Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A short briefing on the european energy policy: A 2030 framework for climate and energy policies

On March 27th, the EU has launched a public consultation which will last until July 2nd. This consultation is defined by a document: the Green Paper "A 2030 framework for climate and energy policies". On this occasion, Watts and Co. tries to give you the key points of the EU energy policy since the 2030 framework will inherit the previous 2020 energy goals (the well-known 3x20 targets) and will prepare the 2050 roadmap.  What are these three different goals defined by the EU and how can it reach its goals ?

The Energy Climate Package: the 20-20-20 targets 

From the BBC

The overall 20-20-20 binding targets adopted in the Energy Climate Package in 2009 by the EU are cristal clear: a 20% cut in emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 compared with the 1990 levels - this target will rise to 30% if other developed countries make a similar effort - , a 20% increase in the share of the renewable energy in the electricity mix, and a 20% cut in energy consumption.  Where do we come from ? These two charts explain what should be done to reach the targets concerning the emission cuts by sector and the renewable energy target by country. 

From the BBC

The Energy roadmap 2050: An Europe without carbon 

This complete IIEA image can be found below or directly from
their website - here
The aim of its roadmap is to free Europe from carbon by 2050. In its low-carbon roadmap published in 2011, the EU commits itself to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80%-95% below 1990 levels by 2050. The part related to energy is the energy roadmap 2050. A challenging task which can be completed in this sector with 5 different scenarii based on energy efficiency, renewable energies, nuclear energy and carbon capture and storage (CSS). Each of them has been evaluated in terms of import dependency, overall costs, investments or household expenditure on energy as explained on this very useful graphics released by the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA). Some conclusions are just good sense : yes, investment to modernize infrastructure must start now to avoid more costly changes in the future. The sooner the better. Nevertheless, the report has shown that decarbonization is possible and is economically profitable.

The 2030 in-between Green Paper

As explained by Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen, spokeswoman of the European Commission in this video from the excellent website www.viEUws.eu - here -, the EU needs "to look ahead, to give investors certainty and to keep the ambitious long-term targets" by 2050. It's the goal of the consultation set with this Green Paper for 2030. This public debate will involve stakeholders to think about what will be the best energy policy for the EU by 2030. The discussions will include the major changes observed since  the 2020 targets have been set: changes in the economy, new developments in technology concerning nuclear or renewable energies. As explained in the viEUws energy briefing by Hughes Belin - here -  the debate will feed the next energy summit discussions in May. Proposals will come by the end of year. These mid-term targets will feed also the discussions by 2015 concerning the treaty for the after-Kyoto protocol era which will begin in 2020.  


- Philip  Lowe, Director-General of Energy at the European Commission, on the European Energy Roadmap 2050.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

A battery of questions in the Economist this week

Vikings and batteries at the menu.
"With storage comes headaches, even for technologies as mature as lead-acid. Batteries will fail, and seldom at convenient times." demonstrated Tom Murphy in his blog "Do the Math" (1 - here).  This week, The Economist points out in an article worth reading that, nevertheless, "the search for better ways of storing energies is hotting up." (2).

These better ways come from the Joint Centre for Energy Storage Research (JCESR) headed by Illinois' Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) near Chicago. In particular, Dr Kris Pupek - interviewed in this article - are working on them. The task is to improve the lithium-ion battery which "powers almost everything from e-book readers to watches", via computers. The problem is this kind of battery overheats and burns...sometimes. One of the alternatives to lithium-ion is lithium-air with a higher energy density: a critical parameter as, nowadays for electric cars, petrol packs six times more energy in a kilogram compared to the amount of energy a battery can reach. The article recalls that lithium-air batteries are less safe than lithium-ion ones unfortunately.
To improve safety, magnesium or aluminium batteries can be the best candidates allowing higher energy densities. After this very complete explanation concerning the conventional batteries, the article treats too quickly the case of the flow batteries and the endeavours to overcome the limitation of aqueous electrolytes with organic ones.
Will they succeed in creating a battery-driven world ? If the technology is still not here, the money is here: The Economist recalls that JCESR has received a grant of $120m from the Department of Energy. (DOE).

Reference :
(1) : "Do the Math" here
(2) : "Battery Included ?", The Economist, February 2nd 2012, page 63

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Climate change at Davos: It's worse than you think !...but let's stay optimistic

Lord Nicholas Stern in 2009 at Davos.
Do you remember what the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change ? It was a 700-page report released in 2006. One of the main conclusion of this report is that, without mitigation action, the cost of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global gross domestic product (GDP) each year...It begins now and it will like this forever ! Worst-case scenario : the lose could rise to 20% of GDP if wider risks and impacts are taken into account. In the report, Lord Stern pointed to a 75% chance that global temperature would rise between 2°C and 3°C above the long-term average. 

Last week, I have read in the Guardian/the Observer (1) on internet that, in an interview at the last World Economic Forum in Davos, Lord Stern revealed that the World is now "on track for something like four" (1) ! It's a terribly sad news but this is not surprising : Nature recently wrote (2) that, despite the commitment made under the Kyoto climate treaty, CO2 emissions are rising faster than ever. What are the prices to pay for this inaction ? Jim Yong Kim, the new president of the World Bank, explained what the main risk of a four-degree global increase is : conflicts over natural resources, leading to political instabilities.  "There will water and food fights everywhere." An interesting data reported by the Guardian is that the world's 100 megacities are responsible for 60% to 70% of global emissions. For Kim, dealing with this problem requires finding a way to "green" these cities with a localized effort. Let's stay optimistic, as Jim Yong Kim thinks, climate change mitigation and economic growth can go together and "there is a lot of money to be made in building the technologies and bending the arc of the climate change". 

Reference : 
(1) "Nicholas Stern: 'I got it wrong on climate change – it's far, far worse'", The Guardian, Heather Stewart and Larry Elliott, Saturday 26 January 2013 
(2) "Hot Air", Quirin Schiermeier, Nature, 491, 29 Nov. 2012

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Book review: "Energy, a subtle concept"

How energy has emerged progressively as one of the major concept in physics from antiquity to Richard Feynman is what Jennifer Coppersmith is discussing in her book.  This tantalizing and challenging task requires to deal not only with the history of energy but with the history of physics in a whole. In 360 pages, Dr. Jennifer Coopersmith - who received her PhD in nuclear physics from the University of London - succeeds in embracing this history in book which is an illuminating and highly enjoyable reading. 

Coopersmith interweaves historical anecdotes and scientific accuracy. For instance, we learn how Fahrenheit was important for heat during the Eighteenth century; we also learn that Daniel Fahrenheit "didn't have a very auspicious start to his career. His parents died of mushroom poisoning and his legal guardians arranged for him to train as a book-keeper; but Daniel wasn't interested, stole some money, and ended up with a warrant being issued for his arrest..." And it's not the end of his story...Another story concerns Thomas Young. Young was an english physicist who used the term "energy" in 1807 during a course at the Royal Institution instead of the 'Leibnizian' Vis Viva.  He was the first to use this word in physics since its introduction by Johann Bernoulli in 1717 in his letter to Pierre Varignon. Young was also a "child prodigy of the best kind, 'the kind that matures into a adult prodigy'. At the age two he was fluent reader, by six he had read through the Bible twice, and by 13 he was teaching himself Hebrew, Chaldean, Syriac, Samaritan, Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Ethiopic." Just amazing...

The book follows different tracks to explain how each of the "Feynman's blocks - mechanic energy, heat, ..., as called by Coopersmith - developed itself and how these blocks merged together to give the principle of energy conservation. You can understand easily that I strongly recommend the reading of this book for specialists or non-specialists. Why is such a book so important ? Learning energy history is key to understanding what energy is. Knowing energy is key to understanding what the main energetic problematics are nowadays.  

Jennifer Coopersmith, "Energy: a subtle concept", Oxford University Press, USA (August 13, 2010)

Monday, January 7, 2013

Sunday, November 11, 2012

What can we learn from the British coal industry concerning energy transitions ?

A picture of a mountaintop removal coal mining
operation in the US,
by JW Randolph
This topic is the subject of a really interesting article published recently in Energy Policy and written by B. Turnheim and F. W. Geels intitled "Regime destabilisation as the flipside of energy transitions: lessons from the history of the British coal industry (1913-1997)". While many articles focus mainly on emerging technologies (wind turbine, biofuels, energy storage, etc...) concerning energy transition, it can be useful to detail how occur the destabilization of existing regimes. In this article, this perspective is illustrated with two historical cases of the British coal industry (1913-1967, 1967-1997). This perspective is also conceptualized as a multi-dimensional phenomenon including aspects belonging to the industrial economics, the neo-institutional theory or performative approaches in management.
The authors explained that, while technical and economic drivers were crucial concerning the destabilization of the British coal industry, their effects were echoed by social and political factors - obviously, details, as the specific lessons from the historical cases concerning destabilization, can be found in the article.
Without saying that what happens today is a perfect copycat of what happened yesterday, the authors explore how these cases can offer some relevant insights concerning the energy transition imposed by climate change. One of the first lessons is that climate-related crises can accelerate destabilization when they "erodes the cultural legitimacy if existing industries and stimulate the introduction of gam-changing technologies" (I quote the authors). This erosion is made easier if long-standing debates have stressed the importance of the phenomenon and if other options are available. But social concerns about climate change are unlikely to "destabilize existing technologies if they are not expressing in conjunction with economic factors", as explained by the authors. In fact, they conclude that stimulating green technologies is not enough, weakening the social, political and cultural dimensions of fossil-fuel industries is part of the energy transition process.    

-> "Regime destabilisation as the flipside of energy transitions: lessons from the history of the British coal industry (1913-1997)", B. Turnheim and Frank W. Geels, Energy Policy 50 (2012), 35-49

Sunday, October 28, 2012

"Grenelle environnement" : five years later (1)

"Grenelle environnement ???...Can you repeat please...What does you mean and what is this strange thing ?"..."Grenelle environnement" was a french open multi-part debate and a series of conferences to define new actions for a sustainable development in France. It was launched by the former President of France Nicolas Sarkozy just after his election in 2007 and before the financial crisis. This debate gave birth to two acts (Grenelle I - August 2009 - and Grenelle II - July 2010). What were the originality and outcome of this debate five years later ?

What did make "Grenelle Environnement" so special and popular ? Its multi-part nature combining the State (central and local governement) and the Civil Society (employer organizations, trade union and NGOs) and working together. The "Grenelle Environnement" was an ambitious attempt to merge social considerations, industry and ecology in a single framework. This new way of thinking was marked by the transformation of the constitutional consultative assembly, the Economic and Social Council into the Economic, Social and Environmental Council. This kind of governance was applied in 1968 during the Grenelle agreements concerning  wages and negociated at the ministry of Social Affairs located on rue de Grenelle at Paris. This global vision concerning environmental matters is still present nowadays and is maybe one of the greatest achievement of the "Grenelle Environnement".

The results of these roundtables, divided into six workgroups (climate change and energy demand, biodiversity and natural resources, health and environment, sustainability and industry, ecology and democracy, ecology and competitiveness), are 268 commitments which appear as the objectives described in the 57 articles of the "first Grenelle act" (Grenelle I). The "second Grenelle Act" (Grenelle II) gives the "practical details" concerning  implementations of these commitments. So far, according to ref. [1], in 2010, 77% of the commitments were implemented or almost. Many mixed reports exist concerning the outcome of the Grenelle Environnement (one published by Ernst&Young, another published by the National Assembly). Nevertheless, some of these commitments are now part of the everyday life of the french. But what can we say about this outcome ? First, about the energy policy.

What is the Grenelle commitment about energy ? By 2020, to reach 23% of renewable energies in the final energy mix, to reduce by 20 or 30% the greenhouse gas emissions and to increase by 20% the  energy efficiency. At first, a subvention mechanism encouraged people to go into wind or solar energies. To expensive and messy, this subvention mechanism has been cancelled. Without this incentive, the 23% renewable energy goal seems difficult to reach. Anyway, the energy policy topic will be the subject of a great national debate very soon in France in order to confirm or not the Grenelle Environnement energy goal and to decide how to proceed.    

What about buildings and housing (43% of the primary energy consumption) ? The Grenelle Environnement sets up incentives for the renovation of old buildings in order to improve their heating efficiency. It was also the starting point of what we are used to see at the front of every real estate agency: an appartment or a house for sale must be accompanied by an estimation of its energy consumption. If its energy efficiency works well for new buildings, the renovation program of old buildings to high energy saving standards doesn't work so well: in 2010, 250,000 houses per year are renovated instead of the 400,000 per year defined by the Grenelle Environnement (cf. [2]): this goal is what is required to reduce by 38% the CO2 emissions in the atmosphere.  

References :
[1] : "Bilan Grenelle de l'Environnement (septembre 2012)", Brochure IGPDE, Préparation au pré-concours ENA.
[2] : "Que reste-t-il du Grenelle Environnement ?", Thierry Fabre, Challenges, 11/17/2011

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