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Sustainable bioenergy use: A clear path to biodiversity regeneration

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While renewable energy is advancing rapidly in Africa due to consistent efforts and investment, wood fuel is still largely used on the continent. In addition to being of significant value to African economies, it is the single most important energy source for most households. However, high dependence on biomass, even with the development of improved cookstoves, contributes to deforestation, degradation of soil quality and reduced biodiversity. Wood fuel use in households is also an important source of indoor air pollution, which, according to the World Health Organization, kills 4 million people every year.

Urgent action is therefore required to address fuelwood use and management on the continent, where only 25 per cent of the population has access to clean fuels and energy for cooking. A recent desk study published jointly by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the African Union, Review of Woodfuel Biomass Production and Utilization in Africa, takes stock of the current situation and proposes policies and strategies for Member States to accelerate the transition to renewable energy sources.

UNEP and its partners promote the development of renewable sources of energy and energy efficiency as part of the Sustainable Energy for All initiative and climate mitigation effort. With the financial support from the International Climate Initiative, UNEP just concluded the Building capacity for enhancing bioenergy sustainability through the use of Global Bioenergy Partnership indicators project in Ethiopia and Kenya.

The project provides technical assistance to government officials and experts in Ethiopia and Kenya to assess the sustainability of their bioenergy sectors and to build their capacity for long-term, periodic monitoring. The project is structured around the application and interpretation of 24 indicators to assess the environmental, social and economic impacts of bioenergy production and use. Results from the indicators will be used to inform the decision-making process.

Energy consumption in Ethiopia was an estimated 42 million tonnes of oil equivalent in 2016. Biomass energy sources account for 91 per cent of final energy consumption and for 98 per cent of energy consumption in the residential sector. The Global Bioenergy Partnership project in Ethiopia examined the development of biogas and solid biomass (firewood and charcoal) production to understand how it can contribute to reaching the Sustainable Development Goals as well as to national development policies, such as the Climate Resilience Green Economy Strategy.

With 99 million people relying on the traditional use of biomass for cooking in Ethiopia, access to modern energy, reduction of poverty and better health are potential benefits that biogas and improved biomass cooking solutions can bring. This is compared with the traditional use of biomass in open fires. Other benefits accruing from this intervention include increased employment, greater gender equity and climate change mitigation.

“These findings help improve our overall knowledge and understanding about Ethiopia’s bioenergy sector and serve as a starting point to improve the sustainability of this sector and support the design of effective sustainable bioenergy policies as part of low-carbon development strategies,” said Fikadu Beyene, Commissioner of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in Ethiopia.

The energy mix of Kenya is dominated by biomass then oil and oil products, geothermal and other renewables, according to its National Bureau of Statistics. Biomass contributes a large share of the country’s final energy consumption, supplying more than 90 per cent of rural household energy needs. 43 million people rely on the traditional use of biomass for cooking in the country.

The project helped to assess the current and future potential of the country’s bioenergy sector focusing on two courses of action: the use of sugarcane bagasse briquettes residues by the tea industry and charcoal production from forests, woodlands and farmlands for use by households. The tea industry consumes almost 1 million tonnes of firewood per year, or more than 4 per cent of the volume of firewood consumed each year in Kenya. The summary report prepared for the project therefore outlines the consequences of the widening gap between supply and demand for wood fuel with current wood fuel supply outstripping demand in various parts of the country.

“The project outcomes give a better understanding of the environment, social and economic impacts of bioenergy use, and helps to sustainably manage this important national resource in Kenya,” said Charles Mutai, Director, Climate Change Directorate in the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

In Kenya, the project was implemented by Stockholm Environment Institute in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment and Forestry and UNEP. The Stockholm Environment Institute conducted the calculation and analysis of the 24 indicators applied to the two priority pathways together with the Kenya Forestry Research Institute, Strathmore University and the World Agroforestry Centre.

In Ethiopia, the project was undertaken by the Environment, Forest and Climate Change Commission and the Ethiopian Environment and Forest Research Institute, which conducted the technical calculation and analysis of the 24 indicators applied to the two priority pathways.

These indicators were developed in a collaborative process, led by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which currently hosts the Global Bioenergy Partnership Secretariat. The partnership works with various stakeholders such as governments, intergovernmental organizations and civil society.

UN Environment

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Guterres leads call to make Africa ‘renewable energy superpower’

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The flame of injustice is “scorching hopes and possibilities” across Africa as the world grapples with the climate crisis, with the continent suffering some of the worst impacts of global warming said the UN chief on Tuesday.

Secretary-General António Guterres was addressing the African Climate Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, noting that despite “extreme heat, ferocious floods, and tens of thousands dead from devastating droughts”, the continent was responsible for less than four per cent of emissions.

“The blow inflicted on development is all around with growing hunger and displacement”, he said.

‘Quantum leap’

But amid the “climate chaos” he said it was still possible to avoid the worst, “but only with a quantum leap in climate action.”

He said far greater climate ambition was needed from all countries led by the largest emitters, in line with his Climate Solidarity Pact and Acceleration Agenda.

He called on the G20 advanced economies meeting in Delhi this week, to take responsibility and commit to reaching net zero emissions as close as possible to 2040.

Secondly, he called for “climate justice” to reach goals on renewable and affordable energy, particularly in Africa. This means operationalizing the agreed loss and damage fund, universal early warning systems, and a “course correction in the global financial system.”

‘World leader in renewable energy’

Third, Africa is rich in untapped renewable energy with the potential to become a world leader in renewables and “green growth.”

It has nearly a third of the world’s mineral reserves for solar power, electric vehicles and battery storage.

“To truly benefit all Africans, the production and trade of these critical minerals must be sustainable, transparent and just across every link of the supply chain”.

The UN chief pointed to the Greater Horn region where over 85 per cent of electricity comes from renewables. Mozambique gets nearly all its energy from green and sustainable resources.

And wind and solar projects are already helping power Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and South Sudan.

He called for a collective effort to create “a true” African Renewable Energy Alliance.

‘African miracle’

“Renewable energy could be the African miracle but we must make it happen. We must all work together for Africa to become a renewable energy superpower.”

Mr. Guterres told the conference of African leaders and stakeholders hosted by Kenya and the African Union Commission that he was convinced the continent “can be at the heart of a renewable future.”

He said now was the time for all nations “to stand as one in defence of our only home. Let’s deliver the climate justice that Africans, the world, and the planet we share, demand and deserve.”

Speaking at a press conference in Nairobi after his speech, the Secretary-General said it was time to end the injustices that are holding the continent back. He pledged to work closely with African leaders and organizations such as the AU, to accelerate progress.

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WP: Drop in energy needs points to a further deterioration in industrial activity in Europe

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Europe has an even stronger ally to keep gas prices under check heading into the colder months: extremely weak demand. The manufacturing crisis that’s plaguing the continent — industrial activity in Germany has contracted for 14 consecutive months — is the best antidote against a gas supply squeeze. With friends like that, who needs enemies? – asks ‘The Washington Post’.

Europe is defeating its energy crisis thanks to the impact that said crisis has had on its industrial heartland. Across the continent, many energy-intensive companies have either closed or reduced production after not being able to cope with higher energy prices. The fertilizer, chemical, metallurgic, glass, paper and ceramic industries are particularly affected. All those shuttered factories don’t need gas or electricity now.

In Germany, activity among energy-intensive companies plunged in June by nearly 18% versus late 2020, according to official data. During the same month, industrial gas demand also declined 18% compared with a year ago. In July, gas demand posted an even deeper plunge, falling 22.9% from a year earlier, the largest decline so far in 2023. When official industrial production data is released for July in a few weeks, that drop in energy needs points to a further deterioration in industrial activity.

Due to anemic manufacturing activity and lower-than-expected gas-burn in the electricity sector, Morgan Stanley reckons that total gas demand in Europe is running about 15% below the five-year average, even when adjusted by the impact of the weather. With consumption low and LNG supply so far plentiful, Europe has been able to inject a record amount of gas into underground storage over the spring and summer — despite most countries in the region no longer having access to Russian pipeline gas supply.

European gas stocks are nearly 92% full — a record high for this time of the year. If the current injection pace continues, inventories would reach 100% by mid-September.

And yet, it would be of little solace for the continent’s industrialists. Currently, European gas prices are running at about €35 ($38) per megawatt hour, compared with the 2010-2020 average of just over €20. Wholesale electricity prices are running above €140 per megawatt hour, more than triple the 2010-2020 average of €38.5.

The real problem is that companies know that any supply issue, real or perceived, would trigger a price rally, because even with nearly full stockpiles, Europe needs all the gas it can grab to make it through the winter. The manufacturing sector remains the go-to segment of consumption to find extra demand destruction. Hence, why so many chief executive officers are reluctant to bring back production capacity, fearing reactivating a plant only to get caught again by higher prices.

As such, the price of avoiding the energy crisis is a deep recession in the manufacturing sector, and a long-term loss of economic growth.

German businesses are increasingly curbing investments and eyeing production abroad amid high energy prices at home, informs Bloomberg.

Over half of surveyed companies say the energy transition is having negative or very negative effects on their competitiveness, according to a report by the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Among manufacturers, almost a third are considering or already executing a production shift abroad — twice as much as during last year’s energy crisis.

“The German economy’s confidence in energy policy has fallen to a low point,” the group’s chairman Achim Dercks said. “Concerns about competitiveness have never been greater.”

Germany’s manufacturing-heavy economy has seen a protracted period of weakness that shows few signs of abating amid plunging business confidence, and it’s the only major European nation whose output is forecast to shrink this year. While manufacturers used to enjoy relatively cheap power costs when Germany was still receiving pipeline gas from Russia, last year’s crisis forced the country to revamp its plan for future supplies. Its energy prices are currently among the highest in Europe.

While the expansion of renewable energy sources is expected to eventually bring costs down, they are likely to remain elevated until at least 2027, according to the government. Among large industrial companies — who often already have links to production abroad — one in four have already started or completed further capacity movements.

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EU imports record volumes of LNG from Russia

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The EU is set to import record volumes of liquefied natural gas from Russia this year, despite aiming for the bloc to wean itself off Russian fossil fuels by 2027, Financial Times informs.

In the first seven months of this year, Belgium and Spain were the second and third-biggest buyers of Russian LNG behind China, according to analysis of industry data by Global Witness, a nongovernment organisation.

Overall, EU imports of the super-chilled gas were up 40 per cent between January and July this year compared with the same period in 2021.

The jump comes from a low base as the EU did not import significant amounts of LNG before the war in Ukraine due to its reliance on piped gas from Russia. But the rise is much sharper than the global average increase in imports of Russian LNG, which was 6 per cent over the same period, Global Witness said.

The NGO’s analysis is based on data from industry analytics company Kpler, which showed that the EU is importing about 1.7 per cent more Russian LNG than it did when imports hit a record high last year.

Global Witness said the cost of the LNG imported from January to July at spot market prices amounted to €5.29bn. “It’s shocking that countries in the EU have worked so hard to wean themselves off piped Russian fossil gas only to replace it with the shipped equivalent,” said Jonathan Noronha-Gant, senior fossil fuel campaigner at Global Witness.

Most of the Russian volumes come from the Yamal LNG joint venture, which is majority-owned by the Russian company Novatek.

As well as resulting in billions of euros in revenues going to Russia at a time when the EU continues to tighten its sanctions regime against Moscow, the import levels leave the EU exposed to any sudden decision by the Kremlin to cut supplies as it did for piped gas last year.

Alex Froley, senior LNG analyst at consultancy ICIS, said that “long-term buyers in Europe say they will keep taking contracted volumes unless it is banned by politicians”. He added that an EU ban on imports would cause some disruptions to shipping as global trade patterns would need to be rearranged, “but ultimately Europe could find other suppliers and Russia other buyers”.

Belgium imports large volumes of Russian LNG because its port of Zeebrugge is one of the few European points of transshipment for LNG from ice-class tankers used in the high north to regular cargo vessels.

Spain’s utility Naturgy and France’s Total also have continuing contracts for large quantities of Russian LNG, analysts said. EU policymakers have been urging European companies not to buy Russian LNG. Spanish energy minister Teresa Ribera, whose government is chairing the six-month rotating presidency of the EU, said in March that LNG should be hit with sanctions, adding that the situation was “absurd”.

Kadri Simson, the EU’s energy commissioner, has said that the bloc “can and should get rid of Russian gas completely as soon as possible, still keeping in mind our security of supply”.

EU officials have pointed to an overall effort to phase out Russian fossil fuels by 2027, but warned that an outright ban on LNG imports risked prompting an energy crisis akin to last year when EU gas prices hit record highs of more than €300 per megawatt hour.

One official said that despite European gas storage containers being more than 90 per cent full ahead of winter, there was still “a lot of nervousness” should there be any further cuts to supplies.

Russian LNG accounted for 21.6mn, or 16 per cent, of the EU’s total 133.5mn cubic metres of LNG imports (equivalent to 82bn cubic metres of natural gas) between January and July, Kpler data shows, making it the bloc’s second-biggest supplier of the liquid fuel after the US.

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