Energy Change for Climate Control
RSS icon Home icon
  • Gas Policy : Conceptual Piracy ?

    Posted on March 17th, 2014 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Peak Oil : Kitchen Burlesque

    Posted on March 17th, 2014 Jo No comments

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

    “It’s very dramatic…”

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

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

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

    “Vaudeville ?”

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

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

  • On Having to Start Somewhere

    Posted on March 15th, 2014 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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


    To: Jo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    From: Jo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  • Failing Narratives : Carbon Culprits

    Posted on March 14th, 2014 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    http://www.greengas.org.uk/pdf/biomethane-qp.pdf

    http://www.r-e-a.net/news/rea-welcomes-environment-agencys-updated-anaerobic-digestion-quality-protocol

    http://adbiogas.co.uk/2014/01/30/biomethane-qp-could-boost-renewable-gas-to-grid-market/
    http://adbiogas.co.uk/2014/01/30/biomethane-quality-protocol-published/

    Here’s some background :-

    http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/aboutus/wfo/epow/124111.aspx

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

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

    Seriously – where the exoplanet are we at ?

  • The General Lightness of Carbon Pricing

    Posted on February 27th, 2014 Jo 1 comment

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

    http://www.westminsterforumprojects.co.uk/forums/event.php?eid=713
    http://www.westminsterforumprojects.co.uk/forums/agenda/CCS-2014-agenda.pdf

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Gain in Transmission #2

    Posted on February 24th, 2014 Jo No comments

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


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

    Jo,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Hope some of this helps.

    Rich

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


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

    Dear Richard,

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

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

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

    http://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/referendum-news/peterhead-confirmed-for-carbon-capture-sitebut-its-not-a-bribe-says-ed-dave.1393232825

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    I’m thinking very big.

    Regards,

    jo.

  • In Confab : Paul Elsner

    Posted on January 23rd, 2014 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Gain in Transmission

    Posted on January 13th, 2014 Jo No comments

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

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

    =x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=

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

    Dear [Professor] Sears,

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

    http://www.ted.com/talks/richard_sears_planning_for_the_end_of_oil.html

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

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

    http://www.joabbess.com/2011/02/11/future-energy-tipping-points/

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

    Thank you,

    jo.

    =x=x=x=x=x=x=

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

    Jo,

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

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

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

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

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

    Best regards,
    Rich Sears

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

    =x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=

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

    Dear [Professor] Sears,

    Many thanks for your reply.

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

    May I blog them ?

    Regards,

    jo.

    =x=x=x=x=x=x=x=

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

    Jo,

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

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

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

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

    Rich

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

    =x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=

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

    Dear Professor Sears,

    HNY 2014 !

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

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

    Examples would be :-

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Many thanks,

    jo.

  • Making The Sour Sweet

    Posted on January 1st, 2014 Jo No comments

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

  • Economic Ecology

    Posted on October 25th, 2013 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • 616 : The Number of the IPCC

    Posted on October 23rd, 2013 Jo 1 comment

    I have been looking into an anomaly in the recently published IPCC Fifth Assessment Report.

    No, I don’t think that global warming has paused, or that climate change is a hoax. We’re still on course for some very disturbing times, and the risks of rainfall change, sea level rise, and temperature and weather extremes are still gobsmackingly frightening.

    However, I’d like to ask why one particular figure from the Summary for Policymakers for Working Group 1 differs from the Chapters that underly it.

    Reference : Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Fifth Assessment Report, Working Group 1

    Summary for Policymakers, 27 September 2013

    Section E.8
    “Climate Stabilization, Climate Change Commitment and Irreversibility”

    “Limiting the warming caused by anthropogenic CO2 emissions alone with a probability of >33%, >50%, and >66% to less than 2°C since the period 1861–1880 [22], will require cumulative CO2 emissions from all anthropogenic sources to stay between 0 and about 1560 GtC, 0 and about 1210 GtC, and 0 and about 1000 GtC since that period respectively [23]. These upper amounts are reduced to about 880 GtC, 840 GtC, and 800 GtC respectively, when accounting for non-CO2 forcings as in RCP2.6. An amount of 531 [446 to 616] GtC, was already emitted by 2011. {12.5}”

    This refers to Chapter 12, Section 12.5, so I looked that up :-

    Chapter 12

    Executive Summary

    “Climate Stabilization : The principal driver of long term warming is total emissions of CO2 and the two quantities are approximately linearly related. The global mean warming per 1000 PgC (transient climate response to cumulative carbon emissions, TCRE) is likely between 0.8°C–2.5°C per 1000 PgC, for cumulative emissions less than about 2000 PgC until the time at which temperatures peak. To limit the warming caused by anthropogenic CO2 emissions alone to be likely less than 2°C relative to preindustrial, total CO2 emissions from all anthropogenic sources would need to be limited to a cumulative budget of about 1000 PgC over the entire industrial era. About half [460–630 PgC] of this budget was already emitted by 2011.”

    Section 12.5
    “Climate Change Beyond 2100, Commitment, Stabilization and Irreversibility”

    12.5.4

    “Based on the evidence presented above, to limit warming caused by CO2 emissions alone to be likely less than 2°C, total CO2 emissions from all anthropogenic sources would need to be limited to a cumulative budget of about 1000 PgC over the entire industrial era, about half of which [460 to 630 PgC] (Section 6.3.1) have been emitted by 2011.”

    This refers to Chapter 6, Section 6.3.1, so I looked that up :-

    Chapter 6

    Executive Summary

    “Anthropogenic CO2 emissions to the atmosphere were 545 ± 85 PgC (1 PgC = 10^15 gC) between 1750 and 2011. Of this amount, fossil fuel combustion and cement production contributed 365 ± 30 PgC and land use change (including deforestation, afforestation and reforestation) contributed 180 ± 80 PgC. [6.3.1, Table 6.1]”

    Section 6.3
    “Evolution of Biogeochemical Cycles Since the Industrial Revolution”

    Section 6.3.1
    “CO2 Emissions and Their Fate Since 1750″

    “Prior to the Industrial Era, that began in 1750, the concentration of atmospheric CO2 fluctuated roughly between 180 ppm and 290 ppm for at least 2.1 million years (see Chapter 5, Section 5.2.2 and Hönisch et al., 2009; Lüthi et al., 2008; Petit et al., 1999). Between 1750 and 2011, the combustion of fossil fuels (coal, gas, oil, and gas flaring) and the production of cement have released 365 ± 30 PgC (1 Pg C = 10^15 gC) to the atmosphere (Table 6. 1; Boden et al., 2011). Land use change activities, mainly deforestation, has released an additional 180 ± 80 PgC (Table 6.1). This carbon released by human activities is called anthropogenic carbon.”

    Table 6.1 has :-

    “Fossil fuel combustion and cement production (b) 365 ± 30 (f)”
    “Net land use change (d) 180 ± 80 (f), (g)”
    “(b) Estimated by the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) based on UN energy statistics for fossil fuel combustion (up to 2009) and US Geological Survey for cement production (Boden et al., 2011), and updated to
    2011 using BP energy statistics.”
    “(d) Based on the “bookkeeping” land use change flux accounting model of Houghton et al. (2012) until 2010, and assuming constant LUC emissions for 2011, consistent with satellite-based fire emissions (Le Quéré et al., 2013; see 6.3.2.2. and Table 6.2).”
    “(f) “The 1750–2011 estimate and its uncertainty is rounded to the nearest 5 PgC.”
    “(g) Estimated from the cumulative net land use change emissions of Houghton et al. (2012) during 1850–2011 and the average of four publications (Pongratz at al., 2009; van Minnen et al., 2009; Shevliakova et al., 2009; and Zaehle et al., 2011) during 1750–1850.”

    So how come the Summary for Policymakers gives total carbon emissions as :-

    “An amount of 531 [446 to 616] GtC, was already emitted by 2011

    but Chapter 6 and Chapter 12 have :-

    “Anthropogenic CO2 emissions to the atmosphere were 545 ± 85 PgC (1 PgC = 10^15 gC) between 1750 and 2011.” [ This equates to a range of 460 to 630 PgC. ]

    About half [460–630 PgC] of this budget was already emitted by 2011.

    With the help of Aubrey Meyer of the Global Commons Institute, I have tracked down the source of the 531 PgC figure from the Summary for Policymakers – it’s the sum total of columns B and C of the “Harmonized Emissions” spreadsheet for the RCP 2.6 (also known as RCP 3-PD) scenario between 1765 and 2011 :-

    http://www.pik-potsdam.de/~mmalte/rcps/

    Go to the link at the row :-
    “RCP3-PD: Low RCP with Peak & Decline (2005-2500)”
    in the column :-
    “For information : Harmonized Emissions”

    http://www.pik-potsdam.de/~mmalte/rcps/data/RCP3PD_EMISSIONS.xls

    The 531 PgC (equivalent to GtC) comes from summing the Harmonized Emissions from the year 1765 to 2011 by applying the formula :-

    =SUM(B39:B285)+SUM(C39:C285)

    and you get :-

    531.40626 GtC

    This still doesn’t explain where the 616 PgC number comes from…but I’d guess they come from the run of the MAGICC programme.

    What disturbs me is that this change from using the workbook methods to using the harmonized emissions from the CMIP5 computer modelling runs is not noted or explained (or defended) in the Summary for Policymakers.

    They need to get more sleep at UNFCCC and IPCC conferences, clearly.

  • The BBC loses its perch

    Posted on October 10th, 2013 Jo No comments


    Image Credit : Sea Angling Staithes

    In the matter of the BBC and balance in the reporting of Climate Change, I believe they might have lost their perch. Admittedly, it wasn’t a very large perch – and some were swaying in any breeze that came along. But to invite one of the fringiest of the fringe of science “sceptics” onto a Radio 4 broadcast on the day of the publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report Working Group 1 demonstrates that the BBC policy on achieving a suitable, accurate and appropriate fulcrum in the balance of science reporting is an ex-policy, a former policy, gone and pushing up the Cleeseian daisies.

    Citizens have been piqued, annoyed, needled, frustrated, despairing and, frankly, appalled, and some measures have been taken to remonstrate with the BBC. One such is below. Dear Reader, your comments on the subject of media balance are welcome, unless of course you haven’t read any Climate Change science and think it’s all a hoax, that the scientists are lying, and the Earth’s climate has always gone in similar cycles to the current warming, think that Global Warming is undergoing a “pause” etc etc – because you’re wrong. Plain and simple. If you don’t accept Climate Change science, if you haven’t read any of the relevant research papers, if you haven’t taken the trouble to understand what it’s all about, you are likely to be a clanging gong, a thorn in the side, and your views may well signify nothing, and certainly shouldn’t be aired in a public broadcast without challenge.

    It is time for the BBC to stop inviting Climate Change science “sceptics” – no, “deniers” onto their programmes. Once and for all. I mean, to go all Godwin on you, the BBC wouldn’t invite Adolf Hitler onto their shows to comment about the contribution that Judaism has brought to humanity, or to deny the Holocaust ? And they wouldn’t invite the CEO of a cigarette manufacture company on to insist that smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer, would they ? There is a bar, a standard, to which the BBC should aspire, on science reporting, and I feel that in this case they slid disgracefully under it and landed in a stinky puddle of failure on the studio floor. The programme editors should be ashamed, in my honest opinion.




    Open letter to Tony Hall, Lord Hall of Birkenhead and Director General of the BBC, on the platform given to Prof Bob Carter on the World at One programme (Fri 27th Sept 2013)

    Dear Lord Hall,

    We, the undersigned scientists and engineers, write to condemn the appearance of Prof Bob Carter on BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme, and to urge the BBC to seriously rethink the treatment given to climate change in its factual programming, and particularly its coverage of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report.

    The BBC, uniquely amongst broadcasters, has a public duty to provide a balanced coverage of news across its media channels, yet when it comes to its coverage of climate change it has frequently failed to do so. Furthermore, the BBC’s status as a trusted source of news means that damage done by its biased reporting of the overwhelming evidence of the certainty and significance of man-made climate change is inexorably greater. Not only does this damage public trust in climate science, but it also damages public trust in scientific evidence in general. This assertion is even supported by the BBC’s own surveys on public attitudes to climate change.

    The IPPC’s Assessment Reports represent the consensus of evidence and opinion from thousands of scientists and engineers around the world, working in all of the many fields encompassed by climate change. That consensus is overwhelmingly of the view that the evidence that human activities are driving changes in our climate at an unprecedented rate and scale – there is no ‘climate debate’ in the scientific community.

    The appearance of Prof Carter on the World at One, and that of climate change deniers on other BBC programmes, is the equivalent of giving a stork the right to reply on every appearance by Prof Robert Winston. Prof Carter is a geologist who speaks for the “Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change”, or NIPCC, a name which non-experts could be forgiven for confusing with the IPCC, however Prof Carter is not a climate scientist and the NIPCC is not the IPCC.

    Indeed, had the editors of the World at One bothered to check the credentials of the NIPCC they would have realised that far from being an independent organisation, it is backed by the Heartland Institute, a US-based free-market thinktank that opposes urgent action on climate change, which is itself opaquely funded by ‘family foundations’ suspected of having significant vested interests in undermining climate science. To return to the analogy, that stork would be funded by the Discovery Institute.

    For climate scientists, and those of us working in related fields, it is hard enough to accept that the BBC is required to give a platform to politicians whose lack of knowledge of climate science is matched only by their unwillingness to ‘use sound science responsibly’. When the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson describes climate change as “not all bad” he may be committing an abuse of the evidence and his position, but he at least does so with the rights and responsibilities of a democratically elected Member of Parliament. However when deniers such as Prof Carter use the media to argue that the scientific consensus on climate change is anything but overwhelming, the evidence on which they claim to be basing their arguments, and their sources of funding, are frequently left unrevealed and unquestioned.

    It is therefore hardly surprising that the BBC and other media outlets sometimes struggle to find climate scientists willing to speak to them, and by providing a platform for Prof Cater and other deniers the BBC is also complicit in engendering the environment in which climate scientists are often reluctant to speak to the media.

    The BBC should now issue an explanation for the appearance of Prof Carter and the treatment given to his opinions on a flagship news programme. Furthermore, it should urgently review the treatment of climate change across all of its outputs, and require full disclosures of any and all vested interests held by commentators on the subject. Finally, it should also ensure that the editorial boards covering all its scientific outputs include members with appropriate scientific backgrounds who are able to give independent advice on the subject matter, and that their advice is recorded and adhered to.

    Yours sincerely,

    Dr Keith Baker, School of Engineering and the Built Environment, Glasgow Caledonian University

    Herbert Eppel CEng CEnv, HE Translations

    Ms J. Abbess MSc, Independent Energy Research

    Chris Jones CEnv IEng FEI MCIBSE MIET

    Mark Boulton OBE

    David Hirst, Hirst Solutions Ltd

    David Andrews, Chair, Claverton Energy Research Group

    Ruth Jarman MA (Oxon) Chemistry, Member of the Board of Christian Ecology Link

    Gordon Blair, Distinguished Professor, School of Computing and Communications, Lancaster University

    Susan Chapman

    David Weight, Associate Director, Aecom

    Sam Chapman, En-Count

    Camilla Thomson, PhD candidate, University of Edinburgh

    Dr Rachel Dunk

    Prof Susan Roaf, Heriot-Watt University

    Helen Woodall

    Ian Stannage

    Andy Chyba, BSc

    Isabel Carter, Chair, Operation Noah

    Ben Samuel, BSc

    Dr Marion Hersh, University of Glasgow, MIET

    Almuth Ernsting

    Simon O’Connor

    Martin Quick MA CEng MIMechE

    Hugh Walding, MA PhD

  • The Renewable Gas Mandate

    Posted on October 9th, 2013 Jo No comments

    All models are wrong – but there’s only so much that an energy technology can grow or shrink by each year.

    I’ve started to look in detail at the numbers which suggested to me that Renewable Gas will become more important in 10 to 15 years time – and why we need to start developing a policy to mandate it now.

    The chart above is based on the assumptions that :-

    a. There is little in the way of significant extra unconventional fossil fuel production for the next 30 years.
    b. There is a strong development in the provision of Renewable Electricity – principally solar and wind power.
    c. There is no new gas conversion technology that industry wishes to exploit.
    d. Global energy demand continues to grow by around 2% a year.
    e. A plateau in global Natural Gas production is roughly 10 to 15 years behind the current plateau in crude oil production.
    f. There is no significant improvement in energy efficiency or energy demand reduction.
    g. A peak in coal consumption must occur before 2030.

    I think this very experimental model demonstrates the need for Renewable Gas quite well.

    The data in the model was a mix of BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy 2013, BP’s Energy Outlook to 2030, IIASA’s Global Energy Assessment 2012, and a couple of other reports on hydrogen and biomass production.

    Next I’m going to draw on the United Nations data for a breakdown of classes of energy to get a closer look at historical and recent trends, and thereby look for patterns for future changes.

  • Shale Gas Snake Oil

    Posted on August 9th, 2013 Jo 2 comments



    Annoyances. The New Scientist magazine for 10th August 2013 carries what at first glance appears to be a propaganda puff piece for the wonders of planet-saving, economy-boosting shale gas, and sadly, it appears that UK Prime Minister David Cameron MP has swallowed the shale gas snake oil

    “Britain must not miss out on fracking: Cameron says drilling for shale gas should take place at more sites : PM said it would be ‘big mistake if Government did not encourage fracking : Wants to dispel ‘myths’ that drilling for gas leads to earthquakes : By Tim Shipman and Nazia Parveen : PUBLISHED: 00:45, 9 August 2013 : David Cameron warned last night that Britain was ‘missing out big time’ on the benefits of fracking by not drilling at enough sites in the search for shale gas. In his most outspoken comments about the technology, the Prime Minister said it would be a ‘big mistake’ if the Government did not encourage fracking across Britain. Mr Cameron said the Government would dispel ‘myths’ from green groups that drilling for gas would lead to earthquakes, and he dismissed fears that it could lead to water taps catching fire. But campaigners last night accused him of lying about the dangers, as he suggested the UK should copy the US, where thousands of wells have been bored [...]”

    What are these purported benefits of shale gas, then ? Apparently, drilling for shale gas may bring gas prices down, by comparison with the American experience :-

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/10186007/Gas-prices-could-fall-by-a-quarter-with-shale-drilling-Government-advisers-say.html

    “Gas prices could fall by a quarter with shale drilling, Government advisers say : Gas prices could fall by a quarter and help bring down household energy bills if Britain exploits its shale gas reserves, a report commissioned by Ed Davey, the Energy Secretary, suggests. : By Rowena Mason, Political Correspondent : 5:08PM BST 17 Jul 2013 : The study by Navigant Consulting backs up David Cameron’s claim that shale gas drilling could help cut the cost of living for families struggling with average bills of more than £1,300 per year. However, it contrasts with the claims of Ed Davey, the Energy Secretary, that shale gas is “unlikely” to bring down household bills. He has said higher gas prices are probable regardless of the discovery of Britain’s shale reserves and used this argument to justify spending billions on wind farms and nuclear power stations. [...]”

    OK, let’s do a propaganda scan and a fact check.

    Meme #1 : American Natural Gas prices have dropped because of shale gas drilling.

    Fact #1 : American Natural Gas prices have risen during 2013.
    http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=12191

    Fact #2 : American Natural Gas prices have been tied to oil prices. Take away the oil-price related spikes of the last 20 years, and Natural Gas prices have stayed fairly constant :-
    http://www.eia.gov/dnav/ng/hist/rngwhhdm.htm

    Fact #3 : The cost of drilling natural gas wells has risen sharply :-
    http://www.eia.gov/dnav/ng/hist/e_ertwg_xwwn_nus_mdwa.htm

    Fact #4 : A boom in Natural Gas well drilling has come to an end :-
    http://www.eia.gov/dnav/ng/hist/e_ertwg_xwwn_nus_mdwa.htm
    http://www.eia.gov/dnav/ng/hist/e_ertrrg_xr0_nus_cm.htm

    Conclusion : It appears that the rise in shale gas production and the lowering of American Natural Gas prices are strongly correlated to the well-drilling boom that ended around about 2008.

    Meme #2 : Natural Gas is displacing coal

    Fact #1 : It did while the drilling boom was in full swing. Not now :-
    http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=11391

    Meme #3 : Shale Gas production is going to contribute significantly more to overall Natural Gas production in the next decades.

    Question #1 : Not necessarily :-
    http://www.indianagasification.com/benefits/energy-benefits/shift-in-drilling-activity/
    http://www.roperld.com/science/minerals/shalegas.htm
    http://www.silverbearcafe.com/private/09.12/shalegas.html




    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23968-frack-on-or-frack-off-can-shale-gas-save-the-planet.html

    The Future of Fracking

    Frack on or frack off: Can shale gas save the planet?

    08 August 2013 by Michael Brooks
    Magazine issue 2929.

    Optimists see the new resource as a cheap, clean “bridging fuel” to a low-carbon future.

    The true picture might not be so simple

    IT’S all right. Everything’s going to be OK. If there’s a problem, we’ll fix it.

    Such reassuring words are the hallmark of a certain way of thinking, sometimes known as rational optimism. Things will always turn out fine because we humans are almost infinitely creative and adaptable. Confronted with a problem, our technological ingenuity will provide a solution.

    In few places is this idea more powerful than among those planning our future energy supply. Yes, demand is rising. Yes, there are issues with greenhouse gas emissions. Yes, renewable technologies aren’t quite ready for prime time. But a technological miracle will fill the gap until solar, wind and tidal power come fully on stream. It’s called shale gas.

    At first glance, it is a strange claim. Shale gas is methane trapped in tiny pockets in shale rock formations, sometimes in vast quantities. Forcibly extracted by the process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, it is still a fossil fuel; burning methane produces greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

    But to see the optimists’ point, look to what has happened in the US, traditionally the global climate bogeyman. Between 1981 and 2005, US carbon emissions increased by 33 per cent, from 4.5 billion to 6 billion tonnes a year. Since 2005, they have fallen by 9 per cent (see graph). There are many factors, not least economic recession, but according to figures from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) just under half of that reduction is down to one thing: shale gas. Replicate that success globally, and we might begin to solve the emissions problem without rushing into an ill-thought-out renewables revolution, say the enthusiasts. Shale gas is technology’s answer to the climate problem, a “bridging fuel” to a cleaner, greener future. The burning question is: are the optimists right?

    There is no doubt that we need to clean up our ways of generating energy, and fast. In the West, we think of coal as a fuel in terminal decline. Globally, we have never burned more. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), coal provides 40 per cent of the world’s electricity, and could surpass oil as the world’s primary source of energy by 2017. As we exploit the cheapest sources we can find, coal is also getting dirtier. It now produces more than twice the carbon dioxide emissions of natural gas – and a lot more soot, radioactive ash, oxides of nitrogen, sulphur dioxide and other pollutants besides. Not least because of our appetite for coal, global emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise relentlessly.

    Shale gas represents a new source of natural methane gas perfectly placed to displace coal in power stations. Shale rocks are found throughout the world, formed when mud is slowly crushed so that particles of clay, quartz, calcite and other minerals end up loosely held together. The Canadian Rockies have the Burgess shale, laid down in the Cambrian era some 500 million years ago and famed for the insights into evolution given by the fossils preserved there. The UK has the 315-million-year-old Bowland shale in the north of England, and other formations dotted around. The US is riddled with different formations, among them the Barnett shale in Texas, which dates back some 350 million years, and the 400-million-year-old Marcellus shales of the Appalachians (see map).

    All of these shales have one thing in common: the tiny gaps between their particles provide pockets where both oil and methane gas can happily sit undisturbed for millions of years. Fracking involves drilling into these pockets and pumping a liquid down at high pressure to break up the shale and release the stored hydrocarbons. Oil and gas escape via a central pipe to the surface where they are collected and shipped off, the methane to be burned just like conventional natural gas in homes and power stations.

    Fracking has been used to extract “tight” gas trapped in highly impermeable rock formations in the US for a couple of decades now. Shale-gas extraction has been slower to get going. “The US shale gas sector took 25 to 30 years to get to where it is now,” says Joseph Dutton, who researches energy policy at the University of Leicester, UK. The first big field to be exploited was the Texan Barnett shale starting in the late 1990s. More followed, including the vast Marcellus shale that stretches from New York state through Pennsylvania and West Virginia into Ohio.

    But it is only in the past five years, with innovations such as horizontal drilling, that fracking has really taken off. Here the initial vertical shaft into the shale becomes a hub for radiating spokes, sometimes kilometres long, running parallel to the surface. This allows vast volumes of shale to be exploited while causing minimal disruption at the surface. “You can have an area the size of a small parking lot, and drill 16 wells all splaying out from the same location,” says Richard Davies of the Durham Energy Institute in the UK. Thanks to such techniques, the US now has the most productive shale gas fields in the world, contributing over a third of its natural gas supply (see diagram).

    As a result, shale gas is now cheaper than coal in the US, and is rapidly displacing it for electricity generation. With its vast supplies of shale gas and oil, the US could become self-sufficient in energy by 2035, according to the EIA. With labour costs in China set to rise over the same time, for many ambitious US politicians this cheap energy is nothing less than a chance for the US to regain its status as the world’s manufacturing and economic powerhouse – while getting greener too.

    Small wonder other countries around the world would like to pull off a similar trick. China is one. The world’s largest producer and consumer of coal, in 2010 it covered 70 per cent of its energy needs with well over 3 billion tonnes of the stuff – almost as much as the rest of the world combined. It is now the world’s top CO2 emitter. By happy coincidence, it is also thought to be sitting on the world’s largest reserves of shale gas – over 30 trillion cubic metres. That’s 50 per cent more than the US and 12 times greater than China’s conventional gas resources. Using even a fraction of that to displace coal would make a huge difference to global emissions.

    So keen is China that it is even breaking with precedent and calling on Western expertise to help kick-start production, says Julio Friedmann, an energy expert at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. An agreement between Shell and the state-controlled PetroChina, for example, will see Shell spending $1 billion a year to help recover shale gas from 3500 square kilometres in the Sichuan basin in central China.

    In the UK, a couple of exploratory fracking sites are up and running, and the government recently announced generous subsidies for would-be frackers. In its World Energy Outlook, the IEA predicts that more than a million shale gas wells could be drilled worldwide by 2035.

    Not everyone is happy. Opponents across the world point out that fracking destabilises the ground (see “Earth movers”), and that the chemicals pumped into the ground during fracking can leak out, perhaps contaminating groundwater (see “Water worries”).

    Supporters argue that such concerns are overblown. And in global terms, given the urgency of the climate situation, the size of shale gas reserves and the slow pace of development on renewables, it is understandable why so many people are keen to override objections. Even some green groups say shale gas makes sense as a “coal killer” – a cheaper, greener electricity generating solution. Perhaps it obviates the need to develop alternative energies entirely. “For some people, gas is not only the bridge to the future – it is the future,” says Jim Watson of the UK Energy Research Centre in London. But are things that simple?

    A complex space

    Let’s start with the economics. Shale gas is very cheap right now, so heady predictions are being made when its price and cost are in “disequilibrium”, says energy economist Francis O’Sullivan of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Shale gas was developed in the US when conventional sources of oil and gas were drying up, so shale gas could command a decent price. As fracking technology matured, productivity rose and the price fell. In fact, it has fallen so low that many companies are only continuing with production to keep a stake in the market. The productivity of the wells also falls over time: the more gas you get out of a well, the more pressure you have to apply to keep the flow coming, and there are limits to the pressure you can generate. All this means that higher prices will make a comeback once the first wave of exploitation is over, says O’Sullivan. The EIA projects that the price of natural gas, including shale gas, will double over the next 20 years. “People need to look beyond what the price has been for the last six months. This is a very complex space,” says O’Sullivan.

    And even if the US shale-gas revolution is more than a flash in the pan, there is no guarantee that its success can be replicated elsewhere. There are the poorly understood vagaries of geology, for a start. Every shale in the world is different. The Barnett shale is a flat, solid expanse, whereas shales in the UK and China tend to be more fragmented, existing as a peppering between other types of rock. Hitting such a shale with a fracking drill is not straightforward. And different shales have different origins: marine-deposited rock, which is the predominant form in the Texan Barnett shale, contains almost twice as much organic material as deposits that come from land-based plants and organisms, so should be richer in gas.

    In the case of the UK, it is not yet clear whether or not the shales are likely to yield much worth burning. The government-sponsored British Geological Survey (BGS) and others are currently working to assess the size of the national reserves. Last month they released a report estimating that the Bowland shale contains something between 23 and 65 trillion cubic metres of “gas in place”, doubling previous estimates. Most of that gas will never see the light of day: not all shales are brittle enough to fracture under pressure, and not all gas can be extracted using feasible pressures. Usually less than 10 per cent of gas in place is a recoverable reserve of the sort that the EIA and others base their figures on. Different layers of shale will contain different amounts of recoverable gas. “The key question is which layers in our thick shales will yield good gas,” says Michael Stephenson of the BGS. In particular it would be good to know which, if any, contain evidence of bacterial or algal matter likely to make them a good source of hydrocarbons. “We need a way of predicting where these sweet spots will be, but at the moment we don’t have that nailed down,” says Stephenson. Until that happens, any shale-gas revolution in the UK remains a pipe dream.

    In Poland, things have proved particularly frustrating. The country has perhaps the largest shale gas reserves in Europe, but for reasons no one quite understands, fracking there has released negligible amounts of methane, leaving even Texan experts scratching their heads. “Some companies have left already,” Stephenson says. “But it wasn’t easy in Texas either, at the beginning.”

    Not so rosy

    So no one should bank on shale gas coming at all, and certainly not on it coming cheap. “It’s dangerous when people try to build policy based on low pricing that is not going to be sustainable,” says O’Sullivan. The head of the IEA, Maria van der Hoeven, has recently warned that geology and economics mean that other countries are unlikely to replicate the US’s shale-gas boom.

    Leaving local environmental concerns aside, the global environmental picture of shale gas may well not be so rosy, either. One hotly debated issue is the amount of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, that escapes into the atmosphere during fracking. Such escapes are generally not included in point-of-use emissions comparisons with coal (see “Gas alert”).

    More insidious, though, are the knock-on effects of shale gas on world energy markets. The US shale-gas revolution has not stopped coal being burned, but merely shifted where it is burned. Cheap gas has led to a surfeit of US coal that is now being greedily consumed elsewhere. In 2012, US coal exports reached a record 104 million tonnes, 70 per cent to Europe. Contrary to perceptions of a “dash for gas”, the UK’s consumption of coal increased by over 30 per cent in 2012, according to government figures, with gas generation falling by a comparable amount (see graph). Despite near-zero economic growth, the UK’s total carbon emissions rose by 3.5 per cent in 2012, “primarily from lower use of gas and greater use of coal for electricity generation at power stations”, a government report made plain.

    Having decided to abandon nuclear power, Germany needs to generate more electricity in the short term from fossil-fuel sources, and has similarly been liberally helping itself to US coal. Where coal is cheaper than gas, energy companies will always choose the dirty option. With the jury out on whether any European country has any economically or technologically viable shale gas reserves, this impact on emissions is likely to continue in the short to medium term. If and when shale gas does come on stream, its depressing effect on the price of coal will probably lead to more coal being burned elsewhere.

    But it is in China that the global emissions trajectory will be decided over the coming decades. Here, it seems unlikely that shale gas will have much impact, either. “Coal will still be much cheaper than the estimates of how much [Chinese] shale gas is going to cost,” says Sergey Paltsev, an energy economist at MIT. A significant factor is that China’s shale-gas reserves are in precisely the wrong place: in mountainous, earthquake-prone Sichuan and the water-starved desert of Xinjiang in the north-west of the country, far away from big population centres. “Transport costs and infrastructure requirements are likely to add at least another 50 per cent to the cost of gas to consumers in major urban areas,” says Paltsev.

    “There isn’t going to be a wholesale swap of coal for gas,” says Friedmann. China still plans to build another 400,000 megawatts of coal-powered electricity generation over the next decade or so. Given coal’s cheapness, Friedmann doubts that China will use shale gas for power generation at all, predicting that it will instead be used to provide “high value” products such as fertiliser, district heating and transport fuel. The impact on the country’s environmental balance is likely to be limited. “I believe it’s possible to reduce Chinese emissions by 100 to 150 million tonnes a year by 2020 or 2025,” says Friedmann. “In a country that’s emitting 8 billion tonnes of CO2 per year, that’s not quite what we’d like.”

    So, frack on or frack off, in both local and global terms, environmentally and economically, shale gas is unlikely to be a magic bullet. Used wisely, it could be part of the climate solution. But in the real world, economics and energy policies being what they are, its emissions will come in addition to coal’s, not instead of them. In the crucial coming decades when we need to begin reducing emissions fast, that is no help at all. “All these issues mean the urgency around climate change persists,” says Friedmann.

    For Paltsev, the worry is that, seduced by a false promise of cheap, plentiful energy from shale gas, we will cut back on investment in truly green, renewable alternatives. If so, as the costs and emissions associated with shale gas rise in the future, as they inevitably will, we will end up on a costly bridge to nowhere. To see shale gas as a solution is certainly optimistic; whether it is entirely rational is quite another question.

    Earth movers

    To opponents of fracking, nothing symbolises its dangers and uncertainties more than its seismic potential. The issue hit the headlines in the UK in 2011 following tremors of magnitude 1.5 and 2.3 that were felt around an exploratory fracking site near Blackpool in the north-west of the country.

    There is little doubt fracking caused the quakes, as reports commissioned by Cuadrilla Resources, the company involved, and the UK government concluded. Anything else would be a surprise, says Joseph Dutton of the University of Leicester, UK. “You’re taking something out of the ground so something’s going to shift – that’s basic geology.”

    Should we be worried? Richard Davies of the Durham Energy Institute in the UK and his colleagues have analysed 198 instances of seismic activity of over magnitude 1.0 induced by human activity since 1929. Causes are varied: mining, oil-field depletion, filling reservoirs with water, injecting water into the ground for geothermal power, waste disposal, atomic bomb tests.

    Fracking is directly implicated in two instances, one of them being the Blackpool events, and another three resulted from fracking wastewater disposal. The largest of these, in the Horn river basin in Canada in 2011, was of magnitude 3.8, but it was barely detectable by people on the surface.

    By comparison, the impoundment of water in reservoirs has caused 39 earthquakes of magnitude up to 7.8. Even if fracking is a relatively new technology, the evidence suggests that seismicity is not a prime concern. “Earthquake is a wonderful word: it induces visions of a disaster movie,” says Dutton. “But the debate about seismic activity has got out of control.”
    Water worries

    The water used in fracking contains sand to prop open cracks, lubricants to get the sand into those cracks, biocide to make sure bugs do not clog up the pipes, and hydrochloric acid to dissolve excess cement in the pipe bore and parts of the fracked rock. About 20 per cent of this chemical cocktail does not remain in the ground, but flows back to the surface carrying heavy metals and radioactive elements flushed out of the rock. In most US states this water can be treated in standard wastewater plants, but the safety of this practice has been questioned. The state government of Pennsylvania, which sits on the large Marcellus shale formation, has banned it.

    But could toxic chemicals from fracking leach into groundwater and reach reservoirs and drinking water supplies underground? So far, the indications from studies by Robert Jackson and colleagues at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, are that the risks are low. “We have not found evidence of the fracking chemicals that people are most concerned about, such as benzene, and we have not found evidence for metal salts from deep underground,” he says.

    Their studies have, however, found an issue with methane contamination in water drawn from within a kilometre or two of some wells. “It may be that the high volumes and high pressures used in fracking make leaky wells more likely,” says Jackson. He suggests a variety of regulatory measures to avoid this problem, such as stricter building codes for wells and increased minimum distances between wells and groundwater sources. The US Environmental Protection Agency is carrying out an investigation of the effect of fracking on drinking water, due out next year. The arguments will continue at least until then.

    Gas alert

    One problem with shale gas is very much up in the air: leaks of the potent greenhouse gas methane. “It’s much more powerful than carbon dioxide – 25 to 30 times more, molecule for molecule,” says Robert Jackson of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

    While he and his colleagues have found evidence of direct methane leaks from a small proportion of hundreds of wells they investigated, Jackson sees them as symptoms of poor construction and ineffective regulation, and therefore potentially curable.

    Not everyone is so bullish. Robert Howarth of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, points out that methane is also released from the “flowback” water that returns to the surface during the fracking process. Working with figures from the US Environmental Protection Agency and General Accountability Office, Howarth and his colleagues have calculated that between 4 and 8 per cent of a well’s total production of methane goes straight into the atmosphere. Such a methane release creates an increased greenhouse gas burden of between 20 and 100 per cent over coal for the first 20 years of a field’s exploitation. “Shale gas is not a suitable bridge fuel for the 21st century,” they conclude.

    That analysis is highly controversial. Lawrence Cathles, also at Cornell, points out that the 20-year timescale biases things against shale gas because methane has a much shorter lifetime in the atmosphere than CO2. Emissions from coal will have longer effect. Francis O’Sullivan and Sergey Paltsev of MIT have calculated that the practice of “flaring” – burning off methane for a few weeks while a well is established – brings the greenhouse-gas footprint of shale gas back down in line with that of natural gas, and much better than coal’s.

    Jackson’s analysis suggests that, rather than worrying about emissions from fracking itself, we should concentrate on leakages downstream in the supply chain. “In Boston alone we found 3000 methane leaks from pipelines,” he says. Fixing those problems is more easy than fixing the emission problems of coal.

    Michael Brooks is a New Scientist consultant. His latest book is The Secret Anarchy of Science (Profile/Overlook)

    This article appeared in print under the headline “Frack to the future”

    Issue 2929 of New Scientist magazine

    From issue 2929 of New Scientist magazine, page 36-41.




    EDITORIAL

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21929291.700-the-fracking-debate-needs-more-light-less-heat.html

    The fracking debate needs more light, less heat

    07 August 2013
    Magazine issue 2929.

    DEBATES over fracking tend to generate more heat than light.

    Nowhere is that more true than in the UK, where the past week has seen a former government energy adviser suggest that the practice should be confined to the “desolate” north-east, even as vociferous protests erupted near a normally tranquil village in the prosperous Home Counties.

    Safety concerns over fracking are overblown – but so are the boosterish claims made for its environmental and economic benefits (see “Fracking could accelerate global warming” and “Frack on or frack off: Can shale gas really save the planet?”). The British Geological Survey has so far assessed only the Bowland shale in the north of England, concluding that there is perhaps twice as much “gas in place” as previously thought. But it remains to be seen if this gas is recoverable or good for burning.

    So drill and find out, say advocates. Not in my backyard, say protesters. Enough. Neither nimbyism nor bravado is appropriate given what we know about the risks and rewards of fracking. Better to bring that vigour to bear on a wider debate aimed at shedding light on the nature of a truly sustainable energy policy for the UK – and, for that matter, the world.

    This article appeared in print under the headline “More light, less heat”
    Issue 2929 of New Scientist magazine

    From issue 2929 of New Scientist magazine, page 5.




    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21929292.000-fracking-could-accelerate-global-warming.html

    Fracking could accelerate global warming

    07 August 2013
    Magazine issue 2929. Subscribe and save

    Editorial: “The fracking debate needs more light, less heat”

    THE row over fracking for natural gas has hit the UK, with protests over plans in the village of Balcombe. Could they have a point? Studies are suggesting fracking could accelerate climate change, rather than slow it.

    The case for fracking rests on its reputed ability to stem global warming. Burning gas emits half as much planet-warming carbon dioxide as an equivalent amount of coal. That is why, after embracing fracking, CO2 emissions have fallen in the US.

    But leading climate scientists are warning that this benefit is illusory. Tom Wigley of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, concluded in a recent study that substituting gas for coal increases rather than decreases the rate of warming for many decades (Climatic Change, doi.org/dv4kbp).

    Firstly, burning coal releases a lot of sulphur dioxide and black carbon. These cool the climate, offsetting up to 40 per cent of the warming effect of burning coal, Wigley told a recent conference of the Breakthrough Institute think tank in Sausalito, California.

    Fracking technology, which involves pumping water at high pressure into shale beds to release trapped gas, also leaks methane into the atmosphere. Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 and Wigley says that switching from coal to gas could only bring benefits this century if leakage rates get below 2 per cent. If rates are at 10 per cent – the top end of current US estimates – the gas would deliver extra warming until the mid-22nd century.

    A recent review by the UN Environment Programme agreed that emissions from fracking and other unconventional sources of natural gas could boost warming initially, and would only be comparable to coal over a 100-year timescale.

    This article appeared in print under the headline “Frack for warming”
    Issue 2929 of New Scientist magazine

    From issue 2929 of New Scientist magazine, page 6.

  • Keith MacLean : Big Choices

    Posted on July 15th, 2013 Jo 3 comments

    At last week’s 2013 Annual Conference for PRASEG, the UK parliamentary sustainable energy group, Keith MacLean from Scottish and Southern Energy outlined (see below) the major pathways for domestic (residential) energy, currently dependent on both a gas grid and a power grid.

    He said that decarbonising heat requires significant, strategic infrastructure decisions on the various proposals and technology choices put forward, as “these options are incompatible”. He said that the UK “need to facilitate more towards ONE of those scenarios/configurations [for provision for heating at home] as they are mutually exclusive”.

    There has been a commitment from Central Government in the UK to the concept of electrification of the energy requirements of both the transport and heat sectors, and Keith MacLean painted a scenario that could see the nation’s households ditching their gas central heating boilers for heat pumps in accord with that vision. Next, “the District Heating (DH) movement could take off, [where you stop using your heat pump and take local piped heat from a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant] until there is no spare market capacity. Then [big utilities] could start pumping biogas and hydrogen into the gas grid, and you get your boiler back !”

    Since I view gas grid injection of Renewable Gas feedstocks as a potential way to easily decarbonise the gas supply, and as Keith MacLean said in his panel presentation, “The real opportunity to make a difference in our domestic [residential] energy consumption is in heat rather than power”, I sought him out during the drinks reception after the event, to compare notes.

    I explained that I appreciate the awkward problem he posed, and that my continuing research interest is in Renewable Gas, which includes Renewable Hydrogen, BioHydrogen and BioMethane. I said I had been reading up on and speaking with some of those doing Hydrogen injection into the gas grid, and it looks like a useful way to decarbonise gas.

    I said that if we could get 5% of the gas grid supply replaced with hydrogen…”Yes”, said Keith, “we wouldn’t even need to change appliances at those levels”… and then top up with biogas and other industrial gas streams, we could decarbonise the grid by around 20% without breaking into a sweat. At this point, Keith MacLean started nodding healhily, and a woman from a communications company standing near us started to zone out, so I figured this was getting really interesting. “And that would be significant”, I accented, but by this time she was almost asleep on her feet.

    With such important decisions ahead of us, it seems that people could be paying a bit more attention to these questions. These are, after all, big choices.

    What did Keith mean by “The District Heating movement” ? Well, Dave Andrews of Clean Power (Finning Power Systems), had offered to give a very short presentation at the event. Here was his proposed title :-

    http://uk.groups.yahoo.com/group/Claverton/message/12361
    “Indicative costs of decarbonizing European city heating with electrical distribution compared to district heating pipe distribution of large scale wind energy and with particular attention to transition to the above methods and energy storage costs to address intermittency and variability of wind power.”

    This would have been an assessment of the relative costs of decarbonising European city heating with either :-

    Strategy 1)

    “Gas-fired Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) generation plant plus domestic (residential sector) electric heat pumps as the transition solution; and in the long term, large scale wind energy replacing the CCGT – which is retained as back up for low wind situations; and with pumped hydro electrical storage to deal with intermittency /variability of wind energy and to reduce back up fuel usage.”

    or

    Strategy 2)

    “CCGT Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plus district heat (DH) as the transition solution; and in the long term, large scale wind energy replacing the CCGT CHP heat but with the CCGT retained as back up for low wind situations and with hot water energy storage to deal with intermittency / variability and to reduce back up fuel usage.”

    With “the impact of [a programme of building retrofits for] insulation on each strategy is also assessed.”

    Dave’s European research background is of relevance here, as co-author of a 215-pager SETIS programme paper complete with pretty diagrams :-

    http://setis.ec.europa.eu/system/files/1.DHCpotentials.pdf

    Although Dave Andrews was also at the PRASEG drinks reception, he didn’t get the opportunity to address the conference. Which was a shame as his shirt was electric.




    PRASEG 2013
    10 July 2013
    “Keeping the Lights on: At What Cost?”
    Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group
    Annual Conference

    Second Panel Discussion
    Chaired by Baroness Maddock
    “Negawatts: Decentralising and reducing demand – essential or ephemeral ?”

    [Note : The term "negawatt" denotes a negative watt hour - produced by a reduction in power or gas demand. ]

    [...]

    Keith MacLean, Scottish and Southern Energy

    Decentralisation and Demand Reduction [should only be done where] it makes sense. Answers [to the question of negawatts] are very different if looking at Heat and Power. Heat is something far more readily stored that electricity is. Can be used to help balance [the electricity demand profile]. And heat is already very localised [therefore adding to optimising local response]. Some are going in the other direction – looking at district [scale] heating (DH) [using the more efficient system of Combined Heat and Power (CHP)]. Never forget the option to convert from electricity to heat and back to electricity to balance [the grid]. Average household uses 3 MWh (megawatt hours) of electricity [per year] and 15 MWh of heat. The real opportunity is heat. New homes reduce this to about 1 [MWh]. Those built to the new 2016 housing regulations on Zero Carbon Homes, should use around zero. The real opportunity to make a difference in our domestic [residential] energy consumption is in heat rather than power. Reducing consumption not always the right solution. With intermittents [renewable energy] want to switch ON at some times [to soak up cheap wind power in windy conditions]. [A lot of talk about National Grid having to do load] balancing [on the scale of] seconds, minutes and hours. Far more fundamental is the overall system adequacy – a bigger challenge – the long-term needs of the consumer. Keeping the lights from going out by telling people to turn off the lights is not a good way of doing it. There is justifiable demand [for a range of energy services]. [...] I don’t think we’re politically brave enough to vary the [electricity] prices enough to make changes. We need to look at ways of aggregating and automating Demand Side Response. Need to be prepared to legislate and regulate if that is the right solution.

    [...]

    Questions from the Floor

    Question from John Gibbons of the University of Edinburgh

    The decarbonisation of heat. Will we be successful any time soon ?

    Answer from Keith MacLean

    [...] Decarbonising heat – [strategic] infrastructure decisions. For example, [we could go down the route of ditching Natural Gas central heating] boilers for heat pumps [as the UK Government and National Grid have modelled and projected]. Then the District Heating (DH) movement could take off [and you ditch your heat pump at home], until there is no spare market capacity. Then [big utilities] could start pumping biogas and hydrogen into the gas grid, and you get your boiler back ! Need to facilitate more towards ONE of those scenarios/configurations [for provision for heating at home] as mutually exclusive. Need to address in terms of infrastructure since these options are incompatible.

    Answer from Dave Openshaw, Future Networks, UK Power Network

    Lifestyle decision – scope for [action on] heat more than for electricity. Demand Management – managing that Demand Side Reduction and Demand Reduction when need it. Bringing forward use of electricity [in variety of new applications] when know over-supply [from renewable energy, supplied at negative cost].

    [...]

  • Ed Davey : Polish Barbecue

    Posted on July 12th, 2013 Jo 1 comment



    This week, both Caroline Flint MP and Ed Balls MP have publicly repeated the commitment by the UK’s Labour Party to a total decarbonisation of the power sector by 2030, should they become the governing political party. At PRASEG’s Annual Conference, Caroline Flint said “In around ten years time, a quarter of our power supply will be shut down. Decisions made in the next few years [...] consequences will last for decades [...] keeping the lights on, and [ensuring reasonably priced] energy bills, and preventing dangerous climate change. [...] Labour will have as an election [promise] a legally binding target for 2030. [...] This Government has no vision.”

    And when I was in an informal conversation group with Ed Davey MP and Professor Mayer Hillman of the Policy Studies Institute at a drinks reception after the event hosted by PRASEG, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change seemed to me to also be clear on his personal position backing the 2030 “decarb” target.

    Ed Davey showed concern about the work necessary to get a Europe-wide commitment on Energy and Climate Change. He took Professor Hillman’s point that carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are already causing dangerous climate change, and that the risks are increasing. However, he doubted that immediate responses can be made. He gave the impression that he singled out Poland of all the countries in the European Union to be an annoyance, standing in the way of success. He suggested that if Professor Hillman wanted to do something helpful, he could fly to Poland…at this point Professor Hillman interjected to say he hasn’t taken a flight in 70 years and doesn’t intend to now…and Ed Davey continued that if the Professor wanted to make a valuable contribution, he could travel to Poland, taking a train, or…”I don’t care how you get there”, but go to Poland and persuade the Poles to sign up to the 2030 ambition.

    Clearly, machinations are already afoot. At the PRASEG Annual Conference were a number of communications professionals, tightly linked to the debate on the progress of national energy policy. Plus, one rather exceedingly highly-networked individual, David Andrews, the key driver behind the Claverton Energy Research Group forum, of which I am an occasional participant. He had ditched the normal navy blue polyester necktie and sombre suit for a shiveringly sharp and open-necked striped shirt, and was doing his best to look dapper, yet zoned. I found him talking to a communications professional, which didn’t surprise me. He asked how I was.

    JA : “I think I need to find a new job.”
    DA : “MI6 ?”
    JA : “Too boring !”

    What I really should have said was :-

    JA : “Absolutely and seriously not ! Who’d want to keep State Secrets ? Too much travel and being nice to people who are nasty. And making unbelievable compromises. The excitement of privilege and access would wear off after about six minutes. Plus there’s the risk of ending up decomposing in something like a locked sports holdall in some strange bathroom in the semblance of a hostelry in a godforsaken infested hellhole in a desolate backwater like Cheltenham or Gloucester. Plus, I’d never keep track of all the narratives. Or the sliding door parallel lives. Besides, I’m a bit of a Marmite personality – you either like me or you really don’t : I respond poorly to orders, I’m not an arch-persuader and I’m not very diplomatic or patient (except with the genuinely unfortunate), and I’m well-known for leaping into spats. Call me awkward (and some do), but I think national security and genuine Zero Carbon prosperity can be assured by other means than dark arts and high stakes threats. I like the responsibility of deciding for myself what information should be broadcast in the better interests of the common good, and which held back for some time (for the truth will invariably out). And over and above all that, I’m a technologist, which means I prefer details over giving vague impressions. And I like genuine democratic processes, and am averse to social engineering. I am entirely unsuited to the work of a secret propaganda and diplomatic unit.”

    I would be prepared to work for a UK or EU Parliamentary delegation to Poland, I guess, if I could be useful in assisting with dialogue, perhaps in the technical area. I do after all have several academic degrees pertinent to the questions of Energy and Climate Change.

    But in a room full of politicians and communications experts, I felt a little like a fished fish. Here, then, is a demonstration. I was talking with Rhys Williams, the Coordinator of PRASEG, and telling him I’d met the wonderful Professor Geoff Williams, of Durham Univeristy, who has put together a system of organic light emitting diode (LED) lighting and a 3-D printed control unit, and, and, and Rhys actually yawned. He couldn’t contain it, it just kind of spilled out. I told myself : “It’s not me. It’s the subject matter”, and I promptly forgave him. Proof, though, of the threshold for things technical amongst Westminster fixers and shakers.

    Poland. I mean, I know James Delingpole has been to Poland, and I thought at the time he was possibly going to interfere with the political process on climate change, or drum up support for shale gas. But I’m a Zero Carbon kind of actor. I don’t need to go far to start a dialogue with Poland by going to Poland – I have Poles living in my street, and I’m invited to all their barbecues. Maybe I should invite Professor Mayer Hillman to cycle over to Waltham Forest and address my near neighbours and their extended friendship circle on the importance of renewable energy and energy efficiency targets, and ask them to communicate with the folks back home with any form of influence.

  • Hadeo- and Archaeo-Geobiology

    Posted on July 8th, 2013 Jo No comments

    What can deep time teach us ?

    Whilst doing a little background research into biological routes to hydrogen production, I came across a scientific journal paper, I can’t recall which, that suggested that the geological evidence indicates that Earth’s second atmosphere not only had a high concentration of methane, but also high levels of hydrogen gas.

    Previously, my understanding was that the development of microbiological life included a good number of methanogens (micro-life that produces methane as a waste product) and methanotrophs (those that “trough” on methane), but that hydrogenogen (“respiring” hydrogen gas) and hydrogenotroph (metabolising hydrogen) species were a minority, and that this was reflected in modern-day decomposition, such as the cultures used in biogas plants for anaerobic digestion.

    If there were high densities of hydrogen cycle lifeforms in the early Earth, maybe there are remnants, descendants of this branch of the tree of life, optimal at producing hydrogen gas as a by-product, which could be employed for biohydrogen production, but which haven’t yet been scoped.

    After all, it has only been very recently that psychrophiles have been added to the range of microorganisms that have been found useful in biogas production – cold-loving, permafrost-living bugs to complement the thermophile and mesophile species.

    Since hydrogen and methane are both ideal gas fuels, for a variety of reasons, including gas storage, combustion profiles and simple chemistry, I decided I needed to learn a little more.

    I have now read a plethora of new theories and several books about the formation of the Earth (and the Moon) in the Hadean Eon, the development of Earth’s atmosphere, the development of life in the Archaean Eon, and the evolution of life caused by climate change, and these developments in living beings causing climate change in their turn.

    Most of this knowledge is mediated to us by geology, and geobiology. But right at its heart is catalytic chemistry, once again. Here’s Robert Hazen (Robert M. Hazen) from page 138 of “The Story of Earth” :-

    “Amino acids, sugars, and the components of DNA and RNA adsorb onto all of Earth’s most common rock-forming minerals [...] We concluded that wherever the prebiotic ocean contacted minerals, highly concentrated arrangements of life’s molecules are likely to have emerged from the formless broth [...] Many other researchers have also settled on such a conclusion – indeed, more than a few prominent biologists have also gravitated to minerals, because origins-of-life scenarios that involve only oceans and atmosphere face insurmountable problems in accounting for efficient mechanisms of molecular selection and concentration. Solid minerals have an unmatched potential to select, concentrate, and organize molecules. So minerals much have played a central role in life’s origins. Biochemistry is complex, with interwoven cycles and networks of molecular reactions. For those intricately layered processes to work, molecules have to have just the right sizes and shapes. Molecular selection is the task of finding the best molecule for each biochemical job, and template-directed selection on mineral surfaces is now the leading candidate for how nature did it [...] left- and right-handed molecules [...] It turns out that life is incredibly picky : cells almost exclusively employ left-handed amino acids and right-handed sugars. Chirality matters [...] Our recent experiments have explored the possibility that chiral mineral surfaces played the starring role in selecting handed molecules, and perhaps the origins of life as well. [...] Our experiments showed that certain left-handed molecules can aggregate on one set of crystal surfaces, while the mirror image [...] on other sets [...] As handed molecules are separated and concentrated, each surface becomes a tiny experiment in molecular selection and organization. On its own, no such natural experiment with minerals and molecules is likely to have generated life. But take countless trillions of trillions of trillions of mineral surfaces, each bathed in molecule-rich organic broth [...] The tiny fraction of all those molecular combinations that wound up displaying easier self-assembly, or developed a stronger binding to mineral surfaces [...] survived [...] possibly to learn new tricks.”

  • Good Gas, Bad Gas

    Posted on July 8th, 2013 Jo No comments

    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/07/07/1058051/must-see-gasland-part-ii-on-hbo-monday-natural-gas-once-a-bridge-now-a-gangplank/

    That’s the bad gas. Now for the good gas – Renewable Gas :-

    http://tribune.com.pk/story/573418/renewable-energy-kesc-aman-foundation-to-set-up-bio-gas-plant/

    http://www.woodheadpublishing.com/en/book.aspx?bookID=2862

    http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/nl4016655

    Joanna Kargul’s team :-
    http://solar.biol.uw.edu.pl/index.php/lab-team
    http://www.eera-set.eu/lw_resource/datapool/_items/item_795/ampea_2013_kargul.pdf

    Slightly questionable gas (from a biosecurity point of view) :-

    http://sb6.biobricks.org/poster/biohydrogen-production-in-e-coli-a-synthetic-biology-approach/

  • Carbon Bubble : Unburnable Assets

    Posted on June 3rd, 2013 Jo No comments



    [ Image Credit : anonymous ]


    Yet again, the fossil fuel companies think they can get away with uncommented public relations in my London neighbourhood. Previously, it was BP, touting its green credentials in selling biofuels, at the train station, ahead of the Olympic Games. For some reason, after I made some scathing remarks about it, the advertisement disappeared, and there was a white blank board there for weeks.

    This time, it’s Esso, and they probably think they have more spine, as they’ve taken multiple billboard spots. In fact, the place is saturated with this advertisement. And my answer is – yes, fuel economy is important to me – that’s why I don’t have a car.

    And if this district is anything to go by, Esso must be pouring money into this advertising campaign, and so my question is : why ? Why aren’t they pouring this money into biofuels research ? Answer : because that’s not working. So, why aren’t they putting this public relations money into renewable gas fuels instead, sustainable above-surface gas fuels that can be used in compressed gas cars or fuel cell vehicles ?

    Are Esso retreating into their “core business” like BP, and Shell, concentrating on petroleum oil and Natural Gas, and thereby exposing all their shareholders to the risk of an implosion of the Carbon Bubble ? Or another Deepwater Horizon, Macondo-style blowout ?

    Meanwhile, the movement for portfolio investors to divest from fossil fuel assets continues apace…

  • Renewable Gas : Research Parameters

    Posted on May 25th, 2013 Jo No comments

    “So what do you do ?” is a question I quite frequently have to answer, as I meet a lot of new people, in a lot of new audiences and settings, on a regular basis, as an integral part of my personal process of discovery.

    My internal autocue answer has modified, evolved, over the years, but currently sounds a lot like this, “I have a couple of part-time jobs, office administration, really. I do a spot of weblogging in my spare time. But I’m also doing some research into the potential for Renewable Gas.” I then pause for roughly two seconds. “Renewable Gas ?” comes back the question.

    “Yes,” I affirm in the positive, “Industrial-scale chemistry to produce gas fuels not dug up out of the ground. It is useful to plug the gaps in Renewable Electricity when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.”

    It’s not exactly an elevator pitch – I’m not really selling anything except a slight shift in the paradigm here. Renewable Energy. Renewable Electricity. Renewable Gas. Power and gas. Gas and power. It’s logical to want both to be as renewable and sustainable and as low carbon as possible.

    Wait another two seconds. “…What, you mean, like Biogas ?” comes the question. “Well, yes, and also high volumes of non-biological gas that’s produced above the ground instead of from fossil fuels.”

    The introductory chat normally fades after this exchange, as my respondent usually doesn’t have the necessary knowledge architecture to be able to make any sense of what my words represent. I think it’s fair to say I don’t win many chummy friends paradigm-bumping in this way, and some probably think I’m off the deep end psychologically, but hey, evolutionaries don’t ever have it easy.

    And I also find that it’s not easy to find a place in the hierarchy of established learning for my particular “research problem”. Which school could I possibly join ? Which research council would adopt me ?

    The first barrier to academic inclusion is that my research interest is clearly motivated by my concern about the risks of Climate Change – the degradation in the Earth’s life support systems from pumping unnaturally high volumes of carbon dioxide into the air – and Peak Fossil Fuels – the risks to humanity from a failure to grow subsurface energy production.

    My research is therefore “applied” research, according to the OECD definition (OECD, 2002). It’s not motivated simply by the desire to know new things – it is not “pure” research – it has an end game in mind. My research is being done in order to answer a practical problem – how to decarbonise gaseous, gas phase, energy fuel production.

    The second barrier to the ivory tower world that I have is that I do not have a technological contribution to make with this research. I am not inventing a chemical process that can “revolutionise” low carbon energy production. (I don’t believe in “revolutions” anyway. Nothing good ever happens by violent overthrow.) My research is not at the workbench end of engineering, so I am not going to work amongst a team of industrial technicians, so I am not going to produce a patent for clean energy that could save the world (or the economy).

    My research is more about observing and reporting the advances of others, and how these pieces add up to a journey of significant change in the energy sector. I want to join the dots from studies at the leading edge of research, showing how this demonstrates widespread aspiration for clean energy, and document instances of new energy technology, systems and infrastructure. I want to witness to the internal motivation of thousands of people working with the goal of clean energy across a very wide range of disciplines.

    This is positively positive; positivity, but it’s not positivism – it’s not pure, basic research. This piece of research could well influence people and events – it’s certainly already influencing me. It’s not hands-off neutral science. It interacts with its subjects. It intentionally intervenes.

    Since I don’t have an actual physical contribution or product to offer, and since I fully expect it to “interfere” with current dogma and political realities, what I am doing will be hard to acknowledge.

    This is not a PhD. But it is still a piece of philosophy, the love of wisdom that comes from the acquisition of knowledge.

    I have been clear for some time about what I should be studying. Call it “internal drive” if you like. The aim is to support the development of universal renewable energy as a response to the risks of climate change and peak fossil fuel energy production. That makes me automatically biased. I view my research subject through the prism of hope. But I would contend that this is a perfectly valid belief, as I already know some of what is possible. I’m not starting from a foundational blank slate – many Renewable Gas processes are already in use throughout industry and the energy sector. The fascinating part is watching these functions coalesce into a coherent alternative to the mining of fossil fuels. For the internal industry energy production conversation is changing its track, its tune.

    For a while now, “alternative” energy has been a minor vibration, a harmonic, accentuating the fossil fuel melody. As soon as the mid-noughties economic difficulties began to bite, greenwash activities were ditched, as oil and gas companies resorted to their core business. But the “green shoots” of green energy are still there, and every now and then, it is possible to see them poking up above the oilspill-desecrated soil. My role is to count blades and project bushes. Therefore my research is interpretivist or constructivist, although it is documenting positivist engineering progress. That’s quite hard for me to agree with, even though I reasoned it myself. I can still resist being labelled “post-positivist”, though, because I’m still interpreting reality not relativisms.

    So now, on from research paradigm to research methodologies. I was trained to be an experimentalist scientist, so this is a departure for me. In this case, I am not going to seek to make a physical contribution to the field by being actively involved as an engineer in a research programme, partly because from what I’ve read so far, most of the potential is already documented and scoped.

    I am going to use sociological methods, combining observation and rapportage, to and from various organisations through various media. Since I am involved in the narrative through my interactions with others, and I influence the outcomes of my research, this is partly auto-narrative, autoethnographic, ethnographic. An apt form for the research documentation is a weblog, as it is a longitudinal study, so discrete reports at time intervals are appropriate. Social media will be useful for joining the research to a potential audience, and Twitter has the kind of immediacy I prefer.

    My observation will therefore be akin to journalism – engineering journalism, where the term “engineering” covers both technological and sociological aspects of change. A kind of energy futures “travelogue”, an observer of an emerging reality.

    My research methods will include reading the science and interacting with engineers. I hope to do a study trip (or two) as a way of embedding myself into the new energy sector, with the explicit intention of ensuring I am not purely a commentator-observer. My research documentation will include a slow collation of my sources and references – a literature review that evolves over time.

    My personal contribution will be slight, but hopefully set archaic and inefficient proposals for energy development based on “traditional” answers (such as nuclear power, “unconventional” fossil fuel production and Carbon Capture and Storage for coal) in high relief.

    My research choices as they currently stand :-

    1. I do not think I want to join an academic group.

    2. I do not think I want to work for an energy engineering company.

    3. I do not want to claim a discovery in an experimental sense. Indeed, I do not need to, as I am documenting discoveries and experiments.

    4. I want to be clear about my bias towards promoting 100% renewable energy, as a desirable ambition, in response to the risks posed by climate change and peak fossil fuel production.

    5. I need to admit that my research may influence outcomes, and so is applied rather than basic (Roll-Hansen, 2009).

    References

    OECD, 2002. “Proposed Standard Practice for Surveys on Research and Experimental Development”, Frascati Manual :-
    http://browse.oecdbookshop.org/oecd/pdfs/free/9202081e.pdf

    Roll-Hansen, 2009. “Why the distinction between basic (theoretical) and applied (practical) research is important in the politics of science”, Nils Roll-Hansen, Centre for the Philosophy of Natural and Social Science Contingency and Dissent in Science, Technical Report 04/09 :-
    http://www2.lse.ac.uk/CPNSS/projects/CoreResearchProjects/ContingencyDissentInScience/DP/DPRoll-HansenOnline0409.pdf

  • Gas Strategy “Dangerous Gamble”

    Posted on February 11th, 2013 Jo No comments

    I had a most refreshing evening at Portcullis House in Westminster this evening – apart from the fact that the Macmillan Room was overheated, so you couldn’t possibly deduce that energy conservation is intended to be part of the UK Government’s strategy, making an example with the public sector.

    Tonight was the launch of the Greenpeace and WWF-UK report “A Study into the Economics of Gas and Offshore Wind“, which was commissioned from Cambridge Econometrics.

    Professor Paul Ekins got up to speak and actually had the gall to declare the Government’s “Gas Strategy” to be a “dangerous gamble”. It was at this point that I took heart again – there are still some sane, rational people in the “national energy conversation”, even though Ekins did admit that he wasn’t sure that the “Gas Strategy” was an actual thing. Oh, but it is. All eighty pages of it.

    Today was not the first time Professor Paul Ekins called out the Government on this, apparently, although I didn’t have a recollection of seeing the the mention in New Scientist before today.

    Other highlights of the evening were provided by Laura Sandys MP naming her political opposition Alan Whitehead MP as the leader of a “parliamentary roadshow” on Energy and Climate Change, and questioning the use of the term “energy efficiency”. “It’s energy waste, guys”, she corrected and said we should be using that term instead of the “effete word efficiency”, and encouraged the energy waste prevention industry to get the rest of us engaged with their products.

    A chap from Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) – I think it might have been Kevin MacLean – got up during questions from the floor, and almost begged for a long-term framework – a plan for renewable energy – a “binding framework” to encourage investment and “get costs down”.

    It was pointed out during the evening, that, logically enough, that policy is important to energy futures, “if you have more certainty, you get more investment”. And there was encouragement to get Government Departments to think about this more. Yes, some subsidies and other forms of support are going to be needed to get the renewable energy revolution kickstarted, but “if [we] get benefits – isn’t that a price worth paying ?” The benefits outlined included potential for some small growth in the economy, around about 0.8% GDP, but good prospects for high value employment in depressed coastal towns where much of the offshore wind industry will host engineers, both for construction and ongoing operations and maintenance.

    Laura Sandys MP was ashamed to say that she may no longer be able to claim she has the two largest offshore wind farms in her constituency – as progress is being made elsewhere.

    Sarah Merrick from Vestas, the wind power engineering firm, emphasised that the economics of wind power stacks up and that it’s important to communicate this – despite the current dismissive media agenda – where she said it is important to defend the industry against certain media claims.

    Lord Alan Haworth brought up the inevitable question of renewable energy intermittency – “days of dead calm and dark nights”. He raised the statistic that weather systems in Europe can cover 1,500 kilometres, so if wind power is down in the UK, it’s going to be down elsewhere in the EU electricity networks – the countries we have interconnectors with. What he didn’t elaborate on was this – just as the UK is beefing (and I don’t mean “up to 100% horsing about”) up its connections with the European electricity networks, so too, Europe as a whole is beginning to reach out with its networks to satellite countries. What that could mean is that even if wind-powered electrons in the UK take a dive, electrons could still appear in the power network from very far afield, and shunt power to the UK.

    The speaker from the Crown Estate said that it was “sensible” to push for a good quantity of wind power – and that the report was a compelling argument. He regretted that it could not be guaranteed that the wind power-ed economy would necessarily have more of its supply chain in the UK – as various bodies have to comply with EU trade rules – but that there was a commitment in one part of the industry to 50% indigenous resourcing and employment (if I noted that down correctly).

    Long-term policy clarity was espoused. Disappointment was expressed in the Coalition Government’s flip-flop about gas – emphasising the development of gas-powered electricity generation at the expense of projecting high levels of renewables (65%, says the report, is perfectly feasible) – and that it gave mixed messages – which weren’t helping investment decisions. Sarah Merrick repeated the E.On line that UK electricity should be “balanced by gas, not based on gas”, although she didn’t explain that they weren’t necessarily talking about wind power being the mainstay of new generation capacity.

    It was generally agreed that David Cameron should lead and adopt the EU 2030 renewable energy targets – to enable billions of new confidence in the UK energy sector.

    Not having a strong lead on renewable energy and energy waste reduction would be an “abdication of responsibility on the part of the policy-creating machine”. And, “even if shale gas does materialise”, it would not provide much stimulus.

  • New Scientist : Divide, Rule

    Posted on February 3rd, 2013 Jo 1 comment

    Once in a while, I read something in the New Scientist magazine that makes me consider whether I should cancel my subscription, as an act of activism. However, doing this would not achieve anything in terms of change or correction, nor would it be an effective signal to anyone, as my words and actions carry so little significance.

    I cannot imagine the editorial staff at New Scientist being overcome with shame and remorse by hearing my admonition, but it really needs to be given : they have indulged in the worst display of “divide and rule” I have read in a long time.

    The editorial of 30th January 2013, in addition to an Opinion piece from RealClearScience.com, invents two pigeonholes of allegiance, and attempts to squeeze everyone into one of them. Then it dismisses one group and pleads for everyone to join the other. This is psychological manipulation of the worst sort.

    So what is the faultline that New Scientist claims we need to be on the right, correct, safe side of ? Science. And then it goes on to define what science is, and what unscientific is, by listing various technologies.

    So, apparently, since I reject a blanket approval on all genetic engineering, I can automatically be labelled politically as a “liberal”, and also told I am being unscientific. Great. There I was, asking everybody to trust the evidence base, and not to get confused between technology and science, and now it seems I am being accused of being anti-science.

    So, for the record, here is my take on the issue. Technology is not the same as science. For example, it is perfectly possible to manufacture medicines by chemical processes that, when tested, show an ability to treat illness and poor symptoms. And then, when the medicine is used by the general population, it is perfectly possible for the chemistry to cause unintended side-effects that were not detected (or reported) in the trials.

    I am grateful my mother refused to take an anti-nausea medicine when she was pregnant with me, because otherwise I could have suffered congenital defects from Thalidomide administration. Thalidomide was a technology. Not a science. Science was the research process that determined that medication with Thalidomide was causing congenital defects.

    According to the Opinion piece, I am in the camp of “good” people because I accept Climate Change science. But then, I can also be definitely categorised as “liberal” or “progressive”, and also “anti-science”, because I disagree with the notion of the safety, productivity and acceptability of the genetic engineering of food crops.

    And further, according to this Opinion piece, I must be committing a “sin against science” because I have ethical aversion to unregulated stem cell research – peoples’ religious and spiritual sensitivites about the use of human embryos need to be respected in a righteous community, I believe.

    According to this Opinion piece, “Progressives, not conservatives, are the ones most likely to replace scientific research with unscientific ideology.” This is Orwellian, psychopathic nonsense if you consider the reality of the actions of political forces in the United States of America : including the changing of the law to enforce unscientific education and the “conservative” Republican efforts to trim the science budgets of the Federal administration.

    Labels are just words, and they can be played with. As an example, I consider myself a conservative with a lowercase “c” : I believe in the conservation of environmental wealth; the conservation of energy resources, water, forests; the conservation of human civilisation; the conservation of the rights of the vulnerable; the conservation of social budgets through tax revenue-gathering; the conservation of public utilities and health; the conservation of the tradition of dialogue in public space; and the conservation of freedom of thought and speech. I don’t think I’m being “socially authoritarian” because I believe in equality, access, justice, education, self-advancement, health and safety, biosecurity, ethical science and the precautionary principle – these things are of the finest “liberal” intellectual tradition.

    For somebody to be labelled as “anti-scientific” because they have concerns about certain technologies, or disagree with the efficacy of certain policies, is surely divisive, and possibly falls into the category of hate speech. This “Libertarian” misuse of free speech is irresponsible, as it unscientifically brands people as right or wrong based on a personal judgement, without researching the full spectrum of social and political thought on science and technology.

    =x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21729023.000-challenge-unscientific-thinking-whatever-its-source.html

    Editorial
    Challenge unscientific thinking, whatever its source
    30 January 2013
    Magazine issue 2902

    Science may lean to the left, but that’s no reason to give progressives who reject it a “free pass”

    IF SCIENCE could vote, who would it vote for? Ask scientists, and a clear answer comes back: science leans to the left.

    A 2009 survey conducted by Pew Research in the US found that 52 per cent of scientists identified themselves as liberal, and slightly more believed the scientific community as a whole leaned that way. The corresponding figures for conservatism? Just 9 per cent and 2 per cent respectively.
    http://people-press.org/http://people-press.org/files/legacy-pdf/528.pdf

    This association between science and left-leaning politics can only have been reinforced by the disdain with which vocal right-wing politicians, particularly in the US, have treated scientific evidence in recent years. That contrasts with the Obama administration’s endorsement of it – although words always come more readily than actions (see “How Obama will deliver his climate promise”).
    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21729024.300-how-obama-will-deliver-his-climate-promise.html

    Certainly, some conservatives conspicuously reject those parts of science that clash with their world views – notably evolution, climate change and stem cell research. But this doesn’t mean those on the left are automatically and unimpeachably pro-science. In “Lefty nonsense: When progressives wage war on reason”, Alex Berezow and Hank Campbell put forward their view that unscientific causes and concerns are just as rife among progressives as conservatives. Conservatives may sometimes be blinkered by their enthusiasm for what they see as moral rectitude, but progressives can be overcome by “back to nature” sentiments on, say, food or the environment.
    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21729026.200-lefty-nonsense-when-progressives-wage-war-on-reason.html

    Berezow and Campbell further claim that progressives who endorse unscientific ideas get a “free pass” from the scientific community. The suspicion must be that this is because scientists themselves lean towards the left, as does the media that covers them. (Both friends and critics of New Scientist tell us we lean in that direction.)

    Is there any substance to that suspicion? We should go to every possible length to ensure there isn’t. Unreason of any hue is dangerous; any suggestion of bias only makes it harder to overcome. Science and liberalism are natural allies, but only in the literal sense of liberalism as the pursuit of freedom. That means freedom of thought, freedom of speech and, above all, freedom from ideology – wherever on the political spectrum it comes from.

    From issue 2902 of New Scientist magazine, page 3.

    =====

    COMMENT

    =====

    Science Is Not Opinion

    Wed Jan 30 19:18:36 GMT 2013 by Eric Kvaalen

    “IF SCIENCE could vote, who would it vote for? Ask scientists, and a clear answer comes back: science leans to the left.”

    No. Scientists lean to the left. Science itself does not address questions of moral values.

    “Science and liberalism are natural allies, but only in the literal sense of liberalism as the pursuit of freedom.”

    Science has nothing to say about whether the pursuit of freedom is good or bad.

    ===

    Out Of Your Own Mouths

    Thu Jan 31 07:10:04 GMT 2013 by Sandy Henderson

    The editorial , whilst striving for balance, betrays it’s inclinations when it names what some call “left” as progressive. Nor is it unbiased to claim that liberalism is necessarily left biased ( socialistic ). Liberty venerates freedom, but not without responsibility, otherwise that would be licence.

    It would be of interest to know what percentage of scientists poled would class themselves as self employed. I suspect that most are employees, and with that comes some baggage. When you have to bear the full costs of your mistakes yourself it alters your perceptions and you are more acutely aware of double standards in others.

    Besides which scientists are not science, just as farmers are not farming. Success and failure in either depends on results, not the political persuasion of those employed.

    Whether science has anything to say , or not, about politics, really depends on how dependable research is into human behaviour and how deniable these results will be by those who have an interest in so doing

    =x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21729026.200-lefty-nonsense-when-progressives-wage-war-on-reason.html

    Opinion
    Lefty nonsense: When progressives wage war on reason

    30 January 2013 by Alex Berezow and Hank Campbell
    Magazine issue 2902
    Comment and Analysis and US national issues

    Conservatives rightly get a bad rap for anti-science policies. But progressives can be just as bad, say Alex Berezow and Hank Campbell

    Editorial: “Challenge unscientific thinking, whatever its source”
    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21729023.000-challenge-unscientific-thinking-whatever-its-source.html

    IN 2007, fresh off an election victory in both chambers of Congress, the Democratic party set out to fulfil its campaign promise to make the US more sustainable – starting with the building they had just gained control of.

    With their “Green the Capitol” initiative, the Democrats planned to make the building a model of sustainability and an example to us all. They replaced light bulbs and bathroom fixtures, but perhaps most significantly, they took the step of greening the congressional cafeteria. Cost was no object. Good thing, too.

    The problem, as they saw it, was an excessive reliance on environmentally wasteful styrofoam containers and plastic utensils. And so they issued a decree: from now on, the cafeteria would use biodegradable containers and utensils.

    They claimed science was on their side: the utensils could be composted, and would thus be better for the environment. The result was a miracle of sustainability, at least according to internal reports, which claimed to have kept 650 tonnes of waste out of landfill between 2007 and 2010.

    The only problem was that the “green” replacements were worse for the environment. The spoons melted in soup, so people had to use more than one to get through lunch. The knives could barely cut butter without breaking. And instead of composting easily, they had to be processed in a special pulper and then driven to Maryland in giant trucks.

    In 2010 an independent analysis found that the saving was equivalent to removing a single car from the road – at a cost of $475,000 per year. Wary of disappointing their environmentally concerned supporters, Democrats waited until the Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives in 2011 – and then suggested that the programme be killed. Republicans duly instructed the cafeteria to revert to using utensils and containers that actually worked.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/27/AR2011022703905.html

    Deposed Democrat speaker Nancy Pelosi saw an opportunity, and took it: “GOP brings back Styrofoam & ends composting – House will send 535 more tons to landfills,” she tweeted.

    Did progressives call her to account? No, but they should have. According to the Democrats’ own figures their programme only saved about 200 tonnes of waste per year. Where did Pelosi get 535 tonnes from?

    This anecdote is both illuminating and chilling: if an environmental story is being told about people on the right of the political spectrum, anything goes. But if progressives play fast and loose with the facts, they are given a free ride.

    Conservatives’ sins against science – objections to stem cell research, denial of climate science, opposition to evolution and the rest – are widely reported and well known. But conservatives don’t have a monopoly on unscientific policies. Progressives are just as bad, if not worse. Their ideology is riddled with anti-scientific feel-good fallacies designed to win hearts, not minds. Just like biodegradeable spoons, their policies often crumble in the face of reality and leave behind a big mess. Worse, anyone who questions them is condemned as anti-science.
    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20327202.700-review-unscientific-america-by-chris-mooney-and-sheril-kirshenbaum.html

    We have all heard about the Republican war on science; we want to draw attention to the progressive war on reason.
    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg18725165.100-us-science-under-political-siege.html

    We recognise that the term “progressive” is potentially troublesome, so let us lay our cards on the table. In the US, “progressive” and “liberal” are often used interchangeably. But the two should not be confused.

    Liberalism, as defined by John Locke, means the pursuit of liberty. By that definition progressives are not liberal. Though they claim common cause with liberals (and most of them are Democrats because very few progressives are Republican), today’s progressive movement is actually socially authoritarian.

    Unlike conservative authoritarians, however, they are not concerned with banning “immoral” things like sex, drugs and rock and roll. They instead seek dominion over issues such as food, the environment and education. And they claim that their policies are based on science, even when they are not.

    For example, progressive activists have championed the anti-vaccine movement, confusing parents and causing a public health disaster. They have campaigned against animal research even when it remains necessary, in some cases committing violence against scientists. Instead of embracing technological progress, such as genetically modified crops, progressives have spread fear and misinformation. They have waged war against academics who question their ideology, and they are opposed to sensible reforms in science education.
    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg19726401.500-why-vaccines-are-hard-to-swallow.html

    We do not want not to demonise all progressives. Some are genuinely pro-science. We recognise the huge value some progressive ideas have had, and that vilifying an entire philosophy based on the actions of its radical ideologues would be unfair.

    But we do want to demonise the lunatic fringe. We contend that there is a disturbing and largely unreported trend among influential progressive activists who misinterpret, misrepresent and abuse science to advance their ideological and political agendas.

    Of all of today’s political philosophies, progressivism stands as the most pressing problem for science. Progressives, not conservatives, are the ones most likely to replace scientific research with unscientific ideology.

    Conservatives who endorse unscientific ideas are blasted by the scientific community, yet progressives who do the same get a free pass. It is important the problem be recognised, and that free pass revoked.

    This article appeared in print under the headline “Science left out”

    Alex Berezow is editor of RealClearScience.com

    Hank Campbell is founder of Science 2.0. Berezow and Campbell are authors of Science Left Behind: Feel-good fallacies and the rise of the anti-scientific left (PublicAffairs, 2012)
    http://www.science20.com/
    http://scienceleftbehind.com/

    From issue 2902 of New Scientist magazine, page 24-25.

    =====

    COMMENTS

    =====

    Quo Vadis?

    Wed Jan 30 21:08:53 GMT 2013 by Eric Kvaalen

    “We recognise the huge value some progressive ideas have had, and that vilifying an entire philosophy based on the actions of its radical ideologues would be unfair.”

    So what is that philosophy? The word “progressive” seems to imply getting rid of what we had in the past — traditional moral values, religion — basically the opposite of “conservative”.

    =====

  • A Question of Resilience

    Posted on January 28th, 2013 Jo No comments

    Again, the evil and greedy oil, gas and mining companies have proved their wickedness by manipulating public opinion, by directly financing conspiracy theorists who deny climate change science. The irony is tangibly acidic. The paranoid have actually been duped by a genuine conspiracy. They have drunk the Kool Aid; they have believed the lies; they have continued to communicate doubt. They think they are challenging corruption in high places, but what they are really doing is reinforcing apathy in the face of genuine risk.

    The questions posed so unrelentingly by the climate change deniers have sewn a patchwork tapestry of disinformation, which continues to poison genuine dialogue and is undermining political progress. We cannot take these people with us into constructive engagement, and ask them to help us forge a broad consensus. It is as if they exist in a parallel universe. Some of us will continue to attempt to conduct dialogue, but will end up wasting our time. The documentation by the media is faulty, and perpetuates the success of the denier strategy of divide and rule.

    But hold on a minute. There are problems with the stance of climate change denial, but what about the positioning of climate change activists ? Let’s try that first paragraph one more time :-

    [ Again, the "evil" and "greedy" oil, gas and mining companies have proved their "wickedness" by manipulating public opinion, by directly financing conspiracy theorists who deny climate change science. The irony is tangibly acidic. The paranoid have actually been duped by a genuine conspiracy. They have drunk the Kool Aid; they have believed the lies; they have continued to communicate doubt. They think they are challenging corruption in high places, but what they are really doing is reinforcing apathy in the face of genuine risk. ]

    By casting the fossil fuel and mining corporations as wrongly motivated, by using negative emotive labels, the dominant narrative of political activists has failed, once again, to move us all forward. These kinds of revelations about underhand corporate public relations activities are by now unsurprising. The news cannot shock, although it may disgust. Yet, since nothing is offered to counter-balance or correct the inappropriate behaviour of the “fossil fuellers”, they win the game they invented, the game they wrote the rules for. Protesting at a petrol station achieves nothing of any note, not even when there’s a camera-friendly polar bear. We hear the message of pain, but there is no ointment. There is a disconnect between the gruesome discovery and any way out of this mess. The revelation of intent of the carbon dinosaurs, the recounting of the anti-democratic activities, does not result in change.

    Environmental pollution is a “victimless” crime – no matter how much we sympathise or empathise with the plight of poisoned floating fish, dying bees, asthmatic kids, or cancer-laden people. Fines and taxes cannot rectify the scourge of environmental pollution, because there is no ultimate accountability. Regulation cannot be enforced. The misbehaviour just carries on, because there is systemic momentum. There is no legal redress (“due process” in Americanese) for those who are suffering the worsening effects of climate change, and there is no treaty that can be made to curb greenhouse gas emissions that anybody can be bound to by international sanctions.

    And so when we hear the same old story – that the energy industry is propagandising – we cannot respond. We don’t know what we can do. We are paralysed. This narrative is so tired, it snores.

    Truth may have been a victim, but the energy industry are also vulnerable – they are acting in self-defence mode. Let’s take the big vista in : there is stress in the global production of fossil fuel energy, and all routes to an easy fix, even if it’s only a short-term fix, are choked.

    So let’s ask the question – why do the energy companies deceive ? Do they think they are being deceptive ? Why do fossil fuel miners seek to massage public opinion ? This is a question of resilience, of Darwinian survival – seeking advantage by altering policy by tampering with public assent. They believe in their product, they construct their mission – they are protecting their future profits, they’re making a living. They’re humans in human organisations. They’re not “evil”, “greedy” or “lying” – as a rule. There are no demons here, nor can we convincingly summon them.

    Look at the activist game plan – we announce the deliberate actions of the fossil fuel companies to influence the political mandate. But these scandals are only ever voiced, never acted upon. They cannot be acted upon because those who care have no power, no agency, to correct or prevent the outcomes. And those who should care, do not care, because they themselves have rationalised the misdemeanours of the fossil fuellers. They too have drunk from the goblet of doubt. Amongst English-speaking politicians, I detect a good number who consider climate change to be a matter for wait-and-see rather than urgent measures. Besides those who continue to downplay the seriousness of climate change.

    Look also at the difference between the covert nature of the support for climate change deniers, and the open public relations activities of the fossil fuel and mining companies. They speak in the right way for their audiences. That’s smart.

    In time, the end of the fossil fuel age will become apparent, certain vague shapes on the horizon will come out of the blur and into sharp focus. But in the meantime, the carbon dinosaurs are taking action to secure market share, maintain the value of their stock, prop up the value of their shareholders’ assets. The action plan for survival of the oil, gas, coal and mining operations now includes the promotion of extreme energy – so-called unconventional fossil fuels, the once-dismissed lower quality resources such as tight gas, shale gas, shale oil and coalbed methane (coal seam methane). Why are the energy industry trying to gild the rotten lily ? Is the support for unconventional fossil fuels a move for certain countries, such as the United States of America, to develop more indigenous sources of energy – more homegrown energy to make them independent of foreign influence ? This could be the main factor – most of the public relations for shale gas, for example, seems to come from USA.

    The answer could come by responding to another question. Could it be that the production of petroleum oil has in fact peaked – that decline has set in for good ? Could it be that the Saudis are not “turning off the taps” to force market prices, because in actual fact the taps are being turned off for them, by natural well depletion ? The Arab Spring is a marvellous distraction – the economic sanctions and military and democratic upheaval are excellent explanations for the plateau in global oil production.

    It seems possible from what I have looked at that Peak Oil is a reality, that decline in the volumes of produced petroleum is inevitable. The fossil fuel producers, the international corporations who have their shareholders and stock prices to maintain, have been pushing the narrative that the exploitation of unconventional fossil fuels can replace lost conventional production. They have been painting a picture of the horn of plenty – a cornucopia of unconventional fossil fuels far exceeding conventional resources. To please their investors, the fossil fuel companies are lying about the future.

    Sure, brute force and some new technology are opening up “unconventionals” but this will not herald the “golden age” of shale gas or oils from shale. Shale gas fields deplete rapidly, and tar sands production is hugely polluting and likely to be unsustainable in several ways because of that. There might be huge reserves – but who knows how quickly heavy oils can be produced ? And how much energy input is required to create output energy from other low grade fossil strata ? It is simply not possible to be certain that the volumes of unconventional fossil fuel production can match the decline in conventionals.

    The facts of the matter need admitting – there is no expansion of sweet crude oil production possible. There’s no more crude – there’s only crud. And slow crud, at that.

    Peak Oil is a geological fact, not a market artefact. The production levels of crude and condensate may not recover, even if military-backed diplomacy wins the day for the energy industry in the Middle East and North Africa.

    Peak Oil has implications for resilience of the whole global economy – the conversion of social and trade systems to use new forms of energy will take some considerable time – and their integrity is at risk if Peak Oil cannot be navigated smoothly. Peak Oil is dangerous – it seems useful to deny it as long as possible.

    It’s pretty clear that we’ve been handed lots of unreliable sops over the years. The energy industry promised us that biofuels could replace gasoline and diesel – but the realisation of this dream has been blocked at every turn by inconvenient failings. The energy industry has, to my mind, been deploying duds in order to build in a delay while they attempt to research and develop genuine alternatives to conventional fossil fuels – but they are failing. The dominant narrative of success is at risk – will all of this continue to hold together ? Can people continue to believe in the security of energy systems – the stability of trade and economic wealth creation ? Oh yes, people raise concerns – for example about disruption in the Middle East and North Africa, and then propose “solutions” – regime change, military support for opposition forces, non-invasive invasions. But overall, despite these all too evident skirmishes, the impression of resilience is left intact. The problem is being framed as one of “edge issues” – not systemic. It’s not clear how long they can keep up with this game.

    The facade is cracking. The mask is slipping. BP and Centrica in a bout of hyper-realism have said that the development of shale gas in the UK will not be a “game changer”. It may be that their core reasoning is to drag down the market value of Cuadrilla, maybe in order to purchase it. But anyway, they have defied the American energy industry public relations – hurrah ! Shale gas is not the milk of a honey-worded mother goddess after all – but what’s their alternative story ? That previously under-developed gas in Iran and Iraq will be secured ? And what about petroleum ? Will the public relations bubble about that be punctured too ? Telling people about Peak Oil – how useful is that ? They won’t do it because it has to be kept unbelievable and unbelieved in order to save face and keep global order. Academics talk about Peak Oil, but it is not just a dry, technical question confined to ivory towers. Attention is diverted, but the issue remains. Looking at it doesn’t solve it, so we are encouraged not to look at it.

    So, why do the energy industry purposely set out to manipulate public opinion ? Well, the reason for their open advertising strategy is clear – to convince investors, governments, customers, that all is well in oil and gas – that there is a “gas glut” – that the world is still awash in petroleum and Natural Gas – that the future will be even more providential than the past – that the only way is up. All the projections of the oil and gas industry and the national, regional and international agencies are that energy demand will continue to rise – the underlying impression you are intended to be left with is that, therefore, global energy supply will also continue to rise. Business has never been better, and it can only get more profitable. We will need to turn to unconventional resources, but hey, there’s so much of the stuff, we’ll be swimming in it.

    But what is the purpose of the covert “public relations” of the energy industry ? Why do they seek to put out deception via secretly-funded groups ? When the truth emerges, as it always does in the end, the anger and indignation of the climate change activists is guaranteed. And angry and indignant activists can easily be ignored. So, the purpose in funding climate change deniers is to emotionally manipulate climate change activists – rattle their cages, shake their prison bars. Let them rail – it keeps the greens busy, too occupied with their emotional disturbance. By looking at these infractions in depth are we being distracted from the bigger picture ? Can we make any change in global governance by bringing energy industry deception to light ?

    Even as commentators peddle conspiracy theories about the science and politics of a warming planet, the “leader of the free world” is inaugurated into a second term and announces action on climate change. Although progressives around the world applaud this, I’m not sure what concrete action the President and his elite colleague team of rich, mostly white, middle-aged men can take. I am listening to the heartbeat of the conversation, and my take away is this : by announcing action on climate change, Barack Obama is declaring war on the sovereignty of the oil and gas producing nations of the Middle East and North Africa.

    You see, the Middle East and North Africa are awash in Natural Gas. Untapped Natural Gas. The seismic surveys are complete. The secret services have de-stabilised democracy in a number of countries now, and this “soft power” will assist in constructing a new narrative – that unruliness in the Middle East and North Africa is preventing progress – that the unstable countries are withholding Natural Gas from the world – the fossil fuel that can replace petroleum oil in vehicles when chemically processed, the fossil fuel that has half the carbon emissions of coal when generating electricity. Resources of Natural Gas need “protecting”, securing, “liberating”, to save the world’s economy from collapse.

    Obama stands up and declares “war” on climate change. And all I hear is a klaxon alarm for military assault on Iran.

    But even then, if the world turns to previously untapped Natural Gas, I believe this is only a short-term answer to Peak Oil. Because waiting in the wings, about ten years behind, is Peak Natural Gas. And there is no answer to Peak Natural Gas, unless it includes a genuine revolution in energy production away from what lies beneath. And that threatens the sustenance of the oil and gas industry.

    No wonder, then, that those who fund climate change denial – who stand to profit from access to untapped fossil fuels, secured by military aggresssion in the Middle East and North Africa – also fund opposition to renewable energy. The full details of this are still emerging. Will we continue to express horror and distaste when the strategy becomes more transparent ? Will that achieve anything ? Or will we focus on ways to bring about the only possible future – a fossil-fuel-free energy economy ? This will always take more action than words, but messaging will remain key. The central message is one that will sound strange to most people, but it needs to be said : fossil fuels will not continue to sustain the global economy : all will change.

    Funnily enough, that is exactly the summary of the statements from the World Economic Forum in Davos – only the world’s administration are still not admitting to Peak Fossil Fuels. Instead, they are using climate change as the rationale for purposeful decarbonisation.

    Well, whichever way it comes, let’s welcome it – as long as it comes soon. It’s not just the survival of individual oil and gas companies that is at stake – the whole global economy is at risk from Peak Fossil Fuels – and climate change. I use the word “economy”, because that is the word used by MBAs. What I mean is, the whole of human civilisation and life on Earth is at risk from Peak Fossil Fuels and climate change. Unconventional fossil fuels are the most polluting answer to any question, and expansion of their use will undoubtedly set off “climate bombs“.

    Don’t get me wrong – Natural Gas is a good bridge to the future, but it is only a transition fuel, not a destination. Please, can we not have war against Iran. Please let’s have some peaceful trade instead. And some public admissions of the seriousness of both Peak Fossil Fuels and climate change by all the key players in governance and energy.

  • How is your Australia ?

    Posted on January 24th, 2013 Jo No comments

    [ PLEASE NOTE : This post is not written by JOABBESS.COM, but by a contact in Australia, who was recently asked if they could send an update of the situation there, and contributed this piece. ]

    John and Jono: Resistance to coal in heat-afflicted Australia
    By Miriam Pepper, 24/1/13

    It was predicted to be a hot summer in eastern Australia, with a return to dry El Nino conditions after two back-to-back wet La Nina years. And hot it has been indeed. Temperature records have tumbled across the country – including the hottest day, the longest heatwave, and the hottest four month period.

    With heavy fuel loads heightening fire risks, bushfires have blazed across Tasmania, Victoria, NSW, South Australia and Queensland. The fires have wreaked devastation on communities, with homes, farmland and forest destroyed. Thankfully few human lives have been lost (unlike the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009), though many non-human neighbours were not so fortunate. Some 110,000 hectares burned and 130 houses were lost in the Tasmanian bushfires earlier this month, and fires still rage in Gippsland Victoria where over 60,000 hectares have burned so far. And we are only just over halfway through summer.

    On January 12, the Australian Government-established Climate Commission released a short report entitled “Off the charts: Extreme Australian Summer heat”. The document concluded that:

    “The length, extent and severity of this heatwave are unprecedented in the measurement record. Although Australia has always had heatwaves, hot days and bushfires, climate change has increased the risk of more intense heatwaves and extreme hot days, as well as exacerbated bushfire conditions. Scientists have concluded that climate change is making extreme hot days, heatwaves and bushfire weather worse.”

    The Australian continent is one of climate change’s frontlines, and also a major source of its primary cause – fossil fuels.

    While the mercury soared and the fires roared, a young translator from Newcastle called Jonathan Moylan issued a fake press release claiming that the ANZ bank, which is bankrolling a massive new coal project at Maules Creek in north western NSW, had withdrawn its loan. Whitehaven Coal’s share price plummeted temporarily before the hoax was uncovered, making national news.

    This action did not come out of the blue, neither for Moylan personally nor for the various communities and groups that have for years been confronting (and been confronted by) the rapid expansion of coal and coal seam gas mining at sites across Australia.

    The scale of fossil fuel expansion in Australia is astonishing. Already the world’s biggest coal exporter, planned mine expansion could see Australia double its output. The world’s largest coal port of Newcastle NSW has already doubled its capacity in the last 15 years and may now double it again. Mega-mines that are on the cards in the Galilee Basin in central Queensland would quintuple ship movements across the Great Barrier Reef, to 10,000 coal ships per year. If the proposed Galilee Basin mines were fully developed today, the annual carbon dioxide emissions caused by burning their coal alone would exceed those of the United Kingdom or of Canada. The implications of such unfettered expansion locally for farmland, forests, human health and aquatic life as well as globally for the climate are severe.

    I have twice had the privilege of participating in a Christian affinity group with Moylan at coal protests. And at around the time of his ANZ stunt, John the Baptist’s ministry and the baptism of Jesus in the gospel of Luke were on the lectionary. For me, there have been some striking parallels between John and Jonathan (Jono).

    John the Baptist lived in the wilderness. Jono the Activist has been camping for some time in Leard State Forest near Maules Creek, at a Front Line Action on Coal mine blockade.

    John got himself locked up by criticising the behavior of Herod, the then ruler of Galilee (in what is now northern Israel). For making the announcement that ANZ should have made, Jono could now face a potential 10-year jail sentence or a fine of up to $500,000.

    When followers suggested that John the Baptist might be the Messiah, he pointed away from himself and towards the Christ that was yet to come. When the spotlight has been shone onto Moylan, by the media and activists alike, he has repeatedly deflected the attention away from himself and towards the resistance of the Maules Creek community to the project and towards the impacts if the project goes ahead – the loss of farmland and critically endangered forest, the drawdown and potential contamination of the aquifer, the coal dust, the impacts on the global climate. And indeed, the way that Moylan has conducted himself in media interviews has I believe resulted in exposure about the Maules Creek project itself (which is currently under review by the federal Environment Minister) as well as some mainstream discussion about broader issues such as responding to the urgency of climate change, government planning laws and the rights of communities, and ethical investment.

    In an opinion piece published today, Jono Moylan finishes by urging us to act:

    “We are living in a dream world if we think that politicians and the business world are going to sort out the problem of coal expansion on their own. History shows us that when power relations are unevenly matched, change always comes from below. Every right we have has come from ordinary people doing extraordinary things and the time to act is rapidly running out.”

    Whatever our age, ability or infirmity we can all play a part in such change from below.

    Links

    Climate Commission: http://climatecommission.gov.au
    Frontline Action on Coal: http://frontlineaction.wordpress.com
    Maules Creek Community Council: http://maulescreek.org
    “Potential jailing not as scary as threat of Maules Creek mine”, opinion piece by Jonathan Moylan, 24/1/13: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/potential-jailing-not-as-scary-as-threat-of-maules-creek-mine-20130123-2d78s.html
    Greenpeace climate change campaigns: http://www.greenpeace.org/australia/en/what-we-do/climate/
    Australian Religious Response to Climate Change: http://www.arrcc.org.au
    Uniting Earthweb: http://www.unitingearthweb.org.au

  • A Referendum for Energy

    Posted on January 24th, 2013 Jo No comments

    As I dodged the perfunctory little spots of snow yesterday, on my way down to Highbury and Islington underground train station, I passed a man who appeared to have jerky muscle control attempting to punch numbers on the keypad of a cash machine in the wall. He was missing, but he was grinning. A personal joke, perhaps. The only way he could get his money out of the bank to buy a pint of milk and a sliced loaf for his tea was to accurately tap his PIN number. But he wasn’t certain his body would let him. I threw him an enquiring glance, but he seemed too involved in trying to get control of his arms and legs to think of accepting help.

    This, I felt, was a metaphor for the state of energy policy and planning in the United Kingdom – everybody in the industry and public sector has focus, but nobody appears to have much in the way of overall control – or even, sometimes, direction. I attended two meetings today setting out to address very different parts of the energy agenda : the social provision of energy services to the fuel-poor, and the impact that administrative devolution may have on reaching Britain’s Renewable Energy targets.

    At St Luke’s Centre in Central Street in Islington, I heard from the SHINE team on the progress they are making in providing integrated social interventions to improve the quality of life for those who suffer fuel poverty in winter, where they need to spend more than 10% of their income on energy, and are vulnerable to extreme temperatures in both summer heatwaves and winter cold snaps. The Seasonal Health Interventions Network was winning a Community Footprint award from the National Energy Action charity for success in their ability to reach at-risk people through referrals for a basket of social needs, including fuel poverty. It was pointed out that people who struggle to pay energy bills are more likely to suffer a range of poverty problems, and that by linking up the social services and other agencies, one referral could lead to multiple problem-solving.

    In an economy that is suffering signs of contraction, and with austerity measures being imposed, and increasing unemployment, it is clear that social services are being stretched, and yet need is still great, and statutory responsibility for handling poverty is still mostly a publicly-funded matter. By offering a “one-stop shop”, SHINE is able to offer people a range of energy conservation and efficiency services alongside fire safety and benefits checks and other help to make sure those in need are protected at home and get what they are entitled to. With 1 in 5 households meeting the fuel poverty criteria, there is clearly a lot of work to do. Hackney and Islington feel that the SHINE model could be useful to other London Boroughs, particularly as the Local Authority borders are porous.

    We had a presentation on the Cold Weather Plan from Carl Petrokovsky working for the Department of Health, explaining how national action on cold weather planning is being organised, using Met Office weather forecasts to generate appropriate alert levels, in a similar way to heatwave alerts in summer – warnings that I understand could become much more important in future owing to the possible range of outcomes from climate change.

    By way of some explanation – more global warming could mean significant warming for the UK. More UK warming could mean longer and, or, more frequent heated periods in summer weather, perhaps with higher temperatures. More UK warming could also mean more disturbances in an effect known as “blocking” where weather systems lock into place, in any season, potentially pinning the UK under a very hot or very cold mass of air for weeks on end. In addition, more UK warming could mean more precipitation – which would mean more rain in summer and more snow in winter.

    Essentially, extremes in weather are public health issues, and particularly in winter, more people are likely to suffer hospitalisation from the extreme cold, or falls, or poor air quality from boiler fumes – and maybe end up in residential care. Much of this expensive change of life is preventable, as are many of the excess winter deaths due to cold. The risks of increasing severity in adverse conditions due to climate change are appropriately dealt with by addressing the waste of energy at home – targeting social goals can in effect contribute to meeting wider adaptational goals in overall energy consumption.

    If the UK were to be treated as a single system, and the exports and imports of the most significant value analysed, the increasing net import of energy – the yawning gap in the balance of trade – would be seen in its true light – the country is becoming impoverished. Domestic, indigenously produced sources of energy urgently need to be developed. Policy instruments and measured designed to reinvigorate oil and gas exploration in the North Sea and over the whole UKCS – UK Continental Shelf – are not showing signs of improving production significantly. European-level policy on biofuels did not revolutionise European agriculture as regards energy cropping – although it did contribute to decimating Indonesian and Malaysian rainforest. The obvious logical end point of this kind of thought process is that we need vast amounts of new Renewable Energy to retain a functioning economy, given global financial, and therefore, trade capacity, weakness.

    Many groups, both with the remit for public service and private enterprise oppose the deployment of wind and solar power, and even energy conservation measures such as building wall cladding. Commentators with access to major media platforms spread disinformation about the ability of Renewable Energy technologies to add value. In England, in particular, debates rage, and many hurdles are encountered. Yet within the United Kingdom as a whole, there are real indicators of progressive change, particularly in Scotland and Wales.

    I picked up the threads of some of these advances by attending a PRASEG meeting on “Delivering Renewable Energy Under Devolution”, held at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in Westminster, London; a tour to back up the launch of a new academic report that analyses performance of the devolved administrations and their counterpart in the English Government in Westminster. The conclusions pointed to something that I think could be very useful – if Scotland takes the referendum decision for independence, and continues to show strong leadership and business and community engagement in Renewable Energy deployment, the original UK Renewable Energy targets could be surpassed.

    I ended the afternoon exchanging some perceptions with an academic from Northern Ireland. We shared that Eire and Northern Ireland could become virtually energy-independent – what with the Renewable Electricity it is possible to generate on the West Coast, and the Renewable Gas it is possible to produce from the island’s grass (amongst other things). We also discussed the tendency of England to suck energy out of its neighbour territories. I suggested that England had appropriated Scottish hydrocarbon resources, literally draining the Scottish North Sea dry of fossil fuels in exchange for token payments to the Western Isles, and suchlike. If Scotland leads on Renewable Energy and becomes independent, I suggested, the country could finally make back the wealth it lost to England. We also shared our views about the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland being asked to wire all their new Renewable Electricity to England, an announcement that has been waiting to happen for some time. England could also bleed Wales of green power with the same lines being installed to import green juice from across the Irish Sea.

    I doubt that politics will completely nix progress on Renewable Energy deployment – the economics are rapidly becoming clear that clean, green power and gas are essential for the future. However, I would suggest we could expect some turbulence in the political sphere, as the English have to learn the hard way that they have a responsibility to rapidly increase their production of low carbon energy.

    Asking the English if they want to break ties with the European Union, as David Cameron has suggested with this week’s news on a Referendum, is the most unworkable idea, I think. England, and in fact, all the individual countries of the United Kingdom, need close participation in Europe, to join in with the development of new European energy networks, in order to overcome the risks of economic collapse. It may happen that Scotland, and perhaps Wales, even, separate themselves from any increasing English isolation and join the great pan-Europe energy projects in their own right. Their economies may stabilise and improve, while the fortunes of England may tumble, as those with decision-making powers, crony influence and web logs in the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail, resist the net benefits of the low carbon energy revolution.

    [ Many thanks to Simon and all at the Unity Kitchen at St Luke's Centre, and the handsomely reviving Unity Latte, and a big hi to all the lunching ladies and gents with whom I shared opinions on the chunkiness of the soup of the day and the correct identification of the vegetables in it. ]

    Other Snapshots of Yesterday #1 : Approached by short woman with a notebook in Parliament Square, pointing out to me a handwritten list that included the line “Big Ben”. I pointed at the clock tower and started to explain. The titchy tourist apologised for non-comprehension by saying, “French”, so then I explained the feature attraction to her in French, which I think quite surprised her. We are all European.

    Other Snapshots of Yesterday #2 : Spoke with an Austrian academic by the fire for coffee at IMechE, One Birdcage Walk, about the odd attitudes as regards gun ownership in the United States, and the American tendency to collective, cohort behaviour. I suggested that this tendency could be useful, as the levels of progressive political thinking, for instance about drone warfare, could put an end to the practice. When aerial bombardment was first conducted, it should have been challenged in law at that point. We are all Europeans.

    Other Snapshots of Yesterday #3 : Met a very creative Belgian from Gent, living in London. We are all European.

    Other Snapshots of Yesterday #4 : We Europeans, we are all so civilised. We think that we need to heat venues for meetings, so that people feel comfortable. Levels of comfort are different for different people, but the lack of informed agreement means that the default setting for temperature always ends up being too high. The St Luke’s Centre meeting room was at roughly 23.5 degrees C when I arrived, and roughly 25 degrees C with all the visitors in the room. I shared with a co-attendee that my personal maximum operating temperature is around 19 degrees C. She thought that was fine for night-time. The IMechE venue on the 2nd floor was roughly 19 – 20 degrees C, but the basement was roughly 24 degrees C. Since one degree Celsius of temperature reduction can knock about 10% of the winter heating bill, why are public meetings about energy not more conscious of adjusting their surroundings ?