Tuesday, September 06, 2022

Germany: Coal power stations return to keep people warm this winter

A power station once marked for closure in the town of Bexbach is being resurrected.

For the last few years, the plant was in the "grid reserve", meaning it was called upon to supplement shortages in the power network a few days a year.

Now, it's one of more than 20 which could come back online full time to help fill the gap left by dwindling energy supplies from Russia.

Michael Lux, the manager at Bexbach, said: "We need energy in Germany, and we need energy in Europe, and there is lack of energy...You don't want to imagine if people have to live in cold houses."

Germany has pledged to totally cut its coal use by 2038, with the government ideally hoping to phase it out by 2030, but the war in Ukraine has forced a temporary resurgence.

The German government is looking at long term solutions like boosting renewable energy sources and importing liquified natural gas (LNG), but these take time - the mothballed coal plants can start producing power almost immediately.

For the moment, Bexbach, and its sister plant at Weiher, will operate until April 2023, with the possibility of an extension to spring 2024. To guarantee Bexbach can supply energy over the winter, it needs to be fully operational by November.

Seventy-year-old Horst Haefner has come out of retirement to help. Like many Germans, he is far from ecstatic about turning back to coal power, but admits they have little choice. "We have to replace the gas and the price of energy has gone up tremendously," he said.

Making sure the power station can operate full time is also technically difficult.

For a start, many of the workers are reaching retirement and their skills can't be learned overnight.

From his seat in Bexbach's control room, Martin Giesen is all too aware of the challenges.

"We have staffing problems; they can't be explained away.

"We have logistical problems with the fuel.

"We have logistical problems with the additives that are needed.

"We have technical problems with a 40-year-old power plant that has not been well maintained over the last few years because there are no staff left, and that's the way it is.....We do our best," he explained.


The First Energy War of the 21st Century

Russia’s war on Ukraine has greatly clarified the need for non-Russian energy sources. Will the rest of the world rise to the challenge?

How long can Russia afford to wage a ground war in Europe? One might be reasonably skeptical of answers coming from those who didn’t see any prospect for Russia to invade Ukraine. The answer, as with any war, will emerge from what we learn about not just battlefield capabilities, but also about the financial capabilities of the counter-parties to sustain war, and the non-military capacities each side has to inflict economic harm on the other.

One of the first responses to the invasion included freezing $300 billion worth of Russia’s financial reserves — about half of that nation’s pre-invasion war chest — residing in Western financial institutions. Then Congress appropriated $40 billion in financial aid for Ukraine. Those actions were followed by the U.S. and Europe seeking to reduce Russia’s income with sanctions on purchasing Russian oil or natural gas, some implemented, and others promised or threatened. So far, the effects aren’t what policy-makers had hoped or expected.

Russia’s cash reserves have rebounded. Sales of oil and natural gas have replenished the treasury. In fact, Russia’s current-account balance soared to $70 billion in the second quarter of this year alone, the biggest since the fall of the Berlin Wall. That happened even though its overall gas exports to Europe are some 50 percent below pre-invasion levels, and Russian oil is sold at a deep discount around the world. But exports are now sold in an environment of far higher global prices. (Is it a complete coincidence that Putin launched the war when oil prices were already heading north of $100 a barrel?)

Countries, including China and India, have ignored the sanctions and overtly expanded purchases of Russian energy because they enjoy the benefit of discounts. India co-mingles Russian oil at refineries and sells diesel fuel to Europe (at high prices). Even Saudi Arabia buys discounted Russian crude, enabling more Saudi exports at sanction-free market prices. Russian crude has also continued to move into markets using shippers that work around sanctions both overtly and via “dark market” traders. It’s not the first time the world has learned what happens with energy sanctions. Similar efforts directed at Iran and Venezuela saw crude continue to flow via “ghost fleet” tactics, fake registries, spoofing of ship location, and surreptitious transfers at sea.

The natural-gas dynamic is playing out a little differently but with similar consequences. European nations have scrambled to increase pipeline flows from non-Russian sources (Algeria, for example) and, to the extent feasible with existing infrastructure, increase imports of seaborne liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Qatar and America. At the same time, the EU has seen gas demand slide. Many industrial boilers and power plants are switching from gas to oil (increasing the EU oil-import bill). Other industrial facilities have throttled back and many, because of staggering wholesale energy price increases (some reaching as high as 1000 percent), have shut down in a financially devastating slide towards deindustrialization. Epitomizing the dismal dimming of the European economy, cities across the continent are literally turning off lights with bans on lighting, including signage, landmarks, and even traffic lights (all of which, by the way, in energy terms, are trivial), along with mandating higher air-conditioning temperatures, or fining shopkeepers for leaving doors open. Huge swaths of the European economy are descending into energy poverty.

The effect of all this has been to vault natural gas and oil prices everywhere, not just in Europe, with the high prices and uncertainties ripping destructively through every facet of the economy. Russia triggered this cascade of events. But the price that’s being paid by the world is a direct result of two decades of European energy policies.

Those policies distill to a monomaniacal pursuit of wind and solar energy (and now batteries) while simultaneously shutting down existing energy supplies from coal mines and coal power plants to nuclear plants and offshore oil and gas fields. Over the past two decades, Europe has spent trillions of dollars in pursuit of an “energy transition” to replace hydrocarbons. But the EU today still gets 70 percent of all its energy from the latter.

So much of the danger arising out of the reckless decisions by so many European countries to depend so heavily on Russia for essential supplies of hydrocarbons was amplified by the fact that it’s impossible to surge solar and wind energy production in meaningful time frames. Consequently, Putin still holds one unused card to weaponize energy, a kind of economic ‘nuclear’ option: Russia could yet choose to sanction, or embargo, the West by radically reducing overall energy shipments to the world, rather than merely throttling back Europe’s supplies while selling more elsewhere. Such an embargo would really send prices soaring. It wouldn’t be the first time a major energy producer sought to inflict economic punishment.

The first two global energy shocks in modern times — the 1973 Arab oil embargo and the 1979 Iranian revolution, each of which entailed a loss of supply roughly equal to taking half of Russia’s exports off the market — triggered oil price increases of 200 percent and 400 percent, respectively, and touched off global recessions.

We have yet to experience (as of this writing) a loss of supply or rise in prices comparable to the previous two energy shocks. Today, Russia remains one of the world’s three largest producers and exporters of petroleum and natural gas. The loss of a major share, never mind all, of Russia’s energy supplies to the world would trigger a third (and the greatest) global energy shock since the invention of the computer. In such a case, JPMorgan analysts recently noted, oil could hit $380 a barrel.

This time, there’s potential for even greater harm because, unlike the previous two oil-centric shocks, the Russia factor also involves natural gas at a scale comparable to the oil at risk. While oil keeps everything moving, natural gas keeps the lights on and is an irreplaceable chemical feedstock in both manufacturing and food supply chains.

Some believe Russia wouldn’t or couldn’t invoke such an embargo for technical reasons. But oil is easy to store; Iran’s been doing it for years and even now has over 100 million barrels in “floating storage” (tankers) awaiting the end of sanctions there. While natural gas is harder to store, it can be simply flared or burned off at the source instead of sold. Of course, the latter is just like burning money. But the key is how long Russia could afford to inflict global economic pain while enduring the financial loss of, say, half its export income. The answer is found in Russia’s restored financial war chest. Guessing whether such an embargo is likely falls into the fog-of-war calculus.

Naïveté about energy realities and Russian ambitions (or ambitions of other unfriendly nations) has robbed Europe and the U.S. of important “soft power” options, i.e., precisely the kind of geopolitical leverage that Russia has now. Civilization still depends on hydrocarbons for 84 percent of all energy, which is a mere two percentage points lower than it was two decades ago. This comes after some $5 trillion of global spending on non-hydrocarbons. Solar and wind technologies today supply barely 5 percent of global energy. Electric vehicles still offset less than 0.5 percent of world oil demand.

There is no small irony in the fact that America’s Congress has now committed to follow Europe down the same energy path, with the misnamed Inflation Reduction Act and the plan to spend at least $400 billion on alternative energy. Even if all that money is spent — it’s possible a future Congress could defund it — fifteen years from now America will still get the majority of its energy from hydrocarbons.

Regardless of how the Ukraine crisis plays out, no matter how much money is spent on alternatives, the world will need greater supplies of hydrocarbons to both diminish Russian influence — not to mention minimize entanglements in the ever-troubled Middle East — while also fueling economic growth. You’d think policy-makers would be focusing on a critical geopolitical and economic question: Who will supply the world with those essential hydrocarbons?

The opportunities to expand non-Russian hydrocarbon supplies are dominated by just three domains: OPEC, deep-water rigs (global and U.S. offshore), and America’s shale fields.

It’s worth remembering that, in roughly a single decade, the United States went from being the world’s biggest importer of petroleum and an importer of natural gas to becoming (for now) the world’s biggest exporter of the latter and one of the biggest exporters of the former. To put this into geopolitical perspective: The growth in U.S. production over the past decade was greater than Russia’s total supply of oil and gas to Europe.

Any prospects for U.S. oil and gas firms to expand yet again will require taking the kinds of risks that are invariably associated with adopting new technologies and deploying capital onshore and offshore. And those prospects are enormously influenced by government actions.

One can imagine — because it could be done, not that it will be done — Congress engaging in a reset of energy policies to facilitate a radical increase in domestic hydrocarbon production and exports. Think of it as a shale resurgence along with a similar expansion of deep-water production. Such a reset need not, in fact shouldn’t, replace alternative energy ambitions, but complement them.

And it bears noting that enacting such legislation would not require subsidies or cost taxpayers money, but instead lead to reduced energy prices for consumers, as well as profits and jobs at American firms.

But as it stands today, America’s hydrocarbon industries face a potent combination of policy and regulatory impediments, higher costs of materials and services, lingering supply-chain disruptions from the global lockdowns, and skilled-labor shortages. At least one U.S. shale CEO has said that not even $200 oil would inspire his firm to expand production faster. And this says nothing about the investment-killing potential of calls for “windfall profits” taxes which, if implemented, would be as destructive and ineffective as they were when tried in 1980.

It is possible that reality may impact American policy-makers as it has those in Europe, in which case there is some hope of an energy realpolitik yet emerging with an “all of the above” energy policy. And if that were to happen — something that will require legislation, not executive orders or rhetoric — then one might yet see the mighty American hydrocarbon machine help restore order and economic sanity to the world.


UK: The truth about "Extinction Rebellion"

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse – Extinction Rebellion are back! Well, if you thought an unprecedented cost-of-living crisis, fuelled by a global scramble for gas, would have led the eco-irritants to sit things out for a bit, you don’t know XR. For them, the ‘climate emergency’ trumps all. Plus, reading a room has never really been their strong suit – as we saw when they tried to win the hearts and minds of commuters by climbing on top of Tube trains, or when an animal-rights XR offshoot went after that most universally disliked of figures in Britain, the Queen.

This time their target is the Houses of Parliament. Earlier today, Extinction Rebellion activists bike-locked themselves to the gates outside parliament. A handful got inside the Commons chamber and glued themselves to the Speaker’s chair. Their message? ‘Let the people decide’, a nod to one of Extinction Rebellion’s core demands – namely, a ‘Citizens’ Assembly on Climate and Ecological Justice to break the deadlock’, as described on their website.

While police in Westminster fetch the solvents, it’s worth examining XR’s message here more closely. For, as with their other demands, this call for the people to have their say isn’t all it seems. Just as XR demands we all ‘Tell the truth’ about climate, despite spewing alarmist guff about the number of climate deaths, its proposed citizens’ assemblies aren’t democratic in the slightest. If XR ever got their way, these assemblies would be exercises in creating the pretence of public support for their own mad aims.

For one thing, establishing a ‘Citizens’ Assembly on Climate and Ecological Justice’ would suggest that the destination is settled and all we need to decide on is the route. We got a flavour for what this might look like with the 2020 Climate Assembly UK, commissioned by six select committees of the House of Commons. This brought together 108 British citizens to address the question, ‘How should the UK meet its target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050?’, with the help of handpicked experts. Whether or not we should be pursuing ‘net zero’ or ‘climate and ecological justice’ seemingly isn’t up for debate. Then there is the question of who selects the experts and materials to be put before the assembly members, and on what basis the members are selected.

Now, parliament has hardly covered itself in glory on the climate issue. But contrary to Extinction Rebellion’s warped view, of a House of Commons stuffed with fossil-fuel lobbyists dragging their feet on the ‘climate emergency’, MPs have embraced alarmist and costly climate policies with very little debate or scrutiny. The net zero by 2050 pledge sailed into law via an amendment to the Climate Change Act in the final days of Theresa May’s government. This unprecedented commitment, entailing the total overhaul of our energy system at enormous expense, was nodded through with no formal vote after 90 minutes of backslapping ‘debate’.

If Extinction Rebellion want to let ordinary people have their say on climate policy, why not push for a referendum on net zero? Or why not kickstart a proper democratic debate about energy policy beyond the narrow terms set by some expert-led ‘citizens’ assembly’? The reason, I dare say, is that they fear what the answers would be. Even more so now that the cost-of-living crisis has reminded us all of the crucial importance of cheap and reliable energy, after years of climate policy that focused myopically on expensive and unreliable ‘green’ energy.

None of this should surprise us. Whenever Extinction Rebellion activists glue themselves to something or start doing interpretative dance in the middle of a busy road, interviewers ask them the same questions. Won’t this hurt your campaign? Is this really how you win people over? The truth is, XR don’t care what you or I or most people think. Their aim has always been to egg on the government to implement eco-austerity on a slightly swifter timetable than it is already committed to. Let the people decide? As if. Theirs is a campaign against the people, and it always has been.


Tenth of British homeowners plan fires instead of central heating due to energy costs

One in 10 homeowners have said they plan to use real fires instead of central heating, leading to concerns among insurers that some could be putting their properties at risk.

Research from Aviva found a tenth of adults said they plan to light fires or stoves more often in their homes to avoid central heating amid soaring energy prices.

In October, millions will see their energy bills rise by 80% after regulator Ofgem confirmed it will increase its price cap for the average home from £1,971 to £3,549.

The study also showed that 92% of people are looking towards alternative ways to keep themselves warm as they seek to reduce their bills.

Homes, possessions and sadly lives can be put in jeopardy if chimneys are capped or aren’t swept properly - or the wrong type of fuel is used

However, the data also showed that three out five resident who plan to enjoy real fires this autumn are ignoring some necessary precautions.

Only 37% of fire users ensure their chimney is swept annually, while a similar proportion said they check whether fuel is suitable for their fire or stove.

It added that just 41% said they make certain their chimney is not blocked or capped off, according to the survey.

Hannah Davidson, senior household underwriting manager for Aviva, said: “It is a real concern that people could be putting so much at risk by not taking simple fire safety steps.

“Homes, possessions and sadly lives can be put in jeopardy if chimneys are capped or aren’t swept properly – or the wrong type of fuel is used.

“We’d urge people to take action now to make sure fireplaces and stoves are safe and suitable if people plan to use them this year.

“It’s understandable that people are looking for alternative ways to heat their properties, but it’s vital that people put a few checks in place first, to enjoy the warmth and comfort of a real fire without worry.”


My other blogs. Main ones below

http://dissectleft.blogspot.com (DISSECTING LEFTISM )

http://edwatch.blogspot.com (EDUCATION WATCH)

http://pcwatch.blogspot.com (POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH)

http://australian-politics.blogspot.com (AUSTRALIAN POLITICS)

http://snorphty.blogspot.com/ (TONGUE-TIED)


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