What to Consider When Comparing Energy Prices?

What to Consider When Comparing Energy Prices?

This is a good question that one should ask oneself before making any switch.  Needless to say, when comparing energy prices, the lower you can get your energy costs, the better. But is there anything else that consumers need to consider? What to consider when comparing Energy prices? 

Many in the MENA region, and all over the world, are looking for ways to save money on their energy bills. Indeed, many readers may have already invested in the means to develop their own clean energy to reduce their reliance on energy from the grid. But even if you’ve invested in solar panels or domestic wind turbines, you can still make substantial savings by switching energy suppliers regularly.

Here, we’ll look at some of the things you should keep in mind when comparing energy prices.

How often should I compare energy prices?

The good folks at Switch-Plan know a thing or two about helping consumers to compare energy prices. They help energy consumers in the UK and throughout Europe to save a small fortune on their energy bills every year. The Switch-Plan team recommends comparing energy prices and getting a new tariff every 12-18 months. This ensures that you get great value for money, while also helping to keep the energy market competitive.

Of course, when comparing energy prices, the cheaper a plan you can get, the better. But be wary of false economies.

As well as keeping an eye out for low prices, you should also consider…

How renewable is your energy?

Many eco-conscious energy consumers today prefer to get their energy from 100% renewable sources such as wind, solar or hydropower. The good news is that these green energy plans are often just as cheap (or cheaper) than plans that use fossil fuels. There are even energy tariffs that use 100% carbon-neutral gas. This may be carbon-offset or sourced from farm or animal waste (biomethane).

How flexible is your contract?

There are lots of different types of energy plans. Broadly speaking, however, they fall into two categories: fixed-rate and variable. Fixed-rate energy plans keep your energy spending rates locked in for a fixed period (usually 12-24 months). Variable-rate plans rise and fall along with the wholesale cost of energy. So your bills could go up or down at any time (although your supplier will need to provide at least 30 days’ notice).

It’s up to you to decide whether you value predictability or flexibility more.

How good is your prospective supplier’s customer service?

We all want great energy prices. But they can be poor compensation if we have to deal with substandard customer service. Make sure that you use relevant local resources to see how energy suppliers measure up in terms of their customer service. There’s more to a supplier than low prices. Make sure the lived experiences of real customers match the bold claims made on the supplier’s website!

Will you be charged a fee if you switch?

Finally, most (but not all) fixed-term energy contracts require customers to pay an early exit fee if they switch suppliers before their contract has ended. This may be offset by the savings you make from switching. However, it’s a good idea to check for early exit fees so that you can make a better-informed decision.

Solar, wind power to drive renewable energy growth this year

Solar, wind power to drive renewable energy growth this year

SUNBIZ informs that solar, wind power to drive renewable energy growth this year, as everyone the world over is finding out. The highly spoken of Energy Transition is happening before our very eyes. The highly expressed Energy Transition is happening before our very eyes, and this story is an illustration of it happening.

PETALING JAYA: Renewable installations in solar, wind and storage facilities are set to rise by 40% year on year to another record 190GW globally this year, accelerating from a 30% on-year expansion in 2020 despite project delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, predominantly driven by solar photovoltaic (PV) solutions, followed by offshore wind installations, according to Rystad Energy’s “Renewable Energy Trends” presentation.

In a note, AmInvestment Bank Research (AmResearch) said Asia is expected to be the main driver of renewable capacity increase with an addition of 80GW this year, followed by the United States at 55GW and Europe at 25GW. Asia, represented by China, will account for the largest cumulative renewable capacity of 630MW in 2021, twice Europe’s 320MW and 2.3 times North America’s 280MW.

Zooming in on the local scene, the research house pointed out that the shift towards renewable energy (RE) in Malaysia has been in progress over the past three years with Petronas’ investment in AmPlus, which operates over 600MW of solar capacity in India and Southeast Asia.

“Amongst local service providers, only Yinson has an operational RE division from its US$30 million investment for a 95% equity stake in Rising Son Energy, which has a 140MW solar farm in Bhadla Solar Park Phase II, Rajasthan, India. Yinson also recently signed an agreement with listed NTPC to develop a 190MW plant in nearby nearby Nokh Solar Park.

“As Uzma has just secured a 50MW solar project which will only be operational by end-2023, we expect the momentum to gather steam for renewable projects by local O&G providers as gearing concerns are being alleviated by an improving oil price environment,” it said.

Overall, AmResearch still holds an “overweight” call on the oil & gas sector, recommending Yinson for its strong earnings growth momentum from the full-year contributions of FPSO vessels Helang, off Sarawak, Abigail-Joseph in Nigeria and Anna Nery in Brazil, together with multiple charter opportunities in Brazil and Africa.

“We also like Dialog Group and Serba Dinamik Holdings due to their resilient non-cyclical tank terminal and maintenance-based operations.

“Our other ‘buy’ calls are Sapura Energy, which will complete its RM10 billion debt restructuring package soon and position the formidable EPCIC group to secure fresh global orders; and Petronas Gas, which offers highly compelling dividend yields from its optimal capital structure strategy and resilient earnings base.”

Meanwhile, AmResearch noted that the tariffs of power purchase agreements (PPA) for PV facilities are projected to drop in Asia Pacific (Apac), Middle East North Africa, Americas and Europe due to open bidding competition, falling material prices, increasing project sizes and economies of scale.

Apac’s solar PPA prices, currently above US$50/MWh, are the highest globally, compared with below US$50/MWh and US$30/MWh in Europe and Americas respectively. Over the longer term, Apac’s tariffs may be squeezed due to rising competition amid rising interest in India’s multiple plants.

However, the PPA prices for Apac wind utilities, currently below US$50/MWh, are expected to rise to US$75/MWh in 2022, driven by the extension of Vietnam’s feed-in tariff mechanism to 2023. Additionally, utility wind capex has remained steady over the past three years at US$1.5/W in 2020.

Together with the growth in renewable energy, global utility scale battery operations are expected to expand in tandem given the periods of unavailability in solar and wind electricity generation.

For 2021, global utility scale battery installations are projected to double to 12.5GW, then grow by 60% to 20GW in 2022 and 50% to 30GW in 2023.

Smart cities built with smart materials

Smart cities built with smart materials

ScienceMag’s article on how Smart cities built with smart materials by Rebecca Napolitano,  Wesley Reinhart, Juan Pablo Gevaudan could well be the palliative solution to the built environment’s inherent sustainability problematics. Per this wise counsel of the authors, smart technological usage is one of the many more imaginative ways to use innovative and vital materials to alleviate any fallout from the increasing urbanisation.

The picture above is for illustration and is of ZDNet elaborating on Why are Gulf nations investing heavily in smart cities? The proposed article could well be a reply.

Smart cities built with smart materials

Smart cities built with smart materials

Light and heat sensors on a building at the University of Southern Denmark adjust shutters to optimize indoor conditions.PHOTO: HUFTON+CROW/VIEW PICTURES/UNIVERSAL IMAGES GROUP/GETTY IMAGES

The Smart City Index (1) defines a smart city as “an urban setting that applies technology to enhance the benefits and diminish the shortcomings of urbanization for its citizens.” The top-ranked city, Singapore, has addressed urban challenges with information technology since 2014 through its Smart Nation Initiative (2). The influence of technology is reflected in the city’s open platform for sharing energy data, crowd-sourced location data for smart navigation, and even online forums for citizen participation in policy-making (2). The smart city concept requires the acquisition of massive amounts of data in real time, and large networks of smart devices must spread the burden of communication and processing evenly across the network to prevent information overload at its center. Opportunities to solve this challenge have recently emerged through the development of increasingly “smart materials” that can sense, process, and respond to environmental stimuli without centralized resources.

A recent market analysis predicted that the number of connected devices, sensors, and actuators that constitute the Internet of Things (IoT) will reach more than 46 billion in 2021, driven largely by reduction in hardware costs to as little as $1 per device (3). Inexpensive connected sensing devices measuring strain, temperature, and humidity (4), as well as the enhancement of indirect sensing methods that use computer vision and crowd-sourcing (5), provide vast amounts of data to quantify the built environment (6). The ability to continuously monitor the physical state of infrastructure with high resolution in time and space has exciting implications for sustainability and equity. Quantitative, data-driven decision-making can enable predictive maintenance in place of conventional intuition-based workflow, although such automated systems can also learn to replicate human biases (7).

However, efficient decision-making based on these data streams becomes limited by the burden of transmitting and processing the raw, unprioritized data. As the number of connected devices rises, smart cities have shifted from a hierarchical network architecture based on cloud computing to a more decentralized information ecosystem. In this so-called “fog computing” model, data processing is performed at the edge of the network to avoid costly communication with a central cloud server (8). Alternatively, “mist computing” represents an even more extreme paradigm in which data processing is handled by microprocessors attached directly to the sensors and actuators. One advantage of mist computing is a reduced burden on communications systems by constraining information to a “need-to-know basis.” This approach has an added sustainability benefit because communication among IoT devices accounts for as much as five times the power consumption necessary for the computation itself (9).

Smart cities built with smart materials

Managing structural data Infrastructure decision-making can benefit from distributed sensor data if data can be processed efficiently. Data management can benefit from “need-to-know” processing strategies, as illustrated for the construction of a subway system, where tunneling can create ground-surface subsidence that can undermine an overlying building. At the city scale, analysis of these data can lead to decisions to mitigate subsidence impact, such as stopping tunneling or adding underlying support.

GRAPHIC: V. ALTOUNIAN/SCIENCE

Orthogonal to these advances in IoT technology, multifunctional and responsive materials have been designed to substantially alter their shape or properties in response to external stimuli. When taken to the extreme, this concept results in “living materials,” which use biological organisms (10) as highly efficient chemical machines for sensing and responding to their environment. Such materials are engineered to sense and regulate their state at the microscopic scale to effect macroscopic structural or functional changes. A common function of smart or living materials is self-healing to improve the service life of a larger structure in support of its sustainability. For example, bacteria-triggered self-healing represents one of the most popularized concepts in living cementitious materials. Extensive research has been conducted on the use of extremophiles and engineered bacteria to imbue materials with the self-sensing capacity needed to trigger these self-healing properties (10).

In effect, these smart and living materials participate in an extreme version of the mist-computing model for structural health monitoring. Chemical gradients in the cement are detected, interpreted, and acted upon by means of incredibly low-power sensing and response mechanisms without increasing the communication and processing burden on the built environment. This latter point is critical because the electronic sensing and transmission of millimeter-scale chemical gradients across an entire smart city would absolutely overwhelm digital data processing systems. Information at this small scale is also irrelevant to decisions being made for an entire city block, so restricting it to an appropriate level reduces the cognitive load on stakeholders such as building managers and government policymakers (see the figure). This approach is analogous to how the human nervous system coordinates the contraction of many millions of cells through a hierarchy of control structures, rather than by consciously addressing individual muscle fibers.

Smart materials can also process data without the assistance of active biological matter. A fascinating example of computation in material substrates is the recent demonstration of photonic “metamaterials” (internally structured materials) that can solve complex mathematical equations (11). These devices exploit diffractive optics to leverage material microstructure into passive, all-optical transformations. A complementary idea is that of “mechanologic,” in which a mechanical metamaterial deforms in a preprogrammed way to combine computation and actuation (12). Given the rapid advancements in design and fabrication of these extraordinary materials, a next generation of smart materials may emerge with programmed thermal, optical, and mechanical responses acting as a self-sensing, self-actuating smart façade, or as a solar tracker to improve the efficiency of photovoltaic energy harvesting (13).

With connected sensors being deployed to provide real-time structural health monitoring of critical infrastructure [e.g., bridges, dams, residential and commercial buildings, and even temporary structures (14)], managing the flood of data is more important than ever to prevent smart cities from suffering “analysis paralysis.” Smart and living materials may push data processing to previously unimagined extremes, with the literal foundations of the built environment acting as analog-computing substrates. This approach should offer pronounced advantages for sustainability, including increased longevity of infrastructure, reduced waste from the proliferation of electronic sensors, and reduced power consumption from communications. Moreover, the current challenge to implementation of mist-computing infrastructures is tied to their complexity and size, which are too great to manage by centralized systems (15). Thus, autonomous smart materials present a compelling tool in achieving robust and sustainable structural health monitoring in smart cities of the future.

References and Notes:
  1. IMD, Smart City Index 2020—A Tool for Action, an Instrument for Better Lives for All Citizens (2020), p. 123. Google Scholar
  2. J. J. Woo, Technology and Governance in Singapore’s Smart Nation Initiative (Harvard Kennedy School, 2018). Google Scholar
  3. S. Barker, M. Rothmuller, “The Internet of Things: Consumer, Industrial & Public Services 2020–2024” (Juniper Research, 2020). Google Scholar
  4. V. Moustaka, A. Vakali, L. G. Anthopoulos, ACM Comput. Surv. 51, 103 (2018). Google Scholar
  5. C. Z. Dong, F. N. Catbas, Struct. Health Monit. 10.1177/1475921720935585 (2020). Google Scholar
  6. A. Salazar Miranda, Z. Fan, F. Duarte, C. Ratti, Comput. Environ. Urban Syst. 86, 101563 (2021). Google Scholar
  7. F. Duarte, P. deSouza, Harvard Data Sci. Rev. 10.1162/99608f92.b3fc5cc8 (2020). Google Scholar
  8. J. Santos, T. Wauters, B. Volckaert, F. De Turck, Entropy 20, 4 (2018). Google Scholar
  9. E. M. Dogo, A. F. Salami, C. O. Aigbavboa, T. Nkonyana, in Edge Computing: From Hype to Reality (Springer, 2019), pp. 107–132. Google Scholar
  10. P. Q. Nguyen, N. M. D. Courchesne, A. Duraj-Thatte, P. Praveschotinunt, N. S. Joshi, Adv. Mater. 30, 1 (2018). Google Scholar
  11. N. M. Estakhri, B. Edwards, N. Engheta, Science 363, 1333 (2019). Abstract/FREE Full TextGoogle Scholar
  12. B. Treml, A. Gillman, P. Buskohl, R. Vaia, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 115, 6916 (2018). Abstract/FREE Full TextGoogle Scholar
  13. F. M. Hoffmann, R. F. Molz, J. V. Kothe, E. O. B. Nara, L. P. C. Tedesco, Renew. Energy 115, 750 (2018). Google Scholar
  14. M. Flah, I. Nunez, W. Ben Chaabene, M. L. Nehdi, Arch. Comput. Methods Eng. 10.1007/s11831-020-09471-9 (2020). Google Scholar
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Acknowledgments: Thanks to Z. Ounaies for inspiring this research collaborations.

This is an article distributed under the terms of the Science Journals Default License.

World oil demand may have peaked in 2019

World oil demand may have peaked in 2019

S&P Global‘s article by Dania Saadi with a statement-title that World oil demand may have peaked in 2019 amid energy transition as per IRENA does not come down however informative as a surprise anymore. Its use will plummet by more than 75%, and its production to have plunged by 85% by 2050. It is even earlier, 2025, for the Natural gas demand.

World oil demand may have peaked in 2019 amid energy transition: IRENA

Dubai — Global oil demand may have hit the peak in 2019 and natural gas will follow suit around 2025, the director-general of International Renewable Energy Agency said March 16, as the energy transition gathers pace, echoing forecasts made by BP last year.

Under a 2050 scenario that meets the Paris Agreement’s commitment to limit global warming to 1.5 C, fuel use is forecast to decline by more than 75% if energy transition policies are enforced now, IRENA said in its World Energy Transitions Outlook.

Under the 1.5 C scenario, global oil production is projected to plummet by 85% to slightly above 11 million b/d by 2050 from current levels, with natural gas remaining the largest source of fossil fuel at about 52% of current levels, the Abu Dhabi-based organization said.

“In the last eight years, the installed capacity of renewables has been outpacing systemically the installed capacity of fossil fuels-related plants,” Francesco La Camera, director general of IRENA, said in a virtual media briefing. “There is a structural change that is already there. The energy transition is already in place, it is unstoppable.”

IRENA’s prediction of peak oil mirrors BP’s projection last year that the world may never return to the pre-pandemic oil demand level of about 100 million b/d. Demand for oil will be the biggest casualty from lower energy demand in the coming three decades as weaker economic growth and a faster shift to renewable energy accelerates the demise of oil-based transport fuels, BP said in its Energy Outlook 2020 published Sept. 14, 2020.

Bearish view

Natural gas will still be needed in the future for power generation and in some industries, IRENA said. Coal will be phased out by 2050, with gas supplying around 6% of power generation and nuclear energy around 4%.

“Fossil fuels still have roles to play, mainly in power and to an extent in industry, providing 19% of the primary energy supply in 2050,” IRENA said. “Around 70% of the natural gas is consumed in power/heat plants and blue hydrogen production.”

IRENA’s bearish view of fossil fuel demand contrasts with predictions from the International Energy Agency and OPEC.

Under the IEA’s last central forecast scenario published in November, world oil demand will rise to 106.4 million b/d in 2040 from 96.9 million b/d in 2018, with growth flattening out by 2030.

Last year, OPEC said for the first time that peak oil demand may be nigh, estimating that the world’s thirst for oil will stop growing in about 20 years.

With the pandemic prompting a re-examination of the oil market and countries becoming more aggressive on their sustainability targets, OPEC on Oct. 8 estimated that global demand would hit 109.3 million b/d in 2040 before declining to 109.1 million b/d in 2045 and plateauing “over a relatively long period.”

Renewable energy

S&P Global Platts Analytics sees global oil demand peaking in 2040 at around 114 million b/d before slipping to 109 million b/d in 2050 under a “most likely” scenario, some 5 million b/d lower than pre-crisis forecasts.

Use of fossil fuels is being whittled away by the rising adoption of renewable energy, energy efficiency and electrification, according to IRENA.

“Over 90% of the [decarbonization] solutions in 2050 involve renewable energy through direct supply, electrification, energy efficiency, green hydrogen and BECCS,” or biomass with carbon capture and storage, IRENA said. “Fossil-based CCS has a limited role to play, and the contribution of nuclear remains at the same levels as today.”

Under the 1.5 C scenario, electricity would become the main energy carrier with 50% of direct share of total energy use, up from the current level of 21%, IRENA said. Nearly 90% of electricity needs will be provided by renewables, up from 7% in 2018, with the remainder coming from gas and nuclear.

Wind and solar photovoltaic will constitute the biggest part of the power generation mix, supplying 63% of total electricity needs by 2050, with installed renewable generation capacity growing to 27,700 GW from 2,500 GW currently.

Hydrogen uptake

Electricity demand is forecast to grow over two-fold between 2018 and 2050 with the use of electricity in industry and buildings doubling and in transport jumping from zero to over 12,700 TWh, according to IRENA.

Hydrogen and its derivatives will make up 12% of final energy use by 2050 and 30% of electricity use will be dedicated to green hydrogen production and its derivatives, it said. The world will need almost 5,000 GW of hydrogen electrolyzer capacity by 2050 from just 0.3 GW now to achieve this level of hydrogen.

To achieve the 1.5 C scenario, the world will need to spend $33 trillion on top of the $98 trillion currently earmarked for energy systems investments. Some $24 trillion invested in fossil fuels need to be rerouted to energy transition technologies over the period to 2050, IRENA said.

Read more in the Editor’s Pritish Raj 

Implications for the Future Directions of International Water Law

Implications for the Future Directions of International Water Law

There are principles on all transboundary waterways, be they surface or of the aquifer type and they are taken into account in the United Nations Watercourses Convention Article 5, as the Convention states that utilization of an international watercourse equitably and reasonably accounts for all relevant factors and circumstances, including :

  • Geographic, hydrographic, hydrological, climatic, ecological and other elements of a natural character
  • The social and economic needs of the watercourse in the concerned States 
  • The population dependent on the waterway in the concerned State; 
  • The effects of the use or uses of the watercourse in one State on other States; 
  • Existing and potential uses of the watercourse; 
  • Conservation, protection, development and economy of the water resources of the watercourse and the cost of measures taken to that effect; and 
  • The availability of alternatives, of comparable value, to a particular planned or existing use. The availability of other options, of equal value, to a specific intended or existing service. 

The following essay by Raquella Thaman is a summary of her recently published monograph (under the same title), which appears in Brill Research Perspectives in International Water Law. In effect, the author reviews possible Implications for the Future Directions of International Water Law and concludes that the need for concerted global intervention to maintain the livability of Earth and increase resilience in the face of the rapidly changing availability of resources is vital.

The picture above is for illustration purpose and is that of the Nile bassin (the other watercourse controversy) with indication of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) location.

The Ilisu Dam and its Impact on the Mesopotamian Marshes of Iraq: Implications for the Future Directions of International Water Law

27 January 2021

The fate of the Mesopotamian Marshes of Iraq provides us with a case study on the functional deficits of the existing body of international water law in managing conflict over transboundary watercourses. This monograph argues that international collaboration over transboundary watercourses is imperative for maintaining peace and stability and should force us into thinking of new ways to address these newly emerging and growing challenges in the field.

Water is a transient and finite resource. Moving through the hydrologic cycle, each molecule may find its way from a transboundary watercourse on one continent to a municipal water supply on another, and then back again. It is often said that every drop we drink has already been consumed by one life form or another.

Implications for the Future Directions of International Water Law
The Hydrologic or Water Cycle.
Source: U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

One of the more perilous side effects of climate change is its threat to the water supply of hundreds of millions of people. In many regions the seasonal absence of rain has historically been compensated for by meltwater from glaciers and winter snowpack across international borders in distant mountain ranges. When these glaciers disappear, so will the water supply during the dry season.

As these pressures increase, the need for effective legal regimes to address the sharing of transboundary watercourses likewise increases. In some cases, the existing law governing the utilization of this ephemeral resource has proven inadequate to prevent conflict and ensure access to water and its benefits for people and ecosystems no matter where they lie along the length of the watercourse.

The history and ecology of the Tigris-Euphrates Basin, and the issues surrounding Turkey’s recent impoundment of water behind the Ilisu Dam on the Tigris, provide an example highlighting such challenges. While the need for collaborative approaches to sharing transboundary watercourses is evident, barriers to such collaboration are complex and sometimes deeply entrenched. Additionally, the responsibility of the international community for helping at risk communities maintain access to adequate water supplies cannot be overlooked.

The first few chapters of the monograph set forth the context of the problem. Chapter one briefly introduces the hydrologic cycle and current state of Earth’s ecological systems underlying the need for new developments in international water law. The second chapter is an overview of the Tigris-Euphrates river basin including its hydro-geography, climate and early history of water use. The third chapter describes the significance of the Mesopotamian Marshes themselves as a harbinger for the well-being of the people of Iraq. The fourth chapter examines the water projects that affect the Tigris-Euphrates Basin including controversy surrounding Turkey’s most recent filling of the Ilisu dam and the flooding of Hasankeyf.

Implications for the Future Directions of International Water Law
Map of Iraq with the Tigris and Euphrates River Basins.
Source: Library of Congress

Chapter five of the monograph outlines the law governing the Tigris-Euphrates Basin. The stance of the Tigris-Euphrates Basin states and their seeming embrace of outdated and conflicting approaches to resource allocation are examined.  Existing agreements between the states, both colonial era and post-WWII, and the application of the UN Watercourses Convention are then examined. Finally, other approaches to managing conflict over ecological conditions are examined including a brief analysis of the Rhine Salt Case and the human right to water recognized by the UN General Assembly in 2010.

Chapter six discusses the topic of collaborative water management using the illustrative example of the Senegal River Basin. Three examples of conflict over transboundary watercourses, one historical and two current, are then provided in order to illuminate some of the barriers to collaboration. The first is a nineteenth century dispute between the United States and Mexico over the water of the Rio Grande, which resulted in the production of the Harmon Doctrine. The second provides an example of upstream hydro-hegemony in an overview of the problems arising from China’s development of the upper Mekong River and its impact on those living in the lower Mekong Basin. The third example outlines the problem of downstream hydro-hegemony in the dispute between Ethiopia and Egypt, its downstream neighbor on the Nile, over the building of Ethiopia’s Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

In conclusion, the need for concerted global intervention to maintain the livability of Earth and increase resilience in the face of the rapidly changing availability of resources will be explored and the clear need for a unified collaborative approach to such intervention reiterated.

The monograph is dedicated to Ms. Fadia Daibes Murad (1966-2009); in recognition of the courage, rigor, and dynamic intellect with which she advocated both for fairness in access to water resources and for gender equity in Palestine and the Middle East.

Ms. Thaman is an attorney and teacher in California. She can be reached at r_thaman @ u.pacific.edu.