What To Do Next

Status-checking questions. I’m sure we all have them. I certainly do. Several times a week, or even day, I ask myself two little questions of portent : “What am I doing ?” and “Why am I here ?”. I ask myself these questions usually because my mind’s wandered off again, just out of reach, and I need to call myself to attention, and focus. I ask these little questions of myself when I do that thing we all do – I’ve set off with great purpose into another room, and then completely forgotten why I went there, or what I came to find or get. I also use these forms of enquiry when I’m at The Crossroads of Purpose – to determine what exactly it is I’m deciding to aim for. What are my goals this day, week, month, age ? Can I espy my aims, somewhere on the horizon ? Can I paddle labouriously towards them – against the tide – dodge/defeat the sharks ? Can I muster the will to carry this out – “longhauling it” ?

I’ve spent a long time writing a book, which I’m sure to bore everybody about for the next aeon. My intention in writing the book was to stimulate debate about what I consider to be the best direction for balanced energy systems – a combination of renewable electricity and Renewable Gas. I wanted to foster debate amongst the academics and engineers who may be my peers, certainly, hopefully providing a little seed for further research. Hopefully also having a small influence on energy policy, perhaps, or at least, getting myself and my ideas asked to various policy meetings for a little airing. But, if I could in some way, I also wanted to offer a bit of fizz to the internal conversations of companies in the energy sector. You see, it may be obvious, or it may not be, but action on climate change, which principally involves the reduction in the mining, drilling and burning of fossil fuels, principally also involves the co-operation of the fossil fuel extraction companies. Their products are nearly history, and so it must be that inside the headquarters of every transnational energy giant, corporate heads are churning through their options with a very large what-if spoon.

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Only Just Getting Started

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.

Keith MacLean : Big Choices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Indicative costs of decarbonizing European city heating with electrical distribution compared to district heating pipe distribution of large scale wind energy and with particular attention to transition to the above methods and energy storage costs to address intermittency and variability of wind power.”

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

Strategy 1)

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


Strategy 2)

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Keith MacLean, Scottish and Southern Energy

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


Questions from the Floor

Question from John Gibbons of the University of Edinburgh

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

Answer from Keith MacLean

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

Answer from Dave Openshaw, Future Networks, UK Power Network

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


Carbon Bubble : Unburnable Assets

[ 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…

London Skies

Image Credit : epeigne37

Yesterday evening, I was caught by the intensity of the London Sky – there was little air movement in most of the lower summer-heat space above the city, and virtually no cloud except very high strands and sprurls and bones and smears.

Most of the cloud was clearly the result of aeroplane contrails – numerable to small children and their educational grandparents on various buses.

As the sun began to set, or rather, as the Earth rolled to curve away from facing the sun, the sky took on the colour of bright duck egg blue with a hint of pale green, and the sprays of high contrail-cloud took on a glorious orange-fuchsia colour with flashes of gold, bronze and vanadium reds, fading slowly to chromium reds as twilight approached.

At a certain moment, I understood something – as I watched an aeroplane high up, make its way west to Heathrow, the angle of the sunset showed its contrail as a murky ink, messing up the rest of the clouds as it brushstroked its way along, with its slate and muddy hues. As I watched, other parts of the clouds began to appear brown and grey, and since I knew that most of the cloud was jet engine exhaust that hadn’t moved because of the lack of high winds, I finally realised I was watching dirt, high up in the troposphere – careless, unthinking toxic waste. Continue reading London Skies

Gas in the UK (2)

…Continued from http://www.joabbess.com/2012/06/12/gas-in-the-uk/

Questions from the floor

[Tony Glover]

…increasing electricification of heat and transport. I was interested in what Doug said about heat. [If energy conservation measures are significant and there is] a significant reduction in gas use for heat…interested in the Minister’s response.

[Terry ? (Member of PRASEG)]

I’m interested in gas that would need CCS [Carbon Capture and Storage] [in future] …[since there would be no restriction there would be an] incentive to build new gas in next few years away from CCS-usable infrastructure. Maybe encouraging gas stations over next few years to be built in view of CCS.

[ ? ]

[There have been mentions of the] Gas [generation] Strategy and gas storage. Is it your intention to have both in the Energy Bill ? [Need to improve investor confidence.]

[Charles Hendry MP] I’m more confident than Doug on CHP…[in respect of energy conservation we will begin to increase our use of] CHP [Combined Heat and Power], geothermal energy, don’t need District Heating. I think we’ll see more people switch to electric heating. The likely pricing on gas will mean people have to look at other sources – such as localised heat storage, intelligent ways to produce hot water and heat in their homes […for example, a technology to store heat for several days…] The first [new gas power] plants will be where they are already consented – where originally coal plants – need to have identified in advance – no new plant is consented unless…We’ve asked Ofgem to ask re securing gas supplies. If we can stretch out the tail of North Sea gas – can stretch it out 30 – 40 years […] technology […] Centrica / Norway […] develop contracts […] Is there a role for strategic storage [Centrica asking] […] Buying and selling at the wrong price (like the gold) [widespread chuckling in the room]. Some of it may not need legislation. Gas Strategy will be published before the Energy Bill.

[David Cox] Get very nervous about gas storage. Don’t think there’s a need to put financial incentives in place to increase gas storage. We think the hybrid gas market is successful – a market and regulatory framework – [gas storage incentives] could damage.

[Doug Parr] I’m not downbeat because I want to be downbeat on heat. [Of all the solutions proposed none of them show] scaleability, deliverability. I’d love that to come true – but will it ? […] Heat pumps ? Biogas is great but is it really going to replace all that gas ? If we’re going to be using gas we need to make the best use of it […] Issues around new plant / replacement – all about reducing risks no exposing ourselves to [it] – security of supply, climate risks, issues about placement [siting of new plant]. If CCS can really be made to work – it’s a no-brainer – do we want all that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere or … ? Our entire policy becomes dependent on a technology that hasn’t even been demonstrated. Other technologies that people thought were great – years later they still haven’t arrived [for example, rooftop wind turbines]. If we say CCS is the only way it’s going to work – what’s Plan B ? We are going to use [fossil fuels] – should not become wholly dependent on technology not yet demonstrated.

[Alan Whitehead] Perhaps people should be asked – which would you prefer – a CHP / DH [Combined Heat and Power / District Heating] plant in the valley here, or a couple of wind turbines on that hill ? That would [shake things up].

Questions from the floor

[ X ? ] See […] as the ultimate destination. Most important – gas can be made zero carbon – not pie in the sky. 1. Start contributions of carbon-neutral gas and 2. will need far less if [we act] like Japan – force installation of microCHP. Their aim is to do same as for washing machines [bring prices down – make widely available for the home]. MicroCHP [with] heat pumps – reduction as good as decarbonising gas or electricity. But can also decarbonise gas.

[ X ? ] The Minister mentioned the importance of CHP but recently dropped […] mandate. If CHP so important what measures is the Government taking to ensure its installation ?

[ X ? ] Electricity is a rubbish fuel for heating buildings – very peaky load – need something cheap to store, cheap to […]. Fits very well with forcing down demand. Where we’re getting our gas from. At the moment our waste is being incinerated. For a cheap additional cost, where currently incinerating we can do anaerobic digestion [AD], producing a fungible asset – the gas – can gradually decarbonise our grid.

[ Thomas Grier ? ] …a decision [?] of London – CHP in London over the next few years. If we want to use electricity for heat, we need to reinforce the electricity grid [by 60% to 90% ?] In rural situations – use electrical heating. In urban, use decarbonised energy. [This model projection] shows the gas grid disappearing – it will collapse at some point if all we have on the gas grid is cooking.

[ X ? ] …[encouraged CHP then a few days later] stood up then said all support [removed ?] for CHP next year. A Heat Strategy that said there is enormous [scope / potential] for CHP. We want to see gas, we want to see efficiency. Are we moving towards […] without it they won’t build it.

[David Cox] Microgeneration – couldn’t get it down economically. Reliability [issues]. Full supporter of biogas – AD got a contribution to make – but never more than 5% – no matter how much [we crack it]. Electricity is not very good for heating – but how to we decarbonise the heat sector ? Always been an advocate of CHP. Government need to do more incentivising of that.

[Charles Hendry MP] Innovation and invention […] Government can’t support all emerging technologies. Best brains around the world [are working on] how we move fundamentally in a low carbon direction. On the waste hierarchy – burning of waste should be the final stage – finding a better use for it. [I visited] the biggest AD plant in Europe in Manchester – biogas and electricity generation. We are seeing Local Authorities taking a more constructive long-term view on how to manage waste. CHP – we all want to see more of it – to what extent does it need support ? That depends on whether new build – building a community around it. [By comparison, urban retrofitting is probably too expensive] Iceland [took the decision and] retrofitted almost every home – I’m now more convinced than before. What is the right level of subsidy and what makes good economic case ?

[Doug] We do keep missing opportunities. [For example in Wales, Milford Haven, the new Combined Cycle Gas Turbine at the Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) refinery to process the gas] should have been CHP. I am enthusiastic about lots of heat technologies [but the same questions/issues apply] scaleability and deliverability. District heating [DH] – an infrastructure asset ! [Can change priorities about what gets built – for example in Denmark (?)] they’re building large-scale solar farms to top up the DH. In the Treasury’s infrastructure plan [see DH could be…] Heat is the poor relation in energy debate. Other networks have been identified in the National Policy Statements (NPS) – but not heat.

[ Leonie Green, Renewable Energy Association ] [I must] defend heat pumps. In Sweden 90% of new builds [hav e heat pumps ?] – heat pump efficiency is a function of the energy-efficiency of the building […] Just on AD – National Grid report said it could provide 50% [of the nation’s supply. Our members think] that’s a bit too high – we think 25%. My question is really about the benefits. We are hearing anxiety about costs, but it’s piecemeal on benefits. We’ve been strong on jobs, balance of trade, exports [all benefits of renewable energy investment and deployment]. Pleased to see DECC put out [report from] Oxford Economics [on the] wider economic benefits. How can we get more and more balance in reports. [An example] Deutsche Bank renewable generation opportunities.

[ ? ] We would also support more than 5% from renewable gas – also about hydrogen – we used to do it when it was town gas – why not again ? As regards injecting biomethane/biogas from AD into the National Grid [last year ? to this year ?] 130 enquiries to connect AD to our network – none have progressed. Please sort these [registrations] out.

[ ? ] Minister, we’re not expecting you to fund all technologies – we need some logic – especially with transport. The Government doesn’t recognise the difference between Renewable Natural Gas if used in transport and fossil fuels. Would be simple – a tax on gas if used in a vehicle. What’s the problem over […] ?

[Colin Snape, University of Nottingham] We are looking at reducing the costs of carbon capture – we have a section of PhDs… One other gas source not mentioned – gas from underground gasification of coal [UCG]. In UK […] 2 billion tonners of coal – slightly offshore – on the energy coast of the UK – where all the action is on CCS – obviously UCG needs to be coupled with CCS to be carbon neutral. Would [be operational] in a very short time period […incentives…]. Significant proportion of UK needs.

[ ? ] What is the purpose of the Gas Strategy ? Shale gas isn’t a miracle. The “Golden Age of Gas” [report by the International Energy Agency (IEA)] doesn’t mean cheap gas, because [it will be put to] lots of uses. Renewable electricity and nuclear are not going to come until the 2020s. How do we avoid building loads of gas generation that is not necessary after that time ? What’s the role of mothballing (relatively cheap to bring CCGT out of mothballs comparing to build new). No sign of reduction in electricity demand reduction – therefore there will be high gas use.

[ Doug Parr ] On UCG, the IEA had two scenarios in the “Golden Age of Gas” – both took us over 3.5 degrees Celsius [in additional global warming]. Even if there is unconventional gas sources, still a huge danger of going down the road of unrestrained gas use. What is the alternative ? We should not end up becoming dependent on gas. Should not build gas to fill a short-term hole – they will lobby for their own interests – to keep open.

[ David Cox ] CCGTs won’t be built without guarantees greater than 20 years. Also renewable energy might not provide in the way that we hope. The CCC report – what caused the rise in energy prices ? The wholesale gas price – not renewable energy, green policies. However, that was slightly dishonest – the counter-factual was […] renewable energy significantly still more expensive than fossil fuel there. Until we can get costs of renewable energy down to the prices of fossil fuels… [The industry] don’t give the impression [they will build] on the basis of short-term need. Gas isn’t clean, I admit that […] CCS – that will work.

[Charles Hendry MP] A lot comes back to a need for a balanced approach – carbon targets and security of supply. If you haven’t sorted out security of supply, the electorate will not give permission to go low carbon. Gas is a hedging fuel currently but don’t know where costs going over time. As a politician, I like pipelines – know where it’s going (not like LNG, where there was limited use of new LNG import plant). If we want Scandinavian gas, we need security of demand to build the new pipeline. How we deal with issues of biomethane – in 2 years – need to make more progress. Some of these [techologies] will be gamechangers – some, look back in a couple of years… [Need a] permissive framework to allow a lot of ideas and technologies. There is no source of energy that hasn’t required subsidy in early days. Fanciful to suggest new forms of energy can come through without support. The letters we get [from the public, from constituents] are on vehicle fuel costs, not how much their gas bill went up last winter…

Official end of meeting

A gaggle of people gathered in the hallway to discuss some items further.

The Electricity Market Reform (EMR) was generally criticised – as it contains measures likely to specifically benefit nuclear power. Electricite de France was identified as very involved. The Government had said “no nuclear subsidy”, but the EMR measures are equivalent to hidden subsidies.

The Levy Cap was criticised as it would disturb investor confidence – if several nuclear reactors came on-stream in 10 years time, in the same year, they would eat up the whole subsidy budget for that year – and other technologies would lose out. If was felt that a number of the EMR proposals were “blunt instruments”, not overcoming shortcomings of former levies and subsidies.

Although the EMR was designed to addressed economic fears, it wasn’t assisting with financing risks – if anything it was adding to them. Rates of return have to be guaranteed for loans to be made – chopping and changing subsidies doesn’t allow for that.

Leonie Green said that the REA members don’t like the Premium Feed-in-Tariff (FiT). She also said later that they were not pleased about the cuts in support for AD.

Since my personal interest is in using Renewable Gas of various sources (including Biomethane / Biogas) to displace Natural Gas from the gas grid, I spoke with various people about this informally (including a woman I met on the train on my way home – who really got the argument about decarbonising gas by developing Renewable Gas, and using that to store excess renewable electricity, and use it as backup for renewable electricity. Although she did say “it won’t be done if it won’t confer benefits”.). One of the key elements for developing Renewable Gas is to create a stream of Renewable Hydrogen, produced in a range of ways. Somebody asked me what the driver would be for progress in Renewable Hydrogen production ? I said the “pull” was supposed to be the fabled “Hydrogen Economy” for transport, but that this isn’t really happening. I said the need for increased sources of renewably-sourced gas will become progressively clear – perhaps within a decade.

One of the persons present talked about how they think the Government is now coming out of the nuclear dream world – how only a few of the proposed new reactors will get built in the next decade – and how the Government now need to come up with a more realistic scenario.

It was mentioned that is appears that the Biogas technologies are going to have the same treatment as solar photovoltaics – some sort of subsidies at the start – which get cut away far too early – before it can stand on its own two feet. This was said to be the result of an underlying theory that only a fixed amount of money should be used on launching each new technology – with no thought to continuity problems – especially as regards investment and loan structures.

Gas in the UK

“The role of gas in the UK’s energy mix” 12 June 2012 17:30 – 18:30, Committee Room 5, House of Commons with speakers Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change, Charles Hendry; David Cox, Managing Director of The Gas Forum and Dr Doug Parr, Chief Scientist of Greenpeace UK. Chaired by Dr Alan Whitehead MP, Chairman of PRASEG, the Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group, who called the seminar : http://www.praseg.org.uk/the-role-of-gas-in-the-uk-energy-mix/

UNVERIFIED COMMENTS : Please check with the speakers to confirm their statements and do not take this account as verbatim.

[Alan Whitehead MP] Questions about gas. Will it be business as usual ? If not – too “much” gas ? What does that mean for Climate Change targets ? New gas generation – about 11 gigawatts coming on-stream in the next 5 years – “grandfathered” (no obligations to control emissions with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)) throughout the life of the power plant – does produce questions about Climate Change targets – CCS may change that landscape in the medium-term future. Question about emergence of biogas into system [which would bring] a down-trend in emissions.

[David Cox] The wonderful future that gas offers us. Have to look at whole low carbon [framework] – gas has a place. Not a war [between gas and renewable energy technologies]. Both needed [in the advance towards carbon-free] energy. Without gas, not going to make it. Make sure we can afford it. Gas has a role. The recent [International Energy Agency] IEA report on the “Golden Age of Gas” – tight gas, shale gas – has doubled reserves. Nobody knows for sure – there’s so much there. Perhaps 250 years of gas – no shortage of gas [although some of it is in] sensitive areas. Getting it from those areas with political problems. [There are uncertainties about] unconventional gas. There is plenty around the world – “pretty good”. Gas is not at war with renewables. Gas isn’t just a transition fuel – it’s a destination fuel. Got to prove CCS technically. If we can do that gas becomes a destination fuel. Can decarbonise not only electricity. Heat. Heat pumps won’t do it on their own. Sorry. [Gas can help decarbonise] transport – electrify the transport system – that’s what we believe is possible. Hope the Government will support CCS.

[Doug Parr] First and foremost – we are not going to eliminate gas from energy systems any time soon – don’t think of gas as a destination – I would warn against policy that gas is allowed to become the default and become too dependent on gas. A lot of policy on gas – but only over part of the energy system [electricity]. Heat is going to rely on gas fo a long time. If follow the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) logic – [heat is a] strategic sector – to getting away from carbon emissions. If gas is going to be what gets us out of energy problems – the so-called “trilemma” of decarbonisation, security [of supply] and cost. [New gas power plants amount to] 11 gigawatts [GW] over the next 5 years – 120 TWh – a quarter of current gas [still in service] out to 2030. If one take CCC target of 50 gC / KWh (grammes of carbon per kilowatt hour). Look at CCGT [Combined Cycle Gas Turbine gas generation power plant in operation] – that target is a fraction of [current] unabated [CCGT] – not that great. Any substantial role of gas has to make some pretty strong assumptions about CCS. Remember, this is not yet working – let us not have a decarbonisation policy relying heavily on CCS when not at the first stage. The CCC have warned that grandfathering of the 11 GW new generation – emit without restrictions – and issue until 2045. Can’t say gas is somehow the answer to decarbonisation issues. In media – don’t [swallow] the media froth. [As for] security of supply – already going to be quite reliant on gas for heating for quite some time – hard to see [otherwise]. Heavily reliant on imports – around 80%. Where do we import our gas from ? Qatar and Norway mostly. The former head of the Navy argued [recently] changing gas prices is the single most significant factor. DECC [UK Government Department of Energy and Climate Change] recent report on price shock. REA [Renewable Energy Association] said that just by hitting renewables targets would displace £60 billion of imports. [As for] shale gas : both Ofgem research and Deutsche Bank reports that shale gas is very unlikely to help on security [of supply] issue. Citing American example [of shale gas exploitation] is just irrelevant. [So the UK Government must be] supporting gas because of costs ? The biggest rise in consumer bills is from fossil fuel [price increases]. Not renewable energy, not green energy [measures] – it’s the rise in the wholesale gas price. Is that going to stabilise and go down ? Not according to Merrill Lynch and DECC – [strong] prices for Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) and therefore for gas [as a whole, will stay]. Clearly we will be using gas – as [electricity grid load] balancing. What I’m railing about is that gas doesn’t get us out of our energy trilemma. Gas will not [save us]. We know we can deliver through renewable energy, wind – acceleration of new technologies [such as tidal] – perhaps CCS will work, who knows ? and efficient use for example Combined Heat and Power (CHP) on industrial scale. If we are using gas we are using at it’s most efficient.

[Alan Whitehead MP] [recounts tale of how he got into trouble with Twitter commentators when he insisted the recent rise in consumer energy bills was due to the rise in the cost of wholesale gas, not green energy measures] [To Charles Hendry] I’m sure you don’t Tweet.

[Charles Hendry MP] No. absolutely not. I have enough people telling me I’m wrong without… We have to look at the role of gas. It would a dereliction of Government not to look at the role of gas going forward. […mentions developments in gas production…] seismic profiling [enabling better understanding of gas fields] horizontal drilling [improving access to complex fields]. [As for] unconventional gas – the IEA “Golden Age of Gas” – but don’t assume [it’s that simple – supply may go up but] demand for gas is going to go up dramatically. Japan – major user of LNG and diesel. Consequence of Germany’s decision to close nuclear power plants – will use much more gas. China…India…growth rate – massive growth of demand. Anticipate new resources to be found – Iraq for example – but cannot assume [what has happened in the United States of America with the development of shale gas where gas prices are now] a quarter [of what they were] – a massive boost to America – will they allow this to be exported to Asia – or use cheap gas to [relocating] industry back to the USA ? Have to look at implications for us. Reasons why shale gas is different in Europe – legal [situation] – the mineral rights [in the US, these can be acquired from underneath a landowner]. Don’t have the same commercial drives as farmers in the US. The reason why gas prices collapsed in the US and not here – if we saw a price benefit here, it would go out through the [gas] interconnectors [to neighbouring countries]. For real practical reasons won’t see shal gas develop [significantly] here. [It is a] global gamechanger – but… The US is fundamentally shifting from coal to gas – with the implications for emissions. The change from coal to gas was a major driver in European control of emissions [in the 1990s] […] Investment…technology…practical constraints. EdF [Electricite de France] will go ahead with new nuclear [by the end of the year ?] but the plant will not come online until the end of the decade. Major renewable energy resources also in 2020s [not immediate] – the cost of offshore wind power is two times that of onshore. We’re saying to industry to reduce by 40% by the end of the decade – otherwise simply not affordable. Contributions from tidal, CCS ahead. It’s going to be very end of this decade to see if CCS can work. Worrying gap [in power generation between now and next decade]. Megawatts (MW) of coal being turned off in 2015. [Coal plants are] getting through their [legally permitted] generating hours too quickly. By 2023, the only nuclear plant still operational will be Sizewell B. We have to have more gas in the mix. As we look towards more intermittent resources (renewables), gas is an important source of backup. [Will have/need] a capacity mechanism to ensure [optimisation when] mismatch between supply and demand – auction to include gas – could be [North Sea] gas, gas from the interconnectors [from abroad] or demand side response [demand reduction] – a more sophisticated capacity mechanism than historical. I’m more optimistic about CCS [than Doug Parr]. CCS is a requirement. It is something we have to deliver – no scenario I’ve seen where we’re going [to be] using less coal, oil and gas than today. [Out to 2035] our basic needs [will still rely for a good percentage on] fossil fuels. Broadening CCS [demonstration competition] out to pre- and post-combustion on coal – [expand] to gas. Can be applied to gas as well as coal. I think CCS is a fundamentally critical part of this equation. If so, can see gas as a destination fuel. The GW of gas being built in the next few years [some questions] – currently gas is being mothballed [some plants being shut down effectively putting them into disuse] because of [fuel] prices. I consented more in gas and also wind on- and offshore last year. But that gas is not being built. If we want that gas built we need a more coherent strategy. Look at what is necessary to encourage that gas – and carbon emissions [reduction] alongside. EPS [Emissions Performance Standard] […] to stop unabated coal – limit 450 gC / kWh – significant proportion of plant would need CCS. But ddin’t want to disincentivise gas. Have also said a point where CCS on gas will be necessary. But if we had people building gas now and then 15, 20 years later they would have to fit very expensive [CCS] equipment… Volume of gas coming forward meets our supply issues. Over the next few years, grandfathering. If see enough gas coming through can change the mechanism in due course. [We will be] responding officially to the CCC in Autumn. Need to [fully] decarbonise electricity in the course of the 2030s if we want to meet out climate change objectives. I think that [the] reality [is that] gas and important element. Nuclear is important. Want to see significant amount of renewable energy and what Doug is calling for – significant commitment to [energy use] efficiency in the country. [We should concentrate particularly on] energy efficiency.

The meeting then opened up to questions from the floor… To Be Continued

Clicking with Climate

Image Credit : University of California at Berkeley

Human beings have two brains. The first is a self-centred workhorse of pragmatic decision-making, interested in social engagement in order to further individual interests – whether those interests are purely for personal enrichment or for the reward of the social group more widely.

The second human brain is a relativistic engine, constantly comparing, reflecting, analysing. We are concerned about other peoples’ emotional response, wondering what other people think about us, responding to peer group pressure.

Are we more successful, popular than others ? Do people listen to us more than others ? We know we’re right, but do they ? We need to pitch ourselves in the right way. We jostle for pole position, for a place on the platform, hoping not to make too many opponents, whilst making more converts to our point of view.

Personally, I don’t listen to my second brain very often. As a social animal, I hope I’m tolerant, and my priorities in interpersonal engagement are mutual empowerment, transparent collaboration and inclusion. In my public projection, I’m not trying to vaunt myself over others, or massage my image for approval, or put up a fake facade. You get me, you get direct.

But I can’t avoid the second human brain entirely – as it is the reason for a lot of fuzziness in our view of the world around us. It’s too easy to stir doubt, falsehoods and bad ideas into the collective cake mix of society, where it fizzes into a bubbling mess. In matters of climate change science and energy engineering, there are no grey areas for me. But for a number of people I know, these are subjects of much confusion, denial and disinformation.

People hold on to the totem of what other people think. And so you have even very intelligent social commentators reciting from paid-for public relations by companies and business pressure groups. Journalists often do not appear to understand the difference between pseudo-science and real live science. There are too many people selling unrealistic, unworkable technological “solutions”, particularly in energy, so it’s hard to know what to accept and what to dismiss.

Yet it is critical to know what rock, what branch to keep a hold of in the flood of information that could sweep us away. The social construction of climate change is an important edifice, a safe house in an information world at war with itself. What high wind can sweep away the grubby pages of non-science from the Daily Mail ? What rising sea can cleanse the Daily Telegraph of its climate change denial columnists ? What can stop the so-called Global Warming Policy Foundation from infecting the Internet with their contrarian position ? What can make us accept the reality and urgency of global warming ? How can we learn to click with climate change ?

Three significant academic thinkers on the social significance of climate change are launching new works at the British Library in London, on 16th January 2012. The British Sociological Association have invited Mike Hulme, John Urry and Gordon Walker to discuss chapters from their recent books which address the question – where next for society and climate change ?

In the words of Chris Shaw at the University of Sussex, “they pull no punches in their analyses, and their approach is based on years of research into the social dimensions of the climate change debate. This is an essential opportunity for all those interested in bringing climate change into the democratic sphere, to help understand the issues involved in such a transition. It is also a chance to discuss the ideas with the authors and other delegates.”

For more information, see here and here.

Renewable Gas : Balanced Power

People who know very little about renewable and sustainable energy continue to buzz like flies in the popular media. They don’t believe wind power economics can work. They don’t believe solar power can provide a genuine contribution to grid capacity. They don’t think marine power can achieve. They would rather have nuclear power. They would rather have environmentally-destructive new oil and gas drilling. They have friends and influence in Government. They have financial clout that enables them to keep disseminating their inaccuracies.

It’s time to ditch the pundits, innuendo artists and insinuators and consult the engineers.

Renewable Gas can stand in the gap – when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine and the grid is not sufficiently widespread and interconnected enough to be able to call on other wind or solar elsewhere.

Renewable Gas is the storing of biologically-derived and renewably-created gases, and the improving of the gases, so that they can be used on-demand in a number of applications.

This field of chemical engineering is so old, yet so new, it doesn’t have a fixed language yet.

However, the basic chemistry, apart from dealing with contaminants, is very straight-forward.

When demand for grid electricity is low, renewable electricity can be used to make renewable hydrogen, from water via electrolysis, and in other ways. Underused grid capacity can also be used to methanate carbon-rich biologically-derived gas feedstocks – raising its stored energy.

Then when demand for grid electricity is high, renewable gas can be used to generate power, to fill the gap. And the flue gases from this combustion can be fed back into the gas storage.

Renewable gas can also be biorefined into vehicle fuels and other useful chemicals. This application is likely to be the most important in the short term.

In the medium-term, the power generation balance that renewable gas can offer is likely to be the most important application.

Researchers are working on optimising all aspects of renewable gas and biorefinery, and businesses are already starting to push towards production.

We can have a fully renewable energy future, and we will.

The New Sciontist : BP Subvertisers

Image Credit : Liberate Tate (Event Flyer)

The New Scientist magazine must be hard up. They’ve already bowed to economic pressure and taken the “king’s shilling” from the oil and gas industry by running Statoil advertisements, at least one made to look like a normal New Scientist article, giving Natural Gas a makeover as desirable as washing powder – all clean and reliable and loved by obsessives everywhere. Now they appear to have lost their power for critical reasoning and sunk to being suckers as billboards for BP spin, taking a front cover foldout for biofuels, with what I think is a completely deceitful portrayal of BP’s business.

Continue reading The New Sciontist : BP Subvertisers

Energy Poll #8 : Renewable Gas

Question 1    Have you heard reports about how vehicles can run on compressed Renewable Gas made from animal and plant waste ?

Question 2    Do you think we will need to give up using petrol and diesel burning cars in cities for air quality reasons ?

Question 3    Are you keen to see cleaner-burning engines in vehicles ?

Question 4    Would you be ready to save money to buy a new compressed gas car ?

Question 5    Do you think that compressed gas cars could have the same performance and economy as diesel and petrol cars ?

Background Information : please give a few brief details about what kind of person you are, to help us check that a representative sample of people have answered the survey.

What region are you living in ?
How old are you ?
What gender are you ?
How do you prefer to keep up to date with science ?

Is Climate Change really happening ?
Is Peak Oil really happening ?
Do you know a lot about energy  ?
Enter your e-mail address if you want the final results

Renewable Gas #5 : Beyond Biogas

I was speaking to a nuclear power “waverer” the other day. They said that George Monbiot or Mark Lynas was saying that since Germany has cancelled its nuclear power programme, Germany’s Carbon Dioxide emissions will increase, because they will be using coal and Natural Gas power stations :-


I explained that this was a common misconception, and that Germany is still planning to meet their carbon targets, and that it can be done even with coal and gas power plants because in a few decades’ time the coal and Natural Gas power plants will only be used a couple of weeks a year in total to back up all the renewables, such as wind power and solar power, that Germany is building.

This is not the end of the story, however.

Continue reading Renewable Gas #5 : Beyond Biogas

George Monbiot : New Clear

It is a newer, clearer tone that George Monbiot uses in his piece The nuclear industry stinks. But that is not a reason to ditch nuclear power. He seems to have lost his dirty annoyance with filthy anti-nuclear activists and moved onto a higher plane of moral certitude, where the air is cleaner and more refined.

He is pro-technology, but anti-industry. For him, the privately owned enterprises of atomic energy are the central problem that has led to accidents both of a radioactive and an accountancy nature. “Corporate power ?”, he asks, “No thanks.” The trouble is, you can’t really separate the failings of nuclear power from the failings of human power. It’s such a large, complex and dangerous enterprise that inevitably, human power systems compromise the use of the technology, regardless of whether they are publicly or privately owned. For a small amount of evidence, just look at the history of publicly-managed nuclear power in the United Kingdom. Not exactly peachy. And as for those who claimed that a “free” market approach to managing nuclear power would improve matters – how wrong they were. In my view, on the basis of the evidence so far, nobody can claim that nuclear power can be run as an efficient, safe, profit-making venture.

Continue reading George Monbiot : New Clear

Energy Poll #3 : Peak Oil

Question 1    How often do you read press reports that discuss disruption in the supply of crude oil ?

Question 2    Do you think there may be a reduction in the range of foreign produce available in supermarkets ?

Question 3    Would you be happy to change your lifestyle in the event of fuel scarcity ?

Question 4    Do you have plans to change your private or business travel options ?

Question 5    Do you think that we will still drive privately-owned vehicles in future ?

Background Information : please give a few brief details about what kind of person you are, to help us check that a representative sample of people have answered the survey.

What region are you living in ?
How old are you ?
What gender are you ?
How do you prefer to keep up to date with science ?

Is Climate Change really happening ?
Is Peak Oil really happening ?
Do you know a lot about energy  ?
Enter your e-mail address if you want the final results

The Cost of a Tankful

[ UPDATE : The windfall tax on the oil and gas companies is going to amount to £2 billion, not £10 billion – and George Osborne is going to watch them “like a hawk” to make sure there’s “no funny business” and that they don’t pass on the cost of the tax to their vehicle fuel customers. Yeah, right. Like, when are people going to wake up and realise market tinkering won’t help ? We need “big number” public investment in sustainable fuels and sustainable vehicle technologies, not efforts to massage fuel duty to appease vocal petrolheads. ]

Let’s see now…how’s the price of a gallon of fuel today ?

Well, the fuel duty escalator has been scrapped for the rest of this UK Parliament.

Plus, fuel duty has been decreased by 1 pence per litre.

This will gladden the hearts of many who have campaigned against the scorching taxes on fuel costs to motorists.

But Value Added Tax for fuel hasn’t been brought down – because the UK Government said it would be illegal under EU law to cut VAT specifically for fuel.

None of these measures announced in today’s UK Budget will stop the price of vehicle fuel from rising further with the markets, unfortunately, so nobody who depends on their personal vehicle should be rejoicing.

The £10 billion or so that will be extracted from the North Sea oil industry via a raise in production tax (apparently to pay for cancelling the fuel duty increase) will no doubt be charged back out to vehicle fuel customers one way or another…the price of ICE Brent Crude for forwards contracts dipped a little today, but the average has shot up over the last 3 months.

Minor adjustments to the price of vehicle fuel will not resolve the fundamentals driving crude oil price changes – and hence the price of diesel and petrol and the pump.

The major shake-up in the price of crude oil shows that suggestions to tinker with taxes or levies to try to adjust consumption for environmental reasons will be a totally failed strategy even before it begins.

So why oh why has George Osborne instituted a Carbon Price Floor for electricity emissions in the power generation sector ? The “price signal” this is supposed to give, an “incentive” to reduce high carbon generation and invest in low carbon generation, will be totally lost amongst the increasing operating costs for electricity production – not least because nuclear power is about to get much, much more expensive because of the response to safety concerns raised by the Fukushima Daiichi Japan Nuclear Accident.

It is time to admit that green taxation doesn’t change behaviour because it is always small compared to other price effects.

It is also time to recognise that proactive investment in such things as low carbon fuels, vehicle fuel efficiency and small electric vehicles, small fuel cell vehicles, more public transport, lower driving speeds, fully inflated tyres, de-centralisation of employment and re-localisation of public services are key to tackling Climate Change for the transport sector.

So…how’s the Green Investment Bank shaping up, then, George Osborne ?