Is the Oil and Gas Industry taking Climate Change Seriously? 

Fossil Fuels

The investor-backed Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI), has produced a new study into the carbon performance and goals of the world’s 10 largest listed oil and gas companies. The study concludes that only two of the world’s top 10 oil and gas companies have put in place strategies in order to achieve significant reductions in their emissions intensity that are by and large in line with the climate action pledges made by governments as part of the Paris Agreement. 

The study revealed that Shell and Total were the only two companies to have long-term plans in place that would lead to a big reduction in their carbon emissions. The report said that their goals were in line with the emissions pledges made by governments in 2015 as part of the Paris climate agreement though they may amount to less than the emissions reductions needed to keep increases in temperature to below 2C. 

Top oil and gas companies jointly spent approximately just one per cent of their 2018 budgets on clean energy, with investments made by Europe’s giants far greater than their United States and Asian rivals. 

The transatlantic divide remains wide, according to CDP, a climate-focused research provider that works with major institutional investors. 

CDP said in a report: 

“With less domestic pressure to diversify, US companies have not embraced renewable energy in the same way as their European peers.”  

In recent years companies such as Royal Dutch Shell, Total and BP have increased their spending on wind and solar power as well as new battery technologies looking to take on a greater role globally to cut carbon emissions in the battle to slow down global warming. 

Currently Shell leads the way with plans to spend US$1-2 billion per year on clean energy technologies in the future out of a total budget of US$25 to US$30 billion and Total has spent the most on low-carbon energies since 2010 at around 4.3 per cent of its budget. 

However, BP and other companies such as ConocoPhillips and Eni were found to have only set emissions targets for their own operations. The report warned that this approach means that carbon emissions will only be reduced by a small amount.  

On top of that, Chevron, EOG Resources, ExxonMobil, Occidental and Reliance were shown to have no targets in place to lessen their emissions. 

Professor Simon Dietz, who leads the TPI’s research, at the London School of Economics’ Grantham Institute, was pleased to see signs that some oil majors were beginning to look at the risks that decarbonisation presented to their business models. The latest study titled Carbon Performance Assessment in Oil and Gas is the latest in a string of studies that have gone before and continue to be done. 

Professor Simon Dietz said: 

“The most significant finding is the emerging status of companies’ future ambitions. It is encouraging to see two major oil and gas companies, Shell and Total, setting out long-term ambitions to reduce carbon emissions intensity in a way that is compatible with the government pledges made at the Paris climate agreement. However, there is a long way to go. None of the 10 largest global oil & gas firms currently set a path that would align them with limiting global warming to 2C or below before 2050. To reduce the carbon footprint of the sector these companies need to set more stretching low carbon targets.” 

Interestingly, Adam Matthews, Co-Chair of the TPI and director of ethics and engagement at Church of England Pensions Board, said that investors saw ambitious emission reduction targets as “essential”. 

Adam Matthews states further: 

“Forward looking lifecycle emission targets that take account of all the impact of a company’s carbon footprint are essential if we, as investors, are going to have confidence in the strategy of companies we invest in. We want to see evidence of a company’s commitment to the transition to a low carbon economy, and this latest research from TPI is not comfortable reading. We welcome Shell and Total’s leadership in setting out their ambitions. We note that while they are moving in the right direction, and are ahead of their peers, this study suggests they are not yet ambitious enough to align with a pathway to below 2C of warming by 2050.” 

Many of these oil majors have resisted change fearing that their investment plans could end up leaving them with stranded assets as new clean technologies emerge and governments bring in even tougher emission reduction policies. Their argument is based in their belief that demand for fossil fuels will continue to grow in the years to come. They think anyway that they remain well positioned to make the transition towards lower carbon energy sources as required. Despite this, many companies have increased investment in renewables, low carbon technology R & D, biofuels and electric vehicle infrastructure in recent years. 

There are however a growing number of investors and analysts who remain worried that with the rapid emergence of electric vehicles, falling renewable costs and more stringent emissions policies they could see the value of oil and gas companies decreasing rapidly if the oil majors fail to see the importance of taking on credible decarbonization policies. 

What are the Benefits of Installing a Biosolar Roof?

green roof solar

Many people only think in terms of having either a green roof or solar power. In actual fact combining the two technologies is common in other countries such as Switzerland, Germany and Austria. Roofs combining green roofs and solar power are often referred to as Biosolar roofs.

Green roof and solar photovoltaic (PV) systems are two technologies that could contribute to sustainable building development and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Integrating them can enhance the way they work and their overall effectiveness by cooling and shading effects.

The results of various experiments show a positive outcome from this integration: green roof surface and soil temperatures are reduced from the shading and higher power output of PV panels is achieved from the cooling effect. Findings from year-round building energy simulation using EnergyPlus for a low-rise commercial building indicated that the energy consumption for air conditioning of the integrated system was slightly lower than the stand-alone system and the PV system on integrated approach generated 8.3% more electricity than the stand-alone option. The degree of benefit gained will depend on the system design and whether the optimum arrangement has been found for the particular building site.

There is considerable evidence that combining solar panels and vegetation can produce the following benefits:

  • Solar/Photovoltaic panels can work more efficiently on a roof when installed over a green roof system. The green roof can have a cooling effect especially in the summer. If the micro-climate around the panels is too hot the panels may not work so well. Green roofs can help to keep ambient temperatures around the panels at or close to 25c which is the best temperature for solar panels to work efficiently.
  • Installing A-frame panels is made easier on a green roof as it provides the ballast for holding the A-frames and panels in place. This also means that there is no impact on the waterproofing layer below.
  • The diversity of vegetation and therefore fauna using the green roof should increase with the PV panels providing shaded areas underneath and rain run-off creating damper areas to the front and drier areas behind. This creates a ‘habitat mosaic’ which allows a wider variety of vegetation to flourish and this in turn can attract a wider range of butterflies, bees, beetles and other species.

It is very important however to design and install biosolar roofs correctly. If too much emphasis is put on the solar panel element of the installation and the green roof seen only as decoration the positives of combining the two can easily turn into negatives. One example would be where panels are placed too close together and entirely the wrong sort of plants take over.

Students at Kansas university compared three types of roof materials, where solar panels are mostly placed. The performances of the panels placed on white or reflective rooftops were compared to conventional (black) and vegetated rooftops.

They installed temperature, humidity and light sensors and a weather station to record conditions like wind speed. The sensors made recordings every five minutes for a year.

Current industry notions are that white, being the most reflective, is the most efficient; but the team found that the black roof performed better because the heat reflected by the white surface onto the panels was too intense.

Overall though they found that vegetative roofs performed best compared to the high-reflective and conventional roof material.

The panels installed over the green roof performed best, generating an average of 1.4 percent more energy as compared with those over the white and black roofs, said a press release by University of Kansas.

Unfortunately, more often than not architects decide to separate these two technologies on a roof. But as time goes on and the pressure mounts to meet renewable energy targets surely green roofs with solar energy generation will become part of a smart future.

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What can each one of us do to slow down climate change?

farming and climate change

It is impossible not to have noticed the increase in extreme weather events in the UK in recent years. The weather service has reported that the UK has experienced higher than average temperatures, longer warm spells and more tropical nights.

In the past decade the Met office has reported that the coldest days have been 1.7 degrees Celsius higher than in the years between 1961 and 1990 while the warmest days have been 0.8 degrees hotter. Virtually unheard of before are the number of tropical nights where temperatures don’t fall below 20.1 degrees Celsius overnight in the UK.

The warm spells now encountered by the UK last more than double the length of time, for an average of 13.2 days in the past decade, in comparison to 5.3 days before 1991.

England had its hottest summer ever this year as an unusually long heat wave had Europe in its grip.

The Met office can now see an average climate change trend underlined by these numbers.

Met Office spokesman Grahame Madge told CNN recently:

 “You can see a fingerprint of climate change within these figures.”

The Met Office report looked in detail at extreme weather events, such as highest and lowest average temperatures and dry and wet spells.

 It is of course the extremes of weather that make people sit up and notice and see that climate change is really happening.

Graham Madge went on to say:

“It will be in the measurement of extremes where climate change will be really apparent.”

The world’s leading climate scientists have issued a warning that we only have 12 years for global warming to be limited to a maximum of 1.5C after which just a half a degree more could make a significant difference as to the degree of risk of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

The landmark report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that urgent and unexampled changes are needed to reach this target which they say is affordable and feasible although at the most ambitious end of the Paris agreement pledge to keep temperatures between 1.5C and 2C.

The half-degree difference might prevent corals from being entirely eradicated and lessen the effect on the Arctic. Recent reports have indicated that the world’s oceans have absorbed 60% more heat than previously thought.

The IPCC recently called for:

“rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.”

Here are some of the things that we can do to help:

Take action:

Join movements or existing groups and push for changes big enough to matter, from city-wide renewable energy solutions to large-scale divestment from fossil fuels.

Insulate your home:

Insulate lofts and draft-proof doors and windows. If this was done on a large scale the UK would see a big drop in energy consumption.

Install solar panels:

Switch to renewable energy wherever possible.

Consider your transport options:

Walk or cycle where possible and if not – and it is available and affordable – use public transport. If you need to go by car, consider an electric one.

Reduce, recycle, reuse:

Purchase fewer things and consume less. Recycle wherever possible and reuse things. Make sure you demand a low carbon option in everything you consume, from clothes to food to energy.

Eat less meat, particularly beef:

Avoid meat and dairy products to reduce your environmental impact on the planet.

Remember to vote:

The IPCC & many experts say there is still a chance to create a sustainable and cleaner global energy system and individuals can hold politicians to account by supporting political parties that put the environment at the heart of their economic and industrial policies.

Experts can point out the huge benefits of keeping to 1.5C, tell us about the unprecedented changes that would need to be made in both energy systems and transport to achieve this and show us that it is all possible within the laws of physics and chemistry but is there the political will?

Renewable Energy…From Mushrooms?

We have long been exploring new ways to create and generate Eco-friendly energy and replace fossil fuels. Some of the latest research has come across a novel way to produce electricity – bionic mushrooms! Research by the institute of technology has provided us with an insight into this slightly odd new way of producing electricity.

A group of scientists combined the mushrooms with 3 D printing using the theory of cyanobacteria and symbiosis whereby they attached these bacteria to a button mushroom and graphene nano-ribbons. The bacteria produce energy by turning sunlight into electric current, so producing bio-electricity. The bacteria used is commonly found in the sea and on land.

So why mushrooms? Well the simple answer is these bacteria don’t live long enough in an artificial lab environment to be able to study them for any amount of time. The clever fungi are the perfect host! They have a perfect mix of moisture, nutrients, temperature and PH allowing the bacteria to stay alive longer.

The scientists discovered that a small amount of power was produced – not enough to power anything alone but joined together, the mushrooms could potentially create enough energy to light an LED. The 3 D printing element comes in to help attach the bacteria to the surface of the mushroom. Bio ink containing cyanobacteria is put on the mushroom top in a winding example crossing with the ink at numerous contact focuses, enabling a great increase of energy to be produced.

Power Mushroom
Power Mushroom

 

Joshi told BBC news:

“It’s a new start; we call it engineered symbiosis. If we do more research in this, we can really push this field forward to have some type of effective green technology”.

This is exciting news for green technology. As researchers scan for new ways to create green energy, there has been a sharp ascent in enthusiasm for cyanobacteria, and although more research is needed this is a promising start and could pave the way for other opportunities and research into bio-hybrid systems. These useful bacteria could play a growing part in the future of green energy.

Researchers told BBC news:

“Right now, we are using cyanobacteria from the pond, but you can genetically engineer them, and you can change their molecules to produce higher photo currents, via photosynthesis,”

Could this be the perfect combination for eco-friendly electricity in the future? These scientists certainly hope that one day this process could shine a light on how to power everyday devices in an environmentally friendly way, as well as use it within other fields.

Professor Mannoor said:

“By seamlessly integrating these microbes with nano-materials, we could potentially realise many other amazing designer bio-hybrids for the environment, defence, healthcare and many other fields.”

The Decline of the Nuclear Energy Solution

Nuclear Energy

Last year saw more electricity produced by wind and solar sources than by the UK’s eight nuclear power stations for the first time ever according to recent government figures.

The decreasing cost of renewables is enabling low carbon energy to replace coal and gas. Wind power had a particularly good year with onshore wind farms showing that they have the capacity to outperform fossil fuels. This is giving renewable energy leaders the confidence to call on the government to end its current subsidy ban on new onshore wind farms which they say is holding back the development of UK’s energy infrastructure.

The degree of technological advancement in renewables has helped to bring down the cost of renewable energy in recent years.

The share of electricity generated by renewables last year increased to 29 per cent, while nuclear sources accounted for around 21 per cent. Wind power accounted for 15% of the electricity generated by renewables.

Low carbon energy sources which include both renewables and nuclear can now be seen to be producing over half of all electricity generated.

Greenhouse gas emissions also continued to fall in Britain, in fact dropping by 3% last year as coal use fell and the use of renewables climbed.

The biggest drop in emissions of any UK sector came from the energy sector while no improvement was seen in the pollution from transport and businesses.

The substantial increase in output from renewable energy sources which is now nearly 10 times higher than coal is a remarkable achievement especially when you take into consideration that coal’s output was the higher of the two only five years ago.

Nina Schrank, energy campaigner for Greenpeace UK recently said:

“These fast-moving trends will continue into the next decade as a new generation of offshore wind turbines come online and demonstrate the technology’s ability to provide the bulk of UK demand.”

 Ms. Pinchbeck, executive director of trade body RenewableUK said earlier in the year:

“The cost of new offshore wind halved in 2017 and onshore wind is already the cheapest of any new power source in the UK so it’s vital that new onshore wind should be allowed to compete in the market for the sake of consumers.”

Despite the worldwide decline in fortunes for nuclear power the UK have been pursuing one of the most ambitious nuclear new-build agendas in the world. Britain has been working towards developing an entirely new and untested design of small modular reactors (SMRs).

Though the government has lent a lot of support to the nuclear project this nuclear new-build programme is severely delayed and there is now little chance of operations getting started before 2025. Costs have gone sky-high and even government figures are showing renewables like offshore wind to already be far more affordable. As renewable costs are still decreasing global investments in these alternatives are now already greater than for all conventional generating technologies put together. If you look at the worldwide picture the momentum towards renewables is now so clear that the scale of the UK nuclear ambitions is an international anomaly.

Though there are some environmentalists and scientists who see nuclear power as an important part of a green energy system, government plans to invest in a new nuclear infrastructure have been criticised by many experts. Many campaigners have taken issue with investment being made in new nuclear facilities rather than large scale wind and solar projects.

Ms. Pinchbeck went on to say recently:

“These figures show the government should capitalise on our global lead in this area and stop wasting time and money propping up nuclear power, a failing and increasingly obsolete technology,” said Ms. Pinchbeck.

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Will Renewable Energy be Cheaper than Fossil Fuels by 2020?

Renewables vs Fossil Fuels

A report published by Adnan Amin, director-general of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) earlier on this year predicted that it will only take another two years for renewable energy to become cheaper than fossil fuels.

The report looked specifically at the relative cost of new energy projects being commissioned at that time.

Continuous improvement in technology has led in recent years to a rapid fall in the cost of renewable energy. Some forms can already comfortably compete with fossil fuels.

The same report suggested that this trend would continue and that by 2020 all renewable power generation technologies now in commercial use would be expected to fall within the fossil fuel-fired cost range.

Adnan Amin said at the time:

“This new dynamic signals a significant shift in the energy paradigm.”

It is quite possible that in the future some technologies could actually undercut fossil fuels and that most will be at the lower end of the cost range.

Renewable energy is increasingly a success story in emerging and developing markets. Last year, they were leading in green energy investments. For example, China added around 54 GW solar PV capacity in 2017 — three times more than any other country had done, which tops China’s total amount to 120 GW of solar PV installed capacity.

One of the reasons for the fast-improving cost performance of the key renewable energy technologies is a growing preference for competitive bidding processes when handing out contracts to develop new power plants. At the same time there is a growing base of experienced developers competing for project opportunities around the world as well as continued advancements being made in the technologies themselves.

Experts have predicted that the more investment is put into green infrastructure projects the more the costs of energy for consumers will decrease.

The cheaper renewable energy becomes the more consumers will benefit from investment in green infrastructure.

Jonathan Marshall, energy analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) told The Independent at the beginning of the year:

“If the stuff you’re building to generate electricity costs less, the end effect of that is having to pay less for the electricity that comes from it. The cheaper you install it, the better it is for everyone.”

Across G20 countries the current cost for fossil fuel power generation ranges from around 4p to 12p per kilowatt hour.

IRENA predicts that renewables will cost between 2p and 7p per kilowatt hour by 2020 with the best results expected from onshore wind and solar photovoltaic projects which could deliver electricity by 2p or less as early as 2019.

As yet other methods of producing renewable energy such as offshore wind farms and solar thermal energy are not as competitive as fossil fuels.

If, however you look at the results of recent power auctions which are a useful way to predict the future cost of electricity and note the projects to be commissioned in the years to come these renewable energy solutions are also due to drop in price.

Mr. Amin went on to say:

“These cost declines across technologies are unprecedented and representative of the degree to which renewable energy is disrupting the global energy system.”

Due to the falling costs, solar PV and battery storage will increasingly drive most of the electricity system globally, with solar PV reaching some 69%, wind energy 18%, hydropower 8% and bioenergy 2% of the total electricity mix in 2050.

The IRENA report also came after the UK had been declared to have had it’s greenest year in 2017.  Data from the National Grid revealed that 13 different renewable energy records had been broken in the UK that year most notably the very first full day since the Industrial Revolution without coal power. However current UK policy may restrict the development of renewable energy capacity.

The UK could be left behind as other countries take advantage of the fall in the cost of renewable energy. Banning subsidies on new onshore wind farms could add 1bn onto energy bills in the next 5 years.

The gap will continue to widen between the cost of electricity in the UK and elsewhere until all low-carbon electricity sources are allowed to compete on equal footing

The decision to use renewables for power generation is no longer going to be just based on being environmentally conscious but one that will be determined by renewable energy making smart economic sense.

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