Analysis

What does the state aid ruling on UK energy subsidies mean?

  • 30 Jul 2014, 11:25
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 Nick Page

Last week two UK energy subsidy schemes got the green light. They are at the heart of government plans to cut energy emissions while minimising consumer bills and keeping the lights on.

But before the UK could press ahead with its plans it needed approval under EU rules designed to prevent government support or 'state aid' that unfairly favours particular industries.

It's all an "immensely complicated business" according to Conservative peer Lord Jenkin who says he's spent many months trying to understand the details of the government's reforms.

We didn't want to do the same - and you probably don't either. So we asked for help from state aid legal expert Erika Szyszczak, barrister at Littleton Chambers and professor of law at the University of Sussex.

Read more

Q & A - everything you need to know about UK fracking

  • 28 Jul 2014, 12:45
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 Push Europe

About half the country is being opened up to fracking for shale gas and oil today, various newspapers reported this morning. Here's everything you need to know about UK fracking.

What's shale gas?

Shale gas is normal gas, extracted from shale rock using a technique known as fracking, or hydraulic fracturing of the rock. Our full briefing on the fuel is here .

What has been announced today?

The government has opened the 14th onshore oil and gas licensing round. A licensing round is when firms get the chance to apply for exclusive rights to search for and extract oil and gas from beneath blocks of land measuring 10 by 10 kilometres.

The round announced today closes on 28 October this year. The last round was held six years ago when few had heard of fracking.

It is only four years since the first exploratory well to look for shale gas in the UK was sunk. Seismic tremors caused by early shale exploration operations in 2011 delayed the launch of the 14th licensing round, preparations for which had also begun in 2010.

Today's announcement and any licenses handed out as a result do not grant permission to actually start fracking. Other regulatory permissions are required first - see below.

Read more

Europe’s coal plants could stay open despite air pollution rules

  • 25 Jul 2014, 17:25
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 Rich

There is a widely held view that tough EU air pollution rules will force most coal-fired power stations to close by the early 2020s. But that simply isn't true, according to campaign group Sandbag.

It explains why in a new report called " Europe's failure to quit coal". Its plant-by-plant analysis finds that 110 gigawatts of EU coal capacity - nearly three-quarters of the total - will be able to stay open despite air pollution rules.

The remaining 40 gigawatts could stay open too, Sandbag says, with 14 gigawatts of that in the UK. It adds that recent policy changes make it more attractive for UK plant to continue to operate.

We've taken a look at why Sandbag says everyone's been getting it wrong on coal.

Read more

Why measuring fugitive methane emissions from shale gas production matters

  • 24 Jul 2014, 14:40
  • Mat Hope

CC 2.0 Tim Evanson

As an ever-increasing number of countries consider exploiting their shale gas resources, and researchers scramble to understand what a production boom could mean for the climate, two new pieces of research appear to come to opposite conclusions.

What is the climate impact of shale gas?

Since gas has about half the emissions of coal when it's burned for electricity, it has been touted as  a 'bridging fuel' for countries seeking to decarbonise their economies to use as a stop gap on the way to a low carbon electricity system.

But as we've  explored before, scientists are struggling to establish the full impact of increased shale gas production on the climate, due to methane that escapes during the extraction process - known as fugitive methane emissions.

Two papers released this month examine what the actual climate impact of natural gas is. At first glance they seem to show opposite things. The graph on the left, taken from a paper by Robert Howarth appears to show natural gas electricity generation emissions - the towering left bar - can be much higher than coal's. The second graph, from  Heath et al, appears to show the opposite - that coal's generation emissions (on the left) are much higher than those from both conventional and shale gas.

Howarth Vs Heath Coal And Gas Emissions

Both papers examine the 'lifecycle emissions' of the fuels: the amount of gas emitted from extraction to combustion. So why is there such a large discrepancy between two papers?

Read more

UK and Germany top ‘dirty 30’ league of coal plants

  • 22 Jul 2014, 16:45
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 Gareth Davies

The UK and Germany are ranked joint first  - or last, depending on your perspective - in a new league table of Europe's 30 most polluting coal-fired power stations.

The ranking comes from several NGOs including WWF and the European Environmental Bureau. They're using it to argue for specific anti-coal policies, saying Europe won't meet its climate targets without them.

We take a look at what they want, and why.

Europe's biggest emitters

The NGOs have listed the EU's top 30 emitters of carbon dioxide in 2013, dubbing the contenders the "dirty 30". All of them are coal-fired power stations.

The UK and Germany both have nine coal plants on the list, putting them joint top of the league table. If you count up the emissions for each country, however, Germany comes out top because its coal plants are generally larger than the UK's and burn more coal.

Read more

Factcheck: Do climate worriers use more electricity?

  • 18 Jul 2014, 11:00
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 Jon Mould

The Telegraph and the Mail say people concerned about climate change use more electricity than those who think the issue is too distant to worry about, according to new research.

The Telegraph quotes Conservative MP Peter Lilley:

"The survey exposes the hypocrisy of many who claim to be 'green': the greater the concern people express about global warming the less they do to reduce their energy usage."

But Lilley's strong conclusions are not supported by the study in question, which comes with some significant caveats. The researchers themselves say there's no significant effect of people's beliefs:

"None of the stated attitudes about environmental or climate change had any significant  impact on overall energy use when household age was taken into account."

Let's take a look at what the study says, and what it doesn't.

Read more

Factcheck: How often do wind turbines catch fire? And does it matter?

  • 17 Jul 2014, 15:15
  • Mat Hope and Simon Evans

CC2.0 Washington DNR

Wind turbines are essentially small buckets of lubricating oil on top of a large metal stick, with rotating wings attached. Add a strike of lightning, a short circuit or a mechanical fault and they occasionally set alight. While that might make a good photo, no one's sure how big a problem it is. A new report tries to work it out.

The research by a group of academics from the University of Edinburgh and Imperial College London for the International Association for Fire Safety Science (IAFSS) tries to assess how common wind turbine fires are and how dangerous they might be. But the researchers ran into a problem: there's not much data available.

Fire data

When looking for data on wind turbine fires, the researchers found many "sources of information are incomplete, biased, or contain non-publically available data". So it's hard to reliably assess the extent of the problem.

Nonetheless, the researchers give it a go using data from the - admittedly fairly biased - Caithness Windfarm Information Forum (CWIF). That's an anti-windfarm campaign group,  so you can be sure they've done their best to record as many and as serious accidents as possible.

The CWIF recorded a total of 1,328 accidents involving wind turbines between 1995 and 2012. Of those, 200 involved fire. There have been no recorded fatalities and four recorded injuries from wind turbine fires, the IAFSS report says.

That's 11.7 fires per year on average, or nearly one a month, the research points out.

Read more

The future of coal in China, India, Australia, the US, EU, and UK

  • 16 Jul 2014, 13:00
  • Mat Hope

CC: Bobak

Have reports of coal's demise been greatly exaggerated? It depends which part of the world you look at.

Global coal use has grown significantly over the last decade, with global demand increasing 60 per cent between 1990 and 2011, according to research body the International Energy Agency (IEA). With some countries implementing climate policies to limit the use of polluting fuels, some commentators are predicting  coal's imminent demise.

Bp Global Coal Consumption

Source:  BP Statistical Review of World Energy

That's probably premature. While some European countries are ramping up renewables, shutting coal plants and closing mines, other parts of the world are planning an extraction frenzy to feed emerging economies' seemingly insatiable energy demand.

Here's a quick guide to coal's prospects around the world.

Read more

Mind the gap: the holes in UK climate policy

  • 15 Jul 2014, 11:00
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 raghavvidya

The UK will miss its legally-binding carbon budgets in future without new policies, according to the government's Committee on Climate Change (CCC).

The UK's first ever carbon budget running from 2008 to 2012 was met, the CCC says in its latest Progress Report, and there has been good progress on car fuel efficiency, installing more efficient boilers and building wind turbines. But that's about where the good news for government ends.

The first budget was met largely because of the 2008 economic crisis slashing industrial output and ripping a hole in consumers' pockets, the CCC says. Lower output and lower demand reduced the need to burn fossil fuels in power stations, cars and boilers.

Without the impact of the crash and a particularly cold winter in 2010, emissions would have fallen by around 1 per cent per year between 2007 and 2012. To meet the fourth carbon budget in 2027 that rate will need to triple.

Read more

Funding boost nudges UK carbon capture and storage industry forwards

  • 09 Jul 2014, 11:25
  • Mat Hope

White Rose

The world uses a lot of fossil fuels - and there's plenty left to burn, if we want to - with all of the world's major economies still relying on coal, oil, and gas to provide most of their power. But the more countries burn, the more difficult it becomes to constrain global warming.

The trouble is, it's difficult to quickly swap a fossil fuel based energy system for one that's low-carbon. It takes considerable time and money to replace coal and gas with nuclear and renewables.

There is a technology that promises to allow continued fossil fuel use while providing emissions cuts, however - carbon capture and storage (CCS). In theory, CCS technology can capture emissions from fossil fuel power plants and lock them underground. That could allow power plants to burn fossil fuels with a fraction of the emissions.

For energy companies and governments wanting to tackle climate change, that's good news. But the bad news is that CCS has so far struggled to get off the ground, and is yet to be proven in a full scale power plant.

After nearly a decade of false starts, the UK's CCS industry is slowly getting moving. Earlier this year, the government allocated  £100 million to two new demonstration projects. Today, the European Union awarded one of those projects  €300 million for its next phase of development. After a long series of disappointments, the industry is hoping all the pieces are in place to make CCS a success.

Potential

It's increasingly likely that the world will need carbon capture and storage in a big way if it's going to reduce emissions quickly.

Research by thinktank Carbon Tracker suggests countries have already used about two-thirds of the fossil fuel allowance that will give a good chance of preventing more than two degrees of global temperature rise. That leaves a lot more coal, gas and oil in the ground than Carbon Tracker says can be burned.

 

Read more