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Cross River Rail TBMs arrive in Brisbane

AUSTRALIA: The two tunnel boring machines to excavate the cross-city rail tunnels under central Brisbane have arrived in Queensland, state Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced on August 4.

Railway Gazette, 06/08/20

AUSTRALIA: The two tunnel boring machines to excavate the cross-city rail tunnels under central Brisbane have arrived in Queensland, state Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced on August 4.

The 7·2 m diameter machines were previously used to excavate sections of the Sydney Metro. They have now been delivered to a Herrenknecht facility in Pinkemba for refurbishment before being put to work on the Cross River Rail project.

The TBMs are due to be launched from the Woolloongabba station site in early 2021 and bore the 5·9 km twin tunnels northwards under the city to the Normanby portal, passing through the station boxes at Albert Street and Roma Street en route. Tunnelling is expected to average around 30 m per day.

Visiting the Herrenknecht base on August 4, Queensland’s Minister of State Development & Tourism Kate Jones said the Cross River Rail project would ‘leave behind a legacy of skilled workers trained by world leaders in specialist trades’. Up to 35 people are expected to be deployed on refurbishing the 1 350 tonne machines, which will be 165 m long when reassembled. New names are to be chosen for the TBMs before they are launched next year.

On July 30, the Cross River Rail project authority confirmed that work had started at the Wagners Precast facility in Wacol to manufacture the 25 000 concrete lining segments for the tunnels, with production and deliveries expected to run for around 10 months. More than 400 Queensland-based suppliers and sub-contractor are benefitting from work on the project, the authority said, adding that this was injecting more than A$4m a day into the local economy.

‘We know that to continue rebuilding Queensland’s economy, we must forge ahead with job-creating infrastructure like Cross River Rail’, commented Palaszczuk.

The 10·2 km link between Dutton Park and Bowen Hills including four new underground stations is due to be completed in 2024.

https://www.railwaygazette.com/infrastructure/cross-river-rail-tbms-arrive-in-brisbane/57115.article?adredir=1

In a Bid to Speed Development, Britain Gives Zoning a Try

The U.K. is poised to pass a radical overhaul of its planning system. Critics say it would only exacerbate housing inequality. 

The U.K. government unveiled plans this month for the most radical overhaul of the country’s planning system since the 1940s. 

To the government, the proposals are a bid to speed up home building and to power the post-pandemic economy. To the plan’s critics, it is a no-strings gift to developers that dilutes planning standards and risks creating the “slums of the future”.

The crux of the plan, published in a white paper outlining proposals for future legislation, is the adoption of a tool that is ubiquitous in the U.S. but currently plays no part in British planning regimes: zoning. This is a major shift. Under the current system, introduced in 1947, the U.K. does not practice zoning. There is no automatic right in Britain to develop any unbuilt land, or to permit changes of use on already developed sites. Planning decisions are discretionary, taken on a case-by-case basis, and granted almost exclusively by local authorities. Under zoning schemes like the new proposal, a city is instead divided up into “zones” that allow different types of development. If a new proposal meets those criteria, it can go forward without getting individual permission.

These proposals would include new construction, as well as extensions and changes to existing buildings. Rules surrounding affordable housing would be changed, while demolitions of unused non-residential buildings would also require no approval.

The point of the changes, the government says, is to loosen up a sclerotic planning system that is beset with delays, allowing British towns and cities a chance to deliver housing more quickly. “These changes will help transform boarded-up, unused buildings safely into high-quality homes at the heart of their communities,” said U.K. Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick at a press conference. “It will mean that families can add up to two stories to their home, providing much-needed additional space for children or elderly relatives as their household grows.”

But adding zoning doesn’t necessarily mean easing planning requirements,says Michael Edwards, honorary professor at University College London’s Bartlett School of Planning. “The purpose is to remove the uncertainty, the political risk in proposing development,” he told CityLab by phone. “In most other parts of Europe that have a zoning system, that isn’t entirely how it works. Local politicians and campaign groups have flexed their muscles over the years and found a lot of ways to influence decisions and create quite demanding framework which requires the negotiation of a lot of detail.” The idea that simply loosening planning procedures will solve problems is also flawed, he says. “This plan is wrong from top to bottom.”

The U.K.’s scheme would create three categories for development that apply across the entire country: “growth,” “renewal” and “protection.” Protected areas would face the same oversight as they do now, while those marked for growth would be subject to the least control, with proposals approved automatically if they fit local guidelines. While the plan, produced by the national government, pushes hard for more development land, it would ultimately be up to local authorities to decide how particular areas are categorized. Among the areas the white paper suggests should be classified for growth are sites for proposed new towns, “urban extension sites” — that is, greenfield sites adjacent to existing built-up areas — and ex-industrial areas, as well as districts near universities “where there may be opportunities to create a cluster of growth-focused businesses.”

In some areas, the planning liberalization is going even further, with many demolitions and extensions no longer requiring any approval. Adding two floors to homes built after World War II would be allowed without securing permission, as would extensions above shops and offices. Owners of office or retail buildings that have been vacant for six months or more will be allowed to tear them down to free up space for development without going through the planning process. 

Rules around affordable housing and infrastructure would alsochange. Current laws require developers to provide a minimum percentage of affordable units for each development, and to pay a tax intended to fund infrastructure development before construction starts. Under the new proposals, developers will no longer be expected to construct affordable units, but to pay a new tax to local authorities to fund such housing. Paid after construction, as a percentage of the development’s final value, this new tax would also cover the cost of providing infrastructure to the site. The government argues that this new tax’s ultimate value to local authorities could well be greater than what developers pay currently. It couldalso prevent developers from abusing the system by promising a large number of affordable units and then finding ways to whittle this number down during construction. The change would nonetheless require boroughs to borrow money to install infrastructure, and place the onus for constructing affordable housing on them — either by building it themselves using the tax income or by buying a portion of the developer’s completed units. 

The plan faces strong criticism from architects, local authorities and anti-homelessness advocates. “The  government behaves as though they believe that the housing problems are entirely down to inadequate supply of housing — due to the planning system — but the problems are really on the demand side,” says Edwards, the planning professor. The real cause of the shortage of affordable housing, says Edwards, is not developers prevented from building, but galloping inequality that skews the housing market by encouraging the wealthy to consume more and more property. These market forces incentivize developers to build as much high-end housing as possible. “This is reinforced by wealthier people using housing as a savings and investment device, then hugely amplified by the floods of credit that have entered the system. The resulting price escalations then exclude people from buying. These real problems are things that this government doesn’t want to touch.”

Some statistics do indeed challenge the idea that planning blockages are inhibiting supply. A chief criticism is that developer strategies to hold onto land without developing it play a far greater role in Britain’s under-delivery of new homes than planning permission hold-ups. More than one million homes granted planning permission since 2009 and 2010 remain unbuilt, a phenomenon that the government has acknowledged is partly down to developers “hoarding land.” And while the government claims that the new levy system could actually increase revenue for local authorities overall, critics like the anti-homelessness charity Shelter say that shifting the onus for developing affordable housing to local authorities could result in an even worse provision of housing for low-income people than the U.K. manages currently. The white paper does not state what, if any, proportion of the new tax earned by local authorities would actually have to be spent on providing affordable housing.

Allowing demolition of any building that has been empty in the medium term could also lead to the degradation of currently viable buildings, by providing owners with an incentive to leave them untenanted and in poor condition to free up their sites for development that requires no approval. And with the standard process of planning applications removed, communities would no longer have the same opportunities as they do currently to provide input, and voice objections to development proposals.

Britain has already caught a glimpse of what the new proposals’ effects might be. Since 2013, the U.K. has allowed converting offices to homes without approval. This innovation may have sped up delivery, with 60,000 extra new homes developed from converted offices between 2015 and 2019. It may also have suppressed standards. Free of planning constraints, an estimated 70% of this new cohort of homes were one-bedroom apartments or studios. Some were as small as 16 square meters (172 square feet) and on occasion didn’t even have windows. Often for low-income residents with few other options, some of these new units have become known for their poor quality. One case in Harlow, Essex, led local authorities to accuse developers of “human warehousing.” Critics of the new plan fear that more slum-type housing could be on the way if the new rules are introduced.

 While it is not yet clear exactly how such zoning would be administered, Tim Willis, partner and planning expert at U.K. law firm Shoosmiths LLP has speculated that, under national guidance, local governments would create pattern books of acceptable designs and a model design code for developers to follow. This was recommended in a government report last year that advocated a return to traditional vernacular styles, at least for the outermost shell of new buildings. Planning procedures would not be dispensed with entirely, but applications that adhere to these standards will likely be waved through, with objections in principle to building on greenfield sites, or from local residents, no longer accepted as grounds for rejection. Only proposals that rejected preordained local guidelines would require additional approvals. 

With an outright majority, the Tory national government is in a good position to see their proposals approved by Parliament. But widespread criticism, as well as the fact that relaxations in planning laws may go down badly in Conservative-voting heartlands, may nonetheless see the proposals face some pretty strong resistance along the road, which could affect the shape that a bill to Parliament would take.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-08-13/britain-proposes-radical-overhaul-of-city-planning?srnd=citylab-design

New Yorkers Flee for Florida and Texas as Mobility Surges

Bloomberg, 31/08/20

America’s real-estate meccas aren’t what they used to be as Covid-19 revives U.S. mobility.

Far more people moved to Vermont, Idaho, Oregon and South Carolina than left during the pandemic, according to data provided to Bloomberg News by United Van Lines. On the other hand, the reverse was true for New York and New Jersey, which saw residents moving to Florida, Texas and other Sunbelt states between March and July.

As August closes Monday with another move-out deadline, signs point to a sharp turn in U.S. mobility. Relocations had reached an all-time low in 2019, according to the Brookings Institution’s tracking.

“We have seen increased mobility across the states — driven by a fear of living in densely populated areas, a realization that the ‘old normal’ of commuting into a city office is still but a distant possibility, and the realization that remote work can be an effective, long-term option,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics.

Four Charts

While official Census Bureau data won’t be able to confirm for several months how much mobility has increased, here’s a few measures of how it’s changing during the crisis:

About one in five Americans either have relocated during the virus outbreak or know someone who has, according to Pew Research Center’s survey published July 6.

The beneficiaries have been competitors to dense cities that seem too crowded in a public-health emergency. Cities in Florida, Texas, California and North Carolina accounted for just under half of New Yorker relocations, data from United Van Lines show.

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld deplored the trend in a New York Times commentary on Aug. 24. “Energy, attitude and personality cannot be ‘remoted’ through even the best fiber optic lines,” he wrote.

Do-It-Yourself Moves

Do-it-yourself moves “have increased considerably and consistently over the summer months” for U-Haul International, which rents trucks and vans, said company spokesman Jeff Lockridge, who declined to disclose exact figures.

About a quarter of 2,000 real estate agents surveyed in late June said some home buyers have altered the location of where they are looking to purchase because of Covid-19. Those who shifted were now looking at suburbs and smaller towns, with fewer people looking at central cities, agents said.

Suburban Shift

Home buyers have shifted searches more to suburbs and small towns

Coronavirus flight is particularly high in New Jersey and New York, where two thirds of United Van Lines’ moves are for relocations out of those states.

The number of people looking to move from New York City during the pandemic nearly doubled from a year earlier, while interest in leaving the San Francisco Bay area jumped 31%, said Eily Cummings, spokeswoman for United Van Lines’ parent company, UniGroup.

Illinois, Connecticut and California, three other states with big urban populations, were also among those losing out during the pandemic.

Top Ten Outbound States

Out of every 10 moves, 7 households are leaving New Jersey

The winners among the states, meanwhile, have been less densely populated areas: Vermont topped UniGroup’s list. Idaho, Oregon and South Carolina also attracted more people looking to relocate.

Truck-rental prices provide one clue to how desirable an area is for relocations.

A hypothetical move from New York City to Vermont is priced at $773 compared to $236 for the reverse trip, according to a Bloomberg analysis of U-Haul pricing. This price differential is due to numerous variables, one being that more people are moving out of a city than into it.

With many businesses are arranging for employees to work from home and holding meetings via apps like Zoom that can be done from anywhere, William Frey, a Brookings Institution senior fellow and a demographer for the past four decades, agrees with Seinfeld that cities like New York will be back over time.

“These recent population shifts, if real, will be short-lived and change when the pandemic subsides,” he said. “Young adult Gen Zers could find cities attractive” anew just as cities gained appeal among millennials after the 2007-2009 recession.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-08-31/new-yorkers-flee-for-florida-and-texas-as-mobility-surges

More urban sprawl while jobs cluster: working from home will reshape the nation

The Conversation, 19 August 2020

For most of us the experience of working from home this year has, on balance, been positive – enough that it may well become the norm after the COVID-19 crisis ends.

But modelling by Victoria University’s Centre of Policy Studies shows there will be costs alongside the personal benefits, with more urban sprawl, job flight to the biggest cities and greater economic disparities between regions.

More than 67% of 1,006 Australians polled in April for an NBN-commissioned survey said they expected to work from home more after the coronavirus crisis ends. Many businesses are sold on the concept too, with mounting evidence working from home can boost productivity.

Offices will not disappear – personal interactions still provide crucial benefits – but working two, three or four days a week from home could be well become the norm in many occupations.

Our modelling of the effects of this has identified two key results.

First, workers commuting less often will be prepared to commute further. This will change patterns of housing demand and labour supply. In particular it will drive more urban sprawl and boost populations of communities within acceptable commuting distances.

Second, while the population will spread out, many jobs are likely to go in the opposite direction, as more organisations set up shop in central business districts.

How we conducted our research

To predict the effect of working from home on housing and jobs, we considered what jobs could most easily be done remotely. Of 38 occupational groups classified by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, seven managerial, professional and clerical occupational groups stood out as having high work-from-home potential. These occupations accounted for 29% of the workforce at the last census (in 2016).

In our model, where workers choose where to live and work takes into account wages and housing costs in different locations, and the time it takes to travel to work. The modelling assumes that in the seven “WFH occupations” distance from the office will become less important.

Urban sprawl

Our modelling indicates people in WFH occupations will be more likely to live further from city centres if their weekly commuting costs are lower. Other workers and retirees move closer to city centres, but the net effect is still to shift housing demand outward. Nationally, residential areas expand 3.6%.

In Sydney, there is an overall shift in population out of inner suburbs (for example Glebe) and middle suburbs (for example Strathfield) into outer suburban areas (such as Penrith) and towns of the Blue Mountains, the Central Coast and the Southern Highlands. A similar outward shift of population is replicated on smaller scales in Newcastle and Wollongong.


Changes in residential population: Sydney
Changes in residential population: Sydney. James Lennox, CC BY-ND

Similar results are obtained for Melbourne, Brisbane and other capital cities. In Melbourne, inner suburbs (for example Carlton) and middle suburbs (for example Glen Iris) lose population whereas populations rise in places like Werribee and Melton.


Changes in residential population: Melbourne. James Lennox, CC BY-ND

In Brisbane, fewer people live in inner suburbs like New Farm whereas more live in places like Greenbank or the Samford Valley.

The pattern is replicated in smaller cities, such as Geelong in Victoria and the Gold Coast in Queensland.


Changes in residential population: Brisbane
Changes in residential population: Brisbane. James Lennox, CC BY-ND

It is a good thing if people can spend less time and money commuting, access cheaper housing, or enjoy more pleasant lifestyles outside of big cities.

But urban sprawl has costs that are too often discounted.

Providing infrastructure for typical greenfield housing developments is relatively expensive. On the urban fringes of our cities, exposure of people and property to fire and other natural hazards has often been inadequately managed. In many coastal regions, urbanisation is driving loss, degradation and fragmentation of ecosystems and decline of native plants and wildlife species.

Costs like these could outweigh the benefits of working from home unless governments can deliver more sustainable forms of urban growth.


Read more: Why coronavirus must not stop Australia creating denser cities


Unequal growth of cities

The second key finding of the study is that more working from home will boost the growth of some cities but depress that of others.

There are advantages to businesses clustering together in central business districts. Working from home will increase their incentives to join the largest clusters in the largest cities.

Willingness to commute further will make these clusters accessible to even larger workforces. Lower demand for housing in inner-city areas will make real estate more affordable for commercial tenants.

The result is that jobs shift to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra and away from other cities, towns and rural areas.


Read more: The growing skills gap between jobs in Australian cities and the regions


Resident populations will be boosted in smaller cities and towns around these growth centres, but in the rest of Australia, cities and towns will be smaller than they otherwise would be.

With there already being significant economic disparities between city and rural areas, and between different regions, these new trends pose a further challenge for policy makers.

Our modelling of the effects of this has identified two key results.

First, workers commuting less often will be prepared to commute further. This will change patterns of housing demand and labour supply. In particular it will drive more urban sprawl and boost populations of communities within acceptable commuting distances.

Second, while the population will spread out, many jobs are likely to go in the opposite direction, as more organisations set up shop in central business districts.

How we conducted our research

To predict the effect of working from home on housing and jobs, we considered what jobs could most easily be done remotely. Of 38 occupational groups classified by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, seven managerial, professional and clerical occupational groups stood out as having high work-from-home potential. These occupations accounted for 29% of the workforce at the last census (in 2016).

In our model, where workers choose where to live and work takes into account wages and housing costs in different locations, and the time it takes to travel to work. The modelling assumes that in the seven “WFH occupations” distance from the office will become less important.

Urban sprawl

Our modelling indicates people in WFH occupations will be more likely to live further from city centres if their weekly commuting costs are lower. Other workers and retirees move closer to city centres, but the net effect is still to shift housing demand outward. Nationally, residential areas expand 3.6%.

In Sydney, there is an overall shift in population out of inner suburbs (for example Glebe) and middle suburbs (for example Strathfield) into outer suburban areas (such as Penrith) and towns of the Blue Mountains, the Central Coast and the Southern Highlands. A similar outward shift of population is replicated on smaller scales in Newcastle and Wollongong.


Changes in residential population: Sydney
Changes in residential population: Sydney. James Lennox, CC BY-ND

Similar results are obtained for Melbourne, Brisbane and other capital cities. In Melbourne, inner suburbs (for example Carlton) and middle suburbs (for example Glen Iris) lose population whereas populations rise in places like Werribee and Melton.


Changes in residential population: Melbourne. James Lennox, CC BY-ND

In Brisbane, fewer people live in inner suburbs like New Farm whereas more live in places like Greenbank or the Samford Valley.

The pattern is replicated in smaller cities, such as Geelong in Victoria and the Gold Coast in Queensland.


Changes in residential population: Brisbane
Changes in residential population: Brisbane. James Lennox, CC BY-ND

It is a good thing if people can spend less time and money commuting, access cheaper housing, or enjoy more pleasant lifestyles outside of big cities.

But urban sprawl has costs that are too often discounted.

Providing infrastructure for typical greenfield housing developments is relatively expensive. On the urban fringes of our cities, exposure of people and property to fire and other natural hazards has often been inadequately managed. In many coastal regions, urbanisation is driving loss, degradation and fragmentation of ecosystems and decline of native plants and wildlife species.

Costs like these could outweigh the benefits of working from home unless governments can deliver more sustainable forms of urban growth.



Unequal growth of cities

The second key finding of the study is that more working from home will boost the growth of some cities but depress that of others.

There are advantages to businesses clustering together in central business districts. Working from home will increase their incentives to join the largest clusters in the largest cities.

Willingness to commute further will make these clusters accessible to even larger workforces. Lower demand for housing in inner-city areas will make real estate more affordable for commercial tenants.

The result is that jobs shift to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra and away from other cities, towns and rural areas.



Resident populations will be boosted in smaller cities and towns around these growth centres, but in the rest of Australia, cities and towns will be smaller than they otherwise would be.

With there already being significant economic disparities between city and rural areas, and between different regions, these new trends pose a further challenge for policy makers.

https://theconversation.com/more-urban-sprawl-while-jobs-cluster-working-from-home-will-reshape-the-nation-144409

Glass Buildings May Turn Into Solar Power Plants

Treehugger, 20/08/20

Treehugger has never been fond of glass towers, even calling them “energy vampires.” Others see through a different window and envision them as power sources. Now researchers at the University of Michigan have developed an organic photovoltaic (OPV) applied to window glazing that has a remarkable 8.1% efficiency and 43% transparency with only a slight green tint, “more like the gray of sunglasses and automobile windows.”

Organic solar cells have been the future of photovoltaics for a while now; they are basically organic chemicals printed on plastic. The problem has been that they were way less efficient and didn’t last nearly as long, five years compared to the 25 years of the estimated life of a silicon solar panel because they break down under exposure to moisture and oxygen. Other researchers have figured out how to deal with the degradation problems, and now research scientist Yongxi Li claims to “balance multiple trade-offs to provide good sunlight absorption, high voltage, high current, low resistance and color-neutral transparency all at the same time.”

The new material is a combination of organic molecules engineered to be transparent in the visible and absorbing in the near infrared, an invisible part of the spectrum that accounts for much of the energy in sunlight. In addition, the researchers developed optical coatings to boost both power generated from infrared light and transparency in the visible range—two qualities that are usually in competition with one another.

A few years ago, when writing about an earlier attempt at power windows, I complained that this was a silly idea; that the best window isn’t as good as the worst wall, that glazing shouldn’t be more than 40% of a wall, and that we would be better off covering the 60% of solid wall with 20% efficient silicon panels instead of spending more to get 3% to 5% out of the windows. I also railed against all-glass buildings, calling them a thermal and aesthetic crime, quoting Chicago architectural critic Blair Kamin:

To be sure, glass signals modernity, its transparency is irresistible to those who crave panoramic views, and it tends to be cheaper than masonry. Yet is there no room for materials that last longer, have more character and are more energy-efficient?

But what happens when that glass is absorbing all that infrared energy that overheats glass buildings and turning it into electricity? Or if the transparent solar panel is in double, triple, or vacuum glass? Witold Rybczynski complained also about all-glass buildings:

The problem with transparent glass is that it doesn’t hold a shadow, and without a shadow there can be no “play of volumes.” Since minimalist modernist architecture doesn’t offer decoration or ornament, that doesn’t leave much to look at.

But if the glass is generating electricity, you don’t want a shadow. You want as much flat surface area as possible.

There are many reasons to dislike all-glass buildings. Marine Sanchez of RDH Building Science has explained how they are not sensible for working or living.

Talk to the occupants, as opposed to the people designing the space. An entire glass facade is not what people are after. If you’re in an office and there’s glare the entire day, then these are not adequate conditions. Privacy, if it’s your bedroom, it’s open everywhere to all the neighbors. Or if you’re at work, wearing a skirt and everybody can see you.

Just this week I was talking to a building consultant who wanted to start a sort of @mcmansionhell twitter feed for all-glass buildings, to embarrass architects who continue to design these “thermal and aesthetic crimes.”

But I wonder if our story has to change if they are energy providers instead of vampires, if it is is a high-quality window, tuned to filter out the heat, and is actually an effective solar panel generating useful amounts of electricity.

https://www.treehugger.com/windows-soon-might-be-transparent-solar-panels-5075277

New Record-Low Solar Price Bid — 1.3¢/kWh

Cleantechnica, 30/08/20

I just wrote yesterday about the ongoing march downward of solar panel prices. Those low solar panel prices, along with cuts to other aspects of a solar power project, bring down the cost of both rooftop solar power and utility-scale solar power. Of course, the latter (utility-scale) can provide much lower prices than the former, due to economies of scale. (The benefit for rooftop solar power projects, on the other hand, is they can typically compete with retail electricity prices, rather than wholesale electricity prices.)

When it comes to utility-scale solar power, we have another world record to highlight and celebrate. Portugal recently held a solar power auction (in which power plant developers submit different bids for what price they can offer electricity under a new contract), and one of the bids broke the world record for the lowest solar power price.

The auction was an auction for 700 megawatts (MW) of solar power capacity, with granted awards totaling 670 MW. Of those, 483 MW also include an energy storage component.

The lowest winning bid was to supply solar electricity to the grid at a price of €0.01114/kWh (or ~1.327¢/kWh). The bid slightly beat the AED 4.97 fils/kWh (or 1.35¢/kWh) record-low bid in Abu Dhabi that we wrote about in June.

Naturally, with such smaller differences in price, changes in the exchange rate could make the projects swap places in the Lowest Solar Price Rankings. However, at the moment, that’s how the two projects compare.

“Consumers will guarantee savings of 559 million euros over 15 years,” the government of Portugal wrote.

“With an annual savings of 37.2 million euros, this value corresponds to a unit gain of about 833 thousand euros for each megawatt awarded, which represents an increase of about 80% compared to the unit gain obtained in the 2019 auction.”

This is not the first time Portugal has set the record for lowest solar power price bid in the world. It did so in 2019 as well. However, this is a major reduction despite being only a year later. “This tariff is about 25% lower than the lowest tariff obtained in the 2019 auction, considered at the date the lowest in the world (€ 14.76 / MWh),” the government added.

Portugal did not indicate who made the new record-low price bid. The electricity contracts are being awarded for 15 years. Update: the government did state (translated by Google): “Hanwha Q-Cells was the big winner of this second solar auction both in number of lots (6) and in awarded capacity (total of 315 MW).“

Notably, Portugal is a leader in plugin electric vehicle (EV) adoption. In the first half of the year, 12% of new automobile sales in Portugal were EV sales (fully electric vehicles as well as plugin hybrids). That made it the 6th best country in the world for plugin vehicle market share and 5th best in terms of fully electric vehicle market share. Combine those electric vehicles with the new solar power plants and you’ve got a lot of Portuguese people driving on sunshine.

https://cleantechnica.com/2020/08/30/new-record-low-solar-price-bid-1-3%c2%a2-kwh/

Recovery Money Spent On Fossils Is Twice As Much As Has Been Spent On Renewable Energy

Cleantechnica, 31/08/20

While delivering the 19th Darbari Seth Memorial Lecture this year on “The Rise of Renewables: Shining a Light on A Sustainable Future,” the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made a worrisome remark.

He said that as per recent research on G20 recovery packages, twice as much recovery money has been spent on fossil fuels as clean energy.

The International Institute for Sustainable Development recently reported on the spending of public money on energy-specific areas. As per the analysis, between the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 and July 3, 2020, G20 countries have committed at least $135 billion to fossil fuels and at least $68 billion to clean energy in their stimulus and recovery packages. Another $26 billion could not be categorized.

The annual lecture series was initiated by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in 2002 in the memory of the institute’s visionary founder and noted technocrat-industrialist, Darbari Seth. Past speakers to have delivered the memorial lecture include N R Narayana Murthy, Anand Mahindra, Mukesh Ambani, and Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, among other eminent stalwarts.

Particularly in the case of India, he observed that subsidies for fossil fuels are still some seven times more than subsidies for clean energy.

The UN Chief praised the work done by India in increasing both clean energy and energy access, but highlighted the need to do more.

Talking about poverty alleviation and universal energy access as India’s top two priorities, he said clean energy, particularly solar, could be a ‘recipe’ to solve both.

Investments in renewable energy generate three times more jobs than investments in polluting fossil fuels. Since 2015, the number of people working in renewable energy in India has increased five-fold.

Last year, for the first time, India’s spending on solar energy surpassed spending on coal-fired power generation.

Guterres remarked that the “continued support for fossil fuels in so many places around the world” is deeply troubling.

I have asked all G20 countries, including India, to invest in a clean, green transition as they recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. This means ending fossil fuel subsidies, placing a price on carbon pollution, and committing to no new coal after 2020.

In their domestic stimulus and investment plans in response to COVID-19, countries such as the Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom, and Germany, as well as the European Union, are speeding up the decarbonization of their economies.

They are shifting from unsustainable fossil fuels to clean and efficient renewables and investing in energy storage solutions, such as green hydrogen.

– Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General

The UN Chief got a bit poetic focusing on the need to accelerate the shift from the current dependence on coal. Saying that the coal business is “going up in smoke,” the “writing on the wall” is clear as the world’s largest investors are increasingly abandoning coal.

Probably referring to India, he said, “In some cases, we are seeing countries doubling down on domestic coal and opening up coal auctions.”

India’s Power and Renewable Energy Minister R K Singh recently remarked, “If you tell me to shut down coal based-plants tomorrow, I will not do it because it is important for me to raise standards of our people,” at The Economic Times Global Business Summit.

To reiterate, new renewable energy is now cheaper than new coal plants virtually everywhere. This is EVEN BEFORE considering coal’s dire health, climate, and environmental impacts.

Some time ago, Rocky Mountain Institute, the Carbon Tracker Initiative, and the Sierra Club released a study of nearly 2,500 coal plants globally with a cheeky title, “How to Retire Early: Making Accelerated Coal Phaseout Feasible and Just.”

As per the report, 39% of the world’s existing coal plants are ALREADY uncompetitive compared to building new renewable energy plants.

The share of uncompetitive coal plants worldwide is projected to increase rapidly to 60% in 2022 and to 73% in 2025!

In India alone, 50% of coal is forecast to become uncompetitive in 2022, reaching 85% by 2025. It is a no-brainer that pumping new money to create stranded assets makes no business sense.

Guterres also elaborated on the nexus between pollution, COVID, and climate change. On the current COVID crisis he talked about the research findings that air pollution is closely linked with the areas suffering from the pandemic.

He felt that even in the long term, the continued “strategy” of funding fossil fuels would only lead to further economic contraction and damaging health consequences.

Referring to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report on the 1.5-degree goal of the Paris Agreement, he emphasized that climate change would hit the most vulnerable hardest.

Mincing no words in spelling out the impending doom, he said, “if this temperature limit is breached, India will face the brunt of the climate crisis.”

“Leadership Group for Industry Transition“ (LeadIT), an initiative led by India and Sweden and supported by the World Economic Forum, Energy Transitions Commission, Mission Innovation, among others, also found a mention in the UN Chief’s speech.

LeadIT was launched by the prime ministers of India and Sweden during the UN Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit on the 23rd of September 2019, in New York.


This partnership of key public and private sector stakeholders is committed to achieving net-zero emissions by mid-century in sectors that collectively account for 30% of global emissions.

Indian corporations that are currently members of the platform include Dalmia Cement, the Mahindra Group, and SpiceJet.

Guterres stressed that countries should include climate risks in decision-making as they rescue, rebuild, and reset their economies.

Towards the end of his thoughtful speech, the UN Secretary-General shared a 6-point action list for governments which are “mobilizing trillions of dollars” to fund the post-COVID recovery,

  1. Invest in green jobs.
  2. Do not bail out polluting industries.
  3. End fossil-fuel subsidies.
  4. Take climate risks into account in all financial and policy decisions.
  5. Work together.
  6. Most important, leave no one behind.

Applauding India’s decision to take forward the International Solar Alliance in the form of “One Sun, One World, One Grid,” he expressed hope that the country’s plans for a World Solar Bank will be able to mobilize $1 trillion of investments in solar projects over the coming decade.

Talking about India’s current solar base of 37 gigawatts (GW) of installed solar electricity, he said “this is only the beginning.”

The Indian government has recently raised its target of renewable energy capacity deployment from the initial 2022 goal of 175 GW to 500 GW by 2030.

Guterres also called on the innovators, entrepreneurs, and business leaders in India to spearhead the global search for a solution to solar cooking at the household level.

The UN Secretary-General urged “all countries, especially the G20, to commit to carbon neutrality before 2050 and to submit — well before COP26 — more ambitious nationally determined contributions and long-term strategies that are aligned with the 1.5-degree goal.”

It is difficult to imagine the inertia (call it old habits) which is leading governments to literally burn their money in the fossils sector — which by the way, has been hit pretty bad due to COVID.

If you want to track your country’s progress towards the Paris Agreement commitments, you can check out the climate action tracker. To read my previous posts, click here.

https://cleantechnica.com/2020/08/31/recovery-money-spent-on-fossils-is-twice-as-much-as-on-renewable-energy/

Population panic lets rich people off the hook for the climate crisis they are fuelling

Rising consumption by the affluent has a far greater environmental impact than the birth rate in poorer nations

The Guardian, 26/08/20

When a major study was published last month, showing that the global population is likely to peak then crash much sooner than most scientists had assumed, I naively imagined that people in rich nations would at last stop blaming all the world’s environmental problems on population growth. I was wrong. If anything, it appears to have got worse.

Next week the BirthStrike movement – founded by women who, by announcing their decision not to have children, seek to focus our minds on the horror of environmental collapse – will dissolve itself, because its cause has been hijacked so virulently and persistently by population obsessives. The founders explain that they had “underestimated the power of ‘overpopulation’ as a growing form of climate breakdown denial”.

It is true that, in some parts of the world, population growth is a major driver of particular kinds of ecological damage, such as the expansion of small-scale agriculture into rainforests, the bushmeat trade and local pressure on water and land for housing. But its global impact is much smaller than many people claim.

The formula for calculating people’s environmental footprint is simple, but widely misunderstood: Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology (I = PAT). The global rate of consumption growth, before the pandemic, was 3% a year. Population growth is 1%. Some people assume this means that the rise in population bears one-third of the responsibility for increased consumption. But population growth is overwhelmingly concentrated among the world’s poorest people, who have scarcely any A or T to multiply their P. The extra resource use and greenhouse gas emissions caused by a rising human population are a tiny fraction of the impact of consumption growth.

Yet it is widely used as a blanket explanation of environmental breakdown. Panic about population growth enables the people most responsible for the impacts of rising consumption (the affluent) to blame those who are least responsible.

At this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, the primatologist Dame Jane Goodall, who is a patron of the charity Population Matters, told the assembled pollutocrats, some of whom have ecological footprints thousands of times greater than the global average: “All these things we talk about wouldn’t be a problem if there was the size of population that there was 500 years ago.”I doubt that any of those who nodded and clapped were thinking, “yes, I urgently need to disappear”.

In 2019, Goodall appeared in an advertisement for British Airways, whose customers produce more greenhouse gas emissions on one flight than many of the world’s people generate in a year. If we had the global population of 500 years ago (around 500 million), and if it were composed of average UK plane passengers, our environmental impact would probably be greater than that of the 7.8 billion alive today.

She proposed no mechanism by which her dream might come true. This could be the attraction. The very impotence of her call is reassuring to those who don’t want change. If the answer to environmental crisis is to wish other people away, we might as well give up and carry on consuming.

The excessive emphasis on population growth has a grim history. Since the clergymen Joseph Townsend and Thomas Malthus wrote their tracts in the 18th century, poverty and hunger have been blamed not on starvation wages, war, misrule and wealth extraction by the rich, but on the reproduction rates of the poor. Winston Churchill blamed the Bengal famine of 1943, that he helped to cause through the mass export of India’s rice, on the Indians “breeding like rabbits”. In 2013 Sir David Attenborough, also a patron of Population Matters, wrongly blamed famines in Ethiopia on “too many people for too little land”, and suggested that sending food aid was counter-productive.

Another of the charity’s patrons, Paul Ehrlich, whose incorrect predictions about mass famine helped to provoke the current population panic, once argued that the US should “coerce” India into “sterilising all Indian males with three or more children”, by making food aid conditional on this policy. This proposal was similar to the brutal programme that Indira Gandhi later introduced, with financial support from the UN and the World Bank. Foreign aid from the UK was funding crude and dangerous sterilisation in India as recently as 2011, on the grounds that this policy was helping to “fight climate change”. Some of the victims of this programme allege that they were forced to participate. At the same time, the UK government was pouring billions of pounds of aid into developing coal, gas and oil plants, in India and other nations. It blamed the poor for the crisis it was helping to cause.

Malthusianism slides easily into racism. Most of the world’s population growth is happening in the poorest countries, where most people are black or brown. The colonial powers justified their atrocities by fomenting a moral panic about “barbaric”, “degenerate” people “outbreeding” the “superior races”. These claims have been revived today by the far right, who promote conspiracy theories about “white replacement” and “white genocide”. When affluent white people wrongly transfer the blame for their environmental impacts on to the birthrate of much poorer brown and black people, their finger-pointing reinforces these narratives. It is inherently racist.

The far right now uses the population argument to contest immigration into the US and the UK. This too has a grisly heritage: the pioneering conservationist Madison Grant promoted, alongside his environmental work, the idea that the “Nordic master race” was being “overtaken” in the US by “worthless race types”. As president of the Immigration Restriction League, he helped to engineer the vicious 1924 Immigration Act.

But, as there are some genuine ecological impacts of population growth, how do we distinguish proportionate concerns about these harms from deflection and racism? Well, we know that the strongest determinant of falling birth rates is female emancipation and education. The major obstacle to female empowerment is extreme poverty. Its effect is felt disproportionately by women.

So a good way of deciding whether someone’s population concerns are genuine is to look at their record of campaigning against structural poverty. Have they contested the impossible debts poor nations are required to pay? Have they argued against corporate tax avoidance, or extractive industries that drain wealth from poorer countries, leaving almost nothing behind, or the financial sector in Britain’s processing of money stolen abroad? Or have they simply sat and watched as people remain locked in poverty, then complained about their fertility?

Before long, this reproductive panic will disappear. Nations will soon be fighting over immigrants: not to exclude them, but to attract them, as the demographic transition leaves their ageing populations with a shrinking tax base and a dearth of key workers. Until then, we should resist attempts by the rich to demonise the poor.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/aug/26/panic-overpopulation-climate-crisis-consumption-environment

The Energy Bulletin Weekly – 31 August 2020

The Energy Bulletin 31/08/20

Quote of the Week

 “The company [NuScale Power] expected to be the first in the United States to operate a small nuclear reactor is facing setbacks that have caused supporters to question whether the novel technology will ever realize its potential as a tool to combat climate change.”
 
            Josh Siegel, Energy and Environment reporter, Washington Examiner

Graphic of the Week

Contents
 
1.  Energy prices and production
2.  Geopolitical instability
3.  Climate change
4. The global economy and the coronavirus
5. Renewables and new technologies
6. Briefs

1.  Energy prices and production

Oil: Prices rose for a fourth week in a row as the US Gulf Coast refineries began restarting, though gains were capped as investors shifted their focus from hurricane Laura toward the slowing rebound in consumption. While Laura was one of the most powerful hurricanes ever to hit Louisiana, facilities in southeast Texas avoided the worst of the storm, allowing infrastructure there to start the recovery process immediately.

New York oil futures jumped 1.7 percent to a five-month high on Tuesday as more than 84 percent of oil output from the Gulf of Mexico was shut down, and almost 3 million b/d of refining capacity along the Gulf Coast was closed. WTI closed at $42.97 on Friday for a 1.5 percent weekly gain, and London’s Brent closed Friday at $45.05 up 1.6 percent for the week. Oil prices have been in a narrow range around $40 a barrel since late May.

Natural Gas: Hotter weather has helped lift natural gas prices by nearly 75 percent since late June when they hit their lowest level since 1995. On the back of a scorching June and July, and the ongoing heatwave in August, natural gas has experienced a jump from higher air conditioning use. Prices ended on Friday at a nine-month high of $2.579 per MMBtu. 

US energy companies are boosting their LNG production and export capacity despite a drop in exports over the past few months. According to the EIA, US LNG export capacity was three times that of the actual exports last month. Since February, LNG exports have fallen sharply from a record-high of 8 billion cubic per day to just 3.1 bcf.

Cheniere Energy, the biggest US LNG exporter, said earlier this month that it planned to complete the sixth liquefaction train at the Sabine Pass terminal in 2022 rather than 2023. Kinder Morgan is putting the finishing touches to the ninth train at its 10-train Elba Island facility. Pembina is fighting legal challenges in the path of its Jordan Cove LNG project, the first LNG export facility on the West Coast. All this comes despite dozens of canceled cargos and an uncertain outlook for gas demand.

“LNG prices are now far too low for US exporters to make any profit, prompting many to simply shut off,” finance analyst Clark Williams-Derry from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis said recently. “It is not so much that the coronavirus crisis is going to last for a long time, it is more than the ‘new normal,’ post-COVID may be one in which the US LNG export dream seems out of reach,” he added.

Shale Oil: A Rystad Energy analysis shows that with WTI climbing past $40 a barrel, most exploration and production firms (E&Ps) have been able to keep their heads above water. However, unless prices strengthen further, about 150 more E&Ps will need to seek Chapter 11 protection during the next two years. According to Haynes & Boone, 32 E&Ps have already filed for Chapter 11 this year, with a cumulative debt of about $40 billion. In the oilfield services sector, 25 companies have filed for Chapter 11. If WTI remains at $40, Rystad Energy estimates 29 more E&P Chapter 11 filings this year, adding another $26 billion of debt at risk.

If WTI continues to hover around $40 over the next two years, we can expect another 68 Chapter 11 filings from E&Ps in 2021, and 57 more in 2022, adding $58 billion and $44 billion of more debt at risk. That would bring the total amount of E&P debt at risk from now until the end of 2022 to $128 billion.

This year, Norway’s Equinor will not drill any more shale wells in the US as it adjusts to a lower-for-longer oil price environment, a spokesperson for the firm said. The company stopped drilling during March in the Bakken and the Marcellus shale plays where it has acreage as it slashed billions in spending in response to the oil price collapse. Now, Equinor will also be cutting jobs in the shale fields, although it has yet to specify how many. “The action that we are taking now is to ensure that our business is profitable in a lower price scenario.”

Prognosis: Oil prices have failed to break out of their narrow trading ranges over the past few weeks despite a flurry of positive news including declining inventories and reports that OPEC+ producers are mostly sticking to their pledged cuts. After a brief, half-hearted rally, oil prices have dropped back to an average trading range in the low-$40s after the Labor Department reported that US weekly jobless claims totaled 1.106 million. This comes just a week after the tally dipped below the 1M mark for the first time since March, thus raising serious doubts about the economic recovery’s sustainability.

Given the uncertainties for the pandemic, climate change, the renewables boom, and oil’s supply glut, a sharp increase in oil prices soon seems problematic.

According to IHS Markit’s latest forecast, post-covid-19 global oil demand growth—on which the future of the oil industry hinges—is expected to taper off. This report joins the growing chorus of pessimistic forecasts looking at the future of global oil demand growth, which has been pushed down due to the lockdowns and much less travel. 

Global oil demand is currently sitting at 89 percent of pre-pandemic levels, IHS Markit said. It is expected to rise a bit and level off at between 92 percent and 95 percent of the demand pre-pandemic. Therefore, oil demand growth will plateau through Q1 2021 as fewer people are commuting to work, and as air travel slumps considerably amid remaining travel restrictions and people’s fear of air travel which forces many people together in confined spaces. So far in 2020, global jet fuel demand and gasoline have rebounded from April lows, but global jet fuel demand is still off 50 percent year to date. US gasoline demand is down by a lesser amount, but still significant, at around 20 percent.

2.  Geopolitical instability

IranOne of the critical priorities for Tehran – along with completing all of the phases on its supergiant South Pars natural gas field and expanding its value-added petrochemicals sector – is to increase crude oil production and exports from its West Karoun cluster of giant oil fields. These fields contain at least 67 billion barrels of oil and dramatically increase Iran’s crude oil revenues. With China remaining a willing buyer for all oil that Iran can sell it, Tehran last week announced a swathe of initiatives aimed at completing the production-transportation-export chain for West Karoun oil.

Official data shows that China imported 120,000 b/d of oil from Iran in July. Beijing resumed reporting crude imports from Iran after reporting no such imports for June. According to Chinese customs data, imports of Iranian oil averaged 77,000 b/d between January and July this year, roughly 90% less than the figures China had reported before the US re-imposed sanctions on Iran’s oil industry and exports. In reality, however, various reports, media investigations, and tanker-tracking firms suggest that China is receiving much more oil from Iran than the official figures report.

The Caribbean island state of St. Kitts & Nevis has stripped four oil tankers of its flag after an investigation found that as many as 15 tankers under various flags had manipulated their trackers to skirt the US sanctions on Iran’s oil exports.

Iran held talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency head and will fulfill its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal but will not accept any additional restrictions beyond those already in place. Iran’s nuclear agency said the fire last month at the Natanz uranium enrichment site was sabotage but has not said who it believes was behind the fire. Some Iranian officials have said the fire might have been the result of cyber sabotage. There were several fires and explosions at power facilities and other sites in the weeks surrounding the incident.

Years of recession, high inflation, and unemployment have all contributed to declining fertility rates. Iranian health authorities warned last month that the population growth rate had dipped below 1 percent for the first time. According to Iranian data, the fertility rate in Iran is 1.7 children per woman, below the 2.1 births per woman needed to ensure the population remains stable. For the Middle East and North Africa as a whole, it was 2.8 births per woman in 2018.

Iraq: The Trump administration urged Iraq to proceed with a project to connect its power grid with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states that would reduce Baghdad’s longstanding dependency on Iranian energy. The grid-connection was the subject of consultations in recent months and was discussed during Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s recent visit to Washington. The countries involved are moving toward making deals which would mark a significant rapprochement between Iraq and former Arab adversaries who clashed in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Iraqi Finance Minister Ali Allawi said Friday the project was “on the verge of being defined and that Iraq’s electrical grid would probably be tied up to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Iraq is hoping to reach an oil production capacity of 7 million b/d, compared with 5 million b/d currently, to stop flaring gas, and to stop importing fuel from Iran by 2025. OPEC’s second-largest oil producer is also increasing its oil export capacity to 6 million b/d from the current level of around 3.8 million b/d. The country has implemented nearly 80 percent of the projects to reduce gas flaring and imports from Tehran.

Libya: Last week, Libyan strongman General Haftar rejected the ceasefire announced by the UN-backed government of Libya and the east-based rival administration. Haftar dismissed the proposal for truce as a “marketing stunt”. If the ceasefire deal fails, renewed fighting between the factions could push back the reopening of Libya’s oil terminals and resumption of oil exports, which have been closed since January.

Venezuela:  Venezuela is struggling with resuming production at its few operating refineries. PDVSA, the state oil firm, has resumed gasoline production at the Cardon refinery by processing naphtha and raising its octane levels. The reformer unit at Cardon—a refinery with a capacity of 310,000 b/d—currently produces around 25,000 b/d of gasoline from naphtha.

President Maduro thanked Iran for helping his country overcome US sanctions on its oil industry.  He also floated the idea of purchasing missiles from Tehran. Maduro said he was weighing the purchase of these missiles days after Colombian President Ivan Duque accused him of doing so. “It’s not a bad idea,” Maduro said he’s since asked Defense Minister Padrino to look into “every possibility” of acquiring short-, medium- and long-range missiles from the Islamic Republic. “Venezuela is not prohibited from acquiring weapons,” Maduro said. “If Iran can sell us a bullet or a missile, and we can buy it, we will.”

Turkey-Aegean: The European Union on Friday urged Turkey to halt its “illegal” prospecting activities in the eastern Mediterranean and ordered EU officials to speed up work aimed at blacklisting Turkish officials linked to the energy exploration. Turkish and Greek armed forces have been conducting war games in the area. EU foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell said the sanctions — including asset freezes and a travel ban — could be extended, with Turkish vessels being deprived access to European ports, supplies, and equipment. 

The Turkish vessel Oruc Reis has been carrying out seismic research escorted by Turkish warships. Greece, which says the ship is operating over the Greek portion of the continental shelf, sent warships to shadow the Turkish flotilla. Turkey disputes Greece’s claims, insisting that small Greek islands near the Turkish coast should not be considered when delineating maritime boundaries. 

President Erdogan said last week that Turkey would make no concessions in the eastern Mediterranean. France announced that it was joining naval exercises alongside Greece, Cyprus, Italy, and Greece in the east Mediterranean amid the increasing tensions. Erdogan warned that Turkey would do “whatever is politically, economically and militarily necessary” to protect its rights. 

3.  Climate change

China has seen faster temperature increases and sea level rises than the global average over the past few decades and experienced more frequent extreme weather events. From 1951 to 2019, China’s temperature rose an average of 0.24 degrees Celsius every ten years, according to the Blue Book on Climate Change published this week by Beijing’s National Climate Center. The average sea-level rise near China’s coastal regions was 3.4 millimeters per year from 1980 to 2019, faster than the global average of 3.2 millimeters per year from 1993 to 2019. Last year, the level rose 24 millimeters from the previous year and was 72 millimeters higher than the country’s average from 1993 to 2011. 
 
Last year, several significant glaciers and frozen areas in China melted at a faster pace, according to the report. Urumqi Glacier No.1 in northwest China, one of the glaciers most closely watched for the impact of climate change, melted in 2019 at the fastest pace since the 1960s, when data was first available.
 
The European Union is likely to propose the most ambitious acceleration of its emissions target as it ramps up efforts to slow pollution through its Green Deal. The EU Commission probably will seek to accelerate pollution cuts to 55 percent compared with 1990 levels by the end of the next decade. The current target, approved in 2014, is to lower pollution by 40 percent. The new 2030 target will be added as an amendment to an already proposed law to make the 2050 goal of climate-neutrality binding. To enter into force, it will need approval by the European Parliament and national governments. The plan is likely to fan tensions among the bloc’s member states given the differences in energy sources, wealth, and industrial strength.
 
In California and Colorado, the wildfires that exploded over the past few weeks show clear global warming influences, climate scientists say. They may also be the latest examples of climate-driven wildfires worldwide burning not only much hotter and faster, but also exploding into landscapes and seasons in which they were previously rare. According to a new analysis commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund, the cost of this year’s fires can’t even be guessed. The report details how the financial impacts of fires, tropical storms, floods, droughts, and crop freezes have quadrupled since 1980. 

In the last 40 years, 663 disasters linked to climate change in the United States killed 14,223 people. The total cost: an estimated $1.77 trillion. Economic losses in Europe resulting from climate-linked extreme weather from 1980 to 2017 were lower, totaling $537 billion. The difference was the cost of tropical storms, which don’t affect Europe but accounted for nearly half of the US’s total.  The $1.77 trillion total cost in the United States included $954.4 billion from 45 tropical storms and hurricanes, by far the costliest extreme weather category. Next came $268.4 billion in costs from 125 hail, wind, ice storms, and blizzards, followed by $252.7 billion from drought, $150.4 billion from flooding, and $85.4 billion from wildfires.
 
Using tax dollars to move whole communities out of flood zones, an idea long dismissed as radical, is swiftly becoming policy, marking a new and more disruptive impact of climate change. Last week’s one-two punch of Hurricane Laura and Tropical Storm Marco may be extraordinary. Still, the storms are just two of nine to strike Texas and Louisiana since 2017 alone, helping to drive a significant change in how the nation handles floods.
 
This month, the Federal Emergency Management Agency detailed a new program, costing an initial $500 million, with billions more to come, designed to pay for large-scale relocation nationwide. The Department of Housing and Urban Development has started a similar $16 billion program. That followed a decision by the Army Corps of Engineers to start telling local officials that they must agree to force people out of their homes or forfeit federal money for flood-protection projects. New Jersey has bought and torn down some 700 flood-prone homes around the state and made offers on hundreds more. On the other side of the country, California has told local governments to begin planning to relocate homes away from the coast.

4.  The global economy and the coronavirus

United States:  US consumers boosted their spending in July, but more slowly than in prior months as new coronavirus infections rose and the expiration of enhanced unemployment checks loomed. “Spending numbers have come back more than the economy as a whole, with the help of a lot of fiscal support,” said Jim O’Sullivan, an economist at TD Securities. “The question from now on is as fiscal support wanes, to what extent will it weaken.”
 
The surge in unemployment in March and April was supposed to be temporary. Nearly half a year later, many of the jobs that were stuck in purgatory are being lost permanently. About 33 percent of the employees put on furlough in March were laid off for good by July. Only 37 percent have been called back to their previous employer. According to the Labor Department, there were 3.7 million US unemployed who had permanently lost their previous job as of July. 
 
A new wave of layoffs is washing over the US as big companies reassess staffing plans and settle in for an extended period of uncertainty. MGM Resorts International and Stanley Black & Decker told some employees furloughed at the coronavirus pandemic outset that they wouldn’t be put back on the payroll. United is preparing for its biggest pilot furloughs ever after announcing the need to cut 2,850 pilot jobs this year, or about 21 percent of the total. American Airlines said it would cut more than 40,000 jobs, including 19,000 through furloughs and layoffs.
 
The outlook reflects an acceptance by corporate executives that they will have to contend with the pandemic and its economic fallout for a more extended period than they had hoped. The US economy shrank at an alarming annual rate of 31.7 percent during the April-June quarter. It was the sharpest quarterly drop on record. One of the most successful elements of the government’s response to the coronavirus — protecting people on the margins from falling into poverty — is faltering as the safety net shrinks and federal benefits expire. Now, data show that those protections are eroding as federal inaction deprives Americans of additional financial support. 
 
The Dow Jones Industrial Average’s removal of Exxon Mobil is the latest sign of America’s energy sector’s waning influence. When trading begins this week, the blue-chip benchmark will include only one energy stock, Chevron, representing just 2.1 percent of the price-weighted index.
 
China: Senior US and Chinese officials said they were committed to carrying out the phase-one trade deal after the two sides discussed the pact. The videoconference brought together US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He for a formal review of the trade deal signed in January. A statement published by China’s official Xinhua News Agency said the two sides had “a constructive dialogue on strengthening bilateral coordination of macroeconomic policies and implementing the phase-one trade agreement.”
 
China is set to buy a record amount of American soybeans this year as lower prices help Beijing boost purchases pledged under the phase-one trade deal. The total buy from the US will probably reach about 40 million tons in 2020. That would be around 25 percent more than in 2017, the baseline year for the trade deal, and roughly 10 percent more than the record set in 2016.
 
China’s July crude imports from the US surged 524.4 percent from June to a fresh high of 867,000 b/d, propelling America to become China’s fifth-largest supplier last month. The US’ crude oil imports to China were last highest in January 2018 when inflows hit 474,000 b/d. The flow then slowed and dried up for a few months amid the China-US trade tensions. In the second half of 2020, China is expected to receive about 80 million barrels over July-December based at the current buying pace, as Beijing steps up efforts to comply with the Phase 1 trade deal.
 
However, China will likely pull back on spot purchases of liquefied natural gas before the peak demand season as a flurry of earlier bargain buying nearly maxed out storage space. Seaborne and pipeline deliveries deferred during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic are expected to arrive, further weakening China’s need for supplies from the open market. 
 
European Union: Coronavirus cases are surging again in Europe after months of relative calm, but the second wave looks different from the first: Fewer people are dying. The newest and mostly younger victims of the pandemic need less medical treatment. Unlike the initial days of the epidemic in the spring, which overwhelmed hospitals, the recent European resurgence has not forced as many people into medical wards.
 
Leaders are eager to avoid reimposing drastic controls on freedom of movement because they want to allow economies to recover from the deepest recession since World War II. And with almost every European country planning a return to in-person schooling, many starting next week, public health officials are holding their breaths for the impact.
 
India: The increase in coronavirus cases is unlikely to ebb anytime soon, experts say, as the outbreak spreads to new parts of the country and political leaders continue to reopen the economy. This week, India recorded the highest one-day jump in new cases — more than 77,000 — anywhere in the world since the pandemic began. A biostatistician at the University of Michigan who developed a model to predict India’s outbreak said the country would shortly overtake Brazil, putting it second to the US in total cases.
 
The virus has now spread throughout the world’s second-most-populous country, reaching even isolated indigenous tribes in far-flung Indian territory. The pandemic has also crippled economic activity — experts believe the economy contracted by 20 percent in the three months to June — with only anemic signs of recovery.
 
Government officials regularly highlight India’s comparatively low rate of deaths as a percentage of cases to indicate their efforts are working. India has a predominantly youthful population, something that experts say may be helping to hold down deaths. Some also speculate the disease may be less severe here for as-yet unproven reasons, although concerns remain that many fatalities are missing from the official count.
 
India must stop building coal infrastructure and focus on renewable power generation to aid the global fight against climate change and lift its citizens out of poverty, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. After China, the biggest coal consumer, the nation must invest in a “clean, green transition” as it recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic, Guterres said at an event organized by New Delhi-based environment advocacy group TERI. He said it must also end fossil-fuel subsidies, which are about seven times as high as those for clean energy.

Indian refiners have stopped buying crude oil from Chinese sellers. The move comes from new legislation that aims to restrict imports from China after bilateral relations deteriorated following a border clash that involved fatalities on the Indian side. Earlier this month, Indian refiners stopped chartering Chinese-owned or China-flagged tankers for oil and fuels. Vessels owned or registered by China were prohibited from taking part in tenders for oil tankers that import crude oil into India or export refined petroleum products out of India. 

5.  Renewables and new technologies

Announcements of plans and projects for hydrogen-based energy appear with ever grander scale and ambition in Europe and Asia. The US is making modest progress and laying the basis for what could soon emerge as a national strategy for hydrogen energy.
 
The US Department of Energy’s H2@Scale program, a ‘multi-year initiative to fully realize hydrogen’s benefits across the economy,’ is a four-year-old effort that is beginning to show results. During the past year, DOE has channeled more than $100 million in grants to some 50 projects to further the H2@Scale initiative.
 
Six of these projects are for research and development on fuel cell technology and the manufacturing of heavy-duty fuel cell trucks. There is support for R & D on electrolyzer manufacturing as well as corporate and academic research on high-strength carbon fiber for hydrogen storage tanks. There are two projects to spur demonstrations of large-scale hydrogen utilization at ports and data centers plus theoretical research on the application of hydrogen to produce ‘green steel.’ One project is devoted to a training program for a future hydrogen and fuel cell workforce.
 
Dozens of scientific projects have tried for decades to make commercial nuclear fusion a reality. None have succeeded.  However, in 2021, an ambitious European-funded project in the UK will switch on for the first time in 23 years, and it could be a vital step on the road to fusion. In many ways, this project is a miniature model of the massive ITER tokamak project in France. “Inside a reactor shaped like a giant doughnut, scientists from the Joint European Torus (or JET) project will smash hydrogen atoms together at high speed, releasing a huge amount of energy and heat in the form of plasma. Temperatures will reach a level ten times hotter than the Sun as the plasma swirls around,” the article details. ITER, Wired writes, is relying on the smaller-scale experiments currently underway at JET to fast-track nuclear fusion for commercialization by “[cutting] down the amount of time required to take fusion power out of the lab and into our homes.”
 
New England for Offshore Wind is a regional coalition that supports offshore power development, which is set to launch later this month. The group will argue that offshore wind is necessary to address growing energy demands, as more fossil-fueled power plants go offline in the coming years.
 
The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is currently weighing concerns from commercial fishers, environmentalists, coastal communities, and other stakeholders before deciding where leases on the Outer Continental Shelf in the Gulf of Maine might be allocated and where they wouldn’t be allowed. The first offshore wind farm is still six to 10 years from operation.

6.  The Briefs (date of the article in the Peak Oil News is in parentheses)

Shifting shares of fossil fuels [see Graphic of the Week]: Coal’s percentage of total energy supply increased between 1973 and 2018, while the share of oil shrunk as the share of energy supply from China surged at the expense of supply in developed economies, the IEA said in its new report Key World Energy Statistics 2020. In 1973, when the total global energy supply was just over half the current supply, coal held a share of 24.5 percent of global energy supply, while oil accounted for the largest percentage at 46.2 percent. In 2018, coal’s share increased to 26.9 percent, while oil’s share of global energy supply dropped to 31.6 percent. The share of natural gas rose from 16 percent in 1973 to 22.8 percent in 2018. (8/28)
 
Orders for new ships plunged to a 20-year low due to a potent combination of uncertainty over environmental regulations, the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, and a lack of financing. (8/27)
 
In Syria, ISIS is believed to have been behind a significant attack on energy infrastructure last week that caused a nationwide blackout following an explosion at the Arab Gas Pipeline. (8/29)
 
Asian plastics: As the age of hydrocarbon enters its final era, the action increasingly moves to Asia, and plastics take center stage. With demand for transport fuels set to tail off in the years ahead, a new breed of processing plants sprouts up across the region. These integrated refineries convert oil into petrochemicals, the building blocks for everything from food packaging to car interiors, and produce fewer fuels like gasoline. (8/27)
 
Africa is the next great oil frontier, where small-cap companies are staking large-cap claims of the kind that generously reward investors with a bigger risk appetite. This could be the final, underexplored frontier for oil; is there anywhere else to go? (8/25)
 
In South Sudan’s oil patch, China is losing influence. The newly independent country has said it will allow CNPC’s contract to operate several oilfields to expire. At that point, the state-run Nile Petroleum company will take over operations to keep more revenues. The transition won’t occur until 2027. (8/29)
 
Mozambique could potentially become a chief LNG supplier to China. However, for this to become a reality, President Nyusi will need to guarantee security to all the companies investing in a region where Islamic State-linked insurgents have lately intensified attacks against security forces and civilians. The government will be charged with the task of not only halting the attacks but also addressing the critical drivers of the insurgency, including unemployment, poverty, and a general lack of economic opportunities. (8/25)
 
In Mozambique, France’s Total has signed a pact with the government to bolster security for a $20-billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) development the energy group leads in the African country, which has seen renewed militant attacks in recent weeks. Total’s $20 billion Mozambique LNG Project is on track to deliver LNG in 2024. (8/25)
 
The US oil rig count declined by three to 180 while the gas rig count increased by three to 72, Baker-Hughes reported. The US offshore rig count this past week was 13, down by 50 percent from last year (8/29)
 
New Jersey’s gasoline tax will rise 22 percent, to 50.7 cents per gallon, to maintain a revenue stream for road and rail projects amid a massive drop in fuel consumption. Diesel will go up 19 percent to 57.7 cents. 8/29)
 
The so-called “natural gas power burn­”—the natural gas consumed by power plants—hit a daily record of 47.2 billion cubic feet (Bcf) on July 27th this year. Before that date, the previous daily record for natural gas power burn in the US was set on August 6th, 2019, when power plants consumed 45.4 Bcf. This year, natural gas power burn exceeded 45.4 Bcf per day on seven days in July 2020 and August. EIA attributed the records to the heatwave, lower gas prices than the summer of 2019, and growing natural gas-fired capacity across the country. (8/27)
 
US coal-fired power generation totaled 65.5 TWh in June, up 40.8 percent from May, EIA data showed. It was the highest level of coal-fired generation since December 2019, and it produced 18.6 percent of total US power generation in July, the highest level since January. Year on year, generation declined 16.7 percent. (8/26)
 
Coal slide continues: Illinois Basin second-quarter deliveries to coal-fired power plants are down 36 percent from the year-ago quarter, EIA data showed August 27th. (8/29) According to EIA estimates, in the US a total of 103 coal-fired power plants have been converted to natural gas or replaced by wild gas-fired plants since 2011. (8/28)
 
A nuclear energy venture founded by Bill Gates said Thursday it hopes to build small advanced atomic power stations that can store electricity to supplement grids increasingly supplied by intermittent sources like solar and wind power. The effort is part of the billionaire philanthropist’s push to help fight climate change. It is targeted at assisting utilities to slash their emissions of planet-warming gases without undermining grid reliability. (8/28)
 
French nuclear operator EDF extended a low river level warning on the Rhone River in southern France through the coming weekend as output across the reactor fleet fell below 30 GW overnight. Production restrictions were likely to affect one 1.3 GW reactor at the Saint Alban nuclear plant on August 29th and August 30th due to low flow forecasts on the Rhone river. (8/26)
 
Benchmark UK offshore wind load factors are seen rising to 57 percent in 2030 and 63 percent in 2040 by the Department of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy. The UK has a target of 40 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030, which, using BEIS’s current assumed offshore load factor of 47.3%, would generate 166 TWh/year. (8/26)
 
India will propose a World Solar Bank at the World Solar Technology Summit organized in September. The likely capital size of the World Solar Bank would be US $10 billion. ISA officials said the country that would request to host the bank’s headquarters would have to contribute 30 percent of the proposed capital. (8/28)
 
India’s battery hope: A team of researchers in India has introduced an eco-friendly and energy-efficient battery that is being touted as “the future” of batteries — not only for the automobile world but for drones and other tech gadgets, too. Researchers claim the new batteries are three times more energy-efficient and cost-effective than currently used Li-S batteries. (8/29)
 
Germany’s battery hope: Researchers at Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology have developed an environmentally friendly process to extract lithium from the salty thermal water reservoirs located in the Upper Rhine Trench. The German scientists want to recover the white metal using minimally invasive techniques. The mechanism they have come up with consists of filtering out lithium ions from the thermal water and then further concentrating them until lithium can be precipitated as a salt. (8/25)
 
Elon Musk hinted on Monday that Tesla might be able to mass-produce EV batteries with 50 percent more energy density within three to four years. Although Musk’s track record for bold statements has been suspect, the market is all abuzz. The battery, Musk suggests, might be used to power an electric airplane. (8/27)
 
CA’s battery boost: the world’s most powerful lithium-ion battery (250 MW) was unveiled outside San Diego, showcasing a technology that could cut the risk of blackouts and aid the state’s climate goals. LS Power’s Gateway battery has far more wattage than the Tesla­ built Hornsdale Power Reserve (100 MW) in Australia, the previous record holder. Yet Gateway will soon be surpassed by even bigger projects in California. Batteries could help the state reach zero-carbon energy targets that were called into question over the past two weeks as furious demand for air-conditioning forced grid managers to make brief power cuts. (8/26)
 
E-ships:  Making large ships electric faces the same problem as the main challenge for electric cars: range. The solution to the challenge has been relatively simple: bigger batteries. According to a recent report by market research firm IDTechEx, electric ships feature the biggest batteries out there. They are only going to get bigger because range remains a top priority. Japan’s e5 project should be completed in early 2022 and, according to IDTechEx, will have a battery of 4,000 kWh and a range of 80 miles. (8/28)
 
Hydrogen in WA:  The Douglas County Public Utility District, in East Wenatchee, Washington, is purchasing a 5-MW Proton Exchange Membrane electrolyzer built by Cummins that it hopes to have operational by late fall or early next year. The electrolyzer will produce hydrogen using excess hydropower. (8/29)
 
Hydrogen in Denmark: Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy plans to start a pilot project in Denmark to test how one of its 3-megawatt wind machines could power production of hydrogen fuel seen as key to reducing carbon emissions from transportation and heavy industries. The test project will include a 3-megawatt wind turbine that will power a small 400-kilowatt electrolyzer, a machine that separates the hydrogen atoms in water from oxygen atoms. (8/29)
 
Hydrogen planes? Paul Eremenko, a 41-old former chief technology officer for Airbus SE and United Technologies Corp., thinks he has a solution—hydrogen-powered airplanes—to concerns about the aviation industry’s immense carbon emissions. (Air travel accounts for roughly 2.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.) He well understands, of course, that his idea conjures up visions of the flaming Hindenburg airship. (8/27)
 
Climate divestment: Storebrand Asset Management, a unit of Storebrand ASA with around $91 billion under management, said Monday it sold off more than $47 million in 21 companies and excluded another six from future investments. Storebrand’s decision comes as more investors in Europe and abroad have called for polluting companies to align their lobbying and businesses with the Paris Agreement on climate change, with some threatening to divest. Under its new policy, Storebrand said it would no longer invest in companies that earn more than 5 percent of revenue from coal or oil sands or that lobby against the Paris Agreement, among other criteria. (8/25)

North Dakota blues: The legacy of fracking

Resilience.org 30/08/20

When oil drillers descended on North Dakota en masse a decade ago, state officials and residents generally welcomed them with open arms. A new form of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” for short, would allow an estimated 3 to 4 billion barrels of so-called shale oil to be extracted from the Bakken Formation, some 2 miles below the surface.

The boom that ensued has now turned to bust as oil prices sagged in 2019 and then went into free fall with the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. The financial fragility of the industry had long been hidden by the willingness of investors to hand over money to drillers in hopes of getting in on the next big energy play. Months before the coronavirus appeared, one former oil CEO calculated that the shale oil and gas industry has destroyed 80 percent of the capital entrusted to it since 2008. Not long after that the capital markets were almost entirely closed to the industry as investor sentiment finally shifted in the wake of financial realities.

The collapse of oil demand in 2020 due to a huge contraction in the world economy associated with the pandemic has increased the pace of bankruptcies. Oil output has also collapsed as the number of new wells needed to keep total production from these short-lived wells from shrinking has declined dramatically as well. Operating rotary rigs in North Dakota plummeted from an average of 48 in August 2019 to just 11 this month.

Oil production in the state has dropped from an all-time high of 1.46 million barrels per day in October 2019 to 850,000 as of June, the latest month for which figures are available. Even one of the most ardent oil industry promoters of shale oil and gas development said earlier this year that North Dakota’s most productive days are over. CEO John Hess of the eponymous Hess Corporation is taking cash flow from his wells in North Dakota and investing it elsewhere.

So, what has this meant for the state? Not only is the oil industry in North Dakota suffering, but all those contractors who service the oil industry. Beyond that are the housing and public services which had to be expanded dramatically during the boom. Will there be enough people to live in that housing years from now? Will the cities be able to maintain the greatly expanded infrastructure their dwindling tax revenues must pay for?

The state government relies on oil and gas revenues for 53 percent of its budget. So far those revenues are running 83 percent lower than projected for this year. In addition, the pandemic reduced other revenue sources, but those are returning to normal as the overall economy bounces back (at least for now). North Dakota’s historically low unemployment rate popped from 2 percent in March to 9.1 percent in April, but has recently come down.

Perhaps the most enduring legacy of the boom will be the damage to the landscape and the water in North Dakota from years of sloppy environmental practices. While companies are legally responsible for cleaning up their sites and capping old wells, in practice the state’s failure to force companies to post bonds to pay for these things means much of the work will have to be done by the state or not done at all. This is because bankrupt companies are just abandoning their wells and other infrastructure. There will be no one left with money to sue to pay for the cleanup in many cases.

What North Dakota may have traded for a temporary boom is a long-lived legacy of tainted land and especially water. Back in 2012 I warned about this danger from the fracking industry in a piece called “Pincushion America: The irretrievable legacy of drilling everywhere on drinking water.”

In that piece, I cited a former EPA engineer who said that within 100 years most of the country’s underground drinking water will be contaminated. What has happened in North Dakota (and is still happening at a somewhat reduced rate) has likely sped up that timetable considerably for the state. Even with the waning oil industry, the state still has considerable oil to produce and so the damage will only continue to mount.

North Dakota may now experience a long, slow withdrawal from what is called the resource curse. This is the paradoxical notion that natural resource-rich jurisdictions often fail to prosper partly due to the huge swings in prices of their principal products, swings which destabilize their societies. This is because disproportionate amounts of wealth (including labor) are devoted to the natural resource sector and therefore unavailable for other more stable forms of commerce and industry.

In addition, the enormous wealth and influence of those in the natural resource sector are used to thwart environmental protections necessary for the long-term well-being of the population. This influence also keeps taxes on the industry low, depriving the people in the state of the full fruits of the resource boom (and of investments necessary for the day when the resource will be depleted).

Beyond this, governments tend to rely on resource sectors too much for their revenue. This causes them to overspend during booms and face austerity during downturns.

All of the negative effects of the resource curse are now on display in North Dakota and may well get worse. Of course, what North Dakota is experiencing, many resource-rich places around the world are also experiencing in one form or another. The worst thing the state can do now is live by the hope that the oil industry will revive and save North Dakota from its woes. Now is the time to plan a new path to a more stable and sustainable economy.

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