Sometimes, it's hard to keep up with all the important developments in connection with renewable energy and efforts to contain global warming.
That's because every day, there are new reports published around the world.
This week, I decided to highlight three significant stories worth reading from outside of Canada.
Even though they didn't appear in the Canadian media, they all have ties to three major infrastructure projects being built in British Columbia: the Site C dam along the Peace River, the LNG Canada project near Kitimat, and the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.
1. Solar energy far cheaper than other electricity
PV magazine recently reported that the Los Angeles Board of Water and Power Commissioners is expected to approve a 25-year contract to buy electricity from solar energy for 1.997 cents per kilowatt hour.
The board will also pay 1.3 cents for power from batteries.
In contrast, the B.C. Utilities Commission concluded that it will cost 4.4 cents per kilowatt hour in 2018 dollars to generate electricity from the Site C dam, based on its assumptions of a $10-billion cost.
Should the cost of Site C rise to $12 billion, the price would increase to 5.4 cents per kilowatt hour in 2018 dollars.
Here's the predicament for B.C. Hydro. Should it need to export Site C power, it might have trouble finding a market in Southern California if long-term power contracts are being signed for less than two cents per kilowatt hour.
Solar power is considered "non-dispatchable" because it's intermittent. However, dramatic improvements in storage are making it possible to deliver this form of electricity even when the sun isn't shining.
Site C electricity, on the other hand, is described as "dispatchable" because it can be supplied on demand at the request of grid operators. Traditionally, dispatchable power has sold for higher prices at certain times of the day and depending on the season.
2. Spot LNG prices in Asia fall sharply
The solar contract mentioned above also raises serious questions about the viability of B.C.'s liquefied natural gas industry.
Also of concern to huge LNG producers like Shell and Petronas is the falling price of LNG in Asia.
"Spot LNG prices in Asia are the lowest in years," LNG Industry reported today. "Asia’s LNG prices have been in freefall since September 2018, as ample supply, sluggish demand and robust early stockpiling by China’s SOEs [state-owned enterprises] largely capped prices over the peak winter months."
The so-called "Sling"—the benchmark price for LNG developed by the Singapore Exchange and Energy Market Company—shows this product averaging just US$4.30 per million British thermal units in May and June.
That's down from the 2018 average of US$9.30, according to LNG Industry.
Perhaps of even greater concern to advocates of this industry in B.C., Asia's LNG imports were only up by one percent in the first five months of this year. Over all of last year, LNG imports in Asia were up 18 percent.
"A prolonged LNG price downturn will be positive for Asia’s LNG importers, particularly the region’s LNG newcomers, many of which are starting to contemplate conversion to cleaner energy sources, but are also facing challenges weaning off of cheaper coal," LNG Industry stated.
Just over a year ago, Shell was crowing about how demand for LNG defied expectations in 2017. But those double-digit increases have not been sustained so far this year.
For producers of LNG, a prolonged price downturn could persuade them to cancel planned projects that haven't reached the point of no return.
3. New energy projects jeopardize 1.5 ° C Paris target
A scientific paper accepted by the prestigious journal Nature has given critics of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion another cause for alarm.
It states that existing energy infrastructure "will emit around 658 gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2 (ranging from 226 to 1,479 Gt CO2depending on assumed lifetimes and utilization rates)".
"Committed emissions from existing and proposed energy infrastructure (about 846 Gt CO2) thus represent more than the entire remaining carbon budget if mean warming is to be limited to 1.5 °C with a probability of 50–66 per cent (420–580 Gt CO2)5, and perhaps two-thirds of the remaining carbon budget if mean warming is to be limited to below 2 °C (1,170–1,500 Gt CO2)."
In other words, projects like the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and other new fossil-fuel energy infrastructure could put the planet offside on achieving the target set in the Paris Agreement.
According to research by SFU professor Marc Jaccard for the City of Vancouver, the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion will result in annual downstream greenhouse-gas emissions of 71.4 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents per year.
That exceeds the entire annual output of greenhouse gases in B.C. even after the LNG Canada plant is built near Kitimat.