Articles in Category: Environment

After filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last year and subsequently being declared “hopelessly insolvent” by a judge, U.S. energy giant SunEdison Inc. is winding down its operations in India.

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SunEdison is exiting its India business by selling 1.7 gigawatts of wind and solar farms to Greenko Energies Pvt.

Foreign Investment

Greenko is backed by the sovereign wealth funds of Abu Dhabi and Singapore. The two sites include one with 440 megawatts of capacity already operating and another 1,200 mw of projects still under development including a 500 mw solar project. Reports pegged the projects total assets value at about $500 million. Read more

You probably wouldn’t be the first to nominate the Daily Mail or its owner, the Daily Mail and General Trust, for an award for cutting edge journalism but a recent article from Daily Mail Australia certainly grabs your attention.

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It underlines why China has such an intractable problem with pollution. It also suggests how Chinese steel mills are managing to have such a disruptive effect on global steel prices apparently bereft as they are of the legislation imposed on the rest of the world.

Unlicensed Steel Mills

In a series of graphic photographs (please click through to the link above, MetalMiner cannot republish the photos due to copyright) the paper illustrates the appalling state of many private steel plants on the fringes of the Chinese steelmaking industry. Certainly, the industry is dominated by major state enterprises, but it is also riddled with hundreds of smaller steel plants operating almost entirely outside the law.

Paying little more than bribes to buy off investigating officials, these mills not only ignore worker’s rights and safety but compliance with air and soil pollution legislation is non-existent. When you pay peanuts, ignore environmental requirements (and hence costs) and operate on the fringe the dividing line between profit and loss is blurred. These mills not only pollute the environment not just to the detriment of their workers and the local community, they also, when it suits them, dump excess capacity both domestically and for export.

The photos, taken by photojournalist Kevin Frayer in an arid region in the country’s north called Inner Mongolia show images of steel mills we have not seen in the west since the days of Charles Dickens.

Not surprisingly, after several years of a “war on pollution” Beijing was again suffering from a yellow smog alert recently with hundreds of flights cancelled and highways closed across northern China as average concentrations of small breathable particles known as PM 2.5 soared about 500 micrograms per cubic meter in Beijing and surrounding regions, according to Reuters.

Shadow Steel Industry

Although Beijing has taken strenuous measures to control emissions with so much energy produced from coal and so many industries still failing to meet environmental standards, it’s no surprise progress is slow. While China is the world’s biggest polluter it is also, to its credit, a global leader in establishing renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power. Yet, as these photographs show, a great deal more needs to be done. Until Beijing cleans up the production side of the equation, no amount of new renewable energy technology is going to solve the problem.

Six years its first proposal, Indian mining giant Adani seems as if it’s finally ready to start its $16.5 billion coal project in Queensland, Australia.

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The company recently secured the approval for a permanent rail line for what’s known as the Carmichael project. An official statement by the company said Queensland’s Coordinator-General had given “the latest, and final, secondary approval” for about 19-and-a-half miles of permanent track, as well as a 300-bed camp.”

The permission will add to the nearly 242 miles of heavy haul track connecting the mine to Abbot Point port. Chief Executive of Adani Australian, Jeyakumar Janakaraj, said in a press statement, “We are particularly focusing on the construction of our planned near-400-kilometer (248 miles) rail line to be constructed between the Carmichael mine and our bulk port facility at Abbott Point near Bowen.”

When fully operational, the mine will reportedly be the largest in Australia, involving the dredging 3.53 million cubic feet of soil near the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The project will ensure Adani a steady supply of coal to be used for electricity generation, benefiting a hundred million Indians.

The proposed project ran afoul with green groups in Australia, quickly taking on a “jobs versus ecology” dimension. As per some claims, the project is likely to create at least 11,000 jobs, and the company has promised to farm these out to locals, and not bring in labor from abroad.

After getting approval, Adani Group Chairman Gautam Adani met Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, amid protests from groups in Melbourne. Adani has said the project will start in the new year.

Supporters of the project insist mines such as these will provide an economic stimulus to North Queensland.

Matt Canavan, Minister for Northern Australia, was quoted in a section of the media as saying this would be the first time a new minerals basin would be opened up in 40 years.

Adani also announced that it will set up regional centers for providing vital support services for the project and associated infrastructure and headquarters for its rail and port operations.

Townsville would become Adani mining’s regional headquarters, while the Mackay-Bowen area would become the regional headquarters for its rail and port operations. Adani said its shift to the regional Queensland centres would allow it to more directly harness local skills.

The project has faced a lengthy environmental approval process and a number of court challenges. Earlier, this year, it finally got Queensland government approval to mine. Some say, however, that while the Carmichael mine has the final government approvals, there are still a few hurdles it has to surmount.

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An appeal has been lodged with Australia’s full Federal Court seeking to overturn the Commonwealth approval, and is due to be heard in March.

Alcoa, Corp. recently launched new aluminum product lines produced with low carbon emissions and recycled content. The new sustainable line includes two key product categories:

  • Ecolum: a range of cast products among the least carbon-intensive products available today, yielding a 75% lower carbon impact than the industry average.
  • Ecodura: aluminum billets made with a minimum of 50% recycled content and use up to 95% less energy to manufacture when compared to products with no recycled material.

Alcoa said ecolum products will qualify for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council and, as such, the company is preparing Environmental Product Declarations for the building and construction market that helps customers achieve LEED materials and resources credits.

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Only plants that operate on hydro-electric power that meet the emissions requirements for the ecolum guarantee of less than 2.5 metric tons of CO2 emissions per metric ton of aluminum. The ecodura products can be produced at any facility that has the ability to remelt scrap.

Aluminum Rod

Ecolum aluminum rod produced at Alcoa’s Fjardaál hydro-electric smelter in Iceland. Source: Alcoa.

India has brought the world’s largest solar power plant online.

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At the end of November, the world’s biggest solar power plant was completed in the southern part of India and its already generating power.

Spread over 2,500 acres in the Tamil Nadu province, the new solar plant replaces the Topaz Solar Farm in Riverside County, Calif., as the largest solar power farm in one location in the world. The Indian solar farm can generate 648 megawatts of green electricity, while Topaz generates 550 mw. India aims to power about 60 million homes by using solar energy by 2022. The Tamil Nadu plant, built by Adani Power, can light up about 150,000 homes. India aims to produce 40% of its electricity from renewables by 2022. Read more

Should we live like wookiees?

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Well, maybe not EXACTLY like Han Solo’s best pal, Chewbacca, but live in tall, wooden structures?

Wookiee Cultural Center

A wookiee cultural center nestled deep in the trees of Kashyyk. Why don’t we get Pete Nelson to design treehouses for all of us? Painting by the incomparable Ralph McQuarrie. Source: Lucasfilm.

Wookiee civilization, as depicted in the “Star Wars” films, is an advanced, highly sophisticated one. The ape-like humanoids have all of the intelligence of the human characters in the movies, save the ability to vocalize and speak in a language that isn’t moans and growls. Read more

About 44% of all solar power that’s installed on residential rooftops, known as distributed solar capacity, is owned by private businesses, such as SolarCity, according to new government data.

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Distributed solar capacity in the U.S., which includes all solar power capacity other than utility-scale installations 1 megawatts or larger, increased to 12.3 gigawatts as of September, according to new figures from the Energy Information Administration. In comparison, a cumulative 11.6 gw had been installed in the U.S. by the end of 2015.

Renewables_Chart_December-2016_FNL

According to the report, third-party owners own 44% of distributed solar capacity in the U.S. residential sector, compared with 11% in the commercial and industrial sectors. The residential sector accounts for 56% of distributed solar capacity but 84% of third-party-owned solar capacity. Nearly half of U.S. solar capacity is privately owned. However, panels owned by individual homeowners and businesses are expected to eclipse TPO as the largest owner-category in the next five years.

Like the Cleveland Browns losing, the sun rising or winter bringing cold weather and shorter days, the Renewables MMI didn’t move this month and held flat at 52 as it has for four straight months. That follows four years of relative flatness, too.

We’ve previously written about the relationship between manufacturers of crystalline silicon photovoltaic panels and incentives for solar expansion and this report highlights the cozy relationship between production and ownership. If, however, individuals, can really eclipse corporate owners like SolarCity in the next few years, it could be a watershed moment for solar power in the U.S. as lower costs are expected to finally make owning cheaper and better than leasing.

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Could an ownership society push more adoption of solar? It’s hard to tell, but anything that increases demand, as falling prices generally do, would be welcome at this point.

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The Obama administration slammed the brakes on the Dakota Access pipeline on Sunday, refusing to issue a required easement from the Army Corps of Engineers while saying it will conduct a more stringent environmental review to consider alternate routes and consult further with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which has bitterly opposed the project.

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However, the 1,172-mile pipeline may not be dead in its current form. Nearly all of the pipeline has been completed except a few miles that are planned to flow underneath the Missouri River and the manmade Lake Oahe in North Dakota. The Army has said they will ask Energy Transfer Partners, the developer of the pipeline, to consider alternative routes and said that would be best accomplished through an environmental impact statement with full public input and analysis.

The Army Corps had actually approved the easement back in June but stepped in again after a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit by the Standing Rock Sioux whose reservation is near Lake Oahe. President-elect Donald Trump came out in support of completing the pipeline as planned last week and his administration could, potentially, undo these recent actions by the Obama administration.

Well, this is kind of embarrassing.

Four months after the U.K. defiantly voted to leave the E.U., that same organization and currency bloc has awarded $11.5 million (£9.6 million) in regional development funding to back a highly experimental new wave power project based at Hayle in northern Cornwall called Wave Hub.

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Indeed, so key is the E.U. contribution that Carnegie Wave Energy, the company behind the project, is now confident it will be able to complete the first phase, a 1-megawatt trial facility due to be connected to the national grid in 2018.

The plan is this would be followed by a second phase intended to deliver 15 mw by 2021. Slightly embarrassing in that the E.U. regional development funds are intended to “strengthen economic and social cohesion” across the EU, not what slightly over half the U.K.’s voting population voted for, but there you are.

Wave energy has promised much and delivered almost nothing for decades. Two Scottish firms, Pelamis and Aquamarine, have both gone into administration in the past two years, as firms struggle to develop economically viable technology. Carnegie’s differs in that it operates underwater rather than on the surface, protecting it from breaking waves. The firm says it needs only a 1 meter (3 feet) swell to generate power, a state the sea delivers almost every day of the year off the cost of Cornwall, renowned for its Atlantic breakers and home to Newquay.

It’s said by some to be the capital of European surfing. The technology is therefore closer in some respects to tidal power than traditional wave power technologies and should require lower maintenance and offer a longer operating life than previous surface positioned wave designs.

An artist's impression of the proposed new Wave Hub off Hayle, Cornwall © PA, taken from the FT

An artist’s impression of the proposed new Wave Hub off Hayle, Cornwall © PA, Source: FT.

Bizarrely, Carnegie Wave Energy is not even a British firm, they are Australian but as the CEO, Michael Ottaviano, is quoted by the Financial Times as saying, Australia is blessed with an embarrassment of energy resources “so there has not been strong incentives for new technology.”

The U.K., and indeed Europe as a whole, is not so fortunate and, driven by a commitment to decarbonize the region, it’s willing to back new technologies if they show sufficient promise. In total, Wave Hub’s Hayle project will cost some $72 million (£60m) and should, all being well, start delivering power the national grid within two years.

China, the world’s biggest clean-energy investor, lowered its solar and wind power targets for 2020, a reflection of how record installations of panels and turbines have simply overwhelmed the ability of the nation’s existing electrical grid to absorb the new electricity.

Renewables_Chart_November-2016_FNL

This is more bad news for the burgeoning renewable energy infrastructure market and it’s not like the metals that go into panels (steel, silicon and copper wire) were setting the world on fire before this news. Our Renewables MMI has been flat as a board, stuck at 52, for the last three months and only held at one point higher for the previous two months. Along with Rare Earths, Renewables have been habitually flat for much of the year.

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The problem, for China, is two-fold. It must upgrade its grid to accept available solar and wind power directly into local grids and also set up energy storage that can save generated power when for when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow.

China is now aiming for 110 gigawatts of solar power by 2020, a 27% reduction from an earlier target, according to a webcast posted on the website of the National Energy Administration that cited the agency’s chief engineer, Han Shui. The nation reduced its goal for wind power by 16% to 210 gw.

While China has poured billions of dollars into clean energy in recent years, the ability to deliver the newly-generated electricity from where it’s produced to where it’s needed has lagged, a common problem with wind and solar. The mismatch has left solar and wind capacity sitting idle in some parts of the country, hurting companies such as China Longyuan Power Group Corp. and China Datang Corp. Renewable Power Co.

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