Combustion Industry NewsFrom the IFRF's correspondent in Australia
From the Sydney office
Contributed by Patrick Lavery
Australia, Friday 11th August 2017
Large European fossil-fired power plants have been given a four year timeframe to meet new air pollution standards released by the European Commission, after a five-year consultation period with industry and environmental NGOs. Coal, gas, oil and peat fired power plants over 50 MW output capacity, as well as district heating plants and offshore rigs, will have to implement emissions reducing best available techniques (BAT) that are economically feasible by mid-2021. The EC will hope that the new Industrial Emissions Directive will lead to a reduction in the estimated annual 430,000 premature deaths across Europe due to air quality and the 30% of Europeans exposed to harmful air pollutant concentrations. The new requirements will put a further burden of compliance on the 3,500 large coal-fired plants in Europe, perhaps to the point that any further investment in them will be considered uneconomic, forcing their closure.
The Financial Times has examined the current US-Russia tensions from the angle of the supply of gas to the huge market that is Europe. Russia’s Gazprom is the dominant supplier of gas to the area, enjoying competitive advantages in proximity, the ability to supply by pipeline rather than ship, and no need to liquefy and regasify. The US has desired a share of the market for some time, and President Trump’s promise when in Poland in early July to supply Europe with more gas was met by cheers because of historical enmity between Poland and Russia (shared also by the Baltic countries). The new US sanctions against Russia, purportedly a punishment for alleged Russian interference in last year’s US elections, may be more an attempt at curbing Russian gas dominance, opening up the market for US shale gas imports. The Nord Stream 2 pipeline - currently under construction in a joint venture between Gazprom and European gas companies such as Shell, OMV, Engie and Uniper - may be hit by the sanctions, increasing costs of supply for Gazprom. At the same time, LNG imports from the US may place price pressure on Russian suppliers, although there is significant doubt about this. The cost of US LNG supply to Europe is ~US$6/MMBTU, whereas Russian gas is currently priced to the market at ~US$5/MMBTU. Overall, it appears the hope on the US side is that Russian supply costs can be pushed up to a point where the US can compete on price, or where the price difference is small enough such that political considerations push some European countries to buy US gas. Gazprom may not be too worried. Business has in recent years been good, with imports of Russian gas into Europe over the past two years increasing at ~12% per annum, at the same time the company has been working on doubling pipeline supply capacity to Turkey and southern Europe.
Reuters has looked at the continuing resilience of coal firing in Germany, where the fuel supplies around 40% of the country’s electricity. Federal elections are held in the industrial powerhouse next month, but Chancellor Merkel is, according to Reuters, avoiding the issue of the phase-out of coal, though no major party has followed the Greens in setting a deadline for the end of coal firing (2030, in their case). Industry groups are firm in their support for coal, stressing its particular need for steelmaking, Germany being the world’s seventh largest steel maker. Renewables currently produce 29% of Germany’s annual electricity demand, but there are signs that the German system cannot yet incorporate more – in January, still and overcast conditions meant that little renewable power was produced at all, and the power grid operator Amprion said that the grid was close to blackout. With coal vital to the steel making industry, essential to thousands of jobs, and a cheap fuel in relation to gas, and with power storage technology not yet mature to support more renewables, coal does indeed appear there to stay for years to come.
Same continent, different country, different trend. The decline of coal firing in the UK has been shown in a series of graphs on the Carbon Brief website. Total energy demand has been generally falling since a peak in 2005, due to declining industry demand and better energy efficiency. In this context, the share of power from renewables increased from 2% in 2005 to almost 10% last year, while over the same period coal dropped from 16.9% to 6.4%, gas remained relatively stable at around 40% and oil the same at around 35%. Energy use by industry, the largest sector by consumption until 1984, is now in third position behind houses and transport, and almost below the miscellaneous ‘other’ category. For the subset of electricity, renewables last year accounted for 24.7%, gas 42.6%, nuclear 21.3% and coal just 9.1%. After a windy 2015, last year saw a decline in wind power generation, despite an increase in capacity. The Carbon Brief post sees much room to further implement energy efficiency measures in the UK, the most cost effective way of reducing carbon emissions.
Moves are afoot in China to step up its war on air pollution. The country’s National Energy Administration announced in early August that 20 GW of outdated coal-fired capacity would be cut before 2020, an addition to its already stated goal of suspending or halting the construction of 150 GW worth of new capacity. With the total coal-fired capacity of China being something around 1300 GW, the plan to shut 20 GW appears relatively modest, it must be said. Meanwhile, new pollution regulations are to be enforced in September on steelmakers in the Hebei province that surrounds Beijing, with any factory not meeting the standards to be shut down. The province, which produces a quarter of China’s steel, is home to six of the ten most polluted cities in the country, and the new regulations come through a reduction in the number of emissions permits available.
Another Reuters report has drawn light to the trend by some aluminium makers to market their product as low carbon when produced using hydroelectricity. Producers in Norway, Canada and Russia have begun to charge a modest premium for such aluminium, which is attractive to some buyers - particularly from the motor, electronics and packaging industries - facing pressure to reduce the carbon footprint of their supply chains. Aluminium making has increasingly used electricity produced from gas or coal-firing over the past decade, meaning there is a point of difference for makers with access to hydroelectricity. As the aluminium making process is significantly different to that of steel, it seems unlikely that steel will ‘go green’ in this way – more possible is that hydrogen will replace coal as a fuel in steelmaking, the hydrogen produced in the first place from renewables, or some technological change.
An investigation by the BBC has found that countries’ official greenhouse gas inventories are wildly underreporting the emissions of certain GHGs when measured against their atmospheric concentrations. Examples include emissions of HFC-23 in Italy, reported by the country as being in the range of 2-10 tonnes, but measured by a Swiss observatory as being between 60-80 tonnes, and the refrigerant carbon tetrachloride, which China has banned (and does not include in its inventory) but which is emitted in quantities of around 10,000-20,000 tonnes from the country. Such underreporting and exclusions tie together with uncertainties in emissions of other gases from other sources, which can be up to +/- 100%. This unreliability creates a lack of confidence and trust, a matter of high concern, as these national inventories are supposed to inform revisions to emissions reductions targets under the Paris Agreement on climate change. As Prof Glen Peters, from the Centre for International Climate Research in Oslo, told the BBC: “without good data as a basis, Paris essentially collapses. It just becomes a talkfest without much progress."
The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority, which oversees competition policy enforcement, has raised concerns over the planned takeover of Amec Foster-Wheeler by Wood Group, suggesting that it might undertake an investigation of the matter. Wood Group has been working ‘constructively’ with the CMA on the matter, but the CMA will wait on Wood Group’s final proposal before deciding to pursue a ‘phase 2’ investigation. Wood Group is likely to propose splitting Amec Foster Wheeler and selling some part of it to allay competition concerns.
Members of the Philippines’ House of Representatives are supporting the push to build a 1200 MW coal-fired power plant in the province of Quezon, close to the national capital of Manila. House Minority Leader Rep. Danilo Suarez put the case thus: “There will be rotating brownouts in the absence of sufficient power plants operating to produce the required power requirements. We have to plan and start the construction of new power plants whose completion takes seven years to eight years.” The proposed ultra-supercritical plant of two 600 MW units is being pursued by Manila Electric Co, and would be the country’s first of that type. Atimonan One Energy Inc will be the construction company if the project is approved.
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