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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Energy and economy in August,2008

In today's edition:
  • US eyes improved global relations through science diplomacy
  • Russia suspected of ‘pipeline politics’ over Czech oil cuts
  • Study: incentives giving boost to European solar sector
  • Vattenfall power grid sale buoys EU

US eyes improved global relations through science diplomacy

29 July 2008

In parallel to European Commission moves to present a strategic EU framework for international science and technology cooperation this autumn, the US science association has announced the establishment of a Centre for Science Diplomacy, which it hopes will help change public attitudes towards the US around the world.

According to science and foreign policy leaders, the "time is opportune" for an ambitious US science diplomacy effort.

The Centre for Science Diplomacyexternal , established by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAASexternal ), is opening "at a time when the United States faces substantial challenges in its relations with other nations," notes the AAAS. It notably points to the failure of traditional diplomatic efforts with countries such as North Korea, Iran and Middle Eastern countries and adds that public attitudes towards the US appear to be "at a nadir" in many countries.

The centre's aim will be "to promote and support the role of science and scientists as bridge builders and to raise the profile in both the foreign policy and scientific communities".

According to Vaughan Turekian, the Director of the new institution, the centre will be geared towards issues such as climate change, energy, sustainability, innovation and health issues and will contribute to a "long and methodical building of relationships". The centre will, according to AAAS, work with both the science and foreign policy communities to identify collaborative projects that could help strengthen civil society relationships between nations, "especially when official relations do not exist or are extremely strained".

"Science and technology remain among the most admired aspects of American society," wrotePdf external the US Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, Paula J. Dobriansky in 2006, highlighting their importance in strengthening America's "soft power" and the US' ability to win worldwide respect through, for example, the development of lifesaving vaccines or sharing images of its Hubble telescope.

As for the EU, the soft power bloc has already signed specific research and technology cooperation agreementsPdf external with a number of countries and, according to the Commission, over 100 countries all over the world are now involved in EU research programmes. The current research framework programme FP7 also has an action line dedicated to international cooperation for and with researchers from third countries. It namely supports third country researchers to undertake research projects in Europe.

The Commission's 2007 review of the European Research Area (ERA) identified opening ERA to the world through increased international research co-operation as one of its main priorities. As a follow-up to the review, the EU executive will present a Communication on a strategic European framework for international science and technology cooperation in September 2008. source

My comment: Well, if that's not a sign of the concern for American science and it's obvious lack of fresh blood. I'm not sure if the Diplomacy is what they need, but whatever. It looks to me like another opportunity to pay for clerks work from taxpayers money.

Russia suspected of ‘pipeline politics’ over Czech oil cuts

31 July 2008

While Moscow insists recent reductions in Russian oil deliveries to the Czech Republic were due to technical reasons, there is speculation that the cuts may be politically motivated and linked to Prague’s recent decision to host an American radar that is part of the US missile shield defence system.

Senior Czech officials, quoted by the International Herald Tribune, said Wednesday (30 July) that Russia had further reduced its oil deliveries, bringing total cutbacks to the Czech Republic in July to 50%. Supplies had already been reduced by about 40% early in June and the disruption is calling into question Russia's reliability as an energy supplier to Central and Eastern Europe, the Paris-based US daily further writes.

The state-owned Russian pipeline monopoly Transneft has explained the cuts were due to a lack of available crude. "This has no relation to politics. It was purely commercial," Transneft Deputy Director Mikhail Barkov told the Interfax news agency. He explained that the cut was the result of a decision by two Russian companies to refine more oil at home rather than exporting it and that it should soon be made up for again by another company.

But the IHT reports that Czech authorities are unhappy with the explanations.

The US Jamestown think tank, which specialises in the security situation in Eurasia, has also accused Moscow of withholding any decent explanation about the deep cut in oil deliveries to the Czech Republic.

The EU, which is dependent on Russia for 25% of its gas and oil, has already borne the brunt of Moscow's 'pipeline politics', during cuts in gas deliveries to Ukraine, in 2006 and again in 2008, and when it switched off the oil tap to Belarus, leaving several European countries without supply (EurActiv 11/01/07).

The Czech Republic, unlike some of its neighbours in central and eastern Europe, can cope without Russian crude oil thanks to the IKL pipeline, which was built in the 1990s and connects the country with the western European pipeline system in Germany.

But the case again highlights the EU's dependency on Russian oil and gas imports and the need for it to seek new supply routes (EurActiv 18/01/06).

The EU has already long been trying to negotiate a fully-fledged bilateral energy co-operation agreement with Russia that would provide certain guarantees to its member states, but little progress has been made as the start of talks was long-blocked due to successive Polish and Lithuanian vetoes (EurActiv 26/05/08). source

My comment:Hmm, if you think about it, this was just before the Georgian war. Another Hmmm...I smell something, but I don't know yet what it is...

Study: incentives giving boost to European solar sector

28 July 2008

The solar energy sector is growing in momentum across Europe thanks to feed-in tariffs, which are helping to boost development activities, according to a study by an American consulting firm.

Germany - which has towered over its European neighbours in the solar sector for the past few years - is now being joined by Spain in the booming photovoltaic (PV) energy sector as the leading consumer of solar power.

Germany currently accounts for about half of the world's installed solar power capacity, mainly thanks to government subsidies, known as feed-in tariffs. Such schemes guarantee producers a fixed buy-back price, for up to 20 years, for power created and then sold to the national energy grid that is higher than the market price for electricity (EurActiv 16/01/08).

Other European countries, such as the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Switzerland have adopted similar measures which have led to a groundswell of solar activity within Europe.

German solar power developers, who have enjoyed feed-in tariffs domestically, are now branching out to take full advantage of similar incentives in south European countries, especially in Spain and Italy.

However, due to the rapid growth of the solar sector, the supply side has not been able to keep up. As a result, developers are now looking for alternatives to the traditional silicon PV cells and turning to the less efficient – but also cheaper – thin film.

There are currently 1,562 megawatts of PV capacity installed in Europe, with 1,440 megawatts (some 92%) coming from Germany and Spain alone. By 2012, the EER estimates that due to the recent surge in solar development, there will be 22 gigawatts of PV capacity installed, with the majority of this coming from six countries: Germany, Spain, Italy, Greece, France and Portugal.

The EU wants to boost the share of renewable energies in final energy consumption to 20% by 2020, a considerable increase from the current 8%. The proposals, put forward by the Commission on 23 January 2008 (EurActiv 24/01/08), are currently being debated between Council and Parliament and could be adopted in a first reading agreement as early as October 2008. source

My comment: I'm sorry, did they say Bulgaria. Now that's curious, because I haven't heard the word Solar in the Bulgarian news at all. Well, besides the Solar eclipse, of course.

Vattenfall power grid sale buoys EU

28 July 2008

A decision by Vattenfall, Germany’s fourth electricity supplier, to sell off its high-voltage grid was welcomed in Brussels where the European Commission has been leading calls for companies to surrender their transmission assets as a way to bring more competition to the market.

Vattenfall Europe AG, the German subsidiary of the Swedish energy group, said it will contact potential acquirers "in the next few days" for its high voltage transmission system operator. The deal is to be completed "by the end of the first half 2009 at the latest", the company said in a statement on Friday (25 July).

"The background to this decision is formed by the political debate that has been going on for months and concerns ownership unbundling of the power generators and the high-voltage grids," the company said.

Vattenfall’s announcement was welcomed by Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs who said it was "perfectly in line with the letter and the spirit" of its proposals to further liberalise the energy market, put forward in September last year. "I am convinced that selling the transmission network will benefit both consumers and electricity companies with more competition and freedom of choice," Piebalgs said.

The Swedish energy group said it was looking for investors which could "ensure substantial investments in network extension, and promote European integration of the electricity market by continuing to guarantee non-discriminatory grid access."

Concerns about access to power grids for companies wishing to break into other European electricity markets were among the key arguments behind the Commission’s push for dismantling national energy champions. Integrated firms which simultaneously hold transmission networks and produce electricity have a natural "self-interest" in thwarting competitors from accessing their grid, the Commission argued.

Vattenfall's move follows a similar announcement by German energy giant E.ON, made in February this year in exchange for a settlement of ongoing EU antitrust enquiries. It had infuriated Germany which was in the middle of a battle against the Commission's plans to 'unbundle' energy firms (EurActiv 29/02/08).source

My comment: How about that. So, Germany is against unbundling but its own companies don't mind it? I can't but wonder on the contradiction. Or the good touch of someone.

1 comment:

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