DAWN tells us the European Union is going back to coal to keep the lights on. Alarmed at rising electricity prices that are almost double US levels, European Union policy makers are allowing the expansion of coal mines on the continent that were scaled back in the past two decades. Across the continent’s mining belt, from Germany to Poland and the Czech Republic, electric utilities such as Vattenfall, CEZ and PGE are expanding open-pit mines that produce lignite or brown coal which emits the most CO2. Lignite demand worldwide is forecast to rise as much as 5.4% by 2020, according to the International Energy Agency.

In a related post, Deutsche Welle points out that the share of German electricity generated from coal soared in 2013 to its highest level since 1990. The use of brown and hard coal together accounted for 45.5% of Germany’s gross energy output, up from 44% the previous year. Energy experts said the increase in the use of coal was the result of the German government’s policy to phase out nuclear energy by 2022. Germany made this decision in May 2011 following the Fukushima disaster in Japan earlier that year. See also Bloomberg, German Power Costs Seen Dropping for Fourth Year, which noted coal plants are enjoying their biggest expansion since at least 2000.  Also see Der Spiegel, German Brown Coal Power Output Hits New High.

The Telegraph reports that European Commission officials have told member countries that the current level of state support for renewable energy sources (eg. wind, solar) must be phased out by the end of this decade. This includes subsides by taxpayers. The EC is of the view that the onshore wind and solar power industries are “mature” and should be allowed to operate without public subsidies. Under the single market rules, European Union governments are forbidden from providing long-term “state aid” to domestic industries that can function without support.

Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s climate action commissioner, said: “One of the things Europe has to do better is how we subsidise renewables,” she said. “My view is that if you have mature technologies, renewables or not, they should not have state aid. If they can manage themselves why have state aid?”

From The Green Optimistic we learn that by 2035 China will be producing more renewable energy than that US, Europe and Japan combined. This is the conclusion of the International Energy Agency in its annual report World Energy Outlook. By that time, wind, solar, biomass and hydropower will produce an equal amount of energy as coal, and exceed the energy produced by natural gas. (You can access the report here.)  The IEA also highlights:

Today’s share of fossil fuels in the global mix, at 82%, is the same as it was 35 years ago; the strong rise of renewables only reduces this to around 75% in 2035.

China and India together build almost 40% of the world’s new electricity generation capacity.

China becomes the largest consumer of oil by 2030, as OECD oil use drops; demand is concentrated in transportation and petrochemicals.

The United States (tight light oil) and Brazil (deepwater oil) will increase production until the mid 2020s; but the Middle East is critical to the longer term crude oil outlook.

See also Environmental Research Web, IEA On Energy Costs.

Climate Spectator says solar photovoltaic should hit grid parity worldwide by around 2020. A new study from Navigant Research concludes that continually declining prices for solar PV means that this energy source will be cost-competitive with retail electricity prices without subsidies in most electricity markets by the end of this decade. Installations of solar PV are expected to double from 35.9 gigawatts per year in 2013 to 73.4 GW in 2020. China will pass 100 GW of installed solar PV by 2020.

From COMMODITIES NOW we learn of a new study that compares the worldwide cost of developing and delivering electricity. “World Energy Perspective: Cost of Energy Technologies” by the World Energy Council and Bloomberg New Energy Finance provides a comprehensive comparative study of the costs of producing electricity from a range of conventional and unconventional sources. These include utility-scale wind, solar PV, solar thermal, marine, biomass, hydro, thermal, coal, gas, and nuclear. (You can access the study here.) The more mature green technologies, such as hydro and onshore wind, fall close to parity with traditional sources when sited in a good location, while newer technologies such as marine tidal and wave are still at the early phases of cost discovery. Globally, coal is still the primary source of electricity production, accounting for more than 1.8 terawatts of installed generation capacity.  Electricity from fossil fuels as a whole makes up 65% of global power production. While the price of renewable energy remains high compared with fossil fuels in most cases, the cost of most green technologies, and most dramatically that of solar PV, is coming down with production scale-up in many areas of the world. Given given the relatively high cost of energy storage and the need for 24/7 backup power, it will be of paramount importance for countries around the world to maintain a diversified energy mix and to overcome infrastructure bottlenecks.

Clean Biz Asia says half of global solar demand this year will come from Asia.

ANSA med informs us that Turkey wants 1/3 of its energy to come from renewables by 2023. Currently Turkey has installed renewable energy capacity of 25 GW and this is expected to reach 40 GW in ten years’ time. Wind power is expected to account for almost half of the country’s renewable electric power generation by that time.

The impact of Spain’s decision to cut back solar subsides is covered by The New York Times. Under legislation that goes into effect this year, Spain will end its per-kilowatt-hour subsidy system altogether and effectively impose retroactive cuts in payments. It also plans to make solar power producers pay a charge on electricity they generate and use themselves.

Spain has good reason for wanting to take action. It is facing a growing deficit — about $40 billion now — because it has never passed on the true cost of producing energy to its consumers, a problem that has ballooned with the economic crisis. If it does not do something, that deficit will only grow, experts say.

Thousands of solar energy investors large and small will doubtless face insolvency, and perhaps just as worrisome, experts say, the new charges for those using their own electricity may set off a rush by owners of solar panels to find ways to sell or use their electricity without reliance on the national grid at all, further reducing its customer base. Nor is Spain’s abrupt U-turn likely to go over well with future investors.






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