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The real cost of clean energy
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The world's energy systems will need an extra $10.5 trillion (£6.3trn) in investment between now and 2030 to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and avoid "irreparable damage to the planet", the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned yesterday.In the run-up to next month's climate summit in Copenhagen, the IEA's annual global outlook outlined parallel forecasts – one based on the current trajectory of global energy consumption, the other a lower-carbon model requiring major international policy co-ordination.

"The outlook provides both a caution and grounds for optimism," said Nobuo Tanaka, executive director of the IEA. "Caution, because a continuation of current trends in energy use puts the world on track for a rise in temperature of up to 6C and poses serious threats to global energy security.

Optimism, because there are cost-effective solutions."Recession has severely dampened demand for energy, but while energy use will fall in this year for the first time since 1981, demand is still set to rise by 1.5 per cent every year until 2030.

Without intervention, fossil fuels will remain the primary energy source and emissions will also rise by 1.5 per cent per year, pushing up global temperatures and leading "almost certainly to massive climatic change and irreparable damage to the planet", the IEA fears.

The price of oil will be back up to $100 a barrel by 2020 and $115 by 2030.Recession has also sent investment in energy plunging. The IEA estimates that upstream oil and gas investment budgets fell by 19 per cent, or more than $90bn, this year.

End users are also spending less upgrading to energy-efficient appliances and vehicles.The danger is that once economies recover and energy demand rebounds, insufficient supplies will be available. "The financial crisis has cast a shadow over whether all energy investment needed to meet growing energy needs can be mobilised," the IEA says.

Some $26trn in investment will be required to meet projected energy demand through to 2030, more than half of it in developing economies. All is not lost, however. According to the IEA's second scenario, "radical and co-ordinated policy action across all regions" can keep emissions of harmful carbon dioxide into the atmosphere below a safe threshold.

The biggest tranche of savings will come from energy efficiency, particularly in buildings, industry and transport. But demand will still rise by 20 per cent and the extra $10.5trn cost of re-setting the balance towards renewable sources will take the total investment needed to $36.5trn.

The IEA estimates that $197bn per year will be needed by fast-growing, developing countries by 2020 to avoid older, dirty technology – nearly twice the €100bn (£89.7bn) figure put forward by EU leaders last month. The Clean Development Mechanism, under which carbon credits can be earned by investing in poorer countries, will also need to be massively expanded and upgraded to cope with a much more central role, the IEA says.

 
Gas the saviour ??
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With coal being too dirty and wind farms and nuclear power plants arriving late, it seems the world is left with a stark choice: keep on polluting or turn out the lights. Unless, that is, someone comes up with an alternative.

Energy executive Rune Bjornson thinks he has the answer. "Natural gas, more than any other fuel, is an option we have here and now," he adds, there is plenty of it around - unlike scarcer resources such as oil and coal.

Given that Mr Bjornson heads up the gas division at the Norwegian energy giant Statoil, it comes as no surprise that he should hail the virtues of gas. But he is not alone in his predictions. In June this year, the Potential Gas Committee, which is connected with the Colorado School of Mines, raised its estimate of gas reserves in the US by 35% to 2,074 trillion cubic feet (58.74 trillion cubic metres), the highest reserves since the group started tracking the information 44 years ago.

The upgrade came after new technology made it easier and cheaper to extract gas from shale rock, a prehistoric clay, which has hitherto been deemed too expensive and tricky to recover. The implications for global power balances could be enormous, in both the energy and the geopolitical sense.

What next?

Upgraded shale gas reserves are particularly relevant ahead of the Copenhagen summit, as it could help the world meet the Kyoto targets for carbon emission cuts, Mr Bjornson insists. "Gas has very low carbon emissions when compared with many other energy sources," he says. Indeed, he insists, gas - whether offshore gas reserves or from shale rock - is "not competing with" tomorrow's technologies.

The need to reduce emissions from energy production means nuclear power, carbon capture and storage, as well as wind and other renewable energy sources, will become leading power suppliers in the future as current energy production becomes unsustainable, Mr Bjornson predicts. "It is no longer a question of whether climate change is real or not," he says. "That was yesterday's discussion. Now, it is a question of what we do next."

While the world waits for wind farms, nuclear power plants and carbon storage facilities to be built, gas could deliver vast reductions in emissions, Mr Bjornson says. "If Europe was to convert all coal-fired power stations to gas they would reduce emissions by 40%," he claims, pointing to how gas power stations emit about about a third less than modern coal-fired power stations and about two-thirds less than old ones. Peter Dea, chief executive of Cirque Resources in Denver, Colorado, goes further. “ If you're not in on these plays, Wall Street says 'well, what's the matter with you guys?' ”

Arthur Berman, Geological consultant  believes gas could not only replace coal as the main source of electricity in the US, it could deliver fuel for America's cars as well. His optimism is based on a the Potential Gas Committee's estimate, which suggests the US has a 100-year supply of gas.

New techniques have been developed, where liquid, chemicals and sand is injected horizontally into shale rock to break open pathways for the gas to leak to the surface. The shale gas reserves are expected to boost economic growth, help reduce carbon emissions and reduce US dependence on energy imports, Mr Dea predicts. "It is truly a win-win-win situation," he says. 'Game changer' Eager to take part in this development,

Statoil last autumn joined forces with Chesapeake Energy to extract shale gas from the North East, Marcellus foundation that stretches across Pennsylvania and New York State. “ As shale gas fields come on line in the next five years, it is likely that European prices will drop in half ”

Paul Sterne, managing partner of mergers and acquisitions advisers Sterne & Co "It has come as a surprise to the industry that the reserves were so good and that it was competitive in terms of cost," Mr Bjornson says. "We look at shale gas as a potential game changer." And not only in the US. "We believe there are huge resources in others areas, including Europe," Mr Bjornson says.

Shale reserves are believed to be vast in Poland, Germany, France and Sweden, and there could also be similarly enormous shale gas areas in India and China. "But it hasn't gotten much attention," says Mr Bjornson. "It is an industry that is still young."

Exaggerated hopes?

Sceptics say there are good reasons why. Arthur Berman, who was speaking at a recent energy conference in Denver, is one of them. The Texas-based geological consultant believes the latest estimates are vastly exaggerated and suggests the shale gas reserves are neither as large as nor as profitable as many in the industry predict.

But "in the midst of a boom or a bubble, it's hard to sit on the sidelines", he says. "If you're not in on these plays, Wall Street says 'well, what's the matter with you guys?'" Others point to how shale gas extraction can damage the environment as the chemicals used in the pressure-washer style drilling methods can leak into the ground water.

Energy security

Such sceptical voices do not ring loud in energy circles, however. Advocates argue that the ability of shale gas to help curb carbon emissions makes it a worthy, and in macroeconomic terms worthwhile, risk to take. But what is really exciting executives and policy makers alike is shale's potential to unseat leading natural gas suppliers such as Russia, Iran, Qatar and Algeria from their dominant positions, elevating the US, Europe, India and China into pole positions.

This could help improve energy security across the world, leaving few countries reliant on gas imports from countries often governed by unstable regimes. It could also hit current energy exporters where it hurts, namely in their wallets, as new gas sources send energy supplies soaring thus depressing prices across the world.

Falling prices Already, there are signs of such developments in the US, where natural gas is priced at up to $4 per million British thermal units - equivalent to crude priced at about $23 a barrel. (A barrel of crude contains on average $5.80 MBTU).

That is a seasonal rise from an average spot price of $2.50 during summer 2009, sharply down from 2008 when rising shale gas supplies pushed the average gas spot price down from almost $14 to about £10 per MBTU. "Longer-term, the cost of producing shale gas is estimated at about $6 per MBTU, equivalent to crude priced at $34.80 per barrel," observes Paul Sterne, managing partner of mergers and acquisitions advisers Sterne & Co, in an article published by Ground Report.

 "Unconventional gas will exert downward pressure on energy prices for years to come," predicts Mr Sterne - in the US, as well as elsewhere. "As shale gas fields come on line in the next five years, it is likely that European prices will drop in half." Winners and losers Consumers might find that an appealing prospect, particularly in some of the world's poorest countries.

Such sharp price falls should go a long way to relieve fuel poverty and indeed hunger. But elsewhere, notably in Russia, many ordinary people could also see their lives transformed in less-than-desirable ways as it could lead to a painful reversal of the country's recent economic prosperity, which was based largely on highly-priced gas and oil exports.

The geopolitical implications are both obvious and enormous, so it is far from certain that a sharp and sudden rise in global gas supplies will be a blessing rather than a curse. But if the gas is there, do not expect such concerns to prevent it from being extracted.

 
Renting is greener
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The Waste & Resources Action Programme (Wrap) claims that overcoming our obsession with owning goods could be a “secret weapon” in meeting climate change targets.

It has called for a fifth of all household spending, £148 billion out of an annual total of £732 billion, to be converted to renting by 2020. In a report published today the watchdog calls for the transformation of a large part of the retail sector into a service industry specialising in renting goods, with each item used by many different people during its lifetime.

Wrap identifies five categories of goods suitable for renting: high-end clothing; glassware and tableware; tools and equipment for house and garden; vehicles; and telephone, audio and recreational equipment. On clothing, the report proposes that hiring should replace 10 per cent of the retail market within ten years.

Liz Goodwin, Wrap’s chief executive, said: “It could be quite liberating and free our homes and garages from all that clutter that we rarely use. By hiring, we can also get better party dresses and handbags or a better drill to do some DIY than we would be willing to buy. “Why would anyone want to own that many things anyway?

We need to have the confidence that we can get things when we need them but we don’t need to have them sitting beside us every day.” Ms Goodwin, who said she owned only one evening dress in her “pitifully small wardrobe”, said people needed to understand the environmental cost of ownership. “I hope that, in the future, we will look back and be glad that we have moved on from the day when we felt we needed umpteen pairs of shoes,” she said.

The report, based on research by York University, calculates that better use of resources could deliver 10 per cent of the carbon dioxide savings that Britain has legally committed to making by 2020.

Shifting a fifth of household spending from purchasing to renting would cut emissions by about 2 per cent, or 13 million tonnes of CO2 a year, through a fall in manufacturing and lower consumption of raw materials. A Wrap official said that there would be no net loss of jobs in Britain because most goods were manufactured overseas. He said that positions lost in retailing would be balanced by jobs gained in a greatly expanded rental industry.

He also said that there would be additional greenhouse gas savings — not calculated in the report — from reducing the size of homes because people would not need as much storage space.

The report says that 20 per cent of the market for tools could shift from purchasing to hiring by 2020 and up to 90 per cent by 2050. On vehicles, it says renting could account for 20 per cent of the market by 2020 and 50 to 90 per cent by 2050.

The report identifies £143 billion of annual expenditure on goods that could have been used for longer. It says that clothing is only being used, on average, for 66 per cent of its potential lifespan. Using items for their full lifespan would save consumers £47 billion a year, it claims.

Wrap also calls for changes in diet to reduce emissions from livestock. Its report says: “The UK diet is currently too high in meat, dairy, high-fat and sugary foods and too low in fruit and vegetable intake.” It suggests that households could cut consumption of meat and dairy products by 25 per cent by 2020 and by 50 to 75 per cent by 2050. Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, will attend a Wrap conference today at the Royal Society in London, where the report will be published.

He said: “In the UK, we have just over 3 per cent of the global market [for low-carbon goods and services]. This will grow as consumers become increasingly environmentally aware and companies realise that waste is just a resource in another form and that sustainability is the key not only to the environment but to business success.”

 
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