Tuesday, January 19, 2021

GWPF Newsletter: China’s economy expands at faster rate than before coronavirus


China’s 2020 coal output rises to highest since 2015, undermining climate pledges

In this newsletter:

1) China’s 2020 coal output rises to highest since 2015, undermining climate pledges
Reuters, 18 January 2021
2) China’s economy expands at faster rate than before coronavirus 
Financial Times, 18 January 2021

3) Green Europe just skirted blackout disaster
Henrik Paulitz, Kalte Sonne, 17 January 2021
4) Green Europe: How the race for renewables is burning Europe’s forests
The Guardian, 14 January 2021
5) Green Britain: Energy bills set to rise as watchdog reviews price cap
The Times, 18 January 2021

6) Andrew Montford: An ill wind for hard-up electricity users
The Conservative Woman, 15 January 2021
7) New legislation could see British universities forced to protect freedom of speech
Daily Express, 17 January 2021

Full details:

1) China’s 2020 coal output rises to highest since 2015, undermining climate pledges
Reuters, 18 January 2021
BEIJING, Jan 18 (Reuters) - China's coal output rose last year to its highest since 2015, despite Beijing's climate change pledge to reduce consumption of the dirty fossil fuel and months of disruption at major coal mining hubs.

The world's biggest coal miner and consumer produced 3.84 billion tonnes of coal in 2020, data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed on Monday.

China's coal output dropped after reaching a peak of 3.97 billion tonnes in 2013, as Beijing axed excessive mining capacity and promoted clean energy consumption. But production is rising amid surging industrial demand and an unofficial restriction on coal imports aimed at shoring up the domestic mining industry.

For December alone, coal output was 351.89 million tonnes, up 3.2% from the same month last year, and up from 347.27 million tonnes in November.

China's coal mining sector was one of the first industries to resume operations when COVID travel restrictions were gradually relaxed, as Beijing wanted to ensure adequate fuel supplies once the country emerged from the lockdown enforced to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.

However, production was partially disrupted in Inner Mongolia, China's top coal mining region by output, as the region in March launched an anti-corruption campaign to probe malpractice related to coal resource development over the past 20 years.

Output finally rebounded from multi-month lows in September, as coal import restrictions and surging electricity demand intensified a supply crunch at the onset of the winter heating season.

To stabilise the sky-rocketing coal prices, which hit their highest level since late 2011, Beijing urged miners last month to boost output.

Earlier this month, China's energy administration approved six coal mining projects, with projected combined annual production of 15.3 million tonnes, in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.

Full story
2) China’s economy expands at faster rate than before coronavirus
Financial Times, 18 January 2021

GDP rises 6.5% in fourth quarter as other big economies struggle to recover from pandemic

China’s gross domestic product expanded 6.5 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2020, a faster rate than before the coronavirus pandemic and easily outpacing the expected performance of other big countries.

Year-on-year GDP growth for the final quarter beat expectations, according to official data released on Monday, with the Chinese economy expanding 2.3 per cent over the course of the full year as industrial production continued to drive the country’s recovery.

The new data underlined a rapid turnround in the world’s second-largest economy, which declined in early 2020 for the first time in more than four decades after authorities imposed an extensive lockdown to stem the pandemic’s initial outbreak.

In the fourth quarter, year-on-year growth was the highest of any quarter since 2018, and China will be the only one of the world’s biggest economies that did not shrink last year.

Full story (£)
3) Green Europe just skirted blackout disaster
Henrik Paulitz, Kalte Sonne, 17 January 2021

On 8 January 2021, the European electricity grid only just missed a large-scale collapse. Around 13:04 p.m. there was a sharp drop in frequency that could have paralysed Europe.

The cause was apparently a power failure in Romania. According to the Austrian blackout expert Herbert Saurugg, it was the second most serious major incident in the European network to date. According to the ENTSO-E classification, the third of four warning levels was achieved (Emergency – Deteriorated situation, including a network split at a large scale. Higher risk for neighboring systems. Security principles are not fulfilled. Global security is endangered).
The Lower Austrian electricity supplier EVN spoke of an “almost blackout”. Some major customers had contacted them, “because sensitive machines have already felt the frequency drop,” said EVN spokesman Stefan Zach to the Austrian broadcasting company ORF. “If the fluctuations are too high, machines switch themselves off to protect themselves.” According to Zach, this can also happen at power plants, “and then it becomes critical”.
The event is discussed intensively in the Austrian media. Numerous power plants had to immediately supply additional energy to stabilise the grid.
Pumped storage power plants and the gas-fired power plants still available had to be mobilised. “The latter, however, are massively fought against by environmentalists,” noted the Kronen Zeitung pointedly. In France, despite the rescue operation from Austria, large electricity customers had to be disconnected from the grid.
The safety net worked, “but such fire-fighting operations are not a viable long-term business model,” warned Wien Energie managing director Michael Strebl. “Thank God it went well again,” said Werner Hengst, Managing Director of Netz Niederösterreich GmbH. “We estimate that the situation will get worse in the next few years.”
The reason is the strong expansion of volatile renewable electricity generation and the elimination of large backup power plants in Europe. The output of 50 gigawatts going offline in Europe corresponds to “more than two hundred Danube power plants”. According to Wien Energie, the electricity grids are exposed to ever greater fluctuations. The number of emergency operations has increased from around 15 to up to 240 per year in recent years.
There are now calls for a “round table” in the Austrian electricity sector. At the meeting of all stakeholders, pragmatic solutions for a blackout precaution should be found, said NÖ-Netz managing director Werner Hengst at an online background discussion of the security of supply forum. “We need stable networks in order to be able to guarantee security of supply.”
In Germany, the Association of Industrial Energy and Power Industries (VIK) reacted with concern to the near-European blackout. “The incident on Friday is unfortunately not the first of its kind, but it must be a warning to all of us not to lose sight of the issues of network stability and security of supply. Germany cannot assume that we are somehow being supplied from other European countries if we do not have enough electricity, ”says VIK managing director Christian Seyfert.
As a result of the “phasing out of nuclear energy and coal power”, a considerable amount of secured output will be shut down “without replacement” in Germany in the coming years, according to Seyfert. Regionally and throughout Germany, this leads to considerable challenges in terms of security of supply, to which political answers must also be found.
The “principle of hope” is not enough. An inexpensive, climate-friendly, but also safe power supply is a decisive location factor, especially for industrial companies that are in international competition. If it is doubtful, it will harm Germany as an industrial location, says Seyfert.

The VIK points out that there was an electricity bottleneck “at the same time” as the near blackout in France because 13 nuclear power plant units are not connected to the grid. “There are no power interruptions”, the French transmission network operator RTE assured days ago, but at the same time appealed to the French population to save electricity: the lights should stay off between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m., washing machines should not run and unused internet access should be cut off. Whoever leaves the house should turn the heating down to 17 degrees.

Many French media raise the question of whether the country is threatened with a blackout if the cold spell continues. “We’re not in the Soviet Union, are we?”, a journalist from the BFM television station asked Environment Minister Barbara Pompili. Her answer only reassured the audience to a limited extent: “If we stay at average temperatures, it should work. Otherwise we have to regulate."

As a last resort, the French electricity company EDF provides for local power interruptions of “two hours maximum”. This would have the same effect for those affected at the moment as a general network collapse, but according to the Frankfurter Rundschau, Pompili asserts: “We mustn’t scare the French, there will be no blackout.” The danger has not yet been averted: Forward RTE had already predicted a “difficult February” for weeks.

The events show that the issue of security of supply is now entering the European political agenda with force. A power shortage economy threatens not only Germany, but all of Europe , in which power cuts are becoming more and more the norm and large-scale power outages can occur at any time.
Full post (in German)
4) Green Europe: How the race for renewables is burning Europe’s forests
The Guardian, 14 January 2021

Europeans are paying €billions for increasing carbon emissions in the atmosphere by burning forests

[...] Sustainability goes to the heart of the European renewable energy debate. The drive to replace coal, one of the world’s biggest sources of carbon emissions, with cleaner sources of power, is a top priority in the fight against climate change globally.

A switch to burning wood in the form of pellets appears to offer a simple and in theory carbon-neutral alternative to coal-fired power stations because trees take up carbon dioxide from the air as they grow. As long as the burned trees are replaced with new plantings, there is no net addition to the stock of carbon in the atmosphere.
However, that process of carbon take-up can take many decades. And in the furnace, burning wood releases more carbon dioxide per unit of energy than burning gas, oil, or even coal. By accelerating carbon dioxide emissions in the short term, burning wood for electricity could be fatal for states’ ability to meet the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global heating to well below 2C by 2050.
Demand for woody biomass or energy from wood as an alternative to coal in power stations took off from 2009, when the first EU renewable energy directive obliged member states to source 20% of energy from renewable sources by 2020 and classified biomass energy as carbon-neutral.
A flaw in the legislation meant that woody biomass was fully categorised as renewable, even if it came not just from wood residues or waste, but from whole trees. This meant that companies could directly harvest forests for pellets – rather than making pellets from the by-products of timber cut for other uses – in the name of sustainable forest management.
As the EU moved in 2018 to double the use of renewable energy by 2030, scientists warned the European Parliament that this loophole in the sustainability criteria of the revised EU legislation would accelerate the climate crisis and devastate mature forests. But against the competing interests of the multibillion euro biomass lobby, it went unamended.

Almost all European countries have recorded an increase in logging for energy. Nearly a quarter of the trees harvested in the EU in 2019 were for energy, up from 17% in 2000.

Biomass, of which wood from forests is the main source, now makes up almost 60% of the EU’s renewable energy supply, more than solar and wind combined, and a vast cross-borderindustry has emerged to meet this demand.

Full story
5) Green Britain: Energy bills set to rise as watchdog reviews price cap
The Times, 18 January 2021

Energy bills for 11 million households could increase by as much as £87 a year from April after a rebound in wholesale gas and electricity prices.

The energy regulator is preparing to update the level of the price cap that limits how much suppliers can charge customers on standard tariffs, with an announcement expected next month.

Analysts at Cornwall Insight, the energy consultancy, said that Ofgem’s usual methodology could result in a £66 a year increase for a typical household, due primarily to higher wholesale costs and increases in policy levies.

In addition, there could be a further increase of £21 a year if the regulator presses ahead with controversial plans to let suppliers charge households more to compensate them for an expected increase in unpaid bills from households in financial difficulty because of the pandemic. That would result in a total increase of £87 a year, or more than 8 per cent, to the level of the cap, taking it to £1,129 a year.
Full story (£)
6) Andrew Montford: An ill wind for hard-up electricity users
The Conservative Woman, 15 January 2021

Last Wednesday the wind died, and Britain’s fleet of thousands of wind turbines mostly stopped turning.
The engineers at National Grid had seen the problem coming: temperatures and wind speeds had been low all week, and were forecast to fall further. Their response was to issue a ‘margin notice’ – a warning to generators that extra capacity was going to be needed. Prices rocketed from their normal £40 per megawatt hour to over £100. Some held off taking this remarkable price, and when the grid still couldn’t balance supply and demand in the evening peak, were rewarded with even higher sums.
On Thursday, with wind speeds even lower, prices for balancing during the evening peak shot up again, reaching £1,400. By Friday’s peak, that figure had risen to a record-breaking £4,000.
Price spikes this high are a new phenomenon. They were never seen before 2016, but since then we have seen, on average, a spike to that level every couple of years. Now we have had two in a week and we came within a whisker of a third.
It is clear, as some have been warning, that the attempt to decarbonise is destabilising the UK’s electricity grid. For twenty years, governments have given renewables generous subsidies and preferential access to the grid. The economics of coal- and gas-fired power stations have been wrecked. It is hardly surprising then that these generators – the backbone of the UK’s grid – have simply left the market. We lost two gas-fired power stations just last summer.
Does this mean power cuts are inevitable? It’s possible, but it is more likely that money will talk. If the price paid is high enough, big power users can probably be persuaded to switch off for long enough to see us through any crisis. The result is likely to be a surge in electricity prices. Early adopters of ‘time of use’ contracts are already feeling the pain. With low wind again this week, customers on Octopus Energy’s ‘Agile’ tariff have seen prices per kilowatt hour rise from 14p overnight to 35p. For the rest of us, the pain will be delayed until contracts come up for renewal.
The middle classes will probably be happy enough to pay extra for power in the winter. They can cope with the hit to their cashflow for a few weeks, or even fork out £6,000 for a battery pack allowing them to take advantage of lower prices in times of surplus power. But, as always, the poor are left high and dry. For them, there is only the prospect of tightening belts still further.

Full post
7) New legislation could see British universities forced to protect freedom of speech
Daily Express, 17 January 2021
British universities will be forced to protect freedom of speech under new legislation being proposed by former Brexit Secretary David Davis.

The civil liberties campaigner wants to stop “cancel culture” taking root in centres of higher education and is alarmed at resistance to hearing “uncomfortable opinions”.
Mr Davis argues that free debate and a willingness to challenge accepted ideas is central to Britain’s success. He said:

“The right to challenge and dispute has been critical to the growth of our culture. 

“And Britain would never have become a scientific superpower if scientists from Newton to Darwin to Crick and Watson had not been able to challenge orthodoxy."
“The cancel culture, the unwillingness to hear uncomfortable opinions, the refusal of platforms to people you disagree with, puts all this at risk.

“Universities, of all places, should never allow the suppression of free speech.”
Conservative Lee Anderson, Ashfield MP, a supporter of the Bill, said people are afraid of challenging political agendas in universities because they fear that if they speak out, opponents would come down on them “like a ton of bricks”.

The Bill, he said, would give people protection and the confidence to debate “without being persecuted”.

The London-based Global Warming Policy Forum is a world leading think tank on global warming policy issues. The GWPF newsletter is prepared by Director Dr Benny Peiser - for more information, please visit the website at

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