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More energy news this week (with an Italian profile…)

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The Montalto di Castro plant in Viterbo, Italy

The Montalto di Castro plant in Viterbo, Italy

Again, there has been a lot of energy news this week (or maybe it’s just a reflection of me discovering a great site, Energy Transition).

Starting with the unexpected: everyone knows about Germany’s transition to renewables, but few would put Italy in the same category; yet Italy is close behind, with 31 Gigawatts of renewables (excluding hydro). This puts Italy neck and neck with Spain (another inspiring story); only China, the US, and Germany have a higher production. Italy also decided to close down its nuclear plants in the 90s, a decision reaffirmed by referendum in 2011. In the first three quarters of 2014 Italy produced 19.6 TWh from photovoltaic energy alone. The importance of coal is gradually receding in the country.

Meanwhile, Germany is also continuing to phase out coal – or is it? Contradictory signals are coming from the new strategy paper from energy minister Sigmar Gabriel (reviewed – and criticized – here and here). Part of the rationale for extending the life of coal-fired plants is their ability to maintain baseload, that is, provide continuous power. Indeed, electricity prices increased in October due to a combination of cloudy and windless conditions, though the overall tendency calls for a long-term drop in electricity prices.

The fear, naturally, is that high energy prices will drive away industry. This seems unwarranted, however (with one small exception, a firm in the coal engineering sector leaving); industry is staying put and aluminum, a high electricity consumer, may actually benefit from the input of renewables. Policy is at any rate set to retain industry whole reducing fossil fuel use (see here and here).

Alberta wind energy producers get low prices because of the intermittent nature their supply. Of course, this is the type of issues that would be alleviated if effective energy storage could be developed. In that respect, there are encouraging new technologies being developed (links for geeks only): a solar/storage combo; a new flywheel design from Canadian high tech company Temporal Power; a more efficient way to produce hydrogen by hydrolysis; and breakthroughs in batteries and capacitors. Of course, seeking efficiencies remains fundamental. Along those lines, Germany announced a 10 billion Euro program for improving energy efficiency in buildings; a new system to get residential heat and hot water from computer cloud servers; and the town of Wildpoldsried, already famous for profiting from community renewable energy generation, is testing smart grid systems for efficiency savings.

One thing is clear from all this: renewable energy is still young and needs active support. But this support should be considered a social investment, which pays real dividends. This is amply demonstrated south of the border, where such federal programs have been shown to pay big dividends, showing criticisms to be groundless. As a result, renewables are now outcompeting new fossil fuel power projects in southern states such as Georgia and Texas (and in Brazil and India also).

On the political level, the climate accord between China and the US took everyone by surprise, setting the stage for climate discussions at the G20 summit; this despite the efforts of host Australian PM Tont Abbott to ignore the topic, having betted the future of Australia on coal exports. News that India is switching away from coal couldn’t have helped Abbott’s mood, either. This development is also putting pressure on Canada, as well.

Still on the political scene, at the local level environmentalists were heartened by news that many of the mayors elected in BC are the ones who have pledged to fight big oil, pipelines, and thermal coal exports.

In other news, there is movement in the (not well known, but considerable, and profitable) Canadian solar energy sector, with sales to Brazil and entry of an Italian company. Clean Technica claims that there is a trillion dollar development opportunity in renewables in BC (CredBC apparently agrees). There is a new initiative to bring solar power to rural Africa. A new study claims that the world could be powered entirely by solar; Denmark must agree, as it’s aiming to be 100% renewable by 2050. And the US Air Force is purchasing the world’s largest electric vehicle fleet, with enough energy storage to power 140 homes.

To cap it all, my favorite bit of news: a British study reports that collisions between wind turbines and wildlife could be avoided with a simple coat of purple paint. It doesn’t always have to be high-tech!

 

 

 

 

 

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Written by enviropaul

November 16, 2014 at 2:27 pm

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