Analysis

Coal carbon capture could increase future climate risks, study finds

  • 03 Feb 2015, 07:00
  • Simon Evans

Coal-fired power stations should be replaced by low-carbon energy sources rather than retrofitted with carbon capture and storage (CCS), according to new research from the University of Oxford.

The study dents the idea that coal can be compatible with climate action as long as it uses CCS. It says finite CCS capacity should be held in reserve in case negative emissions technologies are needed to return dangerous greenhouse gas concentrations to a safe level after 2050.

The new report on Stranded Carbon Assets and Negative Emissions Technologies is published today by the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment.

Stranded assets

The idea that companies could be sitting on fossil fuel assets they can't burn if the world tackles climate change has now hit the mainstream. One study found nearly 90 per cent of the world's coal reserves are unburnable if we're to avoid dangerous warming.

A counter-argument is that firms could carry on burning coal while capturing the emissions through CCS. Smith School analysis suggests this has the potential to capture 125 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide in total by 2050, against today's annual coal emissions of around 12 gigatonnes.

So coal plants could have another 10 years of business-as-usual operation without eating into carbon budgets, if they used all available CCS capacity to capture their emissions.

Negative emissions technologies that remove carbon from the atmosphere could extend the operating life of coal plants even further, again assuming only coal emissions are offset.

The Smith School report looks at what types of negative emissions technologies are available and how much breathing space they might inject into the carbon budget for two degrees.

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Nuclear power additions 'need to quadruple' to hit climate goals, IEA says

  • 31 Jan 2015, 14:50
  • Simon Evans

Nuclear power station | Shutterstock

The world needs to quadruple the rate it is adding nuclear power capacity to the grid by the 2020s if it is to meet climate targets, according to a new report from thinktank the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The  2015 technology roadmap for nuclear energy, published jointly with the Nuclear Energy Agency, suggests nuclear power capacity needs to more than double by 2050 as part of cost-effective efforts to limit warming to two degrees.

Carbon Brief takes you through the roadmap's findings and its recommendations for securing a nuclear contribution to avoiding dangerous climate change.

Contributing to climate goals

The IEA takes an all-of-the-above approach to cutting emissions. Its executive director Maria van der Hoeven says all low-carbon energy sources, including nuclear, will be required for the "energy revolution" we need to meet climate goals.

Nuclear-free scenarios that successfully combat climate change have been  developed by other organisations, but they would require extremely ambitious efforts across areas including energy efficiency, land-use change and diets that not all experts believe to be achievable.

So to what extent might emissions be reduced by ramping up nuclear power, according to the IEA? Under its two degrees scenario, it thinks nuclear power capacity will need to more than double by 2050, to 930 gigawatts. That's significantly less optimistic than the  IEA's 2010 nuclear roadmap, which put 2050 nuclear capacity at 1,200 gigawatts.

Most additional capacity will be in China (the lilac area in the chart below). Other growth areas include Russia, India and the UK, which has "one of the most ambitious newbuild programmes" in the OECD group of wealthier nations, according to the IEA. These plans include the high-profile Hinkley Point C plant in Somerset, among others.


Credit:  IEA 2015 technology roadmap for nuclear energy

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New US poll shows gap between scientists, the public, and politicians on climate change

  • 30 Jan 2015, 12:30
  • Mat Hope

Crowd outside Congress | Shutterstock

The US Congress  set up a showdown with the Barack Obama yesterday over the approval of the  controversial Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.

Most members of Congress argue it's necessary for the country's energy security. The president is concerned about the impact that extracting, transporting, and burning the oil could have on climate change.

New polling data shows the vast majority of the US's scientists and growing numbers of the public share the president's concern about how human activity may impact climate change. It suggests that the views of politicians are increasingly at odds with the country's climate scientists.

Causes of climate change

Growing numbers of US adults attribute climate change to human activities, new data from the  Pew Research Centre shows. But there's a big discrepancy between the public, politicians, and scientists' views on climate change.

Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 11.04.43.png
Sources: Public and scientists,  Pew Research Centre. Congress, the  Centre for American Progress. Graph by Carbon Brief.

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Coal returns as most-used fuel for electricity generation, new government statistics show

  • 29 Jan 2015, 12:00
  • Mat Hope

Spinning turbines | Shutterstock

After being briefly displaced by gas, coal returned to its place as the UK's most used fuel for electricity generation towards the end of 2014, new government statistics show.

At the same time, low-carbon electricity generation fell slightly as two nuclear power reactors were unexpectedly taken offline and wind speeds slowed.

The data shows the UK's continued reliance on the most carbon-intensive fuel source for its power, and the energy system's sensitivity to international fuel-price volatility.

Carbon Brief goes through the Department of Energy and Climate Change's latest  energy trends statistics, which provides data up to the end of November 2014. 

Coal use increases

Gas was the most used fuel for electricity generation during the third quarter of 2014, bucking a long-term trend. But, in November, coal generation overtook gas generation for the first time in five months.

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 11.40.04.png
Source:  DECC energy trends, UK electricity supply

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Global Calculator shows how the world can 'prosper' while tackling climate change

  • 28 Jan 2015, 07:20
  • Simon Evans

The world's population could live a prosperous, European-style lifestyle by 2050 at the same time as avoiding dangerous climate change, according to a new Global Calculator developed by the UK's Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

The online tool shows how global prosperity can increase, even as emissions fall by 60 per cent from current levels in line with climate targets. This feat, according to the calculator, would require a series of massive changes to how we use energy, such as a shift from fossil fuels towards nuclear and renewables, and much wider use of electric heat and transport.

DECC's tool shows this transition might be slightly more, or slightly less expensive than the cost of doing nothing to tackle emissions. Either way, the difference in costs would be minimal, relative to expected growth in global wealth.

The new global tool has already been used by organisations, including DECC, Shell, the International Energy Agency and Friends of the Earth, to imagine the world in 2050. However, not all of these future scenarios are compatible with a safe climate.

Carbon Brief takes you through the nuts and bolts of the tool, DECC's version of a prosperous two-degrees world and how the calculator can be used to compare competing visions of the future within a common frame of reference.

How the tool works

Anyone can use the web-based Global Calculator tool to model the world in 2050, by making a series of choices about lifestyle (such as diet and appliance use), transport, buildings, industry, land use and energy. The tool then shows whether these choices are consistent with meeting the internationally agreed target to limit warming to two degrees above pre-industrial temperatures.

The summary dashboard for DECC's Global Calculator. Credit: globalcalculator.org

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In depth: Infrastructure bill amendments on fracking, fossil fuels, and zero carbon homes

  • 27 Jan 2015, 12:15
  • Mat Hope

Credit: Docklandsboy

  • MPs vote to increase restrictions on fracking.
  • Conservatives and Labour claim credit for creating a positive investment environment for UK shale gas industry.
  • Government agrees to obligation to outline how fracking fits within the UK's climate targets.
  • Industry react positively to amendments. Environmental groups fear changes are superficial.
  • Opposition fails to remove a clause obligating the UK to "maximise" oil and gas extraction.
  • Infrastructure bill leaves House of Commons with watered-down proposal for building new zero-carbon homes.

MPs yesterday voted to increase restrictions on fracking while continuing to try and maximise exploitation of the UK's oil and gas reserves. They also voted to water down a commitment to provide zero-carbon homes.

All three items were contained in the mammoth  infrastructure bill. The energy and climate provisions were the focus of what has become an increasingly partisan fight to dictate the future direction of the UK's energy and climate policy.

Fracking

The most high-profile amendments to the bill were around the issue of whether the UK should go "all out" for shale gas. After several hours of debating, amendments were included to increase the stringency of regulations dictating where shale-gas companies can explore, and place further obligations on the government to explain how fracking fits with the UK's broader climate-change goals.

Before the debate, the parties made clear their positions on whether the government should support the nascent industry. Conservatives MPs, and  the chancellor in particular, are  very keen. Labour is willing to permit fracking with some additional checks. Some Liberal Democrats and the Greens remain staunchly against any fracking.

An amendment put forward by Labour for a fracking moratorium was rejected by 308 votes to 52. The government accepted an opposition amendment to allow fracking with "appropriate regulation and monitoring", broadly in line with recommendations from an  Environmental Audit Committee report released yesterday.

 

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Survey shows partisan split among MPs on climate and energy issues

  • 26 Jan 2015, 16:55
  • Mat Hope

Credit: Docklandsboy

With one hundred days to go until the election, analysts are eagerly looking for ways to differentiate between the parties. New data suggests MPs' views on energy and climate change could do just that.

Political analysts Dods asked 100 MPs what they thought about the scientific consensus around climate change and their energy preferences. Here's what they had to say.

Climate change

A large majority of the MPs surveyed, 72 out of 100, said they thought more than 75 per cent of scientists attributed climate change mainly to human activities. It was by far the most common answer for MPs from all the parties.

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 16.15.24.png
Source:  Dods Energy Preference Briefing. Graph by Carbon Brief.

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Briefing: India’s energy and climate change challenge

  • 26 Jan 2015, 11:45
  • Mat Hope

Old Delhi | Shutterstock

The US and India have signed a deal to "enhance cooperation" on cutting emissions and investing in low carbon energy sources. The countries agreed the deal during President Obama's  state visit to meet India's prime minister Narendra Modi this weekend.

Last time the president visited one of the world's foremost developing economies, China, he signed an  historic deal on climate change. As the world's third largest emitter, India is coming under increasing pressure to  follow suit.

The new US-India pact is weaker than the agreement Obama signed in Beijing. But there are a number of good reasons India is reluctant to take strong action to curb its emissions in the short term.

Carbon Brief takes a look at the factors likely to shape India's energy and climate choices in the coming years, and what it means for the world's efforts to tackle climate change.

india challenges

Population and poverty

India has become noticeably more progressive on climate change under  prime minister Narendra Modi. It remains adamant that the world's developed economies must shoulder most of the responsibility for curbing emissions, however.

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MPs brand fracking 'incompatible' with UK climate targets

  • 26 Jan 2015, 06:56
  • Simon Evans

Onshore gas rig | Shutterstock

Fracking should be banned because it is incompatible with the UK's climate targets, according to the cross-party House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC).

The committee's report has been rushed out in advance of a series of parliamentary votes this afternoon on the government's Infrastructure Bill. Ten MPs have tabled an amendment to the bill that would ban fracking "in order to reduce the risk of carbon budgets being breached".

This amendment also has cross-party support: it is backed by former Conservative environment secretary Caroline Spelman along with two other Conservatives, five Labour MPs and one each for the Liberal Democrats and the Greens.

The Labour Party says it will block UK fracking unless the government agrees to a series of environmental conditions set out in a separate amendment to the Infrastructure Bill.

The committee report and parliamentary votes come at a crucial time for the nascent UK shale gas industry. It is hoping to resume exploration activities, which have been on hold since causing earth tremors in 2011.

Last week, Lancashire council's planning department said exploratory fracking at two sites should not go ahead, citing concerns over noise and traffic. The council's planning committee was due to have voted on the plans this week until developer Cuadrilla asked for more time.

Carbon Brief takes you through the EAC's conclusions on fracking and the climate, and assesses the evidence behind its findings.

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Oil industry cuts jobs and exploration budgets in response to falling prices

  • 16 Jan 2015, 12:05
  • Mat Hope

North Sea oil rig | Shutterstock

Oil prices slumped to a six-year low earlier this week. In response, oil companies around the world have been cutting jobs and exploration and production budgets.

The situation has become worrying enough that the UK government today ordered  a review into how low prices put the North Sea industry at risk.

For months, analysts have  warned of the effect such a price dip could have on the industry.

This week, a number of companies,  including fossil-fuel giants Shell and BP, announced they were reducing their budgets for 2015 and cutting hundreds of jobs as a consequence of the low oil price.

Carbon Brief looks at the cuts some of the industry's key players are making in response to the oil price drop.

Major oil company cuts

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