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All-Ireland electricity market sparks negative pricing

The new all-Ireland electricity market that came into effect last October has led to increased volatility in prices in the wholesale market, and a number of occasions when power companies were forced to pay commercial customers to accept their excess energy, according to Dublin-based energy trading company.

Under the Integrated Single Electricity Market (I-SEM), designed to boost efficiency and align Irish energy costs more closely with those in Europe, all generators, including wind companies, are required to price and sell their electricity output 12 to 36 hours ahead of actual delivery.

However, wind companies are often unable to accurately forecast their output up to 36 hours in advance.

“[When] wind output is very high we begin to see more circumstances whereby conventional power plants begin to offer their output for a negative price in an effort to avoid switching the unit off and having to go through a maintenance intensive operation to restart the facility when they are required ,as wind reduces,” said Ronan Doherty, chief executive of ElectroRoute, a Dublin-headquartered energy trading company.

Mr Doherty said that there have been 556 half-hour periods of negative pricing between October and mid-April in a market for power that has not been traded in advance. This is known as the balancing market.

Smart meters

While big companies can take advantage of power market fluctuations and secure negatively-priced energy, this is not currently an option for households. Still, Mr Doherty said that advent of smart meters, which will give consumers greater control over energy use, may in time provide an opportunity for households to benefit from periods of negative pricing in the balancing market.

Every domestic electricity meter in Ireland is set to be replaced by a smart meter by the end of 2020, according to ESB Networks.

While negative pricing is a common feature of the European energy market, it is a new phenomenon in Ireland.


Britain Is Brimming With Natural Gas

Britain’s appetite for natural gas usually declines in the summer, but this season is different with a record number of LNG tankers due to land this month.

The incoming cargoes show no sign of slowing, and will keep the pressure on benchmark prices already trading below their five-year seasonal average. That’s good news for factories and households as Brexit clouds the nation’s economic outlook.

“We can expect a significant pressure on prices this summer,” said Murray Douglas, a research director for European gas at Wood Mackenzie Ltd. “The global LNG market is strong, we will still have a lots of LNG turning from the Asian to the European markets and we still see lots of LNG deals” and approvals for new projects.

Cargoes are heading to the U.K. and other northwest European nations because thanks to the extensive infrastructure and traded hubs they can absorb any global surplus as well as handle a growing worldwide production boom. Britain is still taking imports of the super-chilled commodity even after its gas export pipeline shut for repairs this month.

LNG prices in Asia, the biggest consumer of the fuel, have also been too low to spur traders to ship cargoes east. Cooler weather is also supporting demand in the U.K.

For projects due to reach FIDs this year, read this BloombergNEF report

While Asian LNG spot prices have regained their traditional premium over European hubs, Atlantic basin suppliers such as the U.S. and west Africa are still sending most of their cargoes to Europe, their nearest liquid market. Longer term, more plants are due to start producing LNG and a number of projects from Mozambique to Russia are nearing investment decisions this year.


Share Watch: Balancing the rise of low-profit renewables with fall of fossil fuels

It took a while for the oil industry to hunker down and identify the new trends, but it is happening and especially in our target company this week, the UK giant British Petroleum (BP).

There is a lot that BP would like to leave in the past. Its origins as a tool of the UK empire is one, not to talk about the series of ecological disasters it has left in its wake over half-a-century and more.

It was a key part of the once fabled ‘Seven Sisters’ oil giants which controlled the world’s oil industry from the 1940s to the late 1970s.

The ‘Seven’ are now reduced to a ‘Supermajor Four’ but they still call the shots in this vast industry.

BP itself trades in 70 countries, has 11 refineries and 15 chemical plants producing petrol, natural gas, aviation fuel, employs 74,000 people worldwide and is valued by the stock market at $110bn (€97.35bn).

Its near collapse following a Gulf of Mexico ecological disaster nine years ago has faded and today the group is stronger than at any time in the last nine years.

Oil prices are at their highest since 2014 and its shares are at a level not seen in the last eight years.

Perhaps more importantly, BP has spotted that the energy business is in revolutionary mode.

Oil and coal, which were central to 20th century business, are now giving way to something different.

A recent study stated that within the next 20 years, solar and wind power (renewables) will account for more than half of global power generation.

Electric cars, vans and small trucks will be the vehicles of choice while oil and gas demand will decline.

Interestingly, this is not a study from environmentalists, but from a world renowned firm of consultants.

To calm worries as to its lack of investments in renewables, BP two years ago acquired Lightsource Solar, Europe’s largest developer and operator of utilities-style solar projects.

It has also invested in Store Dot, an Israeli quick-charging battery company.

However, BP’s alternative energy strategy is still relatively small, while it continues to expand its vast global network of petrol stations, investing in convenience stores and developing its new oil/gas discovery in Egypt.

The company’s strategy to rein in spending, pay for its enormous penalties/clean-up costs and focus on higher margins, has paid off.

Revenues for the year were $303bn with net profit of $9.6bn, a profit margin of 3pc propelling the shares to a yearly high but they have since retreated.

Unfortunately, the company has been unable to cut debt levels as it absorbs the cost of its recent purchase of US shale assets.

The problem facing BP is how to strike a balance between low-profit renewables and its very profitable oil and gas business while coping with investor and consumer pressures for climate change.

While the group has recovered from its near collapse, I wouldn’t be parking my cash on BP shares right now; other oil majors are more attractive.

Nothing in this section should be taken as a recommendation, either explicit or implicit to buy any of the shares mentioned.


The truth about renewable subsidies

As Drax holds its AGM in London a new campaign calls for UK renewables subsidies to be diverted from biomass burning to genuinely renewable energy.

A surcharge on UK energy bills is funding subsidies for biomass electricity generation that is making climate change worse, polluting communities, destroying forests and harming wildlife.

In 2017, the UK Government granted around £1 billion in renewable subsidies to power stations – including Drax Power Station in Yorkshire – to burn millions of tonnes of wood for electricity.

Drax alone received £729 million – around £2 million per day – in subsidies to burn wood pellets and is now the world’s largest biomass burner.

Biodiversity hotspots

Despite claims by the biomass industry that they mostly burn “low-grade wood residues”, US conservation NGOs have proven that a significant proportion of wood pellets for Drax and other UK power stations comes from the clearcutting of whole trees from wetland forests in the Southern US.

These forests are at the heart of a biodiversity hotspot and are home to many endangered species, including salamanders, the Louisiana black bear and the Venus flytrap.

Meanwhile, new subsidies for onshore wind and solar power have been scrapped while the government is only planning to allocate £60m for the next round of renewable energy funding in May.

However, with a fixed amount of government money available for renewable energy under the Levy Control Framework, ending the generous biomass subsidies would automatically release around £800m for genuinely low-carbon wind, wave and solar power.

This would make a huge difference in reducing both our air pollution and our greenhouse gas emissions.


Why are biomass power plants receiving these huge renewable subsidies for burning wood?

Governments and the biomass industry argue that converting old coal power plants to burn wood is ‘green energy’ which can help reduce our carbon emissions.

This argument is based on the mistaken belief that burning wood is ‘carbon neutral’ because there is an assumption that new trees will absorb the carbon emissions produced by the burning.

This has allowed the biomass industry to present itself as a ‘low carbon’ and ‘sustainable’ alternative to fossil fuels, with the Minister of State for Climate Change and Industry describing biomass as “a cost-effective and transitional means of decarbonising the electricity grid”.

Drax’s Chief Executive, Will Gardiner, claimed that the power station is: “the biggest decarbonisation project in Europe” and a “key part of the climate change solution.”

Green deserts 

However, the truth is that there is nothing renewable or sustainable about biomass burning. By contrast, biomass comes at an enormous cost for communities, wildlife, forests and the climate.

The biomass industry claims that it is actually helping to increase forest growth in America by felling large areas of forest and replanting them with new trees.

Yet, this supposed forest growth disguises the fact that when new trees are planted in these areas, they are often monoculture plantations which cannot support biodiverse species and are little more than ‘green deserts’ for wildlife.

The destruction of forests to provide fuel for biomass burning is also harming communities who live near the US wood pellet production sites and the UK biomass power stations.

Wood pellet production causes noise and water pollution for local communities in the Southern US, while both pellet mills and biomass power stations produce dangerous air pollution, including small particulates which can enter the bloodstream and cause cancer, heart disease and neurological problems.

Climate impact

The fact that biomass burning is increasing climate change is equally alarming. Far from being carbon neutral, burning wood actually emits more CO2 than coal per unit of energy generated because the higher moisture content means that burning it is less efficient.

In 2017, Drax alone emitted 11.7 million tonnes of CO2  from burning wood. This is more than the total amount by which the UK should be reducing emissions every year in order to meet its carbon budgets.

Biomass proponents claim that these emissions will be reabsorbed by forest regrowth or by planting new trees, but new trees will take decades or even longer to reabsorb the emissions, if they ever can. This is time which we do not have if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate breakdown.

The climate impact of burning wood for energy was highlighted by 800 scientists in a letter to the European Parliament in January 2018: “Even if forests are allowed to regrow, using wood deliberately harvested for burning will increase carbon in the atmosphere and warming for decades to centuries […] even when wood replaces coal, oil or natural gas. The reasons are fundamental and occur regardless of whether forest management is “sustainable.”

Burning wood not only adds to carbon emissions, but it also destroys the very forests which we need to absorb our greenhouse gases.

Bhis technology has not been tried in large power stations and many experts regard it as unfeasible, but the biomass industry argues that new carbon capture and storage technology will allow it to remove its emissions from the atmosphere.

Climate solutions 

We already have the most powerful means to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and reduce climate breakdown – forests.

Protecting and restoring the world’s forests is as important as phasing out fossil fuels if we are to keep global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees, as 40 international scientists argued in response to the IPCC report in October: “While high-tech carbon dioxide removal solutions are under development, the “natural technology” of forests is currently the only proven means of removing and storing atmospheric CO2 at a scale that can meaningfully contribute to achieving carbon balance.”

In the light of the IPCC report’s dire warning that we are running out of time to save the planet from the worst effects of climate breakdown, it is essential that we stop wasting our money on the false solution of biomass burning and instead redirect subsidies to genuinely renewable wind, wave and solar power.

Over 120 international environmental groups emphasised in their position statement on forest biomass energy in October 2018: “Subsidies for forest biomass energy must be eliminated. Protecting and restoring the world’s forests is a climate change solution, burning them is not.”

Taking action

It is more urgent than ever that we call for an end to subsidies for burning wood, as Drax prepares to hold its AGM in London this coming week.

If you would like to take action to save forests and our climate from biomass burning, Biofuelwatch has launched a new campaign for people to ask their MPs to help redirect subsidies from biomass power stations to genuine renewables.

Last year, the government made a positive first step by effectively ruling out future subsidies for large-scale biomass electricity. This sends a strong message that biomass burning is not part of the solution to climate change.

However, the change in the subsidies rules only applies to new projects and existing biomass power stations are currently set to continue receiving many billions of pounds in subsidies between now and 2027, unless we can redirect them to wind, wave and solar power. Fortunately, this could be done easily through secondary legislation.

This is why we urgently need your help to contact your MP and if you’re in London on Wednesday, we’d love to see you at our protest outside the Drax AGM.

Please feel free to get in touch with Biofuelwatch if you have any questions or would like to organise a workshop or screening of the award-winning documentary: “Burned: are trees the new coal?

Together, we can persuade parliament to tackle climate change, save forests, reduce pollution and combat environmental injustice by ending subsidies for burning wood.


Courts shut down renewable energy investment company

Darlington company that sold investment opportunities in renewable energy plants has been shut down after it failed to pay back millions of investors’ funds.

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UK power stations have gone without coal for the longest period since the Industrial Revolution

BRITAIN’s power stations have gone without coal for the longest period since the Industrial Revolution – it emerged yesterday.

Ministers hailed new industry figures which revealed the bulk of electricity over the Easter weekend was generated by renewable ‘green’ energy and nuke power.

Not a single kilo of coal had been burned for 82 hours.

In China, around 75 per cent of its electricity comes from coal.

The staggering figures were championed by Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Twitter.

The Tory leadership contender said: “One reason the UK has cut carbon emissions more than almost anywhere. It’s worth celebrating.”

Under current Government plans, all coal power plants are due to close in 2025 – five years ahead of Canada.




Alternative heat solutions: converting a town to low carbon heating


As part of its wider research into heat decarbonisation, BEIS commissioned Ramboll Energy to explore possible technologies able to convert a UK town to low carbon heating and to analyse the costs, practical constraints and challenges associated with each of them.

The technologies analysed were:

  • hydrogen with carbon capture and storage combined with electric cooking
  • hybrid heat pumps with gas cooking
  • electric heat pumps and electric cooking
  • district heating from biomass and heat pumps

Read more here:



Invest directly in new wind farms while saving on energy bills with new UK startup

Ripple Energy aims to put wind power in the hands of the people while giving them cheap, reliable energy at a stable price

Britain is home to a resource that’s enormously abundant, produces electricity much more cheaply than oil or gas, emits no carbon dioxide and – unlike fossil fuels – involves no devil’s bargain with regimes like Putin’s Russia or the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Wind energy produced locally could supply the majority of the UK’s electricity needs, yet there is no gold rush around this valuable energy source. Yes, wind is growing in importance as a way of powering our homes and businesses, but, worryingly, last year investment in renewable energy dropped to its lowest in a decade.

Recent headlines have pointed to Britain going “coal-free” for almost four days – the longest period since the Industrial Revolution – but much of the energy we consumed instead of coal came from gas or was imported from overseas.

These stories hide the fact that green energy subsidies have been ditched and the government has been accused of creating a “hostile environment” for new renewable generation.

Even if the future of the planet wasn’t at stake, this would be a criminal underinvestment in an area where Britain has a clear inbuilt natural advantage.

Ripple Energy gives UK consumers the chance to bypass big suppliers with their rip-off tariffs and overpaid execs. Instead of waiting for stuck-in-the-mud ministers to take the action to support the transition away from fossil fuels Ripple allows consumers to directly fund cheap, clean, renewable energy, in a simple way.

As consumers, we stand to save £85 to £175 a year on our energy bills while funding the expansion of the cleanest, cheapest, safest energy currently available produced right here on our shores.

Here’s the offer: You put in around £1,300 for a stake in a new onshore wind farm. You can invest more if you want but this is the amount Ripple reckons will give you the amount of energy needed for an average home.

For that you get electricity at a low price which will remain stable for the entire 25-year lifespan of a wind farm rather than seeing bills shoot up based on the whims of global energy markets.

It’s simple to sign up online. Enter a few details such as where you live and how big your house is. After that you agree to become a member of what’s known as a Community Benefit Society. It’s like a company but, in keeping with its name, it benefits the wider world rather than just its shareholders.

You can get involved in the society if you want but this is by no means an obligation. Ripple will run things and you’ll get a bill from one of the two suppliers the company is currently working with.

The whole idea came about because, after 18 years working in renewable energy, Ripple founder Sarah Merrick, saw a huge and unnecessary gap in the market.

“People love wind power”, says Merrick. “But it’s not that easy for them to get it.” There are green energy tariffs but these mostly serve to reallocate existing renewable supply amongst different customers. By contrast, Ripple sources new money to promote the construction of extra wind capacity.

Big firms have been pumping money into their own renewable energy projects for several years, but it’s so far been pretty much off-limits to the consumers.

“It’s great that companies like Google and Ikea can access cheap renewable energy,” says Merrick. “But we think everyone should be able to do that.”

“When you work out the numbers it’s pretty simple and even people who have worked in renewable energy for a long time are surprised.”

Ripple is currently crowdfunding to support its growth as it works towards its first project – a single wind turbine that will supply around 800 homes.

It’s been so popular that after a week Ripple is already at close to two thirds of its £750,000 target.

The crowdfunder will enable Ripple to complete the development of its clean energy ownership platform and market its first pilot project later this year. Merrick is now eyeing up a 20-megawatt farm that will provide power to around 18,000 households.

As well as cheaper bills Ripple offers something else that is extremely valuable in the face of political inaction. As thousands of protestors take to Britain’s streets to protest and demand a ‘Citizens Assembly’ on climate change, Ripple presents a way of democratising the ownership of energy, our most crucial resource.

“We don’t think that in the future people will need big utilities, or pensions funds for that matter, to own renewable energy supply,” says Merrick.

“They can do it themselves.”


5 renewable energy developments to look out for in 2019

2018 was a record-breaking year for the UK, with renewable energy leading the charge. In fact, it was the greenest year on record for UK energy generation. 2018 was also a significant year for Opus Energy (you can read more about that here).

There were several record-breaking events in the world of energy. The UK’s renewable energy capacity exceeded that of fossil fuels; there were new generation records set for wind and solar over the summer months as the UK enjoyed a heatwave.

With such an impressive year behind us, we’re hoping to see more of the same in 2019 and beyond. Here are some of the other exciting prospects in the world of renewable energy that we’re hoping to see next year.

Storage becoming increasingly viable

With the growing demand for electric cars helping to drive the production of better batteries, prices are falling, and consumers are beginning to experiment with solar and storage solutions at home. Equally, storage is necessary for the consistent supply of energy to the Grid. Renewable sources can be intermittent, so saving the energy for when the weather isn’t favourable is important.

Drax is one of the companies at the forefront of this and has proposed the development of new gas generation assets at its Yorkshire power plant. This would be accompanied by two battery storage facilities, as well as a power station the stores energy from pumped hydro power.

Opus Energy, too, has signalled its intent to be a part of the storage revolution. We’re currently running a trial with one of our customers to explore the benefits of battery storage for our customers and our business.

The potential success of storage goes beyond the UK; it is expected to help prove the viability of renewable energy as a major player in the generation mix of many countries, including Egypt and Ireland. Watch this space.

Progress in Central and South America

South America is quickly catching up with the rest of the world, with continued economic growth driving increased energy consumption, and an ever-more urgent need to ensure that our demand for energy doesn’t cause stress to the planet.

However, the current energy landscape is failing to keep up with energy demand and consumption. In Argentina in 2015, fossil fuels were 87% of the energy mix (although some companies are trying to change this – for example, this wind  one this Argentinian wind power generator is expanding its portfolio from 100 MW to 250 MW over the coming years.

The story is the same for many South American countries, with the pressing need for an energy revolution driving change – but there is potential everywhere. Chile, for example, has limited fossil fuel resources but benefits from considerable hydropower, solar and wind resource. Making the most of these resources will be vital across the continent.

The continued drive towards energy efficiency

Using energy efficiently and reducing energy use where possible is just as important as using cleaner energy sources.

This is part of the logic behind the UK’s smart meter rollout, helping everyone to become more aware of their energy use and how using energy at different times can be both cheaper and more environmentally friendly.

National Grid, the UK’s energy system operator, has created a carbon-intensity toolwhich forecasts how “clean” or “dirty” electricity will be a few days in advance. Similarly, Drax’s Electric Insights tool provides a near-real time picture of the UK’s energy consumption and its sources.

According to Carbon Brief, an environmental organisation, reduced energy use and the rise of renewable energy sources have been the biggest reasons behind the UK’s reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Increased efficiency, therefore, will be on the agenda for many businesses and households. Not just to mitigate any price increases – but to help reduce environmental impact.

The Middle East: Falling fossils and the renewable rush

The Middle East is better known for its rich fossil fuel resources, with plentiful oil and gas deposits. Some might say it falls behind the rest of the world in terms of renewable energy investment, but there are reasons to be optimistic.

Downward pressure on oil and gas prices has emphasised the importance of a diversified energy network, and self

As a large geographic region which spans continental borders, the climate of many of the countries is conducive to renewable energy generation.

For inland regions, there exists the strong potential for both conventional ‘photovoltaic’ solar power, and the less widely-used ‘concentrated solar power’, thanks to the high levels of solar irradiance across the region. According to the Renewable Energy Network, a number of solar projects are already in the planning or construction stages.

Electric vehicles hitting the highways

As battery storage technology continue to improve, one of the most visible applications of the technology is in electric vehicles.

In the UK, there are more than 130,000 registered EVs. This increase in the number of electric vehicles on the road has a twofold benefit in terms of energy consumption.

Firstly, it reduces fossil fuel use in the transport sector, which reduces the use of fossil fuels overall. While this electrification places greater demand on the energy sector, the continued reduction in fossil fuel use (in the UK, in particular) means that the average emissions associated with EVs has fallen by 50%.

Secondly, it makes a difference to local air quality. Concerns were repeatedly raised about the effect of diesel and petrol vehicles and the potential dangers caused by their exhaust fumes.


Pioneering Orkney energy project offers glimpse of fossil fuel-free future

IT is the pioneering project that offers a tantalising glimpse of a cleaner, greener future free of mass pollution.

Experts have launched the first phase of a ground-breaking £28.5 million energy system which it is hoped will eliminate the need for fossil fuels in Orkney — and eventually the whole of the UK.

The scheme includes plans for a locally-powered electric bus and electric bike “integrated transport system” on the islands, as well as the mass roll-out of electric vehicles.

Meanwhile, up to 500 domestic and 100 large-scale batteries will be used to store renewable energy, allowing it to be pumped into the grid when winds drop or the sun disappears.

Dubbed the “energy system of the future”, those involved hope it will prove such a success it will eventually be rolled out across the UK and beyond – helping to create a future powered entirely by renewables.

Mark Hamilton from Solo Energy, one of the firms involved in the ReFLEX (Responsive Flexibility) scheme, said it was a “world-leading example” of how innovation can drive the transition to green energy.

He said: “In Orkney, we’ve got a very high level of renewable generation from wind and solar, and other forms of generation such as wave and tidal.

“All of these renewable generation sources are obviously low carbon, but they are intermittent – so the wind comes and goes, the sun comes and goes.

“The ReFLEX project involves deploying battery systems and smart electric vehicle charging to balance the intermittency of renewables.

“So what Solo does, we have a software platform which we use to control battery systems across the grid to respond to the intermittency of renewable generation.

“So basically, when there’s lots of renewables generating, we charge battery systems across the grid, store that low-cost renewable energy, and then release it back to the grid when renewable generation decreases.”

Mr Hamilton said 25 per cent of the UK’s current electricity needs are met by renewable energy.

He said it would realistically be 20 to 30 years before the country’s entire energy system could become fully reliant on renewables.

He said: “We can have all the wind and solar farms we want but unless we have the means to store and balance renewables we will never fully wean ourselves off fossil fuels and get to the root of the climate change problem.”

The Orkney scheme uses a “virtual power plant” model which sees rechargeable lithium-ion battery systems controlled remotely using special software.

This allows them to be charged when renewable energy – such as wind – is abundant. They can then release that energy when the supply drops.

Orkney is already a world-leader in wave and tidal technology and boasts a high uptake of electric vehicles.

The latest project aims to deploy up to 600 extra electric vehicles and 100 flexible heating systems, as well as a Doosan industrial-scale hydrogen fuel cell which produces eco-friendly energy and heat.

Once demonstrated in Orkney, experts hope the “virtual energy system” – which aims to link up local electricity, transport, and heat networks into one controllable, overarching system – will be rolled out across the UK and internationally.

To encourage uptake, electric vehicles will be provided through a low-cost leasing arrangement, while batteries will be provided free on the basis customers will benefit from lower energy bills.

“50% of the project is being funded privately indicating the appetite that exists within the partners to make this project work.

“Orkney has already demonstrated high commitment for local sustainable energy solutions and the county is well on its way to decarbonising each aspect of the energy system.

“The target for Orkney is to have a negative carbon footprint and this pioneering project will build upon the existing local energy system, local infrastructure and local expertise, to accelerate this transition to a fully sustainable and flexible energy system.”

The Scottish Government aims to generate 50% of the country’s overall energy consumption from renewable sources by 2030.

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