Monday, February 25, 2013

The Race To Harness Himalayan Hydropower

Spend a day in Kathmandu, Nepal's sprawling capital of 4-million people, and you'll quickly notice what has long been a fact of life in this landlocked Himalayan country, and many other South Asian nations - no reliable electricity supply exists.

Up to eight times a day, neighborhoods throughout the city suffer rolling power cuts due to load shedding, causing residents and businesses alike to either carry on in the darkness, or rely on expensive, diesel-consuming generators to keep the lights on. Although the country's civil war ended in 2006, carrying the promise of restored domestic stability and accelerated economic development, Nepal's economy has remained hamstrung by an inconsistent energy supply, with only 40 percent of the population having access to electricity. This situation persists despite the fact that the country sits on top of a virtual goldmine - an estimated 80,000 megawatts (MW) of untapped hydroelectricity, of which it has harnessed a scant 700 MW.

Nepal's great untapped hydropower potential has not gone unnoticed. Neighbors India and China actively have courted the country for years, seeking dam construction contracts and energy export deals to help meet their own soaring domestic energy needs. But while some Nepalese hydroelectric projects have moved forward, some of the country's more ambitious hydroelectric development plans have been delayed or scrapped altogether since 2006, owing to Nepal's notoriously fractious internal politics, and persistent social unrest near proposed dam-construction sites in rural areas formerly sympathetic to the Maoist insurgency. One reason for the impasse surrounding many major hydroelectric projects is that Nepal has long been wary of foreign meddling in its internal affairs, which has meant that Indian and Chinese efforts to bankroll major infrastructure projects are automatically viewed with suspicion.

India and China have become locked in competition to ink construction contracts in Bhutan and Burma as well, two countries similarly spanned by the Himalaya that possess substantial undeveloped hydroelectric resources. Bhutan and Burma have both embraced the idea of heightened hydroelectric development, reflecting a different attitude than Nepal's regarding both energy infrastructure and foreign contractors. Bhutan would benefit greatly from increased domestic power production, given that it now uses only 390 MW of its 30,000 MW hydropower potential (or 1.3 percent). Even at that modest level of development, hydropower has already emerged as one of the mainstays of the Bhutanese economy, alongside tourism. However, the country currently lacks the technical resources to further bolster its hydroelectric capacity, a vacuum that state-owned Indian energy firms have rushed to fill. Indian firms have competitive advantage over in China in this regard, as Chinese-Bhutanese relations have remained tense over the years due to persistent quarreling over contested border areas. As a result, many of the country's high-profile hydroelectric projects - such as the 2,500 MW Sankosh River Hydropower project, slated to become the world's fifth tallest dam upon completion in 2016 - are contracted to Indian companies.

Burma, meanwhile, represents one of the last major untapped sources of hydroelectricity in South Asia. From Burma's point of view, developing energy resources in the country's mountainous north - where many proposed hydroelectric sites lie - is strategically important for two reasons. Firstly, developing some of the country's estimated 40,000 MW of hydroelectric potential would help shore up domestic energy supply in this country of 54 million, which is slated to grow to 61 million by 2025, and nearly 71 million by 2050. Currently, Burma has harnessed only 2,440 MW, or six percent of this potential. Secondly, excess hydroelectricity produced in this region could be sold to consumers in adjacent Yunnan province (China) and Assam state (India), two economically underdeveloped regions bordering Burma that would benefit greatly from a more reliable energy supply. More


Saudi sets out plan for major renewables scheme

Saudi Arabia has published a roadmap for its renewable energy programme, aimed at reducing the amount of oil it burns in power stations, and targets issuing final bids for the first plants within three months.

The world's top oil exporter aims to install 23.9 gigawatts (GW) of renewable power capacity by 2020 and 54.1 GW by 2032, it said in the roadmap, which would make Saudi Arabia one of the world's main producers of renewable electricity.

In 2011 global installed capacity for photovoltaic (PV) solar power, the most common solar technology, was 69.4 GW, the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2012 said.

The kingdom says it has crude output capacity of 12.5m barrels a day, but domestic oil consumption is rising quickly and may start to cut into the amount of energy available for export.

The King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KACARE), the government department responsible for the programme, last year published its vision for a long-term energy mix that relied on big contributions from solar and nuclear energy.

KACARE said in its roadmap, a white paper published on Wednesday, that it aims to issue a request for prequalification for the first rewewable plants within two months, a final tender within three months and to award contracts within a year.

It said the initial contracts would be part of an "introductory" procurement round of 500-800 megawatts, but that it would launch two more tenders within three years for 7 GW of installed capacity. It said 5.1 GW would be installed in the first five years.

Saudi Arabia wants most of the new renewable energy capacity to come from two solar power technologies, but is also seeking to generate electricity from wind, geothermal and waste-to-energy projects.

KACARE specified that in the first two bidding rounds after the introductory procurement round, it wanted 2.4 GW of PV solar energy capacity and 2.1 GW of solar thermal capacity.

Renewable power developers will have 20-year contracts to sell electricity to a new government body that will in turn sell it on to the national grid. More

International Energy Agency's Fatih Birol on fossil fuel subsidies.

IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol's strong messages at EWEA2013:

"Global fossil-fuel subsidies, which jumped to $523 billion in 2011, are providing an incentive to emit CO2 that is equivalent to $110 per ton"

"However, ladies and gentlemen, I believe the major barrier of the better prospects of wind is not the lack of predictability of the available wind, but the lack of the predictability of government policies, in terms of investment frameworks; My message to the governments here, including own governments: if the government policies about wind energy would be as predictable as the availability of wind, then we would win this game".

Moreover, Birol said: "Last week, according to our numbers, wind became the third largest source of electricity in China, surpassing nuclear".

Sunday, February 17, 2013

NE China's first nuclear power plant starts operation

The Hongyanhe nuclear power station, the first nuclear power plant and largest energy project in northeast China, started operation on Sunday afternoon.

The plant's first unit went into operation at 3:09 p.m., said Yang Xiaofeng, general manager of Liaoning Hongyanhe Nuclear Power Co., Ltd.

Construction on the first phase of the project, which features four power generation units to be built at a cost of 50 billion yuan (7.96 billion U.S. dollars), began in 2007 and is expected to be completed by the end of 2015, said Yang.

The four units will generate 30 billion kilowatt-hours (kwh) of electricity annually by then, accounting for 16 percent of the total electricity consumption in 2012 in Liaoning Province, Yang said.

Construction on the second phase of the project, which features two power generation units to be built with an investment of 25 billion yuan, started in May 2010 and is expected to be completed by the end of 2016, he said.

The power plant will generate 45 billion kwh of electricity after it is fully completed in 2016, he said.

The plant's construction is highly localized, with more than 80 percent of the parts and components it features being produced locally, Yang said.

It is also the first Chinese nuclear power plant to use seawater desalination technology to provide cooling water, he said.

The plant is located near the county-level city of Wafangdian, which is 110 km away from Dalian Port. More


Sunday, February 10, 2013

White paper reveals gas industry scared of global protests

The shale gas industry-commissioned white pape, The Global Anti-Fracking Movement: What it Wants, How it Operates and What’s Next, makes for some very interesting reading.


It was produced late last year by Control Risks, an “independent, global risk consultancy specialising in helping organisations manage political, integrity and security risks in complex and hostile environments”.

The white paper focuses on shale gas, but it also discusses coal seam gas. Shale gas is what features in the film Gasland by Josh Fox, which details the destructive effects of “fracking” on communities in the US.

A global movement has emerged to combat the risks to water and air quality, health and farmland that shale gas mining poses. Australia has both shale and coal seam gas reserves.

The white paper begins with an image of what the world looks like through the eyes of the industry. Big blue splodges mark the shale gas reserves on a global map.

The splodges cover the whole of Latvia and Hungary, almost all of Lithuania, Estonia, Bulgaria, Paraguay and South Africa, half of Poland, a third of Libya and Argentina. It includes significant stretches of the US, Canada, Australia, the British Isles, Mexico, India, Bolivia, Colombia and China.

The opening sentence reveals how the shale gas industry sees itself: “Unconventional natural gas is often described as game-changing and transformative, a revolution heralding a golden age of cheap, plentiful energy for a resource-constrained world. But only if it makes it out of the ground.”

This is the story the industry likes to tell itself. Corporations, seeking only to make the world a better place, are unfairly victimised by the masses who are too uninformed to know what’s best for them.

The ruthless quest for profit and the irreversible destruction of the environment and people’s livelihoods are things they prefer to leave out of the story. More


Japan offers nuclear help to Saudi to free up oi

(Reuters) - Japan has offered to help Saudi Arabia build nuclear power stations to free up more oil for exports, Kyodo news agency reported on Sunday, but a visiting Japanese minister said he was not seeking a supply increase now.

Trade Minister Toshimitsu Motegi's visit at the weekend was aimed at securing extra oil from the world's biggest exporter in case of instability in world supply, Japanese officials had said.

Japan's reliance on oil imports has risen after its own shift from nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster in 2011, but any deal to give Japanpriority access to Saudi crude in the event of supply shortages would worry other oil importers.

"It was not that we have asked for any specific request for increase of production or supply. It was just the confirmation of the relationship we have," Motegi told journalists when asked whether he had sought assurances Japan could get more oil in a crisis.

Motegi had offered help building nuclear plants to free more crude for export and to meet rising Saudi demand for electricity, Kyodo news agency said. A Saudi official told Motegi he was hopeful Japanese technology could be used.

Saudi Arabia's plan to build up to 17 gigawatts of nuclear power capacity over the next two decades has offered a possible lifeline to plant builders hit by a lack of demand since the Fukushima disaster.

Motegi met Saudi Deputy Oil Minister Abdul Aziz Bin Salman bin Abdulaziz in Saudi Arabia on Saturday.

Crude imports from OPEC heavyweight Saudi Arabia, Japan's biggest supplier, accounted for 31 percent of Japan's total in 2012, rising five percent from the year before to offset a cut to Iranian imports due to sanctions. More



Saturday, February 9, 2013

Fossil Fuel Subsidies Are Public Enemy Number One, Says IEA

International Energy Agency (IEA) Chief Economist Fatih Birol made no bones about his opinion on fossil fuel subsidies at the European Wind Energy Association conference this year.

Birol said that “[f]ossil fuel subsidies are public enemy number one for green energy.”

Birol delivered a direct message to governments that continuing tax breaks for fossil fuels companies doesn’t make sense because renewable energies can’t compete with artificially cheap oil and gas, making it impossible to meet climate change targets.

To contend with the charge that renewable resources are too intermittent to replace fossil fuels, Birol asserted that political instability is the real culprit holding green tech back.

Birol called for “governments around the world” to end the $500 billion in annual subsidies that are given to oil and gas production (not to mention the additional subsidies given in the form of permitted externalities), according to Business Green.

Unfortunately, Birol realizes the unlikelihood of governments totally abandoning fossil fuel subsidies in the near future, especially in light of the spike in oil prices after the Arab Spring. More