Blow me down

Wanted: a chief executive to promote the building of a European Super Grid

In a recent story (see North Sea monster – subscription required), we assessed the prospects of a North Sea super grid. The idea is to link nine countries in northern Europe through a renewable energy grid harnessing offshore wind. A second grid linking southern Europe is also being considered. It is, to say the least, an ambitious project.

So good luck to the man or woman appointed chief executive of the projects holding company “Friends of the Super-grid” (FOSG). If you are interested see here. What awaits the chief executive? Put simply, an enormous task. The new head of the FOSC will be based in Brussels, and will get to work on the various financial, regulatory, and technical hurdles the project faces.

The announcement follows through on the pledge made by FOSG in early March and adds to the feeling that, despite the hurdles, the project is building momentum. It will be down to the CEO to grease regulatory cogs in Brussels so expect the appointment of an adept political operator.

Just to recap the progress so far: FOSG estimates that the initial linkage of northern Germany, Norway and the UK will cost €20-34bn. The establishment of the FOSG, which includes German construction firm Hochtief, German conglomerate Siemens and French energy infrastructure specialist Areva, suggest serious corporate interest. The March announcement of the creation of the holding company followed a December announcement from ministers in nine countries—the UK, Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark, Sweden and Ireland—on the signing of an agreement to develop an offshore grid in the North and Irish Seas.

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News wrap – Revolution talk in Paris

Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu

Talk in Paris again turns to revolution.

Steven Chu, the Nobel-winning boffin who is US President Barack Obama’s energy secretary, delivered the keynote address on opening day of the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) ministerial meeting, telling delegates from the OECD member states (joined by ministers from India, China and Russia), that indeed a scientific revolution is needed to meet the world’s energy challenge.

Welcomed into the fold after the new administration’s about-face in climate policy, Mr Chu emphasised the US commitment to combat greenhouse gas emissions with a reference (without irony) to his country’s previous success at splitting the atom to build the first nuke bomb – i.e., the Manhattan Project.

Nonetheless, the tone was primarily one of optimism, though Mr Chu pointed to rising emissions from transport as an example of the limitations of technology. The US, in common with most other developed countries, will place particular emphasis on energy efficiency.

On domestic policy, Mr Chu said he is hopeful that the senate would pass a climate-change bill prior to the Copenhagen meeting in December, though that recently looked very unlikely. The renewed optimism is founded on recent cross-party consensus, notably between Democratic and Republican Senators Kerry and Graham, which may prove a little misplaced.

He highlighted plans under the US economic stimulus package to invest heavily in energy—with loan guarantees for the nuclear industry among the proposals outlined. At the other end of the scale, there’ll be a somewhat sinister-sounding carrot and stick approach to encourage energy efficient households, with subsidies for initial investments but also a “naming and shaming” of “bad” households, which Mr Chu hopes will lead to some neighbourhood pressure to encourage action.

Though action has been snail-paced, the nuclear renaissance, it would appear, is in full-swing, in Mr Chu’s view. Also, investment in carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) is forging ahead after stalling.

With Copenhagen on everyone’s mind, Mr Chu closed with Martin Luther King Jr. quote, reminding those gathered that “tomorrow is today” and that there is such a thing as being too late.

Everything’s bigger in Texas – News wrap – Oct. 1

Wind_turbine_blade_transport_I-35Oil men in Houston must have feared the advent of the age of alternative energy, concerned, no doubt, that the epicentre of the fossil fuel world would lose some of its draw—no longer. Texans have embraced wind power.

The Lone Star state already produces more wind power than any other US state. It overtook California in 2006—a trend recently commented on by The Economist—and with an installed capacity approaching 8,500 megawatts (mw) Texas dwarfs Iowa, now a distance second, with nearly 3,000mw. To boot, Texas boasts the world’s biggest wind farm.

The Roscoe wind farm, built by a division of German utility E.ON, illustrates Texas’s great advantages; favourable planning laws, relatively high electricity prices and space—lots and lots of it. The US$1bn Roscoe development covers nearly 100,000 acres. With 627 turbines, Roscoe and the nearby Horse Hollow development will ensure Texas’s ascendancy as the wind capital of the US for some time. 

DC confidential

Meanwhile in Washington, Democratic senators have unveiled an ambitious climate bill. Led by Senators Kerry and Boxer, it is cleverly worded as a roadmap to enhanced energy security and employment, the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, but will still face a hostile reception.

As the administration seeks to get a bill through the quagmire that is the Senate, several large US company’s have offered some timely support, dumping the US Chamber of Commerce over its position on climate change.

Nike has just done it, following several others ostensibly upset at the pro-business lobby’s plans to put the science of climate change on trial (see Monkey business). Syncs will cite the very same corporations less than spotless green credentials, but in the battle for hearts and minds, the move is a boost for those that holdout the faint hope that Mr. Obama will arrive in Copenhagen with Congress onside.

Wind report – News Wrap – Sept. 1st

Crikey. According to a story from New Zealand, wind farms can give misleading information to weather forecasters, some of whom have issued false storm warnings as a result. The report explains that “moving wind turbine blades could look a lot like a thunderstorm or even a tornado on the radar.” In one instance in the US, the weather service issued a false tornado report based on the readings, leading to unnecessary disruptions across a whole county.

Thus, concerns over radar can be added to the long list of ammunition for those opposed to big propellers, and just such a hitch led to an inquiry in Scotland dragging on for a full year longer than expected in order to assess the possible implications for radar of one proposed wind farm site.

Wind power has encountered many opponents, particularly in the Britain. Ironically, many of the objectors are conservation groups intent on preserving pristine countryside – to wit, the John Muir Trust’s ongoing objections to the location of wind turbines on the Isle of Lewis, most recently on the grounds that claims about wind power’s benefits are “grossly exaggerated”.

Doubling down on the irony, the Royal Society has a new report that warns that if progress is not made on reducing carbon emissions, mankind may have to resort to “geoengineering the climate”, with possibly dangerous unintended consequences in the form of, for example, altered weather conditions.

Nonetheless, at least there are signs that bankers are starting to back wind projects again, at least in the US, after deserting them at the onset of the recession. The key is, of course, the will of governments –- if governments subsidise enough and exert enough pressure to speed through the approval process then the money will follow.

Meanwhile, the BBC examines in detail widespread “nimbyism” in the UK and what’s to be done about it.