Global Fossil Fuel Subsidies At Record Highs

Originally published on DeSmogBlog by Ben Jervey.

Global Fossil Fuel Energy Consumption
Global Fossil Fuel Energy Consumption

The exact worth of massive global fossil fuel subsidies is incredibly hard to figure. There’s no real consistency in the definitions of subsidies, or how they should be calculated. As a result, estimates of global subsidy support for fossil fuels vary widely.

According to a new analysis by the Worldwatch Institute, these estimates range from $523 billion to over $1.9 trillion, depending on what is considered a “subsidy” and how exactly they are tallied.

Worldwatch Institute research fellow Philipp Tagwerker, who authored the brief, explains:

The lack of a clear definition of “subsidy” makes it hard to compare the different methods used to value support for fossil fuels, but the varying approaches nevertheless illustrate global trends. Fossil fuel subsidies declined in 2009, increased in 2010, and then in 2011 reached almost the same level as in 2008. The decrease in subsidies was due almost entirely to fluctuations in fuel prices rather than to policy changes.

In other words, though the estimates vary widely, they all agree that fossil fuel subsidies are back up to the record levels they were at in 2008, before the financial crisis caused a temporary dip. So while world leaders, including President Obama, talk about ending subsidies that benefit one of the world’s richest industries, there hasn’t been any actual reduction.

Why such difficulty calculating the subsidies? For starters, subsidies typically fall into two broadly different categories: production subsidies and consumption subsidies. Production subsidies are what you think of when you hear about special tax rates for oil companies or grants or loan guarantees to “clean coal” projects. Basically, they include anything that lowers the cost of energy production — through tax advantages, loan assistance, grants, or anything else.

Consumption subsidies refer to any financial mechanisms that lower the cost of energy for the end consumers. Think of the artificially low gasoline prices in Venezuela, or even something such as tax breaks for home heating fuel.

According to Tagwerker, production subsidies are most common in wealthier, industrialized countries, while consumption subsidies are more common in developing countries with populations struggling to afford fossil fuels.

The $523 billion number above — standing as the bottom boundary of the range of global fossil fuel subsidies — represents only the consumption subsidies for coal, electricity, oil and, natural gas in 38 developing countries, as estimated by the International Energy Agency (IEA). It doesn’t include any production subsidies at all.

Production subsidies are often quoted at $100 billion a year, a number that comes from a June 2010 report to the G-20 leaders from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the IEA, the World Bank, and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). But that doesn’t include so-called “support measures” like:

  • export credit agencies (estimated at $50-100 billion annually)
  • cost of securing fossil fuel shipping routes (estimated at $20-500 billion/year)

Then there’s the issue of externalities. Tagwerker argues that external costs — like those associated with resource scarcity, environmental degradation, and human health — should be considered in subsidy calculations, as their absence artificially lowers the true cost of fossil fuel energy.

“Without factoring in such considerations, renewable subsidies cost between 1.7¢ and 15¢ per kilowatt-hour (kWh), higher than the estimated 0.1–0.7¢ per kWh for fossil fuels,” writes Tagwerker. “If externalities were included, however, estimates indicate fossil fuels would cost 23.8¢ more per kWh, while renewables would cost around 0.5¢ more per kWh.”

A recent report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) took a unique approach to subsidy calculations, lumping them into pre-tax and post-tax groupings rather than production and consumption.

The IMF then tacked on a modest $25-per-ton carbon tax to capture the external costs of climate pollution. After tallying up all the various subsidies, the IMF came up with a whopping $1.9 trillion every year, or roughly 2.5-percent of the global GDP in 2012.

Finally, Tagwerker considers the entire subsidy through the lens of climate pollution. “From an emissions perspective, 15 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions receive $110 per ton in support, while only 8 percent are subject to a carbon price, effectively nullifying carbon market contributions as a measure to reduce emissions.”

Image Credit: Subsidies via Shutterstock.

This article, Fossil Fuel Subsidies Are Back Up To 2008 Levels, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

The DeSmogBlog ProjectDeSmog Blog The DeSmogBlog Project began in January 2006 and quickly became the world’s number one source for accurate, fact based information regarding global warming misinformation campaigns. TIME Magazine named DeSmogBlog in its “25 Best Blogs of 2011” list. Our articles and stories are routinely highlighted in the world’s most popular news outlets and blogs: New York Times DotEarth, Huffington Post, Daily Kos, ThinkProgress, and Treehugger, to name a few. DeSmogBlog has won the Canadian Public Relation Society’s Leadership in Communication award, and was voted Canada’s “Best Group Blog” by their peers.

Germany Finances Major Push Into Home Battery Storage For Solar

by Giles Parkinson

As the level of renewable penetration rises to 40 percent in Germany within the next 10 years, in-home and in-business battery systems are expected to experience rapid growth.
As the level of renewable penetration rises to 40 percent in Germany within the next 10 years, in-home battery systems are expected to experience rapid growth.

Originally published on RenewEconomy

The German government has responded to the next big challenge in its energy transition – storing the output from the solar boom it has created – by doing exactly what it has successfully done to date: greasing the wheels of finance to bring down the cost of new technology.

Over the past five years, Germany has been largely responsible for priming an 80 percent fall in the price of solar modules. Now it is looking at bringing down the cost of the next piece in the puzzle of its energy transition – battery storage.

At its disposal is the giant state-owned but independently run development bank KfW. It performs in the clean energy space a similar function to Australia’s recently created and imminently doomed Clean Energy Finance Corp, but at such a scale that is not contemplated in most countries, possibly with the exception of China.

It has assets of more than €500 billion, and lent €73 billion last year – with one-third of that targeted at renewables and climate investments. Over the past three years it provided €24 billion in loans for energy efficiency investment in homes, leveraging a total investment of €58 billion, helping insulate and seal more than 2 million homes, employing 200,000 people a year and saving more than 150 million tonnes of carbon.

Six months ago, it began a new program to finance the introduction of battery storage into homes and small business, which it says is absolutely essential if the “energiewende” the German expression for its energy transition – is to successfully move to the next phase and beyond 40 percent renewable penetration.

The energy storage financing program has generated a higher than expected response. Already 1,900 homes and small businesses have put their hands up for loans and grants (provided by the Environment Ministry) to install new solar systems and a battery storage system in their home. Around €32 million in loans has already been allocated and €5 million in grants, about 10 percent of the sums allocated in the initial phase of the program.

Unlike the subsidised uptake of solar PV enabled by the deployment of generous feed-in tariffs, the support mechanism for energy storage is more cautious. Indeed, KfW is looking for investors who are willing to take a loss on their investment.

“The market for energy storage systems is very young  … batteries are still very expensive  … and the economics don’t yet work,” program manager Dr. Holger Papenfuss, told RenewEconomy in an interview in KfW’s sprawling headquarters in Germany’s financial centre of Frankfurt this week.

In fact, even with the assistance of the loans and grants, it is still not economically viable. Which is why KfW has stepped in to ensure that the commercial banks provide the funds for development.

The program is relying on “early adopters” and “renewable pioneers” – the same profile that were the first to get into electric vehicles, or solar panels a decade ago – who have the money and are willing to accept a negative return on their investment. Right now, Papenfuss says, people would be better off selling power to the grid.

So what’s motivating them? Being independent of the large power producers, and hedging bets in the face of rising electricity prices.

According to Papenfuss, households will spend between €20,000 and  €28,000 on solar and battery, depending on the size of the system. The battery component – it is targeting lead acid and lithium-ion batteries – is between €8,000 and €12,000, and the grants for this average around €3,000 (or about 30 per cent of the battery cost).

The average loan for the whole system is around  €17,000, but it is not offered at a discount. At just 1.5 percent, the interest rates probably don’t need to come down any lower in any case. KfW’s function is to simply ensure that funds are made available for deployment by commercial banks, who may not touch an unprofitable venture otherwise.

Papenfuss says KfW is targeting 20,000 to 30,000 under its loan program, suggesting a commitment of at least €300 million.

KfW’s aim, according to Axel Nawrath, a member of the KfW Bankengruppe executive board, is to ensure that the output of wind and solar must be “more decoupled” from the grid. Which means that the grid is not necessarily required to accept the output just because the wind happens to be blowing a lot at the time, or the sun is shining.

“The success of the energy turnaround will entirely depend on integrating electricity from renewable sources into our energy system on a reliable, permanent basis,” he said in his announcement earlier this year.

Storage means that the energy output can be held in reserve. The idea is to even out the peaks and troughs which is making it difficult for other generators to stay in business. This is seen as critical as the level of renewable penetration rises to around 40 percent – a level expected in Germany within the next 10 years.

In a perfect world, the output might look something like this graph below, as illustrated  by Citi in a recent analysis. It would spread solar and even wind output through the day, and cause less headaches for the other plants required to fill in the gaps between the variable output of wind and solar.

citi-storage (1)
Citi energy graphic shows the disrepancy between energy generation profiles with and without battery storage.

According to Papenfuss, households participating in the scheme will spend between €20,000 and €28,000 on solar and storage, depending on the size of the system (the average size is expected to be around 7kW for the solar array and around 4kWh for the battery).

The battery component is between €8,000 and €12,000, the grants average around €3,000 (or about 30 percent of the battery cost) and the average loan for the whole system is around €17,000.

The program is not open to systems of more than 30kW, and nor is it open to solar arrays that were installed before December 31 last year. They are deemed to have already gotten a good enough deal from the FiT’s.

Papenfuss says that to make sense, battery storage needs to be half the cost it is now. This program is designed to set that price fall in motion. He expects the costs to start to fall in 2014, and within two years could be offering a positive return. At that point, he says, the grant component is likely to be withdrawn, although the loan finance program will likely continue.

Over the longer term, KfW hopes that the program will help define standards for use of storage systems.  Papenfuss expects storage systems to then focus on wind power and other larger solar systems – allowing owners to earn a fee for storing energy and releasing it at certain times.

(Editors note: Rather than listening to the new Australian parliament debate climate change and clean energy, RE’s editor has chosen to flee, at least temporarily, to Germany, where he has discovered most politicians believe that planet Earth is, in fact, round. This is the first of a series of articles on Germany’s energiewende, its energy transition that will likely have  a major influence on the pace of change in the rest of the world. Many want it to succeed, some want it to fail).

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This article, Germany Finances Major Push Into Home Battery Storage For Solar, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Giles Parkinson is the founding editor of RenewEconomy.com.au, an Australian-based website that provides news and analysis on cleantech, carbon, and climate issues. Giles is based in Sydney and is watching the (slow, but quickening) transformation of Australia’s energy grid with great interest.

Fossil Fuels Receive $500 Billion A Year In Government Subsidies Worldwide

by Guest Contributor

Oil, gas and coal received more than $500 billion in government subsidies in 2011.
Oil, gas and coal received more than $500 billion in government subsidies in 2011.

Originally published on ClimateProgress

Producers of oil, gas and coal received more than $500 billion in government subsidies around the world in 2011, with the richest nations collectively spending more than $70 billion every year to support fossil fuels.

Those are the findings of a recent report by the Overseas Development Institute, a think tank based in the United Kingdom.

“If their aim is to avoid dangerous climate change, governments are shooting themselves in both feet,” the report, headed by ODI research fellow Shelagh Whitley, said. “They are subsidizing the very activities that are pushing the world towards dangerous climate change, and creating barriers to investment in low-carbon development and subsidy incentives that encourage investment in carbon-intensive energy.”

While the report acknowledges there is currently no globally agreed definition of what constitutes a subsidy, it cites the World Trade Organization’s approach: “a subsidy is any financial contribution by a government, or agent of a government, that confers a benefit on its recipient.”

Germany, for example, provided €1.9 billion in financial assistance to its hard coal sector in 2011, according to the report. That same year, the U.S. created a $1 billion fuel tax exemption for farmers and invested $500 million for fossil energy research and development. The top 11 “rich-country emitters” — the biggest being Russia, the United States, Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom — are estimated to have spent $74 billion on subsidies in 2011.

That total amount outweighs the support provided to developing countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by seven to one, the report found.

Fossil fuel subsidies were actually created to benefit the poor. According to ODI, governments often justify giving tax breaks and freebies to energy companies in order for those companies to provide energy access to those who can’t afford it.

Generally, however, that winds up not being the case. Citing a report by the International Monetary Fund, ODI said only seven percent of the benefits from fossil fuel subsidies in developing countries reached the poorest 20 percent of people between 2005 and 2009. In contrast, more than 40 percent of those subsidies benefited the people in richest 20 percent of people during that time.

Fossil fuel subsidies. Image Credit: Overseas Development Institute
Fossil fuel subsidies. Image Credit: Overseas Development Institute

Subsidies for gasoline were the most unequal, with the report citing less than five percent of those subsidies reaching the poorest people and more than 60 percent benefiting the richest. Fossil fuel subsidies for liquefied petroleum gas, more commonly known as propane, had similar numbers. Kerosene subsidies were found to have been pretty much evenly distributed.

Oil subsidies. Image Credit: Overseas Development Institute
Oil subsidies. Image Credit: Overseas Development Institute.

Subsidies to fossil fuels are also making it difficult to compete with artificially low energy prices, therefore discouraging private investors from putting money into clean energy technologies. What’s more, the growing number of countries that provide subsidies to both fossil fuels and clean energy may actually be negating the impact of climate finance and other clean-energy incentives, according to the report.

ODI is calling on the G20 countries to phase out all subsidies to coal and to oil and gas exploration by 2015, and end fossil fuel subsidies entirely by 2020. The process won’t be easy, the report noted, finding that citizens across the globe are generally misinformed about what they or others receive in terms of subsidies. Additionally, special interests are dominating the playing field, making it difficult to come to a consensus.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, individual and political action committees affiliated with oil and gas companies have donated $239 million to candidates and parties since 1990. But the U.S. isn’t the only moneyed country where special interests assure that fossil fuel subsidies reign on, according to the report.

In India, for example, federal and state governments incur great expense in order to provide the country’s powerful farm industry with “cheap or free” electricity, the report said. That, along with the fact that agricultural incomes are tax-exempt in India, provides farmers in that country with the funds to create a powerful lobby that “ensures that no government can hold on to power without holding on to [fossil fuel] subsidies.”

“The barriers to reporting on subsidies and to their removal are based on the multiple and often diverging interests of a wide range of stakeholders in both developed and developing countries,” the report said. “These include government officials, industry associations, companies, trade unions, consumers, social and labor political activists, and civil society organizations — all of whom need to be on board if subsidies are to be eliminated.”

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This article, Fossil Fuels Receive $500 Billion A Year In Government Subsidies Worldwide, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission

About the Author

Guest Contributor is many, many people all at once. In other words, we publish a number of guest posts from experts in a large variety of fields. This is our contributor account for those special people. 😀

$60 Million More For Low Cost Solar Power

by Tina Casey

The cost of solar energy has already plunged a whopping 70 percent in just three years, and it is set to dive right off the charts. The Department of Energy has just announced a new round of $60 million in grants from the innovative solar funding program that has been the driving force behind this impressive success, the SunShot Initiative.

Some of that SunShot money is going to a company called EnergySage, Inc., which is tasked with applying the “best practices of web-based shopping” to develop an online comparison tool that will help make it easier for consumers to compare prices for solar installations.

The “Other” Federal Marketplace

If that sounds vaguely like the idea behind the Affordable Care Act’s online Marketplace, healthcare.gov, that’s generally the idea. In fact, earlier this year EnergySage released a version of its shopping tool, which it calls the EnergySage Solar Marketplace.

SunShot gives $60 more for low cost solar power.
Rooftop solar panels courtesy of Arlington County.

As in the health care Marketplace, the Solar Marketplace providers are pre-screened and an automated format makes choosing among numerous options a relatively easy task, while competition for consumers helps keep prices in check.

The first version of the Solar MarketPlace received $500,000 in SunShot funding back in 2012. Based on the success of the Solar Marketplace so far, yesterday the company was awarded another $1.25 million to tweak it some more.

With the new funding in hand, EnergySage will develop the Solar Marketplace thusly:

Planned enhancements will allow consumers to evaluate the suitability, costs and benefits of solar panel systems at their own properties using real-time market data provided by the EnergySage platform prior to initiating the buying process.

The Solar Marketplace system currently provides automatic adjustments for consumers to compare prices and benefits among different sizes and types of installations, and among financing options, too.

As noted previously in CleanTechnica, one standout feature of the Solar MarketPlace is that it provides at least two tiers of engagement, enabling interested consumers to dig deeper into the technology details.

Aside from the obvious benefits to consumers, EnergySage also notes that the Solar Marketplace has benefited the bottom line for solar companies by providing national, mass market exposure to all qualified solar companies, regardless of their size.

Here’s the result, according to EnergySage:

Since its launch, the EnergySage Solar Marketplace has demonstrated its success in closing sales at a much higher rate and shorter sales cycle time than the industry average.

$60 Million In Funding For Low Cost Solar Energy

The EnergySage award is a good example of SunShot’s singular focus on the goal of driving down the cost of solar energy by any means necessary, rather than focusing exclusively on improving solar cell efficiency.

To that end, the new round of funding devotes $12 million to 17 companies that will help lower the “soft costs” of solar power. That includes the Solar MarketPlace as well as a new rooftop solar mapping tool and automatic installation systems designed for utility-scale solar plants.

The new round also addresses “hard costs” with $16 million in funding for advanced single-junction solar cells (loosely speaking, single-junction refers to solar cells made of one material), and $7 million for durability and performance measurement improvements.

Another factor that can help drive down costs is grid integration, and projects in that field will get $8 million. Some of that funding will go to 150 counties through the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, to help local electric cooperatives bump up their integration of solar power.

Workforce availability and quality is also a key component in solar costs. To help feed the solar industry a steady stream of qualified workers, the new funding includes a total of $16 million for regional training consortiums, with another $ million going to help ensure education and training opportunities for minority students.

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About the Author

Tina Casey Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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