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The Iranian Water Crisis: A Strategic Analysis

Abstract In 2013 faced with a critical shortage of water, the Iranian government called for water conservation and greater water use efficiency nation-wide. Despite imminent shortages, water use in Iran remains inefficient, with domestic use 70 per cent higher than the global average. Iran has a national population of 75 million people, 12 million of whom reside in the capital; demand for water is rapidly increasing, even as major lakes and groundwater resources begin to shrink. Population growth, more frequent droughts and the effects of climate change are creating the ‘perfect storm’ for future water insecurity. We are left with the question, are the proposed changes too little, too late?

Paper (abbrev.) Security in the Middle East continues to focus on the political and geostrategic priorities of regional states, but a greater challenge has now presented itself, in the form of natural resource scarcity and vulnerable water supplies. Issa Kalantari, former Iranian Minister for Agriculture has stated in an interview that the water crisis in Iran is the biggest problem threatening the state. Overshadowed in global current affairs by Iranian politics and the negotiations over its nuclear program, the looming water crisis presents a formidable challenge. Located in one of the most arid regions in the world, Iran has an annual average precipitation rate of 252 millimetres, approximately one third of the global average. Exacerbating the severity of water shortages, as much as 70 per cent of precipitation is lost to evaporation. Estimates suggest that lower-than-average precipitation in 2013 caused a 30 per cent reduction in the volume of water in dams across the country, with only five exceeding 90 per cent capacity. According to the Institute for Forest and Pasture Research, groundwater levels have dropped two metres in recent years across 70 plains, affecting as much as 100 million hectares. According to the UN Development Program, the level of Iran’s per capita water resources are predicted to fall to as little as 816m³ in 2025, down from 2,025m³ in 1990. Iran is divided into six key and 31 secondary catchment areas.

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Besides the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman Basins, all of Iran’s basins are located in the interior, where renewable freshwater sources are limited. Close to half of Iran’s total renewable water is located in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman Basins, representing one quarter of its land mass. Conversely, the Markazi Basin covers more than half of Iran’s land mass, but holds less than one-third of
the available freshwater. Over 84 per cent of Iran is arid or semi-arid; over 50 per cent of the country is either desert or mountain; and 16 per cent of the Iranian landmass has an elevation of 2000m or more above sea level. Streams are seasonal, causing flooding during spring and drying during summer, leading to significant variability in freshwater access for those reliant on surface water resources. Due to high evaporation of surface water, Iranian’s have, for centuries, used traditional methods of water transport and access to supply their freshwater resources. More than 2000 years old, the Qanat is still used in Iran today and is designed to access and transfer groundwater without the use of lifting devices. Wells are sunk every 20 to 50 metres along the system, with a tunnel then built to link the wells on a slope from higher ground. Groundwater flows naturally down the tunnel till it reaches a surface point at the end, either in a town or city, or by creating an artificial desert oasis. Read on...


Intermittent Renewables: will 'Power-to-Gas' be the Solution?

The German government has committed the country to an 'Energiewende', in which at least 80% of electricity production and 60% of primary energy needs are to be supplied by solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources by 2050. A big open question is how the intermittency of renewable energy sources like wind and sunshine can be reconciled with the need to reliably supply energy whenever and wherever it's needed, whether to heat homes, fuel trucks and trains, or power electrical equipment.

'Power-to-gas' and 'power-to-liquids' could be the answer, according to engineers and researchers who spoke to a packed hall at the third annual conference of the Power to Gas Association in Berlin on Wednesday (2.7.2014), hosted by the German Energy Agency (DENA).
Michael Sterner, a professor at East Bavarian Technical University in Regensburg, says the technology is crucial to the success of the Energiewende. "Power-to-gas is absolutely necessary for a 100 percent renewable energy power supply and for the decarbonization of the transportation and chemical industry," he told DW.

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In principle, the technology proposition is straightforward. Germany, like most developed countries, already has a well-developed network of pipelines and storage tanks for natural gas. Natural gas, a fossil fuel, is used to heat homes and generate electricity in gas turbines. Methane, the main component of natural gas, also serves as a basic feedstock for the petrochemical industry, which makes everything from plastics to pharmaceuticals.
It turns out that the existing gas storage and distribution network could be used to solve the country's energy storage problem. That's because fossil fuel reservoirs (natural gas wells) are not the only available source of methane. Professor Sterner explained that methane can also be synthesized in chemical factories from three simple and common ingredients: carbon dioxide, water, and electricity.
Using a long-established process called 'electrolysis', chemical engineers can tear apart water and carbon dioxide molecules (H2O and CO2), and then recombine the pieces into any number of new molecules - starting with methane, CH4.

The methane synthesis process requires electricity as an input, which is why it's called 'power-to-gas'. If the electricity comes from a renewable energy source like a wind turbine or a solar array, the resulting synthetic methane is called 'renewable gas', or sometimes by special names like 'wind-gas' or 'solar gas', depending on the source of the primary energy input.
Among many other things, engineers can take synthetic methane and further process it to make synthetic liquid fuels like methanol or butanol - which can be used to fuel diesel or gasoline engines - or kerosene, which is the main constituent of jet fuel. The relevant terms of art are 'power-to-liquids' or 'renewable liquid fuels'.
So far so good - but while the technology is quite straightforward, the business case isn't. It doesn't cost very much to sink a well and tap natural gas from a geological formation, or to send it to distant markets by pipeline. Natural gas is cheap. Synthetic methane is much more expensive. Read on...


Quarterly Notes on Sustainable Water Management - Q02/2014

-- a _kt75 | note

Download: Quarterly Notes on Sustainable Water Management - Q02/2014.

The most recent issue of the Quarterly Notes on Sustainable Water Management (Q02/2014) is freely available.

In continuation of the successful publication of the Quarterly Notes on Sustainable Water Management the current issue concentrates on a broad range of topics including land subsidence, implications of climate change on ground water regimes, technical developments in the small hydro power sector, etc. Geographically, the Notes once more focus on regions exposed to complicated water supply conditions: Middle-East and Asia. A number of publications tackle the named issues in detail and provide cutting-edge insights on present developments.
An important, because seldom considered, region represents the Horn of Africa and the water supply issues encountered there. A comprehensive overview is provided by a dedicated report. As always all reprints are completely referenced and can be accessed via the web.

Along with the publication of the Notes the _kt75 | reflections are published. With great pleasure it could be noted that more than 1’000 copies of the last years release of the series Inside Sustainability: Facts, Figures, Bullshit - Part I: http://goo.gl/mqFvZ, II: http://goo.gl/bKMfN and III: http://goo.gl/T1fyG - were downloaded. It may be considered as an indicator for the importance of the sustainability issue.

Download the full issue of the Notes free of charge: http://goo.gl/hDbhUR 


Is Europe tangled in an Energy Dilemma?

-- a _kt75 | reprint

On May 28 the European Commission published its energy security strategy. In the midst of sanctions and strong rhetoric on the need to reduce dependence on Russian gas, this was to be the first salvo in a long term plan to reduce dependence on Russian natural gas. Unsurprisingly, this will not happen any time soon.

The ongoing crisis in Ukraine has confirmed two things: Europe continues to be divided on energy security issues, and the importance of energy related matters is modest compared to concern about the right and left wing drift of European politics. That last point only puts energy issues in perspective, which is probably good for many scholars and observers working on the topic, including this author.

Energy Security in Europe

Reaching European consensus on energy security was rarely successful, despite attempts to develop an overall supranational energy policy ever since the Declaration of Messina in 1955. With the entrance of 10 new, predominantly eastern European member states to the EU in 2004 however, achieving consensus has de facto become impossible, unless policy makers step over their own shadows and move beyond narrow parochial national interests. Over the last decade, the world has witnessed increased divergence between eastern and western European matters related to external suppliers of energy resources, the fuel mix and ambitions over renewable energy.
Both sides have a reasonable story to tell. In the western part of Europe, trade relations with Russia are by and large stable, and prices for natural gas competitive from a global perspective. Historically, natural gas markets have been reasonably well developed, and in recent years successful efforts have been made to integrate markets, increase storage facilities, build interconnectors, reverse gas pipeline flow options, construct liquefied natural gas (LNG) regasification terminals and become attractive for diverse suppliers, making this part of Europe resilient to the risks of supply shocks. In addition, countries like Germany, Denmark and the United Kingdom are at the forefront of a push to a low-carbon economy, which is crucial considering global warming, but also makes sense from an energy security perspective.
In Eastern Europe, with the exception of Romania, natural gas historically has played an insignificant role. This is because the resource was not available in this part of the continent, and thus economies were built on widely available coal and to a lesser extent oil. As a result, natural gas markets are small in terms of total consumed volumes, not well developed in terms of available infrastructure and network integration and market models are outdated, with prices still often regulated. It thus makes sense that the modest amount of natural gas that is supplied here often comes exclusively from Russia. Because of the lack of competition, arbitrary pricing is more the rule than the exception. Add to this the historical backdrop of political subjugation and the outcries for diversification away from Russia sound reasonable.
These outcries sound even more reasonable considering that during the accession talks of these member states, prior to them joining the EU, decreasing the usage of coal, which does not mesh well with Europe’s renewable and climate ambitions, was actively discussed. Alternatively, natural gas markets had to be developed, and EU funding was to be available to cover a share of the costs. However, once these countries joined the EU, it became apparent that European institutions, in fact, have very limited capacity (in 2004 they had none, both legally and financially) to help develop infrastructure. Thus, these countries felt that they were left in the cold. Read on...


Moneytalks II: World needs $48 trillion in investment to meet its energy needs to 2035

-- a _kt75 | reprint

Download: Quarterly Notes on Sustainable Water Management - Q01/2014

IEA World Energy Outlook special report sees rising role of governments in shaping investment decisions.

Meeting the world’s growing need for energy will require more than $48 trillion in investment over the period to 2035, according to a special report on investment released today by the International Energy Agency (IEA) as part of the World Energy Outlook series. Today’s annual investment in energy supply of $1.6 trillion needs to rise steadily over the coming decades towards $2 trillion. Annual spending on energy efficiency, measured against a 2012 baseline, needs to rise from $130 billion today to more than $550 billion by 2035.

“The reliability and sustainability of our future energy system depends on investment,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven. “But this won’t materialise unless there are credible policy frameworks in place as well as stable access to long-term sources of finance. Neither of these conditions should be taken for granted. There is a real risk of shortfalls, with knock-on effects on regional or global energy security, as well as the risk that investments are misdirected because environmental impacts are not properly reflected in prices.”
Newly compiled data show how annual investment in new fuel and electricity supply has more than doubled in real terms since 2000, with investment in renewable source of energy quadrupling over the same period, thanks to supportive government policies. Investment in renewables in the European Union has been higher than investment in natural gas production in the United States. Renewables, together with biofuels and nuclear power, now account for around 15% of annual investment flows, with a similar share also going to the power transmission and distribution network. But a large majority of today’s investment spending, well over $1 trillion, is related to fossil fuels, whether extracting them, transporting them to consumers, refining crude oil into oil products, or building coal and gas-fired power plants.

Investment decisions are increasingly being shaped by government policy measures and incentives. While many governments have retained direct influence over energy sector investment, some stepped away from this role when opening energy markets to competition:  many of these have now stepped back in, typically to promote the deployment of low-carbon sources of electricity. In the electricity sector, administrative signals or regulated rates of return have become, by far, the most important drivers for investment: the share of investment in competitive parts of electricity markets has fallen from about one-third of the global total ten years ago to around 10% today. Read on...


When the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine...

-- a _kt75 | reprint

Download: Quarterly Notes on Sustainable Water Management - Q01/2014

There is a boom in renewable energy sources coming online worldwide, but the predominant types – solar and wind – are problematic due to their variable nature. For most regions of the world, the sun cannot be expected to shine nor the wind blow when required.

What is needed is a way to capture that energy when available, perhaps in the middle of the night, when demand is low, and then store it until it can be used when demand rises. But this is not a trivial problem to solve.
According to the European Wind Energy Association, at the end of 2013, the UK had 10.5GW of wind turbine capacity installed, with more in planning and construction. As the percentage of energy generated from renewables increases, the intermittency problem becomes more acute, as has been seen in countries like Germany or Ireland.

Germany, the country with the highest renewable capacity in Europe, has faced major technical problems due to the intermittency of renewable energy. The main issue is maintaining sufficient supply in the face of fluctuating levels of wind or sunshine. Back-up supply in the form of conventional power plants is required to meet demand. But as different types of power plant take time to come online – 48 hours for nuclear, 12 hours for coal-fired, down to a few hours for modern gas power plants, or ten seconds for the water released from a dam to start the turbines – having a back-up always available means having power plants running most of the time, which is inefficient and expensive.
Another problem is integrating renewable energy supplies into the high voltage electricity grid. For example, in Ireland given the fact that there is more wind at night when many businesses usage is low, a significant percentage of the energy produced may have been dumped, because the electricity produced cannot easily be transmitted across the grid.
So a means of storing energy is a vital part of any future energy system that includes a substantial amount of variable and uncontrollable renewable energy. Energy storage provides flexibility and reduces the need to rely on fossil fuel back-up power. Read on...


Fracking: Should India Dive into the Shale Boom?

-- a _kt75 | reprint

Download: Quarterly Notes on Sustainable Water Management - Q01/2014

The energy economics of the world is now at a crossroads, giving rise to a fiery debate among experts whether it will bring about a momentous change in the world’s strategic balance. The Ukraine crisis has given an impetus to it by threatening a cut in the supply of Russian oil and gas to Europe; the West is now on the lookout for an alternative source of energy. With the United States making rapid progress in the area of shale oil and gas technology, and several large-scale shale reserves being discovered in Western Europe and Latin America, dependence on hydrocarbon supplies from the Middle East and the Persian Gulf will decrease, which will ultimately lead to a lapse in big power involvement in the region. This has all come as a boon to American companies involved in the exploitation of shale resources, and they are leaving no stone unturned in sweeping away the impediments to their business expansion.

Now the big question is whether India can take advantage of these technological advancements, as she also has commercially viable shale reserves.

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But there is a flip side to the shale revolution. Environmentalists worldwide have protested against the exploitation of shale resources, arguing that it may cause serious ecological harm as the process involves use of poisonous chemicals. Even officials in India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests voiced opposition in inter-ministerial meetings convened to consider the draft policy on the use of shale technology. There are also allegations in the United States that many of these companies engaged in shale exploitation are not divulging their modus operandi, making it difficult to know the true extent of environmental impact.

More transparency can help if shale is to solve the world’s longstanding energy problems and geopolitical overreliance on the Middle East. Last year the World Bank was hopeful that oil prices would fall under $102 per barrel. Although the projection seemed a bit optimistic, it cannot be denied that the Western world has moved towards energy self-sufficiency, and the emerging energy situation may not be as bleak as it has been made out to be. While the US has been increasing its domestic crude oil production – recording a jump of 1.4 percent in 2012 – Canada is sitting on a massive reserve of two trillion barrels. Production has also been growing in various other Central and South American countries like Brazil, Columbia and Mexico. Read on ...


Implications of accelerated power plant retirements

-- a _kt75 | reprint

In 2012, coal-fired and nuclear power plants together provided 56% of the electricity generated in the United States. The role of these technologies in the U.S. generation mix has been changing since 2009, as both low natural gas prices and slower growth of electricity demand have altered their competitiveness relative to other fuels. Many coal-fired plants also must comply with requirements of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) and other environmental regulations. Some of the challenges faced by coal-fired and nuclear generators, and the implications for electricity markets if the plants are retired in significant numbers, are analyzed in this discussion.
Of the total installed 310 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired generating capacity available at the end of 2012, 50 GW, or 16%, is projected to be retired by 2020 in the AEO2014 Reference case. Despite those projected retirements, coal continues to account for the largest share of the electricity generation mix through 2034, after which it is overtaken by natural gas. However, throughout the projection the coal share of total generation remains significantly below its 49% share in 2007, when coal set its annual generation record.

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In 2012 and 2013, operators of five nuclear power reactors representing 4.2 GW of capacity announced plans to retire the reactors by 2015. Four of the reactors—San Onofre 2 and 3, Kewaunee, and Crystal River—already have ended nuclear power production, and the fifth, Vermont Yankee, is expected to end generation by the end of 2014 [1]. In addition, the Oyster Creek plant is expected to conclude operation in 2019 [2]. These are the first retirements of U.S. nuclear power plants since Millstone Unit 1 was retired in 1998. Retirements often are the result of unique circumstances, but some owners of nuclear power plants have voiced concerns about the profitability of their units, sparking discussion of possible additional nuclear retirements [3]. In order to evaluate the impacts of potential retirements beyond those in the Reference case, AEO2014 includes several alternative cases with economic assumptions that make it less likely that existing coal and nuclear power plants will be used for generation.

Power plant owners generally make the decision to retire plants when their expected costs exceed their expected revenues over the future life of the plants [4]. Costs incurred by power plants can include large capital projects, such as installation of flue gas desulfurization (FGD) systems or scrubbers on coal plants, increased operating costs, or higher fuel costs. Revenues are received from energy sales or capacity payments in wholesale electricity markets in regions of the country with competitive wholesale markets, or from cost-recovery mechanisms in regions with vertically integrated utilities subject to rate regulations.
Recent trends in the electric power industry have resulted in both declining revenues and increased operating costs for coal plants. Because natural gas often is the marginal fuel and thus sets prices in Regional Transmission Organization (RTO) markets, and natural gas influences wholesale electricity prices in non-RTO markets, the decline in natural gas prices beginning in 2008 tends to reduce electricity prices and the payments received by all generators for the electricity they produce. Lower natural gas prices also improve the competitiveness of natural gas combined-cycle (NGCC) power plants relative to coal-fired plants. When
lower natural gas prices drive the cost of generating electricity from an NGCC plant below that of a nearby coal-fired plant, the coal plant is dispatched, or operated, less often and earns less revenue.
Slow growth of electricity demand in recent years has resulted in fewer high-cost marginal generators being dispatched. In regions with excess generating capacity, plants with relatively high variable operating costs may not be dispatched frequently enough to produce the revenue needed to cover their costs, making them candidates for retirement. Although the average price of coal delivered to the electric power sector declined in both 2012 and 2013, it rose by more than 4% per year from 2007 to 2011, and the resulting increase in operational costs for coal-fired power plants reinforced the impacts of lower demand and more competitive natural gas prices. Read on...


Wind farms can provide a surplus of reliable clean energy

-- a _kt75 | reprint

Today's wind industry, even with the necessary batteries and other grid-scale storage, is energetically sustainable, Stanford scientists say. - However, storing stochastic renewable-based energy is the key challenge that hasn't been solved at all.

The worldwide demand for solar and wind power continues to skyrocket. Since 2009, global solar photovoltaic installations have increased about 40 percent a year on average, and the installed capacity of wind turbines has doubled.
The dramatic growth of the wind and solar industries has led utilities to begin testing large-scale technologies capable of storing surplus clean electricity and delivering it on demand when sunlight and wind are in short supply.

Now a team of Stanford researchers has looked at the "energetic cost" of manufacturing batteries and other storage technologies for the electrical grid. At issue is whether renewable energy supplies, such as wind power and solar photovoltaics, produce enough energy to fuel both their own growth and the growth of the necessary energy storage industry.

German Renewable Energy Sources Act 2014

"Whenever you build a new technology, you have to invest a large amount of energy up front," said Michael Dale, a research associate at Stanford. "Studies show that wind turbines and solar photovoltaic installations now produce more energy than they consume. The question is, how much additional grid-scale storage can the wind and solar industries afford and still remain net energy providers to the electrical grid?"

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Writing in the March 19 online edition of the journal Energy & Environmental Science, Dale and his Stanford colleagues found that, from an energetic perspective, the wind industry can easily afford lots of storage, enough to provide more than three days of uninterrupted power. However, the study also revealed that the solar industry can afford only about 24 hours of energy storage. That’s because it takes more energy to manufacture solar panels than wind turbines.
"We looked at the additional burden that would be placed on the solar and wind industries by concurrently building out batteries and other storage technologies," said Dale, the lead author of the study. "Our analysis shows that today’s wind industry, even with a large amount of grid-scale storage, is energetically sustainable. We found that the solar industry can also achieve sustainable storage capacity by reducing the amount of energy that goes into making solar photovoltaics."
Reducing energy inputs to battery manufacturing is also needed, he said. Read on ...


Big 'n' small: can micro-grid based renewables guarantee sustainable energy supply?
An Australian experience.

-- a _kt75 | reprint

When Ergon Energy began a Solar Cities program on Magnetic Island to try to make the isolated community as efficient and self sustaining as possible – and avoid an expensive new cable to the mainland grid – one of the first things it did was to remove all the old bar fridges. It filled up more than a shipping container and took them off the island. Bar fridges, explains Ergon Energy CEO Ian McLeod, are usually old, and terribly inefficient. Roofs on the island were also painted white to dissipate the effects of the sun’s heat on household interiors. Solar was installed and the new cable deferred for nearly a decade. Now, with storage about to be installed on Magnetic Island, the new cable will probably never be needed. This is now becoming the model for regional and isolated communities around Australia. Inefficient appliances like old bar fridges are being replaced, local generation is being installed, and that is being followed by energy storage – probably installed in the garage where the old bar fridge used to be. Australian network operators, particularly those in regional areas with lower population levels, have accepted that new technologies – mostly centred around localised renewable generation, energy storage, and some smart software – are a better and cheaper option than just adding more poles and wires.

As McLeod suggests, this is a dramatic change, both in the culture and the economic driver of these organisations: “Our role is not to be a transporter of energy from central power stations to customers, because that is the old model. That is how we used to do it,” he told the Energy Networks Association conference in Melbourne this week. Instead, he envisages the network becoming a partner and facilitator, to encourage consumers to invest in installation. “People can choose between green and black energy, clean and dirty, they can use it, they can store it, they can sell it,” McLeod says. “What we are seeing is a transfer of capital from the networks into the customer installations.” This is a massive shift in just a few years from an industry accused (probably quite accurately) of gold plating and boosting its asset values in order to lift its regulated returns. McLeod is not the only one who thinks this way. Rob Stobbe, who heads SA Power Networks, told the same conference that rural communities would likely look after their own generation needs in the near future. “We might just be operating, managing and building micro-grids, in localised areas, with their own renewables on site, and some of their other renewables that could support that community. Why wouldn’t that work?” Stobbe said. Indeed, Stobbe said centralised generation and transmission could be made redundant by distributed generation, a prediction he shares with Frank Tudor, the CEO of Horizon Energy – Western Australia’s regional utility, which is already looking to base energy supply in some remote towns around local generation and storage. Read on ...
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