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11 April 2015

Press review 11-04-2015 - Air quality: a driving force

This was a relatively quiet week in the petroleum market, with neither the agreement over Iran's Nuclear programme, nor the raging wars between Sunni and Shiites causing unexpected movements. There is still some volatility but its magnitude is winding down. For the past four weeks the Brent index seems to have settled in the high 50s $/b.

During the largest part of the week a strong polar high parked over north-west Europe before resuming its journey southwards; in many places these were the first real days of Spring. The high pressure imposed by this huge mass of cold air stalled air circulation at the surface and pollution accumulated. By Friday, particulate mater concentrations where prompting public health warnings throughout, with an especial political spin in France, where for the second time this year, restrictions to automotive circulation had to be imposed.

Le Monde
Nouveau pic de pollution à Paris et nouvelle polémique
Laetitia Van Eeckhout, 08-10-2015

Le soleil réapparu, les particules fines sont de retour. Et, avec elles, la polémique. « Personne ne peut ni imposer, ni vociférer, ni exiger » la circulation alternée, a lancé, mercredi 8 avril sur France Inter, la ministre de l’écologie, Ségolène Royal, interrogée sur une éventuelle mise en place de cette mesure, alors que se profile un nouvel épisode de pollution. Airparif, l’observatoire de la qualité de l’air en Ile-de-France, prévoit en effet un possible dépassement, mercredi, du seuil d’information – atteint quand la concentration moyenne de particules fines (PM10) dépasse 50 microgrammes par mètre cube d’air (µg/m3). Un pic plus important est même prévu pour jeudi.

La veille, la maire de Paris, Anne Hidalgo, et le président de la région Ile-de-France, Jean-Paul Huchon, avaient demandé à l’Etat de « planifier dès maintenant des mesures à prendre pour faire diminuer les niveaux de pollution ». « Dans la perspective d’un risque avéré de persistance de l’épisode de pollution cette semaine, et au regard des incompréhensions apparues dans la gestion du précédent épisode de pollution », les deux élus ont appelé l’Etat à convoquer « sans tarder une cellule de crise » avec les experts, la Ville de Paris et la région, « afin de prendre les décisions nécessaires ».

Une réunion a eu lieu mercredi midi, convoquée par le préfet à la demande de Ségolène Royal, en présence de Airparif, Météo France et des représentants de la mairie de Paris, du conseil régional et des conseils départementaux franciliens. Le préfet de police y a décidé d’abaisser de 20 km/h la vitesse maximale autorisée sur les routes franciliennes. Tout en se félicitant de cette décision, la Ville de Paris et la région appelaient cependant, mercredi après-midi, à ce que soit également exigé le contournement de l’Ile-de-France par les poids-lourds de transit. « Il faut accompagner la mesure de réduction de la vitesse par des restrictions de circulation des véhicules les plus polluants, si l’on veut que le niveau de pollution baisse », fait-on valoir dans l’entourage d’Anne Hidalgo.
Beyond circulation prohibition accordingly to alternate plate numbers and reduced speed limits, other measures are up for discussion in France, such as urban tolls or further tightening vehicle age limits. In any event, urban circulation of vehicles with internal-combustion engines is set to be tackled, at least in what diesel is concerned. This is a setting trend that will certainly impact further the way energy is consumed (and supplied) in Europe.

In the UK no circulation restrictions where imposed, but dwellers were advised to stay indoors and avoid physical exertion throughout England. Even though urban tolls are already in place in London, a revision to transport policy may also be in order there.
The Guardian
Air pollution spike across England sparks warning from health charities
Karl Mathiesen, 10-04-2015

A major spike in air pollution across much of England poses a risk to those suffering from respiratory diseases, older people and children, health charities warned on Friday.

The government pushed its smog alert levels to “very high” - its most extreme pollution warning - for some parts of south east England.

In Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings the official advice is for all residents - regardless of their health - to reduce their physical exertion. Older people and children on Easter school holidays have been urged to avoid any strenuous activity at all.

In other areas of England, particularly the south east and Midlands, the smog levels will be high enough to cause problems for those with pre-existing problems.
Urban smog is a far more serious problem in China where the impact on human health is staggering. As noted various times in this blog, the country must rapidly face up to these consequences of fossil fuel usage, either through mitigation actions or by outright reducing consumption.
Clean Technica
China’s 2020 Coal Cap = 50,000 Lives Saved Annually
Leon Kaye, 10-04-2015

What has been especially dangerous to China’s citizens is that the burning of coal is tied to the high levels of PM2.5 (particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, which are small enough to enter the lungs and into the bloodstream) in cities across the country. The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests a concentration of no more than 25 PM2.5 to be the maximum safe level. Last year in Beijing, that level reached as high as 505 PM2.5. The “airpocalypse” has caused schools and airports to close, local officials to enact traffic restrictions, and of course, a surge in sales of face masks, many of them fashionable.

But for what the NRDC estimates to be over 700,000 deaths in 2012 through China that were related to air pollution, there is hardly anything cute about chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, ischemic heart disease, strokes, or lunch cancer. To that end, since 2013, the NRDC and WWF have spearheaded the China Coal Cap Project, which has brought together many stakeholders across Chinese society in a quest to reduce the country’s ravenous consumption of coal. A steady decrease in annual coal use will not only decrease deaths and costs related to its effects, but also create economic benefits. The NRDC has suggested new research and the scale of energy-efficient technologies could result in over one million new clean technology jobs throughout China by 2020.
Coal consumption in China has effectively declined the past year, even though it can be mostly attributed to an industrial activity slowdown. However, adding to public health concerns the growing commitment of the Chinese government towards alternative energy, 2014 might have not been just an accident along the road.
Wolf Street
Coal is Dying, not just in the US. Look What’s Happening in China
ISA Intel, 04-04-2015

[...] Just this past December the International Energy Agency predicted robust demand for coal over the next five years. “We have heard many pledges and policies aimed at mitigating climate change, but over the next five years they will mostly fail to arrest the growth in coal demand,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said in a December 2014 statement on the release of a major coal report. In that report – released a mere four months ago – the IEA predicted that China would fail in its attempts to reach “peak coal” before the end of the decade.

But data that only emerged a few weeks later proved the IEA’s prediction to be way off base. China actually reduced its coal consumption by nearly 3% in 2014, the first decline in a decade and a half. Since China consumes about as much coal as all other countries combined, the possibility that it is reaching “peak coal” much earlier than expected is a bombshell for the coal markets.

[...] Coal used to be a sure thing. It has been the major provider of electricity for over a century, and until recently, that looked unlikely to change. But it is changing, and quickly. Rising costs for coal come at a time when nearly all competing sources of electricity generation are seeing their costs fall. Coal will certainly be around for years to come, but its market share is declining.
This week the visit paid by Alexis Tsipras to the Kremlin made for plenty of headlines. While the mainstream media focused mostly on what such visit meant for Greece's place in the EU, the largely muted developments on the heretofore called "Turkish Stream" are the real news. It seems Russia is being quite successful in realising an alternate gas route to Ukraine, while keeping it mostly under control of Russian companies. Could the failure of European Energy Policy be more obvious? Even if this Turkey-Greece link comes to be actually beneficial for Europe.
Athens plays Russian card, eyes Turkish Stream

[...] Lafazanis also announced the expansion of Russia-driven Turkish Stream pipeline to Greece, saying that the final decision on the issue will be taken by the Greek Prime Minister, based on the national interests of Athens and not the European Commission, which according to him, “is not an uncontrolled boss of EU national governments”.

Turkish Stream is a Gazprom pipeline project to bring Russian gas across the Black Sea to Turkey, and from there, to a hub at the Turkish-Greek border.

One of the aims of the project is to bypass Ukraine, and another, to punish Bulgaria, which Russia blames for having obstructed the construction of South Stream.

Greece imports 65% of its annual gas needs from Russia. Despite a deal for a gas price reduction by 15% last year between natural gas importer and distributor (DEPA) and Gazprom, Greeks keep on paying the highest bill in Europe, due to the state monopoly that has dominated the Greek energy market.
Without prompting many news for the moment the petroleum industry contraction goes on full steam. Thousands more jobs are left to loose, while exploration activity is all but shut in for the moment.
The world’s largest oil companies are about to start devouring each other
Matt Phillips and Steve LeVine, 07-04-2015

It was only a matter of time.

The Wall Street Journal reports that international oil giant Royal Dutch Shell is in talks to buy BG Group, a giant shipper of natural gas with extensive holdings in Brazil’s oil fields. It may be the opening shot of a consolidation war that many have been expecting.

The reason, of course, is the collapse of global oil prices over the last year. Still, most expected that if a merger mania were to break out in the energy industry, it would be primarily focused on smaller cash hungry companies that have seen their valuations slashed by the collapse of crude oil prices.
A peak in petroleum extraction in the US has been forming for the past few months and the press is finally taking notice. Claims that technology would support rising extraction in spite of price have gone up in smoke.
U.S. oil production is probably peaking right now
John Kemp, 08-04-2015

U.S. crude production will peak this month, according to revised forecasts published by the country's Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Output will average 9.37 million barrels per day (bpd) in April and the same in May before falling to 9.33 million bpd in June and 9.04 million bpd by September, the EIA predicted in the April edition of its Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO).

Production is expected to peak a month earlier and 10,000 bpd lower than the EIA forecast in the January STEO, reflecting continued low wellhead prices and a sharper-than-expected slowdown in new well drilling.

Production is forecast not to exceed this month's level for another 18 months. The EIA has cut its forecast for the end of 2016 by 230,000 bpd compared with three months ago
Spain continues to provide an important example of what a mostly indigenous energy supply mix can be in Europe. Wind power is now the largest electricity source in the country and fossil fuels are down to less than a third of the mix. While recessive policies have played a major role in these developments (curbing consumption) it is also true that Mariano Rajoy's government has put a fierce fight on renewable energy, clearly stalling their advance for the past 18 months, especially solar.
Rede Eléctrica de España
The demand for electrical energy fell 0.2% in March

Production coming from wind power during this month reached 4,903 GWh, 2.9% down on the same period last year, and represented 22.5% of the total production.

In the month of March, generation coming from renewable energy sources reached 47% of production.

69% of electricity generation during the month was obtained using technologies which produce zero CO2 emissions.

Generation mix January to March 2015
What Mariano Rajoy's government fears (or is not able to deal with) is the inevitable impact affordable distributed energy sources mean to traditional electricity suppliers and utilities.
Off-Grid Solar Threatens Utilites In The Next Decade
Nick Cunningham, 09-04-2015

A new report from the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) finds that solar photovoltaics combined with battery storage could become cost competitive with grid electricity in key parts of the United States within a decade.

That would pose an existential threat to the traditional utility. As more homes and businesses opt for solar power equipped with battery backup storage, utilities will lose their customers. That makes it increasingly difficult to finance and maintain expensive grid assets, forcing utilities to raise rates on remaining customers, further pushing people to go off-grid. For example, in the Northeast, within 15 years utilities could see 9.6 million fewer customers. That will make it daunting for utilities to keep spending billions of dollars per year in order to maintain the grid.
Finishing off on a musical note. This song is over 40 years old and is here interpreted by musicians that where not even born when it was first recorded. It nevertheless sounds as avant-garde and critical today as it sounded then; great music lasts forever.

Have a great weekend.

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