Posted on February 27th, 2014 No comments
I was at a very interesting meeting this morning, entitled “Next Steps for Carbon Capture and Storage in the UK”, hosted by the Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport Forum :-
During the proceedings, there were liberal doses of hints at that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is about to freeze the Carbon Price Floor – the central functioning carbon pricing policy in the UK (since the EU Emissions Trading Scheme “isn’t working”).
All of the more expensive low carbon energy technologies rely on a progressively heavier price for carbon emissions to make their solutions more attractive.
Where does this leave the prospects for Carbon Capture and Storage in the 2030s ? Initial technology-launching subsidies will have been dropped, and the Contracts for Difference will have been ground down into obscurity. So how will CCS keep afloat ? It’s always going to remain more expensive than other technology options to prevent atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions, so it needs some prop.
What CCS needs is some Added Value. It will come partly from EOR – Enhanced Oil Recovery, as pumping carbon dioxide down depleting oil and gas fields will help stimulate a few percent of extra production.
But what will really make the difference is using carbon dioxide to make new fuel. That’s the wonder of Renewable Gas – it will be able to provide a valued product for capturing carbon dioxide.
This wasn’t talked about this morning. The paradigm is still “filter out the CO2 and flush it down a hole”. But it won’t stay that way forever. Sooner or later, somebody’s going to start mining carbon dioxide from CCS projects to make new chemicals and gas fuels. Then, who cares if there’s negative charging for emissions ? Or at what price ? The return on investment in carbon capture will simply bypass assumptions about needing to create a carbon market or set a carbon tax.Academic Freedom, Alchemical, Assets not Liabilities, British Biogas, Carbon Capture, Carbon Commodities, Carbon Pricing, Carbon Recycling, Carbon Taxatious, Corporate Pressure, Cost Effective, Design Matters, Direction of Travel, Dreamworld Economics, Efficiency is King, Emissions Impossible, Energy Revival, Engineering Marvel, Fossilised Fuels, Gamechanger, Gas Storage, Geogingerneering, Green Investment, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Low Carbon Life, National Energy, National Power, Nudge & Budge, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Emissions, Price Control, Realistic Models, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Gas
Posted on February 24th, 2014 No comments
Here is further email exchange with Professor Richard Sears, following on from a previous web log post.
From: Richard A. Sears
Date: 24 February 2014
To: Jo Abbess
Subject: Question from your TED talk
I was looking back over older emails and saw that I had never responded to your note. It arrived as I was headed to MIT to teach for a week and then it got lost. Sorry about that.
Some interesting questions. I don’t know anybody working specifically on wind power to gas options. At one time Shell had a project in Iceland using geothermal to make hydrogen. Don’t know what its status is but if you search on hydrogen and Iceland on the Shell website I’m sure there’s something. If the Germans have power to gas as a real policy option I’d poke around the web for information on who their research partners are for this.
Here are a couple of high level thoughts. Not to discourage you because real progress comes from asking new questions, but there are some physical fundamentals that are important.
Direct air capture of anything using current technology is prohibitively expensive to do at scale for energy. More energy will be expended in capture and synthesis than the fuels would yield.
Gaseous fuels are problematic on their own. Gas doesn’t travel well and is difficult to contain at high energy densities as that means compressing or liquefying it. That doesn’t make anything impossible, but it raises many questions about infrastructure and energy balance. If we take the energy content of a barrel of oil as 1.0, then a barrel of liquefied natural gas is about 0.6, compressed natural gas which is typically at about 3600psi is around 0.3, and a barrel (as a measure of volume equal to 42 US gallons) of natural gas at room temperature and pressure is about 0.0015 (+/-). Also there’s a real challenge in storing and transporting gasses as fuel at scale, particularly motor fuel to replace gasoline and diesel.
While there is some spare wind power potential that doesn’t get utilized because of how the grid must be managed, I expect it is a modest amount of energy compared to what we use today in liquid fuels. I think what that means is that while possible, it’s more likely to happen in niche local markets and applications rather than at national or global scales.
If you haven’t seen it, a nice reference on the potential of various forms of sustainable energy is available free and online here. http://www.withouthotair.com/
Hope some of this helps.
Richard A. Sears
Department of Energy Resources Engineering
From: Jo Abbess
Date: 24 February 2014
To: Richard A. Sears
Many thanks for getting back to me. Responses are nice – even if they
are months late. As they say – better late than never, although with
climate change, late action will definitely be unwise, according to an
increasing number of people.
I have indeed seen the website, and bought and spilled coffee on the
book of Professor David MacKay’s “Sustainable Energy Without The Hot
Air” project. It is legendary. However, I have checked and he has only
covered alternative gas in a couple of paragraphs – in notes. By
contrast, he spent a long chapter discussing how to filter uranium out
of seawater and other nuclear pursuits.
Yet as a colleague of mine, who knows David better than I do, said to
me this morning, his fascination with nuclear power is rather naive,
and his belief in the success of Generation III and Generation IV
lacks evidence. Plus, if we get several large carbon dioxide
sequestration projects working in the UK – Carbon Capture and Storage
(CCS) – such as the Drax pipeline (which other companies will also
join) and the Shell Peterhead demonstration, announced today, then we
won’t need new nuclear power to meet our 4th Carbon Budget – and maybe
not even the 5th, either (to be negotiated in 2016, I hear) :-
We don’t need to bury this carbon, however; we just need to recycle
it. And the number of ways to make Renewable Hydrogen, and
energy-efficiently methanate carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide with
hydrogen, is increasing. People are already making calculations on how
much “curtailed” or spare wind power is likely to be available for
making gas in 10 years’ time, and if solar power in the UK is
cranked/ramped up, then there will be lots of juicy cost-free power
ours for the taking – especially during summer nights.
Direct Air Capture of carbon dioxide is a nonsensical proposition.
Besides being wrong in terms of the arrow of entropy, it also has the
knock-on effect of causing carbon dioxide to come back out of the
ocean to re-equilibrate. I recently read a paper by climate scientists
that estimated that whatever carbon dioxide you take out of the air,
you will need to do almost all of it again.
Instead of uranium, we should be harvesting carbon dioxide from the
oceans, and using it to make gaseous and liquid fuels.
Gaseous fuels and electricity complement each other very well -
particularly in storage and grid balancing terms – there are many
provisions for the twins of gas and power in standards, laws, policies
and elsewhere. Regardless of the limitations of gas, there is a huge
infrastructure already in place that can store, pipe and use it, plus
it is multi-functional – you can make power, heat, other fuels and
chemicals from gas. In addition, you can make gas from a range of
resources and feedstocks and processing streams – the key quartet of
chemical gas species keep turning up : hydrogen, methane, carbon
monoxide and carbon dioxide – whether you are looking at the exhaust
from combustion, Natural Gas, industrial furnace producer gas,
biological decomposition, just about everywhere – the same four gases.
Energy transition must include large amounts of renewable electricity
- because wind and solar power are quick to build yet long nuclear
power lead times might get extended in poor economic conditions. The
sun does not always shine and the wind does not always blow (and the
tide is not always in high flux). Since demand profiles will never be
able to match supply profiles exactly, there will always be spare
power capacity that grids cannot use. So Power to Gas becomes the
optimal solution. At least until there are ways to produce Renewable
Hydrogen at plants that use process heat from other parts of the
Renewable Gas toolkit. So the aims are to recycle carbon dioxide from
gas combustion to make more gas, and recycle gas production process
heat to make hydrogen to use in the gas production process, and make
the whole lot as thermally balanced as possible. Yes. We can do that.
Lower the inputs of fresh carbon of any form, and lower the energy
requirements to make manufactured gas.
I met somebody working with Jacobs who was involved in the Carbon
Recycling project in Iceland. Intriguing, but an order of magnitude
smaller than I think is possible.
ITM Power in the UK are doing a Hydrogen-to-gas-grid and methanation
project in Germany with one of the regions. They have done several
projects with Kiwa and Shell on gas options in Europe. I know of the
existence of feasibility reports on the production of synthetic
methane, but I have not had the opportunity to read them yet…
I feel quite encouraged that Renewable Gas is already happening. It’s
a bit patchy, but it’s inevitable, because the narrative of
unconventional fossil fuels has many flaws. I have been looking at
issues with reserves growth and unconventionals are not really
commensurate with conventional resources. There may be a lot of shale
gas in the ground, but getting it out could be a long process, so
production volumes might never be very good. In the USA you’ve had
lots of shale gas – but that’s only been supported by massive drilling
programmes – is this sustainable ?
BP have just finished building lots of dollars of kit at Whiting to
process sour Natural Gas. If they had installed Renewable Gas kit
instead of the usual acid gas and sulfur processing, they could have
been preparing for the future. As I understand it, it is possible to
methanate carbon dioxide without first removing it from the rest of
the gas it comes in – so methanating sour gas to uprate it is a viable
option as far as I can see. The hydrogen sulfide would still need to
be washed out, but the carbon dioxide needn’t be wasted – it can be
made part of the fuel. And when the sour gas eventually thins out,
those now methanating sour gas can instead start manufacturing gas
from low carbon emissions feedstocks and recycled carbon.
I’m thinking very big.
jo.Academic Freedom, Assets not Liabilities, Baseload is History, Carbon Capture, Carbon Commodities, Carbon Recycling, Climate Change, Climate Damages, Corporate Pressure, Design Matters, Energy Crunch, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Engineering Marvel, Feel Gooder, Gamechanger, Gas Storage, Geogingerneering, Green Power, Hydrogen Economy, Low Carbon Life, Major Shift, Marine Gas, Marvellous Wonderful, Methane Management, Military Invention, National Energy, Nuclear Nuisance, Nuclear Shambles, Optimistic Generation, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Natural Gas, Realistic Models, Renewable Gas, Renewable Resource, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, Stirring Stuff, Technofix, The Power of Intention, The Price of Gas, The Right Chemistry, Transport of Delight, Unconventional Foul, Wasted Resource, Western Hedge, Wind of Fortune, Zero Net
Posted on January 23rd, 2014 No comments
Dr Paul Elsner of Birkbeck College at the University of London gave up some of his valuable time for me today at his little bijou garret-style office in Bloomsbury in Central London, with an excellent, redeeming view of the British Telecom Tower. Leader of the Energy and Climate Change module on Birkbeck’s Climate Change Management programme, he offered me tea and topical information on Renewable Energy, and some advice on discipline in authorship.
He unpacked the recent whirlwind of optimism surrounding the exploitation of Shale Gas and Shale Oil, and how Climate Change policy is perhaps taking a step back. He said that we have to accept that this is the way the world is at the moment.
I indicated that I don’t have much confidence in the “Shale Bubble”. I consider it mostly as a public relations exercise – and that there are special conditions in the United States of America where all this propaganda comes from. I said that there are several factors that mean the progress with low carbon fuels continues to be essential, and that Renewable Gas is likely to be key.
1. First of all, the major energy companies, the oil and gas companies, are not in a healthy financial state to make huge investment. For example, BP has just had the legal ruling that there will be no limit to the amount of compensation claims they will have to face over the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Royal Dutch Shell meanwhile has just had a serious quarterly profit warning – and if that is mostly due to constrained sales (“Peak Oil Demand”) because of economic collapse, that doesn’t help them with the kind of aggressive “discovery” they need to continue with to keep up their Reserves to Production ratio (the amount of proven resources they have on their books). These are not the only problems being faced in the industry. This problem with future anticipated capitalisation means that Big Oil and Gas cannot possibly look at major transitions into Renewable Electricity, so it would be pointless to ask, or try to construct a Carbon Market to force it to happen.
2. Secondly, despite claims of large reserves of Shale Gas and Shale Oil, ripe for the exploitation of, even major bodies are not anticipating that Peak Oil and Peak Natural Gas will be delayed by many years by the “Shale Gale”. The reservoir characteristics of unconventional fossil fuel fields do not mature in the same way as conventional ones. This means that depletion scenarios for fossil fuels are still as relevant to consider as the decades prior to horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).
3. Thirdly, the reservoir characteristics of conventional fossil fuel fields yet to exploit, especially in terms of chemical composition, are drifting towards increasingly “sour” conditions – with sigificant levels of hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide in them. The sulphur must be removed for a variety of reasons, but the carbon dioxide remains an issue. The answer until recently from policy people would have been Carbon Capture and Storage or CCS. Carbon dioxide should be washed from acid Natural Gas and sequestered under the ocean in salt caverns that previously held fossil hydrocarbons. It was hoped that Carbon Markets and other forms of carbon pricing would have assisted with the payment for CCS. However, recently there has been reduced confidence that this will be significant.
Renewable Gas is an answer to all three of these issues. It can easily be pursued by the big players in the current energy provision system, with far less investment than wholesale change would demand. It can address concerns of gas resource depletion at a global scale, the onset of which could occur within 20 to 25 years. And it can be deployed to bring poor conventional fossil fuels into consideration for exploitation in the current time – answering regional gas resource depletion.
Outside, daffodils were blooming in Tavistock Square. In January, yes. The “freaky” weather continues…Academic Freedom, Assets not Liabilities, Be Prepared, Big Picture, British Biogas, Carbon Capture, Carbon Commodities, Carbon Pricing, Carbon Taxatious, Change Management, Climate Change, Corporate Pressure, Cost Effective, Design Matters, Direction of Travel, Energy Autonomy, Energy Change, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Environmental Howzat, Extreme Energy, Extreme Weather, Fossilised Fuels, Fuel Poverty, Gamechanger, Green Investment, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Low Carbon Life, Major Shift, National Energy, Nudge & Budge, Optimistic Generation, Orwells, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Emissions, Peak Energy, Peak Natural Gas, Peak Oil, Price Control, Public Relations, Pure Hollywood, Realistic Models, Renewable Gas, Renewable Resource, Resource Wards, Shale Game, Solution City, Sustainable Deferment, Technofix, Technological Sideshow, The Price of Gas, The Price of Oil, Unconventional Foul, Unnatural Gas, Wasted Resource, Western Hedge
Posted on January 20th, 2014 No comments
A normal, everyday Monday morning at Energy Geek Central. Yes, this is a normal conversation for me to take part in on a Monday morning. Energy geekery at breakfast. Perfect.
Nuclear Flower Power
This whole UK Government nuclear power programme plan is ridiculous ! 75 gigawatts (GW) of Generation III nuclear fission reactors ? What are they thinking ? Britain would need to rapidly ramp up its construction capabilities, and that’s not going to happen, even with the help of the Chinese. (And the Americans are not going to take too kindly to the idea of China getting strongly involved with British energy). And then, we’d need to secure almost a quarter of the world’s remaining reserves of uranium, which hasn’t actually been dug up yet. And to cap it all, we’d need to have 10 more geological disposal repositories for the resulting radioactive spent fuel, and we haven’t even managed to negotiate one yet. That is, unless we can burn a good part of that spent fuel in Generation IV nuclear fission reactors – which haven’t even been properly demonstrated yet ! Talk about unconscionable risk !
Baseload Should Be History By Now, But…
Whatever the technological capability for nuclear power plants to “load follow” and reduce their output in response to a chance in electricity demand, Generation III reactors would not be run as anything except “baseload” – constantly on, and constantly producing a constant amount of power – although they might turn them off in summer for maintenance. You see, the cost of a Generation III reactor and generation kit is in the initial build – so their investors are not going to permit them to run them at low load factors – even if they could.
There are risks to running a nuclear power plant at partial load – mostly to do with potential damage to the actual electricity generation equipment. But what are the technology risks that Hinkley Point C gets built, and all that capital is committed, and then it only runs for a couple of years until all that high burn up fuel crumbles and the reactors start leaking plutonium and they have to shut it down permanently ? Who can guarantee it’s a sound bet ?
If they actually work, running Generation III reactors at constant output as “baseload” will also completely mess with the power market. In all of the scenarios, high nuclear, high non-nuclear, or high fossil fuels with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), there will always need to be some renewables in the mix. In all probability this will be rapidly deployed, highly technologically advanced solar power photovoltaics (PV). The amount of solar power that will be generated will be high in summer, but since you have a significant change in energy demand between summer and winter, you’re going to have a massive excess of electricity generation in summer if you add nuclear baseload to solar. Relative to the demand for energy, you’re going to get more Renewable Energy excess in summer and under-supply in winter (even though you get more offshore wind in winter), so it’s critical how you mix those two into your scenario.
The UK Government’s maximum 75 GW nuclear scenario comprises 55 GW Generation III and 20 GW Generation IV. They could have said 40 GW Gen III to feed Gen IV – the spent fuel from Gen III is needed to kick off Gen IV. Although, if LFTR took off, if they had enough fluoride materials there could be a Thorium way into Gen IV… but this is all so technical, no MP [ Member of Parliament ] is going to get their head round this before 2050.
The UK Government are saying that 16 GW of nuclear by 2030 should be seen as a first tranche, and that it could double or triple by 2040 – that’s one heck of a deployment rate ! If they think they can get 16 GW by 2030 – then triple that by 10 years later ? It’s not going to happen. And even 30 GW would be horrific. But it’s probably more plausible – if they can get 16 GW by 2030, they can arguably get double that by 2040.
As a rule of thumb, you would need around 10 tonnes of fissionable fuel to kickstart a Gen IV reactor. They’ve got 106 tonnes of Plutonium, plus 3 or 4 tonnes they recently acquired – from France or Germany (I forget which). So they could start 11 GW of Gen IV – possibly the PRISM – the Hitachi thing – sodium-cooled. They’ve been trying them since the Year Dot – these Fast Reactors – the Breeders – Dounreay. People are expressing more confidence in them now – “Pandora’s Promise” hangs around the narrative that the Clinton administration stopped research into Fast Reactors – Oak Ridge couldn’t be commercial. Throwing sodium around a core 80 times hotter than current core heats – you can’t throw water at it easily. You need something that can carry more heat out. It’s a high technological risk. But then get some French notable nuclear person saying Gen IV technologies – “they’re on the way and they can be done”.
Radioactive Waste Disposal Woes
The point being is – if you’re commissioning 30 GW of Gen III in the belief that Gen IV will be developed – then you are setting yourself up to be a hostage to technological fortune. That is a real ethical consideration. Because if you can’t burn the waste fuel from Gen III, you’re left with up to 10 radioactive waste repositories required when you can’t even get one at the moment. The default position is that radioactive spent nuclear fuel will be left at the power stations where they’re created. Typically, nuclear power plants are built on the coast as they need a lot of cooling water. If you are going for 30 GW you will need a load of new sites – possibly somewhere round the South East of England. This is where climate change comes in – rising sea levels, increased storm surge, dissolving, sinking, washed-away beaches, more extreme storms [...] The default spent fuel scenario with numerous coastal decommissioned sites with radioactive interim stores which contain nearly half the current legacy radioactive waste [...]
Based on the figures from the new Greenpeace report, I calculate that the added radioactive waste and radioactive spent fuel arisings from a programme of 16 GW of nuclear new build would be 244 million Terabequerel (TBq), compared to the legacy level of 87 million TBq.
The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) are due to publish their Radioactive Waste Inventory and their Report on Radioactive Materials not in the Waste Inventory at the end of January 2014. We need to keep a watch out for that, because they may have adapted their anticipated Minimum and Maxmium Derived Inventory.
Politics Is Living In The Past
What you hear from politicians is they’re still talking about “baseload”, as if they’ve just found the Holy Grail of Energy Policy. And failed nuclear power. Then tidal. And barrages. This is all in the past. Stuff they’ve either read – in an article in a magazine at the dentist’s surgery waiting room, and they think, alright I’ll use that in a TV programme I’ve been invited to speak on, like Question Time. I think that perhaps, to change the direction of the argument, we might need to rubbish their contribution. A technological society needs to be talking about gasification, catalysis. If you regard yourselves as educated, and have a technological society – your way of living in the future is not only in manufacturing but also ideas – you need to be talking about this not that : low carbon gas fuels, not nuclear power. Ministers and senior civil servants probably suffer from poor briefing – or no briefing. They are relying on what is literally hearsay – informal discussions, or journalists effectively representing industrial interests. Newspapers are full of rubbish and it circulates, like gyres in the oceans. Just circulates around and around – full of rubbish.
I think part of the problem is that the politicians and chief civil servants and ministers are briefed by the “Old Guard” – very often the ex-nuclear power industry guard. They still believe in big construction projects, with long lead times and massive capital investment, whereas Renewable Electricity is racing ahead, piecemeal, and private investors are desperate to get their money into wind power and solar power because the returns are almost immediate and risk-free.
Together in Electric Dreams
Question : Why are the UK Government ploughing on with plans for so much nuclear power ?
1. They believe that a lot of transport and heat can be made to go electric.
2. They think they can use spent nuclear fuel in new reactors.
3. They think it will be cheaper than everything else.
4. They say it’s vital for UK Energy Security – for emissions reductions, for cost, and for baseload. The big three – always the stated aim of energy policy, and they think nuclear ticks all those three boxes. But it doesn’t.
What they’ll say is, yes, you have to import uranium, but you’ve got a 4 year stock. Any war you’re going to get yourselves involved in you can probably resolve in 4 days, or 4 weeks. If you go for a very high nuclear scenario, you would be taking quite a big share of the global resource of uranium. There’s 2,600 TWh of nuclear being produced globally. And global final energy demand is around 100,000 TWh – so nuclear power currently produces around 2.6% of global energy supply. At current rates of nuclear generation, according to the World Nuclear Association, you’ve got around 80 years of proven reserves and probably a bit more. Let’s say you double nuclear output by 2050 or 2040 – but in the same time you might just have enough uranium – and then find a bit more. But global energy demand rises significantly as well – so nuclear will still only provide around 3% of global energy demand. That’s not a climate solution – it’s just an energy distraction. All this guff about fusion. Well.
Cornering The Market In Undug Uranium
A 75 GW programme would produce at baseload 590 TWh a year – divide by 2,600 – is about 23% of proven global uranium reserves. You’re having to import, regardless of what other countries are doing, you’re trying to corner the market – roughly a quarter. Not even a quarter of the market – a quarter of all known reserves – it’s not all been produced yet. It’s still in the ground. So could you be sure that you could actually run these power stations if you build them ? Without global domination of the New British Empire [...]. The security issues alone – defending coastal targets from a tweeb with a desire to blow them up. 50 years down the line they’re full of radioactive spent fuel that won’t have a repository to go to – we don’t want one here – and how much is it going to cost ?
My view is that offshore wind will be a major contributor in a high or 100% Renewable Electricity scenario by 2050 or 2060. Maybe 180 GW, that will also be around 600 TWh a year – comparable to that maximum nuclear programme. DECC’s final energy demand 2050 – several scenarios – final energy demand from 6 scenarios came out as between roughly 1,500 TWh a year and the maximum 2,500 TWh. Broadly speaking, if you’re trying to do that just with Renewable Electricity, you begin to struggle quite honestly, unless you’re doing over 600 TWh of offshore wind, and even then you need a fair amount of heat pump stuff which I’m not sure will come through. The good news is that solar might – because of the cost and technology breakthroughs. That brings with it a problem – because you’re delivering a lot of that energy in summer. The other point – David MacKay would say – in his book his estimate was 150 TWh from solar by 2050, on the grounds that that’s where you south-facing roofs are – you need to use higher efficiency triple junction cells with more than 40% efficiency and this would be too expensive for a rollout which would double or triple that 150 TWh – that would be too costly – because those cells are too costly. But with this new stuff, you might get that. Not only the cost goes down, but the coverage goes down. Not doing solar across swathes of countryside. There have always been two issues with solar power – cost and where it’s being deployed.
Uh-Oh, Summer Days. Uh-Oh, Summer Nights
With the solar-wind headline, summer days and summer nights are an issue.
With the nuclear headline, 2040 – they would have up to 50 GW, and that would need to run at somewhere between 75% and 95% capacity – to protect the investment and electric generation turbines.
It will be interesting to provide some figures – this is how much over-capacity you’re likely to get with this amount of offshore wind. But if you have this amount of nuclear power, you’ll get this amount [...]
Energy demand is strongly variable with season. We have to consider not just power, but heat – you need to get that energy out in winter – up to 4 times as much during peak in winter evenings. How are you going to do that ? You need gas – or you need extensive Combined Heat and Power (CHP) (which needs gas). Or you need an unimaginable deployment of domestic heat pumps. Air source heat pumps won’t work at the time you need them most. Ground source heat pumps would require the digging up of Britain – and you can’t do that in most urban settings.
District Heat Fields
The other way to get heat out to everyone in a low carbon world – apart from low carbon gas – is having a field-based ground source heat pump scheme – just dig up a field next to a city – and just put in pipes and boreholes in a field. You’re not disturbing anybody. You could even grow crops on it next season. Low cost and large scale – but would need a District Heating (DH) network. There are one or two heat pump schemes around the world. Not sure if they are used for cooling in summer or heat extraction in the winter. The other thing is hot water underground. Put in an extra pipe in the normal channels to domestic dwellings. Any excess heat from power generation or electrolysis or whatever is put down this loop and heats the sub-ground. Because heat travels about 1 metre a month in soil, that heat should be retained for winter. A ground source heat sink. Geothermal energy could come through – they’re doing a scheme in Manchester. If there’s a nearby heat district network – it makes it easier. Just want to tee it into the nearest DH system. The urban heat demand is 150 TWh a year. You might be able to put DH out to suburban areas as well. There are 9 million gas-connected suburban homes – another about 150 TWh there as well – or a bit more maybe. Might get to dispose of 300 TWh in heat through DH. The Green Deal insulation gains might not be what is claimed – and condensing gas boiler efficiencies are not that great – which feeds into the argument that in terms of energy efficiency, you not only want to do insulation, but also DH – or low carbon gas. Which is the most cost-effective ? Could argue reasonable energy efficiency measures are cheapest – but DH might be a better bet. That involves a lot of digging.
Gas Is The Logical Answer
But everything’s already laid for gas. (…but from the greatest efficiency first perspective, if you’re not doing DH, you’re not using a lot of Renewable Heat you could otherwise use [...] )
The best package would be the use of low carbon gases and sufficient DH to use Renewable Heat where it is available – such as desalination, electrolysis or other energy plant. It depends where the electrolysis is being done.
The Age of Your Carbon
It also depends on which carbon atoms you’re using. If you are recycling carbon from the combustion of fossil fuels into Renewable Gas, that’s OK. But you can’t easily recapture carbon emissions from the built environment (although you could effectively do that with heat storage). You can’t do carbon capture from transport either. So your low carbon gas has to come from biogenic molecules. Your Renewable Gas has to be synthesised using biogenic carbon molecules rather than fossil ones.
[...] I’m using the phrase “Young Carbon”. Young Carbon doesn’t have to be from plants – biological things that grow.
Well, there’s Direct Air Capture (DAC). It’s simple. David Sevier, London-based, is working on this. He’s using heat to capture carbon dioxide. You could do it from exhaust in a chimney or a gasification process – or force a load of air through a space. He would use heat and cooling to create an updraft. It would enable the “beyond capture” problem to be circumvented. Cost is non-competitive. Can be done technically. Using reject heat from power stations for the energy to do it. People don’t realise you can use a lot of heat to capture carbon, not electricity.
Young Carbon from Seawater
If you’re playing around with large amounts of seawater anyway – that is, for desalination for irrigation, why not also do Renewable Hydrogen, and pluck the Carbon Dioxide out of there too to react with the Renewable Hydrogen to make Renewable Methane ? I’m talking about very large amounts of seawater. Not “Seawater Greenhouses” – condensation designs mainly for growing exotic food. If you want large amounts of desalinated water – and you’re using Concentrated Solar Power – for irrigating deserts – you would want to grow things like cacti for biological carbon.
Say you had 40 GW of wind power on Dogger Bank, spinning at 40% load factor a year. You’ve also got electrolysers there. Any time you’re not powering the grid, you’re making gas – so capturing carbon dioxide from seawater, splitting water for hydrogen, making methane gas. Wouldn’t you want to use flash desalination first to get cleaner water for electrolysis ? Straight seawater electrolysis is also being done.
It depends on the relative quantities of gas concentrated in the seawater. If you’ve got oxygen, hydrogen and carbon dioxide, that would be nice. You might get loads of oxygen and hydrogen, and only poor quantities of carbon dioxide ?
But if you could get hydrogen production going from spare wind power. And even if you had to pipe the carbon dioxide from conventional thermal power plants, you’re starting to look at a sea-based solution for gas production. Using seawater, though, chlorine is the problem [...]
Look at the relative density of molecules – that sort of calculation that will show if this is going to fly. Carbon dioxide is a very fixed, stable molecule – it’s at about the bottom of the energy potential well – you have to get that reaction energy from somewhere.
How Much Spare Power Will There Be ?
If you’ve got an offshore wind and solar system. At night, obviously, the solar’s not working (unless new cells are built that can run on infrared night-time Earthshine). But you could still have 100 GWh of wind power at night not used for the power grid. The anticipated new nuclear 40 GW nuclear by 2030 will produce about 140 GWh – this would just complicate problems – adding baseload nuclear to a renewables-inclusive scenario. 40 GW is arguably a reasonable deployment of wind power by 2030 – low if anything.
You get less wind in a nuclear-inclusive scenario, but the upshot is you’ve definitely got a lot of power to deal with on a summer night with nuclear power. You do have with Renewable Electricity as well, but it varies more. Whichever route we take we’re likely to end up with excess electricity generation on summer nights.
In a 70 GW wind power deployment (50 GW offshore, 20 GW onshore – 160 TWh a year), you might have something like 50 to 100 GWh per night of excess (might get up to 150 GWh to store on a windy night). But if you have a 16 GW nuclear deployment by 2030 (125 TWh a year), you are definitely going to have 140 GWh of excess per night (that’s 16 GW for 10 hours less a bit). Night time by the way is roughly between 9pm and 7am between peak demands.
We could be making a lot of Renewable Gas !
Can you build enough Renewable Gas or whatever to soak up this excess nuclear or wind power ?
The energy mix is likely to be in reality somewhere in between these two extremes of high nuclear or high wind.
But if you develop a lot of solar – so that it knocks out nuclear power – it will be the summer day excess that’s most significant. And that’s what Germany is experiencing now.
Choices, choices, choices
There is a big choice in fossil fuels which isn’t really talked about very often – whether the oil and gas industry should go for unconventional fossil fuels, or attempt to make use of the remaining conventional resources that have a lower quality. The unconventionals narrative – shale gas, coalbed methane, methane hydrates, deepwater gas, Arctic oil and gas, heavy oil, is running out of steam as it becomes clear that some of these choices are expensive, and environmentally damaging (besides their climate change impact). So the option will be making use of gas with high acid gas composition. And the technological solutions for this will be the same as needed to start major production of Renewable Gas.
But you still need to answer the balancing question. If you have a high nuclear power scenario, you need maybe 50 TWh a year of gas-fired power generation. If high Renewable Electricity, you will need something like 100 TWh of gas, so you need Carbon Capture and Storage – or low carbon gas.
Even then, the gas power plants could be running only 30% of the year, and so you will need capacity payments to make sure new flexible plants get built and stay available for use.
If you have a high nuclear scenario, coupled with gas, you can meet the carbon budget – but it will squeeze out Renewable Electricity. If high in renewables, you need Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) or Carbon Capture and Recycling into Renewable Gas, but this would rule out nuclear power. It depends which sector joins up with which.
Carbon Capture, Carbon Budget
Can the Drax power plant – with maybe one pipeline 24 inches in diameter, carrying away 20 megatonnes of carbon dioxide per year – can it meet the UK’s Carbon Budget target ?Acid Ocean, Assets not Liabilities, Baseload is History, Be Prepared, Big Number, Big Picture, Biofools, British Biogas, British Sea Power, Carbon Capture, Carbon Recycling, China Syndrome, Climate Change, Climate Chaos, Climate Damages, Coal Hell, Design Matters, Direction of Travel, Disturbing Trends, Efficiency is King, Electrificandum, Energy Autonomy, Energy Calculation, Energy Crunch, Energy Denial, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Engineering Marvel, Environmental Howzat, Extreme Energy, Extreme Weather, Fair Balance, Feel Gooder, Fossilised Fuels, Freshwater Stress, Gamechanger, Gas Storage, Green Investment, Green Power, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Hydrogen Economy, Insulation, Low Carbon Life, Major Shift, Marine Gas, Marvellous Wonderful, Methane Management, Military Invention, National Energy, National Power, Nuclear Nuisance, Nuclear Shambles, Optimistic Generation, Peak Emissions, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Realistic Models, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Gas, Resource Curse, Resource Wards, Shale Game, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, The Power of Intention, The Right Chemistry, Transport of Delight, Unconventional Foul, Ungreen Development, Unnatural Gas, Utter Futility, Vain Hope, Wind of Fortune
Posted on January 13th, 2014 No comments
It constantly amazes and intrigues me how human individuals operate in networks to formulate, clarify and standardise ideas, tools, machines, procedures and systems. Several decades ago, Renewable Electricity from sources such as wind power was considered idealistic vapourware, esoteric, unworkable and uncertain, and now it’s a mainstream generator of reliable electricity in the UK’s National Grid. Who would have thought that invisible, odourless, tasteless gas phase chemicals would heat our homes ? It’s now just so normal, it’s impossible to imagine that Natural Gas was once considered to be so insignificant that it was vented – not even flared – from oil wells.
Judging by the sheer number of people working on aspects of Renewable Gas, I expect this too to be mainstream in the energy sector within a decade. What do others think ? I have begun the process of asking, for example, see below.
from: Jo Abbess
to: Richard A. Sears
date: Mon, May 2, 2011 at 11:59 PM
subject: Question from your TED talk
Dear [Professor] Sears,
I was intrigued by your TED talk that I recently viewed :-
Yes, I am interested in the idea of “printing” solar cells, which is what I think you might be alluding to with your reference to abalone shells.
But I am more interested in what you base your estimate of “Peak Gas” on. I recently did some very basic modelling of hydrocarbon resources and electricity, which look somewhat different from the IEA and EIA work and reports from BP and Royal Dutch Shell. My conclusion was that Peak Oil is roughly now, Peak Natural Gas will be around 2030, and Peak Electricity around 2060 :-
I am going to try to improve these charts before I submit my MSc Masters Thesis, so I am trying to find out what other people base their projections on. Could you help me by pointing me at the basis of your assessment of Peak Natural Gas ?
from: Richard A. Sears
to: Jo Abbess
date: Thu, Oct 24, 2013 at 5:30 PM
I am just now finding a number of old emails that got archived (and ignored) when I moved from MIT to Stanford a few years ago. A quick answer is that I did about what Hubbert did in 1956. No detailed statistical modeling, just look at the trends, think about what’s happening in the industry, and make what seem like reasonable statements about it.
A number of interesting things have happened just in the last two years since you wrote to me. Significantly, US oil production is on the rise. When you count all hydrocarbon liquids, the US is or will soon be, the world largest producer. This just goes to one of my points from TED. Don’t expect oil and gas to go away any time soon. There are plenty of molecules out there. I first said this internally at Shell in the mid 1980′s when I was Manager of Exploration Economics and since then I’ve felt that I got it about right.
I did just look at your website and would caution you about extrapolating very recent trends into the future. The rate of growth in shale gas production has slowed, but there’s an important economic factor driving that. Gas prices in the US are very low compared to oil. With the development of fraccing technology to enable oil and liquids production from shale formations, the industry has shifted their effort to the liquids-rich plays. A few statistics. Gas is currently around $3.50/mcf. On an energy equivalent basis, this equates to an oil price of about $20/barrel. Brent currently sells for $110/barrel and the light oils produced from the shale plays in the US are getting between $90 and $100/barrel, depending on where they can be delivered. As a consequence, in the 3rd quarter of 2013, compared to one year ago, oil well completions are up 18% while natural gas well completions declined 30%.
Yes, you are right. Printing solar cells is an example of what I was talking about with Abalone shells. Similarly, what if you had paint that as it dried would self assemble into linked solar cells and your entire house is now generating electricity. I was totally amazed at the number of people that didn’t actually think about what I was saying and called me an !d!*t for imagining that I was going to transform coal itself into some magical new molecule. [...]
In any case, I think it’s good that you’re thinking about these problems, and importantly it appears from your website that you’re thinking about the system and its complexity.
Richard A. Sears
MIT Energy Initiative
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
from: Jo Abbess
to: Richard A Sears
sent: Monday, May 02, 2011 3:59 PM
Dear [Professor] Sears,
Many thanks for your reply.
I had kinda given up of ever hearing back from you, so it’s lovely to
read your thoughts.
May I blog them ?
from: Richard A Sears
date: Fri, Oct 25, 2013 at 5:03 PM
to: Jo Abbess
I have personally avoided blogging because I don’t want to put up with people writing mean comments about me. But the data is worth sharing. You should also know the sources of that data otherwise you open yourself to more criticism.
The data on production comes from the International Energy Agency and a research firm PIRA. All of it was in recent press releases. The Energy Information Administration makes similar projections about future production. The data on well completions was recently released by API.
No need to reference me. The data is out there for all to see. But if you do, fair warning. You will get stupid comments about how I used to be a VP at Shell so of course these are the things I’m going to say. [...]
By the way, there’s something else that’s very interesting in the world of peak oil and various peaks. I have long believed, as hinted in my TED talk that the most important aspect of peak oil is the demand driven phenomena, not the supply side. It’s worth noting in this context that US oil consumption peaked in 2005 and has declined about 10% since then. This data can be found easily in the BP Statistical Report on World Energy. This is real and is a result of economic shifts, greater efficiency, and the penetration of renewables. Future energy projections (references above) show that this trend continues. A big component of US energy consumption is gasoline, and US gasoline consumption peaked in 2007. I think that data can be found at http://www.eia.gov, although I haven’t looked for it lately. It’s a little factoid that I think I remember.
Richard A. Sears
Department of Energy Resources Engineering
from: Jo Abbess
to: Richard A Sears
date: Sun, Jan 12, 2014 at 11:47 AM
Dear Professor Sears,
HNY 2014 !
This year I am hoping to attempt the climb on my own personal K2 by writing an academic book on Renewable Gas – sustainable, low-to-zero carbon emissions gas phase fuels.
I am not a chemist, nor a chemical engineer, and so I would value any suggestions on who I should approach in the gas (and oil) industry to interview about projects that lean in this direction.
Examples would be :-
* Power-to-Gas : Using “spare” wind power to make Renewable Hydrogen – for example by electrolysis of water. Part of the German Power-to-Gas policy. Some hydrogen can be added to gas grids safely without changing regulations, pipework or end appliances.
* Methanation : Using Renewable Hydrogen and young or recycled carbon gas to make methane (using the energy from “spare” wind power, for example). Also part of the German Power-to-Gas policy.
NB “Young” carbon would be either carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide, and be sourced from biomass, Direct Air Capture, or from the ocean. “Old” carbon would come from the “deeper” geological carbon cycle, such as from fossil fuel, or industrial processes such as the manufacture of chemicals from minerals and/or rocks.
Precursors to Renewable Gas also interest me, as transitions are important – transitions from a totally fossil fuel-based gas system to a sustainable gas system. I have recently looked at some basic analysis on the chemistry of Natural Gas, and its refinery. It seems that methanation could be useful in making sour gas available as sweetened, as long as Renewable Hydrogen is developed for this purpose. It seems that there is a lot of sour gas in remaining reserves, and the kind of CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage) that would be required under emissions controls could make sour gas too expensive to use if it was just washed of acids.
I don’t think the future of energy will be completely electrified – it will take a very long time to roll out 100% Renewable Electricity and there will always be problems transitioning out of liquid fuels to electricity in vehicular transportation.
If you could suggest any names, organisations, university departments, companies, governance bodies that I should contact, or research papers that I should read, I would be highly grateful.
jo.Academic Freedom, Alchemical, Assets not Liabilities, Big Picture, Coal Hell, Conflict of Interest, Cost Effective, Design Matters, Direction of Travel, Electrificandum, Energy Change, Energy Crunch, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Engineering Marvel, Fossilised Fuels, Gamechanger, Geogingerneering, Green Power, Methane Management, National Energy, National Power, Optimistic Generation, Peak Energy, Peak Natural Gas, Peak Oil, Price Control, Realistic Models, Renewable Gas, Shale Game, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, The Data, The Power of Intention, The Price of Gas, The Price of Oil, The Right Chemistry, Western Hedge
Posted on January 1st, 2014 No comments
In the long view, some things are inevitable, and I don’t just mean death and taxes. Within the lifetime of children born today, there must be a complete transformation in energy. The future is renewable, and carefully deployed renewable energy systems can be reliable, sustainable and low cost, besides being low in carbon dioxide emissions to air. This climate safety response is also the answer to a degradation and decline in high quality mineral hydrocarbons – the so-called “fossil” fuels. Over the course of 2014 I shall be writing about Renewable Gas – sustainable, low emissions gas fuels made on the surface of the earth without recourse to mining for energy. Renewable Gas can store the energy from currently underused Renewable Electricity from major producers such as wind and solar farms, and help to balance out power we capture from the variable wind and sun. Key chemical players in these fuels : hydrogen, methane, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. Key chemistry : how to use hydrogen to recycle the carbon oxides to methane. How we get from here to there is incredibly important, and interestingly, methods and techniques for increasing the production volumes of Renewable Gas will be useful for the gradually fading fossil fuel industry. Much of the world’s remaining easily accessible Natural Gas is “sour” – laced with high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide. Hydrogen sulfide needs to be removed from the gas, but carbon dioxide can be recycled into methane, raising the quality of the gas. We can preserve the Arctic from fossil gas exploitation, and save ourselves from this economic burden and ecological risk, by employing relatively cheap ways to upgrade sour Natural Gas, from Iran, for example, while we are on the decades-long road of transitioning to Renewable Gas. The new burn is coming.Academic Freedom, Alchemical, Arctic Amplification, Assets not Liabilities, Baseload is History, Big Picture, Carbon Recycling, Climate Change, Cost Effective, Direction of Travel, Energy Autonomy, Energy Change, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Extreme Energy, Feel Gooder, Fossilised Fuels, Gamechanger, Gas Storage, Green Investment, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Hydrogen Economy, Insulation, Low Carbon Life, Major Shift, Marine Gas, Methane Management, Optimistic Generation, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Emissions, Peak Natural Gas, Price Control, Realistic Models, Renewable Gas, Renewable Resource, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, Stirring Stuff, The Power of Intention, The Price of Gas, The Right Chemistry, The Science of Communitagion, Unnatural Gas, Wind of Fortune
Posted on October 16th, 2013 No comments
I listened to an interesting mix of myth, mystery and magic on BBC Radio 4.
Myths included the notion that long-term, nuclear power would be cheap; that “alternative” energy technologies are expensive (well, nuclear power is, but true renewables are most certainly not); and the idea that burning biomass to create heat to create steam to turn turbines to generate electricity is an acceptably efficient use of biomass (it is not).
Biofuelwatch are hosting a public meeting on this very subject :-
“A Burning Issue – biomass and its impacts on forests and communities”
Tuesday, 29th October 2013, 7-9pm
Lumen Centre, London (close to St Pancras train station)
Lumen Centre, 88 Tavistock Place, London WC1H 9RS
Interesting hints in the interviews I thought pointed to the idea that maybe, just maybe, some electricity generation capacity should be wholly owned by the Government – since the country is paying for it one way or another. A socialist model for gas-fired generation capacity that’s used as backup to wind and solar power ? Now there’s an interesting idea…
“Mind the Gap”
Channel: BBC Radio 4
Series: Costing the Earth
Presenter: Tom Heap
First broadcast: Tuesday 15th October 2013
Programme Notes :
“Our energy needs are growing as our energy supply dwindles.
Renewables have not come online quickly enough and we are increasingly
reliant on expensive imported gas or cheap but dirty coal. Last year
the UK burnt 50% more coal than in previous years but this helped
reverse years of steadily declining carbon dioxide emissions. By 2015
6 coal fired power stations will close and the cost of burning coal
will increase hugely due to the introduction of the carbon price
floor. Shale gas and biomass have been suggested as quick and easy
solutions but are they really sustainable, or cheap?”
“Carbon Capture and Storage could make coal or gas cleaner and a new
study suggests that with CCS bio energy could even decrease global
warming. Yet CCS has stalled in the UK and the rest of Europe and the
debate about the green credentials of biomass is intensifying. So what
is really the best answer to Britain’s energy needs? Tom Heap
00:44 – 00:48
[ Channel anchor ]
Britain’s energy needs are top of the agenda in “Costing the Earth”…
[ Channel anchor ]
…this week on “Costing the Earth”, Tom Heap is asking if our
ambitions to go green are being lost to the more immediate fear of
blackouts and brownouts.
[ Music : Arcade Fire - "Neighbourhood 3 (Power Out)" ]
[ Tom Heap ]
Energy is suddenly big news – central to politics and the economy. The
countdown has started towards the imminent shutdown of many coal-fired
power stations, but the timetable to build their replacements has
It’ll cost a lot, we’ll have to pay, and the politicians are reluctant
to lay out the bill. But both the official regulator and industry are
warning that a crunch is coming.
So in this week’s “Costing the Earth”, we ask if the goal of clean,
green and affordable energy is being lost to a much darker reality.
[ Historical recordings ]
“The lights have started going out in the West Country : Bristol,
Exeter and Plymouth have all had their first power cuts this
“One of the biggest effects of the cuts was on traffic, because with
the traffic lights out of commission, major jams have built up,
particularly in the town centres. One of the oddest sights I saw is a
couple of ladies coming out of a hairdressers with towels around their
heads because the dryers weren’t working.”
“Television closes down at 10.30 [ pm ], and although the cinemas are
carrying on more or less normally, some London theatres have had to
“The various [ gas ] boards on both sides of the Pennines admit to
being taken by surprise with today’s cold spell which brought about
“And now the major scandal sweeping the front pages of the papers this
morning, the advertisement by the South Eastern Gas Board recommending
that to save fuel, couples should share their bath.”
[ Caller ]
“I shall write to my local gas board and say don’t do it in
Birmingham. It might be alright for the trendy South, but we don’t
want it in Birmingham.”
[ Tom Heap ]
That was 1974.
Some things have changed today – maybe a more liberal attitude to
sharing the tub. But some things remain the same – an absence of
coal-fired electricity – threatening a blackout.
Back then it was strikes by miners. Now it’s old age of the power
plants, combined with an EU Directive obliging them to cut their
sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions by 2016, or close.
Some coal burners are avoiding the switch off by substituting wood;
and mothballed gas stations are also on standby.
But Dieter Helm, Professor of Energy Policy at the University of
Oxford, now believes power cuts are likely.
[ Dieter Helm ]
Well, if we take the numbers produced by the key responsible bodies,
they predict that there’s a chance that by the winter of 2-15 [sic,
meaning 2015] 2-16 [sic, meaning 2016], the gap between the demand for
electricity and the supply could be as low as 2%.
And it turns out that those forecasts are based on extremely
optimistic assumptions about how far demand will fall in that period
(that the “Green Deal” will work, and so on) and that we won’t have
much economic growth.
So basically we are on course for a very serious energy crunch by the
winter of 2-15 [sic, meaning 2015] 2-16 [sic, meaning 2016], almost
regardless of what happens now, because nobody can build any power
stations between now and then.
It’s sort of one of those slow motion car crashes – you see the whole
symptoms of it, and people have been messing around reforming markets
and so on, without addressing what’s immediately in front of them.
[ Tom Heap ]
And that’s where you think we are now ?
[ Dieter Helm ]
I think there’s every risk of doing so.
Fortunately, the [ General ] Election is a year and a half away, and
there’s many opportunities for all the political parties to get real
about two things : get real about the energy crunch in 2-15 [sic,
meaning 2015] 2-16 [sic, meaning 2016] and how they’re going to handle
it; and get real about creating the incentives to decarbonise our
electricity system, and deal with the serious environmental and
security and competitive issues which our electricity system faces.
And this is a massive investment requirement [ in ] electricity : all
those old stations retiring [ originally built ] back from the 1970s -
they’re all going to be gone.
Most of the nuclear power stations are coming to the end of their lives.
We need a really big investment programme. And if you really want an
investment programme, you have to sit down and work out how you’re
going to incentivise people to do that building.
[ Tom Heap ]
If we want a new energy infrastructure based on renewables and
carbon-free alternatives, then now is the time to put those incentives
on the table.
The problem is that no-one seems to want to make the necessary
investment, least of all the “Big Six” energy companies, who are
already under pressure about high bills.
[ "Big Six" are : British Gas / Centrica, EdF Energy (Electricite
de France), E.On UK, RWE npower, Scottish Power and SSE ]
Sam Peacock of the energy company SSE [ Scottish and Southern Energy ]
gives the commercial proof of Dieter’s prediction.
If energy generators can’t make money out of generating energy,
they’ll be reluctant to do it.
[ Sam Peacock ]
Ofgem, the energy regulator, has looked at this in a lot of detail,
and said that around 2015, 2016, things start to get tighter. The
reason for this is European Directives, [ is [ a ] ] closing down some
of the old coal plants. And also the current poor economics around [
or surround [ -ing ] ] both existing plant and potential new plant.
So, at the moment it’s very, very difficult to make money out of a gas
plant, or invest in a new one. So this leads to there being, you know,
something of a crunch point around 2015, 2016, and Ofgem’s analysis
looks pretty sensible to us.
[ Tom Heap ]
And Sam Peacock lays the blame for this crisis firmly at the Government’s door.
[ Sam Peacock ]
The trilemma, as they call it – of decarbonisation, security of supply
and affordability – is being stretched, because the Government’s
moving us more towards cleaner technologies, which…which are more
However, if you were to take the costs of, you know, the extra costs
of developing these technologies off government [ sic, meaning
customer ] bills and into general taxation, you could knock about over
£100 off customer bills today, it’ll be bigger in the future, and you
can still get that much-needed investment going.
So, we think you can square the circle, but it’s going to take a
little bit of policy movement [ and ] it’s going to take shifting some
of those costs off customers and actually back where the policymakers
should be controlling them.
[ KLAXON ! Does he mean controlled energy prices ? That sounds a bit
centrally managed economy to me... ]
[ Tom Heap ]
No surprise that a power company would want to shift the pain of
rising energy costs from their bills to the tax bill.
But neither the Government nor the Opposition are actually proposing this.
Who pays the premium for expensve new energy sources is becoming like
a game of pass the toxic parcel.
[ Reference : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hot_potato_%28game%29 ]
I asked the [ UK Government Department of ] Energy and Climate Change
Secretary, Ed Davey, how much new money is required between now and
[ Ed Davey ]
About £110 billion – er, that’s critical to replace a lot of the coal
power stations that are closing, the nuclear power stations that are [
at the ] end of their lives, and replace a lot of the network which
has come to the end of its life, too.
So it’s a huge, massive investment task.
[ Tom Heap ]
So in the end we’re going to have to foot the bill for the £110 billion ?
[ Ed Davey ]
Yeah. Of course. That’s what happens now. People, in their bills that
they pay now, are paying for the network costs of investments made
several years, even several decades ago.
[ Yes - we're still paying through our national nose to dispose of
radioactive waste and decommission old nuclear reactors. The liability
of it all weighs heavily on the country's neck... ]
And there’s no escaping that – we’ve got to keep the lights on – we’ve
got to keep the country powered.
You have to look at both sides of the equation. If we’re helping
people make their homes more inefficient [ sic, meaning energy
efficient ], their product appliances more efficient, we’re doing
everything we possibly can to try to help the bills be kept down,
while we’re having to make these big investments to keep the lights
on, and to make sure that we don’t cook the planet, as you say.
[ Tom Heap ]
You mention the lights going out. There are predictions that we’re
headed towards just 2% of spare capacity in the system in a few years’
Are you worried about the dangers of, I don’t know, maybe not lights
going out for some people, but perhaps big energy users being told
when and when [ sic, meaning where ] they can’t use power in the
[ Ed Davey ]
Well, there’s no doubt that as the coal power stations come offline,
and the nuclear power plants, er, close, we’re going to have make sure
that new power plants are coming on to replace them.
And if we don’t, there will be a problem with energy security.
Now we’ve been working very hard over a long time now to make sure we
attract that investment. We’ve been working with Ofgem, the regulator;
with National Grid, and we’re…
[ Tom Heap ]
…Being [ or it's being ] tough. I don’t see companies racing to come
and fill in the gap here and those coal power plants are going off
[ Ed Davey ]
…we’re actually having record levels of energy investment in the country.
The problem was for 13 years under the last Government
[ same old, same old Coalition argument ] we saw low levels of investment
in energy, and we’re having to race to catch up, but fortunately we’re
winning that race. And we’re seeing, you know, billions of pounds
invested but we’ve still got to do more. We’re not there. I’m not
pretending we’re there yet. [ Are we there, yet ? ] But we do have the
policies in place.
So, Ofgem is currently consulting on a set of proposals which will
enable it to have reserve power to switch on at the peak if it’s
We’re, we’ve, bringing forward proposals in the Energy Bill for what’s
called a Capacity Market, so we can auction to get that extra capacity
So we’ve got the policies in place.
[ Tom Heap ]
Some of Ed Davey’s policies, not least the LibDem [ Liberal Democrat
Party ] U-turn on nuclear, have been guided by DECC [ Department of
Energy and Climate Change ] Chief Scientist David MacKay, author of
the influential book “Renewable Energy without the Hot Air” [ sic,
actually "Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air" ].
Does he think the lights will dim in the second half of this decade ?
[ David MacKay ]
I don’t think there’s going to be any problem maintaining the capacity
that we need. We just need to make clear where Electricity Market
Reform [ EMR, part of the Energy Bill ] is going, and the way in which
we will be maintaining capacity.
[ Tom Heap ]
But I don’t quite understand that, because it seems to me, you know,
some of those big coal-fired power stations are going to be going off.
What’s going to be coming in their place ?
[ David MacKay ]
Well, the biggest number of power stations that’s been built in the
last few years are gas power stations, and we just need a few more gas
power stations like that, to replace the coal, and hopefully some
nuclear power stations will be coming on the bars, as well as the wind
farms that are being built at the moment.
[ Tom Heap ]
And you’re happy with that increase in gas-fired power stations, are
you ? I mean, you do care deeply, personally, about reducing our
greenhouse gases, and yet you’re saying we’re going to have to build
more gas-fired power stations.
[ David MacKay ]
I do. Even in many of the pathways that reach the 2050 target, there’s
still a role for gas in the long-term, because some power sources like
wind and solar power are intermittent, so if you want to be keeping
the lights on in 2050 when there’s no wind and there’s no sun, you’re
going to need some gas power stations there. Maybe not operating so
much of the time as they do today, but there’ll still be a role in
keeping the lights on.
[ KLAXON ! If gas plants are used only for peak periods or for backup to
renewables, then the carbon emissions will be much less than if they are
running all the time. ]
[ Tom Heap ]
Many energy experts though doubt that enough new wind power or nuclear
capacity could be built fast enough to affect the sums in a big way by
But that isn’t the only critical date looming over our energy system.
Even more challenging, though more distant, is the legally binding
objective of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in 2050.
David MacKay wants that certainty to provide the foundation for energy
decisions, and he showed me the effect of different choices with the
“Ultimate Future Energy App”. I was in his office, but anyone can try it online.
[ David MacKay ]
It’s a 2050 calculator. It computes energy demand and supply in
response to your choices, and it computes multiple consequences of
your choices. It computes carbon consequences. It also computes for
you estimates of air quality, consequences of different choices;
security of supply, consequences; and the costs of your choices.
So with this 2050 calculator, it’s an open source tool, and anyone can
go on the web and use the levers to imagine different futures in 2050
of how much action we’ve taken in different demand sectors and in
different supply sectors.
The calculator has many visualisations of the pathway that you’re choosing
and helps people understand all the trade-offs… There’s no silver
bullet for any of this. If I dial up a pathway someone made earlier,
we can visualise the implications in terms of the area occupied for
the onshore wind farms, and the area in the sea for the offshore wind
farms, and the length of the wave farms that you’ve built, and the
land area required for energy crops.
And many organisations have used this tool and some of them have given
us their preferred pathway. So you can see here the Friends of the
Earth have got their chosen pathway, the Campaign to Protect Rural
England, and various engineers like National Grid and Atkins have got
So you can see alternative ways of achieving our targets, of keeping
the lights on and taking climate change action. All of those pathways
all meet the 2050 target, but they do so with different mixes.
[ Tom Heap ]
And your view of this is you sort of can’t escape from the scientific
logic and rigour of it. You might wish things were different or you
could do it differently, but you’re sort of saying “Look, it’s either
one thing or the other”. That’s the point of this.
[ David MacKay ]
That’s true. You can’t be anti-everything. You can’t be anti-wind and
anti-nuclear and anti-home insulation. You won’t end up with a plan
that adds up.
[ KLAXON ! But you can be rationally against one or two things, like
expensive new nuclear power, and carbon and particulate emissions-heavy
biomass for the generation of electricity. ]
[ Tom Heap ]
But isn’t that exactly kind of the problem that we’ve had, without
pointing political fingers, that people rather have been
anti-everything, and that’s why we’re sort of not producing enough new
energy sources ?
[ David MacKay ]
Yeah. The majority of the British public I think are in favour of many
of these sources, but there are strong minorities who are vocally
opposed to every one of the major levers in this calculator. So one
aspiration I have for this tool is it may help those people come to a
position where they have a view that’s actually consistent with the
goal of keeping the lights on.
[ Tom Heap ]
Professor MacKay’s calculator also computes pounds and pence,
suggesting that both high and low carbon electricity work out pricey
in the end.
[ David MacKay ]
The total costs of all the pathways are pretty much the same.
“Business as Usual” is cheaper in the early years, and then pays more,
because on the “Business as Usual”, you carry on using fossil fuels,
and the prices of those fossil fuels are probably going to go up.
All of the pathways that take climate change action have a similar
total cost, but they pay more in the early years, ’cause you have to
pay for things like building insulation and power stations, like
nuclear power stations, or wind power, which cost up-front, but then
they’re very cheap to run in the future.
[ KLAXON ! Will the cost of decommissioning nuclear reactors and the
costs of the waste disposal be cheap ? I think not... ]
So the totals over the 40 or 50 year period here, are much the same for these.
[ Tom Heap ]
The cheapest immediate option of all is to keep shovelling the coal.
And last year coal overtook gas to be our biggest electricity
generation source, pushing up overall carbon emissions along the way
[ KLAXON ! This is not very good for energy security - look where the
coal comes from... ]
As we heard earlier, most coal-fired power stations are scheduled for
termination, but some have won a reprieve, and trees are their
Burning plenty of wood chip [ actually, Tom, it's not wood "chip", it's
wood "pellets" - which often have other things mixed in with the wood,
like coal... ] allows coal furnaces to cut the sulphur dioxide and nitrous
oxide belching from their chimneys to below the level that requires their
closure under European law.
But some enthusiasts see wood being good for even more.
[ Outside ]
It’s one of those Autumn days that promises to be warm, but currently
is rather moist. I’m in a field surrounded by those dew-laden cobwebs
you get at this time of year.
But in the middle of this field is a plantation of willow. And I’m at
Rothamsted Research with Angela Karp who’s one of the directors here.
Angela, tell me about this willow I’m standing in front of here. I
mean, it’s about ten foot high or so, but what are you seeing ?
[ Angela Karp ]
Well, I’m seeing one of our better varieties that’s on display here.
We have a demonstration trial of about ten different varieties. This
is a good one, because it produces a lot of biomass, quite easily,
without a lot of additional fertilisers or anything. And as you can
see it’s got lovely straight stems. It’s got many stems, and at the
end of three years, we would harvest all those stems to get the
biomass from it. It’s nice and straight – it’s a lovely-looking, it’s
got no disease, no insects on it, very nice, clean willow.
[ Tom Heap ]
So, what you’ve been working on here as I understand it is trying to
create is the perfect willow – the most fuel for the least input – and
the easiest to harvest.
[ Angela Karp ]
That’s absolutely correct, because the whole reason for growing these
crops is to get the carbon from the atmosphere into the wood, and to
use that wood as a replacement for fossil fuels. Without putting a lot
of inputs in, because as soon as you add fertilisers you’re using
energy and carbon to make them, and that kind of defeats the whole
purpose of doing this.
[ KLAXON ! You don't need to use fossil fuel energy or petrochemicals or
anything with carbon emissions to make fertiliser ! ... Hang on, these
are GM trees, right ? So they will need inputs... ]
[ Tom Heap ]
And how much better do you think your new super-variety is, than say,
what was around, you know, 10 or 15 years ago. ‘Cause willow as an
idea for burning has been around for a bit. How much of an improvement
is this one here ?
[ Angela Karp ]
Quite a bit. So, these are actually are some of the, if you like,
middle-term varieties. So we started off yielding about 8 oven-dry
tonnes per hectare, and now we’ve almost doubled that.
[ Tom Heap ]
How big a place do you think biomass can have in the UK’s energy
picture in the future ?
[ Angela Karp ]
I think that it could contribute between 10% and 15% of our energy. If
we were to cultivate willows on 1 million hectares, we would probably
provide about 3% to 4% of energy in terms of electricity, and I think
that’s kind of a baseline figure. We could cultivate them on up to 3
million hectares, so you can multiply things up, and we could use them
in a much more energy-efficient way.
[ KLAXON ! Is that 4% of total energy or 4% of total electricity ?
[ Tom Heap ]
Do we really have 3 million hectares going a-begging for planting willow in ?
[ Angela Karp ]
Actually, surprisingly we do. So, people have this kind of myth
there’s not enough land, but just look around you and you will find
there’s lots of land that’s not used for cultivating food crops.
We don’t see them taking over the whole country. We see them being
grown synergistically with food crops.
[ KLAXON ! This is a bit different than the statement made in 2009. ]
[ Tom Heap ]
But I’d just like to dig down a little bit more into the carbon cycle
of the combustion of these things, because that’s been the recent
criticism of burning a lot of biomass, is that you put an early spike
in the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, if you start burning a lot
of biomass, because this [ sounds of rustling ], this plant is going
to be turned into, well, partly, CO2 in the atmosphere.
[ Angela Karp ]
Yes, I think that’s probably a simple and not totally correct way of
looking at it. ‘Cause a lot depends on the actual conversion process
you are using.
So some conversion processes are much more efficient at taking
everything and converting it into what you want.
Heat for example is in excess of 80%, 90% conversion efficiency.
Electricity is a little bit more of the problem. And there, what
they’re looking at is capturing some of the carbon that you lose, and
converting that back in, in carbon storage processes, and that’s why
there’s a lot of talk now about carbon storage from these power
That I think is the future. It’s a question of connecting up all parts
of the process, and making sure that’s nothing wasted.
[ Tom Heap ]
So, is wood a desirable greener fuel ?
Not according to Almuth Ernsting of Biofuelwatch, who objects to the
current plans for large-scale wood burning, its use to prop up coal,
and even its low carbon claims.
[ Almuth Ernsting ]
The currently-announced industry plans, and by that I mean existing
power stations, but far more so, power stations which are in the
planning process [ and ] many of which have already been consented -
those [ biomass ] power stations, would, if they all go ahead,
require to burn around 82 million tonnes of biomass, primarily wood,
every year. Now by comparison, the UK in total only produces around
10 million tonnes, so one eighth of that amount, in wood, for all
industries and purposes, every year.
We are looking on the one hand at a significant number of proposed,
and in some cases, under-construction or operating new-build biomass
power stations, but the largest single investment so far going into
the conversion of coal power station units to biomass, the largest and
most advanced one of which at the moment is Drax, who are, have
started to move towards converting half their capacity to burning wood
[ Tom Heap ]
Drax is that huge former, or still currently, coal-fired power station
in Yorkshire, isn’t it ?
[ Almuth Ernsting ]
Right, and they still want to keep burning coal as well. I mean, their
long-term vision, as they’ve announced, would be for 50:50 coal and
[ Tom Heap ]
What do you think about that potential growth ?
[ Almuth Ernsting ]
Well, we’re seriously concerned. We believe it’s seriously bad news
for climate change, it’s seriously bad news for forests, and it’s
really bad news for communities, especially in the Global South, who
are at risk of losing their land for further expansion of monoculture
tree plantations, to in future supply new power stations in the UK.
A really large amount, increasingly so, of the wood being burned,
comes from slow-growing, whole trees that are cut down for that
purpose, especially at the moment in temperate forests in North
America. Now those trees will take many, many decades to grow back
and potentially re-absorb that carbon dioxide, that’s if they’re
allowed and able to ever grow back.
[ Tom Heap ]
There’s another technology desperate for investment, which is critical
to avoiding power failure, whilst still hitting our mid-century carbon
reduction goals – CCS – Carbon Capture and Storage, the ability to
take the greenhouse gases from the chimney and bury them underground.
It’s especially useful for biomass and coal, with their relatively
high carbon emissions, but would also help gas be greener.
The Chancellor has approved 30 new gas-fired power stations, so long
as they are CCS-ready [ sic, should be "capture ready", or
"carbon capture ready" ].
Jon Gibbons is the boss of the UK CCS Research Centre, based in an
industrial estate in Sheffield.
[ Noise of processing plant ]
Jon’s just brought me up a sort of 3D maze of galvanized steel and
shiny metal pipes to the top of a tower that must be 20 or so metres
Jon, what is this ?
[ Jon Gibbons ]
OK, so this is our capture unit, to take the CO2 out of the combustion
products from gas or coal. In the building behind us, in the test rigs
we’ve got, the gas turbine or the combustor rig, we’re burning coal or
gas, or oil, but mainly coal or gas.
We’re taking the combustion products through the green pipe over
there, bringing it into the bottom of the unit, and then you can see
these big tall columns we’ve got, about 18 inches diameter, half a
metre diameter, coming all the way up from the ground up to the level
It goes into one of those, it gets washed clean with water, and it
goes into this unit over here, and there it meets an amine solvent, a
chemical that will react reversibly with CO2, coming in the opposite
direction, over packing. So, it’s like sort of pebbles, if you can
imagine it, there’s a lot of surface area. The gas flows up, the
liquid flows down, and it picks up the CO2, just mainly the CO2.
[ Tom Heap ]
And that amine, that chemical as you call it, is stripping the CO2 out
of that exhaust gas. This will link to a storage facility.
What would then happen to the CO2 ?
[ Jon Gibbons ]
What would then happen is that the CO2 would be compressed up to
somewhere in excess of about 100 atmospheres. And it would turn from
being a gas into something that looks like a liquid, like water, about
the same density as water. And then it would be taken offshore in the
UK, probably tens or hundreds of kilometres offshore, and it would go
deep, deep down, over a kilometre down into the ground, and basically
get squeezed into stuff that looks like solid rock. If you go and look
at a sandstone building – looks solid, but actually, maybe a third of
it is little holes. And underground, where you’ve got cubic kilometres
of space, those little holes add up to an awful lot of free space. And
the CO2 gets squeezed into those, over time, and it spreads out, and
it just basically sits there forever, dissolves in the water, reacts
with the rocks, and will stay there for millions of years.
[ Tom Heap ]
Back in his office, I asked Jon why CCS seemed to be stuck in the lab.
[ Jon Gibbons ]
We’re doing enough I think on the research side, but what we really
need to do, is to do work on a full-scale deployment. Because you
can’t work on research in a vacuum. You need to get feedback -
learning by doing – from actual real projects.
And a lot of the problems we’ve got on delivering CCS, are to do with
how you handle the regulation for injecting CO2, and again, you can
only do that in real life.
So what we need to do is to see the commercialisation projects that
are being run by the Department of Energy and Climate Change actually
going through to real projects that can be delivered.
[ Tom Heap ]
Hmm. When I talk to engineers, they’re always very passionate and
actually quite optimistic about Carbon Capture and Storage. And when
I talk to people in industry, or indeed read the headlines, not least
a recent cancellation in Norway, it always seems like a very bleak picture.
[ Jon Gibbons ]
I think people are recognising that it’s getting quite hard to get
money for low carbon technologies.
So – recent presentation we had at one of our centre meetings, was
actually a professor from the United States, Howard Herzog. And he
said “You think you’re seeing a crisis in Carbon Capture and Storage.
But what you’re actually seeing is a crisis in climate change
[ KLAXON ! Priming us for a scaling back of commitment to the
Climate Change Act ? I do hope not. ]
Now, Carbon Capture and Storage, you do for no other purpose than
cutting CO2 emissions to the atmosphere, and it does that extremely
effectively. It’s an essential technology for cutting emissions. But
until you’ve got a global process that says – actually we’re going to
get on top of this problem; we’re going to cut emissions – get them to
safe level before we actually see people dying in large numbers from
climate change effects – ’cause, certainly, if people start dying,
then we will see a response – but ideally, you’d like to do it before
then. But until you get that going, then actually persuading people to
spend money for no other benefit than sorting out the climate is
There’s just no point, you know, no country can go it alone, so you
have to get accommodation. And there, we’re going through various
processes to debate that. Maybe people will come to an accommodation.
Maybe the USA and China will agree to tackle climate change. Maybe
What I am fairly confident is that you won’t see huge, you know,
really big cuts in CO2 emissions without that global agreement. But
I’m also confident that you won’t see big cuts in CO2 emissions
without CCS deployment.
And my guess is there’s about a 50:50 chance that we do CCS before we
need to, and about a 50:50 chance we do it after we have to. But I’m
pretty damn certain we’re going to do it.
[ Tom Heap ]
But we can’t wait for a global agreement that’s already been decades
in the making, with still no end in sight.
We need decisions now to provide more power with less pollution.
[ Music lyrics : "What's the plan ? What's the plan ?" ]
[ Tom Heap ]
Dieter Helm, Professor of Energy Policy at the University of Oxford
believes we can only deliver our plentiful green energy future if we
abandon our attitude of buy-now pay-later.
[ KLAXON ! Does he mean a kind of hire purchase energy economy ?
I mean, we're still paying for nuclear electricity from decades ago,
in our bills, and through our taxes to the Department of Energy and
Climate Change. ]
[ Dieter Helm ]
There’s a short-term requirement and a long-term requirement. The
short-term requirement is that we’re now in a real pickle. We face
this energy crunch. We’ve got to try to make the best of what we’ve
got. And I think it’s really like, you know, trying to get the
Spitfires back up again during the Battle of Britain. You know, you
patch and mend. You need somebody in command. You need someone
in control. And you do the best with what you’ve got.
In that context, we then have to really stand back and say, “And this
is what we have to do to get a serious, long-term, continuous, stable
investment environment, going forward.” In which, you know, we pay the
costs, but of course, not any monopoly profits, not any excess
profits, but we have a world in which the price of electricity is
related to the cost.”
[ KLAXON ! Is Dieter Helm proposing state ownership of energy plant ? ]
[ Programme anchor ]
“Costing the Earth” was presented by Tom Heap, and made in Bristol by
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Posted on August 18th, 2013 No comments
There’s no doubt about it – wind power is saving the grid. Since the economic deflation (otherwise more sensitively termed a “recession” or a “slowdown”), and the consequent drop in confidence about the growth in electricity demand, and the problem of “missing money” to finance new infrastructure projects, there has not been much investor appetite for commissioning new power plants running on “conventional” fossil fuels. But wind is raging away with 12 gigawatts of wind power capacity added in the European Union in 2012.
But can wind be relied on ? Well, there’s lots of wind, and so lots of wind power – in the UK, for example, wind turbines generated 16,884 gigawatt hours of power in 2012, more than double the amount in 2008 (DUKES Digest of UK Energy Statistics, Table 5.1).
But what if the wind dies down when a high pressure weather system sits tight over the UK in the depths of winter ? What “Equivalent Firm Capacity” (EFC) can we expect from wind power ? Ofgem models 17% of the total in their 2013 Electricity Capacity Assessment Report. National Grid modelled 8% in their Winter Outlook Report of 2011/2012, which went up to 10% in the Winter Outlook for 2012/2013, and 10% in the 2013/2014 Winter Consultation Report (but noted that actual availability of wind during the previous year winter high demand conditions had been 9%)
Views and evidence differ about whether wind power availability is destined to be so low in winter cold highs – whether calm conditions are bound to be experienced at the same time as high power demand. Both the National Grid and Ofgem, the UK Government’s energy market regulator, have modelled this from data, but just as the time series is relatively short, the number of wind generators is rapidly increasing, so the richness of the data has yet to improve.
The problem with concentrating on the winter is that the excellent contribution from wind power to indigenous electricity generation is obscured. Clearly that’s the intention of the wind power deniers, who dismiss wind power’s valuable contribution because of the risk of some still days in December or January.
For any time of the year apart from the deepest cold of winter, wind power is a healthy generation resource. In some cases, wind power is embedded into industrial, military and transport facilities and isn’t metered by National Grid, and at times of high wind generation, National Grid experiences a “negative demand” effect on the main power grid.
And here are just some of the reasons why the contribution of wind power to national energy security is going to improve :-
1. A wider geographical spread of wind farms
More wind power will almost certainly be built. And built fast. Wind turbines have a good Net Present Value, so are assets, as opposed to nuclear reactors which start depreciating in return value the moment you start pouring concrete. Wind turbines are also quick to deploy, compared to the interminable struggle to commit to building other sorts of generation. The reason why wind power is fast to grid is because of slight tilts in market conditions caused by government subsidies and other measures to favour their low carbon generation. The only other contender (besides solar electric) for speed to grid generation from first groundworks is new efficient Natural Gas-fired plant. While people are still debating whether or not to deploy other forms of low carbon generation, wind power and gas (and solar electric) will be ripping up the projection spreadsheets. As more wind power comes online, there will naturally be a wider geographical dispersion of resources. If wind power generation capacity is spread over distances wider than the average anti-cyclonic high pressure system, then higher capacity values can be guaranteed. The more wind power there is, the firmer the promise of power will be.
2. The development of wind power hubs serving a number of regions
Already we see wind power “hubs” emerging, centres of build and connection of wind farms where conditions, financing and planning are more favourable. Some of these projects are international, such as in the North Sea area. With the plans for growing the integrated wind power market over a larger number of territories comes the flexibility to use wind power where it’s most needed at any one time, almost certainly raising the levels of wind energy that can be supplied to consumers from the same quantity of generation equipment. If “spare” wind capacity can flow through beefed up European power networks to serve regional demand, then there will be more reason to count on wind.
3. Size of wind turbines – and height
Data modelling of wind power will need to adjust to new realities – larger and higher wind turbines – capturing more of the wind for power generation. Wind flow is more regular the higher you are from the surface of the land or sea, so stronger dependency on wind power will be possible in future.
4. The synergy between low carbon generation technologies
So you’ve hit a rough patch with low wind speeds today – but solar power is doing fine. Or tidal energy. The more renewable energy technologies we develop, the more they can support each other in their respective weaknesses, so firming up renewable energy capacity as a whole.
5. The development of hybrid wind systems
Already, levels of installed wind generation capacity mean that there are periods of unused wind. Part of this will be improved by strengthening transmission networks, and this will improve wind’s reliability by getting “stranded” wind power to market. If the spare or surplus, or even “constrained” or “curtailed” wind power could be put to use as part of a Power to Gas hybrid system, more of the wind energy could be captured for a more reliable source of electrical power. This is just one angle of the Renewable Gas story – there are already several wind-to-hydrogen projects testing the concept of using electrolysis of water by spare wind power to produce hydrogen gas that can be stored and burned later on for power generation.
Posted on August 17th, 2013 No comments
Have the anti-wind power lobby struck again ? A seemingly turbulent researcher from Private Eye magazine rang me on Thursday evening to ask me to revise my interpretation of his “Keeping The Lights On” piece of a few weeks previously. His article seemed at first glance to be quite derogatory regarding the contribution of wind power to the UK’s electricity supply. If I were to look again, I would find out, he was sure, that I was wrong, and he was right.
So I have been re-reviewing the annual 2013 “Electricity Capacity Assessment Report” prepared by Ofgem, the UK Government’s Office of Gas and Electricity Markets, an independent National Regulatory Authority. I have tried to be as fair-minded and generous as possible to “Old Sparky” at Private Eye magazine, but a close re-reading of the Ofgem report suggests he is apparently mistaken – wind power is a boon, not a burden (as he seems to claim).
In the overview to the Ofgem report, they state, “our assessment suggests that the risks to electricity security of supply over the next six winters have increased since our last report in October 2012. This is due in particular to deterioration in the supply-side outlook. There is also uncertainty over projected reductions in demand.” Neither of these issues can be associated with wind power, which is being deployed at an accelerating rate and so is providing increasing amounts of electricity.
The report considers risks to security of the electricity supply, not an evaluation of the actual amounts of power that will be supplied. How are these risks to the security of supply quantified ? There are several metrics provided from Ofgem’s modelling, including :-
a. LOLE – Loss of Load Expectation – the average number of hours per year in which electricity supply does not meet electricity demand (if the grid System Operator does not take steps to balance it out).
(Note that Ofgem’s definition of LOLE is difference from other people’s “LOLE is often interpreted in the academic literature as representing the probability of disconnections after all mitigation actions available to the System Operator have been exhausted. We consider that a well functioning market should avoid using mitigation actions in [sic] regular basis and as such we interpret LOLE as the probability of having to implement mitigation actions.”)
b. EEU – Expected Energy Unserved (or “Un-served”) – the average amount of electricity demand that is not met in a year – a metric that combines both the likelihood and the size of any shortfall.
c. Frequency and Duration of Expected Outages – a measure of the risk that an electricity consumer faces of controlled disconnection because supply does not meet demand.
The first important thing to note is that the lights are very unlikely to go out. The highest value of LOLE, measured in hours per year is under 20. That’s 20 hours each year. Not 20 days. And this is not anticipated to be 20 days in a row, either. Section 1.11 says “LOLE, as interpreted in this report, is not a measure of the expected number of hours per year in which customers may be disconnected. For a given level of LOLE and EEU, results may come from a large number of small events where demand exceeds supply in principle but that can be managed by National Grid through a set of mitigation actions available to them as System Operator. [...] Given the characteristics of the GB system, any shortfall is more likely to take the form of a large number of small events that would not have a direct impact on customers.”
Section 2.19 states, “The probabilistic measures of security of supply presented in this report are often misinterpreted. LOLE is the expected number of hours per year in which supply does not meet demand. This does not however mean that customers will be disconnected or that there will be blackouts for that number of hours a year. Most of the time, when available supply is not high enough to meet demand, National Grid may implement mitigation actions to solve the problem without disconnecting any customers. However, the system should be planned to avoid the use of mitigation actions and that is why we measure LOLE ahead of any mitigation actions being used”. And Section 2.20, “LOLE does not necessarily mean disconnections but they do remain a possibility. If the difference between available supply and demand is so large that the mitigation actions are not enough to meet demand then some customers have to be disconnected – this is the controlled disconnections step in Figure 14 above. In this case the [System Operator] SO will disconnect industrial demand before household demand.”
And in Section 2.21. “The model output numbers presented here refer to a loss of load of any kind. This could be the sum of several small events (controlled through mitigation actions) or a single large event. As a consequence of the mitigation actions available, the total period of disconnections for a customer will be lower than the value of LOLE.”
The report does anticipate that there are risks of large events where the lights could go out, even if only very briefly, for non-emergency customers : “The results may also come from a small number of large events (eg the supply deficit is more than 2 – 3 gigawatts (GW)) where controlled disconnections cannot be avoided.” But in this kind of scenario two very important things would happen. Those with electricity contracts with a clause permitting forced disconnection would lose power. And immediate backup power generation would be called upon to bridge the gap. There are many kinds of electricity generation that can be called on to start up in a supply crisis – some of them becoming operational in minutes, and others in hours.
As the report says in Section 2.24 “Each [Distribution Network Operator] DNO ensures it can provide a 20% reduction of its total system demand in four incremental stages (between 4% and 6%), which can be achieved at all times, with or without prior warning, and within 5 minutes of receipt of an instruction from the System Operator. The reduction of a further 20% (40% in total) can be achieved following issue of the appropriate GB System Warning by National Grid within agreed timescales”.
It’s all about the need for National Grid to balance the system. Section 2.9 says, “LOLE is not a measure of the expected number of hours per year in which customers may be disconnected. We define LOLE to indicate the number of hours in which the system may need to respond to tight conditions.”
The report also rules some potential sources of disruption of supply outside the remit of this particular analysis – see Section 3.17 “There are other reasons why electricity consumers might experience disruptions to supply, which are out of the scope of this assessment and thus not captured by this model, such as: Flexibility : The ability of generators to ramp up in response to rapid increases in demand or decreases in the output of other generators; Insufficient reserve : Unexpected increases in demand or decreases in available capacity in real time which must be managed by the System Operator through procurement and use of reserve capacity; Network outages : Failures on the electricity transmission or distribution networks; Fuel availability : The availability of the fuel used by generators. In particular the security of supplies of natural gas at times of peak electricity demand.”
Crucially, the report says there is much uncertainty in their modelling of LOLE and EEU. In Section 2.26, “The LOLE and EEU estimates are just an indication of risk. There is considerable uncertainty around the main variables in the calculation (eg demand, the behaviour of interconnectors etc.)”
(Note : interconnectors are electricity supply cables that join the UK to other countries such as Ireland and Holland).
Part of the reason for Ofgem’s caveat of uncertainty is the lack of appropriate data. Although they believe they have better modelling of wind power since their 2012 report (see Sections 3.39 to 3.50), there are data sets they believe should be improved. For example, data on Demand Side Response (DSR) – the ability of the National Grid and its larger or aggregated consumers to alter levels of demand on cue (see Sections 4.7 to 4.10 of the document detailing decisions about the methodology). A lack of data has led to certain assumptions being retained, for example, the assumption that there is no relationship between available wind power and periods of high demand – in the winter season (see Section 2.5 and Sections 4.11 to 4.17 of the methodology decisions document).
In addition to these uncertainties, the sensitivity cases used in the modelling are known to not accurately reflect the capability of management of the power grid. In the Executive Summary on page 4, the report says, “These sensitivities only illustrate changes in one variable at a time and so do not capture potential mitigating effects, for example of the supply side reacting to higher demand projections.” And in Section 2.16 it says, “Each sensitivity assumes a change in one variable from the Reference Scenario, with all other assumptions being held constant. The purpose of this is to assess the impact of the uncertainty related to each variable in isolation, on the risk measures. Our report is not using scenarios (ie a combination of changes in several variables to reflect alternative worlds or different futures), as this would not allow us to isolate the impact of each variable on the risk measures.”
Thus, the numbers that are output by the modelling are perforce illustrative, not definitive.
What “Old Sparky” at Private Eye was rattled by in his recent piece was the calculation of Equivalent Firm Capacity (EFC) in the Ofgem report.
On page 87, Section 3.55, the Ofgem report defines the “standard measure” EFC as “the amount of capacity that is required to replace the wind capacity to achieve the same level of LOLE”, meaning the amount of always-on generation capacity required to replace the wind capacity to achieve the same level of LOLE. Putting it another way on page 33, in the footnotes for Section 3.29, the report states, “The EFC is the quantity of firm capacity (ie always available) that can be replaced by a certain volume of wind generation to give the same level of security of supply, as measured by LOLE.”
Wind power is different from fossil fuel-powered generation as there is a lot of variability in output. Section 1.48 of the report says, “Wind generation capacity is analysed separately given that its outcome in terms of generation availability is much more variable and difficult to predict.” Several of the indicators calculated for the report are connected with the impact of wind on security of the power supply. However, variation in wind power is not the underlying reason for the necessity of this report. Other electricity generation plant has variation in output leading to questions of security of supply. In addition, besides planned plant closures and openings, there are as-yet-unknown factors that could impact overall generation capacity. Section 2.2 reads, “We use a probabilistic approach to assess the uncertainty related to short-term variations in demand and available conventional generation due to outages and wind generation. This is combined with sensitivity analysis to assess the uncertainty related to the evolution of electricity demand and supply due to investment and retirement decisions (ie mothballing, closures) and interconnector flows, among others.”
The report examines the possibility that wind power availability could be correlated to winter season peak demand, based on limited available data, and models a “Wind Generation Availability” sensitivity (see Section 3.94 to Section 3.98, especially Figure 64). In Section 3.42 the report says, “For the wind generation availability sensitivity we assume that wind availability decreases at time of high demand. In particular this sensitivity assumes a reduction in the available wind resource for demand levels higher than 92% of the ACS peak demand. The maximum reduction is assumed to be 50% for demand levels higher than 102% of ACS peak demand.” Bear in mind that this is only an assumption.
In Appendix 5 “Detailed results tables”, Table 34, Table 35 and Table 37 show how this modelling impacts the calculation of the indicative Equivalent Firm Capacity (EFC) of wind power.
In the 2018/2019 timeframe, when there is expected to be a combined wind power capacity of 8405 megawatts (MW) onshore plus 11705 MW offshore = 20110 MW, the EFC for wind power is calculated to be 2546 MW in the “Wind Generation Availability” sensitivity line, which works out at 12.66% of the nameplate capacity of the wind power. Note : 100 divided by 12.66 is 7.88, or a factor of roughly 8.
At the earlier 2013/2014 timeframe, when combined wind power capacity is expected to be 3970 + 6235 MW = 10205 MW, and the EFC is at 1624 MW or 15.91% for the “Wind Generation Sensitivity” line. Note : 100 divided by 15.91 = 6.285, or a factor of roughly 6.
“Old Sparky” is referring to these factor figures when he says in his piece (see below) :-
“[...] For every one megawatt of reliable capacity (eg a coal-fired power
station) that gets closed, Ofgem calculates Britain would need six to
eight megawatts of windfarm capacity to achieve the original level of
reliability – and the multiple is rising all the time. Windfarms are
not of course being built at eight times the rate coal plants are
closing – hence the ever-increasing likelihood of blackouts. [...]”
Yet he has ignored several caveats given in the report that place these factors in doubt. For example, the sensitivity analysis only varies one factor at a time and does not attempt to model correlated changes in other variables. He has also omitted to consider the relative impacts of change.
If he were to contrast his statement with the “Conventional Low Generation Availability” sensitivity line, where wind power EFC in the 2013/2014 timeframe is calculated as a healthy 26.59% or a factor of roughly 4; or 2018/2019 when wind EFC is 19.80% or a factor of roughly 5.
Note : The “Conventional Low Generation Availability” sensitivity is drawn from historical conventional generation operating data, as outlined in Sections 3.31 to 3.38. Section 3.36 states, “The Reference Scenario availability is defined as the mean availability of the seven winter estimates. The availability values used for the low (high) availability sensitivities are defined as the mean minus (plus) one standard deviation of the seven winter estimates.”
Table 30 and Table 31 show that low conventional generation availability will probably be the largest contribution to energy security uncertainty in the critical 2015/2016 timeframe.
The upshot of all of this modelling is that wind power is actually off the hook. Unforeseen alterations in conventional generation capacity are likely to have the largest impact. As the report says in Section 4.21 “The figures indicate that reasonably small changes in conventional generation availability have a material impact on the risk of supply shortfalls. This is most notable in 2015/16, where the estimated LOLE ranges from 0.2 hours per year in the high availability sensitivity to 16 hours per year in the low availability sensitivity, for the Reference Scenario is 2.9 hours per year.”
However, Section 1.19 is careful to remind us, “Wind generation, onshore and offshore, is expected to grow rapidly in the period of analysis and especially after 2015/16, rising from around 9GW of installed capacity now to more than 20GW by 2018/19. Given the variability of wind speeds, we estimate that only 17% of this capacity can be counted as firm (ie always available) for security of supply purposes by 2018/19.” This is in the Reference Scenario.
The sensitivities modelled in the report are a measure of risk, and do not provide absolute values for any of the output metrics, especially since the calculations are dependent on so many factors, including economic stimulus for the building of new generation plant.
Importantly, recent decisions by gas-fired power plant operators to “mothball”, or close down their generation capacity, are inevitably going to matter more than how much exactly we can rely on wind power.
Many commentators neglect to make the obvious point that wind power is not being used to replace conventional generation entirely, but to save fossil fuel by reducing the number of hours conventional generators have to run. This is contributing to energy security, by reducing the cost of fossil fuel that needs to be imported. However, the knock-on effect is this is having an impact on the economic viability of these plant because they are not always in use, and so the UK Government is putting in place the “Capacity Mechanism” to make sure that mothballed plant can be put back into use when required, during those becalmed, winter afternoons when power demand is at its peak.
Issue Number 1345
26th July 2013 – 8th August 2013
“Keeping the Lights On”
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.
12 – 25 July 2013
“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.
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Posted on July 15th, 2013 3 comments
At last week’s 2013 Annual Conference for PRASEG, the UK parliamentary sustainable energy group, Keith MacLean from Scottish and Southern Energy outlined (see below) the major pathways for domestic (residential) energy, currently dependent on both a gas grid and a power grid.
He said that decarbonising heat requires significant, strategic infrastructure decisions on the various proposals and technology choices put forward, as “these options are incompatible”. He said that the UK “need to facilitate more towards ONE of those scenarios/configurations [for provision for heating at home] as they are mutually exclusive”.
There has been a commitment from Central Government in the UK to the concept of electrification of the energy requirements of both the transport and heat sectors, and Keith MacLean painted a scenario that could see the nation’s households ditching their gas central heating boilers for heat pumps in accord with that vision. Next, “the District Heating (DH) movement could take off, [where you stop using your heat pump and take local piped heat from a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant] until there is no spare market capacity. Then [big utilities] could start pumping biogas and hydrogen into the gas grid, and you get your boiler back !”
Since I view gas grid injection of Renewable Gas feedstocks as a potential way to easily decarbonise the gas supply, and as Keith MacLean said in his panel presentation, “The real opportunity to make a difference in our domestic [residential] energy consumption is in heat rather than power”, I sought him out during the drinks reception after the event, to compare notes.
I explained that I appreciate the awkward problem he posed, and that my continuing research interest is in Renewable Gas, which includes Renewable Hydrogen, BioHydrogen and BioMethane. I said I had been reading up on and speaking with some of those doing Hydrogen injection into the gas grid, and it looks like a useful way to decarbonise gas.
I said that if we could get 5% of the gas grid supply replaced with hydrogen…”Yes”, said Keith, “we wouldn’t even need to change appliances at those levels”… and then top up with biogas and other industrial gas streams, we could decarbonise the grid by around 20% without breaking into a sweat. At this point, Keith MacLean started nodding healhily, and a woman from a communications company standing near us started to zone out, so I figured this was getting really interesting. “And that would be significant”, I accented, but by this time she was almost asleep on her feet.
With such important decisions ahead of us, it seems that people could be paying a bit more attention to these questions. These are, after all, big choices.
What did Keith mean by “The District Heating movement” ? Well, Dave Andrews of Clean Power (Finning Power Systems), had offered to give a very short presentation at the event. Here was his proposed title :-
“Indicative costs of decarbonizing European city heating with electrical distribution compared to district heating pipe distribution of large scale wind energy and with particular attention to transition to the above methods and energy storage costs to address intermittency and variability of wind power.”
This would have been an assessment of the relative costs of decarbonising European city heating with either :-
“Gas-fired Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) generation plant plus domestic (residential sector) electric heat pumps as the transition solution; and in the long term, large scale wind energy replacing the CCGT – which is retained as back up for low wind situations; and with pumped hydro electrical storage to deal with intermittency /variability of wind energy and to reduce back up fuel usage.”
“CCGT Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plus district heat (DH) as the transition solution; and in the long term, large scale wind energy replacing the CCGT CHP heat but with the CCGT retained as back up for low wind situations and with hot water energy storage to deal with intermittency / variability and to reduce back up fuel usage.”
With “the impact of [a programme of building retrofits for] insulation on each strategy is also assessed.”
Dave’s European research background is of relevance here, as co-author of a 215-pager SETIS programme paper complete with pretty diagrams :-
Although Dave Andrews was also at the PRASEG drinks reception, he didn’t get the opportunity to address the conference. Which was a shame as his shirt was electric.
10 July 2013
“Keeping the Lights on: At What Cost?”
Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group
Second Panel Discussion
Chaired by Baroness Maddock
“Negawatts: Decentralising and reducing demand – essential or ephemeral ?”
[Note : The term "negawatt" denotes a negative watt hour - produced by a reduction in power or gas demand. ]
Keith MacLean, Scottish and Southern Energy
Decentralisation and Demand Reduction [should only be done where] it makes sense. Answers [to the question of negawatts] are very different if looking at Heat and Power. Heat is something far more readily stored that electricity is. Can be used to help balance [the electricity demand profile]. And heat is already very localised [therefore adding to optimising local response]. Some are going in the other direction – looking at district [scale] heating (DH) [using the more efficient system of Combined Heat and Power (CHP)]. Never forget the option to convert from electricity to heat and back to electricity to balance [the grid]. Average household uses 3 MWh (megawatt hours) of electricity [per year] and 15 MWh of heat. The real opportunity is heat. New homes reduce this to about 1 [MWh]. Those built to the new 2016 housing regulations on Zero Carbon Homes, should use around zero. The real opportunity to make a difference in our domestic [residential] energy consumption is in heat rather than power. Reducing consumption not always the right solution. With intermittents [renewable energy] want to switch ON at some times [to soak up cheap wind power in windy conditions]. [A lot of talk about National Grid having to do load] balancing [on the scale of] seconds, minutes and hours. Far more fundamental is the overall system adequacy – a bigger challenge – the long-term needs of the consumer. Keeping the lights from going out by telling people to turn off the lights is not a good way of doing it. There is justifiable demand [for a range of energy services]. [...] I don’t think we’re politically brave enough to vary the [electricity] prices enough to make changes. We need to look at ways of aggregating and automating Demand Side Response. Need to be prepared to legislate and regulate if that is the right solution.
Questions from the Floor
Question from John Gibbons of the University of Edinburgh
The decarbonisation of heat. Will we be successful any time soon ?
Answer from Keith MacLean
[...] Decarbonising heat – [strategic] infrastructure decisions. For example, [we could go down the route of ditching Natural Gas central heating] boilers for heat pumps [as the UK Government and National Grid have modelled and projected]. Then the District Heating (DH) movement could take off [and you ditch your heat pump at home], until there is no spare market capacity. Then [big utilities] could start pumping biogas and hydrogen into the gas grid, and you get your boiler back ! Need to facilitate more towards ONE of those scenarios/configurations [for provision for heating at home] as mutually exclusive. Need to address in terms of infrastructure since these options are incompatible.
Answer from Dave Openshaw, Future Networks, UK Power Network
Lifestyle decision – scope for [action on] heat more than for electricity. Demand Management – managing that Demand Side Reduction and Demand Reduction when need it. Bringing forward use of electricity [in variety of new applications] when know over-supply [from renewable energy, supplied at negative cost].
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Posted on July 15th, 2013 4 comments
I wonder to myself – how wrong can James Delingpole get ? He, and Christopher Booker and Richard North, have recently attempted to describe something very, very simple in the National Grid’s plans to keep the lights on. And have failed, in my view. Utterly. In my humble opinion, it’s a crying shame that they appear to influence others.
“Dellingpole” (sic) in the Daily Mail, claims that the STOR – the Short Term Operating Reserve (not “Operational” as “Dellingpole” writes) is “secret”, for “that significant period when the wind turbines are not working”, and that “benefits of the supposedly ‘clean’ energy produced by wind turbines are likely to be more than offset by the dirty and inefficient energy produced by their essential diesel back-up”, all of which are outrageously deliberate misinterpretations of the facts :-
“The dirty secret of Britain’s power madness: Polluting diesel generators built in secret by foreign companies to kick in when there’s no wind for turbines – and other insane but true eco-scandals : By James Dellingpole : PUBLISHED: 00:27, 14 July 2013″
If “Dellingpole” and his compadre in what appear to be slurs, Richard North, were to ever do any proper research into the workings of the National Grid, they would easily uncover that the STOR is a very much transparent, publicly-declared utility :-
STOR is not news. Neither is the need for it to be beefed up. The National Grid will lose a number of electricity generation facilities over the next few years, and because of the general state of the economy (and resistance to wind power and solar power from unhelpful folk like “Dellingpole”) investment in true renewables will not entirely cover this shortfall.
Renewable energy is intermittent and variable. If an anticyclone high pressure weather system sits over Britain, there could be little wind. And if the sky is cloudy, there could be much less sun than normal. More renewable power feeding the grid means more opportunities when these breaks in service amount to something serious.
Plus, the age of other electricity generation plants means that the risk of “unplanned outage”, from a nuclear reactor, say, is getting higher. There is a higher probability of sudden step changes in power available from any generator.
The gap between maximum power demand and guaranteed maximum power generation is narrowing. In addition, the threat of sudden changes in output supply is increasing.
With more generation being directly dependent on weather conditions and the time of day, and with fears about the reliability of ageing infrastructure, there is a need for more very short term immediate generation backup to take up the slack. This is where STOR comes in.
Why does STOR need to exist ? The answer’s in the name – for short term balancing issues in the grid. Diesel generation is certainly not intended for use for long periods. Because of air quality issues. Because of climate change issues. Because of cost.
If the Meteorological Office were to forecast a period of low wind and low incident solar radiation, or a nuclear reactor started to dip in power output, then the National Grid could take an old gas plant (or even an old coal plant) out of mothballs, pull off the dust sheets and crank it into action for a couple of days. That wouldn’t happen very often, and there would be time to notify and react.
But if a windfarm suddenly went into the doldrums, or a nuclear reactor had to do an emergency shutdown, there would be few power stations on standby that could respond immediately, because it takes a lot of money to keep a power plant “spinning”, ready to use at a moment’s notice.
So, Delingpole, there’s no conspiracy. There’s engagement with generators to set up a “first responder” network of extra generation capacity for the grid. This is an entirely public process. It’s intended for short bursts of immediately-required power because you can’t seem to turn your air conditioner off. The cost and emissions will be kept to a minimum. You’re wrong. You’re just full of a lot of hot air.Assets not Liabilities, Be Prepared, Big Number, Big Picture, Burning Money, Change Management, Coal Hell, Corporate Pressure, Cost Effective, Design Matters, Disturbing Trends, Energy Change, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Extreme Energy, Extreme Weather, Insulation, Money Sings, National Energy, National Power, Optimistic Generation, Orwells, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Coal, Peak Emissions, Peak Energy, Price Control, Realistic Models, Regulatory Ultimatum, Solution City, Stirring Stuff, Technofix, The Price of Gas, The Price of Oil, The War on Error, Unutterably Useless, Utter Futility, Vain Hope, Western Hedge, Wind of Fortune
Posted on July 12th, 2013 1 comment
I don’t quite know what powers Lord Deben, John Gummer, but he looks remarkably wired on it. At this week’s PRASEG Annual Conference, he positively glowed with fervour and gumption. He regaled us with tales of debate in the House of Lords, the UK’s parliamentary “senior” chamber. He is a known climate change science adherent, and in speaking to PRASEG, he was preaching to the choir, but boy, did he give a bone-rattling homily !
As Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, he is fighting the good fight for carbon targets to be established in all areas of legislation, especially the in-progress Energy Bill. He makes the case that emissions restraint and constraint is now an international business value, and of importance to infrastructure investment :-
“The trouble with energy efficiency is that it’s not “boys’ toys” – there’s no “sex” in it. It is many small things put together to make a big thing. We won’t get to a point of decarbonisation unless we [continuously] make [the case for] [continuous] investment. [...] GLOBE [of which I am a member] in a report – 33 major countries – doing so much. [...] Look at what China is doing. Now a competitive world. If we want people to come here and invest, we need to have a carbon intensity target in 2030 [which will impact] [manufacturing] and the supply chain. [With the current strategy, the carbon targets are] put down in 2020 and picked up again in 2050. Too long a gap for business. They don’t know what happens in between. This is not all about climate change. It is about UK plc.”
To supplement this diet of upbeat encouragement, he added a good dose of scorn for fellow Lords of the House, the Lords Lawson (Nigel Lawson) and Lord Ridley (Matt Ridley) who, he seemed to be suggesting, clearly have not mastered the science of climate change, and who, I believe he imputed, have lost their marbles :-
“Apart from one or two necessary sideswipes, I agree with the previous speaker. There is no need for disagreement except for those who dismiss climate change. [I call them "dismissers" as we should not] dignify their position by calling them “sceptics”. We are the sceptics. We come to a conclusion based on science and we revisit it every time new science comes our way. They rifle through every [paper] to find every little bit that suppports their argument. I’ve listened to the interventions [in the House of Lords reading of and debate on the Energy Bill] of that group. Their line is the Earth is not [really] warming, so, it’s too expensive to do anything. This conflicts with today’s World Meteorological Organization measurements – that the last decade has been the warmest ever. I bet you that none of them [Lords] will stand up [in the House of Lords] and say “Sorry. We got it wrong.” They pick one set of statistics and ignore the rest. It is a concentrated effort to undermine by creating doubt. Our job is constantly to make it clear they we don’t need to argue the case – the very best science makes it certain [but never absolute]. You would be very foolish to ignore the consensus of view. [...] In a serious grown-up world, we accept the best advice – always keeping an eye out for new information. Otherwise, [you would] make decisions on worst information – no sane person does that.”
He encouraged us to encourage the dissenters on climate change science to view the green economy as an insurance policy :-
“Is there a householder here who does not insure their houses against fire ? You have a 98% change of not having a fire. Yet you spend on average £140 a year on insurance. Because of the size of the disaster – the enormity of the [potential] loss. Basic life-supporting insurance. I’m asking for half of that. If only Lord Lawson would listen to the facts instead of that Doctor of Sports Science, Benny Peiser. Or Matt Ridley – an expert in the sexual habits of pheasants. If I want to know about pheasants, I will first ask Lord Ridley. Can he understand why I go to a climatologist first ? [To accept his view of the] risks effects of climate change means relying on the infallibility of Lord Lawson [...]”
He spoke of cross-party unity over the signing into law of the Climate Change Act, and the strength of purpose within Parliament to do the right thing on carbon. He admitted that there were elements of the media and establishment who were belligerently or obfuscatingly opposing the right thing to do :-
“[We] can only win if the world outside has certainty about institutional government. This is a battle we have taken on and won’t stop till we win it. [The Lord Lawson and Lord Ridley and their position is] contrary to science, contrary to sense and contrary to the principle of insurance. They will not be listened to, not now, until UK has reduced level of carbon emissions, and we have [promised] our grandchildren they they are safe from climate change.”
Phew ! That was a war cry, if ever there was one ! We are clearly in the Salvation Army ! I noted the attendance list, that showed several Gentlemen and Ladies of the Press should have been present, and hope to read good reports, but know that in some parts of the Gutter, anti-science faecal detritus still swirls. We in One Birdcage Walk were the assembly of believers, but the general public conversation on carbon is poisoned with sulphurous intent.Alchemical, Assets not Liabilities, Bad Science, Be Prepared, Change Management, Climate Change, Climate Chaos, Climate Damages, Conflict of Interest, Cost Effective, Deal Breakers, Delay and Deny, Demoticratica, Divide & Rule, Efficiency is King, Emissions Impossible, Evil Opposition, Fair Balance, Fossilised Fuels, Freak Science, Freemarketeering, Green Investment, Green Power, Growth Paradigm, Human Nurture, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Insulation, Low Carbon Life, Mad Mad World, Mass Propaganda, Media, Money Sings, National Energy, National Power, Non-Science, Nudge & Budge, Orwells, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Pet Peeves, Political Nightmare, Public Relations, Realistic Models, Regulatory Ultimatum, Revolving Door, Science Rules, Scientific Fallacy, Social Change, Social Chaos, Social Democracy, Stirring Stuff, Sustainable Deferment, The Data, The Science of Communitagion, Toxic Hazard, Ungreen Development, Unqualified Opinion
Posted on July 8th, 2013 No comments
What can deep time teach us ?
Whilst doing a little background research into biological routes to hydrogen production, I came across a scientific journal paper, I can’t recall which, that suggested that the geological evidence indicates that Earth’s second atmosphere not only had a high concentration of methane, but also high levels of hydrogen gas.
Previously, my understanding was that the development of microbiological life included a good number of methanogens (micro-life that produces methane as a waste product) and methanotrophs (those that “trough” on methane), but that hydrogenogen (“respiring” hydrogen gas) and hydrogenotroph (metabolising hydrogen) species were a minority, and that this was reflected in modern-day decomposition, such as the cultures used in biogas plants for anaerobic digestion.
If there were high densities of hydrogen cycle lifeforms in the early Earth, maybe there are remnants, descendants of this branch of the tree of life, optimal at producing hydrogen gas as a by-product, which could be employed for biohydrogen production, but which haven’t yet been scoped.
After all, it has only been very recently that psychrophiles have been added to the range of microorganisms that have been found useful in biogas production – cold-loving, permafrost-living bugs to complement the thermophile and mesophile species.
Since hydrogen and methane are both ideal gas fuels, for a variety of reasons, including gas storage, combustion profiles and simple chemistry, I decided I needed to learn a little more.
I have now read a plethora of new theories and several books about the formation of the Earth (and the Moon) in the Hadean Eon, the development of Earth’s atmosphere, the development of life in the Archaean Eon, and the evolution of life caused by climate change, and these developments in living beings causing climate change in their turn.
Most of this knowledge is mediated to us by geology, and geobiology. But right at its heart is catalytic chemistry, once again. Here’s Robert Hazen (Robert M. Hazen) from page 138 of “The Story of Earth” :-
“Amino acids, sugars, and the components of DNA and RNA adsorb onto all of Earth’s most common rock-forming minerals [...] We concluded that wherever the prebiotic ocean contacted minerals, highly concentrated arrangements of life’s molecules are likely to have emerged from the formless broth [...] Many other researchers have also settled on such a conclusion – indeed, more than a few prominent biologists have also gravitated to minerals, because origins-of-life scenarios that involve only oceans and atmosphere face insurmountable problems in accounting for efficient mechanisms of molecular selection and concentration. Solid minerals have an unmatched potential to select, concentrate, and organize molecules. So minerals much have played a central role in life’s origins. Biochemistry is complex, with interwoven cycles and networks of molecular reactions. For those intricately layered processes to work, molecules have to have just the right sizes and shapes. Molecular selection is the task of finding the best molecule for each biochemical job, and template-directed selection on mineral surfaces is now the leading candidate for how nature did it [...] left- and right-handed molecules [...] It turns out that life is incredibly picky : cells almost exclusively employ left-handed amino acids and right-handed sugars. Chirality matters [...] Our recent experiments have explored the possibility that chiral mineral surfaces played the starring role in selecting handed molecules, and perhaps the origins of life as well. [...] Our experiments showed that certain left-handed molecules can aggregate on one set of crystal surfaces, while the mirror image [...] on other sets [...] As handed molecules are separated and concentrated, each surface becomes a tiny experiment in molecular selection and organization. On its own, no such natural experiment with minerals and molecules is likely to have generated life. But take countless trillions of trillions of trillions of mineral surfaces, each bathed in molecule-rich organic broth [...] The tiny fraction of all those molecular combinations that wound up displaying easier self-assembly, or developed a stronger binding to mineral surfaces [...] survived [...] possibly to learn new tricks.”Academic Freedom, Acid Ocean, Alchemical, Animal Kingdoom, Breathe Easy, British Biogas, Climate Change, Energy Change, Engineering Marvel, Extreme Energy, Fossilised Fuels, Gas Storage, Geogingerneering, Global Heating, Global Singeing, Global Warming, Hydrogen Economy, Low Carbon Life, Marvellous Wonderful, Methane Management, National Energy, Realistic Models, Renewable Gas, Resource Wards, Science Rules, Solution City, The Data, The Right Chemistry
Posted on June 11th, 2013 No comments
[ Image Credit : Lakeview Gusher : TotallyTopTen.com ]
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 stone – over 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.
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Posted on May 25th, 2013 No comments
“So what do you do ?” is a question I quite frequently have to answer, as I meet a lot of new people, in a lot of new audiences and settings, on a regular basis, as an integral part of my personal process of discovery.
My internal autocue answer has modified, evolved, over the years, but currently sounds a lot like this, “I have a couple of part-time jobs, office administration, really. I do a spot of weblogging in my spare time. But I’m also doing some research into the potential for Renewable Gas.” I then pause for roughly two seconds. “Renewable Gas ?” comes back the question.
“Yes,” I affirm in the positive, “Industrial-scale chemistry to produce gas fuels not dug up out of the ground. It is useful to plug the gaps in Renewable Electricity when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.”
It’s not exactly an elevator pitch – I’m not really selling anything except a slight shift in the paradigm here. Renewable Energy. Renewable Electricity. Renewable Gas. Power and gas. Gas and power. It’s logical to want both to be as renewable and sustainable and as low carbon as possible.
Wait another two seconds. “…What, you mean, like Biogas ?” comes the question. “Well, yes, and also high volumes of non-biological gas that’s produced above the ground instead of from fossil fuels.”
The introductory chat normally fades after this exchange, as my respondent usually doesn’t have the necessary knowledge architecture to be able to make any sense of what my words represent. I think it’s fair to say I don’t win many chummy friends paradigm-bumping in this way, and some probably think I’m off the deep end psychologically, but hey, evolutionaries don’t ever have it easy.
And I also find that it’s not easy to find a place in the hierarchy of established learning for my particular “research problem”. Which school could I possibly join ? Which research council would adopt me ?
The first barrier to academic inclusion is that my research interest is clearly motivated by my concern about the risks of Climate Change – the degradation in the Earth’s life support systems from pumping unnaturally high volumes of carbon dioxide into the air – and Peak Fossil Fuels – the risks to humanity from a failure to grow subsurface energy production.
My research is therefore “applied” research, according to the OECD definition (OECD, 2002). It’s not motivated simply by the desire to know new things – it is not “pure” research – it has an end game in mind. My research is being done in order to answer a practical problem – how to decarbonise gaseous, gas phase, energy fuel production.
The second barrier to the ivory tower world that I have is that I do not have a technological contribution to make with this research. I am not inventing a chemical process that can “revolutionise” low carbon energy production. (I don’t believe in “revolutions” anyway. Nothing good ever happens by violent overthrow.) My research is not at the workbench end of engineering, so I am not going to work amongst a team of industrial technicians, so I am not going to produce a patent for clean energy that could save the world (or the economy).
My research is more about observing and reporting the advances of others, and how these pieces add up to a journey of significant change in the energy sector. I want to join the dots from studies at the leading edge of research, showing how this demonstrates widespread aspiration for clean energy, and document instances of new energy technology, systems and infrastructure. I want to witness to the internal motivation of thousands of people working with the goal of clean energy across a very wide range of disciplines.
This is positively positive; positivity, but it’s not positivism – it’s not pure, basic research. This piece of research could well influence people and events – it’s certainly already influencing me. It’s not hands-off neutral science. It interacts with its subjects. It intentionally intervenes.
Since I don’t have an actual physical contribution or product to offer, and since I fully expect it to “interfere” with current dogma and political realities, what I am doing will be hard to acknowledge.
This is not a PhD. But it is still a piece of philosophy, the love of wisdom that comes from the acquisition of knowledge.
I have been clear for some time about what I should be studying. Call it “internal drive” if you like. The aim is to support the development of universal renewable energy as a response to the risks of climate change and peak fossil fuel energy production. That makes me automatically biased. I view my research subject through the prism of hope. But I would contend that this is a perfectly valid belief, as I already know some of what is possible. I’m not starting from a foundational blank slate – many Renewable Gas processes are already in use throughout industry and the energy sector. The fascinating part is watching these functions coalesce into a coherent alternative to the mining of fossil fuels. For the internal industry energy production conversation is changing its track, its tune.
For a while now, “alternative” energy has been a minor vibration, a harmonic, accentuating the fossil fuel melody. As soon as the mid-noughties economic difficulties began to bite, greenwash activities were ditched, as oil and gas companies resorted to their core business. But the “green shoots” of green energy are still there, and every now and then, it is possible to see them poking up above the oilspill-desecrated soil. My role is to count blades and project bushes. Therefore my research is interpretivist or constructivist, although it is documenting positivist engineering progress. That’s quite hard for me to agree with, even though I reasoned it myself. I can still resist being labelled “post-positivist”, though, because I’m still interpreting reality not relativisms.
So now, on from research paradigm to research methodologies. I was trained to be an experimentalist scientist, so this is a departure for me. In this case, I am not going to seek to make a physical contribution to the field by being actively involved as an engineer in a research programme, partly because from what I’ve read so far, most of the potential is already documented and scoped.
I am going to use sociological methods, combining observation and rapportage, to and from various organisations through various media. Since I am involved in the narrative through my interactions with others, and I influence the outcomes of my research, this is partly auto-narrative, autoethnographic, ethnographic. An apt form for the research documentation is a weblog, as it is a longitudinal study, so discrete reports at time intervals are appropriate. Social media will be useful for joining the research to a potential audience, and Twitter has the kind of immediacy I prefer.
My observation will therefore be akin to journalism – engineering journalism, where the term “engineering” covers both technological and sociological aspects of change. A kind of energy futures “travelogue”, an observer of an emerging reality.
My research methods will include reading the science and interacting with engineers. I hope to do a study trip (or two) as a way of embedding myself into the new energy sector, with the explicit intention of ensuring I am not purely a commentator-observer. My research documentation will include a slow collation of my sources and references – a literature review that evolves over time.
My personal contribution will be slight, but hopefully set archaic and inefficient proposals for energy development based on “traditional” answers (such as nuclear power, “unconventional” fossil fuel production and Carbon Capture and Storage for coal) in high relief.
My research choices as they currently stand :-
1. I do not think I want to join an academic group.
2. I do not think I want to work for an energy engineering company.
3. I do not want to claim a discovery in an experimental sense. Indeed, I do not need to, as I am documenting discoveries and experiments.
4. I want to be clear about my bias towards promoting 100% renewable energy, as a desirable ambition, in response to the risks posed by climate change and peak fossil fuel production.
5. I need to admit that my research may influence outcomes, and so is applied rather than basic (Roll-Hansen, 2009).
OECD, 2002. “Proposed Standard Practice for Surveys on Research and Experimental Development”, Frascati Manual :-
Roll-Hansen, 2009. “Why the distinction between basic (theoretical) and applied (practical) research is important in the politics of science”, Nils Roll-Hansen, Centre for the Philosophy of Natural and Social Science Contingency and Dissent in Science, Technical Report 04/09 :-
http://www2.lse.ac.uk/CPNSS/projects/CoreResearchProjects/ContingencyDissentInScience/DP/DPRoll-HansenOnline0409.pdfAcademic Freedom, Alchemical, Assets not Liabilities, Big Picture, Big Society, British Biogas, Change Management, Climate Change, Conflict of Interest, Design Matters, Direction of Travel, Emissions Impossible, Energy Autonomy, Energy Change, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Engineering Marvel, Fossilised Fuels, Green Investment, Green Power, Human Nurture, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Hydrogen Economy, Low Carbon Life, Major Shift, Marvellous Wonderful, Media, National Energy, National Power, Optimistic Generation, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Coal, Peak Emissions, Peak Energy, Peak Natural Gas, Peak Oil, Realistic Models, Renewable Gas, Renewable Resource, Science Rules, Shale Game, Social Capital, Social Change, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, Stirring Stuff, Technological Sideshow, The Data, The Power of Intention, The Science of Communitagion, Unconventional Foul, Unnatural Gas, Wind of Fortune, Zero Net
Posted on February 27th, 2013 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.Be Prepared, Behaviour Changeling, Big Number, Big Picture, Big Society, Burning Money, Coal Hell, Delay and Deny, Direction of Travel, Disturbing Trends, Efficiency is King, Energy Autonomy, Energy Change, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Fossilised Fuels, Fuel Poverty, Global Heating, Global Warming, Green Investment, Green Power, Growth Paradigm, Health Impacts, Insulation, Low Carbon Life, Methane Management, National Energy, National Power, Nuclear Nuisance, Nuclear Shambles, Optimistic Generation, Peak Coal, Peak Energy, Peak Natural Gas, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Price Control, Realistic Models, Renewable Resource, Social Change, Social Chaos, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, The Data, The Power of Intention, The Price of Gas, Wasted Resource, Western Hedge, Wind of Fortune
Posted on January 20th, 2013 No comments
Somewhere on the Internet, as I write, somebody will be arguing about global warming – or rather, several somebodies, since disputes require multiple parties, and global warming is, as claimed by some, to be sufficiently contentious to have spawned ongoing vituperativeness. Many of the lines of reasoning will include references to the cyclic nature of Nature. Most of the data considered will be from measurements of “surface” temperatures – the temperature of the atmosphere near the land surface of the Earth, and the temperature of the oceans near the surface with the atmosphere.
These are of course, the easiest things to measure, as this is the part of the Earth system that people inhabit, and all kinds of surface temperature records, of varying validity and accuracy, have been recorded for millenia.
The lower reaches of the air and the upper waters of the oceans, are, however, prone to quite wide swings in temperatures, owing to the turbulent nature of heat, air and water transport in and around the surface of the Earth. And so, easily distracted creatures that we are, if we have any honour in our research into global warming, we consider this see-sawing surface temperature data, and we apply our best analysis techniques to try to comprehend its “walk” – the direction it is taking overall. And herein lies a faultline, that despite decades of obsession, is not easily vaulted. The use of statistical techniques to analyse surface temperature data suffers from two key problems :-
(a) An assumption that we can determine accurately the period of time over which we can confidently apply statistical analysis techniques in order to be able to determine trends in surface temperatures; and
(b) An assumption that surface temperatures can be treated with the usual statistical toolbox of techniques – that surface temperatures would, unless forced, fall into a distribution curve of random readings, spread like a bell curve around a central mean.
And so an army of inspectors applies probabilistic statistical methods to the Earth’s surface temperature data sets, and some say it comes up with more questions than answers. For example, there may, or may not be, evidence that trends can only be claimed over decadal, or multi-decadal, periods; that all the apparent warming can be put down to natural cycles of the oceans, so a cooling phase will be next; that no trend can be claimed in 50 years because of the wild swings in the data ; that all the data is confused with volcanic episodes; that lots of mini-cycles in the Earth system are confusing us. And so on.
When I find people arguing about the surface temperature records, and whether a global warming trend can be picked out from them, I ask them if they’ve looked at the bigger picture : the global heat transport system. Water can retain heat better than air – a very large proportion of the heating caused by sunlight ends up in the oceans – at different places in the depths of the oceans. Over time, this heat is exchanged with the atmosphere, rather like global Gas Central Heating, but a lot of it stays down there – so if there is a trend for global warming, it’s probably best to look in the oceans for it.
And when we do, all the arguments about statistical analysis of surface atmospheric temperatures vapourise into meaninglessness, almost. The trend of ocean warming is so clear, you don’t need to apply any kind of statistical methods (apart from a couple of years of averaging) :-
Actually, the trend of atmospheric warming is also clear, if you take the long view :-
Anybody who is still arguing about the periodicity of surface temperatures, as if natural cycles could explain global warming, should think again.
Surface temperature cycles are perhaps able to explain whether the next 10 years or so will see more or less global warming – but they cannot explain away the 100 year trend in global warming.
And when people have come to terms that statistics cannot wipe away the reality of global warming, then comes the sting in the tail. Because the ocean is exchanging heat with the atmosphere over time, this creates a time lag – between the heat being generated in the oceans, and surface temperatures rising as a result.
We ain’t seen nothing, yet.
18th January 2013
@richardabetts Think focus on air temps waste of time: most heat ends up in oceans http://www.climate4you.com/images/NODC%20GlobalOceanicHeatContent0-700mSince1955%20With37monthRunningAverage.gif … @lucialiljegren @nmrqip @ed_hawkins
@richardabetts Number of reasons why air temps bounce around making short-term interpretation difficult @lucialiljegren @nmrqip @ed_hawkins
@richardabetts …but oceans temps could well continue a solid upwards gradient over next decades @lucialiljegren @nmrqip @ed_hawkins
@richardabetts If oceans continue recent warming gradient, will drag air temps on average up with them @lucialiljegren @nmrqip @ed_hawkins
@richardabetts If ENSO taking new shape/profile/cycle, this could obscure some of atmospheric temp rise @lucialiljegren @nmrqip @ed_hawkins
@richardabetts Even ENSO obfuscation can’t put off ~1.2degC warming next 30 years http://www.joabbess.com/2010/07/19/simple-integration/ … @lucialiljegren @nmrqip @ed_hawkins
@ClimateOfGavin Sometimes distrust obsession re atmospheric temps: look at ocean warming @lucialiljegren @ed_hawkins @richardabetts @nmrqip
@ClimateOfGavin However much @lucialiljegren obsesses on air temperatures I only care about ocean warming @ed_hawkins @richardabetts @nmrqip
@ClimateOfGavin Lower atmosphere temperatures flip-flop all kinds of reasons: not oceans @lucialiljegren @ed_hawkins @richardabetts @nmrqip
@ClimateOfGavin Thermal capacity of oceans means they should show more reliable trend ? @lucialiljegren @ed_hawkins @richardabetts @nmrqip
@joabbess @ClimateOfGavin Probably, but we only have good enough sub-surface observations of past ~50 years or so.
@ed_hawkins Yet since oceans good heat retainer even mediocre records of past relevant 4 comparison eg http://www.livescience.com/19414-oceans-warming-135-years.html … @ClimateOfGavin
@ed_hawkins We should definitely use what we know about thermal capacity of oceans to accept ships etc historical records @ClimateOfGavin
@ed_hawkins Ocean records of last 50 years allow for calibration between surface and depths, & with historical records too @ClimateOfGavin
@joabbess @ClimateOfGavin Of course – deep ocean observations are very relevant, but not the only type of measurement that are useful!
@ed_hawkins I’m sure there must be mines data going back several hundreds of years, doing same trick for mass earth temps @ClimateOfGavin
@joabbess Surely mines data will be swamped by core heat? V. hot down there. @ed_hawkins @ClimateOfGavin
@ClimateOfGavin (Gavin Schmidt)
@JohnRussell40 @joabbess @ed_hawkins borehole temperatures can in fact be deconvolved to show widespread recent warming Henry Pollack et al
@ClimateOfGavin I assume you mean this http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo/borehole/core.html … http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo/globalwarming/pollack.html … Think that’s pretty clear ! @JohnRussell40 @ed_hawkins
@ClimateOfGavin Interestingly reflects surface up-blip in 1940s, which Phil Jones et al keep trying to smooth @JohnRussell40 @ed_hawkins
@ClimateOfGavin That up-blip in 1940s was what got us all started looking for historical marine records: v useful @JohnRussell40 @ed_hawkins
@ed_hawkins I’m trying to hint that endless debates about cyclicity/statistics of air temps = time-wasting & not productive @ClimateOfGavin
@ed_hawkins If read 1 more mangled media article about statistical trends of air temperatures, going to scream & jump about @ClimateOfGavin
@ed_hawkins The overall graph speaks for itself – or it should – louder than anything http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/2013/20130115_Temperature2012.pdf … Fig. 1 @ClimateOfGavin
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Posted on October 17th, 2012 No comments
I could never be in sales and marketing. I have a strong negative reaction to public relations, propaganda and the sticky, inauthentic charm of personal persuasion.
Lead a horse to water, show them how lovely and sparkling it is, talk them through their appreciation of water, how it could benefit their lives, make them thirsty, stand by and observe as they start to lap it up.
One of the mnemonics of marketing is AIDA, which stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, Action, leading a “client” through the process, guiding a sale. Seize Attention. Create Interest. Inspire Desire. Precipitate Action. Some mindbenders insert the letter C for Commitment – hoping to be sure that Desire has turned into certain decision before permitting, allowing, enabling, contracting or encouraging the Action stage.
You won’t get that kind of psychological plasticity nonsense from me. Right is right, and wrong is wrong, and ethics should be applied to every conversion of intent. In fact, the architect of a change of mind should be the mind who is changing – the marketeer or sales person should not proselytise, evangelise, lie, cheat, sneak, creep and massage until they have control.
I refuse to do “Suggestive Sell”. I only do “Show and Tell”.
I am quite observant, and so in interpersonal interactions I am very sensitive to rejection, the “no” forming in the mind of the other. I can sense when somebody is turned off by an idea or a proposal, sometimes even before they know it clearly themselves. I am habituated to detecting disinclination, and I am resigned to it. There is no bridge over the chasm of “no”. I know that marketing people are trained to not accept negative reactions they perceive – to keep pursuing the sale. But I don’t want to. I want to admit, permit, allow my correspondent to say “no” and mean “no”, and not be harrassed, deceived or cajoled to change it to a “yes”.
I have been accused of being on the dark side – in my attempts to show and tell on climate change and renewable energy. Some assume that because I am part of the “communications team”, I am conducting a sales job. I’m not. My discovery becomes your discovery, but it’s not a constructed irreality. For many, it’s true that they believe they need to follow the path of public relations – deploying the “information deficit model” of communication – hierarchically patronising. Me, expert. You, poor unknowing punter. Me, inform you. You, believe, repent, be cleaned and change your ways. In this sense, communications experts have made climate change a religious cult.
In energy futures, I meet so many who are wild-eyed, desperate to make a sale – those who have genuine knowledge of their subject – and who realise that their pitch is not strong enough in the eyes of others. It’s not just a question of money or funding. The engineers, often in large corporations, trying to make an impression on politicians. The consultants who are trying to influence companies and civil servants. The independent professionals trying to exert the wisdom of pragmatism and negotiated co-operation. The establishment trying to sell technical services. Those organisations and institutions playing with people – playing with belonging, with reputation, marketing outdated narratives. People who are in. People who are hands-off. People who are tipped and ditched. Those with connections who give the disconnected a small rocky platform. The awkwardness of invested power contending with radical outsiders. Denial of changing realities. The dearth of ready alternatives. Are you ready to be captured, used and discarded ? Chase government research and development grants. Steal your way into consultations. Play the game. Sell yourself. Dissociate and sell your soul.
I have to face the fact that I do need to sell myself. I have to do it in a way which remains open and honest. To sell myself and my conceptual framework, my proposals for ways forward on energy and climate change, I need a product. My person is often not enough of a product to sell – I am neuro-atypical. My Curriculum Vitae CV in resume is not enough of a product to sell me. My performance in interviews and meetings is often not enough of a product. My weblog has never been a vehicle for sales. I didn’t want it to be – or to be seen as that – as I try to avoid deceit in communications.
Change requires facilitation. You can’t just walk away when the non-persuasional communications dialogue challenge gets speared with distrust and dismissal. Somehow there has to be a way to present direction and decisions in a way that doesn’t have a shadow of evil hovering in the wings.
“A moment to change it all, is all it takes to start anew.
To the other side.”
Why do I need to “sell” myself ? Why do I need to develop a product – a vehicle with which to sell myself ?
1. In order to be recognised, in order to be welcomed, invited to make a contribution to the development of low carbon energy, the optimisation of the use of energy, and effective climate change policy.
2. In order to put my internal motivations and drive to some practical use. To employ my human energy in the service of the future of energy engineering and energy systems.
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Posted on September 25th, 2012 No commentsAcademic Freedom, Big Number, Big Picture, Climate Change, Climate Chaos, Cool Poverty, Delay and Deny, Direction of Travel, Disturbing Trends, Extreme Weather, Gamechanger, Global Heating, Global Warming, Growth Paradigm, Heatwave, Hide the Incline, Human Nurture, Incalculable Disaster, Insulation, Major Shift, Media, Meltdown, Near-Natural Disaster, Neverending Disaster, Nudge & Budge, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Public Relations, Realistic Models, Science Rules, Screaming Panic, Sustainable Deferment, The Data, The Science of Communitagion, The War on Error, Vain Hope
Posted on August 27th, 2012 No comments
The human race – we have to solve energy together. And to do that, we need to harness all our personal, purposeful, positive energies, and let me tell you, personally, I feel electric – and I’m only just getting warmed up.
So let’s hear less of the nonsense from authoritatively-accredited people who want to put a dampener on green energy, who say that saving energy cannot, simply cannot be done, sigh, sigh, sigh, collective groan. We have so much energy together, we can do this.
We have the will power, the staying power, the investment power, and we will navigate the obstacles in our path.
Let’s not waste any more time on expensive trinkets, and iddy-biddy fancies with high unit costs and low compatibility to the future. Yes, I’m talking nuclear power. I’m talking the nobody-really-wants-to-do-it-and-nobody-thinks-it-can-be-cheap-enough-to-work-at-scale Carbon Capture and Storage. And yes, I’m talking carbon markets – tell me again, where are they now ? Oh yes, still in the starting blocks.
And don’t even start to talk about pricing carbon to me – in this world of rollercoaster, highly volatile energy prices, what on Earth could costing or taxing carbon actually achieve ? And fusion power ? Nah, mate, forget it. It’s been 50 years away for the last 50 years.
Shale gas, oil from shales, tar sands, coal bed methane collection and underground coal gasification are once-abandoned messy ideas from way back. They’re still messy, and they’re still retro, and they’re not going to get us anywhere. If the United States of America want to completely ruin their lithosphere, well, that’s up to them, but don’t come around here toxifying our aquifers and poisoning our European trees !
What we need is marine energy, geothermal energy, hydropower, solar power, wind power, and Renewable Gas, because gaseous fuels are so flexible and store-able and can come from many, many processes. And we need the next optimistic generation of leaders to push through the administration ceiling and get green energy policy really rolling, attracting all the green investment will.
If I were a power plant, I would be cranking out the current and making everything shine very, very brightly just now.
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Posted on August 27th, 2012 No comments
Whatever it is, it starts with attention, paying attention.
Attention to numbers, faces, needs, consideration of the rights and wrongs and probables.
Thinking things through, looking vulnerable children and aggressive control freaks directly in the eye, being truly brave enough to face both radiant beauty and unbelievable evil with equanimity.
To study. To look, and then look again.
To adopt a manner of seeing, and if you cannot see, to learn to truly absorb the soundscape of your world – to pick up the detail, to fully engage.
It is a way of filling up your soul with the new, the good, the amazing; and also the way to empty worthless vanity from your life.
Simone Weil expressed this truth in these words : “Toutes les fois qu’on fait vraiment attention, on détruit du mal en soi.” If you pay close attention, you learn what is truly of value, and you jettison incongruities and waywardness. She also pronounced that “L’attention est la forme la plus rare et la plus pure de la générosité.” And she is right. People feel truly valued if you gaze at them, and properly listen to them.
Those of us who have researched climate change and the limits to natural resources, those of us who have looked beyond the public relations of energy companies whose shares are traded on the stock markets – we are paying attention. We have been working hard to raise the issues for the attention of others, and sometimes this has depleted our personal energies, caused us sleepless nights, given us depression, fatalism, made us listless, aimless, frustrated.
Some of us turn to prayer or other forms of meditation. We are enabled to listen, to learn, to try again to communicate, to bridge divides, to empathise.
A transformation can take place. The person who pays close attention to others becomes trusted, attractive in a pure, transparent way. People know our hearts, they have confidence in us, when we give them our time and an open door.Academic Freedom, Assets not Liabilities, Big Number, Big Picture, Big Society, Climate Change, Climate Chaos, Climate Damages, Corporate Pressure, Delay and Deny, Demoticratica, Design Matters, Direction of Travel, Disturbing Trends, Energy Autonomy, Energy Change, Energy Denial, Energy Disenfranchisement, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Fair Balance, Faithful God, Feed the World, Feel Gooder, Fossilised Fuels, Freemarketeering, Gamechanger, Human Nurture, Major Shift, Marvellous Wonderful, Mass Propaganda, Media, Meltdown, Neverending Disaster, Optimistic Generation, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peace not War, Peak Coal, Peak Emissions, Peak Energy, Peak Natural Gas, Peak Oil, Petrolheads, Public Relations, Pure Hollywood, Realistic Models, Renewable Resource, Social Capital, Social Change, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, Stirring Stuff, The Data, The Power of Intention, The War on Error, Wind of Fortune, Zero Net
Posted on August 13th, 2012 1 commentAcademic Freedom, Assets not Liabilities, Bad Science, Bait & Switch, Be Prepared, Climate Change, Climate Chaos, Conflict of Interest, Corporate Pressure, Delay and Deny, Disturbing Trends, Divide & Rule, Dreamworld Economics, Economic Implosion, Emissions Impossible, Energy Change, Energy Denial, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Fossilised Fuels, Freshwater Stress, Gamechanger, Growth Paradigm, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Major Shift, Mass Propaganda, Neverending Disaster, Non-Science, Nudge & Budge, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Emissions, Peak Energy, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Public Relations, Realistic Models, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Resource, Resource Curse, Science Rules, Social Capital, Social Change, Sustainable Deferment, The Data, The Power of Intention, The War on Error, Voluntary Behaviour Change, Wasted Resource
Posted on August 2nd, 2012 2 comments
This is just a snippet from a long email trail about climate change…
From: Jo Abbess
You are a human being. What you think is important. What you know is useful.
What I want to ask you is : who do you read ? Whose opinions do you value ? Whose information do you choose to accept ? And are you as sceptical about these authors as you are about the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] community of scientists ? If not, why not ? Do you discredit climate change science because of the views of others, or because you have read the IPCC science for yourself and you have a dispute with their conclusions ?
The question of authority is important here – not the authority of power or influence, but the authority of expertise. Who do you think has more expertise and authority to make claims about the state of the world’s climate and the causes of the obvious perturbations in it ? If you think that discernment should be a matter for yourself, then I would ask you to actually review the IPCC science reports and give me (us) a summary from your point of view. If you think that people other than the IPCC have the right and authority and expertise to pronounce on climate change, who are they ? And what science have they done to support their views ?
With my full respect, as one human being to another,
Thanks, thanks, and thanks.
There is an enormous body of information on all aspects of the issue, and obviously, I have not read all of it. I am not a Climate Scientist, so I have to go with the views of others. On the one hand, we have the IPCC, and its supporters, and on the other hand, we have those who disagree with the IPCC. There are many, but for the sake of simplicity, I think WUWT [Watts Up With That] is a fair, reasonable and credible “disbeliever/skeptic site” that presents teh alternative views in a reasonable and competent manner. I started off supporting the IPCC view, and on the surface, it seemed to make sense.. I was a “Believer”. As I read more, I found a lot of loose ends starting to show up, and I became a skeptic. At the moment, I am neither a “Believer” or a “Dis-believer.” There are points pro and con for each side. My position is in the “muddy water in the middle” There are always “two sides to every story.” I find the best way to read IPCC and “believer” sites, to get their views on the points of the Disbelievers/Skeptics”, and vice-versa. I presently remain in the “muddy water in the middle”, simply because neither side has presented what I feel is a “slam/dunk case” to support their position.
The Authority/Expertise issue is an important one. I started off as an IPCC Believer, and went with the flow of their “Experts”. Then the “Disbelievers/Skeptics” started to present disturbing points. I think the first was the BBC Program that suggested that “Temperature Change came first, and CO2 rise followed.. [ Channel 4's "The Great Global Warming Swindle" perhaps ? ] Then there was the revelation about the quality of US Weather Station Data. Then there was the issue of “non-transparency of data and computer models”. Then there was the issue of ‘Carbon Credits”, which are useless as a mechanism for reducing Atmospheric CO2. Then there was the issue of Terra Preta/Biochar being promoted by ardent “Believers” whose major thrust of effort was promoting Biochar based on future carbon credit payments, rather than on its merits as an agricultural tool. Then there was the issue of the change in direction from “Global Warming” to “Global Climate Change”. Then there was the Stern Report which over-emphasises threats, and under-estimates benefits of climate change, and the cost to implement remediation measures. Then there was the extreme intolerance of the views of “Dis-believers or Skeptics.” Then there was the issue of the IPCC claiming that “Consensus Science” was science, when it is not. Etc, etc. All these “loose ends” and many more detract from the credibility of the IPCC Camp, to the point that I cannot personally accept their views blindly, and go with their flow.
I do like your concept of “… discernment should be a matter for yourself.” That is EXACTLY where I stand. I am confused about the IPCC Position, and as a “confused mind”, I say “No!” to blind and complete acceptance of their views. I neither accept nor reject the “authority” of either side. What I am looking for is “clear water”, and few enough “loose ends” that I can comfortably “go with the flow” of one side or the other. Hence, I remain a skeptic. Given that the IPCC has “staked out a position”, I feel the “burden of proof” rests with them to show that their position is correct. I feel it is only necessary for the dis-believers and skeptics to raise “reasonable doubts” for the IPCC case to collapse. I feel the IPCC position is basically “We have staked out our position, and we are right unless you prove us wrong.” Thats not the way it works in the Courts… the Prosecution must prove its case “beyond all reasonable doubts” in order to win. The Defence only has to present “reasonable doubt” to win.
I personally “have no dog in the fight”, and it is not necessary for me, at this stage, to move firmly into the “Believer or Disbeliever” camp. Many are like me…. simply wanting to know enough to feel comfortable supporting one side or another. Others are in the difficult position of having to “take a stand” even though they may not be confident in taking a position. Or, in the case of Policy Makers, if unsure, “The Confused Mind says “No”", and they base their policy decisions on considerations other than Climatge Change. For example, while the Politicians mouth support for Climate Change amelioriation, the outcome of the Durban Meeting was basically “Yes, we support climate change controls, and we will implement them after 2020, but we can’t say what we will do, or how long after 2020 we wil do it.”
Thanks also, for your open-ness and understanding.
From: Jo Abbess
I understand where you are.
The problem with the discourse on climate change is that a lot of it is very shallow, and people are prone to emotional reactions such as hand-waving dismissiveness, angry retorts and sadly, even personal insults. It’s easy to get submerged in this and not find solid ground.
When I first encountered the Internet wranglings of Steve McIntyre and the ramblings of Anthony Watts, it took me some time to realise that they were guilty of the behaviour they accuse others of. As I researched what they were claiming, I realised it was all vapourware.
We find we are wading into an academic dispute, with people trying to protect the shreds of their careers and reputations as it becomes clear that they are in error. But who exactly is in error, here ? And who is producing the smoke and mirrors fluff to try to hide the fact that they are losing ground ?
As in law, it is almost impossible to come to a clear understanding of what the actual situation is by just relying on confusing “circumstantial evidence” or hearsay from second- or third-hand witnesses.
A number of “sceptical” scientists and deeply involved people such as Anthony Watts have contributed to the body of knowledge on climate change. The IPCC and leading research agencies and universities have taken note of their contributions – and have even included them in literature reviews, research analysis and invited the “sceptics” to take part in report review and writing teams.
However, if you look carefully, behind the web log waffle, you will find that the conclusions of Richard S. Lindzen, John R. Christy, Anthony Watts, Roger Pielke Sr and so on have been successfully challenged by other climate change experts.
Although they may claim they have been ignored, they have been included. And although they may claim they have uncovered flaws or deliberate science misconduct, they have not, and the mainstream climate change scientists have been repeatedly vindicated.
I invite you, as I do everyone, to read the IPCC science reports as a first step to learning about the foundation of the issue of climate change. In the Fourth Assessment Report, you will find the work of the climate change “sceptics” discussed, and some of the climate change “sceptics” listed in the co-author lists. You will also find that the overwhelming conclusion from the body of evidence is as outlined in the IPCC synthesis on the state of the science.
The recent pre-paper by Anthony Watts, which was released in a flurry of Internet wreckage in response to the “conversion” of Richard Muller of the BEST project, is merely an update of work Watts released before, which was duly noted by the American science agencies, and taken note of in later data analysis. The current Watts paper is possibly not going to be published because of flaws already discovered :-
whose “conclusion is not supported by the analysis in the paper itself”.
Because Americans appear to believe in free speech above truth telling, we can expect more hate speech and false claims to come from the climate change “sceptic” echo chamber, unfortunately, before it becomes clear that Anthony Watts latest contribution is interesting, but not a “gamechanger”.
You have hit the nail on the head. Very few read the IPCC science reports, maybe the exec summary, but not the detail. And therein lies the problem, a few hot head deniers pick one little point and build a huge conspiracy theory out of it.
Sad, because whether we like it or not we ARE all in this mess together, climate does not recognise national boundaries, wealth, status or anything else, we will all suffer.
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Posted on July 11th, 2012 No commentsBe Prepared, Big Picture, Climate Change, Climate Damages, Disturbing Trends, Eating & Drinking, Extreme Weather, Fair Balance, Feed the World, Firestorm, Floodstorm, Food Insecurity, Freak Science, Freshwater Stress, Global Warming, Heatwave, Hide the Incline, Human Nurture, Incalculable Disaster, Major Shift, Meltdown, Mudslide, Neverending Disaster, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Public Relations, Rainstorm, Realistic Models, Sandstorm, Science Rules, The Data, The War on Error, Water Wars, Wildfire, Wind of Fortune
Posted on July 7th, 2012 1 comment
My electronic mail inbox and Twitter “social media” timeline are full of people sparking and foaming about George Monbiot’s latest kow-tow to American academia. Apparently, he has discarded the evidence of many, many researchers, energy engineers and market players and poured luke-warm, regurgitated scorn on the evidence and inevitability of “Peak Oil”.
The level of agitation contradicting his stance has reached a new peak – in fact, I think I might claim this as “Peak Agitation”.
Here is just one example from Paul Mobbs, author of “Energy Beyond Oil”, and a multi-talented, multi-sectoral educator and researcher.
I initially read it in my inbox and nearly fell of my chair gobsmacked. When I had recovered from being astonished, and asked Mobbsey if I could quote him, perhaps anonymously, he wrote back :-
“No, you can quite clearly and boldly attach my name and email address to it ! And perhaps ask George for a response ?”
Sadly, George Monbiot appears to have jammed his thumbs in his ears as regards my commentary, so he is very unlikely to read this or become aware of the strength of opposition to his new positioning. But anyway – here’s for what’s it’s worth (and when it comes from Paul Mobbs, it’s worth a great deal) :-
Re: Peak oil – we were wrong. When the facts change we must change.
I’ve sat patiently through the various emails between you all — mainly to
take soundings of where you’re all at on this matter. In addition, over the
last few days I’ve separately received four dozen or so emails all asking
to “take on” Monbiot. I wasn’t going to reply because I’ve so many more
pressing matters to take care of, but given the weight of demands I can’t
I don’t see any point in “taking on” Monbiot; the points he raises, and the
debate that he has initiated, are so off beam compared to the basis of the
issues involved that it there’s no point proceeding along that line of
thought. You can’t answer a question if the question itself is not
Let’s get one thing straight — present economic difficulties are not simply
to do with “oil”, but with the more general issue of “limits to growth”.
That’s a complex interaction of resource production, thermodynamics,
technology, and relating all of these together, economic theory. Reducing
this just to an issue of oil or carbon will fail to answer why the trends
we see emerging today are taking place. Instead we have to look towards a
process which sees energy, resources, technology and human economics as a
The problem with this whole debate is that those involved — Monbiot
included — only have the vaguest understanding of how resource depletion
interacts with the human economy. And in a similar way, the wider
environment movement has been wholly compromised by its failure to engage
with the debate over ecological limits as part of their promotion of
alternative lifestyles. Unless you are prepared to adapt to the reality of
what the “limits” issues portends for the human economy, you’re not going
to make any progress on this matter.
Monbiot’s greatest mistake is to try and associate peak oil and climate
change. They are wholly different issues. In fact, over the last few years,
one of the greatest mistakes by the environment movement generally (and
Monbiot is an exemplar of this) has been to reduce all issues to one
metric/indicator — carbon. This “carbonism” has distorted the nature of
the debate over human development/progress, and in the process the
“business as usual” fossil-fuelled supertanker has been allowed to thunder
on regardless because solving carbon emissions is a fundamentally different
type of problem to solving the issue of resource/energy depletion.
Carbon emissions are a secondary effect of economic activity. It is
incidental to the economic process, even when measures such as carbon
markets are applied. Provided we’re not worried about the cost, we can use
technological measures to abate emissions — and government/industry have
used this as a filibuster to market a technological agenda in response and
thus ignore the basic incompatibility of economic growth with the
ecological limits of the Earth’s biosphere. As far as I am concerned, many
in mainstream environmentalism have been complicit in that process; and
have failed to provide the example and leadership necessary to initiate a
debate on the true alternatives to yet more intense/complex
industrialisation and globalisation.
In contrast, physical energy supply is different because it’s a prerequisite
of economic growth — you can’t have economic activity without a
qualitatively sufficient energy supply (yes, the “quality” of the energy is
just as important as the physical scale of supply). About half of all
growth is the value of new energy supply added to the economy, and another
fifth is the result of energy efficiency — the traditional measures of
capital and labour respectively make up a tenth and fifth of growth. As yet
mainstream economic theory refuses to internalise the issue of energy
quality, and the effect of falling energy/resource returns, even though this
is demonstrably one of the failing aspects of our current economic model
(debt is the other, and that’s an even more complex matter to explore if
we’re looking at inter-generational effects).
The fact that all commodity prices have been rising along with growth for
the past decade — a phenomena directly related to the human system hitting
the “limits to growth” — is one of the major factors driving current
economic difficulties. Arguably we’ve been hitting the “limits” since the
late 70s. The difficulty in explaining that on a political stage is that
we’re talking about processes which operate over decades and centuries, not
over campaign cycles or political terms of office. As a result, due to the
impatience of the modern political/media agenda, the political debate over
limits has suffered because commentators always take too short-term a
viewpoint. Monbiot’s recent conversion on nuclear and peak oil is such an
example, and is at the heart of the report Monbiot cites in justification of
his views — a report, not coincidentally, written by a long-term opponent
of peak oil theory, working for lobby groups who promote business-as-usual
solutions to ecological issues.
Likewise, because the neo-classical economists who advise governments and
corporations don’t believe in the concept of “limits”, the measures they’ve
adopted to try and solve the problem (e.g. quantitative easing) are not
helping the problem, but merely forestall the inevitable collapse. For
example, we can’t borrow money today to spur a recovery if there will be
insufficient growth in the future to pay for that debt. Basically, whilst you
may theoretically borrow money from your grandchildren, you can’t borrow
the energy that future economic growth requires to generate that money if
it doesn’t exist to be used at that future date. Perhaps more perversely, a
large proportion of the economic actors who have expressed support for
limits are not advocating ecological solutions to the problem, they’re
cashing-in by trying to advise people how to make money out of economic
Carbon emissions and resource depletion are a function of economic growth.
There is an absolute correlation between growth and carbon emissions. I
don’t just mean that emissions and the rate of depletion fall during
recessions — and thus “recessions are good for the environment”. If you
look at the rate of growth in emissions over the last 50 years, the change
in energy prices has a correlation to changes in carbon emissions as the
price of fuel influences economic activity. That’s why carbon emissions
broke with their historic trend, halving their previous growth rate, after
the oil crisis of the 1970s; and why they then rebounded as energy prices
fell during the 90s.
The idea that we can “decarbonise” the economy and continue just as before
is fundamentally flawed. I know some of you will scream and howl at this
idea, but if you look at the research on the interaction between energy and
economic productivity there is no other conclusion. Due to their high
energy density and relative ease of use, all fossil fuels have an economic
advantage over all the alternatives. That said, as conventional oil and gas
deplete, and “unconventional” sources with far lower energy returns are
brought into the market, that differential is decreasing — but we won’t
reach general parity with renewables for another decade or two.
Note also this has nothing to do with subsidies, or industrial power –
it’s a basic physical fact that the energy density of renewables is lower
than the historic value of fossil fuels. On a level playing field, renewable
energy costs more and has a lower return on investment than fossil fuels.
We do have the technology to develop a predominantly renewable human
economy, but the economic basis of such a system will be wholly different to
that we live within today. Unless you are prepared to reform the economic
process alongside changing the resource base of society, we’ll never
see any realistic change because all such “ecological” viewpoints are
inconsistent with the values at the heart of modern capitalism (that’s not
a political point either, it’s just a fact based upon how these systems
must operate). E.g., when the Mail/Telegraph trumpet that more wind power
will cost more and lower growth/competitiveness, they’re right — but the
issue here is not the facts about wind, it’s that the theory/expectation of
continued growth, which they are measuring the performance of wind against,
is itself no longer supported by the physical fundamentals of the human
The present problem is not simply “peak oil”. Even if volumetric production
remained constant, due to the falling level of energy return on investment
of all fossil fuels the effects of rising prices and falling systemic
efficiency will still disrupt the economic cycle (albeit at a slower rate
than when it is tied to a simultaneous volumetric reduction). Allied to the
problems with the supply of many industrial minerals, especially the
minerals which are key to the latest energy and industrial process/energy
technologies (e.g. rare earths, indium, gallium, etc.), what we have is a
recipe for a general systems failure in the operation of the human system.
And again, that’s not related to climate change, or simple lack of energy,
but because of the systemic complexity of modern human society, and what
happens to any complex system when it is perturbed by external factors.
The worst thing which can happen right now — even if it were possible,
which is entirely doubtful — would be a “return to growth”. The idea of
“green growth”, within the norms of neo-classical economics, is even more
fallacious due to the differing thermodynamic factors driving that system.
Instead what we have to concentrate upon is changing the political economy
of the human system to internalise the issue of limits. At present, apart
from a few scientists and green economists on the sidelines, no one is
seriously putting that point of view — not even the Green Party. And as I
perceive it from talking to people about this for the last 12 years, that’s
for a very simple reason… it’s not what people, especially the political
establishment, want to hear.
Rio+20 was an absolute failure. In fact what annoyed me the most was that
the media kept talking about the “second” Rio conference, when in fact it
was the third UNCED conference in the Stockholm conference in ’72. If you
contrast 1972 with 2012, the results of this years deliberations were worse
than the policies sketched out in the 70s ! Seriously, the environment
movement is being trounced, and as I see it that’s because they have lost
the intellectual and theoretical rigour that it possessed in the 70s and
80s. Rather than having a clear alternative vision, what they promote is
“the same but different”. Once environmentalism became a media campaign
about differing consumption options, rather than an absolute framework for
evaluating the effects of consumption, it lost its ability to dictate the
agenda — because its the ability to look forward and observe/anticipate
trends unfolding, however unwelcome those truths might be, which gives
groups political power.
Politicians have lost control of the economy because their materialist
ambitions no longer fit to the extant reality of the economic process. This
outcome was foreseen over 40 years ago by economists like Georgescu-Roegen
and Boulding but ignored, even amongst many liberals and especially the
left, for political reasons. These same principles, based around the issue
of limits, were also the founding reality of the modern environment
movement — but over the last 20 years the movement has lost this basic
grounding in physics and economics as it has moved towards an
aspirationally materialist agenda (green consumerism/sustainable
Unless you’re prepared to talk about limits to growth, and the fact that
the economic theories developed over two centuries of unconstrained
expansion now have no relevance to a system constrained by physical limits,
then you will not solve this problem. Just as with Monbiot’s “change” on
the issue of nuclear, his failure is a matter of basic theory and
methodological frameworks, not of facts or data. Unfortunately people keep
throwing data at each other without considering that the framework within
which those facts are considered and understood has changed, and that
consequently their conclusions may not be correct; and until the movement
accepts that the rules governing the system have changed we’ll not make
progress in advancing viable solutions.
To conclude then, Monbiot’s mistake isn’t about peak oil, or climate
change, it’s a failure to internalise the physical realities of the
“limits” now driving the human system. Unless you consider the interaction
of energy, economics and pollution, any abstractions you draw about each of
those factors individually will fail to tell you how the system as a whole
is functioning. Those limits might dictate the end of “growth economics”,
but they DO NOT dictate the end of “human development”. There are many ways
we can address our present economic and environmental difficulties, but that
cannot take place unless we accept that changing our material ambitions is
a prerequisite of that process.
Let’s be clear here. The principles which drive the economy today would be
wholly alien to Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill and others who first laid down
the rules of the system two centuries ago. Likewise Marxism and similarly
derived ideas have no validity either because they were generated during an
era when there were no constraining limits. There is no “going back” to
previous theories/ideologies on this issue because we face a scenario today
which humans society — with the exception of those ancient societies who
experienced ecological overshoot (Rome, Mayans, Easter Islanders, etc.) –
have never had to face before.
We have to move forward, to evaluate and understand is the role of
ecological limits within the future human economic process and how this
changes our advocacy of “solutions”. That debate should be at the heart of
the environment movement, and the issue of limits should lead all
discussions about all environmental issues — not green/sustainable
consumerism and other measures which seek to reassure and pacify affluent
consumers. That said, especially given the demographic skew within
membership of the environment movement, we have to begin by being honest
with ourselves in accepting the “limits agenda” and what it means for the
make-up of our own lives.
In the final analysis, you cannot be an environmentalist unless you accept
and promote the idea of limits. That was at the heart of the movement from
the early 70s, and if we want to present a viable alternative to disaster
capitalism then that is once again what we must develop and promote as an
Peace ‘n love ‘n’ home made hummus,
“We are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government,
nor are we for this party nor against the other but we are
for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom,
that these may be exalted in our nation, and that goodness,
righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity with
God, and with one another, that these things may abound.”
(Edward Burrough, 1659 – from ‘Quaker Faith and Practice’)
Paul’s book, “Energy Beyond Oil”, is out now!
For details see http://www.fraw.org.uk/mei/ebo/
Read my ‘essay’ weblog, “Ecolonomics”, at:
Paul Mobbs, Mobbs’ Environmental Investigations
email – email@example.com
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