Focus for the environmental industry now must be to challenge attempts to roll back environmental protections under the cover of the crisis. What a difference a week (or two) makes

Company news

E.ON allies with Octopus Energy to revamp UK retail business
E.ON has struck a partnership deal with Britain’s fast-growing Octopus Energy, as the German utility strives to revamp its UK retail business and shift away from the troubled Npower brand it acquired during the break up of Innogy.
In a partnership deal with Octopus’s unit Kraken Technologies, E.ON said it would pool its own residential and commercial customers and those of Npower in a new subsidiary, called E.ONnext.
It forecast E.ONnext would make earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) of at least 250 million pounds ($288 million) beyond 2023.
E.ONnext will rely on Kraken’s customer platform and be home to Npower’s and E.ON UK’s residential and commercial clients, who will be migrated in spring 2020 and 2021, respectively. (reuters)

Mitsubishi spearheads €4.1bn swoop for Dutch energy firm Eneco
Industrial conglomerate Mitsubishi Corporation and Japanese utility Chubu Electric Power have finalised their takeover of Dutch energy firm Eneco, in a €4.1bn deal aimed at expanding the energy and engineering giants’ renewable energy capabilities in Europe, they announced this week.
Based in Rotterdam, Eneco is a group of companies spanning a raft of renewable energy and technology projects and services. It has invested in wind, solar, biomass, and district heating projects across Europe, and within the Netherlands it is one of the country’s leading energy suppliers of natural gas and electricity. (businessgreen)

UK news

UK’s domestic emissions fall 3.6% as renewables take record generation share
The UK’s domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions underwent a 3.6% year-on-year fall in 2019 – during which time renewable energy rose to a record 36.9% share of electricity generation.
That is according to the latest UK energy statistics and provisional GHG emissions figures, published today (26 March) by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
The GHG emissions figures report accounts for all emissions generated within the UK’s borders. It states that emissions from territorial sources in 2019 stood at 435.2MtCO2e – 3.6% less than in 2018 and 45.2% less than in 1990.
As expected, the majority of the reductions on both a year-on-year and longer-term basis can be attributed to decarbonisation of the UK’s power sector. (edie)

Foresight and Belltown enter joint venture to develop onshore wind assets
Infrastructure and investment firm Foresight Group and renewable energy company Belltown Power Limited have entered a joint venture to develop onshore wind energy projects across the UK.
Scotland and Wales, known for their wind development capacity, have been identified as potential sites for the greenfield pipeline.
The objective is to deliver more than 300MW of clean electricity capacity to support the UK’s goal to become net zero. (energylivenews)

Wildlife charity plans to buy UK land to give it back to nature
A new national wildlife charity called Heal Rewilding is planning to buy ecologically depleted land across Britain and give it back to nature.
The charity, which launches on Monday, is crowdfunding and will seek former farms, green belt or lower-grade land where wildlife can recover. The sites will be within easy reach of large towns and cities to benefit more people.
Heal intends to let the land recover naturally rather than by planting nursery-grown trees.
The charity’s chair, Jan Stannard, said the launch followed two years of research and would go ahead despite the coronavirus crisis and any related economic hardship, insisting there was no time to delay in tackling the UK’s continuing wildlife declines. (guardian)

EV of the week

VW and eClassics unveils e-BULLI converted electric van
eClassics, a Stuttgart-based EV-conversion company, unveiled a gorgeous all-electric concept based on the classic T1 Samba Bus. The conversion, a collaboration with Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, is dubbed the e-BULLI. The price for an e-BULLI, featuring redesigned front and rear axles, starts at €64,900.
For the concept e-BULLI, eClassics used a 1966 T1 Samba Bus that spent half a century on the roads of California. Bulli is the popular nickname for a VW microbus.
The e-BULLI is powered by a 61-kW electric motor, providing twice as much power as the engine it replaced. Power is delivered via a 1-speed gearbox, complete with a B gear for heavy regen power. The top speed is 81 miles per hour.
Energy is stored in a 45-kilowatt-hour battery pack, providing an estimated 124 miles. (elekrek)


Demand for renewables growing quicker than supply in Europe
The growth in demand for renewables across the European market outpaced growth in supply in 2019, according to statistics from the Association of Issuing Bodies (AIB) which hints that the pricing of renewables may need rebalancing if a surplus in production shrinks further.
The AIB statistics found that demand for renewable energy in Europe that is tracked and documented with Guarantees of Origins (GOs) grew at a rate of 11.7% in 2019, an increase of 61TWh from 2018 levels. In comparison, the growth in supply grew by 3.5% last year meaning that the surplus in renewable energy production is starting to shrink.
According to renewable energy solutions provider ECOHZ, the “significantly smaller surplus” could have an impact on pricing for GOs going forward. (edie)

Controversial thought of the week

A Moderate Proposal: Nationalize the Fossil Fuel Industry
Drunk on cheap credit, and with no one telling them not to, shale oil and gas companies have drilled themselves into oblivion, producing as much as possible regardless of actual revenue coming in. The efficiency improvements that were supposed to herald in an era of fat profits only seem to have made matters worse. Speaking to an industry conference last summer, EQT Corp. CEO Steve Schlotterbeck—head of the company’s largest natural gas producer by volume—warned that the “technological advances developed by the industry have been the cause of its slow suicide. There will be a reckoning and the only question is whether it happens in a controlled manner or whether it comes as an unexpected shock to the system.” That’s a question policymakers will now have to confront head on, hemmed in several harsh realities: hundreds of billions of dollars worth of debts coming due, geopolitical tensions outside their control, a likely flood of new bankruptcies, and limits on the amount of fossil fuels that can be safely burned to avert climate catastrophe.
Nationalization might be the best way out. Trump’s uncritical support for the fracking industry will probably do about as much good as his pledge to end the so-called War On. The Democracy Collaborative’s Carla Skandier, on the other hand, has suggested a “51 Percent Solution for the Climate Crisis,” in which the government takes a majority stake in privately-owned fossil fuel firms, winding down production along a science-based timeline and giving workers a dignified off-ramp into other well-paid work, all the while muting the industry’s enormous influence over our political system. (Kate Aronoff – newrepublic)

Focus on: Vertical Forests

Vincent Callebaut unveils bioclimatic LEED-Gold timber tower
Known for their love of infusing modern structures with an abundance of greenery, the prolific Paris-based practice Vincent Callebaut Architectures has just unveiled their latest sustainable design. Slated for the Island of Cebu, The Rainbow Tree is a modular timber tower draped in layers of lush vegetation to become an “urban forest” for the city. Thanks to the design’s strong sustainability features, which include passive bioclimatism and advanced renewable energies, the tower will be a LEED Gold design (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). (inhabitat)

Offshore oil platforms are reimagined as self-sustaining homes
As the world looks for sustainable housing solutions to meet the needs of a burgeoning population, Paris-based design firm XTU Architects has unveiled a conceptual design that would convert old oil platforms into plant-covered homes of the future. The project, X_Lands, would not only provide self-sustaining homes to families but would also transform a global symbol of pollution into a beacon of sustainability. (inhabtat)

Utrecht rooftops to be ‘greened’ with plants and mosses in new plan
Every roof in the city district of Utrecht is to be “greened” with plants and mosses or have solar panels installed under plans driven by the success of a similar scheme for the municipality’s bus stops.
The “no roofs unused” policy is part of an attempt to reinvigorate biodiversity in the city and create a less stressful and happier environment, of which the construction of a so-called “vertical forest tower with 10,000 plants on its facade is set to become a leading example.
That building alone, close to Utrecht railway station, will host 360 trees and 9,640 shrubs and flowers, equal to 1 hectare (2.47 acres) of woods, once it is completed in 2022. (guardian)

‘Forest cities’: the radical plan to save China from air pollution
When Stefano Boeri imagines the future of urban China he sees green, and lots of it. Office blocks, homes and hotels decked from top to toe in a verdant blaze of shrubbery and plant life; a breath of fresh air for metropolises that are choking on a toxic diet of fumes and dust.
Last week, the Italian architect, famed for his tree-clad Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest) skyscraper complex in Milan, unveiled plans for a similar project in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing.
The Chinese equivalent – Boeri’s first in Asia – will be composed of two neighbouring towers coated with 23 species of tree and more than 2,500 cascading shrubs. The structures will reportedly house offices, a 247-room luxury hotel, a museum and even a green architecture school, and are currently under construction, set for completion next year. (guardian)

Global stuff

At least the coronavirus stimulus package isn’t bailing out the oil industry
After more than a week of squabbling over what should go into the third coronavirus relief package, the White House and Senate leaders reached a compromise on Tuesday night. And while no climate-friendly provisions made it into the $2 trillion stimulus bill, it wasn’t necessarily bad news for the planet either.
In the days leading up to this near-final bill, much of the debate centered around Democrats’ attempts to include certain green provisions, like support for the struggling renewable energy industry, and a requirement that a bailout for airlines be contingent on emission reduction promises.
The fight broke down into a sandbox tussle on Monday when Mitch McConnell accused Democrats of delaying relief for hospitals and struggling Americans in their pursuit of the Green New Deal, while Democrats argued that if the government was going to bail out the oil industry by purchasing $3 billion of oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, why not help other hurting energy industries, too? The clash seems to have ended in a draw, as neither the oil bailout nor any clean energy or emissions reduction measures are in the most recent version of the bill. The only thing that stuck was $32 billion for the airline industry — no strings attached. (grist)

The Great Barrier Reef is Experiencing Its Third Mass Bleaching Event in Five Years
Australian officials have confirmed that the Great Barrier Reef is experiencing “very widespread” coral bleaching — the reef’s third mass-bleaching event in five years. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said the damage is the result of “prolonged thermal stress” due to high ocean temperatures in February and March.
Scientists have so far assessed more than 800 reefs in the Great Barrier system, covering 132,800 square miles, The Guardian reported. The researchers reported that bleaching has happened across the reef, including in some southern areas that had little or no damage during the 2016 and 2017 mass-bleaching events. Inshore and offshore reefs south of Cairns showed the most severe bleaching, with at least 80 percent of the coral in that area affected. Most of the key tourism reefs, located in the northern and central parts of the system, have experienced only moderate bleaching.
Bleached corals are not dead. Rather, when water temperatures get too warm, corals expel the colorful algae living in their tissues, causing them to go white. Most of the Great Barrier Reef’s mildly or moderately bleached corals will recover, scientists say. Severely bleached areas, however, will experience higher mortality. (e360yale)

Indonesia to replace ageing fossil-fuel plants to make way for renewables
The Indonesian government is considering retiring its fossil fuel-based power plants to make way for renewable alternatives.
A study is underway to map potential renewable energy hubs and renewable resources – according to the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry, 16.2% of the nation’s 2,256 diesel-fired power plants are situated in the province of Aceh.
Indonesia hopes to generate 23% of its power from renewables by 2025 – it currently has achieved a renewable proportion of 12.36%. (energylivenews)

Tesla Buys Ventilators From China, Gives to California
Tesla bought hospital ventilators in China and shipped them to the United States, CEO Elon Musk said on Tuesday.
Tesla’s purchase comes as governments across the globe appeal to automakers and aerospace companies help procure or make ventilators and other medical equipment.
“China had an oversupply, so we bought 1255 FDA-approved ResMed, Philips & Medtronic ventilators on Friday night & airshipped them to LA,” Musk said on Twitter.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday said the state would receive 1,000 ventilators from Tesla as the United States braces to deal with an influx of patients infected with the coronavirus. (newsmax)

Federal Judge Tosses Dakota Access Pipeline Permits, Orders Full Environmental Review
Today, a federal judge tossed out federal permits for the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), built to carry over half a million barrels of Bakken crude oil a day from North Dakota, and ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a full environmental review of the pipeline project.
U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg indicated that he would next consider whether to shut down the current flows of oil through DAPL while the environmental review is in process, ordering both sides to submit briefs on the question. (desmoblog)

Techie corner

Scientists find bug that feasts on toxic plastic
A bacterium that feeds on toxic plastic has been discovered by scientists. The bug not only breaks the plastic down but uses it as food to power the process.
The bacterium, which was found at a waste site where plastic had been dumped, is the first that is known to attack polyurethane. Millions of tonnes of the plastic is produced every year to use in items such as sports shoes, nappies, kitchen sponges and as foam insulation, but it is mostly sent to landfill because it it too tough to recycle.
When broken down it can release toxic and carcinogenic chemicals which would kill most bacteria, but the newly discovered strain is able to survive. While the research has identified the bug and some of its key characteristics, much work remains to be done before it can be used to treat large amounts of waste plastic. (guardian)