Energy Change for Climate Control
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  • On Having to Start Somewhere

    Posted on March 15th, 2014 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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


    To: Jo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    From: Jo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  • Failing Narratives : Carbon Culprits

    Posted on March 14th, 2014 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Here’s some background :-

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

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

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

    Seriously – where the exoplanet are we at ?

  • In Confab : Paul Elsner

    Posted on January 23rd, 2014 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Gain in Transmission

    Posted on January 13th, 2014 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

    Dear [Professor] Sears,

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Thank you,

    jo.

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

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

    Jo,

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

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

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

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

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

    Best regards,
    Rich Sears

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

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

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

    Dear [Professor] Sears,

    Many thanks for your reply.

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

    May I blog them ?

    Regards,

    jo.

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

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

    Jo,

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

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

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

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

    Rich

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

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

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

    Dear Professor Sears,

    HNY 2014 !

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

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

    Examples would be :-

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Many thanks,

    jo.

  • Curmudgeons Happen

    Posted on January 5th, 2014 Jo 1 comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    To pacify the Conservative Party.

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

    We need to convince so many people.

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

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

    What about nuclear fusion ?

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

    What about conventional nuclear fission power ?

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

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

    How can the energy companies turn your fridge off ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Making The Sour Sweet

    Posted on January 1st, 2014 Jo No comments

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

  • Champagne with Michael Caine

    Posted on December 11th, 2013 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • My Generation

    Posted on November 21st, 2013 Jo No comments

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

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

  • Economic Ecology

    Posted on October 25th, 2013 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • The Economist : Annoying Power

    Posted on October 20th, 2013 Jo No comments





    I generally avoid reading The Economist magazine – apart from the Science and Technology section – as it tends to make my blood boil. The writing style frequently includes such things that I would describe as casual generalisation, unquestioned third party claims, suppositions used in place of factual account, and the selective use of statistics to construct meaning – all of which have the power to annoy. Sometimes an article has so many trigger points, that I simply cannot finish reading it.

    This week I risked reading an article recommended to me about power generation in Europe, and I was pretty soon gnashing my teeth and wailing. I was indignant because the arguments being used ignored vital parts of European energy policy, and just parroted the complaints of utility companies, without challenging them, whilst at the same time ignoring the energy sector blackmail and brinkmanship. The article contradicted itself about energy investment and energy prices, and failed to make the case for utilities to diversify in order to survive.

    First of all – the contradictions. In The Economist magazine of 12th October 2013, the article entitled “How to lose half a trillion euros”, contains these two sections :-

    “[...] During the 2000s, European utilities overinvested in generating capacity from fossil fuels, boosting it by 16% in Europe as a whole and by more in some countries [...] The market for electricity did not grow by nearly that amount, even in good times; then the financial crisis hit demand. According to the International Energy Agency, total energy demand in Europe will decline by 2% between 2010 and 2015.”

    “[...] the old-fashioned utilities [...] So far, it is true, they have managed to provide backup capacity and the grid has not failed, even in solar- and wind-mad Germany. [...] But [...] it is getting harder to maintain grid stability. [...] The role of utilities as investors is [...] being threatened. [...]”

    How can the privatised power utilities on the one hand have “overinvested”, and at the same time not invested enough to protect the grid in future ?

    The article writer misses several key points. The underlying reasons for investment in Europe in fossil fuel-fired generation during the 2000s was not in anticipation of higher power demand. The vast majority of new investment in the period 2000 to 2010 in the European Union was in Natural Gas-fired power plants, in anticipation of carbon emissions control and other environmental policy, and in anticipation of the retirement of a number of power plants reaching the ends of their lives. It was also viewed as a no-regrets option given there were plans to diversify the unified European power market to increase competitiveness – incorporating new, smaller players, and new, variable renewable power resources. Flexible gas generation would therefore always be in demand – the ability to turn off and on as required. Requiring gas plants to operate flexibly divorces generation capacity from generation demand, and so invalidates The Economist writer’s statement.

    And on to the problem of a contradiction over prices :-

    “[...] Renewable, low-carbon energy accounts for an ever-greater share of production. It is helping push wholesale electricity prices down, and could one day lead to big reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions. For established utilities, though, this is a disaster. [...] In short, they argue, the growth of renewable energy is undermining established utilities and replacing them with something less reliable and much more expensive. [...]”

    How can renewable electricity be lowering the prices of wholesale power, and yet also be replacing established utilities with something “much more expensive” ?

    I think the clue for this poor reasoning lies with a faulty interpretation of Germany’s Renewable Energy Surcharge – the EEG-Umlage, which is held up as the proof that green power costs more than fossil fuel power. The article says :-

    “[...] Electricity prices have fallen from over €80 per MWh at peak hours in Germany in 2008 to just €38 per MWh now [...] These are wholesale prices; residential prices are €285 per MWh, some of the highest in the world, partly because they include subsidies for renewables that are one-and-a-half times, per unit of energy, the power price itself). [...]”


    The Economist’s calculation of the green power subsidies at “one-and-a-half times” the wholesale power price is €57/MWh, so that’s only 20% of the total price of power to the consumer. Other costs besides the actual wholesale cost of the electricity, add up to €190, 67% of the cost of power to the household – far more of an impact than the renewable energy subsidies. I found the data from the BDEW to confirm these figures – from the “Power prices for households” presentation for May 2013, the price of electricity for consumers (for a standard three person house) is at €287.3/MWh, and the combination of Renewable Energy surcharges – including the VAT and the Offshore Wind surcharge – come to €59.82/MWh. So the numbers aren’t wrong, but the way The Economist article paragraph is written it gives the impression that asking end consumers to pay the costs of transitioning to green power is a huge burden. It’s not.

    These charges to households would be less if all energy users were to participate in paying for the renewable energy subsidies – but some companies do not, using the argument of anti-competitiveness. If they have to pay the surcharge, they reason, they will lose business to other countries. Quite effective blackmail, burdening the end consumer with higher power bills. In addition the electricity supply companies are trying to maintain their profit margins so may not be passing all the reductions in power costs to their consumers. One calculation suggests the total cost of Germany’s power will reduce by over €5.5 billion in 2014, and yet household electricity costs are expected to rise. The heightening effect of the Renewable Energy Act (EEG) surcharge on power prices is not going to last forever, however, as it’s promoting cheaper wholesale prices, and building in protection from the risks of sharply-rising prices for fossil fuels. Electricity supply companies are going to be able to sell progressively cheaper energy, and this differential will eventually reach the consumers, even if that needs to be legislatively enforced.

    Next, on to the assertion that increasing renewable electricity is pushing flexible gas-fired power generation out of the frame :-

    “[...] Renewables have “grid priority”, meaning the grid must take their electricity first. This is a legal requirement, to encourage renewable energy in Europe. But it is also logical: since the marginal cost of wind and solar power is zero, grids would take their power first anyway. [...] But unlike the baseload providers already in place (nuclear and coal), solar and wind power are intermittent, surging with the weather. [...] Now, when demand fluctuates, it may not be enough just to lower the output of gas-fired generators. Some plants may have to be switched off altogether and some coal-fired ones turned down. [...] It is costly because scaling back coal-fired plants is hard. It makes electricity prices more volatile. And it is having a devastating effect on profits. [...] Gérard Mestrallet, chief executive of GDF Suez, the world’s largest electricity producer, says 30GW of gas-fired capacity has been mothballed in Europe since the peak, including brand-new plants. The increase in coal-burning pushed German carbon emissions up in 2012-13, the opposite of what was supposed to happen.”

    The real core of this issue is that baseload is history – or it should be – and it will be for Germany in the near future – as some coal-fired power plants will need to close or be transitioned under the Large Combustion Plants Directive, and it’s successor, the Industrial Emissions Directive (9,000 coal-fired installations will be affected by the IED); and the nuclear power plants are all scheduled to close. It is very unlikely that much in the way of new European nuclear power will come on-stream within the next 15 years. The price of coal fuel might stay reasonable, due to a number of factors, but the cost of burning it is likely to become higher, so the baseload paradigm should be well and truly broken.

    That gas-fired power plants would be finding profit margins slim is something that has been anticipated widely, so it’s not exactly a shock, although it’s being used as a bargaining chip by utilities in ongoing negotations to launch an EU-wide “Capacity Market” for flexible power generation (principally gas, of course, since neither nuclear nor coal are flexible, and coal is practically on the edge of extinction in policy terms).

    CapGemini has recently published a scaremongering projection :-

    “[...] Gas plant closures : One of the biggest impacts of the disturbed gas and electricity markets is the rapid closure of numerous gas plants in the region. A recent study by IHS estimates that about 130,000 MW (130 GW) of gas plants across Europe (around 60% of the total installed gas fired generation in the Region) are currently not recovering their fixed costs and are at a risk of closure by 2016. These plants – essential to safeguarding security of supply during peak hours – are being replaced by volatile and unforecastable renewable energy installations that are heavily subsidised. [...]”

    And other sources are also pushing the doom and gloom :-

    “[...] The pain being suffered by owners of European gas-fired power plant has escalated over the last 12 months. Weak power demand, subsidised renewable build and relatively high gas prices have conspired to crush gas fired generation margins [...] It is difficult to imagine how market sentiment around gas-fired plant could get much worse. About a year ago we questioned the prospect of a European gas plant bust in the form of plant mothballing, closures and the distressed sale of assets. There is clear evidence of a bust gathering steam in 2013, with a number of utilities pursuing exactly these actions. [...]”

    Instead of complaining and game-playing, electricity utilities should accept the need to adapt. In line with EU Directives, they can expect to be able to make a good profit by diversifying into energy services – so they end up not simply selling energy, but selling energy demand control. They would move from being E. Co.’s to ESCOs. If they accept the challenge to diversify, they can keep their shareholders happy, and they will be able to survive the slim margins they can make from gas-fired electricity generation during periods of peak demand, or to load balance grids increasingly dependent on renewable electricity generation.

    If the power utilities fail to adapt, they’re not too big to fail. I would suggest that European Governments renationalise them, as we’re going to have to fork out gazillions of euros to keep the Capacity Market running the way the utilities would like, so we might as well own the assets, too.

  • Mind the Gap : BBC Costing the Earth

    Posted on October 16th, 2013 Jo 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 :-
    http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2013/burning_issue_public_event/
    “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)
    http://www.lumenurc.org.uk/lumencontact.htm
    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…




    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03cn0rb

    “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
    investigates.”

    00:44 – 00:48
    [ Channel anchor ]
    Britain’s energy needs are top of the agenda in “Costing the Earth”…

    01:17
    [ 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.

    01:27
    [ 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
    barely begun.

    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.

    02:14
    [ Historical recordings ]

    “The lights have started going out in the West Country : Bristol,
    Exeter and Plymouth have all had their first power cuts this
    afternoon.”

    “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
    close.”

    “The various [ gas ] boards on both sides of the Pennines admit to
    being taken by surprise with today’s cold spell which brought about
    the cuts.”

    “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.”

    03:13
    [ 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.

    03:57
    [ 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
    expensive.

    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
    2020.

    08:06

    [ 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’
    time.

    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
    winter ?

    [ 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
    soon.

    [ 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
    needed.

    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
    we need.

    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
    2020.

    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
    their pathways.

    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
    by 4.5%

    [ 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
    unlikely saviour.

    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.

    16:19

    [ 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 ?
    Confused. ]

    [ 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
    stations.

    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.

    20:02

    [ 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
    pellets.

    [ 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
    biomass.

    [ 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
    high.

    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
    we’re at.

    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
    mitigation.”

    [ 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
    difficult.

    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
    they won’t.

    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 ? ]

    29:04

    [ Programme anchor ]

    “Costing the Earth” was presented by Tom Heap, and made in Bristol by
    Helen Lennard.

    [ Next broadcast : 16th October 2013, 21:00, BBC Radio 4 ]

  • High Stakes Energy Chutzpah

    Posted on October 15th, 2013 Jo No comments





    Image Credit : Carbon Brief


    After Gordon Brown MP, the UK’s former Prime Minister, was involved in several diplomatic missions around the time of the oil price spike crisis in 2008, and the G20 group of countries went after fossil fuel subsidies (causing easily predictable civil disturbances in several parts of the world), it seemed to me to be obvious that energy price control would be a defining aspect of near-term global policy.

    With the economy still in a contracted state (with perhaps further contraction to follow on), national interest for industrialised countries rests in maintaining domestic production and money flows – meaning that citizens should not face sharply-rising utility bills, so that they can remain active in the economy.

    In the UK, those at the fringe of financial sustainability are notoriously having to face the decision about whether to Eat or Heat, and Food Banks are in the ascendance. Various charity campaigns have emphasised the importance of affordable energy at home, and the leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband MP has made an energy price freeze a potential plank of his policy ahead of the push for the next General Election.

    The current Prime Minister, David Cameron MP has called this commitment a “con”, as his political counterpart cannot determine the wholesale price of gas (or power) in the future.

    This debate comes at a crucial time in the passage of the UK Energy Bill, as the Electricity Market Reform (EMR), a key component of this legislation has weighty subsidies embedded in it for new nuclear power and renewable energy, and also backup plants (mostly Natural Gas-fired) for periods of high power demand, in what is called the “Capacity Market“. These subsidies will largely be paid for by increases in electricity bills, in one way or another.

    The EMR hasn’t yet passed into the statute books, so the majority of “green energy taxes” haven’t yet coming into being – although letters of “comfort” may have been sent to to (one or more) companies seeking to invest in new nuclear power facilities, making clear the UK Government’s monetary commitment to fully supporting the atomic “renaissance”.

    With a bucketload of chutzpah, Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) and Electricite de France’s Vincent de Rivaz blamed green energy policies for contributing to past, current and future power price rises. Both of these companies stand to gain quite a lot from the EMR, so their blame-passing sounds rather hollow.

    The Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph have seemed to me to be incendiary regarding green energy subsidies, omitting to mention that whilst the trajectory of the cost of state support for renewable energy is easily calculated, volatility in global energy markets for gas and oil – and even coal – are indeterminable. Although “scandal-hugging” (sensation equals sales) columnists and editors at the newspapers don’t seem to have an appreciation of what’s really behind energy price rises, the Prime Minister – and Ed Davey MP – have got it – and squarely placed the responsibility for energy price rises on fossil fuels.

    The price tag for “green energy policies” – even those being offered to (low carbon, but not “green”) nuclear power – should be considerably less than the total bill burden for energy, and hold out the promise of energy price stabilisation or even suppression in the medium- to long-term, which is why most political parties back them.

    The agenda for new nuclear power appears to be floundering – it has been suggested by some that European and American nuclear power companies are not solvent enough to finance a new “fleet” of reactors. In the UK, the Government and its friends in the nuclear industry are planning to pull in east Asian investment (in exchange for large amounts of green energy subsidies, in effect). I suspect a legal challenge will be put forward should a trade agreement of this nature be signed, as soon as its contents are public knowledge.

    The anger stirred up about green energy subsidies has had a reaction from David Cameron who has not dispensed with green energy policy, but declared that subsidies should not last longer than they are needed – probably pointing at the Germany experience of degressing the solar power Feed-in Tariff – although he hasn’t mentioned how nuclear subsidies could be ratcheted down, since the new nuclear programme will probably have to rely on state support for the whole of its lifecycle.

    Meanwhile, in the Press, it seems that green energy doesn’t work, that green energy subsidies are the only reason for energy bill rises, we should drop the Climate Change Act, and John Prescott MP, and strangely, a woman called Susan Thomas, are pushing coal-fired power claiming it as the cheaper, surer – even cleaner – solution, and there is much scaremongering about blackouts.




    http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/john-prescott-its-coal-power-2366172

    John Prescott on why it’s coal power to the people

    12 Oct 2013

    We can’t just stand back and give these energy companies money to burn.

    It’s only 72 days until Christmas. But the greedy big six energy companies are giving themselves an early present. SSE has just announced an inflation-beating 8.2 per cent price rise on gas and electricity.

    The other five will soon follow suit, no doubt doing their best to beat their combined profit from last year of £10billion.

    Their excuse now is to blame climate change. SSE says it could cut bills by £110 if Government, not the Big Six, paid for green energy ­subsidies and other environmental costs, such as free loft insulation.

    So your bill would look smaller but you’d pay for it with higher taxes. Talk about smoke and mirrors.

    But Tory-led governments have always been hopeless at protecting the energy security of this country.

    It’s almost 40 years since Britain was hit by blackouts when the Tories forced the UK into a three-day week to conserve energy supplies.

    But Ofgem says the margin of ­security between energy demand and supply will drop from 14 per cent to 4 per cent by 2016. That’s because we’ve committed to closing nine oil and coal power stations to meet EU ­environmental law and emissions targets. These targets were meant to encourage the UK to move to cleaner sources of energy.

    But this government drastically reduced subsidies for renewable energy such as wind and solar, let Tory energy ministers say “enough is enough” to onshore wind and failed to get agreement on replacing old
    nuclear power stations.

    On top of that, if we experience a particularly cold winter, we only have a reserve of 5 per cent.

    But the Government is committed to hundreds of millions pounds of subsidies to pay the energy ­companies to mothball these oil and coal power stations. As someone who ­negotiated the first Kyoto agreement in 1997 and is involved in its replacement by 2015, it is clear European emissions targets will not be met in the short term by 2020.

    So we have to be realistic and do what we can to keep the lights on, our people warm and our country running.

    We should keep these oil and coal power stations open to reduce the risk of blackouts – not on stand-by or mothballed but working now.

    The former Tory Energy minister John Hayes hinted at this but knew he couldn’t get it past his Lib Dem Energy Secretary boss Ed Davey. He bragged he’d put the coal in coalition. Instead he put the fire in fired.

    We can’t just stand back and give these energy companies money to burn. The only energy security they’re interested in is securing profit and maximising taxpayer subsidies.

    That’s why Ed Miliband’s right to say he’d freeze bills for 20 months and to call for more ­transparency.

    We also need an integrated mixed energy policy – gas, oil, wind, nuclear and, yes, coal.




    http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/yoursay/letters/10722697.Bills_have_risen_to_pay_for_policy_changes/?ref=arc

    Letters

    Bills have risen to pay for policy changes

    Tuesday 8th October 2013

    in Letters

    THE recent Labour Party pledge to freeze energy bills demonstrated how to have a political cake and eat it. The pledge is an attempt to rectify a heinous political mistake caused by political hubris and vanity.

    In 2008, the then energy minister, Ed Miliband, vowed to enact the most stringent cuts in power emissions in the entire world to achieve an unrealistic 80 per cent cut in carbon emissions by closing down fully functioning coal power stations.

    He was playing the role of climate saint to win popularity and votes.

    I was a member when Ed Miliband spoke in Oxford Town Hall to loud cheers from numerous low-carbon businesses, who stood to profit from his legislation. I was concerned at the impact on the consumer, since it is widely known that coal power stations offer the cheapest energy to consumers compared to nuclear and wind.

    So I wrote to Andrew Smith MP at great length and he passed on my concerns to the newly-formed Department of Energy and Climate Change that had replaced the previous Department of Energy and Business.

    This new department sent me a lengthy reply, mapping out their plans for wind turbines at a projected cost to the consumer of £100bn to include new infrastructure and amendments to the National Grid. This cost would be added to consumer electricity bills via a hidden green policy tariff.
    This has already happened and explains the rise in utility bills.

    Some consumers are confused and wrongly believe that energy companies are ‘ripping them off’.

    It was clearly stated on Channel 4 recently that energy bills have risen to pay for new policy changes. These policy changes were enacted by Ed Miliband in his popularity bid to play climate saviour in 2008. Energy bills have now rocketed. So Ed has cost every single consumer in the land several hundred pounds extra on their bills each year.

    SUSAN THOMAS, Magdalen Road, Oxford




    LETTERS
    Daily Mail
    14th October 2013

    [ Turned off: Didcot power station's closure could lead to power cuts. ]

    Labour’s power failures will cost us all dear

    THE Labour Party’s pledge to freeze energy bills is an attempt to rectify a horrible political mistake. But it might be too late to dig us out of the financial black hole caused by political vanity.

    In 2008, then Energy Minister Ed Miliband vowed to enact the most stringent cuts in power emissions in the world to achieve an unrealistic 80 per cent cut in carbon emissions by closing down coal power stations. He was playing the role of climate saint to win votes.

    I was in the audience in Oxford Town Hall that day and recall the loud cheers from numerous representatives of low-carbon businesses as his policies stood to make them all rather wealthy, albeit at the expense of every electricity consumer in the land.

    I thought Ed had become entangled in a spider’s web.

    I was concerned at the impact on the consumer as it’s widely known that coal power stations offer the cheapest energy to consumers.

    I contacted the Department of Energy and Climate Change and it sent me a lengthy reply mapping out its plans for energy projects and wind turbines – at a projected cost to the consumer of £100 billion – including new infrastructure and national grid amendments.

    It explained the cost would be added to consumer electricity bills via a ‘green policy’ tariff. This has now happened and explains the rise in utility bills.

    Some consumers wrongly believe the energy companies are ripping them off. In fact, energy bills have risen to pay for policy changes.

    The people to benefit from this are low-carbon venture capitalists and rich landowners who reap subsidy money (which ultimately comes from the hard-hit consumer) for having wind farms on their land.

    Since Didcot power station closed I’ve suffered five power cuts in my Oxford home. If we have a cold winter, we now have a one-in-four chance of a power cut.

    The 2008 legislation was a huge mistake. When power cuts happen, people will be forced to burn filthy coal and wood in their grates to keep warm, emitting cancer-causing particulates.

    Didcot had already got rid of these asthma-causing particulates and smoke. It emitted mainly steam and carbon dioxide which aren’t harmful to our lungs. But the clean, non-toxic carbon dioxide emitted by Didcot was classified by Mr Miliband as a pollutant. We are heading into a public health and financial disaster.

    SUSAN THOMAS, Oxford




    http://www.europeanvoice.com/article/2013/october/ceos-demand-reform-of-eu-renewable-subsidies/78418.aspx

    CEOs demand reform of EU renewable subsidies
    By Dave Keating – 11.10.2013

    Companies ask the EU to stop subsidising the renewable energy sector.

    The CEOs of Europe’s ten biggest energy companies called for the European Union and member states to stop subsidising the renewable energy sector on Friday (11 October), saying that the priority access given to the sector could cause widespread blackouts in Europe over the winter.

    At a press conference in Brussels, Paolo Scaroni, CEO of Italian oil and gas company ENI, said: “In the EU, companies pay three times the price of gas in America, twice the price of power. How can we dream of an industrial renaissance with such a differential?”

    The CEOs said the low price of renewable energy as a result of government subsidies is causing it to flood the market. They called for an EU capacity mechanism that would pay utilities for keeping electric power-generating capacity on standby to remedy this problem.

    They also complained that the low price of carbon in the EU’s emissions trading scheme (ETS) is exacerbating the problem…




    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2458333/DAILY-MAIL-COMMENT-Press-freedom-life-death-matter.html

    Well said, Sir Tim

    Days after David Cameron orders a review of green taxes, which add £132 to power bills, the Lib Dem Energy Secretary vows to block any attempt to cut them.

    Reaffirming his commitment to the levies, which will subsidise record numbers of inefficient wind farms approved this year, Ed Davey adds: ‘I think we will see more price rises.’

    The Mail can do no better than quote lyricist Sir Tim Rice, who has declined more than £1million to allow a wind farm on his Scottish estate. ‘I don’t see why rich twits like me should be paid to put up everybody else’s bills,’ he says. ‘Especially for something that doesn’t work.’

  • Wind Powers Energy Security #2

    Posted on August 18th, 2013 Jo No comments

    There’s no doubt about it – wind power is saving the grid. Since the economic deflation (otherwise more sensitively termed a “recession” or a “slowdown”), and the consequent drop in confidence about the growth in electricity demand, and the problem of “missing money” to finance new infrastructure projects, there has not been much investor appetite for commissioning new power plants running on “conventional” fossil fuels. But wind is raging away with 12 gigawatts of wind power capacity added in the European Union in 2012.

    But can wind be relied on ? Well, there’s lots of wind, and so lots of wind power – in the UK, for example, wind turbines generated 16,884 gigawatt hours of power in 2012, more than double the amount in 2008 (DUKES Digest of UK Energy Statistics, Table 5.1).

    But what if the wind dies down when a high pressure weather system sits tight over the UK in the depths of winter ? What “Equivalent Firm Capacity” (EFC) can we expect from wind power ? Ofgem models 17% of the total in their 2013 Electricity Capacity Assessment Report. National Grid modelled 8% in their Winter Outlook Report of 2011/2012, which went up to 10% in the Winter Outlook for 2012/2013, and 10% in the 2013/2014 Winter Consultation Report (but noted that actual availability of wind during the previous year winter high demand conditions had been 9%)

    Views and evidence differ about whether wind power availability is destined to be so low in winter cold highs – whether calm conditions are bound to be experienced at the same time as high power demand. Both the National Grid and Ofgem, the UK Government’s energy market regulator, have modelled this from data, but just as the time series is relatively short, the number of wind generators is rapidly increasing, so the richness of the data has yet to improve.

    The problem with concentrating on the winter is that the excellent contribution from wind power to indigenous electricity generation is obscured. Clearly that’s the intention of the wind power deniers, who dismiss wind power’s valuable contribution because of the risk of some still days in December or January.

    For any time of the year apart from the deepest cold of winter, wind power is a healthy generation resource. In some cases, wind power is embedded into industrial, military and transport facilities and isn’t metered by National Grid, and at times of high wind generation, National Grid experiences a “negative demand” effect on the main power grid.

    And here are just some of the reasons why the contribution of wind power to national energy security is going to improve :-

    1. A wider geographical spread of wind farms

    More wind power will almost certainly be built. And built fast. Wind turbines have a good Net Present Value, so are assets, as opposed to nuclear reactors which start depreciating in return value the moment you start pouring concrete. Wind turbines are also quick to deploy, compared to the interminable struggle to commit to building other sorts of generation. The reason why wind power is fast to grid is because of slight tilts in market conditions caused by government subsidies and other measures to favour their low carbon generation. The only other contender (besides solar electric) for speed to grid generation from first groundworks is new efficient Natural Gas-fired plant. While people are still debating whether or not to deploy other forms of low carbon generation, wind power and gas (and solar electric) will be ripping up the projection spreadsheets. As more wind power comes online, there will naturally be a wider geographical dispersion of resources. If wind power generation capacity is spread over distances wider than the average anti-cyclonic high pressure system, then higher capacity values can be guaranteed. The more wind power there is, the firmer the promise of power will be.

    2. The development of wind power hubs serving a number of regions

    Already we see wind power “hubs” emerging, centres of build and connection of wind farms where conditions, financing and planning are more favourable. Some of these projects are international, such as in the North Sea area. With the plans for growing the integrated wind power market over a larger number of territories comes the flexibility to use wind power where it’s most needed at any one time, almost certainly raising the levels of wind energy that can be supplied to consumers from the same quantity of generation equipment. If “spare” wind capacity can flow through beefed up European power networks to serve regional demand, then there will be more reason to count on wind.

    3. Size of wind turbines – and height

    Data modelling of wind power will need to adjust to new realities – larger and higher wind turbines – capturing more of the wind for power generation. Wind flow is more regular the higher you are from the surface of the land or sea, so stronger dependency on wind power will be possible in future.

    4. The synergy between low carbon generation technologies

    So you’ve hit a rough patch with low wind speeds today – but solar power is doing fine. Or tidal energy. The more renewable energy technologies we develop, the more they can support each other in their respective weaknesses, so firming up renewable energy capacity as a whole.

    5. The development of hybrid wind systems

    Already, levels of installed wind generation capacity mean that there are periods of unused wind. Part of this will be improved by strengthening transmission networks, and this will improve wind’s reliability by getting “stranded” wind power to market. If the spare or surplus, or even “constrained” or “curtailed” wind power could be put to use as part of a Power to Gas hybrid system, more of the wind energy could be captured for a more reliable source of electrical power. This is just one angle of the Renewable Gas story – there are already several wind-to-hydrogen projects testing the concept of using electrolysis of water by spare wind power to produce hydrogen gas that can be stored and burned later on for power generation.

  • Wind Powers Electricity Security

    Posted on August 17th, 2013 Jo No comments




    Have the anti-wind power lobby struck again ? A seemingly turbulent researcher from Private Eye magazine rang me on Thursday evening to ask me to revise my interpretation of his “Keeping The Lights On” piece of a few weeks previously. His article seemed at first glance to be quite derogatory regarding the contribution of wind power to the UK’s electricity supply. If I were to look again, I would find out, he was sure, that I was wrong, and he was right.

    So I have been re-reviewing the annual 2013 “Electricity Capacity Assessment Report” prepared by Ofgem, the UK Government’s Office of Gas and Electricity Markets, an independent National Regulatory Authority. I have tried to be as fair-minded and generous as possible to “Old Sparky” at Private Eye magazine, but a close re-reading of the Ofgem report suggests he is apparently mistaken – wind power is a boon, not a burden (as he seems to claim).

    In the overview to the Ofgem report, they state, “our assessment suggests that the risks to electricity security of supply over the next six winters have increased since our last report in October 2012. This is due in particular to deterioration in the supply-side outlook. There is also uncertainty over projected reductions in demand.” Neither of these issues can be associated with wind power, which is being deployed at an accelerating rate and so is providing increasing amounts of electricity.

    The report considers risks to security of the electricity supply, not an evaluation of the actual amounts of power that will be supplied. How are these risks to the security of supply quantified ? There are several metrics provided from Ofgem’s modelling, including :-

    a. LOLE – Loss of Load Expectation – the average number of hours per year in which electricity supply does not meet electricity demand (if the grid System Operator does not take steps to balance it out).

    (Note that Ofgem’s definition of LOLE is difference from other people’s “LOLE is often interpreted in the academic literature as representing the probability of disconnections after all mitigation actions available to the System Operator have been exhausted. We consider that a well functioning market should avoid using mitigation actions in [sic] regular basis and as such we interpret LOLE as the probability of having to implement mitigation actions.”)

    b. EEU – Expected Energy Unserved (or “Un-served”) – the average amount of electricity demand that is not met in a year – a metric that combines both the likelihood and the size of any shortfall.

    c. Frequency and Duration of Expected Outages – a measure of the risk that an electricity consumer faces of controlled disconnection because supply does not meet demand.

    The first important thing to note is that the lights are very unlikely to go out. The highest value of LOLE, measured in hours per year is under 20. That’s 20 hours each year. Not 20 days. And this is not anticipated to be 20 days in a row, either. Section 1.11 says “LOLE, as interpreted in this report, is not a measure of the expected number of hours per year in which customers may be disconnected. For a given level of LOLE and EEU, results may come from a large number of small events where demand exceeds supply in principle but that can be managed by National Grid through a set of mitigation actions available to them as System Operator. [...] Given the characteristics of the GB system, any shortfall is more likely to take the form of a large number of small events that would not have a direct impact on customers.”

    Section 2.19 states, “The probabilistic measures of security of supply presented in this report are often misinterpreted. LOLE is the expected number of hours per year in which supply does not meet demand. This does not however mean that customers will be disconnected or that there will be blackouts for that number of hours a year. Most of the time, when available supply is not high enough to meet demand, National Grid may implement mitigation actions to solve the problem without disconnecting any customers. However, the system should be planned to avoid the use of mitigation actions and that is why we measure LOLE ahead of any mitigation actions being used”. And Section 2.20, “LOLE does not necessarily mean disconnections but they do remain a possibility. If the difference between available supply and demand is so large that the mitigation actions are not enough to meet demand then some customers have to be disconnected – this is the controlled disconnections step in Figure 14 above. In this case the [System Operator] SO will disconnect industrial demand before household demand.”

    And in Section 2.21. “The model output numbers presented here refer to a loss of load of any kind. This could be the sum of several small events (controlled through mitigation actions) or a single large event. As a consequence of the mitigation actions available, the total period of disconnections for a customer will be lower than the value of LOLE.”

    The report does anticipate that there are risks of large events where the lights could go out, even if only very briefly, for non-emergency customers : “The results may also come from a small number of large events (eg the supply deficit is more than 2 – 3 gigawatts (GW)) where controlled disconnections cannot be avoided.” But in this kind of scenario two very important things would happen. Those with electricity contracts with a clause permitting forced disconnection would lose power. And immediate backup power generation would be called upon to bridge the gap. There are many kinds of electricity generation that can be called on to start up in a supply crisis – some of them becoming operational in minutes, and others in hours.

    As the report says in Section 2.24 “Each [Distribution Network Operator] DNO ensures it can provide a 20% reduction of its total system demand in four incremental stages (between 4% and 6%), which can be achieved at all times, with or without prior warning, and within 5 minutes of receipt of an instruction from the System Operator. The reduction of a further 20% (40% in total) can be achieved following issue of the appropriate GB System Warning by National Grid within agreed timescales”.

    It’s all about the need for National Grid to balance the system. Section 2.9 says, “LOLE is not a measure of the expected number of hours per year in which customers may be disconnected. We define LOLE to indicate the number of hours in which the system may need to respond to tight conditions.”

    The report also rules some potential sources of disruption of supply outside the remit of this particular analysis – see Section 3.17 “There are other reasons why electricity consumers might experience disruptions to supply, which are out of the scope of this assessment and thus not captured by this model, such as: Flexibility : The ability of generators to ramp up in response to rapid increases in demand or decreases in the output of other generators; Insufficient reserve : Unexpected increases in demand or decreases in available capacity in real time which must be managed by the System Operator through procurement and use of reserve capacity; Network outages : Failures on the electricity transmission or distribution networks; Fuel availability : The availability of the fuel used by generators. In particular the security of supplies of natural gas at times of peak electricity demand.”

    Crucially, the report says there is much uncertainty in their modelling of LOLE and EEU. In Section 2.26, “The LOLE and EEU estimates are just an indication of risk. There is considerable uncertainty around the main variables in the calculation (eg demand, the behaviour of interconnectors etc.)”

    (Note : interconnectors are electricity supply cables that join the UK to other countries such as Ireland and Holland).

    Part of the reason for Ofgem’s caveat of uncertainty is the lack of appropriate data. Although they believe they have better modelling of wind power since their 2012 report (see Sections 3.39 to 3.50), there are data sets they believe should be improved. For example, data on Demand Side Response (DSR) – the ability of the National Grid and its larger or aggregated consumers to alter levels of demand on cue (see Sections 4.7 to 4.10 of the document detailing decisions about the methodology). A lack of data has led to certain assumptions being retained, for example, the assumption that there is no relationship between available wind power and periods of high demand – in the winter season (see Section 2.5 and Sections 4.11 to 4.17 of the methodology decisions document).

    In addition to these uncertainties, the sensitivity cases used in the modelling are known to not accurately reflect the capability of management of the power grid. In the Executive Summary on page 4, the report says, “These sensitivities only illustrate changes in one variable at a time and so do not capture potential mitigating effects, for example of the supply side reacting to higher demand projections.” And in Section 2.16 it says, “Each sensitivity assumes a change in one variable from the Reference Scenario, with all other assumptions being held constant. The purpose of this is to assess the impact of the uncertainty related to each variable in isolation, on the risk measures. Our report is not using scenarios (ie a combination of changes in several variables to reflect alternative worlds or different futures), as this would not allow us to isolate the impact of each variable on the risk measures.”

    Thus, the numbers that are output by the modelling are perforce illustrative, not definitive.

    What “Old Sparky” at Private Eye was rattled by in his recent piece was the calculation of Equivalent Firm Capacity (EFC) in the Ofgem report.

    On page 87, Section 3.55, the Ofgem report defines the “standard measure” EFC as “the amount of capacity that is required to replace the wind capacity to achieve the same level of LOLE”, meaning the amount of always-on generation capacity required to replace the wind capacity to achieve the same level of LOLE. Putting it another way on page 33, in the footnotes for Section 3.29, the report states, “The EFC is the quantity of firm capacity (ie always available) that can be replaced by a certain volume of wind generation to give the same level of security of supply, as measured by LOLE.”

    Wind power is different from fossil fuel-powered generation as there is a lot of variability in output. Section 1.48 of the report says, “Wind generation capacity is analysed separately given that its outcome in terms of generation availability is much more variable and difficult to predict.” Several of the indicators calculated for the report are connected with the impact of wind on security of the power supply. However, variation in wind power is not the underlying reason for the necessity of this report. Other electricity generation plant has variation in output leading to questions of security of supply. In addition, besides planned plant closures and openings, there are as-yet-unknown factors that could impact overall generation capacity. Section 2.2 reads, “We use a probabilistic approach to assess the uncertainty related to short-term variations in demand and available conventional generation due to outages and wind generation. This is combined with sensitivity analysis to assess the uncertainty related to the evolution of electricity demand and supply due to investment and retirement decisions (ie mothballing, closures) and interconnector flows, among others.”

    The report examines the possibility that wind power availability could be correlated to winter season peak demand, based on limited available data, and models a “Wind Generation Availability” sensitivity (see Section 3.94 to Section 3.98, especially Figure 64). In Section 3.42 the report says, “For the wind generation availability sensitivity we assume that wind availability decreases at time of high demand. In particular this sensitivity assumes a reduction in the available wind resource for demand levels higher than 92% of the ACS peak demand. The maximum reduction is assumed to be 50% for demand levels higher than 102% of ACS peak demand.” Bear in mind that this is only an assumption.

    In Appendix 5 “Detailed results tables”, Table 34, Table 35 and Table 37 show how this modelling impacts the calculation of the indicative Equivalent Firm Capacity (EFC) of wind power.

    In the 2018/2019 timeframe, when there is expected to be a combined wind power capacity of 8405 megawatts (MW) onshore plus 11705 MW offshore = 20110 MW, the EFC for wind power is calculated to be 2546 MW in the “Wind Generation Availability” sensitivity line, which works out at 12.66% of the nameplate capacity of the wind power. Note : 100 divided by 12.66 is 7.88, or a factor of roughly 8.

    At the earlier 2013/2014 timeframe, when combined wind power capacity is expected to be 3970 + 6235 MW = 10205 MW, and the EFC is at 1624 MW or 15.91% for the “Wind Generation Sensitivity” line. Note : 100 divided by 15.91 = 6.285, or a factor of roughly 6.

    “Old Sparky” is referring to these factor figures when he says in his piece (see below) :-

    “[...] For every one megawatt of reliable capacity (eg a coal-fired power
    station) that gets closed, Ofgem calculates Britain would need six to
    eight
    megawatts of windfarm capacity to achieve the original level of
    reliability – and the multiple is rising all the time. Windfarms are
    not of course being built at eight times the rate coal plants are
    closing – hence the ever-increasing likelihood of blackouts. [...]”

    Yet he has ignored several caveats given in the report that place these factors in doubt. For example, the sensitivity analysis only varies one factor at a time and does not attempt to model correlated changes in other variables. He has also omitted to consider the relative impacts of change.

    If he were to contrast his statement with the “Conventional Low Generation Availability” sensitivity line, where wind power EFC in the 2013/2014 timeframe is calculated as a healthy 26.59% or a factor of roughly 4; or 2018/2019 when wind EFC is 19.80% or a factor of roughly 5.

    Note : The “Conventional Low Generation Availability” sensitivity is drawn from historical conventional generation operating data, as outlined in Sections 3.31 to 3.38. Section 3.36 states, “The Reference Scenario availability is defined as the mean availability of the seven winter estimates. The availability values used for the low (high) availability sensitivities are defined as the mean minus (plus) one standard deviation of the seven winter estimates.”

    Table 30 and Table 31 show that low conventional generation availability will probably be the largest contribution to energy security uncertainty in the critical 2015/2016 timeframe.

    The upshot of all of this modelling is that wind power is actually off the hook. Unforeseen alterations in conventional generation capacity are likely to have the largest impact. As the report says in Section 4.21 “The figures indicate that reasonably small changes in conventional generation availability have a material impact on the risk of supply shortfalls. This is most notable in 2015/16, where the estimated LOLE ranges from 0.2 hours per year in the high availability sensitivity to 16 hours per year in the low availability sensitivity, for the Reference Scenario is 2.9 hours per year.”

    However, Section 1.19 is careful to remind us, “Wind generation, onshore and offshore, is expected to grow rapidly in the period of analysis and especially after 2015/16, rising from around 9GW of installed capacity now to more than 20GW by 2018/19. Given the variability of wind speeds, we estimate that only 17% of this capacity can be counted as firm (ie always available) for security of supply purposes by 2018/19.” This is in the Reference Scenario.

    The sensitivities modelled in the report are a measure of risk, and do not provide absolute values for any of the output metrics, especially since the calculations are dependent on so many factors, including economic stimulus for the building of new generation plant.

    Importantly, recent decisions by gas-fired power plant operators to “mothball”, or close down their generation capacity, are inevitably going to matter more than how much exactly we can rely on wind power.

    Many commentators neglect to make the obvious point that wind power is not being used to replace conventional generation entirely, but to save fossil fuel by reducing the number of hours conventional generators have to run. This is contributing to energy security, by reducing the cost of fossil fuel that needs to be imported. However, the knock-on effect is this is having an impact on the economic viability of these plant because they are not always in use, and so the UK Government is putting in place the “Capacity Mechanism” to make sure that mothballed plant can be put back into use when required, during those becalmed, winter afternoons when power demand is at its peak.




    Private Eye
    Issue Number 1345
    26th July 2013 – 8th August 2013

    “Keeping the Lights On”
    page 14
    by “Old Sparky”

    The report from energy regulator Ofgem that sparked headlines on
    potential power cuts contains much new analysis highlighting the
    uselessness of wind generation in contributing to security of
    electricity supply, aka the problem of windfarm “intermittency”. But
    the problem is being studiously ignored by the Department of Energy
    and Climate Change (DECC).

    As coal power stations shut down, windfarms are notionally replacing
    them. If, say, only one windfarm were serving the grid, its inherent
    unreliability could easily be compensated for. But if there were
    [italics] only windfarms, and no reliable sources of electricity
    available at all, security of supply would be hugely at risk. Thus the
    more windfarms there are, the less they contribute to security.

    For every one megawatt of reliable capacity (eg a coal-fired power
    station) that gets closed, Ofgem calculates Britain would need six to
    eight megawatts of windfarm capacity to achieve the original level of
    reliability – and the multiple is rising all the time. Windfarms are
    not of course being built at eight times the rate coal plants are
    closing – hence the ever-increasing likelihood of blackouts.

    [...]

    In consequence windfarms are being featherbedded – not only with
    lavish subsidies, but also by not being billed for the ever-increasing
    trouble they cause. When the DECC was still operating Plan B, aka the
    dash for gas ([Private] Eye [Issue] 1266), the cost of intermittency
    was defined in terms of balancing the grid by using relatively clean
    and cheap natural gas. Now that the department has been forced to
    adopt emergency Plan C ([Private] Eye [Issue] 1344), backup for
    intermittent windfarm output will increasingly be provided by dirty,
    expensive diesel generators.




    Private Eye
    Issue 1344
    12 – 25 July 2013

    page 15
    “Keeping the Lights On”

    As pandemonium breaks out in newspapers at the prospect of electricity
    blackouts, emergency measures are being cobbled together to ensure the
    lights stay on. They will probably succeed – but at a cost.

    Three years ago incoming coalition ministers were briefed that when
    energy policy Plan A (windfarms, new nukes and pixie-dust) failed, Plan B
    would be in place – a new dash for gas ([Private] Eye [Issue] 1266).

    Civil servants then devised complex “energy market reforms” (EMR) to make
    this happen. It is now clear that these, too, have failed. Coal-fired power
    stations are closing quicker than new gas plants are being built. As energy
    regulator Ofgem put it bluntly last week: “The EMR aims to incentivise
    industry to address security of supply in the medium term, but is not able
    to bring forward investment in new capacity in time.”

    Practical people in the National Grid are now hatching emergency Plan C.
    They will pay large electricity users to switch off when requested;
    encourage industrial companies and even hospitals to generate their own
    diesel-fired electricity (not a hard sell when the grid can’t be relied
    on); hire diesel generators to make up for the intermittency of windfarms
    ([Private] Eye [Issue] 1322); and bribe electricity companies to bring
    mothballed gas-fired plants back into service.

    Some of these steps are based on techniques previously used in extreme
    circumstances, and will probably keep most of the lights on. But this
    should not obscure the fact that planning routine use of emergency
    measures is an indictment of energy policy. And since diesel is much
    more expensive and polluting than gas, electricity prices and CO2
    emissions will be higher than if Plan B had worked.

    [...]

    ‘Old Sparky’




  • Keith MacLean : Big Choices

    Posted on July 15th, 2013 Jo 3 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Strategy 1)

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

    or

    Strategy 2)

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

    [...]

    Keith MacLean, Scottish and Southern Energy

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

    [...]

    Questions from the Floor

    Question from John Gibbons of the University of Edinburgh

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

    Answer from Keith MacLean

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

    Answer from Dave Openshaw, Future Networks, UK Power Network

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

    [...]

  • James Delingpole : Worsely Wronger

    Posted on July 15th, 2013 Jo 4 comments

    I wonder to myself – how wrong can James Delingpole get ? He, and Christopher Booker and Richard North, have recently attempted to describe something very, very simple in the National Grid’s plans to keep the lights on. And have failed, in my view. Utterly. In my humble opinion, it’s a crying shame that they appear to influence others.

    “Dellingpole” (sic) in the Daily Mail, claims that the STOR – the Short Term Operating Reserve (not “Operational” as “Dellingpole” writes) is “secret”, for “that significant period when the wind turbines are not working”, and that “benefits of the supposedly ‘clean’ energy produced by wind turbines are likely to be more than offset by the dirty and inefficient energy produced by their essential diesel back-up”, all of which are outrageously deliberate misinterpretations of the facts :-

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2362762/The-dirty-secret-Britains-power-madness-Polluting-diesel-generators-built-secret-foreign-companies-kick-theres-wind-turbines–insane-true-eco-scandals.html
    “The dirty secret of Britain’s power madness: Polluting diesel generators built in secret by foreign companies to kick in when there’s no wind for turbines – and other insane but true eco-scandals : By James Dellingpole : PUBLISHED: 00:27, 14 July 2013″

    If “Dellingpole” and his compadre in what appear to be slurs, Richard North, were to ever do any proper research into the workings of the National Grid, they would easily uncover that the STOR is a very much transparent, publicly-declared utility :-

    http://www.nationalgrid.com/uk/Electricity/Balancing/services/balanceserv/reserve_serv/stor/

    STOR is not news. Neither is the need for it to be beefed up. The National Grid will lose a number of electricity generation facilities over the next few years, and because of the general state of the economy (and resistance to wind power and solar power from unhelpful folk like “Dellingpole”) investment in true renewables will not entirely cover this shortfall.

    Renewable energy is intermittent and variable. If an anticyclone high pressure weather system sits over Britain, there could be little wind. And if the sky is cloudy, there could be much less sun than normal. More renewable power feeding the grid means more opportunities when these breaks in service amount to something serious.

    Plus, the age of other electricity generation plants means that the risk of “unplanned outage”, from a nuclear reactor, say, is getting higher. There is a higher probability of sudden step changes in power available from any generator.

    The gap between maximum power demand and guaranteed maximum power generation is narrowing. In addition, the threat of sudden changes in output supply is increasing.

    With more generation being directly dependent on weather conditions and the time of day, and with fears about the reliability of ageing infrastructure, there is a need for more very short term immediate generation backup to take up the slack. This is where STOR comes in.

    Why does STOR need to exist ? The answer’s in the name – for short term balancing issues in the grid. Diesel generation is certainly not intended for use for long periods. Because of air quality issues. Because of climate change issues. Because of cost.

    If the Meteorological Office were to forecast a period of low wind and low incident solar radiation, or a nuclear reactor started to dip in power output, then the National Grid could take an old gas plant (or even an old coal plant) out of mothballs, pull off the dust sheets and crank it into action for a couple of days. That wouldn’t happen very often, and there would be time to notify and react.

    But if a windfarm suddenly went into the doldrums, or a nuclear reactor had to do an emergency shutdown, there would be few power stations on standby that could respond immediately, because it takes a lot of money to keep a power plant “spinning”, ready to use at a moment’s notice.

    So, Delingpole, there’s no conspiracy. There’s engagement with generators to set up a “first responder” network of extra generation capacity for the grid. This is an entirely public process. It’s intended for short bursts of immediately-required power because you can’t seem to turn your air conditioner off. The cost and emissions will be kept to a minimum. You’re wrong. You’re just full of a lot of hot air.

  • Ed Davey : Polish Barbecue

    Posted on July 12th, 2013 Jo 1 comment



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

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

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

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

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

    What I really should have said was :-

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

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

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

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

  • Birdcage Walk : Cheesestick Rationing

    Posted on July 12th, 2013 Jo 1 comment


    Yesterday…no, it’s later than I think…two days ago, I attended the 2013 Conference of PRASEG, the Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group, at the invitation of Rhys Williams, the long-suffering Coordinator. “…Sorry…Are you upset ?” “No, look at my face. Is there any emotion displayed there ?” “No, you look rather dead fish, actually”, etc.

    At the prestigious seat of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), One Birdcage Walk, we were invited down into the basement for a “drinks reception”, after hearing some stirring speeches and intriguing panel discussions. Despite being promised “refreshments” on the invitation, there had only been beverages and a couple of bikkies up until now, and I think several of the people in the room were starting to get quite hypoglycemic, so were grateful to see actual food being offered.

    A market economy immediately sprang up, as there was a definite scarcity in the resources of cheesesticks, and people jostled amiably, but intentionally, so they could cluster closest to the long, crispy cow-based snacks. The trading medium of exchange was conversation. “Jo, meet Mat Hope from Carbon Brief, no Maf Smith from Renewable UK. You’ve both been eviscerated by Delingpole online”, and so on.

    “Welcome to our own private pedestal”, I said to somebody, who it turned out had built, probably in the capacity of developer, a sugarcane bagasse Combined Heat and Power plant. The little table in the corner had only got room around it for three or at most four people, and yet had a full complement of snack bowls. Bonus. I didn’t insist on memorising what this fellow told me his name was. OK, I didn’t actually hear it above the hubbub. And he was wearing no discernible badge, apart from what appeared to be the tinge of wealth. He had what looked like a trailing truculent teenager with him, but that could have been a figment of my imagination, because the dark ghost child spoke not one word. But that sullenness, and general anonymity, and the talkative gentleman’s lack of a necktie, and his slightly artificial, orange skin tone, didn’t prevent us from engaging wholeheartedly in a discussion about energy futures – in particular the default options for the UK, since there is a capacity crunch coming very soon in electricity generation, and new nuclear power reactors won’t be ready in time, and neither will Carbon Capture and Storage-fitted coal-fired power plants.

    Of course, the default options are basically Natural Gas and wind power, because large amounts can be made functional within a five year timeframe. My correspondent moaned that gas plants are closing down in the UK. We agreed that we thought that new Combined Cycle Gas Turbine plant urgently needs to be built as soon as possible – but he despaired of seeing it happen. He seemed to think it was essential that the Energy Bill should be completed as soon as possible, with built-in incentives to make Gas Futures a reality.

    I said, “Don’t wait for the Energy Bill”. I said, “Intelligent people have forecast what could happen to Natural Gas prices within a few years from high European demand and UK dependence, and are going to build gas plant for themselves. We simply cannot have extensions on coal-fired power plants…” He agreed that the Large Combustion Plant Directive would be closing the coal. I said that there was still something like 20 gigawatts of permissioned gas plant ready to build – and with conditions shaping up like they are, they could easily get financed.

    Earlier, Nigel Cornwall, of Cornwall Energy had put it like this :-

    “Deliverability and the trilemma [meeting all three of climate change, energy security and end-consumer affordability concerns] [are key]. Needs to be some joined-up thinking. [...] There is clearly a deteriorating capacity in output – 2% to 5% reduction. As long as I’ve worked in the sector it’s been five minutes to midnight, [only assuaged by] creative thinking from National Grid.”

    However, the current situation is far from bog standard. As Paul Dickson of Glennmont Partners said :-

    “£110 billion [is needed] to meet the [electricity generation] gap. We are looking for new sources of capital. Some of the strategic institutional capital – pension funds [for example] – that’s who policy needs to be directed towards. We need to look at sources of capital.”

    Alistair Buchanan, formerly of Ofgem, the power sector regulator, and now going to KPMG, spent the last year or so of his Ofgem tenure presenting the “Crunch Winter” problem to as many people as he could find. His projections were based on a number of factors, including Natural Gas supply questions, and his conclusion was that in the winter of 2015/2016 (or 2016/2017) power supply could get thin in terms of expansion capacity – for moments of peak demand. Could spell crisis.

    The Government might be cutting it all a bit fine. As Jenny Holland of the Association for the Conservation of Energy said :-

    “[Having Demand Reduction in the Capacity Mechanism] Not our tip-top favourite policy outcome [...] No point to wait for “capacity crunch” to start [Energy Demand Reduction] market.”

    It does seem that people are bypassing the policy waiting queue and getting on with drawing capital into the frame. And it is becoming more and more clear the scale of what is required. Earlier in the afternoon, Caroline Flint MP had said :-

    “In around ten years time, a quarter of our power supply will be shut down. Decisions made in the next few years. Consequences will last for decades. Keeping the lights on, and [ensuring reasonably priced] energy bills, and preventing dangerous climate change.”

    It could come to pass that scarcity, not only in cheesesticks, but in electricity generation capacity, becomes a reality. What would policy achieve then ? And how should Government react ? Even though Lord Deben (John Gummer) decried in the early afternoon a suggestion implying carbon rationing, proposed to him by Professor Mayer Hillman of the Policy Studies Institute, it could yet turn out that electricity demand reduction becomes a measure that is imposed in a crisis of scarcity.

    As I put it to my sugarcane fellow discussionee, people could get their gas for heating cut off at home in order to guarantee the lights and banks and industry stay on, because UK generation is so dependent on Natural Gas-fired power.

    Think about it – the uptake of hyper-efficient home appliances has turned down owing to the contracting economy, and people are continuing to buy and use electronics, computers, TVs and other power-sucking gadgets. Despite all sizes of business having made inroads into energy management, electricity consumption is not shifting downwards significantly overall.

    We could beef up the interconnectors between the UK and mainland Europe, but who can say that in a Crunch Winter, the French and Germans will have any spare juice for us ?

    If new, efficient gas-fired power plants are not built starting now, and wind farms roll out is not accelerated, the Generation Gap could mean top-down Energy Demand Reduction measures.

    It would certainly be a great social equaliser – Fuel Poverty for all !

  • Ed Davey MP, closer

    Posted on July 10th, 2013 Jo 2 comments

    Closer up, Ed Davey MP doesn’t look anything like Wayne Rooney, the soccer star, which is a good thing really, as that impression, drawn from paparazzi photographs mostly, made me fear I could get overwhelmed by alcohol-fuelled footballer charisma or overpowering aftershave, of which Ed Davey appeared to have neither. He did keep flashing an annoying gold signet ring, but he seems to have his sideburns well under control, and my attention was really drawn to the fact that he looks a lot slimmer than last year when he spoke at last year’s Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group or “PRASEG” do, doing a very passable Rooney impression, somehow. As we spoke this evening, in the basement of One Birdcage Walk, I don’t know what he thought I was thinking, but I was wondering : has Ed Davey MP got a “podge coach” ? Or is he indulging in a spot of extra-curricular skin-on-skin activity ? Or is he merely in competition with Ed Balls MP ? It can be so hard to differentiate between one upwardly-mobile and upwardly-weighted political Ed and another these days, and find yourself a Unique Selling Point in Generation Ed.

    I asked the Minister, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, over some very garlicky olive nibbles, and some evil wasabi peanuts, and some OK OJ, whether I could possibly have heard aright in his comments about Community Energy. Somewhere in the building, a masonry drill had started to rumble, and Ed D had made a reference to “drilling” as he opined on the meaning of “local energy”. I thought he meant shale gas development, and I was hoping to clarify if he really did mean that or not. No. I was wrong. It was a joke.

    Well, OK then. Onwards and outwards. “…So, Ed, I read recently that you would be prepared to consider a bid to build new nuclear reactors from GE Hitachi, who have purchased the company Horizon, which already have planning options in the UK at approved sites. You said you would be prepared to consider them instead of Electricite de France. You’ve said you have a level of strike price in mind, and you’re not prepared to go above it, despite EdF proposals. So, Ed, did you know that in February 2011, you know, just before the Multiple Nuclear Reactor Accident at Fukushima Dai-ichi in Japan, that 24 (actually, it turns out it’s 35) of GE Hitachi’s nuclear reactors in the USA had been warned that they were out of safety compliance owing to buckled control rods ? And that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had issued a fix notice ? Would reactors in the UK built by GE Hitachi going to be of the same design ?” Ed Davey, wiser than his seemingly youthful football-short wearing years would allow, advised me to address my concerns to the Office for Nuclear Regulation, who would, of course, vet each design thoroughly.

    After which helpful direction, I observed Mayer Hillman, Emeritus Professor of the Policy Studies Institute, regale the slimline Ed D with the news that the Climate Change Act is remiss as it does not include climate change feedbacks in its calculations for the necessary UK carbon emissions reductions. He is right, actually, but it’s a tough argument to push. The IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report couldn’t include climate change feedback effects, because there were no reliable numbers. In the Fifth Assessment Report, there will be numbers, as Ed Davey noted. I noticed that Ed Davey was as calm as a sleeping dolphin, one eye watchfully open, but he was actually awake and listening, and not being dismissive. I thought to myself, actually, he’s rather polite, and I rather warmed to him. Not too much, of course, because otherwise the climate could have risked significant change.

  • Hadeo- and Archaeo-Geobiology

    Posted on July 8th, 2013 Jo No comments

    What can deep time teach us ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • London : Array, Invest, Divest

    Posted on July 8th, 2013 Jo No comments

    Showcasing the London Array offshore wind farm in the last week at its official launch, the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron said “[...] We are making this country incredibly attractive to invest in [...] When it comes to green energy, I think we have one of the clearest, most predictable investment climates. And we’re going to add to that by completing the Energy Bill this year. So, we will have a fantastic market for investors to come and build in. [...]” (see below).

    I think developers of solar energy in Britain would disagree quite extensively with his claim that there is a stable regime for green energy. The most effective stimulus tool, the Feed-in Tariff, was applauded and then mauled in short succession by the Conservative-Liberal-Democrat Coalition Government. Installation rates have simply not recovered from chewings from the Treasury attack dog. It’s been boom and then bust, bust, bust, with flurries of activity in summer, but not much more :-

    https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/weekly-solar-pv-installation-and-capacity-based-on-registration-date

    And this despite the yappy enthusiasm (perhaps “big, hairy”, or “big, sexy” ambition) that Greg Barker MP and his Dachshund, Otto, have for sun-fired electricity generation :-

    http://www.solarpowerportal.co.uk/news/barker_once_more_quotes_22gw_by_2020_solar_ambition_2356

    http://www.utilityweek.co.uk/news/news_story.asp?id=198770&title=National+Grid+analysis+clouds+Barker%27s+20GW+solar+ambition

    The Energy Bill should have been finished a long time ago, and I’m pretty sure it would have been, apart from the insane obsession with new nuclear power, which all along was predicted to consist of several kinds of big, chunky subsidy, and shows no signs of being anything other than a bankrolling exercise, even now (and too late to bridge Alistair Buchanan‘s “Crunch Winter” of 2015/2016).

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-07-02/edf-nuclear-deal-in-u-k-may-take-a-few-months-.html
    “EDF Nuclear Deal in U.K. May Take ‘A Few Months’ : By Alex Morales – Jul 2, 2013 : The U.K. may take “a few months” to agree the price that Electricite de France SA (EDF) will get for power from Britain’s first new nuclear power station in two decades, Energy Secretary Ed Davey suggested. The government has been in talks for months with EDF to agree a so-called strike price the French utility will get for power from a planned plant at Hinkley Point in southwest England. Davey told Parliament’s multi-party Energy and Climate Change Committee he won’t sign a contract with EDF unless it represents “value for money” for consumers. “Even if we agree in the next few months, a nuclear reactor at Hinkley point won’t be producing until the end of this decade at best,” Davey said today. “They have been very constructive negotiations. They are taking some time, and that’s because they are very complicated.”

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/10164435/Rival-nuclear-companies-cheaper-than-EDF-Ed-Davey-suggests.html
    “[...] Mr Davey told The Guardian that EDF was aware of the strike price that he would agree to and that he was “not going to budge an inch”. He said: “Sometimes people said it is EDF or bust. I would like to do a deal with EDF but we don’t have to. I was in Korea and Japan recently talking to other investors and vendors. Their interest in the UK market was massive. I got the very strong impression that the sort of price I was happy to agree with EDF, they could match.” In the same interview he said: “We have other nuclear options. Hitachi are very live options. They bought Horizon only last year and their pace of progress is truly impressive.” He noted that Hitachi had delivered four reactors “on time and on budget”. [...]”

    But the most serious contention that I have with David Cameron’s remarks is his painting a picture that the UK needs international capital to reach down from geostationary orbit, or where it is a bit lower, in transcontinential flight at 35,000 feet, to touch and bless the UK with its gilded finger of providence.

    Don’t we have any investors in Britain ? We may have only a few, small British companies that can build green energy for us, but we do have a lot of wealth lurking within these very shores, or representatives of a lot of wealth. Could we not demand that those who shore their cash in Britain, and take advantage of cheap corporate tax deals, invest in British green energy ? Could we not make green energy investment a sine qua non of the residence or passsage of wealth in and through the City of London ?

    Many people in Great Britain have pensions, and those pensions have funds, and those funds have fund managers. There’s a lot of money, right there. What are the criteria that govern pension pot investment ?

    And then there’s the banks. Almost everyone in the UK has a bank account. Are the banks held to policies to direct finance and investment towards green energy and clean tech ? Do their customers demand it ?

    Why does the UK Government not stipulate that “best value for money” as a criteria on all contracts of procurement – and investment – has to be matched by “best carbon emissions reduction potential” ?

    Or are we in such an austere position that we need to offer huge, fattened sweeteners from the Treasury tax honeypot, and permission to raise already high power prices for customers, to any international engineering firm prepared to pour concrete here, so that they can arrange for the finance this guarantees ? Why are we in a position where we are being forced to throw public money and billpayer burdens at private companies to guarantee new energy build ?

    This looks like a worse deal than PFI. In fact, it is much, much worse that the Private Finance Inititative, or the revamped new acronyms that replaced it. This is the wholesale gifting of large amounts of annual tax revenue and fingerlicking kilowatt hour prices to large, transnational corporations. If the economy gets worse, which it probably will, these big new construction projects may never get completed. And the new national energy infrastructure that does manage to get built won’t even be ours. Unless they go wrong, in which case the country will have to pay to mop them up. Or at the end of life, when the taxpayers and billpayers will need to pay to decommission nuclear reactors and dispose of radioactive waste.

    And while we’re on the subject of investment, I need to point out that not all big infrastructure projects are alike. Some development is good, some bad. I don’t really see how the Olympic building spree can be compared in any way to what’s necessary for creating a decarbonised energy system. And building larger ports, and roads, and airports, anticipates higher levels of traded goods – the kind of economic growth that caused climate change in the first place.

    If David Cameron wants to crow about big projects and be praised for it, he needs to de-select examples that are unsustainable.

    There really needs to be more focus on what we really need for the future, and that requires discernment in investment. It requires moving away from high consumption models of economy, of divesting from stocks and shares in waste, pollution, carbon emissions and unnecessary trade.

    Invest, yes, but divest, also.

    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/06/25/2213341/invest-divest-obama-goes-full-climate-hawk-in-speech-unveiling-plan-to-cut-carbon-pollution/

    http://www.operationnoah.org/PR_southwark_resolution
    “4 July 2013: The Diocese of Southwark passed a resolution yesterday (3 July 2013) calling on the General Synod of the Church of England to consider disinvestment from fossil fuels.”




    https://www.gov.uk/government/news/prime-minister-champions-inward-investment-at-london-array-and-battersea-power-station

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/video/2013/jul/04/david-cameron-windfarm-thames-estuary-video

    The UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron speaking outside at the London Array site :-

    “Well let’s be clear this is the biggest offshore wind farm anywhere in the world.
    And what it shows is Britain is a great country to come and invest in. And it’s meant
    jobs for local people. And it means clean, green energy for half a million homes in
    our country. It’s part of what we need to have secure, reliable supplies of electricity
    and to get investment and jobs for our people, so it’s a good day for Britain.”

    David Cameron speaking at the Press Launch indoors :-

    “Well of course, when I chaired the G8, I had to arrange everything, starting with
    the dress code. There was some criticism. Why wasn’t I wearing a tie ? What people
    didn’t realise of course was that President Putin wanted to do the whole thing
    barechested on horseback, and I of course had to negotiate him down to smart casual.
    We haven’t had that problem today.

    Sometimes people wonder, can we in the West, can we do big projects any more ? Can we
    do the big investments ? Isn’t that all happening somewhere else in the East and the
    South of our world ?

    And I think if you look at the United Kingdom right now you can see WE CAN do big
    projects. Not only did we do a superb Olympics last year, but underneath London,
    CrossRail is the biggest construction project anywhere in Europe.

    Not far away from here is Dubai Ports World London Gateway, which is the biggest port
    contruction taking place anywhere in Europe.

    And here you have the biggest offshore wind farm anywhere in the world.

    I think it demonstrates Britain is a great place to invest.

    I don’t want to have too much Schadenfreude, but it’s actually a fact that last year,
    foreign direct investment into Europe as a whole went down by something like 40%, but in
    the UK it went up by 24%.

    We are making this country incredibly attractive to invest in, and and that’s part of what
    this project is about.

    When it comes to green energy, I think we have one of the clearest, most predictable
    investment climates. And we’re going to add to that by completing the Energy Bill this year.

    So, we will have a fantastic market for investors to come and build in.

    So, a great win for Kent, a great win for renewable energy and a great win for Britain.”

  • Carbon Bubble : Unburnable Assets

    Posted on June 3rd, 2013 Jo No comments



    [ Image Credit : anonymous ]


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

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

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

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

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

  • Renewable Gas : Research Parameters

    Posted on May 25th, 2013 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    My research choices as they currently stand :-

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

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

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

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

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

    References

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

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

  • Energy Change : Germany’s Energiewende #1

    Posted on March 11th, 2013 Jo No comments

    I recently attended an event entitled “The Energiewende: A close look at Germany’s renewable energy revolution”. This was hosted by PRASEG, the Associate UK Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group, and supported by the German Embassy, and held at the Boothroyd Room of Portcullis House, Westminster, 6th March 2013 between 2pm and 4pm.

    The main speakers were Rainer Baake, State Secretary at the Federal Environment Ministry in Germany between 1998 and 2005, and Andreas Kramer, Director and CEO of the Ecologic Institute in Berlin – a well-regarded think tank. Alan Whitehead MP also gave comments, and Simon Hughes MP also attended and shared some points.

    Tom Heap, the well-known Radio 4 presenter, was on hand to chair.

    What follows is not verbatim, but is transcribed from scribbled notes.

    [Tom Heap] “Germany is a live pilot experiment [in transitioning out of fossil fuels to renewable energy]. That’s not meant to be patronising. [Whilst recording a programme there before Christmas I was] hearing comments from right-of-centre government I wouldn’t hear in the UK. On wind turbines, German and British conservatives are poles apart. There wind power is not seen as an imposition. We heard “our energy, our village”. The technologies are similar, but the politics are different…”

    [Rainer Baake] “In Germany, energy policy holds past and future challenges. In June 2011, we ended a long and very controversial debate on energy policy. We ended up with very ambitious goals. The almost unanimous vote was historical. It was almost impossible to believe. We had always had a very diverse debate since Chernobyl [the catastrophic nuclear power accident in Ukraine in 1986 that necessitated the total evacuation of the city of Pripyat and the surrounding districts]. With the major change in government in 2008, with a Green and Social Democrat [SPD http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/where-do-they-stand-a-quick-guide-to-germany-s-political-parties-a-651388.html ] majority, we got Phase 1, then the Renewable Energy Act (EEG, Erneuerbare-Energien-Gesetz http://www.bmu.de/en/service/publications/downloads/details/artikel/renewable-energy-sources-act-eeg-2009/) – which was also controversial at that time.”

    “[We] created the Feed-In Tariff [FIT] – an incredible success story. Over roughly ten years, the Renewable Energy share stands at 25% of power generation as of today. And of that 25%, 50% of that is in the hands of private people and farmers. This is why it has received political support. The owners of the windmills, biomass generators [...] are not only producers, they are also voters. At the start, there was opposition from Conservatives [German conservative right-of-centre politicians - CDU http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/where-do-they-stand-a-quick-guide-to-germany-s-political-parties-a-651388.html], but companies in their own constituencies said, “We can earn money with this” [...] Renewable Energy receives very wide support. This is very different from nuclear power.”

    “The Conservatives and Liberals [German free market neoliberal politicians - FDP http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/where-do-they-stand-a-quick-guide-to-germany-s-political-parties-a-651388.html ] promised that after the 2009 elections if the coalition won there would be lifetime extensions [on existing nuclear reactors - allowing them to continue operating after their originally designed safe lives]. But they didn’t have a plan ready. They made [announcements] in December 2010 [extending reactor lives out to 2045 http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/IT-German_plant_life_extension_law_passed-2911107.html ] but this was against the public [opinion]. It only lasted for a few weeks, because Fukushima happened [ http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-03-14/germany-suspends-plan-to-extend-life-of-nuclear-power-plants-merkel-says.html ]. Our Government realised what it meant for their own policy. They were able to explain Chernobyl [the meltdown accident at Pripyat in the Ukraine in 1986] as Communist [regime] mismanagement, but the meltdown of three reactors at Fukushima, in a technologically advance country…the Government immediately changed position, and it led to a very big [wide] consensus. In June 2011, the opposition and the Government [decided for] Renewable Energy.”

    “In the original [Energiewende] plan of 2000, phaseout of nuclear was to be by 2022, and in the next decades, the fossil generators would convert to Renewable Energy. When created the FIT in 2000 – all Renewable Energy [technologies] had the same starting line [the same levels of subsidy]. The FIT is not a permanent subsidy – it helps these technologies to be introduced to markets. The winners are clearly wind power and solar power – others maybe [remain] too expensive. Biomass is now reaching a sustainability limit [not enough feedstocks for expansion]. It is not going to be posssible to increase biomass or hydropower much over today. Geothermal energy – never came up. Wind and solar power prices decreased dramatically. We have enough of that. The features – have to deal with [...] weather-dependent and solar power is not flexible to demand. Second – also very variable. Very capital-intensive [for investment phase] but marginal costs [of operation] are negligible. One you’ve invested, put all the money you need on the table, there are no costs over the following decades.”

    “These features [of Renewable Energies] mean it is going to be a complete change in energy systems over the next decades. 25% of demand – happened much faster than anticipated in 2000. The first 25% is one story. The next 25% is another story. 25% is easy to integrate. Very robust. The next 25% – as you can imagine – 50% of the system – this is the real challenge of the Energiewende – synchronising production of solar and wind with demand of customers. How to balance demand and supply ? How to minimise the costs [of that] – [reduce] in a free European Union energy market ? There’s the technology – and on the other hand, the market. On the technology side need much more flexible supply. With FIT [...] Baseload is not a word that describes supply – it describes demand. With marginal costs of zero, they [utilising power from renewable energies] come first – they are pushing traditional fossil fuels out of baseload. The operating hours of traditional baseload generators are decreasing. [We will need] not only adjustments to demand, but also the variable sources. Ten years ahead we will not have any baseload. We will still need 6,000 hours a year generators. They’re there – that’s gas. [We also need] a market design to enable [this].”

    “Second – we need [new/larger] transmission lines. That’s something that really needs to happen. The bigger [wider] the area you connect, the bigger [better, more even] the balance. Not only talking about Germany – also Denmark, the Netherlands, Scandinavia – the better we’re connected, the better to balance. [The history of] the market in almost all countries – generators [power stations] were built under state regulation on the basis of monopolies. After the deregulation in the 1990s, the [power sector changed to work] on the basis of least operating costs. [The power was supplied] always by those generators of least operation cost – makes sense. All these have marginal costs – that is, fuel. When you introduce lots of Renewable Energy with a marginal cost of zero, the prices on the wholesale market have come down significantly, from 95 to 50 Euro per MWh. This has been caused not only by Renewable Energy – but it has been mainly Renewable Energy – pushing out the more expensive generators.”

    “This creates a problem, as you need backup capacity – when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. There have been arguments/debates about the capacity market we need – an intelligent system – not very expensive – to make sure to backup when wind and solar are not available. We also need a system to support the Energiewende over the next decades. FIT was good for 15 years, but answers of the past are not necessarily correct for the future. It is always argued very strongly that for Germany this is not to renationalise energy policy. This Energiewende is much less costly if we do it with our neighbours. It’s too controversial at the European Union [EU] – but [we are/having] encouraging discussions with neighbouring countries – to the benefit of everybody – to put into reality the EU energy market. We need flexibility of generators, but also flexibility of demand side. [We have asked the German] States [Länder] – are you able to shift your peak [demand] by six hours – a real part of the solution. [We need to] move away from switch [on] and forget. [To those detractors of the Energiewende] if look at the opposition [views] there is no reasonable balance of money in and out. One day we will be using all our renewable electricity generation – for example, using electricity for transport, but for now [we need to export].”

    …TO BE CONTINUED

  • Tom Heap Looks Mystified

    Posted on March 6th, 2013 Jo 3 comments



    The (Associate) Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Energy Group (PRASEG) held a wonderfully low-key seminar on Germany’s “Energiewende“, or energy transition, this afternoon in the Boothroyd Room at Portcullis House in Westminster. The main speakers included Rainer Baake, a former Secretary of State for the German Federal Environment Ministry.

    Tom Heap, the main presenter of Radio 4′s “flagship environment programme” “Costing the Earth” was on hand to chair the session, and ask provocative questions. During the question time after the main speakers had outlined the progress and future of Germany’s energy transition, Tom Heap posed the nagging question about carbon emissions. The story goes, according to the likes of George Monbiot and Mark Lynas, that since Germany has decided to do away with their nuclear power generation capacity, that the country will be using more coal in future to generate electricity.

    [Tom Heap] “…Is more coal [lignite] being burned because of the nuclear power phase out [in Germany] ?”

    [Andreas Kramer] “There has been a small uptick. First, coal is dirt cheap, and the European Emissions Trading Scheme [carbon] rights are dirt cheap. The second reason is that [we have made a decision to abandon nuclear power] in the middle of the changeover from coal [to renewable energy, as we have to close the plants under the European] Large Combustion Plant Directive [LCPD] – so there will be a window of slightly higher capacity of coal plant [to cope with the phase out of nuclear power] until the coal plant is retired. Coal use is projected to go down.

    [Rainer Baake] “We have a Cap and Trade system for carbon dioxide emissions in the European Union. Whatever we do emissions of carbon dioxide will always be capped. The price [of emissions rights] only determines what is happening where. There will always be a balance between gas and coal, depending on the price. The answer to the problem is – decrease the cap, then you will see less emissions. Nothing we do with the Energiewende… No one is investing in new coal and lignite plants…”

    At this point Tom Heap began to look rather bemused, confused, perhaps a touch mystified. He started to look towards the ceiling in a rather vacant, media way.

    [Rainer Baake] “…[The current surge in the use of coal is owing to] decisions made in 2005, 2006. Nobody is investing [now] in lignite or coal. This is a very serious problem because of backup capacity [to back up new renewable electricity generation]…”

    Huh ? Well, it takes time to finance and commission a new coal-fired power station.

    So there you have it – another myth busted. Nuclear power phase out in Germany is not going to lead to permanently higher coal-burning for power generation.