Posts Tagged ‘solar’

The Three Stumbling Blocks to a Solar-Powered Nation

January 14, 2018

Every hour, the sun bombards the Earth with enough light to satisfy our energy needs for a year, but there are barriers to our solar-energy future

Photo-voltaic solar cells at the 550-megawatt Desert Sunlight Solar Farm in February 2015 in Desert Center, Calif.
Photo-voltaic solar cells at the 550-megawatt Desert Sunlight Solar Farm in February 2015 in Desert Center, Calif. PHOTO: MARCUS YAM/LOS ANGELES TIMES/GETTY IMAGES

As a fraction of our energy mix, renewables in general and solar power in particular are growing faster than ever. What seemed like an impossibility just a decade ago—the displacement of fossil fuels from the U.S. power system, if not the world’s—is increasingly a reality. Here are three possible visions of our renewable-energy-powered future:

1. There’s mass defection from power grids, as citizens and corporations alike end a dependence on regulated monopolies that date all the way back to the days of Thomas Edison.

2. The same utility companies that now handle energy continue to oversee and balance a grid increasingly powered by renewable sources, and we hardly know the difference.

3. The landscape gets politically messy and technologically diverse, varying by locale, as utilities, customers and politicians battle over new ways to produce and harvest energy.

Whichever scenario we end up with, solar power is an odds-on favorite source, because of its abundance. Every hour, our sun bombards the Earth with enough light to satisfy humanity’s energy needs for an entire year. But at least three barriers stand between us and that sunny future.

Problem One: Cell Cost

For solar power to meet 30% of the world’s electricity needs, it will need to fall from its current cost of a dollar per watt of electricity to 25 cents per watt, says Varun Sivaram, a science and technology expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonprofit think tank.

A maintenance team in Oxford, Mass., changes out a faulty solar inverter on a 16.5-megawatt solar array owned and operated by BlueWave Solar on De. 4, 2017.
A maintenance team in Oxford, Mass., changes out a faulty solar inverter on a 16.5-megawatt solar array owned and operated by BlueWave Solar on De. 4, 2017. PHOTO: ROBERT NICKELSBERG/GETTY IMAGES

The only way to get there, Dr. Sivaram argues in his forthcoming book, is by bringing to market solar-cell technologies that are currently still far from mass production, such as perovskite-based solar cells.

Perovskite cells can be made from materials that could be radically cheaper than conventional silicon. They can also take on novel forms, such as a tint on windows or thin printable sheets. But they still face significant barriers to commercialization: They tend to rapidly degrade when wet, and scientists can’t create large cells with the same efficiency as the small ones they can make in a lab.

While perovskite is promising, there’s no guarantee we’ll get it or any other better, cheaper technologies when we need them, since the energy industry isn’t investing enough in R&D to bring them to market, says Dr. Sivaram.

Energy companies tend to spend 1% to 2% of their revenue on R&D, he says, whereas semiconductor companies can easily spend ten times as much. The U.S. federal budget for energy research, $5 billion a year, is likely to be eclipsed by China’s budget for such research by 2020, he adds.

Problem 2: Energy Management

One reason we’re going to need cheaper solar cells is that the more solar there is on the grid, the less valuable it is to add more. This happens because sunlight is intermittent. It isn’t hard to get to the point where solar is producing too much power at some times of day, and none at all when it’s needed most. The first solar panel added to the grid helps offset mid-day consumption, but the last one to be added may be completely unnecessary, because the grid may already be saturated when it’s capable of producing the most power.

A worker moves a Vivint Solar Inc. solar panel during a home installation in Bergenfield, N.J., in Dec. 2017.
A worker moves a Vivint Solar Inc. solar panel during a home installation in Bergenfield, N.J., in Dec. 2017. PHOTO:DAVID WILLIAMS/BLOOMBERG NEWS

California, which gets about 10% of its electricity from solar power, already has this problem. On some sunny days, it has to pay other states to take electricity off its hands.

One solution is utility-scale power storage. But putting enough batteries on the grid to make a meaningful dent is a truly gargantuan feat, and batteries are still far too costly to address it at scale. Batteries currently handle only 1.7% of energy storage on the grid, according to the U.S. Department of Energy; the rest is almost entirely pumped hydro storage.

A more immediate solution to this problem could be a bigger and more spread-out electrical grid, says Ramez Naam, a lecturer on energy and the environment at Singularity University and an angel investor.

Currently in the U.S., there are essentially three power grids: eastern, western and Texas, and much of this infrastructure is more than 25 years old. Optimally, all these grids would be connected, with new high-voltage power lines. This could be politically messy, says Mr. Naam.

Some studies suggest that with bigger power grids and a continued drop in the price of existing solar technology, it is possible to get 30% of global electricity from current solar technology. That’s assuming panels continue to get cheaper as manufacturers scale up.

Problem Three: ‘Soft’ Utility Costs

Some are skeptical that technology is the real roadblock to the spread of solar. It could be the high “soft costs” related to building utility-scale solar power plants, including project design, permitting, siting and interconnection to the grid.

Tesla's Solar Roof with Powerwall home battery
Tesla’s Solar Roof with Powerwall home battery PHOTO: NICHOLA GROOM/REUTERS

“People in the tech community either conveniently ignore or truly don’t understand that they could honestly just give away solar panels for free now and soft costs would remain the bigger problem,” says Rob Day, a general partner at Spring Lane Capital, which invests in clean water, energy, food and waste projects.

The Department of Energy estimates that soft costs contribute up to 64% of the cost of a solar installation. The rest of the cost is split between mounting hardware for solar panels and the cells themselves.

One tantalizing possibility is that through a combination of rooftop solar panels and home batteries, individual consumers could just start harvesting their own electricity. This is one of the goals of Tesla Energy, which in January began production of solar panels and slate-like solar roof tiles at its Buffalo, N.Y. solar “Gigafactory 2.”

The technology is too expensive now, however, and even when it becomes affordable, we’ll probably still want that grid as a backup. That’s why the future, as usual, may look something like California—where in 2017 rooftop solar and local power providers took 25% of the business that would otherwise have gone to big utility companies.

Write to Christopher Mims at


Solar’s Bright Future Is Further Away Than It Seems

January 3, 2018
Yes, panels are cheaper, but much more R&D is needed for a true green energy breakthrough.
By Tyler Cowen
January 2, 2018, 1:26 PM EST
To be fair, 93 million miles is a long way.

 Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

There is now a doctrine of what I call “solar triumphalism”: the price of panels has been falling exponentially, the technology makes good practical sense, and only a few further nudges are needed for solar to become a major energy source. Unfortunately, this view seems to be wrong. Solar energy could be a boon to mankind and the environment, but it’s going to need a lot more support and entrepreneurial and policy dynamism.

Varun Sivaram, in his forthcoming “Taming the Sun: Innovations to Harness Solar Energy and Power the Planet” lays out this case in what may be the first important policy book of 2018. To be clear, Sivaram, who holds a doctorate in physics, is a solar expert and an energy adviser — he’s no enemy of alternative energy sources. He thinks government should increase its support for energy research and development, aiming at diverse pathways, applied at various stages of technology development, and targeting game-changing breakthroughs. In other words, we need to recognize the limitations of today’s solar power if we are going to make it really work.

The first disquieting sign is that solar companies are spending only about 1 percent of their revenue on research and development, well below average for a potentially major industry. You might think that’s because things are going so great, but some major solar users may have already maxed out their technology. According to Sivaram’s estimates, four of the five most significant country users — Italy, Greece, Germany and Spain — have already seen solar energy flatten out in the range of 5 percent to 10 percent of total energy use. The fifth country, Japan, is only at 5 percent.

Germany and the state of California have experienced operational problems as solar has grown as an energy source. Because the sun isn’t continuously available, solar power at large scale doesn’t integrate well with the electric grid, which favor steady sources such as fossil fuels or nuclear. Solar power creates an expense for the whole system, even if the panels themselves are cheaper.

Silicon technologies dominate the panel market today, but Sivaram sees greater dynamic potential in perovskiteorganic and quantum dot solar cells, and possibly orbital solar power satellites. Breakthroughs in those areas might lower costs and increase solar potency, making the calculus more favorable to green energy.

A common view is that solar power will come into its own once batteries and other storage technologies make steady improvements. Yet Sivaram notes that lithium-ion batteries in particular are not well-designed for storage across days, weeks and months. Also note that about 95 percent of global energy storage capacity is from hydroelectric power, a discouraging sign for the notion that solar energy storage is on a satisfactory track.

Promoting solar energy also isn’t in the interest of regulated utilities. They fear a scenario where many users deploy solar power to detach from the energy grid, either wholly or in part. Other customers’ bills would have to rise to cover the costs of the grid, and that in turn would encourage even more secession into solar and alternate energy sources. Because that scenario is a financial loser for the utilities, regulatory institutions discourage utilities from integrating solar power into the grid, which limits competition.

Solar energy has great potential for emerging economies, but some very basic preconditions are not in place. India, for instance, would need to end its kerosene and electricity subsidies. Freer trade in solar technologies is found in Tanzania and Rwanda but not always in West Africa.

In sum, just improving silicon panel solar technologies may not be enough. Sivaram calls for “systemic innovation,” based on “refashioning entire energy systems — including physical infrastructure, economic markets, and public policies — to enable a high penetration of solar energy.” I would add that we should reconsider the abandonment of nuclear energy, a topic that Sivaram touches upon but does not emphasize.

One lesson is that marginal improvements aren’t always enough, and economic dynamism is more important than we have been realizing. A whole series of integrated breakthroughs may be required to move significantly closer to a green energy future. I do think the U.S. will eventually get there, but after reading “Taming the Sun,” I have to wonder if we are up to the challenge now.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Tyler Cowen at

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Stacey Shick at

BP warms to renewables with $200m stake in solar developer

December 16, 2017

FT — Financial Times

Image may contain: sky, cloud and outdoor
Oil major returns to field with investment to bolster Lightsource expansion beyond UK

BP is to invest $200m in Europe’s largest solar power developer, marking its return to a sector from which it withdrew six years ago.

The UK energy group will buy a 43 per cent stake in Lightsource, a London-based company developing solar projects in Europe, the US and Asia, under the deal announced on Friday.

The acquisition adds to the growing number of investments by oil and gas producers in renewable energy as the world begins to move beyond fossil fuels.

BP first entered the solar market in the 1980s as a manufacturer and installer of the photovoltaic cells used to harness energy from the sun. It closed the business in 2011 after it was made unprofitable by low-cost competition from China.

Dev Sanyal, BP’s chief executive of alternative energy, said the company had learnt from past failures.

By working with Lightsource in the development and management of solar farms, BP was returning to a more attractive part of the solar market than low-margin panel manufacturing, he added.

“Some of the lessons were pretty tough but it gave us a fundamental understanding of the solar business,” Mr Sanyal said.

Nick Boyle, chief executive and founder of Lightsource, said BP’s global reach and capabilities would strengthen his company’s expansion beyond the UK, where all its 2 gigawatts of operational solar capacity is located.

“BP has relationships around the world built up over 100 years and we can piggy back on that by becoming their in-house solar developer of choice,” he said.

Solar power is the fastest-growing part of the global energy industry after a tripling of installed capacity over the past four years, according to BP data. This expansion has been accelerated by the falling cost of predominantly Chinese-made solar panels.

Rapid growth in renewable power and other “clean” technology such as electric vehicles is forcing oil and gas companies to confront a future in which fossil fuels face increasing competition — as well as regulatory pressure to cut carbon emissions and air pollution.

Royal Dutch Shell agreed in October to buy NewMotion, Europe’s largest electric vehicle charging company. A month earlier, Total acquired a 23 per cent stake in Eren, a French renewable power company, for €237.5m.

BP was the first oil “supermajor” to make significant commitments in renewable energy and adopted the slogan “Beyond Petroleum” in the 2000s.

Most of its $8bn of “green” investments during that era were written off but the group still has wind assets in the US and a biofuels business in Brazil.

Mr Sanyal said there was potential for BP to integrate renewables and natural gas assets with its power trading business to deepen the group’s role in the electricity supply chain. The aim was to make Lightsource the global market leader in solar power, he added.

Lightsource, founded in 2010 and owned by its management and staff, will receive an initial $50m from BP upon completion of the deal early in 2018, with the $150m balance paid in instalments over three years.

The company will be renamed Lightsource BP and BP will have two seats on the board. Mr Boyle said BP was chosen from a shortlist of three potential investors.

Lightsource develops, finances and operates solar arrays under long-term power purchase agreements, usually with corporate customers.

Notable projects include a 23,000-panel floating solar farm on Thames Water’s Queen Elizabeth II reservoir near London. It has 6GW of capacity in development around the world.

Electricity Prices Plummet as Gas, Wind Gain Traction and Demand Stalls — ‘It’s too late’ for coal

November 30, 2017

Texas is a microcosm of pressures facing power generators; ‘It’s too late’ for coal

The rapid rise of wind and natural gas as sources of electricity is roiling U.S. power markets, forcing more companies to close older generating plants.

Wholesale electricity prices are falling near historic lows in parts of the country with competitive power markets, as demand for electricity remains stagnant while newer, less-expensive generating facilities continue to come online.

he changing American electricity landscape is pressuring power companies to shed unprofitable plants and reshape their portfolios to favor the new winners. Texas provides a clear example.

Citing low gas prices and the proliferation of renewables such as wind and solar, Vistra Energy Corp. , a vestige of the former Energy Future Holdings Corp., said it would retire three coal-fired facilities in Texas by early next year and that it plans to merge with independent power producer Dynegy Inc.

Exelon Corp. , the country’s largest owner of nuclear power plants, placed its Texas subsidiary under bankruptcy protection earlier this month, saying that “historically low power prices within Texas have created challenging market conditions for all power generators.”

The average wholesale power price was less than $25 per megawatt hour last year on the grid that coordinates electricity distribution across most of Texas, according to the operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. A decade ago, it was $55.

Prices have fallen a similar amount on the PJM Interconnection LLC, the power grid that serves some or all of 13 states, including Pennsylvania and Ohio. A megawatt hour there traded for $29.23 last year, the lowest level since 1999, as far back as the grid’s independent market monitor tracks prices.

The price drop at PJM reflects the construction of dozens of new gas-burning power plants, spurred by the abundance of the fuel due to the shale drilling boom. In 2006, 8% of the electricity in PJM was generated by natural gas. In 2016, it was 27%.

Weak demand for electricity also has played a role, as Americans purchase more energy-efficient appliances and companies shave power consumption to cut costs. Last year, power demand in PJM grew 0.3% after falling the two previous years.

In competitive regions in places like California, wholesale electricity is sold through daily auctions that favor the least-expensive sources of power. Photo: Getty Images

The resulting competition—by more power plants to buyers of roughly the same number of megawatts—has most-acutely impacted older coal and nuclear plants, which are struggling to provide competitively priced power. It has even begun to affect older natural-gas-fired facilities that have higher costs.

“Generators are just fighting for existing market share,” said Ari Peskoe, a senior fellow in electricity law at Harvard Law School. “The aging fleet of coal and nuke generators, combined with low prices, makes this intense.”

FirstEnergy Corp. , an Akron, Ohio-based utility, announced late last year it was exiting competitive power markets. It is selling four natural-gas plants and hopes to sell coal and nuclear plants that provide power in the PJM wholesale marketplace.

This summer, power company NRG Energy Inc. announced a transformation plan that included selling up to $4 billion in power generation.

West of the Mississippi River, power markets also have been upended by the rapid growth of wind, as the cost of generating power from wind turbines is falling.

In 2016, all of the new generation built in the Southwest Power Pool, a grid that covers an area from Louisiana to Montana, was wind, gas and solar. The vast majority of the retirements were coal and nuclear plants.

Wind is the fastest-growing source of power on Texas’ grid. Last year, wind generated 15% of the electricity in ERCOT, more than nuclear power, which accounted for 12%. By 2019, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin’s Energy Institute expect wind to surpass coal as ERCOT’s second-largest source of electricity.

“Solar and wind are now competitive with natural gas-fired generation,” said Curt Morgan, Vistra’s chief executive. Mr. Morgan said that while he thinks natural gas will be the “workhorse” of U.S. electricity markets for at least the next decade, in Texas “I think it’s going to be a while before you see another gas plant built in ERCOT.”

Last week, Siemens AG said it was cutting 6,900 jobs, in large part because it has overestimated demand for its giant power turbines.

The changes have primarily been felt in competitive power markets, which exist in many parts of the U.S., including California in addition to Texas and the Midwest. In those areas, wholesale electricity is sold through daily auctions that favor the least-expensive sources of power, and it is subsequently purchased by utilities and others.

By contrast, some regions of the U.S. don’t have competitive power markets, and instead have power generated entirely by utilities, which is sold to customers at rates regulated by state officials. Even in regulated markets, changes are afoot. Earlier this week, WEC Energy Group Inc. said it was closing its Pleasant Prairie coal plant in Wisconsin, citing a desire to add more gas and solar generation.

As companies face price pressures, some have sought aid from the government. Exelon has been pushing states to create new subsidies for them.

“Unless we value the zero emission attributes of nuclear, that is going to force the premature retirement of nuclear plants,” said Joe Dominguez, an executive vice president at Exelon.

The Trump administration is aiming to provide a lifeline to the ailing coal and nuclear industries through several proposals, including a plan floated by Energy Secretary Rick Perry to assist power plants that provide constant, baseload power to ensure ample energy security.

But that proposal, which has to be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, has been assailed by critics as both anticompetitive and unlikely to reverse market trends.

An analysis by investment bank Lazard shows that on an unsubsidized basis and over the lifetime of a facility in North America, it costs about $60 to generate a megawatt hour of electricity using a combined-cycle natural-gas plant, compared with $102 burning coal and nearly $150 using nuclear. By that criteria, Lazard estimates electricity from utility-scale solar and wind facilities is now even cheaper than gas.

“It’s too late,” David Schlissel, a director at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, said of the Trump administration’s proposals. “The lesson is if you don’t put your thumb on the scale then gas and renewables will out-compete coal.”

Chris Moser, senior vice president of operations at NRG, said the challenge in many parts of the U.S. now is to ensure a diverse mix of power resources so that if one encounters issues, others can fill in.

In PJM, Mr. Moser said cost pressures prompted NRG to retrofit some units to run on gas instead of coal. Meanwhile, it retired a 44-year-old natural-gas plant in Houston known as Greens Bayou Unit 5 earlier this year, as the low cost of gas continues to put pressure on older facilities, even those burning gas. The company also has units slated to retire in California.

“If the market isn’t paying us to keep the generation around we want to take it out,” he said, adding, “Yes, you could go all wind, but then you have no answers when it’s 109 in Dallas and there’s no wind.”

Australia Retreats on Renewable Power

October 17, 2017

Government junks plans to encourage use of low-emission sources for electricity

CANBERRA, Australia—The Australian government returned coal to the heart of its energy policy, after blaming blackouts and rising power bills on a too-aggressive rollout of renewable sources and a surge in gas exports.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday junked a plan promoted by the country’s chief scientist, Alan Finkel, to require power producers to generate a minimum portion of their energy from low-emission sources by 2020.


Where’s the coal-fired power plant, Abbott asks

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott enters the chamber, late for Question Time today. Picture: Gary Ramage
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott enters the chamber, late for Question Time today. Picture: Gary Ramage
  • The Australian

By Simon Benson
The Australian

Tony Abbott has questioned why the government’s much anticipated energy plan has not included a new coal fired power plant, claiming that it was presented as an emissions policy which failed to sharpen the distinction between the Coalition and Labor.

Mr Abbott also accused Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of not honouring a promise to allow a discussion in the Coalition party room on the politics of the policy.

“It’s good that the government has finally accepted that the Clean Energy Target was always a bad idea,” Mr Abbott told The Australian.

“But Malcolm promised a political discussion in the party room and I’m disappointed that this didn’t go ahead.

“The point I was going to make was that the government had brought forward a good framework but there was a lot that had been left to officials.

“We should sharpen the distinction and make it clear that Labor was for emissions reductions and we were for lower prices by supplementing Snowy 2.0 with Hazelwood 2.0. We had to ensure that Australian coal had a future in Australia by actually getting built a new coal-fired power station”

Following a presentation on the National Energy Guarantee to the party room this morning, Mr Abbott challenged Mr Turnbull over whether the regulator would place a priority on reducing emissions or reducing prices.

An exchange followed in which Mr Abbott said that according to the projections in the policy, unreliable power was going up and reliable power was going down.

He then questioned why Mr Turnbull had placed so much focus on hydro and not coal. The Prime Minister responded by reminding the party room that the government did not own any coal fired power stations.

At around 11.20am, Mr Turnbull tried to wrap up the party room meeting when Mr Abbott rose to his feet again and reminded the Prime Minister he had promised a discussion on the politics of the policy.

Despite reports of a hostile exchange, the Australian has been told that Mr Turnbull simply ignored Mr Abbott’s request for further political discussion and shut down further debate by calling for a vote.

There was an overwhelming majority in support of the policy despite deep reservations among many MPs about its ability to lift the government’s political fortunes or even deliver the savings to households promised.

One MP told The Australian that the policy amounted to a saving of $2 a week on people’s power bills, and even then that could not be guaranteed.

“It is not the panacea that everyone was expecting,” the MP said.

Tipping Point Coming for Clean Energy as ‘Monster’ Turbines Arrive

September 19, 2017


  • Renewables will increasingly challenge fossil fuels on cost
  • Green power outlook presented by Bloomberg New Energy Finance
 Image result for news for biggest wind turbines, photos
The world’s largest wind turbine (pictured) that has monstrous 263ft-long (80m) propellers has been captured in new photographs in Denmark

Read more:
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The Coming Storm of Climate Change

The cost of renewables is plunging faster than forecasters anticipated just a few years ago as as technologies like gigantic wind turbines arrive on the market.

That’s the conclusion of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, whose founder Michael Liebreich estimated that clean energy will reap 86 percent of the $10.2 trillion likely to be invested in power generation by 2040.

In a presentation to the research group’s conference in London on Tuesday, Liebreich said technology that’s slashing the costs of wind and solar farms makes it inevitable that clean energy will become more economical than fossil fuels for utilities in many places. The most visible advance is in the scale of wind turbines, highlighted by the chart below.

Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance

When it started collecting data in earnest in 2004, BNEF already could see a trend toward bigger machines in the wind industry that deliver more spark to the grid. The scale of those turbines will grow with models planned by Siemens AG and Vestas Wind Systems A/S that already are delivering ones with wing spans bigger than the Airbus A380 double-decker jetliner.

The promise of bigger machines early in the next decade prompted developers of offshore wind farms in Germany to promise electricity without subsidy on their next projects.

“One of the reasons those offshore wind costs have come down to be competitive without subsidies is because these turbines are absolute monsters,” Liebreich said. “Imagine a turbine with a tip height that’s higher than The Shard.’’

The same process of producing more electricity for a lower cost is making photovoltaics cheaper. Liebreich predicted two “tipping points” where the cost of renewables will make power generation fueled by natural gas and coal increasingly unattractive.

“The first is when new wind and solar become cheaper than anything else,” Liebreich said. The slide below from his presentation indicates that in Japan by 2025 it will be cheaper to build a new PV plant than a coal-fired power generator. That milestone will be passed in India for wind power by 2030.

Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance

“At that point, anything you have to retire is likely to be replaced by wind and solar,” Liebreich said. “That tipping point is either here or almost here everywhere in the world.”

The second tipping point, a little further off, is when it’s more costly to operate existing coal and gas plants than to take power from wind and solar. The chart below, from BNEF forecasts, indicates that point may arrive in the middle of the next decade in both Germany and China.

Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance

Because energy costs vary widely from country to country, it’s difficult to make firm conclusions about when renewables might be able to overtake fossil fuels on the grid. For example, Brazil relies heavily on hydroelectric dams and France on its nuclear reactors — technologies in much lower use in most other places.

For Liebreich, the economics of wind and solar are becoming compelling enough that it’s unlikely coal be able to hold onto its dominant position in the global power mix no matter what incentives President Donald Trump implements in the U.S.

“This is going to happen,” Liebreich said. “Coal is declining in the U.S. Nobody is going to make coal great again.”

Can South Korea’s Moon usher in a new climate era?

May 18, 2017

President Moon has briefly shut down dirty coal plants in South Korea, ushering in a new era for climate change. DW examines Moon’s climate policy and how he intends to clean one of the world’s most polluted countries.

Moon Jae-in Präsidentschaftskandidat Südkorea (Reuters)

Following through on a campaign promise to fight air pollution in South Korea, liberal President Moon Jae-in on only his fifth day in office ordered a temporary halt on ten coal-fired power plants for one month starting in June.

Korea’s presidential office, formally known as the Blue House, said that older coal plants would again be closed from March to June next year. In addition, Moon intends to close every coal power plant older than 30 years within his five-year presidential term.

“We can no longer delay the pursuit of safe and clean energies. I will reduce coal-fired power plants and nuclear reactors, and increase renewable natural gas power generation,” Moon said in a statement.

Though Moon’s policy directive has been hailed by climate activists as a step in the right direction, challenges still remain for Asia’s fourth largest economy.


Nearly half of Korea’s electricity demands come from coal power plants, which produce fine dust particles described by the World Health Organization (WHO) as carcinogenic. The micro-particles, which are known as PM 2.5, can penetrate deep into lungs and trigger a variety of illnesses. An Air Quality Index exceeding WHO’s daily safety standards of 10 micrograms per cubic meter is considered dangerous.

According to government data, over 30,000 tons of dust, sulfur oxide and nitrogen oxide are emitted from just ten old coal-fired power plants, which account for around 20 percent of pollution in the country. The International Energy Agency states that coal power plants are the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) states that South Korea has dramatically increased greenhouse gas emissions from coal power plants. By 2060, OECD says nearly nine million people worldwide could die from the particles, with South Korea ranked near the top of the list among developed nations.

Pollution has also at times been blamed on neighboring China. Last year’s Environmental Performance Index ranked South Korea 173rd out of 180 countries in terms of air quality, making it one of the poorest performers among Asian countries.

Norwegen Forschungsstation in Svalbard (Reuters/A. Filipova)Moon intends to close every coal power plant older than 30 years within his five-year presidential term

To combat against this disturbing pollution trend, Moon has said he would invest around 60 billion Korean won (50 million euros) in air circulators and dust-measuring appliances, which will be installed “at some 11,000 elementary to high schools across the nation to constantly monitor air quality.”

The devices are meant to alleviate health problems in Korea, as around 100 “fine dust alerts” have been issued this year. Authorities in capital Seoul, meanwhile, have also distributed government-approved dust masks for school-aged children.

“To reduce fine dust emissions by 30 percent,” Moon said he would “decrease the number of coal-fired power plants in the country.”

While Korea’s dependency on dirty coal power plants seems to be shifting — and nuclear power has fallen from nearly 40 percent in recent years to currently around 30 percent, due to safety reasons and public distrust — the East Asian country presently lacks alternative energy production options.

Moon’s climate plans

To alleviate these concerns, Moon has sought to increase renewable production in the near future, Professor Kim Kyung-nam of Korea University’s Graduate School of Energy and Environment told DW.

“Under President Moon, Korea is pushing for renewable energy production to increase from around five percent to about 20 percent by 2030,” Kim said.

The increase in energy production could come from solar, wind, biomass and waste renewable sources, he added.

Südkorea Greenpeace Protest gegen Atomkraftwerk Kori (picture-alliance/dpa/Yonhap)South Korea’s dependence on nuclear power has fallen from nearly 40 percent to currently around 30 percent

But the dramatic increase in clean energy production, Kim admitted, could be difficult, as the populous and mountainous Asian country lacks an abundance of natural resources and relies heavily on imports. South Korea ranks among the top importers of coal, oil and gas in the world.

“Korea’s dependency on imports could change,” Kim said, adding that Moon’s government would look to offer major incentives to companies that offered clean energy solutions. “Renewable industries are soon expecting government support to assist with their energy efficiency endeavors.”

Just last year, South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy announced it would invest over 40 trillion Korean won (35 billion euros) in developing renewable energy industries. Under the plan, new renewable power stations would be constructed by 2020 to produce 13 million kilowatts of electricity annually, which is equivalent to around 25 coal plants.

Korea’s deputy trade minister for energy and resource also announced that “the government would lift unnecessary regulations and increase government support to foster a renewable energy sector.”

Expert Kim believes under Moon’s direction South Korea could usher in a new era by relying more on a renewed clean energy industry that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and offset its dependency on imports.

Climate change: China calls US ‘selfish’ after Trump seeks to bring back coal (Some Propaganda and Fake News Underpinning China’s Claims)

March 30, 2017

By  in Hong Kong
The Guardian

State-run tabloid says Beijing cannot fill vacuum left by US and urges west to pressure Trump on global warming

a coal mine in utah
Donald Trump has previously called climate change a hoax created by the Chinese. Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images

Chinese state media has lambasted Donald Trump’s efforts to roll back many Obama-era environmental regulations, with a state-run tabloid saying that: “No matter how hard Beijing tries, it won’t be able to take on all the responsibilities that Washington refuses to take.”

In an editorial highly critical of Trump’s retreat on environmental regulation, the Global Times made it clear Beijing was uncomfortable taking over leadership of the fight against climate change and could not fill the vacuum left by the US.

“Western opinion should continue to pressure the Trump administration on climate change. Washington’s political selfishness must be discouraged,” the editorial said. “China will remain the world’s biggest developing country for a long time. How can it be expected to sacrifice its own development space for those developed western powerhouses?”

China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases responsible for global warming, followed by the US, and Chinese leaders firmly agree climate change is a real threat. Their rhetoric has often outpaced their commitments to curb emissions and the country also consumes more coal than the rest of the world combined, although coal use has plateaued in recent years.

“China is not the kind of leader in terms of climate change that will pull other countries along,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, a senior campaigner at Greenpeace based in Beijing. “The Chinese government will only commit to targets it is very comfortable delivering and it needs to work with other major countries. China won’t strike out on its own.”

China is both the worlds largest exporter of renewable energy, and at the same time one of the leading exporters of coal-fired power plants.

Trump has also threatened to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, putting him at odds with China’s president Xi Jinping who has said the “hard-won” deal should remain in force. “All signatories should stick to it instead of walking away from it, as this is a responsibility we must assume for future generations,” Xi said at the World Economic Forum in January.

Even ExxonMobil, America’s largest oil company, has said the US should not back out of its commitments under the accord.

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China is suspending all imports of coal from North Korea for the remainder of 2017 (AFP Photo/GREG BAKER)

China is suspending all imports of coal from North Korea for the remainder of 2017 (AFP Photo/GREG BAKER)

China coal imports from North Korea surge in February

China coal imports from North Korea surge in February


Pyongyang issued a rare reproach of Beijing, its main diplomatic backer, for halting imports of its coal (file picture)

Pyongyang issued a rare reproach of Beijing, its main diplomatic backer, for halting imports of its coal (file picture)

 (Includes Irrational Coal Plants May Hamper China’s Climate Change Efforts)


Doubts cast over whether China can cut back huge coal and steel sectors as prices of commodities rebound

Despite Trump Move, Utilities’ Shift From Coal Is Set to Continue

March 28, 2017

Curbs on carbon emissions may be eased, but companies are sticking with plans to invest in power from gas, wind and solar

Marshall Steam Station, a coal-fired power plant in North Carolina owned by utility Duke Energy.

Marshall Steam Station, a coal-fired power plant in North Carolina owned by utility Duke Energy. PHOTO: ROLF SCHULTEN/GETTY IMAGES

The Trump administration’s expected move to roll back President Obama’s signature climate-change policy may extend the life of some aging coal-fired power plants, but companies and energy experts say it is unlikely to reverse the U.S. utility industry’s shift to natural gas, solar and wind as leading sources of electricity.

President Donald Trump is expected Tuesday to sign an executive order that would begin to reverse the Clean Power Plan, which would have required utilities to reduce power-plant carbon-dioxide emissions to 32% below 2005 levels by 2030. The order also rolls back guidance from the Council on Environmental Quality on climate change and rescinds a temporary ban on new coal leases on federal lands, a senior White House official said Monday night.

While the action may give a reprieve to some coal-fired plants facing extinction, large utilities say they will continue long-term investments to generate more power from gas, wind and solar, which are being driven by economic as well as regulatory forces. The White House official said Monday that the order is part of the president’s promise to restore the coal sector, but the official acknowledged that merely repealing the regulations wouldn’t bring back jobs.

Cheap U.S. natural gas unlocked by hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling has prompted many companies to scrap older coal plants in favor of gas-fired plants, which require fewer workers to operate. Companies are also taking advantage of tax credits for renewable power to build out solar and wind farms, which are becoming more cost-competitive with fossil-fuel generation thanks to economies of scale and advances in technology.

Duke Energy Corp. says it plans to invest $11 billion in natural gas and renewable power generation over the next 10 years, as the company aims by 2026 to cut its greenhouse-gas emissions by 35% from 2005 levels.

That represents a long-term company strategy and isn’t likely to change, Duke Chief Executive Lynn Good said in a February interview. The utility’s power generating mix is now 34% coal and 28% natural gas, compared with 61% coal and 5% gas in 2005. By 2026, it estimates gas will be the dominant fuel, followed by coal, nuclear and renewable power.

“Because of the competitive price of natural gas and the declining price of renewables, continuing to drive carbon out makes sense for us,” said Ms. Good. “Administrations will change during the life of our business and our assets, and we’ll continue to move forward in a way that makes sense for our investors and our customers.”

Southern Co. plans to invest at least $1 billion a year over the next five years in new wind farms. It now uses natural gas to generate 47% of its power, with coal providing 31%, nuclear 15%, and hydropower, wind, solar and other renewable sources 7%.

“Going forward, we anticipate an increase in renewable generation capacity and declining utilization of coal,” said Terrell McCollum, a spokesman for the Atlanta-based utility.

U.S. utilities generated more electricity from natural gas than from coal last year. Power from coal plants fell to 3.4 million megawatt-hours a day in 2016 to supply 30% of U.S. generation, down from 33% in 2015, according to the U.S. Energy Department. Natural-gas plants supplied 3.8 million megawatt-hours daily, or 34% of total power supplies this past year, up from 33% the previous year.

Hydropower and other renewables generated 1.7 million megawatt-hours daily, or about 15% this past year, up from 13% in 2015. Nuclear plants contributed 20%, and petroleum and other sources produced the rest.

Without the Clean Power Plan, however, the Energy Department expects coal-fired generation from existing plants to rise and natural gas-fired generation to fall by 2020, followed by another reversal after 2030 when it anticipates gas will exceed coal again.

The extent of a coal recovery will depend largely on the price utilities pay for gas, which averaged about $3 a million British thermal units last year. The department predicts it will rise to more than $4.50 in 2020, and $5 in 2029.

Many energy companies face state requirements to increase renewable power generation and are coming under pressure from large investors such as pension funds and university endowments to clean up their operations.

More pension funds, university endowments and other funds are divesting from companies that burn coal over concerns about the environment, said Fiona Reynolds, managing director at Principles for Responsible Investment, a London-based nonprofit that helps funds figure out how to cut the carbon footprint of their investments. “Investors want to see companies that are moving away from coal, to other energies,” she said.

Nearly 700 institutions worth more than $5 trillion have pledged to divest from fossil fuel companies, according to a December report by consulting firm Arabella Advisors.

Still, some coal plants that are economical to run, particularly those owned by rural electric cooperatives in states where coal is plentiful, are likely to enjoy longer lives without the carbon rule.

Basin Electric Power Cooperative, based in Bismarck, N.D., was among the power generators that fought the Clean Power Plan in court. It was concerned it would be forced to shut down coal plants it is still paying off, and replace them with new gas plants and wind farms, at a cost of $5 billion.

“We’re building natural gas and wind, but that doesn’t mean we would take a perfectly functioning coal facility and not consider that a valuable resource as well,” said Mike Eggl, a spokesman for Basin Electric.

Write to Cassandra Sweet at


China takes global lead in clean energy

January 6, 2017


© AFP/File / by Marlowe Hood | On Thursday, China announced that it would sink at least $361 billion into renewables by 2020, key to the country’s transition away from polluting coal power

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, sky, outdoor and nature China — A farmer walking through heavy smog on the outskirts of Beijing, early January, 2017. Credit Lintao Zhang-Getty Images

PARIS (AFP) – China’s overseas investment in renewable energy projects jumped last year by 60 percent to a record $32 billion (30 billion euros), marking its leadership in the global market for clean energy, a report said Friday.

In 2016, China finalised 11 foreign deals worth more than a billion dollars each, and is expected to pick up the pace this year, according to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).

On Thursday, China announced that it would sink at least $361 billion into renewables by 2020, key to the country’s transition away from polluting coal power.

“Renewable energy will be the pillar for China’s energy structure transition,” said Li Yangzhe, deputy head of the National Energy Administration, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Overseas investments last year ranged from lithium battery makers in Australia and Chile to an electricity distribution deal in Brazil and the building of a solar cell factory in Vietnam.

China now owns five of the six largest solar module manufacturing firms in the world, according to the report.

On the domestic front, the world’s second largest economy had already emerged as a renewables powerhouse, outstripping the United States.

China poured more than $100 billion in domestic renewable energy — wind, solar, hydro — and related sectors in 2015, more than double the US investment, according Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

“The US is already slipping well behind China in the race to secure a larger share of the booming clean energy market,” said IEEFA director Tim Buckley.

“With the incoming (US) administration talking up coal and gas, prospective domestic policy changes don’t bode well,” he said in a statement.

– ‘Hard to compete’ –

US President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to restore America’s flagging coal industry, and has appointed several fossil fuel executives and lobbyists to key posts in his administration.

China’s emerging dominance of the clean energy sector also extends to jobs.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that China holds 3.5 million of the 8.1 million renewable energy jobs globally, compared to less than 800,000 in the United States.

China’s National Energy Administration said the nation’s renewables sector would generate at least 13 million jobs by 2020.

Ulf Moslener, a professor at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, agreed that China has emerged as “the world leader on renewable energy,” with clear advantages over rich-nation competitors such as the United States and Germany.

“Standard solar modules are no long rocket science,” he told AFP. “It will be really hard to compete with China on the cost side.”

The same applies to wind energy.

But US and European entrepreneurs “should still have an advantage” when it comes to high tech, he added, pointing to thin-film solar, and cutting-edge engineering services as examples.

In 2016, China boosted its overseas influence by establishing the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank.

It is also funnelling billions into the New Development Bank, set up by the BRICS nations Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

All the bank’s initial loans were for renewable energy projects.

Add in its established overseas investment banks, and “China is clearly building the financial capacity to drive global mergers and acquisitions,” the IEEFA report concluded.

In 2015, China overtook the United States as the largest market for electric vehicles, and today two Chinese firms — BYD Auto and battery maker CATL — are challenging US firm Tesla for leadership of the sector.

by Marlowe Hood