Capacity market secures some new gas while providing stay of execution to old coal

  • 19 Dec 2014, 08:20
  • Mat Hope

Didcot power station | Andrew Smith

  • Government agrees to pay companies £19.40 per kilowatt to keep fossil fuel power plants available
  • Only five per cent of projects included in capacity market are new builds
  • Coal and biomass plants account for 20 per cent of the capacity made available under the market
  • Scheme expected to add £11 to consumer bills, of which only 54 pence goes towards building new, less carbon intensive, capacity

A new government policy designed to ensure the UK's future energy supply appears to have successfully incentivised companies to build over two gigawatts of new gas power, to sit alongside nine gigawatts of coal and biomass power. It should ensure the UK will have at least 48.6 gigawatts of fossil fuel power stations available in 2018.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change today released the  results of its first capacity market auction. It guarantees new gas plants will get paid £19.40 for each kilowatt of power capacity companies make available at the flick of a switch. The auction's biggest winner was gas power, with around 25 gigawatts of new and existing gas power plants receiving contracts.

But only five per cent of the capacity that secured contracts will be newly built, leading to concerns that the UK could be locked into using high carbon power sources during the 2020s.

While some have emphasised the lower than expected price as good for consumers, it may also have a knock-on effect on the UK's decarbonisation plans. We take a look at the auction's result, and what it may mean for the UK's future energy mix.

The capacity market

The government introduced the capacity market to try and ensure there is always enough power generating capacity available to meet demand, even when intermittent renewables are generating less electricity. The capacity market offers companies a set price if they promise to keep a particular amount of generation available, should it be needed.

To agree the price, this week the government conducted a 'descending auction'. The auction took place over four days, with the government and companies eventually settling on a price of £19.40 per kilowatt yesterday afternoon.



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Daily Briefing | North Sea oilfields "near collapse" after price nosedive

  • 19 Dec 2014, 00:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

North Sea oil rig | Shutterstock

North Sea oilfields 'near collapse' after price nosedive 
The North Sea oil industry is "close to collapse", an expert has warned, as a slump in prices piles pressure on drillers to cut back investing in the region. The chairman of the independent explorers' association Brindex, told the BBC that it is "almost impossible to make money" with the oil price below $60 per barrel. "It's a huge crisis. This has happened before, and the industry adapts, but the adaptation is one of slashing people, slashing projects and reducing costs," he said. Meanwhile, oil prices dropping by 45 per cent is cause for concern in Aberdeen, reports the Financial Times, whose economy relies heavily on oil.     The Telegraph 

Climate and energy news

Chevron suspends Arctic drill plans 'indefinitely' 
Business Green reports: "With the oil price nearly halving since June, American oil giant Chevron has ditched its plans to explore in the Arctic - much to the relief of environmental groups... Chevron wrote to Canada's National Energy Board on Wednesday confirming it had walked away from plans to drill in the Beaufort Sea, citing 'the level of economic uncertainty in the industry'."     Business Green 

Climate change could cut world food output 18 percent by 2050 
Reuters reports: "Global warming could cause an 18 percent drop in world food production by 2050, but investments in irrigation and infrastructure, and moving food output to different regions, could reduce the loss, a study published on Thursday said." Careful adaptation will be required to limit the effects on agriculture, but it's going to be difficult to know exactly where to focus adaptation efforts, the study authors say.      Reuters 

Oil steady below $60, heads for 4th weekly decline as glut persists 
Reuters reports: "Brent crude held below $60 a barrel, near a 5-1/2-year low, on Friday as a global oversupply of oil showed little sign of receding, even as companies cut upstream investments next year. Oil prices were on track for a fourth straight week of declines after OPEC members last month decided against cutting production in response to a drop of nearly 50 percent in prices since late June."      Reuters 

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First look at new NASA satellite map reveals global carbon dioxide hotspots

  • 18 Dec 2014, 20:10
  • Roz Pidcock

NASA space scientists today unveiled a new satellite map showing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere right across the globe.

The map is the first two months of data from the new Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) mission, launched in July this year.

The team from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Colorado State University and California Institute of Technology presented their findings at AGU conference in San Francisco today.


The map shows an average global concentration of 400 parts per million (ppm) with hotspots of high carbon dioxide in the Southern Hemisphere above southern Africa and Brazil. The scientists attribute this to springtime burning of savannas and forests to clear land for farming. 

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What do squirrels, beavers and reindeer have to do with methane emissions?

  • 18 Dec 2014, 15:44
  • Robert McSweeney

Arctic squirrel | Shutterstock

It's not just humans that are causing climate change. Squirrels and beavers have both been implicated in recent days as research reveals their contribution to the release of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

Obviously the Internet loves a good rodent story. But could it really be the case that these toothy animals are paving the way to climate catastrophe?

It's unlikely, an expert tells us, but that's not to say they should be overlooked.

Global methane emissions

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, around 25 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide over the course of a century. About a fifth of the global warming linked to human activity is as a result of methane emissions, scientists estimate.

The sources of methane emissions are shown in the figure below. Total emissions from human activities, such as farming livestock and burning fossil fuels, are similar to natural sources, the largest of which is from decomposing vegetation in wetlands.

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UK energy statistics: Gas power increases, renewables cover nuclear shortfall and power consumption falls

  • 18 Dec 2014, 11:45
  • Mat Hope

Tilbury power station | Shutterstock

The price of fossil fuels remains the main driver determining the UK's energy mix,  new government statistics show, despite renewables increasingly covering large power station outages.

We take a look at the Department of Energy and Climate Change's latest  quarterly energy trends statistics.

More gas power

The UK's gas generation increased significantly from July through September compared to the three months before, as gas prices continued to fall. At the same time, a slight increase in renewable generation helped to cover a power gap left by the unexpected closure of two nuclear power plants  in August.

Both factors significantly altered the face of the UK's electricity generation in the third quarter of 2014.

Gas accounted for 38 per cent of the UK's electricity generation in the third quarter, eight per cent more than in the previous three months, and 12 per cent more than at the same point a year ago. That meant companies burned a lot more gas than in the previous quarter - about another million tonnes of oil equivalent.

electricity mix q3 2013 vs 2014.png
Source: Data from the  Department of Energy and Climate Change. Graph by Carbon Brief.

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Insights from a global survey of climate change opinion

  • 18 Dec 2014, 10:55
  • Robert McSweeney & Rosamund Pearce

People say they are more likely to recycle or cut back on energy use at home compared to other actions to reduce their impact on the environment, new survey data suggests.

And disagreeing that humans cause climate change doesn't necessarily prevent people making environmentally-friendly lifestyle changes.

We recently reported on a survey carried out for Chatham House examining public opinion about climate change and meat and dairy consumption. But the survey of thousands of people in 12 countries didn't just ask questions about eating habits. Chatham House has kindly allowed us to delve a little deeper into their data.

Who agrees that humans contribute to climate change?

The study asked people about their views on climate change and the actions they might be prepared to take to reduce their impact on the environment. Across the 12 countries, 83 per cent of people surveyed say they agree that humans contribute to climate change. Just seven per cent disagree. For the UK specifically, 78 per cent of respondents agree, putting the UK towards the bottom of the list in terms of national levels of agreement.

Climateopinion 1st6

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Deforestation in the tropics affects climate around the world, study finds

  • 18 Dec 2014, 10:00
  • Robert McSweeney

"The effects of tropical deforestation on climate go well beyond carbon," says Professor Deborah Lawrence, "[it] causes warming locally, regionally, and globally, and it changes rainfall by altering the movement of heat and water."

These are the conclusions of a worldwide study into the deforestation of tropical rainforests, which shows that cutting down trees can have immediate impacts on the climate and put agricultural productivity at risk.

Rainforests are more than just a carbon store

Deforestation and land use change account for approximately 11 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions. But the new research finds that cutting down trees doesn't only affect the carbon they lock up.

The research, published in Nature Climate Change, reviews academic studies on deforestation of tropical rainforests in the Amazon basin, central Africa, and southeast Asia. Many of the studies use climate models to simulate what happens if you remove these forests completely, and they suggest that deforestation in the tropics can affect the climate on the other side of the world.

The map below shows how far-reaching some of these potential impacts are. The triangles show areas where rainfall is expected to decrease because of tropical deforestation, and the circles show areas of increase. The colours indicate the link to where the deforestation occurs.

So the models suggest deforestation in the Amazon, for example, can reduce rainfall over the US Midwest and even in northeast China. Deforestation in central Africa can cause a drop in rainfall in southern Europe, and loss of trees in southeast Asian can bring wetter conditions in southern Europe and the Arabian Peninsula.

Lawrence & Vandecar (2014) Fig1

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Daily Briefing | New York bans fracking after health report

  • 18 Dec 2014, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

New York bans fracking after health report 
New York state will ban hydraulic fracturing after a long-awaited report concluded that the oil and gas extraction method poses health risks, Reuters reports. New York Environmental Commissioner Joseph Martens says he will issue an order early next year banning fracking, which has been under a moratorium since 2008. Acting Health Commissioner, Howard Zucker, says the extraction technique's effects on water, air and soil are inconsistent, incomplete and raise too many "red flags" to allow, reports Bloomberg. New York will join Vermont as the only states to prohibit fracking completely.       Reuters 

Climate and energy news

EU lawmakers fail to approve tar sands oil veto 
An attempt by some European politicians to veto the import of tar sands oil failed on Wednesday after a European Parliament vote, giving a boost to Canada but dismaying green campaigners. The veto was put to a vote in a plenary session of the European Parliament, and while 337 lawmakers supported the veto, they fell short of the 376 votes needed.     Reuters 

Situation 'critical' for British marine-power industry 
A government-backed offshore renewables innovation centre has urged ministers to send a lifeline to the UK's wave and tidal power businesses, with a new report warning that investors are increasingly losing confidence in the sector. The Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult predicts the tidal-power industry will need at least £100m to get the first commercial arrays signed off, while the less advanced wave-power industry will need double that amount.     BusinessGreen 

UK tax regime putting brake on electric cars, study finds 
The UK must reform its tax regime for the most polluting cars or risk being left in the slow lane by Europe's green vehicle leaders, a campaign group has warned. A new report by Transport & Environment outlined that tax changes in 2002 drove a steady reduction in new car carbon emissions to just above the EU average, but this progress has stalled with "no real developments to the taxation framework for a number of years."     BusinessGreen 

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Daily Briefing | Denmark lays claim to the riches of the Arctic

  • 17 Dec 2014, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Denmark lays claim to riches of the Arctic 
The struggle for the Arctic is hotting up after Denmark became the first country to deliver a formal claim to a region of the Arctic and any energy reserves beneath it. The Danish foreign minister was expected to lodge a "historic" claim for around 900,000 square kilometres north of Greenland to the UN panel that will award control of the region.     The Times 

Climate and energy news

US to impose solar tariffs on China and Taiwan 
The FT reports: "The US is to impose large import duties on solar energy equipment from China and Taiwan, as a trade dispute over green energy products deepens. The spat over Chinese state subsidies to its solar power manufacturers is likely to raise the cost of solar energy and comes as the price of fossil fuel alternatives such as oil have slid in recent months."      The Financial Times 

2014 warmest year in Europe since 1500s 
The Financial Times reports: "Climate change is very likely to have helped make 2014 Europe's warmest year since the 1500s, scientists have found... researchers at Oxford university found global warming had increased the risk of such a record being set by at least a factor of 10." The Guardian also has the story.      The Financial Times 

Computer model maps risk of US power outages linked to climate change 
In a new study, computer modelling is used to assess the risk of climate change-driven extreme weather leading to blackouts in a series of American cities. New York City faces a severe risk of blackouts due to climate change, the study warns.     Mail Online 

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Why aren't climate models better at predicting Arctic sea ice loss?

  • 17 Dec 2014, 01:20
  • Roz Pidcock

Climate models generally do a poor job of capturing how rising temperatures in the Arctic are affecting sea ice. Most underestimate the rapid pace at which sea ice is diminishing.

Why is that?

Scientists at the huge science conference hosted by the American Geophysical Union (AGU) taking place now in San Francisco have been discussing why it is so difficult to capture what's happening to Arctic sea ice in climate models, and how we can make the most reliable forecasts possible with the tools available.

A policy-making tool

Arctic sea ice extent has been declining by about  four per cent per decade, with the seasonal low at the end of summer shrinking particularly quickly.Screen Shot 2014-12-15 At 23.02.08 

Decadal trend in Arctic sea ice extent since 1979 (left) Map of changes in sea ice concentration across the Arctic (right) Source:  IPCC 5th Assessment Report (Sep 2013)

Reliable forecasts of how warming will affect sea ice are important for decision making, Professor Julienne Stroeve from the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre told the AGU conference. This includes questions like when the Arctic is likely to be sea ice free in summer.

But only a quarter of models simulate a rate of sea ice loss comparable with that observed by satellites since 1979, according to the  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

So where are they going wrong?

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