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Civil Society Groups Across Asia demand the ADB recalibrate its Draft Energy Policy

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Civil society groups across South, Southeast and Central Asia are raising the alarm as the Asian Development Bank (ADB) gears up to announce a new Energy Policy that — unless recalibrated — will fail to reflect the realities of climate science and local peoples’ burning concerns. 

On September 6th, the ADB’s Board of Directors is set to discuss the proposed framework that will guide the Bank’s energy portfolio for at least the next five years. Just last month, the most recent IPCC report (AR6) was released; a so called “code red for humanity” that issues a stark warning: coal, oil and gas must be left in the ground, with no new infrastructure built to extract or burn these fuels if we are to have a chance at survival. Civil society groups note with concern the ADB is prepared to continue financing not only fossil fuel dependent projects, but also large-scale hydropower and waste-to-energy projects that simply have no role in a forward looking agenda for a just, inclusive and sustainable transition in the region. In effect, the ADB’s publicly posted “Energy Policy Working Paper” critically fails to take into account the latest climate science, undermining – rather than bolstering – global efforts to limit global heating to 1.5C. 

The Working Paper has been hastily rushed to the Board of Directors for approval with only a two week window for public review and input (August 16th – 31st), meaning non-English speaking communities with little or no access to the internet — the very people who are impacted by the ADB’s projects — are effectively excluded from opportunities to give any meaningful comments on the draft. 

As Rayyan Hassan, executive director of NGO Forum on ADB elaborated: “The Working Paper of the ADB’s Energy Policy Review was released in English as late as 16 August on the ADB website. While the coal exit language has been retained, loopholes remain. There is nothing stopping the ADB from supporting investments in coal via financial intermediary lending, or in transport and connectivity infrastructure that will enable further coal trade and extraction.”  He also added that the Working Paper fails to incorporate the urgency of the IPCC AR6 report, and does not apply stringent or time-bound criteria on ending support for further expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure, most especially for new gas-dependent operations. 

For a 54-year old MDB, we expect the ADB to immediately halt its financing for fossil fuels, helping to shift the region towards renewable energy especially through solar and wind technologies. The ADB must ensure adequate considerations are made to the climate emergency as per the IPCC report and update the draft accordingly. The ADB has to emerge from this review with an Energy Policy anchored in support for transformative and renewable energy in line with a 1.5 degree target, and it has to act now,” Hassan added.

The Draft Energy Policy veers dangerously towards promoting projects that will lock some of the most climate vulnerable countries on the planet into a future dependent on large-scale power projects that threaten peoples’ livelihoods and health, while emitting heavy methane and other greenhouse gas emissions. As Avril De Torres from Center for Energy, Ecology and Development (CEED) Philippines explained: “A 1.5°C-aligned transition is an imperative for climate-vulnerable Asia, and the IPCC made clear what this looks like: a swift end to our dependence on all fossil fuels, not just coal. ADB seems to be deaf to the IPCC’s climate code red, with its Working Paper still bent on churning more carbon and methane through dirty energy, especially fossil gas, and false solutions like carbon capture. We also hope the ADB clarifies its coal buy-out scheme in the Philippines and neighboring countries, and how this fits – or contradicts – its no coal policy”. She continued: “As nations that stand to lose the most if we fail to bring global temperature rise back down to no more than 1.5°C by the end of this century, we cannot allow the ADB Board to approve a Working Paper that is nowhere near the ambition needed to address the climate crisis in this most critical decade.” 

Nora Sausmikat from Urgewald, based in Germany, urged the ADB to close all loopholes for facilitating fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure expansion, affirming that: “Only green hydrogen produced with renewable energy is sustainable and reduces carbon emissions.” She further noted that: “True climate solutions cannot include any advice for nuclear energy. Looking at the whole project cycle from uranium mining to waste disposal, this technology is in no way climate friendly, but dangerous and costly.

As Petra Kjell from UK-based Recourse explained: “Since its last Energy Policy was implemented in 2009, ADB has invested over $6 billion in financial intermediaries such as private equity funds and banks. It is imperative that ADB publish the name, sector and location of all high and medium risk projects it supports through FIs. Otherwise, no one will be able to track and monitor ADB’s fossil fuel commitments. Without transparency reforms, we will simply have to believe ADB that no FI money is ending up supporting fossil fuels.”

Hasan Mehedi of the Coastal Livelihood and Environmental Action Network affirmed:

“In the Energy Policy Working Paper, the ADB did not set any deadlines for ending fossil fuel investments. ADB is not merely a bank, but a policy influencer in relation to member countries in Asia and the Pacific. If ADB doesn’t set a deadline for fossil fuel investments and support achieving 100% renewables in the region, how will the member countries achieve it? Any further financing of  fossil fuel projects will even jeopardize goals to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 – let alone real zero. ADB has to stop offering financing for fossil fuels, including fossil gas, now, and that should be reflected in their new Energy Policy.” 

Civil society groups are also questioning why the ADB’s Working Paper explicitly suggests support will be extended to Waste-to-Energy projects, when better, cleaner and locally appropriate energy solutions exist. According to Yobel Putra of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives – Asia Pacific: “Waste-to-Energy is waste incineration in disguise.  The bank has admitted that the energy generated from this burning technology is insignificant compared to other energy sources. In fact, it will only heat up our planet and spew toxic pollutants which will accumulate in our food chain for a very long time. With its heavy reliance on burning fossil-based plastic, investing in incineration is clearly not Paris-aligned. It is more carbon intensive than coal-fired power plants.. It also hinders measures on waste reduction, reuse, recycling, and composting”.

The suggestion in the Working Paper to finance large-scale biomass operations has similarly raised concerns among advocates across the region.  As Peg Putt of the Biomass Working Group’s Environmental Paper Network explained: “Large-scale energy generation from forest and plantation grown biomass is a damaging false solution that the ADB should exclude from supporting as part of a low carbon transition. Logging and burning forest wood immediately releases carbon emissions on par with coal, harms forests and depletes their ability to draw down carbon, whilst it also marginalises forest communities”.

NGO Forum on ADB members and allies are also alarmed by the provisions related to large-scale hydropower. Asserted Gary Lee of International Rivers: “For decades, large dams have driven the displacement of millions worldwide, while emitting vast quantities of methane – one of the worst greenhouse gases that the IPCC is calling for drastically reducing. The science and historical evidence is clear–if we want to tackle the climate and biodiversity crisis, increase resiliency and food security, and protect the rights of people. The ADB’s energy policy must prohibit financing for new large hydropower projects.”

In practical terms, the NGO Forum on ADB members across the region have also repeatedly raised concerns that the way in which the roll out of the Energy Policy review has taken place has not provided a meaningful basis for open, accessible consultations with communities affected by the Bank’s own project investments. From the perspective of Vidya Dinker of the Indian Social Action Forum/GrowthWatch: “The ADB seems to have played an elaborate hoax on us. They kept us hooked with coming-soon announcements of a robust review of their energy policy. In an expression of good faith, despite the draft paper unveiled in May being only in English, CSOs struggled but extensively engaged with the bank on it. Why then do we have the same issues and some more, with this 2nd and last draft before us? Four months of ‘consultations’ that ignored community voices, even basic foundational asks like translations into 5-6 major Asian languages to facilitate meaningful consultation, continued subterfuge on guidance notes, marks this as an opaque and  hopelessly meaningless exercise.” 

It is in this context that civil society groups have taken a stand to demand the ADB adopt a new Energy Policy that is in line with what the science and times demand of us, underscoring that better energy options exist for the region, that are locally appropriate, decentralized to meet the needs of urban and rural people alike, and Paris-aligned

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Energy efficiencies of EU waste incinerators are appallingly low

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A new study published today by Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) finds that efficiences of electricity generation of existing EU waste incineration facilities are appallingly low.

The study “Debunking Efficient Recovery: the Performance of EU Incineration Facilities” done by Equanimator found that typical efficiencies of generation of energy, especially when generating electricity only, are around the mid-20’s % in the best cases. This compares poorly with the figures of around 35% for coal-fired electricity generation, and 55% for combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) plants. 

The situation is somewhat better, comparatively, as regards heat generation, but even here, performance is no better than that of domestic gas-fired boilers. The situation worsens – the emissions effectively double, both for electricity and for gas – when emissions of non-fossil CO2 from waste incineration are considered.

Moreover, the study questions the rather arbitrary basis for distinguishing between disposal (D10) and recovery (R1) incineration. The energy efficiency threshold set under the R1 formula that was established to draw a distinction between waste disposal and recovery incinerators is one which is far too easily met. The R1 threshold could be achieved at efficiencies of as low as 16.5% net efficiency. The report thus recommends abandoning the meaningless distinction between D10 and R1 incineration. 

Janek Vähk, ZWE’s Climate, Energy, and Air Pollution Programme Coordinator, says: “The report provides evidence that burning waste for energy is a very inefficient process and as such the energy recovery aspect of it is often overemphasised by some stakeholders. Moreover, the ongoing decarbonisation makes it increasingly difficult to consider waste as a suitable source of energy, thus the need to recover energy from waste which led to the R1 formula is outdated.“

Dominic Hogg, Director of Equanimator: “The case for distinguishing between ‘recovery’ and ‘disposal’ on grounds of energy efficiency is always questionable. Incinerators are required, by law, to recover heat as far as is practicable, and any meaningful distinction would have excluded a significant proportion of operating facilities. Instead, according to EU data, some 98% of all municipal waste incinerated is dealt with at facilities that qualify as ‘recovery’. That suggests the ‘efficiency threshold’ has been designed to be too easily met. Given the diminishing benefits from incineration as energy systems decarbonise, it’s time to dispose of this distinction, and reclassify all incinerators as disposal facilities.”

The low generation efficiency of incineration leads to greenhouse gas emissions per unit of electricity are almost double of those associated with natural gas generation.

With the above in mind, ZWE calls on the European Commission in the upcoming revision of the Waste Framework Directive:

  • to remove the R1 formula in Annex II of the Waste Framework Directive so that municipal waste incineration is no longer able to be classified as ‘recovery’;
  • establish a mixed (residual) municipal waste generation target of 100 kgs per capita by 2035, to shift the focus from the disposal of waste to addressing the mixed waste generation in the first place.
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Offshore wind farms move ahead full sail with underwater help

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By MICHAEL ALLEN

Off the coast of Portugal, a team of underwater robots is scanning the base of turbines on a wind farm and looking for signs of damage while aerial drones check the blades. The activity is part of a project to reduce inspection costs, keep wind turbines running for longer and, ultimately, reduce the price of electricity.

Wind power accounted for more than a third of the electricity generated from renewable sources in the EU in 2020 and offshore wind energy is expected to make a growing contribution over the coming years. Denmark became home of the world’s first offshore wind farm in 1991 and Europe is a global leader in the field.

Still, running wind farms in seas and oceans is expensive and adds to the overall cost of such clean power. Furthermore, Asian companies in the sector are gaining ground, increasing the European industry’s need to retain a competitive edge.

Lower costs

‘Up to 30% of all operation costs are related to inspection and maintenance,’ said João Marques of the INESC TEC research association in Portugal.

Much of this comes from sending maintenance crews out in boats to examine and repair offshore-wind infrastructure.

The EU-funded ATLANTIS project is exploring how robots can help on this front. The ultimate goal is to cut the cost of wind energy.

Underwater machines, vehicles that travel on the water surface and aerial drones are just some of the robots being tested. They use a combination of technologies – such as visual and non-visual imaging – and sonar to inspect the infrastructure. Infrared imaging, for instance, can identify cracks in turbine blades.

Research carried out by the project suggests that robotics-based technologies could increase the amount of time that maintenance vessels can work on wind farms by around 35%.

Higher safety

Expense is not the only consideration.

‘We also have some safety concerns,’ said Marques, who is a senior researcher on the ATLANTIS project.

Having people transfer from boat to turbine platforms, dive beneath the waves to inspect anchor points and scale turbine towers is dangerous.

It is safe for people to transfer from boats to turbine platforms only when waves are less than 1.5 metres high. By contrast, robotic inspection and maintenance systems can be deployed from boats in seas with waves of up to 2 metres.

In addition, easier and safer maintenance will increase the amount of time that wind farms can be fully operational. In winter, it is often impossible to carry out offshore inspection and maintenance, which must wait for better weather in spring or summer.

‘If you have a problem on a wind farm or on a particular turbine in a month where you cannot access it, it needs to be stopped until someone can reach it,’ said Marques.

Being able to work in higher waves means that causes of wind-farm shutdowns can be tackled more quickly.

First of its kind

The project’s test site is based on a real offshore wind farm in the Atlantic Ocean, 20 kilometres from the northern Portuguese city of Viana do Castelo. It is the first of its kind in Europe.

‘We need somewhere to actually test these things – somewhere where people can actually develop their own robotics,’ Marques said.

In addition to its own robotic technologies, ATLANTIS aims to help other research teams and companies develop their own such systems.

European researchers and businesses active in this cutting-edge sector should be able to book time to use the facilities starting early this year.

Damage prevention

Another way to cut maintenance costs is reducing damage and the need for repairs in the first place. The recently concluded EU-funded FarmConners project sought to do just that through the widespread use of a technology called wind farm control, or WFC.

When hit by wind, a turbine extracts energy from the air flow. As a result, the flow behind the turbine has a reduced energy, a phenomenon known as shadowing. Because of this uneven distribution of energetic load on blades and towers, some turbines get damaged more than others.

WFC aims to balance out the distribution of wind energy throughout the farm, according to project co-coordinator Tuhfe Göçmen of the Technical University of Denmark.

There are several ways to mitigate the effects of shadowing. One is to misalign turbines. Instead of facing straight into the wind, a turbine can be turned slightly so that the shadow effect is steered away from turbines behind.

The pitch and the rotational speed of the turbine’s three blades can also be changed. While this cuts the amount of energy the turbine produces, it leaves more for the turbines behind to harvest.

Grid-friendly

As well as reducing wear and tear and maintenance costs, WFC can make wind farms more productive and help them generate power in a way that is easier for the electricity grid to handle.

Renewable energy including wind power is often produced in peaks and troughs. Sometimes the peaks, or surges in power, can overload the electricity grid.

With the turbines working together, power production can be levelled out to provide more consistent and stable input to the grid, according to Göçmen.

‘If we control turbines collectively, it is simply more efficient,’ he said.

Research has shown that such wind-farm control could increase the power output of all wind farms in the EU by 1%.

That’s equivalent to twice the output of a 400 megawatt wind farm, which would cost around €1.2 billon to build, according to Gregor Giebel, a FarmConners co-coordinator also at the Technical University of Denmark.

This technology is also simple to implement as most wind turbines can be controlled and adjusted to act in the ways needed by WFC. The wind farms need simply to update their control software.

There is a lot of commercial interest in WFC technology, making it a promising way for Europe to expand its use of wind energy, according to Göçmen,

It is ‘low-cost and potentially high-gain,’ he said.

Research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.

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Green Energy and Global Integration Will Sustain Positive Economic Outlook

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Recent economic signals have given experts reasons for hope, if not complacency about the outlook for 2023. Signs of declining inflation, resilient consumer spending and strong labour markets, among others, suggest that growth could be rebounding in the short term.

“My message is that it is less bad than we feared a couple of months ago, but that doesn’t quite get to us to being good,” said Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund.

The threat of rising inflation seems to have abated in many parts of the world, thanks in part to interest rate increases from some central banks. While many decision-makers have expressed determination to sustain rates, there is a risk that recent improvements could cause leaders to ease rates.

“The greatest tragedy in this moment would be if central banks were to lurch away from a focus on assuring price stability prematurely and we were to have to fight this battle twice,” said Lawrence H. Summers, Professor at Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

A major economic priority worldwide for 2023 involves accelerating decarbonization. Recent legislation in the United States to support green energy will provide billions of dollars in funding but has provoked concerns of launching a subsidy war between Europe and the US over decarbonization technology. On the one hand, competition to promote green energy could accelerate progress for the benefit of all. On the other hand, the risks that nations will block technological developments and turn inward would deter global progress.

“I hope very much that this subsidy race we are hearing about is not going to be a race for the bottom,” said Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank. A negative repercussion of Europe-US competition would be overlooking the imperative to finance the green energy transformation in the developing world, which is the most vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis.

Competition over green energy could amplify other risks of fragmentation in global trade as many nations prioritize national security over global integration. “Over the last three years, we have entered a new era of globalization. We have shifted from market-driven globalization to politically powered globalization,” said Bruno Le Maire, France’s Minister of Economy, Finance and Industrial and Digital Sovereignty.

Fragmentation poses numerous risks to the world economy, such as higher costs associated with reorganizing supply chains. For example, Europe and the US have focused recently on increasing domestic production of silicon chips. There is a risk that such turning inward will impede global cooperation on trade and climate goals.

The easing of pandemic restrictions in China raises questions for the 2023 economic outlook. One potential concern involves rising energy costs worldwide, as Chinese consumption rises.

In Japan, inflation remains a concern, but the nation has seen recent improvements in job creation. “We made that change I should say mainly due to increased labour participation of women,” said Kuroda Haruhiko, Governor of the Bank of Japan.

In terms of the most pressing risks for 2023, economic experts focused on the ongoing war in Ukraine not only as a geopolitical and humanitarian crisis but also as a concern for economies around the world. Likewise, experts expressed uncertainty about whether inflation would continue a downward trajectory and about the continued threat of mutations of COVID-19. Despite recent signs of improvement, “relief must not become complacency,” Summers noted.

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