Jo Abbess

Energy Change for Climate Control
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  • Renewable Energy : Google Blind

    Posted on November 23rd, 2014 Jo No comments

    In an interesting article by two Google engineers, Ross Koningstein and David Fork, "What It Would Really Take to Reverse Climate Change : Today’s renewable energy technologies won’t save us. So what will?", the authors concluded from their modelling scenarios that :-

    "While a large emissions cut sure sounded good, this scenario still showed substantial use of natural gas in the electricity sector. That’s because today’s renewable energy sources are limited by suitable geography and their own intermittent power production."

    Erm. Yes. Renewable electricity is variable and sometimes not available, because, well, the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine, you know. This has been known for quite some time, actually. It’s not exactly news. Natural Gas is an excellent complement to renewable electricity, and that’s why major industrialised country grid networks rely on the pairing of gas and power, and will do so for some time to come. Thus far, no stunner.

    What is astonishing is that these brain-the-size-of-a-planet guys do not appear to have asked the awkwardly obvious question of : "so, can we decarbonise the gas supply, then ?" Because the answer is "yes, very largely, yes."

    And if you have Renewable Gas backing up Renewable Power, all of a sudden, shazam !, kabam ! and kapoom !, you have An Answer. You can use excess wind power and excess solar power to make gas, and you can store the gas to use when there’s a still, cold period on a wintry night. And at other times of low renewable power, too. And besides using spare green power to make green gas, you can make Renewable Gas in other ways, too.

    The Google engineers write :-

    "Now, [Research and Development] dollars must go to inventors who are tackling the daunting energy challenge so they can boldly try out their crazy ideas. We can’t yet imagine which of these technologies will ultimately work and usher in a new era of prosperity – but the people of this prosperous future won’t be able to imagine how we lived without them."

    Actually, Renewable Gas is completely non-crazy. It’s already being done all over the world in a variety of locations – with a variety of raw resources. We just need to replace the fossil fuel resources with biomass – that’s all.

    And there’s more – practically all the technology is over a century old – it just needs refining.

    I wonder why the Google boys seem to have been so unaware of this. Maybe they didn’t study the thermodynamics of gas-to-gas reactions at kindergarten, or something.

    Thanks to the deliberate misinterpretation of the Google "brothers" article, The Register, James Delingpole’s Breitbart News and Joanne Nova are not exactly helping move the Technological Debate forward, but that’s par for the course. They rubbished climate change science. Now they’ve been shown to be wrong, they’ve moved on, it seems, to rubbishing renewable energy systems. And they’re wrong there, too.

    Onwards, my green engineering friends, and upwards.

  • 20 Letters

    Posted on November 22nd, 2014 Jo No comments


    [ Video : George Marshall of the Climate Outreach Information Network launching his new book "Don't Even Think About It" on the communication of climate change at the Harvard Book Store, whereto he had to fly, thereby causing significant personal carbon dioxide emissions. This YouTube does not feature Ian Christie, but is not entirely unrelated to his address, which is documented in the text below. ]

    Ian Christie of the Sustainable Lifestyles Research Group (SLRG) at the University of Surrey came to speak to the Green Christian Annual Members Meeting today under the heading “Sustainable Living : Why we struggle and how we can change”, and presided over three facilitated workshops on Church, Community and Campaigning. He was introduced as working with the Centre for Environmental Strategy at the University of Surrey, and having helped to pull together “Church and Earth”, the Seven Year Plan for the Church of England, as a response to the Alliance of Religions and Conservation initiative which culminated in the “Many Heavens, One Earth” Windsor Conference in November 2009. Ian Christie has also done project work with the Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development and the think tank Theos. He has been environmental advisor to the Bishop of Kingston.

    Ian Christie joked that his colleague Tim Jackson, who has written a best-selling book “Prosperity Without Growth”, sometimes feels he is on a permanent global tour, given the huge impact his work has had worldwide. The “paradox” is that his carbon footprint is enormous. Yet clearly there is great benefit from travel to present the messages from Tim’s research. This illustrates the clash of goods and values that is always present in our attempts to reduce our impacts and change lifestyles. Ian said that we shouldn’t beat ourselves up too much about our carbon emissions-filled lifestyles – many of us are doing reasonably well in not very promising circumstances. It’s not surprising that we haven’t made much progress in sustainable living – this is perhaps the biggest challenge humanity has set itself.

    Ian said, “Between 5% and 10% of the population (and this figure hasn’t changed over the last several years) are consistently trying to live as sustainably as they can in all areas of their lives. Meanwhile, another small segment – maybe 10% – 15% don’t care at all. The other two-thirds or more, including myself, are in the middle ground. We get confused. We sometimes give up on making particular changes. We might feel that taking the trouble on environmental issues is a bit of an effort – because other signals are not there, because other people are not doing it. Anyone who thinks we can bring about environmental “conversion”, person by person – it’s too difficult.”

    He went on to say, “As advocates of change, we don’t tell positive stories very well. We environmentalists have been much better at telling the alarming or apocalyptic event, rather than explaining the diagnosis of unsustainability. There’s a lack of supporting infrastructure for doing the sustainable things in everyday life. People get locked-in to high-carbon behaviours. We might want to do the green, sustainable thing but we can’t. The idea that “joy in less” is possible can seem unbelievable.” He went on to explain that, “consumption can make us feel good. More can be more. I get a thrill going into John Lewis sometimes, all those bright and shiny things. It’s amazing they’re available for sale and that I can afford them. Consumerism can feel like it is bringing real benefits. It can be fun.”

    Ian Christie remarked about the RESOLVE research at Surrey on the sense of “threatened identities”, a feeling that can arise when we’re asked to change our lifestyles – an important part of our identity can seem to be at stake. There is a lack of positive incentives and collective success stories. He gave an example – one where people cooking for their families want to recreate the cosy, nourishing food of their childhoods, or feel that they are giving a ‘proper meal’ to their loved ones, and they do that by using meat. These people find it hard to be told that they need to give up eating meat to save the planet. Another example, when people are told to cut down on car driving – there is a feeling of a loss of freedom, an assault on the idea that I can go where I like and do what I want to do. “Climate change is perhaps too big, distant or complicated for us. It is certainly too much for any one person to deal with”.

    Ian Christie spoke about the clash of desires and values – and that St Paul got there first (Romans 7:15-17) (and St Augustine, but paraphrased). He joked that he has discovered that many people had a dirty secret, which he calls “Top Gear Syndrome” – “you’d be surprised how many environmentalists like watching Top Gear”. He also mentioned what he termed “Copenhagen Syndrome” – where environmentalists feel that they need to attend every meeting on climate change – and so they fly there. People like to go to exotic places – many Greens included.

    Ian Christie emphasised that we can’t get to sustainable living one person at a time. He said that this amounted to a “Collective Action Problem” or (CAP). He showed us an image of what is commonly called a Mexican Stand-Off – where a group of three people have their weapons at each other’s throats and nobody will back down – each of the three major groups in society thinks that the other two should take the lead. So governments think that businesses and citizens should act. And citizens think that government and businesses should act. And businesses think that their consumers and governments should act.

    Ian said that there is a clear finding from social research that people feel safety in numbers – we like to feel that we fit in with our peers and neighbours – for example, in some cultures like America, people would rather make everyone feel comfortable than break out of normative behaviour or views. Individual households have a low perception of “agency” – feeling that they can make any significant change – that they don’t have sufficient capacity to act – “no clout”, as one member of the audience commented.

    Ian gave some examples of attitudes of people’s attitudes on environmental lifestyles : “I will even though you won’t – even though no one else steps forward”; “I will – but it’s never enough”; “I might if you will” or even, “I know you won’t, so don’t ask me”. He said that Collective Action Problems need to be addressed by all actors needing to be engaged. He said that there would be “no single ‘best buy’ policy” and that action will tend to be in the form of “clumsy solutions”. He said that people need “loud, long and legal” signals from government, consistent messages and incentives for change.

    Ian Christie said there is a community level of action possible – “communities of practice”. He recommended that we look up the CLASL research done by Defra/WWF. He mentioned “moments of change” – times of transition in life – and whether these might be appropriate times to offer support for alternative choices. He said that action by individuals cannot be guaranteed by giving messages to people as if they are only consumers, rather than citizens. If we say that something will save people money, they won’t necessarily act in ways that support a shift to sustainable lifestyles. We need to address people’s intrinsic values as well as material self-interest.

    Ian talked about some of the results of the research from the DEFRA-funded SLRG project, which is coming to an end. He spoke about the evidence of “Rebound Effects”, where people make savings on their carbon dioxide emissions by energy efficiency gains or other measures, and then spend the saved money in ways that can increase greenhouse gas emissions, like taking holidays by aeroplane – he mentioned the Tesco offer to “turn lights into flights”, where people were being encouraged to buy energy efficient light bulbs in exchange for Air Miles – “it’s going to make things much worse”. He said that research showed that re-spending (reinvestment) is what matters and that we need to go to the source of the emissions, through a carbon tax, for example.

    Ian Christie said that it is very limited what we can do as individual households. Lots of policymakers have thought to get through to people at moments of change – although there used to be no evidence. People’s habits and networks can be restructured for example when they move home, have a child or retire – a “habit discontinuity”. Research has now shown that there is a small but significant effect with house-movers – who are much more likely to act on information if they are given well-timed and designed information packages on green living – but only a small minority are truly motivated. He asked “how do we magnify this effect ?” The sheer act of moving house makes people amenable to change. Research has also shown that there might be a willingness amongst new parents – who would express more pro-environmental values as a result of having a new child – but are less capable of acting on these wishes. The reverse was found in those entering retirement – they wanted to live more frugally – but didn’t necessarily express this desire in terms of sustainable living.

    Ian said that the “window of opportunity” for introducing lifestyle change might be quite limited, perhaps a few months – and so people would not sustain their new habits without “lifestyle support systems”. People might not want to hear from a green group, but could be open to hearing from a church, or their Health Visitor, or Mumsnet. Maybe even a hairdresser ? One project that he recommended was PECT, the Peterborough Environment City Trust, which is acting as a facilitator for encouraging changes. He said people get demotivated if they feel businesses and governments are not doing the same thing. He mentioned avenues and approaches for increasing the sense of agency : framing environmental issues in : moments of change, local food growing, community energy groups, frugality, health and well-being…

    Ian Christie said that Church of England work on “Shrinking the Footprint” was poised to make fresh progress, with leadership from the new lead bishop on the environment, Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam.

    Ian Christie suggested that positive activities could inspire : why could a church not turn an emergency feeding centre – a food bank – into a food hub – a place where people could come for tools, seeds and food growing group support ? What about Cathedral Innovation Centres as catalysts for sustainable living schemes ? Why not partner with the National Trust or the National Health Service over environmental issues ? He said the NHS has a Sustainable Development Strategy – “one of the best I’ve seen”. How about calling for a New Green Deal for Communities ? One reason why the Green Deal has been so poorly supported has been it has been promoted to individuals and it’s much harder to get individuals to commit and act on projects.

    Ian pointed towards good intervention concepts : “safety in numbers” approaches, moments of change, congregation spaces, trusted peers in the community, consistent messages. He recommended Staying Positive : “look how far we’ve come”; we have two decisive decades ahead; Business As Usual is failing – CEOs are breaking ranks; cities are going green – and the churches are waking up to ecological challenges.

    In questions, I asked Ian Christie why he only had three social groups rather than four. I said that I see businesses broken down into two categories – those that produce energy and those that consume energy to provide goods and services. I said there were some excellent sustainable development strategies coming out of the private enterprises consuming energy, such as Marks and Spencer. He said that yes, amongst the fossil energy producing companies, there is a massive challenge in responding to climate change. He pointed to Unilever, who are beginning to see themselves as pioneers in a new model of sustainable business. There is a clear divergence of interest between fossil fuel producers and companies whose core business is being put at risk by climate disruption.

    When asked about whether we should try to set the economy on a “war footing” as regards climate change, Ian Christie said “we aren’t in a war like that. We ourselves, with our high-carbon consumption, are ‘the enemy’, if we want to put it like that. We are not in a process where people can be mobilised as in a war.” He said that the churches need to bring climate change into every talk, every sermon “this is how we do Christian witness”.

    In discussion after the breakout workshops, Ian Christie said that we need to try to get to local opinion-formers. He said that a critical mass of communication to a Member of Parliament on one subject could be as few as 20 letters. He said that mass letter writing to MPs is one way in which others seeking to influence policy “play the game” in politics, so we must do it too. For example, we could write to our churches, our leaders, our democratic representatives, and demand a New Green Deal for Communities, and in letters to political candidates for the General Election we could say it would be a critical factor in deciding who we vote for. In the General Election in 2015, Ian said that it could be a five-way split, and that the “green issue” could be decisive, and so we should say that our vote will go to the greenest of candidates.

    Ian said we should try to audit our church expertise, and that we should aim for our churches to give one clear overall narrative – not an “environmental narrative”, but one that urges us to be truly Christian. He said that it was important that church leaders talk the talk as well as walk the talk – making it normal to talk about these things – not keeping them partitioned. The weekly sermon or talk in church must tell this story. He said that people disagree for really good reasons, but that the issue was one of trying to create a setting in which disagreement can get somewhere. He mentioned the work of George Marshall and the Climate Outreach Information Network as being relevant to building narratives that work on climate change out of a silence or absence of dialogue.

  • Shell Shirks Carbon Responsibility

    Posted on November 19th, 2014 Jo No comments

    I was in a meeting today held at the Centre for European Reform in which Shell’s Chief Financial Officer, Simon Henry, made two arguments to absolve the oil and gas industry for responsibility for climate change. He painted coal as the real enemy, and reiterated the longest hand-washing argument in politics – that Shell believes that a Cap and Trade system is the best way to suppress carbon dioxide emissions. In other words, it’s not up to Shell to do anything about carbon. He argued that for transportation and trade the world is going to continue to need highly energy-dense liquid fuels for some time, essentially arguing for the continuation of his company’s current product slate. He did mention proudly in comments after the meeting that Shell are the world’s largest bioethanol producers, in Brazil, but didn’t open up the book on the transition of his whole company to providing the world with low carbon fuels. He said that Shell wants to be a part of the global climate change treaty process, but he gave no indication of what Shell could bring to the table to the negotiations, apart from pushing for carbon trading. Mark Campanale of the Carbon Tracker Initiative was sufficiently convinced by the “we’re not coal” argument to attempt to seek common cause with Simon Henry after the main meeting. It would be useful to have allies in the oil and gas companies on climate change, but it always seems to be that the rest of the world has to adopt Shell’s and BP’s view on everything from policy to energy resources before they’ll play ball.

    During the meeting, Mark Campanale pointed out in questions that Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs are going to bring Indian coal to trade on the London Stock Exchange and that billions of dollars of coal stocks are to be traded in London, and that this undermines all climate change action. He said he wanted to understand Shell’s position, as the same shareholders that hold coal (shares), hold Shell. I think he was trying to get Simon Henry to call for a separation in investment focus – to show that investment in oil and gas is not the same as investing in Big Bad Coal. But Simon Henry did not bite. According to the Carbon Tracker Initiative’s report of 2013, Unburnable Carbon, coal listed on the London Stock Exchange is equivalent to 49 gigatonnes of Carbon Dioxide (gtCO2), but oil and gas combined trade shares for stocks equivalent to 64 gtCO2, so there’s currently more emissions represented by oil and gas on the LSX than there is for coal. In the future, the emissions held in the coal traded in London have the potential to amount to 165 gtCO2, and oil and gas combined at 125 gtCO2. Despite the fact that the United Kingdom is only responsible for about 1.6% of direct country carbon dioxide emissions (excluding emissions embedded in traded goods and services), the London Stock Exchange is set to be perhaps the world’s third largest exchange for emissions-causing fuels.

    Here’s a rough transcript of what Simon Henry said. There are no guarantees that this is verbatim, as my handwriting is worse than a GP’s.

    [Simon Henry] I’m going to break the habit of a lifetime and use notes. Building a long-term sustainable energy system – certain forces shaping that. 7 billion people will become 9 billion people – [many] moving from off-grid to on-grid. That will be driven by economic growth. Urbanisation [could offer the possibility of] reducing demand for energy. Most economic growth will be in developing economies. New ways fo consuming energy. Our scenarios – in none do we see energy not growing materially – even with efficiencies. The current ~200 billion barrels of oil equivalent per day today of energy demand will rise to ~400 boe/d by 2050 – 50% higher than today. This will be demand-driven – nothing to do with supply…

    [At least one positive-sounding grunt from the meeting - so there are some Peak Oil deniers in the room, then.]

    [Simon Henry] …What is paramount for governments – if a threat, then it gets to the top of the agenda. I don’t think anybody seriously disputes climate change…

    [A few raised eyebrows and quizzical looks around the table, including mine]

    [Simon Henry] …in the absence of ways we change the use of energy [...] Any approach to climate change has got to embrace science, policy and technology. All three levers must be pulled. Need a long-term stable policy that enables technology development. We think this is best in a market mechanism. [...] Energy must be affordable at the point of use. What we call Triple A – available, acceptable and affordable. No silver bullet. Develop in a responsible way. Too much of it is soundbite – that simplifies what’s not a simple problem. It’s not gas versus coal. [Although, that appeared to be one of his chief arguments - that it is gas versus coal - and this is why we should play nice with Shell.]

    1. Economy : About $1.5 to $2 trillion of new money must be invested in the energy industry each year, and this must be sustained until 2035 and beyond. A [few percent] of the world economy. It’s going to take time to make [massive changes]. [...] “Better Growth : Better Climate” a report on “The New Climate Economy” by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, the Calderon Report. [The world invested] $700 billion last year on oil and gas [or rather, $1 trillion] and $220 – $230 billion on wind power and solar power. The Calderon Report showed that 70% of energy is urban. $6 trillion is being spent on urban infrastructure [each year]. $90 trillion is available. [Urban settings are] more compact, more connected, there’s public transport, [can build in efficiencies] as well as reducing final energy need. Land Use is the other important area – huge impact on carbon emissions. Urbanisation enables efficiency in distributed generation [Combined Heat and Power (CHP)], [local grids]. Eye-popping costs, but the money will be spent anyway. If it’s done right it will [significantly] reduce [carbon emissions and energy demand]…

    2. Technology Development : Governments are very bad at picking winners. Better to get the right incentives in and let the market players decide [optimisation]. They can intervene, for example by [supporting] Research and Development. But don’t specify the means to an end…The best solution is a strong predictable carbon price, at $40 a tonne or more or it won’t make any difference. We prefer Cap and Trade. Taxes don’t actually decrease carbon [emissions] but fundamentally add cost to the consumer. As oil prices rose [in 2008 - 2009] North Americans went to smaller cars…Drivers [set] their behaviour from [fuel] prices…

    [An important point to note here : one of the reasons why Americans used less motor oil during the "Derivatives Bubble" recession between 2006 and 2010 was because the economy was shot, so people lost their employment, and/or their homes and there was mass migration, so of course there was less commuter driving, less salesman driving, less business driving. This wasn't just a response to higher oil prices, because the peak in driving miles happened before the main spike in oil prices. In addition, not much of the American fleet of cars overturned in this period, so Americans didn't go to smaller cars as an adaptation response to high oil prices. They probably turned to smaller cars when buying new cars because they were cheaper. I think Simon Henry is rather mistaken on this. ]

    [Simon Henry] …As regards the Carbon Bubble : 65% of the Unburnable fossil fuels to meet the 2 degrees [Celsius] target is coal. People would stuggle to name the top five coal companies [although they find it easy to name the top five oil and gas companies]. Bearing in mind that you have to [continue to] transport stuff [you are going to need oil for some time to come.] Dealing with coal is the best way of moving forward. Coal is used for electricity – but there are better ways to make electricity – petcoke [petroleum coke - a residue from processing heavy and unconventional crude oil] for example…

    [The climate change impact of burning (or gasifying) petroleum coke for power generation is possibly worse than burning (or gasifying) hard coal (anthracite), especially if the pet coke is sourced from tar sands, as emissions are made in the production of the pet coke before it even gets combusted.]

    [Simon Henry] …It will take us 30 years to get away entirely from coal. Even if we used all the oil and gas, the 2 degrees [Celsius] target is still possible…

    3. Policy : We tested this with the Dutch Government recently – need to create an honest dialogue for a long-term perspective. Demand for energy needs to change. It’s not about supply…

    [Again, some "hear hears" from the room from the Peak Oil and Peak Natural Gas deniers]

    [Simon Henry] …it’s about demand. Our personal wish for [private] transport. [Not good to be] pushing the cost onto the big bad energy companies and their shareholders. It’s taxes or prices. [Politicians] must start to think of their children and not the next election…

    …On targets and subsidies : India, Indonesia, Brazil [...] to move on fossil fuel subsidies – can’t break the Laws of Economics forever. If our American friends drove the same cars we do, they’d reduce their oil consumption equivalent to all of the shale [Shale Gas ? Or Shale Oil ?]… Targets are an emotive issue when trying to get agreement from 190 countries. Only a few players that really matter : USA, China, EU, India – close to 70% of current emissions and maybe more in future. The EPA [Environmental Protection Agency in the United States of America] [announcement] on power emissions. China responded in 24 hours. The EU target on 27% renewables is not [country-specific, uniform across-the-board]. Last week APEC US deal with China on emissions. They switched everything off [and banned traffic] and people saw blue sky. Coal with CCS [Carbon Capture and Storage] we see as a good idea. We would hope for a multi-party commitment [from the United Nations climate talks], but [shows doubt]… To close : a couple of words on Shell – have to do that. We have only 2% [of the energy market], but we [hope we] can punch above our weight [in policy discussions]. We’re now beginning to establish gas as a transport fuel. Brazil – low carbon [bio]fuels. Three large CCS projects in Canada, EU… We need to look at our own energy use – pretty trivial, but [also] look at helping our customers look at theirs. Working with the DRC [China]. Only by including companies such as ourselves in [climate and energy policy] debate can we get the [global deal] we aspire to…

    [...]

    [Question from the table, Ed Wells (?), HSBC] : Green Bonds : how can they provide some of the finance [for climate change mitigation and adaptation] ? The first Renminbi denominated Green Bond from [?]. China has committed to non-fossil fuels. The G20 has just agreed the structure on infrastructure – important – not just for jobs and growth – parallel needs on climate change. [Us at HSBC...] Are people as excited about Green Bonds as we are ?

    [Stephen Tindale] Yes.

    [Question from the table, Anthony Cary, Commonwealth Scholarship Commission] …The key seems to be pricing carbon into the economy. You said you preferred Cap and Trade. I used to but despite reform the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) – [failures and] gaming the system. Tax seems to be a much more solid basis.

    [Simon Henry] [The problem with the ETS] too many credits and too many exemptions. Get rid of the exemptions. Bank reserve of credits to push the price up. Degress the number of credits [traded]. Tax : if people can afford it, they pay the tax, doesn’t stop emissions. In the US, no consumption tax, they are very sensitive to the oil price going up and down – 2 to 3 million barrels a day [swing] on 16 million barrels a day. All the political impact on the US from shale could be done in the same way on efficiency [fuel standards and smaller cars]. Green Bonds are not something on top of – investment should be financed by Green Bonds, but investment is already being done today – better to get policy right and then all investment directed.

    [...]

    [Question from the table, Kirsten Gogan, Energy for Humanity] The role of nuclear power. By 2050, China will have 500 gigawatts (GW) of nuclear power. Electricity is key. Particularly coal. Germany is building new coal as removing nuclear…

    [My internal response] It’s at this point that my ability to swallow myths was lost. I felt like shouting, politely, across the table : ACTUALLY KIRSTEN, YOU, AND A LOT OF OTHER PEOPLE IN THE ROOM ARE JUST PLAIN WRONG ON GERMANY AND COAL.

    “Germany coal power generation at 10-year low in August”, 9th September 2014

    And the only new coal-fired plants being built are those that were planned up to five years ago. No new coal-fired capacity is now being agreed.

    [Kirsten Gogan]…German minister saying in public that you can’t phase out nuclear and coal at the same time. Nuclear is not included in that conversation. Need to work on policy to scale up nuclear to replace coal. Would it be useful to have a clear sectoral target on decarbonising – 100% on electricity ?

    [Stephen Tindale] Electricity is the least difficult of the energy sectors to decarbonise. Therefore the focus should be on electricity. If a target would help (I’m not a fan) nuclear certainly needs to be a part of the discussions. Angela Merkel post-Fukushima has been crazy, in my opinion. If want to boost renewable energy, nuclear power will take subsidies away from that. But targets for renewable energy is the wrong objective.. If the target is keeping the climate stable then it’s worth subsidising nuclear. Subsidising is the wrong word – “risk reduction”.

    [Simon Henry] If carbon was properly priced, nuclear would become economic by definition…

    [My internal response] NO IT WOULDN’T. A LOT OF NUCLEAR CONSTRUCTION AND DECOMMISSIONING AND SPENT FUEL PROCESSING REQUIRES CARBON-BASED ENERGY.

    [Simon Henry] …Basically, all German coal is exempted (from the EU ETS). If you have a proper market-based system then the right things will happen. The EU – hypocrisy at country level. Only [a couple of percent] of global emissions. The EU would matter if it was less hypocritical. China are more rational – long-term thinking. We worked with the DRC. Six differing carbon Cap and Trade schemes in operation to find the one that works best. They are effectively supporting renewable energy – add 15 GW each of wind and solar last year. They don’t listen to NIMBYs [they also build in the desert]. NIMBYism [reserved for] coal – because coal was built close to cities. [Relationship to Russia] – gas replacing coal. Not an accident. Five year plan. They believe in all solutions. Preferably Made in China so we can export to the rest of the world. [Their plans are for a range of aims] not just climate.

    [...]
    [...]

    [Simon Henry] [in answer to a question about the City of London] We don’t rely on them to support our activities [my job security depends on a good relationship with them]]. We have to be successful first and develop [technological opportunities] [versus being weakened by taxes]. They can support change in technology. Financing coal may well be new money. Why should the City fund new coal investments ?

    [Question from the table, asking about the "coal is 70% of the problem" message from Simon Henry] When you talk to the City investors, do you take the same message to the City ?

    [Simon Henry] How much of 2.7 trillion tonnes of “Unburnable Carbon” is coal, oil and gas ? Two thirds of carbon reserves is coal. [For economic growth and] transport you need high density liquid fuels. Could make from coal [but the emissions impact would be high]. We need civil society to have a more serious [understanding] of the challenges.

    After the discussion, I asked Simon Henry to clarify his words about the City of London.

    [Simon Henry] We don’t use the City as a source of capital. 90% is equity finance. We don’t go to the market to raise equity. For every dollar of profit, we invest 75 cents, and pay out 25 cents as dividend to our shareholders. Reduces [problems] if we can show we can reinvest. [ $12 billion a year is dividend. ]

    I asked if E&P [Exploration and Production] is working – if there are good returns on investment securing new reserves of fossil fuels – I know that the company aims for a 10 or 11 year Reserves to Production ratio (R/P) to ensure shareholder confidence.

    Simon Henry mentioned the price of oil. I asked if the oil price was the only determinant on the return on investment in new E&P ?

    [Simon Henry] If the oil price is $90 a barrel, that’s good. At $100 a barrel or $120 a barrel [there's a much larger profit]. Our aim is to ensure we can survive at $70 a barrel. [On exploration] we still have a lot of things in play – not known if they are working yet… Going into the Arctic [At which point I said I hope we are not going into the Arctic]… [We are getting returns] Upstream is fine [supply of gas and oil]. Deepwater is fine. Big LNG [Liquefied Natural Gas] is fine. Shale is a challenge. Heavy Oil returns could be better – profitable, but… [On new E&P] Iraq, X-stan, [work in progress]. Downstream [refinery] has challenges on return. Future focus – gas and deepwater. [On profitability of investment - ] “Gas is fine. Deepwater is fine.”

    [My summary] So, in summary, I think all of this means that Shell believes that Cap and Trade is the way to control carbon, and that the Cap and Trade cost would be borne by their customers (in the form of higher bills for energy because of the costs of buying carbon credits), so their business will not be affected. Although a Cap and Trade market could possibly cap their own market and growth as the sales envelope for carbon would be fixed, since Shell are moving into lower carbon fuels – principally Natural Gas, their own business still has room for growth. They therefore support Cap and Trade because they believe it will not affect them. WHAT THEY DON’T APPEAR TO WANT PEOPLE TO ASK IS IF A CAP AND TRADE SYSTEM WILL ACTUALLY BE EFFECTIVE IN CURBING CARBON DIOXIDE EMISSIONS. They want to be at the negotiating table. They believe that they’re not the problem – coal is. They believe that the world will continue to need high energy-dense oil for transport for some time to come. It doesn’t matter if the oil market gets constrained by natural limits to expansion because they have gas to expand with. They don’t see a problem with E&P so they believe they can keep up their R/P and stay profitable and share prices can continue to rise. As long as the oil price stays above $70 a barrel, they’re OK.

    However, there was a hint in what Simon Henry talked about that all is not completely well in Petro-land.

    a. Downstream profit warning

    Almost in passing, Simon Henry admitted that downstream is potentially a challenge for maintaining returns on investment and profits. Downstream is petrorefinery and sales of the products. He didn’t say which end of the downstream was the issue, but oil consumption has recovered from the recent Big Dip recession, so that can’t be his problem – it must be in petrorefinery. There are a number of new regulations about fuel standards that are going to be more expensive to meet in terms of petroleum refinery – and the chemistry profiles of crude oils are changing over time – so that could also impact refinery costs.

    b. Carbon disposal problem

    The changing profile of crude oils being used for petrorefinery is bound to cause an excess of carbon to appear in material flows – and Simon Henry’s brief mention of petcoke is more significant than it may first appear. In future there may be way too much carbon to dispose of (petcoke is mostly carbon rejected by thermal processes to make fuels), and if Shell’s plan is to burn petcoke to make power as a solution to dispose of this carbon, then the carbon dioxide emissions profile of refineries is going to rise significantly… where’s the carbon responsiblity in that ?

  • UKERC : Gas by Design (2)

    Posted on November 14th, 2014 Jo No comments

    This week, I had the opportunity to join the launch of the UKERC’s latest research into the future of gas. The esteemed delegates included members of a Russian Trade Delegation and several people from the US Embassy. Clearly, the future of gas is an international thing.


    [continued from Gas by Design ]

    Mike Bradshaw, Warwick Business School = [MB]

    [MB] I’m somewhat daunted by this audience – the report is aimed perhaps for informed public audience. The media [ambushed us on the question of shale gas, shale gas attracted more attention] but things we didn’t cover much about there we can cover here. It’s been a real rollercoaster ride in the gas industry. Any flights of fancy (in the report) are our faults and not theirs [reference to work of colleagues, such as Jonathan Stern at Oxford Institute for Energy Studies]. A set of shortcomings dealing with the issue of Energy Security. There is a tendency to think that oil and gas are the same. They’re not. The framework, the actors and the networks, trade statistics, policies [much different for gas than for oil]. [In the UK for example we are seeing] a rapid increase in import dependence [and in other countries]. Need to [pay] particular understanding on what will happen in far-flung places. Today, the US-China agreement could influence gas demand. [In the literature on gas, some anomalies, perhaps]. Academics may not understand markets. [What we are seeing here is] the globalisation of UK gas security – primarily Europeanisation. There is growing uncertainty [about] the material flow of gas. [Threshold] balance in three sectors – strong seasonality, impact of climate and temperature [on gas demand]. The Russian agreement with Ukraine [and Europe] – the one thing everybody was hoping for was a warm winter. While the gas market is important [industrial use and energy use], domestic/residential demand is still very significant [proportion of total demand], so we need to look at energy efficiency [building insulation rates] and ask will people rip out their gas boilers ? For the UK, we are some way across the gas bridge – gas has enabled us to meet [most of] our Kyoto Protocol commitments. Not long until we’ve crossed it. Our coal – gone. With coal gone, what fills the gaps ? Renewable electricity – but there is much intermittency already. We’re not saying that import dependency is necessarily a problem. Physical security is not really the problem – but the [dependence on] the interconnectors, the LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) imports – these create uncertainties. The UK also plays a role as a gas exporter – and in landing Norwegian gas [bringing it into the European market]. I’m a geographer – have to have at least one map – of gas flows [in and out of the country]. The NTS (National Transmission System – the high pressure Natural Gas-carrying pipeline network – the “backbone” of the gas transmission and distribution system of National Grid] has responded to change – for example in the increasing sources of LNG [and "backflow" and "crossflow" requirements]. There are 9 points of entry for gas into the UK at the moment. If the Bowland Shale is exploited, there could be 100s of new points of entry [the injection of biogas as biomethane into the gas grid would also create new entry points]. A new challenge to the system. [The gas network has had some time to react in the past, for example] LNG imports – the decision to ramp up the capacity was taken a long time ago. [Evolution of] prices in Asia have tracked the gas away [from the European markets] after the Fukushima Dai-ichi disaster. And recently, we have decided to “fill up the tanks” again [LNG imports have risen in the last 24 or so months]. Very little LNG is “firm” – it needs to follow the market. It’s not good to simply say that “the LNG will come” [without modelling this market]. The literature over-emphasises the physical security of the upstream supplies of gas. [The projections have] unconventional gas growing [and growing amounts of biogas]. But it’s far too early to know about shale gas – far too early to make promises about money when we don’t even have a market [yet]. Policy cannot influence the upstream especially in a privatised market. The interconnectors into the European Union means we have to pay much more attention to the Third EU Energy Package. Colleagues in Oxford are tracking that. The thorny question of storage. We have less than 5 bcm (billion cubic metres). We’d like 10% perhaps [of the winter period demand ?] Who should pay for it ? [A very large proportion of our storage is in one place] the Rough. We know what happens – we had a fire at the Rough in 2006… Everyone worries about geopolitics, but there are other potential sources of problems – our ageing infrastructure [...] if there is a technical problem and high demand [at the same time]. Resilience [of our gas system is demonstrated by the fact that we have] gas-on-gas competition [in the markets] – “liquid” gas hub trading – setting the NBP (National Balancing Point). [There are actually 3 kinds of gas security to consider] (a) Security of Supply – not really a problem; (b) Security of Transport (Transit) – this depends on markets and (c) Security of Demand – [which strongly depends on whether there is a] different role for gas in the future. But we need to design enough capacity even though we may not use all of it [or not all of the time]. We have mothballed gas-fired power plants already, for reasons you all know about. We already see the failure of the ETS (European Union Emissions Trading Scheme) [but if this can be reformed, as as the Industrial Emissions Directive bites] there will be a return to gas as coal closes. The role of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) becomes critical in retaining gas. CCS however doesn’t answer issues of [physical energy security, since CCS requires higher levels of fuel use].

    [Question from the floor] Gas has a role to play in transition. But how do we need to manage that role ? Too much focus on building Renewable Energy system. What is the impact on the current infrastructure ? For managing that decline in the incumbent system – gas is there to help – gas by design rather than gas by default.

    [Question from the floor, Jonathan Stern] [In your graphs/diagrams] the Middle East is a major contributor to gas trade. We see it differently. The Qataris [could/may/will] hold back [with expanding production] until 2030. Iran – our study [sees it as] a substitute contributor. Oil-indexed gas under threat and under challenge. If you could focus more on the global gas price… [New resources of gas could be very dispersed.]Very difficult to get UK people to understand [these] impacts on the gas prices [will] come from different places than they can think of.

    [Question from the floor] Availability of CCS capacity ? When ? How much ? Assumptions of cost ?

    [Question from the floor : Tony Bosworth, Friends of the Earth] Gas as a bridge – how much gas do we need for [this process] ? What about unburnable carbon ? Do we need more gas to meet demands ?

    [Answer - to Jonathan Stern - from Christophe McGlade ?] The model doesn’t represent particularly well political probabilities. Iran has a lot of gas – some can come online. It will bring it online if it wants to export it. Some simplifications… might be over optimistic. Your work is helpful to clarify.

    On gas prices – indexation versus global gas price – all the later scenarios assumed a globalised gas price. More reasonable assumptions.

    On CCS : first [coming onstream] 2025 – initially quite a low level, then increasing by 10% a year. The capital costs are approximately 60% greater than other options and causes a drop in around 10% on efficiency [because making CCS work costs you in extra fuel consumed]. If the prices of energy [including gas] increase, then CCS will have a lesser relative value [?].

    On availability of gas : under the 2 degrees Celsius scenario, we could consume 5 tcm (trillion cubic metres) of gas – and this can come from reserves and resources. There are a lot of resources of Natural Gas, but some of it will be at a higher price. In the model we assume development of some new resources, with a growth in shale gas, and other unconventional gas. Because of the climate deal, we need to leave some gas underground.

    [Answer from the panel] Indexation of gas prices to oil… Further gas demand is in Asia – it’s a question of whose gas gets burnt. [Something like] 70% of all Natural Gas gets burned indigenously [within the country in which it is produced]. When we talk about “unburnable gas”, we get the response “you’re dreaming” from some oil companies, “it won’t be our fossil fuels that get stranded”. LNG models envisage a different demand profile [in the future, compared to now]. When China [really gets] concerned about air quality [for example]. Different implications.

    [Question from the floor, from Centrica ?] What’s in the model for the globalised gas price – Henry Hub plus a bit ? There is not a standard one price.

    [Question from the floor] On the question of bridging – the long-term bridge. What issues do you see when you get to 2030 for investment ? [We can see] only for the next few years. What will investors think about that ?

    [Question from the floor] [With reference to the Sankey diagram of gas use in the UK] How would that change in a scenario of [electrification - heat and transport being converted to run on electrical power] ?

    [Question from the floor] Stranded assets. How the markets might react ? Can you put any numbers on it – especially in the non-CCS scenario ? When do we need to decide [major strategy] for example, [whether we could or should be] shutting off the gas grid ? How would we fund that ? Where are the pinch points ?

    [Answer from the panel] On the global gas price – the model does not assume a single price – [it will differ over each] region. [The price is allowed to change regionally [but is assumed to arise from global gas trading without reference to oil prices.] Asian basin will always be more expensive. There will be a temperature differential between different hubs [since consumption is strongly correlated with seasonal change]. On stranded assets – I think you mean gas power plants ? The model is socially-optimal – all regions working towards the 2 degrees Celsius global warming target. The model doesn’t limit stranded assets – and do get in the non-CCS scenario. Build gas plants to 2025 – then used at very low load factors. Coal plants need to reduce [to zero] given that the 2 degrees Celsius targets are demanding. Will need gas for grid balancing – [new gas-fired power generation assets will be] built and not used at high load factors.

    [Answer from the panel] Our report – we have assume a whole system question for transition. How successful will the Capacity Mechanism be ? UKERC looking at electrification of heating – but they have not considered the impact on gas (gas-to-power). Will the incentives in place be effective ? The Carbon Budget – what are the implications ? Need to use whole system analysis to understand the impact on gas. Issue of stranded assets : increasingly important now [not at some point in the future]. On pinch point : do we need to wait another three years [for more research] ? Researchers have looked more at what to spend – what to build – and less on how to manage the transition. UKERC have started to explore heat options. It’s a live issue. Referenced in the report.

    [Question from the floor, from Richard Sverrisson, News Editor of Montel] Will reform to the EU ETS – the Market Stability Reserve (MSR) – will that be enough to bring gas plant into service ?

    [Question from the floor] On oil indexation and the recent crash in the crude price – what if it keeps continuing [downwards] ? It takes gas prices down to be competitive with hub prices. [What about the impact on the economic profitability of] shale oil – where gas driving related prices ? Are there some pricing [functions/variables] in the modelling – or is it merely a physical construct ?

    [Question from the floor, from Rob Gross of UCL] On intermittency and the flexibility of low carbon capacity. The geographical units in the modelling are large – the role of gas depends on how the model is constrained vis-a-vis intermittency.

    [Answer from the panel, from Christophe McGlade] On carbon dioxide pricing : in the 2 degrees Celsius scenario, the price is assumed to be $200 per tonne. In the non-CCS scenario, the price is in the region of $400 – $500 per tonne [?] From 2020 : carbon price rises steeply – higher than the Carbon Floor Price. How is the the 2 degrees Celsius target introduced ? If you place a temperature constraint on the energy system, the model converts that into carbon emissions. The latest IPCC report shows that there remains an almost linear trend between carbon budget and temperature rise – or should I say a greenhouse gas budget instead : carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). The emissions pledges of the [European Union ?] have been adopted by this model – also the development of renewable energy and fuel standards. No exogenous assumptions on carbon pricing. On intermittency – the seasonality is represented by summer, winter and intermediate; and time day generalised as morning, night, evening and peak (morning peak). [Tighter modelling would provide more] certainty which would remove ~40% of effective demand [?] Each technology has a contribution to make to peak load. Although, we assume nothing from wind power – cannot capture hour to hour market. The model does build capacity that then it doesn’t use.

    [Answer from the panel] On carbon pricing and the EU ETS reform : I wouldn’t hold my breath [that this will happen, or that it will have a major impact]. We have a new commission and their priority is Poland – nothing serious will happen on carbon pricing until 2020. Their emphasis is much more on Central European issues. I don’t expect to have a strong carbon price since policy [will probably be] more focussed on social democracy issues. Moving to a relatively lower price on oil : Asia will hedge. Other explorters currently sticking to indexation with oil. The low price of wet gas (condensate) in the USA is a result of the over-supply, which followed an over-supply in NGLs (Natural Gas Liquids) – a bumpy road. Implications from USA experience ? Again, comes back to watching what is happening in Asia.

    [to be continued...]

  • Steve Chalke : Ecosystem Faith (2)

    Posted on November 13th, 2014 Jo No comments

    Here is the SoundCloud recording of Reverend Steve Chalke’s address at the Pray and Fast for the Climate event on 1st November 2014 :-

  • UKERC : Gas by Design

    Posted on November 12th, 2014 Jo No comments

    Today I attended a meeting of minds.

    It’s clear to me that the near-term and mid-term future for energy in the United Kingdom and the European Union will best be centred on Natural Gas and Renewable Electricity, and now the UK Energy Research Centre has modelled essentially the same scenario. This can become a common narrative amongst all parties – the policy people, the economists, the technologists, the non-governmental groups, as long as some key long-term de-carbonisation and energy security objectives are built into the plan.

    The researchers wanted to emphasise from their report that the use of Natural Gas should not be a default option in the case that other strategies fail – they want to see a planned transition to a de-carbonised energy system using Natural Gas by design, as a bridge in that transition. Most of the people in the room found they could largely agree with this. Me, too. My only caveat was that when the researchers spoke about Gas-CCS – Natural Gas-fired power generation with Carbon Capture and Storage attached, my choice would be Gas-CCU – Natural Gas-fired power generation with Carbon Capture and Re-utilisation – carbon recycling – which will eventually lead to much lower emissions gas supply at source.

    What follows is a transcription of my poorly-written notes at the meeting, so you cannot accept them as verbatim.

    Jim Watson, UKERC = [JW]
    Christophe McGlade, University College London (UCL) = [CM]
    Mike Bradshaw, Warwick Business School = [MB]

    [JW] Thanks to Matt Aylott. Live Tweeting #FutureOfGas. Clearly gas is very very important. It’s never out of the news. The media all want to talk about fracking… If we want to meet the 2 degrees Celsius target of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, how much can gas be a part of this ? Is Natural Gas a bridge – how long a ride will that gas bridge be ?

    [CM] Gas as a bridge ? There is healthy debate about the Natural Gas contribution to climate change [via the carbon dioxide emissions from burning Natural Gas, and also about how much less in emissions there is from burning Natural Gas compared to burning coal]. The IPCC said that “fuel switching” from coal to gas would offer emissions benefits, but some research, notably McJeon et al. (2014) made statements that switching to Natural Gas cannot confer emissions benefits. Until recently, there have not been many disaggregated assessments on gas as a bridge. We have used TIAM-UCL. The world is divided into 16 regions. The “climate module” seeks to constrain the global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius. One of the outcomes from our model was that export volumes [from all countries] would be severaly impacted by maintaining the price indexation between oil and gas. [Reading from chart on the screen : exports would peak in 2040s]. Another outcome was that gas consumption is not radically affected by different gas market structures. However, the over indexation to the oil price may destroy gas export markets. Total exports of natural gas are higher under the 2 degrees Celsius scenario compared to the 4 degrees Celsius scenario – particularly LNG [Liquefied Natural Gas]. A global climate deal will support gas exports. There will be a higher gas consumption under a 2 degrees Celsius deal compared to unconstrained scenario [leading to a 4 degrees Celsius global temperature rise]. The results of our modelling indicate that gas acts as a bridge fuel out to 2035 [?] in both absolute and relative terms. There is 15% greater gas consumption in the 2 degrees Celsius global warming scenario than in the 4 degrees Celsius global warming scenario. Part of the reason is that under the 4 degrees Celsius scenario, Compressed Natural Gas vehicles are popular, but a lot less useful under the 2 degrees Celsius scenario [where hydrogen and other fuels are brought into play].

    There are multiple caveats on these outcomes. The bridging period is strictly time-limited. Some sectors need to sharply reduce consumption [such as building heating by Natural Gas boilers, which can be achieved by mass insulation projects]. Coal must be curtailed, but coal-for-gas substitution alone is not sufficient. Need a convincing narrative about how coal can be curtailed. In an absence of a global binding climate deal we will get consumption increases in both coal and gas. In the model, gas is offsetting 15% of coal by 2020, and 85% by 2030. With Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), gas’s role is drastically reduced – after 2025 dropping by 2% a year [of permitted gas use]. Not all regions of the world can use gas as a bridge. [Reading from the chart : with CCS, gas is a strong bridging fuel in the China, EU, India, Japan and South Korea regions, but without CCS, gas is only strong in China. With CCS, gas's bridging role is good in Australasia, ODA presumably "Offical Development Assistance" countries and USA. Without CCS, gas is good for Africa, Australasia, EU, India, Japan, South Korea, ODA and USA.]

    In the UK, despite the current reliance on coal, there is little scope to use it as a transition fuel. Gas is unlikely to be removed from UK energy system by 2050.

    [Question from the floor] The logic of gas price indexation with the oil price ?

    [CM] If maintain oil indexation, exports will reduce as countries turn more towards indigenous at-home production of gas for their domestic demand. This would not be completely counter-balanced by higher oil and therefore gas prices, which should stimulate more exports.

    [Point from the floor] This assumes logical behaviour…

    [Question from the floor] [Question about Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)]

    [CM] The model does anticipate more CCS – which permits some extra coal consumption [at the end of the modelling period]. Gas-CCS [gas-fired power generation with CCS attached] is always going to generate less emissions than coal-CCS [coal-fired power generation with CCS attached] – so the model prefers gas-CCS.

    [to be continued...]

  • Contracts for Difference Risks

    Posted on November 10th, 2014 Jo No comments

    The UK Government’s Electricity Market Reform (EMR) is a moving feast, or “trough”, if you are of the opinion that any state subsidy is a subsidy too far. My, how people complained and complained about the Renewables Obligation (RO), perhaps one of the world’s best stimuli for pushing forward wind power development. Yes, some rich engineering firms and rich landowners got richer on the back of the RO. What do you expect ? The wealthy always leverage their capital. But at least the RO has produced some exceptional wind power generation numbers. In the period 2017 to 2018 however, the RO is set to be staged down and replaced by several elements in the EMR, most notably, the CfD or Contracts for Difference, otherwise affectionately and quite inaccurately described as the FiT CfD – Feed-in Tariff Contracts for Difference.

    The basic plan for the CfD is to guarantee to new electricity generators, or old generators building new plant, a definite price on power sold, in order to ensure they can get debt and equity invested in their projects. However, this is a huge state intervention and potentially entirely scuppers the efforts to create a market in electricity. More dangerously, although the CfD is supposed to encourage the freeing up of capital to support new energy investment, it might fail in that, at least in the short-term, and it may even fail to make capital cheaper. This is due to the new kinds of risk associated with the CfD – particularly because of the long lead time from auction to allocation, and the cap on allocations. The CfD is designed to create project failures, it seems.

    I recently attended an event hosted at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster in London, called Energy4PowerLive 2014 and managed by GMP. The first session I attended was in the RenewablesLive 2014 stream, and featured a panel discussion between Andrew Buglass from Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), Philip Bazin of Triodos and Steve Hunter, Investment Director of Low Carbon.

    What follows is not verbatim, and is based on my handwritten notes, and my handwriting is appalling, so that sometimes, even I cannot read it.

    [ Andrew Buglass, Managing Director and Head of Energy, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) : "Financing CfD projects - initial impressions from a lender" ]

    [You may have an interest in the actions of] RBS [heckle from the audience, "We own it !"]. We built our first renewable energy project in 1991 – an onshore wind turbine. Now we [have helped] finance 9 gigawatts of renewable energy. I have 15 minutes – only possible to scratch the surface of CfDs [Contracts for Difference - a subsidy under the UK Government Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) Electricity Market Reform (EMR))]. The EMR journey has been a very long one – four years. We have offered advice to the government – about the bankability of the policy. DECC have a different policy perspective – they are going over here [in this direction] whether or not… [Their aim was to] encourage new sources of investment debt and equity, [currently] not here in the UK. [...] Matt Hancock, new [energy] minister [...] £115 [billion ?] [...]. Half of £100 billion needed by end of decade. The EMR framework is [intended] to bring in new sources of debt and equity – its ability to track that into the market. I’m not going to review whether the EMR will be successful. It’s a “Nought to Sixty” question [reference to how quickly it takes for cars to accelerate], how quickly is capital going to be delivered [getting up and running]. There will be a big step up in terms of work [...] how are different counterparties [countersigning parties in the CfD contracts] responding ? Now is the time to deliver on the [practical economics] for those to decide whether to invest or not. Need to engage the ratings agencies – getting debt from bond markets – to convince Standard and Poor etc to convince [...] The first projects are going to take a long time – cutting their teeth. Cost, availability, terms of debt. The risks that will [come into play] :

    A. OFFTAKE RISK – BASIS RISK
    [At the start of the EMR discussions] we highlighted that small generators found it hard to get PPAS [Power Purchase Agreements]. With the CfDs “lender of last resort” “offtaker of last resort” [...] may support less strong balance sheets for PPAs. Great – because we need a lot more liquidity in PPAs. [However] the basis risks on the strike price compared to the reference price – if this is [changed, different] – a concern about whether they might be matching in the middle [and so conferring no benefit to having arranged the CfD]].

    B. WHOLESALE PRICE RISK
    In offshore wind – wild – the economics of generating. In onshore wind power, the wholesale price has less of a way to fall [because of many years of learning and maturing of supply chains etc].

    C. INDEX INFLATION RISK
    The CfDs are to be linked to CPI [Consumer Price Index] rather than the RPI [Retail Price Index]. This may seem like a not very important difference – but at the moment you cannot hedge against the CPI. [...] we recommend RPI – linked to lock in. Can’t do that with CPI.

    D. FORCE MAJEURE RISK
    [Risk] especially during construction. The CfD does not pick up during construction – need to see [how this pans out].

    E. CHANGE IN LAW (CIL) RISK
    Twenty pages of the CIL clause – doesn’t seem to give you much protection – what is a “foreseeable change in law” ? Unless you’re a big utility you will not have been tracking [policy and legislation] for the last ten years. Big risk ? In the RO [Renewables Obligation], CIL risk was set to the offtaker. Law firms are going to really agonise [over this in the CfD].

    F. LIFETIME MANAGEMENT RISK
    Risk relating to managing CfD contract during its lifetime. There is a risk from the termination of a CfD – more than in the RO. May need to do more work to keep lender involved to manage termination risk.

    Leads to a gloomy approach – in banking paying back on time is good – anything else is bad.

    The EMR has cross-party support, but this is the most interventionist approach since the CEGB (Central Electricity Generating Board market). The politicians are saying “no, no, we’d never change anything” – from three parties. It would help if there were a public statement on that (I get calls about “too many turbines”). Initial projects will probably take longer to start than [under] RO. Collectively fund pragmatic solutions.

    [ Philip Bazin, Head Project Finance Team, Triodos Bank : "Financing CfD projects - initial impressions from a different bank" ]

    Triodos was established in 1980, and started in the UK in 1995 with the acquisition of Mercury [...] Our portfolio in the UK is still relatively small. Over a third of the £500 million is in renewable energy. Our investment [...] basis of positive social and environmental outcomes. [...] Core lending of £1 to £15 million finance [...] construction [...] and up to 15 years [on loan repayment]. Smaller developers – best fit. The bank is almost becoming part of the supply chain in the bidding process. Give a forward fixed rate of interest. We’ve had to think about how we provide this derivative. Discussions with PPA providers. Feeling that most a lot of new players. The whole rush around CfD was quite unhelpful. We haven’t been engaging with any bidders for this round [of CfDs]. Our customers are small generators or community groups. Smaller projects are risk-averse and would [probably] use the RO instead of the CfD [for now]. These markets are going to find this new structure [offputting]. Not ideal if you’re a professional investor. [Andrew has explained the risks well] The biggest one for me is the risk of failing to achieve your LONGSTOP DATE [failure to start electricity generation by an agreed date], which would risk a termination [of the CfD subsidy agreement. This would destroy the economics of the whole project and therefore the investment]. What protections do you have as a sub-contractor ? Another point is about wayleaves. [If you can't get your wayleaves in time...] Fundamentally, the [CfD] mechanism is bankable. [However] in trying to fix a problem it [may] have created a total mess. Don’t know if more capital will be going into projects.

    [ Steve Hunter, Investment Director, Low Carbon : "CfDs from an equity perspective" ]

    [Our business is in] Solar PV, Onshore wind, CSP in the Mediterranean area. We get there when project developer is doing land deals. We have a cradle-to-grave perspective. Land planning and grid access are major risks [and the guarantee of biomass feedstock for a biomass project]. The WHOLESALE POWER PRICE RISK – someone needs to take it. Your view depends on your equity horizon. For us, the two big changes [from the RO] are the introduction of the ALLOCATION RISK and the removal of the power price risk. Don’t know the budget for allocation. Only know one month before the [CfD] auction ! The government has not released [a budget] for “emerging technology”. Timing : doesn’t really work for solar. The idea of CfD versus RO for solar will not work. [It's all down to the project lifecycle] – you could be waiting 14 or 15 months for a CfD allocation after making a bid, but grid connection deals are now closing in [at around 12 months - if you do not take up your grid connection permission, you will lose it]. At the moment there is no competition between technologies. Is there enough CfD set aside for offshore wind projects ? Yes. If CfDs are intended to deliver technology-neutral [energy mix] – it doesn’t yet. The REFERENCE PRICES for me are the significant risk. This is entirely new for CfDs. Because the CfD intended to bring lower cost of capital – there is an implication for return [on investment] to the investor. Government will set [the reference prices]. Government just released [for some technologies] – decreased [in a forward period]. The Government may have a very different view on forward power prices… These reference prices come out of the air [there seems to be no basis for them]. When is final not final ? When it comes from DECC. If consider 2018/2019 September, the tightest budget, you could afford 1,000 MW of offshore, [if there is a change in the reference price] you could only afford 700 MW. In the TEC Register from National Grid – download this – there is 1,000 to 1,200 MG in the pipeline onshore. If I was a wind developer with [grid] connection dates after the end of the RO, you can bet I’ve already bid [for a CfD allocation] already. The political risk of changing the RO. May be a small amount of solar – but anyway it’s too expensive. If the CfD is only to support onshore wind power – is it achieving its goals ? There will almost certainly be some modification [to the CfD or the reference prices ?]. Transparency ? Oversupply ? [Oversight ?] of setting reference prices. Increase in frequency of the CfD auction would be helpful. Would give developers more time to bid. Technologies like solar PV that could deliver large savings… If no large solar is built… They could put a minimum in [for the subsidy allocated to each technology] – more positive. CfD represents long-term support. If the industry drives down the cost of renewable energy, CfD gives us an infill fix on revenue. It will give that certainty to get debt [and equity] in. It may be the support mechanism we need in the long-term. It could be the support mechanism we need for renewable energy…

  • European Referendum : Corpse Factory

    Posted on November 9th, 2014 Jo No comments

    So I was in a meeting on a dateless date, at an organisation with a nameless name, with some other unidentifiable people in the room with me. For some reason I had been invited, I cannot think why. Ah, yes, I can. I was invited to attend because, apparently, I am a “campaigner”. I am, allegedly, somebody who buys into the notion that communications should serve the purpose of directing public attention and support towards a particular outcome, decided in advance by a political elite. And it seems, if I believe something is right, and that a message needs communicating, I will take action, but never invoice, because I am a believer. Well let me tell you right here and now, I am not that person. I may have that reputation, but really, I despise propaganda : the deliberate formation of a murmur of Tweet starlings, or the collective wall-to-wall newspaper coverage of the same story, the scandal story hauled out to scare the horses and herd them to the salt water shore, the faux narrative of collective political or social will for change.

    I want to believe that even though I am occasionally paid to communicate a story (but most often not), that my narrative, and importantly my agenda, is my own. I will not be co-opted. I shall not be defined by storytelling, I shall not be paid for spreading information – for if I were to be telling money-backed tales, I may end up peddling lies. And I do not want lies to be spoken. I am an ontologist. My ontology is :-

    SO
    IT IS
    AS
    IT IS.

    and not

    IT IS
    AS
    IT IS,
    SO…

    There is no “therefore” in what I write. When I say “should”, like, “we should adopt renewable energy”, it’s your choice as to whether you agree with me. You shouldn’t read anything and be swayed or directed, except by the force of reason based on evidence. I am the photographer, the recorder, but not the public relations consultant. And I am especially not an unsalaried volunteer. I paint the future using my own perspective, my own understanding, my own research, my own best judgement, but I am not telling people what to think. Although I go slightly beyond merely noting and analysing what is happening, to articulate possible futures, I am not a persuader.

    I do not want to write the script for the actions of the readers or listeners. I do not want to precipitate a revolution, or dehydrate the horses before leading them to the river bank. I want to describe rather than proscribe or prescribe. I want to scribe the way I see things, I do not do it in order to create waves or push buttons or light beacons. The facts should speak for themselves, and if anybody consumes my communication, they should be free to act as they feel fit, or suits. I am not a paid-for, paid-up, in-the-pocket campaigner. I am not spun round other peoples’ fingers like a talking puppet. I am a free person.

    So, there I was in this meeting, and the people in the room were discussing an event that is likely to take place. It appears from some analysis that the next British Government could well be another Coalition Government, with the Conservative Party having only a shaving of a majority for rule. And when they have crossed the i’s and dotted the t’s and formed a currently impossible political marriage, which I’m guessing will involve the Green Party as well as the Liberal Democrats, then they will need to live up to their promise to hold a referendum on British participation in the Grand European Experiment – economic union with other European countries.

    But nobody talks about Europe. Except to complain. In the meeting I attended, the hosts of the meeting were consulting for ways to highlight the Europe Question, and to give it a pro-Union light.

    For me, it’s facile. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is just a bunch of mediocre-sized islands off the coast of the European continent. Something like 80% of UK trade is with European countries, because Europe is our gateway to the rest of the global market, and you always do the most trade with your neighbours. It’s natural. Can anybody seriously suggest we ditch the Common Market – the agreements that European countries have come to to ensure common standards of goods and services, common terms and conditions of trade and common legal processes regulating trade ? So we want to reserve some kind of sovereignty over some kinds of decisions ? Why ? The UK is heavily involved in the central European institutions and governance bodies. We have massive input. We vote for MEPs. Why should things not go our way ? And even if things don’t go perfectly our way, will the negotiated compromises be so bad ? Subsidiarity – making decisions at the lowest/best/most appropriate level of administration – that’s still going to keep a lot of British control over British affairs. Surely the UK suffers a greater risk of interference from any pan-Atlantic trade deal that it does from Europe ?

    The UK have made commitments. Our Parliament has agreed that we need to work on climate change, social justice and economic stability. We have implicitly agreed that to address climate change we need Energy Change and environmental regulation; to achieve social justice we need human rights, justice, health, education and a benefits system; and for economic stability we need economic stimuli – for example, in national infrastructure projects. In terms of climate change and Energy Change there is so much we need to do. If we stay in Europe, all of this will be so much easier. Within the European project for energy market harmonisation is the work on standards to achieve gas and electricity grid harmonisation. The improvement and augmenting of interconnections between countries, and the provision of wider energy storage, will enable the balanced use of renewable energy. Governments need to create incentives for deploying renewable energy. Governments need to create mechanisms to leverage and facilitate renewable energy deployment. Without Europe, outwith Europe, it will cost us more, and be more complex. Within Europe, it will be easier.

    So, in the meeting I attended, I put forward my vision : if the UK stays in Europe, it will be easier to handle problems of energy – improving and replacing infrastructure and plant, co-ordinating the uptake of new renewable energy technologies and dealing with emerging energy security issues. Why, the North Sea, as everybody knows, is draining dry, and we can only build certain levels of relationship with countries outside the European Union, such as Russia. If the UK left the EU, the EU would be competitors with the UK for Russian Natural Gas, for example. I said I thought that energy security was a good thing to explain to people and a good reason to raise support for UK’s continued participation in Europe.

    So, somebody else in the meeting, who shall remain faceless and nameless, poured very cold water on this idea. They seemed to disbelieve that the UK faces risks to energy security. Instead, they suggested that the pro-Europe argument should be based on how the UK can “keep our place at the table”. How out of touch can one get, I thought to myself ? This kind of patrician argument is not going to wash. Appealing to some non-existent pride in the UK’s continued role as stakeholder in the European project is going to go down like a lead balloon. It’s a vote loser, for sure.

    What most people care about first is money. Their money. Any appeal to their pockets is going to help. We live in tough times – thanks to Government austerity policy – and we still cannot get a handle on public borrowing and spending. Because of the Government’s austerity policy.

    So how about we cast it like this : your energy is going to get much more expensive if the UK abandons the European community of nations. Plus, your lights could genuinely go out, unless you, the people, either as taxpayers or billpayers, fork out for new energy investments that the energy companies haven’t made for 20 years. Because of privatisation. Without taking part in the European energy market harmonisation, and the European development of new and renewable energy infrastructure, plant and networks, your bills could significantly rise/spiral out of control. If European companies were required to sell energy assets back to the UK, because the UK pulled out of Europe, we would be in a very fine mess indeed. Do you really want this kind of chaos ? Energy policy in the UK is already bad enough.

    The facts are available to those who search : British production of oil and gas from the North Sea is declining at something like 6% a year. The UK became a net energy importer between 2004 and 2006 (depending on how you define it). The Netherlands will become a net Natural Gas importer in the 2020s. Norway’s Natural Gas will reach a peak some time in the 2020s. It’s no good thinking that because the UK is a “gas hub”, and that British finance can currently spin up gas imports to the UK, that this situation is going to remain true. Within 10 to 15 years, I think that the UK will face significant competition for Natural Gas supplies with other European countries. Better to be in the debating chamber, surely, rather than scratching at the wind-and-rain-splattered window from outside ? So can the UK forge a gas alliance with countries outside the European Union, and apart from Norway ? A gas import alliance that sticks ? And that isn’t demolished by competition from the rest of the European Union for gas supplies that come through pipes sitting in European Union territory ? OK, the UK might want to leave full European Union membership, and join Norway in the European Economic Area, but will this guarantee beneficial import status for Natural Gas from countries that supply the full members of the European Community ?

    I said, instead of trying to talk about direct opposites – either Inside Europe or Outside Europe – let’s talk about how things can be helped by wider co-operation. The European Union was founded on energy treaties – coal and nuclear energy (and steel), and now Europe needs to move to a union forged on renewable power and Natural Gas – and later Renewable Gas – and it’s going to be so much easier to do if the UK stays at the party.

    The North Sea needs re-developing. Not for oil, but for wind power. This is going to happen best with full cross-border co-operation. Already, the UK has agreed to play a large part in the “North Sea Offshore Grid” wind power project in league with Ireland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, The Netherlands, Belgium and France. And Luxembourg, strangely, although it doesn’t have a coast. Unlike new nuclear power, which could be decades in construction, offshore and onshore wind in Europe can be quick-build. If you want new power, you pick wind and solar. And, despite policy fumbles, this is happening. Actually, in the end, who really cares about subsidies for renewable energy, when the most capital-heavy organisations in the world start backing renewable power ? In some ways, I don’t care who brings me low carbon energy, and I don’t care if I have to pay for it through my tax or my bills, I just want it to happen. OK, offshore wind power is for the big boys, and you’re never going to get a diversity of suppliers with this project, and the dreams of decentralised energy are vapours, whisked away by giant engineering firms, but at least renewable energy is going to happen. One day people will realise that for the newspapers to rehearse the arguments of High Net Worth Individuals, and for sheep-like energy ministers to complain about onshore wind power and solar farms, is just a way to keep small electricity generators out of the energy markets, and allow the incumbent energy players to keep making profits. But when the need for a multiplicity of small energy installations becomes critical, I think this tune will change.

    I can see all this. But, because I am not a spin meister, or spin meistress, or a campaigner, I’m not going to be crafting fine messages to share with my networks on this particular subject. I did start (see below), but then I thought better of it. I dislike the use of social media, web logging and journalism to push an agenda. The trouble is, I know that the people who are vehemently against the European endeavour have so many trigger arguments tested and ready to deploy, such as : immigration, regulations, budgetary demands. None of these stand up to scutiny, but they are very easy props on which to deploy Corpse Factory scares and scandals, up there with the War on Terror. The pro-European segment of the population always stays so silent. If there were to be a Referendum on Europe today, I can pretty much guarantee a kneejerk exit. The British public act collectively by reflex. They never re-analyse their position. They mob, gang and plunder.

    I don’t think pro-Europe organisations know how to sell Europe. But they shouldn’t need to “sell” Europe. European membership should be an obvious best choice. So why should I try to talk up Europe ? I couldn’t have any influence, as one lone voice, against the Daily Mails, Daily Expresses and Daily Telegraphs of this world. And anyway, it’s not really my fight to fight. I don’t have a job title that reads “arch propagandist”. I am not that person. It does not become me. I prefer straight-talking, not mind-bending.

    I won’t get invited back. That’s just fine. I am not a volunteer campaigner. I’m not a political pusher. I’ve only played the role of “evangelist” on climate change, renewable energy and good policy because sometimes there is little else I can think of that might help or make a difference. But I don’t have any influence. And I don’t want any. I am just going to continue telling it the way I see it. Giving my perspective. I cannot guarantee any outcomes. And anyway, I prefer democratic engagement over salesmanship. Don’t ask me to sell your ideas, your policies, your projections. I don’t want to.

    Full membership of the European Union is the logical option for the United Kingdom, no matter how many tired dead donkey corpses the rabid tabloid media keep digging up to appall us all. Sooner or later, we also need to consider joining the Euro currency, and I predict we will, but I’m not your convincer on that argument, either.




    “What has Europe ever done for us ?”

    Common Climate : Common Cause : Common Market

    On climate change, the United Kingdom has secured the Climate Change Act, legislation with broad-based support across all political parties. The UK shares the concerns of other European countries about the potential risks and impacts from climate change in our geographical region. Society-level change in response to climate change includes energy change – changing the sources and use of energy – and changing policies for land use to include planting forests and energy crops. Within the European Community, the UK has worked to secure region-wide legislation on renewable energy, energy efficiency, waste control and air quality. All of these contribute to the response to climate change, and have developed action on climate change into a common cause. In addition to regulatory change, the European Community is seeking to develop trading mechanisms to enable carbon dioxide emissions control, and it working to develop a common market in carbon.

    Common Future : Common Purpose : Common Interest

    Common Values : Common Opportunities : Common Voice

    Common Security : Common Goals : Common Networks

    Common Infrastructure : Common Society : Common Protection

    Common Standards : Common Framework : Common Development

  • Steve Chalke : Ecosystem Faith

    Posted on November 3rd, 2014 Jo 1 comment

    At a special “Pray and Fast for the Climate” church service held at St John’s Waterloo, London, on Saturday 1st November 2014, the Reverend Steve Chalke made it clear that he wished that environmental concern would migrate from the preserve of the churchgoing middle classes to all in the Christian communion. He gave examples of famous people and saints from the Biblical era who didn’t just speak prayers for change, but devoted their whole lives to action on change. He described the interdependence of all parts of the ecosystem and humanity in solving the deep problems of climate change. He talked about passion for right stewardship of God’s Earth, and that cooperation is vital. He spoke about the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, and how this was a revolutionary re-telling of a Babylonian poem of Creation, “singing the Lord’s song in a foreign land”, removing the violence and matricidal aggression of the god Marduk, and describing the pleasure of God in his Creation. Genesis 1 also clearly displaces Marduk’s dictatorial dominion with the institution of humankind, made in God’s image, to be tenders of the goodness of the Garden of Eden.

  • Spare Kettle Sudden Death

    Posted on November 2nd, 2014 Jo No comments

    I’m all for peak shaving, so we tried a low power kettle at home, but it rusted. So we tried another one, and the lid broke. Seriously, the low wattage appliance manufacturers need to get their act together. No, we don’t just want low energy appliances because we spend our holidays in a motor home powering everything off a cigarette lighter in a car, or a 12 volt car battery. Our kettle is not for occasional use. It needs to last.

    So, we plugged in the spare kettle – the one that had been sitting on top of the kitchen cupboard attracting spiders and flying fat in the form of aerosols from frying pans. Ergh. Sticky. Yuck. So we cleaned it. Then it caused a power surge and blew the fuses and melted a plug socket. Yikes. Time to buy a new kettle. Again. And time to call an NICEIC registered tradesperson. Man of the moment, Carl, turned up ready for a chat.

    We discussed some of the finer points of electrical conductivity and sparks and arcing, and why I prefer to turn the toaster off at night. Because of the dangers of carbonised breadcrumbs. Carl replaces the double wall socket, and then he asks me what I’m doing at the moment, since he recalls chatting with me last year on a service call.

    I say I’m writing a book about Renewable Gas, and then I leave silence in the air for a few seconds for his brain to fire off some neurons and make a few connections. He asks whether I mean biogas. I say, yes, partly. We talk about cow burps, and why some humans cannot expel methane, because of the differing flora and fauna in their guts. I say that people can produce appreciable amounts of hydrogen gas from their intestines as well as hydrogen sulfide and other sulfur compounds. We talk about mercaptans, the smelly sulfur chemicals added to Natural Gas to make sure people can detect leaks because both methane and hydrogen are actually colourless and odourless. Both of us appear to be pretty good at detecting gas leaks in the urban landscape – he once reported one at a gasometer – an old-fashioned gas storage device with a lifting centre. We both commented that the mercaptans seem to stick to gas appliances as they always seem to be smelly close up.

    I say that although it’s not really practical to capture cow burps unless they’re all in a shed at night, I say that there is a lot of scope for developing biogas from anaerobic digestion of waste, and also gas from sewage treatment. And then I say that Renewable Gas needs to get bigger than just biologically-derived gas – there is scope for manufacturing gas. We used to manufacture gas, from coal, stored in gasometers in a decentralised fashion. I say Renewable Gas is about scaling up industrial gas – such as producing Renewable Hydrogen, recycling carbon dioxide by methanation with Renewable Hydrogen.

    I say, look at Germany. Germany has a plan. By around 2025 they aim to have at least 10% of their gas supplies coming from sustainable and renewable resources – 2% hydrogen and 8% renewable methane. And of course, Natural Gas is 75% to 95% methane, so green methane can be directly substituted for fossil methane.

    I talk about the basic chemistry comparing combustion to gasification. He asks what gasification is – is it like making liquids into gas ? No, I say, it’s chemistry. In normal combustion, or oxidation, the end products are steam, or water – H2O – and carbon dioxide – CO2. I draw on a piece of paper. In gasification, the oxygen is restricted – partial oxidation – and the end products are hydrogen – H2 – instead of H2O, and carbon monoxide – CO – instead of CO2. These are both useful fuels, although the carbon monoxide is toxic. Plus, after you’ve removed tars, carbon dust and ash, these are clean fuels, unlike the raw resources. You could use biomass as the feedstock and make this a useful way to make larger volumes of green gas.

    I said that Renewable Gas is a good complement to Renewable Electricity – because the wind does not always blow and the sun does not always shine. I said that to really promote the use of both, we need to have massive amounts of new renewable power, to provide spare electricity to make Renewable Gas.

    We talked about how there could be so much more progress with Renewable Electricity. We talked about Liz Truss dismissing solar farms because she believes they conflict with agricultural production. Carl and I both shrugged. I said sheep may safely graze under solar panels mounted on frames. Or chickens. I asked Carl somewhat rhetorically what the difference was between a solar farm and a field of greenhouses ? He couldn’t know, and he told me about how he’d been to see a fascinating farm where they had solar greenhouses, making power to grow vegetables.

  • Climbing the Concern Ladder

    Posted on October 25th, 2014 Jo No comments

    How do we get things changed in a democracy ? The model of political campaigning that has been established over the last century is failing us. In the past, if there was a problem, a small group of people could create a fuss about it, march some placards to somewhere relevant, write some letters, talk to some dignitaries, chain themselves to some railings, occupy a lobby, get some press, and after some years, maybe, get something done.

    These days there are just too many complaints for them all to be heard. Philanthropic, charitable and political messages crowd the stage. In this age of social media, the campaign metaphor has been replaced by a ladder of concern. Concern is expressed. Hopefully others will find that they too are sufficiently concerned, and reflect that concern through some medium. And slowly, it is hoped, this concern climbs the ladder of attention, until it is visible, audible. The entitled and endowed middle classes catch the concern, and repeat it. Lots of emails fly. George Monbiot writes about it in The Guardian. Some speeches are made at serious meetings. Angelina Jolie is invited to grace a conference. And then, hopefully, this concern hits the people who have some kind of leverage over the problem, and they act.

    Action is almost guaranteed if the concern is the result of a specific outrage, committed by a specific person or group, and has a specific solution. But otherwise, who knows ? How universal and impactful does a concern need to be before it gets acted upon ? And surely some things don’t need campaigns, because the governments already know enough about problems such as people trafficking, slavery, animal welfare, crime and torture ? After all, things such as prostitution and illegal drug trade are included in national economic statistics.

    I took public transport today in London and I was doused in outrage pouring from advertisements asking for charitable giving to prevent the inhuman practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). As I read these appeals, I felt two overwhelming sensations – one of intense anger that children are being permanently injured because of insane and unjustifiable, hateful beliefs about female sexuality. And a second feeling of dragging despair that giving a small donation every month to this organisation would have very little impact on abusive culture, which leads to many forms of violation, not just the unimaginably painful and destructive incision and even resection of a child’s clitoris and the sewing together of her labia, leading to permanent nerve damage, lasting wounds, loss of sexual function, complications from incontinence, ruined relationships, injuries from sexual intercourse, and serious medical risks during childbirth, and possibly the need for reconstructive surgery.

    This is a problem which cannot be fixed by expressing normal murmurs of concern, building a wave of concern that climbs a ladder of concern, or making monthly token charitable payments. This concern is not susceptible to a campaign. What this problem needs is regulation, legislation, policing. This concern shouldn’t have to compete with all the other concerns out there, like distressed retired donkeys, threatened butterflies, meltdown polar bears, de-forested orangutans and by-catch dolphins. Some things just shouldn’t happen. They just shouldn’t be tolerated. And they shouldn’t be lost amongst an avalanche of other concerns. This problem is so serious that it should be an automatic priority for all the authorities, co-ordinating to detect and prevent it. This concern shouldn’t have to campaign for funds. Or attention.

    Switch to BBC News. Roger Harrabin reports that “The UK’s chief scientist says the oceans face a serious and growing risk from man-made carbon emissions. [...] Sir Mark Walport warns that the acidity of the oceans has increased by about 25% since the industrial revolution, mainly thanks to manmade emissions. [...] He told BBC News: “If we carry on emitting CO2 [carbon dioxide] at the same rate, ocean acidification will create substantial risks to complex marine food webs and ecosystems.” [...] The consequences of acidification are likely to be made worse by the warming of the ocean expected with climate change, a process which is also driven by CO2.”

    Media Lens Editors reported this piece. My reaction was – who would be paying attention to this ? This is not the “dangerous climate change comes from global warming” story, this is the “other” carbon problem, the decimation of marine productivity and the whole pyramid of life, resulting from increasing levels of dissolved carbon dioxide in seawater because of higher levels of carbon dioxide in the air. The overwhelmingly major causes of this problem are irrefutably and definitely fossil fuel combustion, and its seriousness is hard to deny, even though Roger Harrabin attempts to make light of it by devoting column inches to a laboratory crab who isn’t getting with the programme.

    Ocean acidification is a concern that shouldn’t get lost in amongst other concerns. It should be paid serious levels of attention. And not just by middle class philanthropists who work for non-governmental organisations and charities. And yet, cursory analysis of the segmentation of the population who treat BBC News as a main and trusted information source may suggest that the only readers who would act on this piece are exactly these middle class charity staff, or at a push, retired middle class charity staff.

    My Media Lens comment was, “Right expert. Right message. Wrong audience. Wrong medium. The UK Government’s chief scientist. OK. Good. Ocean acidification. OK. Good. No quibbles about whether or not extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a real problem or not (as known as “climate change” or “global warming”, which is real by the way). The BBC News. Wrong medium. Wrong audience. The only people going to listen to this are those who already know about the problem but are still as powerless to act as they were yesterday. The UK Government should present this information to the oil, gas and coal companies with a polite request for them to unveil their plan of action in the face of this undeniable problem.”

    There is no reason why this story should be covered in BBC News by Roger Harrabin. What can anybody reading it do about the problem ? There is no purpose for this article. It is a pointless statement of concern, or rather, a belittling rehearsal of the concern. Unless this article, and the thousands like it, lead to the Government demanding answers on Energy Change from the fossil fuel companies, there is no point in reporting it, or in this case, disparaging it with faint humour.

    The only time that ocean acidification should appear in a media piece is to report that the problem has been presented to the architects of increased ocean carbon dioxide, and answers have been requested.

    And who are the architects of increased atmospheric and ocean carbon dioxide ? Those who mine fossil fuels. Those companies like BP and Shell, ExxonMobil, and all the coal extraction companies should act. They should offer us alternative non-fossil fuel energy. And the news should be about how these companies are taking action to offer us Renewable Hydrogen, Renewable Methane, solar power, wind power and Zero Carbon transport fuels.

    Answers from the past will simply not do. Trying to assert that somebody needs to pay for pollution won’t prevent pollution occurring. Carbon taxes or carbon pricing won’t work – since they won’t prevent the mining of fossil fuels – and if fossil fuels are mined, of course they will be burned. Carbon combustion quotas won’t work – since economic wealth is based on burning carbon, so many forces will conspire to maintain levels of fossil fuel combustion. Carbon mining quotas won’t work, since the forces for increasing mining quotas are strong. Carbon trading won’t work, since it won’t reduce the amount of fossil fuels mined – because, obviously, if fossil fuels are mined, they will be burned.

    I am tired of reading about climate change, global warming, freshwater stress and ocean acidification in the news. It seems there is nothing I can do that I have not already done that can provide a solution to these problems. Enough with communicating the disaster. I want to read about engineering and energy companies who have switched business models to producing Zero Carbon energy. I want to hear how energy security concern is taking oil, gas and coal companies towards Renewable Everything.

  • Mick and Ginger

    Posted on October 22nd, 2014 Jo No comments

    So, I’m waiting at the platform for the local commuter train on my way into town. I see Mick, retired electrician, dressed in a Stasi-like black leather jacket.

    We start to talk, and climb aboard. I explain I’ve just written a draft of a book on Renewable Gas. I pause a few seconds to let him pin down that idea.

    We talk about gas from landfill sites, and how expensive it is to retrofit methane-capturing equipment to already-established tips. I say there’s potential to make gas from the landfill waste itself, not just its methane emissions. We talk about the potential for biogas from sewage sludge at wastewater treatment plants. I say there are new techniques that do anaerobic digestion at an advanced rate. And then I say I’m also looking at a much larger opportunity to manufacture gas by reacting renewable hydrogen with waste industrial carbon dioxide.

    He says, we used to manufacture gas. From coal. Yes, town gas. Although it’s dirty. Yes, but you can mitigate environmental impacts. For example, if you have a slagging gasifier all the really toxic elements come out as vitrified glass.

    I’ve seen that, he said, when I was doing a job in Scotland. I can’t remember where. It was just like glass, with stripes of different colours running through it.

    I said there was a big consortium of British and Americans working on this in research units, including the state enterprise that eventually became British Gas. In the period 1974 onwards there was a research site in Scotland. Making SNG – synthetic natural gas. But the changeover to Natural Gas meant the closure of the research projects in around 1981.

    Mick nods. He said over the years he’s been in a lot of gas processing facilities installing emergency power equipment.

    Gas and power. Gas-to-power. I don’t quite get on to the story of Power-to-Gas before our seven minutes of train chat is up, and Mick the neo-Stasi and I part company.

    [ UPDATE : Yes. We did talk about shale gas. We agreed that production of Natural Gas from the North Sea was declining, and that there are some people incredibly positive that shale gas production can be significant. I suggested it might not be. ]

  • Owen Paterson : “Absurd, Bizarre”

    Posted on October 21st, 2014 Jo 1 comment

    [What follows is not a verbatim recording of comments made by the participants. It is drawn from brief notes made during the event and has not been verified with the speakers.]

    Summary

    At the “Good Money Week” Houses of Parliament reception today, Dr Julian Huppert, Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge, echoed the views of some of the other speakers, calling Conservative Owen Paterson MP’s recent remarks on climate change and energy futures “truly absurd and bizarre”. Several speakers spoke of a parliamentary consensus around the Climate Change Act. Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, spoke of a letter signed by a group of Members of Parliament, calling on the trustees of the parliamentary pension fund to divest itself from fossil fuels. Although the response so far to this letter was “she’s a lone voice and I don’t know what she’s talking about”, Laura Sandys, MP for South Thanet said about “climate safe” investment, “we are the mainstream, and we need to behave as if we are the mainstream”. Barry Gardiner MP for Brent North said that long-term thinking on climate change is absolutely necessary unless we want to risk market failure.

    Details

    The UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association (UKSIF) held a reception at the Houses of Parliament today in Westminster, central London, to celebrate the annual “Good Money Week”. The UKSIF aims are to grow the market for sustainable investment and finance; to be the voice for responsible investment in the policy and public arenas; and to leverage their network to achieve these aims. UKSIF’s Chief Executive, Simon Howard opened proceedings, introducing the speakers and recalling that Caroline Lucas MP has been named one of the “Top 100 Eco-Heroes”.

    Simon Howard spoke of the UKSIF sustainable investment concerns : climate change, human rights issues and social issues, [and that the message is getting through, but that in some circles he wonders] “Is there any point in me talking about the Carbon Bubble ?”

    Dr Julian Huppert MP (Liberal Democrat) : Money makes the world go around. We need to make it go round the right way. In climate change everybody has to play a role. There has been big investment in renewable energy, but… We would like to see five new pieces of legislation : an Access to Nature Bill – including biodiversity; a Heating and Energy Efficiency (of Buildings) Bill; a Circular Economy Bill; Zero Carbon (Decarbonisation) Bill; and a Green Transport Bill.

    [In terms of the public debate we need to explain] why it’s sensible from an investment perspective. For example, why do so many pension funds want to come in and talk to the Chancellor of the Exchequer [about sustainable investment] ? They’re not green, hippy environmentalists. Ethical investments have out-performed (see the Barchester report). You can make more money, and you can do good as well. Triodos say that over a quarter of investors would like their pension in environmental and social investment sector. Climate change isn’t the only aspect of social investment. [Tackling] inequality, and aims such as social mobility… supporting the Living Wage (as SSE have done). The future is looking very optimistic for sustainable investment.

    Barry Gardiner MP (Labour Party) : Julian talks faster than I can think ! I well remember several years ago I went to Christmas Eve mass with my wife, and our woman priest gave the worst sermon I’d ever heard. Coming out I said to my wife “That was really inspiring !”. She said “Inspiring ? But that was the worst sermon I ever heard”, but I said, 25 years ago, we would not have believed it was possible for a woman to be permitted to be a priest. There is a temptation to think “Oh my God ! There’s so much that needs to be done”. But an awful lot has been done already – we are making progress. In 2006, Labour launched the Stern Review which made a [huge impact]. It fundamentally changed things. Then the 2008 Climate Change Act [Baroness Bryony Worthington was in the room]. Now we have over 500 climate change-specific laws in 66 countries. The other day, Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England recently endorsed the work of Carbon Tracker [and its work on "Unburnable Carbon"]. Long-term thinking on climate change is absolutely necessary unless we want to risk market failure. There is such a gap between the short-term [decision-making] and the long-term. Companies with sustainable investment [plans] for the long-term have been shown to have improved value in their company. Managers make short-term decisions on the basis of their remuneration packages. We need to look at a way to help companies making investment decisions with getting sustainability [criteria] at the forefront of the Cost Benefit Analysis when making those decisions. If you haven’t read both reports of the Natural Capital Committee – shame on you. There is a change in the way value is ascribed. The Government will need to [base their policy on this] by 2020. There needs to be sustainable investment and management.

    [Despite advances] all of the progress so far could still be derailed. The speakers here [all reasonable people] from from different political parties, each of whom have screaming weirdos in them. If you want to get real understanding of the differences between the Parties, you need to get four very different people than ourselves. The consensus [on climate change] is in danger of breaking down. You only need to look at Owen Paterson MP’s remarks to see…

    I need to do the [Labour Party] policy bit. We want more powers for the Green Investment Bank. We want Zero Carbon electricity in the 2020s. We want to deliver a new climate change adaptation plan, and we want a Stern Review for Resource Security.

    Laura Sandys MP (Conservative) : We’re living a lot longer and we need more long-term thinking. We need to find a way of engaging everyone… We need all to act collectively. We have to refresh how we engage with people. Why is it when you look at investment, why are we not talking about the “Brown Economy” instead of the “Green Economy” ? [We should be highlighting that those who make] normal decisions [are doing so on the basis of whether or not they are] climate-safe. Why are we not owning normality ? We need messages about where the smart investment is going and not get captured by the 19th Century model of economics. We are the smart investors [coming to consult with] whichever Chancellor. We are landing the argument in the frame of decision-making. There are lots of stranded assets [in fossil fuels - and people are coming to realise this and factor it in]. The insurance sector knows [exactly what climate change means]. We are the mainstream and we need to behave as if we are the mainstream. We need to take [notice] where investments are not going to meet [rightful targets]. Adapting and engaging. It’s an opportunity for the UK to maintain leadership in climate-safe investment. I hope to be working with you when I leave this place [she stands down as Member of Parliament at the 2015 General Election]. We make the weather – and progress in sustainable investment.

    Caroline Lucas MP (Green Party in England and Wales) : I can assure Laura that I think green is normal. Yes we have come some distance, but the issue is so urgent. We have been banging on [doors] for 40 years. Imagine if we’d have [emphasised this priority earlier]. I still remember that quote from the Age of Stupid film, Pete Postlethwaite asking “Why didn’t we stop climate change when we still had the chance ?” What separates us [the speakers at the event] is in a degree of urgency. Climate change should be the over-arching, overwhelming political priority. [... On policy] there should be a Government sustainable spending scorecard. The Green Investment Bank has to be allowed to borrow, now. It should play a bigger role – zero-interest borrowing. We talk about the Green New Deal – it would harness business – investment is good for the economy. There is talk about Green Quantitative Easing – instead of the money being issued to those who sit on it or waste it on non-sustainable growth, getting the money directly into green infrastructure projects. Getting the right regulations for the right sources of funding – including crowdfunding. The Coalition Government wants to cut the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS)… [huge negative impact].

    MPs need to put our money where our mouth is. The pension fund is £0.5 billion. A Stewardship Code was implemented last year – this is not enough. The Bank of England’s Mark Carney has warned about unburnable carbon. We should start divesting our pension fund. There is a letter to the Chair of the Pension Fund to ask – to start with an impact assessment to see when… Divestment is taking off. Glasgow University… If it’s good enough for the Rockefellers, it’s good enough for us. $50 billion – now is the time to join them.

    [...]

    [ Questions from the floor ]

    [...]

    Dr Julian Huppert MP : People scorn the idea of the “greenest government ever”, but I think this is the greenest government ever, because it’s greener than all those before. We have seen a doubling of renewables [for example]. [There are some wrinkles] Owen Paterson’s recent remarks were truly absurd and bizarre. You have to try and make these arguments [...] We’ve spent too long talking to people who really care about climate change. [There are campaigns on polar bears and Bangladesh] but most people have never met a polar bear and don’t go to Bangladesh, they just don’t care. If people want action on climate change to prevent their homes getting flooded, that’s OK. If HSBC comes to the table and says this matters – [that matters]. Those of us talking about environment will never get through.

    Caroline Lucas MP : The greenest government excelled by going beneath the low bar. Investors don’t have a clue [where policy is going. It keeps changing. They are saying] let us know what the policy environment is [and then they'll get on with it]. This enthusiasm about fracking [the hydraulic fracturing of shales to extract gas] is worrying, [from a local environmental impacts certainly, but also] from a climate change perspective. The tax breaks will make it so much harder to [move away from this]. The nuclear decision is deeply unhelpful. It’s locking us into high electricity costs. I expect the French are laughing. Probably the Chinese too. We’ve got a long way to go with our colleagues [in the House of Commons] as well. We have already had one response to the letter to the pension fund : “she’s a lone voice and I don’t know what she’s talking about”. [Yet this call is based on] sound economic sense. It’s a worry that the climate consensus might be crumbling. The more Government feels spooked by UKIP, the more poor policy will follow. We should be acting for a stronger EU and stronger environment [and energy] policy.

    Question from the floor : Is renewable energy more democratic ?

    Answer from the speaker panel : Control capital or allow more people to participate – will make us all better off in the long-term.

    Caroline Lucas MP : Nothing like Germany, there communities are in control [of the Energiewende - Energy Change] – communities… democracy… [buying their power grids]… As long as energy policy feels like something the Big Six [electricity suppliers] are doing to you, as long as you feel your consultation rights are nominal… [you are going to resist energy change. However, if you are part of the process, and end up sharing the rewards...]

    [ Barry Gardiner MP ? ] : I’m not sure we have won the economic argument. [Are there] enough people [...] like Carney ? There is a general assumption amongst the general public that green is expensive. Energy efficiency [energy demand management and reduction] is not talked about. Persuading people that green is a sensible investment decision… We need a new narrative – the democratisation argument. The reason why the Energiewende has been so successful is precisely because it was democratic. If I were in a developing country, I would want to go down the microgeneration [non-grid] route, not the centralised energy route. Sustainable investment is about much more than just energy – critical is water – can be the biggest threat to a company.

    [ Question from the floor about the MPs pension fund ]

    Caroline Lucas MP : We are already talking to other members of the board. They have a role to play in showing the way forward. Hope others [MPs] join us putting points to the board. We need to divest. We have found that information about what we’ve invested in is opaque. Is any of it in fossil fuels ? Finding out. Not just a lone voice. Lots of us signed it. We want an Early Day Motion [to flag it].

    Barry Gardiner MP : I cannot comment on the letter. I was previously one of the trustees of the Pension Fund. 15 years ago the only information from Cazenove was an annual invitation to luncheon. When I had the temerity to ask how they were using our money, it was deemed inappropriate. There is more transparency now – information should be there for the trustees.

    [ About Paris 2015 ] I used to chair GLOBE. The important thing for 2015 is what went wrong in 2009. We are not going to get an umbrella agreement. Paris would be a joining place for top-down and bottom-up inititatives already taking place. Getting a confidence in China for example – they have already proved [they are pursuing climate-safe policy] – can have some confidence [that they can deliver]. Building that trust from the bottom up.

    Dr Julian Huppert MP : I have an interest in Australia – the situation is terrible. Tony Abbott got rid of the meteorological services. They passed 8 bills in a hour that were still being printed to get rid of climate change legislation. All sorts of bad things.

    Caroline Lucas MP : I think people power still has to be [deployed]. How do we get that traction again ? I recommend Zadie Smith’s article on how we galvanise people – need to touch peoples’ hearts again. I recommend the “For the Love of…” campaign.

    [ Question from Julia Groves of the Trillion Fund ] The Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs) are relevant – not yet been decided about this but if 23 million people have invested £433 billion – if we can get just 1% of that invested sustainably – that’s a significant amount.

    [ In conversation ] [Client several years ago lobbied for 2% of funds to be sustainably invested] Now they’re asking for 5% [they couldn't have asked for this 5 years ago] would have been batted out.

    [ In conversation ] Return on investment is always the first concern of trustees. Is culture change necessary ? Can the Charities Commission help form direction for charitable fund investments ?

    [ In conversation ] Tim Morgan’s – Project Armageddon – Tullet Prebon : “Thinking the Unthinkable”.

  • Energy from Waste : Power and Gas

    Posted on September 16th, 2014 Jo 1 comment

    In my continuing study into the relationship between gas and electricity, I very nicely asked if I could join a tour of the most local waste-to-energy plant to my home, North London Waste Authority’s London Waste EcoPark in Edmonton. The site visit was arranged by the Green Ventures Trade Mission from Germany to the UK. There was room on the tour bus for a “lift home” from the networking event in the morning, at which I represented Herbert Eppel and his enterprise for German-English and English-German translators HE Translations, and after getting over a few initial communication misunderstandings, I was able to join the site visit. I was so glad I went. It was a wonderful afternoon.

    Had I known I was destined to be climbing gantry staircases with an orange hard hat and hi-viz yellow jacket on, I would have definitely decided not to wear a fancy blouse and pearls. It was a pretty confused look. Fortunately, I was too old to be able to wear high heels, as that would have been impossible. Or nearly impossible. One of the other women on the site visit was wearing quite elegant and vertical footwear, and she managed just fine.

    We saw the plant repair shop – the principle of re-use, reclaim, repair and recycle just right there in action.

    As we got outside, the air took on a distinctive farmyard aroma, and most people put on their 3M face masks. I did too, and that really complemented my outfit to a tee. I now looked like some strange mix between a Samurai warrior, a sumo wrestler and a fencing expert.

    We saw the post-combustion conveyor belt, and the piles of ash accumulating, and the metal – separated by magnets. The metal, our guide explained, would all be recycled, sold by the tonne. As we were there, a lorry from the neighbouring private company that uses ash to produce aggregate products for projects such as roadways and construction, came for a load of ash and went round to the weighbridge. He had to wipe the ash from his registration licence plate for the recording of his payload. Then he had to drive virtually the same way he had come to reach his plant next door.

    We had an overview of some of the other facilities out at the back of the yard, although we didn’t see the anaerobic digestion sheds, where garden trimmings and household food waste gets made into soil that we get back at our local gardening centre.

    Then we went to take a look inside the Energy Centre. I had a Toy Story 3 moment when I saw The Claw lifting great mountains of London’s rubbish from 20 metre deep bunkers into the hoppers feeding the 5 furnace/boilers. Everything was so big in there. I could see VHS tape streamers floating like gossamer spider silk in the wind.

    Several claws like giant spiders were lying deactivated at the tops of the concrete bunkers in this massive waste hangar.

    Our tour guide explained that the EcoPark can no longer accept commercial wastes, but that when it did, security guards would watch while illegal drugs, money, cigarettes and other crime-related materials would be fed into the furnace hoppers to make sure it all got burned. There were bedsheets in the hoppers, but we were told that mattresses were not allowed as they could ruin equipment.

    On one of the platforms there was some electrical equipment that looked straight out of a horror movie, with dials and levers and switches and spider webs that had probably been there since 1975. “Don’t touch that”, said one of the tour party, when I pointed it out, “it’s structural”.

    We passed into the bunker room, and there was so much scaffolding around the boilers that you couldn’t really see their shape. The hall was full of gentle radiant heat. It properly glowed.

    As we walked down to see the turbine hall, I steadied myself on a handrail that was covered in really sticky carbon dust, that ended up sticking to me. We were, as I thought, waste deep.

    The turbine hall was electric. No, really. The whole place was vibrating, and the air was pulsating with static and traces of carbon dust. Five huge red engines, and one man with a clipboard. The real business of management was in the Control Room, so that’s where we went next.

    Another door alarm went off as we went through to there. Machines and computers and displays mixed with wooden desks and potted plants. And air conditioning. A sign above the instantaneous emissions monitoring screen with the current limits for gas emissions printed in bold letters. Videocams of the fires in the furnaces. And readouts of the various problem gases that needed to be kept within limits : sulfur dioxide (SO2), hydrochloric acid vapour (HCl), carbon monoxide (CO) and so on.

    One of the engineers gave us a technical overview of the energy plant. He explained that the temperatures inside the boilers get up to around 850 degrees C. He explained that there is a ramp, and that material coming out by the time you get to the fifth furnace, is just ash. He explained that during the first heat exchange to make steam, the temperatures get up to around 450 degrees C, and that then this steam goes on to be superheated for the electricity generation turbines. For Flue Gas Treatment (FGT), he explained how the “wrapper” takes out particulates, and about the various reactors and additives that clean the output gases. Steam is emitted, as well, but this is clean.

    He said that they can get up to 12 megawatts (MW) of generation, and that some is used for the EcoPark, but they also feed the National Grid. He explained that they need to be producing power constantly. “So you’re on 24/7 ?” asked somebody. “Not me personally”, said one of the engineers. They both used to work in coal-fired power stations.

    I asked about carbon monoxide, because I know that at the high temperatures of the boilers, a lot of syngas will be produced – a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide – during the combustion. The carbon monoxide emissions reading for the fifth boiler was quite high. I asked what their emergency strategy was if carbon monoxide levels went too high and they had too many excedences of the regulatory limits. He explained that in that case, they moved all the solid material out of the furnace, as it was much easier to deal with the gases on their own.

    On our way out I explained that I had seen some of the air filtration equipment that was in a looped tube arrangement, and I asked if the plant recycled flue gas. I was told it did not.

    London Waste’s Chairman and Non-Executive Director David Sargent shook my hand several times during the afternoon, even though I explained I didn’t have anything to do with the trade mission management. I told him I lived 5 kilometres away in Waltham Forest, and pointed in the general direction. He told me I probably get some of his electricity. And I told him he probably gets some of mine, as I am a generator too. He asked if he could have a site visit to see my solar panels. I said I could show him my composter, too.

    As the tour bus got onto the A406 North Circular road, I saw that the old gasholders in the Lee Valley are being dismantled. From the road you can still see the lift canopy of one of them, in the centre, deflated on the ground. Later, I noticed that the old gasholder frame at Brent Cross is badly rusting, and because it’s so close to the road, it too will probably be removed. It will be such a shame to lose these distinctive pieces of London’s gas history.

    In the sky above I saw a sort of rainbow between clouds.

    Then I saw a rubbish clearance van marked with “JunkAndDisorderly.com”.

    Waste not, want not.

    Related links :-

    North London Waste Authority
    London, Stansted, Cambridge Consortium (Growth for an airport ? Included in a clean tech plan ? I’m not sure that’s quite right, but anyway…)

  • Science will not be denied

    Posted on July 31st, 2014 Jo 1 comment

  • Time for another FOI Request

    Posted on June 4th, 2014 Jo 1 comment

    My previous Freedom of Information Request having been so snubbingly turned down, I have had another crack at it. I don’t mean to be annoying – I am genuinely in search of information, as it appears to me there is a serious gap in published policy on bringing novel supplies of gas energy fuel to market, both for reasons of energy security and climate change. By my reckoning, there must have been a considerable amount of research and reporting going on in this area, so I’m asking for access to it. Simple enough a request, surely ?


    To: Information Rights Unit, Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, 5th Floor, Victoria 3, 1 Victoria Street, London SW1H OET

    4th June 2014

    Request to the Department of Energy and Climate Change

    Re : Policy and Strategy for North Sea Natural Gas Fields Depletion

    Previous Freedom of Information Request Reference : FOI2014/11187
    Previous Freedom of Information Request Dated : 28th May 2014

    Former Freedom of Information Request Reference : 14/0672
    Former Freedom of Information Request Dated : 27th April 2014

    Dear Madam / Sir,

    Thank you for your reply to my previous and former Freedom of Information Requests.

    I have some specific questions as regards manufactured gas and fermented or anaerobically digested gas of biological origin.

    1. Planned Support for New Gas Market Entrants

    In respect of the third package of European Community energy legislation :-

    “Directive 2009/73/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 July 2009 concerning common rules for the internal market in natural gas and repealing Directive 2003/55/EC” ( http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2009:211:0094:0136:en:PDF )

    especially considering the Preamble, Paragraphs 26 and 41 :-

    “Member States should take concrete measures to assist the wider use of biogas and gas from biomass, the producers of which should be granted non discriminatory access to the gas system, provided that such access is compatible with the relevant technical rules and safety standards on an ongoing basis.”

    “Member States should ensure that, taking into account the necessary quality requirements, biogas and gas from biomass or other types of gas are granted non-discriminatory access to the gas system, provided such access is permanently compatible with the relevant technical rules and safety standards. Those rules and standards should ensure that those gases can technically and safely be injected into, and transported through the natural gas system and should also address their chemical characteristics.”

    and reviewing Directive, Chapter 1, Article 1, Section 2 :-

    “The rules established by this Directive for natural gas, including LNG, shall also apply in a non-discriminatory way to biogas and gas from biomass or other types of gas in so far as such gases can technically and safely be injected into, and transported through, the natural gas system.”

    and in light of the requirement for balancing mechanisms to ensure market access for all gas supply players as in the Preamble, Paragraph 31 :-

    “In order to ensure effective market access for all market players, including new entrants, non-discriminatory and cost-reflective balancing mechanisms are necessary. This should be achieved through the setting up of transparent market-based mechanisms for the supply and purchase of gas, needed in the framework of balancing requirements. National regulatory authorities should play an active role to ensure that balancing tariffs are non-discriminatory and cost-reflective. At the same time, appropriate incentives should be provided to balance the in-put and off-take of gas and not to endanger the system.”

    and in the light of legislation on the harmonisation of the European Union gas markets, and the research into and development of gas quality standards, such as CEN Mandate M/400, and network operator regulations,

    Under the Freedom of Information Act of 2000, I am asking for any and all emails, electronic documents, Internet hypertext links to electronic documents, paper files or other material bearing information relating to the subject of UK Government support for the production of supplies of manufactured gas and fermented or anaerobically digested gas of biological origin, in relation to the requirements and articles of EC Directive 2009/73/EC and related documents (see above), produced by the Department of Energy and Climate Change between the dates of 13 July 2009 and today; including any reviews of the National Renewable Energy Action Plan; research, reports and studies commissioned on incentivising supplies of non-geological gas; databases of potential producers; and modelled estimates on the costs of new supplies of gas.

    2. The Potential for Synthetic Natural Gas (SNG)

    In the reply to my Freedom of Information Request of 27th April 2014, with the reference number 14/0672, the following statement was offered :-

    “Furthermore, we have doubts that synthetic natural gas production under current technologies could meet any significant shortfall of gas supply either economically or in sufficient quantity.”

    Following the lead of the UK Bioenergy Strategy, originally published on the 25th April 2012, Paragraphs 13 and 14 of the Executive Summary ( https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-bioenergy-strategy ) :-

    “A key finding of the modelling and analysis prepared for this strategy is that over the longer term, the most appropriate energy use will vary according to the availability of carbon capture and storage. Assuming carbon capture and storage for biomass-fuelled systems is available, bioenergy use for electricity and transport could be the most appropriate use.”

    “The strategy also identifies the development of biosynthetic gas, hydrogen and advanced biofuels as the key bioenergy hedging options against these inherent long term uncertainties. To realise these opportunities, Government needs to continue to support UK technology research, development and demonstration to provide the fullest range of options that will enable the deployment of the low-risk pathways noted above. This innovation support should aim to sustainably increase feedstock energy yields and develop cost effective process and conversion technologies to optimise energy efficiency and minimise carbon emissions.”

    and in respect of National Grid’s report on Renewable Gas, “The Potential for Renewable Gas in the UK”, published in January 2009 ( http://www.nationalgrid.com/NR/rdonlyres/9122AEBA-5E50-43CA-81E5-8FD98C2CA4EC/32182/renewablegasWPfinal2.pdf ),

    In accordance with the Freedom of Information Act of 2000, please could you send me any and all emails, electronic documents, Internet hypertext links to electronic documents, paper files or other material bearing information relating to the subject of the potential of the current technologies for Synthetic Natural Gas (SNG), that form the basis of your lack of confidence for SNG to meet any significant shortfall of gas supply either economically or in terms of quantity, produced by the Department of Energy and Climate Change between the dates of 1st January 2009 and today; including copies of final reports, reviews and studies in relation to the GridGas project with ITM Power; final reports and reviews of the feasibility study into the Production of Synthetic Methane, conducted by ITM Power, as funded by DECC under the Carbon Capture and Storage Innovation Competition; and any communications undertaken with the Energy Delta Gas Research (EDGaR) organisation.

    Thank you for your attention to my request for information.

    Regards,

    Ms J. Abbess MSc


  • A Brief Unhelpfulness from My Government

    Posted on June 4th, 2014 Jo No comments

    So, in response to my second Freedom of Information Request, I get this reply from my Department of Energy and Climate Change :-


    “The Department wishes to be as open as possible in answering requests, and to help people obtain the information they are looking for. Unfortunately, in this case, from our preliminary assessment it is clear that to determine whether the Department holds the information you have requested and to locate, retrieve and extract the information would require a substantial volume of work.”

    “After careful examination of your request [...] a public authority may refuse to disclose information to the extent that the request for information is manifestly unreasonable.”

    “We acknowledge that there may be public interest in the information you have requested. Greater transparency makes the government more accountable to the electorate and increases trust and also enables the public contribution to policy making to become more effective.”

    “However, your request is broad and voluminous. Establishing whether we hold the information you request and gathering it would be likely to involve a significant cost and diversion of resources from the teams concerned and the Department’s other work. Therefore, we will not process your request as currently drafted at this stage.”

    It is clearly going to be an uphill struggle to investigate the UK Government’s policy, position and research on and into the engineering feasibility of Renewable Gas.

    I wonder whether they could have at least answered one of my questions, at the very least, as a kind of token gesture of co-operation.

  • For The Love Of Kittens

    Posted on June 4th, 2014 Jo No comments

    I idly searched Twitter for the #fortheloveof hashtag, just to see if The Climate Coalition had achieved anything in its campaign to urge or support action by the UK Government on adopting the Fourth Carbon Budget as set out by the Climate Change Committee.

    What I found were pictures of babies, puppies, flowers and hearts. Nice fonts. Good colour Android phone-like backgrounds. Like so much other twenty tens advertising design. What, I thought, would make this style of communication stand out from all the other schmazzy blah our collective visual cortex is assaulted with from dawn to zombie hour ?

    What distinguishes this campaign from, say, Lloyds Bank – “Because your family matters” with a photo of toddler, “Because a place to call home matters”, with a picture of a puppy”, “Because your time matters” with a scenic shot of sea kayaking ?

    And take the name of the campaign. If you were to say “For the love of…” to many British people, a little voice inside their heads would complete the phrase with “Christ” or “God”, as it is a traditional outburst phrase used when people are annoyed or agitated. It’s almost always said in a loud voice, and conveys anger. It’s almost like this campaign is ambushing itself.

    Apart from stylistic considerations, my main concerns are functional – how on Earth can this campaign reach beyond the core group of people concerned about the environment ? Yes, experts have done the audience segmentisation and motivation, and they know that the British public respond more to positive messaging than negative campaigning.

    But most people concerned about the environment already are middle class, and this campaign is a middle class, affluent campaign. The people who are taking part in the messaging are the “haves” – they still have puppies, babies, dry homes, vegetable gardens, incomes and food. They’re mostly urban. They’re not like people living in rural areas who have lost their homes to successive flooding and coastal erosion are who are environmentally displaced within their own country, suffering great stress and loss of ease.

    How could anybody respond to this appeal if they’re in low-lying low-income Oxford, the West Country, farming communities or just about any riverine or seashore community and they’ve suffered the devastating impacts of increasingly extreme rainfall, storms, temperatures and drought ?

    The British people who are already suffering from climate change responded quickly and easily to newspaper stridency on flood defences, coastal protection and river management – remember Dredgegate – the call to restart dredging the Somerset Levels ?

    The people who are still living in trailers after losing their village homes to floods in the last five years can be reached – but it’s not with a fluffy, hippy call to participate. They face the same kind of problems as the economically dispossessed, and like anybody forced to try to live ordinary life with restrictions and privations, they are going to be desperate to get their voices respected and responded to.

    Who cares about sunflowery graphics when there are people with no home to go home to any longer ? Whose lives are so stressed by the national climate disaster already unfolding in their town, that they cannot work or sleep well, and who may end up losing jobs and careers as well as their bricks and mortar ? What kind of poverty of imagination amongst creative agencies is still settling for puppies and lovehearts when the truly gripping and engaging, gritty tale is with what is being lost rather than wheedling about what can be protected ?

    What I’ve learned from this campaign is : it’s fine to be a ditsy, kitten-adoring, primary-colour-loving, tender-hearted, mildly-concerned OK-ite; but the voices of those already being affected by climate change in our own country are still not being heard. The people of this country are not being given adequate tools with which to address climate change. I would suspect that more of them would react to a rant in the Daily Mail than they would to The Climate Coalition’s doves-and-postcards, pretty-in-pink messaging.

    It’s time for the NGOs to man up and admit that they’re not engaging the vast majority of the British public to participate in a democratic movement to politically and practically address climate change. They are merely window dressing.

  • Who Likes Beer ?

    Posted on May 30th, 2014 Jo No comments

    First, Christian Figueres speaks at St Paul’s Cathedral, and then there’s a debate, and questions, and somebody says Capitalism needs to be reformed or we’re not going to get any proper change. Half the people in the room sigh. “The last thing we need now is an obsessive compulsive revolutionary Marxist”, I hear somebody thinking.

    Then, no surprise, Prince Charles comes out in favour of compassionate capitalism. That’s kind of like asking people to be nice to puppies, and about as realistic call for change as wanting the Moon to be actually made of cheese. As if focusing all our efforts and energy on repairing an already-breaking machine of trade with its destructive exploitation of resources and labour is going to stop climate change. Really. What actually needs to happen is that we address carbon emissions. If we cannot measure a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, or count new trees, we are getting nowhere, fast. The Holy Economy can go hang if we don’t address Climate Change, and it will, because Climate Change is already sucking the lifeblood out of production and trade.

    The non-governmental organisations – the charities, aid and development agencies and the like, do not know how to deal with climate change. They cannot simply utilise their tools of guilt to prise coins from peoples’ clenched hands and put the money towards something helpful. Well, they can, and they do, and you better watch out for more poor, starving African type campaigning, because programmes for adaptation to climate change are important, and I’ve never said they’re not, but they don’t address mitigation – the preventing of climate change. Well, some can, such as the project for smokeless, efficient ovens, but that’s not the point here. The point is that Christian Aid, for example, calling on us all to be “Hungry for Justice” isn’t addressing the central problem – the mass use of fossil fuels and deforestation in the name of economic development.

    People are talking in hushed, reverential tones about Make Climate History. The way that Make Poverty History worked was a bunch of parliamentary people, and government people, sat down together and worked out how to get shows of public support for the government’s calls to the G8. The appeal to the masses was principally divided into two kinds – messages calling for people to support the government, and messages calling for people to urge, shout, rail, demonstrate to the government that they wanted these things. So, if you were in the first group you were showing support for what you thought was a good thing, and if you were in the second group, you were using all your righteous anger to force the government to take up the cause of the poor. The NGOs merely repeated these messages out on the wires. People spent a lot of time and energy on taking these messages out to various communities, who then spent a lot of time and energy on public meetings, letter writing, postcard signing, rallying, marching, talking to their democratic representatives. But all of that activity was actually useless. The relationships that counted were the relationships between the governments, not between the governments and their NGOs. The NGOs were used to propagate a government initiative.

    And now, they’re doing it again with climate change. Various parts of government, who have actually understood the science, and the economics, can see how it is in the best interests of the United Kingdom, and the European Union, of which we are a closely-connected part, to adopt strong carbon control policies. But they’re not content just to get on with it. No, they want all the politically active types to make a show of support. And so the communications begin. Apparently open consultative meetings are convened, but the agenda is already decided, and the messaging already written for you.

    It reminds me of what happened with the Climate Marches. A truly independent strongly critical movement centred around the Campaign against Climate Change organised a demonstration of protest every year in London, leading people either from or to the American Embassy, as the USA was the most recalcitrant on taking action to control greenhouse gas emissions. This was an effective display of public feeling, as it irritated and scratched and annoyed. So it had to go. So, I Count was born, a project of Stop Climate Chaos. They organised events sometimes on the very same day as the Campaign against Climate Change, and their inclusive hippy message was all lovehearts and flowers and we wouldn’t hurt a fly type calls for change. In the run up to the Copenhagen Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Kyoto Protocol in late 2009, all the NGOs were pushing for energy to be concentrated on its outcome, but nobody who joined in the vigils, the pilgrimages or the marches had any chance to make a real input. We were just the feather boa on the cake. We were even ejected from the building.

    All this energy expended was a complete waste of time. With climate change, the relationships that count are between the governments and the energy industry. The NGOs may rant and rail in their toothless, fangless, clawless way about energy industry infelicity, ignominy, ignorance and inflexibility, but the energy industry only cares about NGOs if they show any sign of rebellious insubordination, which might upset their shareholders.

    The governments know what they need to do – they need to improve their relationships with their energy industries to come to an agreement about decarbonising the energy supply – ask them in the most non-nonsense, unavoidable, sisterly/brotherly way to diversify out of fossil fuels. It really doesn’t matter what the NGOs say or do.

    Current climate change campaigning to the masses is analagous to walking into a student party and shouting above the noise, sorry, music, “Hands up, who likes beer ?” You might get some token drunken waves out of that, but nothing more.

    People, I predict, are less likely to join in with a hunger strike than they are to like beer. And even if I did join the Climate Fast, it wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference to energy company behaviour or government policy.

    Look, I’ve done my share of climate change actions. I’ve cut my personal energy use, I’ve given up ironing and vacuuming, for example. I’ve installed solar panels. I use the bus. I’ve taken part in the Great Scheme of Voluntary Behaviour Change – I, the energy consumer have shown my willingness to consume less and produce less greenhouse gas emissions. Now it’s time for other people to act.

    Given half a chance, most of the British people would vote for climate – a decent, hardworking, sunshine-and-rain and rather moderate climate – and none of this extremist storms, floods and droughts scenario we’ve been suffering recently.

    Yes, and more British people want renewable energy than voted in their Local Elections.

    So why doesn’t the UK Government just get on with it – institute the proper Carbon Budget at home, continue to ask for decent decarbonisation targets abroad, and leave all the compassionate caring people to devote themselves to causes that they stand a chance of impacting ?

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  • On Not Setting The Proper Tone

    Posted on May 28th, 2014 Jo No comments

    So, I turned up for a national Climate Change campaigning and lobbying day some years ago. I had offered to steward at the event. My attire concerned one of those close to the organising team. After all, there were Members of Parliament due to attend, and Gentlemen and Ladies of the Press. “I don’t think it’s quite setting the right tone.” she commented.

    Well, I want to know what the right tone is, exactly. And I don’t think anybody else does, either. How do we make change happen ? Really ?

    I’ve just received another email missive from The Climate Coalition asking me to Tweet tomorrow about the Carbon Budget.

    “As you may remember, back in 2011 we successfully fought for the government to deliver on its climate targets by adopting the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) recommendations on the 4th Carbon Budget…”

    I mean, that’s a bit of a claim to start with. I very much doubt that anything that the Climate Coalition (or Stop Climate Chaos, as they were known in 2011) did had any bearing on the UK Government’s policy- or decision-making.

    “…That decision is currently up for review and we need to make sure the government sticks to the ambition it showed 3 years ago, starting with a Twitter love in this Thursday.”

    I beg your pardon ? How can The Climate Coalition make sure the UK Government does anything ? By Tweeting ? OK, so The Climate Coalition is an umbrella organisation of over 40 organisations, ostensibly representing over 11 million people, but it doesn’t have any real political weight, or any serious influence with The Treasury, who are normally the ones resisting the development of the green economy.

    “…We’ve heard rumours that this is currently being negotiated in government, with at least some arguing for weaker targets. We don’t know yet which way it’ll go, so David Cameron and Nick Clegg might just need a bit of support from us to make the right decision and stick to our current targets…”

    So this is what it’s all about – a show of support for the UK Government !

    So, tell me, why should I join in, exactly ? I won’t be having any kind of genuine impact. It’s just a token flag-waving exercise.

    I know I’m not setting the right tone, here. I’m challenging the proposals for action from one of the country’s largest collective groups with a clear position about climate change. But that’s because it’s a washout – there is nothing to be gained by responding to this appeal to Tweet.

    I mean, if they called for the whole 11 million people to do something actually meaningful, like withdraw their labour for one hour a day, or refuse to use household appliances for 8 hours a week, or all demand a meeting with the fossil fuel producing companies asking them what their plan is to decarbonise the energy supply, then I suppose that might be something worth trying.

    But Tweeting ? In support of a Government decision that they ought to make anyway based on the existing Climate Change Law and the science ? Why would they need me to join in with them on that ?

  • My Next Freedom of Information Request

    Posted on May 28th, 2014 Jo No comments

    Information Rights Unit
    Department for Business, Innovation & Skills
    5th Floor
    Victoria 3
    1 Victoria Street
    London
    SW1H OET

    28th May 2014

    Request to the Department of Energy and Climate Change

    Re : Policy and Strategy for North Sea Natural Gas Fields Depletion

    Previous Freedom of Information Request Reference : 14/0672
    Previous Freedom of Information Request Dated : 27th April 2014

    Dear Madam / Sir,

    Thank you for your reply to my previous Freedom of Information Request, which has prompted me to ask for further information in order to fully comprehend the prospects for manufactured gas in British energy policy.

    1. The Potential for Synthetic Natural Gas (SNG)

    In the reply to my previous Freedom of Information Request of 27th April 2014, with the reference number 14/0672, the following statement was offered :-

    “Furthermore, we have doubts that synthetic natural gas production under current technologies could meet any significant shortfall of gas supply either economically or in sufficient quantity.”

    Under the Freedom of Information Act of 2000, please could you send me documentation such as interim and final reports, reviews and feasibility studies on which you base your lack of confidence in the potential of the current technologies for Synthetic Natural Gas to meet any significant shortfall of gas supply either economically or in terms of quantity.

    In particular, as the production of Renewable Hydrogen is a key element of several suggested “Power to Gas” Synthetic Natural Gas system designs, I would like to have copies of final reports, reviews and studies in relation to the GridGas project, a feasibility study for which was funded by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), and which had partners in ITM Power, (Royal Dutch) Shell, Kiwa (GASTEC), National Grid and The Scottish Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (SHFCA).

    I should also especially like to have copies of interim and final reports and reviews from the feasibility study into the Production of Synthetic Methane, conducted by ITM Power, as funded by DECC under the Carbon Capture and Storage Innovation Competition, in a consortium with Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE), Scotia Gas Networks, Logan Energy Ltd and Kiwa GASTEC at CRE.

    I should also like to know which designs for Synthetic Natural Gas systems you have considered, which will entail you furnishing me with diagrams and other engineering information for process elements and plant equipment, to allow me to understand which gas processing configurations you have considered, and which you have dismissed.

    I would also like to know what your estimates are for “spare” wind and solar power hours of generation by 2025 in the UK. This excess generation, whereby power demand does not meet power supply from variable renewable electricity, is crucial to anticipate as this is a key input for “Power to Gas” designs.

    I should also like to see your assessment of the German Energy Agency (dena) “Power to Gas” Strategy and your analysis of how this compares to the British situation and prospects.

    As regards relative economic values of different sources of gas energy fuel, I would like to receive information about your analyses of the near-term gas market, and the likelihood of price rises in Natural Gas, and competition in the market from new Natural Gas customers, especially in light of the imminent closure of coal-fired power plants due to the European Community’s Large Combustion Plant Directive (LPCD) and the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED).

    2. The Potential for Natural Gas Supply Shocks

    In the reply to my previous Freedom of Information Request of 27th April 2014, given the reference number 14/0672, the following statements were made :-

    “It is the government’s stance that developments in the gas industry should be market-led, underpinned by robust price signals. This is a model which has ensured that UK domestic and small business consumers have never faced gas shortages and even industry-level warnings are rare. This approach has also delivered significant investment in gas infrastructure, in response to declining production from the UK Continental Shelf, and we are well placed to absorb supply shocks, with a diverse range of suppliers, routes and sources. Discounting our indigenous production, which is still responsible for around half of our annual gas demand, UK import infrastructure can meet 189% of annual demand. This resilience to supply shocks is demonstrated by Ofgem’s 2012 Gas Security of Supply report which found that in a normal winter we would have to lose 50% of non-storage supplies for there to be an interruption to gas supplies to large industrial users and/or the power sector, and between 60% and 70% of all gas sources for there to be an interruption of supplies to domestic customers – equivalent to losing all LNG supply, all imports from the Continent and 50% of our production at the same time.”

    Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, please can you supply me copies of, or links to, documents that specify analysis of what kinds of “robust price signals” you are referring to, and how these are achieved. In particular, I should like to know if you mean the ebb and flow of gas prices under market conditions, or whether you consider regulatory instruments, for example, carbon pricing, or economic policy, such as tax breaks or subsidies for gas producers, to be at least part of the source of the “robust price signals” you expect.

    In particular, I should like to know from your internal reports how you view the impact of the Capacity Mechanism on the price of Natural Gas in the UK – the Capacity Mechanism having been proposed to keep gas-fired power plants from closure, in order to be available to balance electrical grid fluctuations.

    I should also like you to supply me with copies of your internal reviews of the impact on imported Natural Gas prices from events unrelated to market conditions, such as the outcomes of warfare, or political manoeuvres, and whether these price shocks could contribute to “supply shocks”.

    I should also like to have sight of reports or other documentation that outlines analysis of risks of “supply shock” in gas supply, for instance, what circumstances are considered capable of causing a 50%, 60% or 70% drop in non-domestic gas supplies, causing a loss of imported Liquified Natural Gas, or imported pipeline Natural Gas. Please can you also provide me with reports, or links to reports, that show the analysis of circumstances that would cause a loss of 50% of Natural Gas from the North Sea and other production areas in the United Kingdom; including an analysis of risks of a trade war between a putative newly-independent Scotland and its gas customer England, given that most Natural Gas consumption is south of the border.

    Please may I also have information that details your analyses of the decline in Natural Gas production from the North Sea, including from territorial waters outside the UK, a calculation of depletion rates in reserves, and the projection for decline in production.

    I should also like to have sight of the documents on which you base your calculations of depletion of Natural Gas reserves across Eurasia, Asia, North Africa and the Middle East, and the risks to production levels according [to] the passage of time.

    As a corollary, I would like to have sight of the documents on which you base your analysis of future changes in market demand for Natural Gas across Eurasia, Asia, North Africa and the Middle East, especially considering new trade relationships between China and Russia, and China and the Middle East.

    Thank you for your attention to my request for information.

    Regards,

  • This Too Will Fail

    Posted on May 24th, 2014 Jo 1 comment

    I will probably fail to make myself understood, yet again, but here goes…

    The reasons the United Nations Climate Change process is failing are :-

    1.   The wrong people are being asked to shoulder responsibility

    It is a well-rumoured possibility that the fossil fuel industry makes sure it has sympathisers and lobbyists at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conferences. It is only natural that they should want to monitor proceedings, and influence outcomes. But interventions by the energy sector has a much wider scope. Delegates from the countries with national oil and gas companies are key actors at UNFCCC conferences. Their national interests are closely bound to their fossil fuel exports. Many other countries understand their national interest is bound to the success of energy sector companies operating within their borders. Still others have governments with energy policy virtually dictated by international energy corporations. Yet when the UNFCCC discusses climate change, the only obligations discussed are those of nations – the parties to any treaty are the governments and regimes of the world. The UNFCCC does not hold oil and gas (and coal) companies to account. BP and Shell (and Exxon and Chevron and Total and GDF Suez and Eni and so on) are not asked to make undertakings at the annual climate talks. Governments are hoped to forge a treaty, but this treaty will create no leverage for change; no framework of accountability amongst those who produce oil, gas and coal.

    2.   The right people are not in the room

    It’s all very well for Governments to commit to a treaty, but they cannot implement it. Yes, their citizens can make a certain amount of changes, and reduce their carbon emissions through controlling their energy consumption and their material acquisitions. But that’s not the whole story. Energy has to be decarbonised at source. There are technological solutions to climate change, and they require the deployment of renewable energy systems. The people who can implement renewable energy schemes should be part of the UNFCCC process; the engineering companies who make wind turbines, solar photovoltaic panels, the people who can build Renewable Gas systems. Companies such as Siemens, GE, Alstom. Energy engineering project companies. Chemical engineering companies.

    3.   The economists are still in the building

    In the United Kingdom (what will we call it if Scotland becomes independent ? And what will the word “British” then mean ?) the Parliament passed the Climate Change Act. But this legislation is meaningless without a means to implement the Carbon Budgets it institutes. The British example is just a minor parallel to the UNFCCC situation – how can a global climate treaty be made to work ? Most of the notions the economists have put forward so far to incentivise energy demand reduction and stimulate low carbon energy production have failed to achieve much. Carbon trading ! Carbon pricing ! All rather ineffective. Plus, there’s the residual notion of different treatment for developed and developing nations, which is a road to nowhere.

    4.   Unilateral action is frowned upon

    Apparently, since Climate Change is a global problem, we all have to act in a united fashion to solve it. But that’s too hard to ask, at least to start with. When countries or regions take it upon themselves to act independently, the policy community seem to counsel against it. There are a few exceptions, such as the C40 process, where individual cities are praised for independent action, but as soon as the European Community sets up something that looks like a border tax on carbon, that’s a no-no. Everybody is asked to be part of a global process, but it’s almost too hard to get anything done within this framework.

    5.   Civil Society is hamstrung and tongue-tied

    There is very little that people groups can achieve within the UNFCCC process, because there is a disconnect between the negotiations and practical action. The framework of the treaty discussions does not encompass the real change makers. The UNFCCC does not build the foundation for the architecture of a new green economy, because it only addresses itself to garnering commitments from parties that cannot fulfill them. Civil Society ask for an egg sandwich and they are given a sandy eggshell. If Civil Society groups call for technology, they are given a carbon credit framework. If they call for differential investment strategies that can discredit carbon dependency, they are given an opportunity to put money into the global adaptation fund.

  • Positively Against Negative Campaigning

    Posted on May 24th, 2014 Jo 4 comments

    How to organise a political campaign around Climate Change : ask a group of well-fed, well-meaning, Guardian-reading, philanthropic do-gooders into the room to adopt the lowest common denominator action plan. Now, as a well-fed, well-meaning, Guardian-reading (well, sometimes), philanthropic do-gooder myself, I can expect to be invited to attend such meetings on a regular basis. And always, I find myself frustrated by the outcomes : the same insipid (but with well-designed artwork) calls to our publics and networks to support something with an email registration, a signed postcard, a fistful of dollars, a visit to a public meeting of no consequence, or a letter to our democratic representative. No output except maybe some numbers. Numbers to support a government decision, perhaps, or numbers to indicate what kind of messaging people need in future.

    I mean, with the Fair Trade campaign, at least there was some kind of real outcome. Trade Justice advocates manned stall tables at churches, local venues, public events, and got money flowing to the international co-operatives, building up the trade, making the projects happen, providing schooling and health and aspirations in the target countries. But compare that to the Make Poverty History campaign which was largely run to support a vain top-level political attempt to garner international funding promises for social, health and economic development. Too big to succeed. No direct line between supporting the campaign and actually supporting the targets. Passing round the hat to developed, industrialised countries for a fund to support change in developing, over-exploited countries just isn’t going to work. Lord Nicholas Stern tried to ask for $100 billion a year by 2020 for Climate Change adaptation. This has skidded to a halt, as far as I know. The economic upheavals, don’t you know ?

    And here we are again. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which launched the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports on climate change, oh, so, long, ago, through the person of its most charismatic and approachable Executive Secretary, Christiana Figueres, is calling for support for a global Climate Change treaty in 2015. Elements of this treaty, being drafted this year, will, no doubt, use the policy memes of the past – passing round the titfer begging for a couple of billion squid for poor, hungry people suffering from floods and droughts; proposing some kind of carbon pricing/taxing/trading scheme to conjure accounting bean solutions; trying to implement an agreement around parts per million by volume of atmospheric carbon dioxide; trying to divide the carbon cake between the rich and the poor.

    Somehow, we believe, that being united around this proposed treaty, few of which have any control over the contents of, will bring us progress.

    What can any of us do to really have input into the building of a viable future ? Christiana – for she is now known frequently only by her first name – has called for numbers – a measure of support for the United Nations process. She has also let it be known that if there is a substantial number of people who, with their organisations, take their investments out of fossil fuels, then this could contribute to the mood of the moment. Those who are advocating divestment are yet small in number, and I fear that they will continue to be marginal, partly because of the language that is being used.

    First of all, there are the Carbon Disclosers. Their approach is to conjure a spectre of the “Carbon Bubble” – making a case that investments in carbon dioxide-rich enterprises could well end up being stranded by their assets, either because of wrong assumptions about viable remaining resources of fossil fuels, or because of wrong assumptions about the inability of governments to institute carbon pricing. Well, obviously, governments will find it hard to implement effective carbon pricing, because governments are in bed with the energy industry. Politically, governments need to keep big industry sweet. No surprise there. And it’s in everybody’s interests if Emperor Oil and Prince Regent Natural Gas are still wearing clothes. In the minds of the energy industry, we still have a good four decades of healthy fossil fuel assets. Royal Dutch Shell’s CEO can therefore confidently say at a public AGM that There Is No Carbon Bubble. The Carbon Discloser language is not working, it seems, as any kind of convincer, except to a small core of the concerned.

    And then there are the Carbon Voices. These are the people reached by email campaigns who have no real idea how to do anything practical to affect change on carbon dioxide emissions, but they have been touched by the message of the risks of climate change and they want to be seen to be supporting action, although it’s not clear what action will, or indeed can, be taken. Well-designed brochures printed on stiff recycled paper with non-toxic inks will pour through their doors and Inboxes. Tick it. Send it back. Sign it. Send it on. Maybe even send some cash to support the campaign. This language is not achieving anything except guilt.

    And then there are the Carbon Divestors. These are extremely small marginal voices who are taking a firm stand on where their organisations invest their capital. The language is utterly dated. The fossil fuel industry are evil, apparently, and investing in fossil fuels is immoral. It is negative campaigning, and I don’t think it stands a chance of making real change. It will not achieve its goal of being prophetic in nature – bearing witness to the future – because of the non-inclusive language. Carbon Voices reached by Carbon Divestor messages will in the main refuse to respond, I feel.

    Political action on Climate Change, and by that I mean real action based on solid decisions, often taken by individuals or small groups, has so far been under-the-radar, under-the-counter, much like the Fair Trade campaign was until it burst forth into the glorious day of social acceptability and supermarket supply chains. You have the cyclists, the Transition Towners, the solar power enthusiasts. Yet to get real, significant, economic-scale transition, you need Energy Change – that is, a total transformation of the energy supply and use systems. It’s all very well for a small group of Methodist churches to pull their pension funds from investments in BP and Shell, but it’s another thing entirely to engage BP and Shell in an action plan to diversify out of petroleum oil and Natural Gas.

    Here below are my email words in my feeble attempt to challenge the brain of Britain’s charitable campaigns on what exactly is intended for the rallying cry leading up to Paris 2015. I can pretty much guarantee you won’t like it – but you have to remember – I’m not breaking ranks, I’m trying to get beyond the Climate Change campaigning and lobbying that is currently in play, which I regard as ineffective. I don’t expect a miraculous breakthrough in communication, the least I can do is sow the seed of an alternative. I expect I could be dis-invited from the NGO party, but it doesn’t appear to be a really open forum, merely a token consultation to build up energy for a plan already decided. If so, there are probably more important things I could be doing with my time than wasting hours and hours and so much effort on somebody else’s insipid and vapid agenda.

    I expect people might find that attitude upsetting. If so, you know, I still love you all, but you need to do better.


    [...]

    A lot of campaigning over the last 30 years has been very negative and divisive, and frequently ends in psychological stalemate. Those who are cast as the Bad Guys cannot respond to the campaigning because they cannot admit to their supporters/employees/shareholders that the campaigners are “right”. Joe Average cannot support a negative campaign as there is no apparent way to make change happen by being so oppositional, and because the ask is too difficult, impractical, insupportable. [Or there is simply too much confusion or cognitive dissonance.]

    One of the things that was brought back from the [...] working group breakout on [...] to the plenary feedback session was that there should be some positive things about this campaign on future-appropriate investment. I think [...] mentioned the obvious one of saying effectively “we are backing out of these investments in order to invest in things that are more in line with our values” – with the implicit encouragement for fossil fuel companies to demonstrate that they can be in line with our values and that they are moving towards that. There was some discussion that there are no bulk Good Guy investment funds, that people couldn’t move investments in bulk, although some said there are. [...] mentioned Ethex.

    Clearly fossil fuel production companies are going to find it hard to switch from oil and gas to renewable electricity, so that’s not a doable we can ask them for. Several large fossil fuel companies, such as BP, have tried doing wind and solar power, but they have either shuttered those business units, or not let them replace their fossil fuel activities.

    [...] asked if the [divestment] campaign included a call for CCS – Carbon Capture and Storage – and [...] referred to [...] which showed where CCS is listed in a box on indicators of a “good” fossil fuel energy company.

    I questioned whether the fossil fuel companies really want to do CCS – and that they have simply been waiting for government subsidies or demonstration funds to do it. (And anyway, you can’t do CCS on a car.)

    I think I said in the meeting that fossil fuel producer companies can save themselves and save the planet by adopting Renewable Gas – so methods for Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU) or “carbon recycling”. Plus, they could be making low carbon gas by using biomass inputs. Most of the kit they need is already widely installed at petrorefineries. So – they get to keep producing gas and oil, but it’s renewably and sustainably sourced with low net carbon dioxide emissions. That could be turned into a positive, collaborative ask, I reckon, because we could all invest in that, the fossil fuel companies and their shareholders.

    Anyway, I hope you did record something urging a call to positive action and positive engagement, because we need the co-operation of the fossil fuel companies to make appropriate levels of change to the energy system. Either that, or they go out of business and we face social turmoil.

    If you don’t understand why this is relevant, that’s OK. If you don’t understand why a straight negative campaign is a turn-off to many people (including those in the fossil fuel industry), well, I could role play that with you. If you don’t understand what I’m talking about when I talk about Renewable Gas, come and talk to me about it again in 5 years, when it should be common knowledge. If you don’t understand why I am encouraging positive collaboration, when negative campaigning is so popular and marketable to your core segments, then I will resort to the definition of insanity – which is to keep doing the same things, expecting a different result.

    I’m sick and tired of negative campaigning. Isn’t there a more productive thing to be doing ?

    There are no enemies. There are no enemies. There are no enemies.

    ——-

    As far as I understand the situation, both the [...] and [...] campaigns are negative. They don’t appear to offer any positive routes out of the problem that could engage the fossil fuel companies in taking up the baton of Energy Change. If that is indeed the main focus of [...] and [...] efforts, then I fear they will fail. Their work will simply be a repeat of the negative campaigning of the last 30 years – a small niche group will take up now-digital placards and deploy righteous, holy social media anger, and that will be all.

    Since you understand this problem, then I would suggest you could spend more time and trouble helping them to see a new way. You are, after all, a communications expert. And so you know that even Adolf Hitler used positive, convening, gathering techniques of propaganda to create power – and reserved the negative campaigning for easily-marginalised vulnerable groups to pile the bile and blame on.

    Have a nicer day,

    —–

    The important thing as far as I understand it is that the “campaigning” organisations need to offer well-researched alternatives, instead of just complaining about the way things are. And these well-researched alternatives should not just be the token sops flung at the NGOs and UN by the fossil fuel companies. What do I mean ?

    Well, let’s take Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). The injection of carbon dioxide into old oil and gas caverns was originally proposed for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) – that is – getting more oil and gas out the ground by pumping gas down there – a bit like fracking, but with gas instead of liquid. The idea was that the expense of CCS would be compensated for by the new production of oil and gas – however, the CCS EOR effect has shown to be only temporary. So now the major oil and gas companies say they support carbon pricing (either by taxation or trading), to make CCS move forward. States and federations have given them money to do it. I think the evidence shows that carbon pricing cannot be implemented at a sufficiently high level to incentivise CCS, therefore CCS is a non-answer. Why has [...] not investigated this ? CCS is a meme, but not necessarily part of the carbon dioxide solution. Not even the UNFCCC IPCC reports reckon that much CCS can be done before 2040. So, why does CCS appear in the [...] criteria for a “good” fossil fuel company ? Because it’s sufficiently weak as a proposal, and sufficiently far enough ahead that the fossil fuel companies can claim they are “capture ready”, and in the Good Book, but in reality are doing nothing.

    Non-starters don’t just appear from fossil fuel companies. From my point of view, another example of running at and latching on to things that cannot help was the support of the GDR – Greenhouse Development Rights, of which there has been severe critique in policy circles, but the NGOs just wrote it into their policy proposals without thinking about it. There is no way that the emissions budgets set out in the GDR policy could ever get put into practice. For a start, there is no real economic reason to divide the world into developing and developed nations (Kyoto [Protocol]‘s Annex I and Annex II).

    If you give me some links, I’m going to look over your [...] and think about it.

    I think that if a campaign really wants to get anywhere with fossil fuel companies, instead of being shunted into a siding, it needs to know properly what the zero carbon transition pathways really are. Unequal partners do not make for a productive engagement, I reckon.

    —–

    I’m sorry to say that this still appears to be negative campaigning – fossil fuel companies are “bad”; and we need to pull our money out of fossil fuel companies and put it in other “good” companies. Where’s the collective, co-operative effort undertaken with the fossil fuel companies ? What’s your proposal for helping to support them in evolving ? Do you know how they can technologically transition from using fossil fuels to non-fossil fuels ? And how are you communicating that with them ?

    ——

    They call me the “Paradigm Buster”. I’m not sure if “the group” is open to even just peeking into that kind of approach, let alone “exploring” it. The action points on the corporate agenda could so easily slip back into the methods and styles of the past. Identify a suffering group. Build a theory of justice. Demand reparation. Make Poverty History clearly had its victims and its saviours. Climate change, in my view, requires a far different treatment. Polar bears cannot substitute for starving African children. And not even when climate change makes African children starve, can they inspire the kind of action that climate change demands. A boycott campaign without a genuine alternative will only touch a small demographic. Whatever “the group” agrees to do, I want it to succeed, but by rehashing the campaigning strategies and psychology of the past, I fear it will fail. Even by adopting the most recent thinking on change, such as Common Cause, [it] is not going to surmount the difficulties of trying to base calls to action on the basis of us-and-them thinking – polar thinking – the good guys versus the bad guys – the body politic David versus the fossil fuel company Goliath. By challenging this, I risk alienation, but I am bound to adhere to what I see as the truth. Climate change is not like any other disaster, aid or emergency campaign. You can’t just put your money in the [collecting tin] and pray the problem will go away with the help of the right agencies. Complaining about the “Carbon Bubble” and pulling your savings from fossil fuels is not going to re-orient the oil and gas companies. The routes to effective change require a much more comprehensive structure of actions. And far more engagement that agreeing to be a flag waver for whichever Government policy is on the table. I suppose it’s too much to ask to see some representation from the energy industry in “the group”, or at least [...] leaders who still believe in the fossil fuel narratives, to take into account their agenda and their perspective, and a readiness to try positive collaborative change with all the relevant stakeholders ?


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  • Faith for the Climate

    Posted on May 19th, 2014 Jo 4 comments

    [ UPDATE : I NEED TO MAKE CLEAR THAT THIS REPORT IS A PERSONAL AND PARTIAL ACCOUNT OF THE MEETING. SOME PEOPLE IN THE WIDER PROCESS COULD NOT TAKE PART, AND WILL NEED TO HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO OFFER THEIR INPUT AND FEEDBACK BEFORE THE FINAL CONSOLIDATED AND OFFICIAL REPORT IS CIRCULATED. AT THE NEXT MEETING THERE WILL NEED TO BE A PRIOR AGREEMENT ABOUT THE USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA TO INFORMALLY REPORT ON DEVELOPMENTS. CORRECTIONS TO THIS WEB LOG POST WILL BE ACCEPTED AND WELCOMED - AFTER ALL - THERE IS ALWAYS A MARGIN OF ERROR IN COMPREHENSION. EDITS TO THIS WEB LOG POST ARE ALSO ACCEPTED AND WELCOMED - THERE MAY BE SOME THINGS THAT PEOPLE THINK SHOULD HAVE BEEN CONFIDENTIAL. I HAVE TRIED TO LEAVE OUT THINGS THAT ARE OBVIOUSLY WORKS IN PROGRESS OR SENSITIVE, BUT I MIGHT NOT HAVE RECOGNISED THEM ALL. MY APOLOGIES IF I HAVE STEPPED ON ANY TOES. ]

    At last, we have a name.

    Since February, when Canon Giles Goddard convened a meeting of non-governmental organisations to answer the question “Where is the voice of the church on climate change ?”, this creative caravan has been nameless. Nobody really wanted to create a new entity. Nobody wanted to limit the type or number of actions that could be taken. Everybody was deferring – except Christian Aid – who as usual had already formulated a plan. Well, and Tearfund, too. We worked up some Twitter hashtags in a cafe, but this was dismantled and today we had a second brainstorm that appears to have named what it is that we are, and what we are mainly doing. We are now “Faith for the Climate”, and we are no longer entirely Christian.

    Long, long ago, in a United Nations conference far, far away, Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), put out the call for the citizens of world to raise their voices in support of a global climate treaty, scheduled to be signed in Paris, 2015. Building the Will for Action should not make Paris 2015 the final endpoint, we all agreed today. We learned that lesson from the hopeless, outcome-less Conference of the Parties at Copenhagen in 2009. The aim is to provide a number – a number of people who are actively demanding this global climate treaty, and “Faith for the Climate” is working on five strands of activity :-

    1. Political

    The Hope for the Future campaign, spearheaded by Michael Bayley and Jemima Parker, and adopted by the Environmental Officers of the Dioceses of Yorkshire and the North East of England, aims to get church people writing to their Members of Parliament (MPs) and candidates for the 2015 British (if the United Kingdom still exists after the Scottish Independence Referendum) General Election, asking for them to confirm their Party’s and their own position on climate change. Here’s a suggested template for a letter that church congregations could sign together :-



    Dear     MP,

    We are really concerned about Climate Change. In particular, we are worried that unless the UK Government takes strong action now, future generations face a bleak future.

    Please can you tell us what’s in your Party’s 2015 General Election Manifesto that will enable the UK to reach the target of at least an 80% reduction of our greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 ?

    We would like you to pass on our request to your Manifesto Planning Group. Please keep us informed on your Party’s position on this matter, so that we can decide how we will vote.

    Thank you for taking the time to consider this critical issue, and we look forward to your reply.

    Yours sincerely,


    This pretty innocuous letter would be signed at church signing days – see their website (http://www.hftf.org.uk) for suggestions about various ways of doing this. People could also write their own individual letters at church group meetings. The best time for this would probably be Creationtide, running from 1st September 2014 to 4th or 10th October 2014, and Harvest 2014, but letter-writing is starting now, with a pilot scheme running in the Diocese of Sheffield, with Bishop Steven Croft.

    The next stage of the campaign would be to call local public meetings in churches, where the MP would be invited to answer questions on Climate Change and their personal and Party’s policies. Because the meetings would be public, secular groups could be invited.

    Michael Bayley rightly thinks that if MPs and candidates for election are quizzed on climate change that they will need to go back to their Parties to check what collective policy will be. Also, he said that if MPs make commitments at hustings meetings, because they are public meetings, they can be reported in the media, and the politicians can be held to account.

    All of us discussing political aspects of climate change agreed that it appeared that the Conservative Party is under considerable pressure from its right wing to abandon environmental targets. Steve Smith of the Committee on Climate Change, although attending the meeting in a personal capacity, noted that a generally Conservative Christian voice demanding continued action on climate change would be very helpful.

    It was noted that it would be good to get in touch with our newly-elected Members of the European Parliament after next week’s election, congratulate them on their appointments, and get their support for the European Union’s decision on decarbonisation by asking them what they’re going to do personally to advance European climate policy.

    When asked about the effectiveness of letter-writing campaigns, Alasdair Roxburgh of Christian Aid said that about 20% of the people who they sent template letters to signed and returned them.

    2. Churches and Churchgoers as Investors

    A report was made of Operation Noah’s Bright Now campaign.

    The breakout group was keen to encourage positive engagement with the fossil fuel energy producing companies, to ask them to put themselves in a better position – such things could include producing renewable energy to replace fossil fuel energy production, or by engaging with the need to reduce energy waste. The bottom line would be to leave the fossil fuels in the ground.

    The question was asked as to whether there was a call from the NGOs that fossil fuel companies should commit to CCS – Carbon Capture and Storage. Kate Allardyce referred us to the Bright Now report, and the box section titled “Could fossil fuel companies ever be considered ethical ?”, in which the call was made for fossil fuel companies to “invest in carbon capture and storage”.

    I made a point in the feedback session to the whole group that I had been in two presentations given by one of the companies in the fossil fuel industry, in which they had announced their CCS project. Only a percentage of the carbon dioxide would be captured, and the project was only expected to run for ten years. I questioned whether the fossil fuel industry was committed to deploying CCS – most of the companies had been waiting for money from the UK Government before running their CCS projects. I said that the most useful thing in my view was to go to the next level – Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU) – recycling the carbon – which would mean that less input fuels would be required in power generation.

    3. Engaging with the media on climate

    At lunch, before the working group sessions, I was speaking with Joe Ware, church and campaigns journalist, who used to work for a very rural newspaper, but says that working for something you believe in is much better. I agreed – if people stopped believing that they could only live with compromises, pretty soon the world would change for the better. He said journalists change jobs quite often. I said the MediaLens are pretty good at keeping track of who is where – just ask. He questioned why MediaLens criticise the “leftwing” liberal media. I said that peer review is probably the most effective in correcting deficits – some of the language that went unchallenged by editors was appalling. I said that editors were probably to blame for most of the climate change denier columns – for example, I asked, had he seen the The Times story by Ben Webster, that looked like a straight copy and paste from a Global Warming Policy Foundation press release ? I said the scientist at the centre of the faux scandal denied the GWPF’s claims on his position, and the publishing journal also denied the accusations of suppression. I said that The Guardian ran a piece saying the The Times story was not accurate. And then the Financial Times ran a piece saying the The Times story was not accurate. Ben Webster, the byline on the The Times piece, if he is a real person, really needs to know that all climate change stories need factchecking. Joe agreed that it wouldn’t have taken much to get this story straight, but he reckoned that the scandal probably sold more newspapers.

    Anyway, in the feedback from the working group on media, I reminded everybody that Tony Juniper had asked in the 7th May 2014 debate with Christiana Figueres at St Paul’s Cathedral if anybody there knew the editors of the Daily Mail, and could they apply some pressure to get climate change stories straight ? Darrell Hannah asked shouldn’t there be more challenge to inaccurate climate change media articles ? I said that there are a number of people already working in this space : Carbon Brief, Skeptical Science and so on. There was some mention of Richard Black, former BBC correspondent and what he is up to these days.

    There was a call to get senior Christian church people to make public statements about climate change. Notable recent articles, included one from Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

    4. Theology of Climate Change

    There will be a meeting in July to try to pull together a brief theological discourse that links Creation Care to Climate Action. The theology of climate change “in a nutshell” according to Sarah Rowe of Christian Aid.

    The key question is : is there “something that can captivate people” ? People can be turned off by science, data and graphs. But it possible to draw out discourse if the style is narrative – especially narrative from a personal perspective – each person’s own climate change story.

    Michael Bayley of Hope for the Future said that sample tried-and-tested sermon was soon going to be available on their website.

    5. Day of Prayer and Fasting

    We heard back from Our Voices that more international networking has been done to join the dots of various efforts in preparation for the launch of a monthly call to prayer and fasting, which is now set to take place on 1st November 2014. The narrative of the original climate fast was outlined :-

    https://twitter.com/hashtag/fastfortheclimate
    https://twitter.com/FastForClimate
    https://www.facebook.com/fastfortheclimate
    http://fastfortheclimate.org/en/
    http://fastfortheclimate.org/en/#tab2-tab
    “When Typhoon Hai-yan had just devastated the Philippines in November last year, climate commissioner Yeb Saño was at the UN climate talks in Warsaw. His own family was caught up in the disaster that killed thousands and destroyed homes and livelihoods across the country. In a moving speech he said he would not eat until countries at the Warsaw conference delivered actions that would ‘stop the madness’ of the climate crisis. Hundreds of others from around the world chose to fast with him in solidarity. Despite this, the Warsaw meeting saw countries, like Japan, actually winding back their climate commitments, seemingly in denial that all countries will need to commit and contribute to the comprehensive, global climate action plan which is due in Paris in 2015. The Fast For The Climate has grown into global movement with participation of youth groups, environmental groups and faith-based groups, who all want urgent action on climate change by governments this year.”

    I asked Jean Leston currently of WWF (in the future, some of her time will be spent with GreenPilgrimage.net) if she could find me a contact at Earth Hour that could bring that campaign’s endorsement. Earth Hour is a fast from energy, celebrated or enacted every Spring. Fasting from fossil fuels could be entirely parallel to a fast from food.

    Christian Aid are going ahead with a weekend of prayer and action called “Hunger for Justice” on 18th – 19th October 2014. MPs are to be invited to take part. Clearly this could be seen as a lead-in to the 1st November event.

    Spotlight on faith diversity

    Everyone is invited to contact parallel faith organisations and invite them into the Faith for the Climate process.

    Gopal Patel of The Bhumi Project at The Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies was present today. Next time we hope to have representatives from other major faith groups.

    Not only, but also

    Talking with Ellen Teague over lunch about Christiana Figueres’ address at St Paul’s Cathedral and the ensuing debate, she expressed disappointment that a question about re-configuring the economic consensus of capitalism was responded to with a curt negative from Tony Juniper. I said that challenges to capitalism are usually met with stony faces, because it’s such an intractable question, and anyway, we don’t want to be dismissed as Marxists out of hand if we raise problems with the current economic configuration. I said that there are three things emerging that will make a big difference to the current economic state of play :-

    a. Globalisation has hit a brick wall
    The limits of cheap labour have perhaps been reached – so it no longer makes sense to outsource every manufacturing unit to the Far East. Countries like the United States of America, and in Europe, are trying to bring industry home. If trade can no longer make everything cheaper, then the WTO policy of globalisation is dead. Globalisation has been a central prop for capitalism.

    b. Decades of poor levels of energy investment
    Many parts of the energy system in many regions have suffered from poor levels of investment, and now that the energy sector needs to be re-vitalised, energy companies are not necessarily in a position to throw capital at the problem. This means that states are going to have to put public money into reviving the energy sector – which brings energy back from the free and private market to the publicly-owned space. Since the economy is highly dependent on energy systems, this will inevitably have an effect on the state of economic play.

    c. Renewable energy floats many boats
    In fact, if the renewal in energy is in renewables, these have been shown to spread bounty far and wide – more jobs are created in Renewable Energy than in fossil fuels for example. Fossil fuels have been taken out of the ground virtually for free, and this has led to strong profits for those who have cornered this advantage, and bolstered capitalist development. However, Renewable Energy technologies demand a different economic model, with strong public investment at the beginning to compensate for the free coal and oil and gas coming out the ground at the moment. Renewable Energy deployment is bound to alter the face of capitalism – decentralising wealth creation, and having large public finance buy-in. Ownership of the means of production is also going to be decentralised – everybody can own solar panels on their roof – if they have a roof – even if they are renting. Or they can put personal savings into farm-scale photovoltaics, or urban solar roof projects.

    Dates

    As usual, there is a plethora of NGO events taking place. Some key dates will include Ban Ki-Moon’s Summit in New York in September 2014, at which there will be some faith organisation input.

    In the UK, governance will not stop with Paris 2015. The Committee on Climate Change will produce their report on the UK’s Fifth Carbon Budget by the end of 2015. And by mid-2016, the UK will have made a decision on its decarbonisation target. As usual, the interplay between UK policy and European Community policy is important.

  • Tom Heap : Storage Sensible

    Posted on May 13th, 2014 Jo No comments

    Finally, it appears Radio 4’s Tom Heap is on my kind of wavelength, and I don’t mean radio.

    On the other hand, David MacKay still believes that more research is needed before we actually spend money to do anything – which essentially amounts to a tactic of delay.

    Warning : the following transcript is not verified, but is my best attempt at the moment.


    “Costing the Earth”
    Radio 4
    13 May 2014

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b042zsy5

    “Energy Storage”

    “Massive batteries ? Compressing or liquefying air ? Moving gravel uphill on ski lifts [this is not one of the options presented] ? Tom Heap looks at some of the big ideas proposed for storing energy using science or the landscape and explores which may become a reality if we’re to keep the lights on.”

    “Huge investment is being made in renewable energy but as solar and wind fluctuate and are intermittent often energy goes to waste because the points at which they generate isn’t when the demand occurs. So why not use that energy and store it in another form to be used when it’s required ? Many companies are proposing ideas to do that – from extending traditional pumped hydro to compressing or liquefying air, electrolysing water or shifting heavy materials up mountains. Or will a revolution in batteries – making them cheaper and from different materials – help the cause ?”

    “Tom Heap takes a look at some of the bold ideas to see how far they’ll go to keeping the lights switched on, what they’ll cost financially and aesthetically and if there’s any sign of committing to any of them at all.”

    “Duration: 30 minutes”

    “First broadcast: Tuesday 13 May 2014″

    [ Starting 01:13 ]

    [ Presenter ]

    …But now, “Costing the Earth”. Tom Heap asks if we’ve got enough left in the tank.

    [ Weatherman 1 ]

    Where the warnings for the strength of the wind, which really will be picking up, and the rain will be turning really quite heavy, from the South West.

    [ News anchorman, probably Huw Edwards, probably on BBC News 24 ]

    Hurricane Force winds batter southern Britain. At the height of the storm, half a million homes were left without power.

    [ Tom Heap ] In the winter just gone we got to feel the full force of Nature. And the power of the weather was frequently too much.

    [ Weatherman 2 ]

    South West 7 to Severe Gale 9. Increasing Severe Gale 9 to Violent Storm 11 for a time. Perhaps Hurricane Force 12 later.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    That seemingly unending conveyor belt of Atlantic lows drew sighs from many of us. But not all. Wind energy providers were loving it as their blades were spinning faster and longer, providing record highs of renewable electricity. Indeed, sometimes there was so much moving air, that wind generators were in danger of producing too much power. They had to shut down and were paid millions of Pounds [Sterling] to do so. Paying clean, green electricity suppliers not to produce electricity ? Sounds absurd, but the wind blows, and the sun shines according to Nature’s clock, not ours. We have learned to harness that power, but not to store it.

    [ Chris Goodall ]

    If we continue to increase renewable electricity, which I profoundly think is the right thing to do, we are going to have to marry it with real long-term cheap energy storage. And we have not yet begun to think through the consequences of the need to do that.

    [ Dave Holmes ]

    The five day Winter lull is the UK’s nightmare scenario when it comes to renewable power, because you have high pressure – barely a breath of wind – and really high demand, because everybody’s cold.

    [ David MacKay, Chief Scientific Advisor ]

    If we could get the cost of storage down, it could really unlock the potential of renewables.

    [ Chris Goodall ]

    Without energy storage, we are not going to be able to run our lives in the way that we do at the moment.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    To get a grip on this problem, let’s take a wander through my home.

    Up there on the roof I have some solar panels, generating aplenty when the sun is out. But keeping that electricity for when I want to use it, is really very difficult.

    I do have some stored energy here, in this wood pile [ cracking sound ]. Good for the fire during the Winter.

    And here, in the shed, we find a gas canister, on a blow torch [ sound of igniting the blow torch ].

    But turning electricity into a power source like this gas [ chink, chink ] which’ll just sit there, is expensive, and relies on batteries, as my waning cordless drill will testify [ sound of power drill ] frequently rather impotent.

    So today on “Costing the Earth”, we’re going to hear some radical thoughts on how to capture the spark.

    Use electricity maybe to spin a giant flywheel [ sound of a bicycle wheel being spun freely ]. Or compress air, so when you release it the pressure drives a turbine [ sound of a gas being released from a canister ].

    Or even use electricity to create gas.

    Energy writer, Chris Goodall, lays out the challenge.

    [ Chris Goodall ]

    The problem is that you can’t actually store electricity, in any large quantities. Yes, we’ve got batteries, but there’s really no way of storing a large amount of electricity from day to day, from week to week. We have to convert it into something else.

    The second point is that the United Kingdom, and other countries around the world, are developing more and more sources of electricity that come from unpredictable sources of generation – wind, solar, tidal, whatever.

    Everything we do in the low carbon world is going to have a problem,
    that it’s going to be intermittent, variable, unpredictable; and we need to find a way of ensuring that we’ve got the electricity when we want it.

    And therein lies this enormous challenge.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    So what you’re saying is one of the major differences between renewables and fossil fuels – leaving aside the whole carbon thing – is that most fossil fuels, when you’re not using them, you can just leave them there, in the tank, or the pile, or whatever.

    [ Chris Goodall ]

    Absolutely. The great advantage of fossil fuels is they’re incredibly [energy] dense. We can get a lot of energy from a small amount of material, both in terms of weight, and in terms of volume. Nothing in the renewable world corresponds to that. Nuclear has some of the same characteristics. But for all the renewable electricity that we’re talking about, storage is a huge problem compared to fossil fuels.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Both dense, and storeable, and up to a point, you can sort of pretty much turn it on when you want it.

    [ Chris Goodall ]

    Absolutely. So you’ve got your pile of coal by your coal-fired power station,
    and when you want to turn the coal-fired power station on, you shovel some coal into the boilers, and it works.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Do you think the scale of that challenge, you know, yet another asset if you like, in the fossil fuel armoury, has been appreciated by those who want to move to a more renewable future ?

    [ Chris Goodall ]

    Not at all. In this country it’s only barely registered : the fact that if we continue to increase wind, and increase solar penetration on the National Grid, we are going to have to find a way of storing energy.

    At the moment, some countries around the world – Germany’s a little more advanced than us – Denmark, have begun to think about the problem.

    In the UK, nobody’s actually even really begun to contemplate the scale of the challenge, yet.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    [ Sound of tweeting birds, and boots clumping through undergrowth ]

    The electricity storage system we do have is pumped hydro [power].

    There are a handful of these systems in Scotland, and here, in North Wales.

    If I can fight my way through this thicket of Buddleia and scrub birch, I’m going to find Dave Holmes of the Quarry Battery Company, who thinks there’s room for more.

    [ Dave Holmes ]

    We’re in Glyn Rhonwy, which is in Llanberis, North Wales. We’re in a cathedral of slate [ sounds of dripping water ]. We’re 50 metres below the lip. All around us is this wonderful rock. So, my company is trying to turn this quarry into a pumped storage facility, and fill it with 1.1 million tonnes of water. That’s what we’re up to.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Pumped storage is an idea that’s been around for a while. In a sense you’re going back to the future, here. Just explain in very simple terms how it works.

    [ Dave Holmes ]

    Well, any battery takes electricity and turns it into something else. And then you can turn it back again. This is a gravity battery. You push water uphill when you’ve got too much energy, and then when you need it again, you open the tap. It’s connected to a hydroturbine. Spinning one way, it generates electricity. Spinning the other way, it pumps the water back uphill again.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    So in order to make this work, what have you got uphill ?

    [ Dave Holmes ]

    So uphill, there’s a quarry again, about the same size as this one. Now, it’s a kilometre and a half away as the crow flies, but it’s 250 metres higher than this quarry. And that’s important, because the further you push the water uphill, the more energy it releases when it comes back down again. 600 megawatt hours of power, and at 50 megawatts we’d be able to power 50,000 houses for 12 hours a day. To put this into perspective, our facility is just 5% of the facility over the lake Llyn Padarn, at Dinorwig. Dinorwig have
    10 gigawatt hours, so 10,000 megawatt hours, and we’re just a small five, six hundred here. And they can power up to 2 gigawatts. Incredibly, within 12 seconds of requiring the power.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Just give me an example, if you can, of the kind of way, the kind of circumstance, in which you think this place would be used, and what its potential is.

    [ Dave Holmes ]

    That fast and powerful output is extemely valuable to the National Grid. If you have a sudden drop, let’s say, a generator falls; or, the thing you often hear said is the “TV pick up” – Coronation Street in the ad break – everybody goes out and has a cup of tea, right ? Well, where do you get the power from ? Everybody in the country turns on a 3 kilowatt kettle. That adds up to, you know, maybe a nuclear power station or two.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    But in simple terms. When that does happen, that’s literally when water will be rushing downhill.

    [ Dave Holmes ]

    Yes. But they’ll be trading more than that. You know, at night time we have excess energy, and [in] the daytime, we have the morning peak, when some people are starting at work, some people are still cooking breakfast at home. And the same in the afternoon. [At] those times of day, the amount of energy demand in the UK changes very rapidly and you need to be able to respond to that. Because you can’t store electricity in the wires. You can only store it in batteries. And we’ve got a 40 gigawatt average demand in the UK and we have just 3 gigawatts of storage, and that’s if it’s all turned on, all at the same time, which is pretty rare.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Well, this is why, as I understand it, energy storage is so much the coming issue, because the more renewables, which are generally unpredictable in when they generate, the more you need storage. Is that right ?

    [ Dave Holmes ]

    Yeah, that’s absolutely right. We should be able to deliver a low carbon UK at an optimal cost. And that involves storage. Because if you don’t have storage, you have to not only build enough wind to cover the entire UK demand, you also have to build enough backup to cover the UK demand. Well, with storage, you can reduce that last bit of wind, because you don’t need to build it, you can just store it instead. Likewise, you don’t need to build that last bit of backup, because the storage can come in and cover the shortfall.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    So, at the moment, we’ve got, er, varying between, is it, 10 and 15 percent electricity from renewables in the UK at the moment ?

    [ Dave Holmes ]

    Well, it’s around 15%, at best. So if everything’s operating at maximum capacity…

    [ Tom Heap ]

    …and as those proportions of renewable energy increase. how does that change the argument for the need for energy storage ?

    [ Dave Holmes ]

    Well, a little bit of wind can be absorbed by the National Grid. ‘Cause you already have, you know, gas generators, nuclear generators, coal generators, who can kind of take up the slack. But when you add a lot into the system, that’s when the intermittency problem really becomes much more apparent.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    At the moment, what happens when’s the wind blowing hard and we don’t need the energy ?

    [ Dave Holmes ]

    It causes a problem for the National Grid. And National Grid actually have to pay people to turn their energy down. And sometimes they actually turn the wind farms off. Now wind farms are subsidised by the Feed-in Tariff, the Contract for Difference, or in the past, the Renewable Obligation Certificate. And so far it’s cost about £30 million to the UK taxpayer.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    So, that’s an extraordinary figure, that most people would say, “Hang on a minute ! They’re being paid not to generate ? That seems amazing !”

    [ Dave Holmes ]

    Well, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could store that energy instead of throwing it away ?

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Dave Holmes believes solving our entire electricity storage problem with water flowing up and downhill, could be done, but only at the cost of public anger.

    [ Dave Holmes ]

    It would mean flooding Areas of Natural Beauty, triple S I’s [SSSI], Special Areas of Conservation, and the National Parks, and that’s obviously something that none of us want to do. But there’s lots of places, where, you know, like this, it’s an ex-industrial site, we have potentially contaminated land in some of these areas, where we can come in, and clean them up, re-purpose them, turn them into energy storage facilities, reduce the amount of cost on wind power, and reduce the amount of fossil fuel burning [in] power stations and meet the energy demand for the UK. And that’ll be cheaper for the UK taxpayer and for the Government.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    I was perhaps a little too dismissive of batteries earlier in the programme. Big improvements have happened. At least I have a cordless drill in my workshop, and my information-rich phone and tablet depend on the latest generation of Lithium-ion power sources. And better batteries are fuelling the steadily increasing competence of electric cars. Cosmin Laslau from the Boston-based analysts Lux Research says the car manufacturer Tesla are hoping to change the game with their proposed gigafactory.

    [ Cosmin Laslau ]

    Their long-term plan is to really halve the price, to introduce a lower cost electric vehicle, while not sacrificing on driving range. And the way that they think they will be able to do that is really mass-produce these batteries at a scale never seen before. The scale of a Lithium-ion battery production factory – it’s about one gigawatt hour. That’s on average. What Tesla’s looking to do is to increase that by a factor of about 30 to 50. And they hope with that massive economy of scale they’re going to be able to really lower the cost of the battery itself.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Do you, and the market, have confidence that they’re going to be able to deliver this dream ?

    [ Cosmin Laslau ]

    In short, no. Not to the scale that they’re promising. They have demonstrated that there exists a niche for luxury electric vehicles. So they have positioned a product quite well. But it’s one thing to sell 20,000 vehicles. It’s another thing to sell half a million.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    You were going to talk I think about another challenge, alongside the scale ?

    [ Cosmin Laslau ]

    Right. Absolutely. The other approach is innovation. There’s also the question of can we go away altogether from Lithium-ion – and go to some more advanced battery chemistries – that could potentially be cheaper or be able to pack more energy in the same amount of space or weight ?

    And so there’s some very interesting developers, and actually quite a few out of the UK. So there’s er, a start-up out of Oxford called Oxis Energy and they’re working on what is called the Lithium sulfur battery. Sulfur is quite a cheap material, and so they think that, in the long-term, you know we’re talking 5, 10 years out, they might be able to develop a battery that is a lot cheaper than the Lithium-ion batteries that we see today. So far, however, cycle life isn’t quite there. So the battery just doesn’t last long enough for a vehicle application.

    Another one is a company called Nexion, out of Imperial College London. They’re trying to change half the battery, what they actually going to put in [is] silicon in what’s called the anode. And this improves the amount of energy that you can pack into this battery. And there’s quite a lot of interest there, particularly from [the] consumer electronics side of things.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    But for the foreseeable future, energy storage in batteries on a grid scale is just not viable. The solution is something familiar. Gas. In my case, a big metal bottle full of it [ chink, chink ] that runs my cooker for months. For the nation, something much grander. And the surprising thing is, it can be created using spare green electricity.

    Energy writer, Chris Goodall, again

    [ Chris Goodall ]

    There is only one conceivable way of doing it. And that’s turning spare power from wind, from solar, into another medium. Probably hydrogen. Possibly methane. Methane is the main constituent of the Natural Gas that’s coming through your gas taps.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    How do you do that ?

    [ Chris Goodall ]

    The way that we can store electricity is through a process known as electrolysis. It’s the kind of thing that you did in the chemistry lab at school when you were 15. You’ve got an electric current which you pass through a beaker of water. And at one side of that you get hydrogen forming, as water breaks up into hydrogen and oxygen, and at the other side you get oxygen. If you can collect that hydrogen, which you can, and store it, you can then use that as a way of providing you energy at some time in the future when you need it.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Now that sounds simple in terms of chemistry, but how efficient is it ?

    [ Chris Goodall ]

    That process is up to 80% efficient. That is to say, about 80% of the energy value of the electricity you put in can be collected in the form of energy value for the hydrogen. So this is a reasonably efficient process, roughly comparable to the very best pumped storage.

    The problem with hydrogen is that it’s not very energy dense, so you need a large space to store a reasonable amount of energy in the form of hydrogen. It would be much better, if we took that hydrogen and we merged it chemically with carbon dioxide to create methane (which is a combination of carbon and hydrogen atoms) and water.

    Methane, we have an almost infinite capacity to store, because we can put it into gas reservoirs beneath the sea, we can put it directly into the National Grid for gas.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    And one Sheffield-based company, ITM Power, has begun supplying the German energy network in exactly this way.

    I linked up with Managing Director, Graham Cooley, on the road.

    [ Graham Cooley ]

    So, we’re at the Hanover Messe in Germany, which is a massive technology show. And we’re in Germany because of a very significant project the Germans are running called the Energiewende, which is to transform their whole energy network from fossil fuelled-energy to renewable energy.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Are you suggesting pumping this hydrogen as neat hydrogen into the grid,
    rather than combining it into methane ?

    [ Graham Cooley ]

    All over the world there are compliance rules about how much hydrogen you can put into the gas grid.

    Across Europe, basically, the average is around 3 to 5%. 12% in Holland. 10% in Germany. And so you can actually put hydrogen directly into the gas grid.

    What you’re doing really is you’re putting a device between our two major energy networks, and where you have an excess of generation in the electricity network, you can transfer the energy into the gas network.

    And because the gas network is so massive and we already own it, it’s the lowest cost energy storage.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Graham, give me your kind of roster of different energy storage techniques.

    [ Graham Cooley ]

    OK. So, look energy storage is segmented in terms of discharge time and scale. So, if you want a very small amount of energy storage almost instantaneously, you’d use a flywheel. If you want two hours of energy storage, you’d use a battery. If you want a few hours, you’d use pumped hydro. But if you want years, or seasons, of energy storage, you use hydrogen, Power to Gas energy storage. And the reason for that is that the gas grid that’s storing that energy, is so large.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    For a glimpse into the future where energy storage is a more acute problem, I’ve come across to Northern Ireland, in fact, to Larne, just on a very blustery hillside overlooking the Irish Sea. In front of me, is a drilling rig, about 10 or 15 metres high. And here they’re trying something quite radical [ sound of motor starting up ].

    Well down here, next to the rig, adorned in the high viz and hard hat are Keith McGrane and Stephen Aherne, from the company Gaelectric, a big electricity provider here, particularly in the renewables sphere in Northern Ireland. Keith, tell me what we’re looking at here.

    [ Keith McGrane ]

    We’re looking at a drilling rig, that drills down to a depth of 950 metres, to identify salt deposits, that we use to store compressed air.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Now Stephen, you’re the geologist here…

    [ Stephen Aherne ]

    …that’s right…

    [ Tom Heap ]

    …Explain to me how that process works. At the moment I guess you’re looking at a solid salt deposit block, and you’ve got to turn that into some kind of cavern.

    [ Stephen Aherne ]

    Exactly, yes. The caverns are created by pumping in water, the salt is dissolved, leaving a void, which is essentially an airtight container, which is used then, as a storage vessel for the compressed air.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    So you’re going to dissolve a big void under there. How big ?

    [ Stephen Aherne ]

    It’s going to be about 100 metres high, and a diameter of 70 to 90 metres. It’s a very well-established technology, and method. Round the world, there are about 500 caverns, mainly used for storing gas.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Now, perhaps we ought to take a step back. How can compressing air enable you to store electricity ?

    [ Keith McGrane ]

    What we have here is such a process of taking surplus electricity from the grid, that drives a compressor, converting it into air. That air is then stored underground, and it can then be withdrawn from the cavern, and that air is run through a turbine that regenerates electricity back to the grid.

    The system that we are designing can generate 268 megawatts. One megawatt of electricity generation can supply electricity for about 1,000 homes. So we could actually generate 268 megawatts of electricity for 8 hours.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    So you could supply a reasonable chunk of the electricity for Northern Ireland for a few hours ?

    [ Keith McGrane ]

    Yes, we absolutely could. But the primary application is one of enabling the Grid to manage renewable energy.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Compressing air and storing it underground, Stephen, is it just going to work here outside Larne, or are there other places in the UK and across Europe, where, if you can prove it can work here, it can work elsewhere ?

    [ Stephen Aherne ]

    On the island of Ireland, it appears that this is the only location. But certainly in Great Britain, there are a number of locations. Cheshire, Yorkshire, and I suppose in the South West, if we’re looking at salt. There may also be potential in depleted gas fields or aquifers.

    When this is demonstrated, the potential will be seen all the way from Portugal across to Poland, Bulgaria, and up to Denmark.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    In terms of the scale of the storage here, what’s it comparable to ? I mean, it’s clearly more than a battery, but it’s not necessarily going to keep you going over a Winter period. Is it like pumped storage ?

    [ Keith McGrane ]

    Yeah, it’s of the same scale as pumped storage, but of course, the storage is all underground, so there is a major difference in terms of environmental impact.

    But the need for largescale storage does provide opportunities for technologies such as batteries, such as compressed air, and such as pumped storage.

    My own view is that these technologies will find their own respective applications, in seconds-to-seconds variation on the Grid, minutes-to-hours, and hours-to-days.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    So complementary, rather than competing ?

    [ Keith McGrane ]

    Absolutely, and a lot is talked about what technology’s going to be the winner, and everyone thinks we’re in a race here. My view is that we’re not. The optimum solution is to find economic storage that can be deployed at different scales to give the best solution to the system.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    The problem is that the electricity grid can’t store electricity. So in the words of the [Chief] Scientific Advisor at the Department for [sic] Energy and Climate Change, David MacKay, we need something easily turn-on-and-off-able, and it needs to be big.

    At the moment, that’s mainly done by turning gas-fired power stations up and down. And at times, just like wind, they too are paid not to generate.

    But as we wean ourselves off fossil fuels to less controllable renewables, that option shrinks.

    And while how we produce electricity changes, David MacKay says the overall amount we need continues to go up.

    [ David MacKay ]

    All of our projections for 2050 pathways see an increase in total electricity demand, because of the electrification of heat and transport, and we do expect the peak electricity demand in Winter to grow as part of that future decarbonisation.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    As the Government’s [Cheif] Scientific Advisor on Energy, he sees a lot of energy storage ideas, and believes that compressed air is a frontrunner.

    [ David MacKay ]

    It has absolutely enormous potential because there are places with appropriate geology for making large underground caverns, and so it is a technology that could be done at very large scale, in contrast to pumped storage, where we’ve only got one Snowdonia, and one Highlands of Scotland, and so there’s only a limited land area that could conceivably be used for any additional pumped storage.

    Another technology that’s coming up and looking very promising is an invention that’s being developed by a company called Isentropic and they’re trying to develop an extremely efficient heat pump that could be used to take electricity and use it to pump heat from a cold pile of rock into a hot pile of rock, and then when you want your electricity back, you run the same heat pump in reverse, to turn the heat back into electricity. And a prototype of this is being developed in Southampton at the moment.

    Now again, this could have really large potential. It would occupy far less land area than pumped storage facilities. So if the costs can be driven down enough, and if it performs as well as hoped, it could be a substitute for pumped storage that could be deployed at much larger scale.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    One of the technologies we’ve looked at for long-term storage, is the electrolysis of water into hydrogen, either storing that hydrogen, or then combining it again with CO2 [carbon dioxide] to create methane. What do you think about that ?

    [ David MacKay ]

    I think it definitely makes sense to include on our list ways of dealing with supply and demand variation, not just ways of storing electricity so that we can get electricity back, but other ways of solving the problem. So if we could have a piece of demand that is flexible, for example, making hydrogen – which could then be used for other purposes like transport, or putting into heating systems in industry, or home heating – that demand for hydrogen in principle could be flexible and could be turned up and down as the price and availability of electricity goes up and down.

    The biggest concern on that side is the risk that the electrolysers will remain expensive, and if you’re only using them say 10% of the time when the sun’s shining, then you’re not getting very good use out of those expensive assets.

    But I am optimistic that we will be able to drive down the cost of electrolysers.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Should we not have been doing this 10 or 15 years ago ?

    [ David MacKay ]

    I think Britain has been investing in innovation support for various storage and energy conversion technologies for decades now.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    [We] haven’t been doing enough ? I mean, it should have been the twin for renewables all along, shouldn’t it ? We always knew they were intermittent. We always knew

    [ David MacKay ]

    It’s definitely the case that if we could get the costs of storage down, it could really unlock the potential of renewables. There have been projects doing exactly this, decades ago. In my book, I mentioned the case of the island of Fair Isle, where they get a lot of their electricity from a couple of turbines. And they have a backup system which is a diesel generator. And they added to that system as an experiment a flywheel to do electricity storage to help balance out the fluctuations in the wind. So there have been very good innovative experiments going on for a while in Britain but I think we really do recognise the importance now of storage.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    With respect to Fair Isle, that’s a little bit “garden shed”. And we’ve had some stuff from the lab bench. Isn’t it really urgent that we start doing enough ? I mean, Germany seems to be doing far more than us.

    [ David MacKay ]

    Well, in terms of urgency, it’s still the case that most of the capacity on the electricity system in the UK, is flexible fossil fuelled power.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    But we want to be rid of that, don’t we ?

    [ David MacKay ]

    Yes, but there’s no way we can get rid of it overnight.

    It’s absolutely right to be putting the money into innovation support to drive down the costs of storage, rather than doing a mass deployment of whatever happens to be the best storage technology today.

    I do think we’ve got at least 5 or 10 years to go before we need we really get into mass deployment.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    In his book “Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air”, David MacKay floats the possibility of hugely increased pumped hydro in Scotland, suggesting enlarging Loch Sloy above Loch Lomond, and pumped storage at 13 other sites across the country. So, an obvious question. Are the Scottish Glens safe from being flooded ?

    [ David MacKay ]

    I think that the Scottish Glens, especially if the storage of electricity in gravel and the compressed air energy storage breakthroughs happen in the way that I hope they’re going to happen, I think they will be safe.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Energy storage should have been the twin to renewable energy.

    But, it’s been starved of investment and innovation.

    So now, to avoid undermining green electricity generation it must develop fast.

    [ Presenter ]

    “Costing the Earth” was presented by Tom Heap and produced by Anne-Marie Bullock.