France pledges to phase out all oil and gas production by 2040

September 6th, 2017 no comment

The draft bill proposes that oil and gas exploration and production will be completely phased out in France and all its overseas territories, making it the first large country to become entirely carbon neutral.

Currently, only Vatican City and Bhutan have achieved carbon neutrality, although seven other countries, including Sweden and Norway, have pledged carbon neutrality. In 2007, the UN pledged to work towards climate neutrality, under the leadership of former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon.

Now, French President Emmanuel Macron has set out his aim to reduce the country’s considerable carbon footprint by phasing out fossil fuels and leaving remaining resources buried in the ground.

The policy could affect companies such as Total, the French gas and oil company which ranks among the “supermajor” oil companies, which has permits to explore for hydrocarbons in overseas territories, such as in French Guiana.

The draft legislation states that the French government would no longer issue exploration permits and current concessions would be phased out entirely by 2040. However, France will continue to import and refine oil.

“The law will halt the exploitation of hydrocarbons in our territory: existing concussions cannot be renewed beyond 2040,” the bill states.

According to Nicolas Hulot, the French ecology minister, the draft bill demonstrates France’s commitment to climate change goals and hopes that it may convince other countries to follow.

Following US President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Paris Agreement – which had resolved to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to severely limit catastrophic global temperature rises – other world leaders, including President Macron, have restated their commitment to the agreement.

Currently, France has the greatest share of nuclear power in the world, with nuclear accounting for more than 70 per cent of its total production. Renewables are on the rise in the country, currently making up 18 per cent of total production. Just six million barrels of hydrocarbons are produced per year (one per cent).

The French government – like the UK government – is also aiming to put an end to the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles, switching gradually to electric vehicles, by 2040.

Cyber-espionage campaign strikes energy sectors in Europe and US

September 6th, 2017 no comment

Malicious email campaigns have been used to gain entry into organisations in the United States, Turkey and Switzerland, and likely other countries as well, Symantec said in a report published on Wednesday.

The cyber attacks, which began in late 2015 but increased in frequency in April of this year, are probably the work of a foreign government and bear the hallmarks of a hacking group known as Dragonfly, Eric Chien, a cyber security researcher at Symantec, said in an interview.

The research adds to concerns that industrial firms, including power providers and other utilities, are susceptible to cyber attacks that could be leveraged for destructive purposes in the event of a major geopolitical conflict.

In June, the US government warned industrial firms about a hacking campaign targeting the nuclear and energy sectors, saying in an alert that hackers sent phishing emails to harvest credentials in order to gain access to targeted networks.

Chien said he believed that alert likely referenced the same campaign which Symantec has been tracking.

He said dozens of companies had been targeted and that a handful of them, including some in the US, had been compromised on the operational level. That level of access meant that motivation was “the only step left” preventing “sabotage of the power grid,” Chien said.

However, other researchers cast some doubt on the findings.

While concerning, the attacks were “far from the level of being able to turn off the lights, so there’s no alarmism needed,” said Robert M. Lee, founder of US critical infrastructure security firm Dragos Inc, who read the report.

Lee called the connection to Dragonfly “loose.”

Dragonfly was previously active from around to 2011 to 2014, when it appeared to go dormant after several cyber firms published research exposing its attacks. The group, also known as Energetic Bear or Koala, was widely believed by security experts to be tied to the Russian government.

Symantec did not name Russia in its report but noted that the attackers used code strings that were in Russian. Other code used French, Symantec said, suggesting the attackers may be attempting to make it more difficult to identify them.

In February, Ukraine made repeated accusations that Russian hackers were targeting its power grid, financial system and other infrastructure with a new type of virus that attacks industrial processes. 

Northern Ireland’s EU energy future discussed, amid talk of UK high-tech border

September 6th, 2017 no comment

Northern Ireland could stay in the European Union in all but name for the purposes of its energy future, a senior academic today told members of a House of Lords committee investigating the impact Brexit could have on gas and electricity supply across the four nations of the UK.

Oxford Institute of Energy Studies research fellow Malcolm Keay’s comments came as Labour politician Lord Hain suggested Northern Ireland could stay in the EU’s customs union after Brexit, with the Irish Sea effectively becoming a new official border between the province and the rest of the UK.

The fate of Northern Ireland post-Brexit has become a major political talking point because the border between it and the Republic of Ireland would become the UK’s sole land border with the EU after the country’s exit from the bloc, which is expected in 2019.

Hain was Northern Ireland Secretary from 2005-2007, helping steer the peace process when the IRA was decommissioning weapons and Stormont devolution was being restored. The province’s troubled history and tensions between its unionist and republican communities mean issues to do with its status are particularly sensitive, but in key sectors including energy both countries on the island have become increasingly intertwined in recent years.

Since 2007, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have together operated a wholesale market through which electricity is bought and sold through a mandatory pool – an initiative that has brought with it such benefits as cheaper electricity prices and increased security of supply.

This arrangement could now be in peril if the UK does not successfully negotiate some form of special status for Northern Ireland.

Keay today told members of the House of Lords Energy and Environment Sub-Committee: “Although I think it’s unlikely that we can negotiate the UK as [remaining] a member of the internal energy market, Ireland is moving towards a single energy market.

“It makes an awful lot of sense for that to happen on the island of Ireland and therefore it seems to me at least possible that a special case would be made for Northern Ireland, that it could effectively remain part of the EU as far as electricity is concerned.”

Withdrawing from the EU could help the UK as a whole to design an effective energy policy to allow it to meet its own legally-binding climate targets, Keay said, as it would “concentrate minds” in Britain.

He said: “If you look at the island of Ireland, it has a higher proportion of wind power, a proportion which a few years ago the National Grid was saying we couldn’t cope with here [on the UK mainland].

“It does cope with it. It encounters certain difficulties, but it does. Once you start focusing on what you can do yourself in terms of the design of the system, the sorts of market you have, the sorts of ways you reward people that provide flexibility, increasingly it seems there are solutions to some of these problems.”

This relatively positive view was echoed by Lawrence Slade, chief executive of Energy UK, who said there was now a “tremendous opportunity” for the UK to show leadership in energy post-Brexit.

He told members of the committee: “There’s a lot of talk about what we take back and what we remove, but why don’t we look at what we can deliver and what we can show global leadership in?

“If you take offshore wind for example, we’ve shown what can be done if you give long-term viability in terms of helping drive down costs.

“Why don’t you, as part of leaving the EU, actually say we are absolutely committed to creating a low carbon economy and we are actually going to steal a march and we are going to deliver that and put our money where our mouth is and drive that investment forward.

“That is a big opportunity and it would send a message clearly around the world that this country wants to move forwards, wants to develop the skills base, wants to develop the companies and this is how we’re going to do it.”

Several of those who gave evidence at today’s hearing expressed major fears about the viability of funding for future interconnectors and UK gas storage facilities in light of Brexit, however.

Many people whose livelihood relies on trade between the Republic of Ireland and the UK are concerned about the possible threat to the seamless movement of goods and people across that border. There is widespread hostility to the resumption of any ‘hard border’.

Theresa May’s government has previously suggested the answer could lie with a technological solution to border controls, similar to that which exists on the international boundary between Norway, which is not part of the EU, and Sweden, which is.

Under such a scenario, vehicles travelling between Belfast and Dublin, for example, would not have to stop and could be monitored remotely.

Zac Doffman, from UK firm Digital Barriers, told E&T: “Suffice to say, I think we’re in a very interesting time right now with some of these technologies – whether it’s the ground censors or facial recognition, where we’re now starting to push the envelope of what’s possible and that’s really interesting with all the mass migration and border protection-type discussions that are taking place.”

Renewable energy could be shared between homes during power cuts

September 6th, 2017 no comment

During a power cut, domestic solar panels become defunct. They cannot be used to power homes, as the devices which manage these solar panels – solar invertors – are automatically switched off for safety. This unbreakable connection to the grid makes it impossible for people to turn to electricity generated from their own home during a power cut, when arguably they need it the most.

However, the team of engineers from University of California-San Diego (UC-San Diego) may have found a solution to this frustrating problem, through the development of tools which allow homes to draw on their own renewable energy sources, even when disconnected from the grid.

“We were inspired to start investigating a way to use renewable power during outages after Hurricane Sandy affected eight million people on the East Coast and left some without power for up to two weeks,” said Abdulehlah Habib, a PhD candidate at UC-San Diego.

These algorithms strategically disconnect solar invertors from the grid by prioritising the distribution of power from renewable resources. They take into account forecasts for solar and wind power generation, the amount of energy storage available, the projected energy use and the amount of energy that an entire cluster of homes could generate from their collective renewable sources.

“Houses connected together are much more resilient during outages,” said Professor Raymond de Callafon, a mechanical engineer at UC-San Diego. “They’re also more resilient to price fluctuations. They can do a much better job at sharing resources and it benefits every house.”

Customers willing to pay extra or customers in urgent need of power (such as for life-support machinery) could be prioritised in the queue for power supply during an outrage if a priority function is included. Alternatively, the algorithms could be adjusted such that households which generate more electricity than they produce would not lose power at all during grid failures.

The tools were found to improve the reliability of the systems by 25 to 35 per cent.

The UC-San Diego tools work with existing technology, but require the installation of remote-controlled circuit breakers. “Clusters” of houses would require new technology, including a “grid forming inverter”, to be installed in order to pool and distribute electricity during power cuts.

In recent years, concerns have been raised about the vulnerability of power grids to cyber attacks, following a succession of unprecedented Russian malware attacks on the Ukrainian power grid.

Prisons could block mobile phone signals under new proposals

September 6th, 2017 no comment

Sam Gyimah said it was the right way to deal with illegal mobile phone use “which is used to carry on criminal activity from behind bars”.

Tory former minister Esther McVey has a private member’s bill due before Parliament later this year which she said would “stop phone signals in prisons”.

When she pressed the minister on the move at Justice Questions, Mr Gyimah said: “I fully support her private member’s bill.

“I think it is the right thing we need to deal with illegal use of mobile phones, which is used to carry on criminal activity from behind bars.”

There have been numerous reports of the government preparing measures to enable wireless providers to jam signals of mobile phones used in jails. 

Figures from last year showed that nearly 15,000 handsets and Sim cards were recovered in prisons in England and Wales in 2015, equivalent to 40 every day.

This compared with 7,400 handsets and Sim cards seized in 2013 and 9,745 in 2014.

Tiny phones just a few centimetres tall are freely available for purchase on the internet and are relatively easy to smuggle into prisons.

Ms McVey’s Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Bill is due to get its second reading in Parliament in December.

She told the Commons a governor of a local prison had raised concerns over drones and illegal use of mobile phones.

“The two are linked together, as the mobile phones give greater frequency and accuracy for drone activity,” McVey said.

“So does the minister agree with me that the way to curb drone activity and stop illegal mobile phone use is to stop phone signals in prison?

“Will he support my Private Members Bill to do that, second reading on December 1?”

Details about how signals will be blocked were not available; suffice to say that converting every prison in England into a Faraday Cage would be an incredibly costly procedure.

Book review: ‘Energy and Civilization: A History’ by Vaclav Smil

September 5th, 2017 no comment

The fact that energy can be transformed from one form to another but not created and destroyed is one of the first principles hammered into young people when they start studying science in earnest. As they progress through their education though, it’s usually only those who stick with sciences who get to consider what the first law of thermodynamics means on a large scale. Even then, for the non-engineers it tends to be in the context of problems involving idealised closed systems and not the practical implications in the real world.

As Vaclav Smil’s ‘Energy and Civilization: A History’ (MIT Press, £32.95, ISBN 9780262035774) clearly illustrates, the challenge of harnessing energy has been central to the story of humankind’s survival and development. The timeline of human evolution can be distilled into the quest to store and control larger and more concentrated forms of energy. Achieving that, through controlling fire, designing more efficient tools, and harnessing wind and water power, has gradually made life easier by reducing the time we have to spend simply surviving.

It’s tempting to think that harnessing energy is something that only began in earnest with the Industrial Revolution. The story goes back thousands of years, however, to the question of how simple biomechanics dictated the ability of early humans to use tools that eased their daily struggle to gather enough food for their energy needs. Engineering could be said to have been born at that point.

The story of how the millennia between then and now have seen humans constantly struggling to get as much energy as they can by expending as little as possible is an entertaining narrative that makes for a fascinating book. This truly interdisciplinary book has much to offer the engineer wanting to learn more about how technology has both made social development possible and been restricted by it, and also the historian familiar with the story of human development who wants to find out about the science.

Vaclav Smil is an academic at the University of Manitoba who has spent his career specialising in energy-related topics and knows how to get the importance of how science works in real life across to the reader in an entertaining way. Technical detail is conveniently boxed off at appropriate points, for example, so it can be skipped by the technically literate reader and avoid disrupting the narrative.

Despite being at heart an update to Smil’s 1994 work ‘Energy in World History’, enough has happened in the years since then to make this a substantially different book, and one that deserves the attention of engineers and historians alike. Both groups, and anyone interested in this neglected topic, will find lots to enjoy.

Electric vehicles to achieve cost parity by 2022 but Paris agreement pledges will still be missed

September 5th, 2017 no comment

EVs are predicted to drop to the same price as combustion vehicles by 2022, a key trigger that will mean by 2035 half of all passenger vehicles sold globally will be electric he said.

“The trends are very clear that the world is electrifying, renewables are taking up more space, we’re moving into a world of EVs, but we have to remember we are racing against the clock. It’s not enough,” said Engel, whose 2,300 staff advise companies and governments on energy issues.

He said, on current projections, the world would not achieve the goal of limiting the earth’s warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius by 2050, as pledged in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

“Anything you can substitute today, you’ve got to accelerate. The speed of implementation must be even faster and this can only happen if the public and private sectors coordinate,” he said at the company’s energy business headquarters in Arnhem, the Netherlands.

On the back of the UN-led Paris agreement, governments have started announcing policies aimed at reducing climate-harming carbon emissions, such as Britain pledging a ban on new diesel and petrol car sales by 2040.

DNV GL expects energy demand will peak around 2030 due to more efficient use and slower population and productivity growth, it said in its first report assessing the impact of the transition towards greater electrification.

Growing electricity production will be the main driver for more efficient energy use as consumers move away from low-efficiency fossil fuels, with power output expected to soar by 140 per cent by the middle of the century.

As a result, renewable energy sources will account for 85 per cent of global electricity production by 2050, DNV GL forecasts.

Despite the rise in renewable energy, it is gas that will overtake oil as the world’s biggest energy source by 2034, the consultancy said, a trend that is reflected in an investment shift at major oil companies towards new gas projects.

This thinking underpinned, for example, Royal Dutch Shell’s $54bn takeover of BG Group last year.

The UK’s National Grid recently moved to downplay fears that the increasing popularity of electric vehicles will cause a significant strain on pre-existing power networks. 

Sponsored: The Engineering Design Show: Innovation on display

September 4th, 2017 no comment

EDS connects emerging technologies with those that can use them in ways to produce products that are better, faster, stronger, cheaper, or whatever it is that your market demands. With the largest number of exhibitors since the launch of the show in 2012, more than 220 suppliers of design components and services for you to pick the brains of, you will be able to find the solution to a design dilemma or discover new supply chain partners quickly and efficiently.

These exhibitors want to spread the word about their products and technologies, some of which will be expanded on in the workshop programmes. The conference schedule takes a broader look at the inspirational projects and trending technologies.

Both the conference and workshop sessions have been approved to have Continuing Professional Development (CPD) points awarded for those in attendance. This means that all our sessions have third party approval to meet content standards to help visitors work towards professional registration.

EDS is also co-located with the Electronics and Embedded Design Shows, reflecting the ever diversifying role of an engineer.

Car parking, entry and attendance to the conference and workshop programmes is completely free, but register for your visitor badge at www.engineering-design-show.co.uk to guarantee your place in conference and workshop session that have limited places on a first come first serve basis.

Here’s a sneak preview on what you can expect from this year’s exhibition…

Conference

This year’s conference sessions include world-class speakers from leading companies providing powerful content and insights into the future of engineering design.

Wednesday’s conference session includes talks from the UK Space Agency’s satellite launch programme director Claire Barcham, who will be talking about the opportunities the UK can offer the growing space sector in the area of launch facilities. BAE Systems’ head of mobility, Dr Marcus Potter, will be discussing lightweighting through metal replacement. And, Lenovo will also be talking about attainable augmented and virtual reality.

Day Two’s sessions include speakers from Autodesk/Hackrod discussing ways to break free of the traditional approach to manufacturing by using generative design and virtual reality as well as a talk on robotics from Tharsus’ CEO, Dave Swan. Lightpoint Medical’s CEO, David Tuch will be presenting a case study around the company’s LightPath Imaging System for acquiring molecular images of tissue specimens.

Workshops

Learn new skills at high-quality workshops presenting new design solutions and discussing the trends driving design engineering forward, including:

Wednesday

  • Mentor, A Siemens Business– Thermal analysis without getting your fingers burnt (Wednesday) and Electronic product creation – getting closure with confidence (Thursday)
  • AKRO-PLASTIC – Enhanced direct bonding of plastic to metals using plasma technology
  • ANSYS – Optimisation for additive manufacturing
  • COMSOL – Simulating physics in product design
  • SKF – How to effectively implement electro-mechanical actuator solutions in the journey toward all-electric machinery

The Future Zone

Take part in hands-on demonstrations of the latest and emerging engineering design tools in the Future Zone.

This year features a cutting-edge desktop Virtual Reality engineering design systems from Lenovo alongside a PCB 3D printer featuring nanotechnology, and conductive and dielectric inks specifically for PCB designers

Where and when

Where: Ericsson Exhibition Hall at the Ricoh Arena, Coventry

                SATNAV POSTCODE: CV6 6GE

When:  18-19 October 2017

                Wednesday 18 October 10:00 – 17:00 (conference starts at 9:15)

                Thursday 19 October 10:00 – 16:00 (conference starts at 9:15)

5 reasons not to miss EDS 2017

  1. Learning from experts in engineering design including the UK Space Agency, Lenovo, Tharsus, BAE Systems and more
  2. Review supply chains and meet new design partners
  3. 220+ exhibitors showcasing the technologies, materials, tools, software and services to support your design projects
  4. The opportunity to try and test the very latest and emerging design tools in the Future Zone
  5. Earning CPD points at the IED approved conference and workshop sessions

For the full event details, and to register for your free visitor badge, visit
www.engineering-design-show.co.uk

Hydrogen Hack competition introduces students to fuel cell technology

August 31st, 2017 no comment

The competition, which took place over a week of heats across the UK, came to a culmination last Saturday, with the grand final held at Ravensbourne College in London. Roughly 100 young people took part in the event, aged between eight and 18, putting their creativity and skills to the test as they reengineered gadgets, appliances and toys.

The contestants were allowed to use any resources available, which alongside the mini computers, included everything from Meccano to 3D printers.

The aim of the event, developed by Arcola Energy, was to raise awareness of hydrogen fuel cell technology amongst school children, with the hope that some will be inspired to go on to study engineering and potentially end up working in the green energy sector.

To aid this, some of the event’s sponsors brought along examples of the technology to the heats, including the Toyota Mirai, which is the world’s first production hydrogen fuel cell powered saloon car.

“The Hydrogen Hack is a creative, innovative and fun way for young people to learn more about renewable energy, hydrogen and fuel cells,” says Arcola Energy’s managing director Dr Ben Todd. “At this stage we find that young people have a good awareness of carbon-driven climate change and the benefits of cleaner energy generation approaches, such as renewables. Awareness of hydrogen as a viable energy source is low by comparison, but growing steadily.”

The Hydrogen Hack is the latest project in Arcola’s long-running, not-for-profit STEM education programme, which includes its Schools Hydrogen Challenge programme.

“In this existing programme, groups of learners are challenged to design, build and test hydrogen-powered vehicles in just 90 minutes, using a prepared kit of various electrical and Lego parts and a miniature hydrogen fuel cell,” says Todd. “This has already reached 25,000 children from Aberdeen to Abu Dhabi.

“With the Hydrogen Hack, there is no restriction on what young people can create, other than their imaginations. We plan to make this an annual event, establishing it as a core part of the UK’s STEM education calendar,” he enthuses.

The Hydrogen Hack grand final was hosted by TV personality Kevin Fong, known as an expert on space medicine and a presenter on the BBC show Horizon.

Prizes included the Best Proof of Concept award, which went to Tejas Mengle (aged eight), Manes Mengle (aged 11) and Sarina Shah (aged 11) from Stanmore. Their objective was to create something that could help during a disaster scenario, and they came up with the idea of a fire truck with an onboard filter that could clean dirty water, making it drinkable.

The main prize, the Best in Show award, went to 13-year-old Chris Glazier and his partner Joseph Ward, aged 12, for their creation entitled the Sentientia Ferula. This is a sensing cane for blind people, which uses an ultrasound sensor and audio and vibration signals to alert users of potential risks.

“Originally we came up with the idea of a self-driving mobility scooter for blind people, where the user could set their destination and the scooter would use sensors to move around things,” Joseph explains. “However, we thought that might be too big for the five days we had and so we decided to develop a cane.

“We worked out we’d need an input, a processing engine and an output, and decided to use an ultrasound sensor, and a micro:bit to receive and then send the information to our outputs. We used it a bit like a car sensor, with the headphones emitting beeps quicker and louder as things get closer and my old electric toothbrush to emit vibrations in the same kind of way.”

Chris goes on to explain how they broke down the work.

“We didn’t know really what to expect beforehand, so on the first morning we came up with a range of ideas and went from there. During that first day we planned our project and on the second we started putting the cane together, hacking the toothbrush and doing the coding.

“The micro:bit was easy to programme and suited this project and the toothbrush was a good object to create vibration. I did the coding because I’d done some before and Joseph mapped out the circuits. By the fourth day, we had finished it and began testing. We spent the final day testing and preparing our presentation.”

“Learning more about how things work and then testing them out ourselves was the most exciting part,” Chris continues. “I learnt a lot about electronics and coding thanks to the Hack and also how to put them all together in one system. Making a presentation was also something totally new to me,” he notes.

“This competition has got me into technology even more – I only really started doing ‘proper’ engineering and technology from last September when I went up to secondary school,” Joseph continues. “I really like inventing things, you can have so many ideas and your imagination is the limit!”

China due to pass nuclear safety legislation to boost sector

August 29th, 2017 no comment

The legislation will help prevent and deal with accidents in the civil nuclear industry to protect public health and the environment, said Xinhua, the state media agency. The law will manage risks associated with the construction and decommissioning of major new nuclear facilities, and the handling of nuclear waste.

China’s legislators have suggested that the time has come to approve the law, indicating that it may be passed at the end of the week, as parliament ends its legislative session.

Thanks to increasing national and international concern about carbon emissions and climate change, air pollution and diminishing fossil fuel reserves, nuclear power – along with renewable energy – is considered an important successor to coal power in China.

The country has 37 live nuclear power plants, and plans to build a further 60 domestic plants in the next decade, to provide for total capacity of 58GW by the end of 2020 (six per cent of its total electricity production).

Recently, China has taken on an increasingly prominent role in the development of new nuclear technologies, most significantly the Hualong One reactor. This is an advanced pressurised water reactor with active and passive safety systems, double containment and a 60-year working life.

China has signed agreements to build reactors in Argentina, Romania, Egypt and Kenya, and invested heavily in the Hinkley Point C reactor: one the largest infrastructure projects ever undertaken in the UK. A Hualong One reactor is also likely to be deployed in the UK, at site of the retired Bradwell nuclear power station in Essex.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an organisation that promotes peaceful nuclear energy, described China’s nuclear safety record as “strong” in a 2016 report, but said that some “further work” was needed in waste management and how to handle ageing power plants.

The IAEA has, according to Xinhua, begun its first nuclear safety assessment of China, at the request of the China Atomic Energy Authority, and will suggest improvements.

“During the 10-day assessment, the agency will review China’s nuclear security system, laws and government supervision, and visit nuclear plants in Zhejiang province,” Xinhua said.

In February 2017, China’s ministry for the environment announced that a manufacturer of nuclear power plant components had been fined for safety breaches at two facilities.