Posted on February 8th, 2015 No comments
In the last couple of years I have researched and written a book about the technologies and systems of Renewable Gas – gas energy fuels that are low in net carbon dioxide emissions. From what I have learned so far, it seems that another energy world is possible, and that the transition is already happening. The forces that are shaping this change are not just climate or environmental policy, or concerns about energy security. Renewable Gas is inevitable because of a range of geological, economic and industrial reasons.
I didn’t train as a chemist or chemical process engineer, and I haven’t had a background in the fossil fuel energy industry, so I’ve had to look at a number of very basic areas of engineering, for example, the distillation and fractionation of crude petroleum oil, petroleum refinery, gas processing, and the thermodynamics of gas chemistry in industrial-scale reactors. Why did I need to look at the fossil fuel industry and the petrochemical industry when I was researching Renewable Gas ? Because that’s where a lot of the change can come from. Renewable Gas is partly about biogas, but it’s also about industrial gas processes, and a lot of them are used in the petrorefinery and chemicals sectors.
In addition, I researched energy system technologies. Whilst assessing the potential for efficiency gains in energy systems through the use of Renewable Electricity and Renewable Gas, I rekindled an interest in fuel cells. For the first time in a long time, I began to want to build something – a solid oxide fuel cell which switches mode to an electrolysis unit that produces hydrogen from water. Whether I ever get to do that is still a question, but it shows how involved I’m feeling that I want to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty.
Even though I have covered a lot of ground, I feel I’m only just getting started, as there is a lot more that I need to research and document. At the same time, I feel that I don’t have enough data, and that it will be hard to get the data I need, partly because of proprietary issues, where energy and engineering companies are protective of developments, particularly as regards actual numbers. Merely being a university researcher is probably not going to be sufficient. I would probably need to be an official within a government agency, or an industry institute, in order to be permitted to reach in to more detail about the potential for Renewable Gas. But there are problems with these possible avenues.
You see, having done the research I have conducted so far, I am even more scornful of government energy policy than I was previously, especially because of industrial tampering. In addition, I am even more scathing about the energy industry “playing both sides” on climate change. Even though there are some smart and competent people in them, the governments do not appear to be intelligent enough to see through expensive diversions in technology or unworkable proposals for economic tweaking. These non-solutions are embraced and promoted by the energy industry, and make progress difficult. No, carbon dioxide emissions taxation or pricing, or a market in carbon, are not going to make the kind of changes we need on climate change; and in addition they are going to be extremely difficult and slow to implement. No, Carbon Capture and Storage, or CCS, is never going to become relatively affordable in any economic scenario. No, nuclear power is too cumbersome, slow and dodgy – a technical term – to ever make a genuine impact on the total of carbon emissons. No, it’s not energy users who need to reduce their consumption of energy, it’s the energy companies who need to reduce the levels of fossil fuels they utilise in the energy they sell. No, unconventional fossil fuels, such as shale gas, are not the answer to high emissions from coal. No, biofuels added to petrofuels for vehicles won’t stem total vehicle emissions without reducing fuel consumption and limiting the number of vehicles in use.
I think that the fossil fuel companies know these proposals cannot bring about significant change, which is precisely why they lobby for them. They used to deny climate change outright, because it spelled the end of their industry. Now they promote scepticism about the risks of climate change, whilst at the same time putting their name to things that can’t work to suppress major amounts of emissions. This is a delayer’s game.
Because I find the UK Government energy and climate policy ridiculous on many counts, I doubt they will ever want me to lead with Renewable Gas on one of their projects. And because I think the energy industry needs to accept and admit that they need to undergo a major change, and yet they spend most of their public relations euros telling the world they don’t need to, and that other people need to make change instead, I doubt the energy industry will ever invite me to consult with them on how to make the Energy Transition.
I suppose there is an outside chance that the major engineering firms might work with me, after all, I have been an engineer, and many of these companies are already working in the Renewable Gas field, although they’re normally “third party” players for the most part – providing engineering solutions to energy companies.
Because I’ve had to drag myself through the equivalent of a “petro degree”, learning about the geology and chemistry of oil and gas, I can see more clearly than before that the fossil fuel industry contains within it the seeds of positive change, with its use of technologies appropriate for manufacturing low carbon “surface gas”. I have learned that Renewable Gas would be a logical progression for the oil and gas industry, and also essential to rein in their own carbon emissions from processing cheaper crude oils. If they weren’t so busy telling governments how to tamper with energy markets, pushing the blame for emissions on others, and begging for subsidies for CCS projects, they could instead be planning for a future where they get to stay in business.
The oil and gas companies, especially the vertically integrated tranche, could become producers and retailers of low carbon gas, and take part in a programme for decentralised and efficient energy provision, and maintain their valued contribution to society. At the moment, however, they’re still stuck in the 20th Century.
I’m a positive person, so I’m not going to dwell too much on how stuck-in-the-fossilised-mud the governments and petroindustry are. What I’m aiming to do is start the conversation on how the development of Renewable Gas could displace dirty fossil fuels, and eventually replace the cleaner-but-still-fossil Natural Gas as well.Academic Freedom, Advertise Freely, Alchemical, Assets not Liabilities, Be Prepared, Behaviour Changeling, Big Number, Biofools, British Biogas, Burning Money, Carbon Capture, Carbon Commodities, Carbon Pricing, Carbon Taxatious, Change Management, Climate Change, Conflict of Interest, Corporate Pressure, Cost Effective, Dead End, Delay and Deny, Divest and Survive, Divide & Rule, Dreamworld Economics, Drive Train, Economic Implosion, Efficiency is King, Emissions Impossible, Energy Calculation, Energy Change, Energy Crunch, Energy Denial, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Engineering Marvel, Evil Opposition, Extreme Energy, Financiers of the Apocalypse, Fossilised Fuels, Freemarketeering, Gamechanger, Geogingerneering, Global Warming, Green Gas, Green Power, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Hydrogen Economy, Insulation, Low Carbon Life, Mad Mad World, Major Shift, Mass Propaganda, Methane Management, Money Sings, National Energy, National Power, Natural Gas, Nuclear Shambles, Oil Change, Optimistic Generation, Orwells, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Coal, Peak Emissions, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Price Control, Public Relations, Realistic Models, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Gas, Renewable Resource, Revolving Door, Shale Game, Solution City, Stirring Stuff, The Data, The Power of Intention, The Right Chemistry, The Science of Communitagion, The War on Error, Unnatural Gas, Unutterably Useless, Utter Futility, Vain Hope, Voluntary Behaviour Change, Vote Loser, Western Hedge
Posted on May 24th, 2014 1 comment
I will probably fail to make myself understood, yet again, but here goes…
The reasons the United Nations Climate Change process is failing are :-
1. The wrong people are being asked to shoulder responsibility
It is a well-rumoured possibility that the fossil fuel industry makes sure it has sympathisers and lobbyists at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conferences. It is only natural that they should want to monitor proceedings, and influence outcomes. But interventions by the energy sector has a much wider scope. Delegates from the countries with national oil and gas companies are key actors at UNFCCC conferences. Their national interests are closely bound to their fossil fuel exports. Many other countries understand their national interest is bound to the success of energy sector companies operating within their borders. Still others have governments with energy policy virtually dictated by international energy corporations. Yet when the UNFCCC discusses climate change, the only obligations discussed are those of nations – the parties to any treaty are the governments and regimes of the world. The UNFCCC does not hold oil and gas (and coal) companies to account. BP and Shell (and Exxon and Chevron and Total and GDF Suez and Eni and so on) are not asked to make undertakings at the annual climate talks. Governments are hoped to forge a treaty, but this treaty will create no leverage for change; no framework of accountability amongst those who produce oil, gas and coal.
2. The right people are not in the room
It’s all very well for Governments to commit to a treaty, but they cannot implement it. Yes, their citizens can make a certain amount of changes, and reduce their carbon emissions through controlling their energy consumption and their material acquisitions. But that’s not the whole story. Energy has to be decarbonised at source. There are technological solutions to climate change, and they require the deployment of renewable energy systems. The people who can implement renewable energy schemes should be part of the UNFCCC process; the engineering companies who make wind turbines, solar photovoltaic panels, the people who can build Renewable Gas systems. Companies such as Siemens, GE, Alstom. Energy engineering project companies. Chemical engineering companies.
3. The economists are still in the building
In the United Kingdom (what will we call it if Scotland becomes independent ? And what will the word “British” then mean ?) the Parliament passed the Climate Change Act. But this legislation is meaningless without a means to implement the Carbon Budgets it institutes. The British example is just a minor parallel to the UNFCCC situation – how can a global climate treaty be made to work ? Most of the notions the economists have put forward so far to incentivise energy demand reduction and stimulate low carbon energy production have failed to achieve much. Carbon trading ! Carbon pricing ! All rather ineffective. Plus, there’s the residual notion of different treatment for developed and developing nations, which is a road to nowhere.
4. Unilateral action is frowned upon
Apparently, since Climate Change is a global problem, we all have to act in a united fashion to solve it. But that’s too hard to ask, at least to start with. When countries or regions take it upon themselves to act independently, the policy community seem to counsel against it. There are a few exceptions, such as the C40 process, where individual cities are praised for independent action, but as soon as the European Community sets up something that looks like a border tax on carbon, that’s a no-no. Everybody is asked to be part of a global process, but it’s almost too hard to get anything done within this framework.
5. Civil Society is hamstrung and tongue-tied
There is very little that people groups can achieve within the UNFCCC process, because there is a disconnect between the negotiations and practical action. The framework of the treaty discussions does not encompass the real change makers. The UNFCCC does not build the foundation for the architecture of a new green economy, because it only addresses itself to garnering commitments from parties that cannot fulfill them. Civil Society ask for an egg sandwich and they are given a sandy eggshell. If Civil Society groups call for technology, they are given a carbon credit framework. If they call for differential investment strategies that can discredit carbon dependency, they are given an opportunity to put money into the global adaptation fund.Academic Freedom, Advancing Africa, Alchemical, Assets not Liabilities, Behaviour Changeling, Big Picture, Big Society, Carbon Commodities, Carbon Pricing, Carbon Taxatious, Change Management, Climate Change, Climate Chaos, Coal Hell, Conflict of Interest, Contraction & Convergence, Corporate Pressure, Dead End, Deal Breakers, Demoticratica, Design Matters, Direction of Travel, Divide & Rule, Dreamworld Economics, Emissions Impossible, Energy Change, Energy Crunch, Energy Denial, Energy Disenfranchisement, Engineering Marvel, Evil Opposition, Extreme Weather, Feed the World, Foreign Interference, Foreign Investment, Fossilised Fuels, Freemarketeering, Gamechanger, Geogingerneering, Global Singeing, Green Gas, Green Investment, Green Power, Human Nurture, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Low Carbon Life, Mad Mad World, Major Shift, Money Sings, National Energy, National Power, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Emissions, Petrolheads, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Protest & Survive, Realistic Models, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Gas, Revolving Door, Social Capital, Social Change, Social Chaos, Social Democracy, Solution City, Stirring Stuff, Technofix, The Power of Intention, The Science of Communitagion, The War on Error, Ungreen Development, Unutterably Useless, Utter Futility, Vain Hope, Western Hedge, Zero Net
Posted on March 15th, 2014 No comments
In the last few weeks I have heard a lot of noble but futile hopes on the subject of carbon dioxide emissions control.
People always seem to want to project too far into the future and lay out their wonder solution – something that is just too advanced enough to be attainable through any of the means we currently have at our disposal. It is impossible to imagine how the gulf can be bridged between the configuration of things today and their chosen future solutions.
Naive civil servants strongly believe in a massive programme of new nuclear power. Head-in-the-clouds climate change consultants and engineers who should know otherwise believe in widespread Carbon Capture and Storage or CCS. MBA students believe in carbon pricing, with carbon trading, or a flat carbon tax. Social engineers believe in significant reductions in energy intensity and energy consumer behaviour change, and economists believe in huge cost reductions for all forms of renewable electricity generation.
To make any progress at all, we need to start where we are. Our economic system has strong emissions-dependent components that can easily be projected to fight off contenders. The thing is, you can’t take a whole layer of bricks out of a Jenga stack without severe degradation of its stability. You need to work with the stack as it is, with all the balances and stresses that already exist. It is too hard to attempt to change everything at once, and the glowing ethereal light of the future is just too ghostly to snatch a hold of without a firm grasp on an appropriate practical rather than spiritual guide.
Here’s part of an email exchange in which I strive for pragmatism in the face of what I perceive as a lack of realism.
I read your article with interest. You have focused on energy, whereas I
tend to focus on total resource. CCS does make sense and should be pushed
forward with real drive as existing power stations can be cleaned up with it
and enjoy a much longer life. Establishing CCS is cheaper than building new
nuclear and uses far less resources. Furthermore, CCS should be used on new
gas and biomass plants in the future.
What we are lacking at the moment is any politician with vision in this
space. Through a combination of boiler upgrades, insulation, appliance
upgrades and behaviour change, it is straight forward to halve domestic
energy use. Businesses are starting to make real headway with energy
savings. We can therefore maintain a current total energy demand for the
To service this demand, we should continue to eke out every last effective
joule from the current generating stock by adding cleansing kit to the dirty
performers. While this is being done, we can continue to develop renewable
energy and localised systems which can help to reduce the base load
requirement even further.
From an operational perspective, CCS has stagnated over the last 8 years, so
a test plant needs to be put in place as soon as possible.
The biggest issue for me is that, through political meddling and the
unintended consequences of ill-thought out subsidies, the market has been
skewed in such a way that the probability of a black-out next year is very
Green gas is invisible in many people’s thinking, but the latest House of
Lords Report highlighted its potential.
Vested interests are winning hands down in the stand-off with the big
What is the title of the House of Lords report to which you refer ?
Sadly, I am old enough to remember Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)
the first time the notion went around the block, so I’d say that
progress has been thin for 30 years rather than 8.
Original proposals for CCS included sequestration at the bottom of the
ocean, which have only recently been ruled out as the study of global
ocean circulation has discovered more complex looping of deep and
shallower waters that originally modelled – the carbon dioxide would
come back up to the surface waters eventually…
The only way, I believe, that CCS can be made to work is by creating a
value stream from the actual carbon dioxide, and I don’t mean Enhanced
Oil Recovery (EOR).
And I also definitely do not mean carbon dioxide emissions pricing,
taxation or credit trading. The forces against an
investment-influencing carbon price are strong, if you analyse the
games going on in the various economic system components. I do not
believe that a strong carbon price can be asserted when major economic
components are locked into carbon – such as the major energy producers
and suppliers, and some parts of industry, and transport.
Also, carbon pricing is designed to be cost-efficient, as markets will
always find the lowest marginal pricing for any externality in fines
or charges – which is essentially what carbon dioxide emissions are.
The EU Emissions Trading Scheme was bound to deliver a low carbon
price – that’s exactly what the economists predicted in modelling
I cannot see that a carbon price could be imposed that was more than
5% of the base commodity trade price. At those levels, the carbon
price is just an irritation to pass on to end consumers.
The main problem is that charging for emissions does not alter
investment decisions. Just like fines for pollution do not change the
risks for future pollution. I think that we should stop believing in
negative charging and start backing positive investment in the energy
You write “You have focused on energy, whereas I tend to focus on
total resource.” I assume you mean the infrastructure and trading
systems. My understanding leads me to expect that in the current
continuing economic stress, solutions to the energy crisis will indeed
need to re-use existing plant and infrastructure, which is why I
think that Renewable Gas is a viable option for decarbonising total
energy supply – it slots right in to substitute for Natural Gas.
My way to “eke out every last effective joule from the current
generating stock” is to clean up the fuel, rather than battle
thermodynamics and capture the carbon dioxide that comes out the back
end. Although I also recommend carbon recycling to reduce the need for
I completely agree that energy efficiency – cutting energy demand
through insulation and so on – is essential. But there needs to be a
fundamental change in the way that profits are made in the energy
sector before this will happen in a significant way. Currently it
remains in the best interests of energy production and supply
companies to produce and supply as much energy as they can, as they
have a duty to their shareholders to return a profit through high
sales of their primary products.
“Vested interests” have every right under legally-binding trade
agreements to maximise their profits through the highest possible
sales in a market that is virtually a monopoly. I don’t think this can
be challenged, not even by climate change science. I think the way
forward is to change the commodities upon which the energy sector
thrives. If products from the energy sector include insulation and
other kinds of efficiency, and if the energy sector companies can
continue to make sales of these products, then they can reasonably be
expected to sell less energy. I’m suggesting that energy reduction
services need to have a lease component.
Although Alistair Buchanan formerly of Ofgem is right about the
electricity generation margins slipping really low in the next few
winters, there are STOR contracts that National Grid have been working
on, which should keep the lights on, unless Russia turn off the gas
taps, which is something nobody can do anything much about – not BP,
nor our diplomatic corps, the GECF (the gas OPEC), nor the WTO.
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Posted on March 14th, 2014 No comments
In the last few weeks I have attended a number of well-intentioned meetings on advances in the field of carbon dioxide emissions mitigation. My overall impression is that there are several failing narratives to be encountered if you make even the shallowest foray into the murky mix of politics and energy engineering.
As somebody rightly pointed out, no capitalist worth their share price is going to spend real money in the current economic environment on new kit, even if they have asset class status – so all advances will necessarily be driven by public subsidies – in fact, significant technological advance has only ever been accomplished by state support.
Disturbingly, free money is also being demanded to roll out decades-old low carbon energy technology – nuclear power, wind power, green gas, solar photovoltaics – so it seems to me the only way we will ever get appropriate levels of renewable energy deployment is by directed, positive public investment.
More to the point, we are now in an era where nobody at all is prepared to spend any serious money without a lucrative slap on the back, and reasons beyond reasons are being deployed to justify this position. For example, the gas-fired power plant operators make claims that the increase in wind power is threatening their profitability, so they are refusing to built new electricity generation capacity without generous handouts. This will be the Capacity Mechanism, and will keep gas power plants from being mothballed. Yes, there is data to support their complaint, but it does still seem like whinging and special pleading.
And the UK Government’s drooling and desperate fixation with new nuclear power has thrown the European Commission into a tizzy about the fizzy promises of “strike price” guaranteed sales returns for the future atomic electricity generation.
But here, I want to contrast two other energy-polity dialogues – one for developing an invaluable energy resource, and the other about throwing money down a hole.
First, let’s take the white elephant. Royal Dutch Shell has for many years been lobbying for state financial support to pump carbon dioxide down holes in the ground. Various oil and gas industry engineers have been selling this idea to governments, federal and sub-federal for decades, and even acted as consultants to the Civil Society process on emissions control – you just need to read the United Nations’ IPCC Climate Change Assessment Report and Special Report output to detect the filigree of a trace of geoengineering fingers scratching their meaning into global intention. Let us take your nasty, noxious carbon dioxide, they whisper suggestively, and push it down a hole, out of sight and out of accounting mind, but don’t forget to slip us a huge cheque for doing so. You know, they add, we could even do it cost-effectively, by producing more oil and gas from emptying wells, resulting from pumping the carbon dioxide into them. Enhanced Oil Recovery – or EOR – would of course mean that some of the carbon dioxide pumped underground would in effect come out again in the form of the flue gas from the combustion of new fossil fuels, but anyway…
And governments love being seen to be doing something, anything, really, about climate change, as long as it’s not too complicated, and involves big players who should be trustworthy. So, you get the Peterhead project picking up a fat cheque for a trial of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) in Scotland, and the sidestep hint that if Scotland decides to become independent, this project money could be lost…But this project doesn’t involve much of anything that is really new. The power station that will be used is a liability that ought to be closing now, really, according to some. And the trial will only last for ten years. There will be no EOR – at least – not in the public statements, but this plan could lead the way.
All of this is like pushing a fat kid up a shiny slide. Once Government take their greasy Treasury hands off the project, the whole narrative will fail, falling to an ignominious muddy end. This perhaps explains the underlying desperation of many – CCS is the only major engineering response to emissions that many people can think of – because they cannot imagine burning less fossil fuels. So this wobbling effigy has to be kept on the top of the pedestal. And so I have enjoyed two identical Shell presentations on the theme of the Peterhead project in as many weeks. CCS must be obeyed.
But, all the same, it’s big money. And glaring yellow and red photo opps. You can’t miss it. And then, at the other end of the scale of subsidies, is biogas. With currently low production volumes, and complexities attached to its utilisation, anaerobically digesting wastes of all kinds and capturing the gas for use as a fuel, is a kind of token technology to many, only justified because methane is a much stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, so it needs to be burned.
The subsidy arrangements for many renewable energy technologies are in flux. Subsidies for green gas will be reconsidered and reformulated in April, and will probably experience a degression – a hand taken off the tiller of driving energy change.
At an evening biogas briefing given by Rushlight this week, I could almost smell a whiff of despair and disappointment in the levels of official support for green gas. It was freely admitted that not all the planned projects around the country will see completion, not only because of the prevailing economic climate, but because of the vagaries of feedstock availability, and the complexity of gas cleaning regulations.
There was light in the tunnel, though, even if the end had not been reached – a new Quality Protocol for upgrading biogas to biomethane, for injection into the gas grid, has been established. You won’t find it on the official UK Goverment website, apparently, as it has fallen through the cracks of the rebranding to gov.uk, but here it is, and it’s from the Environment Agency, so it’s official :-
Here’s some background :-
To get some picture of the mess that British green energy policy is in, all you need do is take a glance at Germany and Denmark, where green gas is considered the “third leg of the stool”, stabilising renewable energy supply with easily-stored low carbon gas, to balance out the peaks and troughs in wind power and solar power provision.
Green gas should not be considered a nice-to-have minor addition to the solutions portfolio in my view. The potential to de-carbonise the energy gas supply is huge, and the UK are missing a trick here – the big money is being ladled onto the “incumbents” – the big energy companies who want to carry on burning fossil fuels but sweep their emissions under the North Sea salt cavern carpet with CCS, whilst the beer change is being reluctantly handed out as a guilt offering to people seeking genuinely low carbon energy production.
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Posted on February 27th, 2014 1 comment
I was at a very interesting meeting this morning, entitled “Next Steps for Carbon Capture and Storage in the UK”, hosted by the Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport Forum :-
During the proceedings, there were liberal doses of hints at that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is about to freeze the Carbon Price Floor – the central functioning carbon pricing policy in the UK (since the EU Emissions Trading Scheme “isn’t working”).
All of the more expensive low carbon energy technologies rely on a progressively heavier price for carbon emissions to make their solutions more attractive.
Where does this leave the prospects for Carbon Capture and Storage in the 2030s ? Initial technology-launching subsidies will have been dropped, and the Contracts for Difference will have been ground down into obscurity. So how will CCS keep afloat ? It’s always going to remain more expensive than other technology options to prevent atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions, so it needs some prop.
What CCS needs is some Added Value. It will come partly from EOR – Enhanced Oil Recovery, as pumping carbon dioxide down depleting oil and gas fields will help stimulate a few percent of extra production.
But what will really make the difference is using carbon dioxide to make new fuel. That’s the wonder of Renewable Gas – it will be able to provide a valued product for capturing carbon dioxide.
This wasn’t talked about this morning. The paradigm is still “filter out the CO2 and flush it down a hole”. But it won’t stay that way forever. Sooner or later, somebody’s going to start mining carbon dioxide from CCS projects to make new chemicals and gas fuels. Then, who cares if there’s negative charging for emissions ? Or at what price ? The return on investment in carbon capture will simply bypass assumptions about needing to create a carbon market or set a carbon tax.Academic Freedom, Alchemical, Assets not Liabilities, British Biogas, Carbon Capture, Carbon Commodities, Carbon Pricing, Carbon Recycling, Carbon Taxatious, Corporate Pressure, Cost Effective, Design Matters, Direction of Travel, Dreamworld Economics, Efficiency is King, Emissions Impossible, Energy Revival, Engineering Marvel, Fossilised Fuels, Gamechanger, Gas Storage, Geogingerneering, Green Investment, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Low Carbon Life, National Energy, National Power, Nudge & Budge, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Emissions, Price Control, Realistic Models, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Gas
Posted on February 24th, 2014 No comments
Here is further email exchange with Professor Richard Sears, following on from a previous web log post.
From: Richard A. Sears
Date: 24 February 2014
To: Jo Abbess
Subject: Question from your TED talk
I was looking back over older emails and saw that I had never responded to your note. It arrived as I was headed to MIT to teach for a week and then it got lost. Sorry about that.
Some interesting questions. I don’t know anybody working specifically on wind power to gas options. At one time Shell had a project in Iceland using geothermal to make hydrogen. Don’t know what its status is but if you search on hydrogen and Iceland on the Shell website I’m sure there’s something. If the Germans have power to gas as a real policy option I’d poke around the web for information on who their research partners are for this.
Here are a couple of high level thoughts. Not to discourage you because real progress comes from asking new questions, but there are some physical fundamentals that are important.
Direct air capture of anything using current technology is prohibitively expensive to do at scale for energy. More energy will be expended in capture and synthesis than the fuels would yield.
Gaseous fuels are problematic on their own. Gas doesn’t travel well and is difficult to contain at high energy densities as that means compressing or liquefying it. That doesn’t make anything impossible, but it raises many questions about infrastructure and energy balance. If we take the energy content of a barrel of oil as 1.0, then a barrel of liquefied natural gas is about 0.6, compressed natural gas which is typically at about 3600psi is around 0.3, and a barrel (as a measure of volume equal to 42 US gallons) of natural gas at room temperature and pressure is about 0.0015 (+/-). Also there’s a real challenge in storing and transporting gasses as fuel at scale, particularly motor fuel to replace gasoline and diesel.
While there is some spare wind power potential that doesn’t get utilized because of how the grid must be managed, I expect it is a modest amount of energy compared to what we use today in liquid fuels. I think what that means is that while possible, it’s more likely to happen in niche local markets and applications rather than at national or global scales.
If you haven’t seen it, a nice reference on the potential of various forms of sustainable energy is available free and online here. http://www.withouthotair.com/
Hope some of this helps.
Richard A. Sears
Department of Energy Resources Engineering
From: Jo Abbess
Date: 24 February 2014
To: Richard A. Sears
Many thanks for getting back to me. Responses are nice – even if they
are months late. As they say – better late than never, although with
climate change, late action will definitely be unwise, according to an
increasing number of people.
I have indeed seen the website, and bought and spilled coffee on the
book of Professor David MacKay’s “Sustainable Energy Without The Hot
Air” project. It is legendary. However, I have checked and he has only
covered alternative gas in a couple of paragraphs – in notes. By
contrast, he spent a long chapter discussing how to filter uranium out
of seawater and other nuclear pursuits.
Yet as a colleague of mine, who knows David better than I do, said to
me this morning, his fascination with nuclear power is rather naive,
and his belief in the success of Generation III and Generation IV
lacks evidence. Plus, if we get several large carbon dioxide
sequestration projects working in the UK – Carbon Capture and Storage
(CCS) – such as the Drax pipeline (which other companies will also
join) and the Shell Peterhead demonstration, announced today, then we
won’t need new nuclear power to meet our 4th Carbon Budget – and maybe
not even the 5th, either (to be negotiated in 2016, I hear) :-
We don’t need to bury this carbon, however; we just need to recycle
it. And the number of ways to make Renewable Hydrogen, and
energy-efficiently methanate carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide with
hydrogen, is increasing. People are already making calculations on how
much “curtailed” or spare wind power is likely to be available for
making gas in 10 years’ time, and if solar power in the UK is
cranked/ramped up, then there will be lots of juicy cost-free power
ours for the taking – especially during summer nights.
Direct Air Capture of carbon dioxide is a nonsensical proposition.
Besides being wrong in terms of the arrow of entropy, it also has the
knock-on effect of causing carbon dioxide to come back out of the
ocean to re-equilibrate. I recently read a paper by climate scientists
that estimated that whatever carbon dioxide you take out of the air,
you will need to do almost all of it again.
Instead of uranium, we should be harvesting carbon dioxide from the
oceans, and using it to make gaseous and liquid fuels.
Gaseous fuels and electricity complement each other very well –
particularly in storage and grid balancing terms – there are many
provisions for the twins of gas and power in standards, laws, policies
and elsewhere. Regardless of the limitations of gas, there is a huge
infrastructure already in place that can store, pipe and use it, plus
it is multi-functional – you can make power, heat, other fuels and
chemicals from gas. In addition, you can make gas from a range of
resources and feedstocks and processing streams – the key quartet of
chemical gas species keep turning up : hydrogen, methane, carbon
monoxide and carbon dioxide – whether you are looking at the exhaust
from combustion, Natural Gas, industrial furnace producer gas,
biological decomposition, just about everywhere – the same four gases.
Energy transition must include large amounts of renewable electricity
– because wind and solar power are quick to build yet long nuclear
power lead times might get extended in poor economic conditions. The
sun does not always shine and the wind does not always blow (and the
tide is not always in high flux). Since demand profiles will never be
able to match supply profiles exactly, there will always be spare
power capacity that grids cannot use. So Power to Gas becomes the
optimal solution. At least until there are ways to produce Renewable
Hydrogen at plants that use process heat from other parts of the
Renewable Gas toolkit. So the aims are to recycle carbon dioxide from
gas combustion to make more gas, and recycle gas production process
heat to make hydrogen to use in the gas production process, and make
the whole lot as thermally balanced as possible. Yes. We can do that.
Lower the inputs of fresh carbon of any form, and lower the energy
requirements to make manufactured gas.
I met somebody working with Jacobs who was involved in the Carbon
Recycling project in Iceland. Intriguing, but an order of magnitude
smaller than I think is possible.
ITM Power in the UK are doing a Hydrogen-to-gas-grid and methanation
project in Germany with one of the regions. They have done several
projects with Kiwa and Shell on gas options in Europe. I know of the
existence of feasibility reports on the production of synthetic
methane, but I have not had the opportunity to read them yet…
I feel quite encouraged that Renewable Gas is already happening. It’s
a bit patchy, but it’s inevitable, because the narrative of
unconventional fossil fuels has many flaws. I have been looking at
issues with reserves growth and unconventionals are not really
commensurate with conventional resources. There may be a lot of shale
gas in the ground, but getting it out could be a long process, so
production volumes might never be very good. In the USA you’ve had
lots of shale gas – but that’s only been supported by massive drilling
programmes – is this sustainable ?
BP have just finished building lots of dollars of kit at Whiting to
process sour Natural Gas. If they had installed Renewable Gas kit
instead of the usual acid gas and sulfur processing, they could have
been preparing for the future. As I understand it, it is possible to
methanate carbon dioxide without first removing it from the rest of
the gas it comes in – so methanating sour gas to uprate it is a viable
option as far as I can see. The hydrogen sulfide would still need to
be washed out, but the carbon dioxide needn’t be wasted – it can be
made part of the fuel. And when the sour gas eventually thins out,
those now methanating sour gas can instead start manufacturing gas
from low carbon emissions feedstocks and recycled carbon.
I’m thinking very big.
jo.Academic Freedom, Assets not Liabilities, Baseload is History, Carbon Capture, Carbon Commodities, Carbon Recycling, Climate Change, Climate Damages, Corporate Pressure, Design Matters, Energy Crunch, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Engineering Marvel, Feel Gooder, Gamechanger, Gas Storage, Geogingerneering, Green Power, Hydrogen Economy, Low Carbon Life, Major Shift, Marine Gas, Marvellous Wonderful, Methane Management, Military Invention, National Energy, Nuclear Nuisance, Nuclear Shambles, Optimistic Generation, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Natural Gas, Realistic Models, Renewable Gas, Renewable Resource, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, Stirring Stuff, Technofix, The Power of Intention, The Price of Gas, The Right Chemistry, Transport of Delight, Unconventional Foul, Wasted Resource, Western Hedge, Wind of Fortune, Zero Net
Posted on January 13th, 2014 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.
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 :-
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 :-
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 ?
from: Richard A. Sears
to: Jo Abbess
date: Thu, Oct 24, 2013 at 5:30 PM
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.
Richard A. Sears
MIT Energy Initiative
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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 ?
from: Richard A Sears
date: Fri, Oct 25, 2013 at 5:03 PM
to: Jo Abbess
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.
Richard A. Sears
Department of Energy Resources Engineering
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.
jo.Academic Freedom, Alchemical, Assets not Liabilities, Big Picture, Coal Hell, Conflict of Interest, Cost Effective, Design Matters, Direction of Travel, Electrificandum, Energy Change, Energy Crunch, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Engineering Marvel, Fossilised Fuels, Gamechanger, Geogingerneering, Green Power, Methane Management, National Energy, National Power, Optimistic Generation, Peak Energy, Peak Natural Gas, Peak Oil, Price Control, Realistic Models, Renewable Gas, Shale Game, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, The Data, The Power of Intention, The Price of Gas, The Price of Oil, The Right Chemistry, Western Hedge
Posted on October 16th, 2013 No comments
I listened to an interesting mix of myth, mystery and magic on BBC Radio 4.
Myths included the notion that long-term, nuclear power would be cheap; that “alternative” energy technologies are expensive (well, nuclear power is, but true renewables are most certainly not); and the idea that burning biomass to create heat to create steam to turn turbines to generate electricity is an acceptably efficient use of biomass (it is not).
Biofuelwatch are hosting a public meeting on this very subject :-
“A Burning Issue – biomass and its impacts on forests and communities”
Tuesday, 29th October 2013, 7-9pm
Lumen Centre, London (close to St Pancras train station)
Lumen Centre, 88 Tavistock Place, London WC1H 9RS
Interesting hints in the interviews I thought pointed to the idea that maybe, just maybe, some electricity generation capacity should be wholly owned by the Government – since the country is paying for it one way or another. A socialist model for gas-fired generation capacity that’s used as backup to wind and solar power ? Now there’s an interesting idea…
“Mind the Gap”
Channel: BBC Radio 4
Series: Costing the Earth
Presenter: Tom Heap
First broadcast: Tuesday 15th October 2013
Programme Notes :
“Our energy needs are growing as our energy supply dwindles.
Renewables have not come online quickly enough and we are increasingly
reliant on expensive imported gas or cheap but dirty coal. Last year
the UK burnt 50% more coal than in previous years but this helped
reverse years of steadily declining carbon dioxide emissions. By 2015
6 coal fired power stations will close and the cost of burning coal
will increase hugely due to the introduction of the carbon price
floor. Shale gas and biomass have been suggested as quick and easy
solutions but are they really sustainable, or cheap?”
“Carbon Capture and Storage could make coal or gas cleaner and a new
study suggests that with CCS bio energy could even decrease global
warming. Yet CCS has stalled in the UK and the rest of Europe and the
debate about the green credentials of biomass is intensifying. So what
is really the best answer to Britain’s energy needs? Tom Heap
00:44 – 00:48
[ Channel anchor ]
Britain’s energy needs are top of the agenda in “Costing the Earth”…
[ Channel anchor ]
…this week on “Costing the Earth”, Tom Heap is asking if our
ambitions to go green are being lost to the more immediate fear of
blackouts and brownouts.
[ Music : Arcade Fire – “Neighbourhood 3 (Power Out)” ]
[ Tom Heap ]
Energy is suddenly big news – central to politics and the economy. The
countdown has started towards the imminent shutdown of many coal-fired
power stations, but the timetable to build their replacements has
It’ll cost a lot, we’ll have to pay, and the politicians are reluctant
to lay out the bill. But both the official regulator and industry are
warning that a crunch is coming.
So in this week’s “Costing the Earth”, we ask if the goal of clean,
green and affordable energy is being lost to a much darker reality.
[ Historical recordings ]
“The lights have started going out in the West Country : Bristol,
Exeter and Plymouth have all had their first power cuts this
“One of the biggest effects of the cuts was on traffic, because with
the traffic lights out of commission, major jams have built up,
particularly in the town centres. One of the oddest sights I saw is a
couple of ladies coming out of a hairdressers with towels around their
heads because the dryers weren’t working.”
“Television closes down at 10.30 [ pm ], and although the cinemas are
carrying on more or less normally, some London theatres have had to
“The various [ gas ] boards on both sides of the Pennines admit to
being taken by surprise with today’s cold spell which brought about
“And now the major scandal sweeping the front pages of the papers this
morning, the advertisement by the South Eastern Gas Board recommending
that to save fuel, couples should share their bath.”
[ Caller ]
“I shall write to my local gas board and say don’t do it in
Birmingham. It might be alright for the trendy South, but we don’t
want it in Birmingham.”
[ Tom Heap ]
That was 1974.
Some things have changed today – maybe a more liberal attitude to
sharing the tub. But some things remain the same – an absence of
coal-fired electricity – threatening a blackout.
Back then it was strikes by miners. Now it’s old age of the power
plants, combined with an EU Directive obliging them to cut their
sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions by 2016, or close.
Some coal burners are avoiding the switch off by substituting wood;
and mothballed gas stations are also on standby.
But Dieter Helm, Professor of Energy Policy at the University of
Oxford, now believes power cuts are likely.
[ Dieter Helm ]
Well, if we take the numbers produced by the key responsible bodies,
they predict that there’s a chance that by the winter of 2-15 [sic,
meaning 2015] 2-16 [sic, meaning 2016], the gap between the demand for
electricity and the supply could be as low as 2%.
And it turns out that those forecasts are based on extremely
optimistic assumptions about how far demand will fall in that period
(that the “Green Deal” will work, and so on) and that we won’t have
much economic growth.
So basically we are on course for a very serious energy crunch by the
winter of 2-15 [sic, meaning 2015] 2-16 [sic, meaning 2016], almost
regardless of what happens now, because nobody can build any power
stations between now and then.
It’s sort of one of those slow motion car crashes – you see the whole
symptoms of it, and people have been messing around reforming markets
and so on, without addressing what’s immediately in front of them.
[ Tom Heap ]
And that’s where you think we are now ?
[ Dieter Helm ]
I think there’s every risk of doing so.
Fortunately, the [ General ] Election is a year and a half away, and
there’s many opportunities for all the political parties to get real
about two things : get real about the energy crunch in 2-15 [sic,
meaning 2015] 2-16 [sic, meaning 2016] and how they’re going to handle
it; and get real about creating the incentives to decarbonise our
electricity system, and deal with the serious environmental and
security and competitive issues which our electricity system faces.
And this is a massive investment requirement [ in ] electricity : all
those old stations retiring [ originally built ] back from the 1970s –
they’re all going to be gone.
Most of the nuclear power stations are coming to the end of their lives.
We need a really big investment programme. And if you really want an
investment programme, you have to sit down and work out how you’re
going to incentivise people to do that building.
[ Tom Heap ]
If we want a new energy infrastructure based on renewables and
carbon-free alternatives, then now is the time to put those incentives
on the table.
The problem is that no-one seems to want to make the necessary
investment, least of all the “Big Six” energy companies, who are
already under pressure about high bills.
[ “Big Six” are : British Gas / Centrica, EdF Energy (Electricite
de France), E.On UK, RWE npower, Scottish Power and SSE ]
Sam Peacock of the energy company SSE [ Scottish and Southern Energy ]
gives the commercial proof of Dieter’s prediction.
If energy generators can’t make money out of generating energy,
they’ll be reluctant to do it.
[ Sam Peacock ]
Ofgem, the energy regulator, has looked at this in a lot of detail,
and said that around 2015, 2016, things start to get tighter. The
reason for this is European Directives, [ is [ a ] ] closing down some
of the old coal plants. And also the current poor economics around [
or surround [ -ing ] ] both existing plant and potential new plant.
So, at the moment it’s very, very difficult to make money out of a gas
plant, or invest in a new one. So this leads to there being, you know,
something of a crunch point around 2015, 2016, and Ofgem’s analysis
looks pretty sensible to us.
[ Tom Heap ]
And Sam Peacock lays the blame for this crisis firmly at the Government’s door.
[ Sam Peacock ]
The trilemma, as they call it – of decarbonisation, security of supply
and affordability – is being stretched, because the Government’s
moving us more towards cleaner technologies, which…which are more
However, if you were to take the costs of, you know, the extra costs
of developing these technologies off government [ sic, meaning
customer ] bills and into general taxation, you could knock about over
£100 off customer bills today, it’ll be bigger in the future, and you
can still get that much-needed investment going.
So, we think you can square the circle, but it’s going to take a
little bit of policy movement [ and ] it’s going to take shifting some
of those costs off customers and actually back where the policymakers
should be controlling them.
[ KLAXON ! Does he mean controlled energy prices ? That sounds a bit
centrally managed economy to me… ]
[ Tom Heap ]
No surprise that a power company would want to shift the pain of
rising energy costs from their bills to the tax bill.
But neither the Government nor the Opposition are actually proposing this.
Who pays the premium for expensve new energy sources is becoming like
a game of pass the toxic parcel.
[ Reference : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hot_potato_%28game%29 ]
I asked the [ UK Government Department of ] Energy and Climate Change
Secretary, Ed Davey, how much new money is required between now and
[ Ed Davey ]
About £110 billion – er, that’s critical to replace a lot of the coal
power stations that are closing, the nuclear power stations that are [
at the ] end of their lives, and replace a lot of the network which
has come to the end of its life, too.
So it’s a huge, massive investment task.
[ Tom Heap ]
So in the end we’re going to have to foot the bill for the £110 billion ?
[ Ed Davey ]
Yeah. Of course. That’s what happens now. People, in their bills that
they pay now, are paying for the network costs of investments made
several years, even several decades ago.
[ Yes – we’re still paying through our national nose to dispose of
radioactive waste and decommission old nuclear reactors. The liability
of it all weighs heavily on the country’s neck… ]
And there’s no escaping that – we’ve got to keep the lights on – we’ve
got to keep the country powered.
You have to look at both sides of the equation. If we’re helping
people make their homes more inefficient [ sic, meaning energy
efficient ], their product appliances more efficient, we’re doing
everything we possibly can to try to help the bills be kept down,
while we’re having to make these big investments to keep the lights
on, and to make sure that we don’t cook the planet, as you say.
[ Tom Heap ]
You mention the lights going out. There are predictions that we’re
headed towards just 2% of spare capacity in the system in a few years’
Are you worried about the dangers of, I don’t know, maybe not lights
going out for some people, but perhaps big energy users being told
when and when [ sic, meaning where ] they can’t use power in the
[ Ed Davey ]
Well, there’s no doubt that as the coal power stations come offline,
and the nuclear power plants, er, close, we’re going to have make sure
that new power plants are coming on to replace them.
And if we don’t, there will be a problem with energy security.
Now we’ve been working very hard over a long time now to make sure we
attract that investment. We’ve been working with Ofgem, the regulator;
with National Grid, and we’re…
[ Tom Heap ]
…Being [ or it’s being ] tough. I don’t see companies racing to come
and fill in the gap here and those coal power plants are going off
[ Ed Davey ]
…we’re actually having record levels of energy investment in the country.
The problem was for 13 years under the last Government
[ same old, same old Coalition argument ] we saw low levels of investment
in energy, and we’re having to race to catch up, but fortunately we’re
winning that race. And we’re seeing, you know, billions of pounds
invested but we’ve still got to do more. We’re not there. I’m not
pretending we’re there yet. [ Are we there, yet ? ] But we do have the
policies in place.
So, Ofgem is currently consulting on a set of proposals which will
enable it to have reserve power to switch on at the peak if it’s
We’re, we’ve, bringing forward proposals in the Energy Bill for what’s
called a Capacity Market, so we can auction to get that extra capacity
So we’ve got the policies in place.
[ Tom Heap ]
Some of Ed Davey’s policies, not least the LibDem [ Liberal Democrat
Party ] U-turn on nuclear, have been guided by DECC [ Department of
Energy and Climate Change ] Chief Scientist David MacKay, author of
the influential book “Renewable Energy without the Hot Air” [ sic,
actually “Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air” ].
Does he think the lights will dim in the second half of this decade ?
[ David MacKay ]
I don’t think there’s going to be any problem maintaining the capacity
that we need. We just need to make clear where Electricity Market
Reform [ EMR, part of the Energy Bill ] is going, and the way in which
we will be maintaining capacity.
[ Tom Heap ]
But I don’t quite understand that, because it seems to me, you know,
some of those big coal-fired power stations are going to be going off.
What’s going to be coming in their place ?
[ David MacKay ]
Well, the biggest number of power stations that’s been built in the
last few years are gas power stations, and we just need a few more gas
power stations like that, to replace the coal, and hopefully some
nuclear power stations will be coming on the bars, as well as the wind
farms that are being built at the moment.
[ Tom Heap ]
And you’re happy with that increase in gas-fired power stations, are
you ? I mean, you do care deeply, personally, about reducing our
greenhouse gases, and yet you’re saying we’re going to have to build
more gas-fired power stations.
[ David MacKay ]
I do. Even in many of the pathways that reach the 2050 target, there’s
still a role for gas in the long-term, because some power sources like
wind and solar power are intermittent, so if you want to be keeping
the lights on in 2050 when there’s no wind and there’s no sun, you’re
going to need some gas power stations there. Maybe not operating so
much of the time as they do today, but there’ll still be a role in
keeping the lights on.
[ KLAXON ! If gas plants are used only for peak periods or for backup to
renewables, then the carbon emissions will be much less than if they are
running all the time. ]
[ Tom Heap ]
Many energy experts though doubt that enough new wind power or nuclear
capacity could be built fast enough to affect the sums in a big way by
But that isn’t the only critical date looming over our energy system.
Even more challenging, though more distant, is the legally binding
objective of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in 2050.
David MacKay wants that certainty to provide the foundation for energy
decisions, and he showed me the effect of different choices with the
“Ultimate Future Energy App”. I was in his office, but anyone can try it online.
[ David MacKay ]
It’s a 2050 calculator. It computes energy demand and supply in
response to your choices, and it computes multiple consequences of
your choices. It computes carbon consequences. It also computes for
you estimates of air quality, consequences of different choices;
security of supply, consequences; and the costs of your choices.
So with this 2050 calculator, it’s an open source tool, and anyone can
go on the web and use the levers to imagine different futures in 2050
of how much action we’ve taken in different demand sectors and in
different supply sectors.
The calculator has many visualisations of the pathway that you’re choosing
and helps people understand all the trade-offs… There’s no silver
bullet for any of this. If I dial up a pathway someone made earlier,
we can visualise the implications in terms of the area occupied for
the onshore wind farms, and the area in the sea for the offshore wind
farms, and the length of the wave farms that you’ve built, and the
land area required for energy crops.
And many organisations have used this tool and some of them have given
us their preferred pathway. So you can see here the Friends of the
Earth have got their chosen pathway, the Campaign to Protect Rural
England, and various engineers like National Grid and Atkins have got
So you can see alternative ways of achieving our targets, of keeping
the lights on and taking climate change action. All of those pathways
all meet the 2050 target, but they do so with different mixes.
[ Tom Heap ]
And your view of this is you sort of can’t escape from the scientific
logic and rigour of it. You might wish things were different or you
could do it differently, but you’re sort of saying “Look, it’s either
one thing or the other”. That’s the point of this.
[ David MacKay ]
That’s true. You can’t be anti-everything. You can’t be anti-wind and
anti-nuclear and anti-home insulation. You won’t end up with a plan
that adds up.
[ KLAXON ! But you can be rationally against one or two things, like
expensive new nuclear power, and carbon and particulate emissions-heavy
biomass for the generation of electricity. ]
[ Tom Heap ]
But isn’t that exactly kind of the problem that we’ve had, without
pointing political fingers, that people rather have been
anti-everything, and that’s why we’re sort of not producing enough new
energy sources ?
[ David MacKay ]
Yeah. The majority of the British public I think are in favour of many
of these sources, but there are strong minorities who are vocally
opposed to every one of the major levers in this calculator. So one
aspiration I have for this tool is it may help those people come to a
position where they have a view that’s actually consistent with the
goal of keeping the lights on.
[ Tom Heap ]
Professor MacKay’s calculator also computes pounds and pence,
suggesting that both high and low carbon electricity work out pricey
in the end.
[ David MacKay ]
The total costs of all the pathways are pretty much the same.
“Business as Usual” is cheaper in the early years, and then pays more,
because on the “Business as Usual”, you carry on using fossil fuels,
and the prices of those fossil fuels are probably going to go up.
All of the pathways that take climate change action have a similar
total cost, but they pay more in the early years, ’cause you have to
pay for things like building insulation and power stations, like
nuclear power stations, or wind power, which cost up-front, but then
they’re very cheap to run in the future.
[ KLAXON ! Will the cost of decommissioning nuclear reactors and the
costs of the waste disposal be cheap ? I think not… ]
So the totals over the 40 or 50 year period here, are much the same for these.
[ Tom Heap ]
The cheapest immediate option of all is to keep shovelling the coal.
And last year coal overtook gas to be our biggest electricity
generation source, pushing up overall carbon emissions along the way
[ KLAXON ! This is not very good for energy security – look where the
coal comes from… ]
As we heard earlier, most coal-fired power stations are scheduled for
termination, but some have won a reprieve, and trees are their
Burning plenty of wood chip [ actually, Tom, it’s not wood “chip”, it’s
wood “pellets” – which often have other things mixed in with the wood,
like coal… ] allows coal furnaces to cut the sulphur dioxide and nitrous
oxide belching from their chimneys to below the level that requires their
closure under European law.
But some enthusiasts see wood being good for even more.
[ Outside ]
It’s one of those Autumn days that promises to be warm, but currently
is rather moist. I’m in a field surrounded by those dew-laden cobwebs
you get at this time of year.
But in the middle of this field is a plantation of willow. And I’m at
Rothamsted Research with Angela Karp who’s one of the directors here.
Angela, tell me about this willow I’m standing in front of here. I
mean, it’s about ten foot high or so, but what are you seeing ?
[ Angela Karp ]
Well, I’m seeing one of our better varieties that’s on display here.
We have a demonstration trial of about ten different varieties. This
is a good one, because it produces a lot of biomass, quite easily,
without a lot of additional fertilisers or anything. And as you can
see it’s got lovely straight stems. It’s got many stems, and at the
end of three years, we would harvest all those stems to get the
biomass from it. It’s nice and straight – it’s a lovely-looking, it’s
got no disease, no insects on it, very nice, clean willow.
[ Tom Heap ]
So, what you’ve been working on here as I understand it is trying to
create is the perfect willow – the most fuel for the least input – and
the easiest to harvest.
[ Angela Karp ]
That’s absolutely correct, because the whole reason for growing these
crops is to get the carbon from the atmosphere into the wood, and to
use that wood as a replacement for fossil fuels. Without putting a lot
of inputs in, because as soon as you add fertilisers you’re using
energy and carbon to make them, and that kind of defeats the whole
purpose of doing this.
[ KLAXON ! You don’t need to use fossil fuel energy or petrochemicals or
anything with carbon emissions to make fertiliser ! … Hang on, these
are GM trees, right ? So they will need inputs… ]
[ Tom Heap ]
And how much better do you think your new super-variety is, than say,
what was around, you know, 10 or 15 years ago. ‘Cause willow as an
idea for burning has been around for a bit. How much of an improvement
is this one here ?
[ Angela Karp ]
Quite a bit. So, these are actually are some of the, if you like,
middle-term varieties. So we started off yielding about 8 oven-dry
tonnes per hectare, and now we’ve almost doubled that.
[ Tom Heap ]
How big a place do you think biomass can have in the UK’s energy
picture in the future ?
[ Angela Karp ]
I think that it could contribute between 10% and 15% of our energy. If
we were to cultivate willows on 1 million hectares, we would probably
provide about 3% to 4% of energy in terms of electricity, and I think
that’s kind of a baseline figure. We could cultivate them on up to 3
million hectares, so you can multiply things up, and we could use them
in a much more energy-efficient way.
[ KLAXON ! Is that 4% of total energy or 4% of total electricity ?
[ Tom Heap ]
Do we really have 3 million hectares going a-begging for planting willow in ?
[ Angela Karp ]
Actually, surprisingly we do. So, people have this kind of myth
there’s not enough land, but just look around you and you will find
there’s lots of land that’s not used for cultivating food crops.
We don’t see them taking over the whole country. We see them being
grown synergistically with food crops.
[ KLAXON ! This is a bit different than the statement made in 2009. ]
[ Tom Heap ]
But I’d just like to dig down a little bit more into the carbon cycle
of the combustion of these things, because that’s been the recent
criticism of burning a lot of biomass, is that you put an early spike
in the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, if you start burning a lot
of biomass, because this [ sounds of rustling ], this plant is going
to be turned into, well, partly, CO2 in the atmosphere.
[ Angela Karp ]
Yes, I think that’s probably a simple and not totally correct way of
looking at it. ‘Cause a lot depends on the actual conversion process
you are using.
So some conversion processes are much more efficient at taking
everything and converting it into what you want.
Heat for example is in excess of 80%, 90% conversion efficiency.
Electricity is a little bit more of the problem. And there, what
they’re looking at is capturing some of the carbon that you lose, and
converting that back in, in carbon storage processes, and that’s why
there’s a lot of talk now about carbon storage from these power
That I think is the future. It’s a question of connecting up all parts
of the process, and making sure that’s nothing wasted.
[ Tom Heap ]
So, is wood a desirable greener fuel ?
Not according to Almuth Ernsting of Biofuelwatch, who objects to the
current plans for large-scale wood burning, its use to prop up coal,
and even its low carbon claims.
[ Almuth Ernsting ]
The currently-announced industry plans, and by that I mean existing
power stations, but far more so, power stations which are in the
planning process [ and ] many of which have already been consented –
those [ biomass ] power stations, would, if they all go ahead,
require to burn around 82 million tonnes of biomass, primarily wood,
every year. Now by comparison, the UK in total only produces around
10 million tonnes, so one eighth of that amount, in wood, for all
industries and purposes, every year.
We are looking on the one hand at a significant number of proposed,
and in some cases, under-construction or operating new-build biomass
power stations, but the largest single investment so far going into
the conversion of coal power station units to biomass, the largest and
most advanced one of which at the moment is Drax, who are, have
started to move towards converting half their capacity to burning wood
[ Tom Heap ]
Drax is that huge former, or still currently, coal-fired power station
in Yorkshire, isn’t it ?
[ Almuth Ernsting ]
Right, and they still want to keep burning coal as well. I mean, their
long-term vision, as they’ve announced, would be for 50:50 coal and
[ Tom Heap ]
What do you think about that potential growth ?
[ Almuth Ernsting ]
Well, we’re seriously concerned. We believe it’s seriously bad news
for climate change, it’s seriously bad news for forests, and it’s
really bad news for communities, especially in the Global South, who
are at risk of losing their land for further expansion of monoculture
tree plantations, to in future supply new power stations in the UK.
A really large amount, increasingly so, of the wood being burned,
comes from slow-growing, whole trees that are cut down for that
purpose, especially at the moment in temperate forests in North
America. Now those trees will take many, many decades to grow back
and potentially re-absorb that carbon dioxide, that’s if they’re
allowed and able to ever grow back.
[ Tom Heap ]
There’s another technology desperate for investment, which is critical
to avoiding power failure, whilst still hitting our mid-century carbon
reduction goals – CCS – Carbon Capture and Storage, the ability to
take the greenhouse gases from the chimney and bury them underground.
It’s especially useful for biomass and coal, with their relatively
high carbon emissions, but would also help gas be greener.
The Chancellor has approved 30 new gas-fired power stations, so long
as they are CCS-ready [ sic, should be “capture ready”, or
“carbon capture ready” ].
Jon Gibbons is the boss of the UK CCS Research Centre, based in an
industrial estate in Sheffield.
[ Noise of processing plant ]
Jon’s just brought me up a sort of 3D maze of galvanized steel and
shiny metal pipes to the top of a tower that must be 20 or so metres
Jon, what is this ?
[ Jon Gibbons ]
OK, so this is our capture unit, to take the CO2 out of the combustion
products from gas or coal. In the building behind us, in the test rigs
we’ve got, the gas turbine or the combustor rig, we’re burning coal or
gas, or oil, but mainly coal or gas.
We’re taking the combustion products through the green pipe over
there, bringing it into the bottom of the unit, and then you can see
these big tall columns we’ve got, about 18 inches diameter, half a
metre diameter, coming all the way up from the ground up to the level
It goes into one of those, it gets washed clean with water, and it
goes into this unit over here, and there it meets an amine solvent, a
chemical that will react reversibly with CO2, coming in the opposite
direction, over packing. So, it’s like sort of pebbles, if you can
imagine it, there’s a lot of surface area. The gas flows up, the
liquid flows down, and it picks up the CO2, just mainly the CO2.
[ Tom Heap ]
And that amine, that chemical as you call it, is stripping the CO2 out
of that exhaust gas. This will link to a storage facility.
What would then happen to the CO2 ?
[ Jon Gibbons ]
What would then happen is that the CO2 would be compressed up to
somewhere in excess of about 100 atmospheres. And it would turn from
being a gas into something that looks like a liquid, like water, about
the same density as water. And then it would be taken offshore in the
UK, probably tens or hundreds of kilometres offshore, and it would go
deep, deep down, over a kilometre down into the ground, and basically
get squeezed into stuff that looks like solid rock. If you go and look
at a sandstone building – looks solid, but actually, maybe a third of
it is little holes. And underground, where you’ve got cubic kilometres
of space, those little holes add up to an awful lot of free space. And
the CO2 gets squeezed into those, over time, and it spreads out, and
it just basically sits there forever, dissolves in the water, reacts
with the rocks, and will stay there for millions of years.
[ Tom Heap ]
Back in his office, I asked Jon why CCS seemed to be stuck in the lab.
[ Jon Gibbons ]
We’re doing enough I think on the research side, but what we really
need to do, is to do work on a full-scale deployment. Because you
can’t work on research in a vacuum. You need to get feedback –
learning by doing – from actual real projects.
And a lot of the problems we’ve got on delivering CCS, are to do with
how you handle the regulation for injecting CO2, and again, you can
only do that in real life.
So what we need to do is to see the commercialisation projects that
are being run by the Department of Energy and Climate Change actually
going through to real projects that can be delivered.
[ Tom Heap ]
Hmm. When I talk to engineers, they’re always very passionate and
actually quite optimistic about Carbon Capture and Storage. And when
I talk to people in industry, or indeed read the headlines, not least
a recent cancellation in Norway, it always seems like a very bleak picture.
[ Jon Gibbons ]
I think people are recognising that it’s getting quite hard to get
money for low carbon technologies.
So – recent presentation we had at one of our centre meetings, was
actually a professor from the United States, Howard Herzog. And he
said “You think you’re seeing a crisis in Carbon Capture and Storage.
But what you’re actually seeing is a crisis in climate change
[ KLAXON ! Priming us for a scaling back of commitment to the
Climate Change Act ? I do hope not. ]
Now, Carbon Capture and Storage, you do for no other purpose than
cutting CO2 emissions to the atmosphere, and it does that extremely
effectively. It’s an essential technology for cutting emissions. But
until you’ve got a global process that says – actually we’re going to
get on top of this problem; we’re going to cut emissions – get them to
safe level before we actually see people dying in large numbers from
climate change effects – ’cause, certainly, if people start dying,
then we will see a response – but ideally, you’d like to do it before
then. But until you get that going, then actually persuading people to
spend money for no other benefit than sorting out the climate is
There’s just no point, you know, no country can go it alone, so you
have to get accommodation. And there, we’re going through various
processes to debate that. Maybe people will come to an accommodation.
Maybe the USA and China will agree to tackle climate change. Maybe
What I am fairly confident is that you won’t see huge, you know,
really big cuts in CO2 emissions without that global agreement. But
I’m also confident that you won’t see big cuts in CO2 emissions
without CCS deployment.
And my guess is there’s about a 50:50 chance that we do CCS before we
need to, and about a 50:50 chance we do it after we have to. But I’m
pretty damn certain we’re going to do it.
[ Tom Heap ]
But we can’t wait for a global agreement that’s already been decades
in the making, with still no end in sight.
We need decisions now to provide more power with less pollution.
[ Music lyrics : “What’s the plan ? What’s the plan ?” ]
[ Tom Heap ]
Dieter Helm, Professor of Energy Policy at the University of Oxford
believes we can only deliver our plentiful green energy future if we
abandon our attitude of buy-now pay-later.
[ KLAXON ! Does he mean a kind of hire purchase energy economy ?
I mean, we’re still paying for nuclear electricity from decades ago,
in our bills, and through our taxes to the Department of Energy and
Climate Change. ]
[ Dieter Helm ]
There’s a short-term requirement and a long-term requirement. The
short-term requirement is that we’re now in a real pickle. We face
this energy crunch. We’ve got to try to make the best of what we’ve
got. And I think it’s really like, you know, trying to get the
Spitfires back up again during the Battle of Britain. You know, you
patch and mend. You need somebody in command. You need someone
in control. And you do the best with what you’ve got.
In that context, we then have to really stand back and say, “And this
is what we have to do to get a serious, long-term, continuous, stable
investment environment, going forward.” In which, you know, we pay the
costs, but of course, not any monopoly profits, not any excess
profits, but we have a world in which the price of electricity is
related to the cost.”
[ KLAXON ! Is Dieter Helm proposing state ownership of energy plant ? ]
[ Programme anchor ]
“Costing the Earth” was presented by Tom Heap, and made in Bristol by
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Posted on July 12th, 2013 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.Academic Freedom, Alchemical, Bait & Switch, Be Prepared, Big Picture, Big Society, Carbon Pricing, Change Management, Climate Change, Climate Chaos, Contraction & Convergence, Deal Breakers, Delay and Deny, Demoticratica, Design Matters, Divide & Rule, Energy Change, Energy Denial, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Energy Socialism, Evil Opposition, Fair Balance, Foreign Interference, Fossilised Fuels, Gamechanger, Geogingerneering, Green Investment, Green Power, Growth Paradigm, Human Nurture, Insulation, Libertarian Liberalism, Low Carbon Life, Mass Propaganda, Media, Meltdown, Methane Management, Military Invention, National Energy, National Power, Nudge & Budge, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peace not War, Peak Emissions, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Public Relations, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Resource, Revolving Door, Science Rules, Screaming Panic, Social Capital, Social Change, Social Democracy, Solution City, Technological Sideshow, The Power of Intention, The Right Chemistry, The War on Error, Transport of Delight, Unnatural Gas, Western Hedge, Zero Net
Posted on July 8th, 2013 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.”Academic Freedom, Acid Ocean, Alchemical, Animal Kingdoom, Breathe Easy, British Biogas, Climate Change, Energy Change, Engineering Marvel, Extreme Energy, Fossilised Fuels, Gas Storage, Geogingerneering, Global Heating, Global Singeing, Global Warming, Hydrogen Economy, Low Carbon Life, Marvellous Wonderful, Methane Management, National Energy, Realistic Models, Renewable Gas, Resource Wards, Science Rules, Solution City, The Data, The Right Chemistry
Posted on October 26th, 2012 No comments
There’s good renewable energy and poorly-choiced renewable energy. Converting coal-burning power stations to burn wood is Double Plus Bad – it’s genuiunely unsustainable in the long-term to plan to combust the Earth’s boreal forests just to generate electricity. This idea definitely needs incinerating.
Gaynor Hartnell, chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association recently said, “Right now the government seems to have an institutional bias against new biomass power projects.” And do you know, from my point of view, that’s a very fine thing.
Exactly how locally-sourced would the fuel be ? The now seemingly abandoned plan to put in place a number of new biomass burning plants would rely on wood chip from across the Atlantic Ocean. That’s a plan that has a number of holes in it from the point of view of the ability to sustain this operation into the future. Plus, it’s not very efficient to transport biomass halfway across the world.
And there’s more to the efficiency question. We shouldn’t be burning premium wood biomass. Trees should be left standing if at all possible – or used in permanent construction – or buried so that they don’t decompose – if new trees need to be grown. Rather than burning good wood that could have been used for carbon sequestration, it would be much better, if we have to resort to using wood as fuel, to gasify wood waste and other wood by-products in combination with other fuels, such as excavated landfill, food waste and old rubber tyres.
Co-gasifying of mixed fuels and waste would allow cheap Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) or Carbon Capture and (Re)Utilisation (CCU) options – and so if we have to top up the gasifiers with coal sometimes, at least it wouldn’t be leaking greenhouse gas to the atmosphere.
No, we shouldn’t swap out burning coal for incinerating wood, either completely or co-firing with coal. We should build up different ways to produce Renewable Gas, including the gasification of mixed fuels and waste, if we need fuels to store for later combustion. Which we will, to back up Renewable Electricity from wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower and marine resources – and Renewable Gas will be exceptionally useful for making renewable vehicle fuels.
Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage : the wrong way :-
Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage : the right way :-
“The potential ability of gasifiers to accept a wider range of biomass feedstocks than biological routes. Thermochemical routes can use lignocellulosic (woody) feedstocks, and wastes, which cannot be converted by current biofuel production technologies. The resource availability of these feedstocks is very large compared with potential resource for current biofuels feedstocks. Many of these feedstocks are also lower cost than current biofuel feedstocks, with some even having negative costs (gate fees) for their use…”
http://www.energy.siemens.com/fi/en/power-generation/power-plants/carbon-capture-solutions/pre-combustion-carbon-capture/pre-combustion-carbon-capture.htmAssets not Liabilities, Big Picture, Bioeffigy, Biofools, British Biogas, British Sea Power, Carbon Capture, Carbon Commodities, Change Management, Coal Hell, Dead End, Direction of Travel, Disturbing Trends, Efficiency is King, Electrificandum, Energy Insecurity, Forestkillers, Fossilised Fuels, Geogingerneering, Green Power, Low Carbon Life, Mad Mad World, National Energy, National Power, Renewable Gas, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, Technofix, Toxic Hazard, Tree Family, Ungreen Development, Unutterably Useless, Western Hedge, Wind of Fortune
Posted on October 7th, 2012 No comments
A fully renewable energy future is not only possible, it is inevitable.
We need to maximise the roll out of wind and solar renewable electricity systems, and at the same time fully develop marine, geothermal and hydropower energy, and of course, energy storage.
We need strong energy conservation and energy efficiency directives to be enacted in every state, sector and region.
But we need to get from here to there. It requires the application of personal energy from all – from governments, from industry, from society.
In arguing for focus on the development of Renewable Gas, which I believe can and will be a bridge from here to a fully renewable energy future, I am making an appeal to those who view themselves as environmentalists, and also an appeal to those who view themselves as part of the energy industry.
Those who cast themselves as the “good guys”, those who want to protect the environment from the ravages of the energy industry, have for decades set themselves in opposition, politically and socially, to those in the energy production and supply sectors, and this has created a wall of negativity, a block to progress in many areas.
I would ask you to accept the situation we find ourselves in – even those who live off-grid and who have very low personal energy and material consumption – we are all dependent on the energy industry – we have a massive fossil fuel infrastructure, and companies that wield immense political power, and this cannot be changed overnight by some revolutionary activity, or by pulling public theatrical stunts.
It definitely cannot be changed by accusation, finger-pointing and blame. We are not going to wake up tomorrow in a zero carbon world. There needs to be a transition – there needs to be a vision and a will. Instead of a depressive, negative, cynical assessment of today that erects and maintains barriers to co-operation, we need optimistic, positive understanding.
In the past there has been naievety – and some environmentalists have been taken in by public relations greenwash. This is not that. The kind of propaganda used to maintain market share for the energy industry continues to prevent and poison good communications and trust. I no more believe in the magic snuff of the shale gas “game changer” than I believe in the existence of goblins and fairies. The shine on the nuclear “renaissance” wore off ever before it was buffed up. And the hopeless dream of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) becoming a global-scale solution for carbon emissions is about as realistic to me as the geoengineering described in Tolkein’s “The Lord of the Rings”.
Nuclear power and CCS are actually about mining and concrete construction – they’re not energy or climate solutions. I’m not taken in by token gestures of a small slice of wind or solar power or the promise of a segment of biofuels from large oil and gas companies. Public relations and lobbying are the lowest form of faked, usurping power – but simply attacking brands will fail to make real change. I think honesty, realism and pragmatism are the way forward – and there is nothing more practical than pushing for Renewable Gas to back up the accelerated deployment of renewable electricity to its fullest scale.
My appeal to those in control of energy provision is – to see through the fog to the unstoppable. State support, both political and financial, of new energy technologies and infrastructure has to be a short- to medium-term goal – because of the volatility of the economy, and the demands of your shareholders. The need to build public support for new energy means that we the citizens must all be offered the opportunity to own energy – and so that means building a common purpose between the energy sector and society – and that purpose must be Zero Carbon.
There is and will continue to be a porous border between the energy industry and governments – energy is a social utility of high political value. However, the privilege and access that this provides should not automatically mean that the energy industry can plunder public coffers for their own profit. What contribution can the energy industry make to society – apart from the provision of energy at cost – in addition to the subsidies ? Energy, being so vital to the economy, will mean that the energy sector will continue to survive, but it has to change its shape.
You can dance around the facts, but climate change is hitting home, and there is no point in continuing to be in denial about Peak Oil, Peak Coal and Peak Natural Gas. These are genuine risks, not only to the planet, or its people, but also your business plans. We need to be using less energy overall, and less carbon energy within the eventual envelope of energy consumption. So the energy sector needs to move away from maximising sales of energy to optimising sales of energy services and selling low carbon energy systems, power and fuels.
You would be wrong to dismiss me as an “eco warrior” – I’m an engineer – and I’ve always believed in co-operation, expertise, professionalism, technology and industrial prowess. What impresses me is low carbon energy deployment and zero carbon energy research. Progress is in evidence, and it is showing the way to the future. Realistically speaking, in 20 years’ time, nobody will be able to dismiss the risks and threats of climate change and energy insecurity – the evidence accumulates. We, the zero carbon visionaries, are not going to stop talking about this and acting on it – as time goes by, the reasons for all to engage with these issues will increase, regardless of efforts to distract.
Nothing is perfect. I no more believe in a green utopia than I do in unicorns. But without reacting to climate change and energy insecurity, the stock market will not carry you, even though the governments must for the mean time, until clean and green energy engineering and service organisations rise up to replace you. Lobbying for pretences will ultimately fail – fail not only governments or peoples, but you. You, the energy industry, must start acting for the long-term or you will be ousted. As your CEOs retire, younger heads will fill leadership shoes – and younger minds know and accept the perils of climate change and energy insecurity.
This is the evolution, not revolution. It is time to publicly admit that you do know that economically recoverable fossil fuels are limited, and that climate change is as dangerous to your business models as it is to human settlements and the biosphere. Admit it in a way that points to a sustainable future – for you and the climate. The pollution of economically borderline unconventional fuels is wrong and avoidable – what we need are renewable energies, energy conservation and energy efficiency. One without the others is not enough.
How can your business succeed ? In selling renewable energy, energy conservation and energy efficiency. You have to sell the management of energy. You have to be genuinely “world class” and show us how. No more spills, blowouts and emissions. No more tokenistic sponsorship of arts, culture and sports. The veneer of respectability is wearing thin.
As an engineer, I understand the problems of system management – all things within the boundary wall need to be considered and dealt with. One thing is certain, however. Everything is within the walls. And that means that all must change.
http://houstonfeldenkrais.com/tag/cross-motivation/ “…Of course, the money would be great. But adding in the reward/punishment dimension is a sure way to sabotage brilliant performance. Moshe Feldenkrais observed that when one is striving to meet an externally imposed goal, the spine shortens, muscles tense, and the body (and mind) actually works against itself. He called this “cross motivation,” and it occurs when one forsakes one’s internal truth to maintain external equilibrium. There are lots of examples of this: the child stops doing what she’s doing because of the fear of losing parental approval, love, protection. The employee cooks the books to keep his job. The candidate delivers the sound bite, and dies a little inside. Feldenkrais attributed most of our human mental and physical difficulties to the problem of cross motivation. If you watch Michael Phelps swim, you can’t help but notice that he makes it look easy. He is clearly strong and powerful, but all of his strength and power are focused on moving him through the water with the greatest speed and efficiency. There’s no wasted effort, no struggle, no straining. He is free of cross-motivation! Would straining make him faster? Of course not. Unnecessary muscular effort would make him less buoyant, less mobile, less flexible. Will dangling a million dollars at the finish line make him swim faster? Probably just the opposite, unless Michael Phelps has some great inner resources to draw upon. The young Mr. Phelps has already learned how to tune out a lot of the hype. He’ll need to rely on “the cultivation of detachment,” the ability to care without caring…”Academic Freedom, Assets not Liabilities, Big Picture, Big Society, Carbon Capture, Climate Change, Climate Chaos, Climate Damages, Corporate Pressure, Delay and Deny, Demoticratica, Direction of Travel, Divide & Rule, Dreamworld Economics, Efficiency is King, Emissions Impossible, Energy Autonomy, Energy Change, Energy Denial, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Energy Socialism, Engineering Marvel, Evil Opposition, Fair Balance, Financiers of the Apocalypse, Fossilised Fuels, Freemarketeering, Gamechanger, Geogingerneering, Global Warming, Green Investment, Green Power, Hide the Incline, Human Nurture, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Incalculable Disaster, Insulation, Low Carbon Life, Major Shift, Mass Propaganda, Money Sings, National Energy, National Power, Near-Natural Disaster, Neverending Disaster, Nuclear Nuisance, Nuclear Shambles, Oil Change, Optimistic Generation, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peace not War, Peak Coal, Peak Emissions, Peak Energy, Peak Natural Gas, Peak Oil, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Protest & Survive, Public Relations, Pure Hollywood, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Gas, Science Rules, Shale Game, Social Change, Social Democracy, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, Stirring Stuff, Sustainable Deferment, Technofix, Technological Fallacy, The Data, The Power of Intention, The Science of Communitagion, The War on Error, Unconventional Foul, Ungreen Development, Unnatural Gas, Wind of Fortune, Zero Net
Posted on August 27th, 2012 No comments
The human race – we have to solve energy together. And to do that, we need to harness all our personal, purposeful, positive energies, and let me tell you, personally, I feel electric – and I’m only just getting warmed up.
So let’s hear less of the nonsense from authoritatively-accredited people who want to put a dampener on green energy, who say that saving energy cannot, simply cannot be done, sigh, sigh, sigh, collective groan. We have so much energy together, we can do this.
We have the will power, the staying power, the investment power, and we will navigate the obstacles in our path.
Let’s not waste any more time on expensive trinkets, and iddy-biddy fancies with high unit costs and low compatibility to the future. Yes, I’m talking nuclear power. I’m talking the nobody-really-wants-to-do-it-and-nobody-thinks-it-can-be-cheap-enough-to-work-at-scale Carbon Capture and Storage. And yes, I’m talking carbon markets – tell me again, where are they now ? Oh yes, still in the starting blocks.
And don’t even start to talk about pricing carbon to me – in this world of rollercoaster, highly volatile energy prices, what on Earth could costing or taxing carbon actually achieve ? And fusion power ? Nah, mate, forget it. It’s been 50 years away for the last 50 years.
Shale gas, oil from shales, tar sands, coal bed methane collection and underground coal gasification are once-abandoned messy ideas from way back. They’re still messy, and they’re still retro, and they’re not going to get us anywhere. If the United States of America want to completely ruin their lithosphere, well, that’s up to them, but don’t come around here toxifying our aquifers and poisoning our European trees !
What we need is marine energy, geothermal energy, hydropower, solar power, wind power, and Renewable Gas, because gaseous fuels are so flexible and store-able and can come from many, many processes. And we need the next optimistic generation of leaders to push through the administration ceiling and get green energy policy really rolling, attracting all the green investment will.
If I were a power plant, I would be cranking out the current and making everything shine very, very brightly just now.
Academic Freedom, Assets not Liabilities, Be Prepared, Big Number, Big Picture, British Biogas, British Sea Power, Carbon Capture, Carbon Commodities, Carbon Pricing, Carbon Taxatious, Demoticratica, Design Matters, Direction of Travel, Efficiency is King, Energy Change, Energy Revival, Feel Gooder, Gamechanger, Gas Storage, Geogingerneering, Green Investment, Green Power, Low Carbon Life, Major Shift, National Energy, National Power, Nuclear Nuisance, Nuclear Shambles, Optimistic Generation, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Realistic Models, Renewable Gas, Renewable Resource, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, Stirring Stuff, Technofix, The Power of Intention, The Price of Gas, The Price of Oil, Wind of Fortune
Posted on May 3rd, 2012 No comments
The human race has been treating the World Ocean as a dumping ground for global warming and excess carbon dioxide emissions.
It’s where most of the heat ends up, and almost half the anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions as well.
Research shows that as humanity pours more carbon into the sky, the oceans are able to react by taking up more of it.
The Southern Ocean in particular is showing a healthy response, pulling more and more of our emissions down from the atmosphere.
On the face of it, the oceans are increasing their capacity to suck carbon out of the air, either by biological means or through simply mixing with the air, so some argue that we should relax and rely on these carbon sinks to avert dangerous warming of the ground level atmosphere – maintaining a healthy atmosphere for all land-based life.
However, this net reduction in atmospheric carbon dioxide due to this increased ocean carbon pump is masking the effects of global warming – for the time being. The oceans are warming, and this combined with increased overturning is resulting in the oceans giving up more carbon dioxide from their depths as a result.
For now, the ocean carbon sink is holding up and compensating for some global warming, but there are concerns should the carbon pump fail, or the effects of global warming overtake it.
The very latest research into changes in the World Ocean show clear trends in salinity – how fresh or how salty seawater is. These changes are associated with the higher energy in the Earth system : more heat captured by the ocean is making wind patterns more powerful, which makes ocean overturning stronger.
Of special concern is the effect this could have on the Southern Ocean. A stronger overturning would increase the upwelling of deep ocean water, which would draw long-sequestered carbon-rich gases from the deeps to the surface of the sea, where it would outgas to the atmosphere.
The biological productivity of the oceans, the levels of greenhouse gases in ocean water, and the strength of the carbon sinks will continue to be of intense concern as time passes.Academic Freedom, Acid Ocean, Big Number, Carbon Capture, Climate Change, Direction of Travel, Disturbing Trends, Emissions Impossible, Extreme Weather, Freshwater Stress, Geogingerneering, Global Heating, Global Warming, Hide the Incline, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, No Pressure, Optimistic Generation, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Realistic Models, Science Rules, Screaming Panic, Stirring Stuff, Water Wars, Western Hedge, Wind of Fortune
Posted on May 1st, 2012 No commentsAcademic Freedom, Carbon Capture, Carbon Commodities, Carbon Pricing, Carbon Rationing, Climate Change, Contraction & Convergence, Direction of Travel, Dreamworld Economics, Efficiency is King, Emissions Impossible, Geogingerneering, Global Warming, Green Investment, Green Power, Media, Nuclear Nuisance, Nuclear Shambles, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Emissions, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Price Control, Realistic Models, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Gas, Solar Sunrise, Technofix, Technological Sideshow, The Power of Intention, Unqualified Opinion, Unsolicited Advice & Guidance, Wind of Fortune
Posted on April 30th, 2012 No comments
One of the key fears of cryosphere scientists, those who study the cold places on Earth, is a scenario where the permafrost and sub-sea continental shelves around the Arctic Ocean become unstable and start emitting uncontrollable quantities of methane into the atmosphere.
Methane is an important by-product of biological decomposition, and is also found in icy deposits known as clathrates – methane hydrates – estimated to be very widespread in marine and geological deposits.
Although it is short-lived, before breaking down or reacting with other molecules, methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, some 23 or 24 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
An ongoing unfreezing of the sub-zero “Northern Wastes” would set up a constant flow of biological methane into the Arctic sky and so the warming would be continuous – a major risk to attempts to limit climate change – because it could not be controlled by altering mankind’s economic and energy activities.
Reports of high levels of atmospheric methane in the Arctic region in the last few months have been mangled by the media headline generation machine to raise their urgency value – making them into “news” – and the reaction from most sensible academics and commentators is to downplay talk of a catastrophhic “Methane Burp”.
Yet the data is interesting enough to warrant continued monitoring and explanatory power – for the methane story is complex and shifting. It may be time for alarm bells to ring, however we’re not sure exactly how much data we need to see before we do so.
The long picture for methane in the air is one of hundreds of years of acceleration :-
In the last few decades however, atmospheric methane started to level off :-
However, since around 2007, methane concentrations have been rising once more :-
Following the recent headlines about high methane readings in the Arctic, there have been a number of online discsusions about what it could signify.
Tamino’s Open Mind doesn’t see a dangerous increase in emissions when looking at a seasonally-adjusted selection of data from the World Data Center for Greenhouse Gases and Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) flask measurements of methane concentrations at around surface level :-
I asked Giovanni to chart recent measurements from the AIRS project, the Atmospheric InfraRed Sounder on board NASA’s Aqua satellite spacecraft :-
The months December 2011 to January 2012 show a significant peak in methane concentrations in the area 60 degrees North to 90 degrees North.
This peak seen by satellite does not appear to be reflected in the surface measurement charts I asked the online ESRL tool to plot for me :-
What could be causing the satellite reading peaks to be so high relative to the changes in ground-based measurements ? What is happening in the different layers of the atmosphere ?
Has there been some kind of “detonation” of the chemistry of the air above the Arctic, causing peaks in methane concentrations at high altitudes not seen at ground level ?
Do the AIRS readings need adjustment because of unusual pressure and temperature gradients around the Arctic over the boreal (Northern Hemisphere) winter 2011 – 2012 ?
Has there been a rapid release of methane somewhere, such as from an oil and gas production field somewhere in the region ? Will the international greenhouse gas inventories compiled by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Kyoto Protocol nations reveal anything about this ?
What on Earth is going on ?
A few resources
The starting point for atmospheric methane science is the UNFCCC IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.
Some recent research papers on atmospheric methane science :-
SCHAEFER, K., ZHANG, T., BRUHWILER, L. and BARRETT, A. P. (2011), Amount and timing of permafrost carbon release in response to climate warming. Tellus B, 63: 165–180. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0889.2011.00527.x
Seen from the journal page.
Seen from the journal page.
Bousquet, P., Ringeval, B., Pison, I., Dlugokencky, E. J., Brunke, E.-G., Carouge, C., Chevallier, F., Fortems-Cheiney, A., Frankenberg, C., Hauglustaine, D. A., Krummel, P. B., Langenfelds, R. L., Ramonet, M., Schmidt, M., Steele, L. P., Szopa, S., Yver, C., Viovy, N., and Ciais, P.: Source attribution of the changes in atmospheric methane for 2006–2008, Atmos. Chem. Phys., 11, 3689-3700, doi:10.5194/acp-11-3689-2011, 2011 (Discussion Paper)
Seen from the journal page.Climate Chaos, Disturbing Trends, Emissions Impossible, Fossilised Fuels, Freak Science, Gamechanger, Geogingerneering, Global Singeing, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Incalculable Disaster, Major Shift, Marine Gas, Media, Meltdown, Methane Madness, Methane Management, Near-Natural Disaster, Neverending Disaster, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Emissions, Science Rules, Screaming Panic, Unnatural Gas, Western Hedge
Posted on March 22nd, 2012 1 commentAcademic Freedom, Alchemical, Assets not Liabilities, Bait & Switch, Biofools, British Biogas, Burning Money, Carbon Capture, Carbon Commodities, Carbon Pricing, Carbon Taxatious, Climate Change, Conflict of Interest, Corporate Pressure, Delay and Deny, Dreamworld Economics, Emissions Impossible, Energy Autonomy, Energy Change, Energy Denial, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Engineering Marvel, Fossilised Fuels, Geogingerneering, Global Warming, Green Investment, Green Power, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Hydrogen Economy, Low Carbon Life, Major Shift, Marvellous Wonderful, Mass Propaganda, Methane Madness, Methane Management, National Energy, National Power, Oil Change, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Emissions, Peak Natural Gas, Peak Oil, Petrolheads, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Price Control, Public Relations, Renewable Gas, Renewable Resource, Sustainable Deferment, Technofix, The Power of Intention, The War on Error, Western Hedge, Zero Net
Posted on March 20th, 2012 No commentsAcademic Freedom, Acid Ocean, Advancing Africa, Big Society, Burning Money, Carbon Capture, Carbon Commodities, Carbon Pricing, Carbon Taxatious, Climate Change, Conflict of Interest, Corporate Pressure, Emissions Impossible, Energy Change, Energy Revival, Financiers of the Apocalypse, Foreign Investment, Fossilised Fuels, Freemarketeering, Geogingerneering, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Peak Natural Gas, Peak Oil, Public Relations, Technofix, Technological Sideshow
Posted on February 5th, 2012 No comments
CHRISTIAN ECOLOGY LINK
Living Life and LOAFing It – Green Christians ask churches to “Use your LOAF !” on sourcing sustainable food
In the run up to Easter, Christian Ecology Link is asking supporters to think and act on how they source food for their church communities, with the aim of reducing the impact of unsustainable agriculture on their local area, and the wider world.
CEL have launched a new colour leaflet on the LOAF programme principles in time for Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras), or Pancake Day, on 21st February 2012.Advancing Africa, Advertise Freely, Alchemical, Animal Kingdoom, Bee Prepared, Behaviour Changeling, Big Picture, Big Society, Biofools, Climate Damages, Corporate Pressure, Dead Zone, Demoticratica, Direction of Travel, Droughtbowl, Eating & Drinking, Emissions Impossible, Environmental Howzat, Extreme Weather, Faithful God, Feed the World, Feel Gooder, Food Insecurity, Foreign Investment, Forestkillers, Fossilised Fuels, Freemarketeering, Freshwater Stress, Genetic Muddyfixation, Geogingerneering, Growth Paradigm, Health Impacts, Human Nurture, Low Carbon Life, Major Shift, Marvellous Wonderful, Media, Nudge & Budge, Oil Change, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Emissions, Peak Energy, Peak Natural Gas, Public Relations, Social Change, Solution City, Sustainable Deferment, Technological Fallacy, Technological Sideshow, Technomess, Toxic Hazard, Tree Family, Ungreen Development, Virtually Vegan, Water Wars
Posted on December 30th, 2011 No comments
On my Christmas journey, on the train from Brussels, Belgium, to the Dutch border, besides the wind turbines, I counted the number of solar electric rooftop installations I could see. My estimate was that roughly 300 kilowatts of solar could be seen from the track.
There has been an explosion of deployment. The renewable energy policies that are behind this tide of photovoltaics in Flanders seem to be working, or have been until recently.
On my journey back from Holland to England, I pondered about the polders and the low-lying landscape around me. I don’t know what river it was we crossed, but the river was only held in place by narrow banks or dikes, as it was higher than the farmland around it – waterlogged fields in some places – where parcels of land were divided by stillwater ditches instead of hedges or fences.
“Oh no, we don’t have “Mary Poppins” on Dutch TV any more at Christmas every year like we used to. We’re going to see the film “The Storm”…” said my host. Curiouser and curiouser. “De Storm” is a film that harks back to an actual historical event, the major North Sea flooding in 1953. “I remember what it was like afterwards,” says an older English relative, “I visited Belgium and Holland with my aunt and uncle just after the flooding – he wanted to visit the family war graves. We stayed in Middelburg. You could see how high the water reached. There were tide marks this high on the side of the houses, and whelks left stuck on the walls.”
The film attempts to nail down the coffin casket lid of bad weather history. By telling the narrative of major, fearful floods of the past, people are distracted from the possibility that it may happen again. History is history, and the story tells the ending, and that’s a finish to it.
However, for some people, those people who know something of the progress of the science of global warming, this film is like a beacon – a flare on a rocky landing strip – lighting the way to the future crash of the climate and the rising of sea levels, which will bring havoc to The Netherlands, Dutch engineers or no Dutch engineers.
We have to be prepared for change, major change. If you or anyone you know has Dutch relatives and friends, think about whether you can invite them to live with you in future if things get really bad. One or two really bad storms combined with excessive tides and a few centimetres of sea level rise could be all it takes to wreck the country’s ability to organise water and destroy a significant amount of agricultural land.
“I’ve been studying Climate Change science”, I told another host. “You believe in Climate Change ?”, he asked, somewhat incredulously. “It’s 200 years of science”, I replied, smiling, “but we probably shouldn’t discuss it. I don’t think it would be very productive.”Acid Ocean, Be Prepared, Big Number, Big Picture, Big Society, British Sea Power, Climate Change, Climate Chaos, Climate Damages, Dead End, Design Matters, Disturbing Trends, Eating & Drinking, Energy Change, Energy Revival, Energy Socialism, Engineering Marvel, Extreme Weather, Floodstorm, Food Insecurity, Freak Science, Freshwater Stress, Geogingerneering, Global Warming, Hide the Incline, Human Nurture, Incalculable Disaster, Major Shift, Near-Natural Disaster, Neverending Disaster, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Rainstorm, Realistic Models, Science Rules, Screaming Panic, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, The War on Error, Water Wars, Wind of Fortune
Posted on December 12th, 2011 1 comment
People working for non-governmental, and governmental, organisations can be rather defensive when I criticise the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCCC. What ? I don’t back the international process ? Climate change, after all, is a borderless crime, and will take global policing. Well, I back negotiations for a global treaty in principle, but not in practice.
The annual wearisome jousting and filibustering events just before Christmas do not constitute for me a healthy, realistic programme of engagement, imbued with the full authority and support of global leadership structures and civil society. People can try to spin it and claim success, but that’s just whitewash on an ungildable tomb.
The Climate Change talks that have just taken place in Durban, South Africa, were exemplary of a peculiar kind of collective madness that has resulted from trying to navigate and massage endless special interests, national jostling, brinkmanship, unworkable and inappropriate proposals from economists, communications failures and corporate interference in governance.
The right people with real decisionmaking powers are not at the negotiating table. The organisations with most to contribute are still acting in opposition – that’s the energy industry, to be explicit. And the individual national governments are still not concerned enough about climate change, even though it impacts strongly on the things they do consider to be priorities – economic health, trade and political superiority.
Over 20 years ago, the debate on what to do to tackle global warming and still maintain good international relations was already won, by the commonsense approach of Contraction and Convergence – fair shares for all. Each country should count on their fair share of carbon emissions based on their population – and we would get there by starting from where we are now and agreeing mutual cuts. The big emitters would agree to steeper cuts than the lower emitters – and after some time, everybody in the world would have the same, safe emissions rights.
What has prevented this logical approach from being implemented ? Well, we have had the so-called “flexible mechanisms” pushed on us – such as the Clean Development Mechanism which essentially boils down to the idea that the richer high-emitting countries can offset their carbon by paying for poorer low emissions countries to cut their carbon instead. Some have been attempting to make the CDM carbon credits into a commercial product for the Carbon Trading market. Some may contest it, but the CDM and carbon trading haven’t really been working very well, and anyway, the CDM doesn’t aim for emissions reductions, just offsets.
Other carbon trade has been implemented, such as the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS), which doesn’t appear to have caused high emissions industries to diversify out of carbon, or created a viable price for carbon dioxide, so its usefulness is questionable.
Many people have put forward the idea of straight carbon pricing, mostly by taxation. The trouble with this idea should be obvious, but rarely is. Over four-fifths of the world’s energy is fossil fuel based. Taxing carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels would just make everything, everywhere, more expensive. It wouldn’t necessarily create new lower carbon energy resources, as the taxes would probably be put into a giant climate change adaptation fund – a financial institution proposed by several people including Oliver Tickell and Nicholas Stern, although in Stern’s case, he is calling for direct grants from countries to keep the fund topped up.
On the policy front, there has been a continuing, futile attempt to force the historially high-emitting countries to accept very radical carbon cuts, as a sign of accountability. This “grandfathering” of emissions responsibilities is something that no sane person in government in the richer nations could ever agree with, not even when being smothered with ethical guilt. One of the forms of this proposal is “Greenhouse Development Rights“, essentially allowing countries like China to continue growing their emissions in order to grow their economies to guarantee development. The emissions cuts required by countries like the United States of America would be impossible to achieve, not even if their economy completely toppled.
Sadly, a number of charities, aid and development agencies and other non-governmental organisations with concern for the world’s poor, have signed up to Greenhouse Development Rights not realising it is completely untenable.
The only approach that can work, that both high- and low-emitting countries can ever possibly be made to agree on, is a system of population-proportional shares of the global carbon pie. And the way to get there has to be based on relative current emissions, ignoring the emissions of the past – your cuts should be larger if your current emissions are large. And it should be based on the relative size of the population, and their individual emissions rates, rather than taking a country as a whole. Yes, there will be room for a little carbon trade between nations, to enable the transfer of low carbon technologies from wealthy nations to un-resourced nations. Yes, there will be space for enterprise, as corporations have to face regulation to cut emissions, and will need innovation in technology to divest themselves of fossil fuel production and consumption.
This is Contraction and Convergence – and you ignore it at our peril.
A few suggestions for further reading :-
“Contraction and Convergence The Global Solution to Climate Change” by Aubrey Meyer. Schumacher Briefings, Green Books, December 2000. ISBN-13: 978-1870098946
The Greenhouse Effect : Science and Policy” by Professor Stephen H. Schneider, Science, Volume 243, Issue 4892, Pages 771 – 781, DOI: 10.1126/science.243.4892.771, 10 February 1989.
“Climate Change : Science and Policy“, edited by Stephen H. Schneider, Armin Rosencranz, Michael D. Mastrandea and Kristin Kuntz-Duriseti. Island Press, 10 February 2010. ISBN-13: 978-1597265669
“Equity, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and Global Common Resources” by Paul Baer, Chapter 15 in “Climate Change Policy : A Survey” by Stephen H. Schneider, Armin Rosencranz and John O. Niles, Island Press, 2002. ISBN-10: 1-55963-881-8 (Paper), ISBN-13: 978-1-55963-881-4 (Paper)Advancing Africa, Contraction & Convergence, Corporate Pressure, Deal Breakers, Delay and Deny, Demoticratica, Direction of Travel, Economic Implosion, Emissions Impossible, Energy Change, Energy Revival, Fair Balance, Financiers of the Apocalypse, Foreign Investment, Freemarketeering, Geogingerneering, Global Warming, Green Investment, Growth Paradigm, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Marvellous Wonderful, Peak Emissions, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Realistic Models, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Resource, Solution City, Sustainable Deferment, Ungreen Development, Unutterably Useless, Utter Futility, Vain Hope, Vote Loser, Western Hedge, Zero Net
Posted on November 21st, 2011 No comments
What appears to be a serious event is due to take place at the Energy Institute in London on 6th December 2011, “Peak Oil – assessing the economic impact on global oil supply“.
Dr Roger Bentley, author of a seminal 2002 paper on the subject, research that spawned hundreds of related learned articles, will be speaking.
But the event organisers have also invited one Dr Matt Ridley, the self-styled “rational optimist”, and member of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, and this, I’m afraid, prevents me from attending.
Ridley projects a view that many probably find comforting – as his headline in The Times of 1st October 2011 summarises – “Cheer up. The world’s not going to the dogs”.
He has been captured speaking at a TEDx event pouring scorn on “environmental” scare stories of the past, but not bothering to delve or dig into how mankind has actually gone out of its way to act on past crises and prevent catastrophes.
And now he’s thrown in his lot with the shale gas miracle men, writing a report with a foreword by Freeman Dyson, one of the world’s most balanced individuals.
How much uncorroborated optimism can one man contain ?Bad Science, Bait & Switch, Conflict of Interest, Delay and Deny, Disturbing Trends, Divide & Rule, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Engineering Marvel, Feel Gooder, Fossilised Fuels, Freak Science, Freshwater Stress, Gamechanger, Geogingerneering, Growth Paradigm, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Marvellous Wonderful, Methane Madness, Money Sings, National Energy, National Power, Non-Science, Not In My Name, Peak Natural Gas, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Resource Curse, Resource Wards, Science Rules, Scientific Fallacy, Shale Game, Stirring Stuff, Sustainable Deferment, Technofix, Technological Fallacy, Technological Sideshow, Technomess, The Myth of Innovation, The Price of Gas, The War on Error, Toxic Hazard, Unnatural Gas, Unqualified Opinion
Posted on November 16th, 2011 No comments
Back in the 1970s they were expecting global cooling – of the economy. There were oil shocks and shocking prices, and petrochemists beavered away, sweating over test tubes the size of football fields, whisking up synthetic fuels.
It was not the first time that the world had tried to synthesise liquid vehicle fuel. Hitler famously did it during the Second World War, and had it not been for Bergius and Fischer-Tropsch, Nazi Germany would have collapsed much sooner under the anvil of global economic sanctions. I mean, the history books insist the multi-pronged military assault was responsible for the Victory in Europe, but the final push would never have succeeded without the suspension of energy trade.
Various syngas and synfuel projects have continued in various places, mostly America, and although the first plants used coal and Natural Gas to make other things, these days the emphasis is on biomass.
We can expect to see a dramatic rise in the amount of Biogas and Bio-syngas produced over the next few decades, along with renewably-sourced hydrogen. It will all get fed into the global syngas refineries, and out will pop power, vehicle fuel and chemistry.Bait & Switch, British Biogas, Carbon Capture, Energy Insecurity, Engineering Marvel, Fossilised Fuels, Freemarketeering, Gas Storage, Geogingerneering, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Hydrogen Economy, Major Shift, Money Sings, Peak Energy, Peak Natural Gas, Peak Oil, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Realistic Models, Renewable Gas, Renewable Resource, Resource Wards, Technofix, Unnatural Gas, Wasted Resource
Posted on November 15th, 2011 No comments
Germany can do it, but not the British. The Collected Republic of the People can install solar power with great will and nerve, but not Johnny English.
Let’s be clear here – the people in Scotland have a vision for future Renewable Energy, and so do many people in Wales and Ireland, but it appears English governance listens to fuddy duddy landowners too readily, and remains wedded to the fossil fuel industry and major construction projects like nuclear power, and carbon capture and storage.
What precisely is wrong with the heads of policy travel in Westminster ? Do they not understand the inevitable future of “conventional” energy – of decline, decimation and fall ?
It really is of no use putting off investment in truly sustainable and renewable power and gas. There are only two paths we can take in the next few decades, and their destination is the same.
Here’s how it goes. Path A will take the United Kingdom into continued dodgy skirmishes in the Middle East and North Africa. Oil production will dance like a man with a stubbed toe, but then show its true gradient of decline. Once everybody gets over the panic of the impending lack of vehicle fuel, and the failure of alternatives like algal biodiesel, and the impacts of a vastly contracted liquid fuel supply on globalised trade, then we shall move on to the second phase – the exploitation of gas. At first, it will be Natural Gas. But that too will decline. And then it will be truly natural gases. As gas is exploited for vehicles, electricity will have to come from coal. But coal, too, is suffering a precipitous decline. So renewable energy will be our salvation. By the year 2100, the world will run on renewable electricity and renewable gas, or not at all.Babykillers, Be Prepared, Big Number, Big Picture, Biofools, British Biogas, British Sea Power, Carbon Capture, Climate Change, Climate Damages, Corporate Pressure, Cost Effective, Delay and Deny, Demoticratica, Direction of Travel, Energy Change, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Foreign Interference, Fossilised Fuels, Geogingerneering, Green Investment, Green Power, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Incalculable Disaster, National Energy, National Power, No Blood For Oil, Not In My Name, Nuclear Nuisance, Nuclear Shambles, Oil Change, Peace not War, Peak Energy, Peak Oil, Petrolheads, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Gas, Renewable Resource, Resource Curse, Resource Wards, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, Stop War, Sustainable Deferment, Technofix, Technological Fallacy, Technological Sideshow, The Power of Intention, The War on Error, Transport of Delight, Unnatural Gas, Western Hedge
Posted on October 22nd, 2011 No comments
On Wednesday, I received a telephone call from an Information Technology recruitment consultancy. They wanted to know if I would be prepared to provide computer systems programming services for NATO.
Detecting that I was speaking with a native French-speaker, I slipped into my rather unpracticed second language to explain that I could not countenance working with the militaries, because I disagree with their strategy of repeated aggression.
I explained I was critical of the possibility that the air strikes in Libya were being conducted in order to establish an occupation of North Africa by Western forces, to protect oil and gas interests in the region. The recruitment agent agreed with me that the Americans were the driving force behind NATO, and that they were being too warlike.
Whoops, there goes another great opportunity to make a huge pile of cash, contracting for warmongers ! Sometimes you just have to kiss a career goodbye. IT consultancy has many ethical pitfalls. Time to reinvent myself.
I’ve been “back to school” for the second university degree, and now I’m supposed to submit myself to the “third degree” – go out and get me a job. The paucity of available positions due to the poor economic climate notwithstanding, the possibility of ending up in an unsuitable role fills me with dread. One of these days I might try to write about my experiences of having to endure several kinds of abuse whilst engaged in paid employment : suffice it to say, workplace inhumanity can be unbearable, some people don’t know what ethical behaviour means, and Human Resources departments always take sides, especially with vindictive, manipulative, micro-managers. I know what it’s like to be powerless.Advancing Africa, Bad Science, Bait & Switch, Be Prepared, Behaviour Changeling, Big Picture, Burning Money, Carbon Army, Carbon Capture, Carbon Commodities, Carbon Taxatious, Climate Change, Conflict of Interest, Corporate Pressure, Cost Effective, Delay and Deny, Demoticratica, Direction of Travel, Droughtbowl, Eating & Drinking, Economic Implosion, Efficiency is King, Emissions Impossible, Energy Change, Energy Insecurity, Evil Opposition, Faithful God, Feed the World, Financiers of the Apocalypse, Food Insecurity, Foreign Interference, Foreign Investment, Fossilised Fuels, Freak Science, Freemarketeering, Geogingerneering, Global Warming, Green Investment, Human Nurture, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Low Carbon Life, Major Shift, Mass Propaganda, Media, Military Invention, Money Sings, Neverending Disaster, No Blood For Oil, Non-Science, Not In My Name, Nudge & Budge, Oil Change, Peace not War, Peak Emissions, Peak Energy, Peak Oil, Petrolheads, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Public Relations, Realistic Models, Regulatory Ultimatum, Science Rules, Scientific Fallacy, Social Capital, Social Change, Solution City, Stop War, Sustainable Deferment, Technofix, Technological Fallacy, Technological Sideshow, Technomess, The Data, The Myth of Innovation, The War on Error, Unqualified Opinion, Unsolicited Advice & Guidance, Unutterably Useless, Utter Futility, Vain Hope, Voluntary Behaviour Change, Wasted Resource