery storage to become an at-scale enabler for the storage and deployment of clean energy, it will be imperative to accelerate the innovation in and deployment of new technologies and their applications. It will also be important to foster the right regulatory and policy environments and procurement practices to drive down the cost of batteries at scale and to ensure financial arrangements that will create confidence in cost recovery for developers. It will also be essential to find ways to ensure sustainability in the battery value chain, safe working conditions and environmentally responsible recycling.

With the right enabling environment and the innovative use of batteries, it will be possible to help developing countries build the flexible energy systems of the future and deliver electricity to the 1 billion people who live without it even today.

Third, battery storage can be transformational for the clean energy landscape in developing countries

Today, battery technology is not widely deployed in large-scale energy projects in developing countries. The gap is particularly acute in Sub-Saharan Africa, where nearly 600 million people still live without access to reliable and affordable electricity, despite the region’s significant wind and solar power potential and burgeoning energy demand. Catalyzing new markets will be key to drive down costs for batteries and make it a viable energy storage solution in Africa.

Already, there is tremendous demand in the region today for energy solutions that do not just boost the uptake of clean energy, but also help stabilize and strengthen existing electricity grids and aid the global push to adopt more clean energy and fight against climate change.

Fourth, the World Bank is stepping up its catalytic role in boosting battery storage solutions

There is a clear need to catalyze a new market for batteries and other storage solutions that are suitable for electricity grids for a variety of applications and deployable on a large scale. The World Bank is already taking steps to address this challenge. In 2018, the World Bank Group announced a $1 billion global battery storage program, aiming to raise $4 billion more in private and public funds to create markets and help drive down prices for batteries, so it can be deployed as an affordable and at-scale solution in middle-income and developing countries.

By 2025, the World Bank expects to finance 17.5 GWh of battery storage – more than triple the 4-5 GWh currently installed in developing countries. With the right solutions, it can be possible to build large-scale renewable energy projects with significant energy storage components, deploy batteries to stabilize power grids in countries with weak infrastructure, and increase off-grid access to communities that are ready for clean energy with storage.

The World Bank has already financed over 15% of grid-related battery storage in various stages of deployment in developing countries to date.

In Haiti, a combined solar and battery storage project will ultimately provide electricity to 800,000 people and 10,000 schools, clinics and other institutions. An emergency solar and battery storage power plant is being built in the Gambia, as are mini-grids in several island states to boost their resilience.

In India, a joint WB-IFC team is developing one of the largest hybrid solar, wind and storage power plants in the world, while in South Africa, the World Bank is helping develop 1.44 gigawatt-hours of battery storage capacity, which is expected to be the largest project of its kind in Sub-Saharan Africa.

World Bank

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Energy

Driving a Smarter Future

MD Staff

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Today the average car runs on fossil fuels, but growing pressure for climate action, falling battery costs, and concerns about air pollution in cities, has given life to the once “over-priced” and neglected electric vehicle.

With many new electric vehicles (EV) now out-performing their fossil-powered counterparts’ capabilities on the road, energy planners are looking to bring innovation to the garage — 95% of a car’s time is spent parked. The result is that with careful planning and the right infrastructure in place, parked and plugged-in EVs could be the battery banks of the future, stabilising electric grids powered by wind and solar energy.

Today the average car runs on fossil fuels, but growing pressure for climate action, falling battery costs, and concerns about air pollution in cities, has given life to the once “over-priced” and neglected electric vehicle.

With many new electric vehicles (EV) now out-performing their fossil-powered counterparts’ capabilities on the road, energy planners are looking to bring innovation to the garage — 95% of a car’s time is spent parked. The result is that with careful planning and the right infrastructure in place, parked and plugged-in EVs could be the battery banks of the future, stabilising electric grids powered by wind and solar energy.

Advanced forms of smart charging

An advanced smart charging approach, called Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G), allows EVs not to just withdraw electricity from the grid, but to also inject electricity back to the grid. V2G technology may create a business case for car owners, via aggregators (PDF), to provide ancillary services to the grid. However, to be attractive for car owners, smart charging must satisfy the mobility needs, meaning cars should be charged when needed, at the lowest cost, and owners should possibly be remunerated for providing services to the grid. Policy instruments, such as rebates for the installation of smart charging points as well as time-of-use tariffs (PDF), may incentivise a wide deployment of smart charging.

“We’ve seen this tested in the UK, Netherlands and Denmark,” Boshell says. “For example, since 2016, Nissan, Enel and Nuvve have partnered and worked on an energy management solution that allows vehicle owners and energy users to operate as individual energy hubs. Their two pilot projects in Denmark and the UK have allowed owners of Nissan EVs to earn money by sending power to the grid through Enel’s bidirectional chargers.”

Perfect solution?

While EVs have a lot to offer towards accelerating variable renewable energy deployment, their uptake also brings technical challenges that need to be overcome.

IRENA analysis suggests uncontrolled and simultaneous charging of EVs could significantly increase congestion in power systems and peak load. Resulting in limitations to increase the share of solar PV and wind in power systems, and the need for additional investment costs in electrical infrastructure in form of replacing and additional cables, transformers, switchgears, etc., respectively.

An increase in autonomous and ‘mobility-as-a-service’ driving — i.e. innovations for car-sharing or those that would allow your car to taxi strangers when you are not using it — could disrupt the potential availability of grid-stabilising plugged-in EVs, as batteries will be connected and available to the grid less often.

Impact of charging according to type

It has also become clear that fast and ultra-fast charging are a priority for the mobility sector, however, slow charging is actually better suited for smart charging, as batteries are connected and available to the grid longer. For slow charging, locating charging infrastructure at home and at the workplace is critical, an aspect to be considered during infrastructure planning. Fast and ultra-fast charging may increase the peak demand stress on local grids. Solutions such as battery swapping, charging stations with buffer storage, and night EV fleet charging, might become necessary, in combination with fast and ultra-fast charging, to avoid high infrastructure investments.

To learn more about smart charging, read IRENA’s Innovation Outlook: smart charging for electric vehicles. The report explores the degree of complementarity potential between variable renewable energy sources and EVs, and considers how this potential could be tapped through smart charging between now and mid-century, and the possible impact of the expected mobility disruptions in the coming two to three decades.

IRENA

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Energy

What may cause Oil prices to fall?

Osama Rizvi

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Oil prices have rallied a whopping 30 percent this year. Among other factors, OPEC’s commitment to reduce output, geopolitical flash-points like the brewing war in Libya, slowdown in shale production and optimism in U.S. and China trade war have all added to the increase. The recent rally being sparked by cancellation of waivers granted to countries importing oil form Iran has taken prices to new highs.

However, one might question the sustainability of this rally by pointing out few bearish factors that might cause a correction, or possibly, a fall in oil prices. The recent sharp slide shows the presence of tail-risks!

Libya produces just over 1 percent of world oil output at 1.1 million barrels, which is indeed not of such a magnitude as to dramatically affect global oil supplies. What is important is the market reaction to every geopolitical event that occurs in the Middle East given the intricate alliances and therefore the increasing chances of other countries jumping in with a national event climaxing into a regional affair.

Matters in Libya got serious as an airstrike was carried out on the only functioning airport in the country a few days ago. Khalifa Haftar who heads Libyan National Army has assumed responsibility for the strike. However, UN and G7 have urged to restore peace in Tripoli. Russia has categorically said to use “all available means” while U.S.’ Pompeo called for “an immediate halt” of atrocities in Libya.

The fighting has been far from locations that hold oil but the overall sentiment is that of fear which is understandable as this happens in parallel to a steep decline in Venezuelan production, touching multi-year low of 740,000 bpd.  However, as international forces play their part we might expect a de-escalation in the Libyan war — as it has happened before.

Besides the chances of an alleviation of hostilities in Libya, concerns pertaining to global economic growth, and thereof demand for oil, have still not disappeared. The U.S. treasury yield, one of the best measures to predict a future slowdown (recession),  inverted last month; first time since 2007. If this does not raise doubts over the global economic health then the very recent announcement by International Monetary Fund (IMF) who has slashed its outlook for world economic growth to its lowest since the last financial crisis. According to the Fund the global economy will grow 3.3 percent this year down from 3.5 percent that predicted three months ago.

image: Bloomberg

Then there is Trump, whose declaration of Iran’s IRGC as a terrorist organization might increase the likelihoods of yet another spate of heated rhetoric between the arch-rivals. But if he is genuinely irked by higher oil prices as his tweets at times show and if he thinks that higher gasoline prices can hurt his political capital then this will certainly have a bearish effect on the markets as observers take a sigh regarding the mounting, yet unsubstantiated,  concern over supply.

One of the factors that contributed most to the recent rally was OPEC’s unwavering commitment to its production cuts. The organization’s output fell to its lowest in a year at 30.23 million barrels per day in February 2019, its lowest in four years. But the question remains for how long can these cuts go on? Last month it was reported the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had admitted that they need oil at $70 for a balanced budget while estimates from IMF claims that the level for a budget break-even are even higher: $80-$85. We should not forget Trump and his tweets in this regard as well. Whenever prices have inched up from a certain threshold POTUS’ tweet forced the market to correct themselves (save the last time). One of the key Russian officials who made the deal with OPEC possible recently signaled that Russia may urge others to increase production as they meet in the last week of June this year. While this is not a confirmation that others will agree but it certainly shows that one of the three largest oil producers in the world does feel that markets are now almost balanced and the cuts are not needed further.

Now with the recent cancellation of waivers we should expect U.S. to press KSA to increase production to offset the lost barrels and stabilize the prices.

Finally stoking fears of an impending supply crunch (a bullish factor) is the supposed slowdown in U.S. Shale production. But the facts might be a tad different. Few weeks ago U.S. added 15 oil rigs in one day, a very strong number indeed-this comes after a decline of streak of six consecutive weeks. According to different estimates the shale producers are fine with prices anywhere between $48 to $54 and the recent rise in prices has certainly helped. Well Fargo Investment Institute Laforge said that higher prices will result in “extra U.S. oil production in coming months”. Albeit, U.S.’ average daily production has decreased a bit but it doesn’t mean that the shale producers cannot bring back production online again. Prices are very conducive for it.

So if you think that prices will continue to head higher, think again. Following graph shows that oil had entered the overbought territory few days back–hence the recent slide.

Therefore, If the war in Libya settles down (and there is a strong possibility that it will); rumors of a production increase making its way into investors’ and traders’ mind (as it already have) and global economy continue to struggle in order to gain a strong footing — the chances are oil will fall again. The current rally might last for some-time but, like always, beware not to buy too high.

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