Friday, October 18, 2013

Britain set to build more nukes

George Osborne, the Chancellor, has announced that the UK will allow Chinese companies to take a stake in British nuclear power plants.  The decision could lead to China taking a future majority stake - and even be allowed to own up to 100 pc - in the development of the next generation of British nuclear power.

Mr Osborne made the announcement on Thursday the last day of a week-long trade visit to China after a visit to Taishan nuclear power station on the coast near Hong Kong. Taishan is a collaboration between French energy company EDF and the China General Nuclear Power Company.

EDF is at the heart of UK Government hopes for developing new British nuclear capacity. Negotiations on a deal to build a new plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset have reached the critical stage, though it does not come under this new majority-stake arrangement.

Mr Osborne said the nuclear deal with China demonstrated both the openness of the British market and would act as a boon to the taxpayer.  He said: "Today is another demonstration of the next big step in the relationship between Britain and China – the world's oldest civil nuclear power and the world's fastest growing civil nuclear power.

"It is an important potential part of the government's plan for developing the next generation of nuclear power in Britain. It means the potential of more investment and jobs in Britain, and lower long-term energy costs for consumers."

The deal is anchored on the memorandum of understanding signed by the Chancellor in Beijing this week by which the two governments agree to help each other with their civil nuclear programmes (and pursue joint ventures in third countries by the way). It will see British companies allowed to sell their expertise in China.

Mr Osborne claims tight regulation of the nuclear industry and the oversight of the intelligence services means Britain can still pocket the economic benefits without national security fears.

It is thought, however, Mr Osborne's announcement is likely to stoke tensions with energy secretary Ed Davey who has let it be known that he does not like the way the Chancellor has claimed credit for the Chinese deal.

Despite Mr Osborne's announcement the future of the next big nuclear power plant in Britain remains - officially, at least - undecided.

Mr Davey said last weekend that the Government is “extremely close” to finalising terms for the £14bn programme to build twin nuclear plants at Hinkley Point, Somerset.  The Government was thought to be on the verge of completing a heavily-subsidised agreement to revive nuclear power development in Britain via a deal with state-owned French and Chinese companies.

He insisted there was no direct state aid in the package being negotiated with EDF and China General Nuclear.

But an announcement on the £14bn EDF plant at Hinkley Point has still yet to be made - although it is thought it could now be made next Monday in the wake of today's agreements in China.

Consumer groups have been concerned that customers will end up paying for indirect price subsidies, potentially costing billions of pounds through levies on bills over the 35-year life of the new plants.

EDF is said to have given ground on a guaranteed price of between £90 and £93 for each megawatt hour of electricity generated by the new plants – having initially demanded around £150. But the looming deal is still 50pc above the current wholesale cost of power.

The drawn-out negotiations with EDF, now in their second year, have survived a series of crises, but the French nuclear group has now brought in China General Nuclear as a partner to share rising costs.

Treasury negotiators are said to have made concessions on power prices, profit sharing and construction guarantees to achieve a breakthrough in talks that have teetered on the brink of collapse.

The Government could, however, face difficulties on the subsidy issue when it seeks clearance from Brussels for the Hinkley deal.
EU regulations bar direct state aid. Moves to relax the rules by introducing guidelines have been blocked by France, Germany and other states. The Government hopes the Hinkley deal will provide the framework for other nuclear power projects under discussion.


Tropics extremely quiet in Atlantic; record pause in major U.S. hurricane landfalls

The tropical Atlantic continues its spell of remarkable inactivity.  There have been just two short-lived Category 1 hurricanes so far, and there is nothing in the long-range model guidance to suggest anything but the status quo.

And this suppressed activity isn’t limited to just the Atlantic either.  The East Pacific has now had 14 tropical storms, but like the Atlantic, no major hurricanes.  This is extraordinary, since the two basins are typically out of phase; that is, one is active while the other is inactive.  The only other year in recorded history in which no major hurricanes occurred in the Atlantic or the East Pacific is 1968.

“Best track” data extend back to 1949 in the East Pacific and to 1851 in the Atlantic, so only the past 64 years are shared in common.  However, reliable intensity data in the East Pacific begins in 1971, so in that era, the absence of major hurricanes in both basins is unprecedented.

Expanding the search even further, it turns out that the West Pacific is also abnormally quiet this year, even accounting for last week’s flurry of storms.  In terms of ACE (Accumulated Cyclone Energy), the entire northern hemisphere is running behind climatology.

Ryan Maue at WeatherBell keeps track of ACE, basin-by-basin.  The northern hemisphere as a whole is at about 59% of average for this date.  The East Pacific is at 45% and the Atlantic is at 30%.  Only the typically-quiet Indian Ocean is now above normal due almost entirely to last week’s Cyclone Phailin.

Going back to 1950, Atlantic ACE is the 7th lowest for this date, so while it’s low, it’s definitely not a record.  Not that it is a race, but, to just “catch up” to climatology for this date, we’d need to toss in a little more than three Hurricane Katrinas!  And, to reach 2004′s record ACE for this date, we’d need to add about ten Hurricane Katrinas!

As a result of having no major hurricanes yet this year, the U.S. “major hurricane drought” necessarily continues.  It has now been 2,913 days since the last major hurricane made landfall on the U.S. … the longest such span going back to 1900.  A major hurricane is defined to be a hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph or greater… Category 3, 4, and 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

The last one was Wilma, which made landfall on southwest Florida on October 24, 2005 with peak winds of about 120 mph.  We’ve had several weaker hurricanes make U.S. landfall since then (Humberto ’07, Dolly ’08, Gustav ’08, Ike ’08, Irene ’11, Isaac ’12, and Sandy ’12), but nothing with the violent fury of a major hurricane.

Also, there have been quite a few major hurricane landfalls on other countries since 2005; we’ve just been lucky here in the States.  Of course, as we know from experience, even weaker storms are capable of generating destructive storm surges and flash floods.

No one’s complaining about this, but there is one downside: complacency.  Anywhere you live, there are verbal accounts of past major storms that live on in people’s memories.  But the longer you go without a significant event, the harder it becomes to convince people to take action when one finally threatens.  It is a 100% certainty that it will happen again, but there will be lots of people who won’t know what they’re in for if they choose to ride it out.

There is already research underway by several universities to figure out what is suppressing tropical cyclone activity not just in the Atlantic, but across the northern hemisphere this year.  It’s nothing routinely obvious, because expert forecasters were all expecting a very active season (see “What happened to hurricane season? And why we should keep forecasting it…“), but it must be some fundamental large-scale phenomenon that has been overlooked.

I often get asked what role global warming is playing in a given hurricane season… whether it’s an abnormally quiet one or an abnormally active one.  It is never accurate to correlate a hurricane season –and certainly not a specific hurricane– with global warming. Regardless of where you stand in the debate, natural inter-seasonal variability is so large that subtle signals due to climate change are overwhelmed.  That is not to say that trends might not show up in long-term averages and climatology, but one should not cherry-pick individual seasons and storms to make a case in the debate.

Finally, keep in mind that hurricane season is not over yet, and even a single hurricane making landfall in a vulnerable location can make it a very expensive and destructive season… but it won’t be enough to make it an active season.


Global warming is already causing animals to evolve and migrate, claims scientist

Since there has been no warming for 17 years any recent changes CANNOT be due to global warming.  And since the total temperature increase over the last 150 years was less than one degree Celsius, any longer-term changes are also most unlikely to be warming-related  -- JR

From chipmunks to Mediterranean spiders, animals are evolving to cope with the effects of hotter temperatures, a scientist has claimed.

DNA evidence suggests the European wasp spider is evolving into a new form and is moving to cooler regions to set up home in parts of northern Europe, while chipmunks living in Yosemite park in California are moving to higher, cooler altitudes, a biologist claims.

The scientist believes that the changes are due to the effects of global warming and as habitats move, populations of animals that have previously not crossed paths, are mixing and have the potential to spread and adapt in new ways.
Scientists studied alpine chipmunks living in Yosemite National Park

Scientists studied alpine chipmunks living in Yosemite National Park and found that over 100 years, the animals have moved to higher altitudes as the average temperature of the park has risen by three degrees Celsius

Systems biologist Michael White, of the Department of Genetics and the Centre for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said animals are already feeling the heat from global warming and are having to adapt.

Writing for Pacific Standard, he said scientists tracking the movements of animals have repeatedly found that plants and animals have altered their behaviour in response to earlier springs and milder temperatures by moving to higher latitudes and altitudes.

Dr White said global warming is in effect a large evolutionary experiment that is causing huge genetic changes as creatures rapidly adapt or become extinct.

With lots of land and marine creatures moving into new territories, scientists are concerned about what will happen when they meet, as it could dramatically change ecosystems and food chains.

They are turning to genetics to try and predict the present and future impact of global warming, by studying DNA in a scientific field called landscape genetics.

Dr White cited the work of a team of scientists at the University of California-Berkeley as an example of how creatures are adapting to warmer temperatures.

Dr White said scientists tracking the movements of animals have repeatedly found that plants and animals have altered their behaviour in response to earlier springs and milder temperatures by moving to higher latitudes and altitudes

The scientists studied alpine chipmunks living in Yosemite National Park and found that over 100 years the animals have moved to higher altitudes as the average temperature of the park has risen by three degrees Celsius.

While there is an argument that the creatures are adapting to global warming, their numbers in the area have declined, causing some experts to question if they are simply on a fast-track to extinction in the region.

The researchers compared DNA from historical specimens of the species collected in 1915 with contemporary chipmunks and discovered evidence of genetic erosion.

In effect, the alpine chipmunk population is breaking up into isolated, genetically-limited groups and losing diversity in their DNA, which makes them more vulnerable to disease and natural disasters such as drought.  'The chipmunks' poor prospects are evident in their genes,' wrote Dr White.

The spiders primarily lived in Mediterranean regions until the 1930s but have gradually crept northwards to colonise Scandinavia, Poland and the Baltic region

DNA evidence also suggests the European wasp spider is evolving and have colonised new areas as they seek cooler climates.

The spiders primarily lived in Mediterranean regions until the 1930s but have gradually crept northwards to colonise Scandinavia, Poland and the Baltic region.

Interestingly while scientists thought they were trying to find new places to live that were the same temperature as the Mediterranean before temperatures have risen, the spiders have actually moved into regions that are cooler than their original homes.

The reason for their behaviour is they have been mating with spiders that like the cold, to create an invading species that can survive freezing temperatures that would kill its Mediterranean relatives, researchers from Germany's Max Plank Institute told Dr White.

They believe this cross-breeding is taking place as populations of spiders are mixing in regions where they would never have met before.


The New Dark Continent

Wind and solar mandates are breaking Europe's electric utilities

Before the Obama Administration marches America to renewable-energy nirvana, it may want to inspect what success looks like in Europe. The Continent is much closer than the U.S. to realizing its dream of replacing carbon energy sources with wind and solar, and the dream is starting to look like a nightmare.

Last week the CEOs of Europe's 10 largest utilities finally cried uncle and called for a halt to wind and solar subsidies. Short of that, they want subsidies of their own. They want to be paid, in essence, not to produce power.

The root cause of all this is the Continent's so-called feed-in tariffs for renewable energy, which began in Germany in 1990. A feed-in tariff is a form of mandate that gives solar and wind installations a guaranteed price, usually well above the market price, and ensures that any energy they produce gets priority on the electrical grid. When solar and wind plants are producing, their energy must be taken first, ahead of other kinds of power.

By requiring utilities to take this power—and requiring consumers to pay for it—Germany has increased renewables to 25% of its overall capacity. Berlin wants to push that to 35% in 2020 and 80% by 2050. Not every country in Europe has been as ambitious as Germany, but the European Union's renewables target across the entire Continent is also 20% by 2020.

These wind and solar subsidies have increased Europe's energy costs by 17% for consumers and 21% for industry in the last four years. But more ominous is the havoc the mandates are creating for utilities. Old-fashioned power plants, especially coal and nuclear, have traditionally provided what is called "base load" power. These plants produce the power to run refrigerators and street lights and the rest of the 24/7 needs of a modern economy. This was the power that consumers used first—until Europe went mad for renewables.

The trouble is, no one knows how much power renewables can provide at any particular moment. Imagine having a car that runs on gasoline, with a solar array on the roof. But instead of using the solar power when you needed it, the car was required to add this solar power to the engine's output whenever it was available.

So you're driving down the highway at 60 miles per hour, but then the sun comes out and suddenly you're doing 80 unless you take your foot off the gas. Now imagine trying to run a whole economy on that sort of power, except it takes hours or days to adjust the throttle every time the weather changes.

The utilities have seen their once-predictable power needs replaced with demand that is every bit as unpredictable as the weather. When conditions are poor, they need to step up generation to keep the lights on. But because of the priority given to renewables, they have to be mindful of the possibility of being pre-empted. They still have high fixed costs and capital needs, but thanks to the renewables' privileged position, demand for what they produce waxes and wanes with the wind.

All of this is a drag on growth and has taken 55% off the market capitalization of utilities in the Europe in the past five years, according to The Economist. The utility executives who issued their demarche last week may be content to stay in business as wards of the state, standing by—at taxpayer expense—to pick up the slack when wind and solar fall short.

But consumers and taxpayers deserve better. Ending the feed-in tariffs and the forced purchase of renewable power would reduce energy prices and might even help European industry get back on its feet. It would be a pro-growth reform that wouldn't cost national treasuries a cent.


Realism in Japan: On gas, coal power building spree to fill nuclear void

Japan plans to start up 14 new gas and coal-fired power plants by the end of 2014, allowing a switch away from pricey oil, as Tokyo struggles with a shutdown of nuclear reactors and energy imports drive a record trade deficit.

Regional power monopolies will construct 12 gas-fired units next year, while two new coal power plants will be completed by December 2013, according to a Reuters survey of utilities.

The new power plants will buy liquefied natural gas (LNG) and coal to scale back on the use of expensive crude and fuel oil plants. They will also give Japan a bigger buffer to prevent future power outages when generation plants go offline.

"What this will do is introduce an additional reserve margin into the power network, particularly in areas where some nuclear is coming back," said Nicholas Browne, a senior analyst with Wood Mackenzie in Singapore.

Expanding gas-fired generation is the only viable large-scale option in a nuclear-free Japan to power its industrial and commercial sector and keep electricity prices low enough for businesses to stay competitive globally.

A massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 hit the Fukushima nuclear power station, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co, also known as Tepco, causing three reactor meltdowns and hydrogen explosions.

The disaster undermined public confidence in the safety of nuclear power, leading to the shutdown of all plants for maintenance and safety checks, which pushed the world's third-largest economy and biggest importer of LNG to post its first trade deficit since the second oil shock 31 years ago.

Prior to Fukushima, nuclear power accounted for about 30 percent of electricity and at this stage Japan may have only four nuclear reactors back operating by March 2015, the Institute of Energy Economics Japan says.

The new gas and coal power plants, which based on International Energy Agency (IEA) data will cost an estimated $7 billion to build, will add 6.4 percent more fossil fuel capacity by the end of 2014.

Mitsubishi Heavy, General Electric, Hitachi and Mitsubishi Electric are among the firms that will benefit from construction.

Gas-fired units next year will add 5.2 gigawatts of capacity, or 7.8 percent, to the 66.3 gigawatts the power firms now operate, according to industry data. The IEA estimates plants with such power output would cost about $4.5 billion.

The two coal-fired units due to start commercial operations in December will add 1.6 gigawatts online from the current 39 gigawatts. Building two plants that produce 1.6 gigawatts would cost about $2.4 billion, according to the IEA.

Lower coal and gas prices relative to crude and fuel oil will clip a skyrocketing energy import bill, but fuel costs will grow and still account for a big chunk of the trade deficit.


Australia: Greens MP Adam Bandt tries to make political mileage out of forest fires

Bandt is a Trotskyite -- an acolyte of Leon Trotsky, leader of the Red Army in the Russian revolution and a mass murderer. Trotsky never took prisoners of war.  He shot the lot.   So Bandt has exactly the low level of fellow-feeling you would expect of that

AN unrepentant and defiant Adam Bandt has stood behind the ill-timed bushfire comments he made on social media at the peak of yesterday's NSW firestorm.

The Greens MP infuriated many when he tweeted that "Tony Abbott's plan means more bushfires for Australia & more pics like this of Sydney".

That comment came at the very moment that every TV network in Australia showed graphic images of people's houses burning.

Mr Bandt tried to hose down his comments on ABC News 24 on Friday morning, arguing:

"Well, in the last 12 months we've had the hottest year on record, the hottest month and the hottest day. Tony Abbott has picked this time to say he's going to rip up action on global warming, which is going to to mean these are the kind of fires we will see more often."

The point many have already made as a counterpoint to this statement is that Mr Abbott didn't pick the exact moment that people's houses were burning down.

Mr Bandt attempted to add further context in his comments today, carefully adding words like "tragic" and phrases like "the amazing work of emergency services". But he continued to harness the moment to say things like:

"This is what global warming in Australia looks like and it's going to mean more fires happening more often and some of them more severe when they happen."

Mr Bandt also displayed a rather troubling ignorance of Australian geography today with his repeated statement that October is very early for bushfires.

October would indeed be super-early for Victoria, where Mr Bandt lives, but hot weather always arrives earlier in NSW, and fires have long occurred in the east of NSW in October and even earlier in September and August, which are the state's driest months of the year.


PEOPLE'S lives are at risk. Houses have been lost. At latest count there are at least 40 homes burned to the ground. That number will almost certainly rise.

It is a shocking, distressing time right now in eastern New South Wales. The sky above Sydney is thick with smoke. Ash is falling from the sky in many suburbs. A dry southerly change due any minute may only make things worse as the fires change course.

So what does Greens MP Adam Bandt do?

He ignores the unfolding human tragedy and pushes his political barrow on Twitter.

"Why Tony Abbott's plan means more bushfires for Australia & more pics like this of Sydney," Mr Bandt tweeted this afternoon, along with a link to the blood red sky over Sydney

Talk about too soon.

You'd imagine that even the strongest believer in climate change caused by human activity would concede there is a more appropriate time to argue the issue of carbon pricing than when people are fleeing their homes and brave fireys do their best to protect them.

Many people on Twitter are certainly expressing that sentiment.

If the great democracy of social media is any guide, people feel that by attacking the PM's plans to abolish the carbon tax on this particular afternoon, Adam Bandt comes across as a man more interested in political points-scoring than that basic human emotion called compassion.

And politicians wonder why people don't much care for them.



For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

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