Energy in the age of disruption [Recharge]

Technology breakthroughs challenge the future of oil; Conservatives shape energy policy in the UK; Solar power's potential hangs in the balance. Catch up on global energy with the Monitor's Recharge.

Rick Bowmer/AP/File
A Nissan Leaf charges at a electric vehicle charging station in Portland, Ore.

Recharge is a weekly e-mail digest of energy news and analysis written by Monitor reporters David J. Unger and Jared Gilmour.

Disruption: The challenge with long-term energy forecasts is that the most important variable is the hardest one to predict: technological innovation. That has always been the case, but global energy is in an era of unprecedented breakthroughs, alternatives, and disruptions. It’s why the conventional wisdom of emerging economies perpetually driving up demand for oil and coal seems less wise than ever before. In last week’s Wall Street Journal, Amy Myers Jaffe makes a compelling case for how smarter ways of extracting, producing, and using energy will bring about peak oil demand sooner than we think.

Tories: UK Prime Minister David Cameron came to power in 2010 promising "the greenest government ever", but disappointed many environmentalists with his cabinet appointments and a reported push to lower energy bills by scaling back renewable subsidies. The surprise outright win for Mr. Cameron and his Conservatives last week, gives the party even more freedom to pursue their energy and climate aims. Many watchers expect that to include an aggressive pursuit of the UK’s climate goals with expanded support for energy efficiency, shale gas, North Sea oil and gas, and nuclear power.

PhotovoltaicSolar is booming and its costs are falling worldwide, bolstering predictions that the sun’s energy will aid countries in pivoting away from fossil fuels. But the success of solar – and renewables broadly – is anything but guaranteed: Funding for clean energy research needs to triple for warming to stay within 2 degrees Celsius, IEA said last week, and an MIT study suggests solar could falter without policy changes and tech advances in the US and abroad.

In the pipeline

Drill deeper

How would climate change regulations help now? Study seeks answer
[The Christian Science Monitor]
The worst effects of climate change are likely decades off, but taking action to slash emissions now could be a boon to regional and local public health, according to a new study. Cutting planet-warming CO2 doesn’t reap those benefits directly, the study finds, but slashing greenhouse emissions does have positive side effects: reductions in other pollutants like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury, and fine particulates.

What Alberta's shocking election results could mean for the oil sands
“Alberta is the conservative heart of Canada, with an economy dominated by the oil industry. The Conservative party has held power there for 43 years. On Tuesday, everything changed,” writes Vox’s Brad Plumer. “Imagine if liberal Democrats suddenly controlled the Texas statehouse. And had a supermajority.”

The River That Swallows All Dams [Foreign Policy]
It would be the largest dam in the world, dwarfing China’s Three Gorges and producing twice the electricity – enough to power half of Africa. Congo’s proposed Inga III could go a long way toward solving Africa’s persistent energy poverty, and without many of the climate and health drawbacks of coal and other fossil fuels. But the dam would also displace thousands, and it’s unclear if a tremendous infrastructure project is wise in such a volatile country.

Energy sources

  • The Africa Center for Strategic Studies: "If accountably governed, natural resource wealth could be a boon to a society, enabling valuable investments in infrastructure, human capital, social services, and other public goods. With their technical expertise and financial resources, international corporations can be a vital component in the resource management equation in Africa by helping a country get its resources to the market and recovering a higher return for the public than would otherwise be the case."
  • India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy via Clean Technica: "India added 4,089 MW renewable energy capacity in financial year 2014-15, a capacity addition of 8.5% more than the targeted figure of 3,770 MW. It was also possibly one of the rarest moments in India’s renewable energy sector when all three leading sub-sectors overachieved on the allocated targets."
  • Rep. Kevin Cramer (R) of North Dakota: "[N]o amount of regulations will realistically prevent accidents from occurring. Accidents will happen even if no one does anything wrong or improper. Our continuing need to ship crude oil across the country highlights the importance for more pipelines to safely carry crude oil from the Bakken region in North Dakota."


– "Global carbon dioxide concentrations surpass 400 parts per million for the first month since measurements began", NOAA

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Recharge is a weekly e-mail digest of energy news and analysis written by Monitor reporters David J. Unger and Jared Gilmour.

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