Category Archives: Energy & Environment

Energy- and environment-related issues

Bulgaria to Become Transit Country for Gas from Azerbaijan

Traicho Traikov, Bulgarian Minister for Economics, Energy and Tourism, has announced that 10 billion cubic meters of gas from Azerbaijan will travel through Turkey and Bulgaria on its way to Europe every year. The transport will become possible when the gas pipeline between Turkey and Bulgaria is completed.

According to the contract between Turkey and Azerbaijan, 16 billion cubic meters of natural gas will travel on the pipeline, but 6 billion will stay in Turkey and the rest will be re-exported through Bulgaria to Europe. On the Bulgarian side, the connection between Stara Zagora and Komotino will begin construction in early 2012 and should be completed in less than two years.

Minister Traikov has stated that the aim of the gas pipeline from Turkey, and another connection with Greece, are an answer to the threat of disruption of imports of Russian gas. The aim is to have no supplier for more than 50% of the Bulgarian market, therefore aiming to create a security of supply and boosting energy security. In reminiscence of the Ukraine gas crisis of 2009, the Minister has re-assured the public that Bulgaria has two-months worth of reserves at the depot in Chiren. Yet, the question remains whether the 10 billion cubic meters planned to travel through the country will play a role in energy security or it will be completely re-exported. In case of emergency, Bulgaria might be allowed to siphon-off a certain amount from the pipeline.

Furthermore, an ecological investigation into the impact of the two pipelines remains to be conducted. This is a legal requirement needed to ensure that these gas connections will not have a negative impact on the environment. Still, it is expected that they will receive a green light and construction can begin without set-backs.


Belgian Report Shows Effect of Climate Change

The Flemish Ministry for Environment, the regional authority for the Northern part of Belgium, has released a report which shows dramatic temperature increases in the last 180 years. The report bases itself on the recently released Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The Ministry has taken key indicators and analyzed the situation in Belgium. The main conclusions are that:

  • The annual average temperature in Belgium shows continuous increase since the early 19th Century. The average temperature is 2.3 degrees Celsius higher than that in 1830.
  • The warmest years in the period analyzed are situated between 1989 and 2000. (see graph below)
  • The major increases in temperature have occurred during the Spring and Summer seasons.
  • Rainfall has increased an average of 5 mm per decade, with more precipitation observed in Winter and less in Summer.
  • Average sea-level has risen on the Belgian coast by 103mm-133mm compared to 1970.

Since climate change is the long-term effect of human activity on the Earth’s climate, this study shows proof that there have been significant changes in Belgium. In simple terms, the facts that the average temperature has risen, that there is more rainfall in the Winter and less in Summer, and that the warmest years have been more recently recorded all show a tendency for a change in the Belgian climate.

The image below shows a graphical representation of the rise in average temperature in each season in Belgium since 1830.

Step-by-step to Durban and Beyond

Christiana Figueres at the Robert Schuman Lecture, oganized by the Lisbon Council

Only weeks before the Conference of the Parties 17 in Durban, South Africa is set to begin, Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, was in Brussels for the Robert Schuman lecture, organized by the Lisbon Council. Ms. Figueres outlined the priorities for the CoP 17 and urged civil society, business, and nations to do their part in fighting climate change. Continue reading

Belgium to Decommission Nuclear Power by 2025

Two years ago, I took the Copenhagen School theory of security and built up a theoretical framework to examine energy security. According to my theory, energy security depends on economic and environmental policies and issues. One of the case-studies I examined was Belgium but, as time has passed, I have decided to re-visit the issue in light of new information.

Here are the facts: in 2007, Belgium imported 77.2% of its energy products; in 2009, nuclear power contributed to 51.7% of electricity generation; CO2 emissions were at 26.8 Mt. These facts were put together by the national `Commission Energy 2030`, which concluded that a decommissioning of all nuclear power plants (NPPs) would increase electricity prices, lead Belgium to become indebted through an necessity to purchase ‘carbon credits’, and would increase the import dependency of the country. These three economic arguments were supplemented by the environmental aspect of an increase in usage of oil and gas for electricity-generation leading to an increase in CO2 emissions. Continue reading

Automakers Race to Adapt

In today’s world, concerns for the environment are permeating all parts of people’s lives. From energy efficient light-bulbs to washing machines and airplanes, new standards are being set for the amount of energy consumed by every-day activities. The auto industry has not escaped the trend. Continue reading

International Energy Agency Chief Outlines Outlook for Nuclear Power

Due to copyright restrictions, I cannot post this article here. However, it can be found on:

Out with the old, in with the new

In the midst of energy politics, one question is always on the table: if we want to reduce the usage of fossil fuels, what are we going to use? Every nation seems to have its own opinion on the matter. However, this question is always examined from two perspectives – economic and environmental.

‘Modern’ Electricity Production

It is a matter of fact that there are many different ways to produce electricity. The most widespread means at the moment are burning of coal, gas or oil to heat water and produce steam, which in turn spins a turbine and generates electricity. However, this is obsolete technology  dating from the industrial revolution, much like the Thomas Edison-style lightbulb, which has now been replaced by more efficient means of illumination.

In terms of ‘renewable energy’, people are constantly hammered by information on solar pv panels, wind turbines, and hydro-power. The fact of the matter is that the Sun’s energy is abundant, wind is commonplace in many areas of the world, and rivers always have and always will keep flowing. Harnessing this energy is simple through technology that already exists and their effect on the environment is clear – there are no greenhouse gasses released in the process.

The economic side is more difficult to swallow. The two concepts to keep in mind are cost and efficiency. The installation of solar pv panels is costly and, in some regions of the world, not very effective due to long periods of cloud cover. Wind turbines, although less expensive, also vary in their electricity production due to changing wind speed. In these terms, hydropower is the best bet, since its costs are not high, but output is guaranteed due to the continuing flow of rivers. However, the construction of dams or hydro-installations has a hidden environmental cost related to ensuring water-supply.

“The Power of the Future” from the 1950’s

In light of these facts, the question of nuclear power always comes up. Yes, nuclear power does not produce greenhouse gas emissions, but it does create nuclear waste – a radioactive by-product. Although the technology exists for its safe storage, it remains highly controversial and dangerous. Also, nuclear accidents in history have shown that atomic energy is hard to control. For this reason, Germany announced in June 2011 that it will dismantle all its nuclear power plants (NPPs) by 2022. This is a hard decision since atomic power currently produces 25% of Germany’s electricity. How will it be replaced in light of growing demand?

To highlight the problem of dismantling nuclear energy production, a simple case study of Belgium shows how hard it is to take a decision. The country imports 97.4% of its oil and 99.8% of its natural gas. In the potential scenario of decommissioning nuclear power plants, a further increase of fossil-fuel usage would also increase the import dependency and the pollution resulting from it.According to a law passed in 2003, all NPPs have to be deactivated after a lifetime of 40 years after their commissioning and no new operating licenses for NPPs may be granted. Nevertheless, there is an exception included in the law, which states that it can be disregarded to guarantee the supply of electricity for a limited amount of time. In August 2008, when a project for a modification of the 2003 law was proposed and discussed in the Parliament, the main concerns brought up were that a decommissioning of the NPPs as scheduled would increase electricity prices, would lead Belgium to become indebted through obligation to purchase ‘carbon credits’, and would increase the import dependency of the country. These issues were the result of a report published by Belgium’s ‘Commission Energy 2030’ in 2007 and presented to the Parliament in July 2008, which outlined the economic threats posed by the proposed deactivation. In such a scenario, Belgium remains dependent on nuclear power.

Yet, in the wake of Germany’s nuclear shut-down, and the persistent idea that fossil fuels have to be phased out, what is going to happen? The truth is that the country will increase many of its solar pv and wind-turbine investments, which are already quite high, even though solar currently produces a mere 1% of electricity and wind is already destabilizing the grid. In this case, an increase of natural gas will occur. This is unsustainable in the long run and a more tangible solution needs to be found.

Groundbreaking Technology – figuratively and literally

So, where is the panacea? One solution is geothermal power. It is less costly than any other renewable alternative, including advanced nuclear power. It also has no hidden environmental cost. The technology is available and in use in 24 countries around the world. Most notably, Iceland produces 30% of its electricity using this technology. On a grander scale, the USA generates 3 GW using geothermal power (which is still 0.3% of the total, but shows the potential).

The technology is simple – drill a hole into the Earth, close enough to the molten lava below the hard surface (which can be between 3 and 100 meters), where temperatures are above 150 degrees Celsius, install a pipe through which you let water run, and it will come back up as steam. The electricity generation is the same as in a conventional power plant, but it uses the Earth’s heat to create water vapor rather than fossil fuels. This process can be made even more efficient if organic chemicals such as isobutane or pentafluoropropane, which boil at lower temperatures than water, are used. The beauty of it – it is natural, does not produce greenhouse gasses or any waste, and does not require large amounts of land.

Geothermal power-generating process

On the economic side, there are certain obstacles. Geothermal power plants require a large initial investment, just like nuclear power plants. This includes capital for exploration, drilling wells, and plant construction. However, this investment is significantly lower than any other renewable energy alternative. From this point on, the plant entails little operational cost. In the typical scenario, approximately 75% of the plant’s costs are from the initial investment, and 25% are operational expenditure. As a point of comparison, a gas-fired power plant’s initial investment is 33% of its cost, while operational expenditure (including fuel) constitute 66%. Take into account that as the cost of fuel increases, so does this percentage, while the fuel for geothermal energy is free.

There is also the issue of where such technology can be used. Just like solar and wind power, geothermal cannot be installed just anywhere. The following two maps show the potential for geothermal capacity in the USA and Europe as proven by extensive research.

Europe geothermal potential

USA Geothermal Potential





Out with the old…

In the end, geothermal power is not actually “in with the new”. It has been around for centuries. It was used in Paleolithic (Stone Age) times for bathing and the Romans used it to heat their homes. A more picturesque example are the natural hot springs in Finland, which attract numerous tourists every year. Politicians have embraced the idea of de-carbonizing the economy and decommissioning nuclear power. Research shows that they might just embrace geothermal power as well.

An opportunity you might never have thought of before – taking a bath next to a power plant:

Geothermal power plant next to a natural hot-water spring