Energy storage boom stalls in Europe

Europe’s energy storage boom stalled last year due to a slowdown in large-scale schemes designed to store clean electricity from major renewable energy projects, according to the European Association for Storage of Energy (Ease).

A new study by consultants Delta-EE for Ease found that the European market grew by a total of 1 gigawatt-hours in 2019, a significant slowdown compared with 2018, when the energy storage market exceeded expectations to grow by 1.47GWh.

The slowdown in 2019 has emerged amid rising concern that the outbreak of the coronavirus may stall the rollout of clean energy technologies in 2020, dealing a double blow to the clean energy industry.

The 2019 downturn was particularly marked for large-scale energy storage projects which connect directly to energy grids, and can help make better use of renewable energy by storing the clean electricity to use when wind and solar power is not available.

These large, utility-scale projects often require planning permission, government financial support or procurement tenders to move ahead. Meanwhile, the rollout of home battery kits, which relies far less on policy support, remained a fast-growing market.

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Is hydrogen the solution to net-zero home heating?

On 27 June 2019, the energy and clean growth minister Chris Skidmore signed papers that committed the UK to reduce carbon emissions to effectively nothing by 2050. If we are to stand any chance of meeting this target, known as “net zero”, there is one enormous challenge that we will have to tackle: home heating.

Warming our homes is responsible for between a quarter and a third of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. That’s more than 10 times the amount of CO2 created by the aviation industry. Around 85% of homes now use gas-fired central heating, and a large proportion of gas cooking still takes place. Greening this system is a huge challenge by any measure. But if recent reports are to be believed, there could be a simple and efficient way to do it: change from using natural gas to hydrogen gas.

Hydrogen is abundant in the natural world and according to its advocates could power the next generation of gas appliances cleanly and efficiently.

“The attraction of hydrogen is that for a lot of consumers, they wouldn’t notice any difference. Customers would continue to use a boiler to heat their homes in a similar manner to natural gas,” says Robert Sansom of the Institution of Engineering and Technology’s energy policy panel. He is the lead author on a study conducted by the institute called Transitioning to Hydrogen.

Together with colleagues, Sansom assessed the engineering risks and uncertainties associated with swapping our gas network to hydrogen. Their conclusion is that there is no reason why repurposing the gas network to hydrogen cannot be achieved.

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Carbon emissions fall as electricity producers move away from coal

Carbon emissions from the global electricity system fell by 2% last year, the biggest drop in almost 30 years, as countries began to turn their backs on coal-fired power plants.

A new report on the world’s electricity generation revealed the steepest cut in carbon emissions since 1990 as the US and the EU turned to cleaner energy sources.

Overall, power from coal plants fell by 3% last year, even as China’s reliance on coal plants climbed for another year to make up half the world’s coal generation for the first time.

Coal generation in the US and Europe has halved since 2007, and last year collapsed by almost a quarter in the EU and by 16% in the US.

The report from climate thinktank Ember, formerly Sandbag, warned that the dent in the world’s coal-fired electricity generation relied on many one-off factors, including milder winters across many countries.

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Let’s enjoy some good climate news: the block on UK onshore wind farms is no more | Max Wakefield

On Monday, the government did something remarkable. In the windiest country in Europe, it finally ended a five-year block on new onshore wind turbines. It’s a victory for campaigners, and anyone who wants action on the climate crisis and cares about lower energy bills in future.

The government has hopefully ended a strategy – begun by David Cameron in 2015 – of making energy policy in direct contradiction to public opinion. No two issues define this tendency more than the government’s seemingly unshakeable support for fracking – and the insistent de facto ban on new onshore wind turbines.

Of course, it didn’t actually ban new onshore wind turbines in 2015. Making them illegal would have been absurd. Instead, post-election, it swiftly attacked from two angles. First, it imposed onerous planning barriers on new wind projects in England, which led planning applications to shrivel by 95% by 2018. Second, it prevented onshore wind projects from bidding for the kind of long-term clean energy contracts that are available to other power sources like nuclear and offshore wind farms that are needed to get them built. Perversely, this was only possible by also blocking solar power from the auctions – meaning the two cheapest sources of clean energy were suddenly out in the cold.

In subsequent years, the government’s own in-depth attitude trackers showed public support for fracking plummeting as low as 15% by 2018, yet it backed the industry to the hilt – even proposing at one point to make fracking wells “permitted developments”, effectively reducing them to the planning status of a garden wall. Over the same period, 75% of the public supported onshore wind turbines – by this point cheaper than any source of power from fossil fuels. The government response was to look the other way, despite the UK having a world-class wind resource, and new turbines being the cheapest way to provide power for its citizens.

That was until the announcement on Monday that the next round of clean energy auctions, to be held in 2021, would include both onshore wind and solar once more. These auctions award contracts that effectively set a floor price for power sold from new projects, which in effect acts as a subsidy over the lifetime of the project if the floor price is higher than the market price for power. Onshore wind is now so cheap its floor price is expected to be at, or even below, current market prices. To translate, that means new onshore wind projects should be free of government subsidy, another bell tolling on the future of fossil fuels.

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Thousands of people in the UK are dying from the cold, and fuel poverty is to blame | Owen Jones

A society that lets thousands of its citizens die from needless, preventable causes is broken. Every day we wake up to increasingly alarming headlines about coronavirus, but where is the panic about the tens of thousands who are already dying unnecessarily? Britain’s rate of excess winter deaths is twice that of Finland, yet London’s average temperature in January is 10C higher than that of Helsinki.

“Excess winter deaths” is a clinical phrase lacking in humanity: it refers to the increased numbers of people sent to their graves in colder months. Such is our damning reality that, when adjusted for seasonal temperature differences, Britain has the worst record in Europe apart from Ireland.

On average, there are 32,000 more deaths between December and March than the rest of the year. Many have perished because of the refusal of a society with abundant wealth and resources to provide for its most vulnerable citizens. An average of 9,700 deaths each year are believed to be caused by living in a cold house, according to research by National Energy Action (NEA) and the environmental group E3G. According to its figures, that is as many as those whose lives are cut short by breast or prostate cancer. While, sadly, we do not have the ability to cure all forms of cancer, we do have the means to ensure all have a warm home. Indeed, 6,900 of those deaths were linked to the 25% coldest homes in the country.

Let us be frank. If thousands of people were dying needlessly each year in affluent neighbourhoods and suburbs, wouldn’t this be treated as a national emergency, and wouldn’t action have been taken sooner?

Poverty kills: this isn’t hyperbole, but fact. Some 10% of the total deaths, significantly more than 3,000, are directly linked to fuel poverty itself. These are older people – perhaps those who survived war, and who helped build the country – dying of cold because they don’t have the money to pay their energy bills.

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The European Green Deal will bypass the poor and go straight to the rich | Daniela Gabor

When Josep Borrell, the EU’s newly appointed foreign policy chief, recently caused outrage by dismissing young climate activists as flaky sufferers of “Greta syndrome”, he made not just a serious error of judgment but a serious mistake in macroeconomics. It was a mistake that is symptomatic of the dire state of European economic debate after a decade of austerity and schwarze Null (balanced budget) ideas.

“The idea that young people are seriously committed to fighting climate change – we could call it the ‘Greta syndrome’ – allows me to doubt that,” Borrell said, before going on to question their naivety about the cost of tackling the climate crisis.

“I would like to know if young people demonstrating in Berlin … are willing to lower their living standards to offer compensation to Polish miners, because if we fight against climate change for real they will lose their jobs and will have to be subsidised.”

In Romania, mining unions complain that measures intended to 'reskill’ miners, tested for the past 15 years, only benefitted decarbonisation firms

For Borell, greening the European economy is a zero-sum game, in which paying for the move to a low-carbon economy must come out of the pockets of German taxpayers.

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'Beast from the east' cold snap led to spike in Britain's emissions

Heating Britain’s draughty homes during the “beast from the east” caused greenhouse gas emissions to rise by 2.5m tonnes in 2018, or half of the total emissions of Albania.

Official figures showed the emissions from homes and public buildings rose sharply as a result of a Siberian weather system, in part because many still rely on gas heating and subpar insulation.

The cold snap in early 2018 caused emissions from homes to rise by 4% from the year before, according to the government’s data, or the equivalent of a small country’s annual emissions.

National Energy Action (NEA), a fuel poverty charity, urged the government to make good on its election promises to help improve home energy efficiency before the UK hosts the next round of international UN climate talks in Glasgow this year.

Peter Smith, a director at the NEA, said UK residential emissions “are rising at a time when the world is looking to us for global leadership” on the climate crisis.

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Ofgem sets out nine-point plan to prioritise climate crisis

Britain’s energy regulator has said it will change how it governs the industry to help meet the government’s climate targets, after coming under fire for failing to prioritise the climate emergency.

The regulator published a wide-ranging climate action plan on Monday, which aims to help get 10m electric vehicles on our roads by 2030 and support a fourfold increase in offshore wind generation, while protecting homes from rising energy bills.

The nine-point manifesto also includes plans to support low-carbon home heating, tariffs that encourage homes to help balance the energy system, and a crackdown on “greenwash” energy deals.

Ofgem’s incoming chief executive, Jonathan Brearley, set out the regulator’s climate manifesto after critics warned that its outdated statutory duties were not aligned with the government’s climate policies.

Ofgem was set up to regulate energy companies and safeguard consumer interests, often against price increases. The regulator admitted that it faces trade-offs between supporting ambitious green investments – paid for through energy bills – and the need to protect homes from rising costs.

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