Carbon Solutions & Renewable Energy Increases

This month, this blog considers some major climate solutions. The first solution is the removal of coal fired power stations. The shift to renewables will potentially cause a changes to geopolitics. Secondly, two natural solutions remove carbon from the atmosphere in the UK. They are an innovative seagrass restoration pilot project and a Northern Forest scheme. The latter aims to have millions of trees planted.

Coal Fired Electrical Generation Costs Rising

It is now more expensive to burn coal to generate electrical power than to use renewable sources of power. This Carbon Tracker report highlights this fact and others. Generating costs are higher in 60% of plants than they would be from new renewable energy sources. In 10 years time it will be cheaper to close down coal plants and build wind and solar plants instead. Over half of coal plants operating today cost more to run than building the equivalent power generation capacity based upon new renewable power sources.

Countries Where Renewables Are Already Cheaper Than Coal
Countries Where Renewables Are Already Cheaper Than Coal © Carbon Tracker 2020.

Close A Coal Fired Plant Every Day

In order to combat climate change effectively one coal plant has to retire every day until 2040. With coal fired power station projects still being planned there is a risk that almost $600 billion will be wasted in investment in a technology that is rapidly becoming too expensive.

Additional details can be found on this BBC report.

Getting Ready For The Geopolitical Shift

A joint report from International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the Carbon Tracker highlights a profound geopolitical shift. The transformation of the global power supply to renewable energy systems will have an impact on the geopolitical situation. Advances in technology along with falling costs has lead to rapid increases in the renewable power sources. Many renewable technologies are now cost-competitive with fossil fuels in the power sector. The renewable sources of power also benefit improvements in air pollution and assist with reducing emissions to combat climate change.

Renewable sources of power that lead a global energy transformation will have significant geopolitical implications. There will be changes to relations between sovereign states which will lead to fundamental structural changes in economies and society. As power generation becomes more decentralised and diffused the states that control fossil fuels will have a lesser influence than they previously had. Countries such as China will see an increased influence as they have invested in renewable technologies. Other states that do not adapt to the energy transition will face risks and lose influence. Some developing states will be able to leap frog fossil fuels to adopt new technologies. It is likely that conflicts based upon fossil fuel energy sources will decline.

Natural Solutions To Climate Change

Seagrass Revival

Up to 92% of the UK’s seagrass has been lost over the last century mainly due to population growth, pollution from sewage and agriculture and dredging. Now a pilot project between the University of Swansea, the World Wildlife Fund and Sky Ocean Rescue intends to replace the lost seagrass. Restoration of the unique habitat dramatically captures carbon at an “extraordinary rate”. Seagrass supports a myriad of amazing species, food that we eat and removes carbon from the environment. The pilot project aims to create a model that could support a large-scale seagrass restoration around the UK shores. Seagrass is an effective carbon capture mechanism as it can store carbon 35 times faster than tropical rain forests.

Tree Planting: A Northern Forest

Tree planting is one way to store carbon and produce oxygen, it can help to reduce the impact of flooding in the right location. Trees have an additional benefit of making people happier and healthier. Wellbeing is one benefit. Planting new forests with millions of trees creates thousands of new jobs.

A scheme to plant 50 million trees in the north of England is known as the Northern Forest. It began in 2018 and consists of several more local initiatives including Manchester’s “City of Trees”. The latter aims to plant at least one tree per resident of the large city within a generation. In Leeds city region there is the White Rose Forest.

Tree planting on this scale will transform the north of the UK which has existing tree cover of around only 7.6% of land cover. This figure is behind other English areas and the Northern Forest will significantly increase the woodland cover. There are plans to protect ancient woodlands and create new woods through significant tree planting.


This article highlights some of the options that will improve the environment. There could be changes to geopolitics as a result of a major shift to increasingly competitively priced renewable energy sources. Other health benefits will result from changes highlighted here.

Posted in China, Climate Solutions, Energy, Geography, Politics, Pollution, Renewable Energy, Sustainable Development, Technology | Leave a comment

Engineering Prospects: North-European Enclosure Dam & High Speed Rail

Sea Dam For The North Sea – Is There A NEED?

Proposals for a North-European Enclosure Dam (NEED) that will enclose the North Sea have been outlined. The planned dam walls would protect around 25 million Europeans and important economic areas against rising sea levels over the coming centuries. It has been proposed by the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, which is the Netherlands national oceanographic institute.

The mega-infrastructure plan to dam entire North Sea has been proposed by one Dutch government scientist to protect against rising sea levels. Sea levels are rising faster than initially predicted and could increase by around one to two metres, above existing sea levels, in the next 80 years if greenhouse gas emissions are not significantly reduced. The Netherlands is one European country that is particularly at risk to the sea level rise. Around a third of the largely flat country exists below sea level. There are huge sea defences, including dams and storm surge barriers, that currently protect the country.

The proposals for the North-European Enclosure Dam (NEED) would see two massive two sea dams constructed. They would consist of a smaller dam that would be around 161 kilometres (100 miles) long. This dam would block the entire western end of the English Channel and would connect Brittany, France to Cornwall in United Kingdom. A northerly dam would be three times as long at around 475 kilometres (300 miles) long. This dam would be in the northern part of the North Sea and would join Scotland, running south of the Shetland and Orkney islands, to Norway. A consequence of the engineering would mean that the Baltic Sea would lose direct access to the rest of the world’s oceans and much of the North Sea would be isolated from the Atlantic Ocean. The North Sea would effectively become a vast lake rather than a tidal sea. There would be a huge impact on the ecosystems of the North Sea. Costs are estimated to be around €250-500bn, or around 0.1 per cent of the gross national product of all the European countries that would be protected.

The engineering for the two dams seems to be feasible with the maximum depth of the North Sea between France and England is scarcely one hundred metres. For the northern dam, the average depth between Scotland and Norway is 127 metres with a maximum depth of 321 metres off the coast of Norway. Fixed platforms can now be constructed in water depths exceeding 500 metres.

The costs and the environmental and economic consequences of such a dam are vast. The cost of doing nothing about climate change and the consequent sea level rise will ultimately be many times higher than the estimates of construction. This dam highlights the consequences of rising sea levels. A sea level rise of 10 metres by the year 2500 is shown as one of the bleakest scenarios. Details of the dams are on the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) Web Site in both Dutch and English. There are also further details on this link.

Whilst there may not be a current need for North-European Enclosure Dam (NEED), when sea levels rise then engineering solutions such as the two dams would protect many millions of people and cities around the North Sea. The concept shows us one way to protect against sea level rises and how to prevent floods.

UK High-Speed Rail (HS2)

The UK government has given the go ahead for a major high-speed modern railway line linking northern England with the south in London. HS2, as the project is known, is a new high-speed railway line which links the cities of London and Birmingham (in the midlands), with the two northern cities of Manchester and Leeds. The route is also referred to as the Y network since it is roughly in the shape of the letter Y. Construction is divided into two phases with phase two having two parts: phase 1 London to Birmingham, phase 2a Birmingham to Manchester and phase 2b Birmingham to Leeds.

The HS2 network will greatly reduce journey times between cities, free up capacity on existing railways (which have reached capacity) and create economic benefits. Thousands of jobs will be created as a result of the project. Capacity will be tripled with many more trains operating across the entire route. The new railway would carry high-speed trains that are 400m-long with up to 1,100 seats. The line would enable trains to run as often as 14 times an hour in each direction. The line will be high-speed with trains travelling at speeds up to 402 kilometres per hour (250 miles per hour). The first phase of the route is due to be opened in 2028-2031 for the London – Birmingham section. The second phase to Manchester and Leeds is likely to open between 2035 and 2040.

The new railway has been controversial as the route will cut through many protected areas that includes several ancient woodlands. Ancient woodland is one of the rarest habitats in the country and is irreplaceable. These woodlands account for just 2.4 per cent of land in the UK. They are highly complex ecological communities that have developed over centuries. Many properties will need to be destroyed in order to build the new route. To mitigate some of the impacts there are long tunnels, such as in London and through the Chiltern Hills, a scenic area of countryside, north of London.

There are 61 ancient woods along the HS2 route are earmarked for total or partial destruction, whilst an additional 47 will suffer damage from noise, vibration, light and pollution. The UK Woodland Trust has objected to the route’s impact on the ancient woods that are irreplaceable. The Woodland Trust has been campaigning to protect ancient woodlands from HS2 for 10 years. The charity has helped to save ancient woodlands and trees. They have proposals for saving some significant areas of ancient woodland:

  • South Cubbington Wood on Phase 1 could have been saved if HS2 had constructed a bored tunnel underneath it instead of the deep cutting they intend to construct, which destroys 2 hectares of this irreplaceable habitat and severs part of the woodland from the remaining woodland block, which will cause further indirect deterioration of the remaining habitat
  • Whitmore Wood on Phase 2a – a tunnel here could have saved 5.5 hectares of irreplaceable ancient woodland as well as providing additional benefits to other stakeholders in the area, such as local farmers whose farms are being cut in two. This is currently the single biggest loss of ancient woodland on the whole scheme. However, the Phase 2a Committee decided that the additional cost was too high and dismissed the proposed tunnel
  • Nor Wood on Phase 2b is an ancient woodland and local wildlife site. Over 4 hectares of ancient woodland, known to be home to bats, otters and numerous bird species, is to be lost to the line. This area could be protected by tunnelling or the line being moved to avoid it.

Translocation of ancient woodlands have been proposed by HS2. Translocation is an unproven technique and it is unclear if full biodiversity of ancient woodland ecosystems would be preserved. These details have been highlighted from the Stop HS2 web site.

HS2 will offer environmental benefits, as well as economic benefits, of long-distance high-speed travel that links city centres. The railway will provide an alternative to flying to Scotland too. There is an environmental cost from the construction of the project, however, and this includes loss of rare ancient woodlands and property. It will also disrupt some communities along its route.


The two infrastructure projects discussed here, the North-European Enclosure Dam and the UK’s new high-speed railway (HS2), illustrate a need to have infrastructure to help with climate changes. The two projects also show that the developments are rarely perfect from an environmental impact perspective. A different route or a route with an extra tunnel may have mitigated some of the impacts to ancient woodland areas. The NEED concept would have a major impact on sediments, tide and the saline water in the North Sea. This would be a huge impact but would protect millions of people in several European cities.

Posted in Cities, Climate Change, Europe, flood, Netherlands, railways, Storm Surge, Sustainable Development, Sustainable Transport, Technology, Transport | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

New Decade & Innovations

The 2020s Arrive

As the new decade arrives there are many innovations that are developing new solar technology, battery technology and planning for a better future and drive sustainable markets forward. There are also plans to transition to renewable sources of fuel from coal in Germany and by large companies. Microsoft, a relatively modern company, has promised to go “carbon negative”.

Concentrated Solar Power

Already there are power stations that use concentrated solar energy in slightly varying forms. The projects are referred to as concentrating solar power (CSP) projects. There is a development project that utilises computer controlled solar panels to focus energy for a variety of uses. Some use molten salt storage to store power. Other projects are starting to use CSP to heat water for homes. The first was in Denmark. Further global concentrated solar power projects are listed on the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) website.

Replacing Fuels With Solar

Heliogen aims to be replacing fossil fuels with solar power in the form of concentrated sunlight. The company offers innovative services such as a heliostat system that can be used for both electricity generation and process heat applications. A carbon-free, concentrated heat system provides ultra-high temperatures up to up to 1500ºC. The heat can be used to replace fossil fuels. Historically dirty processes like calcining, reforming, ore roasting, and sintering (to agglomerate metal particles by heating or to allow calcification), which are used in industries such as cement, refining, and mining can now be made green with the focused solar energy.

The company sees an application for the hydrogen economy: clean, renewable fuels will be created by carbon-free, ultra-high temperature heat. Applications for hydrogen include use for transportation, heavy equipment, and household heating. The production of green hydrogen is being developed which is a fundamentally clean fuel that, when burnt, will only produce water vapour.

Solar concentration technology such as this may help sunny countries such as those that are developing to fast track to sustainable development models. These countries would benefit from exporting goods or developing their economies by using systems that offer little pollution.

Denmark’s Solar District Heating

In Denmark a project in the town of Thisted has installed a pilot project for concentrated solar power (CSP) to heat water. Hot water production is used for district heating. The plant is the first one in the world to use the CSP technology for district heating purposes. It was opened on 11 October 2012 and has since then produced environmentally friendly, emission free district heating for the inhabitants of Thisted.

The system consists of 144 metre computer controlled parabolic shaped mirrors which concentrate the sun’s rays onto a pipe running through the mirrors’ focus point. The solar energy heats the water in the pipes to 140°C. The water is then directly or indirectly pumped to the district heating pipelines.

Computers control the mirrors to give optimal radiation based upon the time of day and year. As a result, there is a very high efficiency per square metre. Land use is optimised and as soon as the sun shines, heat is produced. The CSP technology can produce heat all year round. There is an option to defocus mirrors if too much heat is being produced. The plant is expected to supply around 500MWh a year for the district heating production. The company behind the project is Aalborg CSP.

Going Further On A Battery

Enevate is in the battery business and is developing super-fast charging batteries that will transform electric vehicles. It’s batteries have evolved as shown here: The company claims that it will be able to provide a high-density charge for an electric vehicle in around 5 minutes. This is way ahead of current battery charging technologies. The five minute charge would allow an electric vehicle to travel 240 miles compared with a 40 miles range with a conventional charge.

Moving To Sustainable Markets

The UK’s Royal, Prince Charles, has launched his Sustainable Markets Council at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. The Sustainable Markets Initiative will bring together private and public sector leaders, heads of charities, and investors to work towards decarbonisation and a transition to sustainable markets. Taxes could be used together with policies and regulations, to accelerate the shift to more sustainable development.

These efforts are deeply linked with other global agendas, including the United Nation’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, and the biodiversity agenda (30% protection by 2030, 50% by 2050). These agendas include finding ways to make long-term investments in vital natural ecosystems such as forests, oceans and wetlands.

There is a ten point action plan for the markets which are “bold and imaginative” as follows:

  1. Shifting our default setting to sustainable.
  2. Outlining responsible transition pathways to decarbonize and achieve net and negative zero.
  3. Re-imagining industries through the lens of sustainable markets to create entirely new industries, products, services and supply chains while, in parallel, helping to transition our existing systems.
  4. Identifying game-changers and barriers to transition.
  5. Reversing perverse subsidies and improving incentives for sustainable alternatives.
  6. Invest in STEM, innovation and R&D with a focus on sustainable solutions, alternatives and industries.
  7. Investing in nature as the true engine of our economy.
  8. Adopting common metrics and standards.
  9. Making the sustainable options the trusted and attainable options for consumers.
  10. Connecting investments to investables using platforms that can rapidly scale solutions.

Further details can be found on the and on the WEF summary PDF document.

Microsoft To Go Carbon Negative

Microsoft plans to become carbon negative, that is it intends to remove more carbon dioxide from the air than it emits. The announcement came in January 2020. There are several ways that Microsoft could remove carbon from the atmosphere, including:

  • seeding new forests and expanding existing ones
  • soil carbon sequestration – a process of putting carbon back into the ground. This could be achieved by adding microbes and nutrients to parched earth, which should have the added benefits of making the soil more fertile and less susceptible to erosion
  • direct air capture – sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, possibly by using large fans to move air through a filter that can remove the gas
  • bioenergy with carbon capture – growing crops and then capturing the CO2 they emit when, for example, they are burned to produce heat or fermented to make fuels such as bioethanol

Carbon negative emissions become possible if the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) taken out of the atmosphere is greater than that emitted during production, transport and use of energy.

Germany’s Plans To Stop Burning Coal

Germany proposes to phase out coal-fired power stations by 2038. The German government and regional leaders have agreed on a plan which involves compensation of about €40 billion. Lignite, a dirty brown coal, will be removed first if progress permits by 2035.

Four states, Saxony-Anhalt, Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia and Brandenburg, that have lignite mines and coal burning power stations will benefit from the compensation package. New infrastructure will be developed with the compensation and workers will benefit from retraining. Mines and utilities will be compensated for the lost production. As an example, the compensation is €2.6 billion for closing coal-fired power stations in western Germany and is €1.75 billion in the east. This news highlights the plans to become carbon neutral by 2050. Further details are on the BBC website.

Posted in Climate Change, Electric Cars, Energy, Geography, Germany, Hydrogen Fuel, PV, Renewable Energy, Solar, Sustainable Development, Technology, Transition Movement, Transport, Uncategorized, Zero | Leave a comment