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Japan isolated as USA leads the way in G7 move beyond coal

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The first ever assessment on progress towards ending reliance on coal power across the G7 is being published today. The U.S.A comes top in the ranking, leading a clear move away from coal evident across all G7 members with one exception. Japan is ranked last in seventh place, standing in isolation, with over 27GW of additional coal power capacity planned.

Germany, in sixth place, has acknowledged the need for additional action on existing coal but struggled to find a way forward. Italy, Canada and the UK – in fifth, fourth and third respectively – are well positioned to take forward an aligned coal phase out effort over the next decade. France, in second place, just announced that the partly state-owned utility ENGIE (ex-GDF Suez), will not invest in new coal. However, as the host of COP 21 UN climate negotiations, France can do more to catalyse the phase out transitions by its utilities overseas and by confirming an end to coal use domestically.

In June this year, all G7 members committed to the decarbonisation of the global economy by the end of this century. This means the inevitable phase out of coal power, with the G7 showing leadership in a world that is acting to avoid dangerous climate change. The scorecard assessment published today provides an overview of how G7 countries have started to meet this challenge, while also showing the state of coal use for electricity generation in each country.

Chris Littlecott, Programme Leader at E3G said: “Japan finds itself isolated in clinging to coal, while its G7 peers are all moving towards a phase out. There is a clear structural shift away from coal underway across the G7, with the dominant trend being the cancellation of proposed projects and the retirement of existing coal power plants.

“The UK, Canada and Italy all have a great opportunity to accelerate the closure of existing coal capacity over the coming years. The UK’s ageing coal plants are ripe for retirement. Alberta is looking to phase out coal and follow in Ontario’s footsteps. In Italy, the utility Enel has recognised its coal plants will need to be offline before 2030. By working together, these G7 countries can drive political momentum for the broader transition away from coal.”

The analysis and accompanying scorecard produced by environmental think tank E3G, with the support of Kiko Network and Natural Resource Defense Council, is being launched today at UN climate talks in Bonn. The Paris COP 21 climate negotiations take place at the end of November this year, six months on from the G7 summit. In this context, any action on coal by members of the G7 will have added significance in demonstrating a commitment to act on climate.

The analysis shows that there are positive signals that a coal phase out can be accelerated across the G7. There has already been a clear swing away from coal power plants since 2010, albeit with the exception of Japan. A combination of shifting market dynamics and government policy actions mean this is set to continue. There is now no case for new coal plants on economic grounds.

Canada, the USA and the UK have all implemented policies of ‘no new coal without CCS’, while broader market dynamics mean that new coal is an unattractive option in any case. In France, Germany and Italy there is no market appetite for new coal – recent investments by utilities in Germany have resulted in massive financial losses and are already at risk of becoming stranded assets.4 While these governments are yet to formally rule out new coal plants, they could easily do so.

Japan is the clear odd one out. It has 27GW of new coal capacity under development, although construction for most of this is yet to begin. As other major economies move to cleaner forms of energy generation, Japan risks locking itself into overly expensive and ultimately stranded asset investments.

Kimiko Hirata, International Director from Kiko Network said: “Japan is the only G7 country that is planning a huge coal expansion, through the development of 48 new coal plants. Japan is clearly lagging behind the other G7 countries. It should stop arguing that so-called ‘clean coal’ is a solution.

“Everyone knows that the coal industry imperils the planet. Recognizing global momentum, Japan should shift away from its current path, not only for the sake of a climate-safe world, but also to avoid international isolation and to foster a green economy in Japan.”

Germany is struggling to act, despite recognising that a coal phase out is now inevitable. A final set of new coal plants has entered operation at a massive financial loss. Government plans to reduce coal use were opposed by utilities, resulting in a change of policy. It entails payments to utilities to create a reserve of 2.7GW of lignite plants, which would then be retired by 2020. Internationally, Germany is also still backing unabated coal plants.

Sabrina Schulz, Head of E3G Berlin said: “The political debate on a phase out of coal has started in Germany. But the new proposed measures still require approval from the EU Commission and it is not clear whether they will go through. Germany also lacks a clear plan for the period after 2020. Utilities and investors need certainty on this. The affected regions and workforce need time and support to adjust and Germany’s climate policy needs its credibility back.”

Adding evidence to the clear move away from coal, a staggering 63GW of planned coal power plants have been cancelled across the G7 since 2010. A further 124GW of ageing coal capacity has either already been retired or is set to come-off by 2020.

The USA is leading the charge despite facing the largest challenge given the scale of its existing coal use. With 288GW of capacity, the scale of the coal fleet in the US is more than twice the size of the other G7 members combined. Nevertheless, the USA is making the most positive progress of all the G7 countries; recent retirement announcements amount to more than 84GW by 2020, with new policies reducing coal pollution and setting the framework for investment in clean energy.

The US has also led international efforts to restrict financing for unabated coal plants. In September 2015, the USA and China announced a set of actions on climate change, including that China would ‘strictly control’ domestic and international financing of high-carbon projects.

Jake Schmidt, International Program Director at Natural Resource Defense Council said: “The US is seeing a huge shift towards more renewable energy as these sources of electricity have become the dominant source of new electricity capacity. The US has also shifted from being one of the largest sources of public financing of overseas coal plants.”

The scorecard report also identifies clear actions G7 countries can take to demonstrate their commitment to move beyond coal in the run-up to COP 21:

– Japan needs to start with the most fundamental action first: it must act to turn off the tap of new coal power plants.

– All G7 countries should immediately cooperate to strengthen OECD conditions on export credits ahead of the Paris talks, with further commitments by Japan, Germany, Italy and Canada, to strengthen restrictions on the use of international development finance for coal projects.

– Canada, the UK and Italy all have a clear opportunity to commit to a clear timetable for the phase out of unabated coal ahead of the Paris negotiations. Given their similarities, they could work together to effectively manage the transition and catalyse a broader coal phase out coalition.

– As host of the negotiations, France is under pressure to confirm how and when it will end the use of coal domestically and reduce its exposure to coal overseas through state-owned utilities.

– Germany has acknowledged the need for additional action on existing coal. It set the standard with the G7 commitment to decarbonise, but this will require additional policy efforts during 2016 to start putting it into action.

– Lastly, the USA is in a privileged position having implemented a wide-ranging set of policies related to coal during the course of 2015. While this is a positive expression of intent, the USA must continue efforts by enabling transition pathways for coal-producing regions, including by addressing the risk of increased coal exports and the impact of coal production from federal lands.

Through the lens of both policy and market dynamics, the scorecard ranking is based on three criteria for each country: the risk of new coal power plants, retirement of existing capacity and support for construction of coal projects overseas. The intention is for the scorecard assessment to be updated each year or on significant occasions, to help ensure transparency on each countries progress towards achieving coal phase outs.

Energy

Is Wood Burning Sustainable For Your Home?

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sustainable wood burning ideas

Wood is a classic heat source, whether we think about people gathered around a campfire or wood stoves in old cabins, but is it a sustainable source of heat in modern society? The answer is an ambivalent one. In certain settings, wood heat is an ideal solution, but for the majority of homes, it isn’t especially suitable. So what’s the tipping point?

Wood heat is ideal for small homes on large properties, for individuals who can gather their own wood, and who have modern wood burning ovens. A green approach to wood heat is one of biofuel on the smallest of scales.

Is Biofuel Green?

One of the reasons that wood heat is a source of so much divide in the eco-friendly community is that it’s a renewable resource and renewable has become synonymous with green. What wood heat isn’t, though, is clean or healthy. It lets off a significant amount of carbon and particulates, and trees certainly don’t grow as quickly as it’s consumed for heat.

Of course, wood is a much less harmful source of heat than coal, but for scientists interested in developing green energy sources, it makes more sense to focus on solar and wind power. Why, then, would they invest in improved wood burning technology?

Homegrown Technology

Solar and wind technology are good large-scale energy solutions, but when it comes to small-space heating, wood has its own advantages. First, wood heat is in keeping with the DIY spirit of homesteaders and tiny house enthusiasts. These individuals are more likely to be driven to gather their own wood and live in small spaces that can be effectively heated as such.

Wood heat is also very effective on an individual scale because it requires very little infrastructure. Modern wood stoves made of steel rather than cast iron are built to EPA specifications, and the only additional necessary tools include a quality axe, somewhere to store the wood, and an appropriate covering to keep it dry. And all the wood can come from your own land.

Wood heat is also ideal for people living off the grid or in cold areas prone to frequent power outages, as it’s constantly reliable. Even if the power goes out, you know that you’ll be able to turn up the heat. That’s important if you live somewhere like Maine where the winters can get exceedingly cold. People have even successfully heated a 40’x34’ home with a single stove.

Benefits Of Biomass

The ultimate question regarding wood heat is whether any energy source that’s dangerous on the large scale is acceptable on a smaller one. For now, the best answer is that with a growing population and limited progress towards “pure” green energy, wood should remain a viable option, specifically because it’s used on a limited scale. Biomass heat is even included in the UK’s Renewable Heat Initiative and minor modifications can make it even more sustainable.

Wood stoves, when embraced in conjunction with pellet stoves, geothermal heating, and masonry heaters, all more efficient forms of sustainable heat, should be part of a modern energy strategy. Ultimately, we’re headed in the direction of diversified energy – all of it cleaner – and wood has a place in the big picture, serving small homes and off-the-grid structures, while solar, wind, and other large-scale initiatives fuel our cities.

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Energy

7 Benefits You Should Consider Giving Your Energy Employees

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As an energy startup, you’re always looking to offer the most competitive packages to entice top-tier talent. This can be tough, especially when trying to put something together that’s both affordable but also has perks that employees are after.

After all, this is an incredibly competitive field and one that’s constantly doing what it can to stay ahead. However, that’s why I’m bringing you a few helpful benefits that could be what bolsters you ahead of your competition. Check them out below:

Financial Advising

One benefit commonly overlooked by companies is offering your employees financial advising services, which could help them tremendously in planning for their long-term goals with your firm. This includes anything from budgeting and savings plans to recommendations for credit repair services and investments. Try to take a look at if your energy company could bring on an extra person or two specifically for this role, as it will pay off tremendously regarding retention and employee happiness.

Life Insurance

While often included in a lot of health benefits packages, offering your employees life insurance could be an excellent addition to your current perks. Although seldom used, life insurance is a small sign that shows you care about the life of their family beyond just office hours. Additionally, at such a low cost, this is a pretty simple aspect to add to your packages. Try contacting some brokers or insurance agents to see if you can find a policy that’s right for your firm.

Dedicated Time To Enjoy Their Hobbies

Although something seen more often in startups in Silicon Valley, having dedicated office time for employees to enjoy their passions is something that has shown great results. Whether it be learning the piano or taking on building a video game, having your team spend some time on the things they truly enjoy can translate to increased productivity. Why? Because giving them the ability to better themselves, they’ll in turn bring that to their work as well.

The Ability To Work Remotely

It’s no secret that a lot of employers despise the idea of letting their employees work remotely. However, it’s actually proven to hold some amazing benefits. According to Global Workplace Analytics, 95% of employers that allow their employees to telework reported an increased rate of retention, saving on both turnover and sick days. Depending on the needs of each individual role, this can be a strategy to implement either whenever your team wants or on assigned days. Either way, this is one perk almost everyone will love.

Health Insurance

Even though it’s mandated for companies with over 50 employees, offering health insurance regardless is arguably a benefit well received across the board. In fact, as noted in research compiled by KFF, 28.6% of employers with less than 50 people still offered health care. Why is that the case? Because it shows you care about their well-being, and know that a healthy employee is one that doesn’t have to worry about astronomical medical bills.

Unlimited Time Off

This is a perk that almost no employer offers but should be regarded as something to consider. According to The Washington Post, only 1-2% of companies offer unlimited vacation, which it’s easy to see why. A true “unlimited vacation” program could be a firm’s worse nightmare, with employees skipping out every other week to enjoy themselves. However, with the right model in place that rewards hard work with days off, your employees will absolutely adore this policy.

A Full Pantry

Finally, having a pantry full of food can be one perk that’s not only relatively inexpensive but also adds to the value of the workplace. As noted by USA Today, when surveying employees who had snacks versus those who didn’t, 67% of those who did reported they were “very happy” with their work life. You’d be surprised at how much of a difference this could make, especially when considering the price point. Consider adding a kitchen to your office if you haven’t already, and always keep the snacks and drinks everyone wants fully stocked. Doing so will increase morale tremendously.

Final Thoughts

Compiling a great package for your energy company is going to take some time in looking at what you can afford versus what’s the most you can offer. While it might mean cutting back in other areas, having a workforce that feels like you genuinely want to take care of them can take you far. And with so many different benefits to include in your energy company’s package, which one is your favorite? Comment with your answers below!

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