A report commissioned by international union coalition Industrial examines the geopolitics of fossil fuel producing countries (mainly, the United States, China, Europe and Russia) and the investments and performance of the Oil Majors (Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Total, as well as nationally-owned PetroChina, Gazprom and Equinor). Energy transition, national strategies, and oil companies: what are the impacts for workers? was published in November 2020, with the research updated to reflect the impacts of Covid-19.
In addition to a thorough examination of state and corporate actions, the report asked union representatives from four oil companies about how workers understand the energy transformation and its impact on their own jobs, and whether the concept of Just Transition has become part of their union’s agenda.
Some highlights of the responses:
“the union members interviewed showed little knowledge about either the risks that the current transition process can generate for the industrial employee, or about the union discussion that seeks to equate the concern with the decarbonisation of the economy with the notions of equity and social justice. In some cases, even the term “Just Transition” was not known to respondents.”
Their lack of knowledge regarding the Just Transition can be justified by the fact that they do not believe that there will be any significant change in the energy mix of these companies.
Regarding information about energy transitions within the companies, “Managers are included, but the bottom of the work chain is not”
Lacking corporate policies or support, some employees feel compelled to take responsibility for their own re-training
The researchers conclude that: “Far from being just a statement of how disconnected workers are from environmental issues, these researches reveal a window of opportunity for union movements to act in a better communication strategy with their union members, drawing their attention to the climate issue and transforming their hopes for job stability and better working conditions into an ecologically sustainable political agenda.”
The report was commissioned by Industrial and conducted by the Institute of Strategic Studies of Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuels (Ineep), a research organization created by Brazil’s United Federation of Oil and Gas Workers (FUP).
Overview: Transforming Land and Sea for a More Sustainable World
Aerial photos often document the destruction of the natural world. But these striking satellite images show how countries are beginning to respond to the global environmental crisis by restoring ecosystems, expanding renewable energy, and building climate resiliency infrastructure.
17 December 2020
As the global population nears 8 billion, the human footprint can be seen in almost every corner of the Earth. Logging roads cut deep into the Amazon rainforest. Plastics swirl in remote parts of the ocean. The world’s largest gold mine is carved out of the mountains of Indonesia.
Satellite and aerial images have captured much of this destruction, often in startling and unsettling images. But a new collection of photos offers a different view: Images of places where efforts are underway to slow or even reverse the damage we have done to the planet — massive wind and solar energy facilities being built on a vast scale; sea walls erected to hold back rising waters; an ambitious tree planting campaign to help stop the advance of desertification in sub-Saharan Africa. When seen from above, these cutting-edge projects are stunning and starkly beautiful.
These early markers of a transformation to a more sustainable world are captured in a new collection of photos published in the book Overview Timelapse: How We Change the Earth. Co-author Benjamin Grant says the scale of the innovation on display is indicative of how quickly society can tackle environmental challenges when it is motivated. “If you get the right momentum and the right belief behind a certain idea, change can happen quickly,” says Grant. “And it’s not necessarily all change for the negative, there can be change for the positive as well.”
The Oosterscheldekering, translated as the Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier, is the largest of a series of 13 dams designed to protect the Netherlands from flooding from the North Sea. It was constructed in response to the widespread damage and loss of life due to the North Sea flood of 1953. The barrier spans approximately 5.6 miles and uses large, sliding gate–type doors that can be closed during surging tides.
A year of progress (2018-2019) in the Great Green Wall initiative, a massive tree-planting initiative that aims to stop the march of desertification in Africa’s Sahel region on the southern edge of the Sahara. In an area impacted by worsening droughts, food scarcity, and climate migration, the project intends to restore 250 million acres of degraded land by 2030 by planting a 5,000-mile tree line, such as this section along the border of Mauritania and Senegal.
Blades for wind turbines grouped together at a manufacturing facility in Little Rock, Arkansas. Individual blades are transported from this facility on top of trucks to wind farms and then assembled on-site. The longest blades seen here are 350 feet long, or 1.3 times the length of a New York City block.
For decades, the waters of Nanri Island in the South China Sea have been cultivated for the growth of kelp and seaweed and the raising of abalone (large sea snails). Since 2015, offshore wind turbines have been operating amid the fishing nets that surround the Chinese island, with minimal effect on aquaculture production.
The Fântânele-Cogealac Wind Farm in Romania is the largest onshore wind farm in Europe. The facility is constructed in the midst of canola fields, demonstrating the type of dual-land use possible with renewable energy. With 240 turbines, the wind farm generates 10 percent of Romania’s renewable energy production.
A before and after look at the installation of solar panels atop the Westmont Distribution Center in San Pedro, California. The 2 million square feet of panels have a bifacial design, meaning they can collect reflected light from the surface of the roof in addition to direct sunlight. This enables the panels to generate up to 45 percent more power than traditional rooftop solar panels and power 5,000 nearby homes.
An aerial view of the $6-billion MOSE system in Venice, Italy, a network of 78 steel gates designed to hold back sea level rise and protect the city from storm surges from the Adriatic Sea. Venice, built on top of a lagoon, already experiences regular flooding as high tides bring water into the city’s streets. The MOSE system, scheduled for completion in 2022, will be capable of stopping tides up to 9.8 feet.
The Sustainable City is a complex in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, built to be the first net-zero-emissions development in the country. The area is home to roughly 2,700 people with housing, offices, retail, health care, and food shopping all on-site. Eleven “biodome” greenhouses generate produce for the complex’s residents, a passive cooling system keeps energy requirements low, and all houses come with solar panels and UV-reflective paint to reduce heat buildup.
It has, in the recent past, been question of supplying Electricity from North Africa with notably the quickly miscarried project of Desertec. Could there be a revived or rebirth of the same or potentially the inception of the same? Would this explain the long and quiet convalescence of the Algerian president in Germany? In the meantime, kinimodin his WP page, wonders whether Energy from North Africa: h2 or hvdc?
The German energy demand is currently only covered to 17 % from renewable sources, albeit with an increasing tendency of half a percent per year (statista.de).
So 83 % are still missing for a complete decarbonization. The majority of this, namely 71 % of the total requirement, is currently covered by imports (weltenergierat.de). To do this, writes pv-magazine.de, we have to increase our photovoltaic area tenfold and our wind energy generation four times – a goal that many consider unattainable due to the acceptance problems of Germans.
One way out might be to import electricity and hydrogen on a large scale in the future instead of oil and gas. Then the gigantic solar fields would not cover German meadows, but Spanish, North African or Saudi Arabian desert areas, a win-win solution. Another advantage are supposedly the costs: since the capacity factor in Germany is only around 0.1, i.e. a 1 kW system only produces as much electricity in 10 hours as it would produce with one hour of full power, this factor in North Africa is 0.2 or higher (globalsolaratlas.com). For the same annual amount of energy, only half as much solar panel space is required, which is why solar power produced there costs only about half – or less. The countries there would have a slight additional income (which of course would increase the energy price again a little) and we would be rid of some of our energy worries.
There are roughly two paths for this solution:
Electrolytically produced hydrogen, that is either liquefied directly or converted to ammonia with atmospheric nitrogen and then liquefied – which requires slightly less complex transport ships. It can also be transported by pipeline.
Direct transmission of the solar power, perhaps buffered with storage for the hours after sunset, via HVDC lines.
What about the costs?
Renewable electricity is considerably cheaper in the MENA region (Middle East, North Africa) and southern Europe than here. In Portugal, solar power projects for 1.12 euro cents / kWh were agreed this year. In 2030, solar electricity costs are likely to be well below 1 c / kWh. In Germany, the electricity production costs for solar power are already below 4 c / kWh (solarify.de). In its position paper, the Federal Association of the New Energy Industry expects solar power production costs in Germany to be around 2.5 c / kWh, with storage adding another 1 ± 0.5 c.
Electricity can be transmitted with high voltage direct current (HVDC) lines over thousands of kilometers with little loss. In China there are some very long connections that bring wind power from the west to the industrial zones in the east. Starting in 2027, Singapore will receive a fifth of its electricity from a gigantic Australian solar field via the Suncable project – via a 3700 km long HVDC submarine cable. This electricity is supposed to cost 3.4 UScent / kWh. A storage facility in Australia will then still provide electricity in the evening hours (Forbes).
Generally, a 3000 km line adds 1.5 – 2.5 c / kWh to the electricity price (EIA study).
This means that the transport costs for MENA electricity are higher than the corresponding doubling of the German solar area (in 2030).
The cost of hydrogen consists of the cost of electricity, the cost of the electrolysis, which is mainly determined by the high investment for the electrolysers, and the transport costs.
For 2030 we can estimate electricity costs of 1 c / kWh for the south and 2.5 c / kWh for Germany. Storage costs of 1 c / kWh that may be reasonable are incurred everywhere.
The electrolyser costs in 2030 are given by Prognos as 2 – 8 c / kWh, in the EWI study with 1.5 – 2.4 c / kWh. They should be the same for all manufacturing regions.
According to the EWI study, the transport method is crucial for transport costs. If an existing pipeline can be rededicated and used for hydrogen, as is the case for southern Spain, they are low at around 0.4 c / kWh. However, if a ship has to be used, they rise to around 3 c / kWh because of the liquefaction required for this – or the conversion into ammonia and the subsequent liquefaction and the use of specialized ships.
With a little optimism we will end up with a hydrogen price of around 5 c/kWh for local production, around 4 c/kWh for southern Spain (pipeline transport) and around 6 c/kW for MENA production.
Electricity via HVDC would cost around 3.5 c/kWh, similar to the Sunline project, which roughly corresponds to the price for locally generated electricity.
Facit: Electricity from the south is not cheaper for us than local electricity because the electricity transport eats up the cost advantage. For H2 we can save a small cost advantage with pipeline transport if the pipeline already exists and only needs to be rededicated. In the case of ship transport, however, the hydrogen becomes considerably more expensive.
Since we will need a lot of electricity and also hydrogen for the decarbonisation of the economy, it may be necessary to obtain electricity, hydrogen or both from the south due to competition for land. Here, southern Spain is the cheapest export region, as both electricity and hydrogen transport infrastructure already exist. Electricity from North Africa would best be transported to Europe via HVDC and only converted into hydrogen there, because the transport costs for hydrogen by ship would be higher.
Hybrid technology trial aims for smooth integration of renewable energy by Professional Engineering is an eye opener into what is currently going on behind the scene.
4 December 2020
A new hybrid system will inject or absorb energy from the transmission network to maintain voltage levels as renewable power levels fluctuate.
The technology, being tested in a new year-long trial at Hitachi ABB Power Grids, could aid the smooth transition from conventional energy generation to renewable power by compensating for variable sources such as wind and solar. SP Energy Networks, the University of Strathclyde and the Technical University of Denmark are also involved in the trial.
The system combines a static compensator (statcom) with a synchronous condenser. The result can deliver a combination of fast reaction, spinning capacity and short circuit control, injecting or absorbing energy to keep voltage levels within the required limits. It will provide a spinning reserve over a few seconds until other resources, such as batteries or reserve generators, can be brought online.
Electricity regulator Ofgem funded the Phoenix project, which started in 2018. The outcome of the project, including the new trial, is expected to contribute cumulative savings of over 62,000 tonnes of carbon emissions, equivalent to the electricity use of over 6,000 homes.
Hitachi ABB Power Grids installed the hybrid solution, a strategic 275 kilovolt (kV) substation on SP Energy Networks’ transmission network near Glasgow. The project partners will evaluate the installation’s performance over the year-long trial.
“While power stations produce a steady and constant flow of energy, renewable energy generators like wind and solar can fluctuate as they respond to different weather conditions,” said Niklas Persson, managing director of Hitachi ABB Power Grids’ grid integration.
“This pioneering hybrid solution combines existing technology with an innovative control system that will enable a reliable and stable energy supply, while accelerating the UK towards a carbon neutral future.”
Colin Taylor, director of processes and technology at SP Energy Networks, said: “I’m very proud that we have been able to drive forward with the Phoenix project this year, despite the recent pandemic and its challenges.
“This world-first innovative project has just reached a key milestone following the commencement of its live trial. Technology like this allows us to accommodate even more renewable generation on our electricity system while maintaining levels of system stability and resilience.”
Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
A host of countries have recently announced major commitments to significantly cut their carbon emissions, promising to reach “net zero” in the coming years. The term is becoming a global rallying cry, frequently cited as a necessary step to successfully beat back climate change, and the devastation it is causing.
What is net zero and why is it important?
Put simply, net zero means we are not adding new emissions to the atmosphere. Emissions will continue, but will be balanced by absorbing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere.
Practically every country has joined the Paris Agreement on climate change, which calls for keeping the global temperature to 1.5°C above pre-industrial era levels. If we continue to pump out the emissions that cause climate change, however, temperatures will continue to rise well beyond 1.5, to levels that threaten the lives and livelihoods of people everywhere.
This is why a growing number of countries are making commitments to achieve carbon neutrality, or “net zero” emissions within the next few decades. It’s a big task, requiring ambitious actions starting right now.
Net zero by 2050 is the goal. But countries also need to demonstrate how they will get there. Efforts to reach net-zero must be complemented with adaptation and resilience measures, and the mobilization of climate financing for developing countries.
So how can the world move toward net zero?
The good news is that the technology exists to reach net zero – and it is affordable.
A key element is powering economies with clean energy, replacing polluting coal – and gas and oil-fired power stations – with renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar farms. This would dramatically reduce carbon emissions. Plus, renewable energy is now not only cleaner, but often cheaper than fossil fuels.
A wholesale switch to electric transport, powered by renewable energy, would also play a huge role in lowering emissions, with the added bonus of slashing air pollution in the world’s major cities. Electric vehicles are rapidly becoming cheaper and more efficient, and many countries, including those committed to net zero, have proposed plans to phase out the sale of fossil-fuel powered cars.
Other harmful emissions come from agriculture (livestock produce significant levels of methane, a greenhouse gas). These could be reduced drastically if we eat less meat and more plant-based foods. Here again, the signs are promising, such as the rising popularity of “plant-based meats” now being sold in major international fast-food chains.
Reducing emissions is extremely important. To get to net zero, we also need to find ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Here again, solutions are at hand. The most important have existed in nature for thousands of years.
These “nature-based solutions” include forests, peatbogs, mangroves, soil and even underground seaweed forests, which are all highly efficient at absorbing carbon. This is why huge efforts are being made around the world to save forests, plant trees, and rehabilitate peat and mangrove areas, as well as to improve farming techniques.
Who is responsible for getting to net zero?
We are all responsible as individuals, in terms of changing our habits and living in a way which is more sustainable, and which does less harm to the planet, making the kind of lifestyle changes which are highlighted in the UN’s Act Now campaign.
The private sector also needs to get in on the act and it is doing so through the UN Global Compact, which helps businesses to align with the UN’s environmental and societal goals.
It’s clear, however, that the main driving force for change will be made at a national government level, such as through legislation and regulations to reduce emissions.
Many governments are now moving in the right direction. By early 2021, countries representing more than 65 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions and more than 70 per cent of the world economy, will have made ambitious commitments to carbon neutrality.
The European Union, Japan and the Republic of Korea, together with more than 110 other countries, have pledged carbon neutrality by 2050; China says it will do so before 2060.
Some climate facts:
The earth is now 1.1°C warmer than it was at the start of the industrial revolution. We are not on track to meet agreed targets in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, which stipulated keeping global temperature increase well below 2 °C or at 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.
2010-2019 is the warmest decade on record. On the current path of carbon dioxide emissions, the global temperature is expected to increase by 3 to 5 degrees Celsius by the end of century. To avoid the worst of warming (maximum 1.5°C rise), the world will need to decrease fossil fuel production by roughly 6 per cent per year between 2020 and 2030. Countries are instead planning and projecting an average annual increase of 2 per cent.
Climate action is not a budget buster or economy-wrecker: In fact, shifting to a green economy will add jobs. It could yield a direct economic gain of US$26 trillion through to 2030 compared with business-as-usual. And this is likely to be a conservative estimate.
Are these commitments any more than just political statements?
These commitments are important signals of good intentions to reach the goal, but must be backed by rapid and ambitious action. One important step is to provide detailed plans for action in nationally determined contributions or NDCs. These define targets and actions to reduce emissions within the next 5 to 10 years. They are critical to guide the right investments and attract enough finance.
So far, 186 parties to the Paris Agreement have developed NDCs. This year, they are expected to submit new or updated plans demonstrating higher ambition and action. Click here to see the NDC registry.
Is net zero realistic?
Yes! Especially if every country, city, financial institution and company adopts realistic plans for transitioning to net zero emissions by 2050.
The COVID-19 pandemic recovery could be an important and positive turning point. When economic stimulus packages kick in, there will be a genuine opportunity to promote renewable energy investments, smart buildings, green and public transport, and a whole range of other interventions that will help to slow climate change.
But not all countries are in the same position to affect change, are they?
That’s absolutely true. Major emitters, such as the G20 countries, which generate 80 per cent of carbon emissions, in particular, need to significantly increase their present levels of ambition and action.
Also, keep in mind that far greater efforts are needed to build resilience in vulnerable countries and for the most vulnerable people; they do the least to cause
climate change but bear the worst impacts. Resilience and adaptation action do not get the funding they need, however.
Even as they pursue net-zero, developed countries must deliver on their commitment to provide $100 billion dollars a year for mitigation, adaptation and resilience in developing countries.Unsplash/Daniel Moqvist National governments are the main drivers of change to reduce harmful emissions.
It is a leading source of scientific findings and research on climate change.
Within developing countries, it assists governments with the practicalities of establishing and monitoring NDCs, and taking measures to adapt to climate change, such as by reducing disaster risks and establishing climate-smart agriculture.
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