Analysis

New nuclear power in UK would be the world's most costly, says report

  • 03 Sep 2015, 17:45
  • Simon Evans

New nuclear power in the UK would be more expensive than in any other country, according to a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA).

The study on Projected Costs of Electricity Generation tries to compare different technologies and countries on a level playing field. It uses uniform assumptions along with specific data gathered in a survey of 181 plants in 22 countries, including 11 planned new nuclear plants.

The results, showing the high cost of UK nuclear, arrive as the government prepares to finalise a £24.5bn deal to build Hinkley C, the country's first new nuclear plant for a generation. The scheme -- seen as a key part of the UK's climate efforts -- was today hit by fresh delays.

Carbon Brief compares the projected costs of new nuclear in the UK, and elsewhere.

Level playing field

It's not easy to compare the cheapest way to build a power plant. Some electricity markets are effectively government-run, others deregulated, such as the UK's.

The cost of labour, as well as access to finance, supply chains and expertise, all differ widely. Moreover, studies often take different approaches, including or excluding the costs of carbon, health impacts or grid management.

The IEA and NEA's regular projected costs of generation report attempts to cut through this mess, using a standardised approach to compare technologies on a level playing field. It does this using the levelised cost of electricity (LCOE), a measure of how much it would cost to get a megawatt hour (MWh) of power from a new plant in a particular year, in this case 2020.

There are obvious reasons to do this. What's the most cost-effective way to replace ageing energy infrastructure? Which is the cheapest low-carbon technology? However, the report urges caution:

"It is worth emphasising that an explicit comparison of LCOEs for different technologies and even among countries can be misleading, as each technology and each country faces a different set of risk profiles."

So the LCOE isn't perfect, and a lengthy chapter explains why it will become increasingly imperfect in a low-carbon future. Still, it's natural to compare and that's kind of the point of the report.

The report's section on nuclear power compares the UK to nine other countries, with the UK coming out more expensive than any of the others.

Using a 10% discount rate -- a rough proxy for borrowing costs -- the report finds new nuclear in the UK would cost £87/MWh. That's a fifth more expensive than in France, a third more than the US and more than twice the projected costs in China or Korea (chart below).

Levelised Cost Of New Nuclear

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What do the Labour leadership candidates think on climate and energy?

  • 21 Aug 2015, 10:15
  • Sophie Yeo & Simon Evans
Labour party logo

Labour logo | Shutterstock

The UK's Labour party will soon choose a new leader, following the resignation of Ed Miliband after May's election.

As former climate and energy secretary, Miliband had long been engaged on issues of emissions reductions, energy efficiency and the UN climate negotiations.

The leadership contest is between four candidates: Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Jeremy Corbyn and Liz Kendall - none of whom have held a climate-related position in government to date.

Carbon Brief has created a grid, distilling the candidates' thoughts on key climate policy issues.

Frontrunner Jeremy Corbyn has released a detailed  manifesto of his climate and energy policies. Andy Burnham has also released a formal  manifesto, which briefly touches on the environment.

We have also collected climate- and energy-related statements from the candidates' speeches, blogs, newspaper articles, interviews and essays.

Labour -leadership -grid

The Labour Leadership Grid. Visit our Google doc for the full, interactive version.

What do they think?

Each candidate has acknowledged that climate change is a key threat that must be tackled.

That is not to say they always agree on how the problem should be approached.

Perhaps the most widely reported climate angle of the leadership campaign has been left-winger Jeremy Corbyn's suggestion that he could reopen coal mines in South Wales. Both Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper have explicitly rejected this, preferring instead to focus on creating jobs in the technology sector - in Cooper's case, this could include clean coal technology.

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Study: China's carbon emissions substantially overestimated

  • 19 Aug 2015, 18:00
  • Simon Evans

Coal plant | Shutterstock

China, the world's largest emitter, has had its contribution to global warming radically downsized.

A new paper finds China's emissions in 2013 were as much as 14% lower than previously thought, because of faulty assumptions on coal quality and energy use. It says China released 10.6 billion tonnes less carbon dioxide (CO2) during 2000 to 2013, equivalent to three years of EU emissions.

Despite the huge numbers involved, however, today's findings could have greater significance for scientists than for policymakers. Carbon Brief has the details.

Data adjustments

CO2 emissions are rarely measured directly at source, as there are so many cars, factories and power plants contributing. Instead, scientists estimate emissions from the amount of fuel that is burnt and the amount of carbon contained in each tonne of coal, oil or gas.

The problem is that energy use data is hard to collect and is sometimes revised, while the carbon content of a tonne of fuel can vary widely. Today's research addresses these problems for China, where statistics are notoriously unreliable, and where fuel quality is relatively untested.

It finds that China used 17% more coal, 2% more oil and 3% more gas in 2013 than reported by China's national government. During the period from 2000 to 2012, energy use was 10% higher.

The researchers' figures are more accurate, they say, citing among other reasons the risk that official statistics may have been subjected to "'adjustment' for political or other purposes".

China uses almost a quarter of the world's energy and burns more than half of the world's coal, so this update is significant in its own right. More important for the climate, however, is emissions.

Here, the researchers also make large adjustments. Using samples from thousands of mines, they conclude that Chinese coal is of much lower quality and has lower carbon content than in other countries. One reasons is that it is 27% ash on average, compared to 14% in the US.

What is the net effect of China burning more tonnes of more coal, oil and gas but each tonne containing less carbon? The paper concludes:

"Results suggest that Chinese CO2 emissions have been substantially overestimated in recent years."

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Islamic climate declaration calls for fossil fuel phase out

  • 18 Aug 2015, 16:50
  • Sophie Yeo
Mosque in Istanbul against blue sky

Mosque in Istanbul | Zaprittsky

Islamic scholars from around the world have endorsed a declaration calling on nations to phase out greenhouse gas emissions and switch to 100% renewable energy.

The  Islamic Declaration on Climate Change will be seen as the religion's major contribution ahead of the UN climate talks in Paris this December.

Released during a two-day symposium on Islam and climate change in Istanbul, the declaration lays out why Muslims should be concerned about the planet, and sets out a series of demands to world leaders and the business community.

It is the second major intervention to have emerged from the faith community this year, after Pope Francis released his  encyclical on climate change and the environment in June.

Writing the declaration

The process of drafting the declaration began around six months ago. A team of five Islamic scholars were involved in crafting the initial document.

These were Ibrahim Ozdemir (professor of philosophy and founding president of Gazikent University), Azizan Baharuddin (a professor at the University of Malaya), Othman Llewellyn (environmental planner at the Saudi Wildlife Authority), Fazlun Khalid (founder of the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Science) and Fachruddin Mangunjaya (vice chairman of Center for Islamic Studies at the Universitas Nasional in Jakarta).

Abdelmajid Tribak, head of environmental programmes at ISESCO (the Islamic version of UNESCO), helped to convene environment ministers from around the Muslim world.

Other Muslim scholars were then invited to give their input to the draft, which went through around eight or nine incarnations before it was presented to 60 participants at this week's symposium, where it was fine-tuned and finalised during a late-night session in Istanbul, says Khalid.

The message

The declaration calls on four separate groups with a series of demands for tackling climate change.

First, it calls on the policy makers responsible for crafting the UN's climate change agreement this December to come to "an equitable and binding conclusion". Specifically, the deal should set clear targets and establish ways to monitor them, says the declaration.

It calls on well-off nations and oil-producing states to phase out their emissions no later than the middle of the century, turn away from "unethical profit from the environment" and invest in a green economy.

It calls on people and leaders from all nations to commit to 100% renewable energy and a zero emissions strategy as soon as possible, and to recognise that unlimited economic growth is not a viable option. It adds that adaptation should also be prioritised, particularly for the most vulnerable groups.

And finally it calls on the business sector, which it says should take a more active role to reduce their carbon footprint, also commit to 100% renewables and zero emissions, shift investments into renewable energy, adopt more sustainable business models and assist in the divestment from fossil fuels.

It finally issues a call to "all Muslims wherever they may be" - including the media, education, mosques and UN delegations.

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Explainer: The rise and possible fall of Australia's Carmichael coal mine

  • 14 Aug 2015, 17:30
  • Sophie Yeo
A large yellow conveyor belt carrying coal and emptying onto a huge pile.

Coal pile, Australia | Shutterstock

What links yakka skinks, Standard Chartered bank and the president of Kiribati?

They are all some of the recent obstacles to the Carmichael coal mine - a proposed project in the Galilee Basin of Queensland, Australia, that could become one of the world's biggest sources of carbon dioxide emissions.

The A$16.5 billion coal mine was approved by the Australian government in 2014, and is being developed by Indian company Adani Mining. It is expected to start operating in 2017 and run for 90 years, producing 60 million tonnes of coal a year when operating at full capacity.

Controversy

This would make it Australia's largest coal mine, as well as one of the largest in the world. Its production would be equivalent to around 5% of global coal exports. Burning this amount of coal would  produce 128.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (MtCO2) a year - roughly equivalent to the emissions of Belgium.

The mine is an environmental double whammy. Not only would it increase CO2 emissions, but activists are concerned that it will threaten the Great Barrier Reef.

The coal produced at the Carmichael mine would be exported to India. In 2013, Australia was the second largest coal exporter in the world, after Indonesia. It is slated to  regain the top spot by 2017.

Top -five -coal -exporters -2012

Source:  US Energy Information Administration. Chart by Carbon Brief

Though Australia is the world's second largest coal exporter, it ranks only fifth in terms of total production.

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Mapped: The world's top countries for nuclear power

  • 11 Aug 2015, 16:00
  • Simon Evans
Japanese nuclear power plant

Japanese nuclear | IAEA Imagebank

Today, Japan restarted a reactor for the first time since it shuttered its nuclear sector in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

The Sendai number one reactor could be the first of 25 plants to restart operations, though all are facing legal challenges. If Japan succeeds in resuscitating its nuclear industry, it would once again be a leading producer of atomic energy. If it fails, its  climate pledge to the UN will be at risk.

Carbon Brief has mapped the world's top countries for nuclear power, showing Japan's dramatic fall and the rise of its Asian neighbours.

Nuclear share

The amount of electricity generated in nuclear power stations grew steadily through the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, reaching a peak of around 2,800 terawatt hours (TWh) in 2006 (below left). For comparison, that would have nearly powered the entire EU last year.

With most of the world's 391 nuclear reactors built in the 1970s and 1980s, however, older plants have started to close down and the expansion of the sector has stalled. Nuclear's share of global electricity generation has fallen back from a 1996 peak of 18% to just 11% last year (below right).

The average age of the world's nuclear fleet is 28.8 years, according to the latest  World Nuclear Industry Status Report. A third of the reactors in the US are more than 40 years old.

Nuclear TWh - GenerationElectricity generation from nuclear power for selected countries and the rest of the world (left). Nuclear's share of total power generation (right). Source:  BP statistical review of world energy. Charts by Carbon Brief.

Apart from  ageing reactors, there are three other reasons for the decline of nuclear generation after 2005. First, Lithuania's nuclear phase out after 2009. Second,  Germany's decision to start phasing out atomic power in stages (green area, above).

The third and most dramatic reason is the  Fukushima disaster and Japan's shuttering of its entire nuclear fleet (pink area). This has only be partly offset by growth in China (light blue area).

The earthquake and tsunami that damaged the Fukushima plant reinforced Germany's resolve on its nuclear phase out. Other countries reacted in different ways, choosing to improve safety systems but retain their nuclear sectors. Today's restart at Sendai comes after investing in the world's toughest safety measures, according to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

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Mapped: The world's largest offshore windfarms

  • 06 Aug 2015, 17:00
  • Simon Evans
Offshore wind farm

Offshore wind farm | Shutterstock

Yesterday, the UK government approved a 400-turbine 2.4 gigawatt (GW) offshore windfarm at Dogger Bank in the North Sea. Once built, it would be the world's largest by far.

But where are the world's largest offshore windfarms already operating today? And how much electricity do they generate? Carbon Brief has mapped the world's offshore schemes to find out.

Global offshore wind data

We found 62 offshore wind schemes currently generating electricity around the world, of which 25 are in the UK. Though Denmark was an early pioneer (red bars, below), the UK has installed more megawatts of offshore capacity than any other country in most years since 2004 (blue bars).

This year Germany is  expected to knock the UK off top spot (yellow bars), installing the largest offshore capacity for the first time. The chart below only shows capacity already up and running, so the total for 2015 will rise. There are some other important caveats on our figures, see below.

Annual -offshore -wind -capacity -additions

Annual offshore wind capacity additions between 1995 and 2015. Source:  Wikipedia. Chart by Carbon Brief. See below for a note on data.

Cumulative capacity

Once you tot up the annual additions it should be obvious that the UK is way out ahead in terms of total offshore wind capacity, with around 5GW currently operating today (blue bars, below). That's 57% of the current global total of 8.9GW (below right).

Offshore Capacity

Cumulative offshore wind capacity between 1995 and 2015 (left) and share of the current 8.9GW total (right). Source:  Wikipedia. Chart by Carbon Brief. See below for a note on data.

Offshore generation

How much power do offshore windfarms generate? The conversion between capacity in megawatts and generation in megawatt hours depends on the capacity factor. This accounts for the fact that wind turbines don't always turn, and rarely operate at maximum speed.

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A detailed Q&A on Obama's Clean Power Plan

  • 04 Aug 2015, 18:00
  • Simon Evans

On Monday, President Obama launched his Clean Power Plan designed to cut emissions from the power sector by 32% in 2030, against a 2005 baseline.

It's more ambitious than a draft, published for comment last year, which targeted a 30% reduction. Obama says it is the "single most important step" the US has taken to tackle climate change.

It has attracted a huge quantity of news coverage, comment and analysis. However, the final rule is 1,560 pages long, making it hard to unpick the impact of the plan from the spin. It also has international significance in advance of the impending UN climate talks in Paris.

Carbon Brief's Q&A aims to help cut through the noise, explaining the why, how and what next of the Clean Power Plan.

Why is Obama doing this?

The Clean Power Plan is one part of the Obama administration's Climate Action Plan, launched in June 2013. The president hopes climate action will be a legacy issue, says the National Journal.

In a video released the over the weekend, Obama justifies his approach, saying that the changing climate is threatening the economy, security and health. He says:

"If you believe like I do that we can't condemn our kids and grandkids to a planet that's beyond fixing, then I'm asking you to share this message with your friends and family...We can do this. It's time for America, and the world, to act on climate change."

Obama's other climate policies includes vehicle efficiency standards, rules to limit methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, controls on warming HFCs and a range of other efforts. Vox has a good summary of Obama's other climate initiatives.

Collectively, these are designed to meet the US pledge to the UN climate process, known as an INDC. The US is the world's second largest emitter, responsible for 12% of global emissions in 2012. It has promised to cut its emissions by 26-28% by 2030, against a 2005 baseline.

The power sector was responsible for 31% of US carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) in 2013, so any plan to cut to tackle overall emissions has to address the power sector.

There is also a legal imperative to regulate after the Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that emissions endanger public health, a ruling that has since been upheld. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says it is effectively bound to establish emissions targets for existing sources of CO2 under section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, though this is disputed (see below).

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Five charts show the historic shifts in UK energy last year

  • 30 Jul 2015, 17:25
  • Simon Evans
Eggborough Power Station

Eggborough power station | Shutterstock

Last year was a historic one for UK energy, with significant consequences for UK emissions

New data from the Department for Energy Climate Change (DECC) shows energy use fell to its lowest level for at least half a century, while coal use fell to levels not seen since the 19th century and renewable power increased by a fifth.

Along with a record warm year, the combined impact of these changes was a 10% reduction in UK  carbon emissions -- the largest ever fall to accompany economic growth.

Carbon Brief has five charts that show what happened to the UK's energy mix in 2014.

Energy low

For decades if not centuries, a growing economy has usually been accompanied by rising energy use. Recessions have been the only sure-fire way to dampen rising demand. Since 2005, however, the UK has been busy  breaking that link.

In 2014 the downward trend accelerated, with a 6.6% reduction in energy use, even as the economy grew by a relatively rapid 2.8%. That left energy use last year down 18% since a 2005 peak and at the lowest level for at least half a century.

Within that overall picture, there were large reductions in gas, oil and coal use (light grey, brown and dark grey areas, below). As first estimated by Carbon Brief in January, UK coal use in 2014 fell to levels last seen during the  industrial revolution of the late 1800s.

Uk -primary -energy -useUK primary energy use by source. Source:  DUKES table 1.1.1. Chart by Carbon Brief.

Fossil fuel low

Total and fossil energy use were both down last year, making it hard to gauge the bigger picture. If we slice things up more simply, you can see that fossil fuels claimed a record low share of the UK energy mix in 2014, at 85% (grey area, below).

Fossil -fuel -share -uk -energy -mixThe UK's energy mix since 1990. Source:  DUKES table 1.1.1. Chart by Carbon Brief.

Renewables grabbed a growing share of UK energy use, reaching 7% of the total in 2014. As a result, the UK beat its  interim target on the path to a 15% by 2020 goal under the EU Renewable Energy Directive, including heat, power and transport.

Longer-running data from  BP shows that fossil fuels supplied 98% of the UK's energy needs in 1965 and it's a safe bet that last year's low of 85% is a record for the modern era. Even so, the UK is a very long way from the decarbonised economy it is aiming for. The  Climate Change Act commits the UK to an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050, against a 1990 baseline.

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Explainer: Amber Rudd ends Green Deal energy efficiency scheme

  • 24 Jul 2015, 17:05
  • Sophie Yeo
A roll of insulating glass wool on an attic floor

Loft insulation | Shutterstock

The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has announced that the government will no longer fund the Green Deal scheme, which provided loans designed to help homeowners improve the energy efficiency of their property.

The department said that the latest target in its cull of green policies was aimed at protecting taxpayers, and was the result of low take-up of the scheme and concerns about industry standards.

But the government has yet to announce how it will fill the gap in its energy efficiency policies left by the Green Deal. 

It comes on the heels of an  announcement that subsidies for small scale solar and biomass projects would be scaled back.

DECC has previously forecast that the Green Deal scheme would provide savings on energy bills by 2020, as energy efficiency measures mean that tenants and homeowners pay less to heat their homes.

The government now has the task of designing a replacement scheme that will promote energy efficiency that fits with the Conservative ideals on how to tackle climate change - an approach that secretary of state Amber Rudd  promised today would be effective.

What is the Green Deal?

The Green Deal was officially launched in 2013, as a means to cut carbon emissions and save money on energy bills.

The government finances the scheme through the Green Deal Finance Company, which provides loans that can be used to install improvements, such as insulation, double-glazing and solar panels.

The beneficiary then pays back the money through a payment attached to their energy bill, which is cancelled out by the saving made on the bill by the new measures. The loan remained attached to the property, with the duty of paying back the loan falling on whoever pays the bills for the property.

However, the Green Deal did not prove the success that DECC had hoped it would be. Around 15,600 Green Deal plans had been issued by June 2015, according to the  latest statistics published yesterday. The f  igures by the department show a continuing downward trend on the number of households interested in applying for Green Deal financing.

Number -of -assessmentsNumber of Green Deal Assessments lodged by month. Source:  Domestic Green Deal and Energy Company Obligation in Great Britain, Monthly report

 

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