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Kenya signs energy deal with America’s General Electric

Kenya signs energy deal with America’s General Electric

By | Kenya | No Comments

Kenya has signed an agreement with the US engineering giant General Electric to supply its flagship energy project with the latest “ultra-supercritical” clean coal technology.

The proposed 1050MW coal plant at Lamu on the eastern coast would provide Kenya with 30 percent of its power. It is regarded by the government as central to its plans to achieve middle-income country status by the 2030s.

Ultra-supercritical technology is cleaner than traditional coal systems as it operates at much higher rates of efficiency, meaning less coal burnt and fewer emissions.

Kenya has been pursuing a highly pragmatic “all of the above” approach to power generation, including solar, geothermal, hydro and fossil fuels. This has made it one of Africa’s success stories on energy access, boosting the number of people with an electricity connection from just 27 percent in 2013 to 55 percent in 2016. The Lamu coal plant is intended to help Kenya achieve its ambitious goal of 95 percent access by 2020.

The project has the backing of the African Development Bank, which unlike Western development agencies like the World Bank, has argued that African countries should use all the resources at their disposal to bring desperately needed power to their people.

It will also be welcome news in the White House, which is keen to encourage the export of US energy technology to developing nations as part of its strategy of “energy dominance.”

Speaking at Kenya’s Ministry of Energy this week, Francis Njogbu, Managing Director of the project said:

“This is truly a historic moment for Kenya and the East African region as a whole. We are confident that this partnership forged today will go a long way to position Kenya as an Industrial hub in the continent. Kenya has been looking for ways to enhance its generation mix to provide the most efficient, least-cost and reliable power in a sustainable manner; and the technology offered by GE gives us a unique opportunity to achieve this ambition.”

US lagging far behind China in exports of clean fossil technology to energy poor countries

US lagging far behind China in exports of clean fossil technology to energy poor countries

By | Developing Countries | No Comments

Last year the US Government announced plans to set up a Clean Fossil Alliance, with the aim of helping poorer countries that need fossil fuels to develop to use those resources in the cleanest possible way. But the US is late to the party. The Chinese government has long been exporting clean coal to the world’s energy poor, as part of its flagship One Belt One Road policy.

One Belt One Road is a massive programme of infrastructure investment spanning 65 countries that China regards as key strategic partners. While Beijing says it merely wants to improve trading links with these countries, many analysts say the real aim of the policy is to create a zone of Chinese economic and political influence to rival that of the US.

Sherry Madera, a former Director at the British embassy in Beijing, is advising China on how it can “green” these Belt and Road projects, which include telecoms, road, rail, and crucially energy. She says the Chinese government views clean coal as a legitimate form of power generation for countries that struggle to provide energy to all their people, a context that richer countries need to understand: “Western countries can get quite worried about the use of coal in any shape or form”, Madera says, “that comes from the right place; renewable energy is now tumbling in price, pulling any of the black stuff out of the ground will end up with some level of pollution. But we need to be alive and harmonised to the fact that these countries along the Belt and Road are in a very different place economically to where we are. Actually having access to energy at all is the primary objective.”

Clean coal in this context means modern, “ultra-supercritical” coal plants that produce lower levels of pollution by operating at higher efficiencies. In a bid to tackle their own air pollution problem, the Chinese have become experts in the technology, with strict emissions standards forcing the closure of older, dirtier models. China’s coal fleet is regarded as significantly cleaner than its US counterpart, which has only one ultra-supercritical plant in the whole country.

It’s estimated that China has invested $44bn in coal projects overseas since 2000. Despite the fact that the fuel is out of fashion (though still widely used) in the West, energy poor countries like Pakistan, Kenya, and Malawi, where millions still lack electricity, have welcomed this investment and the jobs and growth it brings.

This all means that when it comes to delivering cheap, reliable energy to the world’s poorest Washington has a lot of catching up to do with Beijing.

Global CCS Institute calls for the transfer of CCS tech to developing nations

Global CCS Institute calls for the transfer of CCS tech to developing nations

By | Developing Countries | One Comment

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) garners less attention than renewable energy, but experts say it’s just as vital for a zero-emissions future. And a growing chorus is calling for it to shared with developing countries that have no alternatives to coal and gas.

The technology works by stripping out the carbon dioxide from factories and power stations and injecting it deep beneath ground in special rock formations where it cannot contribute to global warming.

It’s the only technology that can decarbonise industries like the steel, cement, fertiliser and petrochemicals, which all rely on the high temperatures produced by the burning of fossil fuels.

And in a world where forty percent of the world’s electricity needs are met by burning coal, CCS is considered essential for cleaning up the power sector, especially in developing countries that are relying on coal to join the global middle class.

The Global CCS Institute, which represents the industry, recently wrote to the UNFCCC (the UN body responsible for implementing the Paris Agreement) to make exactly this point.

In their letter, they ask for “recognition of the importance in transferring technology to developing countries” and say that CCS should be “seriously” considered as an option when and where appropriate.

China, Japan and the US, which have all invested heavily in CCS research for their own domestic markets, are likely to find favour with this argument, not least because it would give them a chance to export their technology to the developing world.

It’s vital that developing countries can generate the power they need to grow and escape poverty. In many cases that will involve the use of fossil fuels. By ensuring they have access to the latest energy technology like CCS, we can help them make full use of their natural resources while moving closer towards a prosperous low-carbon future.

UK bank takes pragmatic stance on coal power for development

UK bank takes pragmatic stance on coal power for development

By | Bangladesh, Developing Countries, Indonesia | No Comments

Despite coming under pressure from Western environmental activists, British bank HSBC has said it will continue to fund coal power in Bangladesh, Indonesia and Vietnam

HSBC has also promised to stop lending to coal power projects in developed markets by the end of 2019.

Daniel Klier, head of strategy and sustainable finance at HSBC, said coal power was still the only realistic way to sufficiently increase the power supply in coal-rich developing countries such as Bangladesh, where 62 million people still lack no access to electricity.

“We are trying to balance two different sustainable development goals of getting power to the people and limiting the environmental impact,” Mr Klier told the FT.

Indonesia, Bangladesh and Vietnam have all made huge strides on poverty reduction in recent years, thanks in part to a mass-expansion of the coal-powered grid.

All three Asian countries favour coal because it’s available locally in the region and unlike solar, it can provide “baseload” electricity that can operate day and night.

Game-changing US aid reforms could become law by the end of the year

Game-changing US aid reforms could become law by the end of the year

By | Developing Countries | One Comment

Landmark legislation to reform the way the United States gives development aid could become law by the end of the year, according to the Senator behind the bill.

As previously reported, the legislation would double the amount that America can lend to projects in the developing world from $29 billion to $60 billion, while also setting up a new institution: the International Development Finance Corporation (IDFC). The IDFC would also support US companies that want to export to low and middle-income countries.

Significantly, the new IDFC would have the power to make investments as well as lend, meaning it could take on bigger projects in riskier environments. This opens the door to more US investment in large-scale power generation, which the White House has earmarked as a top development priority.

The aid reforms are seen as an essential counterweight to Chinese influence in Africa and developing Asia. Remarkably, given America’s bitterly divided political environment, the new legislation has received bi-partisan support in both houses of Congress, meaning it stands a good chance of becoming law.

Democratic Senator Chris Coons, who co-sponsored the bill with Republican Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, said that the reforms would support the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals, which include achieving universal electricity access by 2030.
“I believe the United States should and can play a leadership role in marshaling the world’s efforts toward achieving these goals by 2030,” said Coons.

An International Solar Alliance cannot solve energy poverty on its own

An International Solar Alliance cannot solve energy poverty on its own

By | Affordable electricity | No Comments

Britain has announced it is joining the International Solar Alliance (ISA): a group of countries pledged to increase the use of solar power in the developing world. The ISA plans to help mobilise $1 trillion of investment in affordable solar energy by 2030.

As part of this drive, the UK government has committed to support the development of solar-powered water pumps, giving farmers an alternative to dirty and expensive diesel pumps. The UK has also said it will help provide solar mini-grids to villages that don’t yet have access to mains electricity.

This is welcome news, but Britain should be realistic about what these kinds of power projects can actually achieve. Studies have shown that solar mini-grids have only a limited impact on rural poverty. The ability to charge a phone or power a lightbulb for a few hours a day of course improves people’s quality of life, but it does little to raise their earning power. With current technology, solar can’t yet power industrial development, the hospitals, factories, airports, railways and broadband infrastructure that a country needs to escape poverty.

It’s why, when offered a choice between off-grid solar and a connection to the grid, rural communities generally opt for the grid. Think about it. If you wouldn’t put up with just a few hours of power each day with lights off at 6pm, why should the world’s poorest?

UK aid budget could help exports of British energy tech

UK aid budget could help exports of British energy tech

By | Bangladesh, Developing Countries, Nigeria | No Comments

The UK’s £14 billion aid budget is set for its biggest overhaul in years, with plans to use aid spending to help British exporters to invest in Africa and developing Asia.

International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt has promised her department will experience a “big shift”, following years of controversy about the UK’s 0.7 percent of GDP

The new strategy would see UK companies given support to invest in poorer markets, on the principle that the aid budget should only grow if a part of that spending benefits the UK economy too. Ministers are said to be “frustrated” that French and German businesses have been more successful at exporting to the developing world, including to Commonwealth countries.

In the energy access space this could mean UK manufacturers being supported to deliver large-scale power projects in energy poor Commonwealth partners like Nigeria and Bangladesh.

With our huge expertise in clean coal, renewables and carbon capture, this could be a chance to bring energy to millions, unlock new markets AND boost UK plc.

The UK Government should only agree to the World Bank’s demand for more money under certain conditions

The UK Government should only agree to the World Bank’s demand for more money under certain conditions

By | Bangladesh, Developing Countries, India, Nigeria | No Comments

At its annual meeting in Washington this month, the World Bank will be demanding more money from British taxpayers, as a part of planned increase to its capital budget. The US is already highly sceptical, and we believe the UK Government should only agree if certain conditions are met.

First, we have to be sure that our money will be spent wisely.

World Bank rules which privilege renewable energy at the expense of conventional energy projects do little to help with poverty. Developing countries can only build up their industry, create jobs and improve healthcare if they have a foundation of reliable power. As Indian Railways Minister Piyush Goyal put it last year “Every country needs a baseload. I cannot tell my country. ‘guys, it’s 6pm in the evening, shut everything down because the solar has gone off.”

Second, we should insist that World Bank spending supports British trade as well as aid

Key Commonwealth partners like India, Nigeria and Bangladesh have populations in the tens of millions without access to reliable power. They are desperate to use their coal and gas resources to bring electricity to their people, and they want to do so in the cleanest possible way. Technology like high efficiency low-emissions coal plants, which British manufacturers specialise in, can help them, providing a crucial transitional bridge as we move towards a low-carbon economy. Yet under current World Bank rules it is not eligible for funding. We should insist on an end to these restrictions, helping millions access lifesaving electricity while supporting British exports.

The world’s poorest countries did not create the problem of climate change. They should not be made to pay for the mistakes of developed countries by forgoing access to the low-cost, reliable power that we used to industrialise. When the UK delegation travels to Washington this month, this is the case we need them to make.

New technology to clean up fossil fuels highlighted in UN report could be the next big American export

New technology to clean up fossil fuels highlighted in UN report could be the next big American export

By | Affordable electricity | No Comments

Could coal and gas power actually allow for greater use of renewable energy, with lower overall emissions? The idea may seem paradoxical, but that’s the conclusion of a UN working group set up to examine ways of making fossil fuels cleaner.

The “Group of Experts on Cleaner Electricity Production from Fossil Fuels, which operates under the UN’s Economic Commission for Europe secretariat, recently published a report outlining four renewable-fossil fuel technology combinations that would result in substantially more renewable energy being deployed overall. In each case the idea is to combine the big benefits of fossil fuel power – reliability and scale – with the low-emissions advantages of renewables.

The four main options are outlined below:

1. A concentrated solar power/coal power hybrid

Concentrated solar power (CSP) plants have been pioneered by Spain and the US. They use a giant array of mirrors to reflect highly concentrated solar rays at a central tower containing a boiler. Steam from the superheated water then drives a turbine to produce electricity.

The report says that a CSP plant could feed extra heat into the boiler of a coal-fired power station, essentially allowing the coal plant to produce the same amount of power by burning less coal. This means a cut in overall emissions.

2. Coal gasification plants with carbon capture and storage powered by wind

Coal gasification plants convert solid coal into synthetic natural gas, allowing the coal to be burnt at half the emissions of conventional coal power stations. These kinds of plants are ideal for carbon capture and storage (CCS), as it’s much easier to capture CO2 during the gasification stage than the burning stage

CCS can deliver emission reductions of up to 90 percent. However to work, CCS technology requires extra energy – over above the energy that the power station is already producing. This means it has to either generate less power for the same amount of coal – which ruins the economics – or get the extra energy from somewhere else.

According to the report, wind turbines could provide this additional power at no extra cos (since wind is free once the turbines are built) and with zero emissions.

3. Solar-aided carbon capture and storage

Concentrated solar power like wind, could also be used to offset the “energy penalty” incurred by using CCS with coal. A large solar array would collect heat energy which would then power the “stripper” used to chemically strip out the CO2 from coal once it has been burnt.

The deserts of North Africa could be a prime candidate for these systems in future.

4. Using wind and solar to produce hydrogen for coal gasification plants

The biggest disadvantage of wind and solar power is that they cannot produce “dispatchable” electricity, i.e. electricity that is on demand ready for use whenever needed. What they can do however is produce hydrogen, by running an electrical current through water.

According to the report, hydrogen from wind or solar could then be fed into a coal gasification plant. By reducing the amount of coal needed to produce synthetic gas, this would reduce the emissions from such a plant by an estimated 57 percent.

This UN report comes in the wake of America’s announcement that it wants to help lead a “global alliance of countries willing to make fossil fuels cleaner rather than abandoning them,” in the words of US Energy Secretary Rick Perry. The US believes it is immoral to ask developing countries, where millions on people live without energy access to give up on fossil fuels.

All four of the options outlined in the report are being intensively researched in the US, which has funded pilot projects aimed at demonstrating each of the concepts. These technologies could well form the basis of future knowledge-transfers between the members of the cleaner fossil fuels alliance.

There is still a real need for fossil fuel-powered development in the world. By deploying the latest technology, we can secure the benefits of that development and still deliver on climate commitments, making full use of the world’s wind and solar resources.

The US is moving on plans to support clean coal in developing countries – who will join them?

The US is moving on plans to support coal power in developing countries – who will join them?

By | Developing Countries | No Comments

Last year, in a major policy shift, the US announced it would be opposing the World Bank’s current ban on funding for coal power in developing countries.

The White House argues that it is “immoral” to deny the poorest countries the chance to industrialise using their abundant fossil fuel reserves, a view shared by many governments in the developing world, including India, Nigeria and Bangladesh.

Now the US appears to be turning rhetoric into reality, with a series of new appointments designed to drive the new policy through.

America’s World Bank Executive Director Karen Mathiasen, an Obama-era appointee is out, to be replaced with Heath Tarbert, who served on the Trump transition team.

As Washington’s representative on the World Bank’s board, Mr Tarbert is expected to issue vocal calls for an end to the coal restrictions. According to Barry Worthington, who heads up the UN’s “Cleaner Electricity from Fossil Fuels Working Group” and is thought to be close to the White House, Mr Tarbert may even start using the US veto to strike down funding for renewable energy projects if the World Bank doesn’t agree to lift the restrictions.

In another key personnel change, the White House has also appointed Wells Griffith to serve as its top energy advisor. The Administration says that Mr Griffith will be tasked with supporting US plans to export clean coal technology around the world, as part of its strategy of asserting “energy dominance”.

America’s proposed Clean Fossil Alliance is intended to support the construction of high-efficiency plants that produce less greenhouse gas emissions than older designs as well as construct cutting-edge “clean coal” plants that employ carbon-capture technology to trap up to 90 percent of emissions.

As well as the moral case for bringing power to the world’s poorest, the White House believes that by sharing US technology and expertise, it can help curb Russian and Chinese energy influence in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe.

The new policy will be welcome news in DelhiAbujaDhaka and Kiev, which have long argued that coal is critical to both their prosperity and energy security.