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The Reality Is that the Market Has Said “No” to Nuclear and “Yes” to Renewables

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Interview withPaul Dorfman*

Is climate change a significant threat to our world’s well-being and why should it be at the top of the global agenda?

Climate change is perhaps the most significant threat to the well-being of humans and biodiversity. With increasing knowledge, we are all understanding the existential threat that climate change is posing to us and will pose to our children and our grandchildren. There is no question, but that climate change is perhaps the key issue of our time and unless we take action very, very soon, there is a significant risk that our planet may become uninhabitable in many parts of the world. And there’s also no question but that sea level rise and the change in temperatures will have an epochal, enormous influence on all our futures.

You mentioned the need for taking action. What actions could be considered productive?

With mounting recognition of the speed and pace of the low carbon energy transition needed to mitigate climate change, it seems absolutely essential to build low carbon energy societies. This challenge may involve a series of differing technically and economically viable options, including the expansion of renewable energies in all sectors, rapid expansion and modernization of electricity grids, improvements in energy efficiency and energy management, the use of modern technologies to minimise electricity consumption, rapid enhancement of storage technologies, market innovations from supply to service provision, intelligence deployment of limited gas resources, and the fundamental restructuring of our built and transport environments.

As for nuclear energy, can it be used to help mitigate climate change? What are the problems associated with nuclear energy?

With mounting public concern and policy recognition over the speed and pace of the low carbon energy transition needed to mitigate climate change, nuclear power has been reframed as a response to the threat of global warming. However, at the heart of the question of nuclear power, there are differing views on how to apply foresight, precaution, and responsibility in the context of the poor economics of nuclear, the possibility of accidents, the consequences of those accidents, and indeed whether there exists a place for nuclear at all within the swiftly expanding renewable evolution.

When one considers nuclear, it is absolutely important to consider its life cycle in terms of carbon emissions. A study by Prof Benjamin Sovacool looked at 103 different studies and concluded that the average value for nuclear in terms of life cycle emissions was about 66 grams of carbon dioxide for every kilowatt-hour produced. This compares to about 9 grams per kilowatt-hour for wind and 32 grams per kilowatt-hour for solar. This puts nuclear as the third-highest carbon emitter after coal-fired plants and natural gas.

So, in terms of carbon emissions, nuclear is lower than fossil fuel but produces significantly more carbon dioxide in terms of its life cycle than renewable power. And perhaps more importantly, with ramping predictions for sea level rise and climate disturbance, nuclear will be an important risk, since climate change will impact coastal nuclear plants earlier and harder than is currently expected. Proposed new reactors, together with radioactive waste stores, including spent fuel located on the coasts, will be vulnerable to sea level rise, flooding, and storm surge. These coastal sites will need considerable investment just to protect them against sea level rise, and in the medium term, they will even be subject to abandonment or relocation.

Adapting coastal nuclear power to climate change will entail significantly increased expense for construction, operation, waste storage, and decommissioning. Inland nuclear power plants will do no better. This is because they must be cooled by significant amounts of water and they have to shut down if that cooling water is either too warm or the river flow is reduced. These are two factors that will absolutely happen with increased climate change. We are seeing this already in France where their reactors stationed by rivers, reliant on river water for cooling, have both diminished river flow and increased water temperatures in the summertime. That implies that there will be a significant inland nuclear station nuclear power shutdown in the future.

The other problem is one of economics, since nuclear is so hugely expensive. Carrying on constructing and prolonging the life of current nuclear plants is enormously costly. New construction is eye-wateringly expensive, which means that if we continue to build nuclear plants, we have much less resource, money, to put into the real solution to climate change, which is renewable power, demand-side management, and storage.

What are the advantages of solar and wind power?

A recent report by Standard and Poor, the key market analyst, found that renewable energy technology global investment has been running at about 350 billion dollars per year for the last few years. But for nuclear, it fell to about 17 billion for last year.

Standard and Poor say that they see “little economic rationale for new nuclear build in the US or Western Europe owing to massive cost escalations and renewables cost-competitiveness, which should lead to a material decline in nuclear generation”. Similarly, Lazard—the world’s leading financial advisory and asset management firm—has just compared the cost of new nuclear, which runs at about $119 to $192 per megawatt-hour, compared to $32 to $42 for utility-scale solar and between $20 and $54 for onshore wind per megawatt-hour. So there is a huge cost difference between nuclear and renewable technologies. Lazard go on to say that the unsubsidized, levelized cost of energy of large-scale wind and solar are at a fraction of the cost of new nuclear or even coal generators, even if the very great cost of nuclear decommissioning and ongoing maintenance is excluded.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance agrees with Lazard’s analysis. The key disadvantage to nuclear power is that it is just too expensive. For renewables, the cost is far lower and continues to fall, which is why what we see is the majority of new nuclear only being constructed with the support of vast state and public subsidy. So, given the reality that funding is limited, we need to make a choice between very expensive nuclear and very inexpensive renewables.

What hinders investments in renewable energy?

In fact, all of the markets are putting all of the money into renewable energy and none of the markets are putting their money into nuclear. There is no market investment in new nuclear. All the investment is going into renewable energy, as I have just discussed. The only problem is, of course, is that if governments via state subsidy put enormous amounts of the low carbon energy budgets into nuclear, they will have less money to invest properly in real low carbon energy technologies such as renewables, storage, and demand-side management.

What initiatives could help promote investments in renewable energy?

I do not think renewable energy needs pushing. The cost of renewables is a fraction of the cost of new nuclear. As Mr. Tanaka, a former director of the International Energy Agency and a former long-standing nuclear advocate, says, “nuclear is ridiculously expensive and uncompetitive”. So, nothing really needs to happen for renewable energy investment to grow. The reality is that the market has said “no” to nuclear and “yes” to renewables.

Under the Biden administration, the US is expected to rejoin the Paris Agreement. What are the benefits of this agreement?

Well, the US has taken a step back from the brink of the disaster that has been the Trump administration, which has been a catastrophe for the US and for the world. Trump was a disaster for international relations, including US relations with Russia. There is no question but that the new Biden administration will re-join the Paris agreement, which will help to save our planet. Over the last four years, the climate agenda has begun to reach the top of everybody’s political agenda. And the reason is, of course, that climate change could change our world. So, it is a hugely hopeful step that the new US administration will re-join the Paris agreement, and it looks increasingly clear that the US will work very hard to make an impact on its own very high CO2 emissions.

In your opinion, what initiatives could help promote Russia-Europe collaboration in mitigating climate change?

It is clear that cooperation between countries is essential in order to mitigate climate change. We have only one world, no planet B, and we are all live in it together. The effects of climate change will impact everybody. One of the keys to helping mitigate climate change is increased diplomacy, increased talking, increased cooperation between states, not least because we will need to substantially upgrade interconnecting grids to share electrical power.

With these interconnecting grids, will also come greater cultural, political, societal interconnection. When the wind blows in Germany and not in Georgia then, via interconnectors, it would be possible to shift power from one place to the other. The same is true of the sun. If the sun shines in the south of France and not in Vladivostok, it will be possible to transfer power via future grid connection. So, via these physical networked power connections, our countries will be increasingly tied together in terms of mutual support.

When one looks at the picture in terms of how to generate that power, given that Germany uses about 20% of all EU electricity, the Bundestag’s decision to close all nuclear power reactors and invest in renewables, energy efficiency, grid network infrastructure, and transboundary pumped storage hydroelectricity may prove significant for European energy policy and also international energy policy as a whole. When one looks at questions of low carbon energy, one looks at best practices, where it is working well. At the moment it is working well in Germany.

In the journey to manage the decline of fossil fuels, not all low carbon technologies are equal. The reality is that nuclear is far less benign, far more expensive, and far more carbon-intensive than other renewable options. Nuclear will struggle to compete with the technological, economic, and security advantages of the coming renewable evolution. In bidding goodbye to fossil fuels, we should also say goodbye to nuclear. And given the ramping costs and risks that cling to this, essentially late 20th-century technology, it is not before time.

*Dr Paul Dorfman is Honorary Senior Research Associate at the UCL Energy Institute, University College London; Chair of the Nuclear Consulting Group; Member of the Irish Govt. Environment Protection Agency Radiation Protection Advisory Committee; Member of the International Nuclear Risk Assessment Group. Paul served as Secretary to the UK Govt. scientific advisory Committee Examining Radiation Risks from Internal Emitters; led the European Environment Agency response to Fukushima; and served as Advisor to the UK Ministry of Defence Nuclear Submarine Dismantling Project.

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Indonesian Coal Roadmap: Optimizing Utilization amid Global Tendency to Phasing Out

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Authors: Razin Abdullah and Luky Yusgiantoro*

Indonesia is potentially losing state revenue of around USD 1.64-2.5 billion per year from the coal tax and non-tax revenues. Although currently Indonesia has abundant coal resources, especially thermal coal, the coal market is gradually shrinking. This shrinking market will negatively impact Indonesia’s economy. The revenue can be used for developing the country, such as for the provision of public infrastructures, improving public education and health services and many more.

One of the main causes of the shrinking coal market is the global tendency to shift to renewable energy (RE). Therefore, a roadmap is urgently needed by Indonesia as a guideline for optimizing the coal management so that it can be continuously utilized and not become neglected natural resources. The Indonesian Coal Roadmap should also offer detailed guidance on utilizing coal for the short-term, medium-term and long-term.

Why is the roadmap needed?

Indonesia’s total coal reserves is around 37.6 billion tons. If there are no additional reserves and the assumed production rate is 600 million tons/year, then coal production can continue for another 62 years. Even though Indonesia’s coal production was enormous, most of it was for export. In 2019, the export reached 454.5 million tons or almost 74% of the total production. Therefore, it shows a strong dependency of the Indonesian coal market on exports, with China and India as the main destinations. The strong dependency and the global trend towards clean energy made the threat of Indonesian coal abandonment increasingly real.

China, one of Indonesia’s main coal export destinations, has massive coal reserves and was the world’s largest coal producer. In addition, China also has the ambition to become a carbon-free country by 2060, following the European Union countries, which are targeting to achieve it in 2050. It means China and European Union countries would not produce more carbon dioxide than they captured by 2060 and 2050, respectively. Furthermore, India and China have the biggest and second-biggest solar park in the world. India leads with the 2.245GW Bhadla solar park, while China’s Qinghai solar park has a capacity of 2.2GW. Those two solar parks are almost four times larger than the U.S.’ biggest solar farm with a capacity of 579 MW. The above factors raise concerns that China and India, as the main export destinations for Indonesian coal, will reduce their coal imports in the next few years.

The indications of a global trend towards RE can be seen from the energy consumption trend in the U.S. In 2019, U.S. RE consumption exceeded coal for the first time in over 130 years. During 2008-2019, there has been a significant decrease in U.S coal consumption, down by around 49%. Therefore, without proper coal management planning and demand from abroad continues to decline, Indonesia will lose a large amount of state revenue. The value of the remaining coal resources will also drop drastically.

Besides the global market, the domestic use of coal is mostly intended for electricity generation. With the aggressive development of RE power plant technology, the generation prices are getting cheaper.  Sooner or later, the RE power plant will replace the conventional coal power plant. Therefore, it is necessary to emphasize efforts to diversify coal products by promoting the downstream coal industries in the future Indonesian Coal Roadmap.

What should be included: the short-term plan

In designing the Indonesian Coal Roadmap, a special attention should be paid to planning the diversification of export destinations and the diversification of coal derivative products. In the short term, it is necessary to study the potential of other countries for the Indonesian coal market so that Indonesia is not only dependent on China and India. As for the medium and long term, it is necessary to plan the downstream coal industry development and map the future market potential.

For the short-term plan, the Asian market is still attractive for Indonesian coal. China and India are expected to continue to use a massive amount of coal. Vietnam is also another promising prospective destination. Vietnam is projected to increase its use of coal amidst the growing industrial sector. In this plan, the Indonesian government plays an essential role in building political relations with these countries so that Indonesian coal can be prioritized.

What should be included: the medium and long-term plans

For the medium and long-term plans, it is necessary to integrate the coal supply chain, the mining site and potential demand location for coal. Therefore, the coal logistics chain becomes more optimal and efficient, according to the mining site location, type of coal, and transportation mode to the end-user. Mapping is needed both for conventional coal utilization and downstream activities.

Particularly for the downstream activities, the roadmap needs to include a map of the low-rank coal (LRC) potentials in Indonesia, which can be used for coal gasification and liquefaction. Coal gasification can produce methanol, dimethyl ether (a substitute for LPG) and, indirectly, produce synthetic oil. Meanwhile, the main product of coal liquefaction is synthetic oil, which can substitute conventional oil fuels. By promoting the downstream coal activities, the government can increase coal’s added value, get a multiplier effect, and reduce petroleum products imports.

The Indonesian Coal Roadmap also needs to consider related existing and planned regulations so that it does not cause conflicts in the future. In designing the roadmap, the government needs to involve relevant stakeholders, such as business entities, local governments and related associations.

The roadmap is expected not only to regulate coal business aspects but also to consider environmental aspects. The abandoned mine lands can be used for installing a solar farm, providing clean energy for the country. Meanwhile, the coal power plant is encouraged to use clean coal technology (CCT). CCT includes carbon capture storage (CCS), ultra-supercritical, and advanced ultra-supercritical technologies, reducing emissions from the coal power plant.

*Luky Yusgiantoro, Ph.D. A governing board member of The Purnomo Yusgiantoro Center (PYC).

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Engaging the ‘Climate’ Generation in Global Energy Transition

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photo: IRENA

Renewable energy is at the heart of global efforts to secure a sustainable future. Partnering with young people to amplify calls for the global energy transition is an essential part of this endeavour, as they represent a major driver of development, social change, economic growth, innovation and environmental protection. In recent years, young people have become increasingly involved in shaping the sustainable development discourse, and have a key role to play in propelling climate change mitigation efforts within their respective communities.

Therefore, how might we best engage this new generation of climate champions to accentuate their role in the ongoing energy transition? In short, engagement begins with information and awareness. Young people must be exposed to the growing body of knowledge and perspectives on renewable energy technologies and be encouraged to engage in peer-to-peer exchanges on the subject via new platforms.

To this end, IRENA convened the first IRENA Youth Forum in Abu Dhabi in January 2020, bringing together young people from more than 35 countries to discuss their role in accelerating the global energy transformation. The Forum allowed participants to take part in a truly global conversation, exchanging views with each other as well as with renewable energy experts and representatives from governments around the world, the private sector and the international community.

Similarly, the IRENA Youth Talk webinar, organised in collaboration with the SDG 7 Youth Constituency of the UN Major Group for Children and Youth, presented the views of youth leaders, to identify how young people can further the promotion of renewables through entrepreneurship that accelerates the energy transition.

For example, Joachim Tamaro’s experience in Kenya was shared in the Youth Talk, illustrating how effective young entrepreneurs can be as agents of change in their communities. He is currently working on the East Africa Geo-Aquacultural Development Project – a venture that envisages the use of solar energy to power refrigeration in rural areas that rely on fishing for their livelihoods. The project will also use geothermal-based steam for hatchery, production, processing, storage, preparation and cooking processes.

It is time for governments, international organisations and other relevant stakeholders to engage with young people like Joachim and integrate their contributions into the broader plan to accelerate the energy transition, address climate change and achieve the UN Sustainable Development Agenda.

Business incubators, entrepreneurship accelerators and innovation programmes can empower young people to take their initiatives further. They can give young innovators and entrepreneurs opportunities to showcase and implement their ideas and contribute to their communities’ economic and sustainable development. At the same time, they also allow them to benefit from technical training, mentorship and financing opportunities.

Governments must also engage young people by reflecting their views and perspectives when developing policies that aim to secure a sustainable energy future, not least because it is the youth of today who will be the leaders of tomorrow.

IRENA

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The Urgency of Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) for Indonesia’s Energy Security

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Authors:Akhmad Hanan and Dr. Luky Yusgiantoro*

Indonesia is located in the Pacific Ring of Fire, which has great potential for natural disasters. These disasters have caused damage to energy infrastructure and casualties. Natural disasters usually cut the energy supply chain in an area, causing a shortage of fuel supply and power outages.

Besides natural disasters, energy crisis events occur mainly due to the disruption of energy supplies. This is because of the disconnection of energy facilities and infrastructure by natural disasters, criminal and terrorist acts, escalation in regional politics, rising oil prices, and others. With strategic national energy reserves, particularly strategic petroleum reserves (SPR), Indonesia can survive the energy crisis if it has.

Until now, Indonesia does not have an SPR. Meanwhile, fuel stocks owned by business entities such as PT Pertamina (Persero) are only categorized as operational reserves. The existing fuel stock can only guarantee 20 days of continuity. Whereas in theory, a country has secured energy security if it has a guaranteed energy supply with affordable energy prices, easy access for the people, and environmentally friendly. With current conditions, Indonesia still does not have guaranteed energy security.

Indonesian Law mandates that to ensure national energy security, the government is obliged to provide national energy reserves. This reserve can be used at any time for conditions of crisis and national energy emergencies. It has been 13 years since the energy law was issued, Indonesia does not yet have an SPR.

Lessons from other countries

Many countries in the world have SPR, and its function is to store crude oil and or fuel oil. SPR is built by many developed countries, especially countries that are members of the International Energy Agency (IEA). The IEA was formed due to the disruption of oil supply in the 1970s. To avoid the same thing happening again, the IEA has made a strategic decision by obliging member countries to keep in the SPR for 90 days.

As one of the member countries, the US has the largest SPR in the world. Its storage capacity reaches a maximum of 714 million barrels (estimated to equal 115 days of imports) to mitigate the impact of disruption in the supply of petroleum products and implement US obligations under the international energy program. The US’ SPR is under the control of the US Department of Energy and is stored in large underground salt caves at four locations along the Gulf of Mexico coastline.

Besides the US, Japan also has the SPR. Japan’s SPR capacity is 527 million barrels (estimated to equal 141 days of imports). SPR Japan priority is used for disaster conditions. For example, in 2011, when the nuclear reactor leak occurred at the Fukushima nuclear power plant due to the Tsunami, Japan must find an energy alternative. Consequently, Japan must replace them with fossil fuel power plants, mainly gas and oil stored in SPR.

China, Thailand, and India also have their own SPR. China has an SPR capacity of 400-900 million barrels, Thailand 27.6 million barrels, and India 37.4 million barrels. Singapore does not have an SPR. However, Singapore has operational reserve in the form of fuel stock for up to 90 days which is longer than Indonesia.

Indonesia really needs SPR

The biggest obstacles of developing SPR in Indonesia are budget availability, location selection, and the absence of any derivative regulations from the law. Under the law, no agency has been appointed and responsible for building and managing SPR. Also, government technical regulations regarding the existence and management of SPR in Indonesia is important.

The required SPR capacity in Indonesia can be estimated by calculating the daily consumption from the previous year. For 2019, the national average daily consumption of fuel is 2.6 million kiloliters per day. With the estimation of 90 days of imports, Indonesia’s SPR capacity must at least be more than 100 million barrels to be used in emergencies situations.

For selecting SPR locations, priority can be given to areas that have safe geological structures. East Kalimantan is suitable to be studied as an SPR placement area. It is also geologically safe from disasters and is also located in the middle of Indonesia. East Kalimantan has the Balikpapan oil refinery with the capacity of 260,000 BPD for SPR stock. For SPR funding solution, can use the state budget with a long-term program and designation as a national strategic project.

Another short-term solution for SPR is to use or lease existing oil tankers around the world that are not being used. Should the development of SPR be approved by the government, then the international shipping companies may be able to contribute to its development.

China currently dominates oil tanker shipping in the world, Indonesia can work with China to lease and become Indonesia’s SPR. Actually, this is a good opportunity at the time of the COVID-19 pandemic because oil prices are falling. It would be great if Indonesia could charter some oil tankers and buy fuel to use as SPR. This solution was very interesting while the government prepared long-term planning for the SPR facility. In this way, Indonesia’s energy security will be more secure.

*Dr. Luky Yusgiantoro, governing board member of The Purnomo Yusgiantoro Center (PYC).

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