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LONDON — Oil and gas giant BP on Thursday published its benchmark Statistical Review of World Energy, describing 2020 “as a year like no other” due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on global energy.

Over the past seven decades, BP said it had borne witness to some of the most dramatic episodes in the history of the global energy system, including the Suez Canal crisis in 1956, the oil embargo of 1973, the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and the Fukushima disaster in 2011.

“All moments of great turmoil in global energy,” Spencer Dale, chief economist at BP, said in the report. “But all pale in comparison to the events of last year.”

To date, more than 185 million Covid-19 cases have been reported worldwide, with over 4 million deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The actual tally of Covid-19 infections and fatalities is believed to be far higher — and continues to rise.

The pandemic also led to massive economic loss, with global GDP estimated to have slipped by around 3.3% last year. That represents the largest peacetime recession since the Great Depression.

For global energy, the Covid pandemic has had a dramatic impact. Here are some of the highlights from the report:

Energy developments

BP said the coronavirus crisis last year resulted in primary energy and carbon emissions falling at their fastest rates since World War II. The relentless expansion of renewable energy, however, was found to be “relatively unscathed,” with solar power recording its fastest ever increase.

To be sure, the oil and gas company said world energy demand was estimated to have contracted by 4.5% and global carbon emissions from energy use by 6.3%.

“These falls are huge by historical standards — the largest falls in both energy demand and carbon emissions since World War II. Indeed, the fall of over 2 Gt of CO2 means that carbon emissions last year were back to levels last seen in 2011,” Dale said.

“It’s also striking that the carbon intensity of the energy mix — the average carbon emitted per unit of energy used — fell by 1.8%, also one of the largest ever falls in post-war history,” he added.

Bim | E+ | Getty Images

For some, the decline of global carbon emissions briefly raised hopes of so-called “peak carbon,” although desires of limiting global warming — and meeting a crucial target of the landmark Paris accord — are rapidly deteriorating.

It comes even as politicians and business leaders publicly acknowledge the necessity of transitioning to a low-carbon society, with policymakers under intensifying pressure to deliver on promises made as part of the Paris Agreement ahead of this year’s COP26.

“There are worrying signs that last year’s COVID-induced dip in carbon emissions will be short lived as the world economy recovers and lockdowns are lifted,” Bernard Looney, CEO of BP, said in the report.

“The challenge is to achieve sustained, comparable year-on-year reductions in emissions without massive disruption to our livelihoods and our everyday lives,” he added.

Oil

The Covid crisis triggered a historic oil demand shock in 2020, with Big Oil enduring a brutal 12 months by virtually every measure. The pandemic coincided with falling commodity prices, evaporating profits, unprecedented write-downs and tens of thousands of job cuts.

The torrent of bad news prompted the head of the International Energy Agency to suggest 2020 may come to represent the worst year in the history of oil markets.

BP said oil consumption fell by a record 9.1 million barrels per day, or 9.3%, last year, slipping to its lowest level since 2011.

A general view of Gunvor Petroleum or Rozenburg refinery in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Europe’s largest port covers 105 square kilometers (41 square miles) and stretches over a distance of 40 kilometers (25 miles).
Dean Mouhtaropoulos | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Oil demand fell most in the U.S., contracting by 2.3 million barrels, followed by the EU and India, contracting 1.5 million barrels and 480,000 barrels, respectively.

BP said global oil production shrank by 6.6 million barrels, with oil producer group OPEC accounting for two-thirds of that decline.

The price of international benchmark Brent crude averaged $41.84 in 2020, the energy giant said, its lowest level since 2004. The oil contract was last seen trading at $73.70.

Renewables

“Arguably, the single most important element of the energy system needed to address both aspects of the Paris Agreement — respond to the threat of climate change and support sustainable growth — is the need for rapid growth in renewable energy,” BP’s Dale said in the report.

Renewable energy, including biofuels and excluding hydro, rose by 9.7% in 2020, BP said. This was slower than the 10-year average of 13.4% year-on-year but the increment in energy terms was found to be similar to increases recorded in the years prior to the pandemic.

Solar electricity rose by record levels, however it was wind that was found to provide the largest contribution to renewables growth.

In terms of capacity, solar expanded by 127 gigawatts in 2020, while wind grew by 111 gigawatts — almost double its previous highest annual increase, BP said. “The main driver was China, which accounted for roughly half of the global increase in wind and solar capacity,” Dale said.

Reflecting on BP’s latest annual Statistical Review of World Energy, Dale said: “The importance of the past 70 years pales into insignificance as we consider the challenges facing the energy system over the next 10, 20, 30 years as the world strives to get to net zero.”

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The largest landfill solar project in North America is now complete

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The largest landfill solar project in North America is now complete

The largest landfill solar project in North America, a 25.6 megawatt (MW) solar farm in Mount Olive, New Jersey, is online – which means yet another dumpsite has been turned into a revenue-generating, clean energy asset.


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The Combe Fill North Landfill site is a brownfield site that operated from 1966 to 1978 – and it now hosts 56,000 solar panels. It contains domestic and industrial waste and dry sewage sludge.

CEP Renewables and CS Energy developed the project, Terrasmart provided its rack systems, and Lindsay Precast supplied steel skids.

NJR Clean Energy Ventures will own and operate the solar farm under a long-term agreement. NJR Clean Energy Ventures is a subsidiary of utility New Jersey Resources. CEP Renewables owns the land for this project, and the company is leasing it to NJR Clean Energy Ventures.

It is expected to provide more than 4,000 households with clean energy.

The Mount Olive solar project has enabled the township to recoup nearly $2.3 million in past taxes from the former landfill site. 

Chris Ichter, executive vice president at CEP Renewables, said:

There are over 10,000 closed landfills in the United States, yet only a small fraction of these parcels have been redeveloped. Transitioning more of these landfill sites into solar projects will create more local tax revenue, jobs, cleaner air, and affordable energy for residents throughout the country.

According to the EPA, there has been an 80% increase in the number of landfill solar projects in the United States over the last five years. 

Read more: How ‘unusable’ capped landfill can gain a second life as a solar farm

Photo: CEP Renewables

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Los Angeles bans new oil wells, will shut old ones down by 2042

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Los Angeles bans new oil wells, will shut old ones down by 2042

The Los Angeles City Council has voted 12-0 to ban new oil wells within the city, and to phase out all current oil wells within 20 years or less.

Los Angeles may not be famous nationally for oil, as that industry is typically associated with other states, and California is thought to be an environmental leader. While the state does push forward environmental policy, there is actually a long history of oil production in Southern California, with the state at one point making up 38% of the entire US national supply of oil largely due to production from these fields in LA.

But California’s oil industry has been in decline from its early dominance. As the state moves away from fossil fuels (and other states don’t), tens of thousands of wells have gone idle statewide and the companies operating them often do not have the money to close them down properly, leaving to a potential multibillion-dollar problem for the state going forward.

The oil fields in LA are often situated directly in dense areas of the city, with consequent health effects on the populations which live nearest to them. And importantly, these areas of the city tend to have higher concentrations of black and brown residents, meaning the negative health effects of oil drilling are felt in a racially disproportionate manner.

Beyond the global climate and air pollution effects of burning oil, oil drilling has negative local effects on human health. It causes cancer, liver damage, immunodeficiency, neurological problems, respiratory issues, birth defects, and the list goes on.

LA county’s oil wells have been called the largest system of urban oil production in the country due to their proximity to dense housing. Currently, there are 26 oil and gas fields and 5,000 wells in the city, not all of which are active, and two drill sites on city-owned properties. The highest concentration of them are in the Harbor region, near the port of Long Beach.

The push to ban these wells was largely led by local political groups Stand Together Against Neighborhood Drilling, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, and Communities for a Better Environment. They have been working for decades to stop oil drilling in the city.

Los Angeles city’s new move not only bans new oil wells, but also directs all oil companies operating in the city to plan to shut down in a maximum of 20 years. Beyond that, the city will conduct their own studies to determine whether individual companies operating in the city can recoup their investments in less than 20 years. If they can, they may be forced to shut down even sooner.

The vote was opposed by the California Independent Petroleum Association, which represents independent oil and gas producers in California and threatened to explore legal avenues to block the move. They incorrectly claimed that oil production does not have detrimental health effects, even though it does.

They also suggested that this would result in increased imports of oil into Los Angeles and therefore more associated pollution from oil tankers in the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Finally, they pointed to a 2020 study by a consulting group which claimed that the oil industry is responsible for $250 million in tax revenue for the city. This number represents about 2% of LA’s budget, or about as much as the city spends annually on public parks.

Electrek’s Take

Well, this is just great news that we hope to see in more places as soon as possible. And on the same day as the first ban on natural gas by a county on the US East Coast. Let’s hope this momentum goes somewhere.

I’ve seen and driven past these oil fields many times, and they sure do contribute to a sense of blight in the city. In fact, when I went up to test drive the electric Arcimoto FUV at a nice urban park, we didn’t realize this park was right next to a massive oil field. Which led to an ironic juxtaposition in the background of one of our rolling shots:

But that’s just aesthetics. The real issue here is the health of the residents. And while it will take a while for that to turn around, the earlier we start the better.

In particular, the fact that the city will conduct independent studies to determine how long it will take companies to recoup investments is hilarious to me. I love the idea that the city will shut down wells as soon as they become profitable.

Of course, I’d rather they shut them down immediately and let the oil companies lose money, as they deserve to for harming people and lying for so long, but at least it’s one step better than letting them continue to profit for decades.

The oil companies’ objections to this are also ridiculous, as most oil industry statements are. First they start with a lie stating that oil drilling doesn’t harm human health, as we’re used to hearing from them.

But then they turn around and claim that shutting down oil production will actually be bad for the environment, because then Los Angeles will have to import more oil from dirty polluting oil tankers. So… you’re saying oil is the problem then? Well, good point! Maybe we should shut it down then! Thank you California Independent Petroleum Association, good suggestion!

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The US just made a big decision about Chinese solar – here’s what it means

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The US just made a big decision about Chinese solar – here's what it means

The US Department of Commerce (DOC) has determined that four out of eight Chinese solar companies that it’s been investigating are “attempting to bypass US duties by doing minor processing in one of the Southeast Asian countries before shipping to the United States.” Here’s what it means for the US solar industry.

The DOC found that the four Chinese companies that attempted to circumvent US duties by processing in Southeast Asia are:

  • BYD Hong Kong, in Cambodia
  • Canadian Solar, in Thailand
  • Trina, in Thailand
  • Vina Solar, in Vietnam

The DOC findings are preliminary, and the agency will conduct in-person audits in the coming months. The DOC also noted that a ban is not going to be implemented on products from Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam:

Companies in these countries will be permitted to certify that they are not circumventing the [antidumping duty (AD) and countervailing duty (CVD) orders], in which case the circumvention findings will not apply. 

The DOC also notes:

Further, some companies in Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam did not respond to Commerce’s request for information in this investigation, and consistent with longstanding practice, will be found to be circumventing.

As Electrek reported in mid-May, the DOC launched an investigation of whether Southeast Asian solar cell manufacturers are using parts made in China that would normally be subject to a tariff.

That investigation destabilized the US solar industry, which relies on solar module imports to meet growing demand. The majority of the US solar industry then asserted that the DOC investigation would harm the US solar industry and wanted the investigation dismissed.

On June 6, President Joe Biden waived tariffs for 24 months on solar panels made in Southeast Asia in response to the investigation. He also invoked the Defense Production Act to spur on US solar panel and other clean energy manufacturing. That way, domestic production could be sped up without interfering in the DOC investigation.

The DOC today asserted that Biden’s presidential proclamation provides US solar importers with “sufficient time to adjust supply chains and ensure that sourcing isn’t occurring from companies found to be violating US law.”

But Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), didn’t see it that way. She said in a statement:

The only good news here is that Commerce didn’t target all imports from the subject countries. Nonetheless, this decision will strand billions of dollars’ worth of American clean energy investments and result in the significant loss of good-paying, American, clean energy jobs. While President Biden was wise to provide a two-year window before the tariff implementation, that window is quickly closing, and two years is simply not enough time to establish manufacturing supply chains that will meet US solar demand.

This is a mistake we will have to deal with for the next several years.

George Hershman, CEO of SOLV Energy, the US’s largest utility-scale solar installer, also wasn’t pleased about the DOC’s announcement. He said in an emailed statement:

After years of supply chain challenges and trade disruptions, I remain concerned that the Commerce Department chose a path that could jeopardize the solar industry’s ability to hire more workers and construct the clean energy projects needed to meet our country’s climate goals.

The upside is that Commerce took a nuanced approach to exempt a number of manufacturers rather than issuing a blanket ban of all products from the targeted countries. While it’s positive that companies will be able to access some of the crucial materials we need to deploy clean energy, it’s still true that this ruling will further constrict a challenged supply chain and undercut our ability to fulfill the promise of the Inflation Reduction Act.

Photo: Tom Fisk on Pexels.com


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