Category Archives: Business Investment

Queensland: Coal or Solar

fish on Great Barrier Reef

The future of the Great Barrier Reef, and the planet’s climate, will be greatly affected by plans to export vast quantities of coal from Queensland. There is an alternative.

Two worlds are colliding. The fossil fuel industry and its pet politicians plan ever greater acts of folly, piling more money into ever more reckless projects. Climate change, ocean acidification and air pollution all suggest it would be more sensible to quit all investment in fossil fuels and just leave them in the ground. There are better, less polluting and increasingly cheaper alternatives. Take what is happening in Queensland, Australia, as an example of the choice humanity must make.

The Great Barrier Reef is dying mainly due to the warming ocean. The Queensland government, led by climate change denying Pauline Hanson has approved several massive new ports to export vast quantities of coal. Huge swathes of sea will need to be dredged further damaging the reef. Avaaz, WWF and Greenpeace all have campaigns and petitions opposing the development. (Do please sign their petitions)

In remote northern Queensland a couple of small rays of hope suggest a better alternative. The Kidston Energy Park is just about to start building a 50MW first phase solar photovoltaic project, which it is planned, will then be expanded to 270 MW. What makes this project especially interesting is that a 250MW pumped storage hydro system is planned to be co-located on the site, meaning that excess solar energy from the middle of the day can be turned into more valuable evening electricity, or be stored for use on the occasional cloudy days. The whole project is located at an old gold mine at Georgetown with the pumped hydro system located in the old gold mine workings. This will be a world first, co-locating solar with pumped storage hydro.

Another pioneering cleantech project is planned for Hughenden, Queensland. The Kennedy Energy Park is due to start construction in early 2017, with a first phase to be 30MW of wind, 20 MW of solar pv and 2 MW of Lithium Ion batteries all co-located and grid connected. Further expansion of the site would only be possible with improvements to the grid.

As I wrote in a blog last August, Australia could be a world leader in solar power. It has the perfect climate. Sadly is does not have the politicians able to take a lead. Last week I blogged about Mauritania, a country with a similar vast solar potential as Australia. Australia has much greater technical and financial clout, and is doing a number of useful projects, but I’d put money on Mauritania getting to a solar powered economy long before Australia, given the strength of Australia’s coal lobby and their political puppets.

Tesla & Energy Innovation

solar-roof-tiles

Tesla’s new solar roof tiles.

Elon Musk and his Tesla company are making multi-billion dollar investments in a number of mutually reinforcing technologies, which taken together point to a very different energy future. His $5bn gigafactory is being built near the appropriately named settlement of Sparks, Nevada. When completed in 2020 it will be the biggest building in the world and will be churning out electric cars and batteries on a prodigious scale. It will be powered entirely by its own on-site solar, wind and geothermal energy, with no doubt plenty of battery storage!

Tesla has just unveiled solar photovoltaic roofing tiles that look great and are cheaper and more durable than building a traditional roof and then retro fitting ordinary solar panels. I see this as the future for solar roofs on new houses, and on many retrofits. Simultaneously Tesla is in the process of buying SolarCity for $2.6 bn, which will give them a huge entrance into the solar roof market. Tesla has also recently unveiled the new Powerwall 2, a higher capacity, more energy dense battery for domestic households. Many Californian households will be able to generate all their household and motoring energy from their own roofs, and store it to match domestic supply and demand. They might also use the battery to buy cheap grid electricity at times of oversupply on the grid and sell it back at times of peak demand, so making money in the process, and helping the grid level out fluctuating supply and demand.

A few weeks ago Tesla signed a contract with Southern California Edison to supply 80MWh of their Powerpack grid scale energy storage batteries. These grid scale batteries and the domestic batteries, combined with various other storage technologies, are changing the nature of the electricity industry. Couple this with falling demand as a result of ever increasing energy efficiency, and the results are profound. Baseload becomes an obsolete concept. Pacific Gas & Electric have just announced that they plan to shut down the huge 2.2 GW Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in 2025, many years earlier than planned, simply because it is too costly and inflexible to operate. It is old technology. Diablo Canyon is the last nuclear power plant in California. Coal has pretty much ended as a part of the Californian energy mix but its place has largely been taken by gas, but that too will diminish as efficiency plus renewables plus storage become ever more important. It is a moot point which should be phased out first, gas with its carbon emissions or nuclear with its risks (and Diablo is very close to geological fault!). Either way, California is heading toward a 100% renewable energy future. It will be fascinating to see how Tesla develops over the next decade and what contribution it makes to that 100% renewables goal.

Heathrow expansion

Heathrow Expansion: Another stupid infrastructure investment decision

Heathrow Expansion: Another stupid infrastructure investment decision

The government has announced expansion plans for Heathrow, despite Teresa May, David Cameron and the Conservative manifesto all being against it back in the day when it was a Labour policy. Jeremy Williams covers the tortured history of the issue very well in his blog and Greenpeace have published ten good reasons why it is a bad idea. There will be huge opposition, Judicial Review, Zac Goldsmith has resigned and forced a by-election. Naturally I think it is a terrible idea. Put simply airport expansion should be opposed anywhere until such time as we can fly in ways that do not have such awful consequences for climate change, noise pollution, air quality and therefore human health.

Caroline Lucas has tabled an Early Day Motion calling for a frequent flyer levy, which sounds a sensible idea, designed to dampen demand. I’d also like to see aircraft fuel taxed and increased investment in rail. Perhaps most importantly, and certainly least debated in Parliament or the media is putting very much greater resources into developing alternative, very much less polluting and quieter aircraft. I’ve blogged about Solar Impulse, the solar powered plane, and the helium filled airship Airlander. Within the next decade or so, given the right support, I’m pretty sure something like the Airlander could have a large photovoltaic array and batteries built into its design. It might incorporate hydrogen fuel cells. It would then have zero emissions, be quiet and not need a huge runway. An airport designed specifically for such aircraft would not need runways anything like Heathrow and would generate very much less opposition and could therefore be built very much more quickly.

Post Brexit this government wants to portray itself as a modern can-do government, open for business. However the policies it backs are all rather old fashioned, polluting technologies reflecting last century thinking: Trident, Hinkley, Fracking and Heathrow. All decisions we’ll come to regret. If humanity is to have a better future it will be socially inclusive, economically egalitarian, pollution minimizing and fuelled by renewable energy. Innovative Cleantec infrastructure investment decisions will need to be made. Tragically this government seem incapable of understanding any of this.

Disinvestment

 

waltham-forest-fossil-free

The campaign to disinvest from fossil fuels is gaining momentum. Last night Waltham Forest Council Pension Fund Committee voted to fully disinvest. They are the first UK council to do so, but it’s probable that many others will follow. In the past the main arguments were ethical, all about climate change, air pollution and trying to promote better alternatives. Renewable energy technologies, including generation, transmission and storage, are all seeing rapid increases in efficiency and decreasing costs. This will mean that many investments in fossil fuel and nuclear will become stranded assets, unable to sell the energy they generate when competing against cheaper renewables. It now makes very prudent business sense to disinvest from fossil fuels.

Waltham Forest joins 600 institutions with combined assets of over $3.4 trillion in the disinvestment movement. The powerful combination of good business sense and strong ethical foundations make this a movement set for exponential growth. We’ve seen a lot of bankruptcies in the coal industry of late, oil, gas and nuclear are all likely to see casualties over the coming year or two.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon, speaking in the light of the Paris Climate Agreement and in relation to the transition from a fossil fuel economy to a renewables based economy said that “The once unthinkable has now become unstoppable”.

Carbon Capture & Utilization

Professor Charlotte Williams, founder of Econic Technologies

Professor Charlotte Williams, founder of Econic Technologies

Climate change dictates that we need to reduce carbon emissions to net zero or even to net negative emissions as fast as possible. There has been much talk of carbon capture and storage. However just pumping carbon dioxide into old oil and gas wells seems both a waste of a potentially valuable resource and a rather insecure method of storage. I’ve long argued that carbon capture and utilization was a much better path to explore. There are many methods of doing this, from very well known and old to the most innovative high tech fields of research.

Photosynthesis takes carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Using high quality timbers like oak and teak in construction locks this carbon up in the fabric of a building, potentially for many centuries. Algae grow rapidly and are potentially the basis of a whole range of sustainable renewable energy and chemical industries. In 2009 Scottish Bioenergy built a very interesting algal bioreactor at the Glenturret Whiskey Distillery in Crieff, turning industrial waste into energy and a range of useful products, including high protein fish food. Using photosynthesis to capture carbon in timber, algae and other useful plant materials has a powerful positive role to play in carbon sequestration and in modern industrial innovation.

Carbon can also be directly captured from the atmosphere, or from flue gases, and used in a whole range of other useful products, from cement to plastics. A few years ago I got very excited at the prospect of carbon negative cements, which have great potential but which unfortunately cannot yet compete on price with ordinary Portland cement. Currently there is a lot of interest in making the plastics industry more sustainable. One of my favourite examples of this is Econic Technologies.

Econic Technologies is an amazing UK start-up. It was founded in 2011 by Professor Charlotte Williams to use carbon dioxide as a feedstock in the production of polymers. These are used in an extraordinarily wide range of products from trainers to mattresses, coatings and adhesives to appliances and in construction. The process they use will help reduce the energy use and ecological footprint of this whole range of industrial products. Econic Technologies, like MeshPower that I blogged about last week, was started by people from Imperial Collage in London. They have now grown due to investment from Imperial Innovations, Jetstream Capital, Norner and most recently Woodford Investment Management. This has allowed them to hire more staff and to open a new Application Development site at Alderley Park in Cheshire. This small start up seems to be growing well, and the technologies they have developed may have a huge role in helping reduce the pollution caused by the global chemical industry. I wish them every success.

Shifting Investments

Glenn, David & Cathy from SHIFFT, with 6th form students.

Glenn, David & Cathy from SHIFFT, with 6th form students.

A couple of days ago I went along to the Hereford River Carnival: lots of great floats, stalls and good community fun for all the family. There was a sort of festival within a festival as New Leaf had created the h.Energy village which featured a number of local organisations advocating greater sustainability. I stopped and chatted with lots of old friends and met some new faces. One of the groups with a stall was the new SHIFFT group, which stands for Stop Herefordshire’s Investments in Fossil Fuels Today. It’s part of the rapidly growing global movement lobbying for disinvestment from fossil fuels.

A few days earlier I went up to Llandrindod Wells to have a look around and talk to the people at Riversimple and see their amazing hydrogen fuel cell car. Robert Llewellyn, the actor and comedian from Red Dwarf fame, also happened to be visiting, making an edition of his Fully Charged video blog. I think we were both suitably impressed with what a breakthrough this car is. I’ve sung its praises a number of times on this blog. Riversimple currently are crowdfunding. This is to raise equity, so has a fairly high degree of risk involved, but also the potential to buy into an early stage start-up company which might well be a very lucrative investment. It is also of course just about as ethical an investment as I can imagine. They’ve kept the minimum investment at just £50 and would love to have many thousands of small investors.

Globally vast sums of money are flooding out of the fossil fuel sector, in part driven by the ethical arguments about the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground to prevent the worst ravages of climate change, and in part due to the realization that these reserves are very likely to become stranded assets, so undermining the perceived value of oil, gas and coal companies. The money is beginning to flow into the renewables sector in vast amounts. I mentioned in my last blog about the £229 billion that went into renewable electricity generation last year. On top of all this wind and solar comes the whole raft of cleantech innovation start-ups such as Riversimple. I do hope they achieve their crowdfunding objective, initially of one million pounds, with a further two similar sized tranches following on.

Renewables Resurgent!

renewables investment 2015

renewables investment 2015 in $

I’ve long been arguing for the transition from ‘The Fossil Fuel Age’ to ‘The Solar Age’. Climate Change dictates we must, and the opportunities to build a better future for all while making this transition are almost infinite. We are witnessing the death spiral of the coal industry: Peabody, Arch and a host of other coal companies have all filed for bankruptcy in recent months. They all had planned on continued expansion of their industry and massively underestimated the growth of renewables. And the rise of renewables is now happening dramatically quickly in many countries.

The figures for 2015 are now available. Global investments in renewables were £229 billion, an all time high, compared to just £90 billion in coal and natural gas. Renewables used to be seen as a small niche market: not anymore! Globally it’s a very mixed picture. France and Germany saw decreases in investment, but most countries saw rapid increase in investment. China was by far the biggest single player, but some smaller countries saw extraordinary growth, led by Mexico, Chile, Morocco and South Africa. Japan led the rooftop photovoltaic sector, Morocco the concentrating solar thermal sector, China, Germany and UK all opened impressive offshore wind farms over the last year. Wind and solar are becoming well established industries. Some other renewables are about to emerge onto the global stage. Geothermal power is expanding in Turkey, Kenya, Ethiopia and elsewhere. The UK might yet become a leader in the tidal energy sector, as the MeyGen tidal flow project in the Pentland Firth is currently under construction, a similar tidal stream project off the Isle of Wight has just been approved and the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project will hopefully soon get the go-ahead, opening the way for many more such projects. Other technologies are waiting in the wings, such as wave power and algal bioreactors. Energy storage and interconnection technologies are improving rapidly so a 100% renewable energy future becomes ever more achievable, for electricity, heating, cooling and transport. My prediction is that this global energy transition will happen very much more quickly than our politicians and the old energy incumbency are planning for.

Saudi Solar?

Ouarzazate phase one

Ouarzazate solar plant, phase one, recently opened in Morocco.

Saudi Arabia has recently announced plans to set up a $2 trillion fund to help it make the transition into a post fossil fuel economy. I find this is very welcome news. (Some commentators are sceptical about how serious they are.) In January I mentioned the possibility of Saudi bankruptcy if they kept pumping vast quantities of oil at a loss. They have enormous solar energy potential, the accumulated capital to invest and with ACWA an engineering company with growing expertise in building concentrating solar power stations.

The Moroccans have recently switched on the first phase (160 MW) of the Ouarzazate solar power station, which when completed in 2018 will be 580 MW, cost $9billion and be the largest solar power station in the World. The consortium building the whole plant is made up of the Moroccan solar agency MASAN, the Saudi engineering company ACWA and several Spanish specialist solar companies like TSK, Sener, Acciona and Aries.

Per capita carbon emissions in Saudi Arabia are a whopping 18.1 tonnes; they have high youth unemployment and currently an economy that is hugely over dependent on a fuel that is rapidly becoming obsolete. Until now they’ve hardly begun to tap their solar potential.

If I was advising the Saudi government I’d be arguing that they should start building concentrating solar power stations just like the one at Ouarzazate. They should collaborate with the many international centres of research and development and set up such centres in Saudi Arabia. They could invest in shares in many of the small solar start up companies and bring their technologies to Saudi Arabia. They could bring in Sundrop Farms to do solar desalination and hydroponic agriculture as is currently being developed at Port Augusta in Australia, and transport the produce in Dearman nitrogen powered refrigerated trucks.

Doing all this could help create many new opportunities for Saudi people, put the economy on a more sustainable footing and massively reduce pollution and carbon emissions. With $2 trillion to play with they could utterly transform their economy. Time will tell if they are serious.

National Infrastructure Commission

Lord Adonis

Lord Adonis, head of the new National Infrastructure Commission

What’s going on with British energy and climate policy? Amber Rudd remains a minister at Department for Energy and Climate Change, but since the last election George Osborne has been micro-managing her department and now he has handed the energy side of things over to the new National Infrastructure Commission led by the ex-Labour peer Lord Adonis. Adonis appears not to have responsibility for Climate Change policy, yet deciding the infrastructure investment priorities is an absolutely critical aspect any meaningful action on Climate Change. The idea of a National Infrastructure Commission has been around for a while and in a previous version included major housing developments, which has not been included in Adonis’s brief: he is to focus on energy and transport. This may have the short term objective of the government being able to drop expensive and unpopular decisions, like Hinkley C or HS2, without losing face politically.

Meanwhile Lisa Nandy, the Labour shadow minister for energy and climate has come out in favour of decentralised and democratic energy policies, exactly as I advocated in a blog posting on 3rd September. Does she read this blog!?

Many European countries have long term and consistent energy and infrastructure policies. The National Infrastructure Commission may help Britain achieve this very useful objective. Here is my advice to Lord Adonis, just in case he happens to read this blog!!!

Britain needs an energy demand reduction strategy to promote efficiency across all sectors; house design and construction, energy generation and distribution, domestic appliances and goods of all sorts. Full end of life re-use and recycling needs to be established to create a circular economy, requiring less primary inputs of energy and resources.

100% renewable energy for electricity, heating and transport as a policy objective: promote renewables at all scales, include a much more gradual reduction in feed-in tariffs, a special focus on promoting municipal and cooperative forms of ownership, open up the market so that local generators of energy can sell it locally rather than only to the national grid, support the rapid innovation and entrepreneurial activity that already exists.

Energy storage and interconnection will need much greater investment. This includes a wide range of different energy storage technologies including pumped hydro, batteries, renewable gases etc. European grid integration is important and the planned cable linking the Norwegian grid to ours is a very useful first step, links to Iceland and to Germany would be the next logical steps.

The transport priorities should be to reduce pollution and congestion in our cities. Cycling, walking and public transport should be prioritised, and that public transport should increasingly be electric or hydrogen powered.

Ecologist article http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2985705/uks_energy_revolution_deccs_role_usurped_by_new_infrastructure_commission.html

Lisa Nandy http://www.cityam.com/225399/labour-will-democratise-not-nationalise-britains-energy-sector-says-shadow-secretary-lisa

 

Falling emissions, rising interconnections

Longannet

Longannet

There are several really good new stories this week. UK carbon emissions fell by 9.7% in 2014. Coal use fell by 23%. These really are very impressive figures, especially given relatively strong growth in the UK economy, and a rising population. Energy use across all sectors of the economy seems to be falling, as I discussed in a blog in December. Renewable energy is expanding and this year for the first time generated more UK electricity than nuclear power, at 19.2 % compared to 19.0% for nuclear.

It has been announced that Longannet on the Firth of Forth is to close by March 2016. It is one of the dirtiest coal plants in Europe and figured in WWF’s ‘dirty 30 list’, the top priority plants to close in order to clean-up Europe’s energy supply. This marks a major milestone in the UK shift to a less polluting energy economy.

Another exciting announcement is the signing of a deal between UK and Norway to invest £1.5bn in an interconnector linking the UK and Norwegian electricity grids. The 1,400 MW interconnector will mean that a greater share of renewables becomes a practical option for the UK as we will essentially be able to use the massive Kvilldal pumped storage hydro systems in Norway like a giant battery to level out the inevitable fluctuations in supply associated with a mainly renewables based energy system.

As we look ahead to continuing falling emissions many more investment decisions will need to be made. The Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon is not yet a done deal, but it will be one of defining new technologies that UK government should give its backing to. Perhaps slightly further off will be decisions about the TuNur project to build a massive 2.25GW solar power tower plant in Tunisia and put in interconnectors linking it to the European grid, and so supplying electricity into the UK market. Each investment decision puts in another piece of the jigsaw and an evolving pattern emerges as to what a clean energy future looks like, for UK and for the World. Bring it on!

Falling emissions http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2015/03/large-fall-in-uk-emissions-in-2014-official-figures-confirm/

Growth of Renewables http://www.pv-magazine.com/news/details/beitrag/uk–solar-grows-93-in-2014-as-renewables-overtake-nuclear_100018792/#axzz3VZt2e6BR

Longannet http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/23/longannet-power-station-to-shut-next-year

UK Norway Interconnector http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/mar/26/uk-and-norway-to-build-worlds-longest-undersea-energy-interconnector

Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon http://www.tidallagoonswanseabay.com/about-us/news/103/

TuNur http://www.nurenergie.com/tunur/index.php/english/projects/tunisia