POWER Digest [July 2019]

In notable global developments over the past month, China marked a significant milestone for a second EPR reactor; UK companies banded together to scale up a “carbon negative” plant in the 2020s; ABB won another major UHVDC order from China; Tidal Energy firm Minesto got key funding to expand a tidal energy site; partners agreed to invest billions of dollars to develop Ethiopia’s geothermal potential; and carbon taxes were enacted in South Africa, but repealed in Alberta. 

Taishan-2 EPR Achieves Criticality

A second EPR unit in China’s Guangdong province attained a sustained chain reaction on May 28, marking another major milestone for Framatome, EDF, and China General Nuclear. Taishan 1 achieved first criticality on June 6, 2018, and was declared to be in commercial operation on December 13. The Taishan plant will be operated by Guangdong Taishan Nuclear Power Joint Venture Co. Construction of Taishan 1 began in 2009, and Taishan 2, in 2010. These two units were the third and fourth EPR reactors to have started construction worldwide. Fuel loading at the much-delayed Olkiluoto 3 project in Finland, which began construction in 2005, is expected to comence next month, with grid connection scheduled in October. Meanwhile, fuel loading at the Flamanville 3 project in France, which began construction in 2007, is expected toward the end of this year.

Partnership Seeks to Scale-up ‘Carbon Negative’ Power Plant

UK companies Drax Group, Equinor, and National Grid Ventures on May 27 announced a “zero-carbon partnership” to explore how to scale-up Drax Power’s carbon capture and storage (BECCS) pilot project and build the world’s first “carbon negative” power station in the 2020s. The partners will also explore development of a large-scale hydrogen demonstrator within the Drax site as early as the mid-2020s, as well as other opportunities in developing a hydrogen economy in the UK’s Humber region. Drax, which converted two of three generating units at the Drax Power Station from coal to biomass, in February said it started carbon capture from its BECCS pilot using technology developed by Leeds University spin-out company C-Capture. “This is the first-time carbon dioxide has been captured from the combustion of a 100% biomass feedstock anywhere in the world,” it said.

ABB Wins Large UHVDC Order from China

ABB on June 6 said it won a large order to supply converter transformers and high-voltage equipment for an 800-kV, ultrahigh-voltage direct current (UHVDC) transmission link, owned by the State Grid Corp. of China (SGCC), in China’s Shaanxi and Hubei provinces, in the northwest and central regions of the country. The 1,100-km-long Shanbei-Wuhan link will transport up to 8,000 MW of electricity. Because it transports power at extremely high voltages, UHVDC offers as much as 40% lower losses than equivalent conventional alternating current systems. Claudio Facchin, president of ABB’s Power Grids business, said the “UHV super-grids”—a key tenet of SGCC’s vision—are designed to enable reliable integration of more power sources from remote areas into power grids of urban centers. ABB provided technology for China’s first UHVDC link, the 6.4-GW, 2,000-km-long Xiangjiaba-Shanghai line, which provides hydroelectric power from southwest China to Shanghai.

Subsea Tidal Energy Kite Developer Gets EU Backing

Marine energy developer Minesto in May won an award of €14.9 million from the Welsh government, and in June, it won a €2.5 million award from the European Commission’s SME (small- and medium-sized enterprises) Instrument program. The Welsh funds will help it commercialize its utility-scale product range. The company is developing a subsea kite technology, which it calls “Deep Green,” whose functionality and power production has been verified in ocean testing of five scale prototypes. The company plans to install and operate an additional, uprated unit at its Holyhead Deep site in Wales that is at least 50% larger than the current 0.5-MW unit in place. Eventually, Minesto hopes to secure permits and consent for expanding the site into an 80-MW tidal energy farm. The European Union SME Instrument funding will be dedicated to the development and operation of Deep Green technology in the Faroe Islands—a self-governing archipelago in Denmark—where Minesto has engaged in a collaboration agreement with the main power generator and distributor SEV.

Exploration to Start for Ethiopian Geothermal Projects

Icelandic firm Reykjavik Geothermal has garnered the backing of hedge fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones II and shareholder companies Ambata Capital Partners, the African Renewable Energy Fund, InfraCo, Iceland Drilling Co., and Meridiam SAS, to begin exploration drilling at two geothermal concessions in Ethiopia for two 500-MW geothermal plants starting in September 2019. The projects, which could require an investment of up to $4.4 billion, could transform Ethiopia’s economy. Reykjavik Geothermal said it expects “strong emerging market returns” from the projects, which “will continue to improve as the projects again scale.”

Carbon Taxes Enacted in South Africa, Repealed in Alberta

South Africa has enacted a tax on greenhouse gases from fuel combustion and industrial processes, and emissions. The tax, which went into effect on June 1, is a notable step for the country, which relies largely on coal for its energy supply. State-owned utility Eskom, which has grappled with insufficient cash flow despite a recent 10% raise in tariff prices, said that the impact of the tax will be “substantial” after 2022, when exemptions that affect it lapse. The utility is exempt until then because it is currently paying an environmental levy on power generated from non-renewable sources, including coal, oil, and nuclear. Meanwhile, on June 5, the Canadian province of Alberta officially repealed a carbon tax that came into effect in January 2017. The provincial tax added a surcharge to gasoline at pumps and fossil-fueled home heating. Its repeal was a central pillar of the United Conservative Party’s platform in a recent election. However, repeal now leaves the province open to a federal backstop, a replacement levy that took effect in April in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and New Brunswick. ■

Sonal Patel is a POWER associate editor.