2 May 2013 by Pelle Neroth
The figures come from the European Environment Agency. And their publication coincides with a British Supreme Court ruling on Wednesday that has found the UK government to be in breach of EU air quality laws. The supreme court is now referring the case to the European Court of Justice, which may take 18 months to make a final ruling on what the UK government must do.
What the air quality directive focuses on is breaches in specific pollutants, And London has been ajudged as exceeding EU limits on emissions of NO2, nitrogen dioxide, a colourless, odourless gas whose principal polluter is diesel engines and which has a negative effect on health in high concentrations, particularly dangerous for those with heart and lung problems. According to one UK government committee, Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP), air pollution leads to 29,000 excess deaths in the UK every year. In another study, authored by two academics at MIT, pollution caused by road vehicle was estimated to kill 5,000 Britons a year, twice as many as are killed by traffic accidents. The reason why the two figures don't quite add up is because the 29,000 includes pollution from factories and other forms of transport, such as aviation.
The initial deadline for new, lower limits of NO2 pollution was set in 2010, but the EU allowed an extension for five years if member states came up with a credible actions plans to reduce emissions to EU limits. Defra, the UK department responsible, has credible action plans to reduce NO2 limits for dozens of high emissions areas in other parts of the UK, but said it would not be able to bring down levels to EU standards in London until 2020 to 2025. Back in 2010, the UK was found to be in breach of the air quality directive in 40 out of 43 zones.
For 24 of these zones in the UK regarded as being in breach of the law, the government presented action plans to the commission over pollution reduction. For another 16 zones, in cluding greater London, the levels could not be realistically met by January 2015, the UK government told the commission.
The Supreme Court ruling came after a legal challenge from the environmental charity ClientEarth over the date of the European air pollution directive. The ECJ's decision could lead to fines on the British government, organised by the Commission, unless it enforces drastic measures to cut down NO2 emissions. If it is one consolation, several other countries are in breach of the air quality directive, and the commission has hinted they may all be fined together.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
EU sees heavy lobbying over tar sands legislation
18 April 2013 by Pelle Neroth
Actually, Canada has the second largest reserves of oil in the world - reserves estimated at 165 billion barrels, behind only Saudi Arabia - if this relatively novel form of oil resource, tar sands, is successfully exploited.
Tar sands are bitumen-saturated sand and clay deposits that require more energy than conventional oil to extract, and the resource, which modern technology allows the exploitation of, is Canada's big new bonanza.
The European commission cites studies that show that,
according to well-to-wheel calculations, tar sands oil generates 23%
more green house gases than regular crude. The commission therefore wants to put oil from tar sands into its own polluting category.
The Canadian federal and Albertan regional goverments dread this. They have made common cause with oil firms active in Alberta's tar sands fields and have sympathy from some European governments - notably Britain's and the Netherlands's, with their concerns for Shell Oil - because the European policy approach may set a precedent for other policymakers around the world to put tar sands oil in its own category. It will also make it harder for European oil firms to comply with the Fuel Quality Directive the EU is legislating on to force oil companies to bring considerably less polluting fossil fuels to market.
Canadian lobbying has been intense. At times in the past three years,
Canadian government ministers have been visitng Brussels to lobby MEPs on almost a monthly basis, and Canadian embassy officers around Europe are well briefed on the merits of tar sands oil.
It is a big issue for Canadian interests, even if as yet European imports of tar sands oil are minuscule. It is a public relations battle which the
Canadian government fears could impact on Canada's exports of their product to the far more important United States market. Canada knows that tar sands oil appeals to America's need for "energy security". It is a source of transport fuel that does not derive from the Middle East nor is in any danger of being "used to fund terrorist movements".
Consultancy studies cited by the tar sands lobby claim that the green house gas emissions claims cited by the European commission are slightly exaggerated - that the difference is more like 10 to 15% - not the 23% cited by the EU - which puts it at the same emissions levels as some normal crudes from Nigeria and Venezuela.
Further, these figures will get steadily better as extraction methods
improve. Canada is a highly advanced technological society, unlike some oil producing countries.
The tar sands lobby also claims that if the Europeans don't buy Canadian oil other countries will, so global emissions still will not be much reduced. The Canadians can claim to have had some success. The final decision to categorise separately tar sands oil has been put off by the EU several times, though a final decision is expected this autumn.
Several MEPs on the right - many British - and on the industry
committee are said to be persuaded by the Canadian arguments. For their part, Green lobbyists in Brussels claim Canadian greens and indigenous groups say their voices are never heard when MEPs are taken on PR trips to tar sand areas like Fort McMurray in Alberta.
The bitter discussions taking place in Brussels between the EU and Canada may be a bit technical for members of the public, but it is an illustration of the increasing desperation to exploit the world's dwindling fossil fuel resources. And this situation will be with us for a time yet. There will remain for the forseeable future a need for oil for transport purposes unmet by other forms of supplies.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Europe at odds over fracking
12 April 2013 by Pelle Neroth
The positive news for putative shale gas exploiters came on 27 March, when the EU published a green paper on Europe's climate and energy claims for 2030. Gunther Oettinger, the energy commssioner, Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the commission, and, importantly, Anne Glover, the chief scientist to the president of the commission, have all spoken favourably about shale gas in Brussels in recent days.
Natural gas prices have dropped dramatically in the United States in the last three years since that country starting large scale "fracking", as the exploitation of shale gas is called. "Fracking" involves bringing natural gas to the surface from rockbeds by using a mixture of sand, chemicals and water at high pressure pushed through hoses inserted deeply into the bedrock.
The global energy shortage and better technology is leading to more and more previously inaccessible forms of fossil energy becoming available and become commercially worthwhile exploiting. Tar sands oil is one of these, and I will be writing about this here next week.
Shale gas, then, is another, The cheap energy has been instrumental in the revival of the American economy, say experts. At this rate, the US will overtake Russia as a producer of natural gas by 2015, and will become energy self sufficient by 2035. Understandably Europe would like to emulate this growth phenomenon. For European gas prices remain stubbornly high. And the European economy remains in
Antonio Fernando Correia de Campos, the Portuguese MEP who heads the European parliament's Science and Technology options panel, is another EU figure who has come out in favour of shale gas.So have the British and Polish governments, which have carried out test drillings in their respective countries. George Osborne, the British chancellor of the exchequer, has announced tax breaks for domestic shale production. A number of other countries are said to eyeing the potential of shale gas.
But, this being Europe, there was bound to be divided opinion, and strong opposition to fracking comes from France, the Netherlands and Bulgaria, all of which have announced moratoriums on fracking.
Francois Hollande, the French president, has said the moratorium will last as long as he is in office. France can fall back on nuclear, but the main argument is that Europe presents challenges to the exploitation of shale not found in America.
The think tank AJ Kearney, quoted in the business daily La Tribune, cites just one example. The boring machines used in the States are too big for Europe's roads: an example of how US technology and expertise is not so easily transferrable. Some US scientists have found heightened levels of some toxic chemicals in the air in the vicinity of US fracking sites, and a worrying number of fracking efforts that break through to the ground water. Europe is much more densely populated, so the risks to human populations are that much more acute.
Planning laws may be tougher and may mitigate the chance of these things happening - but that just means Britain's and the commission's hopes for a gas bonanza are over optimistic. So why even go down the route? Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a consultancy, estimates that, when legal, planning and development costs are taken into account, shale gas extracted in Britain would cost between two and three times as much as shale gas extracted in the US.
A bit cheaper than the gas it imports at the moment, but not as
inexpensive as the US operations. Further, it will take 15 years to achieve a fully developed infrastructure, the consultancy predicts.
Of course, the legal hurdles could always be eased up, but then there is public opinion to contend with.
The commission and the parliament (to some extent) may more or less have rallied around to the idea of fracking, but I expect they expect a big battle to sway the European publics. They must be aware that, even if fracking were to prove more or less safe, and less expensive to develop, than feared, that is no guarantee the European public will comfortable about it. Look at the very low levels of adoption of safe GM crops in Europe compared to the United States.
Meanwhile, European businessmen, entrepreneurs, engineers and energy companies may well be looking at the American cheap energy boom, and thinking enviously. Wish this could be us.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Edited: 12 April 2013 at 12:46 PM by View from Brussels Moderator
Cyprus's energy 'bonanza' might not amount to much
30 March 2013 by Pelle Neroth
will be closed down.
Many of these account holders were well off Russians. The media calls them oligarchs to ease the guilt over Cyprus's expropriation action at the EU's behest.
Their deposits will be moved into a so called "bad bank", while those with deposits under 100,000 euros will find their deposits moved to the bank of Cyrpus and reconstructed. It is not clear how much the high end depositors will eventually get to keep of it, but at least the European tax payer, unlike in previous bail outs, will be spared any outlay. Politically, it was an easy sell to the European publics.
There is a complicated energy angle to all of this. Large amounts of natural gas have been found in the East Mediterranean basin. Only Cyprus - which has become rather prosperous in recent years, thanks to banking activities - and Israel gave been able to take advantage of this. They struck a deal over their mutual sea border to facilitate prospecting. Israel's Leviathan and Tamar fields are set to begin production in April. Cyprus is a bit further behind. Other countries in the area are nowhere. Syria is in the grip of a civil war. Some EU officials seem to think gas from the East Mediterranean basin could be a substitute for the slightly humiliating dependence in many EU states on Russian gas. That was another reason not to "lose" Cyprus. Before the EU deal was struck, Cypriot leaders had travelled to Moscow to seek to solve its financial problems by getting a loan in return for Russia getting a future share of Cyprus's hydrocarbons.
The deal, seemingly, was not attractive enough to the Russians, and fell through. But the overture seemed to have a desired effect on the EU, which offered a more generous bailout deal than an original offer made earlier..
The original proposal would have hit anyone with savings of over 20,000 euros in Cypriot banks, not 100,000 euros as is the situation now. Cyprus accepted this latter, better deal.
But is the EU deluded about how much gas there actually is? The deal, after all, wasn't good enough to tempt Russia.
Some media outlets have talked about gas as Cyprus's meal ticket. Maybe not; there is enough there for 50 years of domestic consumption, true, but that is because Cyprus is a small country.
The reserves are a tiny fraction of Qatar's, for example. Ironically, now
that its banking system has shrunk, Cyprus may lack the investment capital to develop the fields as well as build LNG terminals. The alternative would be to build a cheaper pipeline to nearby Turkey for onwards sale, but Turkey - which supports the rogue Turkish Cypriot Republic in the northern half of the island - is Cyprus's arch enemy.
Andrew Duff, a libera lmember of the European parliament, said this could be an opportunity for a Turkey-Cyprus rapprochement, just as Germany and France were united after the second world war over coal and steel. Sounds doubtful, but who knows.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
European parliament to vote on pollution allowances
7 March 2013 by Pelle Neroth
The parliament's industry committee, packed with conservatives who argue the pollute-and-pay scheme hampers European economic growth, already dire - and among whom global warming scepticism is rife anyway - voted against it in January. Then, two weeks ago, the European parliament environment committee, whose tendencies are more liberal/ left wing, voted in favour of the backload. Now the issue will be decided in plenary, the full parliament, probably in April, and since the conservatives - the EPP, or European People's Party - dominate, they have a fair hope of winning.
While in fact several large polluting companies are in fact supportive of carbon trading, the whole issue though highlights the fact that many analysts and political actors have started to see the European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), introduced in 2005 to drive low carbon investment, as a bit of a failure.*
Some environmental groups complain the ETS scheme is wide open to fraud - there have been several scandals and jail sentences involving fake allowances - and that the supposedly impeccably "green community" offsets companies can buy in developing countries in return for allowances have unintended consequences such as deforestation and local community displacement.
Equally damningly, some actors are saying that even if the backload went ahead, and scarcity of free pollution permits driving up the price of carbon emissions, it is not nearly enough. Yvo de Boer, the former head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, says the prices would rise from the €5 a tonne to €15 a tonne. That is just a tenth of the €150 a tonne he believes is needed to really make a difference. Chris Davies, a liberal MEP, agrees, saying the current backloading proposal won't make much difference to the cost of polluting, but at least it would inject some credibility into the market.
The vice chairman of the European parliament's environment committee said recently he had actually wanted an alternative scheme. a simple carbon tax, but that this suggestion was overwhelmed by heavy lobbying from industry. One of the chief advantages of a carbon tax, says one of its advocates, prof Dieter Helm of Oxford University, is that it deals with the fact that the important thing is carbon consumption, not carbon production, Europe, not least the UK, has been posting emissions falls but that is partly due to the deindustrialisation of Europe and the outsourcing of carbon emissions to the countries that increasingly provide Europe with its manufactures, such as China. Since we all share one planet, there is no point in just shifting emissions elsewhere.
He proposes a carbon tax on Chinese imports, to make Europe bear the cost of the invisible pollution for which it is really responsible. Europe spends lots of money on being a world leader in wind farms and solar rooftop panels but, says prof Helm, this has almost no effect. Global emissions are rising, and the main reason is the - and this may surprise many - growing use of the most polluting of energy sources: coal, in China in particular (but also in Germany, which is raising its coal consumption after its - some say disastrous - decision to abandon nuclear.) Coal now makes up 30% of the world's energy mix, up from 25% in the mid 1990s. Too much of that coal is used to make in the manufacturing products - toys, electronic goods, clothes - the Chinese make for Europeans to consume.
One advantage with a border tax on carbon intensive products is that it helps meet one of the European right wing objection-s to climate change policy - such as those sceptics in the EPP party in the European parliament. That burdening European industry with ETS costs just gives a local competitive edge to China and other countries.
By taxing Chinese imports instead with a carbon tax, European industry won't be so disadvantaged. The dangers are it might spark a global trade war. But it might be worth exploring further, might it not? It would not end with taxes on Chinese imports. Eventually it could be extended to European industry. Prof Helm sums it up: taxes on carbon emissions is what is needed to slow the warming of the planet.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Edited: 10 March 2013 at 07:49 PM by Pelle Neroth
Germany takes up wind turbine bird death debate
23 January 2013 by Pelle Neroth
It has to be said that estimates about the number of birds killed by the 80 metre or so high wind turbine structures with 30 metre long blades vary widely. One study monitoring the migrating flock of an estimated 1.5 million eider manoeuvring past a small wind farm park recorded only a single (!) collision event. The environmental audit unit of the German state of Brandenburg has counted a mere 681 birds nationwide since it started keeping records on behalf of the German environment ministry in 1989. A disproportionate number of those, however, are large, slow breeding and relatively rare birds of prey. Other authorities cite much higher figures. Hermann Hötker, an expert at the Michael Otto conservation centre in Bergenhausen, argues the figures can be much higher, in some areas between one and 10 birds a year, per turbine, based on Dutch and Belgian studies carried out near breeding areas. Since there are 22,000 turbines in Germany, the avian death toll could be tens of thousands of birds a year or even more, just in Germany. Some fly into the rotors or the tower; other, smaller birds are flung upon the ground by the powerful vortex created by the turbines.
Death rates vary per wind farm and are related to a large number of features, such as migratory paths, topography, sight conditions, weather patterns and wind turbine lights - which may actually serve to disorientate birds. Hötker lists the difficulties of getting accurate count, and which leads some authorities to understate deaths: not all dead birds are found. Some corpses get lost in the corn fields. Others are scavenged by predators while they are lying on the ground before being counted. Landowners do not have an incentive to report dead birds. And not just birds, but bats, whose echo sounders working horizontally do not catch the vertical slicing of the large rotors. Offshore wind farms are also a worrying unknown for campaigners, and, for obvious reasons, it is hard to count the number of bird corpses that fall into the sea.
To opponents of wind farms, this is just one more argument against them. Already they are accused of disfiguring beauty spots - situated at elevations where they are in full view of the surrounding countryside. The power they provide is intermittent, depending on the vagaries of wind. The sound they make purportedly causes some countryside residents insomnia and stress problems. While the turbines are also quite expensive and only last a little more than two decades. But Germany remains committed to wind, and its own investment in turbines, as well as wind's intermittency, has had effects on the energy situation all over central Europe. Germany dumps its surplus wind energy at prices which, for instance, Czech nuclear power cannot undercut.
In wind farms' defence, you also have to look at the many thousands of birds killed by flying into building windows, killed by cats or road traffic. Still, the Michael Otto institute thinks measures ought be carried out to reduce the impact of wind farms, like growing crops right up to the turbines themselves to hide the presence of predators' food, ie, mice. The argument wind farm supporters use that they feel trumps everything is that global warming will lead to even worse consequences for species survival. The occasional bird caught in a wind turbine is a price worth paying to save the planet, they say.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Germany's 50Hertz hit by cyber attack in European first
13 December 2012 by Pelle Neroth
The victim was the German electricity company 50Hertz, one of the country's four electricity transmissions systems operators. The news emerged at a conference in Brussels.
50Hertz's servers were down for a couple of hours, though electricity supplies were not affected. The IP addresses of the attackers show that they were based in Russia and the Ukraine. Beyond that, their identities were not known. a spokesman for the operator said.
The incident highlights the importance of cyber security at a time when Europe's electricity customers are being upgraded to smart meters, in the hope it will make customers more energy savings aware. Following a number of EU directives recently passed, most business and homes in the EU will be obliged to be equipped with smart meters by the year 2020. The smart grid infrastructure is expanding in a big way.
At this same time, though, smart meters - which basically create a two way communication between producer and energy customer - could increase security vulnerabilities, experts say.
While energy operators are intensely aware of the threats, the public and most private firms are much less so. And to counter the lack of awareness the commission conducted a cyber attack exercise last month, featuring hundreds of experts from major financial firms, telecoms companies, interest service providers and local and national authorities.
The simulated denial of service campaign involved thousands of emails
being sent to company and corporation servers in the first Europe-wide exercise of this sort. According to the commission, there was a fourfold rise in the number of European companies reporting security incidents with a financial impact, from 5% in 2007 to 20% in 2010.
Meanwhile, a survey of firms in the US, published by the Bloomberg Government think tank, showed that companies would have to spend almost ten times more than they are currently doing to achieve the highest level of security. From five billion dollars to 46 billion dollars a year.
With a 50 percent higher population, the EU has a gap is probably even larger. European ministers and officials are talking tough. A Spanish official said recently that "the internet is a terrorist instrument".
With fears like that in the air, it is not surprising that the EU recently launched a centralised agency to tackle cyber crime, based in The Hague and part of Europol. It is, however, under-resourced and the agency chief at another recent conference did not mince his words about the dangers, and the uphill task facing police forces.
A survey, meanwhile, from the US Academy of Sciences, talks about the dangers of a sabotage attack on the country's power network. Thousands of lives could be lost - even more, if the attack happens in the cold season - and hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of damages to society could be the result, the academy has warned.
Again, the figure for Europe is likely to be of the same order of magnitude The cyber attack "could be carried out by knowledgeable attackers with little risk of detection or interdiction," the report added. It recommended that the US government create an inventory of back up, portable power generating equipment that could be used to avert a humanitarian catastrophe after an incident.
In 2014, the European Connecting Europe Facility is expected to come into effect. Broadband networks, energy cables, and the like. Although its original budget of fifty billion euros is almost certainly likely to be slashed when EU leaders cut a final deal on the 2014-20 budget next year, there will still be a hefty amount for building a smart energy infrastructure linking member states, raising questions of security, A recent report by McAfee - which admittedly may have a vested interest in predicting the worst - quotes experts who see the "headlong rush towards a more automated energy grid as an invitation to disaster."
Jason Healy, an expert on cyber issues at the Washington-based Atlantic council, was quoted as saying. "If we set out to design a perfectly bad system of energy delivery, so bad that its failure would have catastrophic consequences, what might it look like?
"First, it would all be connected, so failure in any one area would affect all the others. Second, it would connect real things, so that failure would cause damage and explosions.
"And third, we would connect it to the internet, knowing intruders could get into it because they have already tried and succeeded. I am not saying anyone set out to build it that way but this hypothetically 'perfectly bad system' sounds awfully close to what we are calling the smart grid."
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
French regulator criticises EU nuclear stress tests
5 October 2012 by Pelle Neroth
The "stress tests" were set up following the Fukushima accident in Japan in March 2011. The 145 nuclear reactors currently operating in Europe were to be assessed in terms of their safety and robustness in the case of extreme natural events, mainly floods and earthquakes. Both scenarios were tested simultaneously. Weaknesses in safety have been found, according the report published yesterday.
Headlines in the British and European press have blared out the expected costs of safety improvements Europewide as amounting to 25 billion euros as the headline message of the report. But Gunther Oettinger, the commissioner for energy, admitted that no reactor presented such risks that it had to be closed down.
He added: "Altogether the safety situation in Europe is at a good level. It is satisfactory. Together with the national regulatory authorities, we have concluded that there is no nuclear power plant which needs to be shut down immediately for safety reasons."
Which sounds assuring. But the French nuclear industry Europe's largest, is keen to be on control of the nuclear safety issues itself, which it takes extremely seriously. There is a tug of war going on here.
Oettinger is German and Germany has turned against nuclear power. The country, as many people are aware, is phasing out its nuclear commitment following the Fukushima disaster. The deadline is 2022. Nuclear power is a national competence. France is committed to keeping nuclear, which supplies 85% of the country's electricity. But are these stress tests and the decisions that will flow from it a backdoor way by the Germans to influence the future of nuclear debate in France?
The French nuclear regulator ASN said there was a "certain ambiguity" in the commission's communication. It was not a test of the general safety of nuclear plants. "But a test of Europe's nuclear power plants in extreme situations", like tsnunamis or earthquakes. Deputy director Sophie Mourlon put out a statement on Thursday complaining that the final draft published on Thursday had not been passed by the association of European nuclear regulators ENSREG and that it differed from the draft it had seen in April. ENSREG for its part has emphasized the "importance of the message being formulated carefully and presented not undermine the public's trust". In short: the commission must not be alarmist.
ASN also pleaded that the response from government leaders at the next EU summit on 18 October be presented directly to national regulators, and not passing via Brussels. Presumably for fear that the European Commission will have too much control over implementation. It is no secret that Oettinger, who is close to Angela Merkel, is not exactly a fan of nuclear. Judging by Oettinger's remarks, the debate seems to be shifting from the risks of nuclear plants to whether insurance in case of risk is underpriced. If new insurance fees come into play under a new commission directive, nuclear energy might become less competitive for the consumer relative to other energy sources.
With higher costs, nuclear becomes less attractive and the renewables alternatives which Germany is busy seeking global market leadership in becomes ever more attractive. This morning's headline in the German newspaper Die Welt was "France outraged by the EU nuclear stress test". It adds, mind you, that the British, for their part, are just as resolutely hostile to any commission intervention on nuclear policy.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Germany lags behind in windpower expansion
26 July 2012 by Pelle Neroth
So why are the Germans holding back while the LibDems in the Britsh coalition government crow about getting their Tory partners to back down in the issue of cutting subsidies to wind farms? Since chancellor Angela Merkel's abrupt decision to accelerate the exit from nuclear power last year after Fukushima, to assuage German public opinion, some of the most dramatic goals in the world for cutting emissions and energy use have been set up in Germany.
Merkel's goals are to increase renewable energy to at least 35% of the power generation mix by 2020 and 80% by 2050. Half of that is expected to be from wind turbines.
The problems have been several. Germany has suffered unexpected difficulties connecting new projects, mainly in the North Sea, to existing power supplies on the mainland. German legislation requires offshore wind turbines to be placed in at least 30 metres of water, which raises the technical challenges. There is a shortage of trained engineering expertise in this area. Another problem has been Germany's industrial geography. Wind in the north, industry in the south. Over three thousand kilometres of high voltage lines will have to be built to connect the turbines in the north to the industrial areas in the south.
Further, planning regulations have held up some onshore investments. Finally, perhaps more importantly this, there is growing scepticism in Germany as to whether wind farms are actually value for money for such environmental improvement as they provide. Two ministers in Ms Merkel's coalition government in the last week have cast doubt on whether the 2020 target could be achieved without enormous effort and whether it is even achievable. Jobs and competitiveness must come first, says the liberal economy minister Philipp Rösler. The concern centres on wind power.
German engineers are coming up with some creative proposals.
One is to use the railway network of Deutsche Bahn as "electricity highways" from northern to southern Germany. Construction of new power lines are being blocked everywhere by local citizens groups and local poiticians, but Deutsche Bahn already provides a ready 7750 km long network that covers the whole country. There are technical problems in that the rail network operates at 16.7Hz, a third of the regular network's 50 Hz, but the federal transport minister is supportive of the idea even though adaptations to turn the network into a power transmission grid would not be cheap: 7 billion euros, which would be passed on to households.
Another intriguing creative idea being pioneered at the Fraunhofer Institute for Wind Energy and Energy Systems hopes to deal with the challenges of storing energy from wind power at times of peak production. The Fraunhofer solution is to convert water and carbon dioxide into methane using electrolysis.
The electricity comes from the wind turbines, the gas can be used in Germany's gas fired power stations. It's carbon neutral - since it takes carbon out of the air in the initial stage - and it avoids the excess wind turbine-generated electricity going to waste. Normally, says the institute, you generate electricity from gas - but this is gas from electricity.
Yet these are very early stage developments so perhaps this is a moment to take a step back and ask whether wind is a viable renewable at all. The difficulty of storing wind energy from the large turbines for use another day is not the only problem. Another is the fact that the extreme intermittency, or "unreliability", of wind, means you need an almost full power station backup running parallel wth the wind power set up to ensure Germany is running at times of ultra high demand.
Which does not promote the idea of the phase-out at all. Worse, because wind has priority in the German electric grid, and conventional gasfired plans are having to adapt in compensation for the wind turbines' fickle output, the conventional plants are operating suboptimally. They are constantly ramping up and down their output to compensate for wind's intermittency. They are necessary backups, and it is expensive.
This wear-and-tear will reduce the turbines' effective lifetimes and this drop in efficiency that comes with the rapid output changes make the conventional plants a good deal less effective than during their normal operation, maybe thirty percent so, according to the Dutch expert Kees le Pair. Since lower efficiency means more carbon per kilowatt output the Dutch academic argues, having wind turbines in an energy mix may actually have a net unhelpful effect on a power grid's carbon output.
When wind turbines are connected to the grid, carbon output for the backup power plants is higher than it would otherwise have been. So you could almost say: having wind turbines around worsens global warming: Deeply counter intuitive! The problems with wind turbines don't end there. You might add to that the carbon emitted in their construction takes 18 months of turbine operation to amortise, and that onshore wind turbines are an eyesore.
So is wind still in the game only because politicians have been living in a dream or because the wind energy lobby is too close to politicians? It's almost tempting to think it has been like that. Japan put its nuclear plants on hold last year after the Fukushima disaster but is now looking to revive them again, having looked at the economics of the alternatives. Maybe Germany should do the same and reconsider its decision to phase out nuclear.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Lithuania reembraces nuclear to reduce dependence on Russia
3 May 2012 by Pelle Neroth
In the teeth of domestic public opinion, the Lithuanian government went ahead and did this in 2009.
This left the country dependent on its old political master, Russia, for most of its electricity. So now the Lithuanians are building a new nuclear power plant at the same spot, to be ready by 2020. But the efforts to become independent of Russia don't end there.
The Baltic state of 3.2m inhabitants is looking to open an LNG terminal at Klaipeda, its main port. Lithuania is trying to force Russian energy giant Gazprom to sell off its 37% share in the Lithuanian gas distribution company Lietuvos Dujos under new EU rules that bar a company from both selling and distributing energy.
Projects to build electricity interconnectors across the Baltic Sea to Sweden and to neighbouring Poland are going ahead, and there is already a link to Finland from Estonia. The hope is not only to buy electricity from Scandinavia, but to sell it.
The nuclear power plant, Visaginas, named after a nearby lake, and next door to the decommissioned Ignalina, is to be built by the Japanese. This marks a comeback for the Hitachi/General Electric collaboration which built the plant at Fukushima. Expected to cost 5bn euros, the 1300 MW plant is too expensive for Lithuania to build alone, so it has engaged its Baltic neighbours Estonia and Latvia.
There are final decisions to be made in June; construction at Visaginas could start in 2015; there are disputes with Latvia and Estonia as to how to divide energy output between the three. It will probably be done in proportion to the shares each country's firms have in Visaginas.
Lithuania is mandated at least a third of the shares. Estonia is particularly keen, as domestic oil shale generated electricity production, which has made the small country one of the most energy independent in the world, is highly CO2 polluting. Estonia has to comply with the EU's 2020 carbon emissions targets.
Poland, eastern Europe's big power, was to have participated in the Visaginas project, but relations between Poland and Lithuania have been bad recently, best appreciated by connoisseurs of east European historical and language politics feuds.
There is a 200,000 strong Polish minority in Lithuania, who have long been forced to spell their names according to Lithuanian orthographic rules. And the Lithuanian government wants the Lithuanian Poles' schools, which mostly teach their students in Polish, to have a greater Lithuanian language component. There has been a diplomatic spat with Warsaw about this and for now Poland is out of the project.
The Lithuanian hope is that the nuclear collaboration will lead to an open energy market with the other Baltic States and that this in turn will lead to a pan Scandinavian-Baltic energy market. Despite EU membership, the Baltic States have been an "energy island" within the EU, one that remains linked to the Russian grid.
Lithuanian officials are annoyed, though, about Russian plans to build two nuclear reactors in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, squeezed between Lithuania and Poland, and Belarus plans to build up to four reactors by 2025.
This is, Lithuanian officials argue, partly aimed at reducing the commercial viability of Visaginas, and Russia hopes to export nuclear-generated electricity too - perhaps to Germany, which is phasing out nuclear power by 2022.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Edited: 03 May 2012 at 10:09 PM by Pelle Neroth
Poland's hopes for shale gas bonanza delayed
22 February 2012 by Pelle Neroth
The Poles seem to have made up with the Germans; they are still rather hostile to the Russians, who held them in a Communist grip from 1945 until 1989. It has therefore been a matter of irritation for them that, even after the collapse of the USSR and Poland's entry into the EU in 2004, they have been so dependent on natural gas from Russia for their heating needs. The coldest weather in Europe in years, with Warsaw reporting temperatures of minus 24 , has been an acute recent reminder of this dependence. Gas prices are spiking.
The dark fear that lurks inside the Polish psyche, that Russia could just close the taps, has been moderated by the knowledge that, by doing so, gas would simultaneously stop flowing to Russia's best friend in Europe, Germany. The same pipeline that supplied Poland also continued onwards to Berlin. The USSR never stopped supplying Germany even in the darkest days of the Cold War.
When the Nord Stream project opened for business last autumn, linking Germany and Russia directly via a pipeline that runs underneath the Baltic Sea, that defence weakened. Putin could now theoretically cut the pump off that went through Poland, while keeping the gas flowing to Germany through the Nord Stream pipeline - punish Poland while keeping good old Germany sweet. Radek Sikorski, Poland's fiery, Oxford-educated foreign minister, has been absolutely furious about this project. He bombastically called this new pipeline another "Molotov Ribbentrop pact", after the Nazi-Soviet deal that carved up his country in 1939.
However, that is not the whole story. While talking apocalyptically and always negatively about Nord Stream, Poland has had an ace up its sleeve. Shale gas has changed the energy equation in the United States for the past couple of years now and brought down natural gas prices by 20 per cent. The good news for the Poles is that they also have shale gas, which has been uneconomic and difficult to extract with existing technology until quite recently. Huge reserves of the stuff: over five trillion cubic metres, sufficient to make Poland energy independent for hundreds of years.
Shale gas drilling is controversial, using sand, water and chemicals to blast shale rock at high pressure and release hard-to-access natural gas. This so -called fracking technology pollutes the ground water, though, and causes subsidence, so has been controversial in western Europe - banned in France - but less so in Poland, part of whose energy supplies come from polluting brown coal extracted by Europe's largest remaining population of coal miners. Secretly, Polish leaders, who managed to avoid the financial crisis through smart policies, spoke of their country becoming the "New Norway" of the European energy scene and even exporting shale gas to countries like Ukraine, weakening Russia's sphere of influence there. Shale gas was supposed to be Poland's big break, after 300 years of misery.
Alas, there has been a bit of a holdup. Earlier this month, ExxonMobil announced that its latest drilling efforts have failed, in the Polish village of Grzebowilk. This follows the failure of three small wildcatters - Lane Energy, 3Legs Resources and BNK Petroleum - from finding anything more than small reserves in the country's north western part. The geologists know the bonanza is there; they just haven't managed to extract it.
Poland is not alone with this problem. Other, much smaller, projected reserves in Sweden and Hungary have also failed to yield to technology. A difference is that Scandinavians have invested in green energy as an alternative, unlike the Poles, some of whose policymakers are as sceptical of global warming as any American republican.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
EU fears over Iran conflict grow
10 February 2012 by Pelle Neroth
Europe is surprisingly united these days on foreign policy. On January 23, the EU agreed to an oil embargo in imports as well as a freeze of Iranian bank assets, the toughest sanctions ever seen. On February 6, Obama tightened earlier long standing sanctions on Iran . So much for those who thought the Iran issue disappeared the day the combative vice president Dick Cheney - "George Bush's Darth Vader" - left the White House. Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, who was in Brussels recently, says he believes an Israeli air attack could come as soon as April. Even the Israeli left is said to support a strike to forestall the "existential threat" of Iranian nuclear weapons.
A reason for all this is the recent report from the International Atomic Energy Agency. The Vienna-based nuclear watchdog remained sceptical even during the run up to the Iraq war, under its then director general Mohammed ElBaradei. ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, was openly contemptuous of Bush's way of ignoring his own intelligence that Iraq had no Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). The war was fought on the basis that Iraq did have WMDs.
But under a new director, Yukiya Amano, very close to the Americans, as revealed by Wikileaks, the IAEA's gloves seem to have come off. As Der Spiegel put it: "Iran is quite possibly developing nuclear bombs. The first nine pages of the report are highly technical. It's not until page 10 that it gets really interesting, in section 53: 'The Agency has serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program.'" In pacifist Sweden, the foreign minister solemnly remarked: "Ultimately, there could be war."
A lot of analysts, though, have had a closer look at the report, and if it is more strident in its "politicised" parts approved by Amano, the fact is much of the report contains old material. Some of this may have been of dubious quality, coming from the "laptop of death", which surfaced in 2004, which contained nuclear facility and missile designs - but nearly all in English and with a lack of detail that has made experienced former weapons inspectors question its veracity.* (See links below.)
Some of the newer material may be interesting - though one "former Soviet nuclear scientist helping Iran" seems to have turned out to be an innocent nanotechnologist**, and there may be other slips. More importantly, the report does not claim that Iran has enriched uranium for weapons purposes or actually decided to build nuclear weapons. At the moment Iran has a legal right to pursue nuclear power plant technology, and it is crucial in this context to understand that nuclear power nations Japan, Argentina and Brazil could also break out of the Non Proliferation Treaty and have nuclear weapons within months .
And, like Iran, these countries do not permit full protocol inspections. There is no sign Iran has breached the IAEA's "red line", the diversion of nuclear materials towards a weapons programme, argues Youssef Butt, a nuclear physicist serving as a scientific consultant to the Federation of American Scientists.***
In the aftermath of the Iraq war it was shown that the Western powers not only ignored good intelligence but actively embraced bad intelligence. For instance, the chief source for the "mobile chemical weapons labs" came from an alcoholic Baghdad taxi driver "intelligence asset" codenamed Curveball who spun his tales to please his well paying western intelligence handlers. †
The "killer evidence", the letters that purported to be sales of uranium from Niger to Iraq, were crude forgeries: a letter to the president of Niger was apparently sent by himself, and the signature of a Nigerien foreign minister had not been an office for 12 years was found on other letters.
When the IAEA - under ElBaradei - got its hands on the documents, it only took hours to discover they were forged. ‡
According to an expose in the Italian press, the crude forgeries were an Italian intelligence service job to help the Bushies make the case for war. The Iranians - far less guilty of human rights abuses than Saddam - are deeply mistrustful of the West.
The problem with Western sanctions is that they are politically hard to roll back. Let us hope this is not a one way ticket to war. This could be a very dangerous year.
*http://tinyurl.com/cqb6ohx, more here:
*† Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe d'Avanzo, "Berlusconi Behind Fake Yellowcake Dossier", La Repubblica, October 23, 2005. http://nuralcubicle.blogspot.c...d-fake-yellowcake.html
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Edited: 10 February 2012 at 03:02 PM by Pelle Neroth
The expensive fusion dream that's always decades away....
25 January 2012 by Pelle Neroth
That was shortly after France was granted the right to host the Iter fusion reactor, which will bring many millions to the economy of south-East France and create a science hub that will attract top scientists to the country. Situated in beautiful countryside of inland Provence, Cadarache, which already hosts France's leading nuclear research facilities, is an hour's drive from the fashionable Riviera and not that far from CERN.
It is also situated on the Aix-en-Provence-Durance seismological faultline, though that obviously didn't fatally harm Iter's prospects. It's the Alps, slowly spreading like a "ripe Camembert" as one French seismologist reported, that causes the occasional earthquake. There was a big one in 1909. The French nuclear association ASN called for the closure of eight test reactors on the site because they were not earthquake-proofed. This will happen by 2015. Iter on the other hand, will be earthquake-proofed.
But is it budget proofed? Like all big projects, Iter has been subjected to cost overruns: it's now tagged at 15 billion euros, triple the original amount, with a completion date of 2020. And remember: this is just a test reactor. There is a brewing quarrel in Brussels. The European commission wants to take the fusion project outside the EU spending budget. Otherwise, they say, there is a danger it will devour the next iteration of the regular seven year science spending programme, Horizon 2020. (The EU science programmes that used to be known as Framework 5, Framework 6, etc).
But cleverly, because turning it into an intergovernmental programme will force the commission to relinquish control, allow member states to renegotiate the deal and force an opening of talks with non EU partners like the United States and Japan, the project will be parked under Euratom, another European body that is at arm's length from the EU but would still allow the commission to run the project. The funding would be separated from the EU budget and member states would, out of national budgets, cough up the money needed. On top of all other EU related expenses, of course.
Question: Is it not unreasonable to ask for more funds of cash strapped member states reeling from the economic crisis and already committed to an outsized boost of the EU budget in next year's settlement? Supporters of the fusion reactor say it is the future source of infinitely available, nearly non-polluting energy. "The power of the stars harnessed on Earth."
Both main ingredients in the fusion reaction - two isotopes of hydrogen - are resourced from lithium, of which there is plenty in the Earth's crust. It's inherently safe: if anything goes wrong inside the reactor, it just shuts down. Critics say: Fusion is always the technology that is ten years away - and that has been the case for 50 years. Tens of billions have already spent on research, just in the United States. The timescale before energy becomes available on a commercial scale is maybe yet another five decades away - if it works out. Scientists on the project admit it's a big gamble, but would point out the sum is equivalent to a less than a year of Wall Street bonuses, or the annual profits of an oil company.
While the European parliament and commission are in favour of the change, some member states are still dubious about the proposed move. The framework programmes have often been criticised for their poor value for money anyway, so why not cut them? The discussion will continue through the next two EU presidencies, and could well be subject to horse trading when the next EU budget comes up later this year. Just don't expect the money for Iter to come out of the certifiably wasteful Common Agricultural budget whose chief beneficiaries are France, Italy and Greece.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Danish presidency to focus on climate change issues
4 January 2012 by Pelle Neroth
2009 had not been warm either. Scientists speculated. Was it because, ironically, melting ice in the Arctic was changing Europe's weather? Relatively warmer temperatures in the Arctic weakened the weather systems that pulled in warmer air from the Atlantic? A weakening of the North Atlantic Oscillation, the ocean current systems that pull the warming Gulf stream into the far north Atlantic? Anyway, the statistical levelling of temperatures in Europe was confirmed. Even global warming believers, if I may use that word, admitted the levelling off was happening and hoped that the apparent "respite" in temperatures would last through the 2010s. Elsewhere, the usual sceptics pronounced that all this showed that all along global warming wasn't happening at all. Polls of the general public showed increased climate scepticism.
In 2011, sadly, climate change in Europe and the UK returned with a vengeance. I haven't seen the Met Office's assessment, but the French equivalent, Meteo France, finds it's the warmest year this century: April was four degrees Celsius warmer than normal. So was November. Scandinavia has had its warmest winter for 250 years, Swedish media report, with Christmas temperatures in Lapland ten degrees above normal. A British television programme filmed in Lapland and shown over Christmas had to reshoot the script because of an absence of the usual white stuff.
Strangely, though, the public indifference to global warming has persisted throughout this year. The Guardian, reflecting the popular mood, has seen a 70% drop in articles featuring the subject; there are similar figures for the serious German news weekly Die Zeit. There are far more articles on the more neutral sounding "climate change" than the more alarming sounding "global warming".
Despite the reduced perception of risk, Europe did continue to move towards renewables in 2011 - a bit. Germany, in giving up nuclear power, announced in June, has thrown itself wholesale into the quest for renewables. The UK has seen a rise in the use of renewables, albeit from only 8% to 9% of the total energy mix. Earlier this month, in Durban, the world's nation states concluded a "road map" that pledged a legally binding agreement to cut CO2 emissions.
The deal would come into effect in 2015; details to be worked out. Some analysts thought this was positive. It represents the first time India - the most hostile to agreements - and China sat down and agreed, in principle, to cuts. Their argument had always been that they must be allowed to catch up with the West before implementing climate change reforms. After all, they say, Europe and America have been polluting the world for 200 years in order to get rich. As an Indian official once said to me, fiercely: "You have committed five murders, let us at least commit one murder."
Europe, meanwhile, has a presidency for the next six months that is utterly committed to climate change issues: Denmark, home of the wind farm, will be in possession of the rotating post. The Danish EU commissioner for the environment Connie Hedegaard was very active at the Durban summit and the Danish presidency made some very ambitious promises at a presentation in Brussels on 19 December, hoping presumably at least some of them will stick. The Poles, the previous holders of the six month EU presidency, were not interested in tackling global warming at all: coal still heats Polish homes and the Polish EU commissioner is a well known climate change sceptic.
Europe and the world certainly has its job cut out: some analysts believe that to unprecedented runaway global warming, countries need a five percent year on year reduction of emissions between now and 2050, by which time emissions would be 20% of what they are today.
To understand the scale of that challenge, it is helpful to realise that the countries with some of the biggest historical cuts to their name to date are France in the 1980s when it switched to nuclear and Britain in the 1990s in the dash for gas. But the figures were lower - 4% for France per year and 3% for the UK - and over a much shorter time period.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Is Rossi's "free energy" catalyzer heading DARPA's way?
2 November 2011 by Pelle Neroth
A small amount of nickel powder, reacting with hydrogen gas, with a secret catalyst present, and an initial kick start of electricity, apparently produced huge amounts of energy relative to the input:
Rossi was then publicly demonstrating only a small scale version of his experiments. The apparatus could fit on a kitchen table. Throughout this year, he held several presentations in front of scientists and journalists, but without revealing the catalyst or allowing them inside the "black box", with the catalyst, for the understandable reason he did not want his idea stolen. However, as experts said, the combustion chamber was so small, no chemical substance had that energy density. It had to be a nuclear reaction of sorts.
Many scientists, both present and from a distance, were cautiously supportive, including Nobel prize winner Joseph Hall. One prominent NASA scientist even though it would be a game changer for the world's energy provision - though there were a few sceptics, notably Stephen Krivit from New Energy Times.
Politely and tightlippedly, the middle aged, elegrantly dressed Milanese Rossi promised curious outsiders (including myself) that a 1MW reactor would be ready by the end of October.
Rossi had a deal with a Greek greentech company, Defkalion, to commercialise it. Good for Greece, we thought. Then, in September, news filtered through that the deal was off. Oh dear, Rossi was obviously a scam, and another pie in the sky scheme had bitten the dust. But no: after a short period of media silence, on 28 October, Rossi demonstrated a larger experiment, capable of producing half a megawatt, in a large hangar in Bologna. It consists of many E-cats wired up in parallel. A fair video and account (in English) here:
Some are still sceptical. Here is Krivit:
And here is a pro-Rossi rebuttal
Anyway, the intriguing thing: he has a new costumer. It has been speculated that it is Google's greentech arm. Possibly DARPA , the Defense Advanced Projects Agency, the US body responsible for new technology for use by the military. Its current projects include a thought-controlled prosthetic arm, a flying armoured car and a program for identifying EEG patterns for words and using this technology for covert communications, telepathy to you and me. I tried Mats Lewan, the journalist who works as Rossi's spokesman, but got no comment. The customer's representative, present at the demonstration, was a man named Domenico Fioravanti. Intriguingly, he seems to be a colonel....
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
How Europe pushed China off the Libyan chessboard square
14 September 2011 by Pelle Neroth
Although American logistical assistance has been essential, in the form of cruise missiles, killer drones, spy planes and money to bribe Gaddafi officials to defect, Europeans, long sneered at as hopeless Venusian creatures, flew maybe three quarters of the 7,000 plus bombing sorties
It's not only surprising that Europe is taking the lead, but the countries doing it. Denmark, which surrendered to Hitler without a fight in 1940, has turned out to be the most aggressive member of the alliance, flying more bomb sorties than the UK. Norway, home of the Nobel peace prize, topped the per capita list of bomb sorties. Pacificist little Belgium helped the UK, Italy, and especially France bulk out the European contribution under the NATO umbrella.
A lot of the technology used has also been European, from the Eurofighter Typhoons that have been flying their first combat missions for the Italian, British and Spanish air forces, to the trusty Tornadoes, also pan-European, doing the bombing.
In contrast, the ground war was not fought with West European technology. Rebel armed pickup trucks racing up and down the coastal road were the light cavalry of this conflict. Mounted Mad Max-style with Soviet-era helicopter rocket pods, antiquated anti aircraft guns and improvised welded armour, the pickups, or 'technicals" were made in Japan - or, more likely in China. This is important.
Technicals get their name from the civil wars in Somalia in the early 1990s. Banned from bringing in private security, western aid organisations hired local gunmen to protect their personnel, using money defined as "technical assistance grants".
Soon, the name "technical" came to mean any vehicle carrying irregular units of armed men. In those days the pickups were invariably Toyota HiLuxes, whose enormous ruggedness derived from the rigid steel frame construction with a high clearance that neither sand dune nor jungle could stop. Latterly, Toyota upgraded and complicated the HiLux out of rebels' reach, and Chinese manufacturers Greatwall, ZX, and Huanghai have filled the gap, mimicking the sturdy old basic Toyota designs and, cheap at $10,000, are now popular across Africa and Asia's conflict miasmas.
Technicals have not been the only Chinese presence in Libya. In a story that has largely been underreported in the western media, some 35,000 Chinese engineers and technical workers were working on some 180 infrastructure projects worth a huge $10bn, the biggest of China's many African involvements, when the crisis broke out. They were expertly evacuated in February to Beijing via Crete, the Chinese navy on guard. In Crete, they stayed cheaply in five star hotels, emptied by the Greek recession. Local Chinese communities turned up to translate and organise free phone cards.
The Chinese did cause some resentment. Little told has been the story of underemployment and boredom of restless young Libyans, squeezed from below by unskilled labour from Black Africa and from above by Chinese and Western engineers in an economy relatively wealthy and totally dependent on oil and where those locals in work tended to live relatively well in undemanding state non-oil sector jobs.
This could be one factor in the conflict. A report from the UN 's Relief Web in June 2011 found gloomily that "there is potential for young Libyan men to access some of these jobs, but the transition will not be an easy one - as one informant told us, the Libyans are only interested in driving their cars and drinking coffee. Libyans admit that 42 years of government subsidies and government salaries have not encouraged the sturdiest of work habits."
On the surface, it's been a war between Gaddafi and the country's youth, between Gaddafi and renegade ministers, or between Cyrenaica and Tripoli. It's also been part of a geopolitical game of manoeuvre between the greater powers, between China and Europe. The new Libyan government has indicated it may favour European oil companies in the hand out of new concessions, as thanks.
To some extent, the war, billed as a human rights effort, is about Europe placing its chess piece on the Libyan square. And the important prize may not so much be the liberty of young Libyans, as oil.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
What did Libya's victors discuss when they met in Paris?
2 September 2011 by Pelle Neroth
The social and economic infrastructure is all present, in the land Colonel Gaddafi ran until a few weeks ago. For all the western posturing about "the mad dog's" vicious tyranny", Libya had the highest UN Human Development Index ranking and the third largest income per capita in Africa. on par with, say, EU candidate Croatia. Life expectancy is 75 years. Compared to the West's Gulf allies, Gaddafi's secular regime granted relatively generous rights to women.
The economy actually grew by 7.5% in 2010, thanks to oil. Libyan oil was the main source of fuel for several European countries, including Italy and Austria, and Euro oil firms Repsol, Total, ENI, OMV all had concessions in the sparsely populated desert state on Europe's doorstep, Libyan crude is [known for being of excellent quality], naturally low in sulphur, so easy to refine and to adapt to the EU's strict emissions rules. The only problem was that the eccentric Gaddafi had allowed relatively little of the country's surface to be explored.
British BP started to prospect in 2007 after having heavily lobbied the Scottish government for the release of the "Lockerbie bomber", Abdel al-Megrahi , on compassionate grounds because he was supposed to be dying of cancer, a move much opposed by David Cameron. In fact, since then, evidence has emerged that suggests that, terminal cancer or not, Megrahi's original Scottish trial may have been a spectacular, even grotesque, miscarriage of justice, according to various accounts*.
The implausible prosecution case was that the bomb was planted in unaccompanied luggage by Megrahi in Malta, then changed planes twice, in Frankfurt and London, without the bomb being detected or its barometric air-pressure timer being set off, before finally exploding over Lockerbie.
Lawyer Gareth Pearce and others believe the bomb was more likely planted in London and the culprits Palestinian PFLP movement working for Iran, one of whose civilian Iran Air airbuses was accidentally shot down by a US warship in the Gulf in mid 1988. For instance, the same kind of Toshiba tape recorder, including plastic explosive, was found in the Palestinians' raided flat in Germany as was found in the wreckage.
Still, Gaddafi handed over Megrahi and paid out a handsome $2.7bn to the victims' families in 2000, in return for which he was let back into the international community; and oil deals were struck., However, in the last two years, according to US Iraqi expert Susan Lindauer, he started asking the western oil companies to compensate him for the money "wrongly" paid out.
Gaddafi had also talked of renationalising the Libyan oil wells, sidelining the international oil companies. Then the rather feeble rebellion broke out, soon helped by a NATO which misconstrued its original UN mandate from protecting civilians to actively assisting regime change.
Provided prolonged chaos does not now follow Gaddafi's fall which seems unlikely as of writing, the new leaders, the National Transitional Council, a bunch of opportunist Gaddafi defectors, Islamist groups and Monarchists, have promised to respect the oil concessions already granted; for any new contracts, however, spokesmen have indicated that the UK, Italy and France will be favoured, over China and Russia. The issue of the spoils was at the top of the agenda in the wake of the Paris meeting yesterday 1 September when EU leaders to discuss the future of Libya.
The important thing to know is that Libya's oil - the largest known resources in Africa - is relatively little exploited. Gaddafi's high profit margins disincentivised the use of technology that would maximise extraction from known oil wells, and, as said, only 25% of the country has been prospected. Oil companies have said that if the new government awards them a greater cut of the profits - say 40% instead of 10% under Gaddafi - they might be able to produce more, and that would ease Europe's oil crisis for quite a few years ahead.
* Truth about Lockerbie links, London Review of Books et al
http://tinyurl.com/23r5q9q, http://tinyurl.com/4y3ncbd, http://tinyurl.com/ydlc9t9,
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Italian 'solves' global energy problem with a few thousand tonnes of nickel
17 August 2011 by Pelle Neroth
Mention the words "Cold fusion fiasco" and you will understand why many scientists and the bigger journals are keeping their distance. So is this just another false hope, or has an Italian engineer stumbled on the abundant and cheap energy solution to the future?
Rossi calls it E-Cat, for E catalyser. Sitting in a warehouse space at the University of Bologna, on a table, it is an ugly thing; a wishbone-shaped construction clad in insulation, to which pumps and pipes are attached. Fifty grams of nickel powder are poured into the tiny combustion chamber, 50cm3. A canister containing hydrogen gas is also connected to the strange-looking device.
To start up the E-Cat, the input from a heater is approximately 1000 watts. After reaching a temperature of 500C, a reaction between the nickel and the hydrogen in the presence of a secret catalyst inside the combustion starts up. Once the reaction has started, the input is lowered to around 80 watts. After a few minutes, water starts continuously pumping through, emerging as steam. Standard calorimetry allows the E-Cat's power to be determined.
Physicists from Bologna University and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences have overseen separate trial runs, checking no secret cables or batteries were connected up, They fed the system and kept it monitored by camera, so that no tampering could take place, and nothing added.
The nickel the Swedes measured consumed over a day was a fraction of a gram, hydrogen used one gram. Yet the 25 kWh heat output from six hours of continuous operation was the astonishing equivalent of 2500 cm3 of oil.
According to Nobel prize winner and Cambridge emeritus physics professor Brian Josephson, an early supporter, the enormous output indicates the E-Cat must be generating energy from nuclear reactions, not chemical ones. Uppsala Prof Sven Kullander, chairman of the energy committee of the Swedish Academy of Sciences, and a monitor, said: "The actual combustion chamber only has a volume of 50cm3. So if this chamber was completely filled with something combustible, the energy density per litre must have been 20 multiplied by 25=500 kWh per litre or per kilo of a material with a density of one. There is no chemical substance with such an energy density."
Evidence speaking against it being fusion is that this normally requires enormous temperatures, and usually produces gamma radiation, and none was emitted here. But is it some other kind of nuclear reaction?
NASA's chief scientist at Langley Research Center, Dennis Bushnell, is a supporter of Rossi. In a radio talk, Bushnell said that LENR (Low energy nuclear reactions) were one of the most promising areas in current energy research and Rossi's experiments were some of the best. He added:
" I think were almost over the - 'We don't understand it' problem. I think we're almost over the 'This doesn't produce anything useful' problem. And so I think this will go forward fairly rapidly now. And if it does, this is capable of completely changing geo-economics, geo-politics and solving climate and energy."
A few, maybe 10, thousand tonnes of nickel could supply the world's energy needs for a year, that is less than 1% of global annual nickel production. Rossi originally confirmed to me that a 1MW power plant in Greece, of all places, was to open on schedule in October, comprising several dozen connected E-Cats. But last week, after the print version of this article with that information had gone to press, sent an email there was a change of plan. He is in secret talks with a US company and the plant will be opening there instead - still at the end of October.
Some say Rossi has a murky past, sceptics are ten-a-penny, many unknowns remain, but he is not soliciting investors and has a very definite deadline. So no one has anything to lose by seeing what he will come up with.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Germany and nuclear, two months on: one power station may reopen
4 August 2011 by Pelle Neroth
And yet Angela Merkel's government told the voting public that the renewables energy revolution was going to cost almost nothing extra: only one eurocent per kilowatt hour.
In fact, the RWI institute think tank finds that electricity prices could rise by more, several cents per kWh, as renewables prove more expensive than thought. There is also the definite rise in the fixed surcharge imposed on all consumers to subsidise renewables, from the next electricity bill, all this leading to electricity bill increases annually of several hundred euros extra per household.
Since shutting down seven nuclear power plants earlier this year, Germany has gone from being a net electricity exporter a few months ago to a net importer. Much of this electricity, ironically, comes from nuclear power plants just outside Germany's borders - France, for instance, or the Czech Republic, and, of course, it's more expensive than the domestic nuclear power that went offline. The remaining nine Germany nuclear power stations will be phased out by 2022.
One solution is to stop subsiding photovoltaics, a transfer from the poor to the better off, since most people with solar electricity panels installed are people living in their own homes.
Photovoltaics receive half of Germany's renewable energy subsidies. They are flashy and popular yet, in energy terms, are doing little to pull their weight, contributing only a tenth of the German renewables energy production. The country is hardly ideal for solar panels, as it's often dark and overcast, and little electricity is generated on winter days.
Analysts say it's better from an economic point of view the money go to wind power, which is more effective than photovoltaics. However, wind is still not perfect, as wind is concentrated in the north and is also intermittent.
To keep electricity flowing, therefore, especially next winter when other countries will need all their domestic supplies, the reopening of at least one nuclear power stations is in prospect, to prevent blackouts in December, according to the Federal Network Agency.
That has caused some controversy, as has a recent decision to spend some of the money earned from selling emissions trading certificates to subsidise the construction of new coal-fired power stations with the unfamiliar CCS technology.
In doing so, the authorities are only following a trend conducted by the large power companies themselves. According to the head of the German Energy Agency, in a recent interview, German energy companies are turning to burning cheaper but more polluting brown lignite than more expensive natural gas to keep their costs down. In the long run, such trends could jeopardise Germany's 2020 emissions cuts promises.
Earlier this month, the nuclear companies said they were considering suing the government for breach of contract to supply the country with electricity.
Does Angela Merkel have any regrets about her 180 degree turnaround and go with public opinion? It's too late.
With the latest news being that the hitherto robust German economy is beginning to cool very slightly, the government soldiers on, politically committed to its decision to be nuclear free by 2022 and have 35% of its energy mix as renewables by 2020.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
EU orders nuclear waste into underground facilities
27 July 2011 by Pelle Neroth
That's the new rules presented by Gunther Oettinger, Europe's energy commissioner, after agreement was achieved between Europe's energy ministers at a meeting in Brussels last week.
The Fukushima disaster in Japan was the reason cited as to the dangers of storing nuclear waste overground, and the move has had a further impetus due to the fact that Germany has chosen to phase out nuclear power by 2022.
As the EU's most powerful member, the country has thrown its weight behind urging powerful restrictions on the way other members deal with nuclear waste, even if they do carry on using nuclear power.
Green groups, however, have warned that weaker EU members will be tempted to export their nuclear waste instead. The European parliament wanted a total export ban.
Export is already forbidden to Antarctica, Africa and other developing countries under an old agreement. However, this latest agreement between the member states holds out for a loophole whereby a country like Russia could be the recipient of such nuclear waste they fail to dispose of themselves. Bulgaria is regarded as the member most likely to avail itself of this opportunity.
Nuclear waste storage is an expensive and complicated project, and Oettinger has said he realised it will take years. The deadline for coming up with a disposal programme is 2015, at the latest, by which time construction and financing plans will have to be finalised. Europe's nuclear power stations generate about seven thousand cubic metres of high level waste every year - equivalent to the volume occupied by a small block of flats. The agreement allows for intra-European collaboration on choice of sites
That is extremely helpful as some member states have much better preconditions for constructing facilities than others. Mountainous Austria and Sweden, for example, have plentiful potential for constructing the preferred commission solution, "deep geological storage facilities", 100 to 700 m below ground. At the moment only Finland, Sweden and France are constructing underground facilities.
The first will be ready in 2020. Since, as Oettinger says, facilities take decades to plan and construct, the chances are the plans to be set forth by 2015 will include temporary export of the rest of the EU's waste to one of these three countries - if it is not sent to Russia, that is.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Edited: 27 July 2011 at 03:25 PM by Pelle Neroth
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