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  • David MacKay : Heating London

    Posted on May 2nd, 2014 Jo No comments

    I took some notes from remarks made by Professor David MacKay, the UK Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, yesterday, 1st May 2014, at an event entitled “How Will We Heat London ?”, held by Max Fordhams as part of the Green Sky Thinking, Open City week. I don’t claim to have recorded his words perfectly, but I hope I’ve captured the gist.

    [David MacKay] : [Agreeing with others on the panel – energy] demand reduction is really important. [We have to compensate for the] “rebound effect”, though [where people start spending money on new energy services if they reduce their demand for their current energy services].

    SAP is an inaccurate tool and not suitable for the uses we put it too :-

    Things seem to be under-performing [for example, Combined Heat and Power and District Heating schemes]. It would be great to have data. A need for engineering expertise to get in.

    I’m not a Chartered Engineer, but I’m able to talk to engineers. I know a kilowatt from a kilowatt hour [ (Laughter from the room) ]. We’ve [squeezed] a number of engineers into DECC [the Department of Energy and Climate Change].

    I’m an advocate of Heat Pumps, but the data [we have received from demonstration projects] didn’t look very good. We hired two engineers and asked them to do the forensic analysis. The heat pumps were fine, but the systems were being wrongly installed or used.

    Now we have a Heat Network team in DECC – led by an engineer. We’ve published a Heat Strategy. I got to write the first three pages and included an exergy graph.

    [I say to colleagues] please don’t confuse electricity with energy – heat is different. We need not just a green fluffy solution, not just roll out CHP [Combined Heat and Power] [without guidance on design and operation].

    Sources of optimism ? Hopefully some of the examples will be available – but they’re not in the shop at the moment.

    For example, the SunUp Heat Battery – works by having a series of chambers of Phase Change Materials, about the size of a fridge that you would use to store heat, made by electricity during the day, for use at night, and meet the demand of one home. [Comment from Paul Clegg, Senior Partner at Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios : I first heard about Phase Change Materials back in the 1940s ? 1950s ? And nothing’s come of it yet. ] Why is that a good idea ? Well, if you have a heat pump and a good control system, you can use electricity when it’s cheapest… This is being trialled in 10 homes.

    Micro-CHP – [of those already trialled] definitely some are hopeless, with low temperature and low electricity production they are just glorified boilers with a figleaf of power.

    Maybe Fuel Cells are going to deliver – power at 50% efficiency [of conversion] – maybe we’ll see a Fuel Cell Micro-Combined Heat and Power unit ?

    Maybe there will be hybrid systems – like the combination of a heat pump and a gas boiler – with suitable controls could lop off peaks of demand (both in power and gas).

    We have designed the 2050 Pathways Calculator as a tool in DECC. It was to see how to meet the Carbon Budget. You can use it as an energy security calculator if you want. We have helped China, Korea and others to write their own calculators.

    A lot of people think CHP is green and fluffy as it is decentralised, but if you’re using Natural Gas, that’s still a Fossil Fuel. If you want to run CHP on biomass, you will need laaaaaarge amounts of land. You can’t make it all add up with CHP. You would need many Wales’-worth of bioenergy or similar ways to make it work.

    Maybe we should carry on using boilers and power with low carbon gas – perhaps with electrolysis [A “yay !” from the audience. Well, me, actually]. Hydrogen – the the 2050 Calculator there is no way to put it back into the beginning of the diagram – but it could provide low carbon heat, industry and transport. At the moment we can only put Hydrogen into Transport [in the 2050 Calculator. If we had staff in DECC to do that… It’s Open Source, so if any of you would like to volunteer…

    Plan A of DECC was to convert the UK to using lots of electricity [from nuclear power and other low carbon technologies, to move to a low carbon economy], using heat pumps at the consumer end, but there’s a problem in winter [Bill Watts of Max Fordham had already shown a National Grid or Ofgem chart of electricity demand and gas demand over the year, day by day. Electricity demand (in blue) fluctuates a little, but it pretty regular over the year. Gas demand (in red) however, fluctuates a lot, and is perhaps 6 to 10 times larger in winter than in summer.]

    If [you abandon Plan A – “electrification of everything”] and do it the other way, you will need a large amount of Hydrogen, and a large Hydrogen store. Electrolysers are expensive, but we are doing/have done a feasibility study with ITM Power – to show the cost of electrolysers versus the cost of your wind turbines [My comment : but you’re going to need your wind turbines to run your electrolysers with their “spare” or “curtailed” kilowatt hours.]

    [David Mackay, in questions from the floor] We can glue together [some elements]. Maybe the coming smart controls will help…can help save a load of energy. PassivSystems – control such things as your return temperature [in your Communal or District Heating]…instead of suing your heat provider [a reference to James Gallagher who has problems with his communal heating system at Parkside SE10], maybe you could use smart controls…

    [Question] Isn’t using smart controls like putting a Pirelli tyre on a Ford Cortina ? Legacy of poor CHP/DH systems…

    [David MacKay in response to the question of insulation] If insulation were enormously expensve, we wouldn’t have to be so enthusastic about it…We need a well-targeted research programme looking at deep retrofitting, instead of letting it all [heat] out.

    [Adrian Gault, Committee on Climate Change] We need an effective Government programme to deliver that. Don’t have it in the Green Deal. We did have it [in the previous programmes of CERT and CESP], but since they were cancelled in favour of the Green Deal, it’s gone off a cliff [levels of insulation installations]. We would like to see an initiative on low cost insulation expanded. The Green Deal is not producing a response.

    [Bill Watts, Max Fordham] Agree that energy efficiency won’t run on its own. But it’s difficult to do. Not talking about automatons/automation. Need a lot of pressure on this.

    [Adrian Gault] Maybe a street-by-street approach…

    [Michael Trousdell, Arup] Maybe a rule like you can’t sell a house unless you’ve had the insulation done…

    [Peter Clegg] … We can do heat recovery – scavenging the heat from power stations, but we must also de-carbonise the energy supply – this is a key part of the jigsaw.

  • Peak Oil : Kitchen Burlesque

    Posted on March 17th, 2014 Jo No comments

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

    “It’s very dramatic…”

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

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

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

    “Vaudeville ?”

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

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

  • On Having to Start Somewhere

    Posted on March 15th, 2014 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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

    To: Jo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    From: Jo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Failing Narratives : Carbon Culprits

    Posted on March 14th, 2014 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    There was light in the tunnel, though, even if the end had not been reached – a new Quality Protocol for upgrading biogas to biomethane, for injection into the gas grid, has been established. You won’t find it on the official UK Goverment website, apparently, as it has fallen through the cracks of the rebranding to, 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.

    Seriously – where the exoplanet are we at ?

  • But Uh-Oh – Those Summer Nights

    Posted on January 20th, 2014 Jo No comments

    A normal, everyday Monday morning at Energy Geek Central. Yes, this is a normal conversation for me to take part in on a Monday morning. Energy geekery at breakfast. Perfect.

    Nuclear Flower Power

    This whole UK Government nuclear power programme plan is ridiculous ! 75 gigawatts (GW) of Generation III nuclear fission reactors ? What are they thinking ? Britain would need to rapidly ramp up its construction capabilities, and that’s not going to happen, even with the help of the Chinese. (And the Americans are not going to take too kindly to the idea of China getting strongly involved with British energy). And then, we’d need to secure almost a quarter of the world’s remaining reserves of uranium, which hasn’t actually been dug up yet. And to cap it all, we’d need to have 10 more geological disposal repositories for the resulting radioactive spent fuel, and we haven’t even managed to negotiate one yet. That is, unless we can burn a good part of that spent fuel in Generation IV nuclear fission reactors – which haven’t even been properly demonstrated yet ! Talk about unconscionable risk !

    Baseload Should Be History By Now, But…

    Whatever the technological capability for nuclear power plants to “load follow” and reduce their output in response to a chance in electricity demand, Generation III reactors would not be run as anything except “baseload” – constantly on, and constantly producing a constant amount of power – although they might turn them off in summer for maintenance. You see, the cost of a Generation III reactor and generation kit is in the initial build – so their investors are not going to permit them to run them at low load factors – even if they could.

    There are risks to running a nuclear power plant at partial load – mostly to do with potential damage to the actual electricity generation equipment. But what are the technology risks that Hinkley Point C gets built, and all that capital is committed, and then it only runs for a couple of years until all that high burn up fuel crumbles and the reactors start leaking plutonium and they have to shut it down permanently ? Who can guarantee it’s a sound bet ?

    If they actually work, running Generation III reactors at constant output as “baseload” will also completely mess with the power market. In all of the scenarios, high nuclear, high non-nuclear, or high fossil fuels with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), there will always need to be some renewables in the mix. In all probability this will be rapidly deployed, highly technologically advanced solar power photovoltaics (PV). The amount of solar power that will be generated will be high in summer, but since you have a significant change in energy demand between summer and winter, you’re going to have a massive excess of electricity generation in summer if you add nuclear baseload to solar. Relative to the demand for energy, you’re going to get more Renewable Energy excess in summer and under-supply in winter (even though you get more offshore wind in winter), so it’s critical how you mix those two into your scenario.

    The UK Government’s maximum 75 GW nuclear scenario comprises 55 GW Generation III and 20 GW Generation IV. They could have said 40 GW Gen III to feed Gen IV – the spent fuel from Gen III is needed to kick off Gen IV. Although, if LFTR took off, if they had enough fluoride materials there could be a Thorium way into Gen IV… but this is all so technical, no MP [ Member of Parliament ] is going to get their head round this before 2050.

    The UK Government are saying that 16 GW of nuclear by 2030 should be seen as a first tranche, and that it could double or triple by 2040 – that’s one heck of a deployment rate ! If they think they can get 16 GW by 2030 – then triple that by 10 years later ? It’s not going to happen. And even 30 GW would be horrific. But it’s probably more plausible – if they can get 16 GW by 2030, they can arguably get double that by 2040.

    As a rule of thumb, you would need around 10 tonnes of fissionable fuel to kickstart a Gen IV reactor. They’ve got 106 tonnes of Plutonium, plus 3 or 4 tonnes they recently acquired – from France or Germany (I forget which). So they could start 11 GW of Gen IV – possibly the PRISM – the Hitachi thing – sodium-cooled. They’ve been trying them since the Year Dot – these Fast Reactors – the Breeders – Dounreay. People are expressing more confidence in them now – “Pandora’s Promise” hangs around the narrative that the Clinton administration stopped research into Fast Reactors – Oak Ridge couldn’t be commercial. Throwing sodium around a core 80 times hotter than current core heats – you can’t throw water at it easily. You need something that can carry more heat out. It’s a high technological risk. But then get some French notable nuclear person saying Gen IV technologies – “they’re on the way and they can be done”.

    Radioactive Waste Disposal Woes

    The point being is – if you’re commissioning 30 GW of Gen III in the belief that Gen IV will be developed – then you are setting yourself up to be a hostage to technological fortune. That is a real ethical consideration. Because if you can’t burn the waste fuel from Gen III, you’re left with up to 10 radioactive waste repositories required when you can’t even get one at the moment. The default position is that radioactive spent nuclear fuel will be left at the power stations where they’re created. Typically, nuclear power plants are built on the coast as they need a lot of cooling water. If you are going for 30 GW you will need a load of new sites – possibly somewhere round the South East of England. This is where climate change comes in – rising sea levels, increased storm surge, dissolving, sinking, washed-away beaches, more extreme storms […] The default spent fuel scenario with numerous coastal decommissioned sites with radioactive interim stores which contain nearly half the current legacy radioactive waste […]

    Based on the figures from the new Greenpeace report, I calculate that the added radioactive waste and radioactive spent fuel arisings from a programme of 16 GW of nuclear new build would be 244 million Terabequerel (TBq), compared to the legacy level of 87 million TBq.

    The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) are due to publish their Radioactive Waste Inventory and their Report on Radioactive Materials not in the Waste Inventory at the end of January 2014. We need to keep a watch out for that, because they may have adapted their anticipated Minimum and Maxmium Derived Inventory.

    Politics Is Living In The Past

    What you hear from politicians is they’re still talking about “baseload”, as if they’ve just found the Holy Grail of Energy Policy. And failed nuclear power. Then tidal. And barrages. This is all in the past. Stuff they’ve either read – in an article in a magazine at the dentist’s surgery waiting room, and they think, alright I’ll use that in a TV programme I’ve been invited to speak on, like Question Time. I think that perhaps, to change the direction of the argument, we might need to rubbish their contribution. A technological society needs to be talking about gasification, catalysis. If you regard yourselves as educated, and have a technological society – your way of living in the future is not only in manufacturing but also ideas – you need to be talking about this not that : low carbon gas fuels, not nuclear power. Ministers and senior civil servants probably suffer from poor briefing – or no briefing. They are relying on what is literally hearsay – informal discussions, or journalists effectively representing industrial interests. Newspapers are full of rubbish and it circulates, like gyres in the oceans. Just circulates around and around – full of rubbish.

    I think part of the problem is that the politicians and chief civil servants and ministers are briefed by the “Old Guard” – very often the ex-nuclear power industry guard. They still believe in big construction projects, with long lead times and massive capital investment, whereas Renewable Electricity is racing ahead, piecemeal, and private investors are desperate to get their money into wind power and solar power because the returns are almost immediate and risk-free.

    Together in Electric Dreams

    Question : Why are the UK Government ploughing on with plans for so much nuclear power ?

    1. They believe that a lot of transport and heat can be made to go electric.
    2. They think they can use spent nuclear fuel in new reactors.
    3. They think it will be cheaper than everything else.
    4. They say it’s vital for UK Energy Security – for emissions reductions, for cost, and for baseload. The big three – always the stated aim of energy policy, and they think nuclear ticks all those three boxes. But it doesn’t.

    What they’ll say is, yes, you have to import uranium, but you’ve got a 4 year stock. Any war you’re going to get yourselves involved in you can probably resolve in 4 days, or 4 weeks. If you go for a very high nuclear scenario, you would be taking quite a big share of the global resource of uranium. There’s 2,600 TWh of nuclear being produced globally. And global final energy demand is around 100,000 TWh – so nuclear power currently produces around 2.6% of global energy supply. At current rates of nuclear generation, according to the World Nuclear Association, you’ve got around 80 years of proven reserves and probably a bit more. Let’s say you double nuclear output by 2050 or 2040 – but in the same time you might just have enough uranium – and then find a bit more. But global energy demand rises significantly as well – so nuclear will still only provide around 3% of global energy demand. That’s not a climate solution – it’s just an energy distraction. All this guff about fusion. Well.

    Cornering The Market In Undug Uranium

    A 75 GW programme would produce at baseload 590 TWh a year – divide by 2,600 – is about 23% of proven global uranium reserves. You’re having to import, regardless of what other countries are doing, you’re trying to corner the market – roughly a quarter. Not even a quarter of the market – a quarter of all known reserves – it’s not all been produced yet. It’s still in the ground. So could you be sure that you could actually run these power stations if you build them ? Without global domination of the New British Empire […]. The security issues alone – defending coastal targets from a tweeb with a desire to blow them up. 50 years down the line they’re full of radioactive spent fuel that won’t have a repository to go to – we don’t want one here – and how much is it going to cost ?

    My view is that offshore wind will be a major contributor in a high or 100% Renewable Electricity scenario by 2050 or 2060. Maybe 180 GW, that will also be around 600 TWh a year – comparable to that maximum nuclear programme. DECC’s final energy demand 2050 – several scenarios – final energy demand from 6 scenarios came out as between roughly 1,500 TWh a year and the maximum 2,500 TWh. Broadly speaking, if you’re trying to do that just with Renewable Electricity, you begin to struggle quite honestly, unless you’re doing over 600 TWh of offshore wind, and even then you need a fair amount of heat pump stuff which I’m not sure will come through. The good news is that solar might – because of the cost and technology breakthroughs. That brings with it a problem – because you’re delivering a lot of that energy in summer. The other point – David MacKay would say – in his book his estimate was 150 TWh from solar by 2050, on the grounds that that’s where you south-facing roofs are – you need to use higher efficiency triple junction cells with more than 40% efficiency and this would be too expensive for a rollout which would double or triple that 150 TWh – that would be too costly – because those cells are too costly. But with this new stuff, you might get that. Not only the cost goes down, but the coverage goes down. Not doing solar across swathes of countryside. There have always been two issues with solar power – cost and where it’s being deployed.

    Uh-Oh, Summer Days. Uh-Oh, Summer Nights

    With the solar-wind headline, summer days and summer nights are an issue.

    With the nuclear headline, 2040 – they would have up to 50 GW, and that would need to run at somewhere between 75% and 95% capacity – to protect the investment and electric generation turbines.

    It will be interesting to provide some figures – this is how much over-capacity you’re likely to get with this amount of offshore wind. But if you have this amount of nuclear power, you’ll get this amount […]

    Energy demand is strongly variable with season. We have to consider not just power, but heat – you need to get that energy out in winter – up to 4 times as much during peak in winter evenings. How are you going to do that ? You need gas – or you need extensive Combined Heat and Power (CHP) (which needs gas). Or you need an unimaginable deployment of domestic heat pumps. Air source heat pumps won’t work at the time you need them most. Ground source heat pumps would require the digging up of Britain – and you can’t do that in most urban settings.

    District Heat Fields

    The other way to get heat out to everyone in a low carbon world – apart from low carbon gas – is having a field-based ground source heat pump scheme – just dig up a field next to a city – and just put in pipes and boreholes in a field. You’re not disturbing anybody. You could even grow crops on it next season. Low cost and large scale – but would need a District Heating (DH) network. There are one or two heat pump schemes around the world. Not sure if they are used for cooling in summer or heat extraction in the winter. The other thing is hot water underground. Put in an extra pipe in the normal channels to domestic dwellings. Any excess heat from power generation or electrolysis or whatever is put down this loop and heats the sub-ground. Because heat travels about 1 metre a month in soil, that heat should be retained for winter. A ground source heat sink. Geothermal energy could come through – they’re doing a scheme in Manchester. If there’s a nearby heat district network – it makes it easier. Just want to tee it into the nearest DH system. The urban heat demand is 150 TWh a year. You might be able to put DH out to suburban areas as well. There are 9 million gas-connected suburban homes – another about 150 TWh there as well – or a bit more maybe. Might get to dispose of 300 TWh in heat through DH. The Green Deal insulation gains might not be what is claimed – and condensing gas boiler efficiencies are not that great – which feeds into the argument that in terms of energy efficiency, you not only want to do insulation, but also DH – or low carbon gas. Which is the most cost-effective ? Could argue reasonable energy efficiency measures are cheapest – but DH might be a better bet. That involves a lot of digging.

    Gas Is The Logical Answer

    But everything’s already laid for gas. (…but from the greatest efficiency first perspective, if you’re not doing DH, you’re not using a lot of Renewable Heat you could otherwise use […] )

    The best package would be the use of low carbon gases and sufficient DH to use Renewable Heat where it is available – such as desalination, electrolysis or other energy plant. It depends where the electrolysis is being done.

    The Age of Your Carbon

    It also depends on which carbon atoms you’re using. If you are recycling carbon from the combustion of fossil fuels into Renewable Gas, that’s OK. But you can’t easily recapture carbon emissions from the built environment (although you could effectively do that with heat storage). You can’t do carbon capture from transport either. So your low carbon gas has to come from biogenic molecules. Your Renewable Gas has to be synthesised using biogenic carbon molecules rather than fossil ones.

    […] I’m using the phrase “Young Carbon”. Young Carbon doesn’t have to be from plants – biological things that grow.

    Well, there’s Direct Air Capture (DAC). It’s simple. David Sevier, London-based, is working on this. He’s using heat to capture carbon dioxide. You could do it from exhaust in a chimney or a gasification process – or force a load of air through a space. He would use heat and cooling to create an updraft. It would enable the “beyond capture” problem to be circumvented. Cost is non-competitive. Can be done technically. Using reject heat from power stations for the energy to do it. People don’t realise you can use a lot of heat to capture carbon, not electricity.

    Young Carbon from Seawater

    If you’re playing around with large amounts of seawater anyway – that is, for desalination for irrigation, why not also do Renewable Hydrogen, and pluck the Carbon Dioxide out of there too to react with the Renewable Hydrogen to make Renewable Methane ? I’m talking about very large amounts of seawater. Not “Seawater Greenhouses” – condensation designs mainly for growing exotic food. If you want large amounts of desalinated water – and you’re using Concentrated Solar Power – for irrigating deserts – you would want to grow things like cacti for biological carbon.

    Say you had 40 GW of wind power on Dogger Bank, spinning at 40% load factor a year. You’ve also got electrolysers there. Any time you’re not powering the grid, you’re making gas – so capturing carbon dioxide from seawater, splitting water for hydrogen, making methane gas. Wouldn’t you want to use flash desalination first to get cleaner water for electrolysis ? Straight seawater electrolysis is also being done.

    It depends on the relative quantities of gas concentrated in the seawater. If you’ve got oxygen, hydrogen and carbon dioxide, that would be nice. You might get loads of oxygen and hydrogen, and only poor quantities of carbon dioxide ?

    But if you could get hydrogen production going from spare wind power. And even if you had to pipe the carbon dioxide from conventional thermal power plants, you’re starting to look at a sea-based solution for gas production. Using seawater, though, chlorine is the problem […]

    Look at the relative density of molecules – that sort of calculation that will show if this is going to fly. Carbon dioxide is a very fixed, stable molecule – it’s at about the bottom of the energy potential well – you have to get that reaction energy from somewhere.

    How Much Spare Power Will There Be ?

    If you’ve got an offshore wind and solar system. At night, obviously, the solar’s not working (unless new cells are built that can run on infrared night-time Earthshine). But you could still have 100 GWh of wind power at night not used for the power grid. The anticipated new nuclear 40 GW nuclear by 2030 will produce about 140 GWh – this would just complicate problems – adding baseload nuclear to a renewables-inclusive scenario. 40 GW is arguably a reasonable deployment of wind power by 2030 – low if anything.

    You get less wind in a nuclear-inclusive scenario, but the upshot is you’ve definitely got a lot of power to deal with on a summer night with nuclear power. You do have with Renewable Electricity as well, but it varies more. Whichever route we take we’re likely to end up with excess electricity generation on summer nights.

    In a 70 GW wind power deployment (50 GW offshore, 20 GW onshore – 160 TWh a year), you might have something like 50 to 100 GWh per night of excess (might get up to 150 GWh to store on a windy night). But if you have a 16 GW nuclear deployment by 2030 (125 TWh a year), you are definitely going to have 140 GWh of excess per night (that’s 16 GW for 10 hours less a bit). Night time by the way is roughly between 9pm and 7am between peak demands.

    We could be making a lot of Renewable Gas !

    Can you build enough Renewable Gas or whatever to soak up this excess nuclear or wind power ?

    The energy mix is likely to be in reality somewhere in between these two extremes of high nuclear or high wind.

    But if you develop a lot of solar – so that it knocks out nuclear power – it will be the summer day excess that’s most significant. And that’s what Germany is experiencing now.

    Choices, choices, choices

    There is a big choice in fossil fuels which isn’t really talked about very often – whether the oil and gas industry should go for unconventional fossil fuels, or attempt to make use of the remaining conventional resources that have a lower quality. The unconventionals narrative – shale gas, coalbed methane, methane hydrates, deepwater gas, Arctic oil and gas, heavy oil, is running out of steam as it becomes clear that some of these choices are expensive, and environmentally damaging (besides their climate change impact). So the option will be making use of gas with high acid gas composition. And the technological solutions for this will be the same as needed to start major production of Renewable Gas.

    Capacity Payments

    But you still need to answer the balancing question. If you have a high nuclear power scenario, you need maybe 50 TWh a year of gas-fired power generation. If high Renewable Electricity, you will need something like 100 TWh of gas, so you need Carbon Capture and Storage – or low carbon gas.

    Even then, the gas power plants could be running only 30% of the year, and so you will need capacity payments to make sure new flexible plants get built and stay available for use.

    If you have a high nuclear scenario, coupled with gas, you can meet the carbon budget – but it will squeeze out Renewable Electricity. If high in renewables, you need Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) or Carbon Capture and Recycling into Renewable Gas, but this would rule out nuclear power. It depends which sector joins up with which.

    Carbon Capture, Carbon Budget

    Can the Drax power plant – with maybe one pipeline 24 inches in diameter, carrying away 20 megatonnes of carbon dioxide per year – can it meet the UK’s Carbon Budget target ?

  • Curmudgeons Happen

    Posted on January 5th, 2014 Jo 1 comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    To pacify the Conservative Party.

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

    We need to convince so many people.

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

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

    What about nuclear fusion ?

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

    What about conventional nuclear fission power ?

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

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

    How can the energy companies turn your fridge off ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Champagne with Michael Caine

    Posted on December 11th, 2013 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Economic Ecology

    Posted on October 25th, 2013 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Nuclear 1 : Insulation 0

    Posted on October 24th, 2013 Jo No comments

    David Cameron PM, the “PM” allegedly standing for “Panic Mode”, has pledged to drop £112 from the annual household energy bill by cutting green “taxes”. Many of the green energy and energy efficiency support measures aren’t actually designed to be paid for by taxes, in fact, but through energy bills.

    Nick Clegg was “stunned” by this announcement, and went on breakfast television to say so. Here’s what the Evening Standard said :-

    “[…] David Cameron today risked a huge coalition split by announcing that he will “roll back” green taxes that add £112 to soaring energy bills. The bombshell announcement was dropped in a packed Commons while his deputy Nick Clegg, a huge supporter of green measures, sat in stony-faced silence. Battling to regain the political initiative on home energy bills, Mr Cameron told MPs: “We need to roll back the costs that have been imposed on people’s energy bills.” Sources said changes could be announced as early as the Chancellor’s autumn statement. [… ] Among the charges on domestic bills is ECO, which pays energy firms to help vulnerable people and adds £50 to the average bill; a renewables obligation, costing families £30; insulation schemes costing £11 and renewables subsidies costing £30. His announcement comes a week after Lib-Dem Energy Secetary Ed Davey dismissed Tory calls to scrap green levies to reduce bills as “silly”. […] Despite Lib-Dem ministers saying just weeks ago that green levies were needed, the Prime Minister told a packed Commons he was determined to reduce them “one way or another”. […] Measures are now expected in the autumn statement in December to reduce the impact of environmental levies on fuel bills. Labour MPs jeered the Prime Minister, believing that he has been pushed to act due to Mr Miliband’s conference pledge to freeze energy bills. It comes 24 hours after former Prime Minister Sir John Major called for a windfall tax on energy companies to fund support for low-income families. Mr Cameron told MPs: “We need to roll back some of the green regulations and charges that are putting up bills.” The Lib-Dems have previously vowed to prevent any fall in green levies during this Parliament. […]”

    In an email from somebody I shall just refer to as General Mayhem, there was this startling news – “[…] has just come back from a conference where someone from DECC let slip that ECO is dead in the water.” ECO – the Energy Company Obligation – an instrument that is designed to use Government funds to pay for energy companies to make energy efficiency improvements to the homes of low-income families.

    General Mayhem also had this to say :-

    “Whilst Cameron is now desperately trying to con the public into believing that cuts to energy ‘taxes’ won’t affect support for fuel poverty and have nothing to do with ensuring we can pay EDF for Hinckley C.”

    Ah yes, this is the same week that a massive UK Government announcement about nuclear power was made – with initial calculations suggesting that the guaranteed price for the electricity of the new Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant could give EdF a billion pounds of profit a year.

    Hmm. We can afford to support expensive atomic energy, but we cannot seem to find the money to insulate the homes of poor people.

    Nuclear 1 : Insulation 0.

  • Mind the Gap : BBC Costing the Earth

    Posted on October 16th, 2013 Jo No comments

    I listened to an interesting mix of myth, mystery and magic on BBC Radio 4.

    Myths included the notion that long-term, nuclear power would be cheap; that “alternative” energy technologies are expensive (well, nuclear power is, but true renewables are most certainly not); and the idea that burning biomass to create heat to create steam to turn turbines to generate electricity is an acceptably efficient use of biomass (it is not).

    Biofuelwatch are hosting a public meeting on this very subject :-
    “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
    barely begun.

    It’ll cost a lot, we’ll have to pay, and the politicians are reluctant
    to lay out the bill. But both the official regulator and industry are
    warning that a crunch is coming.

    So in this week’s “Costing the Earth”, we ask if the goal of clean,
    green and affordable energy is being lost to a much darker reality.

    [ 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
    the cuts.”

    “And now the major scandal sweeping the front pages of the papers this
    morning, the advertisement by the South Eastern Gas Board recommending
    that to save fuel, couples should share their bath.”

    [ Caller ]
    “I shall write to my local gas board and say don’t do it in
    Birmingham. It might be alright for the trendy South, but we don’t
    want it in Birmingham.”

    [ 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 : ]

    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
    winter ?

    [ Ed Davey ]

    Well, there’s no doubt that as the coal power stations come offline,
    and the nuclear power plants, er, close, we’re going to have make sure
    that new power plants are coming on to replace them.

    And if we don’t, there will be a problem with energy security.

    Now we’ve been working very hard over a long time now to make sure we
    attract that investment. We’ve been working with Ofgem, the regulator;
    with National Grid, and we’re…

    [ Tom Heap ]

    …Being [ or it’s being ] tough. I don’t see companies racing to come
    and fill in the gap here and those coal power plants are going off

    [ 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
    we need.

    So we’ve got the policies in place.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Some of Ed Davey’s policies, not least the LibDem [ Liberal Democrat
    Party ] U-turn on nuclear, have been guided by DECC [ Department of
    Energy and Climate Change ] Chief Scientist David MacKay, author of
    the influential book “Renewable Energy without the Hot Air” [ sic,
    actually “Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air” ].

    Does he think the lights will dim in the second half of this decade ?

    [ David MacKay ]

    I don’t think there’s going to be any problem maintaining the capacity
    that we need. We just need to make clear where Electricity Market
    Reform [ EMR, part of the Energy Bill ] is going, and the way in which
    we will be maintaining capacity.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    But I don’t quite understand that, because it seems to me, you know,
    some of those big coal-fired power stations are going to be going off.
    What’s going to be coming in their place ?

    [ David MacKay ]

    Well, the biggest number of power stations that’s been built in the
    last few years are gas power stations, and we just need a few more gas
    power stations like that, to replace the coal
    , and hopefully some
    nuclear power stations will be coming on the bars, as well as the wind
    farms that are being built at the moment.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    And you’re happy with that increase in gas-fired power stations, are
    you ? I mean, you do care deeply, personally, about reducing our
    greenhouse gases, and yet you’re saying we’re going to have to build
    more gas-fired power stations.

    [ David MacKay ]

    I do. Even in many of the pathways that reach the 2050 target, there’s
    still a role for gas in the long-term, because some power sources like
    wind and solar power are intermittent, so if you want to be keeping
    the lights on in 2050 when there’s no wind and there’s no sun, you’re
    going to need some gas power stations there
    . Maybe not operating so
    much of the time as they do today, but there’ll still be a role in
    keeping the lights on.

    [ KLAXON ! If gas plants are used only for peak periods or for backup to
    renewables, then the carbon emissions will be much less than if they are
    running all the time. ]

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Many energy experts though doubt that enough new wind power or nuclear
    capacity could be built fast enough to affect the sums in a big way by

    But that isn’t the only critical date looming over our energy system.
    Even more challenging, though more distant, is the legally binding
    objective of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in 2050.

    David MacKay wants that certainty to provide the foundation for energy
    decisions, and he showed me the effect of different choices with the
    “Ultimate Future Energy App”. I was in his office, but anyone can try it online.

    [ David MacKay ]

    It’s a 2050 calculator. It computes energy demand and supply in
    response to your choices, and it computes multiple consequences of
    your choices. It computes carbon consequences. It also computes for
    you estimates of air quality, consequences of different choices;
    security of supply, consequences; and the costs of your choices.

    So with this 2050 calculator, it’s an open source tool, and anyone can
    go on the web and use the levers to imagine different futures in 2050
    of how much action we’ve taken in different demand sectors and in
    different supply sectors.

    The calculator has many visualisations of the pathway that you’re choosing
    and helps people understand all the trade-offs… There’s no silver
    bullet for any of this. If I dial up a pathway someone made earlier,
    we can visualise the implications in terms of the area occupied for
    the onshore wind farms, and the area in the sea for the offshore wind
    farms, and the length of the wave farms that you’ve built, and the
    land area required for energy crops.

    And many organisations have used this tool and some of them have given
    us their preferred pathway. So you can see here the Friends of the
    Earth have got their chosen pathway, the Campaign to Protect Rural
    England, and various engineers like National Grid and Atkins have got
    their pathways.

    So you can see alternative ways of achieving our targets, of keeping
    the lights on and taking climate change action. All of those pathways
    all meet the 2050 target, but they do so with different mixes.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    And your view of this is you sort of can’t escape from the scientific
    logic and rigour of it. You might wish things were different or you
    could do it differently, but you’re sort of saying “Look, it’s either
    one thing or the other”. That’s the point of this.

    [ David MacKay ]

    That’s true. You can’t be anti-everything. You can’t be anti-wind and
    anti-nuclear and anti-home insulation. You won’t end up with a plan
    that adds up.

    [ KLAXON ! But you can be rationally against one or two things, like
    expensive new nuclear power, and carbon and particulate emissions-heavy
    biomass for the generation of electricity. ]

    [ Tom Heap ]

    But isn’t that exactly kind of the problem that we’ve had, without
    pointing political fingers, that people rather have been
    anti-everything, and that’s why we’re sort of not producing enough new
    energy sources ?

    [ David MacKay ]

    Yeah. The majority of the British public I think are in favour of many
    of these sources, but there are strong minorities who are vocally
    opposed to every one of the major levers in this calculator. So one
    aspiration I have for this tool is it may help those people come to a
    position where they have a view that’s actually consistent with the
    goal of keeping the lights on.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Professor MacKay’s calculator also computes pounds and pence,
    suggesting that both high and low carbon electricity work out pricey
    in the end.

    [ David MacKay ]

    The total costs of all the pathways are pretty much the same.
    “Business as Usual” is cheaper in the early years, and then pays more,
    because on the “Business as Usual”, you carry on using fossil fuels,
    and the prices of those fossil fuels are probably going to go up.

    All of the pathways that take climate change action have a similar
    total cost, but they pay more in the early years, ’cause you have to
    pay for things like building insulation and power stations, like
    nuclear power stations, or wind power, which cost up-front, but then
    they’re very cheap to run in the future.

    [ KLAXON ! Will the cost of decommissioning nuclear reactors and the
    costs of the waste disposal be cheap ? I think not… ]

    So the totals over the 40 or 50 year period here, are much the same for these.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    The cheapest immediate option of all is to keep shovelling the coal.
    And last year coal overtook gas to be our biggest electricity
    generation source, pushing up overall carbon emissions along the way
    by 4.5%

    [ KLAXON ! This is not very good for energy security – look where the
    coal comes from… ]

    As we heard earlier, most coal-fired power stations are scheduled for
    termination, but some have won a reprieve, and trees are their
    unlikely saviour.

    Burning plenty of wood chip [ actually, Tom, it’s not wood “chip”, it’s
    wood “pellets” – which often have other things mixed in with the wood,
    like coal… ] allows coal furnaces to cut the sulphur dioxide and nitrous
    oxide belching from their chimneys to below the level that requires their
    closure under European law.

    But some enthusiasts see wood being good for even more.


    [ Outside ]

    It’s one of those Autumn days that promises to be warm, but currently
    is rather moist. I’m in a field surrounded by those dew-laden cobwebs
    you get at this time of year.

    But in the middle of this field is a plantation of willow. And I’m at
    Rothamsted Research with Angela Karp who’s one of the directors here.

    Angela, tell me about this willow I’m standing in front of here. I
    mean, it’s about ten foot high or so, but what are you seeing ?

    [ Angela Karp ]

    Well, I’m seeing one of our better varieties that’s on display here.
    We have a demonstration trial of about ten different varieties. This
    is a good one, because it produces a lot of biomass, quite easily,
    without a lot of additional fertilisers or anything. And as you can
    see it’s got lovely straight stems. It’s got many stems, and at the
    end of three years, we would harvest all those stems to get the
    biomass from it. It’s nice and straight – it’s a lovely-looking, it’s
    got no disease, no insects on it, very nice, clean willow.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    So, what you’ve been working on here as I understand it is trying to
    create is the perfect willow – the most fuel for the least input – and
    the easiest to harvest.

    [ Angela Karp ]

    That’s absolutely correct, because the whole reason for growing these
    crops is to get the carbon from the atmosphere into the wood, and to
    use that wood as a replacement for fossil fuels. Without putting a lot
    of inputs in, because as soon as you add fertilisers you’re using
    energy and carbon to make them, and that kind of defeats the whole
    purpose of doing this.

    [ KLAXON ! You don’t need to use fossil fuel energy or petrochemicals or
    anything with carbon emissions to make fertiliser ! … Hang on, these
    are GM trees, right ? So they will need inputs… ]

    [ Tom Heap ]

    And how much better do you think your new super-variety is, than say,
    what was around, you know, 10 or 15 years ago. ‘Cause willow as an
    idea for burning has been around for a bit. How much of an improvement
    is this one here ?

    [ Angela Karp ]

    Quite a bit. So, these are actually are some of the, if you like,
    middle-term varieties. So we started off yielding about 8 oven-dry
    tonnes per hectare, and now we’ve almost doubled that.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    How big a place do you think biomass can have in the UK’s energy
    picture in the future ?

    [ Angela Karp ]

    I think that it could contribute between 10% and 15% of our energy. If
    we were to cultivate willows on 1 million hectares, we would probably
    provide about 3% to 4% of energy in terms of electricity, and I think
    that’s kind of a baseline figure. We could cultivate them on up to 3
    million hectares, so you can multiply things up, and we could use them
    in a much more energy-efficient way.

    [ KLAXON ! Is that 4% of total energy or 4% of total electricity ?
    Confused. ]

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Do we really have 3 million hectares going a-begging for planting willow in ?

    [ Angela Karp ]

    Actually, surprisingly we do. So, people have this kind of myth
    there’s not enough land, but just look around you and you will find
    there’s lots of land that’s not used for cultivating food crops.

    We don’t see them taking over the whole country. We see them being
    grown synergistically with food crops.

    [ KLAXON ! This is a bit different than the statement made in 2009. ]

    [ Tom Heap ]

    But I’d just like to dig down a little bit more into the carbon cycle
    of the combustion of these things, because that’s been the recent
    criticism of burning a lot of biomass, is that you put an early spike
    in the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, if you start burning a lot
    of biomass, because this [ sounds of rustling ], this plant is going
    to be turned into, well, partly, CO2 in the atmosphere.

    [ Angela Karp ]

    Yes, I think that’s probably a simple and not totally correct way of
    looking at it. ‘Cause a lot depends on the actual conversion process
    you are using.

    So some conversion processes are much more efficient at taking
    everything and converting it into what you want.

    Heat for example is in excess of 80%, 90% conversion efficiency.

    Electricity is a little bit more of the problem. And there, what
    they’re looking at is capturing some of the carbon that you lose, and
    converting that back in, in carbon storage processes, and that’s why
    there’s a lot of talk now about carbon storage from these power

    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
    we’re at.

    It goes into one of those, it gets washed clean with water, and it
    goes into this unit over here, and there it meets an amine solvent, a
    chemical that will react reversibly with CO2, coming in the opposite
    direction, over packing. So, it’s like sort of pebbles, if you can
    imagine it, there’s a lot of surface area. The gas flows up, the
    liquid flows down, and it picks up the CO2, just mainly the CO2.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    And that amine, that chemical as you call it, is stripping the CO2 out
    of that exhaust gas. This will link to a storage facility.

    What would then happen to the CO2 ?

    [ Jon Gibbons ]

    What would then happen is that the CO2 would be compressed up to
    somewhere in excess of about 100 atmospheres. And it would turn from
    being a gas into something that looks like a liquid, like water, about
    the same density as water. And then it would be taken offshore in the
    UK, probably tens or hundreds of kilometres offshore, and it would go
    deep, deep down, over a kilometre down into the ground, and basically
    get squeezed into stuff that looks like solid rock. If you go and look
    at a sandstone building – looks solid, but actually, maybe a third of
    it is little holes. And underground, where you’ve got cubic kilometres
    of space, those little holes add up to an awful lot of free space. And
    the CO2 gets squeezed into those, over time, and it spreads out, and
    it just basically sits there forever, dissolves in the water, reacts
    with the rocks, and will stay there for millions of years.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Back in his office, I asked Jon why CCS seemed to be stuck in the lab.

    [ Jon Gibbons ]

    We’re doing enough I think on the research side, but what we really
    need to do, is to do work on a full-scale deployment. Because you
    can’t work on research in a vacuum. You need to get feedback –
    learning by doing – from actual real projects.

    And a lot of the problems we’ve got on delivering CCS, are to do with
    how you handle the regulation for injecting CO2, and again, you can
    only do that in real life.

    So what we need to do is to see the commercialisation projects that
    are being run by the Department of Energy and Climate Change actually
    going through to real projects that can be delivered.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Hmm. When I talk to engineers, they’re always very passionate and
    actually quite optimistic about Carbon Capture and Storage. And when
    I talk to people in industry, or indeed read the headlines, not least
    a recent cancellation in Norway, it always seems like a very bleak picture.

    [ Jon Gibbons ]

    I think people are recognising that it’s getting quite hard to get
    money for low carbon technologies.

    So – recent presentation we had at one of our centre meetings, was
    actually a professor from the United States, Howard Herzog. And he
    said “You think you’re seeing a crisis in Carbon Capture and Storage.
    But what you’re actually seeing is a crisis in climate change

    [ 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
    they won’t.

    What I am fairly confident is that you won’t see huge, you know,
    really big cuts in CO2 emissions without that global agreement. But
    I’m also confident that you won’t see big cuts in CO2 emissions
    without CCS deployment.

    And my guess is there’s about a 50:50 chance that we do CCS before we
    need to, and about a 50:50 chance we do it after we have to. But I’m
    pretty damn certain we’re going to do it.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    But we can’t wait for a global agreement that’s already been decades
    in the making, with still no end in sight.

    We need decisions now to provide more power with less pollution.

    [ Music lyrics : “What’s the plan ? What’s the plan ?” ]

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Dieter Helm, Professor of Energy Policy at the University of Oxford
    believes we can only deliver our plentiful green energy future if we
    abandon our attitude of buy-now pay-later.

    [ KLAXON ! Does he mean a kind of hire purchase energy economy ?
    I mean, we’re still paying for nuclear electricity from decades ago,
    in our bills, and through our taxes to the Department of Energy and
    Climate Change. ]

    [ Dieter Helm ]

    There’s a short-term requirement and a long-term requirement. The
    short-term requirement is that we’re now in a real pickle. We face
    this energy crunch. We’ve got to try to make the best of what we’ve
    got. And I think it’s really like, you know, trying to get the
    Spitfires back up again during the Battle of Britain. You know, you
    patch and mend. You need somebody in command. You need someone
    in control. And you do the best with what you’ve got.

    In that context, we then have to really stand back and say, “And this
    is what we have to do to get a serious, long-term, continuous, stable
    investment environment, going forward.” In which, you know, we pay the
    costs, but of course, not any monopoly profits, not any excess
    profits, but we have a world in which the price of electricity is
    related to the cost.”

    [ KLAXON ! Is Dieter Helm proposing state ownership of energy plant ? ]


    [ Programme anchor ]

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

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

  • High Stakes Energy Chutzpah

    Posted on October 15th, 2013 Jo No comments

    Image Credit : Carbon Brief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    12 Oct 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Bills have risen to pay for policy changes

    Tuesday 8th October 2013

    in Letters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    SUSAN THOMAS, Magdalen Road, Oxford

    Daily Mail
    14th October 2013

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

    Labour’s power failures will cost us all dear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    SUSAN THOMAS, Oxford

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Well said, Sir Tim

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

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

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

  • Wind Powers Electricity Security

    Posted on August 17th, 2013 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

    Private Eye
    Issue 1344
    12 – 25 July 2013

    page 15
    “Keeping the Lights On”

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

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

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

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

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


    ‘Old Sparky’

  • Ed Davey : Polish Barbecue

    Posted on July 12th, 2013 Jo 1 comment

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

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

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

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

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

    What I really should have said was :-

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

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

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

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

  • Birdcage Walk : Cheesestick Rationing

    Posted on July 12th, 2013 Jo 1 comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Ed Davey MP, closer

    Posted on July 10th, 2013 Jo 2 comments

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

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

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

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

  • London : Array, Invest, Divest

    Posted on July 8th, 2013 Jo No comments

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

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

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

    The Energy Bill should have been finished a long time ago, and I’m pretty sure it would have been, apart from the insane obsession with new nuclear power, which all along was predicted to consist of several kinds of big, chunky subsidy, and shows no signs of being anything other than a bankrolling exercise, even now (and too late to bridge Alistair Buchanan‘s “Crunch Winter” of 2015/2016).
    “EDF Nuclear Deal in U.K. May Take ‘A Few Months’ : By Alex Morales – Jul 2, 2013 : The U.K. may take “a few months” to agree the price that Electricite de France SA (EDF) will get for power from Britain’s first new nuclear power station in two decades, Energy Secretary Ed Davey suggested. The government has been in talks for months with EDF to agree a so-called strike price the French utility will get for power from a planned plant at Hinkley Point in southwest England. Davey told Parliament’s multi-party Energy and Climate Change Committee he won’t sign a contract with EDF unless it represents “value for money” for consumers. “Even if we agree in the next few months, a nuclear reactor at Hinkley point won’t be producing until the end of this decade at best,” Davey said today. “They have been very constructive negotiations. They are taking some time, and that’s because they are very complicated.”
    “[…] Mr Davey told The Guardian that EDF was aware of the strike price that he would agree to and that he was “not going to budge an inch”. He said: “Sometimes people said it is EDF or bust. I would like to do a deal with EDF but we don’t have to. I was in Korea and Japan recently talking to other investors and vendors. Their interest in the UK market was massive. I got the very strong impression that the sort of price I was happy to agree with EDF, they could match.” In the same interview he said: “We have other nuclear options. Hitachi are very live options. They bought Horizon only last year and their pace of progress is truly impressive.” He noted that Hitachi had delivered four reactors “on time and on budget”. […]”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Invest, yes, but divest, also.
    “4 July 2013: The Diocese of Southwark passed a resolution yesterday (3 July 2013) calling on the General Synod of the Church of England to consider disinvestment from fossil fuels.”

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

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

    David Cameron speaking at the Press Launch indoors :-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • They Think It’s Not All Over

    Posted on June 11th, 2013 Jo No comments

    [ Image Credit : Lakeview Gusher : ]

    So, the EIA say that the world has 10 years of shale oil resources which are technically recoverable. Woo hoo. We’ll pass over the question of why the American Department of Energy are guiding global energy policy, and why this glowing pronouncement looks just like the mass propaganda exercise for shale gas assessments that kicked off a few years ago, and move swiftly on to the numbers.

    No, actually, not straight on to the numbers. It shouldn’t take a genius to work out the public relations strategy for promoting increasingly dirtier fossil fuels. First, they got us accustomed to the idea of shale gas, and claimed without much evidence, that it was as “clean” as Natural Gas, and far, far cleaner than coal. Data that challenges this myth continues to be collected. Meanwhile, now we are habituated to accepting without reason the risks of subsurface and ground water reservoir destruction by hydraulic fracturing, we should be pliable enough to accept the next step up – oil shale oil fracking. And then the sales team can move on to warm us up to cruddier unconventionals, like bitumen exhumed from tar sands, and mining unstable sub-sea clathrates.

    Why do the oil and gas companies of the world and their trusted allies in the government energy departments so desperately want us to believe in the saving power of shale oil and gas ? Why is it necessary for them to pursue such an environmentally threatening course of product development ? Can it be that the leaders of the developed world and their industry experts recognise, but don’t want to admit to, Peak Oil, and its twin wraith, Peak Natural Gas, that will shadow it by about 10 to 15 years ?

    A little local context – UK oil production is falling like a stoneover the whole North Sea area. Various efforts have been made to stimulate new investment in exploration and discovery. The overall plan for the UK Continental Shelf has included opening up prospects via licence to smaller players in the hope of getting them to bet the farm, and if they come up trumps, permitted the larger oil and gas companies to snaffle up the small fry.

    But really, the flow of Brent crude oil is getting more expensive to guarantee. And it’s not just the North Sea – the inverse pyramid of the global oil futures market is teeteringly wobbly, even though Natural Gas Liquids (NGL) are now included in petroleum oil production figures. Cue panic stations at the Coalition (Oilition) Government offices – frantic rustling of review papers ahoy.

    To help them believe it’s not all over, riding into view from the stables of Propaganda Central, come the Six Horsemen of Unconventional Fossil Fuels : Tar Sands, Shale Gas, Shale Oil (Oil Shale Oil), Underground Coal Gasification, Coalbed Methane and Methane Hydrates.

    Shiny, happy projections of technically recoverable unconventional (night)mares are always lumped together, like we are able to suddenly open up the ground and it starts pouring out hydrocarbon goodies at industrial scale volumes. But no. All fossil fuel development is gradual – especially at the start of going after a particular resource. In the past, sometimes things started gushing or venting, but those days are gone. And any kind of natural pump out of the lithosphere is entirely absent for unconventional fossil fuels – it all takes energy and equipment to extract.

    And so we can expect trickles, not floods. So, will this prevent field depletion in any region ? No. It’s not going to put off Peak Oil and Peak Natural Gas – it literally cannot be mined fast enough. Even if there are 10 years of current oil production volumes that can be exploited via mining oil shale, it will come in dribs and drabs, maybe over the course of 50 to 100 years. It might prolong the Peak Oil plateau by a year or so – that’s barely a ripple. Unconventional gas might be more useful, but even this cannot delay the inevitable. For example, despite the USA shale gas “miracle”, as the country continues to pour resources and effort into industrialising public lands, American Peak Natural Gas is still likely to be only 5 years, or possibly scraping 10 years, behind Global Peak Natural Gas which will bite at approximately 2030 or 2035-ish. I suspect this is why EIA charts of future gas production never go out beyond 2045 or so :-

    Ask a mathematician to model growth in unconventional fossil fuels compared to the anticipated and actual decline in “traditional” fossil fuels, and ask if unconventionals will compensate. They will not.

    The practice for oil and gas companies is to try to maintain shareholder confidence by making sure they have a minimum of 10 years of what is known as Reserves-to-Production ratio or R/P. By showing they have at least a decade of discovered resources, they can sell their business as a viable investment. Announcing that the world has 10 years of shale oil it can exploit sounds like a healthy R/P, but in actual fact, there is no way this can be recovered in that time window. The very way that this story has been packaged suggests that we are being encouraged to believe that the fossil fuel industry are a healthy economic sector. Yet it is so facile to debunk that perspective.

    People, it’s time to divest your portfolios of oil and gas concerns. If they have to start selling us the wonders of bitumen and kerogen, the closing curtain cannot be far away from dropping.

    They think it’s not all over, but it so clearly must be.

  • Energy Change : Germany’s Energiewende #1

    Posted on March 11th, 2013 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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

    [Rainer Baake] “In Germany, energy policy holds past and future challenges. In June 2011, we ended a long and very controversial debate on energy policy. We ended up with very ambitious goals. The almost unanimous vote was historical. It was almost impossible to believe. We had always had a very diverse debate since Chernobyl [the catastrophic nuclear power accident in Ukraine in 1986 that necessitated the total evacuation of the city of Pripyat and the surrounding districts]. With the major change in government in 2008, with a Green and Social Democrat [SPD ] majority, we got Phase 1, then the Renewable Energy Act (EEG, Erneuerbare-Energien-Gesetz – which was also controversial at that time.”

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

    “The Conservatives and Liberals [German free market neoliberal politicians – FDP ] promised that after the 2009 elections if the coalition won there would be lifetime extensions [on existing nuclear reactors – allowing them to continue operating after their originally designed safe lives]. But they didn’t have a plan ready. They made [announcements] in December 2010 [extending reactor lives out to 2045 ] but this was against the public [opinion]. It only lasted for a few weeks, because Fukushima happened [ ]. Our Government realised what it meant for their own policy. They were able to explain Chernobyl [the meltdown accident at Pripyat in the Ukraine in 1986] as Communist [regime] mismanagement, but the meltdown of three reactors at Fukushima, in a technologically advance country…the Government immediately changed position, and it led to a very big [wide] consensus. In June 2011, the opposition and the Government [decided for] Renewable Energy.”

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

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

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

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


  • Natural Gas in the UK

    Posted on February 27th, 2013 Jo No comments

    The contribution of coal-fired power generation to the UK’s domestic electrical energy supply appears to have increased recently, according to the December 2012 “Energy Trends” released by the Department of Energy and Climate Change. This is most likely due to coal plants using up their remaining allotted operational hours until they need to retire.
    It could also be due to a quirk of the international markets – coal availability has increased because of gas glut conditions in the USA leading to higher coal exports. Combatting the use of coal in power generation is a global struggle that still needs to be won, but in the UK, it is planned that low carbon generation will begin to gain ascendance.

    The transition to lower carbon energy in Britain relies on getting the Natural Gas strategy right. With the imminent closure of coal-fired power plant, the probable decommissioning of several nuclear reactors, and the small tranche of overall supply coming from renewable resources, Natural Gas needs to be providing a greater overall percentage of electricity in the grid. But an increasing amount of this will be imported, since indigenous production is dropping, and this is putting the UK’s economy at risk of high prices and gas scarcity.

    Demand for electricity for the most part changes by a few percentage points a year, but the overall trend is to creep upwards (see Chart 4, here). People have made changes to their lighting power consumption, but this has been compensated for by an increase in power used by “gadgets” (see Chart 4, here). There is not much that can be done to suppress power consumption. Since power generation must increasingly coming from renewable resources and Natural Gas combustion, this implies strong competition between the demand for gas for heating and the demand gas for electricity. Electricity generation is key to the economy, so the power sector will win any competition for gas supplies. If competition for Natural Gas is strong, and since we don’t have much national gas storage, we can expect higher seasonal imports and therefore, higher prices.

    It is clear that improving building insulation across the board is critical in avoiding energy insecurity. I shall be checking the winter heat demand figures assiduously from now on, to determine if the Green Deal and related measures are working. If they don’t, the UK is in for heightened energy security risks, higher carbon emissions, and possibly much higher energy prices. The Green Deal simply has to work.

  • New Nuclear : Credibility Strained

    Posted on February 26th, 2013 Jo 1 comment

    As rumours and genuine information leak from central sources about the policy instruments and fiscal measures that will be signed into the United Kingdom’s Energy Bill, the subsidy support likely to be made available to new nuclear power is really straining credibility from my point of view. I am even more on the “incredulous” end of the spectrum of faith in the UK Government’s Energy Policy than I ever was before.

    The national demand for electrical power is pretty constant, with annual variations of only a few percent. It was therefore easy to project that there could be a “power cliff” when supply would be curtailed from coal-fired generation under European legislation :-

    The pat answer to how we should “Keep the Lights On” has been to wave the new nuclear fission reactor card. Look ! Shiny new toys. Keep us in power for yonks ! And hidden a little behind this fan of aces and jokers, a get-out-of-jail free card from the Coal monopoly – Carbon Capture and Storage or CCS. Buy into this, and we could have hundreds more years of clean power from coal, by pumping nasty carbon dioxide under the sea bed.

    Now, here’s where the answers are just plain wrong : new nuclear power cannot be brought into the National Grid before the early 2020s at the very earliest. And options for CCS are still in the balance, being weighed and vetted, and very unlikely to clean up much of the black stuff until well past 2025.

    When put through my best onboard guesstimiser, I came up with the above little graph in answer to the question : how soon can the UK build new power generation ? Since our “energy cliff” is likely to be in one of the winters of 2015 or 2016, and we’re not sure other countries we import from will have spare capacity, we have little option but to increase Natural Gas-fired power generation and go hell-for-leather with the wind and solar power deployment.

    So no – it’s of no use promising to pay the new nuclear reactor bearer the sum of 40 or more years of subsidy in the form of guaranteed price for power under the scheme known as Contracts for Difference – they still won’t be delivering anything to cope with the “power drain” of the next few years. If this is written into the Electricity Market Reform, we could justifiably say this would destroy competition, and destroy any market, too, and be “central planning” by any other name – this level of subsidy is not exactly “technology-neutral” !

    And offering the so-called Capacity Mechanism – a kind of top-up payment to keep old nuclear reactors running, warts and all – when really they should be decommissioned as they are reaching the end of their safe lives, is not a good option, in my book.

    Offering the Capacity Mechanism to those who build new gas-fired power plant does make sense, however. If offshore wind power continues with its current trajectory and hits the big time in the next few years, and people want the cheap wind power instead of the gas, and the gas stations will be feeling they can’t run all the time, then the Capacity Mechanism will be vital to make sure the gas plant does get built to back up the wind power, and stays available to use on cold, still nights in February.

    Oh, people may complain about the idea of new “unabated” gas power plants, and insist they should be fitted with carbon capture, but new gas plants won’t run all the time in future, because renewable electricity generation will be cheaper, so forcing gas plant owners to pay for CCS seems like overkill to me. And, anyway, we will be decarbonising the gas supply, as we develop supplies of Renewable Gas.

    I say forget the nuclear option – build the gas !

  • Gas Strategy “Dangerous Gamble”

    Posted on February 11th, 2013 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • A Question of Resilience

    Posted on January 28th, 2013 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • A Referendum for Energy

    Posted on January 24th, 2013 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Fossil Fuel Company Obligation

    Posted on November 6th, 2012 Jo No comments

    I knew I knew her from somewhere, Ms Henrietta Lynch PhD, from the UCL Energy Institute. I had the feeling we’d sheltered together from the rain/police helicopters at a Climate Camp somewhere, but she was fairly convinced we’d crossed paths at the Frontline Club, where, if she was recalling correctly, I probably tried to pick an “difference of opinion” with somebody, which she would have remembered as more than a little awkward.

    Why ? Because when I’m surrounded by smart people displaying self-confidence, I sometimes feel pushed to try to irritate them out of any complacency they may be harbouring. Niceness can give me itchy feet, or rather emotional hives, and I don’t see why others should feel settled when I feel all scratchy.

    So here we were at a Parliamentary event, and I was on my best behaviour, neither challenging nor remonstrative, but all the same, I felt the urge to engage Henrietta in disagreement. It was nothing personal, really. It was all about cognition, perception – worldviews, even. After my usual gauche preamble, I snuck in with a barbed gambit, “The United Nations climate change process has completely failed.” A shadow of anxiety crossed her brow. “Oh, I wouldn’t say that”, said Henrietta Lynch. She went on to recount for me the validity of the UN climate talks, and how much further we are because of the Kyoto Protocol. “Ruined by Article 12″, I said, “…the flexible mechanisms”. She said I shouldn’t underestimate the effort that had gone into getting everybody into the room to talk about a response to climate change. I said, it would be useful if the delegates to the climate talks had power of some kind – executive decision-making status. Henrietta insisted that delegates to the climate talks do indeed have authority.

    I said that the really significant players, the oil and gas production companies, were not at the climate talks, and that there would be no progress until they were. I said that the last time the UN really consulted the oil and gas companies was in the 1990s, and the outcome of that was proposals for carbon trading and Carbon Capture and Storage. Each year, I said, the adminstration of the climate talks did the diplomatic equivalent of passing round a busker’s hat to the national delegations, begging for commitments to carbon emissions reductions. Besides leading to squabbling and game-playing, the country representatives do not even have the practical means of achieving these changes. Instead, I said, the energy production companies should be summoned to the climate talks and given obligations – to decarbonise the energy resources they sell, and to increase their production of renewable and sustainable energy. I said that without that, there will be no progress.

    Oil and gas companies always point to energy demand as their get-out-of-jail-free card – they insist that while the world demands fossil fuel energy, they, the energy resource companies, are being responsible in producing it. Their economists say that consumer behaviour can be modified by pricing carbon dioxide emissions, and yet the vast majority of the energy they supply is full of embedded carbon – there is no greener choice. They know that it is impossible to set an economically significant carbon price in any form, that there are too many forces against it, and that any behavioural “signal” from carbon pricing is likely to be swallowed up by volatility in the prices of fossil fuels, and tax revenue demands. Most crucially, the oil and gas companies know that fossil fuels will remain essential for transport vehicles for some time, as it will be a long, hard struggle to replace all the drive engines in the world, and high volumes of transport are essential because of the globalised nature of trade.

    Oil and gas companies have made token handwaving gestures towards sustainability. BP has spent roughly 5% of its annual budget on renewable energy, although it’s dropped its solar power division, and has now dropped its cellulosic ethanol facility. BP says that it will “instead will focus on research and development“. Research and development into what, precisely ? Improved oil and gas drilling for harsh environmental conditions like the Arctic Ocean or sub-sea high depth, high pressure fields ? How many renewable energy pipedreams are exhausted ? BP are willing to take competitors to court over biobutanol, but even advanced techniques to produce this biofuel are not yet commercialised.

    So, the oil and gas majors do not appear to be serious about renewable energy, but are they also in denial about fossil fuels ? All business school graduates, anybody who has studied for an MBA or attended an economics course, they all come out with the mantra that technology will deliver, that innovation in technology will race ahead of the problems. Yet, as the rolling disasters of the multiple Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear reactor accident and the continuing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico from the blowout of the Horizon Deepwater drilling rig show, technological advancement ain’t what it used to be. Put not your faith in technology, for engineering may fail.

    For the oil and gas companies to be going after the development of unconventional fossil fuel resources is an unspoken, tacit admission of failure – not only of holding a bold vision of change, but also a demonstration of the failure of being able to increase production from discoveries of more conventional petroleum and Natural Gas. It is true that oil and gas exploration has improved, and that technology to drill for oil and gas has improved, but it could be said that the halting pace of technological advancement means that the growth in fossil fuel exploitation is not strong enough to meet projected demand. Technology does not always make things more efficient – the basic fossil fuel resources are getting much poorer, and perhaps scarcer.

    There is some evidence that global petroleum crude oil production rates have peaked, despite BP adding significant South American heavy oil fields to their annual Statistical Review of World Energy within the last few years. Some of the jitteriness in total production is down to geopolitical factors, like the chokehold that the United States has imposed on Iran via economic sanctions, and some of it is related to consumption patterns, but there is an element of resource failure, as indicated in this IMF report from last month :-

    “Over the past decade the world economy has experienced a persistent increase in oil prices. While part of this may have been due to continued rapid demand growth in emerging markets, stagnant supply also played a major role. Figure 1 shows the sequence of downward shifts in the trend growth rate of world oil production since the late 1960s. The latest trend break occurred in late 2005, when the average growth rate of 1.8 percent per annum of the 1981-2005 period could no longer be sustained, and production entered a fluctuating plateau that it has maintained ever since.”

    There is an increasing amount of evidence and projection of Peak Oil from diverse sources, so perhaps our attention should be drawn to it. If this type of analysis is to be trusted, regardless of whether the oil and gas companies pursue unconventional oil, change is inevitable. Bringing the oil and gas companies onto the world stage at the United Nations climate talks and demanding a reduction in fossil fuel production would be an straightford thing to make commitments to – as it is happening already. A huge facesaver in many respects – except that it does not answer the energy security question – how the world is going to be able to adapt to falling fossil fuel supplies. You see, besides Peak Oil, there are other peaks to contend with – it will not simply be a matter of exchanging one energy resource with another.

    Can the oil and gas companies hold on by selling us Natural Gas to replace failing oil ? Only if Natural Gas itself is not peaking. As the oil and gas companies drill deeper, more Natural Gas is likely to be found than petroleum oil, but because they are so often associated, Peak Oil is likely to be followed quite sharply by Peak Natural Gas. But does anybody in the oil and gas companies really know ? And if they did, would they be able to let their shareholders and world’s media know about it without their businesses crumbling ?

    What I want to know is : with all the skills of dialogue, collaboration, and facilitation that the human race has developed, why can Civil Society not engage the oil and gas companies in productive communication on these problems ?

  • Futureproof Renewable Sustainable Energy #3

    Posted on November 3rd, 2012 Jo No comments

    PRASEG Annual Conference 2012
    “After EMR: What future for renewable and sustainable energy?”
    31st October 2012
    One Birdcage Walk, Westminster
    Twitter hashtag : #PRASEG12

    Addendum to Part 1 and Part 2

    Dr Mayer Hillman of the Policy Studies Institute has contributed a summary of the questions that he raised at the PRASEG Annual Conference on Wednesday 31st October 2012, together with more background detail, and I am pleased to add this to the record of the day, and wish him a happy 82nd year !

    PRASEG Conference 31 October 2012

    Questions raised by Dr. Mayer Hillman (Policy Studies Institute) in the following sessions

    The Future of Renewable and Sustainable Energy: Panel Session

    I can only assume from the statements of each of the panellists of this session that their point of departure is that consumers have an inalienable right to engage in as much energy-intensive activity as they wish. Thereafter, it is the Government’s responsibility to aim to meet as much of the consequent demand as possible, subject only to doing so in the most cost-effective and least environmentally-damaging ways possible.

    However as Laura Sandys pointed out in her introduction, “policy must reflect the realities of the world we live in”. The most fundamental of these realities is that the planet’s atmosphere only has a finite capacity to safely absorb further greenhouse gas emissions. Surely, that must be the point of departure for policy if we are to ensure a long-term future for life on earth. That future can only be assured by the adoption of zero-carbon lifestyles as soon as conceivably possible. Simply aiming to increase the contribution of the renewables and of the efficiency with which fossil fuels are used is clearly bound to prove inadequate as the process of climate change is already irreversible.

    Demand side policy: The missing element?: Panel Session

    Given that the process of climate change cannot now be reversed, at best only slowed down by our actions, continued development of means of matching the predicted huge increase in energy demand whilst minimising its contribution to climate change is seen to be the logical way forward. However, any burning of fossil fuels adds to the already excessive concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere.

    The only solution now is the one advocated by the Global Commons Institute since 1996. The extent of GCI’s success, both national and international, is very apparent by looking at the Institute’s website Contraction and Convergence is the framework, that is the contraction of greenhouse gases to a safe level and their convergence to equal per capita shares across the world’s population.

    Our chair for this session has been a supporter for several years. Why cannot the panellists see this to be the way ahead rather than taking small steps which, in aggregate, cannot conceivably prevent catastrophe in the longer term?

    Keynote address by the Right Hon. Edward Davey, Secretary of State, DECC

    The Secretary-of-State has just confirmed the fears that I expressed in the first session of this conference, namely that he sees it to be the Government’s responsibility, if not duty, to ensure that, if at all possible, the burgeoning growth in energy demand predicted for the future is met. To that end, he has just outlined stages of a strategy intended to enable comparisons to be made on “a level playing field” between different types of electricity generation as energy is increasingly likely to be supplied in the form of electricity. To do so, in his view, it is essential that a market price for the release of a tonne of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere is determined.

    I have two great reservations about such a process. First, if the price is to cover all the costs incurred then, for instance, the real costs of large scale migration of vast populations fleeing the regions that will be rendered uninhabitable by climate change caused by the increase in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere (with more than 100 years continuous impacts) would have to be included. I fail to see how that could be realistically established, let alone its moral implications being acceptable.

    Second, we know that we have already passed the stage that would have allowed us to reverse the process of global climate change – just consider the melting of the Arctic ice cap. That market price for the tonne of CO2 emissions, insofar as it could be determined, would have to rise exponentially owing to the planet’s non-negotiable capacity to safely absorb further emissions. Yet the market requires a fixed price to enable decisions affecting the future to be made.