Cold Winter Ahead? Fukushima Fallout Deepens Europe's Russian Gas Dependency

This coming winter may become a test for Europe's energy supply. For European countries that have counted on importing energy from German nuclear reactors, which are now slated for closure following the Fukushima disaster, Russian gas imports gro

Near Karskoye Sea, where Russian natural gas starts it's journey to Western Europe. (akulis2)
Near Karskoye Sea, where Russian natural gas starts it's journey to Western Europe. (akulis2)

Almost eight months after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, energy remains a sector fraught with tension. In its annual energy report published this week, the Capgemini European Observer warned of the risk of not being able to secure sufficient supplies in the coming winter months.

The closure of several of its nuclear reactors has led Germany to increase imports of electricity from neighboring countries, with as many as 2,000-plus megawatts (MW) imported daily from France. "During periods of peak demand, however, France has imported electricity from Germany, something which will no longer be possible in the future," according to the report. This poses a real threat to the continuity of electricity supply during the upcoming winter months of 2011-2012."

Colette Lewiner, director of the international energy and utilities department at Capgemini, identifies the elements of a possible disaster scenario: a particularly tough weather, coupled with Germany's hesitation to relaunch its carbon energy sites, and French nuclear capabilities that are less robust than anticipated…" Nothing says that this will actually occur with such severity, but it would be wise to anticipate any eventualities ahead of time."

Meanwhile, The Observer, an ardent supporter of the global pursuit of nuclear energy, recalls how a policy of having a "mix" of energies is now pointing in favor of gas.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has outlined the curve: between 2011 and 2035, world gas consumption is expected to grow by 50%. For European countries, concerns about having enough supply have resurfaced. According to the Capgemini report, "by 2030, gas transported through Gazprom pipelines should represent 50% of the total supply of gas to Europe."

To avoid such a degree of dependence on a single supplier it is necessary to increase investment in energy infrastructure. The Observer has already estimated the costs of this effort: 1.1 trillion euros by 2020 (including power plants and transportation networks), even though large companies are currently more concerned about their debt. "A second economic downturn caused by the sovereign debt crisis of some European states, however, would mitigate these problems in the short term: it would, as in 2009, lead to a decline in consumption of electricity and gas."

The current crisis, with operators anticipating a decline in energy consumption, may explain the lower pressure on energy prices today. "But this calm is deceptive. Prices will inevitably rise," says Lewiner.

Read the original article in Le Figaro in French

Photo - akulis2

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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