In mid-2008 the head of the Shell media team dropped by my desk with a proposal for the company to take an early step out of the world of traditional corporate communication and into the then new and emerging world of social media. The idea was to set up a regular blog series that discussed issues pertinent to the company and its stakeholders. With climate change a central issue for society, the plan was to start on this subject. As the leading climate change person within the company, I was asked to think about topics to kick off the initiative. A few months later I was up and running with my first posts covering emissions trading, policy development and the energy transition. The opportunity was also a great fit with my role, which requires me to be something of an independent voice internally on climate change.

The blog is now heading towards a decade of posts and somewhat perversely, it has rather outlasted the initial enthusiasm for the idea. There are now some 400 posts, with several hundred thousand words of content covering almost every aspect of the climate issue. I have found that readership is quite wide, mainly through direct feedback from readers who I meet by chance at conferences and even socially.

As a chemical engineer with 37 years’ experience in the oil and gas industry, my goal has always been to tackle the climate issue from an engineering perspective; based on data, built on facts and without the histrionics and emotion that have come to define this subject in many quarters. In 2014, I began work on a series of three short e-books that bought to life some of the ideas from my blog, succinctly covering many of the pertinent issues of climate change today, including carbon trading and the Paris Agreement.

Last year I was was approached by Emerald Publishing who have now turned this collection of material into a complete book. The book brings together and builds on my blog and the e-books. It tells the story of the climate change issue and the transition in the energy system that must be implemented to finally address the issue. At its most ambitious, the Paris Agreement implies economic and societal change on a scale that sees carbon dioxide emissions fall rapidly from 40 billion tonnes per annum in 2016, to net-zero by the middle of the century. Yet our fossil fuel based energy system which ushered in the Industrial Revolution nearly 200 years ago continues to grow and evolve even as new sources of energy come into the market and compete.

The principal economic instrument for change is clear and has been for over two decades, but in 2017 only a fraction of the global economy actively employs government led carbon pricing policies and within that none of these systems operate at a level commensurate with the pace of change that is necessary. As deployment of new energy technologies accelerates, can solutions be found to cover the full range of services delivered by fossil fuels and can warming be limited to the agreed global goals?  The book explores the climate issue from its very beginnings through to the end of end of the 21st Century and looks in depth at the transition challenge that society faces.

The book is now available from all good bookstores and direct from Emerald Publishing.

Book cover

Data from the book is sourced from Shell and from the University of Oxford, IEA, NASA, NOAA and CDIAC and all proceeds of the book will go to an NGO working on climate change related issues.

At the Al Azraq refugee camp in Jordan, 33 Sunny Tripower 60 inverters are making it possible to supply around 20,000 Syrian refugees with electricity.

The 2-MW project has been in operation in the Jordanian desert since May, providing the camp’s inhabitants—who previously only had intermittent access to electricity—with a reliable energy supply. The PV project was initiated and implemented by the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, and completely financed by the IKEA Foundation “Brighter Lives for Refugees” campaign.

Al Azraq is the first refugee camp in the world with electricity supplied by solar power. It helps the UNHCR save money, which can then be used for other aid projects. Solar power that cannot be used is fed into the electricity grid and made available to the Jordanian population.

Over the coming months, Jordanian project developer Mustakbal Clean Technologies will be expanding the PV project for the electricity supply of the refugee camp to 5 MW of power. A framework agreement also stipulates the use of STP 60-10 inverters.

Here you can read an article of the UNHCR about the refugee camp.


Jordanien refugee camp power supplied with solar power

The 2 MW project in the Jordanian desert is the first reliable source of power for the refugee camp.

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It was interesting to see the FT report recently that there may be a cobalt crunch looming, with hedge funds actually stockpiling physical cobalt. The FT reported that half a dozen funds have purchased and stored an estimated 6,000 tonnes of cobalt, worth as much as $280m. This is equivalent to 5 per cent of annual global production of the metal.

FT Cobalt

I talked about cobalt in a recent post and noted that the current Tesla S battery contains some 7 kgs of Cobalt; so the stockpile reported by the FT is sufficient for 860,000 cars. This is equivalent to ten times the Tesla 2016 requirement for the 80 thousand electric vehicles (EV) they manufactured. In 2016 total global sales of EVs neared 800,000, although not all of these would use cobalt to the extent that a Tesla S does.

Going forward, the EV outlook appears strong, with the IEA Global EV Outlook 2016 showing a “Paris Declaration” (Figure 3) EV stock build of some 40 million cars globally over the coming eight years. If each of these vehicles required 7 kgs of cobalt, then total additional demand for cobalt between now and 2025 would be 280,000 tonnes. This compares with global production of 123,000 tonnes per annum, i.e. it represents more than two years of global cobalt production. The website reported in October last year that the Democratic Republic of the Congo has a healthy pipeline of new cobalt projects and could see production rise by nearly 5% per annum in the coming years. If this continued through to 2025 then about half the shortfall would be covered.

Cobalt appears to be a critical component of the current generation of batteries. While there are many electro-chemistry formulations for rechargeable batteries, the use of cobalt in the cathode results in high energy density, important for vehicle range. But alternative chemistries offer other benefits, for example Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries have much better power output. Nevertheless, cobalt seems to feature in many of the battery chemistry formulations now being used for EVs.

Cobalt is primarily mined as a by-product of nickel and copper production, which is good news in that there will likely be significant additional demand for these metals as EV production ramps up. The same Tesla S battery discussed above has about 35 kg of nickel and the electric motor itself will have copper in the coil windings. Nearly half of global copper production is for electric motors, although alternatives may appear in the form of exotic material, e.g. carbon nanotubes.

Finally, there is a human rights issue associated with cobalt. About half the global production comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where concerns have been raised regarding labour practices in the cobalt industry. Sky News reported on this recently but only mentioned the link with smart-phone batteries.

In recent months the cobalt price has doubled (Source:, although it is clear that there is considerable long term volatility in this commodity, partly related to the fact that it is mined as a by-product of another process, so matching supply and demand can be problematic.

Cobalt 5 year

Cobalt Price

The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently reported that carbon dioxide emissions from energy use remained flat in 2016, the third year in a row. This is a noticeable departure from the 21st century trend which has seen global carbon dioxide emissions rise by some 40% in just 14 years. The Guardian reported this story and added the by-line “International Energy Agency report puts halt in emissions from energy down to growth in renewable power”. But the story within the energy system has more facets than this (Data sourced from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy).

IEA CO2 Emissions

Although global growth hasn’t been outstanding in recent years, it has nevertheless chugged along at around 2.5-3%. Energy use has also increased, albeit at a lower rate of some 1% per annum. This is at the lower end of the expected range of energy vs. GDP, but it is probably too early to say that this represents a longer term shift in this relationship. However, this could be the case if efficiency improvements can outpace economic development or at least come close.

GDP Growth and Energy Growth

Renewable energy is growing rapidly, although this is mainly in the area of electricity generation. From 2014 to 2015 solar and wind generation increased globally by about 200 TWh, which was nearly equal to the overall growth in electricity generation for that year. As an aside, BP reported that the overall electricity growth rate in 2015 was down on 2014 (2.4%) and remained well below the 10-year trend (2.8%). This is slightly concerning as electrification of the energy system is a key requirement for long term emissions reduction. Electricity generation needs to be accelerating compared to overall energy demand growth.

Although the 2016 data isn’t available yet, BP reported that coal use declined globally in 2015 vs. 2014 by 1.8% and natural gas use increased. While most of this could be attributed to the USA and Canada, China also saw a notable coal decline along with growth in natural gas use. The global coal use reduction is equivalent to nearly 300 million tonnes CO2, or about 0.8% of global emissions. Any replacement with natural gas would result in about half the emissions. This is very noticeable in the USA where coal use fell in 2015 by 13%, natural gas use grew by 3% (but against a larger absolute use), oil demand increased by 3%, but emissions declined by 2.6%.

Coal use is declining for a number of reasons;

  • The surge in natural gas production in the USA in particular, triggering the closure of older coal fired power stations that cannot meet new environmental regulations.
  • Air quality concerns in China, leading to a shutdown of coal fired industry and power generation around the major cities.
  • Some mothballing or closure of overcapacity in metallurgical industries in China.
  • The impact of a modest carbon price in a number of jurisdictions and some government imposed moratoriums on new coal generation construction (e.g. Canada).

However, coal use continues to increase sharply in a number of developing countries such as Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, India, Colombia and Indonesia. Current expectations are that this will continue.

Oil use continues to increase, with BP reporting a global rise from 2014 to 2015 of 2%.

The final story is therefore one of several parts and it would appear that this trend has continued into 2016 although further data will be required for verification;

  • Global growth is modest, but energy use increases are trending at the lower part of the expected rise for this level of economic growth.
  • Coal use is declining, with natural gas filling much of the gap but at lower emissions.
  • Renewables are growing quickly, covering most of the increase in electricity generation, but not quite all.
  • Oil demand continues to increase, with its growing emissions being offset by the reduction in coal use.

The end result is that flattening in global emissions that has been seen for three years now.



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