We all know that the world is undergoing an energy transformation, from a system based on fossil fuels to a system based on renewable energy,in order to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and avoid the most serious impacts of a changing climate. This article however realistic it appears, could be understood as some sort of justification of the ineluctable surrender of the fossil fuel to its time penalty.
Jarand Rystad Jan 25, 2020
Existing fossil fuel power plants will play a pivotal role in enabling the full transition to a near-zero-carbon electricity system in many countries. How can such a surprising and perhaps counterintuitive conclusion be reached? The key word is intermittency, in reference to the wide fluctuations of energy supply associated with solar and wind. Even if these two sources are, to some degree, complementary (with more wind at night and during winter, complemented by more sun at daytime and during the summer), the combination still carries a high degree of intermittency.
In this analysis, we have used data from Germany from 2012 to 2019, and scaled this up to a near 100% renewable system – assuming that the total capacity will be 160 GW, or three times the average consumption. In this system, there will still be 28 days where solar and wind combined produce less than 30% of the consumption. This happens typically during high-pressure weather systems during the winter months from November to February.
Moreover, there will on average be two extreme periods per year, with up to three days in a row when sun and wind will deliver less than 10% of Germany’s total energy consumption. Even with adjustments to imports and consumption levels, the country would still need some 50 GW of power to avoid blackouts (with 72 hours at 50 GW equating to 3.6 TWh). Total water pumping capacity today is 7 GW over four hours or about 30 GWh. Assume this multiplies ten-fold by 2050, and assume that 45 million cars are battery electric vehicles with surplus capacity of 20 kWh each. This would deliver about 1.2 TWh in total, meaning the system would still need 2.4 TWh of power or a continuous load of 33 GW.
During these periods, restarting old gas-fired power plants could be an economically rational way to deliver the power needed to keep the nation running as usual. The carbon footprint of this would be small – probably less than the footprint associated with constructing gigantic battery facilities for those few extreme cases. Germany presently has 263 gas power plants, with a total capacity of 25 GW.
Thus, finding a way to maintain these plants for emergency back-up capacity could be an enabler for an energy future based around solar and wind power. Capacity pricing rather than price per kWh is probably one of the commercial changes needed. This is the same pricing model that most people also have for home internet services, and should thus not be too difficult to implement.
Solar deployment continued to pick up in the Middle East and North Africa in 2019, the Middle East Solar Industry Association has said in its annual report. Brian PUBLICOVER in a PV magazine article titled ‘Solar is gaining traction in MENA region – but plenty of obstacles remain’ and dated January 17, 2020, explains the whereabouts of such deployment.
The Middle East Solar Industry Association (MESIA) says energy investment in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region could hit $1 trillion in the 2019-23 period.
The organization cited statistics from consultancy Frost & Sullivan valuing the region’s operational PV capacity at $5-7.5 billion, with an additional $15-20 billion worth of projects set to come online by 2024.
However, policymakers in many countries are still struggling to find the right mix of legislation, technology, financing and procurement options to kick-start development, the region’s top solar industry group said in its Solar Outlook Report 2020.
MESIA noted a large gap among the region’s varied PV markets in terms of cumulative installations and development. Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates lead on deployment with Saudi Arabia soon to swell their ranks. While a handful of countries including Pakistan and Iraq are struggling to bring more solar online, markets such as Tunisia, Kuwait and Oman are starting to add significant projects to the regional PV pipeline, said the association.
Regional policymakers are increasingly prioritizing distributed solar, led by Dubai. The most populous city in the United Arab Emirates launched its Shams Dubai program in 2015 to support residential PV and commercial and industrial solar installation. By October, Dubai had installed around 125 MW of distributed PV capacity at 1,354 sites, MESIA said.
The industry association also highlighted the important role played by the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority in getting commercial and industrial projects built, noting market drivers for the segment vary across the MENA region. Cuts to electricity tariffs in markets such as the UAE, Jordan, Oman and Saudi Arabia have played a role, backed by the establishment of supportive regulatory frameworks, particularly for wheeling and net metering, the regional body said.
The Egyptian authorities made significant progress on the massive Benban solar complex last year. Roughly 1.47 GW of solar capacity – including a wealth of bifacial and tracking projects – was commissioned at Benban by the end of November, MESIA said. The $4 billion, 1.8 GW complex will eventually feature 41 projects.
The Egyptian government wants renewable energy to account for 20% of its electricity mix by 2022, and 42% by 2035, including 52 GW of large scale and distributed-generation projects. It continues to look beyond feed-in tariffs with the Egyptian Electricity Transmission Co (EETC) and World Bank private sector arm the International Finance Corporation signing a deal in April to fund projects chosen via auctions, for example. The EETC signed a solar power purchase agreement with Saudi’s ACWA Power in October for the 200 MW Kom Ombo project, at a price of $0.0275/kWh. Construction is expected to wrap up in the first quarter of next year.
However, Egyptian energy demand is set to leap from 27.6 GW last year to 67 GW by 2030, MESIA said, citing Frost & Sullivan data. To facilitate renewables deployment, the country will need a competitive electricity market and will have to scrap subsidies for fuel and electricity tariffs dating back to 2016 while also facilitating the development of energy storage to support distributed PV roll-out, the industry group argued.
United Arab Emirates
MESIA describes the UAE as a regional “front runner” for PV and it made undeniable progress last year. Having launched commercial operations at the 1,177 MW Sweihan PV project, Abu Dhabi in November the allocated the fifth, 900 MW phase of the massive, 5 GW Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park for a record low power price of $0.01693/kWh. The solar park’s installed capacity currently hovers around the 713 MW range, MESIA said, noting the third to fifth stages of the project will be finished in the years ahead, with full completion scheduled for 2030.
The future also looks bright for solar in the wider UAE, particularly at utility scale. In November, the Emirates Water and Electricity Co closed submissions from developers for a 2 GW solar project at Al Dhafra. That project is set for completion by the first quarter of 2022.
MESIA said it expects a similarly sized tender early this year, as Abu Dhabi may be gearing up to install another 6 GW of solar by 2026. However, PV will have to compete with nuclear and rival renewables in future. With more intermittent renewables capacity coming online, MESIA expects the UAE authorities to start to include more energy storage capacity in future PV tenders.
MESIA said energy storage will be “pivotal” to the development of Jordan’s solar sector. The country has been developing storage capacity for a while, as it is struggling to stabilize its electrical transmission network while it brings significant amounts of large scale solar and wind capacity online.
“At this stage, Jordan’s capability to strengthen the grid, commitment to achieve increased energy efficiency and develop additional storage is key for the future market attractiveness,” the industry association reported.
The authorities launched a tender last year for a study on the feasibility of installing 30 MW of pumped storage capacity at the nation’s key dams, MESIA noted.
Saudi Arabia’s growing PV market continues to move from strength to strength, according to the association, which highlighted the 300 MW Sakaka PV plant – the kingdom’s biggest to date. The regional body also noted the Renewable Energy Project Development Office asked 60 pre-qualified companies to submit bids for “six solar energy schemes with a combined capacity of 1.5 GW” late last year, in addition to six projects the authorities started tendering this month.
However, while the country remains one of the most promising regional PV markets, the Saudi authorities still need to tackle key challenges, MESIA said. The government must collaborate more effectively with the private sector, among other things. It also needs to improve the regulatory environment and propose new business models to unlock the potential of its fledgling commercial and industrial solar sector, the industry group said.
MESIA sees Tunisia’s commercial and industrial solar segment as particularly promising but noted the market continues to struggle in the face of fossil fuel subsidies. The regional body argued the Tunisian government must introduce incentives such as tax breaks to encourage greater investment in commercial and industrial PV, among other policy considerations.
MESIA also noted the Tunisian authorities have overseen critical investments in grid infrastructure upgrades over the past year, in anticipation of $2 billion of anticipated foreign investment in the solar and wind sectors over the next three years. The Tunisian Ministry of Industry and Small and Medium Enterprises has said the expected influx of funds could support development of 1.9 GW of fresh renewables capacity by 2022.
A Frenchman is credited with being the first to discover the photovoltaic effect that produces electricity from sunlight. The first solar panel was built in the US. But when Abu Dhabi decided to build the world’s largest individual solar power project, they looked east for help.
The country partnered with Chinese and Japanese companies to construct a facility, which opened this year, with a peak capacity of 1.18 gigawatts generated by 3.2 million solar panels. That’s because Asia, more than any other region on the planet, and China, more than any other nation, currently represent the future of solar energy, and are at the heart of the ensuing industrywide transformation from fossil fuels to renewable and nuclear energy.
Decarbonization is changing the face of energy and the world economy in more ways than most consumers — and even most executives — appreciate. Besides the transition from molecule to electron, as this move toward electrification suggests, it is also shifting the industry’s economic base from West to East and reconfiguring the hierarchy of companies and geographies that define energy.
Asia is the 800-pound gorilla in the energy story. First, its continued economic growth and rising standard of living will make its constituent nations pre-eminent energy consumers for the foreseeable future. A study by BP indicates that Asia, including China and India, will represent 43% of global energy demand by 2040, and through that year, the region will account for more than 50% of the growth in demand. In contrast, energy demand among the 36 nations in the OECD, which includes most big economies in the Americas and Europe, will be flat.
China’s sunny outlook
Second, places like China are already among the most important suppliers of non-fossil fuel-based energy and technology. By 2017, China owned 72% of the world’s solar photovoltaic module production; in comparison, the US has 1% and Europe 2%. Of the eight top producers, six are Asian. Not including hydropower, China has somewhere around one-third of the world’s installed renewable capacity; the EU has a little over a quarter; and the US accounts for 14%. China also leads in the generation of hydropower.
As the electrification of transportation advances and demand grows for renewable energy storage solutions, China looks likely to monopolize here, too. China produces at least two-thirds of the world’s production capacity for lithium-ion batteries, which are used in electric vehicles (EVs), mobile phones and laptop computers (some estimates put their share at closer to 70%), and it looks likely to hang on to that lead through at least 2028. And besides being the largest market for EVs, China also controls the bulk of production.
China is the third-largest miner of the primary raw material used to produce those batteries, lithium — often referred to as white petroleum because of its mounting economic importance. Chinese producers are also buying up lithium reserves in Chile, the world’s second-largest lithium miner (Australia takes the top spot).
A fundamental overhaul
Of course, climate change is forcing the energy industry to undergo an existential transformation that may eventually see the elimination of fossil fuels entirely. While most executives at oil companies will be dead or at least retired before that transition proceeds to what seems its inevitable end, the slowing of demand is already being felt.
By contrast, the demand for electricity seems insatiable. Electrification rates continue to rise across the globe, with Asia expected to be close to 100% coverage by 2030. Much of that growth in demand may be supplied by renewables and nuclear power rather than fossil fuel-generated power, although natural gas is expected to play a role for years to come. It also may be accomplished through a decentralization of generating capacity, such as recent rural electrification projects in places like Malawi and Bangladesh where farmers and villages use solar panels and small generators to provide their own electricity.
What’s the World Economic Forum doing about the transition to clean energy?
Moving to clean energy is key to combatting climate change, yet in the past five years, the energy transition has stagnated. Energy consumption and production contribute to two-thirds of global emissions, and 81% of the global energy system is still based on fossil fuels, the same percentage as 30 years ago.
Effective policies, private-sector action and public-private cooperation are needed to create a more inclusive, sustainable, affordable and secure global energy system.
Benchmarking progress is essential to a successful transition. The World Economic Forum’s Energy Transition Index, which ranks 115 economies on how well they balance energy security and access with environmental sustainability and affordability, shows that the biggest challenge facing energy transition is the lack of readiness among the world’s largest emitters, including US, China, India and Russia. The 10 countries that score the highest in terms of readiness account for only 2.6% of global annual emissions.
Yet despite the urgency of climate concerns and the rapidly falling cost of renewable energy, the speed at which this existential energy transition will happen is uncertain, as pre- and post-tax subsidies on fossil fuels remain in place, discouraging consumers to make the change to a more environmentally beneficial and frequently cheaper source of energy. The International Monetary Fund estimates post-tax subsidies on fossil fuels like coal and petroleum — a result of unpriced externalities, such as societal costs from air pollution and global warming — totalled $5.2 trillion in 2017.
Regardless of the speed of transformation, there’s no doubt it is already well underway. That’s why places like the United Arab Emirates (of which Abu Dhabi is the largest) are building solar power and nuclear facilities, despite being the world’s eighth-largest oil producer — and making the transition with Asian partners. They see the future.
Gas investments in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region are declining, according to a report from Saudi Arabia-based Arab Petroleum Investments Corp. (APICORP).
The report highlighted worries about the challenge of meeting domestic demand given this slowdown. Private investors are taking a wait-and-see approach, driven by low gas prices, potentially putting more strain on governments.
The Gas Investment Outlook 2019-23 charts a reduction of $70 billion in gas spending from the previous report, 2018-22, but the outlook for petrochemicals has increased by 50%. Of the nine countries covered, investments are set to fall in seven. Petrochemicals are on the rise as countries focus on extracting the most amount of value from oil production.
The most notable fall in gas plans was in Kuwait, down nearly 80%, while Saudi Arabia was down 60%, with Algeria and Iran down around 50% each. Driving the $70bn reduction were Saudi and Iran. This is not necessarily a question of cutting investments, it can also be driven by major projects being completed. Saudi, for instance, commissioned its Wasit gas plant.
While the MENA region has moved towards the consumption of gas, for power generation and industry, continued access to supplies is driven by the government’s willingness and ability to pay for these supplies. This willingness will have a direct impact on meeting future supplies, APICORP said. Saudi is planning an additional 12 GW of greenfield power, while Egypt has 9 GW of projects, which “will require additional gas supplies”.
LNG supplies in the area are playing a part in meeting increased demand. Regasification terminals are on track in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, while Qatar is working on expanding its export capacity to 126 million tonnes per year by 2027. Around the world, for the first time, investment commitments in new LNG capacity this year passed the $50bn mark. Global demand for gas is increasing, it noted, but supply may outpace this until 2023, although a number of factors – trade wars and geopolitical tensions – are complicating such calculations.
While Qatar is working to cement its dominance of the liquefaction sector, Saudi Aramco is taking steps to become a player, having signed a deal this year for a potential interest in the Port Arthur LNG plan, in the US. Construction of Qatari trains are expected to carry a price tag of around $15bn.
Iran is leading the charge in gas and petrochemical investments, followed by Egypt, despite the countries’ share of spending to 2023 declining by $11bn and $5bn respectively from the previous APICORP report.
Saudi has made progress on its energy intensity of GDP and is increasing gas production, with the target of increasing sales gas volumes to 164 bcm per year by 2026. There are challenges to gas in the kingdom, including alternative fuel stocks, while shale production has gained some attention but carries a high cost, at $6-10 per mmBtu.
Abu Dhabi is also pursuing unconventional gas resources such as shale, in addition to offshore sour gas. The state imports gas via the Dolphin link, with LNG coming via two regas terminals. Abu Dhabi also began
Algeria must tackle the problem of low upstream spending and access to technology around maturing fields, in particular its Hassi R’mel field. Just over $8bn is expected to be invested in the country during the next five years, APICORP said. Companies working in the country’s energy sector have struggled with bureaucracy, with the report citing the recent cancellation of the $100 million debottlenecking project at the Rhourde Oulad Djemma field.
Production and exports have declined in 2019, with new fields coming onstream in the southwest providing only a “short-term fix”. Gas flaring accounts for the equivalent of 20% of Algeria’s domestic consumption, suggesting this might be one area for improvement.
The APICORP report described Egypt as “touting itself as a gas hub”, based on regional supplies, from states such as Israel, and existing infrastructure “but key elements are still amiss”. The country expects to consume 72 bcm of gas in 2020 and 92 bcm in 2021, APICORP said, citing Egypt’s plans. The North African state could run into a net deficit in 2025, on high domestic consumption and increased LNG exports.
An interesting interval notably for all those industries already devoting billions of Dollars to building these E-cars, thus affecting not only the whole world’s manufacturing and energy generation industries alike but also the planet’s climate. But this obviously not happening overnight, is somehow phased as described in this article.
Electric cars are often seen as one of the great hopes for tackling climate change. With new models arriving in showrooms, major carmakers retooling for an electric future, and a small but growing number of consumers eager to convert from gas guzzlers, EVs appear to offer a way for us to decarbonise with little change to our way of life.
Yet there is a danger that fixating on electric cars leaves a large blind spot. Electrification would be very expensive for the lumbering lorries that haul goods across continents or is currently technically prohibitive for long-distance air travel.
Beyond all the enthusiasm surrounding electrification, currently light-duty passenger vehicles only comprise 50% of total global demand for energy in the transportation sector compared to 28% for heavy road vehicles, 10% for air, 9% for sea and 2% for rail.
Put simply, the current focus on electrifying passenger vehicles – though welcome – represents only part of the answer. For most other segments, fuels will be needed for the foreseeable future. And even for cars, electric vehicles are not a cure-all.
The unfortunate truth is that, on their own, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) cannot solve what we call the “100 EJ problem”. Demand for transport services are expected to rise dramatically in the coming decades. So the International Energy Agency (IEA) projects that we need to significantly reduce the amount of energy each vehicle uses just to keep total global energy demand in the transport sector roughly flat at current levels of 100 exajoules (EJ) by 2050. More than half of that 100 EJ is still expected to come from petroleum products and, by then, the share of light-duty vehicles in transport sector energy demand is expected to decline from 50% to 34%.
The vast majority of existing passenger trips can be accommodated by existing battery electric vehicles so, for many consumers, buying one will be an easy decision (as costs come down). But for those who frequently take very long journeys, the focus also needs to be on lower-carbon fuels.
Petroleum substitutes could extend sustainable transport to heavier vehicles and those seeking longer range, while using the existing refuelling infrastructure and vehicle fleet. Whereas battery electric vehicles will impose wider system costs (for example, the charging infrastructure needed to connect millions of new electric vehicles to the grid), all the transition costs of sustainable fuel substitutes are in the fuels themselves.
Our recent study is part of a renewed focus on synthetic fuels or synfuels (fuels converted from feedstocks other than petroleum). Synfuels were first made on an industrial scale in the 1920s by turning coal into liquid hydrocarbons using the so-called Fischer-Tropsch synthesis, named after its original German inventors. But using coal as a feedstock produces far dirtier fuel than even conventional petroleum-based fuels.
One possible route to carbon-neutral synthetic fuels would be to use woody residues and wastes as feedstock to create synthetic biofuels with less impact on the environment and food production than crop-based biofuels. Another option would be to produce synfuels from CO₂ and water using low-carbon electricity. But producing such “electrofuels” would need either a power system that is very low cost and ultra-low-carbon (such as those of Iceland or Quebec) or require dedicated sources of zero-carbon electricity that have high availability throughout the year.
Synthetic biofuels and electrofuels both have the potential to deliver sustainable fuels at scale, but these efforts are still at the demonstration stage. Audi opened a €20M e-gas (electro fuel) plant in 2013 that produces 3.2 MW of synthetic methane from 6 MW of electricity. The €150M Swedish GoBiGas plant was commissioned in 2014 and produced synthetic biomethane at a scale of 20 MW using 30 MW of biomass.
Despite the many virtues of carbon-neutral synthetic fuels though, most commercial-scale projects are currently on hold. This is due to the high investment cost of pioneer process plants combined with a lack of sufficiently strong government policies to make them economically viable and share the risk of scale-up.
Government and industry attempts to encourage people to buy electric vehicles aren’t a problem in themselves. Our concern is that an exclusive focus on electrification may make solving the 100 EJ problem impossible. It is too early to tell which, if any, sustainable fuels will emerge successful and so the most pressing need is to scale up production from the current demonstration stage. If not, when our attention finally turns away from glossy electric car advertisements in a few years, we will find ourselves at a standing start in addressing the rest of the problem.
EGYPT PULSE of Al-Monitor of September 24, 2019, reports that Ethiopia again rejects Egypt’s vision for Renaissance Dam. It is written by Ayah Aman. In the article summary, the author explains how “After more than a year of stalled negotiations between Egypt and Ethiopia on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Egypt’s diplomatic moves at the regional and international levels seem to have led nowhere.”
CAIRO — Egypt has initiated several international diplomatic moves expressing its deep concern about what it says is Ethiopia’s stalling and failure to reach a comprehensive agreement on filling and operating the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which it sees as a threat to its water supply.
This comes after a year and four months’ lull in negotiations, since Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed visited Cairo in June 2018 and repeated after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi the famous oath, “I swear to God, we will not cause any harm to Egypt’s Nile water.”
Technical, political and security negotiation rounds have been taking place for more than four years now, since the presidents of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia signed the Declaration of Principles in March 2015. At the time, the declaration was seen as a breakthrough in the crisis, which continues to go unresolved. Since then, Sisi has made many statements seeking to allay the Egyptian public’s fears about the dam. In January 2018, he announced the crisis with Ethiopia was over and said there were several paths to a solution.
Yet just this month, on Sept. 14, his statements at the annual National Youth Conference were alarming. Speaking of the dam construction that started in 2011, Sisi said Egypt has been “paying since 2011 for one mistake … a price we’ve paid and will continue to pay.” He asserted, “Dams would not have been built on the River Nile … was it not for 2011,” in reference to the January 2011 Revolution.
Responding to a question concerning the dam at the “Ask the President” session held on the sidelines of the Youth Conference, Sisi recalled the Iraqi water shortage after the fall of the Iraqi state. He said, “Iraq in 1990 received 100 billion cubic meters (bcm) of water, but now it only receives 30 bcm.”
In early September, Egypt had launched official diplomatic efforts with other countries.
Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry briefed foreign ministers attending a Sept. 10 Arab League meeting in Cairo on the difficulties marring the dam negotiations. He said Ethiopia has been inflexible recently and has even attempted to manipulate the situation. Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said at a press conference that day that the Arab ministers had expressed solidarity in protecting Egypt’s water supply, which they agree is an integral part of overall Arab security.
As well, during a Sept. 12 meeting with ambassadors of European countries to Cairo, Egyptian Deputy Foreign Minister for African Affairs Ambassador Hamdi Loza briefed them on the latest developments regarding the dam and stressed Egypt’s uneasiness over the extended length of negotiations. A statement by the ministry after the meeting said Ethiopia has demonstrated “an insistence to impose a unilateral vision while disregarding the interests of others’ interests and without giving due diligence to avoiding damages to two estuary countries, especially Egypt, which depends on the Nile as the lifeblood of the Egyptian people.”
After a round of technical negotiations, Sept. 15-16 with Sudan in Cairo, Ethiopia and Egypt remain at odds.
Despite Egypt’s diplomatic mobilization ahead of the meeting, Ethiopia did not respond to any diplomatic pressure to approve or even discuss the Egyptian vision. Egypt had proposed filling the dam’s reservoir within seven years and releasing 40 bcm of Nile water annually to downstream countries.
Ethiopian Minister of Water and Energy Seleshi Bekele voiced his country’s rejection of Egypt’s requests. Ethiopian news website Addis Standard cited a classified document outlining Ethiopia’s rebuke of Egypt’s proposals. The Egyptian vision would “prolong the filling of GERD indefinitely” and “compensate for the Egyptian water deficit by serving as a second backup reservoir to High Aswan Dam,” according to the document. Egypt’s plan would mean the dam wouldn’t “deliver its economic return to Ethiopia … [and would] infringe on Ethiopia’s sovereignty.”
The document added, “Ethiopia [would] forfeit its rights to equitable and reasonable utilization of the Blue Nile water resources.”
Shoukry summarized Egypt’s position in dealing with the dam crisis by not yielding to the de facto policy that Ethiopia has been imposing since 2011. In remarks at a press conference Sept. 15, he said, “The will of one party will not be imposed by creating a concrete situation that is not being dealt with within the framework of consultation and understanding.”
Days later, Shoukry spoke about the dam in an exclusive, wide-ranging interview Sept. 21 with Al-Monitor at the United Nations in New York, where he emphasized the “life and death” nature of the negotiations. “I don’t think anybody would agree that the Ethiopian development should come at the expense of the lives of Egyptians,” he said.
A diplomatic official familiar with the Renaissance Dam negotiations told Al-Monitor in a telephone interview, “The continued stumbling of the negotiations and the failure of commitment or implementation of any of the items of the agreements reached in the previous meetings at the political, technical and security levels have become a source of grave concern. It’s not easy, but the Egyptian negotiators have offered many solutions and middle ground visions to achieve the best interest of all parties by filling the dam reservoir in a way that doesn’t harm Egypt and benefits Ethiopia.”
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of this topic, added, “Egypt [gave up] many of its demands so as not to disrupt the course of negotiations, such as the World Bank intervention, which Ethiopia had rejected. Cairo has been dealing in good faith with all proposed visions and solutions, but the continued Ethiopian refusal, without offering any realistic alternative that reduces the risk of damages caused by the dam filling and operation, makes it difficult for negotiators to work [and] is a mere waste of time.”
The source went on, “Egypt will knock on all doors and use all international and regional diplomatic methods to guide the Ethiopian side to find a serious and comprehensive agreement on the filling, operation and management of the dam to safeguard the interests of the three parties (Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia) and make the dam damage tolerable.”
Regarding the preliminary results of Egypt’s international efforts, the source sees a strong understanding and support at the Arab and European levels for Egypt’s concerns. “Egypt will take other measures in other international forums, including the United Nations General Assembly meetings,” said the source.
The water ministers of the three countries will meet again Oct. 4-5 to again discuss terms of the agreement on filling and operating the dam.
A globalised solar-powered future is wholly unrealistic – and our economy is the reason why is elaborated on by Alf Hornborg, Professor of Human Ecology at Lund University.
Over the past two centuries, millions of dedicated people – revolutionaries, activists, politicians, and theorists – have been unable to curb the disastrous and increasingly globalised trajectory of economic polarisation and ecological degradation. This is perhaps because we are utterly trapped in flawed ways of thinking about technology and economy – as the current discourse on climate change shows.
Rising greenhouse gas emissions are not just generating climate change. They are giving more and more of us climate anxiety. Doomsday scenarios are capturing the headlines at an accelerating rate. Scientists from all over the world tell us that emissions in ten years must be half of what they were ten years ago, or we face apocalypse. Schoolchildren like Greta Thunberg and activist movements like Extinction Rebellion are demanding that we panic. And rightly so. But what should we do to avoid disaster?
Most scientists, politicians, and business leaders tend to put their hope in technological progress. Regardless of ideology, there is a widespread expectation that new technologies will replace fossil fuels by harnessing renewable energy such as solar and wind. Many also trust that there will be technologies for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and for “geoengineering” the Earth’s climate. The common denominator in these visions is the faith that we can save modern civilisation if we shift to new technologies. But “technology” is not a magic wand. It requires a lot of money, which means claims on labour and resources from other areas. We tend to forget this crucial fact.
I would argue that the way we take conventional “all-purpose” money for granted is the main reason why we have not understood how advanced technologies are dependent on the appropriation of labour and resources from elsewhere. In making it possible to exchange almost anything – human time, gadgets, ecosystems, whatever – for anything else on the market, people are constantly looking for the best deals, which ultimately means promoting the lowest wages and the cheapest resources in the global South.
It is the logic of money that has created the utterly unsustainable and growth-hungry global society that exists today. To get our globalised economy to respect natural limits, we must set limits to what can be exchanged. Unfortunately, it seems increasingly probable that we shall have to experience something closer to disaster – such as a semi-global harvest failure – before we are prepared to seriously question how money and markets are currently designed.
This article is part of Conversation Insights The Insights team generates long-form journalism derived from interdisciplinary research. The team is working with academics from different backgrounds who have been engaged in projects aimed at tackling societal and scientific challenges.
Take the ultimate issue we are facing: whether our modern, global, and growing economy can be powered by renewable energy. Among most champions of sustainability, such as advocates of a Green New Deal, there is an unshakeable conviction that the problem of climate change can be solved by engineers.
What generally divides ideological positions is not the faith in technology as such, but which technical solutions to choose, and whether they will require major political change. Those who remain sceptical to the promises of technology – such as advocates of radical downshifting or degrowth – tend to be marginalised from politics and the media. So far, any politician who seriously advocates degrowth is not likely to have a future in politics.
Mainstream optimism about technology is often referred to as ecomodernism. The Ecomodernist Manifesto, a concise statement of this approach published in 2015, asks us to embrace technological progress, which will give us “a good, or even great, Anthropocene”. It argues that the progress of technology has “decoupled” us from the natural world and should be allowed to continue to do so in order to allow the “rewilding” of nature. The growth of cities, industrial agriculture, and nuclear power, it claims, illustrate such decoupling. As if these phenomena did not have ecological footprints beyond their own boundaries.
Meanwhile, calls for a Green New Deal have been voiced for more than a decade, but in February 2019 it took the form of a resolution to the American House of Representatives. Central to its vision is a large-scale shift to renewable energy sources and massive investments in new infrastructure. This would enable further growth of the economy, it is argued.
So the general consensus seems to be that the problem of climate change is just a question of replacing one energy technology with another. But a historical view reveals that the very idea of technology is inextricably intertwined with capital accumulation, unequal exchange and the idea of all-purpose money. And as such, it is not as easy to redesign as we like to think. Shifting the main energy technology is not just a matter of replacing infrastructure – it means transforming the economic world order.
In the 19th century, the industrial revolution gave us the notion that technological progress is simply human ingenuity applied to nature, and that it has nothing to do with the structure of world society. This is the mirror image of the economists’ illusion, that growth has nothing to do with nature and so does not need to reckon with natural limits. Rather than seeing that both technology and economy span the nature-society divide, engineering is thought of as dealing only with nature and economics as dealing only with society.
The steam engine, for instance, is simply considered an ingenious invention for harnessing the chemical energy of coal. I am not denying that this is the case, but steam technology in early industrial Britain was also contingent on capital accumulated on global markets. The steam-driven factories in Manchester would never have been built without the triangular Atlantic trade in slaves, raw cotton, and cotton textiles. Steam technology was not just a matter of ingenious engineering applied to nature – like all complex technology, it was also crucially dependent on global relations of exchange.
This dependence of technology on global social relations is not just a matter of money. In quite a physical sense, the viability of the steam engine relied on the flows of human labour energy and other resources that had been invested in cotton fibre from South Carolina, in the US, coal from Wales and iron from Sweden. Modern technology, then, is a product of the metabolism of world society, not simply the result of uncovering “facts” of nature.
The illusion that we have suffered from since the industrial revolution is that technological change is simply a matter of engineering knowledge, regardless of the patterns of global material flows. This is particularly problematic in that it makes us blind to how such flows tend to be highly uneven.
This is not just true of the days of the British Empire. To this day, technologically advanced areas of the world are net importers of the resources that have been used as inputs in producing their technologies and other commodities, such as land, labour, materials, and energy. Technological progress and capital accumulation are two sides of the same coin. But the material asymmetries in world trade are invisible to mainstream economists, who focus exclusively on flows of money.
Ironically, this understanding of technology is not even recognised in Marxist theory, although it claims to be both materialist and committed to social justice. Marxist theory and politics tend toward what opponents refer to as a Promethean faith in technological progress. Its concern with justice focuses on the emancipation of the industrial worker, rather than on the global flows of resources that are embodied in the industrial machine.
This Marxist faith in the magic of technology occasionally takes extreme forms, as in the case of the biologist David Schwartzman, who does not hesitate to predict future human colonisation of the galaxy and Aaron Bastani, who anticipates mining asteroids. In his remarkable book Fully Automated Luxury Communism: A Manifesto, Bastani repeats a widespread claim about the cheapness of solar power that shows how deluded most of us are by the idea of technology.
Nature, he writes, “provides us with virtually free, limitless energy”. This was a frequently voiced conviction already in 1964, when the chemist Farrington Daniels proclaimed that the “most plentiful and cheapest energy is ours for the taking”. More than 50 years later, the dream persists.
Electricity globally represents about 19% of total energy use – the other major energy drains being transports and industry. In 2017, only 0.7% of global energy use derived from solar power and 1.9% from wind, while 85% relied on fossil fuels. As much as 90% of world energy use derives from fossil sources, and this share is actually increasing. So why is the long-anticipated transition to renewable energy not materialising?
One highly contested issue is the land requirements for harnessing renewable energy. Energy experts like David MacKay and Vaclav Smil have estimated that the “power density” – the watts of energy that can be harnessed per unit of land area – of renewable energy sources is so much lower than that of fossil fuels that to replace fossil with renewable energy would require vastly greater land areas for capturing energy.
In part because of this issue, visions of large-scale solar power projects have long referred to the good use to which they could put unproductive areas like the Sahara desert. But doubts about profitability have discouraged investments. A decade ago, for example, there was much talk about Desertec, a €400 billion project that crumbled as the major investors pulled out, one by one.
Today the world’s largest solar energy project is Ouarzazate Solar Power Station in Morocco. It covers about 25 square kilometres and has cost around US$9 billion to build. It is designed to provide around a million people with electricity, which means that another 35 such projects – that is, US$315 billion of investments – would be required merely to cater to the population of Morocco. We tend not to see that the enormous investments of capital needed for such massive infrastructural projects represent claims on resources elsewhere – they have huge footprints beyond our field of vision.
Also, we must consider whether solar is really carbon free. As Smil has shown for wind turbines and Storm van Leeuwen for nuclear power, the production, installation, and maintenance of any technological infrastructure remains critically dependent on fossil energy. Of course, it is easy to retort that until the transition has been made, solar panels are going to have to be produced by burning fossil fuels. But even if 100% of our electricity were renewable, it would not be able to propel global transports or cover the production of steel and cement for urban-industrial infrastructure.
And given the fact that the cheapening of solar panels in recent years to a significant extent is the result of shifting manufacture to Asia, we must ask ourselves whether European and American efforts to become sustainable should really be based on the global exploitation of low-wage labour, scarce resources and abused landscapes elsewhere.
Solar power is not displacing fossil energy, only adding to it. And the pace of expansion of renewable energy capacity has stalled – it was about the same in 2018 as in 2017. Meanwhile, our global combustion of fossil fuels continues to rise, as do our carbon emissions. Because this trend seems unstoppable, many hope to see extensive use of technologies for capturing and removing the carbon from the emissions of power plants and factories.
Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) remains an essential component of the 2016 Paris Agreement on climate change. But to envisage such technologies as economically accessible at a global scale is clearly unrealistic.
To collect the atoms of carbon dispersed by the global combustion of fossil fuels would be as energy-demanding and economically unfeasible as it would be to try to collect the molecules of rubber from car tires that are continuously being dispersed in the atmosphere by road friction.
The late economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen used this example to show that economic processes inevitably lead to entropy – that is, an increase in physical disorder and loss of productive potential. In not grasping the implications of this fact, we continue to imagine some miraculous new technology that will reverse the Law of Entropy.
Economic “value” is a cultural idea. An implication of the Law of Entropy is that productive potential in nature – the force of energy or the quality of materials – is systematically lost as value is being produced. This perspective turns our economic worldview upside down. Value is measured in money, and money shapes the way we think about value. Economists are right in that value should be defined in terms of human preferences, rather than inputs of labour or resources, but the result is that the more value we produce, the more inexpensive labour, energy and other resources are required. To curb the relentless growth of value – at the expense of the biosphere and the global poor – we must create an economy that can restrain itself.
The evils of capitalism
Much of the discussion on climate change suggests that we are on a battlefield, confronting evil people who want to obstruct our path to an ecological civilisation. But the concept of capitalism tends to mystify how we are all caught in a game defined by the logic of our own constructions – as if there was an abstract “system” and its morally despicable proponents to blame. Rather than see the very design of the money game as the real antagonist, our call to arms tends to be directed at the players who have had best luck with the dice.
I would instead argue that the ultimate obstruction is not a question of human morality but of our common faith in what Marx called “money fetishism”. We collectively delegate responsibility for our future to a mindless human invention – what Karl Polanyi called all-purpose money, the peculiar idea that anything can be exchanged for anything else. The aggregate logic of this relatively recent idea is precisely what is usually called “capitalism”. It defines the strategies of corporations, politicians, and citizens alike.
All want their money assets to grow. The logic of the global money game obviously does not provide enough incentives to invest in renewables. It generates greed, obscene and rising inequalities, violence, and environmental degradation, including climate change. But mainstream economics appears to have more faith in setting this logic free than ever. Given the way the economy is now organised, it does not see an alternative to obeying the logic of the globalised market.
The only way to change the game is to redesign its most basic rules. To attribute climate change to an abstract system called capitalism – but without challenging the idea of all-purpose money – is to deny our own agency. The “system” is perpetuated every time we buy our groceries, regardless of whether we are radical activists or climate change deniers. It is difficult to identify culprits if we are all players in the same game. In agreeing to the rules, we have limited our potential collective agency. We have become the tools and servants of our own creation – all-purpose money.
Despite good intentions, it is not clear what Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion and the rest of the climate movement are demanding should be done. Like most of us, they want to stop the emissions of greenhouse gases, but seem to believe that such an energy transition is compatible with money, globalised markets, and modern civilisation.
Is our goal to overthrow “the capitalist mode of production”? If so, how do we go about doing that? Should we blame the politicians for not confronting capitalism and the inertia of all-purpose money? Or – which should follow automatically – should we blame the voters? Should we blame ourselves for not electing politicians that are sincere enough to advocate reducing our mobility and levels of consumption?
Many believe that with the right technologies we would not have to reduce our mobility or energy consumption – and that the global economy could still grow. But to me, that is an illusion. It suggests that we have not yet grasped what “technology” is. Electric cars and many other “green” devices may seem reassuring but are often revealed to be insidious strategies for displacing work and environmental loads beyond our horizon – to unhealthy, low-wage labour in mines in Congo and Inner Mongolia. They look sustainable and fair to their affluent users but perpetuate a myopic worldview that goes back to the invention of the steam engine. I have called this delusion machine fetishism.
Redesigning the global money game
So the first thing we should redesign are the economic ideas that brought fossil-fueled technology into existence and continue to perpetuate it. “Capitalism” ultimately refers to the artefact or idea of all-purpose money, which most of us take for granted as being something about which we do not have a choice. But we do, and this must be recognised.
Since the 19th century, all-purpose money has obscured the unequal resource flows of colonialism by making them seem reciprocal: money has served as a veil that mystifies exploitation by representing it as fair exchange. Economists today reproduce this 19th-century mystification, using a vocabulary that has proven useless in challenging global problems of justice and sustainability. The policies designed to protect the environment and promote global justice have not curbed the insidious logic of all-purpose money – which is to increase environmental degradation as well as economic inequalities.
In order to see that all-purpose money is indeed the fundamental problem, we need to see that there are alternative ways of designing money and markets. Like the rules in a board game, they are human constructions and can, in principle, be redesigned. In order to accomplish economic “degrowth” and curb the treadmill of capital accumulation, we must transform the systemic logic of money itself.
National authorities might establish a complementary currency, alongside regular money, that is distributed as a universal basic income but that can only be used to buy goods and services that are produced within a given radius from the point of purchase. This is not “local money” in the sense of LETS or the Bristol Pound – which in effect do nothing to impede the expansion of the global market – but a genuine spanner in the wheel of globalisation. With local money you can buy goods produced on the other side of the planet, as long as you buy it in a local store. What I am suggesting is special money that can only be used to buy goods produced locally.
This would help decrease demand for global transports – a major source of greenhouse gas emissions – while increasing local diversity and resilience and encouraging community integration. It would no longer make low wages and lax environmental legislation competitive advantages in world trade, as is currently the case.
Immunising local communities and ecosystems from the logic of globalised capital flows may be the only feasible way of creating a truly “post-capitalist” society that respects planetary boundaries and does not generate deepening global injustices.
Re-localising the bulk of the economy in this way does not mean that communities won’t need electricity, for example, to run hospitals, computers and households. But it would dismantle most of the global, fossil-fuelled infrastructure for transporting people, groceries and other commodities around the planet.
This means decoupling human subsistence from fossil energy and re-embedding humans in their landscapes and communities. In completely changing market structures of demand, such a shift would not require anyone – corporations, politicians, or citizens – to choose between fossil and solar energy, as two comparable options with different profit margins.
To return to the example of Morocco, solar power will obviously have an important role to play in generating indispensable electricity, but to imagine that it will be able to provide anything near current levels of per capita energy use in the global North is wholly unrealistic. A transition to solar energy should not simply be about replacing fossil fuels, but about reorganising the global economy.
Solar power will no doubt be a vital component of humanity’s future, but not as long as we allow the logic of the world market to make it profitable to transport essential goods halfway around the world. The current blind faith in technology will not save us. For the planet to stand any chance, the global economy must be redesigned. The problem is more fundamental than capitalism or the emphasis on growth: it is money itself, and how money is related to technology.
Climate change and the other horrors of the Anthropocene don’t just tell us to stop using fossil fuels – they tell us that globalisation itself is unsustainable.
OPEC earned about $711 billion in net oil export revenues (unadjusted for inflation) in 2018
Saudi Arabia accounted for the largest share of total OPEC earnings, $237 billion
India only imports between 4.5 and 5 million barrels per day of oil, but it is shaping up to be the biggest competitive space for producers
OPEC is still making money, despite challenges coming from every which way.
Be it falling prices, market volatility, regional insecurity, trade wars, armed conflict, talks of recession, US production, electric vehicles and renewable energy, or US Iranian sanctions, OPEC still finds a way to generate billions in revenues.
Now, mixed with current production leaders are a few new players making a splash.
The 2018 net oil export revenues increased by 32% from the $538 billion earned in 2017, mainly as a result of the increase in average annual crude oil prices during the year and a slight increase in OPEC net oil exports.
Saudi Arabia accounted for the largest share of total OPEC earnings, $237 billion in 2018, representing one-third of total OPEC oil revenues.
EIA expects that OPEC net oil export revenues will decline to about $604 billion (unadjusted for inflation) in 2019, based on forecasts of global oil prices and OPEC production levels in EIA’s August 2019 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), according to Hellenic Shipping News.
EIA’s forecasts that OPEC crude oil production will average 30.1 million barrels per day (BPD) in 2019, 1.8 million BPD lower than in 2018.
For 2020, OPEC revenues are expected to be $580 billion, largely as a result of lower OPEC production.
Important countries to watch for in the oil sector
5. India—Right now India only imports between 4.5 and 5 million barrels per day of oil, but it is shaping up to be the biggest competitive space for producers.
India is the third-largest oil consumer in the world. Previously, the biggest competition ground for oil producers was for sales to China, but with 1.37 billion people, India has the potential to impact the market much like China has.
4. Saudi Arabia—This Arab Gulf nation owns the world’s most profitable (oil) company, houses the second-largest proven oil reserves in the world, and has the most spare capacity of any country. Oil from Saudi Arabia fuels much of east Asia. Aramco is also expanding its exports to India to compensate for lost Iranian oil.
2. China—This country is the second-largest consumer of oil and is the largest oil importer in the world at around 10.64 million barrels per day. China is such an important oil consumer that any indication that economic growth in China is slowing sends oil prices tumbling.
1. United States –The U.S. is currently producing oil at record levels (12.3 million barrels per day according to the EIA). This is being driven by the shale oil industry. The U.S has shown its ability to impact other countries’ oil business, as it did with Iran’s exports in recent months. Presidential tweets also impact prices.
Author Hadi Khatib is a business editor with more than 15 years’ experience delivering news and copy of relevance to a wide range of audiences. If newsworthy and actionable, you will find this editor interested in hearing about your sector developments and writing about it.
The pairing of wind and solar is emerging as a smart strategy to implement renewable energy sources with better economic feasibility.A Fine Couple They Are (Wind and Solar Power) as suggested by Jim Romeo would definitely affect this Energy Transition era if only in terms of duration.
The pairing of wind and solar power is an advantageous complement; the two benefit each other. The synergistic combination is an emerging trend in renewable energy and power generation as costs drop. The pairing of sustainable sources is in early stages, however. And the configuration still has challenges regarding return on investment (ROI), ease of implementation, and storage.
In western Minnesota, a 2-MW wind turbine and 500-kW solar installation—wind-solar hybrid project—is an early entrant to the wind-solar market and one of the first of its kind in the U.S. It was introduced at a cost of about $5 million with high expectations and the goal that Lake Region Electric Cooperative in Pelican Rapids would acquire the power for its 27,000 members.
The pioneering project got a boost amid the lower costs of solar. The power generation from both renewable sources is calculated to provide dividends on its investment.
According to market researcher Global Market Insights, hybrid solar-wind projects are expected to grow by 4% in the U.S. over the next five years to join a $1.5 billion global market. Some attribute the growth to the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference objectives, combined with lower costs of development and materials, and a keen interest by many nations to rely more on renewable energy sources. Because wind turbine power and solar both have excess capacity, together they offer far greater possibilities.
Lucrative but Limited
Renewables especially make economic sense in non-urban areas, where costs per kWh are higher, said Mike Voll, principal and sector lead for Smart Technologies at Stantec. “So, rural communities and remote locations, where energy prices often reach $0.40 to $0.45 per kilowatt-hour, actually see an ROI from these projects. When it comes to combining both wind and solar with storage, however, the list of locations is even smaller still. In a perfect world, we’d have a place that has excellent radiance with enough wind and low cloud cover, but the reality is there are very few locations that meet the geographic requirements. So even as the price continues to drop, there will still be significant limitations to pairing solar and wind.”
Despite limitations, renewables can work well in locations where everything clicks. A storage option is an essential component. “Adding energy storage can reduce intermittency of output, reshape the generation profile to match to load, and enable dispatch of the renewable energy to maximize revenue generation through ISO market participation or utility programs,” said Todd Tolliver, senior manager at ICF, a global consulting and technology services company headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia.
Tolliver said the economic viability of these systems is constrained by equipment, costs of storage, and limited or irregular revenue streams. But he explained that the most common combination today is solar plus battery storage, thanks to investment tax credit and incentive programs in certain markets that provide clear lower costs and better revenue streams. Still, wind power energy storage has challenges.
A new study reveals just how stunningly rapid the clean energy transition is.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) reported on Tuesday that renewables are now the cheapest form of new electricity generation across two thirds of the world — cheaper than both new coal and new natural gas power.
Equally remarkable, BNEF projects that by 2030, wind and solar will “undercut existing coal and gas almost everywhere.”
In other words, within a decade it will be cheaper to build and operate new renewable power plants than it will be to just keep operating existing fossil fuel plants — even in the United States.
The reason for this transformation is the remarkable drop in both solar and wind power prices this decade: Since 2010, wind power has dropped 49% in cost and solar plummeted 85%.
BNEF projects prices will continue to fall for the next decade and beyond, with the cost of solar panels and wind power dropping by another third by 2030. Overall, by 2050, the cost of solar electricity is expected to drop 63% compared to today, and the cost of wind will likely drop 48%.
Because of these ongoing price drops, the world is projected to invest a whopping $4.2 trillion in solar power generation in the next three decades. The result is that solar will jump from a mere 2% of global power generation today to a remarkable 22% in 2050.
Over the same three decades, global investment in wind power will likely hit $5.3 trillion, and wind is expected to rise from 5% of global electricity today to 26% in 2050.
The result is that we are shifting from a world today where two thirds of power generation is from fossil fuels to one three decades from now where two thirds is zero carbon. As BNEF puts it, we are “ending the era of fossil fuel dominance in the power sector.”
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