As you can tell from the clips on here over the last few weeks it is hard to tell quite how much to celebrate the sight of negative oil prices, not a time for schadenfreude maybe.

Company news

Future Biogas look to pass on their scientific knowledge
Future Biogas were one of the first players at scale in the agricultural AD market, and their 13 plants make them a market leading generator of Biogas. Over the years they have gained a great deal of specialist biological knowledge in their attempts to maximise the efficiency of their operations.
They are now looking to sell their scientific expertise with the launch last week of a consultancy called Fern AD. The company will look to help plant owners use the latest science to optimise biogas yields. They will also be offering for sale their own tank digester additive made with a balanced recipe of tracer elements.

UK news

Oxford takes delivery of the first of 30 EVs in bid to become a ‘Superhub’
Oxford City Council has taken delivery of its first electric vehicles (EVs) as part of a project taking an integrated approach to decarbonising power, heat and transport across the city, known as Energy Superhub Oxford (ESO).
Six EVs have been added to Oxford City Council’s wholly-owned company, Oxford Direct Services (ODS),a Local Authority Trading Company which provides services for Oxford City Council and also operates commercially, including building and maintaining the built environment. ODS added the new vehicles to its fleet and will add 27 more vehicles (including cars, a street sweeper, excavator, and mix of different sized vans) over the next 3-4 months. It aims to electrify 25% of its 330 fleet by 2023. (newpower)

Flexitricity marks a first in balancing mechanism with battery trade
Flexitricity has become the first aggregator to trade in the balancing mechanism as a virtual lead party – a key change implemented by National Grid ESO and Elexon to allow non-licensed companies to access the £1.1bn balancing market.
The company made the trade from two batteries at Philip Dennis Foodservice, a Devon-based outfit that has several batteries, plus solar PV and wind turbines on site.
The balancing mechanism (BM) is the main tool National Grid ESO uses to balance supply and demand on the electricity system in real-time. Through the BM, providers can offer to increase or decrease their generation or demand to help balance the system.
It’s a 24/7 market – and prices can sometimes become extremely lucrative for those able to respond at the right time.
Previously, only power companies with supply licences were able to access the BM. That left some aggregators unable to access one of the deepest pools of revenue for flexible assets – unless they struck a deal with a licensed party.
National Grid ESO made opening up the BM a priority, and alongside Elexon has enabled companies to become ‘virtual lead parties’ and use an online portal to manage their BM unit portfolio. (theenergyst)

First funding phase approved for Humber net-zero industrial cluster
Plans to develop the world’s first zero-carbon industrial cluster in the Humber region have been boosted after leading energy companies joined an existing consortium of project partners in the same week that Government funding was secured for the project.
Last year, Drax, Equinor and National Grid published a roadmap fleshing out their plans to create the world’s first zero-carbon industrial hub in the Humber region by 2040. The roadmap sets out proposals to build a demonstration hydrogen production facility in the region by 2025 and install carbon capture equipment on one of the four biomass units at Drax’s power station in Selby two years later.
The project now consists of a consortium of 11 businesses that have signed a formal agreement to support the zero-carbon cluster.
The project partners claim that the initiative will contribute £18bn towards UK Gross Value Added (GVA), while safeguarding 55,000 jobs in manufacturing across the region. (edie)

EV of the week

Polestar 2 launch still on target for this summer
Not a lot of news in EV-land apart from companies confirming delays to plans due to Covid-19 (plus sometimes other reasons).
One pleasing exception is that Volvo/Geely have confirmed that the first full EV from their upmarket Polestar division is on track for a June launch. The Chinese factory is working full time.
The car is eagerly anticipated and looks a very credible competitor to the Tesla Model 3. It is a sports saloon of similar dimensions and like many EV’s it rides higher than standard to accommodate the batteries, although not high enough to qualify as a SUV. It should be well made, looks great inside and out, will be very fast and have near 300 mile range. It differs from the model 3 in that it is a hatchback which should play well in Europe and is the first car to run a Google Android based infotainment system.


Germany breaks solar records
Low levels of pollution have helped crystal clear skies over central Europe deliver solar records to be broken in many countries. Sunny conditions meant solar generated as much as about 40% of Germany’s power Monday, compared to the 22% produced by coal and nuclear, according to Agora Energiewende. Solar, wind and other renewables accounted for 78% of Germany’s electricity output. (Bloomberggreen)

UK likewise
Britain’s solar PV set a new generation record this week. Output of 9.68GW at lunchtime on Monday 20 April accounted for nearly 30 per cent of all UK electricity, as reported by National Grid ESO’s preferred source, Sheffield University’s PV Live tracker.
The record comes as UK power demand has slumped amid the Covid-19 shutdown. Three weeks ago National Grid ESO reported grid demand down 10 per cent overall, and up to 18 per cent lower during morning peaks. (theenergyst)

Two more abandon coal
Austria and Sweden have each unplugged their last coal-fired power station from the grid as Vienna said it would generate all of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.
The closures of Vartaverket in Stockholm and the Mellach plant near the Austrian city of Graz came a day apart and mean that three European countries have abandoned coal. The first was Belgium in 2016.
At least a dozen more European nations plan to abandon coal power by the end of the decade. Norway also has effectively no coal-fired capacity except for a small Russian-operated plant in the Arctic Circle.
Austria’s fledgling green-conservative coalition government aims to wean the nation off fossil fuel power by the end of the decade and to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040.
The state already derives about two thirds of its power from hydroelectric plants. Most of the rest comes from gas, wind farms and imports from neighbouring countries.
The Vartaverket plant in Sweden (picture below) was closed two years early after a mild winter left it scarcely needed.
Over the next few years other countries are expected to follow the examples of Austria and Sweden: first France in 2022, then Portugal in 2023, Britain in 2024 and Italy in 2025. (thetimes)

Lockdown Thought of the Week

CEO of CCC suggests it’s time for a carbon tax
Chris Stark, CEO of the UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC), said that with little sign of global demand for oil returning to higher levels any time soon due to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, he believed the “astonishing” low oil prices were likely to remain a fixture for some time ahead.
He said one likely result would be to make investments in renewable energy far more attractive and boasting more competitive returns, which would “fundamentally change” the outlook of oil majors, more of which may now be looking more seriously at transitioning to net zero, following in the wake of announcements from BP, Repsol and Shell in recent months.
“Just a few weeks ago you might have been getting a 20 per cent plus return on oil exploration projects – that’s gone and I don’t see that returning now for some time,” Stark explained. “That will fundamentally change your outlook if you’re going to get six per cent perhaps on a standard renewables project. So I think you’re going to see potentially at least, those companies that are interested in diversifying… prepared to take the hit in internal investment terms by moving and transitioning towards net zero infrastructure projects.”
Stark also said he believed very low fossil fuel prices would likely follow for consumers this year which could deliver opportunities for ambitious green policies in the UK and beyond to accelerate decarbonisation.
The situation “does open up a question as to whether the government might wish to step in and use things like carbon taxes to ensure we don’t see very negative impacts on the environment” he said, adding that “this is a quite a good time to introduce a tax on fossil fuels”. (businessgreen)

Focus on: Nuclear

EDF extends nuclear reactor outages as virus outbreak hit maintenance plans
The utility said last week that it expected a sharp drop in its domestic nuclear power output to a record low in 2020 as a result of the fall in business activity caused by the coronavirus.
EDF extended the outages at the 1,300 megawatt each Flamanville 1 and 2 reactors in the north of France by five months until the end of October.
It had already reduced staffing at the nuclear power plant to around 100 from 800 because of a cluster of coronavirus outbreaks in the area.
The reactors have been offline since September and January 2019 respectively for maintenance and had been scheduled to resume production at the end of May.
The company said that the outages could be extended due to complex maintenance activities. (yahoo)

How to keep nuclear power plants operating safely during the pandemic
How are nuclear organizations coping with the coronavirus pandemic, and what are best practices that should spread? It is early in the course of the outbreak, but some answers are emerging. First, nuclear installations are implementing broad public health measures, having employees work-from home when possible, use personal protection equipment, wash their hands frequently, and keep a proper distance at workstations. Many also check the temperatures of employees when they enter nuclear facilities.
Second, nuclear activities other than power production can be halted temporarily. For example, Canada suspended mining and milling of uranium ore. Kazakhstan is preparing to make use of existing stocks to meet uranium demands. South Africa and Namibia have halted all mining, including of uranium. In the United Kingdom and France, the Sellafield and La Hague plants are shut down.
Third, nuclear sites can delay labour-intensive operations. Nuclear power plants generally need fuel about every 18 months; usually, refuelling happens in the spring or fall, when electricity demand is relatively low.
Fourth, regulators may also decide to temporarily ease some controls. For example, as a provision against a worker shortage, the NRC eased restrictions on the number of hours personnel can work.
Fifth, nuclear establishments can isolate essential workers as a preventive measure. While this is a drastic step, enterprises in Russia, the United States, Ukraine, and France are doing just that, either by transporting, housing, and feeding workers separately or by creating back-up teams, held apart from other operators.
Sixth, nuclear enterprises can ramp up cyber defenses. According to one nuclear security manager, “Hackers and criminals are unscrupulous and would take advantage of the relatively fragile situation of companies.”
Seventh, nuclear operators can share best practices and knowledge about how to mitigate the effects of COVID-19. While some nuclear facilities have contingency plans for pandemics, the length of this international crisis may strain even the most robust strategies
Last but hardly least, nuclear operators and their security contractors can take additional measures to prevent the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and other violent extremist actors from exploiting opportunities to stage attacks. (thebulletin)

Britain has 139 tons of plutonium. That’s a real problem.
The United Kingdom’s last plutonium reprocessing plant, B205, located in Sellafield in northern England, will shut down by the end of 2020. It will bring an end to the era of plutonium separation in the country, which began 68 years ago. Because the United Kingdom never used any of the material it recouped from reprocessing except in nuclear weapons, today it has amassed a stockpile of almost 139 metric tons of separated plutonium.
This creates lasting problems: Plutonium stored in Sellafield is highly toxic and poses a permanent risk of proliferation. It is enough material to build tens of thousands of nuclear weapons. According to parliamentary estimates, storage will cost the British government about 73 million pounds a year for the next century. But after decades of public and private consultation, there is still no accepted plan for its disposition. In the meantime, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is working on the consolidation of the stockpiles in Sellafield and developing the capability to retreat the packages to allow for long-term storage once the government makes a final decision on permanent disposal. The United Kingdom views the material as a resource and is pursuing options that involve burning the plutonium in reactors, even though multiple assessments have shown risks associated with such a choice, namely immature concepts and technology. A better alternative would be to treat it as waste and begin planning for its permanent immobilization and burial. (thebulletin)

Eco art installation of the week

Recycled wind turbine blades proposed as a playscape for Burning Man
Washington-based architect and designer Michael Mannhard has unveiled designs for BladeYARD, a proposal for a Burning Man 2021 installation built from recycled wind turbine blades. Created as a visual warning of the effects of climate change and shortsighted solutions, the installation mimics a large-scale ruin with parts of the blades submerged in the sands of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.
Part of Mannhard’s inspiration for the project stems from a recent Bloomberg News article that says wind turbine blades can’t be recycled, and as a result, they are piling up in landfills at a rate of nearly 8,000 blades a year (inhabitat)

Global stuff

Mellow Vans get the sizing right for last mile delivery
A lot of firms in the delivery service industry are looking to electric vehicles ranging from e-bikes and electric scooters to electric vans as they seek to unlock operational efficiencies and cost savings through lower maintenance costs and downtime.
Stellenbosch-based MellowVans seeks to help firms across the globe in this space in their quest to unlock operational efficiencies and cost savings by providing them with low cost and emission-free transport. MellowVans develops, manufactures, and leases electric three-wheeler cargo vans that appear to hit the sweet spot of the delivery vehicle market. These three-wheeler electric delivery vehicles make perfect sense in a world where the majority of urban trips are around 5 km or less and a huge chunk of transportation costs are incurred in this last mile phase. Urban trips account for a significant chunk of CO2 emissions. As much as 39% of CO2 emissions in Kenya, for example, are from the transport sector.
The MellowVans allow a much higher load capacity than a motorcycle and are just the right size, capturing the market somewhere in-between motorcycles and small diesel delivery vans. (cleantechnica)

Techie corner

Innovative ‘medusa-like device’ hits the seas
A scientific team from the City University of Hong Kong has developed a novel wave energy device that generates electricity while converting carbon dioxide into fuel.
Researchers say the new lightweight device can capture ocean wave energy and convert it into formic acid, a liquid fuel.
The electrochemical carbon dioxide reduction system consists of three components – a spherical medusa-like nanogenerator that can convert the energy of the wave into electricity, a power management circuit with a supercapacitor to temporarily store the harvested energy and an electrochemical setup that can reduce carbon dioxide to formic acid.
The research behind this breakthrough highlights the role of the ocean wave energy as an abundant and relatively stable source of renewable energy, which would be highly desirable for the conversion of carbon dioxide to conveniently stored and transported liquid fuels. (energylivenews)