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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Energy in Europe, September, 2009

Today:
  1. France enters solar power race
  2. EIB ready to help finance Nabucco pipeline
  3. Commission sets efficiency standards for fridges, TVs
  4. First steps to bring Saharan solar to Europe
  5. Commission tables EU winter gas storage plan
Quote of the day:I have some bad feeling about these big solar projects. It's somehow wrong to invest so much money in something that's not even in the EU - it's in Africa! I have nothing against Africa, of course, but such big projects suppose big dependency. What would happen if the country in the case decides to nationalise the plant. It's not likely, but you never know.

France enters solar power race

24 July 2009

Yesterday's (23 July) announcement by French electricity giant EDF that it will build the country's largest solar manufacturing plant signalled France's bid to become one of the world's leading solar markets.

EDF Energies Nouvelles (EDF EN), half-owned by the state utility EDF, has teamed up with American solar panel manufacturer First Solar to invest over €90 million to build a plant with an initial annual capacity of more than 100 Megawatt Peak (MWp).

EDF EN will finance half of the capital expenses and start-up costs, for which it will get the entire output for the first ten years. The plant is projected to employ more than 300 people when running at full capacity in the latter part of 2011.

The construction and operation of the plant represents the first venture into the French market by First Solar, which has operations in Germany, the US and Malaysia. It cited the French government's long-term commitments to a favourable policy and regulatory frameworks to promote solar markets as a key factor in its decision to invest in the country.

Indeed, the investment plan comes as the Grenelle Environnement, President Nicolas Sarkozy's initiative, identified in the past few years the promotion of renewables, including solar, wind, biomass, geothermal and hydraulic, as policy priorities for sustainable development.

France has prioritised nuclear heavily in its energy strategy and is now looking to complement this with renewables. As it has lost the battle over wind to Germany, Denmark and Spain, it is seeking to catch up with with its neighbours on solar power.

But the most ambitious cooperation on solar electricity between North Africa and Europe was nevertheless launched by a consortium of mainly German firms last week (EurActiv 22/07/09). Backed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Desertec project intends to bring solar thermal power produced in the Sahara desert to Europe via a high-voltage cable. source

My comment: I have some bad feeling about these big solar projects. It's somehow wrong to invest so much money in something that's not even in the EU - it's in Africa! I have nothing against Africa, of course, but such big projects suppose big dependency. What would happen if the country in the case decides to nationalise the plant. It's not likely, but you never know. I personally prefer fair deals and for me, using the territory of another country to provide electricity for your own, without adequate paying back is hardly a fair deal. A bad deals can lead to bad relations. It's good to invest in green projects, of course, but I'd rather prefer local projects or if they must be non-local, then let's go to the extreme - solar electricity from space mission in orbit. Much much better. The only question is how to beam the electricity down, but I'm sure it can be figured out.

EIB ready to help finance Nabucco pipeline

24 July 2009

The European Investment Bank is ready to help finance the 7.9 billion euro Nabucco pipeline and to look closely at the concept of creating a single gas purchaser to ensure the project is viable, the bank said on 23 July.

Hurst said the EIB, the 27-nation EU's financing arm, was actively following the project and testing its viability but added it was still early days and declined to offer possible investment figures.

Due to span 3,300 km (2,051 miles) and meet 5% of Europe's gas needs, Nabucco will bring 31 billion cubic metres of Caspian or Middle Eastern gas annually from Turkey to an Austrian gas hub via Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary.

"For us, if we fund it, we would want it to be technically, economically and environmentally sound," he said.

Hurst said the EIB was exploring the concept of a single gas purchaser - the so-called Caspian Development Corporation (CDC) - which would be a coordinator of gas purchases in bulk.

When asked whether this would be a main criterion for investment in the project, Hurst said: "At the end of the day, if we are going to fund the project, then we have to have a structure which is robust to pay back a loan over a long period of time."

EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebags has already proposed this idea to Turkish and Azeri authorities, who have also said it is a promising area to explore.

Analysts say the project is in a Catch 22 situation as banks are not willing to finance it until input gas is secured and its long-term future is assured, while potential input nations are reluctant to commit to supplying gas until they are convinced the infrastructure will be in place.

Consortium members include Austria's OMV, MOL of Hungary, Romania's Transgaz, Bulgargaz, Turkey's Botas and RWE of Germany. They have said the European Union should provide either pre-financing or guarantees to convince commercial banks and suppliers the project is viable. source

My comment: So, the EIB wants to finance only if they get a share. Fair enough, but I still fail to see the moment in space-time when this project will leave the stage of "idea" and become something practical. For me, the logical steps involving a project are first to decide the technical stuff, then to secure sellers and buyers, then to secure finance and in the end to go to the political and media stuff(or ok, to have seller and buyer and then to go to the technicalities). In this project, everything goes in the other direction. They sign all kind of political non-senses, the banks come out with stupid statements, more or less, all the players in the game prefer the TV than the actual work. This is odd in the least. Maybe I'm not right, maybe the technical side is the easiest, but still, for me, it's much easier to achieve political agreement when everything else is clearly set and decided, than to speak broadly for a pipe that will come from unknown where, be filled with unknown by now contracts and everything about it is not very known. We only know we want it and that's all. This is very weird way to do business...OR it is very scary.

Commission sets efficiency standards for fridges, TVs

23 July 2009

The European Commission yesterday (22 July) adopted four new eco-design regulations to make industrial motors, water circulators, televisions, refrigerators and freezers more energy efficient.

The regulations are implementation measures under the EU ecodesign directive, which allows the Commission to set minimum efficiency standards for energy-using products.

The EU executive estimates that the new measures will save about 190 TWh annually by 2020, equalling the combined yearly electricity consumption of Sweden and Austria.

The new specifications will only let the most efficient televisions and refrigerating appliances onto the market. According to the Commisission, this will save energy customers 30 TWh of electricity each year by 2020.

New rules for industrial motors make it illegal to bring inefficient products to the market as of 2011. Large motors will have to be highly efficient from 2015, with all other motors following in 2017. Alternatively, they may be equipped with "variable speed drivers," which adjust output to actual needs so that the appliance does not run at full capacity all the time.

The specifications for water circulators, found in boilers and heating systems, will shift the market towards "intelligent" products that adjust to the heating system's needs, the EU executive stated.

Nine eco-design regulations have been adopted so far. source

My comment: Nice! Efficiency finally got into the schedule. It's obvious that this is good, so no comments here. I can only hope that the same efficiency attitude will go into every direction in our life, because it's the most rational way to live.

First steps to bring Saharan solar to Europe

22 July 2009

The world's largest solar power project is taking shape as investors last week signed an agreement to establish financing plans for a mega plant to produce electricity for Europe in the Sahara. But critics described the deal as no more than a new and expensive form of energy colonialism.

Twelve companies, including German and French energy giants RWE and E.ON, launched the Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII) on 13 July to find financing for the project, which will bring solar thermal power from North Africa to Europe via a high-voltage cable.

A planning commission will be established by the end of October, with a view to drafting viable financing plans for the €400 billion project in the following three years. The EU would initially provide €1 billion for the project, Germany's Deputy Foreign Minister Guenter Gloser told reporters, according to Reuters.

The Desertec concept was elaborated by the Club of Rome's Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation (TREC) network. The plan has created a political buzz in Germany, but also found allies with European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and French President Nicholas Sarkozy.

The consortium envisages that 15% of Europe's electricity needs will eventually be provided by electricity generated in the African desert using concentrating solar power (CSP) technology. CSP involves erecting hundreds of giant mirrors which focus sun rays on a receiver containing a liquid like oil, in turn producing steam to drive a turbine.

The idea behind the Desertec project is to enhance Europe's energy security, while contributing to the EU's climate goals by reducing CO2 emissions.

According to studies by the German Aerospace Center (DLR), solar thermal power plants could produce more than half of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa's electricity needs within 40 years. Supporters of the scheme believe it could deliver energy to Europe within the next decade.

But power companies, although keen to join the initiative, point to the long-term horizons for a project of this scale. Moreover, critics argue that as technology develops, generating solar power by directly installing panels on the rooftops of European homes will become cheaper and more efficient, begging the question as to whether imported, centrally-produced solar electricity is the cheapest option.

Indeed, the price of solar thermal electricity remains one of the key barriers to large-scale production, as it is still several times more expensive than fossil fuel. However, solar prices continue to fall as a result of technology improvements and growing volumes, while fossil fuels are expected to become significantly more expensive.

Desertec has been slated as modern-day eco-colonialism, whereby Europeans outsource their energy needs to poor African countries, leaving little else but pollution behind.

The project's backers, however, have a response ready to combat the claims. They cite the creation of local jobs and export earnings as well as inexpensive electricity and the use of extra energy to desalinate sea water.

Nevertheless, the fact that the electric transmission lines cross numerous international borders in politically unstable countries has led some to argue against energy security. Pessimists claim that Europe would face the same dilemma of energy dependence on third countries with imported solar power as it does with oil. source

My comment: Yup, their worries match my own. It really looks just like energy colonialism. And in the end, with new solar technologies, it looks more and more likely that soon, we will produce the energy we need back at/on home. And for big companies, my guess is that space electricity and maybe wind will be good enough. So these projects look more like a desperate try to stay in the business than something else. Oh well...

Commission tables EU winter gas storage plan

17 July 2009

The European Commission yesterday (16 July) proposed a new regulation on the security of gas supplies, obliging member states to take pre-emptive measures to avoid disruptions in the wake of a January dispute between Russia and Ukraine.

"We have known for some time that the existing arrangements to deal with gas emergencies are insufficient […] All member states recognise that we need common standards for security of gas supply for the whole EU," said the bloc's energy commissioner, Andris Piebalgs.

The proposal authorises the Commission to declare a Community emergency at the request of a single member state, or when the Union loses more than 10% of its daily gas import from third countries. It also entitles the EU executive to coordinate member-state actions between one another and towards third countries.

EU states have a three-year transitional period until the end of March 2014 to ensure that they have either enough gas storage capacity or diversified energy supplies to handle a 60-day supply disruption in extreme winter weather.

But unlike the proposal for a revised directive on oil stocks approved by ministers last month , the gas regulation does not require compulsory strategic stocks as it is replaceable in most uses, the Commission said.

Instead, the document sets common standards for member states to define "serious gas supply disruptions", called 'N-1'. This refers to the preparedness of a country to satisfy its total gas demand during 60 days of exceptionally high gas demand if there is a disruption in the largest gas supply infrastructure.

In order to meet the N-1 standard, member states have to designate a competent authority to assess risks and establish both preventive and emergency plans. The Commission reserves the right to require that plans be revised if they do not comply with the regulation.

To meet the infrastructure requirements, the regulation obliges transmission system operators to ensure reverse flow capacity on all interconnections within two years after the entry into force of the directive, if it would enhance the security of supply of a member state.

Piebalgs said Baltic nations would face the biggest challenges in meeting the standards, with the largest investments needed in Lithuania and Slovenia, where gas consumption is significant. Denmark, on the other hand, is best placed with its own production, while Germany and Belgium have "decent storage capacity" and are doing fine, he added. source

My comment: That was an obvious step in the right direction. I just think that 2014 is way too far in time, with the next crisis already in sight. Let's hope we got some moral from the last time. And also, if that strategy is already decided, then they should provide more adequate financing for Eastern Europe since we're so backward in our infrastructure. But I think that the next crisis will be a good test for what the EU is supposed to be - did we learn our lesson, or during the next crisis big countries will once again think only for themselves.

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