Posted on February 8th, 2015 No comments
In the last couple of years I have researched and written a book about the technologies and systems of Renewable Gas – gas energy fuels that are low in net carbon dioxide emissions. From what I have learned so far, it seems that another energy world is possible, and that the transition is already happening. The forces that are shaping this change are not just climate or environmental policy, or concerns about energy security. Renewable Gas is inevitable because of a range of geological, economic and industrial reasons.
I didn’t train as a chemist or chemical process engineer, and I haven’t had a background in the fossil fuel energy industry, so I’ve had to look at a number of very basic areas of engineering, for example, the distillation and fractionation of crude petroleum oil, petroleum refinery, gas processing, and the thermodynamics of gas chemistry in industrial-scale reactors. Why did I need to look at the fossil fuel industry and the petrochemical industry when I was researching Renewable Gas ? Because that’s where a lot of the change can come from. Renewable Gas is partly about biogas, but it’s also about industrial gas processes, and a lot of them are used in the petrorefinery and chemicals sectors.
In addition, I researched energy system technologies. Whilst assessing the potential for efficiency gains in energy systems through the use of Renewable Electricity and Renewable Gas, I rekindled an interest in fuel cells. For the first time in a long time, I began to want to build something – a solid oxide fuel cell which switches mode to an electrolysis unit that produces hydrogen from water. Whether I ever get to do that is still a question, but it shows how involved I’m feeling that I want to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty.
Even though I have covered a lot of ground, I feel I’m only just getting started, as there is a lot more that I need to research and document. At the same time, I feel that I don’t have enough data, and that it will be hard to get the data I need, partly because of proprietary issues, where energy and engineering companies are protective of developments, particularly as regards actual numbers. Merely being a university researcher is probably not going to be sufficient. I would probably need to be an official within a government agency, or an industry institute, in order to be permitted to reach in to more detail about the potential for Renewable Gas. But there are problems with these possible avenues.
You see, having done the research I have conducted so far, I am even more scornful of government energy policy than I was previously, especially because of industrial tampering. In addition, I am even more scathing about the energy industry “playing both sides” on climate change. Even though there are some smart and competent people in them, the governments do not appear to be intelligent enough to see through expensive diversions in technology or unworkable proposals for economic tweaking. These non-solutions are embraced and promoted by the energy industry, and make progress difficult. No, carbon dioxide emissions taxation or pricing, or a market in carbon, are not going to make the kind of changes we need on climate change; and in addition they are going to be extremely difficult and slow to implement. No, Carbon Capture and Storage, or CCS, is never going to become relatively affordable in any economic scenario. No, nuclear power is too cumbersome, slow and dodgy – a technical term – to ever make a genuine impact on the total of carbon emissons. No, it’s not energy users who need to reduce their consumption of energy, it’s the energy companies who need to reduce the levels of fossil fuels they utilise in the energy they sell. No, unconventional fossil fuels, such as shale gas, are not the answer to high emissions from coal. No, biofuels added to petrofuels for vehicles won’t stem total vehicle emissions without reducing fuel consumption and limiting the number of vehicles in use.
I think that the fossil fuel companies know these proposals cannot bring about significant change, which is precisely why they lobby for them. They used to deny climate change outright, because it spelled the end of their industry. Now they promote scepticism about the risks of climate change, whilst at the same time putting their name to things that can’t work to suppress major amounts of emissions. This is a delayer’s game.
Because I find the UK Government energy and climate policy ridiculous on many counts, I doubt they will ever want me to lead with Renewable Gas on one of their projects. And because I think the energy industry needs to accept and admit that they need to undergo a major change, and yet they spend most of their public relations euros telling the world they don’t need to, and that other people need to make change instead, I doubt the energy industry will ever invite me to consult with them on how to make the Energy Transition.
I suppose there is an outside chance that the major engineering firms might work with me, after all, I have been an engineer, and many of these companies are already working in the Renewable Gas field, although they’re normally “third party” players for the most part – providing engineering solutions to energy companies.
Because I’ve had to drag myself through the equivalent of a “petro degree”, learning about the geology and chemistry of oil and gas, I can see more clearly than before that the fossil fuel industry contains within it the seeds of positive change, with its use of technologies appropriate for manufacturing low carbon “surface gas”. I have learned that Renewable Gas would be a logical progression for the oil and gas industry, and also essential to rein in their own carbon emissions from processing cheaper crude oils. If they weren’t so busy telling governments how to tamper with energy markets, pushing the blame for emissions on others, and begging for subsidies for CCS projects, they could instead be planning for a future where they get to stay in business.
The oil and gas companies, especially the vertically integrated tranche, could become producers and retailers of low carbon gas, and take part in a programme for decentralised and efficient energy provision, and maintain their valued contribution to society. At the moment, however, they’re still stuck in the 20th Century.
I’m a positive person, so I’m not going to dwell too much on how stuck-in-the-fossilised-mud the governments and petroindustry are. What I’m aiming to do is start the conversation on how the development of Renewable Gas could displace dirty fossil fuels, and eventually replace the cleaner-but-still-fossil Natural Gas as well.Academic Freedom, Advertise Freely, Alchemical, Assets not Liabilities, Be Prepared, Behaviour Changeling, Big Number, Biofools, British Biogas, Burning Money, Carbon Capture, Carbon Commodities, Carbon Pricing, Carbon Taxatious, Change Management, Climate Change, Conflict of Interest, Corporate Pressure, Cost Effective, Dead End, Delay and Deny, Divest and Survive, Divide & Rule, Dreamworld Economics, Drive Train, Economic Implosion, Efficiency is King, Emissions Impossible, Energy Calculation, Energy Change, Energy Crunch, Energy Denial, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Engineering Marvel, Evil Opposition, Extreme Energy, Financiers of the Apocalypse, Fossilised Fuels, Freemarketeering, Gamechanger, Geogingerneering, Global Warming, Green Gas, Green Power, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Hydrogen Economy, Insulation, Low Carbon Life, Mad Mad World, Major Shift, Mass Propaganda, Methane Management, Money Sings, National Energy, National Power, Natural Gas, Nuclear Shambles, Oil Change, Optimistic Generation, Orwells, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Coal, Peak Emissions, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Price Control, Public Relations, Realistic Models, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Gas, Renewable Resource, Revolving Door, Shale Game, Solution City, Stirring Stuff, The Data, The Power of Intention, The Right Chemistry, The Science of Communitagion, The War on Error, Unnatural Gas, Unutterably Useless, Utter Futility, Vain Hope, Voluntary Behaviour Change, Vote Loser, Western Hedge
Posted on November 19th, 2014 No comments
I was in a meeting today held at the Centre for European Reform in which Shell’s Chief Financial Officer, Simon Henry, made two arguments to absolve the oil and gas industry for responsibility for climate change. He painted coal as the real enemy, and reiterated the longest hand-washing argument in politics – that Shell believes that a Cap and Trade system is the best way to suppress carbon dioxide emissions. In other words, it’s not up to Shell to do anything about carbon. He argued that for transportation and trade the world is going to continue to need highly energy-dense liquid fuels for some time, essentially arguing for the continuation of his company’s current product slate. He did mention proudly in comments after the meeting that Shell are the world’s largest bioethanol producers, in Brazil, but didn’t open up the book on the transition of his whole company to providing the world with low carbon fuels. He said that Shell wants to be a part of the global climate change treaty process, but he gave no indication of what Shell could bring to the table to the negotiations, apart from pushing for carbon trading. Mark Campanale of the Carbon Tracker Initiative was sufficiently convinced by the “we’re not coal” argument to attempt to seek common cause with Simon Henry after the main meeting. It would be useful to have allies in the oil and gas companies on climate change, but it always seems to be that the rest of the world has to adopt Shell’s and BP’s view on everything from policy to energy resources before they’ll play ball.
During the meeting, Mark Campanale pointed out in questions that Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs are going to bring Indian coal to trade on the London Stock Exchange and that billions of dollars of coal stocks are to be traded in London, and that this undermines all climate change action. He said he wanted to understand Shell’s position, as the same shareholders that hold coal (shares), hold Shell. I think he was trying to get Simon Henry to call for a separation in investment focus – to show that investment in oil and gas is not the same as investing in Big Bad Coal. But Simon Henry did not bite. According to the Carbon Tracker Initiative’s report of 2013, Unburnable Carbon, coal listed on the London Stock Exchange is equivalent to 49 gigatonnes of Carbon Dioxide (gtCO2), but oil and gas combined trade shares for stocks equivalent to 64 gtCO2, so there’s currently more emissions represented by oil and gas on the LSX than there is for coal. In the future, the emissions held in the coal traded in London have the potential to amount to 165 gtCO2, and oil and gas combined at 125 gtCO2. Despite the fact that the United Kingdom is only responsible for about 1.6% of direct country carbon dioxide emissions (excluding emissions embedded in traded goods and services), the London Stock Exchange is set to be perhaps the world’s third largest exchange for emissions-causing fuels.
Here’s a rough transcript of what Simon Henry said. There are no guarantees that this is verbatim, as my handwriting is worse than a GP’s.
[Simon Henry] I’m going to break the habit of a lifetime and use notes. Building a long-term sustainable energy system – certain forces shaping that. 7 billion people will become 9 billion people – [many] moving from off-grid to on-grid. That will be driven by economic growth. Urbanisation [could offer the possibility of] reducing demand for energy. Most economic growth will be in developing economies. New ways fo consuming energy. Our scenarios – in none do we see energy not growing materially – even with efficiencies. The current ~200 billion barrels of oil equivalent per day today of energy demand will rise to ~400 boe/d by 2050 – 50% higher than today. This will be demand-driven – nothing to do with supply…
[At least one positive-sounding grunt from the meeting – so there are some Peak Oil deniers in the room, then.]
[Simon Henry] …What is paramount for governments – if a threat, then it gets to the top of the agenda. I don’t think anybody seriously disputes climate change…
[A few raised eyebrows and quizzical looks around the table, including mine]
[Simon Henry] …in the absence of ways we change the use of energy […] Any approach to climate change has got to embrace science, policy and technology. All three levers must be pulled. Need a long-term stable policy that enables technology development. We think this is best in a market mechanism. […] Energy must be affordable at the point of use. What we call Triple A – available, acceptable and affordable. No silver bullet. Develop in a responsible way. Too much of it is soundbite – that simplifies what’s not a simple problem. It’s not gas versus coal. [Although, that appeared to be one of his chief arguments – that it is gas versus coal – and this is why we should play nice with Shell.]
1. Economy : About $1.5 to $2 trillion of new money must be invested in the energy industry each year, and this must be sustained until 2035 and beyond. A [few percent] of the world economy. It’s going to take time to make [massive changes]. […] “Better Growth : Better Climate” a report on “The New Climate Economy” by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, the Calderon Report. [The world invested] $700 billion last year on oil and gas [or rather, $1 trillion] and $220 – $230 billion on wind power and solar power. The Calderon Report showed that 70% of energy is urban. $6 trillion is being spent on urban infrastructure [each year]. $90 trillion is available. [Urban settings are] more compact, more connected, there’s public transport, [can build in efficiencies] as well as reducing final energy need. Land Use is the other important area – huge impact on carbon emissions. Urbanisation enables efficiency in distributed generation [Combined Heat and Power (CHP)], [local grids]. Eye-popping costs, but the money will be spent anyway. If it’s done right it will [significantly] reduce [carbon emissions and energy demand]…
2. Technology Development : Governments are very bad at picking winners. Better to get the right incentives in and let the market players decide [optimisation]. They can intervene, for example by [supporting] Research and Development. But don’t specify the means to an end…The best solution is a strong predictable carbon price, at $40 a tonne or more or it won’t make any difference. We prefer Cap and Trade. Taxes don’t actually decrease carbon [emissions] but fundamentally add cost to the consumer. As oil prices rose [in 2008 – 2009] North Americans went to smaller cars…Drivers [set] their behaviour from [fuel] prices…
[An important point to note here : one of the reasons why Americans used less motor oil during the “Derivatives Bubble” recession between 2006 and 2010 was because the economy was shot, so people lost their employment, and/or their homes and there was mass migration, so of course there was less commuter driving, less salesman driving, less business driving. This wasn’t just a response to higher oil prices, because the peak in driving miles happened before the main spike in oil prices. In addition, not much of the American fleet of cars overturned in this period, so Americans didn’t go to smaller cars as an adaptation response to high oil prices. They probably turned to smaller cars when buying new cars because they were cheaper. I think Simon Henry is rather mistaken on this. ]
[Simon Henry] …As regards the Carbon Bubble : 65% of the Unburnable fossil fuels to meet the 2 degrees [Celsius] target is coal. People would stuggle to name the top five coal companies [although they find it easy to name the top five oil and gas companies]. Bearing in mind that you have to [continue to] transport stuff [you are going to need oil for some time to come.] Dealing with coal is the best way of moving forward. Coal is used for electricity – but there are better ways to make electricity – petcoke [petroleum coke – a residue from processing heavy and unconventional crude oil] for example…
[The climate change impact of burning (or gasifying) petroleum coke for power generation is possibly worse than burning (or gasifying) hard coal (anthracite), especially if the pet coke is sourced from tar sands, as emissions are made in the production of the pet coke before it even gets combusted.]
[Simon Henry] …It will take us 30 years to get away entirely from coal. Even if we used all the oil and gas, the 2 degrees [Celsius] target is still possible…
3. Policy : We tested this with the Dutch Government recently – need to create an honest dialogue for a long-term perspective. Demand for energy needs to change. It’s not about supply…
[Again, some “hear hears” from the room from the Peak Oil and Peak Natural Gas deniers]
[Simon Henry] …it’s about demand. Our personal wish for [private] transport. [Not good to be] pushing the cost onto the big bad energy companies and their shareholders. It’s taxes or prices. [Politicians] must start to think of their children and not the next election…
…On targets and subsidies : India, Indonesia, Brazil […] to move on fossil fuel subsidies – can’t break the Laws of Economics forever. If our American friends drove the same cars we do, they’d reduce their oil consumption equivalent to all of the shale [Shale Gas ? Or Shale Oil ?]… Targets are an emotive issue when trying to get agreement from 190 countries. Only a few players that really matter : USA, China, EU, India – close to 70% of current emissions and maybe more in future. The EPA [Environmental Protection Agency in the United States of America] [announcement] on power emissions. China responded in 24 hours. The EU target on 27% renewables is not [country-specific, uniform across-the-board]. Last week APEC US deal with China on emissions. They switched everything off [and banned traffic] and people saw blue sky. Coal with CCS [Carbon Capture and Storage] we see as a good idea. We would hope for a multi-party commitment [from the United Nations climate talks], but [shows doubt]… To close : a couple of words on Shell – have to do that. We have only 2% [of the energy market], but we [hope we] can punch above our weight [in policy discussions]. We’re now beginning to establish gas as a transport fuel. Brazil – low carbon [bio]fuels. Three large CCS projects in Canada, EU… We need to look at our own energy use – pretty trivial, but [also] look at helping our customers look at theirs. Working with the DRC [China]. Only by including companies such as ourselves in [climate and energy policy] debate can we get the [global deal] we aspire to…
[Question from the table, Ed Wells (?), HSBC] : Green Bonds : how can they provide some of the finance [for climate change mitigation and adaptation] ? The first Renminbi denominated Green Bond from [?]. China has committed to non-fossil fuels. The G20 has just agreed the structure on infrastructure – important – not just for jobs and growth – parallel needs on climate change. [Us at HSBC…] Are people as excited about Green Bonds as we are ?
[Stephen Tindale] Yes.
[Question from the table, Anthony Cary, Commonwealth Scholarship Commission] …The key seems to be pricing carbon into the economy. You said you preferred Cap and Trade. I used to but despite reform the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) – [failures and] gaming the system. Tax seems to be a much more solid basis.
[Simon Henry] [The problem with the ETS] too many credits and too many exemptions. Get rid of the exemptions. Bank reserve of credits to push the price up. Degress the number of credits [traded]. Tax : if people can afford it, they pay the tax, doesn’t stop emissions. In the US, no consumption tax, they are very sensitive to the oil price going up and down – 2 to 3 million barrels a day [swing] on 16 million barrels a day. All the political impact on the US from shale could be done in the same way on efficiency [fuel standards and smaller cars]. Green Bonds are not something on top of – investment should be financed by Green Bonds, but investment is already being done today – better to get policy right and then all investment directed.
[Question from the table, Kirsten Gogan, Energy for Humanity] The role of nuclear power. By 2050, China will have 500 gigawatts (GW) of nuclear power. Electricity is key. Particularly coal. Germany is building new coal as removing nuclear…
[My internal response] It’s at this point that my ability to swallow myths was lost. I felt like shouting, politely, across the table : ACTUALLY KIRSTEN, YOU, AND A LOT OF OTHER PEOPLE IN THE ROOM ARE JUST PLAIN WRONG ON GERMANY AND COAL.
[Kirsten Gogan]…German minister saying in public that you can’t phase out nuclear and coal at the same time. Nuclear is not included in that conversation. Need to work on policy to scale up nuclear to replace coal. Would it be useful to have a clear sectoral target on decarbonising – 100% on electricity ?
[Stephen Tindale] Electricity is the least difficult of the energy sectors to decarbonise. Therefore the focus should be on electricity. If a target would help (I’m not a fan) nuclear certainly needs to be a part of the discussions. Angela Merkel post-Fukushima has been crazy, in my opinion. If want to boost renewable energy, nuclear power will take subsidies away from that. But targets for renewable energy is the wrong objective.. If the target is keeping the climate stable then it’s worth subsidising nuclear. Subsidising is the wrong word – “risk reduction”.
[Simon Henry] If carbon was properly priced, nuclear would become economic by definition…
[My internal response] NO IT WOULDN’T. A LOT OF NUCLEAR CONSTRUCTION AND DECOMMISSIONING AND SPENT FUEL PROCESSING REQUIRES CARBON-BASED ENERGY.
[Simon Henry] …Basically, all German coal is exempted (from the EU ETS). If you have a proper market-based system then the right things will happen. The EU – hypocrisy at country level. Only [a couple of percent] of global emissions. The EU would matter if it was less hypocritical. China are more rational – long-term thinking. We worked with the DRC. Six differing carbon Cap and Trade schemes in operation to find the one that works best. They are effectively supporting renewable energy – add 15 GW each of wind and solar last year. They don’t listen to NIMBYs [they also build in the desert]. NIMBYism [reserved for] coal – because coal was built close to cities. [Relationship to Russia] – gas replacing coal. Not an accident. Five year plan. They believe in all solutions. Preferably Made in China so we can export to the rest of the world. [Their plans are for a range of aims] not just climate.
[Simon Henry] [in answer to a question about the City of London] We don’t rely on them to support our activities [my job security depends on a good relationship with them]]. We have to be successful first and develop [technological opportunities] [versus being weakened by taxes]. They can support change in technology. Financing coal may well be new money. Why should the City fund new coal investments ?
[Question from the table, asking about the “coal is 70% of the problem” message from Simon Henry] When you talk to the City investors, do you take the same message to the City ?
[Simon Henry] How much of 2.7 trillion tonnes of “Unburnable Carbon” is coal, oil and gas ? Two thirds of carbon reserves is coal. [For economic growth and] transport you need high density liquid fuels. Could make from coal [but the emissions impact would be high]. We need civil society to have a more serious [understanding] of the challenges.
After the discussion, I asked Simon Henry to clarify his words about the City of London.
[Simon Henry] We don’t use the City as a source of capital. 90% is equity finance. We don’t go to the market to raise equity. For every dollar of profit, we invest 75 cents, and pay out 25 cents as dividend to our shareholders. Reduces [problems] if we can show we can reinvest. [ $12 billion a year is dividend. ]
I asked if E&P [Exploration and Production] is working – if there are good returns on investment securing new reserves of fossil fuels – I know that the company aims for a 10 or 11 year Reserves to Production ratio (R/P) to ensure shareholder confidence.
Simon Henry mentioned the price of oil. I asked if the oil price was the only determinant on the return on investment in new E&P ?
[Simon Henry] If the oil price is $90 a barrel, that’s good. At $100 a barrel or $120 a barrel [there’s a much larger profit]. Our aim is to ensure we can survive at $70 a barrel. [On exploration] we still have a lot of things in play – not known if they are working yet… Going into the Arctic [At which point I said I hope we are not going into the Arctic]… [We are getting returns] Upstream is fine [supply of gas and oil]. Deepwater is fine. Big LNG [Liquefied Natural Gas] is fine. Shale is a challenge. Heavy Oil returns could be better – profitable, but… [On new E&P] Iraq, X-stan, [work in progress]. Downstream [refinery] has challenges on return. Future focus – gas and deepwater. [On profitability of investment – ] “Gas is fine. Deepwater is fine.”
[My summary] So, in summary, I think all of this means that Shell believes that Cap and Trade is the way to control carbon, and that the Cap and Trade cost would be borne by their customers (in the form of higher bills for energy because of the costs of buying carbon credits), so their business will not be affected. Although a Cap and Trade market could possibly cap their own market and growth as the sales envelope for carbon would be fixed, since Shell are moving into lower carbon fuels – principally Natural Gas, their own business still has room for growth. They therefore support Cap and Trade because they believe it will not affect them. WHAT THEY DON’T APPEAR TO WANT PEOPLE TO ASK IS IF A CAP AND TRADE SYSTEM WILL ACTUALLY BE EFFECTIVE IN CURBING CARBON DIOXIDE EMISSIONS. They want to be at the negotiating table. They believe that they’re not the problem – coal is. They believe that the world will continue to need high energy-dense oil for transport for some time to come. It doesn’t matter if the oil market gets constrained by natural limits to expansion because they have gas to expand with. They don’t see a problem with E&P so they believe they can keep up their R/P and stay profitable and share prices can continue to rise. As long as the oil price stays above $70 a barrel, they’re OK.
However, there was a hint in what Simon Henry talked about that all is not completely well in Petro-land.
a. Downstream profit warning
Almost in passing, Simon Henry admitted that downstream is potentially a challenge for maintaining returns on investment and profits. Downstream is petrorefinery and sales of the products. He didn’t say which end of the downstream was the issue, but oil consumption has recovered from the recent Big Dip recession, so that can’t be his problem – it must be in petrorefinery. There are a number of new regulations about fuel standards that are going to be more expensive to meet in terms of petroleum refinery – and the chemistry profiles of crude oils are changing over time – so that could also impact refinery costs.
b. Carbon disposal problem
The changing profile of crude oils being used for petrorefinery is bound to cause an excess of carbon to appear in material flows – and Simon Henry’s brief mention of petcoke is more significant than it may first appear. In future there may be way too much carbon to dispose of (petcoke is mostly carbon rejected by thermal processes to make fuels), and if Shell’s plan is to burn petcoke to make power as a solution to dispose of this carbon, then the carbon dioxide emissions profile of refineries is going to rise significantly… where’s the carbon responsiblity in that ?Academic Freedom, Alchemical, Arctic Amplification, Assets not Liabilities, Big Number, Biofools, Carbon Capture, Carbon Commodities, Carbon Pricing, Carbon Rationing, Carbon Taxatious, Change Management, China Syndrome, Climate Change, Climate Damages, Coal Hell, Conflict of Interest, Corporate Pressure, Cost Effective, Dead End, Deal Breakers, Delay and Deny, Demoticratica, Direction of Travel, Dreamworld Economics, Economic Implosion, Efficiency is King, Emissions Impossible, Energy Change, Energy Denial, Energy Insecurity, Extreme Energy, Financiers of the Apocalypse, Foreign Investment, Fossilised Fuels, Freemarketeering, Green Investment, Growth Paradigm, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Insulation, Marine Gas, Mass Propaganda, Modern Myths, Money Sings, Natural Gas, Nuclear Nuisance, Nuclear Shambles, Oil Change, Optimistic Generation, Orwells, Peak Emissions, Peak Natural Gas, Peak Oil, Petrolheads, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Price Control, Public Relations, Realistic Models, Regulatory Ultimatum, Shale Game, Social Change, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, Stirring Stuff, Tarred Sands, The Price of Oil, The Right Chemistry, Unnatural Gas, Wind of Fortune
Posted on November 14th, 2014 No comments
This week, I had the opportunity to join the launch of the UKERC’s latest research into the future of gas. The esteemed delegates included members of a Russian Trade Delegation and several people from the US Embassy. Clearly, the future of gas is an international thing.
[continued from Gas by Design ]
Mike Bradshaw, Warwick Business School = [MB]
[MB] I’m somewhat daunted by this audience – the report is aimed perhaps for informed public audience. The media [ambushed us on the question of shale gas, shale gas attracted more attention] but things we didn’t cover much about there we can cover here. It’s been a real rollercoaster ride in the gas industry. Any flights of fancy (in the report) are our faults and not theirs [reference to work of colleagues, such as Jonathan Stern at Oxford Institute for Energy Studies]. A set of shortcomings dealing with the issue of Energy Security. There is a tendency to think that oil and gas are the same. They’re not. The framework, the actors and the networks, trade statistics, policies [much different for gas than for oil]. [In the UK for example we are seeing] a rapid increase in import dependence [and in other countries]. Need to [pay] particular understanding on what will happen in far-flung places. Today, the US-China agreement could influence gas demand. [In the literature on gas, some anomalies, perhaps]. Academics may not understand markets. [What we are seeing here is] the globalisation of UK gas security – primarily Europeanisation. There is growing uncertainty [about] the material flow of gas. [Threshold] balance in three sectors – strong seasonality, impact of climate and temperature [on gas demand]. The Russian agreement with Ukraine [and Europe] – the one thing everybody was hoping for was a warm winter. While the gas market is important [industrial use and energy use], domestic/residential demand is still very significant [proportion of total demand], so we need to look at energy efficiency [building insulation rates] and ask will people rip out their gas boilers ? For the UK, we are some way across the gas bridge – gas has enabled us to meet [most of] our Kyoto Protocol commitments. Not long until we’ve crossed it. Our coal – gone. With coal gone, what fills the gaps ? Renewable electricity – but there is much intermittency already. We’re not saying that import dependency is necessarily a problem. Physical security is not really the problem – but the [dependence on] the interconnectors, the LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) imports – these create uncertainties. The UK also plays a role as a gas exporter – and in landing Norwegian gas [bringing it into the European market]. I’m a geographer – have to have at least one map – of gas flows [in and out of the country]. The NTS (National Transmission System – the high pressure Natural Gas-carrying pipeline network – the “backbone” of the gas transmission and distribution system of National Grid] has responded to change – for example in the increasing sources of LNG [and “backflow” and “crossflow” requirements]. There are 9 points of entry for gas into the UK at the moment. If the Bowland Shale is exploited, there could be 100s of new points of entry [the injection of biogas as biomethane into the gas grid would also create new entry points]. A new challenge to the system. [The gas network has had some time to react in the past, for example] LNG imports – the decision to ramp up the capacity was taken a long time ago. [Evolution of] prices in Asia have tracked the gas away [from the European markets] after the Fukushima Dai-ichi disaster. And recently, we have decided to “fill up the tanks” again [LNG imports have risen in the last 24 or so months]. Very little LNG is “firm” – it needs to follow the market. It’s not good to simply say that “the LNG will come” [without modelling this market]. The literature over-emphasises the physical security of the upstream supplies of gas. [The projections have] unconventional gas growing [and growing amounts of biogas]. But it’s far too early to know about shale gas – far too early to make promises about money when we don’t even have a market [yet]. Policy cannot influence the upstream especially in a privatised market. The interconnectors into the European Union means we have to pay much more attention to the Third EU Energy Package. Colleagues in Oxford are tracking that. The thorny question of storage. We have less than 5 bcm (billion cubic metres). We’d like 10% perhaps [of the winter period demand ?] Who should pay for it ? [A very large proportion of our storage is in one place] the Rough. We know what happens – we had a fire at the Rough in 2006… Everyone worries about geopolitics, but there are other potential sources of problems – our ageing infrastructure […] if there is a technical problem and high demand [at the same time]. Resilience [of our gas system is demonstrated by the fact that we have] gas-on-gas competition [in the markets] – “liquid” gas hub trading – setting the NBP (National Balancing Point). [There are actually 3 kinds of gas security to consider] (a) Security of Supply – not really a problem; (b) Security of Transport (Transit) – this depends on markets and (c) Security of Demand – [which strongly depends on whether there is a] different role for gas in the future. But we need to design enough capacity even though we may not use all of it [or not all of the time]. We have mothballed gas-fired power plants already, for reasons you all know about. We already see the failure of the ETS (European Union Emissions Trading Scheme) [but if this can be reformed, as as the Industrial Emissions Directive bites] there will be a return to gas as coal closes. The role of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) becomes critical in retaining gas. CCS however doesn’t answer issues of [physical energy security, since CCS requires higher levels of fuel use].
[Question from the floor] Gas has a role to play in transition. But how do we need to manage that role ? Too much focus on building Renewable Energy system. What is the impact on the current infrastructure ? For managing that decline in the incumbent system – gas is there to help – gas by design rather than gas by default.
[Question from the floor, Jonathan Stern] [In your graphs/diagrams] the Middle East is a major contributor to gas trade. We see it differently. The Qataris [could/may/will] hold back [with expanding production] until 2030. Iran – our study [sees it as] a substitute contributor. Oil-indexed gas under threat and under challenge. If you could focus more on the global gas price… [New resources of gas could be very dispersed.]Very difficult to get UK people to understand [these] impacts on the gas prices [will] come from different places than they can think of.
[Question from the floor] Availability of CCS capacity ? When ? How much ? Assumptions of cost ?
[Question from the floor : Tony Bosworth, Friends of the Earth] Gas as a bridge – how much gas do we need for [this process] ? What about unburnable carbon ? Do we need more gas to meet demands ?
[Answer – to Jonathan Stern – from Christophe McGlade ?] The model doesn’t represent particularly well political probabilities. Iran has a lot of gas – some can come online. It will bring it online if it wants to export it. Some simplifications… might be over optimistic. Your work is helpful to clarify.
On gas prices – indexation versus global gas price – all the later scenarios assumed a globalised gas price. More reasonable assumptions.
On CCS : first [coming onstream] 2025 – initially quite a low level, then increasing by 10% a year. The capital costs are approximately 60% greater than other options and causes a drop in around 10% on efficiency [because making CCS work costs you in extra fuel consumed]. If the prices of energy [including gas] increase, then CCS will have a lesser relative value [?].
On availability of gas : under the 2 degrees Celsius scenario, we could consume 5 tcm (trillion cubic metres) of gas – and this can come from reserves and resources. There are a lot of resources of Natural Gas, but some of it will be at a higher price. In the model we assume development of some new resources, with a growth in shale gas, and other unconventional gas. Because of the climate deal, we need to leave some gas underground.
[Answer from the panel] Indexation of gas prices to oil… Further gas demand is in Asia – it’s a question of whose gas gets burnt. [Something like] 70% of all Natural Gas gets burned indigenously [within the country in which it is produced]. When we talk about “unburnable gas”, we get the response “you’re dreaming” from some oil companies, “it won’t be our fossil fuels that get stranded”. LNG models envisage a different demand profile [in the future, compared to now]. When China [really gets] concerned about air quality [for example]. Different implications.
[Question from the floor, from Centrica ?] What’s in the model for the globalised gas price – Henry Hub plus a bit ? There is not a standard one price.
[Question from the floor] On the question of bridging – the long-term bridge. What issues do you see when you get to 2030 for investment ? [We can see] only for the next few years. What will investors think about that ?
[Question from the floor] [With reference to the Sankey diagram of gas use in the UK] How would that change in a scenario of [electrification – heat and transport being converted to run on electrical power] ?
[Question from the floor] Stranded assets. How the markets might react ? Can you put any numbers on it – especially in the non-CCS scenario ? When do we need to decide [major strategy] for example, [whether we could or should be] shutting off the gas grid ? How would we fund that ? Where are the pinch points ?
[Answer from the panel] On the global gas price – the model does not assume a single price – [it will differ over each] region. [The price is allowed to change regionally [but is assumed to arise from global gas trading without reference to oil prices.] Asian basin will always be more expensive. There will be a temperature differential between different hubs [since consumption is strongly correlated with seasonal change]. On stranded assets – I think you mean gas power plants ? The model is socially-optimal – all regions working towards the 2 degrees Celsius global warming target. The model doesn’t limit stranded assets – and do get in the non-CCS scenario. Build gas plants to 2025 – then used at very low load factors. Coal plants need to reduce [to zero] given that the 2 degrees Celsius targets are demanding. Will need gas for grid balancing – [new gas-fired power generation assets will be] built and not used at high load factors.
[Answer from the panel] Our report – we have assume a whole system question for transition. How successful will the Capacity Mechanism be ? UKERC looking at electrification of heating – but they have not considered the impact on gas (gas-to-power). Will the incentives in place be effective ? The Carbon Budget – what are the implications ? Need to use whole system analysis to understand the impact on gas. Issue of stranded assets : increasingly important now [not at some point in the future]. On pinch point : do we need to wait another three years [for more research] ? Researchers have looked more at what to spend – what to build – and less on how to manage the transition. UKERC have started to explore heat options. It’s a live issue. Referenced in the report.
[Question from the floor, from Richard Sverrisson, News Editor of Montel] Will reform to the EU ETS – the Market Stability Reserve (MSR) – will that be enough to bring gas plant into service ?
[Question from the floor] On oil indexation and the recent crash in the crude price – what if it keeps continuing [downwards] ? It takes gas prices down to be competitive with hub prices. [What about the impact on the economic profitability of] shale oil – where gas driving related prices ? Are there some pricing [functions/variables] in the modelling – or is it merely a physical construct ?
[Question from the floor, from Rob Gross of UCL] On intermittency and the flexibility of low carbon capacity. The geographical units in the modelling are large – the role of gas depends on how the model is constrained vis-a-vis intermittency.
[Answer from the panel, from Christophe McGlade] On carbon dioxide pricing : in the 2 degrees Celsius scenario, the price is assumed to be $200 per tonne. In the non-CCS scenario, the price is in the region of $400 – $500 per tonne [?] From 2020 : carbon price rises steeply – higher than the Carbon Floor Price. How is the the 2 degrees Celsius target introduced ? If you place a temperature constraint on the energy system, the model converts that into carbon emissions. The latest IPCC report shows that there remains an almost linear trend between carbon budget and temperature rise – or should I say a greenhouse gas budget instead : carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). The emissions pledges of the [European Union ?] have been adopted by this model – also the development of renewable energy and fuel standards. No exogenous assumptions on carbon pricing. On intermittency – the seasonality is represented by summer, winter and intermediate; and time day generalised as morning, night, evening and peak (morning peak). [Tighter modelling would provide more] certainty which would remove ~40% of effective demand [?] Each technology has a contribution to make to peak load. Although, we assume nothing from wind power – cannot capture hour to hour market. The model does build capacity that then it doesn’t use.
[Answer from the panel] On carbon pricing and the EU ETS reform : I wouldn’t hold my breath [that this will happen, or that it will have a major impact]. We have a new commission and their priority is Poland – nothing serious will happen on carbon pricing until 2020. Their emphasis is much more on Central European issues. I don’t expect to have a strong carbon price since policy [will probably be] more focussed on social democracy issues. Moving to a relatively lower price on oil : Asia will hedge. Other explorters currently sticking to indexation with oil. The low price of wet gas (condensate) in the USA is a result of the over-supply, which followed an over-supply in NGLs (Natural Gas Liquids) – a bumpy road. Implications from USA experience ? Again, comes back to watching what is happening in Asia.
[to be continued…]Academic Freedom, Big Picture, Big Society, Carbon Capture, Carbon Pricing, Climate Change, Coal Hell, Emissions Impossible, Freemarketeering, Gamechanger, Global Warming, Green Gas, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Natural Gas, Oil Change, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Coal, Peak Emissions, Peak Energy, Peak Natural Gas, Peak Oil, Price Control, Realistic Models, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Gas, Renewable Resource, Resource Wards, Shale Game, The Price of Gas, The Price of Oil, Unnatural Gas, Western Hedge, Wind of Fortune
Posted on November 9th, 2014 No comments
So I was in a meeting on a dateless date, at an organisation with a nameless name, with some other unidentifiable people in the room with me. For some reason I had been invited, I cannot think why. Ah, yes, I can. I was invited to attend because, apparently, I am a “campaigner”. I am, allegedly, somebody who buys into the notion that communications should serve the purpose of directing public attention and support towards a particular outcome, decided in advance by a political elite. And it seems, if I believe something is right, and that a message needs communicating, I will take action, but never invoice, because I am a believer. Well let me tell you right here and now, I am not that person. I may have that reputation, but really, I despise propaganda : the deliberate formation of a murmur of Tweet starlings, or the collective wall-to-wall newspaper coverage of the same story, the scandal story hauled out to scare the horses and herd them to the salt water shore, the faux narrative of collective political or social will for change.
I want to believe that even though I am occasionally paid to communicate a story (but most often not), that my narrative, and importantly my agenda, is my own. I will not be co-opted. I shall not be defined by storytelling, I shall not be paid for spreading information – for if I were to be telling money-backed tales, I may end up peddling lies. And I do not want lies to be spoken. I am an ontologist. My ontology is :-
There is no “therefore” in what I write. When I say “should”, like, “we should adopt renewable energy”, it’s your choice as to whether you agree with me. You shouldn’t read anything and be swayed or directed, except by the force of reason based on evidence. I am the photographer, the recorder, but not the public relations consultant. And I am especially not an unsalaried volunteer. I paint the future using my own perspective, my own understanding, my own research, my own best judgement, but I am not telling people what to think. Although I go slightly beyond merely noting and analysing what is happening, to articulate possible futures, I am not a persuader.
I do not want to write the script for the actions of the readers or listeners. I do not want to precipitate a revolution, or dehydrate the horses before leading them to the river bank. I want to describe rather than proscribe or prescribe. I want to scribe the way I see things, I do not do it in order to create waves or push buttons or light beacons. The facts should speak for themselves, and if anybody consumes my communication, they should be free to act as they feel fit, or suits. I am not a paid-for, paid-up, in-the-pocket campaigner. I am not spun round other peoples’ fingers like a talking puppet. I am a free person.
So, there I was in this meeting, and the people in the room were discussing an event that is likely to take place. It appears from some analysis that the next British Government could well be another Coalition Government, with the Conservative Party having only a shaving of a majority for rule. And when they have crossed the i’s and dotted the t’s and formed a currently impossible political marriage, which I’m guessing will involve the Green Party as well as the Liberal Democrats, then they will need to live up to their promise to hold a referendum on British participation in the Grand European Experiment – economic union with other European countries.
But nobody talks about Europe. Except to complain. In the meeting I attended, the hosts of the meeting were consulting for ways to highlight the Europe Question, and to give it a pro-Union light.
For me, it’s facile. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is just a bunch of mediocre-sized islands off the coast of the European continent. Something like 80% of UK trade is with European countries, because Europe is our gateway to the rest of the global market, and you always do the most trade with your neighbours. It’s natural. Can anybody seriously suggest we ditch the Common Market – the agreements that European countries have come to to ensure common standards of goods and services, common terms and conditions of trade and common legal processes regulating trade ? So we want to reserve some kind of sovereignty over some kinds of decisions ? Why ? The UK is heavily involved in the central European institutions and governance bodies. We have massive input. We vote for MEPs. Why should things not go our way ? And even if things don’t go perfectly our way, will the negotiated compromises be so bad ? Subsidiarity – making decisions at the lowest/best/most appropriate level of administration – that’s still going to keep a lot of British control over British affairs. Surely the UK suffers a greater risk of interference from any pan-Atlantic trade deal that it does from Europe ?
The UK have made commitments. Our Parliament has agreed that we need to work on climate change, social justice and economic stability. We have implicitly agreed that to address climate change we need Energy Change and environmental regulation; to achieve social justice we need human rights, justice, health, education and a benefits system; and for economic stability we need economic stimuli – for example, in national infrastructure projects. In terms of climate change and Energy Change there is so much we need to do. If we stay in Europe, all of this will be so much easier. Within the European project for energy market harmonisation is the work on standards to achieve gas and electricity grid harmonisation. The improvement and augmenting of interconnections between countries, and the provision of wider energy storage, will enable the balanced use of renewable energy. Governments need to create incentives for deploying renewable energy. Governments need to create mechanisms to leverage and facilitate renewable energy deployment. Without Europe, outwith Europe, it will cost us more, and be more complex. Within Europe, it will be easier.
So, in the meeting I attended, I put forward my vision : if the UK stays in Europe, it will be easier to handle problems of energy – improving and replacing infrastructure and plant, co-ordinating the uptake of new renewable energy technologies and dealing with emerging energy security issues. Why, the North Sea, as everybody knows, is draining dry, and we can only build certain levels of relationship with countries outside the European Union, such as Russia. If the UK left the EU, the EU would be competitors with the UK for Russian Natural Gas, for example. I said I thought that energy security was a good thing to explain to people and a good reason to raise support for UK’s continued participation in Europe.
So, somebody else in the meeting, who shall remain faceless and nameless, poured very cold water on this idea. They seemed to disbelieve that the UK faces risks to energy security. Instead, they suggested that the pro-Europe argument should be based on how the UK can “keep our place at the table”. How out of touch can one get, I thought to myself ? This kind of patrician argument is not going to wash. Appealing to some non-existent pride in the UK’s continued role as stakeholder in the European project is going to go down like a lead balloon. It’s a vote loser, for sure.
What most people care about first is money. Their money. Any appeal to their pockets is going to help. We live in tough times – thanks to Government austerity policy – and we still cannot get a handle on public borrowing and spending. Because of the Government’s austerity policy.
So how about we cast it like this : your energy is going to get much more expensive if the UK abandons the European community of nations. Plus, your lights could genuinely go out, unless you, the people, either as taxpayers or billpayers, fork out for new energy investments that the energy companies haven’t made for 20 years. Because of privatisation. Without taking part in the European energy market harmonisation, and the European development of new and renewable energy infrastructure, plant and networks, your bills could significantly rise/spiral out of control. If European companies were required to sell energy assets back to the UK, because the UK pulled out of Europe, we would be in a very fine mess indeed. Do you really want this kind of chaos ? Energy policy in the UK is already bad enough.
The facts are available to those who search : British production of oil and gas from the North Sea is declining at something like 6% a year. The UK became a net energy importer between 2004 and 2006 (depending on how you define it). The Netherlands will become a net Natural Gas importer in the 2020s. Norway’s Natural Gas will reach a peak some time in the 2020s. It’s no good thinking that because the UK is a “gas hub”, and that British finance can currently spin up gas imports to the UK, that this situation is going to remain true. Within 10 to 15 years, I think that the UK will face significant competition for Natural Gas supplies with other European countries. Better to be in the debating chamber, surely, rather than scratching at the wind-and-rain-splattered window from outside ? So can the UK forge a gas alliance with countries outside the European Union, and apart from Norway ? A gas import alliance that sticks ? And that isn’t demolished by competition from the rest of the European Union for gas supplies that come through pipes sitting in European Union territory ? OK, the UK might want to leave full European Union membership, and join Norway in the European Economic Area, but will this guarantee beneficial import status for Natural Gas from countries that supply the full members of the European Community ?
I said, instead of trying to talk about direct opposites – either Inside Europe or Outside Europe – let’s talk about how things can be helped by wider co-operation. The European Union was founded on energy treaties – coal and nuclear energy (and steel), and now Europe needs to move to a union forged on renewable power and Natural Gas – and later Renewable Gas – and it’s going to be so much easier to do if the UK stays at the party.
The North Sea needs re-developing. Not for oil, but for wind power. This is going to happen best with full cross-border co-operation. Already, the UK has agreed to play a large part in the “North Sea Offshore Grid” wind power project in league with Ireland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, The Netherlands, Belgium and France. And Luxembourg, strangely, although it doesn’t have a coast. Unlike new nuclear power, which could be decades in construction, offshore and onshore wind in Europe can be quick-build. If you want new power, you pick wind and solar. And, despite policy fumbles, this is happening. Actually, in the end, who really cares about subsidies for renewable energy, when the most capital-heavy organisations in the world start backing renewable power ? In some ways, I don’t care who brings me low carbon energy, and I don’t care if I have to pay for it through my tax or my bills, I just want it to happen. OK, offshore wind power is for the big boys, and you’re never going to get a diversity of suppliers with this project, and the dreams of decentralised energy are vapours, whisked away by giant engineering firms, but at least renewable energy is going to happen. One day people will realise that for the newspapers to rehearse the arguments of High Net Worth Individuals, and for sheep-like energy ministers to complain about onshore wind power and solar farms, is just a way to keep small electricity generators out of the energy markets, and allow the incumbent energy players to keep making profits. But when the need for a multiplicity of small energy installations becomes critical, I think this tune will change.
I can see all this. But, because I am not a spin meister, or spin meistress, or a campaigner, I’m not going to be crafting fine messages to share with my networks on this particular subject. I did start (see below), but then I thought better of it. I dislike the use of social media, web logging and journalism to push an agenda. The trouble is, I know that the people who are vehemently against the European endeavour have so many trigger arguments tested and ready to deploy, such as : immigration, regulations, budgetary demands. None of these stand up to scutiny, but they are very easy props on which to deploy Corpse Factory scares and scandals, up there with the War on Terror. The pro-European segment of the population always stays so silent. If there were to be a Referendum on Europe today, I can pretty much guarantee a kneejerk exit. The British public act collectively by reflex. They never re-analyse their position. They mob, gang and plunder.
I don’t think pro-Europe organisations know how to sell Europe. But they shouldn’t need to “sell” Europe. European membership should be an obvious best choice. So why should I try to talk up Europe ? I couldn’t have any influence, as one lone voice, against the Daily Mails, Daily Expresses and Daily Telegraphs of this world. And anyway, it’s not really my fight to fight. I don’t have a job title that reads “arch propagandist”. I am not that person. It does not become me. I prefer straight-talking, not mind-bending.
I won’t get invited back. That’s just fine. I am not a volunteer campaigner. I’m not a political pusher. I’ve only played the role of “evangelist” on climate change, renewable energy and good policy because sometimes there is little else I can think of that might help or make a difference. But I don’t have any influence. And I don’t want any. I am just going to continue telling it the way I see it. Giving my perspective. I cannot guarantee any outcomes. And anyway, I prefer democratic engagement over salesmanship. Don’t ask me to sell your ideas, your policies, your projections. I don’t want to.
Full membership of the European Union is the logical option for the United Kingdom, no matter how many tired dead donkey corpses the rabid tabloid media keep digging up to appall us all. Sooner or later, we also need to consider joining the Euro currency, and I predict we will, but I’m not your convincer on that argument, either.
“What has Europe ever done for us ?”
Common Climate : Common Cause : Common Market
On climate change, the United Kingdom has secured the Climate Change Act, legislation with broad-based support across all political parties. The UK shares the concerns of other European countries about the potential risks and impacts from climate change in our geographical region. Society-level change in response to climate change includes energy change – changing the sources and use of energy – and changing policies for land use to include planting forests and energy crops. Within the European Community, the UK has worked to secure region-wide legislation on renewable energy, energy efficiency, waste control and air quality. All of these contribute to the response to climate change, and have developed action on climate change into a common cause. In addition to regulatory change, the European Community is seeking to develop trading mechanisms to enable carbon dioxide emissions control, and it working to develop a common market in carbon.
Common Future : Common Purpose : Common Interest
Common Values : Common Opportunities : Common Voice
Common Security : Common Goals : Common Networks
Common Infrastructure : Common Society : Common Protection
Common Standards : Common Framework : Common DevelopmentAcademic Freedom, Advertise Freely, Bait & Switch, Be Prepared, Big Picture, Big Society, Burning Money, Carbon Army, Carbon Capture, Carbon Commodities, Carbon Pricing, Carbon Taxatious, Change Management, Climate Change, Coal Hell, Conflict of Interest, Cost Effective, Deal Breakers, Demoticratica, Divide & Rule, Emissions Impossible, Energy Autonomy, Energy Change, Energy Denial, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Engineering Marvel, Fossilised Fuels, Freemarketeering, Gamechanger, Global Warming, Green Investment, Green Power, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Landslide, Libertarian Liberalism, Low Carbon Life, Major Shift, Mass Propaganda, Media, Money Sings, National Energy, National Power, Nuclear Nuisance, Oil Change, Optimistic Generation, Orwells, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Coal, Peak Emissions, Peak Natural Gas, Peak Oil, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Protest & Survive, Public Relations, Realistic Models, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Gas, Resource Wards, Social Capital, Social Change, Social Chaos, Social Democracy, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, Stirring Stuff, Sustainable Deferment, The Science of Communitagion, The War on Error, Unsolicited Advice & Guidance, Vote Loser, Western Hedge, Wind of Fortune
Posted on October 25th, 2014 No comments
How do we get things changed in a democracy ? The model of political campaigning that has been established over the last century is failing us. In the past, if there was a problem, a small group of people could create a fuss about it, march some placards to somewhere relevant, write some letters, talk to some dignitaries, chain themselves to some railings, occupy a lobby, get some press, and after some years, maybe, get something done.
These days there are just too many complaints for them all to be heard. Philanthropic, charitable and political messages crowd the stage. In this age of social media, the campaign metaphor has been replaced by a ladder of concern. Concern is expressed. Hopefully others will find that they too are sufficiently concerned, and reflect that concern through some medium. And slowly, it is hoped, this concern climbs the ladder of attention, until it is visible, audible. The entitled and endowed middle classes catch the concern, and repeat it. Lots of emails fly. George Monbiot writes about it in The Guardian. Some speeches are made at serious meetings. Angelina Jolie is invited to grace a conference. And then, hopefully, this concern hits the people who have some kind of leverage over the problem, and they act.
Action is almost guaranteed if the concern is the result of a specific outrage, committed by a specific person or group, and has a specific solution. But otherwise, who knows ? How universal and impactful does a concern need to be before it gets acted upon ? And surely some things don’t need campaigns, because the governments already know enough about problems such as people trafficking, slavery, animal welfare, crime and torture ? After all, things such as prostitution and illegal drug trade are included in national economic statistics.
I took public transport today in London and I was doused in outrage pouring from advertisements asking for charitable giving to prevent the inhuman practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). As I read these appeals, I felt two overwhelming sensations – one of intense anger that children are being permanently injured because of insane and unjustifiable, hateful beliefs about female sexuality. And a second feeling of dragging despair that giving a small donation every month to this organisation would have very little impact on abusive culture, which leads to many forms of violation, not just the unimaginably painful and destructive incision and even resection of a child’s clitoris and the sewing together of her labia, leading to permanent nerve damage, lasting wounds, loss of sexual function, complications from incontinence, ruined relationships, injuries from sexual intercourse, and serious medical risks during childbirth, and possibly the need for reconstructive surgery.
This is a problem which cannot be fixed by expressing normal murmurs of concern, building a wave of concern that climbs a ladder of concern, or making monthly token charitable payments. This concern is not susceptible to a campaign. What this problem needs is regulation, legislation, policing. This concern shouldn’t have to compete with all the other concerns out there, like distressed retired donkeys, threatened butterflies, meltdown polar bears, de-forested orangutans and by-catch dolphins. Some things just shouldn’t happen. They just shouldn’t be tolerated. And they shouldn’t be lost amongst an avalanche of other concerns. This problem is so serious that it should be an automatic priority for all the authorities, co-ordinating to detect and prevent it. This concern shouldn’t have to campaign for funds. Or attention.
Switch to BBC News. Roger Harrabin reports that “The UK’s chief scientist says the oceans face a serious and growing risk from man-made carbon emissions. […] Sir Mark Walport warns that the acidity of the oceans has increased by about 25% since the industrial revolution, mainly thanks to manmade emissions. […] He told BBC News: “If we carry on emitting CO2 [carbon dioxide] at the same rate, ocean acidification will create substantial risks to complex marine food webs and ecosystems.” […] The consequences of acidification are likely to be made worse by the warming of the ocean expected with climate change, a process which is also driven by CO2.”
Media Lens Editors reported this piece. My reaction was – who would be paying attention to this ? This is not the “dangerous climate change comes from global warming” story, this is the “other” carbon problem, the decimation of marine productivity and the whole pyramid of life, resulting from increasing levels of dissolved carbon dioxide in seawater because of higher levels of carbon dioxide in the air. The overwhelmingly major causes of this problem are irrefutably and definitely fossil fuel combustion, and its seriousness is hard to deny, even though Roger Harrabin attempts to make light of it by devoting column inches to a laboratory crab who isn’t getting with the programme.
Ocean acidification is a concern that shouldn’t get lost in amongst other concerns. It should be paid serious levels of attention. And not just by middle class philanthropists who work for non-governmental organisations and charities. And yet, cursory analysis of the segmentation of the population who treat BBC News as a main and trusted information source may suggest that the only readers who would act on this piece are exactly these middle class charity staff, or at a push, retired middle class charity staff.
My Media Lens comment was, “Right expert. Right message. Wrong audience. Wrong medium. The UK Government’s chief scientist. OK. Good. Ocean acidification. OK. Good. No quibbles about whether or not extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a real problem or not (as known as “climate change” or “global warming”, which is real by the way). The BBC News. Wrong medium. Wrong audience. The only people going to listen to this are those who already know about the problem but are still as powerless to act as they were yesterday. The UK Government should present this information to the oil, gas and coal companies with a polite request for them to unveil their plan of action in the face of this undeniable problem.”
There is no reason why this story should be covered in BBC News by Roger Harrabin. What can anybody reading it do about the problem ? There is no purpose for this article. It is a pointless statement of concern, or rather, a belittling rehearsal of the concern. Unless this article, and the thousands like it, lead to the Government demanding answers on Energy Change from the fossil fuel companies, there is no point in reporting it, or in this case, disparaging it with faint humour.
The only time that ocean acidification should appear in a media piece is to report that the problem has been presented to the architects of increased ocean carbon dioxide, and answers have been requested.
And who are the architects of increased atmospheric and ocean carbon dioxide ? Those who mine fossil fuels. Those companies like BP and Shell, ExxonMobil, and all the coal extraction companies should act. They should offer us alternative non-fossil fuel energy. And the news should be about how these companies are taking action to offer us Renewable Hydrogen, Renewable Methane, solar power, wind power and Zero Carbon transport fuels.
Answers from the past will simply not do. Trying to assert that somebody needs to pay for pollution won’t prevent pollution occurring. Carbon taxes or carbon pricing won’t work – since they won’t prevent the mining of fossil fuels – and if fossil fuels are mined, of course they will be burned. Carbon combustion quotas won’t work – since economic wealth is based on burning carbon, so many forces will conspire to maintain levels of fossil fuel combustion. Carbon mining quotas won’t work, since the forces for increasing mining quotas are strong. Carbon trading won’t work, since it won’t reduce the amount of fossil fuels mined – because, obviously, if fossil fuels are mined, they will be burned.
I am tired of reading about climate change, global warming, freshwater stress and ocean acidification in the news. It seems there is nothing I can do that I have not already done that can provide a solution to these problems. Enough with communicating the disaster. I want to read about engineering and energy companies who have switched business models to producing Zero Carbon energy. I want to hear how energy security concern is taking oil, gas and coal companies towards Renewable Everything.Acid Ocean, Animal Kingdoom, Babykillers, Behaviour Changeling, Big Picture, Big Society, Carbon Capture, Carbon Commodities, Carbon Pricing, Carbon Rationing, Carbon Taxatious, Change Management, Climate Change, Climate Chaos, Climate Damages, Coal Hell, Corporate Pressure, Demoticratica, Disturbing Trends, Divide & Rule, Emissions Impossible, Energy Autonomy, Energy Crunch, Energy Denial, Energy Disenfranchisement, Energy Insecurity, Engineering Marvel, Fossilised Fuels, Freshwater Stress, Gamechanger, Global Heating, Global Singeing, Global Warming, Green Gas, Green Power, Human Nurture, Hydrogen Economy, Landslide, Mad Mad World, Major Shift, Mass Propaganda, Media, Meltdown, Oil Change, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Coal, Peak Emissions, Peak Energy, Peak Natural Gas, Peak Oil, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Public Relations, Pure Hollywood, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Gas, Resource Curse, Screaming Panic, Social Capital, Social Change, Social Chaos, Social Democracy, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, Stirring Stuff, The Science of Communitagion, Vote Loser, Wind of Fortune, Zero Net
Posted on May 24th, 2014 4 comments
How to organise a political campaign around Climate Change : ask a group of well-fed, well-meaning, Guardian-reading, philanthropic do-gooders into the room to adopt the lowest common denominator action plan. Now, as a well-fed, well-meaning, Guardian-reading (well, sometimes), philanthropic do-gooder myself, I can expect to be invited to attend such meetings on a regular basis. And always, I find myself frustrated by the outcomes : the same insipid (but with well-designed artwork) calls to our publics and networks to support something with an email registration, a signed postcard, a fistful of dollars, a visit to a public meeting of no consequence, or a letter to our democratic representative. No output except maybe some numbers. Numbers to support a government decision, perhaps, or numbers to indicate what kind of messaging people need in future.
I mean, with the Fair Trade campaign, at least there was some kind of real outcome. Trade Justice advocates manned stall tables at churches, local venues, public events, and got money flowing to the international co-operatives, building up the trade, making the projects happen, providing schooling and health and aspirations in the target countries. But compare that to the Make Poverty History campaign which was largely run to support a vain top-level political attempt to garner international funding promises for social, health and economic development. Too big to succeed. No direct line between supporting the campaign and actually supporting the targets. Passing round the hat to developed, industrialised countries for a fund to support change in developing, over-exploited countries just isn’t going to work. Lord Nicholas Stern tried to ask for $100 billion a year by 2020 for Climate Change adaptation. This has skidded to a halt, as far as I know. The economic upheavals, don’t you know ?
And here we are again. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which launched the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports on climate change, oh, so, long, ago, through the person of its most charismatic and approachable Executive Secretary, Christiana Figueres, is calling for support for a global Climate Change treaty in 2015. Elements of this treaty, being drafted this year, will, no doubt, use the policy memes of the past – passing round the titfer begging for a couple of billion squid for poor, hungry people suffering from floods and droughts; proposing some kind of carbon pricing/taxing/trading scheme to conjure accounting bean solutions; trying to implement an agreement around parts per million by volume of atmospheric carbon dioxide; trying to divide the carbon cake between the rich and the poor.
Somehow, we believe, that being united around this proposed treaty, few of which have any control over the contents of, will bring us progress.
What can any of us do to really have input into the building of a viable future ? Christiana – for she is now known frequently only by her first name – has called for numbers – a measure of support for the United Nations process. She has also let it be known that if there is a substantial number of people who, with their organisations, take their investments out of fossil fuels, then this could contribute to the mood of the moment. Those who are advocating divestment are yet small in number, and I fear that they will continue to be marginal, partly because of the language that is being used.
First of all, there are the Carbon Disclosers. Their approach is to conjure a spectre of the “Carbon Bubble” – making a case that investments in carbon dioxide-rich enterprises could well end up being stranded by their assets, either because of wrong assumptions about viable remaining resources of fossil fuels, or because of wrong assumptions about the inability of governments to institute carbon pricing. Well, obviously, governments will find it hard to implement effective carbon pricing, because governments are in bed with the energy industry. Politically, governments need to keep big industry sweet. No surprise there. And it’s in everybody’s interests if Emperor Oil and Prince Regent Natural Gas are still wearing clothes. In the minds of the energy industry, we still have a good four decades of healthy fossil fuel assets. Royal Dutch Shell’s CEO can therefore confidently say at a public AGM that There Is No Carbon Bubble. The Carbon Discloser language is not working, it seems, as any kind of convincer, except to a small core of the concerned.
And then there are the Carbon Voices. These are the people reached by email campaigns who have no real idea how to do anything practical to affect change on carbon dioxide emissions, but they have been touched by the message of the risks of climate change and they want to be seen to be supporting action, although it’s not clear what action will, or indeed can, be taken. Well-designed brochures printed on stiff recycled paper with non-toxic inks will pour through their doors and Inboxes. Tick it. Send it back. Sign it. Send it on. Maybe even send some cash to support the campaign. This language is not achieving anything except guilt.
And then there are the Carbon Divestors. These are extremely small marginal voices who are taking a firm stand on where their organisations invest their capital. The language is utterly dated. The fossil fuel industry are evil, apparently, and investing in fossil fuels is immoral. It is negative campaigning, and I don’t think it stands a chance of making real change. It will not achieve its goal of being prophetic in nature – bearing witness to the future – because of the non-inclusive language. Carbon Voices reached by Carbon Divestor messages will in the main refuse to respond, I feel.
Political action on Climate Change, and by that I mean real action based on solid decisions, often taken by individuals or small groups, has so far been under-the-radar, under-the-counter, much like the Fair Trade campaign was until it burst forth into the glorious day of social acceptability and supermarket supply chains. You have the cyclists, the Transition Towners, the solar power enthusiasts. Yet to get real, significant, economic-scale transition, you need Energy Change – that is, a total transformation of the energy supply and use systems. It’s all very well for a small group of Methodist churches to pull their pension funds from investments in BP and Shell, but it’s another thing entirely to engage BP and Shell in an action plan to diversify out of petroleum oil and Natural Gas.
Here below are my email words in my feeble attempt to challenge the brain of Britain’s charitable campaigns on what exactly is intended for the rallying cry leading up to Paris 2015. I can pretty much guarantee you won’t like it – but you have to remember – I’m not breaking ranks, I’m trying to get beyond the Climate Change campaigning and lobbying that is currently in play, which I regard as ineffective. I don’t expect a miraculous breakthrough in communication, the least I can do is sow the seed of an alternative. I expect I could be dis-invited from the NGO party, but it doesn’t appear to be a really open forum, merely a token consultation to build up energy for a plan already decided. If so, there are probably more important things I could be doing with my time than wasting hours and hours and so much effort on somebody else’s insipid and vapid agenda.
I expect people might find that attitude upsetting. If so, you know, I still love you all, but you need to do better.
A lot of campaigning over the last 30 years has been very negative and divisive, and frequently ends in psychological stalemate. Those who are cast as the Bad Guys cannot respond to the campaigning because they cannot admit to their supporters/employees/shareholders that the campaigners are “right”. Joe Average cannot support a negative campaign as there is no apparent way to make change happen by being so oppositional, and because the ask is too difficult, impractical, insupportable. [Or there is simply too much confusion or cognitive dissonance.]
One of the things that was brought back from the […] working group breakout on […] to the plenary feedback session was that there should be some positive things about this campaign on future-appropriate investment. I think […] mentioned the obvious one of saying effectively “we are backing out of these investments in order to invest in things that are more in line with our values” – with the implicit encouragement for fossil fuel companies to demonstrate that they can be in line with our values and that they are moving towards that. There was some discussion that there are no bulk Good Guy investment funds, that people couldn’t move investments in bulk, although some said there are. […] mentioned Ethex.
Clearly fossil fuel production companies are going to find it hard to switch from oil and gas to renewable electricity, so that’s not a doable we can ask them for. Several large fossil fuel companies, such as BP, have tried doing wind and solar power, but they have either shuttered those business units, or not let them replace their fossil fuel activities.
[…] asked if the [divestment] campaign included a call for CCS – Carbon Capture and Storage – and […] referred to […] which showed where CCS is listed in a box on indicators of a “good” fossil fuel energy company.
I questioned whether the fossil fuel companies really want to do CCS – and that they have simply been waiting for government subsidies or demonstration funds to do it. (And anyway, you can’t do CCS on a car.)
I think I said in the meeting that fossil fuel producer companies can save themselves and save the planet by adopting Renewable Gas – so methods for Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU) or “carbon recycling”. Plus, they could be making low carbon gas by using biomass inputs. Most of the kit they need is already widely installed at petrorefineries. So – they get to keep producing gas and oil, but it’s renewably and sustainably sourced with low net carbon dioxide emissions. That could be turned into a positive, collaborative ask, I reckon, because we could all invest in that, the fossil fuel companies and their shareholders.
Anyway, I hope you did record something urging a call to positive action and positive engagement, because we need the co-operation of the fossil fuel companies to make appropriate levels of change to the energy system. Either that, or they go out of business and we face social turmoil.
If you don’t understand why this is relevant, that’s OK. If you don’t understand why a straight negative campaign is a turn-off to many people (including those in the fossil fuel industry), well, I could role play that with you. If you don’t understand what I’m talking about when I talk about Renewable Gas, come and talk to me about it again in 5 years, when it should be common knowledge. If you don’t understand why I am encouraging positive collaboration, when negative campaigning is so popular and marketable to your core segments, then I will resort to the definition of insanity – which is to keep doing the same things, expecting a different result.
I’m sick and tired of negative campaigning. Isn’t there a more productive thing to be doing ?
There are no enemies. There are no enemies. There are no enemies.
As far as I understand the situation, both the […] and […] campaigns are negative. They don’t appear to offer any positive routes out of the problem that could engage the fossil fuel companies in taking up the baton of Energy Change. If that is indeed the main focus of […] and […] efforts, then I fear they will fail. Their work will simply be a repeat of the negative campaigning of the last 30 years – a small niche group will take up now-digital placards and deploy righteous, holy social media anger, and that will be all.
Since you understand this problem, then I would suggest you could spend more time and trouble helping them to see a new way. You are, after all, a communications expert. And so you know that even Adolf Hitler used positive, convening, gathering techniques of propaganda to create power – and reserved the negative campaigning for easily-marginalised vulnerable groups to pile the bile and blame on.
Have a nicer day,
The important thing as far as I understand it is that the “campaigning” organisations need to offer well-researched alternatives, instead of just complaining about the way things are. And these well-researched alternatives should not just be the token sops flung at the NGOs and UN by the fossil fuel companies. What do I mean ?
Well, let’s take Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). The injection of carbon dioxide into old oil and gas caverns was originally proposed for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) – that is – getting more oil and gas out the ground by pumping gas down there – a bit like fracking, but with gas instead of liquid. The idea was that the expense of CCS would be compensated for by the new production of oil and gas – however, the CCS EOR effect has shown to be only temporary. So now the major oil and gas companies say they support carbon pricing (either by taxation or trading), to make CCS move forward. States and federations have given them money to do it. I think the evidence shows that carbon pricing cannot be implemented at a sufficiently high level to incentivise CCS, therefore CCS is a non-answer. Why has […] not investigated this ? CCS is a meme, but not necessarily part of the carbon dioxide solution. Not even the UNFCCC IPCC reports reckon that much CCS can be done before 2040. So, why does CCS appear in the […] criteria for a “good” fossil fuel company ? Because it’s sufficiently weak as a proposal, and sufficiently far enough ahead that the fossil fuel companies can claim they are “capture ready”, and in the Good Book, but in reality are doing nothing.
Non-starters don’t just appear from fossil fuel companies. From my point of view, another example of running at and latching on to things that cannot help was the support of the GDR – Greenhouse Development Rights, of which there has been severe critique in policy circles, but the NGOs just wrote it into their policy proposals without thinking about it. There is no way that the emissions budgets set out in the GDR policy could ever get put into practice. For a start, there is no real economic reason to divide the world into developing and developed nations (Kyoto [Protocol]’s Annex I and Annex II).
If you give me some links, I’m going to look over your […] and think about it.
I think that if a campaign really wants to get anywhere with fossil fuel companies, instead of being shunted into a siding, it needs to know properly what the zero carbon transition pathways really are. Unequal partners do not make for a productive engagement, I reckon.
I’m sorry to say that this still appears to be negative campaigning – fossil fuel companies are “bad”; and we need to pull our money out of fossil fuel companies and put it in other “good” companies. Where’s the collective, co-operative effort undertaken with the fossil fuel companies ? What’s your proposal for helping to support them in evolving ? Do you know how they can technologically transition from using fossil fuels to non-fossil fuels ? And how are you communicating that with them ?
They call me the “Paradigm Buster”. I’m not sure if “the group” is open to even just peeking into that kind of approach, let alone “exploring” it. The action points on the corporate agenda could so easily slip back into the methods and styles of the past. Identify a suffering group. Build a theory of justice. Demand reparation. Make Poverty History clearly had its victims and its saviours. Climate change, in my view, requires a far different treatment. Polar bears cannot substitute for starving African children. And not even when climate change makes African children starve, can they inspire the kind of action that climate change demands. A boycott campaign without a genuine alternative will only touch a small demographic. Whatever “the group” agrees to do, I want it to succeed, but by rehashing the campaigning strategies and psychology of the past, I fear it will fail. Even by adopting the most recent thinking on change, such as Common Cause, [it] is not going to surmount the difficulties of trying to base calls to action on the basis of us-and-them thinking – polar thinking – the good guys versus the bad guys – the body politic David versus the fossil fuel company Goliath. By challenging this, I risk alienation, but I am bound to adhere to what I see as the truth. Climate change is not like any other disaster, aid or emergency campaign. You can’t just put your money in the [collecting tin] and pray the problem will go away with the help of the right agencies. Complaining about the “Carbon Bubble” and pulling your savings from fossil fuels is not going to re-orient the oil and gas companies. The routes to effective change require a much more comprehensive structure of actions. And far more engagement that agreeing to be a flag waver for whichever Government policy is on the table. I suppose it’s too much to ask to see some representation from the energy industry in “the group”, or at least […] leaders who still believe in the fossil fuel narratives, to take into account their agenda and their perspective, and a readiness to try positive collaborative change with all the relevant stakeholders ?
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Posted on March 15th, 2014 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.
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
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
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
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
I cannot see that a carbon price could be imposed that was more than
5% of the base commodity trade price. At those levels, the carbon
price is just an irritation to pass on to end consumers.
The main problem is that charging for emissions does not alter
investment decisions. Just like fines for pollution do not change the
risks for future pollution. I think that we should stop believing in
negative charging and start backing positive investment in the energy
You write “You have focused on energy, whereas I tend to focus on
total resource.” I assume you mean the infrastructure and trading
systems. My understanding leads me to expect that in the current
continuing economic stress, solutions to the energy crisis will indeed
need to re-use existing plant and infrastructure, which is why I
think that Renewable Gas is a viable option for decarbonising total
energy supply – it slots right in to substitute for Natural Gas.
My way to “eke out every last effective joule from the current
generating stock” is to clean up the fuel, rather than battle
thermodynamics and capture the carbon dioxide that comes out the back
end. Although I also recommend carbon recycling to reduce the need for
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.
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Posted on March 14th, 2014 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 :-
Here’s some background :-
To get some picture of the mess that British green energy policy is in, all you need do is take a glance at Germany and Denmark, where green gas is considered the “third leg of the stool”, stabilising renewable energy supply with easily-stored low carbon gas, to balance out the peaks and troughs in wind power and solar power provision.
Green gas should not be considered a nice-to-have minor addition to the solutions portfolio in my view. The potential to de-carbonise the energy gas supply is huge, and the UK are missing a trick here – the big money is being ladled onto the “incumbents” – the big energy companies who want to carry on burning fossil fuels but sweep their emissions under the North Sea salt cavern carpet with CCS, whilst the beer change is being reluctantly handed out as a guilt offering to people seeking genuinely low carbon energy production.
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Posted on February 27th, 2014 1 comment
I was at a very interesting meeting this morning, entitled “Next Steps for Carbon Capture and Storage in the UK”, hosted by the Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport Forum :-
During the proceedings, there were liberal doses of hints at that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is about to freeze the Carbon Price Floor – the central functioning carbon pricing policy in the UK (since the EU Emissions Trading Scheme “isn’t working”).
All of the more expensive low carbon energy technologies rely on a progressively heavier price for carbon emissions to make their solutions more attractive.
Where does this leave the prospects for Carbon Capture and Storage in the 2030s ? Initial technology-launching subsidies will have been dropped, and the Contracts for Difference will have been ground down into obscurity. So how will CCS keep afloat ? It’s always going to remain more expensive than other technology options to prevent atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions, so it needs some prop.
What CCS needs is some Added Value. It will come partly from EOR – Enhanced Oil Recovery, as pumping carbon dioxide down depleting oil and gas fields will help stimulate a few percent of extra production.
But what will really make the difference is using carbon dioxide to make new fuel. That’s the wonder of Renewable Gas – it will be able to provide a valued product for capturing carbon dioxide.
This wasn’t talked about this morning. The paradigm is still “filter out the CO2 and flush it down a hole”. But it won’t stay that way forever. Sooner or later, somebody’s going to start mining carbon dioxide from CCS projects to make new chemicals and gas fuels. Then, who cares if there’s negative charging for emissions ? Or at what price ? The return on investment in carbon capture will simply bypass assumptions about needing to create a carbon market or set a carbon tax.Academic Freedom, Alchemical, Assets not Liabilities, British Biogas, Carbon Capture, Carbon Commodities, Carbon Pricing, Carbon Recycling, Carbon Taxatious, Corporate Pressure, Cost Effective, Design Matters, Direction of Travel, Dreamworld Economics, Efficiency is King, Emissions Impossible, Energy Revival, Engineering Marvel, Fossilised Fuels, Gamechanger, Gas Storage, Geogingerneering, Green Investment, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Low Carbon Life, National Energy, National Power, Nudge & Budge, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Emissions, Price Control, Realistic Models, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Gas
Posted on February 24th, 2014 No comments
Here is further email exchange with Professor Richard Sears, following on from a previous web log post.
From: Richard A. Sears
Date: 24 February 2014
To: Jo Abbess
Subject: Question from your TED talk
I was looking back over older emails and saw that I had never responded to your note. It arrived as I was headed to MIT to teach for a week and then it got lost. Sorry about that.
Some interesting questions. I don’t know anybody working specifically on wind power to gas options. At one time Shell had a project in Iceland using geothermal to make hydrogen. Don’t know what its status is but if you search on hydrogen and Iceland on the Shell website I’m sure there’s something. If the Germans have power to gas as a real policy option I’d poke around the web for information on who their research partners are for this.
Here are a couple of high level thoughts. Not to discourage you because real progress comes from asking new questions, but there are some physical fundamentals that are important.
Direct air capture of anything using current technology is prohibitively expensive to do at scale for energy. More energy will be expended in capture and synthesis than the fuels would yield.
Gaseous fuels are problematic on their own. Gas doesn’t travel well and is difficult to contain at high energy densities as that means compressing or liquefying it. That doesn’t make anything impossible, but it raises many questions about infrastructure and energy balance. If we take the energy content of a barrel of oil as 1.0, then a barrel of liquefied natural gas is about 0.6, compressed natural gas which is typically at about 3600psi is around 0.3, and a barrel (as a measure of volume equal to 42 US gallons) of natural gas at room temperature and pressure is about 0.0015 (+/-). Also there’s a real challenge in storing and transporting gasses as fuel at scale, particularly motor fuel to replace gasoline and diesel.
While there is some spare wind power potential that doesn’t get utilized because of how the grid must be managed, I expect it is a modest amount of energy compared to what we use today in liquid fuels. I think what that means is that while possible, it’s more likely to happen in niche local markets and applications rather than at national or global scales.
If you haven’t seen it, a nice reference on the potential of various forms of sustainable energy is available free and online here. http://www.withouthotair.com/
Hope some of this helps.
Richard A. Sears
Department of Energy Resources Engineering
From: Jo Abbess
Date: 24 February 2014
To: Richard A. Sears
Many thanks for getting back to me. Responses are nice – even if they
are months late. As they say – better late than never, although with
climate change, late action will definitely be unwise, according to an
increasing number of people.
I have indeed seen the website, and bought and spilled coffee on the
book of Professor David MacKay’s “Sustainable Energy Without The Hot
Air” project. It is legendary. However, I have checked and he has only
covered alternative gas in a couple of paragraphs – in notes. By
contrast, he spent a long chapter discussing how to filter uranium out
of seawater and other nuclear pursuits.
Yet as a colleague of mine, who knows David better than I do, said to
me this morning, his fascination with nuclear power is rather naive,
and his belief in the success of Generation III and Generation IV
lacks evidence. Plus, if we get several large carbon dioxide
sequestration projects working in the UK – Carbon Capture and Storage
(CCS) – such as the Drax pipeline (which other companies will also
join) and the Shell Peterhead demonstration, announced today, then we
won’t need new nuclear power to meet our 4th Carbon Budget – and maybe
not even the 5th, either (to be negotiated in 2016, I hear) :-
We don’t need to bury this carbon, however; we just need to recycle
it. And the number of ways to make Renewable Hydrogen, and
energy-efficiently methanate carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide with
hydrogen, is increasing. People are already making calculations on how
much “curtailed” or spare wind power is likely to be available for
making gas in 10 years’ time, and if solar power in the UK is
cranked/ramped up, then there will be lots of juicy cost-free power
ours for the taking – especially during summer nights.
Direct Air Capture of carbon dioxide is a nonsensical proposition.
Besides being wrong in terms of the arrow of entropy, it also has the
knock-on effect of causing carbon dioxide to come back out of the
ocean to re-equilibrate. I recently read a paper by climate scientists
that estimated that whatever carbon dioxide you take out of the air,
you will need to do almost all of it again.
Instead of uranium, we should be harvesting carbon dioxide from the
oceans, and using it to make gaseous and liquid fuels.
Gaseous fuels and electricity complement each other very well –
particularly in storage and grid balancing terms – there are many
provisions for the twins of gas and power in standards, laws, policies
and elsewhere. Regardless of the limitations of gas, there is a huge
infrastructure already in place that can store, pipe and use it, plus
it is multi-functional – you can make power, heat, other fuels and
chemicals from gas. In addition, you can make gas from a range of
resources and feedstocks and processing streams – the key quartet of
chemical gas species keep turning up : hydrogen, methane, carbon
monoxide and carbon dioxide – whether you are looking at the exhaust
from combustion, Natural Gas, industrial furnace producer gas,
biological decomposition, just about everywhere – the same four gases.
Energy transition must include large amounts of renewable electricity
– because wind and solar power are quick to build yet long nuclear
power lead times might get extended in poor economic conditions. The
sun does not always shine and the wind does not always blow (and the
tide is not always in high flux). Since demand profiles will never be
able to match supply profiles exactly, there will always be spare
power capacity that grids cannot use. So Power to Gas becomes the
optimal solution. At least until there are ways to produce Renewable
Hydrogen at plants that use process heat from other parts of the
Renewable Gas toolkit. So the aims are to recycle carbon dioxide from
gas combustion to make more gas, and recycle gas production process
heat to make hydrogen to use in the gas production process, and make
the whole lot as thermally balanced as possible. Yes. We can do that.
Lower the inputs of fresh carbon of any form, and lower the energy
requirements to make manufactured gas.
I met somebody working with Jacobs who was involved in the Carbon
Recycling project in Iceland. Intriguing, but an order of magnitude
smaller than I think is possible.
ITM Power in the UK are doing a Hydrogen-to-gas-grid and methanation
project in Germany with one of the regions. They have done several
projects with Kiwa and Shell on gas options in Europe. I know of the
existence of feasibility reports on the production of synthetic
methane, but I have not had the opportunity to read them yet…
I feel quite encouraged that Renewable Gas is already happening. It’s
a bit patchy, but it’s inevitable, because the narrative of
unconventional fossil fuels has many flaws. I have been looking at
issues with reserves growth and unconventionals are not really
commensurate with conventional resources. There may be a lot of shale
gas in the ground, but getting it out could be a long process, so
production volumes might never be very good. In the USA you’ve had
lots of shale gas – but that’s only been supported by massive drilling
programmes – is this sustainable ?
BP have just finished building lots of dollars of kit at Whiting to
process sour Natural Gas. If they had installed Renewable Gas kit
instead of the usual acid gas and sulfur processing, they could have
been preparing for the future. As I understand it, it is possible to
methanate carbon dioxide without first removing it from the rest of
the gas it comes in – so methanating sour gas to uprate it is a viable
option as far as I can see. The hydrogen sulfide would still need to
be washed out, but the carbon dioxide needn’t be wasted – it can be
made part of the fuel. And when the sour gas eventually thins out,
those now methanating sour gas can instead start manufacturing gas
from low carbon emissions feedstocks and recycled carbon.
I’m thinking very big.
jo.Academic Freedom, Assets not Liabilities, Baseload is History, Carbon Capture, Carbon Commodities, Carbon Recycling, Climate Change, Climate Damages, Corporate Pressure, Design Matters, Energy Crunch, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Engineering Marvel, Feel Gooder, Gamechanger, Gas Storage, Geogingerneering, Green Power, Hydrogen Economy, Low Carbon Life, Major Shift, Marine Gas, Marvellous Wonderful, Methane Management, Military Invention, National Energy, Nuclear Nuisance, Nuclear Shambles, Optimistic Generation, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Natural Gas, Realistic Models, Renewable Gas, Renewable Resource, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, Stirring Stuff, Technofix, The Power of Intention, The Price of Gas, The Right Chemistry, Transport of Delight, Unconventional Foul, Wasted Resource, Western Hedge, Wind of Fortune, Zero Net
Posted on January 23rd, 2014 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…Academic Freedom, Assets not Liabilities, Be Prepared, Big Picture, British Biogas, Carbon Capture, Carbon Commodities, Carbon Pricing, Carbon Taxatious, Change Management, Climate Change, Corporate Pressure, Cost Effective, Design Matters, Direction of Travel, Energy Autonomy, Energy Change, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Environmental Howzat, Extreme Energy, Extreme Weather, Fossilised Fuels, Fuel Poverty, Gamechanger, Green Investment, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Low Carbon Life, Major Shift, National Energy, Nudge & Budge, Optimistic Generation, Orwells, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Emissions, Peak Energy, Peak Natural Gas, Peak Oil, Price Control, Public Relations, Pure Hollywood, Realistic Models, Renewable Gas, Renewable Resource, Resource Wards, Shale Game, Solution City, Sustainable Deferment, Technofix, Technological Sideshow, The Price of Gas, The Price of Oil, Unconventional Foul, Unnatural Gas, Wasted Resource, Western Hedge
Posted on January 20th, 2014 No comments
A normal, everyday Monday morning at Energy Geek Central. Yes, this is a normal conversation for me to take part in on a Monday morning. Energy geekery at breakfast. Perfect.
Nuclear Flower Power
This whole UK Government nuclear power programme plan is ridiculous ! 75 gigawatts (GW) of Generation III nuclear fission reactors ? What are they thinking ? Britain would need to rapidly ramp up its construction capabilities, and that’s not going to happen, even with the help of the Chinese. (And the Americans are not going to take too kindly to the idea of China getting strongly involved with British energy). And then, we’d need to secure almost a quarter of the world’s remaining reserves of uranium, which hasn’t actually been dug up yet. And to cap it all, we’d need to have 10 more geological disposal repositories for the resulting radioactive spent fuel, and we haven’t even managed to negotiate one yet. That is, unless we can burn a good part of that spent fuel in Generation IV nuclear fission reactors – which haven’t even been properly demonstrated yet ! Talk about unconscionable risk !
Baseload Should Be History By Now, But…
Whatever the technological capability for nuclear power plants to “load follow” and reduce their output in response to a chance in electricity demand, Generation III reactors would not be run as anything except “baseload” – constantly on, and constantly producing a constant amount of power – although they might turn them off in summer for maintenance. You see, the cost of a Generation III reactor and generation kit is in the initial build – so their investors are not going to permit them to run them at low load factors – even if they could.
There are risks to running a nuclear power plant at partial load – mostly to do with potential damage to the actual electricity generation equipment. But what are the technology risks that Hinkley Point C gets built, and all that capital is committed, and then it only runs for a couple of years until all that high burn up fuel crumbles and the reactors start leaking plutonium and they have to shut it down permanently ? Who can guarantee it’s a sound bet ?
If they actually work, running Generation III reactors at constant output as “baseload” will also completely mess with the power market. In all of the scenarios, high nuclear, high non-nuclear, or high fossil fuels with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), there will always need to be some renewables in the mix. In all probability this will be rapidly deployed, highly technologically advanced solar power photovoltaics (PV). The amount of solar power that will be generated will be high in summer, but since you have a significant change in energy demand between summer and winter, you’re going to have a massive excess of electricity generation in summer if you add nuclear baseload to solar. Relative to the demand for energy, you’re going to get more Renewable Energy excess in summer and under-supply in winter (even though you get more offshore wind in winter), so it’s critical how you mix those two into your scenario.
The UK Government’s maximum 75 GW nuclear scenario comprises 55 GW Generation III and 20 GW Generation IV. They could have said 40 GW Gen III to feed Gen IV – the spent fuel from Gen III is needed to kick off Gen IV. Although, if LFTR took off, if they had enough fluoride materials there could be a Thorium way into Gen IV… but this is all so technical, no MP [ Member of Parliament ] is going to get their head round this before 2050.
The UK Government are saying that 16 GW of nuclear by 2030 should be seen as a first tranche, and that it could double or triple by 2040 – that’s one heck of a deployment rate ! If they think they can get 16 GW by 2030 – then triple that by 10 years later ? It’s not going to happen. And even 30 GW would be horrific. But it’s probably more plausible – if they can get 16 GW by 2030, they can arguably get double that by 2040.
As a rule of thumb, you would need around 10 tonnes of fissionable fuel to kickstart a Gen IV reactor. They’ve got 106 tonnes of Plutonium, plus 3 or 4 tonnes they recently acquired – from France or Germany (I forget which). So they could start 11 GW of Gen IV – possibly the PRISM – the Hitachi thing – sodium-cooled. They’ve been trying them since the Year Dot – these Fast Reactors – the Breeders – Dounreay. People are expressing more confidence in them now – “Pandora’s Promise” hangs around the narrative that the Clinton administration stopped research into Fast Reactors – Oak Ridge couldn’t be commercial. Throwing sodium around a core 80 times hotter than current core heats – you can’t throw water at it easily. You need something that can carry more heat out. It’s a high technological risk. But then get some French notable nuclear person saying Gen IV technologies – “they’re on the way and they can be done”.
Radioactive Waste Disposal Woes
The point being is – if you’re commissioning 30 GW of Gen III in the belief that Gen IV will be developed – then you are setting yourself up to be a hostage to technological fortune. That is a real ethical consideration. Because if you can’t burn the waste fuel from Gen III, you’re left with up to 10 radioactive waste repositories required when you can’t even get one at the moment. The default position is that radioactive spent nuclear fuel will be left at the power stations where they’re created. Typically, nuclear power plants are built on the coast as they need a lot of cooling water. If you are going for 30 GW you will need a load of new sites – possibly somewhere round the South East of England. This is where climate change comes in – rising sea levels, increased storm surge, dissolving, sinking, washed-away beaches, more extreme storms […] The default spent fuel scenario with numerous coastal decommissioned sites with radioactive interim stores which contain nearly half the current legacy radioactive waste […]
Based on the figures from the new Greenpeace report, I calculate that the added radioactive waste and radioactive spent fuel arisings from a programme of 16 GW of nuclear new build would be 244 million Terabequerel (TBq), compared to the legacy level of 87 million TBq.
The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) are due to publish their Radioactive Waste Inventory and their Report on Radioactive Materials not in the Waste Inventory at the end of January 2014. We need to keep a watch out for that, because they may have adapted their anticipated Minimum and Maxmium Derived Inventory.
Politics Is Living In The Past
What you hear from politicians is they’re still talking about “baseload”, as if they’ve just found the Holy Grail of Energy Policy. And failed nuclear power. Then tidal. And barrages. This is all in the past. Stuff they’ve either read – in an article in a magazine at the dentist’s surgery waiting room, and they think, alright I’ll use that in a TV programme I’ve been invited to speak on, like Question Time. I think that perhaps, to change the direction of the argument, we might need to rubbish their contribution. A technological society needs to be talking about gasification, catalysis. If you regard yourselves as educated, and have a technological society – your way of living in the future is not only in manufacturing but also ideas – you need to be talking about this not that : low carbon gas fuels, not nuclear power. Ministers and senior civil servants probably suffer from poor briefing – or no briefing. They are relying on what is literally hearsay – informal discussions, or journalists effectively representing industrial interests. Newspapers are full of rubbish and it circulates, like gyres in the oceans. Just circulates around and around – full of rubbish.
I think part of the problem is that the politicians and chief civil servants and ministers are briefed by the “Old Guard” – very often the ex-nuclear power industry guard. They still believe in big construction projects, with long lead times and massive capital investment, whereas Renewable Electricity is racing ahead, piecemeal, and private investors are desperate to get their money into wind power and solar power because the returns are almost immediate and risk-free.
Together in Electric Dreams
Question : Why are the UK Government ploughing on with plans for so much nuclear power ?
1. They believe that a lot of transport and heat can be made to go electric.
2. They think they can use spent nuclear fuel in new reactors.
3. They think it will be cheaper than everything else.
4. They say it’s vital for UK Energy Security – for emissions reductions, for cost, and for baseload. The big three – always the stated aim of energy policy, and they think nuclear ticks all those three boxes. But it doesn’t.
What they’ll say is, yes, you have to import uranium, but you’ve got a 4 year stock. Any war you’re going to get yourselves involved in you can probably resolve in 4 days, or 4 weeks. If you go for a very high nuclear scenario, you would be taking quite a big share of the global resource of uranium. There’s 2,600 TWh of nuclear being produced globally. And global final energy demand is around 100,000 TWh – so nuclear power currently produces around 2.6% of global energy supply. At current rates of nuclear generation, according to the World Nuclear Association, you’ve got around 80 years of proven reserves and probably a bit more. Let’s say you double nuclear output by 2050 or 2040 – but in the same time you might just have enough uranium – and then find a bit more. But global energy demand rises significantly as well – so nuclear will still only provide around 3% of global energy demand. That’s not a climate solution – it’s just an energy distraction. All this guff about fusion. Well.
Cornering The Market In Undug Uranium
A 75 GW programme would produce at baseload 590 TWh a year – divide by 2,600 – is about 23% of proven global uranium reserves. You’re having to import, regardless of what other countries are doing, you’re trying to corner the market – roughly a quarter. Not even a quarter of the market – a quarter of all known reserves – it’s not all been produced yet. It’s still in the ground. So could you be sure that you could actually run these power stations if you build them ? Without global domination of the New British Empire […]. The security issues alone – defending coastal targets from a tweeb with a desire to blow them up. 50 years down the line they’re full of radioactive spent fuel that won’t have a repository to go to – we don’t want one here – and how much is it going to cost ?
My view is that offshore wind will be a major contributor in a high or 100% Renewable Electricity scenario by 2050 or 2060. Maybe 180 GW, that will also be around 600 TWh a year – comparable to that maximum nuclear programme. DECC’s final energy demand 2050 – several scenarios – final energy demand from 6 scenarios came out as between roughly 1,500 TWh a year and the maximum 2,500 TWh. Broadly speaking, if you’re trying to do that just with Renewable Electricity, you begin to struggle quite honestly, unless you’re doing over 600 TWh of offshore wind, and even then you need a fair amount of heat pump stuff which I’m not sure will come through. The good news is that solar might – because of the cost and technology breakthroughs. That brings with it a problem – because you’re delivering a lot of that energy in summer. The other point – David MacKay would say – in his book his estimate was 150 TWh from solar by 2050, on the grounds that that’s where you south-facing roofs are – you need to use higher efficiency triple junction cells with more than 40% efficiency and this would be too expensive for a rollout which would double or triple that 150 TWh – that would be too costly – because those cells are too costly. But with this new stuff, you might get that. Not only the cost goes down, but the coverage goes down. Not doing solar across swathes of countryside. There have always been two issues with solar power – cost and where it’s being deployed.
Uh-Oh, Summer Days. Uh-Oh, Summer Nights
With the solar-wind headline, summer days and summer nights are an issue.
With the nuclear headline, 2040 – they would have up to 50 GW, and that would need to run at somewhere between 75% and 95% capacity – to protect the investment and electric generation turbines.
It will be interesting to provide some figures – this is how much over-capacity you’re likely to get with this amount of offshore wind. But if you have this amount of nuclear power, you’ll get this amount […]
Energy demand is strongly variable with season. We have to consider not just power, but heat – you need to get that energy out in winter – up to 4 times as much during peak in winter evenings. How are you going to do that ? You need gas – or you need extensive Combined Heat and Power (CHP) (which needs gas). Or you need an unimaginable deployment of domestic heat pumps. Air source heat pumps won’t work at the time you need them most. Ground source heat pumps would require the digging up of Britain – and you can’t do that in most urban settings.
District Heat Fields
The other way to get heat out to everyone in a low carbon world – apart from low carbon gas – is having a field-based ground source heat pump scheme – just dig up a field next to a city – and just put in pipes and boreholes in a field. You’re not disturbing anybody. You could even grow crops on it next season. Low cost and large scale – but would need a District Heating (DH) network. There are one or two heat pump schemes around the world. Not sure if they are used for cooling in summer or heat extraction in the winter. The other thing is hot water underground. Put in an extra pipe in the normal channels to domestic dwellings. Any excess heat from power generation or electrolysis or whatever is put down this loop and heats the sub-ground. Because heat travels about 1 metre a month in soil, that heat should be retained for winter. A ground source heat sink. Geothermal energy could come through – they’re doing a scheme in Manchester. If there’s a nearby heat district network – it makes it easier. Just want to tee it into the nearest DH system. The urban heat demand is 150 TWh a year. You might be able to put DH out to suburban areas as well. There are 9 million gas-connected suburban homes – another about 150 TWh there as well – or a bit more maybe. Might get to dispose of 300 TWh in heat through DH. The Green Deal insulation gains might not be what is claimed – and condensing gas boiler efficiencies are not that great – which feeds into the argument that in terms of energy efficiency, you not only want to do insulation, but also DH – or low carbon gas. Which is the most cost-effective ? Could argue reasonable energy efficiency measures are cheapest – but DH might be a better bet. That involves a lot of digging.
Gas Is The Logical Answer
But everything’s already laid for gas. (…but from the greatest efficiency first perspective, if you’re not doing DH, you’re not using a lot of Renewable Heat you could otherwise use […] )
The best package would be the use of low carbon gases and sufficient DH to use Renewable Heat where it is available – such as desalination, electrolysis or other energy plant. It depends where the electrolysis is being done.
The Age of Your Carbon
It also depends on which carbon atoms you’re using. If you are recycling carbon from the combustion of fossil fuels into Renewable Gas, that’s OK. But you can’t easily recapture carbon emissions from the built environment (although you could effectively do that with heat storage). You can’t do carbon capture from transport either. So your low carbon gas has to come from biogenic molecules. Your Renewable Gas has to be synthesised using biogenic carbon molecules rather than fossil ones.
[…] I’m using the phrase “Young Carbon”. Young Carbon doesn’t have to be from plants – biological things that grow.
Well, there’s Direct Air Capture (DAC). It’s simple. David Sevier, London-based, is working on this. He’s using heat to capture carbon dioxide. You could do it from exhaust in a chimney or a gasification process – or force a load of air through a space. He would use heat and cooling to create an updraft. It would enable the “beyond capture” problem to be circumvented. Cost is non-competitive. Can be done technically. Using reject heat from power stations for the energy to do it. People don’t realise you can use a lot of heat to capture carbon, not electricity.
Young Carbon from Seawater
If you’re playing around with large amounts of seawater anyway – that is, for desalination for irrigation, why not also do Renewable Hydrogen, and pluck the Carbon Dioxide out of there too to react with the Renewable Hydrogen to make Renewable Methane ? I’m talking about very large amounts of seawater. Not “Seawater Greenhouses” – condensation designs mainly for growing exotic food. If you want large amounts of desalinated water – and you’re using Concentrated Solar Power – for irrigating deserts – you would want to grow things like cacti for biological carbon.
Say you had 40 GW of wind power on Dogger Bank, spinning at 40% load factor a year. You’ve also got electrolysers there. Any time you’re not powering the grid, you’re making gas – so capturing carbon dioxide from seawater, splitting water for hydrogen, making methane gas. Wouldn’t you want to use flash desalination first to get cleaner water for electrolysis ? Straight seawater electrolysis is also being done.
It depends on the relative quantities of gas concentrated in the seawater. If you’ve got oxygen, hydrogen and carbon dioxide, that would be nice. You might get loads of oxygen and hydrogen, and only poor quantities of carbon dioxide ?
But if you could get hydrogen production going from spare wind power. And even if you had to pipe the carbon dioxide from conventional thermal power plants, you’re starting to look at a sea-based solution for gas production. Using seawater, though, chlorine is the problem […]
Look at the relative density of molecules – that sort of calculation that will show if this is going to fly. Carbon dioxide is a very fixed, stable molecule – it’s at about the bottom of the energy potential well – you have to get that reaction energy from somewhere.
How Much Spare Power Will There Be ?
If you’ve got an offshore wind and solar system. At night, obviously, the solar’s not working (unless new cells are built that can run on infrared night-time Earthshine). But you could still have 100 GWh of wind power at night not used for the power grid. The anticipated new nuclear 40 GW nuclear by 2030 will produce about 140 GWh – this would just complicate problems – adding baseload nuclear to a renewables-inclusive scenario. 40 GW is arguably a reasonable deployment of wind power by 2030 – low if anything.
You get less wind in a nuclear-inclusive scenario, but the upshot is you’ve definitely got a lot of power to deal with on a summer night with nuclear power. You do have with Renewable Electricity as well, but it varies more. Whichever route we take we’re likely to end up with excess electricity generation on summer nights.
In a 70 GW wind power deployment (50 GW offshore, 20 GW onshore – 160 TWh a year), you might have something like 50 to 100 GWh per night of excess (might get up to 150 GWh to store on a windy night). But if you have a 16 GW nuclear deployment by 2030 (125 TWh a year), you are definitely going to have 140 GWh of excess per night (that’s 16 GW for 10 hours less a bit). Night time by the way is roughly between 9pm and 7am between peak demands.
We could be making a lot of Renewable Gas !
Can you build enough Renewable Gas or whatever to soak up this excess nuclear or wind power ?
The energy mix is likely to be in reality somewhere in between these two extremes of high nuclear or high wind.
But if you develop a lot of solar – so that it knocks out nuclear power – it will be the summer day excess that’s most significant. And that’s what Germany is experiencing now.
Choices, choices, choices
There is a big choice in fossil fuels which isn’t really talked about very often – whether the oil and gas industry should go for unconventional fossil fuels, or attempt to make use of the remaining conventional resources that have a lower quality. The unconventionals narrative – shale gas, coalbed methane, methane hydrates, deepwater gas, Arctic oil and gas, heavy oil, is running out of steam as it becomes clear that some of these choices are expensive, and environmentally damaging (besides their climate change impact). So the option will be making use of gas with high acid gas composition. And the technological solutions for this will be the same as needed to start major production of Renewable Gas.
But you still need to answer the balancing question. If you have a high nuclear power scenario, you need maybe 50 TWh a year of gas-fired power generation. If high Renewable Electricity, you will need something like 100 TWh of gas, so you need Carbon Capture and Storage – or low carbon gas.
Even then, the gas power plants could be running only 30% of the year, and so you will need capacity payments to make sure new flexible plants get built and stay available for use.
If you have a high nuclear scenario, coupled with gas, you can meet the carbon budget – but it will squeeze out Renewable Electricity. If high in renewables, you need Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) or Carbon Capture and Recycling into Renewable Gas, but this would rule out nuclear power. It depends which sector joins up with which.
Carbon Capture, Carbon Budget
Can the Drax power plant – with maybe one pipeline 24 inches in diameter, carrying away 20 megatonnes of carbon dioxide per year – can it meet the UK’s Carbon Budget target ?Acid Ocean, Assets not Liabilities, Baseload is History, Be Prepared, Big Number, Big Picture, Biofools, British Biogas, British Sea Power, Carbon Capture, Carbon Recycling, China Syndrome, Climate Change, Climate Chaos, Climate Damages, Coal Hell, Design Matters, Direction of Travel, Disturbing Trends, Efficiency is King, Electrificandum, Energy Autonomy, Energy Calculation, Energy Crunch, Energy Denial, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Engineering Marvel, Environmental Howzat, Extreme Energy, Extreme Weather, Fair Balance, Feel Gooder, Fossilised Fuels, Freshwater Stress, Gamechanger, Gas Storage, Green Investment, Green Power, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Hydrogen Economy, Insulation, Low Carbon Life, Major Shift, Marine Gas, Marvellous Wonderful, Methane Management, Military Invention, National Energy, National Power, Nuclear Nuisance, Nuclear Shambles, Optimistic Generation, Peak Emissions, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Realistic Models, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Gas, Resource Curse, Resource Wards, Shale Game, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, The Power of Intention, The Right Chemistry, Transport of Delight, Unconventional Foul, Ungreen Development, Unnatural Gas, Utter Futility, Vain Hope, Wind of Fortune
Posted on October 16th, 2013 No comments
I listened to an interesting mix of myth, mystery and magic on BBC Radio 4.
Myths included the notion that long-term, nuclear power would be cheap; that “alternative” energy technologies are expensive (well, nuclear power is, but true renewables are most certainly not); and the idea that burning biomass to create heat to create steam to turn turbines to generate electricity is an acceptably efficient use of biomass (it is not).
Biofuelwatch are hosting a public meeting on this very subject :-
“A Burning Issue – biomass and its impacts on forests and communities”
Tuesday, 29th October 2013, 7-9pm
Lumen Centre, London (close to St Pancras train station)
Lumen Centre, 88 Tavistock Place, London WC1H 9RS
Interesting hints in the interviews I thought pointed to the idea that maybe, just maybe, some electricity generation capacity should be wholly owned by the Government – since the country is paying for it one way or another. A socialist model for gas-fired generation capacity that’s used as backup to wind and solar power ? Now there’s an interesting idea…
“Mind the Gap”
Channel: BBC Radio 4
Series: Costing the Earth
Presenter: Tom Heap
First broadcast: Tuesday 15th October 2013
Programme Notes :
“Our energy needs are growing as our energy supply dwindles.
Renewables have not come online quickly enough and we are increasingly
reliant on expensive imported gas or cheap but dirty coal. Last year
the UK burnt 50% more coal than in previous years but this helped
reverse years of steadily declining carbon dioxide emissions. By 2015
6 coal fired power stations will close and the cost of burning coal
will increase hugely due to the introduction of the carbon price
floor. Shale gas and biomass have been suggested as quick and easy
solutions but are they really sustainable, or cheap?”
“Carbon Capture and Storage could make coal or gas cleaner and a new
study suggests that with CCS bio energy could even decrease global
warming. Yet CCS has stalled in the UK and the rest of Europe and the
debate about the green credentials of biomass is intensifying. So what
is really the best answer to Britain’s energy needs? Tom Heap
00:44 – 00:48
[ Channel anchor ]
Britain’s energy needs are top of the agenda in “Costing the Earth”…
[ Channel anchor ]
…this week on “Costing the Earth”, Tom Heap is asking if our
ambitions to go green are being lost to the more immediate fear of
blackouts and brownouts.
[ Music : Arcade Fire – “Neighbourhood 3 (Power Out)” ]
[ Tom Heap ]
Energy is suddenly big news – central to politics and the economy. The
countdown has started towards the imminent shutdown of many coal-fired
power stations, but the timetable to build their replacements has
It’ll cost a lot, we’ll have to pay, and the politicians are reluctant
to lay out the bill. But both the official regulator and industry are
warning that a crunch is coming.
So in this week’s “Costing the Earth”, we ask if the goal of clean,
green and affordable energy is being lost to a much darker reality.
[ Historical recordings ]
“The lights have started going out in the West Country : Bristol,
Exeter and Plymouth have all had their first power cuts this
“One of the biggest effects of the cuts was on traffic, because with
the traffic lights out of commission, major jams have built up,
particularly in the town centres. One of the oddest sights I saw is a
couple of ladies coming out of a hairdressers with towels around their
heads because the dryers weren’t working.”
“Television closes down at 10.30 [ pm ], and although the cinemas are
carrying on more or less normally, some London theatres have had to
“The various [ gas ] boards on both sides of the Pennines admit to
being taken by surprise with today’s cold spell which brought about
“And now the major scandal sweeping the front pages of the papers this
morning, the advertisement by the South Eastern Gas Board recommending
that to save fuel, couples should share their bath.”
[ Caller ]
“I shall write to my local gas board and say don’t do it in
Birmingham. It might be alright for the trendy South, but we don’t
want it in Birmingham.”
[ Tom Heap ]
That was 1974.
Some things have changed today – maybe a more liberal attitude to
sharing the tub. But some things remain the same – an absence of
coal-fired electricity – threatening a blackout.
Back then it was strikes by miners. Now it’s old age of the power
plants, combined with an EU Directive obliging them to cut their
sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions by 2016, or close.
Some coal burners are avoiding the switch off by substituting wood;
and mothballed gas stations are also on standby.
But Dieter Helm, Professor of Energy Policy at the University of
Oxford, now believes power cuts are likely.
[ Dieter Helm ]
Well, if we take the numbers produced by the key responsible bodies,
they predict that there’s a chance that by the winter of 2-15 [sic,
meaning 2015] 2-16 [sic, meaning 2016], the gap between the demand for
electricity and the supply could be as low as 2%.
And it turns out that those forecasts are based on extremely
optimistic assumptions about how far demand will fall in that period
(that the “Green Deal” will work, and so on) and that we won’t have
much economic growth.
So basically we are on course for a very serious energy crunch by the
winter of 2-15 [sic, meaning 2015] 2-16 [sic, meaning 2016], almost
regardless of what happens now, because nobody can build any power
stations between now and then.
It’s sort of one of those slow motion car crashes – you see the whole
symptoms of it, and people have been messing around reforming markets
and so on, without addressing what’s immediately in front of them.
[ Tom Heap ]
And that’s where you think we are now ?
[ Dieter Helm ]
I think there’s every risk of doing so.
Fortunately, the [ General ] Election is a year and a half away, and
there’s many opportunities for all the political parties to get real
about two things : get real about the energy crunch in 2-15 [sic,
meaning 2015] 2-16 [sic, meaning 2016] and how they’re going to handle
it; and get real about creating the incentives to decarbonise our
electricity system, and deal with the serious environmental and
security and competitive issues which our electricity system faces.
And this is a massive investment requirement [ in ] electricity : all
those old stations retiring [ originally built ] back from the 1970s –
they’re all going to be gone.
Most of the nuclear power stations are coming to the end of their lives.
We need a really big investment programme. And if you really want an
investment programme, you have to sit down and work out how you’re
going to incentivise people to do that building.
[ Tom Heap ]
If we want a new energy infrastructure based on renewables and
carbon-free alternatives, then now is the time to put those incentives
on the table.
The problem is that no-one seems to want to make the necessary
investment, least of all the “Big Six” energy companies, who are
already under pressure about high bills.
[ “Big Six” are : British Gas / Centrica, EdF Energy (Electricite
de France), E.On UK, RWE npower, Scottish Power and SSE ]
Sam Peacock of the energy company SSE [ Scottish and Southern Energy ]
gives the commercial proof of Dieter’s prediction.
If energy generators can’t make money out of generating energy,
they’ll be reluctant to do it.
[ Sam Peacock ]
Ofgem, the energy regulator, has looked at this in a lot of detail,
and said that around 2015, 2016, things start to get tighter. The
reason for this is European Directives, [ is [ a ] ] closing down some
of the old coal plants. And also the current poor economics around [
or surround [ -ing ] ] both existing plant and potential new plant.
So, at the moment it’s very, very difficult to make money out of a gas
plant, or invest in a new one. So this leads to there being, you know,
something of a crunch point around 2015, 2016, and Ofgem’s analysis
looks pretty sensible to us.
[ Tom Heap ]
And Sam Peacock lays the blame for this crisis firmly at the Government’s door.
[ Sam Peacock ]
The trilemma, as they call it – of decarbonisation, security of supply
and affordability – is being stretched, because the Government’s
moving us more towards cleaner technologies, which…which are more
However, if you were to take the costs of, you know, the extra costs
of developing these technologies off government [ sic, meaning
customer ] bills and into general taxation, you could knock about over
£100 off customer bills today, it’ll be bigger in the future, and you
can still get that much-needed investment going.
So, we think you can square the circle, but it’s going to take a
little bit of policy movement [ and ] it’s going to take shifting some
of those costs off customers and actually back where the policymakers
should be controlling them.
[ KLAXON ! Does he mean controlled energy prices ? That sounds a bit
centrally managed economy to me… ]
[ Tom Heap ]
No surprise that a power company would want to shift the pain of
rising energy costs from their bills to the tax bill.
But neither the Government nor the Opposition are actually proposing this.
Who pays the premium for expensve new energy sources is becoming like
a game of pass the toxic parcel.
[ Reference : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hot_potato_%28game%29 ]
I asked the [ UK Government Department of ] Energy and Climate Change
Secretary, Ed Davey, how much new money is required between now and
[ Ed Davey ]
About £110 billion – er, that’s critical to replace a lot of the coal
power stations that are closing, the nuclear power stations that are [
at the ] end of their lives, and replace a lot of the network which
has come to the end of its life, too.
So it’s a huge, massive investment task.
[ Tom Heap ]
So in the end we’re going to have to foot the bill for the £110 billion ?
[ Ed Davey ]
Yeah. Of course. That’s what happens now. People, in their bills that
they pay now, are paying for the network costs of investments made
several years, even several decades ago.
[ Yes – we’re still paying through our national nose to dispose of
radioactive waste and decommission old nuclear reactors. The liability
of it all weighs heavily on the country’s neck… ]
And there’s no escaping that – we’ve got to keep the lights on – we’ve
got to keep the country powered.
You have to look at both sides of the equation. If we’re helping
people make their homes more inefficient [ sic, meaning energy
efficient ], their product appliances more efficient, we’re doing
everything we possibly can to try to help the bills be kept down,
while we’re having to make these big investments to keep the lights
on, and to make sure that we don’t cook the planet, as you say.
[ Tom Heap ]
You mention the lights going out. There are predictions that we’re
headed towards just 2% of spare capacity in the system in a few years’
Are you worried about the dangers of, I don’t know, maybe not lights
going out for some people, but perhaps big energy users being told
when and when [ sic, meaning where ] they can’t use power in the
[ Ed Davey ]
Well, there’s no doubt that as the coal power stations come offline,
and the nuclear power plants, er, close, we’re going to have make sure
that new power plants are coming on to replace them.
And if we don’t, there will be a problem with energy security.
Now we’ve been working very hard over a long time now to make sure we
attract that investment. We’ve been working with Ofgem, the regulator;
with National Grid, and we’re…
[ Tom Heap ]
…Being [ or it’s being ] tough. I don’t see companies racing to come
and fill in the gap here and those coal power plants are going off
[ Ed Davey ]
…we’re actually having record levels of energy investment in the country.
The problem was for 13 years under the last Government
[ same old, same old Coalition argument ] we saw low levels of investment
in energy, and we’re having to race to catch up, but fortunately we’re
winning that race. And we’re seeing, you know, billions of pounds
invested but we’ve still got to do more. We’re not there. I’m not
pretending we’re there yet. [ Are we there, yet ? ] But we do have the
policies in place.
So, Ofgem is currently consulting on a set of proposals which will
enable it to have reserve power to switch on at the peak if it’s
We’re, we’ve, bringing forward proposals in the Energy Bill for what’s
called a Capacity Market, so we can auction to get that extra capacity
So we’ve got the policies in place.
[ Tom Heap ]
Some of Ed Davey’s policies, not least the LibDem [ Liberal Democrat
Party ] U-turn on nuclear, have been guided by DECC [ Department of
Energy and Climate Change ] Chief Scientist David MacKay, author of
the influential book “Renewable Energy without the Hot Air” [ sic,
actually “Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air” ].
Does he think the lights will dim in the second half of this decade ?
[ David MacKay ]
I don’t think there’s going to be any problem maintaining the capacity
that we need. We just need to make clear where Electricity Market
Reform [ EMR, part of the Energy Bill ] is going, and the way in which
we will be maintaining capacity.
[ Tom Heap ]
But I don’t quite understand that, because it seems to me, you know,
some of those big coal-fired power stations are going to be going off.
What’s going to be coming in their place ?
[ David MacKay ]
Well, the biggest number of power stations that’s been built in the
last few years are gas power stations, and we just need a few more gas
power stations like that, to replace the coal, and hopefully some
nuclear power stations will be coming on the bars, as well as the wind
farms that are being built at the moment.
[ Tom Heap ]
And you’re happy with that increase in gas-fired power stations, are
you ? I mean, you do care deeply, personally, about reducing our
greenhouse gases, and yet you’re saying we’re going to have to build
more gas-fired power stations.
[ David MacKay ]
I do. Even in many of the pathways that reach the 2050 target, there’s
still a role for gas in the long-term, because some power sources like
wind and solar power are intermittent, so if you want to be keeping
the lights on in 2050 when there’s no wind and there’s no sun, you’re
going to need some gas power stations there. Maybe not operating so
much of the time as they do today, but there’ll still be a role in
keeping the lights on.
[ KLAXON ! If gas plants are used only for peak periods or for backup to
renewables, then the carbon emissions will be much less than if they are
running all the time. ]
[ Tom Heap ]
Many energy experts though doubt that enough new wind power or nuclear
capacity could be built fast enough to affect the sums in a big way by
But that isn’t the only critical date looming over our energy system.
Even more challenging, though more distant, is the legally binding
objective of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in 2050.
David MacKay wants that certainty to provide the foundation for energy
decisions, and he showed me the effect of different choices with the
“Ultimate Future Energy App”. I was in his office, but anyone can try it online.
[ David MacKay ]
It’s a 2050 calculator. It computes energy demand and supply in
response to your choices, and it computes multiple consequences of
your choices. It computes carbon consequences. It also computes for
you estimates of air quality, consequences of different choices;
security of supply, consequences; and the costs of your choices.
So with this 2050 calculator, it’s an open source tool, and anyone can
go on the web and use the levers to imagine different futures in 2050
of how much action we’ve taken in different demand sectors and in
different supply sectors.
The calculator has many visualisations of the pathway that you’re choosing
and helps people understand all the trade-offs… There’s no silver
bullet for any of this. If I dial up a pathway someone made earlier,
we can visualise the implications in terms of the area occupied for
the onshore wind farms, and the area in the sea for the offshore wind
farms, and the length of the wave farms that you’ve built, and the
land area required for energy crops.
And many organisations have used this tool and some of them have given
us their preferred pathway. So you can see here the Friends of the
Earth have got their chosen pathway, the Campaign to Protect Rural
England, and various engineers like National Grid and Atkins have got
So you can see alternative ways of achieving our targets, of keeping
the lights on and taking climate change action. All of those pathways
all meet the 2050 target, but they do so with different mixes.
[ Tom Heap ]
And your view of this is you sort of can’t escape from the scientific
logic and rigour of it. You might wish things were different or you
could do it differently, but you’re sort of saying “Look, it’s either
one thing or the other”. That’s the point of this.
[ David MacKay ]
That’s true. You can’t be anti-everything. You can’t be anti-wind and
anti-nuclear and anti-home insulation. You won’t end up with a plan
that adds up.
[ KLAXON ! But you can be rationally against one or two things, like
expensive new nuclear power, and carbon and particulate emissions-heavy
biomass for the generation of electricity. ]
[ Tom Heap ]
But isn’t that exactly kind of the problem that we’ve had, without
pointing political fingers, that people rather have been
anti-everything, and that’s why we’re sort of not producing enough new
energy sources ?
[ David MacKay ]
Yeah. The majority of the British public I think are in favour of many
of these sources, but there are strong minorities who are vocally
opposed to every one of the major levers in this calculator. So one
aspiration I have for this tool is it may help those people come to a
position where they have a view that’s actually consistent with the
goal of keeping the lights on.
[ Tom Heap ]
Professor MacKay’s calculator also computes pounds and pence,
suggesting that both high and low carbon electricity work out pricey
in the end.
[ David MacKay ]
The total costs of all the pathways are pretty much the same.
“Business as Usual” is cheaper in the early years, and then pays more,
because on the “Business as Usual”, you carry on using fossil fuels,
and the prices of those fossil fuels are probably going to go up.
All of the pathways that take climate change action have a similar
total cost, but they pay more in the early years, ’cause you have to
pay for things like building insulation and power stations, like
nuclear power stations, or wind power, which cost up-front, but then
they’re very cheap to run in the future.
[ KLAXON ! Will the cost of decommissioning nuclear reactors and the
costs of the waste disposal be cheap ? I think not… ]
So the totals over the 40 or 50 year period here, are much the same for these.
[ Tom Heap ]
The cheapest immediate option of all is to keep shovelling the coal.
And last year coal overtook gas to be our biggest electricity
generation source, pushing up overall carbon emissions along the way
[ KLAXON ! This is not very good for energy security – look where the
coal comes from… ]
As we heard earlier, most coal-fired power stations are scheduled for
termination, but some have won a reprieve, and trees are their
Burning plenty of wood chip [ actually, Tom, it’s not wood “chip”, it’s
wood “pellets” – which often have other things mixed in with the wood,
like coal… ] allows coal furnaces to cut the sulphur dioxide and nitrous
oxide belching from their chimneys to below the level that requires their
closure under European law.
But some enthusiasts see wood being good for even more.
[ Outside ]
It’s one of those Autumn days that promises to be warm, but currently
is rather moist. I’m in a field surrounded by those dew-laden cobwebs
you get at this time of year.
But in the middle of this field is a plantation of willow. And I’m at
Rothamsted Research with Angela Karp who’s one of the directors here.
Angela, tell me about this willow I’m standing in front of here. I
mean, it’s about ten foot high or so, but what are you seeing ?
[ Angela Karp ]
Well, I’m seeing one of our better varieties that’s on display here.
We have a demonstration trial of about ten different varieties. This
is a good one, because it produces a lot of biomass, quite easily,
without a lot of additional fertilisers or anything. And as you can
see it’s got lovely straight stems. It’s got many stems, and at the
end of three years, we would harvest all those stems to get the
biomass from it. It’s nice and straight – it’s a lovely-looking, it’s
got no disease, no insects on it, very nice, clean willow.
[ Tom Heap ]
So, what you’ve been working on here as I understand it is trying to
create is the perfect willow – the most fuel for the least input – and
the easiest to harvest.
[ Angela Karp ]
That’s absolutely correct, because the whole reason for growing these
crops is to get the carbon from the atmosphere into the wood, and to
use that wood as a replacement for fossil fuels. Without putting a lot
of inputs in, because as soon as you add fertilisers you’re using
energy and carbon to make them, and that kind of defeats the whole
purpose of doing this.
[ KLAXON ! You don’t need to use fossil fuel energy or petrochemicals or
anything with carbon emissions to make fertiliser ! … Hang on, these
are GM trees, right ? So they will need inputs… ]
[ Tom Heap ]
And how much better do you think your new super-variety is, than say,
what was around, you know, 10 or 15 years ago. ‘Cause willow as an
idea for burning has been around for a bit. How much of an improvement
is this one here ?
[ Angela Karp ]
Quite a bit. So, these are actually are some of the, if you like,
middle-term varieties. So we started off yielding about 8 oven-dry
tonnes per hectare, and now we’ve almost doubled that.
[ Tom Heap ]
How big a place do you think biomass can have in the UK’s energy
picture in the future ?
[ Angela Karp ]
I think that it could contribute between 10% and 15% of our energy. If
we were to cultivate willows on 1 million hectares, we would probably
provide about 3% to 4% of energy in terms of electricity, and I think
that’s kind of a baseline figure. We could cultivate them on up to 3
million hectares, so you can multiply things up, and we could use them
in a much more energy-efficient way.
[ KLAXON ! Is that 4% of total energy or 4% of total electricity ?
[ Tom Heap ]
Do we really have 3 million hectares going a-begging for planting willow in ?
[ Angela Karp ]
Actually, surprisingly we do. So, people have this kind of myth
there’s not enough land, but just look around you and you will find
there’s lots of land that’s not used for cultivating food crops.
We don’t see them taking over the whole country. We see them being
grown synergistically with food crops.
[ KLAXON ! This is a bit different than the statement made in 2009. ]
[ Tom Heap ]
But I’d just like to dig down a little bit more into the carbon cycle
of the combustion of these things, because that’s been the recent
criticism of burning a lot of biomass, is that you put an early spike
in the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, if you start burning a lot
of biomass, because this [ sounds of rustling ], this plant is going
to be turned into, well, partly, CO2 in the atmosphere.
[ Angela Karp ]
Yes, I think that’s probably a simple and not totally correct way of
looking at it. ‘Cause a lot depends on the actual conversion process
you are using.
So some conversion processes are much more efficient at taking
everything and converting it into what you want.
Heat for example is in excess of 80%, 90% conversion efficiency.
Electricity is a little bit more of the problem. And there, what
they’re looking at is capturing some of the carbon that you lose, and
converting that back in, in carbon storage processes, and that’s why
there’s a lot of talk now about carbon storage from these power
That I think is the future. It’s a question of connecting up all parts
of the process, and making sure that’s nothing wasted.
[ Tom Heap ]
So, is wood a desirable greener fuel ?
Not according to Almuth Ernsting of Biofuelwatch, who objects to the
current plans for large-scale wood burning, its use to prop up coal,
and even its low carbon claims.
[ Almuth Ernsting ]
The currently-announced industry plans, and by that I mean existing
power stations, but far more so, power stations which are in the
planning process [ and ] many of which have already been consented –
those [ biomass ] power stations, would, if they all go ahead,
require to burn around 82 million tonnes of biomass, primarily wood,
every year. Now by comparison, the UK in total only produces around
10 million tonnes, so one eighth of that amount, in wood, for all
industries and purposes, every year.
We are looking on the one hand at a significant number of proposed,
and in some cases, under-construction or operating new-build biomass
power stations, but the largest single investment so far going into
the conversion of coal power station units to biomass, the largest and
most advanced one of which at the moment is Drax, who are, have
started to move towards converting half their capacity to burning wood
[ Tom Heap ]
Drax is that huge former, or still currently, coal-fired power station
in Yorkshire, isn’t it ?
[ Almuth Ernsting ]
Right, and they still want to keep burning coal as well. I mean, their
long-term vision, as they’ve announced, would be for 50:50 coal and
[ Tom Heap ]
What do you think about that potential growth ?
[ Almuth Ernsting ]
Well, we’re seriously concerned. We believe it’s seriously bad news
for climate change, it’s seriously bad news for forests, and it’s
really bad news for communities, especially in the Global South, who
are at risk of losing their land for further expansion of monoculture
tree plantations, to in future supply new power stations in the UK.
A really large amount, increasingly so, of the wood being burned,
comes from slow-growing, whole trees that are cut down for that
purpose, especially at the moment in temperate forests in North
America. Now those trees will take many, many decades to grow back
and potentially re-absorb that carbon dioxide, that’s if they’re
allowed and able to ever grow back.
[ Tom Heap ]
There’s another technology desperate for investment, which is critical
to avoiding power failure, whilst still hitting our mid-century carbon
reduction goals – CCS – Carbon Capture and Storage, the ability to
take the greenhouse gases from the chimney and bury them underground.
It’s especially useful for biomass and coal, with their relatively
high carbon emissions, but would also help gas be greener.
The Chancellor has approved 30 new gas-fired power stations, so long
as they are CCS-ready [ sic, should be “capture ready”, or
“carbon capture ready” ].
Jon Gibbons is the boss of the UK CCS Research Centre, based in an
industrial estate in Sheffield.
[ Noise of processing plant ]
Jon’s just brought me up a sort of 3D maze of galvanized steel and
shiny metal pipes to the top of a tower that must be 20 or so metres
Jon, what is this ?
[ Jon Gibbons ]
OK, so this is our capture unit, to take the CO2 out of the combustion
products from gas or coal. In the building behind us, in the test rigs
we’ve got, the gas turbine or the combustor rig, we’re burning coal or
gas, or oil, but mainly coal or gas.
We’re taking the combustion products through the green pipe over
there, bringing it into the bottom of the unit, and then you can see
these big tall columns we’ve got, about 18 inches diameter, half a
metre diameter, coming all the way up from the ground up to the level
It goes into one of those, it gets washed clean with water, and it
goes into this unit over here, and there it meets an amine solvent, a
chemical that will react reversibly with CO2, coming in the opposite
direction, over packing. So, it’s like sort of pebbles, if you can
imagine it, there’s a lot of surface area. The gas flows up, the
liquid flows down, and it picks up the CO2, just mainly the CO2.
[ Tom Heap ]
And that amine, that chemical as you call it, is stripping the CO2 out
of that exhaust gas. This will link to a storage facility.
What would then happen to the CO2 ?
[ Jon Gibbons ]
What would then happen is that the CO2 would be compressed up to
somewhere in excess of about 100 atmospheres. And it would turn from
being a gas into something that looks like a liquid, like water, about
the same density as water. And then it would be taken offshore in the
UK, probably tens or hundreds of kilometres offshore, and it would go
deep, deep down, over a kilometre down into the ground, and basically
get squeezed into stuff that looks like solid rock. If you go and look
at a sandstone building – looks solid, but actually, maybe a third of
it is little holes. And underground, where you’ve got cubic kilometres
of space, those little holes add up to an awful lot of free space. And
the CO2 gets squeezed into those, over time, and it spreads out, and
it just basically sits there forever, dissolves in the water, reacts
with the rocks, and will stay there for millions of years.
[ Tom Heap ]
Back in his office, I asked Jon why CCS seemed to be stuck in the lab.
[ Jon Gibbons ]
We’re doing enough I think on the research side, but what we really
need to do, is to do work on a full-scale deployment. Because you
can’t work on research in a vacuum. You need to get feedback –
learning by doing – from actual real projects.
And a lot of the problems we’ve got on delivering CCS, are to do with
how you handle the regulation for injecting CO2, and again, you can
only do that in real life.
So what we need to do is to see the commercialisation projects that
are being run by the Department of Energy and Climate Change actually
going through to real projects that can be delivered.
[ Tom Heap ]
Hmm. When I talk to engineers, they’re always very passionate and
actually quite optimistic about Carbon Capture and Storage. And when
I talk to people in industry, or indeed read the headlines, not least
a recent cancellation in Norway, it always seems like a very bleak picture.
[ Jon Gibbons ]
I think people are recognising that it’s getting quite hard to get
money for low carbon technologies.
So – recent presentation we had at one of our centre meetings, was
actually a professor from the United States, Howard Herzog. And he
said “You think you’re seeing a crisis in Carbon Capture and Storage.
But what you’re actually seeing is a crisis in climate change
[ KLAXON ! Priming us for a scaling back of commitment to the
Climate Change Act ? I do hope not. ]
Now, Carbon Capture and Storage, you do for no other purpose than
cutting CO2 emissions to the atmosphere, and it does that extremely
effectively. It’s an essential technology for cutting emissions. But
until you’ve got a global process that says – actually we’re going to
get on top of this problem; we’re going to cut emissions – get them to
safe level before we actually see people dying in large numbers from
climate change effects – ’cause, certainly, if people start dying,
then we will see a response – but ideally, you’d like to do it before
then. But until you get that going, then actually persuading people to
spend money for no other benefit than sorting out the climate is
There’s just no point, you know, no country can go it alone, so you
have to get accommodation. And there, we’re going through various
processes to debate that. Maybe people will come to an accommodation.
Maybe the USA and China will agree to tackle climate change. Maybe
What I am fairly confident is that you won’t see huge, you know,
really big cuts in CO2 emissions without that global agreement. But
I’m also confident that you won’t see big cuts in CO2 emissions
without CCS deployment.
And my guess is there’s about a 50:50 chance that we do CCS before we
need to, and about a 50:50 chance we do it after we have to. But I’m
pretty damn certain we’re going to do it.
[ Tom Heap ]
But we can’t wait for a global agreement that’s already been decades
in the making, with still no end in sight.
We need decisions now to provide more power with less pollution.
[ Music lyrics : “What’s the plan ? What’s the plan ?” ]
[ Tom Heap ]
Dieter Helm, Professor of Energy Policy at the University of Oxford
believes we can only deliver our plentiful green energy future if we
abandon our attitude of buy-now pay-later.
[ KLAXON ! Does he mean a kind of hire purchase energy economy ?
I mean, we’re still paying for nuclear electricity from decades ago,
in our bills, and through our taxes to the Department of Energy and
Climate Change. ]
[ Dieter Helm ]
There’s a short-term requirement and a long-term requirement. The
short-term requirement is that we’re now in a real pickle. We face
this energy crunch. We’ve got to try to make the best of what we’ve
got. And I think it’s really like, you know, trying to get the
Spitfires back up again during the Battle of Britain. You know, you
patch and mend. You need somebody in command. You need someone
in control. And you do the best with what you’ve got.
In that context, we then have to really stand back and say, “And this
is what we have to do to get a serious, long-term, continuous, stable
investment environment, going forward.” In which, you know, we pay the
costs, but of course, not any monopoly profits, not any excess
profits, but we have a world in which the price of electricity is
related to the cost.”
[ KLAXON ! Is Dieter Helm proposing state ownership of energy plant ? ]
[ Programme anchor ]
“Costing the Earth” was presented by Tom Heap, and made in Bristol by
[ Next broadcast : 16th October 2013, 21:00, BBC Radio 4 ]Assets not Liabilities, Big Number, Big Picture, Big Society, Biofools, Biomess, British Sea Power, Burning Money, Carbon Army, Carbon Capture, Carbon Pricing, Change Management, Climate Change, Climate Chaos, Climate Damages, Coal Hell, Conflict of Interest, Corporate Pressure, Cost Effective, Dead End, Dead Zone, Demoticratica, Design Matters, Direction of Travel, Disturbing Trends, Dreamworld Economics, Efficiency is King, Electrificandum, Emissions Impossible, Energy Autonomy, Energy Change, Energy Denial, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Energy Socialism, Engineering Marvel, Environmental Howzat, Food Insecurity, Forestkillers, Fossilised Fuels, Genetic Modification, Geogingerneering, Green Investment, Green Power, Growth Paradigm, Health Impacts, Hide the Incline, Human Nurture, Incalculable Disaster, Insulation, Major Shift, Mass Propaganda, Media, Money Sings, National Energy, National Power, Neverending Disaster, No Pressure, Nuclear Nuisance, Nuclear Shambles, Optimistic Generation, Peak Coal, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Price Control, Protest & Survive, Public Relations, Realistic Models, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Resource, Resource Curse, Resource Wards, Solution City, Technofix, Technological Fallacy, Technological Sideshow, Technomess, The Price of Gas, The Price of Oil, The War on Error, Tree Family, Ungreen Development, Western Hedge, Wind of Fortune
Posted on July 12th, 2013 1 commentAssets not Liabilities, Be Prepared, Behaviour Changeling, Big Number, Big Picture, Big Society, Burning Money, Carbon Capture, Carbon Commodities, Carbon Pricing, Carbon Rationing, Carbon Taxatious, Change Management, Climate Change, Coal Hell, Contraction & Convergence, Cost Effective, Dead End, Demoticratica, Direction of Travel, Disturbing Trends, Dreamworld Economics, Eating & Drinking, Efficiency is King, Electrificandum, Energy Autonomy, Energy Change, Energy Denial, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Extreme Energy, Feed the World, Financiers of the Apocalypse, Freemarketeering, Fuel Poverty, Gamechanger, Green Investment, Green Power, Growth Paradigm, Human Nurture, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Incalculable Disaster, Insulation, Low Carbon Life, Major Shift, Money Sings, National Energy, National Power, National Socialism, Nuclear Nuisance, Nuclear Shambles, Nudge & Budge, Optimistic Generation, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Energy, Peak Natural Gas, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Price Control, Regulatory Ultimatum, Solution City, Stirring Stuff, Sustainable Deferment, The Price of Gas, Ungreen Development, Voluntary Behaviour Change
Posted on June 3rd, 2013 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…Academic Freedom, Advertise Freely, Assets not Liabilities, Bait & Switch, Be Prepared, Big Picture, Biofools, Burning Money, Carbon Capture, Change Management, Climate Change, Climate Chaos, Climate Damages, Contraction & Convergence, Corporate Pressure, Cost Effective, Delay and Deny, Design Matters, Direction of Travel, Divide & Rule, Drive Train, Efficiency is King, Emissions Impossible, Energy Autonomy, Energy Change, Energy Denial, Energy Disenfranchisement, Energy Insecurity, Engineering Marvel, Environmental Howzat, Financiers of the Apocalypse, Fossilised Fuels, Freemarketeering, Fuel Poverty, Green Investment, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Hydrogen Economy, Incalculable Disaster, Low Carbon Life, Major Shift, Marine Gas, Mass Propaganda, Money Sings, Near-Natural Disaster, Neverending Disaster, No Pressure, Nudge & Budge, Oil Change, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Emissions, Peak Energy, Peak Natural Gas, Peak Oil, Petrolheads, Protest & Survive, Public Relations, Pure Hollywood, Renewable Gas, Social Change, Social Democracy, Technofix, Technological Sideshow, The Science of Communitagion, Toxic Hazard, Unconventional Foul, Ungreen Development, Unnatural Gas
Posted on February 26th, 2013 1 comment
As rumours and genuine information leak from central sources about the policy instruments and fiscal measures that will be signed into the United Kingdom’s Energy Bill, the subsidy support likely to be made available to new nuclear power is really straining credibility from my point of view. I am even more on the “incredulous” end of the spectrum of faith in the UK Government’s Energy Policy than I ever was before.
The national demand for electrical power is pretty constant, with annual variations of only a few percent. It was therefore easy to project that there could be a “power cliff” when supply would be curtailed from coal-fired generation under European legislation :-
The pat answer to how we should “Keep the Lights On” has been to wave the new nuclear fission reactor card. Look ! Shiny new toys. Keep us in power for yonks ! And hidden a little behind this fan of aces and jokers, a get-out-of-jail free card from the Coal monopoly – Carbon Capture and Storage or CCS. Buy into this, and we could have hundreds more years of clean power from coal, by pumping nasty carbon dioxide under the sea bed.
Now, here’s where the answers are just plain wrong : new nuclear power cannot be brought into the National Grid before the early 2020s at the very earliest. And options for CCS are still in the balance, being weighed and vetted, and very unlikely to clean up much of the black stuff until well past 2025.
When put through my best onboard guesstimiser, I came up with the above little graph in answer to the question : how soon can the UK build new power generation ? Since our “energy cliff” is likely to be in one of the winters of 2015 or 2016, and we’re not sure other countries we import from will have spare capacity, we have little option but to increase Natural Gas-fired power generation and go hell-for-leather with the wind and solar power deployment.
So no – it’s of no use promising to pay the new nuclear reactor bearer the sum of 40 or more years of subsidy in the form of guaranteed price for power under the scheme known as Contracts for Difference – they still won’t be delivering anything to cope with the “power drain” of the next few years. If this is written into the Electricity Market Reform, we could justifiably say this would destroy competition, and destroy any market, too, and be “central planning” by any other name – this level of subsidy is not exactly “technology-neutral” !
And offering the so-called Capacity Mechanism – a kind of top-up payment to keep old nuclear reactors running, warts and all – when really they should be decommissioned as they are reaching the end of their safe lives, is not a good option, in my book.
Offering the Capacity Mechanism to those who build new gas-fired power plant does make sense, however. If offshore wind power continues with its current trajectory and hits the big time in the next few years, and people want the cheap wind power instead of the gas, and the gas stations will be feeling they can’t run all the time, then the Capacity Mechanism will be vital to make sure the gas plant does get built to back up the wind power, and stays available to use on cold, still nights in February.
Oh, people may complain about the idea of new “unabated” gas power plants, and insist they should be fitted with carbon capture, but new gas plants won’t run all the time in future, because renewable electricity generation will be cheaper, so forcing gas plant owners to pay for CCS seems like overkill to me. And, anyway, we will be decarbonising the gas supply, as we develop supplies of Renewable Gas.
I say forget the nuclear option – build the gas !Assets not Liabilities, Be Prepared, Big Number, Big Picture, British Biogas, Burning Money, Carbon Capture, Change Management, Coal Hell, Corporate Pressure, Demoticratica, Design Matters, Dreamworld Economics, Energy Change, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Energy Socialism, Green Power, Low Carbon Life, National Energy, National Power, Nuclear Nuisance, Nuclear Shambles, Optimistic Generation, Peak Coal, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Gas, Renewable Resource, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, The Power of Intention, The Price of Gas, Wind of Fortune
Posted on January 31st, 2013 No comments
Forget capturing carbon, the key test of the usefulness of the United Kingdom’s upcoming Energy Bill will be whether it’s designed to be “hydrogen ready”.
It is almost certain that there will be a second “dash for gas” – that Britain will sanction and possibly underwrite a new fleet of gas-fired power stations. Those who wield modelling software are insistent that this will break the carbon bank – that new “unabated” gas plants will prevent the UK reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.
The proposed solution technology – to be fitted to both coal-fired and gas-fired power plants, is known as Carbon Capture and Storage or CCS.
The British Labour Party are pushing for the Energy Bill to enshrine CCS on all new gas-fired power plants after 2020, in order to meet the carbon targets set out in the 2008 Climate Change Act.
“The Labour Party has put itself on a fresh collision course with the Government over its dash-for-gas policy, proposing that after 2020 all new, gas-fired power plants be forced to install technology to reduce their carbon emissions that will double the cost of the electricity they produce … Dr Robert Gross, director of Imperial College’s centre for energy policy and technology, said: “I welcome Labour’s sentiment on CCS. It’s saying that if you want new, gas-fired power plants, then that’s fine, but you have to make it consistent with emissions targets.” … Bloomberg New Energy Finance calculated that fitting CCS to new gas-fired power plants would add up to £200m to the building cost, doubling the price of the electricity…”
Although I have met a number of people who believe that widespread CCS is not only desirable, but viable, the carbon capture capability of Britain has not yet been proven – particularly whether CCS can be made marketable, as it is likely to be costly.
CCS is just a way to make carbon dioxide “disappear” – in most designs by pumping it underground. It is a caveat – it permits the energy industry to plan to continue to burn fossil fuels. It is not entirely clear if it can ever be secure or cheap enough to meet the UK’s plans. Just one leak from a carbon dioxide storage cavern, and the whole programme would be rendered irrelevant.
However, even if CCS becomes law, there is another clause that should be inserted into the Energy Bill, and I was discussing this with some industry players at Portcullis House, Westminster yesterday evening.
If European plans for low carbon, renewable gas production take off, what will matter for new gas-fired power plants is if they are flexible enough to combust a range of gases with varying chemical composition and energy density.
Deploying suitable flexible gas turbines is likely to happen – but for another reason. The UK is rapidly advancing with the capacity and supply of wind power, and solar power. Like Germany, pretty soon there will be so much spare, unused wind and solar power, that it will be sensible to consider using it, rather than shedding the load, particularly at night.
An excellent way to make use of spare and “stranded” wind and solar power, and balance the power grid at the same time, is to make gas when people don’t need power, and burn gas when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining. Gas can back up variability in wind and solar power. But for gas-fired power plants to be able to “follow” wind and solar power and fill in the generation gaps, the power stations need to be highly flexible – something that new gas turbines can provide.
From now on, as an increasing amount of the gas the nation burns for backup will need to be Renewable Gas, a range of green gas streams that include Renewable Hydrogen, the new gas power plants that are built must utilise flexible gas turbines.
Of note – there are several plans for Carbon Capture and Storage on power plants that use a gasification technique to separate the carbon from the fuel before burning it – and the end result is gas that is high in hydrogen. This “incidental” production of hydrogen could become a useful addition to the country’s Renewable Gas stocks.
Posted on December 12th, 2012 No comments
Science journalism sometimes make me sigh out loud, and if you caught me reading it, you might see me visibly deflate, sinking into my padded commuter train seat with a look of anger-changes-nothing what’s-the-point despair painted across my empty sadface.
This time the source of my resignation and defeat is the magazine. I present you an article from issue 2894 of 10 December 2012, written by Bob Holmes, cleverly entitled “Less Than Zero”, with part of the O in Zero rubbed out as a design device to catch the eye (it does). The online version has the headline “Biofuel that’s better than carbon neutral”, with the subhead, “The race is on to create a biofuel that sucks carbon out of the sky and locks it away where it can’t warm the planet”
Why should the prospect of carbon-sequestrating vehicle fuel leave me so unexcited and underwhelmed ? Because of the fudges.
Fudge #1 : Carbon dioxide concentration levels
“The green sludge burbles away quietly in its tangle of tubes in the Spanish desert. Soaking up sunshine and carbon dioxide from a nearby factory, it grows quickly. Every day, workers skim off some sludge and take it away to be transformed into oil…”
This first paragraph is about algae being grown using concentrated industrial carbon dioxide from a nearby cement factory. The second paragraph confuses algae oil production using high levels of carbon dioxide with growing biomass in normal air with normal levels of carbon dioxide :-
“Indeed, this is no ordinary oil. It belongs to a magical class of “carbon negative” fuels, ones that take carbon out of the atmosphere and lock it away for good. The basic idea is fairly simple. You grow plants, in this case algae, which naturally draw CO2 from the atmosphere. After you extract the oil, you’re left with a residue that holds a substantial portion of the carbon…”
Let’s get this straight – the algal oil production of the first paragraph does not belong to “a magical class of “carbon negative” fuels…that naturally draw CO2 from the atmosphere.” In the first paragraph, the algae is being grown using industrial concentrations of carbon dioxide, not atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide.
Fudge #2 : Net carbon dioxide emissions
The algal biodiesel oil being produced in the first paragraph depends for its growth on carbon dioxide that would have been vented to the atmosphere from a “carbon positive” process – in other words, from a process that is a source of net greenhouse gas emissions to air. The algae grown using this diverted carbon dioxide will only temporarily capture this carbon dioxide – as (most of it) will be released again when it’s burned as fuel.
There is no way that the algal biodiesel oil mentioned in the first paragraph can be “carbon negative”.
Confirmation of this comes later on in the article, when actual representative numbers are used :-
“…Bio Fuel Systems, (BFS) a small company in Alicante, Spain, that uses cyanobacteria to make its “Blue Petroleum”…The numbers given to New Scientist by BFS president Bernard Stroiazzo illustrate the fraction of carbon that can be trapped by the process. To make a single barrel of oil, the algae suck a little over 2 tonnes of CO2 from the smokestack of the cement works. Not all of that stays out of the atmosphere, though. The algal cultures need regular mixing, which takes energy, as does supplying fertiliser and creating the oil through a patented process involving high heat and pressure. All the fossil fuels needed for these processes release about 700 kilogrammes of CO2. Burning the oil itself – in car engines, say – emits another 450 kg. The rest of the carbon – the equivalent of about 900 kg of CO2 – stays in the leftovers, an inorganic carbonate sludge that can be buried or mixed into concrete. “That will never go back in the atmosphere,” says Stroiazzo…”
So, let’s unpack that.
a. The cement works emits 2,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide that is captured for the algae growing process. These would have been direct greenhouse gas emissions to air had they not been diverted. So at this point we are 2,000 kg “carbon negative”.
b. Supplying fertiliser (which may or may not include accounting for manufacturing and transporting fertiliser) and making the oil through their patented pyrolysis (high heat and pressure) technique, causes 700 kg of carbon dioxide emissions (not to mention the carbon embedded in the equipment required). The numbers do not specify whether other kinds of greenhouse gas emissions are implicated, so let’s just stick with carbon dioxide. Subtacting this from the previous number makes us 1,300 kg “carbon negative”.
c. Burning the oil in engines releases another 450 kg of carbon dioxide. That makes us 850 kg “carbon negative”. Apparently this is “the equivalent of about 900 kg of CO2″, which is in the “leftovers”, which can be buried or used in hardcore or surfacing material.
So, a total of 2,000 + 700 + 450 = 3,150 kg of carbon dioxide is emitted, and only, say, 900 kg of carbon dioxide is sequestered. That’s around 29% of the total of the emissions, and at first glance, that looks rather good, but it disguises something. The 700 kg of emissions that were caused by the processing of the algal biofuel were unnecessary, and only 900 kg of the carbon dioxide is left sequestered at the end. That’s not a very good trade-off. In fact, that’s a very poor efficiency of overall carbon capture.
Fudge #3 : Dependency on industrial sources of concentrated carbon emissions and heat
And none of this would work without a source of concentrated carbon dioxide. “A few companies are developing technologies to extract and concentrate CO2 from the air. Global Thermostat, based in New York, has patented a process that uses chemicals and low-temperature waste heat – about 90 °C – to capture CO2 from a stream of air. Its pilot plant has been operating near San Francisco for more than a year, and a second is on the way, says co-founder Graciela Chichilnisky. The company has already signed an agreement to supply its technology to Algae Systems and is in talks with several other algal biofuel companies, she says.”
From the Global Thermostat website, under the heading “Exclusive Benefits”, “Highly flexible location – GT technology can be located anywhere – the only inputs needed are heat and air”. What this actually means is that the DAC (direct air capture) system being developed can only operate on the back end of an industrial facility. So this “GT technology” is only parasitical.
Fudge #4 : Not addressing the problem at the source
In the final paragraph of this article, Bob Holmes writes, “Since we can’t seem to keep the CO2 from entering the atmosphere, we’re left with only two ways to avoid trouble. We could embark on grand geoengineering schemes to cool the planet, all of which bring huge risks of unintended consequences (New Scientist, 22 September, p 30). Or we could try to pull some of the CO2 back out of the atmosphere, one car trip at a time…”
I would challenge him on that statement “…we can’t seem to keep the CO2 from entering the atmosphere…”. The alternatives are rather poor in terms of efficiency and potential harmful side effects. In all of this article there is no attempt to address whether all the carbon dioxide and heat coming from the industrial facility, and the transportation that requires low carbon fuels, are “necessary” in the first place – if consumer demand, globalised trading patterns and industrial processes were streamlined, the global economy could reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and waste heat output without the need for inefficient tinkering.
Fudge #5 : Progress is not as good as it seems
“…To date, the research facility has produced only a few thousand litres of fuel. However, a pilot plant – bankrolled by investors including Google, BP and GE – will start operation near Los Angeles this month… Cool Planet’s results are encouraging…”Even if carbon-negative biofuels turns out to be just a bit player, they will have done at least a little to reduced carbon emissions.”…”
Ah…BP. The oil and gas giant that distracted us away from their highly polluting hydrocarbon fuel production by setting up a solar power business.
It’s just more greenwash.
Posted on October 26th, 2012 No comments
There’s good renewable energy and poorly-choiced renewable energy. Converting coal-burning power stations to burn wood is Double Plus Bad – it’s genuiunely unsustainable in the long-term to plan to combust the Earth’s boreal forests just to generate electricity. This idea definitely needs incinerating.
Gaynor Hartnell, chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association recently said, “Right now the government seems to have an institutional bias against new biomass power projects.” And do you know, from my point of view, that’s a very fine thing.
Exactly how locally-sourced would the fuel be ? The now seemingly abandoned plan to put in place a number of new biomass burning plants would rely on wood chip from across the Atlantic Ocean. That’s a plan that has a number of holes in it from the point of view of the ability to sustain this operation into the future. Plus, it’s not very efficient to transport biomass halfway across the world.
And there’s more to the efficiency question. We shouldn’t be burning premium wood biomass. Trees should be left standing if at all possible – or used in permanent construction – or buried so that they don’t decompose – if new trees need to be grown. Rather than burning good wood that could have been used for carbon sequestration, it would be much better, if we have to resort to using wood as fuel, to gasify wood waste and other wood by-products in combination with other fuels, such as excavated landfill, food waste and old rubber tyres.
Co-gasifying of mixed fuels and waste would allow cheap Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) or Carbon Capture and (Re)Utilisation (CCU) options – and so if we have to top up the gasifiers with coal sometimes, at least it wouldn’t be leaking greenhouse gas to the atmosphere.
No, we shouldn’t swap out burning coal for incinerating wood, either completely or co-firing with coal. We should build up different ways to produce Renewable Gas, including the gasification of mixed fuels and waste, if we need fuels to store for later combustion. Which we will, to back up Renewable Electricity from wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower and marine resources – and Renewable Gas will be exceptionally useful for making renewable vehicle fuels.
Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage : the wrong way :-
Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage : the right way :-
“The potential ability of gasifiers to accept a wider range of biomass feedstocks than biological routes. Thermochemical routes can use lignocellulosic (woody) feedstocks, and wastes, which cannot be converted by current biofuel production technologies. The resource availability of these feedstocks is very large compared with potential resource for current biofuels feedstocks. Many of these feedstocks are also lower cost than current biofuel feedstocks, with some even having negative costs (gate fees) for their use…”
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Posted on October 7th, 2012 No comments
A fully renewable energy future is not only possible, it is inevitable.
We need to maximise the roll out of wind and solar renewable electricity systems, and at the same time fully develop marine, geothermal and hydropower energy, and of course, energy storage.
We need strong energy conservation and energy efficiency directives to be enacted in every state, sector and region.
But we need to get from here to there. It requires the application of personal energy from all – from governments, from industry, from society.
In arguing for focus on the development of Renewable Gas, which I believe can and will be a bridge from here to a fully renewable energy future, I am making an appeal to those who view themselves as environmentalists, and also an appeal to those who view themselves as part of the energy industry.
Those who cast themselves as the “good guys”, those who want to protect the environment from the ravages of the energy industry, have for decades set themselves in opposition, politically and socially, to those in the energy production and supply sectors, and this has created a wall of negativity, a block to progress in many areas.
I would ask you to accept the situation we find ourselves in – even those who live off-grid and who have very low personal energy and material consumption – we are all dependent on the energy industry – we have a massive fossil fuel infrastructure, and companies that wield immense political power, and this cannot be changed overnight by some revolutionary activity, or by pulling public theatrical stunts.
It definitely cannot be changed by accusation, finger-pointing and blame. We are not going to wake up tomorrow in a zero carbon world. There needs to be a transition – there needs to be a vision and a will. Instead of a depressive, negative, cynical assessment of today that erects and maintains barriers to co-operation, we need optimistic, positive understanding.
In the past there has been naievety – and some environmentalists have been taken in by public relations greenwash. This is not that. The kind of propaganda used to maintain market share for the energy industry continues to prevent and poison good communications and trust. I no more believe in the magic snuff of the shale gas “game changer” than I believe in the existence of goblins and fairies. The shine on the nuclear “renaissance” wore off ever before it was buffed up. And the hopeless dream of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) becoming a global-scale solution for carbon emissions is about as realistic to me as the geoengineering described in Tolkein’s “The Lord of the Rings”.
Nuclear power and CCS are actually about mining and concrete construction – they’re not energy or climate solutions. I’m not taken in by token gestures of a small slice of wind or solar power or the promise of a segment of biofuels from large oil and gas companies. Public relations and lobbying are the lowest form of faked, usurping power – but simply attacking brands will fail to make real change. I think honesty, realism and pragmatism are the way forward – and there is nothing more practical than pushing for Renewable Gas to back up the accelerated deployment of renewable electricity to its fullest scale.
My appeal to those in control of energy provision is – to see through the fog to the unstoppable. State support, both political and financial, of new energy technologies and infrastructure has to be a short- to medium-term goal – because of the volatility of the economy, and the demands of your shareholders. The need to build public support for new energy means that we the citizens must all be offered the opportunity to own energy – and so that means building a common purpose between the energy sector and society – and that purpose must be Zero Carbon.
There is and will continue to be a porous border between the energy industry and governments – energy is a social utility of high political value. However, the privilege and access that this provides should not automatically mean that the energy industry can plunder public coffers for their own profit. What contribution can the energy industry make to society – apart from the provision of energy at cost – in addition to the subsidies ? Energy, being so vital to the economy, will mean that the energy sector will continue to survive, but it has to change its shape.
You can dance around the facts, but climate change is hitting home, and there is no point in continuing to be in denial about Peak Oil, Peak Coal and Peak Natural Gas. These are genuine risks, not only to the planet, or its people, but also your business plans. We need to be using less energy overall, and less carbon energy within the eventual envelope of energy consumption. So the energy sector needs to move away from maximising sales of energy to optimising sales of energy services and selling low carbon energy systems, power and fuels.
You would be wrong to dismiss me as an “eco warrior” – I’m an engineer – and I’ve always believed in co-operation, expertise, professionalism, technology and industrial prowess. What impresses me is low carbon energy deployment and zero carbon energy research. Progress is in evidence, and it is showing the way to the future. Realistically speaking, in 20 years’ time, nobody will be able to dismiss the risks and threats of climate change and energy insecurity – the evidence accumulates. We, the zero carbon visionaries, are not going to stop talking about this and acting on it – as time goes by, the reasons for all to engage with these issues will increase, regardless of efforts to distract.
Nothing is perfect. I no more believe in a green utopia than I do in unicorns. But without reacting to climate change and energy insecurity, the stock market will not carry you, even though the governments must for the mean time, until clean and green energy engineering and service organisations rise up to replace you. Lobbying for pretences will ultimately fail – fail not only governments or peoples, but you. You, the energy industry, must start acting for the long-term or you will be ousted. As your CEOs retire, younger heads will fill leadership shoes – and younger minds know and accept the perils of climate change and energy insecurity.
This is the evolution, not revolution. It is time to publicly admit that you do know that economically recoverable fossil fuels are limited, and that climate change is as dangerous to your business models as it is to human settlements and the biosphere. Admit it in a way that points to a sustainable future – for you and the climate. The pollution of economically borderline unconventional fuels is wrong and avoidable – what we need are renewable energies, energy conservation and energy efficiency. One without the others is not enough.
How can your business succeed ? In selling renewable energy, energy conservation and energy efficiency. You have to sell the management of energy. You have to be genuinely “world class” and show us how. No more spills, blowouts and emissions. No more tokenistic sponsorship of arts, culture and sports. The veneer of respectability is wearing thin.
As an engineer, I understand the problems of system management – all things within the boundary wall need to be considered and dealt with. One thing is certain, however. Everything is within the walls. And that means that all must change.
http://houstonfeldenkrais.com/tag/cross-motivation/ “…Of course, the money would be great. But adding in the reward/punishment dimension is a sure way to sabotage brilliant performance. Moshe Feldenkrais observed that when one is striving to meet an externally imposed goal, the spine shortens, muscles tense, and the body (and mind) actually works against itself. He called this “cross motivation,” and it occurs when one forsakes one’s internal truth to maintain external equilibrium. There are lots of examples of this: the child stops doing what she’s doing because of the fear of losing parental approval, love, protection. The employee cooks the books to keep his job. The candidate delivers the sound bite, and dies a little inside. Feldenkrais attributed most of our human mental and physical difficulties to the problem of cross motivation. If you watch Michael Phelps swim, you can’t help but notice that he makes it look easy. He is clearly strong and powerful, but all of his strength and power are focused on moving him through the water with the greatest speed and efficiency. There’s no wasted effort, no struggle, no straining. He is free of cross-motivation! Would straining make him faster? Of course not. Unnecessary muscular effort would make him less buoyant, less mobile, less flexible. Will dangling a million dollars at the finish line make him swim faster? Probably just the opposite, unless Michael Phelps has some great inner resources to draw upon. The young Mr. Phelps has already learned how to tune out a lot of the hype. He’ll need to rely on “the cultivation of detachment,” the ability to care without caring…”Academic Freedom, Assets not Liabilities, Big Picture, Big Society, Carbon Capture, Climate Change, Climate Chaos, Climate Damages, Corporate Pressure, Delay and Deny, Demoticratica, Direction of Travel, Divide & Rule, Dreamworld Economics, Efficiency is King, Emissions Impossible, Energy Autonomy, Energy Change, Energy Denial, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Energy Socialism, Engineering Marvel, Evil Opposition, Fair Balance, Financiers of the Apocalypse, Fossilised Fuels, Freemarketeering, Gamechanger, Geogingerneering, Global Warming, Green Investment, Green Power, Hide the Incline, Human Nurture, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Incalculable Disaster, Insulation, Low Carbon Life, Major Shift, Mass Propaganda, Money Sings, National Energy, National Power, Near-Natural Disaster, Neverending Disaster, Nuclear Nuisance, Nuclear Shambles, Oil Change, Optimistic Generation, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peace not War, Peak Coal, Peak Emissions, Peak Energy, Peak Natural Gas, Peak Oil, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Protest & Survive, Public Relations, Pure Hollywood, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Gas, Science Rules, Shale Game, Social Change, Social Democracy, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, Stirring Stuff, Sustainable Deferment, Technofix, Technological Fallacy, The Data, The Power of Intention, The Science of Communitagion, The War on Error, Unconventional Foul, Ungreen Development, Unnatural Gas, Wind of Fortune, Zero Net
Posted on August 27th, 2012 No comments
The human race – we have to solve energy together. And to do that, we need to harness all our personal, purposeful, positive energies, and let me tell you, personally, I feel electric – and I’m only just getting warmed up.
So let’s hear less of the nonsense from authoritatively-accredited people who want to put a dampener on green energy, who say that saving energy cannot, simply cannot be done, sigh, sigh, sigh, collective groan. We have so much energy together, we can do this.
We have the will power, the staying power, the investment power, and we will navigate the obstacles in our path.
Let’s not waste any more time on expensive trinkets, and iddy-biddy fancies with high unit costs and low compatibility to the future. Yes, I’m talking nuclear power. I’m talking the nobody-really-wants-to-do-it-and-nobody-thinks-it-can-be-cheap-enough-to-work-at-scale Carbon Capture and Storage. And yes, I’m talking carbon markets – tell me again, where are they now ? Oh yes, still in the starting blocks.
And don’t even start to talk about pricing carbon to me – in this world of rollercoaster, highly volatile energy prices, what on Earth could costing or taxing carbon actually achieve ? And fusion power ? Nah, mate, forget it. It’s been 50 years away for the last 50 years.
Shale gas, oil from shales, tar sands, coal bed methane collection and underground coal gasification are once-abandoned messy ideas from way back. They’re still messy, and they’re still retro, and they’re not going to get us anywhere. If the United States of America want to completely ruin their lithosphere, well, that’s up to them, but don’t come around here toxifying our aquifers and poisoning our European trees !
What we need is marine energy, geothermal energy, hydropower, solar power, wind power, and Renewable Gas, because gaseous fuels are so flexible and store-able and can come from many, many processes. And we need the next optimistic generation of leaders to push through the administration ceiling and get green energy policy really rolling, attracting all the green investment will.
If I were a power plant, I would be cranking out the current and making everything shine very, very brightly just now.
Academic Freedom, Assets not Liabilities, Be Prepared, Big Number, Big Picture, British Biogas, British Sea Power, Carbon Capture, Carbon Commodities, Carbon Pricing, Carbon Taxatious, Demoticratica, Design Matters, Direction of Travel, Efficiency is King, Energy Change, Energy Revival, Feel Gooder, Gamechanger, Gas Storage, Geogingerneering, Green Investment, Green Power, Low Carbon Life, Major Shift, National Energy, National Power, Nuclear Nuisance, Nuclear Shambles, Optimistic Generation, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Realistic Models, Renewable Gas, Renewable Resource, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, Stirring Stuff, Technofix, The Power of Intention, The Price of Gas, The Price of Oil, Wind of Fortune
Posted on August 4th, 2012 1 comment
Kofi Annan has thrown up his hands and backed away from his role as UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria tasked with a peace mission. In one sense it is all too predictable. The United Nations Security Council is divided, reflecting deep faultlines in the policy positions of the main body of the UN.
It is probably too early in the evolution of global human governance to expect military violence to be declared illegal, but at least there are voices starting to speak up demanding that there be no armed foreign intervention in Syria. The trouble is that although warfare by foreign parties in Syria has not been publicly declared, there are, by many accounts, military and security operatives of a number of external country administrations already in play inside its borders. Foreign ministers in several major countries have pledged support to either the Syrian “regime” – you know – its “ruling government”, or to the “opposition” “rebels” – otherwise known as gangs of armed thugs. Or quite possibly people from a nebulous ill-defined shadowy organisation known as “Al-Qaeda”.
There are some reports that foreign involvement was behind the bombing of members of President Bashar al-Assad’s government in July, a near “decapitation” – as Assad himself could have been easily killed in the incident, and that a reprisal attack took place several days later – possibly severely injuring or even killing Prince Bandar, newly recruited chief of intelligence in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – recently drafted in – apparently with a mission to topple Syria’s “regime” – you know, Syria’s “legitimate administration” – a former ambassador to the United States of America. Although this is not yet confirmed. Or denied.
Despite conciliatory moves, countries of stern influence in the United Nations continue to call for Assad to quit, for reasons that nobody really delves into. Oh yes, as a mild-mannered London-trained ex-ophthalmologist, he’s supposed to be some kind of Hitler character, killing thousands of “his own people”. This story clearly doesn’t stick very well to the man, particularly since this narrative was also recently falsely used against the former leader of Libya. Another story that hasn’t been washing is that the Syrian “regime”, you know, the “proper authorities of administration”, has been responsible for starting all the violence in Syria – but there is now plenty of evidence to the contrary. So why has it been necessary to demonise Assad ? Why has it been that – allegedly – various governments have decided to get dirty hands and stir up violence in Syria in means overt and covert ?
And with the risks to global oil supply, why has it been necessary for the United States of America and the European Union to implement and enforce an oil embargo on Syria ? I mean, you would have thought it would be in everybody’s best interests to keep the oil flowing from every source possible. But no, sanctions it is, and Syria’s had to give up a considerable amount of their production. I know, I know, before the embargo Syria’s output was only 10% of Iran’s current production (see below), but it has meant a lot for Syria’s trade balance. According to the CIA Factbook on Syria (under “Economy”), nearly three quarters of all oil produced has been for export (although it was consuming more Natural Gas than it could produce – presumably for power generation). Plus, it’s national debt put it in the bottom ranks of the world’s countries meaning it can ill-afford to become more impoverished.
So remind me again, what was the oil embargo for ? To depose Assad by making him unpopular because of a nosediving economy ? And why does Assad need to go, actually ? Nobody’s saying that the country has been run perfectly. Gruesome tales have been told of what can happen in Syria – but then, horrible things happen in every country, including in the United States of America, and yet the United Nations is not insisting that Barack Obama stand aside.
Several key cities in Syria have existed in tolerant civilisation for thousands of years. Why does war have to come to Syria ? Why is there civil war being conducted in Damascus ? Even stoics are finding this hard to bear. Wikipedia notes despairingly and ungrammatically “In the second decade of the 21th century Damascus was damaged from the ongoing Syrian Civil War”.
The more I think about it, the more I come circling back to the same theory – that the economic attack on Syria, and the now almost indisputable accounts of outside meddling that is provoking the conflict (and may have even instigated it in the first place), is simply part of a plan to make the oil and gas resources of all Middle Eastern countries available to global markets at reasonable prices. I mean, look at Iraq, whose oil production was severely hit as a result of military destruction by the international warfare community, but which is now making a splendid recovery (see below) and most of the profits are pouring into the coffers of the multinational oil and gas companies, and diesel and petrol stay relatively inexpensive. Or not, as the case may be. The plan for countries across the Middle East is probably the along the same general line – first accuse the country’s government of heinous crimes, then apply economic sanctions or energy sanctions of some kind, then apply diplomatic and media pressure, (and then, these days, send in the spooks to kick up an “Arab Spring”) and then send in the gunships or gunchoppers – attack helicopters. This narrative has been successfully applied to bring Iraq to heel, and then Libya, and now it seems Syria is being talked down the same blood-paved road, and Iran is being pushed along a parallel track.
Iran. Now there’s an interesting case. Iran is not a pushover. It has taken nearly seven years of manoeuvring to make the completely unfounded case that Iran is building (or planning to build) nuclear weapons. Iran has been enriching uranium for its stated aim of developing a civilian nuclear power program, and this has been used as the justification to impose sanctions against Iran, including an oil embargo, which is having an impact on their production (see below). Besides painting the leader of Iran as an evil dictator, the propagandists of this world also seem to be trying to wield a new stick to beat Iran with – in the form of the call to end fossil fuel subsidies. Billed as a climate change policy by the G20, it is more a punitive measure against developing countries who have been using fossil fuel subsidies to make sure their citizens can get cheap energy. If Iran is no longer permitted to subsidise energy for citizens it will be forced to sell the oil and gas abroad – a buyer’s market only too pleased to suck dry the world’s second largest oil and Natural Gas producer. That volume of oil and gas being made available on the world’s markets would definitely keep global prices of oil and gas as low as possible.
Anyway, back to Syria. Clearly, there are problems, although reports of enormous and desperate increases in violence are probably not accurate. Painting the story as increasingly agitated is a common media device to engage the readers with the situation – but if it gets too sensationalised the narrative could start to affect decisionmakers, and may lead to illegitimate and inappropriate influence being exerted from abroad. Instead of William Hague MP, British Foreign Secretary for the United Kingdom, offering tactical support to the Syrian “rebels”, he should announce an immediate diplomatic mission to the Syrian government, and the various rebel groups, offering the undoubted skills of his secret service personnel in mediating a ceasefire between the authorities and the opposition. Otherwise we could end up with NATO committing to tens of thousands of weaponised air sorties over Syria and destroying a large part of this ancient culture, just as they did with Libya. All economic and energy sanctions and embargoes against Syria should be dropped, as they are aggravating the conflict. If the international community uses the language and action of peace, then perhaps Syria can be encouraged back to the ways of peace.
In the words of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, “Regime change is not our profession.”Babykillers, Big Society, Carbon Army, Carbon Capture, Corporate Pressure, Demoticratica, Direction of Travel, Disturbing Trends, Energy Autonomy, Energy Disenfranchisement, Energy Insecurity, Evil Opposition, Foreign Interference, Foreign Investment, Incalculable Disaster, Mass Propaganda, Media, Military Invention, Money Sings, National Energy, No Blood For Oil, Not In My Name, Obamawatch, Peace not War, Peak Oil, Policy Warfare, Resource Curse, Resource Wards, Screaming Panic, Stop War, The Power of Intention, The Price of Gas, The Price of Oil, The War on Error, Western Hedge
Posted on July 23rd, 2012 No comments
After addressing the Stop Climate Chaos coalition Annual General Meeting on Friday 20th July 2012, Tony Juniper, sustainability consultant, and Colin Butfield of WWF, responded to questions from the audience. There was a sense of unease in the room, dissatisfaction with the UK Coalition Government appearing to roll back commitment to the Climate Change Act, and their failure to enact their manifesto declaration of being “the greenest government ever”.
People expressed doubts about the design of climate change communications, about collaboration with companies over climate change action, and what would be suitable campaign actions for protest groups and charities. Several groups found their ongoing campaigns disparaged, in effect, by dismissive comments from others. It wasn’t altogether a pleasant experience. Here are just a few paragraphs attempting to summarise the question-and-answer session from brief notes made at the time.
One of the attendees proposed that climate change communications going forward should make use of the fact that people are questioning the legitimacy of the current economic system, and said that there was a failure to offer a programmatic response. He said that if people were given a systemic critique, they would “get it” – and that the Green New Deal formulation was ideal. He projected that if climate change communications campaigns don’t go against the corporations, that it will be less and less likely in future that governments will respond to corporate abuse of the environment.
Tony Juniper responded by saying that he didn’t see the backing for that level of challenge to the current system. He said that even though there is an economic meltdown in progress – it’s been shown that “a pack of bankers are nicking the peoples’ money” – there has been no revolution. The Non-Governmental Organisations have carried on as normal. At the General Election, people voted for the party of the financial system. The Green New Deal, he said, simply hasn’t got the backing it should have. It suffers from the same lack of attention that faces any different economic formulation that is put in front of people. Time is so short that we have to have something more pragmatic – plausible decisions about realistic proposals. He said it was down to the NGOs to formulate this – and that emphasising jobs was essential.
Another questioner put it to the speakers that the cost of deploying wind turbines was cheaper than not doing it and that contrary to the myths they were actually rather beautiful – and that even the pylons carrying new power lines to connect new wind generation to the grid could be made to be beautiful too. New technology is something to embrace rather than fear.
Tony Juniper replied that a small minority of people have managed to poison the debate on wind power, and that they are part of the Conservative Party core backing. He said that there is lots of support for renewable energy, and that this needs to be reflected back to the media. He said that the media is “pretty poisoned”, too – the Daily Telegraph for example, although The Guardian and The Independent were more open. He suggested that industry players start talking more to the Government and get more organised. He said that Government Ministers find it easier to deal with the nuclear lobby as they have one [professional] body and one message. After the failure of Copenhagen – where the Government predicted they would come away with a successful, positive outcome and didn’t – the atmosphere as a whole has been poisonous. The NGOs didn’t react to this disappointment.
Phil Thornhill, the National Co-ordinator of the Campaign against Climate Change, criticised the NGOs who he said have stopped focusing on climate change. He said it hard to find the next “really sharp point” – the really unifying thing – the way we did with the Climate Change Act. He said that action had to be more than just signing the odd letter, and questioned the approach where action has been fixed to a time or an event – with the obvious risk of collapse. He suggested that climate action should be a continuning goal.
Colin Butfield of WWF responded to the questions – he said that the problem with promoting renewable energy was the peril of ignoring NIMBYism – people may be generally positive about wind farms, but not want one in their own back yard. He said people wanted a genuine local conversation about renewable energy development. He said that on economic proposals, that people need to be presented with solutions they can easily adopt. He suggested one call to action that could easily draw people would be to ask “do you want your pension going into that ridiculous investment ?”, and then asking people to choose more sustainable investments and funds. He said that “normal” people are a “bit terrified” by the idea of collapse of the current economic system [and so may not react well or buy into the ideas]. He said that many pensions were a “climate bad”. He said that in the current economic situation, people could be brought to think about the link between the way banks invest money and climate change – as people are very unhappy with the existing system – “a blindside force for bad”. He said that an example of positive change had been in the campaign to demand buisiness carbon reporting.
Herbert Williams, Chief Executive Officer of A Rocha UK, holding up a credit card, said that positive investment change in the economy was unlikely to form a groundswell as people are in thrall to the current financial system, and that most public communications were advertising to direct the flow of money. He said that there was a danger in repeating the styles and actions of the past.
Peter Robinson of the Climate Alliance said that people are very demoralised about the economic situation – and that climate change arguments have to be involved in any policy proposals.
Tony Juniper said that a suitable goal for campaigning would be shifting anger about the economic situation to a call for green jobs. He asked whether this would still require “grassroots” activism and answer this with a qualified “yes”, because he said it would require different strategies. He said that the key requirement was to work out how to engage people and get them involved. He said that a different body of expertise would be needed in these campaigns. He mentioned that he has been considering employing psychologists – people from public relations companies – and said “we need to get some of these helping us.” He asked how many people would be a significant number to sign up to a campaign. He mentioned that the Climate Change Act campaign had got 200,000 people to urge their MPs to sign the Early Day Motion in Parliament, but that it was only successful because there had been more political jigsaw pieces in place. The 200,000 would not be enough to move to the next phase. To get real action on the Climate Change Act he suggested that the campaign would need to broaden the base – and that would need more people than just those from campaign organisations to be involved. He said that he was still seeing a lot of the same faces – even though it was “lovely to see you all”, but that the campaign needs to go wider. He said that there are difficulties with anything that involves infrastructure, as the Government has just ripped up the planning system in Local Authorities – 50 years of accumulated wisdom on how to do development.
Phil Thornhill said that Martin Luther King didn’t have a communications expert or a consultant psychologist. He had passion to get his views across. Climate change is perhaps less tangible that civil rights – therefore needs more passion. The idea that psychologists or public relations techniques can give you a shortcut to understanding your audience better was not helpful. Advertising and public relations are mostly about selling things to people. Climate change communications have been shown to not be getting through to people – the message to change can be unappetising.
It was asked if it is possible to hold together progressive politics and the traditional NGO approach.
It was noted that the think tank battle is very important – and their public relations. This style was planted 60 years ago – fundamentally anti-state – based on the Austrian school of economics – it’s very easy for them to point at any efforts by governments and claim “the faceless state is coming to take your money”.
Colin Butfield answered to a question about social media – could we get millions of young people to join in ? He said you can’t, but that we’d nearly got there with the Green Deal on loans. In regards to the 200,000 mentioned for the Climate Change Act he said that in the current less urgent political atmosphere, those numbers are always going to be ignored. By contrast, he’d had millions of people on the Facebook page for Earth Hour – and that was sufficient to get David Cameron to talk about it.
A questioner raised issues about coopting NGOs and the social movements to enact policy goals. Energy goals can’t be simply about deploying renewable energy, but must also answer questions on access to energy, land rights, food versus fuel, fuel versus forests. You cannot leave questions of justice aside.
Tony Juniper, in replying to a warning that it is important to keep vigilant about the dubious underbelly of corporate public relations agendas, said that although one could damage their brands for a while, and companies and campaigns could have battles to capture each others’ agendas, that we are not going to get anywhere without all sorts of compromise – finding shared values.
Later, over a spiffing Marks & Spencer buffet outside in the Westminster School walled garden, I spoke with a campaigner about the rationale and purpose of campaigning. I asked whether it could be seen as rather patronising to assume that we are the ones with the better ideas and information, and that we have to “engage” other people with a view to them adopting our position and taking our recommended actions. The campaigner asked what we would do if we didn’t do campaigns – how would we involve people in these issues ?
I thought to myself – therein lies the problem. A campaign should not be about keeping people running around like headless chickens trying to put across messaging and persuading other people to take action. Keeping concerned people busy with communications tasks is not a genuine achievement, I would suggest. It certainly doesn’t appear to be resulting in genuine, widescale political, economic and social change. There was a brief flicker of purpose when the previous Labour Government had promoted climate change communications (although they alienated a good portion of the population with their strategy and messaging), but now there’s no political lever.
We don’t got no revolution, and a new round of consultation with communications specialists is not going to change that.Bait & Switch, Behaviour Changeling, Big Picture, Big Society, Carbon Capture, Climate Change, Climate Chaos, Corporate Pressure, Deal Breakers, Demoticratica, Direction of Travel, Divide & Rule, Dreamworld Economics, Energy Change, Evil Opposition, Financiers of the Apocalypse, Freemarketeering, Green Investment, Green Power, Human Nurture, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Libertarian Liberalism, Mass Propaganda, Media, Nudge & Budge, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Protest & Survive, Public Relations, Regulatory Ultimatum, Social Capital, Social Change, Sustainable Deferment, The Myth of Innovation, The Power of Intention, The War on Error, Unqualified Opinion, Unsolicited Advice & Guidance, Voluntary Behaviour Change, Vote Loser
Posted on July 7th, 2012 1 comment
My electronic mail inbox and Twitter “social media” timeline are full of people sparking and foaming about George Monbiot’s latest kow-tow to American academia. Apparently, he has discarded the evidence of many, many researchers, energy engineers and market players and poured luke-warm, regurgitated scorn on the evidence and inevitability of “Peak Oil”.
The level of agitation contradicting his stance has reached a new peak – in fact, I think I might claim this as “Peak Agitation”.
Here is just one example from Paul Mobbs, author of “Energy Beyond Oil”, and a multi-talented, multi-sectoral educator and researcher.
I initially read it in my inbox and nearly fell of my chair gobsmacked. When I had recovered from being astonished, and asked Mobbsey if I could quote him, perhaps anonymously, he wrote back :-
“No, you can quite clearly and boldly attach my name and email address to it ! And perhaps ask George for a response ?”
Sadly, George Monbiot appears to have jammed his thumbs in his ears as regards my commentary, so he is very unlikely to read this or become aware of the strength of opposition to his new positioning. But anyway – here’s for what’s it’s worth (and when it comes from Paul Mobbs, it’s worth a great deal) :-
Re: Peak oil – we were wrong. When the facts change we must change.
I’ve sat patiently through the various emails between you all — mainly to
take soundings of where you’re all at on this matter. In addition, over the
last few days I’ve separately received four dozen or so emails all asking
to “take on” Monbiot. I wasn’t going to reply because I’ve so many more
pressing matters to take care of, but given the weight of demands I can’t
I don’t see any point in “taking on” Monbiot; the points he raises, and the
debate that he has initiated, are so off beam compared to the basis of the
issues involved that it there’s no point proceeding along that line of
thought. You can’t answer a question if the question itself is not
Let’s get one thing straight — present economic difficulties are not simply
to do with “oil”, but with the more general issue of “limits to growth”.
That’s a complex interaction of resource production, thermodynamics,
technology, and relating all of these together, economic theory. Reducing
this just to an issue of oil or carbon will fail to answer why the trends
we see emerging today are taking place. Instead we have to look towards a
process which sees energy, resources, technology and human economics as a
The problem with this whole debate is that those involved — Monbiot
included — only have the vaguest understanding of how resource depletion
interacts with the human economy. And in a similar way, the wider
environment movement has been wholly compromised by its failure to engage
with the debate over ecological limits as part of their promotion of
alternative lifestyles. Unless you are prepared to adapt to the reality of
what the “limits” issues portends for the human economy, you’re not going
to make any progress on this matter.
Monbiot’s greatest mistake is to try and associate peak oil and climate
change. They are wholly different issues. In fact, over the last few years,
one of the greatest mistakes by the environment movement generally (and
Monbiot is an exemplar of this) has been to reduce all issues to one
metric/indicator — carbon. This “carbonism” has distorted the nature of
the debate over human development/progress, and in the process the
“business as usual” fossil-fuelled supertanker has been allowed to thunder
on regardless because solving carbon emissions is a fundamentally different
type of problem to solving the issue of resource/energy depletion.
Carbon emissions are a secondary effect of economic activity. It is
incidental to the economic process, even when measures such as carbon
markets are applied. Provided we’re not worried about the cost, we can use
technological measures to abate emissions — and government/industry have
used this as a filibuster to market a technological agenda in response and
thus ignore the basic incompatibility of economic growth with the
ecological limits of the Earth’s biosphere. As far as I am concerned, many
in mainstream environmentalism have been complicit in that process; and
have failed to provide the example and leadership necessary to initiate a
debate on the true alternatives to yet more intense/complex
industrialisation and globalisation.
In contrast, physical energy supply is different because it’s a prerequisite
of economic growth — you can’t have economic activity without a
qualitatively sufficient energy supply (yes, the “quality” of the energy is
just as important as the physical scale of supply). About half of all
growth is the value of new energy supply added to the economy, and another
fifth is the result of energy efficiency — the traditional measures of
capital and labour respectively make up a tenth and fifth of growth. As yet
mainstream economic theory refuses to internalise the issue of energy
quality, and the effect of falling energy/resource returns, even though this
is demonstrably one of the failing aspects of our current economic model
(debt is the other, and that’s an even more complex matter to explore if
we’re looking at inter-generational effects).
The fact that all commodity prices have been rising along with growth for
the past decade — a phenomena directly related to the human system hitting
the “limits to growth” — is one of the major factors driving current
economic difficulties. Arguably we’ve been hitting the “limits” since the
late 70s. The difficulty in explaining that on a political stage is that
we’re talking about processes which operate over decades and centuries, not
over campaign cycles or political terms of office. As a result, due to the
impatience of the modern political/media agenda, the political debate over
limits has suffered because commentators always take too short-term a
viewpoint. Monbiot’s recent conversion on nuclear and peak oil is such an
example, and is at the heart of the report Monbiot cites in justification of
his views — a report, not coincidentally, written by a long-term opponent
of peak oil theory, working for lobby groups who promote business-as-usual
solutions to ecological issues.
Likewise, because the neo-classical economists who advise governments and
corporations don’t believe in the concept of “limits”, the measures they’ve
adopted to try and solve the problem (e.g. quantitative easing) are not
helping the problem, but merely forestall the inevitable collapse. For
example, we can’t borrow money today to spur a recovery if there will be
insufficient growth in the future to pay for that debt. Basically, whilst you
may theoretically borrow money from your grandchildren, you can’t borrow
the energy that future economic growth requires to generate that money if
it doesn’t exist to be used at that future date. Perhaps more perversely, a
large proportion of the economic actors who have expressed support for
limits are not advocating ecological solutions to the problem, they’re
cashing-in by trying to advise people how to make money out of economic
Carbon emissions and resource depletion are a function of economic growth.
There is an absolute correlation between growth and carbon emissions. I
don’t just mean that emissions and the rate of depletion fall during
recessions — and thus “recessions are good for the environment”. If you
look at the rate of growth in emissions over the last 50 years, the change
in energy prices has a correlation to changes in carbon emissions as the
price of fuel influences economic activity. That’s why carbon emissions
broke with their historic trend, halving their previous growth rate, after
the oil crisis of the 1970s; and why they then rebounded as energy prices
fell during the 90s.
The idea that we can “decarbonise” the economy and continue just as before
is fundamentally flawed. I know some of you will scream and howl at this
idea, but if you look at the research on the interaction between energy and
economic productivity there is no other conclusion. Due to their high
energy density and relative ease of use, all fossil fuels have an economic
advantage over all the alternatives. That said, as conventional oil and gas
deplete, and “unconventional” sources with far lower energy returns are
brought into the market, that differential is decreasing — but we won’t
reach general parity with renewables for another decade or two.
Note also this has nothing to do with subsidies, or industrial power —
it’s a basic physical fact that the energy density of renewables is lower
than the historic value of fossil fuels. On a level playing field, renewable
energy costs more and has a lower return on investment than fossil fuels.
We do have the technology to develop a predominantly renewable human
economy, but the economic basis of such a system will be wholly different to
that we live within today. Unless you are prepared to reform the economic
process alongside changing the resource base of society, we’ll never
see any realistic change because all such “ecological” viewpoints are
inconsistent with the values at the heart of modern capitalism (that’s not
a political point either, it’s just a fact based upon how these systems
must operate). E.g., when the Mail/Telegraph trumpet that more wind power
will cost more and lower growth/competitiveness, they’re right — but the
issue here is not the facts about wind, it’s that the theory/expectation of
continued growth, which they are measuring the performance of wind against,
is itself no longer supported by the physical fundamentals of the human
The present problem is not simply “peak oil”. Even if volumetric production
remained constant, due to the falling level of energy return on investment
of all fossil fuels the effects of rising prices and falling systemic
efficiency will still disrupt the economic cycle (albeit at a slower rate
than when it is tied to a simultaneous volumetric reduction). Allied to the
problems with the supply of many industrial minerals, especially the
minerals which are key to the latest energy and industrial process/energy
technologies (e.g. rare earths, indium, gallium, etc.), what we have is a
recipe for a general systems failure in the operation of the human system.
And again, that’s not related to climate change, or simple lack of energy,
but because of the systemic complexity of modern human society, and what
happens to any complex system when it is perturbed by external factors.
The worst thing which can happen right now — even if it were possible,
which is entirely doubtful — would be a “return to growth”. The idea of
“green growth”, within the norms of neo-classical economics, is even more
fallacious due to the differing thermodynamic factors driving that system.
Instead what we have to concentrate upon is changing the political economy
of the human system to internalise the issue of limits. At present, apart
from a few scientists and green economists on the sidelines, no one is
seriously putting that point of view — not even the Green Party. And as I
perceive it from talking to people about this for the last 12 years, that’s
for a very simple reason… it’s not what people, especially the political
establishment, want to hear.
Rio+20 was an absolute failure. In fact what annoyed me the most was that
the media kept talking about the “second” Rio conference, when in fact it
was the third UNCED conference in the Stockholm conference in ’72. If you
contrast 1972 with 2012, the results of this years deliberations were worse
than the policies sketched out in the 70s ! Seriously, the environment
movement is being trounced, and as I see it that’s because they have lost
the intellectual and theoretical rigour that it possessed in the 70s and
80s. Rather than having a clear alternative vision, what they promote is
“the same but different”. Once environmentalism became a media campaign
about differing consumption options, rather than an absolute framework for
evaluating the effects of consumption, it lost its ability to dictate the
agenda — because its the ability to look forward and observe/anticipate
trends unfolding, however unwelcome those truths might be, which gives
groups political power.
Politicians have lost control of the economy because their materialist
ambitions no longer fit to the extant reality of the economic process. This
outcome was foreseen over 40 years ago by economists like Georgescu-Roegen
and Boulding but ignored, even amongst many liberals and especially the
left, for political reasons. These same principles, based around the issue
of limits, were also the founding reality of the modern environment
movement — but over the last 20 years the movement has lost this basic
grounding in physics and economics as it has moved towards an
aspirationally materialist agenda (green consumerism/sustainable
Unless you’re prepared to talk about limits to growth, and the fact that
the economic theories developed over two centuries of unconstrained
expansion now have no relevance to a system constrained by physical limits,
then you will not solve this problem. Just as with Monbiot’s “change” on
the issue of nuclear, his failure is a matter of basic theory and
methodological frameworks, not of facts or data. Unfortunately people keep
throwing data at each other without considering that the framework within
which those facts are considered and understood has changed, and that
consequently their conclusions may not be correct; and until the movement
accepts that the rules governing the system have changed we’ll not make
progress in advancing viable solutions.
To conclude then, Monbiot’s mistake isn’t about peak oil, or climate
change, it’s a failure to internalise the physical realities of the
“limits” now driving the human system. Unless you consider the interaction
of energy, economics and pollution, any abstractions you draw about each of
those factors individually will fail to tell you how the system as a whole
is functioning. Those limits might dictate the end of “growth economics”,
but they DO NOT dictate the end of “human development”. There are many ways
we can address our present economic and environmental difficulties, but that
cannot take place unless we accept that changing our material ambitions is
a prerequisite of that process.
Let’s be clear here. The principles which drive the economy today would be
wholly alien to Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill and others who first laid down
the rules of the system two centuries ago. Likewise Marxism and similarly
derived ideas have no validity either because they were generated during an
era when there were no constraining limits. There is no “going back” to
previous theories/ideologies on this issue because we face a scenario today
which humans society — with the exception of those ancient societies who
experienced ecological overshoot (Rome, Mayans, Easter Islanders, etc.) —
have never had to face before.
We have to move forward, to evaluate and understand is the role of
ecological limits within the future human economic process and how this
changes our advocacy of “solutions”. That debate should be at the heart of
the environment movement, and the issue of limits should lead all
discussions about all environmental issues — not green/sustainable
consumerism and other measures which seek to reassure and pacify affluent
consumers. That said, especially given the demographic skew within
membership of the environment movement, we have to begin by being honest
with ourselves in accepting the “limits agenda” and what it means for the
make-up of our own lives.
In the final analysis, you cannot be an environmentalist unless you accept
and promote the idea of limits. That was at the heart of the movement from
the early 70s, and if we want to present a viable alternative to disaster
capitalism then that is once again what we must develop and promote as an
Peace ‘n love ‘n’ home made hummus,
“We are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government,
nor are we for this party nor against the other but we are
for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom,
that these may be exalted in our nation, and that goodness,
righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity with
God, and with one another, that these things may abound.”
(Edward Burrough, 1659 – from ‘Quaker Faith and Practice’)
Paul’s book, “Energy Beyond Oil”, is out now!
For details see http://www.fraw.org.uk/mei/ebo/
Read my ‘essay’ weblog, “Ecolonomics”, at:
Paul Mobbs, Mobbs’ Environmental Investigations
email – email@example.com
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Posted on June 14th, 2012 1 comment
Bursting the Nuclear Bubble
The UK Government appear to have seen the light about their, frankly, rubbish plan to covertly invest in (by hidden subsidies) a spanking new fleet of nuclear power reactors.
Dogged by Electricite de France (EdF) as they have been, with Vincent de Rivaz continuing to proffer his begging bowl with outstretched pleading arms, it just might be that before the Energy Bill is finally announced –
when the Electricity Market Reform (EMR) dust has settled – that this new thinking will have become core solidity.
After all, there are plenty of reasons not to support new nuclear power – apart from the immense costs, the unclear costs, the lack of immediate power generation until at least a decade of concrete has been poured, and so on (and so forth).
Gas is Laughing
It appears that reality has bitten – and that the UK Government are pursuing gas. And they have decided not to hatch their eggs all in one basket. First of all, there’s a love-in with Statoil of Norway :-
Then, there’s the new “South Stream” commitment – the new Azerbaijan-European Union agreement, spelled out in a meeting of the European Centre for Energy and Resource Security (EUCERS) on 12th June at King’s College, London :-
Meanwhile, the “North Stream” gas pipeline is going to feed new Russian gas to Europe, too (since the old Siberian gas fields have become exhausted) :-
And then there’s the amazing new truth – Natural Gas is a “green” energy, according to the European Union :-
The UK will still be importing Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) from our good old friends in Qatar. Never mind the political interference in the nearby region and the human rights abuses, although NATO could be asked to put a stop to that if Europe needed to bust the regime in order for their energy companies to take ownership of the lovely, lovely gas. I mean, that’s what happened in Iraq and Libya, didn’t it ?
A Fossilised Future
So, despite all the green noises from the UK Government, the underlying strategy for the future (having batted away the nuclear buzzing insects around the corpse of British energy policy), is as Steve Browning, formerly of National Grid says – “gas and air” – with Big Wind power being the commercialisable renewable technology of choice. But not too much wind power – after all, the grid could become unstable, couldn’t it, with too much wind ?
There are several problems with this. First, the commitment to fossil fuels – even Natural Gas with its half the emissions profile of coal – is a risky strategy, despite making sure that supplies are secure in the near term. The reasons for this are geological as well as geopolitical. Natural Gas will peak, and even the UK Government accepts that unconventional gas will not keep fossil gas going forever – even with the “18 years” ultimate recoverable from under Lancashire of shale gas (that’s “18 years” of current gas annual demand – but not all drilled at once – perhaps amounting to about 1.5% of current UK gas supply needs per year, stretched out over 40 years) , and the billion tonnes of coal that can be gasified from under the sea off the east coast of England. As long as Carbon Capture and Storage can work.
Not only will Natural Gas peak and start to decline in the UK, it will also peak and decline in the various other foreign resources the UK is promising to buy. By simple logic – if the North Sea gas began depletion after only 30 years – and this was a top quality concentrated resource – how soon will poorer quality gas fields start depleting ?
Whilst I recognise the sense in making Natural Gas the core strategy of UK energy provision over the next few decades, it can never be a final policy. First off, we need rather more in terms of realistic support for the deployment of renewable electricity. People complained about onshore wind turbines, so the UK Government got into offshore wind turbines, and now they’re complaining at how expensive they are. Then they botched solar photovoltaics policy. What a palaver !
Besides a much stronger direction for increasing renewable electricity, we need to recognise that renewable resources of gas need to be developed, starting now. We need to be ready to displace fossil gas as the fossil gas fields show signs of depletion and yet global demand and growth still show strength. We need to recognise that renewable gas development initiatives need consistent central government financial and enabling policy support. We need to recognise that even with the development of renewable gas, supplies of gas as a whole may yet peak – and so we need to acknowledge that we can never fully decarbonise the energy networks unless we find ways to apply energy conservation and energy efficiency into all energy use – and that this currently conflicts with the business model for most energy companies – to sell as much energy as possible. We need mandates for insulation, efficient fossil fuel use – such as Combined Heat and Power (CHP) and efficient grids, appliances and energy distribution. Since energy is mostly privately owned and privately administered, energy conservation is the hardest task of all, and this will take heroic efforts at all levels of society to implement.Academic Freedom, Assets not Liabilities, Big Number, Big Picture, Big Society, British Biogas, Burning Money, Carbon Capture, Corporate Pressure, Direction of Travel, Dreamworld Economics, Efficiency is King, Electrificandum, Emissions Impossible, Energy Change, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Energy Socialism, Foreign Interference, Foreign Investment, Fossilised Fuels, Freemarketeering, Green Investment, Green Power, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Insulation, Low Carbon Life, Marine Gas, Methane Madness, Methane Management, Money Sings, National Energy, National Power, Not In My Name, Nuclear Nuisance, Nuclear Shambles, Optimistic Generation, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peace not War, Peak Coal, Peak Emissions, Peak Energy, Peak Natural Gas, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Price Control, Realistic Models, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Gas, Renewable Resource, Resource Wards, Shale Game, Solution City, Stop War, The Power of Intention, The Price of Gas, Unconventional Foul, Ungreen Development, Unnatural Gas, Wasted Resource, Western Hedge, Wind of Fortune, Zero Net