According to the UK’s chief scientific adviser to the Department of Energy, every person in Britain will need to pay about £5,000 a year between now and 2050 on rebuilding the nation’s entire energy system to convert it to a low carbon one. But the cost of developing clean and sustainable electricity, heating and transport will be very similar to replacing today’s aging and polluting power stations if costs associated with climate change are factored into the equation. The study has not yet evaluated what the impact of relatively cheap shale gas could have on the calculations.

In assessing the Australian governments decision in 2011 to move immediately to a low carbon economy, the Australian Energy Market Commission expects a rise of 37% in electricity bills across the nation between 2011 and 2014. This means a household paying $1500 a year for electricity today can expect to pay about $2,050 by 2014.

Effective January 1st, 2012 the European Union imposed carbon taxes on airlines across the world. The move will directly result in an increase in ticket prices and add an extra $1 billion to airlines’ costs globally on current allowance prices for carriers flying in and out of Europe. Under the emissions trading scheme (ETS), all airlines now flying to or from Europe are obliged to obtain permits to cover their carbon emissions and to use European airspace. Germany’s biggest airline, Lufthansa, said it will add the costs from the ETS to its fuel surcharge on customer tickets, becoming the first carrier to provide details of how it plans to cope with the additional cost. Global airlines group IATA said it estimates the annual industry-wide cost of the ETS will rise to 2.8 billion euros by 2020.

The European Commission has launched a public consultation on the future of LED-based lighting. LED lighting is one of the most energy-efficient and versatile forms of lighting – saving up to 70% energy use compared to other lighting technologies. However, LED lighting faces a number of challenges in the market: high purchase prices because it is a more sophisticated technology compared to the alternatives, lack of familiarity among potential users and a lack of common standards. Part of the consultation process will be to determine which actions would help to overcome existing barriers and accelerate LED deployment in Europe and allow Europe to be a leader in the development of a global LED market. Incandescent light bulbs will be phased out in the EU this coming September.

Turkey has given the go-ahead for the construction of the South Stream natural gas pipeline under the Black Sea. The pipeline, which is expected to start in 2015, would ship up to 63 billion cubic meters (two trillion cubic feet) of Russian gas annually to southern and eastern Europe. South Stream is rivalling a EU-backed Nabucco pipeline which is set to ship gas from the Caspian Sea region in Central Asia to Austria.

The Anglo-Dutch Shell group was given the green light by the U.S. environmental agency to drill for oil off the coast of the northern edge of Alaska from July 2012, a project in which the company has already invested $3.5 billion. Meanwhile Exxon-Mobil signed an agreement with Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil producer, to invest $3.2 billion in exploring for oil and gas under the Kara sea, in northwest Russia.

For the first time, the top export of the United States is transportation fuel. Measured in dollars, the nation is on pace this year to ship more gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel than any other single export product. A decade ago, fuel wasn’t even among the top 25 exports. For the last five years, America’s top export was aircraft. The trend is significant because for decades the U.S. has relied on huge imports of fuel from Europe in order to meet demand.  The U.S. is using less fuel because of a weak economy and more efficient cars and trucks. That allows refiners to sell more fuel to rapidly growing economies in Latin America.

Argentina is the world’s top biodiesel exporter. The fuel is made with soyoil, which is produced in abundance in the agricultural powerhouse. Biodiesel exports rose more than 58% in 2011 to $1.9 billion compared with 2010.

Spain has opened the world’s largest solar plant, 30 miles from Granada. The concentrated solar facility is as big as 210 football pitches and has 600,000 parabolic mirrors. At 1,100 metres above sea level, it captures more solar energy than the entire Saudi Arabian peninsula. The area averages 2,000 hours of sunlight per year. Its output of 150 MW provides enough energy for a city of half a million inhabitants. A significant feature of this plant is that it can store the Sun’s heat in some 30,000 tons of salt – heat which then can keep the electricity-producing steam turbines turning for up to eight hours after sunset.

The small US states of Iowa and South Dakota now supply 20% of their electricity output from wind power, the most of any American states.

In the UK 17 operators were paid almost £10 million in 2011 for shutting down their wind farms when there was insufficient space on the National Grid to accommodate their electrical output. The payments are made when too much electricity floods the grid, with the network unable to absorb any excess power generated. The money is ultimately added on to household bills and paid for by consumers. Some renewable energy companies were paid more to switch off their turbines than they would have received from ordinary operations. As in most countries, the UK Grid operators give preference to 24/7 back-up power from fossil fuel and nuclear plants over intermittent energy sources like wind and solar.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) warns that wind turbine production may be limited due to a scarcity of the rare earth elements dysprosium, neodymium, terbium, europium and yttrium. These elements are commonly used in clean energy technology and all electronics.  They are permanent magnets and are fundamental to the production of large wind turbines (such as those used off-shore) which are facing increasing demand. In addition, they permit all wind turbines to run at slower speeds, allowing electricity generation at much lower wind speeds than traditional high-speed turbines. The shortage of the rare earth elements stems from China’s decision to restrict the export of them and keep them for its domestic industry. China has about 90% of the world’s rare earth elements and will control this supply for about the next ten years.  Other countries have them (Canada, Russia, Malaysia, India, the US) but it could take a decade to bring them to market.  In the meantime the DOE is seeking to fund alternative technologies that reduce or eliminate dependence on rare-earth materials in wind generators.

Egypt’s escalating budget deficit has forced it to cut energy subsidies to heavy industries such as steel, cement and ceramics. Energy subsidies represent about 20% of total government spending.

Indonesia is the largest thermal coal exporter in the world and the second for all types of coal, after Australia. The two countries, along with Russia, South Africa and Colombia, make up about 80% of global coal exports.







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