Jo Abbess

Energy Change for Climate Control
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  • There must be a beginning

    Posted on April 10th, 2014 Jo No comments

    must be
    a beginning
    of any great matter
    but the continuing
    unto the end until
    it be thoroughly
    yields the true

  • A One Hundred Cubit High Russell Crowe

    Posted on March 31st, 2014 Jo No comments

    The strangest thing about actors is that they’re generally shorter than you might think they are. So when Darren Aronovsky makes all his “Noah” cast, apart from Anthony Hopkins and the hoards of filthy Canaanites, take to the stage in a curtain call, I get the distinct impression they are all pocket-sized waifs. Well, apart from Ray Winstone. And Russell Crowe, who appears to be under orders to say a few brief sentences before peeling off into the wings again. I ask myself – is he drunk or something ? Is he like the pickled, unsavoury uncle you have to keep in the back room at parties, just in case he says something intransigent ?

    The one thing I have to say about the film Noah is E. P. I. C. This film is truly epic. It’s Ben Hur in its ambition, and from the second row of the audience, it’s quite literally huge. The Ark rocks. And when the lead goes home to the green ancestral mountain and clambers into the dark cave, can it be ? Is that the Pope taking a cameo role ? You half expect it, but it’s only Anthony Hopkins, in the end. Although he manages to look quite quite cardinal and pope-ish, actually. And gargantuan from where I’m sitting.

    The Odeon puts on a fine show, and Paramount had provided an ocean flooring instead of a red carpet outside the cinema, interestingly all nicely packed away by the time we let the #NoahPremiere of the #NoahMovie after suffering tinnitus and glare from all that very big, very loud media.

    This is supposed to be a film with big environmental themes, which it is, and which is probably why Damaris got offered some free tickets to the premiere, and handed them out to environmental organisations, in an attempt to engage this demographic segment. Well I’d say, if you’re at all green, definitely watch this film. It will resonate with you, even if you find the Biblical references a bit heavy.

    When I was younger I was easily in thrall to public relations, stardom and pzzazz, but these days, it sort of all washes over me. So the stars and starlets giving out thousands of autographs and posing for a bank of hungry cameras really didn’t impress me. Should it have ?

    I attended this event partly out of an interest in the anthropological elements – the division between red carpet and non-red carpet; how the barrier set up a desperate attitude of desire in those outside the red carpet zone. “Emma ! Emma !” the young things were calling for the white-robed Ms Watson with the architectural bangles, holding up signs, begging for selfies with their idols.

    I noticed also that the many people working for the event had a kind of steely security guard attitude, even if they were only playing the role of general assistance. Without the stars in the theatre, the place was dull. With the actors and actresses in the room, the place was buzzing. It had an altogether higher energy.

    I posed for a couple of photographs with my compatriots on the blue ocean-red carpet, but I felt I was at a school reunion rather than a media glitz event. I felt quite aloof from the process, right up until a surprise move in the film, when I literally jumped out of my seat. You see, the narrative did take me, wash me away with the portrayed doomed humanity. The power of the story; the power of the story-telling; even though the film should have been twice as long to cover all the themes and relationships it spun.

    I identified with the narrative – as I expect most people will – the beseeching of the Heavens for an answer from God to our most urgent and important questions. We’ve all done it – asked the Universe for help, for a solution, for resolution, closure, certainty.

    If you’re at all concerned about environmental dilemmas, you will know that today the United Nations has published another section of its Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Change. This story couldn’t be greater, and for many people of faith it will trigger prayers and supplications to the Almighty. Our private prayer will parallel the frantic “Emma ! Emma !” that the troubled teenage fans call out, with anguish written on their faces.

    Those in the faith communities who try to take Creation responsibilities seriously will hopefully come to praise this film and not ban it or pan it. Maybe Aronofsky could have made more of an impact if, instead of having Patti Smith recite his turgid 13-year-old teenage poem, if Russell Crowe had been put on stage to talk about the United Nations report and how serious he thinks the situation is. It seems almost one step too removed to leave the warnings about the risk of rising sea levels to the mouth of a dead, ancient prophet, but if this is the way that the story migrates, then maybe this film, too, is necessary.

    This film is essentially about how humans have laid waste to the goodness and bounty of the Earth. After the house lights came up, I showed my companion the reams of empty packets of popcorn and water bottles strewn on the floor. Despite the earnestness and sincerity of the film’s director and his script, we clearly haven’t learned anything yet.

    Further thoughts on “Noah”

    They had soil under their fingernails, but the cast was universally white with perfect teeth and hair, and the audience privileged. We will learn soon enough that climate change doesn’t discriminate.

    The budget for the movie would have been in the millions, but there are 800 million people who still don’t have enough to eat. Add a nought to that if we don’t address the water scarcity issues of climate change.

    The violence of Genesis 6 is depicted in the movie as affecting the Earth as well as human society. Climate change is deeply affecting the Earth already, even though mining the Earth of resources has brought prosperity to many. We could be reaching a cusp, however, where we need to avoid the potential for human conflict and the social instability that climate change could now cause.

    Genesis 9 writes that God promises not to destroy the Earth again by flooding, and climate change deniers claim that this means that sea level rise cannot possibly inundate cities. The evidence of the science is to be found in the data, and we shouldn’t just cling to fragments of an ancient narrative in vain hope.

    Look – God changes his mind about things. At the beginning of Genesis 6 God considers killing every living being, but by the end of Genesis 6 he plans to save the right-living Noah and the animals he takes in the Ark.

    The Bible says God regretted making the Earth. Did he also regret saving Noah ? Noah stops being righteous, right-on, perfect after the watery calamity. By the end of Genesis 9, we learn that drunkenness and deep disgrace came to Noah and his son directly after the Flood – despite the fact that God had shown favour on the father by directing him to build the Ark and save the creatures and his family.

    When the waters receded, clearly there were no edible plants still viable, and God had to issue a dispensation that man could now eat meat – even from “unclean” animals – in order to survive. Is God in the process of compromise ? Dialogue ? Relenting ? Is he negotiating with us, even now ? By rights, he could just leave us to our self-imposed watery grave of a fate, but I feel he’s still as intimately connected and concerned with the human race as he was in the time of Noah. For those of faith who have never considered environmental destruction and the blowback effect on humanity, I think it’s time for us to ask him what we should be doing about climate change, start that conversation with the God of the Colourful Rainbows in the Sky.

  • Shell Pulls From Shale

    Posted on March 18th, 2014 Jo No comments

    Shell cuts and runs from shale, but there are still believers.

    Friday 14 March 2014

    From: Dave
    Subject: Shell cuts investment in US shale as “fracking takes its toll”



    From: Hugh

    re story at

    I agree. It seems that only Wall Street, realtors and other fairly useless middlemen are really making serious money at dry shale gas production. The little guys at the serious end all appear to be spending more than they are earning (like Shell). Wait for the bust because I cannot see Henry Hub reaching the $6 – 8/mmBtu (more?) needed for the drillers to make a profit. It is not yet even totally clear that shale oil is a clear winner; many of those drillers’s outlays are greater than income!

    Very confusing!


    From: Dave

    One conspiracy theory going around is that the shale thing has been funded by the US govt money printing to banks, and as soon as they start tapering the whole thing will collapse.


    From: Chris

    Money printing provides liquidity – not capital.


    From: Dave

    Yes but the banks can invest that liquidity by lending to fracking shysters????


    From: Dave

    Chris, the penny has just dropped. Never really understood what “liquidity” was, but clearly I see it is non-money that has been conjured out of the air by some sort of dodgy promise to pay in future based on a gamble / speculation, most of which at some point will collapse into nothingness or am I being too too cynical?


    From: Jo

    Hi Hugh,

    For me there are two key points :-

    1. The exploitation of shale resources in Northern America are part of the US trying to build a narrative of energy independence. The notion that the US could ever be free from OPEC is laughable.

    2. However, the official agencies, such as the EIA, do not project strong growth in shale gas, and anticipate a break point in shale oil growth.

    It is a pure propaganda exercise, this “Saudi America” narrative. It too will soon burst. Without sales of hydraulic fracturing to China etc.


    From: John


    Whatever you do, do not look at the graphs on page 12 from the EUIA!!

    It will break your heart, it’s a shale gas denier’s worst nightmare.

    15 March 2014

    From: Nick Grealy,

    John thanks for reminding me why I don’t bother with this group anymore.

    I thought they were scientists, not conspiracy theorists. David Icke seems same next to some of this.

    Heres more science to reject

    John Gummer ( I don’t go in for that Lord cr@p), recently said that if environmentalists deny the science behind shale, they can’t expect the public to accept the science on climate either.


    From: Jo

    Hi John,

    The projections in Figure 11 of that chart, showing numbers for growth in Natural Gas out to 2040 are based on very conservative growth figures in shale gas, and the large upwards growth is based mostly on a spurt in coalbed methane production sometime in the 2030s, and a spurt in Arctic production in the 2020s.

    The shale gas and tight gas growth could in reality be even less underwhelming, if you consider economic recovery issues.

    You need to get the underlying dataset and check, or look at other peoples’ attempts to chart it, such as mine :-

    Don’t believe the growth hype !


    From: John


    Take Nick’s advice and drop the David Icke nonsense.

    All the data is on the EIA website up to Feb 2014

    You write this on your blog, you’re not really trying are you!

    I was trying to ascertain current American shale gas production data, and I kept finding myself at this webpage on the Energy Information Administration (EIA) website, and this one, too, which only have shale gas production data up until 2011 (just checked it again – still true).

    Chill out about it, embrace gas and renewables like Texas is doing.

    Golden age of gas can fund and back up golden age of renewables, there is no other alternative, UK incredibly lucky country.


    From: Jo

    Hi John,

    I embrace gas – in fact, I’m in bed with gas. I just think that we should not be doing unconventional gas.

    First, because geology offers strong possibilities of early exhaustion and patchy production. And second of all, because this delays proper solutions in the field of manufactured Renewable Gas.

    Gas and power are perfectly complementary, and I think we should have growth in Renewable Gas to complement the growth in Renewable Electricity.



    From: John

    Gas demand is 730 TWh

    Max possible renewable gas is around 20 TWh

    So, the 710 TWh?

    By 2030, Qatar or Russia or Lancashire?

    We cannot afford to import it, we have to produce our own, there is no alternative


    From: Jo

    Hi John,

    On what do you base your figures ? I would dare to suggest your green gas figure is not optimistic enough.

    I think everything depends on what you think Renewable Gas is. It’s certainly not limited to biogas, or even hydrotreated biogas (to make biomethane through the addition of hydrogen in some way to biogas). Besides all the biological routes to gas, there are a range of other ways of putting Renewable Hydrogen in the company of Renewable Carbon and coming up with much bigger Renewable Gas production figures. Several important ones are being researched and developed. There are also a number of ways of producing Renewable Hydrogen – all in research and development.

    This country used to manufacture a large quantity of gas, and I am quite sure it will do so again in the not too distant future. This time round, however, it will be Renewable Gas, and not just made from gasified coal with all those net carbon dioxide emissions to air. Yes, there will be some EfW – gas Energy from Waste, but that will not be the endpoint. Yes, there will be advanced biological treatments of biological feedstocks, but even that won’t be the end of it. Yes, it will include some high temperature gasification (such as plasma gasification) of carbonaecous material, but even that will not be the end of the story. It will even include some coal and some Carbon Capture and Storage, although I prefer Carbon Recycling to reduce the initial fuel input.

    I think it is important to think in terms of a transition. For now we take the Natural Gas from the -stans, the Russian Federation, the South Stream, North Stream, east-west pipelines, the LNG tankers. But we plan to start Renewable Gas production to ramp up so that in 15 to 20 years time it can be a major substitution option. Swapping coal burning for gas burning will give us some space and time in our Carbon Budgets to develop the Renewable Gas to eventually displace Natural Gas (from all sources).

    The thing that needs to happen is that the major oil and gas companies need to show their hand on their plans for developing Renewable Gas. I’m pretty sure they have them, or if not, they need to start writing them now, because industrial scale start-ups in Renewable Gas are going to pump them out of business otherwise – shale or no shale.


    From: John

    My figs based on an EU project Green Gas Grids.

    Power to Gas is just gas industry green PR, it’s not credible.

    Reason is first one of efficiency or lack of it.

    Next is a killer – no reliable CO2 source…..P2G works to make H2 when it’s windy, but when windy no ccgt so no CO2.

    Costs are horrendous to match co2 with H2 from wind, complete non starter for the next 100 years!

    Shale gas is long term low carbon option.


    From: Jo

    Hi John,

    Other people have other figures. I would suggest it’s probably best not to accept just one report.

    It’s interesting that you claim that “Power to Gas” is gas industry public relations greenwash. From my viewpoint the agenda is being driven by organisations like the German Government, and non-majors such as ITM Power. As for the technology research and development, that is mostly academia, with or without energy sector investment.

    It may not be credible to you, but a lot of people are doing R&D into it. Unless you want to claim that they are just intelligent people being kept busy so they don’t get Bolshy, why would they be spending time on Renewable Gas if they didn’t think there was progress to be made in it ?

    Yes, it’s true that efficiency questions are important and limiting, but increasing the efficiency of various processing steps is exactly what most of the research is about. This is what will bring the costs down. Remember when people claimed that solar photovoltaics and wind power could never be cheap enough to be widely deployed ?

    There are many ways to source carbon dioxide reliably, such as through Carbon Recycling, which would lower original feedstock input requirements.

    If you just look at energy, then shale gas might make some sense, but it’s not just about energy. Shale gas development has implications on geological stability, geographical development, local risks of emissions to air, water and soil, and continued infrastructure maintenance costs dragging on for decades.

    Shale gas growth might well be short-term, with field depletion offsetting new drilling in a short timeframe. Who can guarantee more than a few sweet spots in any one field ?

    Why does National Grid only model around 10% of future production from shale gas, and no more ? Why does it model biogas on a par with shale gas ? They’re not particularly confident in either, it would seem.

    To my mind, shale gas is a theatrical diversion from the real business of substituting fossil gas with Renewable Gas and energy-use efficiency. There are more unfounded claims about shale gas than there were about nuclear power, sadly.


    From: John

    We all follow the subsidies.

    Offshore wind, solar, ITM h2 projects, biomethane, all receive huge subsidies….none are remotely economic….

    One partial well apart we have had no drilling and fracking in UK shale and so we don’t know how much shale gas we don’t know how much gas we will have.

    If it’s like Marcellus then by 2025 all the LNG importation terminals in UK will be mothballed and CO2 will be down 20% for gas, how fantastic!

    Instead if paying £50 billion a year for all and gas with zero tax, we may have £30 billion tax! Can fund more biomethane etc.

    Shale gas is our only hope.

    Germany withdrawing renewable subsidies now because costs too high….this already happening in UK with Ed Milliband opposition to higher energy bills.

    Shale gas and shale gas tax is out only hope.


    From: Jo

    Hi John,

    “If it’s like Marcellus”. That’s a very big if. Drilling for shale gas in the UK cannot be like the Marcellus, for several reasons – for example :-

    a. Population density – political tendency

    There are large numbers of people who don’t want to see fracking in their heavily populated areas in the UK. A significant proportion of these I would class as having reactionary tendencies :-

    b. Geology – this is an apples and oranges situation, surely ?

    No two shale layers are the same – the stuff in the UK is just not the same kind of stuff as in the USA – for example, complare Bowland Shale to Marcellus Shale :-

    “One partial well apart we have had no drilling and fracking in UK shale and so we don’t know how much shale gas we don’t know how much gas we will have” : there are doubts climbing all over your uncertainty mountains, and yet you still say “shale gas is our only hope”. How can you justify saying this ?

    What kind of impossible economics do you believe in that could convince you that the growth in shale gas production would compensate for the depletion in North Sea production ?

    All new deployments of new (and old) technology require support. Then after a while, the support can “degress”, as it is doing in Germany and the UK as the renewables begin to be able to stand alone. It would be a pretty poor business model to totally depend on subsidies for continued operation. Imagine if the tax and financial breaks for the oil and gas industry were removed…

    On the subject of a shale gas tax – do you seriously believe that any kind of revenue generated on the back of a subsidised energy industry would be hypothecated to the green energy sector ? There’s all that military budget to support, still. Can anybody tell me if any of the “green levy” money is ever put into renewables or energy efficiency ?

    The LNG terminals may well close – due to the beefed up gas pipeline network across Europe and the “harmonised” gas market.


    From: John

    Let’s pick up this conversation in 2020!

  • Gas Policy : Conceptual Piracy ?

    Posted on March 17th, 2014 Jo No comments

    So, I’m talking with an oil and gas man. I can’t quite say who, or when or where, or indeed, which company he is working for. But he’s definitely a man, and working in the fossil fuel industry. So, I say, I suspect that within the major oil and gas companies there must be a plan about what to do after the shale gas and shale oil public relations bubble has run its course. When it becomes clear that they can never add much to global production, the decision will be about whether to run with sour conventional fossil fuel resources in provinces already well-explored, or go for sweet unconventionals in inaccessible, and formerly neglected, places. Iran could suddenly become our very best of friends, for example, or we could scramble for Africa. The option for sour conventional fossil fuels, he says, it depends on where it is. I assent.

    There’s always mining for methane hydrates, he volunteers. In the Arctic. They’re already doing it in Japan, I agree, but it would be complicated, I counter, to go for deep drilling in areas with significant pack ice for many months of the year. Plus, global warming is strong in the Arctic, and conditions could change rapidly in ten years, and risk the infrastructure. It’s not a very good place to want to be drilling – the challenges of cold and ice, or meltwaters from ice in summer, and climate-changed shorelines. But there’s the permafrost, he said, implying that all the plant they will build will be stable. In my mind I’m asking myself – does he know the permafrost is melting ? There is a shallow ocean, I admit, with a lot of continental shelf at the right depth for stable clathrate formation. One could even pump carbon dioxide into the methane hydrates to release the methane by replacing it with carbon dioxide in the crystalline structure. Or so I’ve heard. Although it might be quite hard to collect the methane coming out. Mining methane hydrates would technically be possible, but it really depends on where it is. There are quite a number of territorial claims in the Arctic area. What is Russia claiming about the Arctic Ocean coast ?

    Wouldn’t it just be easier and safer to mine sour conventionals ? Whichever route the oil and gas industry takes now, they will need to build a lot of new kit. If they choose remote sweet gas, they will need to build remote mining plant, pipelines and ship terminals. If they choose sour gas, they can then choose to methanate the Natural Carbon Dioxide that comes out of the wells as part of the Natural Gas. This would uprate the gas and so increase its value, and it wouldn’t be necessary to Capture the carbon dioxide for burial or reinjection. If the gas industry chooses to produce Renewable Hydrogen to enable methanation of acid fossil gas, they can then also be ready for the switch to a fully Renewable Gas without a second phase of building loads of new kit – and that would surely be a bonus ?

    I said that I didn’t really believe in the narrative that significant volumes of methane could be mined cleanly or reliably from underwater hydrates. And that’s where our conversation came to an end.

    I don’t believe that scrambling for the methane locked in undersea “fire ice” is an appropriately-scaled or workable plan. I wonder what the real plan is…and if the oil and gas industry haven’t got one, I wonder if the rest of us should help them ?

    None of the pictures of alternative fuels painted by the oil and gas industry in the last decade have turned out to be meaningful. Let’s talk historical evidence. In oil, the “advanced biofuels” meme is pretty much exhausted, and production plateauing. Is anybody still promising large production volumes of algae biodiesel ? Can second-generation ethanol rise to the challenge of displacing big number percentages of petrodiesel ? Natural Gas Liquids and condensate from Natural Gas processing in the USA could well all be destined to be additives for thinning the bitumen from the oil sands in Canada – but will production ever be high ? Shale and tight oil production is growing overall in the United States of America, but there are disagreements about how significant it can become (and remain, given the likely depletion rates). In gas, the shale bubble could almost be at bursting point. Can we trust future projections ? I suppose it depends on who they come from.

  • Peak Oil : Kitchen Burlesque

    Posted on March 17th, 2014 Jo No comments

    An engineering buddy and I find ourselves in my kitchen, reading out loud from Jeremy Leggett’s 2013 book “The Energy of Nations : Risk Blindness and the Road to Renaissance”. The main topic of the work, I feel, is the failure of the energy sector and the political elites to develop a realistic plan for the future, and their blinkered adherence to clever arguments taken from failing and cracked narratives – such as the belief that unconventional fossil fuels, such as tar sands, can make up for declining conventional oil and gas production. It’s also about compromise of the highest order in the most influential ranks. The vignettes recalling conversations with the high and mighty are pure comedy.

    “It’s very dramatic…”

    “You can imagine it being taken to the West End theatres…”

    “We should ask Ben Elton to take a look – adapt it for the stage…”

    “It should really have costumes. Period costumes…Racy costumes…”

    “Vaudeville ?”

    “No…burlesque ! Imagine the ex-CEO of BP, John Browne, in a frou-frou tutu, slipping a lacy silk strap from his shoulder…What a Lord !”

    “Do you think Jeremy Leggett would look good in a bodice ?”

  • On Having to Start Somewhere

    Posted on March 15th, 2014 Jo No comments

    In the last few weeks I have heard a lot of noble but futile hopes on the subject of carbon dioxide emissions control.

    People always seem to want to project too far into the future and lay out their wonder solution – something that is just too advanced enough to be attainable through any of the means we currently have at our disposal. It is impossible to imagine how the gulf can be bridged between the configuration of things today and their chosen future solutions.

    Naive civil servants strongly believe in a massive programme of new nuclear power. Head-in-the-clouds climate change consultants and engineers who should know otherwise believe in widespread Carbon Capture and Storage or CCS. MBA students believe in carbon pricing, with carbon trading, or a flat carbon tax. Social engineers believe in significant reductions in energy intensity and energy consumer behaviour change, and economists believe in huge cost reductions for all forms of renewable electricity generation.

    To make any progress at all, we need to start where we are. Our economic system has strong emissions-dependent components that can easily be projected to fight off contenders. The thing is, you can’t take a whole layer of bricks out of a Jenga stack without severe degradation of its stability. You need to work with the stack as it is, with all the balances and stresses that already exist. It is too hard to attempt to change everything at once, and the glowing ethereal light of the future is just too ghostly to snatch a hold of without a firm grasp on an appropriate practical rather than spiritual guide.

    Here’s part of an email exchange in which I strive for pragmatism in the face of what I perceive as a lack of realism.

    To: Jo

    I read your article with interest. You have focused on energy, whereas I
    tend to focus on total resource. CCS does make sense and should be pushed
    forward with real drive as existing power stations can be cleaned up with it
    and enjoy a much longer life. Establishing CCS is cheaper than building new
    nuclear and uses far less resources. Furthermore, CCS should be used on new
    gas and biomass plants in the future.

    What we are lacking at the moment is any politician with vision in this
    space. Through a combination of boiler upgrades, insulation, appliance
    upgrades and behaviour change, it is straight forward to halve domestic
    energy use. Businesses are starting to make real headway with energy
    savings. We can therefore maintain a current total energy demand for the
    foreseeable future.

    To service this demand, we should continue to eke out every last effective
    joule from the current generating stock by adding cleansing kit to the dirty
    performers. While this is being done, we can continue to develop renewable
    energy and localised systems which can help to reduce the base load
    requirement even further.

    From an operational perspective, CCS has stagnated over the last 8 years, so
    a test plant needs to be put in place as soon as possible.

    The biggest issue for me is that, through political meddling and the
    unintended consequences of ill-thought out subsidies, the market has been
    skewed in such a way that the probability of a black-out next year is very
    high indeed.

    Green gas is invisible in many people’s thinking, but the latest House of
    Lords Report highlighted its potential.

    Vested interests are winning hands down in the stand-off with the big

    From: Jo

    What is the title of the House of Lords report to which you refer ?

    Sadly, I am old enough to remember Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)
    the first time the notion went around the block, so I’d say that
    progress has been thin for 30 years rather than 8.

    Original proposals for CCS included sequestration at the bottom of the
    ocean, which have only recently been ruled out as the study of global
    ocean circulation has discovered more complex looping of deep and
    shallower waters that originally modelled – the carbon dioxide would
    come back up to the surface waters eventually…

    The only way, I believe, that CCS can be made to work is by creating a
    value stream from the actual carbon dioxide, and I don’t mean Enhanced
    Oil Recovery (EOR).

    And I also definitely do not mean carbon dioxide emissions pricing,
    taxation or credit trading. The forces against an
    investment-influencing carbon price are strong, if you analyse the
    games going on in the various economic system components. I do not
    believe that a strong carbon price can be asserted when major economic
    components are locked into carbon – such as the major energy producers
    and suppliers, and some parts of industry, and transport.

    Also, carbon pricing is designed to be cost-efficient, as markets will
    always find the lowest marginal pricing for any externality in fines
    or charges – which is essentially what carbon dioxide emissions are.
    The EU Emissions Trading Scheme was bound to deliver a low carbon
    price – that’s exactly what the economists predicted in modelling
    carbon pricing.

    I cannot see that a carbon price could be imposed that was more than
    5% of the base commodity trade price. At those levels, the carbon
    price is just an irritation to pass on to end consumers.

    The main problem is that charging for emissions does not alter
    investment decisions. Just like fines for pollution do not change the
    risks for future pollution. I think that we should stop believing in
    negative charging and start backing positive investment in the energy

    You write “You have focused on energy, whereas I tend to focus on
    total resource.” I assume you mean the infrastructure and trading
    systems. My understanding leads me to expect that in the current
    continuing economic stress, solutions to the energy crisis will indeed
    need to re-use existing plant and infrastructure, which is why I
    think that Renewable Gas is a viable option for decarbonising total
    energy supply – it slots right in to substitute for Natural Gas.

    My way to “eke out every last effective joule from the current
    generating stock” is to clean up the fuel, rather than battle
    thermodynamics and capture the carbon dioxide that comes out the back
    end. Although I also recommend carbon recycling to reduce the need for
    input feedstock.

    I completely agree that energy efficiency – cutting energy demand
    through insulation and so on – is essential. But there needs to be a
    fundamental change in the way that profits are made in the energy
    sector before this will happen in a significant way. Currently it
    remains in the best interests of energy production and supply
    companies to produce and supply as much energy as they can, as they
    have a duty to their shareholders to return a profit through high
    sales of their primary products.

    “Vested interests” have every right under legally-binding trade
    agreements to maximise their profits through the highest possible
    sales in a market that is virtually a monopoly. I don’t think this can
    be challenged, not even by climate change science. I think the way
    forward is to change the commodities upon which the energy sector
    thrives. If products from the energy sector include insulation and
    other kinds of efficiency, and if the energy sector companies can
    continue to make sales of these products, then they can reasonably be
    expected to sell less energy. I’m suggesting that energy reduction
    services need to have a lease component.

    Although Alistair Buchanan formerly of Ofgem is right about the
    electricity generation margins slipping really low in the next few
    winters, there are STOR contracts that National Grid have been working
    on, which should keep the lights on, unless Russia turn off the gas
    taps, which is something nobody can do anything much about – not BP,
    nor our diplomatic corps, the GECF (the gas OPEC), nor the WTO.

  • Failing Narratives : Carbon Culprits

    Posted on March 14th, 2014 Jo No comments

    In the last few weeks I have attended a number of well-intentioned meetings on advances in the field of carbon dioxide emissions mitigation. My overall impression is that there are several failing narratives to be encountered if you make even the shallowest foray into the murky mix of politics and energy engineering.

    As somebody rightly pointed out, no capitalist worth their share price is going to spend real money in the current economic environment on new kit, even if they have asset class status – so all advances will necessarily be driven by public subsidies – in fact, significant technological advance has only ever been accomplished by state support.

    Disturbingly, free money is also being demanded to roll out decades-old low carbon energy technology – nuclear power, wind power, green gas, solar photovoltaics – so it seems to me the only way we will ever get appropriate levels of renewable energy deployment is by directed, positive public investment.

    More to the point, we are now in an era where nobody at all is prepared to spend any serious money without a lucrative slap on the back, and reasons beyond reasons are being deployed to justify this position. For example, the gas-fired power plant operators make claims that the increase in wind power is threatening their profitability, so they are refusing to built new electricity generation capacity without generous handouts. This will be the Capacity Mechanism, and will keep gas power plants from being mothballed. Yes, there is data to support their complaint, but it does still seem like whinging and special pleading.

    And the UK Government’s drooling and desperate fixation with new nuclear power has thrown the European Commission into a tizzy about the fizzy promises of “strike price” guaranteed sales returns for the future atomic electricity generation.

    But here, I want to contrast two other energy-polity dialogues – one for developing an invaluable energy resource, and the other about throwing money down a hole.

    First, let’s take the white elephant. Royal Dutch Shell has for many years been lobbying for state financial support to pump carbon dioxide down holes in the ground. Various oil and gas industry engineers have been selling this idea to governments, federal and sub-federal for decades, and even acted as consultants to the Civil Society process on emissions control – you just need to read the United Nations’ IPCC Climate Change Assessment Report and Special Report output to detect the filigree of a trace of geoengineering fingers scratching their meaning into global intention. Let us take your nasty, noxious carbon dioxide, they whisper suggestively, and push it down a hole, out of sight and out of accounting mind, but don’t forget to slip us a huge cheque for doing so. You know, they add, we could even do it cost-effectively, by producing more oil and gas from emptying wells, resulting from pumping the carbon dioxide into them. Enhanced Oil Recovery – or EOR – would of course mean that some of the carbon dioxide pumped underground would in effect come out again in the form of the flue gas from the combustion of new fossil fuels, but anyway…

    And governments love being seen to be doing something, anything, really, about climate change, as long as it’s not too complicated, and involves big players who should be trustworthy. So, you get the Peterhead project picking up a fat cheque for a trial of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) in Scotland, and the sidestep hint that if Scotland decides to become independent, this project money could be lost…But this project doesn’t involve much of anything that is really new. The power station that will be used is a liability that ought to be closing now, really, according to some. And the trial will only last for ten years. There will be no EOR – at least – not in the public statements, but this plan could lead the way.

    All of this is like pushing a fat kid up a shiny slide. Once Government take their greasy Treasury hands off the project, the whole narrative will fail, falling to an ignominious muddy end. This perhaps explains the underlying desperation of many – CCS is the only major engineering response to emissions that many people can think of – because they cannot imagine burning less fossil fuels. So this wobbling effigy has to be kept on the top of the pedestal. And so I have enjoyed two identical Shell presentations on the theme of the Peterhead project in as many weeks. CCS must be obeyed.

    But, all the same, it’s big money. And glaring yellow and red photo opps. You can’t miss it. And then, at the other end of the scale of subsidies, is biogas. With currently low production volumes, and complexities attached to its utilisation, anaerobically digesting wastes of all kinds and capturing the gas for use as a fuel, is a kind of token technology to many, only justified because methane is a much stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, so it needs to be burned.

    The subsidy arrangements for many renewable energy technologies are in flux. Subsidies for green gas will be reconsidered and reformulated in April, and will probably experience a degression – a hand taken off the tiller of driving energy change.

    At an evening biogas briefing given by Rushlight this week, I could almost smell a whiff of despair and disappointment in the levels of official support for green gas. It was freely admitted that not all the planned projects around the country will see completion, not only because of the prevailing economic climate, but because of the vagaries of feedstock availability, and the complexity of gas cleaning regulations.

    There was light in the tunnel, though, even if the end had not been reached – a new Quality Protocol for upgrading biogas to biomethane, for injection into the gas grid, has been established. You won’t find it on the official UK Goverment website, apparently, as it has fallen through the cracks of the rebranding to, but here it is, and it’s from the Environment Agency, so it’s official :-

    Here’s some background :-

    To get some picture of the mess that British green energy policy is in, all you need do is take a glance at Germany and Denmark, where green gas is considered the “third leg of the stool”, stabilising renewable energy supply with easily-stored low carbon gas, to balance out the peaks and troughs in wind power and solar power provision.

    Green gas should not be considered a nice-to-have minor addition to the solutions portfolio in my view. The potential to de-carbonise the energy gas supply is huge, and the UK are missing a trick here – the big money is being ladled onto the “incumbents” – the big energy companies who want to carry on burning fossil fuels but sweep their emissions under the North Sea salt cavern carpet with CCS, whilst the beer change is being reluctantly handed out as a guilt offering to people seeking genuinely low carbon energy production.

    Seriously – where the exoplanet are we at ?

  • The General Lightness of Carbon Pricing

    Posted on February 27th, 2014 Jo 1 comment

    I was at a very interesting meeting this morning, entitled “Next Steps for Carbon Capture and Storage in the UK”, hosted by the Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport Forum :-

    During the proceedings, there were liberal doses of hints at that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is about to freeze the Carbon Price Floor – the central functioning carbon pricing policy in the UK (since the EU Emissions Trading Scheme “isn’t working”).

    All of the more expensive low carbon energy technologies rely on a progressively heavier price for carbon emissions to make their solutions more attractive.

    Where does this leave the prospects for Carbon Capture and Storage in the 2030s ? Initial technology-launching subsidies will have been dropped, and the Contracts for Difference will have been ground down into obscurity. So how will CCS keep afloat ? It’s always going to remain more expensive than other technology options to prevent atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions, so it needs some prop.

    What CCS needs is some Added Value. It will come partly from EOR – Enhanced Oil Recovery, as pumping carbon dioxide down depleting oil and gas fields will help stimulate a few percent of extra production.

    But what will really make the difference is using carbon dioxide to make new fuel. That’s the wonder of Renewable Gas – it will be able to provide a valued product for capturing carbon dioxide.

    This wasn’t talked about this morning. The paradigm is still “filter out the CO2 and flush it down a hole”. But it won’t stay that way forever. Sooner or later, somebody’s going to start mining carbon dioxide from CCS projects to make new chemicals and gas fuels. Then, who cares if there’s negative charging for emissions ? Or at what price ? The return on investment in carbon capture will simply bypass assumptions about needing to create a carbon market or set a carbon tax.

  • Gain in Transmission #2

    Posted on February 24th, 2014 Jo No comments

    Here is further email exchange with Professor Richard Sears, following on from a previous web log post.

    From: Richard A. Sears
    Date: 24 February 2014
    To: Jo Abbess
    Subject: Question from your TED talk


    I was looking back over older emails and saw that I had never responded to your note. It arrived as I was headed to MIT to teach for a week and then it got lost. Sorry about that.

    Some interesting questions. I don’t know anybody working specifically on wind power to gas options. At one time Shell had a project in Iceland using geothermal to make hydrogen. Don’t know what its status is but if you search on hydrogen and Iceland on the Shell website I’m sure there’s something. If the Germans have power to gas as a real policy option I’d poke around the web for information on who their research partners are for this.

    Here are a couple of high level thoughts. Not to discourage you because real progress comes from asking new questions, but there are some physical fundamentals that are important.

    Direct air capture of anything using current technology is prohibitively expensive to do at scale for energy. More energy will be expended in capture and synthesis than the fuels would yield.

    Gaseous fuels are problematic on their own. Gas doesn’t travel well and is difficult to contain at high energy densities as that means compressing or liquefying it. That doesn’t make anything impossible, but it raises many questions about infrastructure and energy balance. If we take the energy content of a barrel of oil as 1.0, then a barrel of liquefied natural gas is about 0.6, compressed natural gas which is typically at about 3600psi is around 0.3, and a barrel (as a measure of volume equal to 42 US gallons) of natural gas at room temperature and pressure is about 0.0015 (+/-). Also there’s a real challenge in storing and transporting gasses as fuel at scale, particularly motor fuel to replace gasoline and diesel.

    While there is some spare wind power potential that doesn’t get utilized because of how the grid must be managed, I expect it is a modest amount of energy compared to what we use today in liquid fuels. I think what that means is that while possible, it’s more likely to happen in niche local markets and applications rather than at national or global scales.

    If you haven’t seen it, a nice reference on the potential of various forms of sustainable energy is available free and online here.

    Hope some of this helps.


    Richard A. Sears
    Consulting Professor
    Department of Energy Resources Engineering
    Stanford University

    From: Jo Abbess
    Date: 24 February 2014
    To: Richard A. Sears

    Dear Richard,

    Many thanks for getting back to me. Responses are nice – even if they
    are months late. As they say – better late than never, although with
    climate change, late action will definitely be unwise, according to an
    increasing number of people.

    I have indeed seen the website, and bought and spilled coffee on the
    book of Professor David MacKay’s “Sustainable Energy Without The Hot
    Air” project. It is legendary. However, I have checked and he has only
    covered alternative gas in a couple of paragraphs – in notes. By
    contrast, he spent a long chapter discussing how to filter uranium out
    of seawater and other nuclear pursuits.

    Yet as a colleague of mine, who knows David better than I do, said to
    me this morning, his fascination with nuclear power is rather naive,
    and his belief in the success of Generation III and Generation IV
    lacks evidence. Plus, if we get several large carbon dioxide
    sequestration projects working in the UK – Carbon Capture and Storage
    (CCS) – such as the Drax pipeline (which other companies will also
    join) and the Shell Peterhead demonstration, announced today, then we
    won’t need new nuclear power to meet our 4th Carbon Budget – and maybe
    not even the 5th, either (to be negotiated in 2016, I hear) :-

    We don’t need to bury this carbon, however; we just need to recycle
    it. And the number of ways to make Renewable Hydrogen, and
    energy-efficiently methanate carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide with
    hydrogen, is increasing. People are already making calculations on how
    much “curtailed” or spare wind power is likely to be available for
    making gas in 10 years’ time, and if solar power in the UK is
    cranked/ramped up, then there will be lots of juicy cost-free power
    ours for the taking – especially during summer nights.

    Direct Air Capture of carbon dioxide is a nonsensical proposition.
    Besides being wrong in terms of the arrow of entropy, it also has the
    knock-on effect of causing carbon dioxide to come back out of the
    ocean to re-equilibrate. I recently read a paper by climate scientists
    that estimated that whatever carbon dioxide you take out of the air,
    you will need to do almost all of it again.

    Instead of uranium, we should be harvesting carbon dioxide from the
    oceans, and using it to make gaseous and liquid fuels.

    Gaseous fuels and electricity complement each other very well -
    particularly in storage and grid balancing terms – there are many
    provisions for the twins of gas and power in standards, laws, policies
    and elsewhere. Regardless of the limitations of gas, there is a huge
    infrastructure already in place that can store, pipe and use it, plus
    it is multi-functional – you can make power, heat, other fuels and
    chemicals from gas. In addition, you can make gas from a range of
    resources and feedstocks and processing streams – the key quartet of
    chemical gas species keep turning up : hydrogen, methane, carbon
    monoxide and carbon dioxide – whether you are looking at the exhaust
    from combustion, Natural Gas, industrial furnace producer gas,
    biological decomposition, just about everywhere – the same four gases.

    Energy transition must include large amounts of renewable electricity
    - because wind and solar power are quick to build yet long nuclear
    power lead times might get extended in poor economic conditions. The
    sun does not always shine and the wind does not always blow (and the
    tide is not always in high flux). Since demand profiles will never be
    able to match supply profiles exactly, there will always be spare
    power capacity that grids cannot use. So Power to Gas becomes the
    optimal solution. At least until there are ways to produce Renewable
    Hydrogen at plants that use process heat from other parts of the
    Renewable Gas toolkit. So the aims are to recycle carbon dioxide from
    gas combustion to make more gas, and recycle gas production process
    heat to make hydrogen to use in the gas production process, and make
    the whole lot as thermally balanced as possible. Yes. We can do that.
    Lower the inputs of fresh carbon of any form, and lower the energy
    requirements to make manufactured gas.

    I met somebody working with Jacobs who was involved in the Carbon
    Recycling project in Iceland. Intriguing, but an order of magnitude
    smaller than I think is possible.

    ITM Power in the UK are doing a Hydrogen-to-gas-grid and methanation
    project in Germany with one of the regions. They have done several
    projects with Kiwa and Shell on gas options in Europe. I know of the
    existence of feasibility reports on the production of synthetic
    methane, but I have not had the opportunity to read them yet…

    I feel quite encouraged that Renewable Gas is already happening. It’s
    a bit patchy, but it’s inevitable, because the narrative of
    unconventional fossil fuels has many flaws. I have been looking at
    issues with reserves growth and unconventionals are not really
    commensurate with conventional resources. There may be a lot of shale
    gas in the ground, but getting it out could be a long process, so
    production volumes might never be very good. In the USA you’ve had
    lots of shale gas – but that’s only been supported by massive drilling
    programmes – is this sustainable ?

    BP have just finished building lots of dollars of kit at Whiting to
    process sour Natural Gas. If they had installed Renewable Gas kit
    instead of the usual acid gas and sulfur processing, they could have
    been preparing for the future. As I understand it, it is possible to
    methanate carbon dioxide without first removing it from the rest of
    the gas it comes in – so methanating sour gas to uprate it is a viable
    option as far as I can see. The hydrogen sulfide would still need to
    be washed out, but the carbon dioxide needn’t be wasted – it can be
    made part of the fuel. And when the sour gas eventually thins out,
    those now methanating sour gas can instead start manufacturing gas
    from low carbon emissions feedstocks and recycled carbon.

    I’m thinking very big.



  • In Confab : Paul Elsner

    Posted on January 23rd, 2014 Jo No comments

    Dr Paul Elsner of Birkbeck College at the University of London gave up some of his valuable time for me today at his little bijou garret-style office in Bloomsbury in Central London, with an excellent, redeeming view of the British Telecom Tower. Leader of the Energy and Climate Change module on Birkbeck’s Climate Change Management programme, he offered me tea and topical information on Renewable Energy, and some advice on discipline in authorship.

    He unpacked the recent whirlwind of optimism surrounding the exploitation of Shale Gas and Shale Oil, and how Climate Change policy is perhaps taking a step back. He said that we have to accept that this is the way the world is at the moment.

    I indicated that I don’t have much confidence in the “Shale Bubble”. I consider it mostly as a public relations exercise – and that there are special conditions in the United States of America where all this propaganda comes from. I said that there are several factors that mean the progress with low carbon fuels continues to be essential, and that Renewable Gas is likely to be key.

    1. First of all, the major energy companies, the oil and gas companies, are not in a healthy financial state to make huge investment. For example, BP has just had the legal ruling that there will be no limit to the amount of compensation claims they will have to face over the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Royal Dutch Shell meanwhile has just had a serious quarterly profit warning – and if that is mostly due to constrained sales (“Peak Oil Demand”) because of economic collapse, that doesn’t help them with the kind of aggressive “discovery” they need to continue with to keep up their Reserves to Production ratio (the amount of proven resources they have on their books). These are not the only problems being faced in the industry. This problem with future anticipated capitalisation means that Big Oil and Gas cannot possibly look at major transitions into Renewable Electricity, so it would be pointless to ask, or try to construct a Carbon Market to force it to happen.

    2. Secondly, despite claims of large reserves of Shale Gas and Shale Oil, ripe for the exploitation of, even major bodies are not anticipating that Peak Oil and Peak Natural Gas will be delayed by many years by the “Shale Gale”. The reservoir characteristics of unconventional fossil fuel fields do not mature in the same way as conventional ones. This means that depletion scenarios for fossil fuels are still as relevant to consider as the decades prior to horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).

    3. Thirdly, the reservoir characteristics of conventional fossil fuel fields yet to exploit, especially in terms of chemical composition, are drifting towards increasingly “sour” conditions – with sigificant levels of hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide in them. The sulphur must be removed for a variety of reasons, but the carbon dioxide remains an issue. The answer until recently from policy people would have been Carbon Capture and Storage or CCS. Carbon dioxide should be washed from acid Natural Gas and sequestered under the ocean in salt caverns that previously held fossil hydrocarbons. It was hoped that Carbon Markets and other forms of carbon pricing would have assisted with the payment for CCS. However, recently there has been reduced confidence that this will be significant.

    Renewable Gas is an answer to all three of these issues. It can easily be pursued by the big players in the current energy provision system, with far less investment than wholesale change would demand. It can address concerns of gas resource depletion at a global scale, the onset of which could occur within 20 to 25 years. And it can be deployed to bring poor conventional fossil fuels into consideration for exploitation in the current time – answering regional gas resource depletion.

    Outside, daffodils were blooming in Tavistock Square. In January, yes. The “freaky” weather continues…

  • But Uh-Oh – Those Summer Nights

    Posted on January 20th, 2014 Jo No comments

    A normal, everyday Monday morning at Energy Geek Central. Yes, this is a normal conversation for me to take part in on a Monday morning. Energy geekery at breakfast. Perfect.

    Nuclear Flower Power

    This whole UK Government nuclear power programme plan is ridiculous ! 75 gigawatts (GW) of Generation III nuclear fission reactors ? What are they thinking ? Britain would need to rapidly ramp up its construction capabilities, and that’s not going to happen, even with the help of the Chinese. (And the Americans are not going to take too kindly to the idea of China getting strongly involved with British energy). And then, we’d need to secure almost a quarter of the world’s remaining reserves of uranium, which hasn’t actually been dug up yet. And to cap it all, we’d need to have 10 more geological disposal repositories for the resulting radioactive spent fuel, and we haven’t even managed to negotiate one yet. That is, unless we can burn a good part of that spent fuel in Generation IV nuclear fission reactors – which haven’t even been properly demonstrated yet ! Talk about unconscionable risk !

    Baseload Should Be History By Now, But…

    Whatever the technological capability for nuclear power plants to “load follow” and reduce their output in response to a chance in electricity demand, Generation III reactors would not be run as anything except “baseload” – constantly on, and constantly producing a constant amount of power – although they might turn them off in summer for maintenance. You see, the cost of a Generation III reactor and generation kit is in the initial build – so their investors are not going to permit them to run them at low load factors – even if they could.

    There are risks to running a nuclear power plant at partial load – mostly to do with potential damage to the actual electricity generation equipment. But what are the technology risks that Hinkley Point C gets built, and all that capital is committed, and then it only runs for a couple of years until all that high burn up fuel crumbles and the reactors start leaking plutonium and they have to shut it down permanently ? Who can guarantee it’s a sound bet ?

    If they actually work, running Generation III reactors at constant output as “baseload” will also completely mess with the power market. In all of the scenarios, high nuclear, high non-nuclear, or high fossil fuels with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), there will always need to be some renewables in the mix. In all probability this will be rapidly deployed, highly technologically advanced solar power photovoltaics (PV). The amount of solar power that will be generated will be high in summer, but since you have a significant change in energy demand between summer and winter, you’re going to have a massive excess of electricity generation in summer if you add nuclear baseload to solar. Relative to the demand for energy, you’re going to get more Renewable Energy excess in summer and under-supply in winter (even though you get more offshore wind in winter), so it’s critical how you mix those two into your scenario.

    The UK Government’s maximum 75 GW nuclear scenario comprises 55 GW Generation III and 20 GW Generation IV. They could have said 40 GW Gen III to feed Gen IV – the spent fuel from Gen III is needed to kick off Gen IV. Although, if LFTR took off, if they had enough fluoride materials there could be a Thorium way into Gen IV… but this is all so technical, no MP [ Member of Parliament ] is going to get their head round this before 2050.

    The UK Government are saying that 16 GW of nuclear by 2030 should be seen as a first tranche, and that it could double or triple by 2040 – that’s one heck of a deployment rate ! If they think they can get 16 GW by 2030 – then triple that by 10 years later ? It’s not going to happen. And even 30 GW would be horrific. But it’s probably more plausible – if they can get 16 GW by 2030, they can arguably get double that by 2040.

    As a rule of thumb, you would need around 10 tonnes of fissionable fuel to kickstart a Gen IV reactor. They’ve got 106 tonnes of Plutonium, plus 3 or 4 tonnes they recently acquired – from France or Germany (I forget which). So they could start 11 GW of Gen IV – possibly the PRISM – the Hitachi thing – sodium-cooled. They’ve been trying them since the Year Dot – these Fast Reactors – the Breeders – Dounreay. People are expressing more confidence in them now – “Pandora’s Promise” hangs around the narrative that the Clinton administration stopped research into Fast Reactors – Oak Ridge couldn’t be commercial. Throwing sodium around a core 80 times hotter than current core heats – you can’t throw water at it easily. You need something that can carry more heat out. It’s a high technological risk. But then get some French notable nuclear person saying Gen IV technologies – “they’re on the way and they can be done”.

    Radioactive Waste Disposal Woes

    The point being is – if you’re commissioning 30 GW of Gen III in the belief that Gen IV will be developed – then you are setting yourself up to be a hostage to technological fortune. That is a real ethical consideration. Because if you can’t burn the waste fuel from Gen III, you’re left with up to 10 radioactive waste repositories required when you can’t even get one at the moment. The default position is that radioactive spent nuclear fuel will be left at the power stations where they’re created. Typically, nuclear power plants are built on the coast as they need a lot of cooling water. If you are going for 30 GW you will need a load of new sites – possibly somewhere round the South East of England. This is where climate change comes in – rising sea levels, increased storm surge, dissolving, sinking, washed-away beaches, more extreme storms [...] The default spent fuel scenario with numerous coastal decommissioned sites with radioactive interim stores which contain nearly half the current legacy radioactive waste [...]

    Based on the figures from the new Greenpeace report, I calculate that the added radioactive waste and radioactive spent fuel arisings from a programme of 16 GW of nuclear new build would be 244 million Terabequerel (TBq), compared to the legacy level of 87 million TBq.

    The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) are due to publish their Radioactive Waste Inventory and their Report on Radioactive Materials not in the Waste Inventory at the end of January 2014. We need to keep a watch out for that, because they may have adapted their anticipated Minimum and Maxmium Derived Inventory.

    Politics Is Living In The Past

    What you hear from politicians is they’re still talking about “baseload”, as if they’ve just found the Holy Grail of Energy Policy. And failed nuclear power. Then tidal. And barrages. This is all in the past. Stuff they’ve either read – in an article in a magazine at the dentist’s surgery waiting room, and they think, alright I’ll use that in a TV programme I’ve been invited to speak on, like Question Time. I think that perhaps, to change the direction of the argument, we might need to rubbish their contribution. A technological society needs to be talking about gasification, catalysis. If you regard yourselves as educated, and have a technological society – your way of living in the future is not only in manufacturing but also ideas – you need to be talking about this not that : low carbon gas fuels, not nuclear power. Ministers and senior civil servants probably suffer from poor briefing – or no briefing. They are relying on what is literally hearsay – informal discussions, or journalists effectively representing industrial interests. Newspapers are full of rubbish and it circulates, like gyres in the oceans. Just circulates around and around – full of rubbish.

    I think part of the problem is that the politicians and chief civil servants and ministers are briefed by the “Old Guard” – very often the ex-nuclear power industry guard. They still believe in big construction projects, with long lead times and massive capital investment, whereas Renewable Electricity is racing ahead, piecemeal, and private investors are desperate to get their money into wind power and solar power because the returns are almost immediate and risk-free.

    Together in Electric Dreams

    Question : Why are the UK Government ploughing on with plans for so much nuclear power ?

    1. They believe that a lot of transport and heat can be made to go electric.
    2. They think they can use spent nuclear fuel in new reactors.
    3. They think it will be cheaper than everything else.
    4. They say it’s vital for UK Energy Security – for emissions reductions, for cost, and for baseload. The big three – always the stated aim of energy policy, and they think nuclear ticks all those three boxes. But it doesn’t.

    What they’ll say is, yes, you have to import uranium, but you’ve got a 4 year stock. Any war you’re going to get yourselves involved in you can probably resolve in 4 days, or 4 weeks. If you go for a very high nuclear scenario, you would be taking quite a big share of the global resource of uranium. There’s 2,600 TWh of nuclear being produced globally. And global final energy demand is around 100,000 TWh – so nuclear power currently produces around 2.6% of global energy supply. At current rates of nuclear generation, according to the World Nuclear Association, you’ve got around 80 years of proven reserves and probably a bit more. Let’s say you double nuclear output by 2050 or 2040 – but in the same time you might just have enough uranium – and then find a bit more. But global energy demand rises significantly as well – so nuclear will still only provide around 3% of global energy demand. That’s not a climate solution – it’s just an energy distraction. All this guff about fusion. Well.

    Cornering The Market In Undug Uranium

    A 75 GW programme would produce at baseload 590 TWh a year – divide by 2,600 – is about 23% of proven global uranium reserves. You’re having to import, regardless of what other countries are doing, you’re trying to corner the market – roughly a quarter. Not even a quarter of the market – a quarter of all known reserves – it’s not all been produced yet. It’s still in the ground. So could you be sure that you could actually run these power stations if you build them ? Without global domination of the New British Empire [...]. The security issues alone – defending coastal targets from a tweeb with a desire to blow them up. 50 years down the line they’re full of radioactive spent fuel that won’t have a repository to go to – we don’t want one here – and how much is it going to cost ?

    My view is that offshore wind will be a major contributor in a high or 100% Renewable Electricity scenario by 2050 or 2060. Maybe 180 GW, that will also be around 600 TWh a year – comparable to that maximum nuclear programme. DECC’s final energy demand 2050 – several scenarios – final energy demand from 6 scenarios came out as between roughly 1,500 TWh a year and the maximum 2,500 TWh. Broadly speaking, if you’re trying to do that just with Renewable Electricity, you begin to struggle quite honestly, unless you’re doing over 600 TWh of offshore wind, and even then you need a fair amount of heat pump stuff which I’m not sure will come through. The good news is that solar might – because of the cost and technology breakthroughs. That brings with it a problem – because you’re delivering a lot of that energy in summer. The other point – David MacKay would say – in his book his estimate was 150 TWh from solar by 2050, on the grounds that that’s where you south-facing roofs are – you need to use higher efficiency triple junction cells with more than 40% efficiency and this would be too expensive for a rollout which would double or triple that 150 TWh – that would be too costly – because those cells are too costly. But with this new stuff, you might get that. Not only the cost goes down, but the coverage goes down. Not doing solar across swathes of countryside. There have always been two issues with solar power – cost and where it’s being deployed.

    Uh-Oh, Summer Days. Uh-Oh, Summer Nights

    With the solar-wind headline, summer days and summer nights are an issue.

    With the nuclear headline, 2040 – they would have up to 50 GW, and that would need to run at somewhere between 75% and 95% capacity – to protect the investment and electric generation turbines.

    It will be interesting to provide some figures – this is how much over-capacity you’re likely to get with this amount of offshore wind. But if you have this amount of nuclear power, you’ll get this amount [...]

    Energy demand is strongly variable with season. We have to consider not just power, but heat – you need to get that energy out in winter – up to 4 times as much during peak in winter evenings. How are you going to do that ? You need gas – or you need extensive Combined Heat and Power (CHP) (which needs gas). Or you need an unimaginable deployment of domestic heat pumps. Air source heat pumps won’t work at the time you need them most. Ground source heat pumps would require the digging up of Britain – and you can’t do that in most urban settings.

    District Heat Fields

    The other way to get heat out to everyone in a low carbon world – apart from low carbon gas – is having a field-based ground source heat pump scheme – just dig up a field next to a city – and just put in pipes and boreholes in a field. You’re not disturbing anybody. You could even grow crops on it next season. Low cost and large scale – but would need a District Heating (DH) network. There are one or two heat pump schemes around the world. Not sure if they are used for cooling in summer or heat extraction in the winter. The other thing is hot water underground. Put in an extra pipe in the normal channels to domestic dwellings. Any excess heat from power generation or electrolysis or whatever is put down this loop and heats the sub-ground. Because heat travels about 1 metre a month in soil, that heat should be retained for winter. A ground source heat sink. Geothermal energy could come through – they’re doing a scheme in Manchester. If there’s a nearby heat district network – it makes it easier. Just want to tee it into the nearest DH system. The urban heat demand is 150 TWh a year. You might be able to put DH out to suburban areas as well. There are 9 million gas-connected suburban homes – another about 150 TWh there as well – or a bit more maybe. Might get to dispose of 300 TWh in heat through DH. The Green Deal insulation gains might not be what is claimed – and condensing gas boiler efficiencies are not that great – which feeds into the argument that in terms of energy efficiency, you not only want to do insulation, but also DH – or low carbon gas. Which is the most cost-effective ? Could argue reasonable energy efficiency measures are cheapest – but DH might be a better bet. That involves a lot of digging.

    Gas Is The Logical Answer

    But everything’s already laid for gas. (…but from the greatest efficiency first perspective, if you’re not doing DH, you’re not using a lot of Renewable Heat you could otherwise use [...] )

    The best package would be the use of low carbon gases and sufficient DH to use Renewable Heat where it is available – such as desalination, electrolysis or other energy plant. It depends where the electrolysis is being done.

    The Age of Your Carbon

    It also depends on which carbon atoms you’re using. If you are recycling carbon from the combustion of fossil fuels into Renewable Gas, that’s OK. But you can’t easily recapture carbon emissions from the built environment (although you could effectively do that with heat storage). You can’t do carbon capture from transport either. So your low carbon gas has to come from biogenic molecules. Your Renewable Gas has to be synthesised using biogenic carbon molecules rather than fossil ones.

    [...] I’m using the phrase “Young Carbon”. Young Carbon doesn’t have to be from plants – biological things that grow.

    Well, there’s Direct Air Capture (DAC). It’s simple. David Sevier, London-based, is working on this. He’s using heat to capture carbon dioxide. You could do it from exhaust in a chimney or a gasification process – or force a load of air through a space. He would use heat and cooling to create an updraft. It would enable the “beyond capture” problem to be circumvented. Cost is non-competitive. Can be done technically. Using reject heat from power stations for the energy to do it. People don’t realise you can use a lot of heat to capture carbon, not electricity.

    Young Carbon from Seawater

    If you’re playing around with large amounts of seawater anyway – that is, for desalination for irrigation, why not also do Renewable Hydrogen, and pluck the Carbon Dioxide out of there too to react with the Renewable Hydrogen to make Renewable Methane ? I’m talking about very large amounts of seawater. Not “Seawater Greenhouses” – condensation designs mainly for growing exotic food. If you want large amounts of desalinated water – and you’re using Concentrated Solar Power – for irrigating deserts – you would want to grow things like cacti for biological carbon.

    Say you had 40 GW of wind power on Dogger Bank, spinning at 40% load factor a year. You’ve also got electrolysers there. Any time you’re not powering the grid, you’re making gas – so capturing carbon dioxide from seawater, splitting water for hydrogen, making methane gas. Wouldn’t you want to use flash desalination first to get cleaner water for electrolysis ? Straight seawater electrolysis is also being done.

    It depends on the relative quantities of gas concentrated in the seawater. If you’ve got oxygen, hydrogen and carbon dioxide, that would be nice. You might get loads of oxygen and hydrogen, and only poor quantities of carbon dioxide ?

    But if you could get hydrogen production going from spare wind power. And even if you had to pipe the carbon dioxide from conventional thermal power plants, you’re starting to look at a sea-based solution for gas production. Using seawater, though, chlorine is the problem [...]

    Look at the relative density of molecules – that sort of calculation that will show if this is going to fly. Carbon dioxide is a very fixed, stable molecule – it’s at about the bottom of the energy potential well – you have to get that reaction energy from somewhere.

    How Much Spare Power Will There Be ?

    If you’ve got an offshore wind and solar system. At night, obviously, the solar’s not working (unless new cells are built that can run on infrared night-time Earthshine). But you could still have 100 GWh of wind power at night not used for the power grid. The anticipated new nuclear 40 GW nuclear by 2030 will produce about 140 GWh – this would just complicate problems – adding baseload nuclear to a renewables-inclusive scenario. 40 GW is arguably a reasonable deployment of wind power by 2030 – low if anything.

    You get less wind in a nuclear-inclusive scenario, but the upshot is you’ve definitely got a lot of power to deal with on a summer night with nuclear power. You do have with Renewable Electricity as well, but it varies more. Whichever route we take we’re likely to end up with excess electricity generation on summer nights.

    In a 70 GW wind power deployment (50 GW offshore, 20 GW onshore – 160 TWh a year), you might have something like 50 to 100 GWh per night of excess (might get up to 150 GWh to store on a windy night). But if you have a 16 GW nuclear deployment by 2030 (125 TWh a year), you are definitely going to have 140 GWh of excess per night (that’s 16 GW for 10 hours less a bit). Night time by the way is roughly between 9pm and 7am between peak demands.

    We could be making a lot of Renewable Gas !

    Can you build enough Renewable Gas or whatever to soak up this excess nuclear or wind power ?

    The energy mix is likely to be in reality somewhere in between these two extremes of high nuclear or high wind.

    But if you develop a lot of solar – so that it knocks out nuclear power – it will be the summer day excess that’s most significant. And that’s what Germany is experiencing now.

    Choices, choices, choices

    There is a big choice in fossil fuels which isn’t really talked about very often – whether the oil and gas industry should go for unconventional fossil fuels, or attempt to make use of the remaining conventional resources that have a lower quality. The unconventionals narrative – shale gas, coalbed methane, methane hydrates, deepwater gas, Arctic oil and gas, heavy oil, is running out of steam as it becomes clear that some of these choices are expensive, and environmentally damaging (besides their climate change impact). So the option will be making use of gas with high acid gas composition. And the technological solutions for this will be the same as needed to start major production of Renewable Gas.

    Capacity Payments

    But you still need to answer the balancing question. If you have a high nuclear power scenario, you need maybe 50 TWh a year of gas-fired power generation. If high Renewable Electricity, you will need something like 100 TWh of gas, so you need Carbon Capture and Storage – or low carbon gas.

    Even then, the gas power plants could be running only 30% of the year, and so you will need capacity payments to make sure new flexible plants get built and stay available for use.

    If you have a high nuclear scenario, coupled with gas, you can meet the carbon budget – but it will squeeze out Renewable Electricity. If high in renewables, you need Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) or Carbon Capture and Recycling into Renewable Gas, but this would rule out nuclear power. It depends which sector joins up with which.

    Carbon Capture, Carbon Budget

    Can the Drax power plant – with maybe one pipeline 24 inches in diameter, carrying away 20 megatonnes of carbon dioxide per year – can it meet the UK’s Carbon Budget target ?

  • Gain in Transmission

    Posted on January 13th, 2014 Jo No comments

    It constantly amazes and intrigues me how human individuals operate in networks to formulate, clarify and standardise ideas, tools, machines, procedures and systems. Several decades ago, Renewable Electricity from sources such as wind power was considered idealistic vapourware, esoteric, unworkable and uncertain, and now it’s a mainstream generator of reliable electricity in the UK’s National Grid. Who would have thought that invisible, odourless, tasteless gas phase chemicals would heat our homes ? It’s now just so normal, it’s impossible to imagine that Natural Gas was once considered to be so insignificant that it was vented – not even flared – from oil wells.

    Judging by the sheer number of people working on aspects of Renewable Gas, I expect this too to be mainstream in the energy sector within a decade. What do others think ? I have begun the process of asking, for example, see below.


    from: Jo Abbess
    to: Richard A. Sears
    date: Mon, May 2, 2011 at 11:59 PM
    subject: Question from your TED talk

    Dear [Professor] Sears,

    I was intrigued by your TED talk that I recently viewed :-

    Yes, I am interested in the idea of “printing” solar cells, which is what I think you might be alluding to with your reference to abalone shells.

    But I am more interested in what you base your estimate of “Peak Gas” on. I recently did some very basic modelling of hydrocarbon resources and electricity, which look somewhat different from the IEA and EIA work and reports from BP and Royal Dutch Shell. My conclusion was that Peak Oil is roughly now, Peak Natural Gas will be around 2030, and Peak Electricity around 2060 :-

    I am going to try to improve these charts before I submit my MSc Masters Thesis, so I am trying to find out what other people base their projections on. Could you help me by pointing me at the basis of your assessment of Peak Natural Gas ?

    Thank you,



    from: Richard A. Sears
    to: Jo Abbess
    date: Thu, Oct 24, 2013 at 5:30 PM


    I am just now finding a number of old emails that got archived (and ignored) when I moved from MIT to Stanford a few years ago. A quick answer is that I did about what Hubbert did in 1956. No detailed statistical modeling, just look at the trends, think about what’s happening in the industry, and make what seem like reasonable statements about it.

    A number of interesting things have happened just in the last two years since you wrote to me. Significantly, US oil production is on the rise. When you count all hydrocarbon liquids, the US is or will soon be, the world largest producer. This just goes to one of my points from TED. Don’t expect oil and gas to go away any time soon. There are plenty of molecules out there. I first said this internally at Shell in the mid 1980′s when I was Manager of Exploration Economics and since then I’ve felt that I got it about right.

    I did just look at your website and would caution you about extrapolating very recent trends into the future. The rate of growth in shale gas production has slowed, but there’s an important economic factor driving that. Gas prices in the US are very low compared to oil. With the development of fraccing technology to enable oil and liquids production from shale formations, the industry has shifted their effort to the liquids-rich plays. A few statistics. Gas is currently around $3.50/mcf. On an energy equivalent basis, this equates to an oil price of about $20/barrel. Brent currently sells for $110/barrel and the light oils produced from the shale plays in the US are getting between $90 and $100/barrel, depending on where they can be delivered. As a consequence, in the 3rd quarter of 2013, compared to one year ago, oil well completions are up 18% while natural gas well completions declined 30%.

    Yes, you are right. Printing solar cells is an example of what I was talking about with Abalone shells. Similarly, what if you had paint that as it dried would self assemble into linked solar cells and your entire house is now generating electricity. I was totally amazed at the number of people that didn’t actually think about what I was saying and called me an !d!*t for imagining that I was going to transform coal itself into some magical new molecule. [...]

    In any case, I think it’s good that you’re thinking about these problems, and importantly it appears from your website that you’re thinking about the system and its complexity.

    Best regards,
    Rich Sears

    Richard A. Sears
    Visiting Scientist
    MIT Energy Initiative
    Massachusetts Institute of Technology


    from: Jo Abbess
    to: Richard A Sears
    sent: Monday, May 02, 2011 3:59 PM

    Dear [Professor] Sears,

    Many thanks for your reply.

    I had kinda given up of ever hearing back from you, so it’s lovely to
    read your thoughts.

    May I blog them ?




    from: Richard A Sears
    date: Fri, Oct 25, 2013 at 5:03 PM
    to: Jo Abbess


    I have personally avoided blogging because I don’t want to put up with people writing mean comments about me. But the data is worth sharing. You should also know the sources of that data otherwise you open yourself to more criticism.

    The data on production comes from the International Energy Agency and a research firm PIRA. All of it was in recent press releases. The Energy Information Administration makes similar projections about future production. The data on well completions was recently released by API.

    No need to reference me. The data is out there for all to see. But if you do, fair warning. You will get stupid comments about how I used to be a VP at Shell so of course these are the things I’m going to say. [...]

    By the way, there’s something else that’s very interesting in the world of peak oil and various peaks. I have long believed, as hinted in my TED talk that the most important aspect of peak oil is the demand driven phenomena, not the supply side. It’s worth noting in this context that US oil consumption peaked in 2005 and has declined about 10% since then. This data can be found easily in the BP Statistical Report on World Energy. This is real and is a result of economic shifts, greater efficiency, and the penetration of renewables. Future energy projections (references above) show that this trend continues. A big component of US energy consumption is gasoline, and US gasoline consumption peaked in 2007. I think that data can be found at, although I haven’t looked for it lately. It’s a little factoid that I think I remember.


    Richard A. Sears
    Consulting Professor
    Department of Energy Resources Engineering
    Stanford University


    from: Jo Abbess
    to: Richard A Sears
    date: Sun, Jan 12, 2014 at 11:47 AM

    Dear Professor Sears,

    HNY 2014 !

    This year I am hoping to attempt the climb on my own personal K2 by writing an academic book on Renewable Gas – sustainable, low-to-zero carbon emissions gas phase fuels.

    I am not a chemist, nor a chemical engineer, and so I would value any suggestions on who I should approach in the gas (and oil) industry to interview about projects that lean in this direction.

    Examples would be :-

    * Power-to-Gas : Using “spare” wind power to make Renewable Hydrogen – for example by electrolysis of water. Part of the German Power-to-Gas policy. Some hydrogen can be added to gas grids safely without changing regulations, pipework or end appliances.

    * Methanation : Using Renewable Hydrogen and young or recycled carbon gas to make methane (using the energy from “spare” wind power, for example). Also part of the German Power-to-Gas policy.

    NB “Young” carbon would be either carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide, and be sourced from biomass, Direct Air Capture, or from the ocean. “Old” carbon would come from the “deeper” geological carbon cycle, such as from fossil fuel, or industrial processes such as the manufacture of chemicals from minerals and/or rocks.

    Precursors to Renewable Gas also interest me, as transitions are important – transitions from a totally fossil fuel-based gas system to a sustainable gas system. I have recently looked at some basic analysis on the chemistry of Natural Gas, and its refinery. It seems that methanation could be useful in making sour gas available as sweetened, as long as Renewable Hydrogen is developed for this purpose. It seems that there is a lot of sour gas in remaining reserves, and the kind of CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage) that would be required under emissions controls could make sour gas too expensive to use if it was just washed of acids.

    I don’t think the future of energy will be completely electrified – it will take a very long time to roll out 100% Renewable Electricity and there will always be problems transitioning out of liquid fuels to electricity in vehicular transportation.

    If you could suggest any names, organisations, university departments, companies, governance bodies that I should contact, or research papers that I should read, I would be highly grateful.

    Many thanks,


  • Curmudgeons Happen

    Posted on January 5th, 2014 Jo 1 comment

    I was talking with people at my friend’s big birthday bash yesterday. I mentioned I’m writing about Renewable Gas, and this led to a variety of conversations. Here is a kind of summary of one of the threads, involving several people.

    Why do people continue to insist that the wind turbine at Reading uses more energy than it generates ?

    Would it still be there if it wasn’t producing power ? Does David Cameron still have a wind turbine on his roof ? No. It wasn’t working, so it was taken down. I would ask – what are their sources of information ? What newspapers and websites do they read ?

    They say that the wind turbine at Reading is just there for show.

    Ah. The “Potemkin Village” meme – an idyllic-looking setting, but everything’s faked. The Chinese painting the desert green, etc.

    And then there are people that say that the only reason wind farms continue to make money is because they run the turbines inefficiently to get the subsidies.

    Ah. The “De-rating Machine” meme. You want to compare and contrast. Look at the amount of money, resources, time and tax breaks being poured into the UK Continental Shelf, and Shale Gas, by the current Government.

    Every new technology needs a kick start, a leg up. You need to read some of the reports on wind power as an asset – for example, the Offshore Valuation – showing a Net Present Value. After it’s all deployed, even with the costs of re-powering at the end of turbine life, offshore North Sea wind power will be a genuine asset.

    What I don’t understand is, why do people continue to complain that wind turbines spoil the view ? Look at the arguments about the Jurassic Coast in Dorset.

    I have contacts there who forward me emails about the disputes. The yachtsmen of Poole are in open rebellion because the wind turbines will be set in in their channels ! The tourists will still come though, and that’s what really counts. People in Dorset just appear to love arguing, and you’ve got some people doing good impressions of curmudgeons at the head of the branches of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) and English Heritage.

    There are so many people who resist renewable energy, and refuse to accept we need to act on climate change. Why do they need to be so contrarian ? I meet them all the time.

    People don’t like change, but change happens. The majority of people accept that climate change is significant enough to act on, and the majority of people want renewable energy. It may not seem like that though. It depends on who you talk with. There’s a small number of people who vocalise scepticism and who have a disproportionate effect. I expect you are talking about people who are aged 55 and above ?

    Example : “Climate Change ? Haw haw haw !” and “Wind turbines ? They don’t work !” This is a cohort problem. All the nasty white racists are dying and being buried with respect by black undertakers. All the rabid xenophobes are in nursing homes being cared for in dignity by “foreigners”. Pretty soon Nigel Lawson could suffer from vascular dementia and be unable to appear on television.

    The media have been insisting that they need a balance of views, but ignoring the fact that the climate change “sceptics” are very small in number and not backed up by the science.

    Why does Nigel Lawson, with all his access and privilege, continue to insist that global warming is not a problem ?

    Fortunately, even though he’s “establishment” and has more influence than he really should have, the people that are really in charge know better. He should talk to the climate change scientists – the Met Office continue to invite sceptics to come and talk with them. He should talk to people in the energy sector – engineers and project managers. He should talk to people in the cross-party Parliamentary groups who have access to the information from the expert Select Committees.

    And what about Owen Paterson ? I cannot understand why they put a climate change sceptic in charge of the Department of the Environment.

    Well, we’ve always done that, haven’t we ? Put Ministers in Departments they know nothing about, so that they can learn their briefs. We keep putting smokers in charge of health policy. Why do you think he was put in there ?

    To pacify the Conservative Party.

    But I know Conservative Party activists who are very much in favour of renewable energy and understand the problems of climate change. It’s not the whole Party.

    We need to convince so many people.

    We only need to convince the people who matter. And anyway, we don’t need to do any convincing. Leaders in the energy industry, in engineering, in science, in Government (the real government is the Civil Service), the Parliament, they already understand the risks of climate change and the need for a major energy transition.

    People should continue to express their views, but people only vote on economic values. That’s why Ed Miliband has pushed the issue of the cost of energy – to try to bring energy to the forefront of political debate.

    What about nuclear fusion ?

    Nuclear fusion has been 35 years away for the last 35 years. It would be nice to have, because it could really solve the problem. Plus, it keeps smart people busy.

    What about conventional nuclear fission power ?

    I say, “Let them try !” The Hinkley Point C deal has so many holes in it, it’s nearly collapsed several times. I’m sure they will continue to try to build it, but I’m not confident they will finish it. Nuclear power as an industry is basically washed up in my view, despite the lengths that it goes to to influence society and lobby the Government.

    It’s going to be too late to answer serious and urgent problems – there is an energy crunch approaching fast, and the only things that can answer it are quick-to-build options such as new gas-fired power plants, wind farms, solar farms, demand reduction systems such as shutting down industry and smart fridges.

    How can the energy companies turn your fridge off ?

    If the appliances have the right software, simple frequency modulation of the power supply should be sufficient to trip fridges and freezers off. Or you could connect them to the Internet via a gateway. The problem is peak power demand periods, twice a day, the evening peak worse than the morning. There has been some progress in managing this due to switching light bulbs and efficient appliances, but it’s still critical. Alistair Buchanan, ex of Ofgem, went out on a limb to say that we could lose all our power production margins within a couple of years, in winter.

    But the refrigerators are being opened and closed in the early evening, so it would be the wrong time of day to switch them off. And anyway, don’t the fridges stop using power when they’re down to temperature ?

    Some of these things will need to be imposed regardless of concerns, because control of peak power demand is critical. Smart fridges may be some years away, but the National Grid already have contracts with major energy users to shed their load under certain circumstances. Certain key elements of the energy infrastructure will be pushed through. They will need to be pushed through, because the energy crunch is imminent.

    The time for democracy was ten years ago. To get better democracy you need much more education. Fortunately, young people (which includes young journalists) are getting that education. If you don’t want to be irritated by the views of climate change and energy sceptics, don’t bother to read the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Express, the Daily Mail, the online Register or the Spectator. The old school journalists love to keep scandal alive, even though any reason to doubt climate change science and renewable energy died in the 1980s.

    Although I’ve long since stopped trusting what a journalist writes, I’m one of those people who think that you should read those sources.

    I must admit I do myself from time to time, but just for entertainment.

  • Making The Sour Sweet

    Posted on January 1st, 2014 Jo No comments

    In the long view, some things are inevitable, and I don’t just mean death and taxes. Within the lifetime of children born today, there must be a complete transformation in energy. The future is renewable, and carefully deployed renewable energy systems can be reliable, sustainable and low cost, besides being low in carbon dioxide emissions to air. This climate safety response is also the answer to a degradation and decline in high quality mineral hydrocarbons – the so-called “fossil” fuels. Over the course of 2014 I shall be writing about Renewable Gas – sustainable, low emissions gas fuels made on the surface of the earth without recourse to mining for energy. Renewable Gas can store the energy from currently underused Renewable Electricity from major producers such as wind and solar farms, and help to balance out power we capture from the variable wind and sun. Key chemical players in these fuels : hydrogen, methane, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. Key chemistry : how to use hydrogen to recycle the carbon oxides to methane. How we get from here to there is incredibly important, and interestingly, methods and techniques for increasing the production volumes of Renewable Gas will be useful for the gradually fading fossil fuel industry. Much of the world’s remaining easily accessible Natural Gas is “sour” – laced with high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide. Hydrogen sulfide needs to be removed from the gas, but carbon dioxide can be recycled into methane, raising the quality of the gas. We can preserve the Arctic from fossil gas exploitation, and save ourselves from this economic burden and ecological risk, by employing relatively cheap ways to upgrade sour Natural Gas, from Iran, for example, while we are on the decades-long road of transitioning to Renewable Gas. The new burn is coming.

  • Hot Waste : Nuclear Unknowables

    Posted on December 13th, 2013 Jo No comments

    Could Hinkley Point C Creep Past Safety Limits And Overload Its Waste Storage ?
    by Jo Abbess
    24 November 2013

    The use of high burn-up nuclear fuel in the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant, if it goes ahead, could lead to higher levels of waste than claimed in the design, owing to the increased chances of operating failures. It could also make power generation more prone to unreliability, due to unplanned outages. Added to this, safety measures do not rule out the kind of large scale and costly accident-by-design seen at Fukushima; nor the risk of a major disaster from mismanagement of the insecure spent fuel facilities, which would be wide open to a terrorist attack.

    The Hinkley Uncertainty Principle

    In the UK Government’s 2011 consultation on the management of plutonium, separated from spent nuclear fuel, their stated policy would be to “pursue reuse of plutonium as mixed oxide fuel [MOx]“, although they couldn’t yet determine whether MOX fuel would be produced in the UK [1]. Reprocessing abroad would involve highly secretive and dangerous transportation, so how and why did they come to this expert judgement ?

    Some claim that using plutonium oxide to make fresh nuclear fuel would “eat up” highly toxic and militarily dangerous plutonium waste, however this is not true. Using MOX fuel in a nuclear reactor creates almost as much in plutonium as it consumes – so why have the UK Government decided to take the MOX route ? Possibly because it feeds into plans by EDF Energy to build a new nuclear power plant that would use some “high burn-up” nuclear fuel in its two reactors, burning up to 50% higher than at other working plants, and MOX is probably the cheapest fuel option.

    Counter-intuitively, high burn-up fuel doesn’t get used up faster than other nuclear fuel. It produces more heat energy under neutron irradiation than the usual mildly-enriched uranium oxide, because it can split the atoms of a higher percentage of the fuel. It can “burn up” for longer, and be left in the reactor core for longer, before it needs to be changed out for fresh fuel. Or that is the theory, anyway.

    Some of the products of nuclear fission are noble gases, one of which is radioactive xenon, and although this is gas produced inside solid nuclear fuel pellets, packed into a long sealed metal casing, “fission gas” shouldn’t cause the fuel rod to burst – although it might make it swell a bit, or become deformed. There is a tiny risk this could mean fuel rods burn up dangerously higher, or get stuck when being taken out of the reactor, or that control rods might be unable to go in, all of which would be problematic.

    But back to the gas. Some radioactive xenon will make it out of fuel rods into the reactor coolant, because the integrity of fuel rods is not 100% guaranteed. If a fuel rod starts leaking badly, it ought to be swapped out for fresh fuel, because it could “dry out” and get precariously hot, and that could mean shutting down the reactor, which would affect its “always on” reliability.

    In the Hinkley Point C Generic Design Assessment final report on “Gaseous radioactive waste disposal and limits”, it admits, “Reactors are designed to run until their next refuelling shutdown with a small number of fuel leaks and we do not wish to constrain operations when noble gas discharges have so little impact.” What they’re saying is, in effect, we know some of these fuel rods are going to be broken in a live, working reactor. What they can’t know is, which ones ?

    It’s a little bit like Schrödinger’s Cat – you can’t know if a fuel rod is dead until you take it out of the box to inspect it. If xenon levels in the reactor coolant rise above the permitted levels, as a direct result of fuel damages from high burn-up, the plant operators would need to intervene, because it’s not just fission gas they should be concerned about. Leaking fuel rods could spit particles of uranium, or plutonium, into the reactor coolant, which could end up in the general environment, and that would have a significant impact [2].

    It will be possible to do some inspection checks without removing fuel rods entirely from the core. But in all likelihood, with high xenon emissions levels, they would need to shut the reactor down, by inserting control rods into the core to moderate the neutron flow. With normal nuclear fuel rods, this is a low-impact operation, but laboratory experiments suggest that for high burn-up, stopping and restarting the reactor, cooling and then re-heating the rods, will cause significant damage to the nuclear fuel [3].

    Cracked and crumbling high burn-up fuel could release more fission gas, so the very process of checking the integrity of fuel rods could damage the integrity of the fuel rods, and make xenon emissions worse, and mean more swaps for fresh fuel rods, meaning more radioactive waste to deal with. Because spent nuclear fuel will eventually need to be officially classified as radioactive waste, although currently it isn’t.

    The design for this nuclear power plant claims to produce less waste than current models, but that all depends on how the plant operators can manage high burn-up nuclear fuel rods, and it’s too early to say, since there isn’t a working version of this reactor anywhere in the world yet.

    So it’s a little like the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in Quantum Physics – you can’t know exactly how damaged your fuel rods are, and exactly how much spent fuel waste you’re going to produce, at the same time. The tempation, of course, will be to leave the fuel in and the reactor on for as long as possible, even though the statistical probability for loss of fuel integrity will just increase with time.

    Hot rods could be good future business

    I am still waiting for the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to tell me where I’ve gone wrong on the maths, but from my preliminary calculations, I estimate that the radioactive waste and radioactive spent nuclear fuel from this one new plant will nearly double the amount of radioactivity in nuclear materials the UK has to dispose of. In terms of the physical size of the rad waste, it won’t add much to the total, but some of the spent fuel coming from Hinkley Point C will be very hot rods from high burn-up – and I don’t just mean radioactive, I mean literally hot, potentially far hotter than steam.

    The design for the plant includes an essential “cooling off” pool of water, which would be like a “shadow” reactor core, but without the safety containment vessel. Because of the temperature of the fuel rods, a lot of water will be needed. The hot rods will have to stay in there being actively cooled for up to 10 years after they come out of the reactor, as they will be producing around 10% of the heat energy they produced when inside the active reactor.

    And after they’re cool enough to come out of there, the fuel will have to sit under water in a storage pond, also actively cooled, for around about 80 to 90 years, until enough radioactive decay has taken place that the fuel then becomes reasonably safe for geological disposal. Although we haven’t got a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) yet. And some calculations suggest we might need two. If we don’t have the right volume of GDF, perhaps the Hinkley Point C hot rods could just have to sit in the on-site “interim” storage facility forever.

    If the plant operators have to swap out more high burn-up fuel rods than they anticipate, perhaps the spent fuel storage facilities at Hinkley Point C will be too small for the full 60 years of waste designed for the plant. If it were only large enough for 35 years of operation, that would conveniently match the length of the very generous subsidies for the power the plant will produce. Thereafter, the plant operators could declare they cannot afford to keep the power plant running, and the state could be obliged to subsidise them simply to store the hot waste.

    The transition business model for the operators of Hinkley Point C could be the service of the storage of hot radioactive spent fuel, perhaps, when it becomes obvious that nuclear power is simply too expensive compared to solar and wind power. Will Hinkley Point C end up like San Onofre, a high burn-up spent fuel waste facility, formerly a nuclear power plant, corroding its way towards being a serious liability ?

    Going LOCA, down in Taunton

    When asked, “Should we have nuclear power ?”, many gaze at the mid-distance, and, according to recent polls, muse vacantly, “I suppose so. I mean, the wind doesn’t always blow, and the sun doesn’t always shine.” They probably don’t realise that filling in the generation gaps of renewable electricity with power from Hinkley Point C would demand load-following power cycling which would cause temperature changes in the reactor core which could damage high burn-up fuel [4].

    Plus, they choose to ignore the fact that it is always possible, when operating a nuclear reactor, for a major accident, such as a Loss Of Coolant Accident (LOCA), that could destroy, poison and injure people, livestock, forests, waterways and land, and not just in the local vicinity. They consign it to a remote theoretical possibility that something could go horribly wrong, but it probably won’t, so that’s all right then, somehow. Well, we’ve had decades of nuclear power, and not many serious accidents.

    Ah, there was Chernobyl, of course, which the whole of the European Union is still paying to clean up and put under a massive steel dome shelter, and the costs of the meltdown and fallout arguably destroyed the economy of socialist Russia. And the ongoing, unfolding, rolling disaster shambles that is the Fukushima Dai-ichi make-safe operation, set to go on for at least a decade ? Well, the clean-up is eating into Japan’s GDP, and they will have to give up investment in cleantech and meeting their carbon budget targets, and burn coal, because, frankly, the country’s broke; but nobody really suffered, did they ?

    We lost Pripyat, we almost lost Detroit, and we could still lose Tokyo, but who really cares about Taunton – the town near Hinkley Point ? No humane person would wish the citizens of Taunton to die a painful, lingering death, or suffer a lifetime of various cancers and degraded health, or be forced to relocate to Yarmouth or York, permanently. Somehow, the awfulness of this possible eventuality just cannot be captured.

    Rudimentary statistics of human health and the social consequences of evacuation don’t really describe effectively what is happening in Fukushima Prefecture – there are some impacts of an nuclear power plant disaster you really cannot put a number on. OK, so there will only be a certain number of deaths and cancers, but what about the destruction of a community and the impaling of an economy ?

    Remember 9/11 ? Aeroplanes were flown into the World Trade Center, not just the tallest buildings in New York, but symbols of the USA-led economy, which was then drained by the American obsession with warfare, since an entirely predictable kneejerk response to the attack was military counter strike, which nobody can really afford any more. The pilots of those planes were targeting economic dominance, not high rise office workers, and they succeeded.

    Nuclear power plants can have costly accidents and are expensive to build and safely close down; but although nobody seems to have a handle on safe and effective spent fuel disposal, in some ways, these risks are calculable. In contrast, spent nuclear fuel ponds would be ideal targets for suicidal dirty bombers, and the threat of this is unknowable, because it doesn’t need the use of anything so obvious, large and noisy as an aeroplane to spring a leak.

    Meltdowns are designed in – threatening economic security

    Officials may deny that Fukushima Dai-ichi Reactor Unit 3 went LOCA when it melted down. Technically it was a LUHS – Loss of Ultimate Heat Sink, or an SBO – a Station Blackout – but it had pretty much the same outcome, as the water covering the fuel in the reactor probably vapourised, or got chemically converted into hydrogen gas, which then exploded and blew the roof off. It was part-loaded with “hot rod” MOX fuel, which makes it the one to watch during clean-up operations – that is, when it’s not so radioactive that only robots can get near it [5].

    Can the multiple nuclear reactor unit meltdowns, explosions, radioactive plumes and leaks at Fukushima properly be counted as an “accident” ? Meltdown of a nuclear reactor core is always an anticipated possible outcome, that’s why they put it in a containment vessel, cast out of a single piece of steel [6]. So, it could be argued, these disasters are technically planned for, rather than coincidental, tragic failures. It was in the documentation : after an emergency shutdown, if all forms of reactor cooling became unavailable at a Fukushima unit, within a couple of hours there would be inevitable major core damage, and the risk of meltdown. It was part of the design. It’s part of the design documentation for Hinkley Point C, too.

    If the Fukushima units had done their job, and contained the meltdowns, and the cooling systems had remained operational, then one could be reasonably confident that Hinkley Point C (HPC) could too; but they didn’t. The design of HPC has an extra thick concrete base under the reactor vessel, just in case nuclear fuel melts through, with channels grooved into it to steer any meltdown mess from accumulating in one place, thereby trusting it won’t become “critical” again.

    But meltdown and melt-through is not the only kind of serious event HPC could suffer. Use of high burn-up fuel could contribute to warped fuel rods or control rods, higher build-up or leaks of fission gas. And its higher temperatures, together with the high pressure of the reactor coolant, could cause a range of high energy damage, or even prevent a safe shutdown; and until they permitted the plans to go ahead, the UK Government’s Assessment Findings had much to question as regards control systems.

    In conclusion, there will always be the risk of a major, uninsurable accident with the UK EPR (TM) design for Hinkley Point C, and even without considering health and safety, the long-term costs of cleanup could wipe out everybody’s pensions. My opinion is that we cannot afford this risk, just as we can no longer afford warfare. Why do the UK Government persist in proposing that the people should bear the cost burden and risks of new nuclear power, when there is already an alternative suite of energy and energy management technologies that can be built in roughly half the time and three quarters of the cost ?


    By Subject

    [1] What do to with UK plutonium ?

    DECC (2011). “Management of the UK’s Plutonium Stocks : A consultation response on the long-term management of UK-owned separated civil plutonium”, UK Government, Department of Energy and Climate Change, 1 December 2011.

    Leventhal (1995). “Bury It, Don’t Burn It : A Non-Proliferation Perspective on Warhead Plutonium Disposal”, Paul Leventhal, President, Nuclear Control Institute, Presented to the U.S. Department of Energy Plutonium Stabilization and Immobilization Workshop, Washington, D.C., December 12, 1995.

    Royal Society (2011). “Fuel cycle stewardship in a nuclear renaissance”, Royal Society, October 2011

    USA (2000). “Agreement Between The Government of the United States of America and The Government of the Russian Federation Concerning the Management and Disposition of Plutonium Designated as No Longer Required for Defense Purposes and Related Cooperation”, 2000.

    von Hippel et al. (2012). “Time to bury plutonium”, Nature, Volume 485, 10 May 2012.

    [2] Fuel fragmentation and dispersal

    Papin et al. (2003). “Synthesis of CABRI-RIA Tests Interpretation”, Papin et al., Proceedings of the Eurosafe Conference, Paris, November 25 – 26, 2003.

    ONR (2011). “Generic Design Assessment – New Civil Reactor Build : Step 4 Fuel and Core Design Assessment of the EDF and AREVA UK EPR (TM) Reactor.”, Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), Assessment Report : ONR-GDA-AR-11-021, Revision 0, Section 4.9.2 Paragraphs 200 – 202, 10 November 2011.

    NEA (2010). “Safety Significance of the Halden IFA-650 LOCA Test Results”, Nuclear Energy Agency, OECD, Committee on the Safety of Nuclear Installations (CSNI), Document : NEA/CSNI/R(2010)5, 15 November 2010.

    UB (2013). “Hinkley Point C : Expert Statement to the EIA”, Oda Becker, UmweltBundesamt (Environment Agency Austria), Wien 2013, Document Number : REP-0413.

    [3] High burn-up fuel

    Baron et al. (2008). “Discussion about HBS Transformation in High Burn-Up Fuels”, Baron et al., in Nuclear Engineering and Technology, Volume 41, Issue Number 2, March 2009, Special Issue on the Water Reactor Fuel Performance Meeting 2008.

    Blair (2008). “Modelling of Fission Gas Behaviour in High Burnup Nuclear Fuel”, Paul Blair, PhD Thesis Number 4084, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), 2008.

    CEN (2011). “Review and Assessment of the Key HBU Physical Phenomena and Models : Assessment of International Return of Experience on High Burnup Fuel Performance in Support of Licensing for Burnup Increases in Belgian NPPs”, Lemehov et al., SCK-CEN, Document SCK-CEN-R-4824, Project 10.2 – Report #1, November 2011.

    IAEA (1992). “Fission gas release and fuel rod chemistry related to extended burnup”, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Proceedings of a Technical Committee Meeting held in Pembroke, Ontario, Canada, 28 April – 1 May 1992, Document Number : IAEA-TECDOC-697, 1993.

    IAEA (2001a). “Nuclear fuel behaviour modelling at high burnup and its experimental support”, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Proceedings of a Technical Committee meeting held in Windermere, United Kingdom, 19 – 23 June 2000, Document Number : IAEA-TECDOC-1233, 2001

    IAEA (2013). “Technical Meeting on High Burnup Economics and Operational Experience”, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to be held at Buenos Aires, Argentina, 26 – 29 November 2013, Information Sheet, 2013.

    ONR (2012). “Summary of the GDA Issue close-out assessment of the Electricité de France SA and AREVA NP SAS UK EPR (TM) nuclear reactor”, Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Generic Design Assessment, 13 December 2012.

    ONR (2013). “Nuclear Research Needs 2013 – Part 1: Summary of Nuclear Research Needs”, Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Section 15, “Nuclear fuel Research”, 2013.

    Rondinella and Wiss (2010). “The high burn-up structure in nuclear fuel”, Rondinella and Wiss, European Commission, Joint Research Centre, in Materials Today, Volume 13, Issue Number 12, December 2010.

    [4] Nuclear Power Plant load-following

    EDF (2013). “Load Following : EDF Experience Feedback”, EDF Energy, at IAEA Technical Meeting – Load Following, 4 – 6 September 2013, Paris.

    IAEA (2001b). “Fuel behaviour under transient and LOCA conditions”, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Document Number : IAEA-TECDOC-1320, Proceedings of a Technical Committee meeting held in Halden, Norway, 10 – 14 September 2001.

    Lokhov (2011). “Load-following with nuclear power plants”, Lokhov A., Nuclear Energy Agency, NEA Updates, NEA News 2011, Issue Number 29.2

    NEA (2006). “Very High Burn-ups in Light Water Reactors”, Nuclear Energy Agency, OECD, Document Number : NEA No. 6224, 2006.

    NEA (2011). “Technical and Economic Aspects of Load Following with Nuclear Power Plants”, Nuclear Energy Agency, OECD, 2011.

    Pouret and Nuttall (2007). “Can nuclear power be flexible ?”, Pouret, L. and Nuttall, W.J., Electricity Policy Research Group Working Papers, Number 07/10, 2007. Cambridge: University of Cambridge.

    [5] Mixed oxide fuel (MOX)

    ANS (2011). “The Impact of Mixed Oxide Fuel Use on Accident Consequences at Fukushima Daiichi”, American Nuclear Society, 25 March 2011.

    Kim et al. (2010). “Ceramography Analysis of MOX Fuel Rods After Irradiation Test”, Han Soo Kim et al., Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, 27 July 2010.

    Lyman E. S. (2001). “The importance of MOX Fuel Quality Control in Boiling-Water Reactors”, by Edwin S. Lyman, Nuclear Control Institute.

    Nakae et al. (2012). “Fission Gas Release of MOX Irradiated to High Burnup”, Nakae et al., in TopFuel 2012, Reactor Fuel Performance, Manchester, England, 2 – 6 September 2012.

    Popov et al. (2000). “Thermophysical Properties of MOX and UO2 Fuels Including the Effects of Irradiation”, Popov et al., Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 2000.

    [6] Nuclear reactor containment

    Large (2007). “Assessments of the Radiological Consequences of Releases from Existing and Proposed EPR/PWR Nuclear Power Plants in France”, John Large, Large and Associates, Document : R3150-3, 17 March 2007.

    TEPCO (2011). “The Evaluation Status of Reactor Core Damage at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station Units 1 to 3″, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), 30 November 2011.

    TVO (2010). “Nuclear Power Plant Unit Olkiluoto 3″, TVO, December 2010.

    Email exchange

    There are several documents in the first bunch of references that suggest UK Government want to take the MOX route for “getting rid of” plutonium stocks [or rather "losing" it in the matrix of the final spent fuel]. For example, advice from the Royal Society, and the consultation from UK GOV. I checked with [...] regarding high level direction, and it appears UK GOV are fixed on this course of action. They might open a new MOX production facility in the UK (although they just closed one down), and they might get MOX made abroad using UK plutonium, to use in UK reactors. The point to note is that EdF uses MOX elsewhere. Although EdF are currently denying they will use it, Hinkley Point C could :-

    [ MOX fuel has been reported as being intended for the new PRISM reactor :- ]

    I have tried to steer the conversation to the use of high burn up fuel generally (MOX is only one option for high burn up fuel). High burn up fuel could be made from different kinds of enriched uranium. There [seems to be] a clear move [drawn from the design documents] from EdF to use high burn up fuel at Hinkley Point C – in fact, the claims in the design that the plant will produce low volumes of spent fuel relies on them using high burn up fuel. For example :-

    Of course, if EdF do not use high burn up fuel or MOX fuel, they will [in all likelihood] produce far larger amounts of spent fuel waste than they are claiming, so it adds to the argument that their rad waste claims could be unverifiable.

    A recent statement in the House of Commons claims that spent fuel from Hinkley Point C will be :-

    “The new build contribution to the Upper Inventory is estimated at an additional 25,000 m(3) [cubic metres] intermediate level radioactive waste (ILW), and 20,000 m(3) [cubic metres] Spent Fuel”

    from all the new build reactors (16 GW) anticipated. But this could be an underestimate if they use standard enrichment levels in the nuclear fuel.


    The design and safety documents for Hinkley Point C have a limit of burn-up set at 65 GWD/tU – and there are many other statements about the layout of the reactor – roughly 30% could be high burn-up.


    Example from Pre Construction Safety Report (PCSR) :-

    Sub-Chapter 4.2 Fuel System Design

    “1.1. FUEL RODS : Fuel rods are composed of slightly enriched uranium dioxide pellets with or without burnable poison (gadolinium), or MOX (uranium and plutonium) dioxide pellets. The fuel is contained in a closed tube made of M5 [Ref-1] [Ref-2] hermetically sealed at its ends.”

    There have been queries about the performance of the M5 (TM) Zircaloy (zirconium alloy) under high burn-up, and power/thermal transients, which have been largely quashed, for example :-

    although the nuclear industry claim it’s all good :-


    Section 7.2.3 “The key factors in demonstrating the minimisation of the production of radioactive waste are…”



    3.2.1. Definition of Interim Spent Fuel Store (ISFS) Requirements Spent Fuel Quantity and Characteristics

    The reactor core of a UK EPR would typically consist of 241 fuel assemblies providing a controlled fission reaction and a heat source for electrical power production. Each fuel assembly is formed by a 17×17 array of zirconium alloy (such as M5) tubes, made up of 265 fuel rods and 24 guide thimbles. The fuel rods consist of uranium dioxide pellets stacked in the zirconium alloy cladding tubes which are then plugged and seal welded. It is currently assumed that a maximum of 90 spent fuel assemblies (SFA) would be removed every 18 months of operation from each UK EPR. Taking into account the time allowed for planned maintenance outages over the anticipated 60 years operating life, a total of approximately 3,400 assemblies are expected to be generated by each UK EPR. The lifetime operation of HPC, comprising two UK EPRs, would therefore result in a total of around 6,800 spent fuel assemblies. Fuel cladding failures cannot be ruled out over this period and so the interim storage does need to be capable of receiving “failed fuel” within adequate packaging.

    Fuel composition and burn-up is a very important parameter for spent fuel management since it determines the heat load and the rate at which this reduces after the fuel is discharged from the reactor. The ISFS needs to be able to store enriched uranium fuel at the maximum design burn-up of 65 GWd/tU in accordance with the fuel envisaged in EDF Energy’s Development Consent application. However, the EPR is capable of accepting mixed oxide fuel (i.e. fuel where plutonium instead of uranium oxide is used to provide some or all of the initial fissile material) and, whilst EDF Energy has no current plans to use MOX fuel, it is considered prudent to ensure that the ISFS design could enable fuel with higher thermal power or different composition to be stored (noting, of course, that this eventuality would be subject to the receipt of all relevant Government and regulatory approvals).”


    SNEAKING SUSPICION :- I think that the UK Government [...] might push for MOX to be used in the first nuclear power plant that becomes available that can do so.

  • Hinkley Critique

    Posted on December 13th, 2013 Jo No comments

    A critique of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant decision
    by Jo Abbess
    22 November 2013

    This is a short position paper on the UK Government’s recent accouncement to go ahead and permit development of a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point (DECC, 2013a). The two atomic fission reactors and power generation plant are to be guaranteed an above-market rate for the electricity to be generated (Guardian, 2013a; WNN, 2013).

    This paper has been prepared to support a proposal for an organisation to take a public position on this project decision. As presented here it is a draft for discussion.

    Essential references have been given. Full references for the numbers and other data quoted are available by email.

    1.   Expensive electricity from a minor energy provider

    *   Power from Hinkley Point C is likely to be at least 50% more expensive than the average wholesale price of electricity.

    *   Hinkley Point C would only produce around 2% of the UK’s total energy needs (excluding transport fuels).

    The announcement on 21 October 2013 means that Hinkley Point C will be able to sell electricity energy at a minimum of £92.50 per megawatt hour (MWh) – the so-called “strike price” agreed (BBC, 2013a). If Électricité de France (EdF or EDF Energy), the energy company managing the project, also agree to build the planned nuclear power plant Sizewell C, the strike price would be reduced to £89.50 per megawatt hour (MWh), to reflect the understanding that building a second power plant of the same design should be cheaper than building the first (Utility Week, 2013a).

    Ofgem’s Supply Market Indicator for Electricity indicates that for the average household consumption of 3,800 kWh (kilowatt hours) per year, the wholesale costs as of October 2013 are £225 out of the total electricity bill of £600, meaning that energy companies are buying electricity from producers at £59.21 per MWh (one megawatt hour is a thousand kilowatt hours) (CF, 2013; Ofgem, 2013a). This means that if Hinkley Point C were generating power now, the power would be £33.29 more expensive, adding roughly half to the cost of wholesale power.

    The strike price for Hinkley Point C is to be index linked to consumer price inflation (CPI) (IET, 2013; IMechE, 2013a; NEI, 2013; Spinwatch, 2013; Utility Week, 2013b; UK Govt 2013); which means that even with subsidies, wind power and solar power should cost far less than this new nuclear power by the time Hinkley Point C comes online, around about 2023 (Utility Week, 2013d). One estimate puts the strike price at £121 per MWh for 2023, double today’s average wholesale price (Guardian, 2013b; Utility Week, 2013c).

    For 2012, nuclear power plants provided just 7.4% of total energy supplied to consumers in the UK, and the average over the latest five years of figures was 6.8% (DECC, 2013b). However, nuclear power plants provided 13.88% of total primary electricity produced in the UK in 2011, averaging at 10.56% over the latest five years for which data is available (IEA, 2013). So, nuclear power is fairly significant within the production of electricity, but not so important when looking at the total energy the country consumes.

    Efficiency in the use of electricity is an important policy direction in the UK, and a range of measures will be employed to rein in growth in power demand. According to official UK Government statistics, the UK consumed 376.241 TWh of electrical power in 2012 (DECC, 2013c). According to the recent announcement, Hinkley Point C should come into service in 2023 (UK Govt, 2013), by which time, UK power demand should have reduced. According to the National Grid’s UK Future Energy Scenario projections, for “Gone Green”, power consumption in 2020 will be 317 TWh, or under “Slow Progression”, 303 TWh, so an average consumption of 310 TWh (UKFES, 2013) .

    The design for Hinkley Point C has two 1,750 MW steam turbines, one for each of two nuclear reactors, and so its theoretical maximum output capacity would be 3,500 MW or 3.5 GW (IMecHE, 2013b). However, the two reactors are each projected to be able to produce 1,630 MW of output energy, so the total capacity of generation would be closer to 3.26 GW (EDF, 2013). If Hinkley Point C operates at full power 90% of the time, it would generate 25.229 TWh on average each year. By 2023, this would represent roughly 8% of all the electricity that the UK consumes. However, the total power that reaches the customer would be less, because of losses in distribution and transmission.

    The total gas and power used by end consumers in 2020, is likely to be in the region of 1,112 to 1,178 TWh, so taking the mid-point, 1,145 TWh (UKFES, 2013). Before system losses are accounted for, Hinkley Point C would be providing only 2.2% of the UK’s total energy demand (excluding transport fuels).

    The National Grid anticipate that over time, more thermal comfort for buildings will come from electrical heating, which explains why the “Gone Green” scenario has higher power consumption than “Slow Progression”. However, this isn’t inevitable, and total power consumption in the 2020s could be considerably less than they anticipate. Thermal comfort in buildings could come from increasing levels of building insulation, rather than electrical heating, if measures such as the Green Deal and ECO (Energy Company Obligation) are improved; and efficiency in the use of electricity could lead to a much higher reduction in power demand than anticipated. Therefore it is necessary to ask the question whether power from Hinkley Point C would be needed by the time it starts generating. It seems likely that Hinkley Point C would not be built without the guaranteed price subsidy, but it can be questioned whether this expenditure is justified.

    2.   Too late and uncertain to keep the lights on

    *   Hinkley Point C would not be generating power in time to protect the National Grid from low energy supply margins in the next few years.

    *   Despite claims that the EPR nuclear reactor design is inherently safer than current designs, there is currently no working EPR yet anywhere in the world.

    *   EPR projects in Finland and France are late and over-budget, and there is no guarantee this would not happen in the UK.

    Ofgem, the UK Government’s energy regulator has said that the margin between electricity demand and supply could become very slim in the next few years (Ofgem, 2013b). Hinkley Point C is only expected to be operational some time around 2023, and so cannot answer these short-term energy security concerns.

    Professor David MacKay says that in order to meet the generation gap needs of the next few years as we close down coal-fired power stations (and some nuclear power plants will close too), we only need to build “a few more new gas power stations” (BBC, 2013b).

    The EPR (European Pressurised Reactor) units of the Hinkley Point C plan are novel reactor designs, and are as yet untried anywhere in the world (Areva, 2013a; Greenpeace, 2012). The two projects to build EPR nuclear power plants in Europe are both dogged by delays (WNN, 2010; WNR, 2012) and cost overruns (Nuclear News, 2013; WNN, 2012). However, two EPR plants are under construction in Taishan, Guangdong province in China, and are expected to be running within four years’ time, and costs are apparently being kept to budget (Areva 2013b; FT, 2013; WSJ, 2013). Even so, there is no EPR power plant in production anywhere in the world as yet. And there are no guarantees that the British project will not cost more than expected and take longer than anticipated to build.

    3.   Not responding to the demands of climate change at the right pace

    *   New nuclear power cannot help us meet our carbon budgets in a timely fashion

    The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has the challenge of accepting and responding (UNFCCC, 2013) to the latest International Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report showing that the global “safe” carbon budget hasn’t slackened since 2007 with the evidence from more recent science – if anything, it’s got tighter (IPCC, 2013). The urgency for carbon emissions control means that adopting any strategy with a time-to-completion of more than five years runs the risk of overshooting our carbon budgets. This means that the ambitions for a nuclear power renaissance should not be pursued. We need guaranteed carbon control in a much shorter timeframe than the project lifetime of Hinkley Point C.

    4.   The money could be better used elsewhere

    *   The estimated £16 billion required to build Hinkley Point C could build 8 times as much generating capacity in gas-fired power stations.

    *   The estimated £16 billion, could be used to build a mix of flexible, low carbon gas-fired production and power plant facilities, producing the same amount of power as Hinkley Point C, and still have money left over.

    *   The estimated £16 billion, if used for an energy efficiency scheme in buildings, such as the former CERT, could save energy equivalent to 60 years of the output of Hinkley Point C, a plant with a reported lifetime of 60 years.

    If the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant runs at 90% of its rating, and 5% of this power is lost in transmission and distribution, it stands to make electricity sales of something like £2.44 billion each year in today’s money (with a strike price of £92.50 per MWh), and some have estimated that this could amount to before tax profits of the order of £1 billion each year (Guardian, 2013b). It is not clear if this profit would be re-invested in new energy generation plant, or used in energy conservation projects.

    The Hinkley Point C project was before 21 October 2013, said to be likely to cost £14 billion (Process Engineering, 2013). Since then, it is said that it will cost £16 billion to build (Reuters, 2013). What else could one get for £16 billion ? Norway have just agreed a plan to build a further 1.3 GW (gigawatts) of wind power for 20 billion kroner (crowns), around £2.1 to 2.3 billion, which would produce roughly 3,400 GWh (gigawatt hours) a year operating at 30% “load factor” – how much of the wind the turbines can turn into usable power. The developers claim 3,700 GWh (Energy Live News, 2013; Power Technology, 2013; WindPower Monthly, 2013). If this investment were repeated for 7 years, the total cost would be £14.7 to £16.1 billion and the amount of power from the new wind farms would amount to roughly 25.9 TWh (terawatt hours – a terawatt is a thousand gigawatts) per year, which can be favourably compared to the predicted output of Hinkley Point C of 25.229 TWh per year. The wind power would be fully available by 2020, at least 3 years before Hinkley Point C comes online, and it wouldn’t have end-of-life costs such as radioactive waste disposal and plant decommissioning hanging over the project.

    Liberum Capital, the stockbrokers, said in a press release on 30th October 2013, that for the £16 billion that it will cost to build 3.2 GW of Hinkley Point C nuclear power capacity, the UK could build 27 GW of gas-fired power plant, “solving the ‘energy crunch’ for a generation” (Utility Week, 2013c). An alternative proposal would be to spend around £7 billion on new Natural Gas-fired power plant (12 GW) and £4 billion on low carbon substitute or synthesis gas (SNG) production and power plants, to provide the same amount of power as Hinkley Point C (25 TWh per year) and have £5 billion left over to pay for the difference between gas fuel and nuclear fuel. Gas-fired power generation is very flexible, and the capacity for flexibility in the electricity supply grid is going to become increasingly important as the amount of true renewable electricity increases, to fill in gaps in demand, because the sun does not always shine and the wind does not always blow.

    Instead of spending the £16 billion on energy production, if the same capital were used on energy demand reduction, such as building insulation, it could permanently remove the need to purchase energy. The current Green Deal aims to help homes become lower carbon. The current Energy Company Obligation (ECO) scheme to help insulate hard to heat homes costs £1.3 billion every year. One of the predecessor policies, the CERT (Carbon Emissions Reduction Target) scheme was good value for money. The CERT scheme over its lifetime cost £5.3 billion and made lifetime energy savings of 500 TWh, and its parallel policy, CESP (Community Energy Saving Programme), 32 TWh, according to one calculation (Rosenow, 2012). If £16 billion were to be spent on energy conservation using similar methods, it would avoid the need to consume 1,509 TWh, equivalent to nearly 60 years of the anticipated output energy from Hinkley Point C, a plant scheduled to have a total lifetime of 60 years (although the subsidies will only last for 35 years).

    5.   Inflexible generation from the largest generation units

    *   As more renewable energy enters the grid, we need all new generators to be flexible, but nuclear power is not.

    *   The Hinkley Point C design means that the National Grid will need to increase their amount of emergency backup, known as STOR.

    *   The growth in wind power and the STOR mean that Hinkley Point C is redundant.

    It is often claimed that we need nuclear power to act as “baseload”, that is, power generation capacity that is “always on”. However, as the amount of renewable electricity that comes onto the grid increases – wind power and solar power being the most important – other forms of generation need to be flexible to “fill in the gaps” for the variability in renewable generation – when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing. With current nuclear power plants, it is not desirable to turn a nuclear power plant off or on too often, and it is expensive to reduce or increase the amount of power coming from a nuclear power plant – something that is done in France, for example. By contrast, gas-fired power generation is easy to turn off and on, and using gas to backup wind generation makes the sum total cost of power cheaper, as the wind power is essentially free. The amount of gas-fired generation capacity and other capacity used in emergency that we already have is plenty enough to cope with the UK’s projected growth in wind and solar power over the next 15 to 20 years. Just to note : renewable power is not the reason why we need spare capacity. Even if there were no renewable sources of power feeding the grid, as the operation of the National Grid becomes less energy wasteful and more “lean” in future, backup capacity will be essential in balancing the nation’s power supply.

    The EPR is claimed to be designed to ramp up and down in power output, (WNA, 2013), but the costs and consequences of attempting this are not yet proven or disproven. Importantly, damage to the EPR nuclear fuel could be higher from cycling the power output down and up, if there is high burn-up fuel in the reactor cores.

    If there is an emergency powerdown by a large electricity generator, either because of an accident or the need to service the units, the National Grid have a method of dealing with this, known as STOR – Short-Term Operating Reserve. It issues orders to spare generators standing by to start producing power within minutes, and others within hours. During the St Jude’s storm on the night of 27th / 28th October 2013, two units of the Dungeness B nuclear power plant were shut down owing to weather-related complications, adding up to a sudden loss of roughly 800 MW of power, during which time the STOR brought on hydroelectric power (HEP), pumped water storage power and open cycle gas turbine (OCGT) power, all standing by for just such an eventuality.

    Currently, the largest power generation unit on used in the UK National Grid for power is Sizewell B, with one reactor and two turbine generation units nominally each at 660 MW, although total plant output since 2005 has only been at 1,195 MW (dependent on seawater temperature). In September 2013, one unit was operating at 600 MW and the other at 601 MW. The National Grid must have emergency backup for the combination of these two units, owing to the design of the electrical control equipment. If Sizewell B were to suddenly stop working, the National Grid would have to start up alternative power plant equivalent to the 1,201 MW lost.

    The Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant design has two nuclear reactors, each projected to produce heat equivalent to 1,630 MW (megawatts) through conversion of the heat via two Arabelle steam turbines supplied by Alstom, each capable of generating 1,740 MW of electrical power. The total electricity that would be produced by the plant is reported to be in the region of 3,260 MW, although electrical power used within the plant itself – known as “parasitic load” – may bring the total available for supply to the National Grid down to around 3,000 MW from the two units.

    If the Hinkley Point C power plant is completed, either one of the units going offline would require National Grid to provide emergency power of around about 1,500 MW, or perhaps more, ten times as much as any wind power outage could be. Having this nuclear power plant on the grid would mean that National Grid have to have a bigger emergency response capacity than at present.

    Existing plans to develop STOR capacity, using a range of methods, combined with the increase in wind power capacity, mean that Hinkley Point C will be redundant before it’s even opened.

    6.   Extra safety measures, but the prospects of more dangerous fuel, and higher accident risks

    *   The EPR nuclear power plant design has had more safety measures included, owing partly to the Fukushima Dai-ichi multiple nuclear reactor accident.

    *   The EPR reactor design could be tailored to use dangerous mixed oxide fuels – reprocessed from radioactive waste.

    *   Ramping the power output of the EPR up and down will be dangerous because of high burnup fuel.

    *   Damages to the nuclear fuel rods cannot be quantified, and extra emissions allowances have been requested.

    The design for Hinkley Point C includes two concrete reactor containment walls, each more than a metre thick; and a six metre thick concrete floor under the reactor vessel, with channels for meltdown dispersion, and a cooling system. After a total lost of power, cooling systems failed at Fukushima Dai-ichi and the reactors overheated – so to avoid this, the design for Hinkley Point C will have six separated flood-proofed independent power generators. But the official documents looking at the design consider only the use of normal uranium oxide fuel, as mixed oxide fuels are said to be “out of scope”. The EPR could potentially be partly loaded with MOx (mixed plutonium and uranium oxide) fuel, and this would increase the risks of any potential accident. Although the only MOx fuel production facility in the UK has been closed, other reactors in Europe are fuelled with MOx, which comes from international nuclear waste reprocessing.

    The 2008 UK Government White Paper “Meeting the Energy Challenge A White Paper on Nuclear Power” concluded that “our view remains that in the absence of any proposals from industry, new nuclear power stations built in the UK should proceed on the basis that spent fuel will not be reprocessed. As a consequence, plans for waste management and financing should proceed on this basis”. However, this does not rule out the practice.

    Nuclear power plants are usually expected to run all the time. Most of Britain’s nuclear power plants were built with the assumption that they would run producing a constant level of power. The output of electricity from a nuclear power plant can be reduced and increased, but there are risks and financial penalties for doing so unless it is absolutely necessary – for example under emergency conditions. Some nuclear power plants in Europe are used to follow peaks and troughs in power demand, and it is possible that the Hinkley Point C power plant would be expected to do the same. However, given the stated plans for the nuclear fuel in the reactor, this increases the risk of plant failure. The UK EPR (TM) is expected to have some high burn-up fuel rods in its reactor core, and studies have shown that repeatedly stopping and starting nuclear fission in such fuel rods, such as by removing them from a reactor core and then replacing them, or bringing the output power of the reactor down and then up again by inserting and removing control rods, causes high physical stress in high burn-up fuel rods, and could compromise fuel and fuel rod integrity. It is not yet known if “power cycling” of the EPR can be done safely, and it could be shown that it is risky to do so. In this case it would mean that the reactor would not be fully flexible.

    The EPR Pre-Construction Safety Report explains that EDF Energy have requested high tolerances for Xenon and other noble gas emissions, presumably as they cannot tell how easily it will be for high burn-up fuel rods to develop leaks of fission gas (see Appendix A). This suggests that the safety of this type of nuclear fuel is not yet fully quantified.

    7.   Transparency issues

    *   Secrecy and lobbying have dogged this decision

    There are a number of areas surrounding the Hinkley Point C announcement that are unclear. For example, on 29th October 2013, in the House of Commons, Paul Flynn MP received a reply from the Nicky Morgan on behalf of the UK Treasury that “non-disclosure agreements have been signed ahead of commercial discussions with potential investors in Hinkley Point C. A [loan] guarantee has not been approved and a security package has not been agreed. At this early stage of discussion with investors it cannot be said what will be published however the Government will disclose information within the bounds of the confidentiality agreement.” (Hansard, 29 Oct 2013, Column 432W)

    This demonstrates that this deal is far from completion, and raises questions of confidence. It also throws up the lack of transparency surrounding the negotiations between Government, the energy industry and the investor groups. The exact nature and size of all the subsidies that will be made by the UK Government to the investors and project managers is still uncertain.

    The deal apparently guarantees the subsidy payments, even if the project goes into administration, according to wording in the “Notes to Editors” of the Press Release from the Department of Energy and Climate Change on 21st October 2013 : “Compensation to the Hinkley Point C investors for their expected equity return would be payable in the event of a Government directed shut down of Hinkley Point C other than for reasons of health, safety, security, environmental, transport or safeguards concerns. The arrangements include the right to transfer to Government, and for Government to call for the transfer to it of, the project company which owns Hinkley Point C in the event of a shutdown covered by these provisions. The compensation arrangements would be supported by an agreement between the Secretary of State for DECC and the investors.”

    The Press Release also raised the prospects of challenge to the announcement : “The commercial agreement reached today on key terms is not legally binding, and is dependent on a positive decision from the European Commission in relation to State Aid.”

    Since the project is scheduled for completion at least a decade away, and it is not possible at this time to accurately project the prices of fossil fuels, or fossil-fuel generated electricity that far into the future, it could be that market forces enhance the role of energy conservation and the development of renewable electricity in that timespan, making the power from Hinkley Point C redundant. Another possibility is that the electricity market becomes subject to further reforms to enable stronger competition, and so it could be envisaged that power from Hinkley Point C could remain unsold.

    Those who work in the nuclear power sector, whether employees or contractors, are constrained by the conditions of their contracts to keep strict secrecy on a number of aspects of their work that could risk national security. This means that whistleblowing on the health of the industry is fraught with complication, and although a number of failings in nuclear power plant operation and nuclear engineering have come to light, it is not clear what else may emerge.

    8.   Security matters

    *   The Hinkley Point C project will be mostly foreign-owned and controlled.

    *   Proliferation risk

    As part of the Hinkley Point C project, a radioactive waste repository will need to be built on the site that will hold contaminated material for a 100 years before permanent disposal is made. This is just one of a number of security issues raised by the plans for this plant. The announcement on 21st October 2013 signalled the drawing in of Chinese investors to the project consortium, the company to build the plant are French, and the technology is from another French company. This means that the plant will be largely built, owned and controlled by foreign companies.

    There are two aspects to the risk of proliferation. Any use of uranium in a nuclear reactor has fissile plutonium as a by-product – the stuff of nuclear bombs. Even reprocessing spent nuclear fuel to extract the plutonium to make mixed oxide fuel does not solve the problem of plutonium, as burning mixed oxide nuclear fuel in a nuclear reactor will create more fissile plutonium as a by-product (although a bit less than went in). Plutonium that has already been separated from spent fuel is a particular risk, should it be acquired by those who would want to utilise it for its explosive criticality. It may therefore be better to make mixed oxide nuclear fuel – at least the final result would be plutonium locked into spent fuel – more difficult to make use of. However, spent fuel is dangerous in and of itself. It is not expected that spent fuel will be under any form of strong containment, and will sit in cooling ponds in insecure warehouses. Draining a fuel pool would at the very least cause a fire in the superheated fuel rods left exposed – and could possibly cause a “dirty bomb” phenomenon if it also exploded. With superheated fuel rods in cooling ponds arising from high burn-up nuclear fuel, the danger is worse than at other nuclear power plants. In addition, going ahead with the Hinkley Point C power plant will increase the number of dangerous spent fuel pools in the UK. Both of these issues proliferate risk.

    There is also the question of double standards. There are some countries currently not permitted by the international community to operate nuclear power plants, such as Iran, but if they see the UK building a big new nuclear power plant, they may be able to make a stronger case for their own plan for civilian nuclear power. The more nuclear power plants there are, the more likely that plutonium could end up in the wrong hands.

    9.   Radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel

    *   The Hinkley Point C nuclear power station could increase the total radioactivity of the combination of the radioactive nuclear waste and spent nuclear fuel by between 87% and 93%.

    *   The volume of undisposed radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel is still accumulating in the UK, even without the Hinkley Point C project. Although without the Hinkley Point C project, the radioactivity of the total anticipated at point of disposal is decreasing.

    The EPR nuclear reactor design is said to generate more electricity from less fuel, however, there will still be significant radioactive and toxic waste from the plant. In the Pre Construction Safety Report (PCSR) of 30 May 2012, Section 2, it says “Spent fuel from nuclear power stations is not categorised as waste because it still contains uranium and plutonium which could potentially be separated out through reprocessing and used to make new fuel”, but spent fuel does need to be counted when considering the total radioactivity burden, and the need to make arrangements to dispose of it.

    The new EPR nuclear reactors would create radioactive wastes and spent fuel that would add to the UK’s total inventory. Going from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s 2010 Inventory of radioactive wastes, combined with the report on radioactive materials not in the 2010 Inventory, as a baseline, and using a worked example from three reports from the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM Document Numbers 1277, 1279 and 1531) as a guide to how to do the calculation, it it is possible to estimate that the Hinkley Point C development of 2 EPR nuclear reactors would add just a few percent to the total volume of radioactive waste and spent fuel; but increase the total radioactivity of the waste and spent fuel by something like 87% to 93%, which is close to double the amount of radioactivity to manage otherwise. The final volume for safe disposal would be between 634,000 and 644,000 cubic metres compared to the baseline of 631,000 cubic metres. However, the radioactivity would be between 127 million and 132 million TBq, compared to the baseline of 68 million TBq without the EPR development. The range of values depends on whether current stocks of plutonium and uranium are used to make fuel for the new EPR reactors – MOx fuel. The figures compare with a combined volume of spent fuel and radioactive waste calculated from the 2004 inventory baseline of 478,000 cubic metres, and a radioactivity burden of 78 million TBq.

    Although there has been progress with the development of Low Level Waste facilities, much of the remainder of the UK’s radioactive waste and spent fuel is not yet in safe, long-term storage, and the total is rising, even without the new Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant. It would seem wise to aim to reduce the total levels of un-secured radioactive materials, rather than create new waste.


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    Appendix A

    Glossary of Terminology


    Each atom of each molecule of matter has a core (nucleus) and a shell (one or more electron particles). If an atom loses one or more of its shell of electrons, or gains one or more electrons, it is called an ion. The nucleus of an atom is composed of proton particles and zero, one or more neutron particles.

    If the core (nucleus) of an atom is unstable, the atom can potentially one or more of six things :-

    1. It can emit an Alpha Particle consisting of two protons and two neutrons. This is essentially a nucleus of a Helium atom, a Helium ion. This is known as Alpha radioactive decay, or Alpha decay.

    2. It can emit a Beta Particle consisting of an electron or a positron (a bit like an electron, but with positive electrical charge). This is known as Beta radioactive decay, or Beta decay.

    3. It can emit a Gamma Particle consisting of a photon – the same kind of particles as sunlight – but at a much higher energy. This is called Gamma radiation.

    4. It can split into pieces – normally two or three. This is called nuclear fission. When this happens, a lot of heat energy is given off.

    5. It can emit a neutron particle. An atom can become unstable if it is bombarded (irradiated) by neutrons from the nuclei of other unstable atoms, and if one of these neutrons enters its nucleus. Having an extra neutron in its nucleus can make the atom a different chemical, but unbalanced, so that it is likely to be radioactive itself. The heavier the nucleus, the more likely it will be to undergo nuclear fission. Many unstable nuclei will emit neutrons.

    6. It can emit a proton particle, a nuclear particle with a positive electrical charge.

    The kind of radioactivity of a substance depends on its nuclear weight. Only the very largest nuclei are capable of nuclear fission – splitting into two, three or possibly more pieces. But most of the really heavy nuclei experience Alpha decay rather than nuclear fission.

    All of these forms of radioactive decay give off heat energy, but fission gives off about 10 times as much as the other kinds.

    When there are enough unstable atoms in a piece of material giving off neutrons, then there can be a cascade of neutron emissions, one after another, causing a large flow of neutrons, and a lot of heat energy is produced. This is known as a chain reaction. In order to achieve this, there must be at least a certain amount of the material in one place. This is known as the critical mass, and the material is said to have reached criticality. If this situation is not managed, the material can explode from the quantity of heat energy produced.

    If material has been irradiated by neutrons, it is called an “activation product” and it will have a number of unstable nuclei throughout its bulk. Even when the neutron flux is removed, and nuclear fission stops, there will still be heat produced by the material, owing to the other kinds of radioactive decay.

    Activation products can include the containers of the nuclear fuel, parts of the nuclear reactor, and part of the water or gas used to cool moderate the radioactivity of the reactor core.

    Nuclear Power Plant (NPP)

    A nuclear power plant uses the heat energy created by nuclear fission (and other forms of radioactive decay) to vapourise water into steam, which drives a steam turbine to produce electricity.

    The centre of a nuclear power plant is a nuclear reactor, a special building which contains the nuclear fuel in its core. The nuclear fuel is in packaged in a specific way. First of all pellets of the nuclear fuel are put into a sealed tube of metal alloy. A collection of these fuel pins, or fuel rods, is then packaged into a container called a fuel assembly, which has an outer cladding. When the reactor is in operation, the fuel rods get hot, so water is passed through the core to cool it.

    Important Fission Products and Activation Products

    If an atom is made unstable, it may become a different chemical, or it may stay the same chemical, but with a different number of neutron particles in its nucleus – in which case it is known as an isotope of the chemical.

    In terms of the safe operation of a nuclear power plant, the following are the key chemical end products of neutron irradiation (activation products), radioactive decay and nuclear fission (fission products) that need managing and monitoring :-

    a. Plutonium

    Plutonium is produced by the irradiation of Uranium with neutrons. There are several different isotopes of Plutonium that are of concern. These are activation products. They are formed inside the nuclear fuel.

    b. Highly-radioactive short-lived chemicals

    These include isotopes of Iodine, Caesium, Cobalt and Strontium. These are mostly fission products, but radioactive Cobalt can be produced as an activation product if there is a trace of Cobalt in the steel used in the nuclear reactor. These are mostly formed inside the nuclear fuel, apart from radioactive Cobalt. Radioactive Caesium is water soluble, so any leaks from nuclear fuel rods means that it ends up in the reactor coolant if the reactor is water-cooled. Also, if one particular isotope of Xenon is produced in fission gas, it can decay to radioactive Caesium.

    b. Noble Gases

    The most significant are isotopes of Xenon, Krypton and Argon. These are the most important of the gases known as “Fission Gas”, and are produced as a result of nuclear fission – fission products. They are produced inside the nuclear fuel, but end up being emitted to the atmosphere because leaks from fuel rods.

    c. Tritium (3H)

    This is an isotope of Hydrogen and forms a gas. It is mosty formed as a product of irradiation of the water coolant in a reactor core (an activation product), but can be a fission product. It can be formed inside the nuclear fuel, and would make its way out into the the reactor coolant if there are leaks in the fuel rods. Otherwise, it is generally produced in the reactor coolant.

    d. Carbon 14 (14C)

    This is mostly in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2) or methane (CH4). Because this isotope of carbon is radioactive, these are often referred to as radiocarbon dioxide and radiomethane. These are activation products.

    e. Helium (He)

    This is non-radioactive and a gas. It is mostly formed by Alpha radioactive decay, but can be formed by nuclear fission, and can also be used to create a gap between nuclear fuel and the fuel containers when the fuel rods are manufactured.

    Nuclear Fuel

    Uranium oxide. Uranium has a heavy nucleus and so more likely to undergo nuclear fission.

    Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOx)

    Plutonium oxide from reprocessed nuclear fuel is mixed with uranium oxide (either reprocessed or from refined ores) to make nuclear fuel pellets.

    Spent Fuel and Spent Fuel Ponds

    When nuclear fuel has been in a nuclear reactor, and then becomes less energetic, it is removed from the reactor core, and it is then known as spent nuclear fuel, or spent fuel. It is either prepared for permanent disposal or reprocessed to separate out useful or dangerous chemicals. Besides emitting high levels of radiation of all kinds except neutrons, spent fuel gives off about 10% of the heat that it did when it was in the reactor core, and both the radioactivity and the heat are major concerns. Spent fuel normally goes into a cooling off pond of water for up to ten years, where it needs to be actively cooled, much like in the nuclear reactor. After this time, it is usually stored in a spent fuel pond until it can be reprocessed or disposed of. Most fission products (products of nuclear fission) in the spent fuel are a lot more safe to handle after 100 years, owing to the rate at which they give off radioactivity. It is expected that after 100 years, spent fuel will be much more safe to store in a geological disposal facility (GDF).

    Nuclear Power Plant Accidents

    The most serious accidents in a nuclear reactor are :-

    a. LOCA – Loss of Coolant Accident

    This is a situation where it becomes impossible to keep the nuclear reactor or the spent nuclear fuel at a safe temperature. There are “small break” LOCA, for example from a pipe or pump, and “large break” LOCA, which would include the reactor being punctured or drained of coolant with no ability to inject more. In the case of water-cooled reactors, if the reactor gets too hot, the water can turn to steam, which cannot keep the reactor core cool.

    b. Problems with Fuel Rods and Control Rods

    Most nuclear reactor designs have a frame, and the fuel rods are slotted into it. To control the output of the nuclear reactor, control rods are also slotted in. When nuclear fuel has been in a reactor for some time, it can swell up or become deformed, or even have a leak, due to a build-up of fission gas inside, or corrosion of the metal containers. This can make it difficult to remove the fuel rods. Control rods can also become warped over time and be hard to manage. In addition, a mechanical fault can mean that fuel rods or control rods cannot be slotted in or out of the reactor core in the way that the plant manager wishes. In some rare cases, the pressure of the coolant in the nuclear reactor can prevent control rods being properly inserted.

    Fission Gas and Fission Gas Release (FGR)

    Nuclear power reactors work by setting up conditions where there is a build-up in the flow of particles called neutrons. These neutrons cause the central parts (nuclei) of atoms in nuclear fuel to split up into smaller pieces (fission), giving off energy. This energy is in the form of heat, which can be used to generate electricity. The end result of the nuclear fission is smaller nuclei that are different chemicals or elements than the original atoms. Some of these “fission products” are solid, but some are gases. While the nuclear reactor stays working, this “fission gas” generally stays inside the package covering of the nuclear fuel (cladding), even though it increases the internal pressure in the fuel packages (rods in assemblies). Fission gas increases the internal pressure in the fuel rods, and can cause swelling or deformation, which limits the amount of time the fuel rods can safely stay in the reactor. Fission gas can contribute to holes in the fuel cladding, which will then leak the gas and maybe some of the fuel. If there is a nuclear reactor accident which causes a large change in temperature, or the nuclear reactor is partly or fully turned off, or fuel rods are damaged, this gas can be released. Fission Gas Release can also occur when fuel rods are removed from the nuclear reactor, and if they are chemically processed after being used in the reactor. Sudden or high volumes of fission gas being released is a chaotic scenario that may have a range of consequences. It is possible to reduce the amount of fission gas released from a fuel rod, either by adding special chemicals to the nuclear fuel, or arranging for the fuel to have different physical properties, or by changing the design of the fuel cladding. However, reducing the amount of fission gas released simply means that the fission gas will build up inside the structure of the nuclear fuel, which has its own risks when the spent fuel is removed from the reactor (upon change in external pressure), reprocessed or conditioned for disposal. In addition, should the fuel package become damaged – either during an accident or during reprocessing or conditioning of the fuel at the end of life, the higher levels of fission gas inside the fuel could cause problems. Fission gas that is released from leaking or damaged fuel rods when they are in the reactor core ends up in the reactor coolant and must be filtered out. It is normally vented to air after filtering, allowing some time for it to lose some of its radioactivity.

    Fuel Rods

    The centre of a nuclear power plant is a nuclear reactor, a special building which contains the nuclear fuel in its core. The nuclear fuel is packaged in a specific way. First of all pellets of the nuclear fuel are put into a long thin sealed tube of metal alloy. A collection of these fuel pins, or fuel rods, is then packaged into a container called a fuel assembly, which has an outer cladding. The fuel assemblies are loaded into the reactor core. When the reactor is in operation, the fuel rods get hot, so water or gas is passed through to cool it. Theoretically, the coolant should not come into direct contact with the nuclear fuel, as they are contained, however, most nuclear power plant operators recognise that it is possible that they can have leaking fuel rods. Regular inspection and surveillance programmes are therefore necessary.

    High Burn-Up Nuclear Fuel (Burnup, Burn up)

    It is possible to make nuclear fuel that “burns up” more than normal. This does not mean that the nuclear fuel is used up faster. What it does mean is that a higher percentage of the same volume of nuclear fuel can be fissioned by the reactor. The net result is that the same amount of nuclear fuel carries on producing energy for longer, so theoretically it can be in the nuclear reactor for longer before it needs to be replaced by fresh fuel.

    Nuclear fuel can be high burn up if it has higher levels of uranium enrichment, or if it has plutonium added, as in the case of mixed oxide nuclear fuel (MOx or MOX).
    There are five main reasons why high burn-up nuclear fuel is potentially more dangerous than normal enriched uranium oxide nuclear fuel.

    First of all, at high burn-up, the structure of the nuclear fuel changes, and this has implications for fission gas release, potentially making it easier for fission gas to be released if there is damage to a fuel rod. This can create problems with the safe management of the power plant.

    Secondly, high burn up fuel can be more easily damaged by the changes in temperature and pressure caused by a nuclear reactor partially or completely shutting down and starting up again, or by a fuel rod being removed from the reactor temporarily or permanently.

    Thirdly, higher burn-up nuclear fuel will remain in the reactor core for longer, and the operators will resist removing it, for example to check its integrity, as doing so will risk its performance. This means that visual and other inspections of these fuel rods could be delayed. It may be that unless fission gas levels start rising in the reactor coolant, it will not be possible to know that a fuel rod is compromised. Also, if fission gas levels in the reactor coolant rise, it might not be possible to know which fuel rod has been compromised.

    Fourthly, there will be more fission products in the high burn-up fuel rods when they are removed from the reactor core, as more of the nuclear fuel will have been fissioned. This means that the nuclear fuel will be hotter, and stay hotter for longer than other kinds of fuel rod. This will be true for not only radioactivity, but also heat output, and will impact on how the fuel needs to be treated after it has been used.

    The fifth reason why high burn-up nuclear fuel is a liability is because of the risk of sudden material failure, either from rapid break-down of the fuel rod, because of chaotic fission gas release, or ejection of nuclear fuel from the fuel rod under conditions of high temperature or pressure. If a chaotic failure occurs inside a nuclear reactor, it can damage more fuel rods. If a chaotic failure occurs outside the reactor, it could cause a major release of radioactivity, or fire.

    Using what is known as mixed oxide fuel – a mix of uranium oxide and plutonium oxide nuclear fuel – is currently being considered as the recommended option by the UK Government for a plan to “safely” deal with plutonium stocks. However, if MOX fuel is used, these fuel rods will be automatically high burn-up, and in addition to the risks already mentioned, these rods will contain plutonium, which is highly chemically toxic, and many of its istopes are radioactive. If a MOX fuel rod were to disintegrate, either in a reactor core, but more specifically, in fuel rod cooling and storage ponds after use, when it is still hot, and internally stressed by fission gas, there is the added risk of plutonium fuel ejection – a highly dangerous fallout.

    As a note, using the UK’s plutonium stocks, by reprocessing into MOX fuel will not “eat up” or “burn up” all the plutonium, as fission in the combined fuel will produce other isotopes of plutonium, some of which will be radioactive, particularly close to the start of its use.

    Having high burn-up nuclear fuel rods in a reactor core or a spent fuel pond would increase the risks of meltdown in the event of a LOCA – Loss of Coolant Accident, because the nuclear fuel will continue to produce higher relative levels of heat than other kinds of fuel through the radioactive decay of its higher levels of fission products, even when there is no nuclear fission taking place because neutron flux has been stopped.

    It is thought that the hotter MOX fuel in the Fukushima Dai-ichi Reactor 3 unit might have contributed to the severity of the accidental explosion and meltdown there, following loss of reactor coolant, even though the plant managers retained use of some of the safety equipment for some time after the earthquake and tsunami on 11 March 2011.

    Appendix B

    French Nuclear Power

    According to data from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the World Nuclear Association (WNA), nuclear power generates just under 76% of all French electricity production, on a trend towards 78%, based on data in the period 1990 to 2012. This represents an average of roughly 106% of final electricity consumption in the period 1990 to 2012, after taking into account imports, exports, electricity use within the energy industry (parasitic load at 10.5%) and system losses. The IEA calculates that nuclear power represents 81% of primary energy production in France, by applying the average of nuclear power plant conversion efficiency of 33% from heat to electricity. France has become more dependent on nuclear power to meet its total energy demand in the period 1990 to 2012, and this has had the side-effect that winter imports from Germany have been high during winter cold snaps, as nuclear power is not flexible to cope with the much higher demand for heating.

  • Nuclear Pitt : Ant and DECC

    Posted on December 13th, 2013 Jo No comments

    I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the Hollywood block-and-gore-buster movie “Troy” which was an epic attempt to portray an epic tale with Brad Pitt quite astonishingly epic in it. He must have worked out at the gym for some time before the filming – Achilles looks quite overpoweringly frightening, striding off, bronzedly, with shiny shins, hulking huge metal weapons to slice and dice some more foes to bacon. Curiously, still with a fairly boyish face, though.

    If you were to encounter this kind of demi-god, in modern day Paris, for example, you would feel about the size of an ant. Your protests would not be audible, and your running away quickly could not be fast enough. It would be like a waking nightmare, trying to escape being trampled. I think this is how most people opposed to nuclear power feel, like an ant versus Pitt. Personally, I feel completely impotent, without any kind of meaningful platform, from which to resist the sheet physical size of the nuclear edifice.

    Nuclear power is exceptionally anti-democratic. You cannot oppose it, because roughly half the civil servants in the behind-the-scenes UK Government Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and related statutory agencies owe their salaries to this one energy technology. Admittedly, most of them are paid to deal with the aftermath of nuclear power – the legacy and future legacy of decommissioned reactors, radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel. With this kind of investment of state personnel in nuclear power, it is likely to be very improbable that any upcoming government could begin to wind down the focus on atomic energy.

    There has been no effective resistance to the UK’s outline plans for 16 gigawatts of new nuclear power, to replace the reactors that are getting dangerous and need to be closed down by 2023 or so. And no public voice strong enough to be taken seriously to criticise the proposals for an even larger number “fleet” : “16GWe is only the ‘first tranche’ figure and substantially below the 75GWe upper limit being examined in DECC.” Oh yes, there are thousands of people protesting against new nuclear power, academics, engineers, campaigners, but their words, their essays, their complaints, their research, are virtually inaudible against this state machine. By comparison, it is easy to kick up a fuss about the siting of wind turbines and get some kind of reaction.

    It was too easy to recruit a number of public voices to the “cause” of nuclear power – touted as a remedy to climate change – and hide behind this facade of acceptance, and use it as proof that the people want atomic energy. It didn’t matter if these voices were experts or not. People who “came out” in support of nuclear power included : Mark Lynas, George Monbiot, Stephen Tindale, Patrick Moore, James Lovelock – not one of them a nuclear physicist. Even now, James Hansen is being used as a pro-nuclear power authority, even though he’s a Climate Change scientist, not a nuclear power engineer.

    Where there’s muck, there’s brass – it’s almost as if the UK Government relish the thought of centuries more of radioactive manure, as it will certainly keep themselves and their establishment-embedded offspring in muck-based pensions, if not fortunes. Why does the State need to be so heavily involved ? Because the nuclear power generators have been so patently reluctant or incapable to process their own waste – especially if the businesses have gone into administration before the decommissioning of the plant.

    There is no collective dialogue around how to turn back these really disturbing plans for new nuclear power. The risks of major accidents have not been eliminated in the reactor and power plant designs. The risk of proliferation – the abuse of radioactive materials for military purposes – is still right there staring in the face of the planners. The risks surrounding the programmes to dispose of radioactive waste and radioactive spent nuclear fuel are essentially unquantified and unquantifiable.

    What drives these people onward to further chaos ? Are they doomed, like Achilles, to fight a fruitless battle ? Have they been cursed by the gods ? Do they not see the vulnerabilities of their plans and the technology of nuclear power itself ?

  • Champagne with Michael Caine

    Posted on December 11th, 2013 Jo No comments

    It was like a very bad sitcom from 1983 at the House of Commons this afternoon. “You saw Ed Balls running around in full Santa outfit ?” “Yeah ! The proper job.” “You know what we should do ? Put a piece of misteltoe above that door that everyone has to go through.” “You do it. I’ve heard you’re very good with sticky-backed plastic…”

    Once again Alan Whitehead MP has put on a marvellous Christmas reception of the All Party Parliamentary Renewable And Sustainable Energy Group, or PRASEG. The one flute of champagne in the desert-like heat of the Terrace Pavilion at the Houses of Parliament was enough to turn me the colour of beetroot and tomato soup, so when Alan despaired of getting anything altered, I took on the role of asking the lovely Pavilion staff to turn the heating down, what with Climate Change and everything, which they nobly obliged to do.

    In the meantime, I was invited onto the terrace overlooking the Thames by Christopher Maltin of Organic Power, to refresh myself. The winter night had fallen like a grey duvet, and what with the lingering fog and the lighting schemes for famous buildings, and the purple-blue sky behind it all, it was quite romantic out there. But very, very cold, so we didn’t discuss biogas and biosyngas for long.

    Back in the Pavilion, we were addressed by the fabulously debonair Lord Deben, John Gummer, sporting a cheery red pocket kerchief in his dark suit. During his talk, announcing the Committee on Climate Change confirmation of the Fourth Carbon Budget, and urging us to be “missionary” in influencing others over Climate Change mitigation, across the room I espied a younger gentleman who had, shall I say, a rather keen appearance. Was he a journalist, I asked myself, paying so much attention ? In fact, wasn’t he Leo Hickman, formerly of The Guardian ? No, he was not, but it was a bit shadowed at that end of the room, so I can’t blame myself for this mistake.

    When he had finally worked the room and ended up talking with me, he turned out to be Jack Tinley, Relationship Manager for Utilities at Lloyds Bank, in other words, in Big Finance, and currently seconded to the UK Government Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), so that was what explained his preppiness. I explained my continuing research into Renewable Gas, and he recommended Climate Change Capital for all questions of financing renewable energy, should I encounter any project that needed investment. Very helpful. Although he didn’t know who Leo Hickman is. Talking with him, and the guy from TEQs (Tradable Energy Quotas) was so interesting, I absentmindedly ate some…no… loads of party snacks. I need to make a strong mental note not to eat too many party snacks in future.

    After the illuminating and encouraging speeches from Lord Deben and Alan Whitehead MP, we were delightfully surprised by the attendance of, and an address by, Greg Barker MP, a “drive by speech” according to Alan. I was struck, that with his new specs, “Curly” Greg looks astonishingly like a young Michael Caine. During his speech he said that we ought to put the damaging controversy about energy behind us and move on into a year of great opportunity, now that the House of Lords had approved the Energy Bill. And then he pushed his glasses back up his nose in a way that was so Michael Caine, I nearly laughed out loud. Greg expressed the wish that the energy industry would become a “sexy sector”, at which point I corpsed and had to turn away silently laughing with a hand clamped over my mouth.

    Afterwards, I shook Greg by the hand, and asked if he would please unblock me on Twitter. He asked if I had been posting streams and streams of Tweets, and I said I don’t do that these days. When I suggested that he reminded me of Michael Caine, he was rather amused, but he did check I meant the Michael Caine of the 1960s, not the actor of today.

    Other people I spent time talking to at the PRASEG reception were Professor Dave Elliott of the Open University, and author on renewable energy; Steven English who installs ground source heat pumps; and Steve Browning, formerly of the National Grid; all in the Claverton Energy Research Group forum.

    I explained the foundations of my research into Renewable Gas to a number of people, and used the rhetorical question, “Germany’s doing it, so why can’t we ?” several times. I bet the Chinese are doing it too. I mean they’re doing everything else in renewable energy. In copious quantities, now they’ve seen the light about air pollution.

    I ended the event by having a serious chat with a guy from AMEC, the international engineering firm. He commented that the “Big Six” energy production and supply companies are being joined by smaller companies with new sources of investment capital in delivering new energy infrastructure.

    I said it was clear that “the flight of international capital” had become so bad, it had gone into geostationary orbit, not coming down to land very often, and that funding real projects could be hard.

    I suggested to him that the “Big Six” might need to be broken up, in the light of their edge-of-break-even, being locked into the use of fossil fuels, and the emergence of some of these smaller, more liquid players, such as Infinis.

    I also suggested that large companies such as AMEC should really concentrate on investing in new energy infrastructure projects, as some things, like the wind power development of the North Sea are creating genuine energy assets, easily shown if you consider the price of Natural Gas, which the UK is having to increasingly import.

  • My Generation

    Posted on November 21st, 2013 Jo No comments

    Each of us, be we wise or distracted, are in some way invested in the future, in how the future is for ourselves, and those that come after us. What we do now, we do for the present, because of the past, in anticipation of what is to come, building a foundation, a support, a frame, for the future that will emerge. We save money; we learn new skills; we invest in friendships. And since the medium is the message, we enact the future, making a silhouette, a pattern, of how the future will appear. We lead by doing. We challenge by creating. We teach by learning. We take the step forward that others will in their turn take. And so it is that I have caught the sunshine and made it work for me, because that is one important way in which tomorrow’s power will be made. Today a significant milestone was reached in my rooftop solar photovoltaic electricity generation – 4MWh – four megawatt hours, from a 3kW capacity system, installed on 18 November 2011, just over two years ago. Here are my recent readings :-

    17 November 2013 17:30 3996.5 kWh
    20 November 2013 10:10 3998.5 kWh
    20 November 2013 16:45 3999.0 kWh
    21 November 2013 10:10 3999.1 kWh
    21 November 2013 11:50 3999.4 kWh
    21 November 2013 15:25 4000.2 kWh
    21 November 2013 18:30 4000.2 kWh

  • Biomass : Chainsaw of Destruction

    Posted on October 29th, 2013 Jo No comments

    This evening I was at a very interesting meeting hosted by BiofuelWatch in the fabulous Lumen Centre near King’s Cross, London.

    The new report “Biomass : Chain of Destruction” was launched with public Skype interviews with colleagues in Brazil and the United States. All very 2013, but the biomass combustion technologies of concern are mostly all so last century.

    Ordinary combustion of any biological material, whether ancient trees, such as coal, or modern trees, in the form of compressed wood pellets, is generally inefficient. But to burn biomass to create heat to vapourise water to make steam to turn electrical turbines to make power is scandalously wasteful.

    In the Executive Summary of the report (downloaded from this website), these demands were made :-

    “1. Large­scale industrial bioenergy to be removed
    from definitions of “renewable energy”. The term
    “renewable” must be formalized to reflect the real
    costs to the environment and public health.”

    “2. An end to subsidies, including targets and other
    state incentives, for industrial bioenergy.”

    “3. A major policy shift away from large­scale energy
    generation through combustion, towards our energy
    needs being satisfied through a combination of
    genuinely climate­friendly renewable energy and a
    substantial reduction in both energy generation and

    A discussion arose in my corner of the room about where we should draw the line between “good” biomass applications, and “bad” biomass applications. It was generally agreed that burning local biomass for local heat in an efficient machine, would limit particulate emissions and be very energy efficient and sustainable.

    And at the other end of the scale, I am looking at the potential for the highly-efficient gasification of biomass to make Renewable Gas – the higher temperatures mean that less carbon particulates, tars and poisons remain. For centralised Renewable Gas plants, air quality management would be necessary, through the capture and filtering of particulates and other unwanted by-products, but the cost of this is manageable at this scale.

    If ordinary incineration or combustion is being done at the medium to large scale, this is likely to be the cause of major problems, in the event of sharply rising levels of biomass burning for electricity production. The inefficiency of the energy conversion will mean that full air quality protection may be too expensive to apply to the exhaust, and it will be simply vented to air.

  • St Jude 1 : Nuclear 0

    Posted on October 28th, 2013 Jo 1 comment

    As if to prove how inadequate nuclear power is as a reliable long-term energy investment strategy for the UK, one little gale forced the Dungeness B station to go offline. Aptly, this storm is now being referred to as “St Jude’s” – he the patron saint of lost causes. Here is a dialogue from one of the networked forums I read :-

    From: Alexander
    Date: Monday, 28 October 2013, 12:38
    Subject: New UK wind energy record ?

    Hi All,

    While we are busy discussing Hinkley C and the Government’s atomic power plans, it looks as though wind energy may have hit a new record high of 5,254 MW [megawatts], courtesy of the storm, now named St Jude or something like that.

    See BM Reports [Balancing Mechanism for the National Grid, Reports] settlement period 38 for 28-10-13.

    The predicted output was 6,185 MW, so maybe there was curtailment [wind turbines turned off] due to excessive wind speeds or lack of grid connection capacity. However, I don’t think I have seen such a high total grid connected wind output before.

    From: Fred
    Date: Mon, Oct 28, 2013 at 2:04 PM

    We hit 5,739 MW of grid connected wind on the 15th September this year (2013). This was from 7,136 MW of grid connected capacity.

    I don’t think it was that windy in Scotland. The [National] Grid normally overestimates the power it gets from [wind power]. My impression is that the Irish, who have a much harder job in estimating wind are getting better at it. In our case there has been no real improvement in predictive power since I began monitoring wind [power] some five years ago.

    There was also a sudden drop in nuclear output of about 900 MW, last night from over 8 GW [gigawatts] down to about 7.1 GW. Was this a power line failure or something like Hartlepool having to be taken back off line ?

    From: Martin
    Date: Mon, Oct 28, 2013 at 2:21 PM

    Nuclear outage was Dungeness B :-

    From: Bert
    Date: Mon, Oct 28, 2013 at 2:27 PM

    I wonder what the ‘wind backup fraternity’ (including Michael Portillo) make of the Dungeness outage ?

    [This is a reference to those who say that wind power is not useful, since it is variable, and needs to be backed up by other generation sources when the wind is not blowing.]

    From: Neil
    Date: Mon, Oct 28, 2013 at 2:34 PM

    Well spotted Fred, thanks Martin.

    After all those years of public meetings and letters in the press about turbines turning off in high winds and large-scale intermittency due to storm fronts shutting down windfarms !

    1.1 GW instantaneous [loss of power] – and smack on the morning [power demand] pick-up – that will be hard to beat !

    Made my day.

    PS North Wales is not even particularly windier than usual.

    From: Fred
    Date: Mon, Oct 28, 2013 at 3:34 PM

    Dear Martin (and Neil),


    A pinch of observation is worth a ton of pontificating.

    So Dungeness B is off-line owing to this lesser “Great Storm”.

    However I do wonder what goes on at an AGR [Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor] in such circumstances. There is huge amount of heat within the reactor and CO2 [Carbon Dioxide] circuit, so steam production will continue for at least a few hours, even if the control rods are dropped in.

    Presumably most of the steam has to be diverted into the condenser by-passing the turbines, but presumably some power will need to be generated to keep the CO2 circulating fans going.

    For the staff this will be a very “active” time after the usual months of staring at dials which only change by microscopic amounts. It would be interesting to see how long it takes to get the plant back on line.

    From: Alexander
    Date: Mon, Oct 28, 2013 at 4:02 PM

    Fred, Martin, Neil,

    OK so no new wind record, but curtailment of atomic power Dungeness B by a storm which didn’t quite seem to equal 1987′s hurricane, presumably from the grid being brought down. As you state, this demonstrates the vulnerability of large generating units compared to the multiplicity of renewable sources. It seems that increased use of pumped storage and HEP [HydroElectric Power] together with some OCGT [Open Cycle Gas Turbine] was used to cover for the 800 MW loss.

    As you say, observation of factual record is invaluable.

    From: Dave A.
    Date: Mon, Oct 28, 2013 at 4:08 PM

    Hang on Alexander, this is EXACTLY the scenario that the STOR [National Grid's Short-Term Operating Reserve] system introduced by [National] Grid was designed for, and this includes nearly 1 GW of diesels [power generation using diesel engines] which can start in less then 5 minutes (more complicated than that actually) with instantaneous load shedding used to deal with the 5 minutes. See :

    Exactly the same system could be used, even with 4,000 MW of diesel to deal with the rare, sudden and unpredicted loss of wind output, whilst other firm plant are brought up.

    From: Bert
    Date: Mon, Oct 28, 2013 at 4:08 PM

    > It would be interesting to see how long it takes to get the plant back on line.
    > Fred

    Quote from article posted by Martin earlier:

    unit availability was expected to be zero for the next seven days.

    From: Alexander
    Date: Mon, Oct 28, 2013 at 4:17 PM

    OK Dave,

    Maybe STOR diesels could have been activated, but inspection of the BM Reports appeared to show that the shortfall was made up by increased use of pumped storage and HEP together with some OCGT. I believe their start up times are at least as short or shorter than the diesels.
    Just interpreting what happened.

    From: Martin
    Date: Mon, Oct 28, 2013 at 4:19 PM

    This sudden and substantial outage is not considered newsworthy by the BBC – a search on their website finds nothing. Curious considering the high profile media coverage of energy just now !

    From: Dave A.
    Date: Mon, Oct 28, 2013 at 4:27 PM

    Yes – Dinorwic can go to full power if spinning in air in about 10 secs I think ? Something like. Diesels can start to full load in about 15 secs, but grid expects them to do it in 2, 5 or 20 minutes depending on band they bid into. OCGT are much longer something like 1/2 an hour, and don’t start reliably, and if they don’t start there is a very long purge period, whereas diesels can be repeatedly cranked.

    From: Alexander
    Date: Mon, Oct 28, 2013 at 4:39 PM


    I did hear mention of it on World at One Radio 4.

    From: Dave A.
    Date: Mon, Oct 28, 2013 at 5:46 PM

    In the last big storm a lot of the outages on large power stations were caused by wind blowing debris such as wet plastic sheeting which became wrapped around the HV [High Voltage] lines.

    From: Dave A.
    Date: Mon, Oct 28, 2013 at 5:52 PM

    Worth saying again, that the reason the UK has STOR of the size it is, – about 2 GWe, is ENTIRELY due to Sizewell B, which was originally planned to be 2 x 660 MW separate sets, but due to the high cost, Walter Marshall, the then CEGB chairman set up a task force to lower the price. (Think about it, it’s not possible to just lower the price of some engineering at the stroke of a pen, it has consequences) and the result was that the 2 660 [units] behaved as one, so if one shut down, so did the other.

    Thus STOR is designed to meet the sudden failure of Sizewell two 660 MW sets.

    From: David H.
    Date: Mon, Oct 28, 2013 at 5:59 PM

    It may be worth looking at any change in forward prices over the next week. The Reuters report said the reactors would be off-line for at least a week. A week is 176 hours. Assuming 1GW, that means the system is short some 176GWh and this will need to be purchased, probably by EDF. This should make the market move, but by how much ?

    There is discrepancy between Reuters and “observation”. Fred’s reports are of 800 MW reductions, yet Reuters says 2 * 550 MW, and Neil says 1.1 GW (I assume from 2 * 550 MW). The 800 MW could represent the exports, with the further 300 MW being the parasitic load. EdF website says “Net electrical output” of 1,040 MW. To quote Wikipedia “consisting of two 615 MW reactors [...] Like the “A” station, its turbines were built by C.A. Parsons & Company and it has two 600 MWe [megawatts of electrical power] turbo-alternator sets, producing a maximum output of 1.200 MWe, though net output is 1,090 MWe after the effects of house load, and downrating the reactor output due to corrosion and vibration concerns.”

    The report says that the shutdown was caused because power to the site was shut off. Of course, I doubt it was “shut off”, but it could well have failed. Could this make NG [National Grid] liable for the no doubt substantial financial losses to Dungeness. And a grid failure of two double circuit tower lines (separately routed for all but the last mile or two) is cause for serious concern. I wonder where that failure arose.

    From: Bert
    Date: Mon, Oct 28, 2013 at 5:59 PM

    Are the costs of extra STOR included in the cost calculations for Hinkley ?

    From: David E.
    Date: Mon, Oct 28, 2013 at 6:01 PM

    As at Fukushima, without external power you are reliant on diesel [power generation] sets to maintain cooling of decay heat (they can’t self generate without risks – that was what Chernobyl was trying to test…) Maybe they were (wisely) nervous about the pumps not runnning, or even about inundation during the storm. Dungeness is at sea level and one of the UK sites most at risk of surge storm flooding. But in any case there was plenty of wind [power] coming in to the grid so we didn’t need Dungeness. It’s a textbook example of what we will see in the future. Inflexible nuclear caught out by climate change and renewables stepping in to take over – when they can. If demand had been very high (and there was no wind [power]) then the gas plants would have to take the extra strain. The small extra cost of running them more ought then I guess be paid by nuclear [power plant operators], since it was that which failed, though I can see why some would say it would be wind’s problem too.

    From: Dave A.
    Date: Mon, Oct 28, 2013 at 6:09 PM

    [re: added STOR costs] actually they will be trivial…..but of course, because the plant sizes are bigger, [the total amount of] STOR [capacity] will have to increase :-)

    From: Dave A.
    Date: Mon, Oct 28, 2013 at 8:23 PM

    [re: the BBC not covering this nuclear outage] They are afraid of getting their knuckles rapped by that Grant Shapps. Who is demanding they are more transparent and open, in the ways that government ministers are with the jobs they will go on to in the nuclear industry when they leave office.


    From: Dave A.
    Date: Mon, Oct 28, 2013 at 9:04 PM

    It doesn’t prove anything, we all know that nuclear power stations and other power stations suffer sudden unpredictable outages needing back up.

    What is interesting is to see if the dumb media report this and contrast it with the exaggerated claims of anti-wind folk about wind’s unreliability.

    From: Fred
    Date: Mon, Oct 28, 2013 at 10:36 PM

    From the Daily Telegraph

    “A nuclear power station automatically shut down its reactors after debris blown by hurricane-strength winds fell onto its power lines and led to a loss of supply. It could be up to a week before the two units at Dungeness B plant in Kent – one of Britain’s nine nuclear power stations – are up and running again. But a spokeswoman for EDF Energy, which runs the site, said she hoped energy would be restored much sooner and that the public should “absolutely not” be concerned by the shut-down. The two units shut down safely and diesel generators within the site were providing power for essential systems to continue to operate, Sue Fletcher of EDF said. “This is an issue caused by the unusual weather, which led to a loss of power like many of the homes in the surrounding area,” Ms Fletcher said. “We share the discomfort of people locally.” The plant has the capacity to produce 1040 megawatts of energy, providing power for some 1.5 million homes. More than 200,000 homes across the country have experienced a loss of power because of what has been dubbed ‘St Jude’s’ storm. Martin Pearson, station director at Dungeness B, added: “This is a scenario we are well prepared for and we quickly responded calmly and professionally to the loss of supply. The reactors are safely shutdown and National Grid staff are now working to restore the supply and once that is done we’ll bring both units back on line.”

    From: Neil


    What does a small (20 kW ?) wind turbine blown over prove – very little – but it got shown on TV today and I bet it may provide some grist for the anti-wind lobby.

    That fact that a 1 GW nuclear power station goes down in the same storm and its NOT deemed TV newsworthy (I have mainly monitored BBC) gives an insight to how the (BBC and other) journalists think…

    The debate between wind / renewables and nuclear is visceral – ‘relating to deep inward feelings rather than to the intellect’.

    Suppose I should write to the BBC Trust about content (they are suggesting that themselves at the moment for their review) !

    The incident does show a vulnerability of nuclear power stations – they are only a few diesels away from multi-billion £ disasters

  • Applemania : Condiments of the Season

    Posted on October 27th, 2013 Jo No comments

    Meditation at the moment consists of imaging a gentle stroll through russet, red and gold leaf-carpeted woods; whilst in the real world away from Autumnal reverie, there is a lot of hard work to do to deal with an exuberant embarrassment of London pommes.

    The Gift Economy is in full swing, with currency of jam jars, apple bags, crumble and chutney changing hands at speed in the valued transactions of the local non-moneyed market.

    I’ve definitely improved my apple harvesting technique, using an almost robotic claw on a long pole.

    Last year, there was barely a handful of fruit. This year has been exceptional for apples.

    Some people simply don’t have the time to pick, preserve and store, so they leave this glorious fermenting bounty to feed the mycellium, the ants, the fox, the pigeons, and the magpies. Others beaver away, diverting apples temporarily from the carbon cycle for the purpose of human nourishment.

    There’s juicing, pressing, coring, chopping, slicing, baking, cider racking, stewing, freezing and making a vast range of condiments. Today, I have eaten apples in four different formats. Apples are clearly going to feature a lot in my diet for the next few months, but I don’t think I can ever tire of eating apples, so that’s just peachy.

    I made a batch of a super-spicy new recipe for making chutney in a hurry, and it’s very heart-warming – or heartburn-ing if you’re not used to Eastern seasoning. This year, for the first time, I’ve tried storing whole apples for winter, and making dried apple rings.

    And because there is a river of produce, now we’re into the cooking apple phase, with huge green knobbly, waxy monsters, some weighing half a kilogramme raining down on our Newtonian heads, I have been able to re-invest in neighbourliness, offering apples to nine households directly around me, and leaving the more damaged fruit on the pavement in bags with a sign saying “FREE ! Fallers. Help Yourself.”

    And still, we do not have enough time to take and use all the produce, and time has become critical if there’s going to be a wind storm in the next few days. Food security in a re-localised cultivation community relies so much on the weather conditions. We may lose the rest of the fruit, but we hope we’ve picked enough to save the garden orchard trees from being blown over.

    We have tried to use as much as we can, but even if we cannot make optimal use of this year’s apple crop, we have already put enough away to meet all our dietary fruit needs until at least Christmas, if not beyond. And enough cidre de cru to warm the cockles of next year’s hearts.

    Next job : the marrows.


    Apple and Ginger Chutney


    All measures approximate – adjust to meet the goal of a product with the consistency of chunky dip, fairly dry.

    2 kilogrammes of green cooking apples, quartered, cored and tidied and chopped into matchsticks
    1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) of apple cider vinegar
    1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) of sunflower oil
    2 large red onions, peeled and chopped into matchsticks
    2 fingers of fresh ginger root, peeled and chopped into matchsticks
    cup (16 tablesppons) of sugar
    4 pinches (1 teaspoon) of dried cayenne or chili pepper
    8 pinches (2 teaspoons) of garam masala Indian spice mix
    8 pinches (2 teaspoons) of cumin seed (jeera)
    8 pinches (2 teaspoons) of cinnamon powder
    4 pinches (1 teaspoon) of ground black pepper
    8 pinches (2 teaspoons) of salt


    1. In the bottom of a large saucepan, fry the onion and cumin seed in the sunflower oil to sweat the onions until they are translucent. This should take around 7 to 12 minutes.

    2. Add the garam masala, cayenne (or chili pepper) and cinnamon to the pan and stir for 1 minute.

    3. Add the apples, ginger, sugar, apple cider vinegar, salt and black pepper. Stir it so that the sugar dissolves into the apple cider vinegar.

    4. Keep the heat on, and keep stirring the mixture in the saucepan until the apples brown off and the sugar caramelises. This should take around 15 to 25 minutes.

    5. Put the chutney in jars with metal lids for storage.

    Spice Aware : to avoid heartburn, always eat this chutney in combination with other foods. Suggestions include : peanut butter and chutney on toast; chick pea houmouss and chutney on toast; chutney served as a relish alongside vork (vegan) sausages with apple-and-potato mash.

  • Economic Ecology

    Posted on October 25th, 2013 Jo No comments

    Managing the balance between, on the one hand, extraction of natural resources from the environment, and on the other hand, economic production, shouldn’t have to be either, or. We shouldn’t value higher throughput and consumption at the expense of exhausting what the Earth can supply. We shouldn’t be “economic” in our ecology, we shouldn’t be penny-pinching and miserly and short-change the Earth. The Earth, after all, is the biosystem that nourishes us. What we should be aiming for is an ecology of economy – a balance in the systems of manufacture, agriculture, industry, mining and trade that doesn’t empty the Earth’s store cupboard. This, at its root, is a conservation strategy, maintaining humanity through a conservative economy. Political conservatives have lost their way. These days they espouse the profligate use of the Earth’s resources by preaching the pursuit of “economic growth”, by sponsoring and promoting free trade, and reversing environmental protection. Some in a neoliberal or capitalist economy may get rich, but they do so at the expense of everybody and everything else. It is time for an ecology in economics.

    Over the course of the next couple of years, in between doing other things, I shall be taking part in a new project called “Joy in Enough”, which seeks to promote economic ecology. One of the key texts of this multi-workstream group is “Enough is Enough”, a book written by Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill. In their Preface they write :-

    “But how do we share this one planet and provide a high quality of life for all ? The economic orthodoxy in use around the world is not up to the challenge. [...] That strategy, the pursuit of never-ending economic growth has become dysfunctional. With each passing day, we are witnessing more and more uneconomic growth – growth that costs more than it is worth. An economy that chases perpetually increasing production and consumption, always in search of more, stands no chance of achieving a lasting prosperity. [...] Now is the time to change the goal from the madness of more to the ethic of enough, to accept the limits to growth and build an economy that meets our needs without undermining the life-support systems of the planet.”

    One of the outcomes of global capitalism is huge disparities, inequalities between rich and poor, between haves and have-nots. Concern about this is not just esoteric morality – it has consequences on the whole system. Take, for example, a field of grass. No pastoral herder with a flock of goats is going to permit the animals to graze in just one corner of this field, for if they do, part of the grassland will over-grow, and part will become dust or mud, and this will destroy the value of the field for the purposes of grazing. And take another example – wealth distribution in the United Kingdom. Since most people do not have enough capital to live on the proceeds of investment, most people need to earn money for their wealth through working. The recent economic contraction has persuaded companies and the public sector to squeeze more productivity out of a smaller number of employees, or abandon services along with their employees. A simple map of unemployment shows how parts of the British population have been over-grazed to prop up the economic order. This is already having impacts – increasing levels of poverty, and the consequent social breakdown that accompanies it. Poverty and the consequent worsening social environment make people less able to look after themselves, their families, and their communities, and this has a direct impact on the national economy. We are all poorer because some of our fellow citizens need to use food banks, or have to make the choice in winter to Heat or Eat.

    And let’s look more closely at energy. Whilst the large energy producers and energy suppliers continue to make significant profits – or put their prices up to make sure they do so – families in the lower income brackets are experiencing unffordability issues with energy. Yes, of course, the energy companies would fail if they cannot keep their shareholders and investors happy. Private concerns need to make a profit to survive. But in the grand scheme of things, the economic temperature is low, so they should not expect major returns. The energy companies are complaining that they fear for their abilities to invest in new resources and infrastructure, but many of their customers cannot afford their products. What have we come to, when a “trophy project” such as the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station gets signed off, with billions in concomitant subsidy support, and yet people in Scotland and the North East and North West of England are failing to keep their homes at a comfortable temperature ?

    There is a basic conflict at the centre of all of this – energy companies make money by selling energy. Their strategy for survival is to make profit. This means they either have to sell more energy, or they have to charge more for the same amount of energy. Purchasing energy for most people is not a choice – it is a mandatory part of their spending. You could say that charging people for energy is akin to charging people for air to breathe. Energy is a essential utility, not an option. Some of the energy services we all need could be provided without purchasing the products of the energy companies. From the point of view of government budgets, it would be better to insulate the homes of lower income families than to offer them social benefit payments to pay their energy bills, but this would reduce the profits to the energy companies. Insulation is not a priority activity, because it lowers economic production – unless insulation itself is counted somehow as productivity. The ECO, the Energy Company Obligation – an obligation on energy companies to provide insulation for lower income family homes, could well become part of UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s “Bonfire of the Green Tax Vanities”. The ECO was set up as a subsidy payment, since energy companies will not provide energy services without charging somebody for them. The model of an ESCO – an Energy Services Company – an energy company that sells both energy and energy efficiency services is what is needed – but this means that energy companies need to diversify. They need to sell energy, and also sell people the means to avoid having to buy energy.

    Selling energy demand reduction services alongside energy is the only way that privatised energy companies can evolve – or the energy sector could have to be taken back into public ownership because the energy companies are not being socially responsible. A combination of economic adjustment measures, essential climate change policy and wholesale price rises for fossil fuel energy mean that energy demand reduction is essential to keep the economy stable. This cannot be achieved by merely increasing end consumer bills, in an effort to change behaviour. There is only so much reduction in energy use that a family can make, and it is a one-time change, it cannot be repeated. You can nudge people to turn their lights off and their thermostats down by one degree, but they won’t do it again. The people need to be provided with energy control. Smart meters may or may not provide an extra tranche of energy demand reduction. Smart fridges and freezers will almost certainly offer the potential for further domestic energy reduction. Mandatory energy efficiency in all electrical appliances sold is essential. But so is insulation. If we don’t get higher rates of insulation in buildings, we cannot win the energy challenge. In the UK, one style of Government policies for insulation were dropped – and their replacements are simply not working. The mistake was to assume that the energy companies would play the energy conservation game without proper incentives – and by incentive, I don’t mean subsidy.

    An obligation on energy companies to deploy insulation as well as other energy control measures shouldn’t need to be subsidised. What ? An obligation without a subsidy ? How refreshing ! If it is made the responsibility of the energy companies to provide energy services, and they are rated, and major energy procurement contracts are based on how well the energy companies perform on providing energy reduction services, then this could have an influence. If shareholders begin to understand the value of energy conservation and energy efficiency and begin to value their energy company holdings by their energy services portfolio, this could have an influence. If an energy utility’s licence to operate is based on their ESCO performance, this could have an influence : an energy utility could face being disbarred through the National Grid’s management of the electricity and gas networks – if an energy company does not provide policy-compliant levels of insulation and other demand control measures, it will not get preferential access for its products to supply the grids. If this sounds like the socialising of free trade, that’s not the case. Responsible companies are already beginning to respond to the unfolding crisis in energy. Companies that use large amounts of energy are seeking ways to cut their consumption – for reasons related to economic contraction, carbon emissions control and energy price rises – their bottom line – their profits – rely on energy management.

    It’s flawed reasoning to claim that taxing bad behaviour promotes good behaviour. It’s unlikely that the UK’s Carbon Floor Price will do much apart from making energy more unaffordable for consumers – it’s not going to make energy companies change the resources that they use. To really beat carbon emissions, low carbon energy needs to be mandated. Mandated, but not subsidised. The only reason subsidies are required for renewable electricity is because the initial investment is entirely new development – the subsidies don’t need to remain in place forever. Insulation is another one-off cost, so short-term subsidies should be in place to promote it. As Nick Clegg MP proposes, subsidies for energy conservation should come from the Treasury, through a progressive tax, not via energy companies, who will pass costs on to energy consumers, where it stands a chance of penalising lower-income households. Wind power and solar power, after their initial investment costs, provide almost free electricity – wind turbines and solar panels are in effect providing energy services. Energy companies should be mandated to provide more renewable electricity as part of their commitment to energy services.

    In a carbon-constrained world, we must use less carbon dioxide emitting fossil fuel energy. Since the industrialised economies use fossil fuels for more than abut 80% of their energy, lowering carbon emissions means using less energy, and having less building comfort, unless renewables and insulation can be rapidly increased. This is one part of the economy that should be growing, even as the rest is shrinking.

    Energy companies can claim that they don’t want to provide insulation as an energy service, because insulation is a one-off cost, it’s not a continuing source of profit. Well, when the Big Six have finished insulating all the roofs, walls and windows, they can move on to building all the wind turbines and solar farms we need. They’ll make a margin on that.

  • Nuclear 1 : Insulation 0

    Posted on October 24th, 2013 Jo No comments

    David Cameron PM, the “PM” allegedly standing for “Panic Mode”, has pledged to drop £112 from the annual household energy bill by cutting green “taxes”. Many of the green energy and energy efficiency support measures aren’t actually designed to be paid for by taxes, in fact, but through energy bills.

    Nick Clegg was “stunned” by this announcement, and went on breakfast television to say so. Here’s what the Evening Standard said :-

    “[...] David Cameron today risked a huge coalition split by announcing that he will “roll back” green taxes that add £112 to soaring energy bills. The bombshell announcement was dropped in a packed Commons while his deputy Nick Clegg, a huge supporter of green measures, sat in stony-faced silence. Battling to regain the political initiative on home energy bills, Mr Cameron told MPs: “We need to roll back the costs that have been imposed on people’s energy bills.” Sources said changes could be announced as early as the Chancellor’s autumn statement. [... ] Among the charges on domestic bills is ECO, which pays energy firms to help vulnerable people and adds £50 to the average bill; a renewables obligation, costing families £30; insulation schemes costing £11 and renewables subsidies costing £30. His announcement comes a week after Lib-Dem Energy Secetary Ed Davey dismissed Tory calls to scrap green levies to reduce bills as “silly”. [...] Despite Lib-Dem ministers saying just weeks ago that green levies were needed, the Prime Minister told a packed Commons he was determined to reduce them “one way or another”. [...] Measures are now expected in the autumn statement in December to reduce the impact of environmental levies on fuel bills. Labour MPs jeered the Prime Minister, believing that he has been pushed to act due to Mr Miliband’s conference pledge to freeze energy bills. It comes 24 hours after former Prime Minister Sir John Major called for a windfall tax on energy companies to fund support for low-income families. Mr Cameron told MPs: “We need to roll back some of the green regulations and charges that are putting up bills.” The Lib-Dems have previously vowed to prevent any fall in green levies during this Parliament. [...]”

    In an email from somebody I shall just refer to as General Mayhem, there was this startling news – “[...] has just come back from a conference where someone from DECC let slip that ECO is dead in the water.” ECO – the Energy Company Obligation – an instrument that is designed to use Government funds to pay for energy companies to make energy efficiency improvements to the homes of low-income families.

    General Mayhem also had this to say :-

    “Whilst Cameron is now desperately trying to con the public into believing that cuts to energy ‘taxes’ won’t affect support for fuel poverty and have nothing to do with ensuring we can pay EDF for Hinckley C.”

    Ah yes, this is the same week that a massive UK Government announcement about nuclear power was made – with initial calculations suggesting that the guaranteed price for the electricity of the new Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant could give EdF a billion pounds of profit a year.

    Hmm. We can afford to support expensive atomic energy, but we cannot seem to find the money to insulate the homes of poor people.

    Nuclear 1 : Insulation 0.

  • Bursting Shale Gas Bubbles

    Posted on October 23rd, 2013 Jo No comments

    I am not confident that the American Shale Gas “boom” is as solid as energy analysts describe, so I set out to find some numbers, to try to check my suspicion.

    You know how it is with government websites : lots of webpages with little intelligence to help you navigate them to find out exactly the answers to your questions.

    I was trying to ascertain current American shale gas production data, and I kept finding myself at this webpage on the Energy Information Administration (EIA) website, and this one, too, which only have shale gas production data up until 2011 (just checked it again – still true).

    The only other thing I could see immediately was a computer model of USA Natural Gas production until 2040, Figure 91 on Page 79 of the Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) for 2013, and also on the website, at this webpage, where I could download the data from the model run. On Page 118 of the downloadable AEO, it indicated that the most recent real data was from the year 2011 :-

    “Figure 91. Natural gas production by source, 1990-2040: History: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Natural Gas Annual 2011, DOE/EIA-0131(2011) (Washington, DC, January 2013). Projections: AEO2013 National Energy Modeling System, run REF2013.D102312A.”

    I was unable to find any more recent data, although I knew it had to be captured, so I emailed the EIA to ask for help, and they said that more recent data on Shale Gas production was to be found here, at the bottom of the page with the chart “Monthly dry shale gas production”.

    The first thing of note is that only three shale gas regions or “plays” are still showing rising production – the Marcellus, Eagle Ford and a smidgen in the Bakken.

    The second thing of note is that the actual production of shale gas is higher than the projection from the Annual Energy Outlook for 2013 (based on 2011 data) :-

    Actual (average for the period 1st July 2012 to 30th June 2013) : 28.01 Bcf/d
    AEO 2013 Figure 91 model (average for 2012 and 2013) : 22.92 Bcf/d

    The third thing to note is the slowdown in the growth of shale gas production as a whole, tending to zero in maybe a few years time, whilst the AEO 2013 Figure 91 model projects continuing low figure percentages for growth in shale gas production. This model probably has an underlying assumption that new drilling for shale gas will take place.

    The fourth thing to note is where the AEO 2013 Figure 91 model expects significant growth to occur in Natural Gas production – Tight Gas – starting around 2016, Alaska starting in around 2024, offshore around 2030 and 2040, and Coalbed Methane starting in 2035.

    Conclusion : the EIA does not anticipate major growth trends in shale gas production in their projections – step change is expected from elsewhere.