Articles in Category: Green

In its future energy scenarios report, the U.K.’s network operator, the National Grid, said even its most optimistic scenario suggests it will miss the European Union’s15% energy consumption from renewable sources 2020 climate target for member-states by at least two years.

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“While we believe the electricity sector can achieve its contribution to the 2020 renewable target, we believe the progress required in the heat and transport sector is beyond what can be achieved on time. As a result, none of our scenarios achieve the 15% level by the 2020 date. Our (most optimistic) Gone Green scenario is the earliest to reach this, meeting the target by 2022,” the report stated.


Our Renewables MMI fell 2% to 53 this month as it still traded in the narrow range it has fluctuated in for much of the year, but the U.K.’s situation mirrors that of many industrialized nations and shows just how difficult it has been to reliably grow renewable energy markets without burning coal or natural gas as backups. Despite the best of intentions, the U.K. simply cannot make its 15% energy reduction targets and the Leave campaign took full advantage of that fact last month when it promised citizens that it would get an independent U.K. out of such deals. But can it? Really?

Can the UK Escape EU Climate Deals By Leaving?

Withdrawing from the E.U. will certainly give the U.K. an easier route on heat and transportation policies in the short-term. The island nation will no longer be obligated to hit the 15% reduction target for 2020 whether it actually leaves two years from now or later.

But when it comes to renewable electricity, long lead-times to build new wind and solar farms (particularly wind in the U.K.) mean most of the projects needed to hit the E.U.’s 30% reduction goal for 2030 have already been granted planning permits and government money has been spent on their contracts. In other words, the genie is out of the bottle for almost all of the U.K.’s 2020 goals and even for some of its 2030 goals. It’s going to be really hard to put that genie, economically, back in the bottle.

The U.K.’s Own Goals Are More Ambitious in the Long Term

There’s also the fact the U.K.’s own unilateral Climate Change Act actually imposes even tougher requirements for cutting carbon emissions. Under the Act, the U.K. must cut its carbon emissions by 80% on 1990 levels by 2050. Again, whoever is Prime Minister and in charge of the National Grid can push the 15% 2020 goal and even the 30% 2030 goal set by the E.U. further off, but that 80% 2050 goal will only hang more ominously over the U.K. like a figurative sword of Damocles if politicians decide to do that.

The 2008 Climate Change Act also requires the government to set legally binding “carbon budgets,” which have already been set up. A carbon budget is a cap on the amount of greenhouse gases emitted in the U.K. over a five-year period. The committee provides advice on the appropriate level of each carbon budget. The budgets are designed to reflect a cost-effective path to achieving the long-term objective of an 80% reduction by 2050. The first four carbon budgets have already been put into legislation and run through 2027.

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The early implementation of regulations makes it even more difficult for any future government to get out from under the U.K.’s own 2050 targets as utilities, local governments and the federal bureaucracy has already appropriated money to achieve its short-term goals. So, the possibility of a repeal of the 2008 Climate Change Act is highly unlikely, as well, although some are vocally advocating it just as they did Brexit when that idea was called “bonkers” and we all know how that turned out.

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A recent article in Engineering News-Record, examined new trends in building materials. One of them was new uses for cross-laminated timber combined with metals.

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“For us, right now, the real exciting stuff is in the mixing of materials,” Charlie Carter, American Institute of Steel Construction vice president and chief structural engineer, told ENR. “Steel has always done that, of course. A big innovation in mixing materials that I see coming is the wood industry pushing cross-laminated timber.”

Steel Moment Resisting Frame with CLT infill wall. Illustration courtesy of Earthquake Spectra.

Steel Moment Resisting Frame with CLT infill wall. Illustration courtesy of Earthquake Spectra.

Putting wooden CLT panels into a steel moment resisting frame, then putting them both on a concrete topping, is becoming  very competitive with a typical flat-plate concrete standard floor, according to ENR.

The hybrid system combines ductile behavior of the steel moment frame with lighter and stiffer CLT panels. Like many recent innovations in building materials, hybrid  CLT/SMRF systems were driven by green building codes.

In major Canadian cities, to meet urban housing demand using renewable materials, tall wood-based buildings are increasingly considered. In 2009, the British Columbia Building Code was amended to increase light wood-frame buildings heights from four to six stories.

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This article in the journal Earthquake Spectra further explains how the CLT/SMRF system can satisfy the seismic compliance requirements of building codes while still qualifying as a sustainable building material.

Indonesia’s coal mines are closing and few have the resources to clean up their messes before they leave. In China, two state-owned steel enterprises may be asked to merge.

Indonesian Coal Mines Closing

Thousands of mines are closing in Indonesia’s tropical coal belt as prices languish and seams run dry. But almost none of the companies have paid their share of billions of dollars owed to repair the badly scarred landscape they have left behind.

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Abandoned mine pits dot the bare, treeless hillsides in Samarinda, the capital of East Kalimantan province on Indonesia’s part of Borneo island.

China Considers Merging Baosteel, Wuhan Iron & Steel

A proposed tie-up between Baoshan Iron & Steel and Wuhan Iron & Steel — Baosteel and Wisco — will certainly create a force to be reckoned with, writes Bloomberg’s David Fickling. With about 61 million metric  tons of output last year combined, it would likely to be the world’s biggest steelmaker after ArcelorMittal.

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However, Wisco’s revenue over the past 12 months was about a third of Baosteel’s 157 billion yuan, but its 41 billion yuan in net debt is almost three-quarters of Baosteel’s 56 billion yuan.

Brazilian mining company Vale SA will not financially support Samarco, a joint venture with BHP Billiton, if the company is not able to resume operations, Vale’s head of investor relations said on Thursday.

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Rogerio Nogueira told analysts at an event in Sao Paulo that he did not believe Samarco would need financial support, but that in the event its mine was unable to get permission to restart — there was a major disaster at the dam last year when a tailings dam failed last year —  Vale would not fund Samarco. The joint venture’s iron ore mine closed in November.

Vale received a favorable decision this week when a Brazilian judge ruled it would not have to defend itself against a $5.7 billion civil suit in the matter.

A new $20-million U.S.-India Clean Energy Finance (USICEF) initiative will invest up to $400 million to provide clean and renewable electricity to up to 1 million households by 2020, the White House said this week during a visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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Another $40-million U.S.-India Catalytic Solar Finance Program will provide financing for small-scale renewable energy investment. Modi’s visit is one of the last opportunities the Obama administration will have to pledge tax dollars to its green energy goals and the opportunity for solar development in India is, indeed, a ripe one.


Cumulative solar installations in India crossed the 7.5 gigawatt mark in May 2016. About 2.2 gw of new capacity has been installed so far this year and it is more than total solar capacity installed in 2015. India’s solar project pipeline has now surpassed 22 gw with 13 gw under construction and 9 gw in the request for proposal process.

India’s Solar Mission

This is all part of Modi’s long-term plan to have 100 gw of solar capacity powering India by 2022. The investments by the Obama administration are also a goodwill gesture that’s designed to get U.S.-based solar panel companies and multinationals with a large presence in the U.S. specified as providers in India’s massive solar park projects. Both governments have been trying to iron out differences that earlier came to a head with the U.S. winning a WTO dispute panel.

The Renewables MMI fell 1.8% this month to 54 from 55 in May. It was one of many slight movements in a tight range for the sub-index that’s not shown much prince movement since September of 2015. The steel metals in the sub-index were also affected by the wild swings between U.S. and foreign steel prices, too.

It doesn’t seem like the pattern of a slow price decline interrupted only sporadically by small periods if increase will change much in the rest of year. Just like it didn’t in the previous three.

Compare Prices With The May 2016 MMI Report

As such, investments such as those being made in India will still take years to come to fruition and the markets for solar silicon, neodymium and pretty much everything but the steel components of wind turbines and solar panels will remain niche markets for the foreseeable future.

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The Supreme Court sided with a company that wants to appeal a Clean Water Act determination claiming private land is “waters of the U.S.” and Iran has found shipping partners to bring its oil to international markets.

SCOTUS Rules Against Clean Water Act

The Supreme Court recently ruled against the Obama administration in a case regarding water pollution permits.

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The nation’s highest court ruled unanimously that a landowner can appeal through the federal court system a determination from the Army Corps of Engineers that a water body is subject to federal jurisdiction and permit requirements under the Clean Water Act.
The court’s eight justices agreed in Army Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes Co. Inc. that the Corps’ final “jurisdictional determination” regarding a peat mining company’s wetlands is a “final agency action,” so the company can challenge it like any regulation. The case is likely to have consequences for the federal government’s entire enforcement of the Clean Water Act, the main law regarding pollution control.

Iranian Oil Coming to Market Faster Than Expected

More than 25 European and Asian-owned supertankers are shipping Iranian oil, data seen by Reuters shows, allowing Tehran to ramp up exports much faster than analysts had expected following the lifting of sanctions in January.

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Iran was struggling as recently as April to find partners to ship its oil, but after an agreement on a temporary insurance fix more than a third of Iran’s crude shipments are now being handled by foreign vessels.

The U.S. International Trade Commission has officially started an inquiry into the hacking and theft of trade secrets from U.S. Steel Corp., allegedly by Chinese hackers. China’s largest steel-producing province has ordered production cuts due to air pollution.

ITC Launches Hacking Probe

U.S. regulators on Thursday officially launched an investigation into complaints by United States Steel Corp. that Chinese competitors stole its secrets and fixed prices, in the latest trade spat between the two countries. The International Trade Commission said in a statement that it has not made any decisions on the merits of the case.

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The commission identified 40 Chinese steel makers and distribution subsidiaries as respondents, including Baosteel Group, Hebei Iron and Steel Group, Wuhan Iron and Steel Co Ltd., Maanshan Iron and Steel Group, Anshan Iron and Steel Group and Jiangsu Shagang Group.

U.S. Steel has accused Chinese hackers of stealing proprietary data to manufacture and sell dual-phase 980, a high-strength automotive steel alloy.

Tangshan Orders Steel Cuts

China’s top steelmaking city of Tangshan has ordered mills in and near the area to cut production for five days from Friday to ease air pollution, according to a notice from the local government.

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It was not clear how much capacity is affected but Tangshan is the biggest city in Hebei province, which accounts for more than 20% of China’s steel output.

In a blatant case of posturing ahead of inevitable compensation negotiations, lawyers —acting on behalf of Brazil’s public prosecutors — are said to have lodged claims totaling $44 billion ($155 billion Brazilian Reais) against mining companies Vale SA and BHP Billiton for the collapse of a dam at their Samarco joint venture last year.

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Needless to say, shares in both companies promptly tanked about 6% even though the prosecutor’s office has a habit of claiming big and settling small. As a measure of just how absurd the figure is, the Financial Times states the 155 billion Reais claim is equivalent to twice Vale’s market value and, if enforced, would bankrupt the company leaving no one to clear up the environmental mess. You can bet the funds would disappear into government coffers, not for the clean-up.

Demands as Negotiation Starting Points

By comparison, the FT reports UBS analysts and others who pointed to the 2011 oil spill off the coast of Rio de Janeiro — that prompted prosecutors to claim $11 billion in damages from Chevron and its drilling partner Transocean — was eventually settled for only $42 million.

Indeed, if Brazil was to genuinely pursue the claim through to its logical settlement it would end up shooting itself in the foot. Samarco is a 50/50 joint venture and so would be the settlement costs but, where Vale is a wholly Brazilian company with 154,000 employees in the country, BHP is listed in London and Sydney with comparatively little else at risk in Brazil.

BHP has already written down its Brazilian asset from $1.2 billion to zero, meaning if it walked away it would lose nothing more, according to Reuters.

Samarco Disaster vs. BP Oil Spill

There is no disputing the dam burst was a disaster and there is widespread belief it could have been avoided. The torrent not only killed 19 people but also obliterated Bento Rodrigues, a town of 800, inundated another larger town with mud, and polluted almost 1,000 km (600 miles) of the Rio Doce.

According to Reuters, the disaster killed fish, contaminated water used for agriculture, and left at least 250,000 people without running water for weeks. It was always going to be expensive but BHP and Vale had already agreed to pay a government-estimated $5.6 billion (R20 billion Reais) over 15 years to cover and repair damages and the firms had thought that was an end to the claims process.

Comparisons have been made with claims against BP over their gulf oil spill naturally enough, but in reality there is little to link them. U.S. prosecutors had BP over a metaphorical barrel with its extensive investments in the U.S. market and could take them to the cleaners with impunity. Arguably, they would not have done the same to a U.S. company.

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Brazil would lose more in the long run doing the same to Vale than they would in ensuring the firm survives and, effectively, clears up the mess. So, while I don’t knowingly hold shares in either company I would be more likely to sell them over anxiety about the firm’s medium-term future in an oversupplied market than the damage overzealous prosecutors are likely to do their profits.

The broad commodities rally even helped our normally moribund Renewables MMI increase at least a little (2%) this month.

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The sub-index is still range-bound but it’s in the upper portion of the range we’ve seen it inhabit for the last year.


The steel plate products in the IndX were mainly responsible for the increase. Magnetic rare earth electric motor metal neodymium and silicon actually saw their prices decrease this month.

Rather than bore you with my regular disclaimer on how difficult it is to gauge what exactly is going on at the U.S. consumer level with renewables, due to rebates and subsidies, let’s talk about recent initiatives that could move the needle on solar.

The Department of Energy recently announced $25 million in available funding through an effort called Enabling Extreme Real-Time Grid Integration of Solar Energy (ENERGISE) to help software developers, solar companies, and utilities accelerate the integration of solar energy into the grid.

How to Capture Solar Power?

It’s been a long-term gripe from many in the power generation business that solar, at least here in the U.S., has been great for homeowners and businesses using crystalline silicon photovoltaic panels to feed energy directly into their appliances, laptops, lights and TVs, but much more difficult to transfer it back into the nation’s grid.

$25 million might seem like a lot, but it’s actually a rather small sum considering how long this problem has confounded some of the greatest engineering minds out there.

The initiative specifically seeks to develop software and hardware platforms for utility distribution system planning and operations that integrate sensing, communication, and data analytics to help utilities manage solar and other distributed energy resources on the grid. Its products will, supposedly, be data-driven, easily scaled-up from prototypes, and capable of real-time monitoring and control.

We’ve been promised similar systems in the past so we’re not holding our breath or anything. Still, the expected 10-15 solutions developed with the new funding will be field-tested by utilities to demonstrate their performance and value in real-world operating environments so there’s some rigor to the program.

Compare Prices With The April 2016 MMI Report

As always, we’ll monitor what comes out of this program and how the solutions could impact metals markets for products such as steel plate and silicon.

What This Means for Metal Buyers

While the broad rally has visited steel, the Renewables MMI is still rangebound.

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U.S. shredded scrap prices started 2015 at $350 per long ton delivered to Midwest steel mills.

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Barring a very brief rally in June, the price fell every month over the year and dropped to $170/long ton in December. Indeed, if we look at the chart, U.S. ferrous scrap prices have been in a downtrend since late 2013.

U.S. Shredded Scrap Prices ($/long ton delivered US Midwest Mill)


Source: Steel-Insight.

When prices fall every month, scrap yards and steel mills reduce their purchases to the bare minimum as they expect to be able to procure material at a lower price the very next month. Read more