Far more funding required for access to clean cooking fuels, report warns

September 18th, 2017 no comment

Sustainable Energy For All was established by the UN in 2011 to help ensure universal access to reliable, affordable energy by 2030.

Data shows that more than three billion people today use traditional solids – such as firewood or animal dung – as their main source of fuel for cooking.

Dry animal dung is cheap, sustainable, burns efficiently and reduces pressure on precious local wood resources. It has been used as fuel since prehistoric times, and is still used across Asia and Africa now. In many parts of India, for instance, cow and buffalo dung is hand-rolled into disc shapes and dried into ‘dung cakes’ to be used as fuel for cooking.

Rachel Kyte, CEO of Sustainable Energy For All, described the lack of international support for putting an end to unclean cooking fuels as “shocking”.

“The problem is becoming bigger rather than smaller,” she said. “The levels of finance for clean cooking are so far away from where they would need to be to produce progress.”

According to a report by the organisation, nearly 90 per cent of Bangladeshi citizens do not have access to clean cooking, and more than 70 per cent of Nigerian citizens use wood as their main cooking fuel, accelerating local deforestation.

The report calls for a “frank new dialogue around bold market-based strategies that can deploy clean fuels and technologies for cooking.” The focus, Kyte said, has been on designing more efficient stoves, rather than providing cleaner cooking fuels.

“[Without that], the millions of women and children who suffer and die every year from dirty cooking fuels will not diminish.”

The report also flags up the insufficient funding allocated to electrification; annual funding across the 20 countries most lacking power is less than half of the $45 bn required to achieve universal access by 2030. Just one per cent of the money went to ‘decentralised’ solutions such as household solar systems, despite their potential to deliver affordable electricity to remote communities.

These technologies are the “most economical solution to meet the needs of the majority of unconnected people by 2030”, said Paul Smith Lomas, CEO of Practical Action, a development charity which contributed to the report.

“To make these technologies more available to communities, and to achieve universal access, national policies must also better understand and support local businesses, banking and markets.”

French families encouraged to switch to electric cars with new subsidies

September 18th, 2017 no comment

The proposals were announced by the environment and energy minister Nicolas Hulot in the national daily newspaper, Libération.

The upcoming budget, he said, will cover a series of measures to limit carbon emissions in accordance with the 2015 Paris Agreement, reduce pollution and give a boost to low-income families.

At present, low-income families in France have access to a €500-1000 incentive to switch to less polluting vehicles such as electric or hybrid cars. If Hulot’s proposals are accepted, these incentives will be available to all citizens with pre-1997 petrol engines and pre-2001 diesel engines from 2018. The sum for low-income families will double to €2000.

Of the three million cars in France included in these criteria, Hulot hopes that 100,000 could be replaced next year with new or second-hand vehicles that emit less carbon dioxide and other pollutants.

Car owners who choose to go electric will receive a meatier €2500 incentive, with a €6000 subsidy if the measure gains approval.

In addition to providing more generous support for families switching to low-emission vehicles, Hulot will also propose credits for housing insulation which become a premium to be paid immediately after the installation is complete. These could become available from 2019, and are meant to help low-income families meet the up-front cost of installing insulation.

Subsidies of up to €3000 will also be offered to low-income families who switch from ageing diesel fuel heating systems to newer, cleaner alternatives, such as wood-fired heaters or heat pumps.

President Emmanuel Macron’s ambitious plans to reduce bureaucracy in the construction industry have raised concerns that insulation requirements for new buildings could be loosened, although Hulot has denied this will be the case.

“The president has told me that current environmental requirements will not be affected […] from a social point of view the worst that we could do would be to deliver housing that is not energy efficient,” he said.

While French families could benefit from these more generous subsidies, the government will also push harder on businesses to go green, with the country’s carbon tax rising from €30.50/tonne to €44.60/tonne in 2018, rising to €100/tonne by 2030, as intended in the 2015 energy transition bill.

The French government has pledged to phase out all oil and gas production by 2040 and make the country entirely carbon neutral by 2050.

Saudi Arabia to unveil plans for first nuclear power station

September 15th, 2017 no comment

According to industry sources, the government will reach out to potential bidders in France, China, South Korea, Russia and Japan.

“Competition will be fierce,” an industry source told Reuters. Following recent feasibility studies, the source added, the Kingdom was likely to send Requests for Information to vendors next month.

Saudi Arabia intends to begin the first reactor casing pouring in 2018 on two power plants with a capacity up to 2.8GW. Further details on the ambitious plans could be unveiled at the upcoming International Atomic Energy Agency conference in Vienna.

The conservative Gulf Kingdom, which has a population of 32 million, is thought to hold 18 per cent of the world’s total crude oil reserves, and has long been the world’s top exporter of oil. However, with the beginnings of an international shift away from fossil fuels, the country may benefit from diversifying its own electricity sector.

The economic reform program, Vision 2030, launched in 2016, aims to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil, and develop other sectors.

The King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy – the public agency overseeing the plans – states that it is considering constructing 17.6GW of nuclear capacity (the equivalent of 17 standard reactors) by 2032. This could render Saudi Arabia one of the largest nuclear clients in the world, following India and South Africa.

The agency has reportedly discussed the feasibility of working with Chinese vendors and Rosatom, Russia’s state-owned nuclear company.

The only Arab country to have begun the installation of nuclear power is the United Arab Emirates. Its government announced its interest in the technology as early as 2008, and its first plant, the Barakah nuclear power plant, which is equipped with four APR-1400 reactors, is due to begin operation next year.

Following the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015, which aims to reduce global carbon emissions in order to limit average temperature rises to 2°C, governments around the world have been discussing options to reduce dependence on burning fossil fuels. The Chinese government has, for instance, invested heavily in research and development of renewables and the design of new nuclear reactors.

Meanwhile, the Japanese Atomic Energy Commission has called this week for nuclear power to remain a key constituent of the country’s energy supply. The commission reported that nuclear power accounted for at least 20 per cent of its energy industry, and the country’s economy has taken a knock from expensive fossil fuel imports and slow reactor restarts.

Following the Fukushima disaster of 2011, the country shut down all of its nuclear reactors, and has since restarted five of them, accounting for less than two per cent of its energy supply.

5G phones will go mainstream as early as 2019, Qualcomm chief says

September 15th, 2017 no comment

According to Steven Mollenkopf, CEO of Qualcomm – the world’s top smartphone chip manufacturer – the growing demands of businesses and consumers are forcing the industry to accelerate its upgrade of new networks and devices, such that 5G phones could become widely available and useable before 2020.

5G – or fifth generation mobile networks – are the next telecommunications standard, following 4G. This will offer greater speed and reliability and lower latency and battery consumption. These improvements could enable new mobile service upgrades and even business models.

While previous upgrades to mobile networks have delivered significantly faster data, the introduction of 5G is likely to enable low-power devices to connect to the internet. This could accelerate the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the highly interconnected network of devices embedded in our homes, cars, cities, farms and hospitals.

5G could also accelerate the mass commercialisation of virtual reality (VR), holographic and augmented reality (AR) content on our smart devices.

“You will see [5G] in real devices, on the shelf, in 2019,” said Mollenkopf. “And if I were to answer that same question a year ago, I would have said 2020.”

The US, South Korea and Japan – the “typical first movers” – already have network operators in each market preparing mainstream network launches before 2020. The 2018 Winter Olympics, which will be hosted by South Korea, are expected to be the first public unveiling of the technology.

During the previous two network upgrades (3G in 1998 and 4G in 2009), South Korea and Japan were first to adopt the new technology, with the US following soon after. This time, China, as the world’s largest smartphone market, may follow close behind.

“You will see robust demand in all of those locations, meaning that there are multiple operators wanting to be first and not left behind. [Most] will have a different deployment strategy or goal,” Mollenkopf added. “From a geopolitical perspective, certain regions of the world just don’t want to be late to that game.”

The UK, while trailing behind the US and Asia, has invested in 5G technology, with £16 million dedicated to a 5G hub in the March 2017 budget. This will allow three universities to build test networks and trial 5G connections, as part of plans to strengthen the UK’s digital economy.

Mollenkopf was speaking to Reuters at Frankfurt Motor Show, which was opened this week by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The event is likely to reflect international pressure on manufacturers to move towards more environmentally friendly technologies, particularly affordable electric and hybrid vehicles.

Near-zero-power device transmits signal across record distance

September 14th, 2017 no comment

In the coming years, miniaturised, flexible electronics and other sensors could be integrated into our clothing, homes, vehicles and bodies as the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to grow. However, these subtle devices are not able to accommodate bulky battery packs.

On the other hand, low-power devices struggle to communicate with other devices, particularly at a distance of greater than approximately one metre. This long-held barrier severely limits their use in IoT applications.

“The vision of embedding connectivity into billions of everyday objects runs into the reality of existing communication technologies,” the University of Washington team writes. “There is no existing wireless technology that can provide reliable and long-range communication at tens of microwatts of power as well as cost less than a dime.”

Now, these researchers have produced a solution in the shape of a long-range backscatter system capable of transmitting data across distances of up to 2.8km at extremely low power and cost.

“Until now, devices that can communicate over long distances have consumed a lot of power. The trade-off in a low-power device that consumes microwatts of power is that its communication range is short,” said Professor Shyam Gollakota of the University of Washington’s School of Computer Science & Engineering.

“Now we’ve shown that we can offer both, which will be pretty game-changing for a lot of different industries and applications.”

The backscatter system transmits data using reflected radio signals. It consists of a source to emit a signal, sensors to encode information in reflections of this signal, and a receiver to decode information. While other backscatter systems struggle to decode signals, this system is equipped with a new type of modulation which spreads the signal across multiple frequencies, allowing for greater sensitivity.

The communication system consumes 1000 times less power than existing technologies which transmit data over comparable distances. The device can harvest electricity from ambient sources, or run on a very cheap printed battery.

The researchers tested their device in real-world settings, and were able to achieve reliable signal across a 41-room office, a 446 square metre house, and a vegetable farm covering 4,046 square metres.

This potentially enables a huge range of interconnected devices – particularly biomedical devices for data collection – in the emerging Internet of Things (IoT), such as patches for joints which capture the range of motion for patients with arthritis, or sensors which use sweat to detect fatigue in soldiers. The researchers also hope that they could be used as sensors by farmers to track soil temperature and moisture, or to monitor pollution, noise and traffic in cities.

“People have been talking about embedding connectivity into everyday objects such as laundry detergent, paper towels and coffee cups for years, but the problem is the cost and power consumption to achieve this,” said Dr Vamsi Talla, who worked on the project at the University of Washington. “This is the first wireless system that can inject connectivity into any device with very minimal cost.”

The system will be commercialised by Jeeva Wireless, a spinout founded by the team of engineers behind the device. The company has already built a contact lens and skin patch prototype, and hope to begin selling their sensors – which could cost as little as 10 to 20 cents each – within six months.

The IoT’s emergence with the introduction of virtual home assistants and other smart domestic devices has encouraged many teams to develop low-power devices which could be integrated into the IoT, including self-shading windows and a chip for automatic speech recognition.

China’s first quantum network offers “hack-proof” communications

September 13th, 2017 no comment

China touts that it is at the forefront of developing quantum technology. In August it said that it sent its first “unbreakable” quantum code from an experimental satellite to the Earth. The Pentagon has called the launch of that satellite a year earlier a “notable advance”. 

Now the country’s “first commercial quantum private communication network” has been set up for exclusive use by more than 200 government and official users in Shandong’s provincial capital Jinan, the state Xinhua news agency said late on Tuesday.

It did not elaborate on how the system would be commercially operated.

“Hundreds of pieces of equipment connected by hundreds of kilometres of fibre optics were installed within five months,” Xinhua said.

The network provides secure telephone and data communication services and is expected to be connected to a Beijing-Shanghai quantum network, the news agency said.

Quantum channels send messages embedded in light and experts say that attempts to disrupt or eavesdrop on them would create detectable disturbances in the system.

Other countries, including the United States, have been working on their own quantum networks for years.

Last week, researchers at the University of New South Wales said they had developed an entirely new method for building quantum computers which could make the devices easier and cheaper to produce at scale. 

Carbon nanontube generator could draw electricity from human bloodstream

September 11th, 2017 no comment

For millennia, humans have harnessed the natural flow of water – down slopes or in tides – to power mechanical and electrical engines. Water is one of the few renewable sources of energy which is not dependent on the weather, making it an attractive option for governments seeking to reduce their carbon footprint in accordance with the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Now, a team of researchers, led by Professor Huisheng Peng at Fudan University, have created a miniaturised hydroelectric power generator. The device is less than a millimetre in thickness and generates electricity when surrounded by flowing liquid.

To construct the fibre, the researchers wrapped an array of carbon nanotube fibres – spun into highly stable and electrically responsive sheets of less than half a micron in thickness – around a polymer core.

The thread-like “fibre-shaped fluidic nanogenerator” (FFNG) was connected to electrodes and immersed into flowing water, or dipped repeatedly into a saline solution.

An electrical double layer created around the fibre is disturbed by the flowing liquid. This distorts the symmetry of the charge distribution around the fibre, generating a voltage along its length.

“The electricity was derived from the relative movement between the FFNG and the solution,” the researchers said. Encouraged by their finding that the device has high power-conversion efficiency (more than 20 per cent higher than other miniature energy-harvesting devices), the researchers hope to develop helpful applications for the FFNG in the future.

The device can be made stretchable by spinning the carbon nanotube sheets around an elastic substrate and can be woven into fabrics with potential applications in wearable electronics.

The FFNG could prove most useful, however, if it could be placed inside human blood vessels to harvest electrical energy from the bloodstream. Pacemakers, glucose meters and other implanted devices require small amounts of electricity to function, meaning that regular surgeries are required to install new batteries. Replacing the batteries with a nanoscale power generator would remove the need for these invasive and expensive surgeries.

So far, tests of the FFNG to generate electricity from blood flow in frog models have shown promising results.

In 2011, it was reported that engineers from the Bern University of Applied Sciences had placed a miniature turbine inside a blood vessel to generate microwatts of electricity, an alternative means of generating electricity from the human bloodstream.

Carbon nanotube generator could draw electricity from human bloodstream

September 11th, 2017 no comment

For millennia, humans have harnessed the natural flow of water – down slopes or in tides – to power mechanical and electrical engines. Water is one of the few renewable sources of energy which is not dependent on the weather, making it an attractive option for governments seeking to reduce their carbon footprint in accordance with the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Now, a team of researchers, led by Professor Huisheng Peng at Fudan University, have created a miniaturised hydroelectric power generator. The device is less than a millimetre in thickness and generates electricity when surrounded by flowing liquid.

To construct the fibre, the researchers wrapped an array of carbon nanotube fibres – spun into highly stable and electrically responsive sheets of less than half a micron in thickness – around a polymer core.

The thread-like “fibre-shaped fluidic nanogenerator” (FFNG) was connected to electrodes and immersed into flowing water, or dipped repeatedly into a saline solution.

An electrical double layer created around the fibre is disturbed by the flowing liquid. This distorts the symmetry of the charge distribution around the fibre, generating a voltage along its length.

“The electricity was derived from the relative movement between the FFNG and the solution,” the researchers said. Encouraged by their finding that the device has high power-conversion efficiency (more than 20 per cent higher than other miniature energy-harvesting devices), the researchers hope to develop helpful applications for the FFNG in the future.

The device can be made stretchable by spinning the carbon nanotube sheets around an elastic substrate and can be woven into fabrics with potential applications in wearable electronics.

The FFNG could prove most useful, however, if it could be placed inside human blood vessels to harvest electrical energy from the bloodstream. Pacemakers, glucose meters and other implanted devices require small amounts of electricity to function, meaning that regular surgeries are required to install new batteries. Replacing the batteries with a nanoscale power generator would remove the need for these invasive and expensive surgeries.

So far, tests of the FFNG to generate electricity from blood flow in frog models have shown promising results.

In 2011, it was reported that engineers from the Bern University of Applied Sciences had placed a miniature turbine inside a blood vessel to generate microwatts of electricity, an alternative means of generating electricity from the human bloodstream.

Offshore wind electricity price falls to record low; tidal lagoon secures grid connection

September 11th, 2017 no comment

Prices for new offshore wind farms in the latest auction for the contracts – which guarantee a set price for power from schemes such as offshore wind farms – have fallen to £74.75 per megawatt hour for projects delivered in 2021/22 and £57.50 for projects in 2022/23.

Subsidies have fallen 50 per cent since the last auction in 2015 and are down even further on the £150/MWh given to the first wind farms awarded contracts for subsidies.

Under the contracts for difference system, companies put in bids for the “strike” price they will be paid for electricity generated, with those submitting the lowest bids securing the deals.

Along with offshore wind farms, biomass and energy from waste plants have secured subsidies for low-carbon energy in the latest auction, with a total of 11 successful schemes.

The results show that the price of offshore wind has fallen well below that of nuclear, with the new Hinkley Point C power plant securing subsidies of £92.50/MWh in negotiations with the government. The cost involved in constructing the project have also spiralled beyond original expectations. 

Costs of subsidies are down 50 per cent on the last auction, whose results were announced in February 2015, in which offshore wind power projects won subsidies of between £114 and £120/MWh.

Minister for Energy and Industry Richard Harrington said: “We’ve placed clean growth at the heart of the Industrial Strategy to unlock opportunities across the country, while cutting carbon emissions.

“The offshore wind sector alone will invest £17.5bn in the UK up to 2021 and thousands of new jobs in British businesses will be created by the projects announced today.”

He said the Government would be setting out ambitious proposals to seize industrial opportunities as the world moved to a low-carbon future, in its forthcoming “clean growth plan” which is due to be published in the autumn.

Bigger turbines, higher-voltage cables and lower-cost foundations, as well as the growth in the UK supply chain and the downturn in the oil and gas industry which has meant lower costs for vessels, have contributed to the falling prices.

The newest eight megawatt (MW) offshore turbines stand almost 200 metres high, taller than London’s Gherkin, with 80m long blades producing enough electricity to power a home for 29 hours with a single rotation.

Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party, said the massive price drop for offshore wind should be the “nail in the coffin” for new nuclear.

She said: “While clean, green wind power has the potential to seriously cut people’s bills, the government’s undying commitment to new nuclear risks locking us into sky-high prices for years to come.

“The government should now commit to this technology and scale up investment in offshore wind so that it becomes the backbone of British energy.”

Meanwhile, Tidal Lagoon Power has secured the grid connection for a 3,240MW capacity tidal lagoon expected to generate among the cheapest electricity of all new power stations built in the UK.


Conceptual rendering of the tidal lagoon project

Tidal lagoons use the power of tides to generate electricity and are thought to be less expensive than both offshore wind and nuclear power over the first 60 years of their 120-year life, according to a review of the technology earlier this year. 

The project, located between Cardiff and Newport, has been selected as the first to employ at full-scale the blueprint being established by the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon.

Tidal Lagoon Power’s chief executive, Mark Shorrock, said: “Our offer to the UK Government is to contract Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon for a lower subsidy per megawatt hour than Hinkley Point C. While we await the Government’s response to this offer and to the independent Hendry Review of tidal lagoons, we have continued our development work on the subsequent programme.

“Today, we have secured the grid connection for a tidal power station equal in installed capacity to Hinkley Point C. Looking at the pounds per megawatt hour unit cost of new build power stations, nuclear is currently priced in the nineties, the latest offshore wind projects are expected to drop into the seventies and our models show Cardiff Tidal Lagoon beating them all in the sixties.”

Romanian coal plants lack environmental permits and belch pollution, Greenpeace alleges

September 8th, 2017 no comment

Late last night (Thursday), activists working for the environmental group projected the words “I pollute to death” onto the Mintia coal-fired power plant, one of the largest in the country.

Ageing coal-fired plants produce more than a third of the European Union state’s electricity and the energy ministry says they will continue to do so for some time because clean energy takes time to develop.

The European Commission imposed stricter limits on emissions this year, giving power stations and district heating plants until 2021 to comply. It said pollution was the EU’s biggest environmental cause of premature deaths, responsible for roughly 400,000 per year.

“The government should refocus towards investing in renewable energy, which is the investment of the future and which certainly doesn’t damage our health and the environment,” said Greenpeace Romania director Patricia Puschila.

Investment needs to be reassessed in the light of the new EU rules, deputy energy minister Doru Visan said.

“For those coal-fired power plants that do not conform to environmental and energy efficiency requirements the result can be only one: either they conform or they shut down,” he added.

Romania uses a mix of coal, gas, hydro, nuclear and renewable energy. It has both hard coal and lignite.

Visan said maintenance and upgrade works were under way at several coal-fired units. The ministry planned to fully retrofit a unit at its Rovinari power plant by 2020 and was also in talks with a Chinese company to jointly build a new plant.

“The thermal energy sector must be understood as belonging to a market where there already are strong competitors,” said Ana Otilia Nutu, an energy and infrastructure expert from Romanian think tank Expert Forum.

“It will need to somehow keep up with technology advances made in the rest of the European Union.”

In May, energy experts and environmentalists criticised the planned construction of a dozen coal-fired power plants in Pakistan funded by Chinese investment.