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The state of the Energy Union explained

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The EU Commission publishes the fourth State of the Energy Union report. The State of the Energy Union Report is an important tool to highlight and monitor the implementation of this key priority of the Juncker Commission. The report takes stock of the progress made towards building the Energy Union, and highlights the issues where further attention is needed. It brings together a series of Commission reports and initiatives related to the Energy Union in an integrated way. The state of the Energy Union report is accompanied by two annexes demonstrating the progress made in renewable energy and energy efficiency. In parallel, the Commission is today presenting two forward looking communications one on the strategic batteries plan for Europe and one on a new institutional framework for our energy and climate policy by 2025.

The 4th State of the Energy Union Report: What is the Energy Union?

When the Juncker Commission took office in 2014, a resilient energy union with a forward looking climate policy was identified as one of the ten priorities of the new Commission. On 25 February 2015, the Commission adopted “A Framework Strategy for a Resilient Energy Union with a Forward-Looking Climate Change Policy”, also known as the Energy Union Strategy. The publication of this strategy created a new momentum to bring about the transition to a low-carbon, secure and competitive economy.

The objective of the Energy Union is to provide all European Union (EU) consumers – households and businesses – with secure, sustainable, competitive and affordable energy. The Energy Union has five dimensions: (i) security of supply, solidarity and trust (ii) a fully integrated energy market (iii) energy efficiency (iv) decarbonisation of the economy and (v) research, innovation and competitiveness.

What are the main achievements of the Energy Union?

Europe’s energy supply today is safer, more viable and more accessible to everyone than only a few years ago. The modernised energy system boosts the EU economy, attracts investments and creates local job opportunities.

The Energy Union has resulted in a comprehensive and legally binding framework for a socially fair energy transition ensuring the gradual decarbonisation of our economy in line with our international commitments under the Paris agreement while simultaneously helping to modernise the European economy so that no citizen or region will be left behind.

It has also enabled the EU to increase its level of ambition for 2030 in a number of energy related sectors, from increased targets for renewable energy and energy efficiency, to targets on emissions from cars, vans and lorries. It has also provided a solid basis for work towards a modern and prosperous climate-neutral economy by 2050.

The Energy Union today disposes of a fully up-to-date regulatory framework that provides the necessary certainty for high-quality, innovative investment to modernise our economy and to create local jobs. Through deepening the internal energy market, and by placing the consumer at the centre as an active participant within this market, the Energy Union provides all citizens with secure, sustainable, competitive and affordable energy supply.

In addition, the Juncker Commission has put in place an enabling framework of supporting measures to ensure a smooth transition for European industries and regions. A number of targeted initiatives have been created to guarantee all regions and citizens benefit from the energy transition.

On the international stage, the Energy Union has allowed the EU to speak with one strong voice, instrumental for the negotiation and the implementation of the Paris Agreement; and to continue to lead by example in global climate action through a competitive and socially-fair transition.

What does the Energy Union mean for citizens?

The Energy Union responds to one of EU citizens’ key concerns. They massively call for action against climate change and for the energy transition. According to the last Eurobarometer survey on the subject, 9 out of 10 Europeans consider climate change a serious problem and see it as the third biggest problem of our times after poverty and economy.

In parallel, the Energy Union creates jobs and growth. Today, there are more than 4 million green jobs in the European Union, and between 2000 and 2014, employment in the environmental sectors of the economy grew considerably faster (+49%) than employment in the economy as a whole (+6%). These figures will further increase, with investments in domestic renewable energy expected to replace imported fossil fuels and by harvesting Europe’s early-mover advantage in many of the “green” industries.

The Energy Union also contributes to addressing energy poverty, which still affects almost 50 million people across all member states. Measures to this effect include, inter alia, promoting investments in energy efficiency. Energy efficiency measures also help to reduce energy bills. There is still a huge untapped potential in energy efficiency and member states will specifically tackle this issue in their National Energy and Climate Plans.

The Energy Union will help consumers save money and be actively involved in the energy system by providing them a role as a producer as well as consumer of electricity. The new legislation put in place with the “Clean Energy for All Europeans” package will also reduce direct costs for consumers by for example restricting switching fees that still represent a substantial part of energy bills. More generally, the Energy Union relies on the active participation of consumers, for instance to generate electricity for their own consumption, store it, share it, consume it or sell it back to the market.

What does the Energy Union mean for cities and regions of Europe?

70 % of Europeans live in cities, where the bulk of emission reductions will take place. The Energy Union places local communities, especially cities, municipalities and urban communities, at the heart of the transition. The Commission is helping them through initiatives such as the European Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, which gathers more than 8,800 EU cities representing more than 230 million Europeans, committed to fight climate change. These cities, which represent nearly a third of the EU’s 2020 commitment for emission reductions, have already cut their emissions by 23% from their baseline year inventory.

How does the Energy Union ensure a fair and just energy transition for all?

As part of an ambitious climate and energy policy, the Commission has also adopted a number of enabling measures that support the social fairness of the energy transition.

The coal and carbon-intensive regions in transition initiative, for example, supports Europe’s coal regions, ensuring that these regions can modernise their economies in line with a transition towards a more sustainable economy while focusing on social fairness, job creation, new skills and financing for the real economy. Through regular meetings and a standing platform, national and local authorities, businesses and citizen groups can exchange best practices on how to valorise the opportunities created by the transition and ensure that no citizen or region is left behind. In addition, eighteen pilot regions of eight Member States benefit from a tailored support to identify concrete ways to start and lead the transition, accompanied by existing EU funds, financing tools and programmes.

The Commission also offers region-specific support for boosting innovation under the pilot action for regions in industrial transition. Until now, 12 test regions are working in partnership with Commission experts to boost their innovation capacity, remove investment barriers, equip workers with the right skills and prepare for industrial and societal change, on the basis of their smart specialisation strategies. The pilot seeks to find new ways to help these regions harness globalisation by decarbonisation, innovation, digitisation, and developing people’s skills, in particular those regions which have experienced significant employment loss in coal, steel or other energy intensive industries.

Moreover, the Commission has kick-started the clean islands initiative “Clean Energy for All EU Islands” with the objective to accelerate the clean energy transition in Europe’s over 1 000 inhabited islands. It aims to help these islands tap into locally available renewable energy sources, energy efficiency potential and innovative storage and transport technologies and become self-sufficient in energy, thus reducing costs, environmental pollution and reliance on heavy fuel oil to generate power, while creating growth and local jobs.

What does the new governance system for the Energy Union consist of?

The European Union has put in place a new governance framework to implement and further develop the Energy Union. This new regulation requests Member States to develop integrated National Energy and Climate Plans that will include their national contributions to the collective EU targets and the necessary policies and measures to achieve these contributions for ten-year periods. Through a continuous iterative dialogue with the Commission and between themselves, this will stimulate cooperation between Member States to achieve the objectives of the Energy Union, save administrative costs by streamlining most of the current energy and climate reporting requirements and provide regulatory certainty for stakeholders and investors.

All Member States have now officially submitted a draft of their first National Energy and Climate Plans for the period 2021-2030. This major milestone, which required a significant collective effort, is built on an excellent spirit of cooperation over the past 3 years.The Commission is currently assessing these draft plans in close cooperation with member states with a view to issue potential recommendations by 30 June 2019, to support member states to improve the plans and to ensure that the EU can collectively deliver on its new 2030 targets. Member states are expected to submit their final plans by 31 December 2019.

Why do we need a strategy for batteries in Europe?

Driven by the ongoing clean energy and mobility transition, demand for batteries is expected to grow very rapidly in the coming years, making this market an increasingly strategic one at global level. According to some sources, the European market potential could be worth up to EUR 250 billion annually from 2025 onwards. This trend is further reinforced by the new and comprehensive legislative and governance framework for the Energy Union, successfully adopted under this Commission to accelerate the transition to a sustainable, secure and competitive EU economy.

However, today the European share of global cell manufacturing is just 3 per cent and is, without further supporting action, forecast to rise to between 7 and 25 per cent in 2028, while Asia has an 85 per cent share. If no action is taken to support the creation of a viable battery manufacturing sector, there is a risk that Europe falls irreversibly behind its competitors in the global batteries market, and becomes dependent on imports of battery cells and raw materials used in the supply chain.

Huge investments are needed to this end. It is estimated that 20-30 giga-factories for battery cells production alone will have to be built in Europe and their related ecosystem will need to be considerably strengthened.

Batteries have therefore been identified by the Commission as a strategic value chain, where the EU must step up investment and innovation in the context of a strengthened industrial policy strategy aimed at building a globally integrated, sustainable and competitive industrial base.

What is the Commission proposing on batteries?

Following the adoption of the Strategic Action Plan on Batteries in May 2018, the Commission is working together with many Member States and key industry stakeholders to build a competitive, sustainable and innovative battery ecosystem in Europe, covering the entire value chain, embracing raw materials extraction, sourcing and processing, battery materials, cell production, battery systems, as well as re-use and recycling.

This is the main objective behind the European Battery Alliance (EBA), an industry-led initiative, which the Commission launched back in October 2017, to support the scaling up of innovative solutions and manufacturing capacity in Europe. The EBA is helping to foster cooperation between industries and across the value chain, with support at both the EU-level and from EU Member States.

Today’s Report highlights the progress achieved over the past year on the implementation of the key actions set out in the Strategic Action Plan on Batteries. For example:

The EU budget is providing important funding opportunities to support research and innovation in batteries. The EU’s Framework Programme for Research and Innovation for 2014-2020, Horizon 2020, has granted EUR 1.34 billion to projects for energy storage on the grid and for low-carbon mobility. In 2019, Horizon 2020 added a call to fund, under the European Battery Alliance, battery projects worth EUR 114 million. This will be followed by a call in 2020 amounting to EUR 132 million, covering batteries for transport and energy. The European Regional Development Fund is also providing support for research and innovation to promote an energy-efficient and decarbonised transport sector.

The EU’s regions have shown an interest in establishing partnerships to take forward joint projects and further develop strong innovation ecosystems in the field of batteries. One such interregional partnership, focusing on advanced battery materials for electro-mobility and energy storage, was launched in October 2018 in the framework of the Smart Specialisation Platform on industrial modernisation. This partnership has already expanded to include 22 regions and several pilot areas have been established across the value chain to identify battery-related projects that could lead to successful commercial businesses.

The European Battery Alliance is acting as a catalyst for creating a battery value chain in Europe. Around 260 industrial and innovation actors have joined this network. The EU Knowledge and Innovation Community (KIC) Innoenergy (European Institute of Innovation and Technology) has steered this network and already announced consolidated private investments of up to EUR 100 billion, covering the whole value chain. This includes announcements of production of primary and secondary raw materials in the EU, and planned battery manufacturing investments from several European consortia.

The European Battery Alliance is examining the potential for cross-border breakthrough innovation projects related to the battery strategic value chain with a view to accessing public funding that could be compatible with the EU’s State Aid rules under the Important Projects of Common Interest (IPCEI) framework. Several EU Member States have already launched processes to identify potential consortia and are working together to design one or more IPCEI in this field. They aim to seek approval by the Commission in 2019.

What is the Commission proposing in its Communication towards a new legislative framework for our energy and climate policy by 2025

While the enormous progress has been made in building the Energy Union during the last years, there are areas which have the potential of further improvement to achieve all the policy objectives. An important aspect of this forward-looking agenda on future energy policies involves examining how the Union takes decisions in this area.The Communication towards a new institutional framework for our energy and climate policy by 2025 sets out possibilities for moving to the ordinary legislative procedure in matters of environmental and energy taxation and fuller involvement of the European Parliament and of national Parliaments in policy-making under the Euratom Treaty. Moving to the ordinary legislative procedure in matters of environmental and energy taxation would facilitate the alignment of the tax regime to the EU’s energy and climate policy objectives. Fuller involvement of the European Parliament and of national Parliaments in policy-making under the Euratom Treaty would enhance transparency and democratic legitimacy for decisions on nuclear energy.

As the Commission has recently stressed in its Communication “A Clean Planet for All”, the energy transition requires a comprehensive economic and societal transformation, engaging all sectors of the economy and society to achieve the transition to climate neutrality by 2050. Achieving this objective requires decisive action across policy areas and it is essential that the EU should be equipped with the tools to take the necessary decisions in a manner that is both efficient and democratic.

Why does the decision making process for energy taxation need to be changed?

The Commission in January 2019 already laid out its ideas towards a move to qualified majority voting decision-making in the area of taxation. A further Communication adopted today explores how such a move could pave the way for proposals in the field of energy taxation, and specifically for initiatives that support the broader EU energy and climate goals, since current EU decision-making procedures are not fit for purpose.

The EU institutional framework around these issues is not fit for purpose, as it requires unanimous agreement amongst 28 Member States before action can be taken. This unanimity often cannot be achieved or leads to sub-optimal policies. A case in point is the failure of Member States to agree on the 2011 Commission proposal to update the EU’s Energy Taxation Directive. This proposal would have maximised the potential of energy taxation to deliver on climate change commitments and to support sustainable growth. It would also have reversed the paradoxical situation whereby the most polluting fuels are sometimes the least taxed in Europe.

Today’s Communication suggests that proposals in the area of energy taxation could be put forward under the so-called ‘passerelle clause’ – Article 192(2) – which provides for QMV decision-making for energy taxation measures that are primarily of an environmental nature. This could be justified for environmental taxation measures aiming at reducing CO2 and other polluting emissions or improving energy efficiency, key priorities of the EU’s Energy Union strategy and of the Paris Agreement. The Commission would encourage Member States to decide quickly to move forward, to unlock benefits for future generations. All Member States would need to agree for this to become a reality.

The Commission is currently re-evaluating the Energy Taxation Directive to decide if a potential update is necessary.

Why does the decision making process under the Euratom treaty need to be changed?

While there is a clear understanding that the use of nuclear energy is a national choice to be made by each Member State, and this will continue to be the case, the Euratom Treaty provides the most advanced legal framework in the world in the areas of nuclear safety, waste management or radiation protection.

There is, however, a recognised concern that the Euratom Treaty needs to evolve in line with a more united, stronger and democratic EU.A central aspect is the democratic accountability of Euratom and in particular the involvement of the European Parliament and of the national Parliaments.

The Treaty of Lisbon extended the ordinary legislative procedure to nearly all policy areas where the European Parliament had previously only had a consultative role. While the ordinary legislative procedure also applies in general to the Euratom Treaty, the individual legal bases of the Treaty do not foresee it. It remains the case, therefore, that the European Parliament is merely consulted on legislative proposals and international agreements falling under the competence of Euratom.

The Commission considers that more needs to be done to enhance the role of the European Parliament to improve the democratic legitimacy of decision-making under Euratom. In the short-term, the European Commission will establish in the months to come a High Level Group of Experts. Its task will be to assess and report to the European Commission on the state of play of the Euratom Treaty with a view to ensuring that, on the basis of the current Treaty, its democratic accountability is improved.

Energy

Nuclear Energy is not Dead! The Drivers Underpinning the Ongoing Nuclear Renaissance

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As a result of the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe in the Soviet Union of 1986 and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of 2011, public opinion remains reluctant to endorse nuclear technology in both the civilian and military sectors. Nevertheless, such energy remains the most ecological and realistic method of production to curb global warming, which explains the commitment of environmental parties, such as the Swedish Miljöpartiet de gröna, to nuclear power until renewable energies have more potential for electricity generation.

The debated civilian nuclear power supplied 2,586 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity in 2021, equivalent to about 10 per cent of global production, and represented only the second-largest low-carbon power source after hydroelectricity. With over 442 civilian fission reactors in the world (392 gigawatt), combined to 53 nuclear power reactors under construction (60 GW) and 98 reactors planned (103 GW), nuclear energy remains of interest, especially in the emerging economies.

While some argue nuclear production is a dangerous path, the main challenge, however, remains the sustainability of countries for maintaining and upgrading reactors.

At the time of the collapse of the USSR, many post-Soviet countries had to reduce or even shut down their nuclear capabilities due to a lack of economic resources and technical skills to maintain the production facilities. Financial issues also help explain the wish to transfer nuclear weapons to (post-Soviet) Russia, with Moscow having sufficient logistical means to ensure the maintenance.

In the end, the main concern when building a nuclear power plant or developing a nuclear arsenal is less about its completion than about its long-run sustainability. Indeed, nothing suggests that a country will remain politically and economically stable in the upcoming years, decades or even centuries.

Let us take the example of France and the United Kingdom, two countries which at the time of the development of their nuclear arsenals (1952 and 1960 respectively) and their civilian power plants were global powers able to counterweight Washington and Moscow (e.g. France withdrawal from NATO command structures in 1966).

Nowadays, these two countries—France and the United Kingdom—do not have the same maritime or land surface, and their international presence and financial weight have been greatly reduced, which for the time being has not led to problems related to the maintenance of nuclear power plants, but could one day occur in case of an unexpected crisis. In the same manner, a country could—due to political change, resurgence of radicalism or institutional crisis—turn into a hostile force while keeping its nuclear military capabilities, leading to greater instability on the international scene.

Leaving the military aspects aside, nuclear power is fundamental to the efforts to tackle global warming, at least for the time being, and this energy appears to be the gateway to space colonization. While there is still a lot of research to be done in this area, it will undoubtedly enable the travel to the Moon, Mars and exoplanets as well as the production of the much-needed electricity for colonization (e.g. 3D printing systems to build large-scale facilities).

Nuclear-powered robots are commonplace when it comes to space conquest, and a number of spacecraft—Cassini-Huygens, Curiosity (rover), Galileo, Kosmos 954, Lincoln Experimental Satellite, New Horizons, Viking 1 and 2, Voyager 1 and 2—already rely on this type of energy to operate.

Nuclear energy thus represents an opportunity as well as a responsibility, as shown by the Finnish case with the Onkalo deep geological repository, based on the KBS-3 technology for disposal of high-level radioactive waste developed by the Svensk Kärnbränslehantering AB (SKB).

Considering the emergency related to global warming and the increasing tensions in international relations (e.g. growing U.S.-China competition in the Pacific and in space), we will have to learn to cope with civil and military nuclear power: as a matter of pragmatism until we have a better option, if one exists.

Therefore, this article explores solutions for the future by addressing the example of French management in this area, a country with a production of 379.5 TWh (70.6% of the national electricity), the highest percentage in the world.

The Russian floating nuclear power station may also provide an adequate answer for countries that do not have the financial and technological resources to build their own nuclear power stations, providing a solution without forcing governments in least developed countries into significant commitments. The Rosatom project deserves to be mentioned because it might inspire other states, such as the United Kingdom, the United States, France and China, to develop their own floating nuclear power stations, which might lead to the possibility of seeing nuclear-powered container ships appearing, avoiding over-consumption of fossil fuel energy in the supply chain.

In general, nuclear power also seems necessary as the banking sector transitions from traditional banking to blockchain and will consume more energy in the future, which will require an increase in the low environmental impact energy production.

Finally, nuclear power is necessary to ensure the success of the colonization of space, thus preventing humanity from relying on a single solar system, as the chances of survival on two planets are considerably greater than on one.

French nuclear paradise: France’s successful management of its nuclear assets

As mentioned above, France has a nuclear power output of 537.7 TWh providing 70.6% of the total electricity, the highest percentage in the world. This is due to several historical factors and motives, the main one being De Gaulle’s policy in the 1960s to ensure that France would remain a great power capable of competing with the United States and the Soviet Union.

Although it may seem difficult to imagine nowadays, in the 1950-1960s France was an Empire covering several continents (e.g. Indochina and Algeria) and as such was by demography, territorial holdings and GDP capable of representing an alternative to the two superpowers. After the collapse of the French Empire in the second half of the 20th century, France became a “middle” power even if it remains the largest maritime territory in the world and possesses land in Africa, Latin America (French Guiana), and in distant territories such as French Polynesia.

De Gaulle’s desire to develop nuclear research, albeit for military purposes, led to the parallel development of French civil nuclear energy, which was necessary to produce large quantities of radioactive components for the future nuclear arsenal. While France has not been able to match the United States and remains behind Russia and China today, the civilian aspects have succeeded in making the country a nuclear paradise with clean and affordable energy.

Largely owned by the French government (85% of the company’s shares), Électricité de France (EDF) is the country’s main electricity generation and distribution company in charge of its nuclear power plants. While looking at the French management, EDF remains heavily indebted. Its profitability has suffered from the recession that started in 2008 and made a profit of €3.9 billion in 2009, which fell to €1.02 billion in 2010, with provisions amounting to €2.9 billion. Overall, the main problem in France remains the government, and as long as the state is in charge of nuclear production (EDF), the company does not need to strongly increase its efficiency to survive.

As such, an interesting option for the future of French nuclear production would be privatization, as large companies would increase nuclear capacity and optimize production costs while reducing the number of people in the administration. Public opinion and the French government are opposed to this idea, as it would give the private sector more flexibility and could lead to safety concerns, while the reality is probably the opposite, as government management is the main problem and the reason why the services are less efficient than the private sector, as can be seen in almost every aspect in which public administration is involved (e.g. NASA as opposed to SpaceX).

The French administration could privatize nuclear power generation, while setting laws and ensuring compliance by the private sector, which would mean that the French government would guarantee the safety of production standards, while nuclear power providers would optimize production efficiency, as has already been done with airlines and telecommunications.

Although France has successfully managed civil nuclear power at the national level, the lack of privatization has led to missed business opportunities in the nuclear field. We might have expected France to create more nuclear facilities in French Guyana to sell electricity to the neighboring Latin American nations, thereby increasing profits in a continent that demands more. The same is true in Europe, as with German nuclear facilities closed, France could have increased domestic production to become the nuclear powerhouse of Europe, a fruitful business given French expertise in this area and the high demand for electricity in Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium and Switzerland, to name a few.

In this sense, Russia has been able to innovate more quickly and is now offering the floating nuclear power plant, which has enormous potential in the developing countries, with a prospect to emerge as a world leader in this growing sector.

The bright future of Russian floating nuclear power plants

Floating nuclear power plants are vessels designed by Rosatom—the Russian state-owned nuclear energy company—and are self-contained, low-capacity floating nuclear power plants able to move around the world. Rosatom plans to mass-produce these plants in shipbuilding facilities to tow them to ports near places where electricity is in great demand, which can increase access to nuclear energy in some parts of the world.

The concept dates back to the MH-1A in the United States, which was built in the 1960s in the hull of a World War II Liberty Ship; however, the Rosatom project is the first floating nuclear power plant for mass production.

When it comes to the technology itself, a large part remains classified, though we know that floating plants must be refueled every three years, nevertheless saving up to 200,000 tons of coal and 100,000 tons of oil per year. The reactors are expected to have a 40-year life span and are designed around the reactor itself, successive physical protection and containment systems, active and passive self-activating safety systems, automatic self-diagnosis systems, reliable diagnostics of the condition of equipment and systems, and planned accident control methods. In addition, the on-board safety systems operate independently of the plant’s power supply.

According to Rosatom, 15 countries, including China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Algeria, Sudan, Namibia, Cape Verde and Argentina, have expressed interest in leasing such a device. It is estimated that 75% of the world’s population lives within 100 miles of a port city, the fact turning Rosatom’s device into a typical example of Blue Ocean strategy in the nuclear energy sector.

The Russian floating nuclear power plant is an attractive alternative for developing countries, as it offers the technical expertise of Russian engineers, while it does not require a state to provide the uranium and can only be used when needed.

African and Latin American countries will need more electricity in the near future, especially when it comes to transitioning from central banks and gasoline-powered vehicles to blockchain-based digital currencies and electric cars. As such, the Russian project is one of the first of its kind that should provide a temporary solution in emerging countries. Market liberalization in this area is to be expected, with competition from China, the United States, and perhaps countries such as France, depending on how Rosatom manages to sell this business model versus its competitors.

Space conquest and safety of humanity can almost only be achieved through nuclear power

While it can be perceived as a threat on Earth, nuclear energy is essential in space, and nuclear decay processes are used in niche applications such as radioisotope thermoelectric generators in space probes like Voyager 2.

Moreover, the production of electricity from fusion energy remains the focus of international research. Because nuclear power systems can have a lower mass than solar cells of equivalent power, this allows for more compact spacecraft that are easier to steer and direct in space. In the case of manned spaceflight, nuclear power concepts that can power both life support and propulsion systems can reduce both the cost and duration of flights.

NASA in the United-States

In 2001, the safe affordable fission engine was under development, with a tested 30kW nuclear heat source to lead to the development of a 400kW thermal reactor with Brayton cycle gas turbines to generate electrical power. Waste heat rejection was to be provided by low mass heat pipe technology. Safety was to be ensured by a robust design.

A concert example is the project Prometheus, a NASA study of nuclear-powered spacecraft from the early 2000s, while Kilopower—preliminary concepts and technologies that could be used for an affordable fission nuclear power system to enable long-duration stays on planetary surfaces—is NASA’s latest reactor development programme.

American interests in space technology are also connected with classified project regarding the 6th generation fighter jet, and it is possible the Northrop TR-3 Black Manta (temporary name) will require more energy to sustain the consumption of energy for non-gravitational field on the edges and the middle of the triangle.

In Russia, TEM (nuclear propulsion)

The TEM project started in 2009 with the aim of powering a Mars engine, with Russia declaring to have completed the first tests of the water droplet radiator system in March 2016.

On 19 March 2021, the M.V. Lomonosov Research Centre in Keldysh plans to conduct flight tests of ion engines in 2025-2030. According to the press service, the Keldysh Centre has already created products with a capacity of 200W to 35 kW. At the moment, the characteristics of their resources are confirmed and the creation of a 100kW engine is in the preliminary stages.

While details of declassified nuclear space applications are sometimes available in the United States and Russia, China has been more secretive about the current state of knowledge in this area. In addition to space conquest, nuclear research can be applied to hypersonic missiles, as nuclear technology applied to space remains the only solution for space exploration until another propulsion source of equivalent power is developed.

Overall, a nuclear renaissance would be much appreciated, not only to secure the future of our planet by protecting the environment but also to ensure humanity will survive around our universe, with the conquest of the Moon, Mars and exoplanets relying on nuclear-powered spacecraft.

While nuclear power has suffered from Chernobyl and Fukushima, even in some countries where it has shown positive results, such as France, ambitious projects like the Russian floating nuclear power plant have proved to be a valuable solution for advanced countries to provide clean and affordable energy to the rest of the world.

Future disasters are a possibility that cannot be ruled out, and while they are a tragedy, we must weigh the invisible costs of other means of electricity generation on the environment (e.g. coal), bearing in mind that civil nuclear power plants have improved and will hopefully continue to do so with nuclear fusion.

In the long term, this does not mean that renewables should not be improved, but nuclear will nevertheless remain complementary, until and if renewables are able to take over on Earth, with the nuclear mainly used for space purposes thereafter.

From our partner RIAC

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Hydrogen Could Be A Key Player In The Recovery And Resilience Plan

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Thanks to the contribution of vaccines, the Covid-19 pandemic is slowly beginning to abate and gradually lose its aggressiveness, with the consequent reduction of its impact on people’s health worldwide.

However, while the health effects of the pandemic appear to be fading, the negative economic effects of a year and a half of lockdown and forced closure of many businesses are being felt heavily at a global level and seem bound to last well beyond the end of the health emergency.

With a view to supporting and encouraging the “restart” and revival  of the economy, the European Union has launched a “Recovery and Resilience Plan”, allocating a huge amount of funds that shall be used in the coming years not only to help countries in difficulty with contingent measures, but also to stimulate economic and productive growth capable of modernising production models with specific reference to environmental balance, which is increasingly facing a crisis due to the use of non-renewable, highly polluting energy sources.

Italy will receive over 200 billion euros in European funds to develop its own projects to get out of the economic-pandemic crisis and rightly wants to use them not only to plug the leaks caused by the various ‘lockdowns’ in the national productive fabric, but also to implement a series of strategic projects capable of making not only the productive sectors, but also the public administration and the health and judicial systems more efficient.

In short, the “Recovery and Resilience Plan” that is currently coming to the fore may prove to be a powerful driving force for Italy’s development and modernisation.

The projects submitted by Italy to the EU institutions include an initial allocation of over 200 million euros – out of the 47 billion euros planned for the next decade – to promote research and development in the field of renewable energy and particularly in the hydrogen sector.

Why Hydrogen?

Hydrogen is potentially the most abundant source of “clean” energy in the universe. It is versatile, safe and reliable; when obtained from renewable energy sources, it produces no harmful emissions to the environment.

Nevertheless, it is not available in nature in its gaseous form – which is the only one that can be used as an energy source – as it is always bound to other elements, such as oxygen in water and methane as a gas.

The traditional processes used to “separate” hydrogen from oxygen in water and from methane use up large amounts of electricity, which makes the processes not only very expensive, but also highly polluting, with the paradox that, in order to produce a clean energy source, the environment is “polluted” anyway, especially if – as has been the case until recently – the electricity needed is produced with traditional non-renewable energy sources (coal, gas and oil).

The best source of hydrogen in gaseous form is the sea. Electrolysis can easily separate hydrogen from oxygen and store it in gaseous form for use as an energy source.

The electrolytic cells used to develop the process use up large amounts of energy and, fortunately for us, science is finding a way to produce it without polluting, using solar, wind and, above all, sea wave energy.

The use of marine energy creates a sort of “circular economy” for hydrogen production: from the practically inexhaustible primary source of ocean water, hydrogen can be extracted with the energy provided by wave and tidal motion.

Forty per cent of the world’s population live within 100 kilometres from the sea and this shows the potential of sea wave and tidal energy as an engine for sustainable development in economic, climate and environmental terms.

Nowadays modern, non-invasive tools are available to extract electricity from sea waves, such as the “penguin”, a device manufactured in Italy, which – placed 50 metres deep – produces electricity without harming marine flora and fauna.

Another example of Italian scientists’ intelligence and creativity is the Inertial Sea Wave Converter (ISWEC), a device housed inside a 15-metre-long hull which, occupying a marine area of just 150 square metres, is able to produce 250 megawatts of electricity a year, thus enabling to cut emissions into the atmosphere by 68 tonnes of CO2.

With these devices and the other ones that technology will develop over the next few years, it will be possible to power electrolytic cells for the production of hydrogen in gaseous form on an industrial scale, at levels that – over the next 15 years – will lead to the production of at least 100,000 tonnes of “green” hydrogen per year, thus enabling to reduce air pollution significantly, with positive effects on the economy, the environment and the climate.

In the summer of 2020, the European Union launched a project called the “Hydrogen Strategy”, with a funding of 470 billion euros, intended for research and production projects capable of equipping EU countries with electrolysis tools to produce at least one million tonnes of “green” hydrogen by the end of 2024.

The fight against CO2 emissions continues unabated: in the United States which, after Trump’s Presidency, has reaffirmed its commitment to reducing emissions; in China which, in its latest five-year plan, has forecast a 65% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere by the end 2030; in Europe, which has always been at the forefront in the creation of devices for producing wave and tidal energy and exports its technologies to the United States, Australia and China.

According to the Hydrogen Council, an association of over 100 companies from around the world that share a common long-term vision for a transition to hydrogen, in the future Europe and China will compete and cooperate in the production of sea wave and tidal energy and in the related production of “green hydrogen”.

With its 14th five-year plan, China, in particular – after having been for decades, during its whirling economic development, one of the main sources of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere and of global pollution – has undertaken the commitment “to develop and promote the harmonious coexistence between man and nature, through the improvement of efficiency in the use of resources and a proper balance between protection and development”, as clearly stated by its Minister of Natural Resources Lu Hao.

It might sound like the sweet-talk and set phrases of a politician at a conference.

In the case of China and its Minister of Natural Resources, however, words have been turned into deeds.

As part of the Roadmap 2.0 for Energy Saving Technology and New Energy Vehicles, China has set a target of one million fuel cell vehicles and two million tonnes of hydrogen production per year by the end of 2035.

The China Hydrogen Energy Industry Development Report 2020 forecasts that, by the end of 2050, hydrogen energy will meet 10 per cent of energy requirements, while the number of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will rise to 30 million and hydrogen production will be equal to 60 million tonnes.

With a view to giving substance to these prospects, China has established the “National Ocean Technology Centre” in Shenzhen and developed – with the Italian “International World Group” – the “China-Europe cooperation project for energy generation and hydrogen production from sea waves and from other renewable energy sources”.

These are concrete projects in which – thanks to Italian creativity and Chinese rationality and pragmatism – we must continue to invest and work, not least to give the third industrial revolution a cleaner face than the coal-stained one of the second industrial revolution.

These projects appear to be in line with those envisaged both at European and Italian levels by the ‘Recovery and Resilience Plan’, which should guide us out of the economic doldrums of the pandemic. They deserve to be financed and supported as they can not only contribute to the recovery and revival of the economy, but also to the reconstruction of a cleaner and more liveable world (thus showing that good can always come out of evil).

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Energy

The ‘energy crisis’ and its global implications

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A particular news caught my attention this morning regarding energy crises. Before going into the depth of the news, I would like to introduce you to the concept of energy crisis and its global implications.  As introduced by Garrett Hardin in 1968; the tragedy of commons that the resources of world are limited, if the resources are used excessively soon there will come a time when they will become scarce. These resources can only be sufficient through cooperation of people among each other; there’s no other solution. The tragedy of commons is the best way to explain the concept the energy crises.

Now, the population world is growing at an exponential rate and with the growing population there is a need to provide a better lifestyle to the upcoming generations.  In a struggle for raising that standard of living, more and more resources of developed world are being utilized. The McKinsey Global Institute forecasted that by 2020 developing countries will demand 80 percent more energy which proved to be true as is evident in recurrent fuel shortages and price hike globally. A MIT study also forecasted that worldwide energy demand could triple by 2050.

Besides petrol, there is also a rise in demand for natural gas with only few reliable reserves all over the world. The natural gas reserves are mostly unreliable because they are usually found in deep oceans and mere accessibility can cost a lot of expense. Henceforth, the supply is limited, the price has fluctuated greatly and recent technological development has reduced dependence upon natural gas by providing alternatives such as fuel efficient or electric cars. Similarly, electricity supply systems are also not very reliable because there have been power blackouts in the United States, Europe and Russia. There have also been chronic shortages of electric power in India, China, and other developing countries.

If we specifically observe the Iraqi oil crises to understand the whole energy crises shebang, then according to today’s news in TRT World, in Iraq alone, $150bn of stolen oil cash smuggled out since 2003. Iraqi oil exports are even 30-40% below prewar levels. The acting president of Iraq is furious because insane amount of corruption is being carried out in Iraq where substantial quantity of oil is being smuggled. President Barham Saleh presented a legislation to parliament, where, under law any transaction over $500,000 would be scrutinized. This step, if materialized, can be very crucial in preservation of oil reserves in Iraq after the Saddam Hussein regime.

In United States, presidents have constantly been avoiding energy problems because they are very controversial. The recent Texas electricity outrage was a one that had been warned about. Before the Arab Oil Embargo Nixon in 1970’s was reluctant about energy and said ‘as long as the air conditioners are working normally, there is no energy crisis’ but after this incident Nixon began to change his tone and said on television that “energy is number one issue”. Then came Carter, who got a number of legislations passed on the issue of energy even when his own party was against it. In the 1970’s the prevalent thought for United States was that the world would run out of energy resources very soon so they started investing more in nuclear armament as an alternative. In 1990’s the combined cycle plants that used natural gas to create electricity were really efficient and economical that even gas at a high price could be competitive, also ethno-industry was crated at that time.

Then, the threat of climate change is also one of great relevance in the context of energy crises. The nonrenewable energy resources such as oil, water and coal must be used carefully and lack of which can be hazardous. It can cause drought, famine, disease, mass migration that will eventually lead to a conflict such as explained in the tragedy of commons theory. The now developed nations exploited natural resources to build its wealth. The resources such as wood, coal, oil and gas where on one hand are very economical, on the other hand they can be the originators of carbon emissions. Climate change also led to loss of biodiversity as well as environmental hazards.

Even though the developed world i.e. north provides a significant amount of assistance to the global North i.e developing countries, they cannot be a replacement for the shortage of resources. Also, they also face extreme price hike in the energy resources even though the developing nations are the ones owning the resources such Iraq for oil. Besides expensive resources, these developed nations also give rise to domestic and political tensions in the third world countries. Organizations like Al-Qaeda have openly declared their intent to attack oil facilities to hurt the interests of US and its close allies.

All in all, the pertaining threat of energy crisis has global implications. One person’s’gain is another person’s loss but this can be made inevitable if cooperation takes places. Sharing is caring and in this context sharing can prevent from future wars and hurricanes, floods and droughts and famines. The extent of seriousness of the problem must be taken into consideration not only be academicians but by policy makers as well.

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