13 april 2010

[4C comment: Adding to the coal and oil industry's worries, an article of 10 April 2010 in the Dutch NRC Handelsblad reports that solar energy panels will be competitive with existing fossil fuel energy by 2015, five years earlier than had earlier been thought, and by 2025 are likely to have made fossil fuel too costly. The article is based on reports from the Dutch Energy Research Center in Petten and from Dutch solar energy manufacturers. This news will make any reasonably cautious fossil fuel company think very hard about constructing new power plants, which are only profitable in the long term.

The article below should also be read in conjunction with the one posted April 10 on Vattenfall's CCS difficulties. Combining these stories with the news that despite the cold winter in parts of the northern hemisphere, the planet is heating up elsewhere (India, for example) and that glaciers in the U.S. and Austria continue to shrink and disappear gives us an interesting context for the recent flare-up of activity by sceptics. It may also explain some backtracking by corporate-influenced governments, such as the cutting of subsidies for renewables by the Dutch Christian Democratic Minister of Economic Affairs.

It is of course true that the IEA continues to tout CCS and that EU funding for CCS "demonstration" projects flows on and on. Noentheless, it could be that the noisy drum-beating in the corporate media about minor gaffes in the IPCC Report and the inflated East Anglia "climategate" were a last-ditch attempt to pre-empt and drown out the oncoming bad news for the fossil fuel industry.

A brief video summarizing the report discussed below can be seen on You Tube

No tariff rises seen in switch to greener electricity

By Fiona Harvey, Environment Correspondent, Financial Times, April 13 2010

Replacing Europe's existing energy infrastructure with low-carbon alternatives should not raise electricity prices in the long term, a report co-authored by the consultancy McKinsey says.

The Roadmap 2050 report examined ways of meeting the European Union's targets of "decarbonising" the electricity supply by 2050 to cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 80 per cent compared with 1990 levels. Scientists say such cuts are needed to avoid dangerous levels of climate change.

But although investing in renewables, such as wind and solar power, will carry a large upfront capital cost, the report found that the impact of this on electricity prices in the long term would be little different to "business as usual".

This is partly because the operating costs of renewables are far lower than for fossil-fuel power stations, but also because Europe's existing high-carbon electricity infrastructure, such as coal and gas-fired and nuclear power stations, will need to be replaced in coming decades.

The report, which was published by the European Climate Foundation, a think-tank, canvassed the views of a variety of energy companies within the EU.

The authors found that using high levels of renewable energy did not lead to problems with the supply of electricity. Some experts say that because renewable forms of energy such as the wind and sun are inherently intermittent, large numbers of conventional power stations need to be kept on stand-by in case of a shortage.

But the report found this fear was exaggerated and that high levels of renewables could be tolerated provided they are geographically dispersed and there is a "supergrid" connecting them. For instance, large numbers of wind turbines could be placed in the North Sea and solar farms could be built in Spain, with the power distributed across borders by large interconnectors.

Building this European supergrid would be crucial to maintaining energy supplies, the report found.

Matt Phillips, of the European Climate Foundation, said: "When the Roadmap 2050 project began it was assumed that high-renewable energy scenarios would be too unstable to provide sufficient reliability, that high-renewable scenarios would be uneconomic and more costly, and that technology breakthroughs would be required to move Europe to a zero-carbon power sector. Roadmap 2050 has found all of these assertions to be untrue."

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