Weekly Energy & Climate Update: Fri 17 March

Summary of the top energy & climate change news of the week.

  1. In leading news this week, the International Energy Agency (IEA) found that global energy-related carbon emissions remained flat for the third year in a row in 2016, even as the global economy grow. The Financial Times, reporting on the findings, noted that, although the news was welcome, in order to avoid dangerous climate change emissions need to fall sharply, not merely stabilise.
  2. In the UK, a major report from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) on energy prices found that polices to address climate change and improve energy efficiency had served to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without increasing household bills, mainly because of reduced energy demand from more efficient lights and appliances. Analysing the findings, research group Carbon Brief said that ‘the fall in household bills in 2016 compared to 2008 appears to have filtered through to public opinion, even if it has not been reflected in a shift in media coverage’; Government polling shows that people’s concern about energy bills is at its lowest level ever.
  3. An ECIU report published this week showed that last winter (2016/17), National Grid did not need to call on any contingency measures to keep the electricity system stable, and that a reserve power scheme, the Supplemental Balancing Reserve (SBR), cost £180m over three years and was never used. Commenting, James Heappey, Conservative MP for Wells and former member of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, said that warnings of blackouts around the time the SBR was introduced “may have played a role into persuading ministers to spend consumers’ money unnecessarily.” It was also reported this week that National Grid is in discussions with Google’s DeepMind about the possibility of using artificial intelligence (AI) to help deliver a ‘smart’ grid to balance energy supply and demand in the UK.
  4. Notwithstanding the CCC report, energy bills remained in the news this week ahead of a House of Commons debate on energy prices on Thursday and growing speculation that the Government is preparing to take action over the issue. A cross-party group of MPs said that excessive price rises by energy companies were ‘ripping off’ customers and, along with small energy suppliers, backed a price cap, although a cap was opposed by British Gas owner Centrica. In the end the debate was poorly attended, but energy minister Jesse Norman suggested that ‘unacceptable’ price rises would be addressed in a consumer green paper, due to be published next month, a pledge echoed by Theresa May at the Conservative Party Spring Forum in Cardiff.
  5. Climate change, and there were numerous articles this week warning of the impact that global warming is having on coral reefs and the Great Barrier Reef in particular. The world’s largest reef system is suffering bleaching for a second consecutive year for the first time ever, with scientists warning that the reef will only survive if there is ambitious action to address to causes of global warming. The Great Barrier Reef’s plight prompted an editorial in the Times to say that the 25 million year old ecosystem is ‘teetering on the verge of devastation.’
  6. In other climate news, records of atmospheric CO2 concentrations showed that they are rising at a record rate for the second year in a row. Research also showed that the impact of climate change in the Arctic is exacerbating serious air pollution events around the world, including in China and the US. A separate report showed that natural variations are also driving Arctic sea ice loss, although the impact of human activity remains significant. And researchers from the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change met in London to discuss tracking progress on measures to address the issue.
  7. In international news, British academics warned this week over the potential impact that cuts to climate science funding in the US could have on their work and to global research on climate change. The warning came as reports suggested that the Trump administration is planning to roll back Barack Obama’s climate policies, cut funding to US science agencies, and is consulting fossil fuel companies about their views on the Paris climate change agreement. Elsewhere it was reported that G20 host Germany plans to push for a global carbon price when leaders meet in Hamburg in July.
  8. News on renewable energy this week included figures showing continued growth in renewables across the EU, and reports that an artificial island planned as a hub for offshore wind power in the North Sea is set to gain approval later this month. German energy company Siemens also said that subsidy costs for offshore wind would likely drop below those of new nuclear plants in next month’s price auction, and revised Government forecasts showed an expectation of growing use of batteries in the UK power system.
  9. In technology news this week, Shell and shipping group Maersk were said to be set to trial rotor sails in a bit to cut emissions and lower costs for large tankers, and research suggested that a mix of biofuel and kerosene could reduce the climate impact of aviation contrails.
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