Energy Change for Climate Control
RSS icon Home icon
  • Time for another FOI Request

    Posted on June 4th, 2014 Jo No comments

    My previous Freedom of Information Request having been so snubbingly turned down, I have had another crack at it. I don’t mean to be annoying – I am genuinely in search of information, as it appears to me there is a serious gap in published policy on bringing novel supplies of gas energy fuel to market, both for reasons of energy security and climate change. By my reckoning, there must have been a considerable amount of research and reporting going on in this area, so I’m asking for access to it. Simple enough a request, surely ?


    To: Information Rights Unit, Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, 5th Floor, Victoria 3, 1 Victoria Street, London SW1H OET

    4th June 2014

    Request to the Department of Energy and Climate Change

    Re : Policy and Strategy for North Sea Natural Gas Fields Depletion

    Previous Freedom of Information Request Reference : FOI2014/11187
    Previous Freedom of Information Request Dated : 28th May 2014

    Former Freedom of Information Request Reference : 14/0672
    Former Freedom of Information Request Dated : 27th April 2014

    Dear Madam / Sir,

    Thank you for your reply to my previous and former Freedom of Information Requests.

    I have some specific questions as regards manufactured gas and fermented or anaerobically digested gas of biological origin.

    1. Planned Support for New Gas Market Entrants

    In respect of the third package of European Community energy legislation :-

    “Directive 2009/73/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 July 2009 concerning common rules for the internal market in natural gas and repealing Directive 2003/55/EC” ( http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2009:211:0094:0136:en:PDF )

    especially considering the Preamble, Paragraphs 26 and 41 :-

    “Member States should take concrete measures to assist the wider use of biogas and gas from biomass, the producers of which should be granted non discriminatory access to the gas system, provided that such access is compatible with the relevant technical rules and safety standards on an ongoing basis.”

    “Member States should ensure that, taking into account the necessary quality requirements, biogas and gas from biomass or other types of gas are granted non-discriminatory access to the gas system, provided such access is permanently compatible with the relevant technical rules and safety standards. Those rules and standards should ensure that those gases can technically and safely be injected into, and transported through the natural gas system and should also address their chemical characteristics.”

    and reviewing Directive, Chapter 1, Article 1, Section 2 :-

    “The rules established by this Directive for natural gas, including LNG, shall also apply in a non-discriminatory way to biogas and gas from biomass or other types of gas in so far as such gases can technically and safely be injected into, and transported through, the natural gas system.”

    and in light of the requirement for balancing mechanisms to ensure market access for all gas supply players as in the Preamble, Paragraph 31 :-

    “In order to ensure effective market access for all market players, including new entrants, non-discriminatory and cost-reflective balancing mechanisms are necessary. This should be achieved through the setting up of transparent market-based mechanisms for the supply and purchase of gas, needed in the framework of balancing requirements. National regulatory authorities should play an active role to ensure that balancing tariffs are non-discriminatory and cost-reflective. At the same time, appropriate incentives should be provided to balance the in-put and off-take of gas and not to endanger the system.”

    and in the light of legislation on the harmonisation of the European Union gas markets, and the research into and development of gas quality standards, such as CEN Mandate M/400, and network operator regulations,

    Under the Freedom of Information Act of 2000, I am asking for any and all emails, electronic documents, Internet hypertext links to electronic documents, paper files or other material bearing information relating to the subject of UK Government support for the production of supplies of manufactured gas and fermented or anaerobically digested gas of biological origin, in relation to the requirements and articles of EC Directive 2009/73/EC and related documents (see above), produced by the Department of Energy and Climate Change between the dates of 13 July 2009 and today; including any reviews of the National Renewable Energy Action Plan; research, reports and studies commissioned on incentivising supplies of non-geological gas; databases of potential producers; and modelled estimates on the costs of new supplies of gas.

    2. The Potential for Synthetic Natural Gas (SNG)

    In the reply to my Freedom of Information Request of 27th April 2014, with the reference number 14/0672, the following statement was offered :-

    “Furthermore, we have doubts that synthetic natural gas production under current technologies could meet any significant shortfall of gas supply either economically or in sufficient quantity.”

    Following the lead of the UK Bioenergy Strategy, originally published on the 25th April 2012, Paragraphs 13 and 14 of the Executive Summary ( https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-bioenergy-strategy ) :-

    “A key finding of the modelling and analysis prepared for this strategy is that over the longer term, the most appropriate energy use will vary according to the availability of carbon capture and storage. Assuming carbon capture and storage for biomass-fuelled systems is available, bioenergy use for electricity and transport could be the most appropriate use.”

    “The strategy also identifies the development of biosynthetic gas, hydrogen and advanced biofuels as the key bioenergy hedging options against these inherent long term uncertainties. To realise these opportunities, Government needs to continue to support UK technology research, development and demonstration to provide the fullest range of options that will enable the deployment of the low-risk pathways noted above. This innovation support should aim to sustainably increase feedstock energy yields and develop cost effective process and conversion technologies to optimise energy efficiency and minimise carbon emissions.”

    and in respect of National Grid’s report on Renewable Gas, “The Potential for Renewable Gas in the UK”, published in January 2009 ( http://www.nationalgrid.com/NR/rdonlyres/9122AEBA-5E50-43CA-81E5-8FD98C2CA4EC/32182/renewablegasWPfinal2.pdf ),

    In accordance with the Freedom of Information Act of 2000, please could you send me any and all emails, electronic documents, Internet hypertext links to electronic documents, paper files or other material bearing information relating to the subject of the potential of the current technologies for Synthetic Natural Gas (SNG), that form the basis of your lack of confidence for SNG to meet any significant shortfall of gas supply either economically or in terms of quantity, produced by the Department of Energy and Climate Change between the dates of 1st January 2009 and today; including copies of final reports, reviews and studies in relation to the GridGas project with ITM Power; final reports and reviews of the feasibility study into the Production of Synthetic Methane, conducted by ITM Power, as funded by DECC under the Carbon Capture and Storage Innovation Competition; and any communications undertaken with the Energy Delta Gas Research (EDGaR) organisation.

    Thank you for your attention to my request for information.

    Regards,

    Ms J. Abbess MSc


  • A Brief Unhelpfulness from My Government

    Posted on June 4th, 2014 Jo No comments

    So, in response to my second Freedom of Information Request, I get this reply from my Department of Energy and Climate Change :-


    “The Department wishes to be as open as possible in answering requests, and to help people obtain the information they are looking for. Unfortunately, in this case, from our preliminary assessment it is clear that to determine whether the Department holds the information you have requested and to locate, retrieve and extract the information would require a substantial volume of work.”

    “After careful examination of your request [...] a public authority may refuse to disclose information to the extent that the request for information is manifestly unreasonable.”

    “We acknowledge that there may be public interest in the information you have requested. Greater transparency makes the government more accountable to the electorate and increases trust and also enables the public contribution to policy making to become more effective.”

    “However, your request is broad and voluminous. Establishing whether we hold the information you request and gathering it would be likely to involve a significant cost and diversion of resources from the teams concerned and the Department’s other work. Therefore, we will not process your request as currently drafted at this stage.”

    It is clearly going to be an uphill struggle to investigate the UK Government’s policy, position and research on and into the engineering feasibility of Renewable Gas.

    I wonder whether they could have at least answered one of my questions, at the very least, as a kind of token gesture of co-operation.

  • My Next Freedom of Information Request

    Posted on May 28th, 2014 Jo No comments

    Information Rights Unit
    Department for Business, Innovation & Skills
    5th Floor
    Victoria 3
    1 Victoria Street
    London
    SW1H OET

    28th May 2014

    Request to the Department of Energy and Climate Change

    Re : Policy and Strategy for North Sea Natural Gas Fields Depletion

    Previous Freedom of Information Request Reference : 14/0672
    Previous Freedom of Information Request Dated : 27th April 2014

    Dear Madam / Sir,

    Thank you for your reply to my previous Freedom of Information Request, which has prompted me to ask for further information in order to fully comprehend the prospects for manufactured gas in British energy policy.

    1. The Potential for Synthetic Natural Gas (SNG)

    In the reply to my previous Freedom of Information Request of 27th April 2014, with the reference number 14/0672, the following statement was offered :-

    “Furthermore, we have doubts that synthetic natural gas production under current technologies could meet any significant shortfall of gas supply either economically or in sufficient quantity.”

    Under the Freedom of Information Act of 2000, please could you send me documentation such as interim and final reports, reviews and feasibility studies on which you base your lack of confidence in the potential of the current technologies for Synthetic Natural Gas to meet any significant shortfall of gas supply either economically or in terms of quantity.

    In particular, as the production of Renewable Hydrogen is a key element of several suggested “Power to Gas” Synthetic Natural Gas system designs, I would like to have copies of final reports, reviews and studies in relation to the GridGas project, a feasibility study for which was funded by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), and which had partners in ITM Power, (Royal Dutch) Shell, Kiwa (GASTEC), National Grid and The Scottish Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (SHFCA).

    I should also especially like to have copies of interim and final reports and reviews from the feasibility study into the Production of Synthetic Methane, conducted by ITM Power, as funded by DECC under the Carbon Capture and Storage Innovation Competition, in a consortium with Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE), Scotia Gas Networks, Logan Energy Ltd and Kiwa GASTEC at CRE.

    I should also like to know which designs for Synthetic Natural Gas systems you have considered, which will entail you furnishing me with diagrams and other engineering information for process elements and plant equipment, to allow me to understand which gas processing configurations you have considered, and which you have dismissed.

    I would also like to know what your estimates are for “spare” wind and solar power hours of generation by 2025 in the UK. This excess generation, whereby power demand does not meet power supply from variable renewable electricity, is crucial to anticipate as this is a key input for “Power to Gas” designs.

    I should also like to see your assessment of the German Energy Agency (dena) “Power to Gas” Strategy and your analysis of how this compares to the British situation and prospects.

    As regards relative economic values of different sources of gas energy fuel, I would like to receive information about your analyses of the near-term gas market, and the likelihood of price rises in Natural Gas, and competition in the market from new Natural Gas customers, especially in light of the imminent closure of coal-fired power plants due to the European Community’s Large Combustion Plant Directive (LPCD) and the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED).

    2. The Potential for Natural Gas Supply Shocks

    In the reply to my previous Freedom of Information Request of 27th April 2014, given the reference number 14/0672, the following statements were made :-

    “It is the government’s stance that developments in the gas industry should be market-led, underpinned by robust price signals. This is a model which has ensured that UK domestic and small business consumers have never faced gas shortages and even industry-level warnings are rare. This approach has also delivered significant investment in gas infrastructure, in response to declining production from the UK Continental Shelf, and we are well placed to absorb supply shocks, with a diverse range of suppliers, routes and sources. Discounting our indigenous production, which is still responsible for around half of our annual gas demand, UK import infrastructure can meet 189% of annual demand. This resilience to supply shocks is demonstrated by Ofgem’s 2012 Gas Security of Supply report which found that in a normal winter we would have to lose 50% of non-storage supplies for there to be an interruption to gas supplies to large industrial users and/or the power sector, and between 60% and 70% of all gas sources for there to be an interruption of supplies to domestic customers – equivalent to losing all LNG supply, all imports from the Continent and 50% of our production at the same time.”

    Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, please can you supply me copies of, or links to, documents that specify analysis of what kinds of “robust price signals” you are referring to, and how these are achieved. In particular, I should like to know if you mean the ebb and flow of gas prices under market conditions, or whether you consider regulatory instruments, for example, carbon pricing, or economic policy, such as tax breaks or subsidies for gas producers, to be at least part of the source of the “robust price signals” you expect.

    In particular, I should like to know from your internal reports how you view the impact of the Capacity Mechanism on the price of Natural Gas in the UK – the Capacity Mechanism having been proposed to keep gas-fired power plants from closure, in order to be available to balance electrical grid fluctuations.

    I should also like you to supply me with copies of your internal reviews of the impact on imported Natural Gas prices from events unrelated to market conditions, such as the outcomes of warfare, or political manoeuvres, and whether these price shocks could contribute to “supply shocks”.

    I should also like to have sight of reports or other documentation that outlines analysis of risks of “supply shock” in gas supply, for instance, what circumstances are considered capable of causing a 50%, 60% or 70% drop in non-domestic gas supplies, causing a loss of imported Liquified Natural Gas, or imported pipeline Natural Gas. Please can you also provide me with reports, or links to reports, that show the analysis of circumstances that would cause a loss of 50% of Natural Gas from the North Sea and other production areas in the United Kingdom; including an analysis of risks of a trade war between a putative newly-independent Scotland and its gas customer England, given that most Natural Gas consumption is south of the border.

    Please may I also have information that details your analyses of the decline in Natural Gas production from the North Sea, including from territorial waters outside the UK, a calculation of depletion rates in reserves, and the projection for decline in production.

    I should also like to have sight of the documents on which you base your calculations of depletion of Natural Gas reserves across Eurasia, Asia, North Africa and the Middle East, and the risks to production levels according [to] the passage of time.

    As a corollary, I would like to have sight of the documents on which you base your analysis of future changes in market demand for Natural Gas across Eurasia, Asia, North Africa and the Middle East, especially considering new trade relationships between China and Russia, and China and the Middle East.

    Thank you for your attention to my request for information.

    Regards,

  • This Too Will Fail

    Posted on May 24th, 2014 Jo 1 comment

    I will probably fail to make myself understood, yet again, but here goes…

    The reasons the United Nations Climate Change process is failing are :-

    1.   The wrong people are being asked to shoulder responsibility

    It is a well-rumoured possibility that the fossil fuel industry makes sure it has sympathisers and lobbyists at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conferences. It is only natural that they should want to monitor proceedings, and influence outcomes. But interventions by the energy sector has a much wider scope. Delegates from the countries with national oil and gas companies are key actors at UNFCCC conferences. Their national interests are closely bound to their fossil fuel exports. Many other countries understand their national interest is bound to the success of energy sector companies operating within their borders. Still others have governments with energy policy virtually dictated by international energy corporations. Yet when the UNFCCC discusses climate change, the only obligations discussed are those of nations – the parties to any treaty are the governments and regimes of the world. The UNFCCC does not hold oil and gas (and coal) companies to account. BP and Shell (and Exxon and Chevron and Total and GDF Suez and Eni and so on) are not asked to make undertakings at the annual climate talks. Governments are hoped to forge a treaty, but this treaty will create no leverage for change; no framework of accountability amongst those who produce oil, gas and coal.

    2.   The right people are not in the room

    It’s all very well for Governments to commit to a treaty, but they cannot implement it. Yes, their citizens can make a certain amount of changes, and reduce their carbon emissions through controlling their energy consumption and their material acquisitions. But that’s not the whole story. Energy has to be decarbonised at source. There are technological solutions to climate change, and they require the deployment of renewable energy systems. The people who can implement renewable energy schemes should be part of the UNFCCC process; the engineering companies who make wind turbines, solar photovoltaic panels, the people who can build Renewable Gas systems. Companies such as Siemens, GE, Alstom. Energy engineering project companies. Chemical engineering companies.

    3.   The economists are still in the building

    In the United Kingdom (what will we call it if Scotland becomes independent ? And what will the word “British” then mean ?) the Parliament passed the Climate Change Act. But this legislation is meaningless without a means to implement the Carbon Budgets it institutes. The British example is just a minor parallel to the UNFCCC situation – how can a global climate treaty be made to work ? Most of the notions the economists have put forward so far to incentivise energy demand reduction and stimulate low carbon energy production have failed to achieve much. Carbon trading ! Carbon pricing ! All rather ineffective. Plus, there’s the residual notion of different treatment for developed and developing nations, which is a road to nowhere.

    4.   Unilateral action is frowned upon

    Apparently, since Climate Change is a global problem, we all have to act in a united fashion to solve it. But that’s too hard to ask, at least to start with. When countries or regions take it upon themselves to act independently, the policy community seem to counsel against it. There are a few exceptions, such as the C40 process, where individual cities are praised for independent action, but as soon as the European Community sets up something that looks like a border tax on carbon, that’s a no-no. Everybody is asked to be part of a global process, but it’s almost too hard to get anything done within this framework.

    5.   Civil Society is hamstrung and tongue-tied

    There is very little that people groups can achieve within the UNFCCC process, because there is a disconnect between the negotiations and practical action. The framework of the treaty discussions does not encompass the real change makers. The UNFCCC does not build the foundation for the architecture of a new green economy, because it only addresses itself to garnering commitments from parties that cannot fulfill them. Civil Society ask for an egg sandwich and they are given a sandy eggshell. If Civil Society groups call for technology, they are given a carbon credit framework. If they call for differential investment strategies that can discredit carbon dependency, they are given an opportunity to put money into the global adaptation fund.

  • Positively Against Negative Campaigning

    Posted on May 24th, 2014 Jo 4 comments

    How to organise a political campaign around Climate Change : ask a group of well-fed, well-meaning, Guardian-reading, philanthropic do-gooders into the room to adopt the lowest common denominator action plan. Now, as a well-fed, well-meaning, Guardian-reading (well, sometimes), philanthropic do-gooder myself, I can expect to be invited to attend such meetings on a regular basis. And always, I find myself frustrated by the outcomes : the same insipid (but with well-designed artwork) calls to our publics and networks to support something with an email registration, a signed postcard, a fistful of dollars, a visit to a public meeting of no consequence, or a letter to our democratic representative. No output except maybe some numbers. Numbers to support a government decision, perhaps, or numbers to indicate what kind of messaging people need in future.

    I mean, with the Fair Trade campaign, at least there was some kind of real outcome. Trade Justice advocates manned stall tables at churches, local venues, public events, and got money flowing to the international co-operatives, building up the trade, making the projects happen, providing schooling and health and aspirations in the target countries. But compare that to the Make Poverty History campaign which was largely run to support a vain top-level political attempt to garner international funding promises for social, health and economic development. Too big to succeed. No direct line between supporting the campaign and actually supporting the targets. Passing round the hat to developed, industrialised countries for a fund to support change in developing, over-exploited countries just isn’t going to work. Lord Nicholas Stern tried to ask for $100 billion a year by 2020 for Climate Change adaptation. This has skidded to a halt, as far as I know. The economic upheavals, don’t you know ?

    And here we are again. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which launched the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports on climate change, oh, so, long, ago, through the person of its most charismatic and approachable Executive Secretary, Christiana Figueres, is calling for support for a global Climate Change treaty in 2015. Elements of this treaty, being drafted this year, will, no doubt, use the policy memes of the past – passing round the titfer begging for a couple of billion squid for poor, hungry people suffering from floods and droughts; proposing some kind of carbon pricing/taxing/trading scheme to conjure accounting bean solutions; trying to implement an agreement around parts per million by volume of atmospheric carbon dioxide; trying to divide the carbon cake between the rich and the poor.

    Somehow, we believe, that being united around this proposed treaty, few of which have any control over the contents of, will bring us progress.

    What can any of us do to really have input into the building of a viable future ? Christiana – for she is now known frequently only by her first name – has called for numbers – a measure of support for the United Nations process. She has also let it be known that if there is a substantial number of people who, with their organisations, take their investments out of fossil fuels, then this could contribute to the mood of the moment. Those who are advocating divestment are yet small in number, and I fear that they will continue to be marginal, partly because of the language that is being used.

    First of all, there are the Carbon Disclosers. Their approach is to conjure a spectre of the “Carbon Bubble” – making a case that investments in carbon dioxide-rich enterprises could well end up being stranded by their assets, either because of wrong assumptions about viable remaining resources of fossil fuels, or because of wrong assumptions about the inability of governments to institute carbon pricing. Well, obviously, governments will find it hard to implement effective carbon pricing, because governments are in bed with the energy industry. Politically, governments need to keep big industry sweet. No surprise there. And it’s in everybody’s interests if Emperor Oil and Prince Regent Natural Gas are still wearing clothes. In the minds of the energy industry, we still have a good four decades of healthy fossil fuel assets. Royal Dutch Shell’s CEO can therefore confidently say at a public AGM that There Is No Carbon Bubble. The Carbon Discloser language is not working, it seems, as any kind of convincer, except to a small core of the concerned.

    And then there are the Carbon Voices. These are the people reached by email campaigns who have no real idea how to do anything practical to affect change on carbon dioxide emissions, but they have been touched by the message of the risks of climate change and they want to be seen to be supporting action, although it’s not clear what action will, or indeed can, be taken. Well-designed brochures printed on stiff recycled paper with non-toxic inks will pour through their doors and Inboxes. Tick it. Send it back. Sign it. Send it on. Maybe even send some cash to support the campaign. This language is not achieving anything except guilt.

    And then there are the Carbon Divestors. These are extremely small marginal voices who are taking a firm stand on where their organisations invest their capital. The language is utterly dated. The fossil fuel industry are evil, apparently, and investing in fossil fuels is immoral. It is negative campaigning, and I don’t think it stands a chance of making real change. It will not achieve its goal of being prophetic in nature – bearing witness to the future – because of the non-inclusive language. Carbon Voices reached by Carbon Divestor messages will in the main refuse to respond, I feel.

    Political action on Climate Change, and by that I mean real action based on solid decisions, often taken by individuals or small groups, has so far been under-the-radar, under-the-counter, much like the Fair Trade campaign was until it burst forth into the glorious day of social acceptability and supermarket supply chains. You have the cyclists, the Transition Towners, the solar power enthusiasts. Yet to get real, significant, economic-scale transition, you need Energy Change – that is, a total transformation of the energy supply and use systems. It’s all very well for a small group of Methodist churches to pull their pension funds from investments in BP and Shell, but it’s another thing entirely to engage BP and Shell in an action plan to diversify out of petroleum oil and Natural Gas.

    Here below are my email words in my feeble attempt to challenge the brain of Britain’s charitable campaigns on what exactly is intended for the rallying cry leading up to Paris 2015. I can pretty much guarantee you won’t like it – but you have to remember – I’m not breaking ranks, I’m trying to get beyond the Climate Change campaigning and lobbying that is currently in play, which I regard as ineffective. I don’t expect a miraculous breakthrough in communication, the least I can do is sow the seed of an alternative. I expect I could be dis-invited from the NGO party, but it doesn’t appear to be a really open forum, merely a token consultation to build up energy for a plan already decided. If so, there are probably more important things I could be doing with my time than wasting hours and hours and so much effort on somebody else’s insipid and vapid agenda.

    I expect people might find that attitude upsetting. If so, you know, I still love you all, but you need to do better.


    [...]

    A lot of campaigning over the last 30 years has been very negative and divisive, and frequently ends in psychological stalemate. Those who are cast as the Bad Guys cannot respond to the campaigning because they cannot admit to their supporters/employees/shareholders that the campaigners are “right”. Joe Average cannot support a negative campaign as there is no apparent way to make change happen by being so oppositional, and because the ask is too difficult, impractical, insupportable. [Or there is simply too much confusion or cognitive dissonance.]

    One of the things that was brought back from the [...] working group breakout on [...] to the plenary feedback session was that there should be some positive things about this campaign on future-appropriate investment. I think [...] mentioned the obvious one of saying effectively “we are backing out of these investments in order to invest in things that are more in line with our values” – with the implicit encouragement for fossil fuel companies to demonstrate that they can be in line with our values and that they are moving towards that. There was some discussion that there are no bulk Good Guy investment funds, that people couldn’t move investments in bulk, although some said there are. [...] mentioned Ethex.

    Clearly fossil fuel production companies are going to find it hard to switch from oil and gas to renewable electricity, so that’s not a doable we can ask them for. Several large fossil fuel companies, such as BP, have tried doing wind and solar power, but they have either shuttered those business units, or not let them replace their fossil fuel activities.

    [...] asked if the [divestment] campaign included a call for CCS – Carbon Capture and Storage – and [...] referred to [...] which showed where CCS is listed in a box on indicators of a “good” fossil fuel energy company.

    I questioned whether the fossil fuel companies really want to do CCS – and that they have simply been waiting for government subsidies or demonstration funds to do it. (And anyway, you can’t do CCS on a car.)

    I think I said in the meeting that fossil fuel producer companies can save themselves and save the planet by adopting Renewable Gas – so methods for Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU) or “carbon recycling”. Plus, they could be making low carbon gas by using biomass inputs. Most of the kit they need is already widely installed at petrorefineries. So – they get to keep producing gas and oil, but it’s renewably and sustainably sourced with low net carbon dioxide emissions. That could be turned into a positive, collaborative ask, I reckon, because we could all invest in that, the fossil fuel companies and their shareholders.

    Anyway, I hope you did record something urging a call to positive action and positive engagement, because we need the co-operation of the fossil fuel companies to make appropriate levels of change to the energy system. Either that, or they go out of business and we face social turmoil.

    If you don’t understand why this is relevant, that’s OK. If you don’t understand why a straight negative campaign is a turn-off to many people (including those in the fossil fuel industry), well, I could role play that with you. If you don’t understand what I’m talking about when I talk about Renewable Gas, come and talk to me about it again in 5 years, when it should be common knowledge. If you don’t understand why I am encouraging positive collaboration, when negative campaigning is so popular and marketable to your core segments, then I will resort to the definition of insanity – which is to keep doing the same things, expecting a different result.

    I’m sick and tired of negative campaigning. Isn’t there a more productive thing to be doing ?

    There are no enemies. There are no enemies. There are no enemies.

    ——-

    As far as I understand the situation, both the [...] and [...] campaigns are negative. They don’t appear to offer any positive routes out of the problem that could engage the fossil fuel companies in taking up the baton of Energy Change. If that is indeed the main focus of [...] and [...] efforts, then I fear they will fail. Their work will simply be a repeat of the negative campaigning of the last 30 years – a small niche group will take up now-digital placards and deploy righteous, holy social media anger, and that will be all.

    Since you understand this problem, then I would suggest you could spend more time and trouble helping them to see a new way. You are, after all, a communications expert. And so you know that even Adolf Hitler used positive, convening, gathering techniques of propaganda to create power – and reserved the negative campaigning for easily-marginalised vulnerable groups to pile the bile and blame on.

    Have a nicer day,

    —–

    The important thing as far as I understand it is that the “campaigning” organisations need to offer well-researched alternatives, instead of just complaining about the way things are. And these well-researched alternatives should not just be the token sops flung at the NGOs and UN by the fossil fuel companies. What do I mean ?

    Well, let’s take Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). The injection of carbon dioxide into old oil and gas caverns was originally proposed for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) – that is – getting more oil and gas out the ground by pumping gas down there – a bit like fracking, but with gas instead of liquid. The idea was that the expense of CCS would be compensated for by the new production of oil and gas – however, the CCS EOR effect has shown to be only temporary. So now the major oil and gas companies say they support carbon pricing (either by taxation or trading), to make CCS move forward. States and federations have given them money to do it. I think the evidence shows that carbon pricing cannot be implemented at a sufficiently high level to incentivise CCS, therefore CCS is a non-answer. Why has [...] not investigated this ? CCS is a meme, but not necessarily part of the carbon dioxide solution. Not even the UNFCCC IPCC reports reckon that much CCS can be done before 2040. So, why does CCS appear in the [...] criteria for a “good” fossil fuel company ? Because it’s sufficiently weak as a proposal, and sufficiently far enough ahead that the fossil fuel companies can claim they are “capture ready”, and in the Good Book, but in reality are doing nothing.

    Non-starters don’t just appear from fossil fuel companies. From my point of view, another example of running at and latching on to things that cannot help was the support of the GDR – Greenhouse Development Rights, of which there has been severe critique in policy circles, but the NGOs just wrote it into their policy proposals without thinking about it. There is no way that the emissions budgets set out in the GDR policy could ever get put into practice. For a start, there is no real economic reason to divide the world into developing and developed nations (Kyoto [Protocol]‘s Annex I and Annex II).

    If you give me some links, I’m going to look over your [...] and think about it.

    I think that if a campaign really wants to get anywhere with fossil fuel companies, instead of being shunted into a siding, it needs to know properly what the zero carbon transition pathways really are. Unequal partners do not make for a productive engagement, I reckon.

    —–

    I’m sorry to say that this still appears to be negative campaigning – fossil fuel companies are “bad”; and we need to pull our money out of fossil fuel companies and put it in other “good” companies. Where’s the collective, co-operative effort undertaken with the fossil fuel companies ? What’s your proposal for helping to support them in evolving ? Do you know how they can technologically transition from using fossil fuels to non-fossil fuels ? And how are you communicating that with them ?

    ——

    They call me the “Paradigm Buster”. I’m not sure if “the group” is open to even just peeking into that kind of approach, let alone “exploring” it. The action points on the corporate agenda could so easily slip back into the methods and styles of the past. Identify a suffering group. Build a theory of justice. Demand reparation. Make Poverty History clearly had its victims and its saviours. Climate change, in my view, requires a far different treatment. Polar bears cannot substitute for starving African children. And not even when climate change makes African children starve, can they inspire the kind of action that climate change demands. A boycott campaign without a genuine alternative will only touch a small demographic. Whatever “the group” agrees to do, I want it to succeed, but by rehashing the campaigning strategies and psychology of the past, I fear it will fail. Even by adopting the most recent thinking on change, such as Common Cause, [it] is not going to surmount the difficulties of trying to base calls to action on the basis of us-and-them thinking – polar thinking – the good guys versus the bad guys – the body politic David versus the fossil fuel company Goliath. By challenging this, I risk alienation, but I am bound to adhere to what I see as the truth. Climate change is not like any other disaster, aid or emergency campaign. You can’t just put your money in the [collecting tin] and pray the problem will go away with the help of the right agencies. Complaining about the “Carbon Bubble” and pulling your savings from fossil fuels is not going to re-orient the oil and gas companies. The routes to effective change require a much more comprehensive structure of actions. And far more engagement that agreeing to be a flag waver for whichever Government policy is on the table. I suppose it’s too much to ask to see some representation from the energy industry in “the group”, or at least [...] leaders who still believe in the fossil fuel narratives, to take into account their agenda and their perspective, and a readiness to try positive collaborative change with all the relevant stakeholders ?


    Academic Freedom, Advancing Africa, Alchemical, Artistic Licence, Assets not Liabilities, Bait & Switch, Be Prepared, Behaviour Changeling, Big Number, Big Picture, Big Society, Carbon Army, Carbon Capture, Carbon Commodities, Carbon Pricing, Carbon Rationing, Carbon Recycling, Carbon Taxatious, Change Management, Climate Change, Climate Chaos, Climate Damages, Conflict of Interest, Contraction & Convergence, Corporate Pressure, Dead End, Dead Zone, Deal Breakers, Demoticratica, Design Matters, Direction of Travel, Disturbing Trends, Divide & Rule, Dreamworld Economics, Droughtbowl, Earthquake, Eating & Drinking, Economic Implosion, Electrificandum, Energy Autonomy, Energy Calculation, Energy Change, Energy Crunch, Energy Denial, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Energy Socialism, Engineering Marvel, Evil Opposition, Extreme Energy, Feed the World, Feel Gooder, Financiers of the Apocalypse, Floodstorm, Food Insecurity, Foreign Interference, Foreign Investment, Fossilised Fuels, Fuel Poverty, Gamechanger, Global Warming, Green Gas, Green Investment, Green Power, Growth Paradigm, Human Nurture, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Incalculable Disaster, Insulation, Libertarian Liberalism, Low Carbon Life, Mad Mad World, Major Shift, Marvellous Wonderful, Mass Propaganda, Media, Meltdown, Money Sings, National Energy, National Power, Near-Natural Disaster, Neverending Disaster, Not In My Name, Nudge & Budge, Optimistic Generation, Orwells, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peace not War, Peak Coal, Peak Emissions, Peak Energy, Peak Natural Gas, Peak Oil, Pet Peeves, Petrolheads, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Protest & Survive, Public Relations, Pure Hollywood, Realistic Models, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Gas, Renewable Resource, Revolving Door, Social Capital, Social Change, Social Chaos, Social Democracy, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, Stirring Stuff, Sustainable Deferment, Technofix, Technological Sideshow, The Myth of Innovation, The Power of Intention, The Price of Gas, The Price of Oil, The Right Chemistry, The Science of Communitagion, The War on Error, Toxic Hazard, Tree Family, Unconventional Foul, Unqualified Opinion, Unsolicited Advice & Guidance, Unutterably Useless, Utter Futility, Vain Hope, Vote Loser, Western Hedge, Wind of Fortune, Zero Net
  • Tom Heap : Storage Sensible

    Posted on May 13th, 2014 Jo No comments

    Finally, it appears Radio 4′s Tom Heap is on my kind of wavelength, and I don’t mean radio.

    On the other hand, David MacKay still believes that more research is needed before we actually spend money to do anything – which essentially amounts to a tactic of delay.

    Warning : the following transcript is not verified, but is my best attempt at the moment.


    “Costing the Earth”
    Radio 4
    13 May 2014

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b042zsy5

    “Energy Storage”

    “Massive batteries ? Compressing or liquefying air ? Moving gravel uphill on ski lifts [this is not one of the options presented] ? Tom Heap looks at some of the big ideas proposed for storing energy using science or the landscape and explores which may become a reality if we’re to keep the lights on.”

    “Huge investment is being made in renewable energy but as solar and wind fluctuate and are intermittent often energy goes to waste because the points at which they generate isn’t when the demand occurs. So why not use that energy and store it in another form to be used when it’s required ? Many companies are proposing ideas to do that – from extending traditional pumped hydro to compressing or liquefying air, electrolysing water or shifting heavy materials up mountains. Or will a revolution in batteries – making them cheaper and from different materials – help the cause ?”

    “Tom Heap takes a look at some of the bold ideas to see how far they’ll go to keeping the lights switched on, what they’ll cost financially and aesthetically and if there’s any sign of committing to any of them at all.”

    “Duration: 30 minutes”

    “First broadcast: Tuesday 13 May 2014″

    [ Starting 01:13 ]

    [ Presenter ]

    …But now, “Costing the Earth”. Tom Heap asks if we’ve got enough left in the tank.

    [ Weatherman 1 ]

    Where the warnings for the strength of the wind, which really will be picking up, and the rain will be turning really quite heavy, from the South West.

    [ News anchorman, probably Huw Edwards, probably on BBC News 24 ]

    Hurricane Force winds batter southern Britain. At the height of the storm, half a million homes were left without power.

    [ Tom Heap ] In the winter just gone we got to feel the full force of Nature. And the power of the weather was frequently too much.

    [ Weatherman 2 ]

    South West 7 to Severe Gale 9. Increasing Severe Gale 9 to Violent Storm 11 for a time. Perhaps Hurricane Force 12 later.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    That seemingly unending conveyor belt of Atlantic lows drew sighs from many of us. But not all. Wind energy providers were loving it as their blades were spinning faster and longer, providing record highs of renewable electricity. Indeed, sometimes there was so much moving air, that wind generators were in danger of producing too much power. They had to shut down and were paid millions of Pounds [Sterling] to do so. Paying clean, green electricity suppliers not to produce electricity ? Sounds absurd, but the wind blows, and the sun shines according to Nature’s clock, not ours. We have learned to harness that power, but not to store it.

    [ Chris Goodall ]

    If we continue to increase renewable electricity, which I profoundly think is the right thing to do, we are going to have to marry it with real long-term cheap energy storage. And we have not yet begun to think through the consequences of the need to do that.

    [ Dave Holmes ]

    The five day Winter lull is the UK’s nightmare scenario when it comes to renewable power, because you have high pressure – barely a breath of wind – and really high demand, because everybody’s cold.

    [ David MacKay, Chief Scientific Advisor ]

    If we could get the cost of storage down, it could really unlock the potential of renewables.

    [ Chris Goodall ]

    Without energy storage, we are not going to be able to run our lives in the way that we do at the moment.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    To get a grip on this problem, let’s take a wander through my home.

    Up there on the roof I have some solar panels, generating aplenty when the sun is out. But keeping that electricity for when I want to use it, is really very difficult.

    I do have some stored energy here, in this wood pile [ cracking sound ]. Good for the fire during the Winter.

    And here, in the shed, we find a gas canister, on a blow torch [ sound of igniting the blow torch ].

    But turning electricity into a power source like this gas [ chink, chink ] which’ll just sit there, is expensive, and relies on batteries, as my waning cordless drill will testify [ sound of power drill ] frequently rather impotent.

    So today on “Costing the Earth”, we’re going to hear some radical thoughts on how to capture the spark.

    Use electricity maybe to spin a giant flywheel [ sound of a bicycle wheel being spun freely ]. Or compress air, so when you release it the pressure drives a turbine [ sound of a gas being released from a canister ].

    Or even use electricity to create gas.

    Energy writer, Chris Goodall, lays out the challenge.

    [ Chris Goodall ]

    The problem is that you can’t actually store electricity, in any large quantities. Yes, we’ve got batteries, but there’s really no way of storing a large amount of electricity from day to day, from week to week. We have to convert it into something else.

    The second point is that the United Kingdom, and other countries around the world, are developing more and more sources of electricity that come from unpredictable sources of generation – wind, solar, tidal, whatever.

    Everything we do in the low carbon world is going to have a problem,
    that it’s going to be intermittent, variable, unpredictable; and we need to find a way of ensuring that we’ve got the electricity when we want it.

    And therein lies this enormous challenge.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    So what you’re saying is one of the major differences between renewables and fossil fuels – leaving aside the whole carbon thing – is that most fossil fuels, when you’re not using them, you can just leave them there, in the tank, or the pile, or whatever.

    [ Chris Goodall ]

    Absolutely. The great advantage of fossil fuels is they’re incredibly [energy] dense. We can get a lot of energy from a small amount of material, both in terms of weight, and in terms of volume. Nothing in the renewable world corresponds to that. Nuclear has some of the same characteristics. But for all the renewable electricity that we’re talking about, storage is a huge problem compared to fossil fuels.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Both dense, and storeable, and up to a point, you can sort of pretty much turn it on when you want it.

    [ Chris Goodall ]

    Absolutely. So you’ve got your pile of coal by your coal-fired power station,
    and when you want to turn the coal-fired power station on, you shovel some coal into the boilers, and it works.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Do you think the scale of that challenge, you know, yet another asset if you like, in the fossil fuel armoury, has been appreciated by those who want to move to a more renewable future ?

    [ Chris Goodall ]

    Not at all. In this country it’s only barely registered : the fact that if we continue to increase wind, and increase solar penetration on the National Grid, we are going to have to find a way of storing energy.

    At the moment, some countries around the world – Germany’s a little more advanced than us – Denmark, have begun to think about the problem.

    In the UK, nobody’s actually even really begun to contemplate the scale of the challenge, yet.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    [ Sound of tweeting birds, and boots clumping through undergrowth ]

    The electricity storage system we do have is pumped hydro [power].

    There are a handful of these systems in Scotland, and here, in North Wales.

    If I can fight my way through this thicket of Buddleia and scrub birch, I’m going to find Dave Holmes of the Quarry Battery Company, who thinks there’s room for more.

    [ Dave Holmes ]

    We’re in Glyn Rhonwy, which is in Llanberis, North Wales. We’re in a cathedral of slate [ sounds of dripping water ]. We’re 50 metres below the lip. All around us is this wonderful rock. So, my company is trying to turn this quarry into a pumped storage facility, and fill it with 1.1 million tonnes of water. That’s what we’re up to.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Pumped storage is an idea that’s been around for a while. In a sense you’re going back to the future, here. Just explain in very simple terms how it works.

    [ Dave Holmes ]

    Well, any battery takes electricity and turns it into something else. And then you can turn it back again. This is a gravity battery. You push water uphill when you’ve got too much energy, and then when you need it again, you open the tap. It’s connected to a hydroturbine. Spinning one way, it generates electricity. Spinning the other way, it pumps the water back uphill again.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    So in order to make this work, what have you got uphill ?

    [ Dave Holmes ]

    So uphill, there’s a quarry again, about the same size as this one. Now, it’s a kilometre and a half away as the crow flies, but it’s 250 metres higher than this quarry. And that’s important, because the further you push the water uphill, the more energy it releases when it comes back down again. 600 megawatt hours of power, and at 50 megawatts we’d be able to power 50,000 houses for 12 hours a day. To put this into perspective, our facility is just 5% of the facility over the lake Llyn Padarn, at Dinorwig. Dinorwig have
    10 gigawatt hours, so 10,000 megawatt hours, and we’re just a small five, six hundred here. And they can power up to 2 gigawatts. Incredibly, within 12 seconds of requiring the power.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Just give me an example, if you can, of the kind of way, the kind of circumstance, in which you think this place would be used, and what its potential is.

    [ Dave Holmes ]

    That fast and powerful output is extemely valuable to the National Grid. If you have a sudden drop, let’s say, a generator falls; or, the thing you often hear said is the “TV pick up” – Coronation Street in the ad break – everybody goes out and has a cup of tea, right ? Well, where do you get the power from ? Everybody in the country turns on a 3 kilowatt kettle. That adds up to, you know, maybe a nuclear power station or two.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    But in simple terms. When that does happen, that’s literally when water will be rushing downhill.

    [ Dave Holmes ]

    Yes. But they’ll be trading more than that. You know, at night time we have excess energy, and [in] the daytime, we have the morning peak, when some people are starting at work, some people are still cooking breakfast at home. And the same in the afternoon. [At] those times of day, the amount of energy demand in the UK changes very rapidly and you need to be able to respond to that. Because you can’t store electricity in the wires. You can only store it in batteries. And we’ve got a 40 gigawatt average demand in the UK and we have just 3 gigawatts of storage, and that’s if it’s all turned on, all at the same time, which is pretty rare.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Well, this is why, as I understand it, energy storage is so much the coming issue, because the more renewables, which are generally unpredictable in when they generate, the more you need storage. Is that right ?

    [ Dave Holmes ]

    Yeah, that’s absolutely right. We should be able to deliver a low carbon UK at an optimal cost. And that involves storage. Because if you don’t have storage, you have to not only build enough wind to cover the entire UK demand, you also have to build enough backup to cover the UK demand. Well, with storage, you can reduce that last bit of wind, because you don’t need to build it, you can just store it instead. Likewise, you don’t need to build that last bit of backup, because the storage can come in and cover the shortfall.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    So, at the moment, we’ve got, er, varying between, is it, 10 and 15 percent electricity from renewables in the UK at the moment ?

    [ Dave Holmes ]

    Well, it’s around 15%, at best. So if everything’s operating at maximum capacity…

    [ Tom Heap ]

    …and as those proportions of renewable energy increase. how does that change the argument for the need for energy storage ?

    [ Dave Holmes ]

    Well, a little bit of wind can be absorbed by the National Grid. ‘Cause you already have, you know, gas generators, nuclear generators, coal generators, who can kind of take up the slack. But when you add a lot into the system, that’s when the intermittency problem really becomes much more apparent.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    At the moment, what happens when’s the wind blowing hard and we don’t need the energy ?

    [ Dave Holmes ]

    It causes a problem for the National Grid. And National Grid actually have to pay people to turn their energy down. And sometimes they actually turn the wind farms off. Now wind farms are subsidised by the Feed-in Tariff, the Contract for Difference, or in the past, the Renewable Obligation Certificate. And so far it’s cost about £30 million to the UK taxpayer.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    So, that’s an extraordinary figure, that most people would say, “Hang on a minute ! They’re being paid not to generate ? That seems amazing !”

    [ Dave Holmes ]

    Well, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could store that energy instead of throwing it away ?

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Dave Holmes believes solving our entire electricity storage problem with water flowing up and downhill, could be done, but only at the cost of public anger.

    [ Dave Holmes ]

    It would mean flooding Areas of Natural Beauty, triple S I’s [SSSI], Special Areas of Conservation, and the National Parks, and that’s obviously something that none of us want to do. But there’s lots of places, where, you know, like this, it’s an ex-industrial site, we have potentially contaminated land in some of these areas, where we can come in, and clean them up, re-purpose them, turn them into energy storage facilities, reduce the amount of cost on wind power, and reduce the amount of fossil fuel burning [in] power stations and meet the energy demand for the UK. And that’ll be cheaper for the UK taxpayer and for the Government.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    I was perhaps a little too dismissive of batteries earlier in the programme. Big improvements have happened. At least I have a cordless drill in my workshop, and my information-rich phone and tablet depend on the latest generation of Lithium-ion power sources. And better batteries are fuelling the steadily increasing competence of electric cars. Cosmin Laslau from the Boston-based analysts Lux Research says the car manufacturer Tesla are hoping to change the game with their proposed gigafactory.

    [ Cosmin Laslau ]

    Their long-term plan is to really halve the price, to introduce a lower cost electric vehicle, while not sacrificing on driving range. And the way that they think they will be able to do that is really mass-produce these batteries at a scale never seen before. The scale of a Lithium-ion battery production factory – it’s about one gigawatt hour. That’s on average. What Tesla’s looking to do is to increase that by a factor of about 30 to 50. And they hope with that massive economy of scale they’re going to be able to really lower the cost of the battery itself.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Do you, and the market, have confidence that they’re going to be able to deliver this dream ?

    [ Cosmin Laslau ]

    In short, no. Not to the scale that they’re promising. They have demonstrated that there exists a niche for luxury electric vehicles. So they have positioned a product quite well. But it’s one thing to sell 20,000 vehicles. It’s another thing to sell half a million.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    You were going to talk I think about another challenge, alongside the scale ?

    [ Cosmin Laslau ]

    Right. Absolutely. The other approach is innovation. There’s also the question of can we go away altogether from Lithium-ion – and go to some more advanced battery chemistries – that could potentially be cheaper or be able to pack more energy in the same amount of space or weight ?

    And so there’s some very interesting developers, and actually quite a few out of the UK. So there’s er, a start-up out of Oxford called Oxis Energy and they’re working on what is called the Lithium sulfur battery. Sulfur is quite a cheap material, and so they think that, in the long-term, you know we’re talking 5, 10 years out, they might be able to develop a battery that is a lot cheaper than the Lithium-ion batteries that we see today. So far, however, cycle life isn’t quite there. So the battery just doesn’t last long enough for a vehicle application.

    Another one is a company called Nexion, out of Imperial College London. They’re trying to change half the battery, what they actually going to put in [is] silicon in what’s called the anode. And this improves the amount of energy that you can pack into this battery. And there’s quite a lot of interest there, particularly from [the] consumer electronics side of things.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    But for the foreseeable future, energy storage in batteries on a grid scale is just not viable. The solution is something familiar. Gas. In my case, a big metal bottle full of it [ chink, chink ] that runs my cooker for months. For the nation, something much grander. And the surprising thing is, it can be created using spare green electricity.

    Energy writer, Chris Goodall, again

    [ Chris Goodall ]

    There is only one conceivable way of doing it. And that’s turning spare power from wind, from solar, into another medium. Probably hydrogen. Possibly methane. Methane is the main constituent of the Natural Gas that’s coming through your gas taps.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    How do you do that ?

    [ Chris Goodall ]

    The way that we can store electricity is through a process known as electrolysis. It’s the kind of thing that you did in the chemistry lab at school when you were 15. You’ve got an electric current which you pass through a beaker of water. And at one side of that you get hydrogen forming, as water breaks up into hydrogen and oxygen, and at the other side you get oxygen. If you can collect that hydrogen, which you can, and store it, you can then use that as a way of providing you energy at some time in the future when you need it.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Now that sounds simple in terms of chemistry, but how efficient is it ?

    [ Chris Goodall ]

    That process is up to 80% efficient. That is to say, about 80% of the energy value of the electricity you put in can be collected in the form of energy value for the hydrogen. So this is a reasonably efficient process, roughly comparable to the very best pumped storage.

    The problem with hydrogen is that it’s not very energy dense, so you need a large space to store a reasonable amount of energy in the form of hydrogen. It would be much better, if we took that hydrogen and we merged it chemically with carbon dioxide to create methane (which is a combination of carbon and hydrogen atoms) and water.

    Methane, we have an almost infinite capacity to store, because we can put it into gas reservoirs beneath the sea, we can put it directly into the National Grid for gas.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    And one Sheffield-based company, ITM Power, has begun supplying the German energy network in exactly this way.

    I linked up with Managing Director, Graham Cooley, on the road.

    [ Graham Cooley ]

    So, we’re at the Hanover Messe in Germany, which is a massive technology show. And we’re in Germany because of a very significant project the Germans are running called the Energiewende, which is to transform their whole energy network from fossil fuelled-energy to renewable energy.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Are you suggesting pumping this hydrogen as neat hydrogen into the grid,
    rather than combining it into methane ?

    [ Graham Cooley ]

    All over the world there are compliance rules about how much hydrogen you can put into the gas grid.

    Across Europe, basically, the average is around 3 to 5%. 12% in Holland. 10% in Germany. And so you can actually put hydrogen directly into the gas grid.

    What you’re doing really is you’re putting a device between our two major energy networks, and where you have an excess of generation in the electricity network, you can transfer the energy into the gas network.

    And because the gas network is so massive and we already own it, it’s the lowest cost energy storage.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Graham, give me your kind of roster of different energy storage techniques.

    [ Graham Cooley ]

    OK. So, look energy storage is segmented in terms of discharge time and scale. So, if you want a very small amount of energy storage almost instantaneously, you’d use a flywheel. If you want two hours of energy storage, you’d use a battery. If you want a few hours, you’d use pumped hydro. But if you want years, or seasons, of energy storage, you use hydrogen, Power to Gas energy storage. And the reason for that is that the gas grid that’s storing that energy, is so large.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    For a glimpse into the future where energy storage is a more acute problem, I’ve come across to Northern Ireland, in fact, to Larne, just on a very blustery hillside overlooking the Irish Sea. In front of me, is a drilling rig, about 10 or 15 metres high. And here they’re trying something quite radical [ sound of motor starting up ].

    Well down here, next to the rig, adorned in the high viz and hard hat are Keith McGrane and Stephen Aherne, from the company Gaelectric, a big electricity provider here, particularly in the renewables sphere in Northern Ireland. Keith, tell me what we’re looking at here.

    [ Keith McGrane ]

    We’re looking at a drilling rig, that drills down to a depth of 950 metres, to identify salt deposits, that we use to store compressed air.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Now Stephen, you’re the geologist here…

    [ Stephen Aherne ]

    …that’s right…

    [ Tom Heap ]

    …Explain to me how that process works. At the moment I guess you’re looking at a solid salt deposit block, and you’ve got to turn that into some kind of cavern.

    [ Stephen Aherne ]

    Exactly, yes. The caverns are created by pumping in water, the salt is dissolved, leaving a void, which is essentially an airtight container, which is used then, as a storage vessel for the compressed air.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    So you’re going to dissolve a big void under there. How big ?

    [ Stephen Aherne ]

    It’s going to be about 100 metres high, and a diameter of 70 to 90 metres. It’s a very well-established technology, and method. Round the world, there are about 500 caverns, mainly used for storing gas.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Now, perhaps we ought to take a step back. How can compressing air enable you to store electricity ?

    [ Keith McGrane ]

    What we have here is such a process of taking surplus electricity from the grid, that drives a compressor, converting it into air. That air is then stored underground, and it can then be withdrawn from the cavern, and that air is run through a turbine that regenerates electricity back to the grid.

    The system that we are designing can generate 268 megawatts. One megawatt of electricity generation can supply electricity for about 1,000 homes. So we could actually generate 268 megawatts of electricity for 8 hours.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    So you could supply a reasonable chunk of the electricity for Northern Ireland for a few hours ?

    [ Keith McGrane ]

    Yes, we absolutely could. But the primary application is one of enabling the Grid to manage renewable energy.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Compressing air and storing it underground, Stephen, is it just going to work here outside Larne, or are there other places in the UK and across Europe, where, if you can prove it can work here, it can work elsewhere ?

    [ Stephen Aherne ]

    On the island of Ireland, it appears that this is the only location. But certainly in Great Britain, there are a number of locations. Cheshire, Yorkshire, and I suppose in the South West, if we’re looking at salt. There may also be potential in depleted gas fields or aquifers.

    When this is demonstrated, the potential will be seen all the way from Portugal across to Poland, Bulgaria, and up to Denmark.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    In terms of the scale of the storage here, what’s it comparable to ? I mean, it’s clearly more than a battery, but it’s not necessarily going to keep you going over a Winter period. Is it like pumped storage ?

    [ Keith McGrane ]

    Yeah, it’s of the same scale as pumped storage, but of course, the storage is all underground, so there is a major difference in terms of environmental impact.

    But the need for largescale storage does provide opportunities for technologies such as batteries, such as compressed air, and such as pumped storage.

    My own view is that these technologies will find their own respective applications, in seconds-to-seconds variation on the Grid, minutes-to-hours, and hours-to-days.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    So complementary, rather than competing ?

    [ Keith McGrane ]

    Absolutely, and a lot is talked about what technology’s going to be the winner, and everyone thinks we’re in a race here. My view is that we’re not. The optimum solution is to find economic storage that can be deployed at different scales to give the best solution to the system.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    The problem is that the electricity grid can’t store electricity. So in the words of the [Chief] Scientific Advisor at the Department for [sic] Energy and Climate Change, David MacKay, we need something easily turn-on-and-off-able, and it needs to be big.

    At the moment, that’s mainly done by turning gas-fired power stations up and down. And at times, just like wind, they too are paid not to generate.

    But as we wean ourselves off fossil fuels to less controllable renewables, that option shrinks.

    And while how we produce electricity changes, David MacKay says the overall amount we need continues to go up.

    [ David MacKay ]

    All of our projections for 2050 pathways see an increase in total electricity demand, because of the electrification of heat and transport, and we do expect the peak electricity demand in Winter to grow as part of that future decarbonisation.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    As the Government’s [Cheif] Scientific Advisor on Energy, he sees a lot of energy storage ideas, and believes that compressed air is a frontrunner.

    [ David MacKay ]

    It has absolutely enormous potential because there are places with appropriate geology for making large underground caverns, and so it is a technology that could be done at very large scale, in contrast to pumped storage, where we’ve only got one Snowdonia, and one Highlands of Scotland, and so there’s only a limited land area that could conceivably be used for any additional pumped storage.

    Another technology that’s coming up and looking very promising is an invention that’s being developed by a company called Isentropic and they’re trying to develop an extremely efficient heat pump that could be used to take electricity and use it to pump heat from a cold pile of rock into a hot pile of rock, and then when you want your electricity back, you run the same heat pump in reverse, to turn the heat back into electricity. And a prototype of this is being developed in Southampton at the moment.

    Now again, this could have really large potential. It would occupy far less land area than pumped storage facilities. So if the costs can be driven down enough, and if it performs as well as hoped, it could be a substitute for pumped storage that could be deployed at much larger scale.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    One of the technologies we’ve looked at for long-term storage, is the electrolysis of water into hydrogen, either storing that hydrogen, or then combining it again with CO2 [carbon dioxide] to create methane. What do you think about that ?

    [ David MacKay ]

    I think it definitely makes sense to include on our list ways of dealing with supply and demand variation, not just ways of storing electricity so that we can get electricity back, but other ways of solving the problem. So if we could have a piece of demand that is flexible, for example, making hydrogen – which could then be used for other purposes like transport, or putting into heating systems in industry, or home heating – that demand for hydrogen in principle could be flexible and could be turned up and down as the price and availability of electricity goes up and down.

    The biggest concern on that side is the risk that the electrolysers will remain expensive, and if you’re only using them say 10% of the time when the sun’s shining, then you’re not getting very good use out of those expensive assets.

    But I am optimistic that we will be able to drive down the cost of electrolysers.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Should we not have been doing this 10 or 15 years ago ?

    [ David MacKay ]

    I think Britain has been investing in innovation support for various storage and energy conversion technologies for decades now.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    [We] haven’t been doing enough ? I mean, it should have been the twin for renewables all along, shouldn’t it ? We always knew they were intermittent. We always knew

    [ David MacKay ]

    It’s definitely the case that if we could get the costs of storage down, it could really unlock the potential of renewables. There have been projects doing exactly this, decades ago. In my book, I mentioned the case of the island of Fair Isle, where they get a lot of their electricity from a couple of turbines. And they have a backup system which is a diesel generator. And they added to that system as an experiment a flywheel to do electricity storage to help balance out the fluctuations in the wind. So there have been very good innovative experiments going on for a while in Britain but I think we really do recognise the importance now of storage.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    With respect to Fair Isle, that’s a little bit “garden shed”. And we’ve had some stuff from the lab bench. Isn’t it really urgent that we start doing enough ? I mean, Germany seems to be doing far more than us.

    [ David MacKay ]

    Well, in terms of urgency, it’s still the case that most of the capacity on the electricity system in the UK, is flexible fossil fuelled power.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    But we want to be rid of that, don’t we ?

    [ David MacKay ]

    Yes, but there’s no way we can get rid of it overnight.

    It’s absolutely right to be putting the money into innovation support to drive down the costs of storage, rather than doing a mass deployment of whatever happens to be the best storage technology today.

    I do think we’ve got at least 5 or 10 years to go before we need we really get into mass deployment.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    In his book “Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air”, David MacKay floats the possibility of hugely increased pumped hydro in Scotland, suggesting enlarging Loch Sloy above Loch Lomond, and pumped storage at 13 other sites across the country. So, an obvious question. Are the Scottish Glens safe from being flooded ?

    [ David MacKay ]

    I think that the Scottish Glens, especially if the storage of electricity in gravel and the compressed air energy storage breakthroughs happen in the way that I hope they’re going to happen, I think they will be safe.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Energy storage should have been the twin to renewable energy.

    But, it’s been starved of investment and innovation.

    So now, to avoid undermining green electricity generation it must develop fast.

    [ Presenter ]

    “Costing the Earth” was presented by Tom Heap and produced by Anne-Marie Bullock.

  • Christiana Figueres : Love Bug

    Posted on May 7th, 2014 Jo No comments

    It was probably a side-effect of the flu’, but as I was listening to Christiana Figueres speaking at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, this evening, I started to have tunnel vision, and the rest of the “hallowed halls” just melted away, and I felt she was speaking to me individually, woman to woman.

    She talked a lot about investments, injustices and inertia, but I felt like she was personally calling me, nagging me, bugging me to show more love. She said she didn’t want us to leave thinking “That was interesting”, or even “That was inspiring”, but that we would leave resolved to do one more concrete thing to show our love for our world, and our fellow human beings.

    I was a little defensive inside – I’m already trying to get some big stuff done – how could I do anything else that could be effective ? She said that we couldn’t ask people to do more if we weren’t prepared to do more ourselves. I wasn’t sure that any of the things she suggested I could try would have any impact, but I suppose I could try again to write to my MP Iain Duncan Smith – after all, Private Eye tells me he’s just hired a communications consultant, so he might be willing to communicate with me about climate change, perhaps.

    Of her other suggestions, I have already selected investments that are low carbon, so there would be little point in writing to them about carbon-based “stranded assets”. My diet is very largely vegetarian; I buy food and provisions from co-operatives where I can; I don’t own a car; I’ve given up flying; I’ve installed solar electricity; my energy consumption is much lower than average; I buy secondhand; I reuse, repair, reclaim, recycle.

    I don’t want to “campaign” on climate change – I don’t think that would be very loving. This should not be a public relations mission, it needs to be authentic and inclusive, so I don’t know what the best way is to engage more people in “the struggle”. I’ve sent enough email in my life. People already know about climate change, I don’t need to evangelise them. They already know some of the things they could do to mitigate their fossil fuel energy consumption, I don’t need to educate them. The organisations that are still pushing fossil fuels to society have more to do to get with the transition than everyday energy consumers, surely ?

    So, how is it that this “love bug” bites me ? What do I feel bugged to be getting on with ? Researching low carbon gas energy systems is my main action at the moment, but what could I do that would be an answer to Christiana’s call for me to do something extra ? Join in the monthly fast and prayer that’s due to start on 1st November ? Well, sure I will, as part of my work duties. Network for Our Voices that will funnel the energy of the monthly call to prayer into a Civil Society “tornado” in support of the UNFCCC Paris Treaty ? Yes, of course. Comes with the territory. But more… ?

    I noticed that Christiana Figueres had collegiate competition from the bells of St Paul’s, and it sounded like the whole cathedral was ringing. Then my cough started getting bad and I started to feel quite unwell, so I had to leave before the main debate took place, to medicate myself with some fresh orange juice from a company I chose because it tracks its carbon, and has a proper plan for climate sustainability, so I never answered my question – what do I need to do, to do more about climate change ?

  • All Kinds of Gas

    Posted on May 2nd, 2014 Jo No comments

    Amongst the chink-clink of wine glasses at yesterday evening’s Open Cities Green Sky Thinking Max Fordham event, I find myself supping a high ball orange juice with an engineer who does energy retrofits – more precisely – heat retrofits. “Yeah. Drilling holes in Grade I Listed walls for the District Heating pipework is quite nervewracking, as you can imagine. When they said they wanted to put an energy centre deep underneath the building, I asked them, “Where are you going to put the flue ?””

    Our attention turns to heat metering. We discuss cases we know of where people have installed metering underground on new developments and fitted them with Internet gateways and then found that as the rest of the buildings get completed, the meter can no longer speak to the world. The problems of radio-meets-thick-concrete and radio-in-a-steel-cage. We agree that anybody installing a remote wifi type communications system on metering should be obliged in the contract to re-commission it every year.

    And then we move on to shale gas. “The United States of America could become fuel-independent within ten years”, says my correspondent. I fake yawn. It really is tragic how some people believe lies that big. “There’s no way that’s going to happen !”, I assert.

    “Look,” I say, (jumping over the thorny question of Albertan syncrude, which is technically Canadian, not American), “The only reason there’s been strong growth in shale gas production is because there was a huge burst in shale gas drilling, and now it’s been shown to be uneconomic, the boom has busted. Even the Energy Information Administration is not predicting strong growth in shale gas. They’re looking at growth in coalbed methane, after some years. And the Arctic.” “The Arctic ?”, chimes in Party Number 3. “Yes,” I clarify, “Brought to you in association with Canada. Shale gas is a non-starter in Europe. I always think back to the USGS. They estimate that the total resource in the whole of Europe is a whole order of magnitude, that is, ten times smaller than it is in Northern America.” “And I should have thought you couldn’t have the same kind of drilling in Europe because of the population density ?”, chips in Party Number 3. “They’re going to be drilling a lot of empty holes,” I add, “the “sweet spot” problem means they’re only likely to have good production in a few areas. And I’m not a geologist, but there’s the stratigraphy and the kind of shale we have here – it’s just not the same as in the USA.” Parties Number 2 and 3 look vaguely amenable to this line of argument. “And the problems that we think we know about are not the real problems,” I out-on-a-limbed. “The shale gas drillers will probably give up on hydraulic fracturing of low density shale formations, which will appease the environmentalists, but then they will go for drilling coal lenses and seams inside and alongside the shales, where there’s potential for high volumes of free gas just waiting to pop out. And that could cause serious problems if the pressures are high – subsidence, and so on. Even then, I cannot see how production could be very high, and it’s going to take some time for it to come on-stream…” “…about 10 years,” says Party Number 2.

    “Just think about who is going for shale gas in the UK,” I ventured, “Not the big boys. They’ve stood back and let the little guys come in to drill for shale gas. I mean, BP did a bunch of onshore seismic surveys in the 1950s, after which they went drilling offshore in the North Sea, so I think that says it all, really. They know there’s not much gas on land.” There were some raised eyebrows, as if to say, well, perhaps seismic surveys are better these days, but there was agreement that shale gas will come on slowly.

    “I don’t think shale gas can contribute to energy security for at least a decade,” I claimed, “even if there’s anything really there. Shale gas is not going to answer the problems of the loss of nuclear generation, or the problems of gas-fired generation becoming uneconomic because of the strong growth in renewables.” There was a nodding of heads.

    “I think,” I said, “We should forget subsidies. UK plc ought to purchase a couple of CCGTS [Combined Cycle Gas Turbine electricity generation units]. That will guarantee they stay running to load balance the power grid when we need them to. Although the UK’s Capacity Mechanism plan is in line with the European Union’s plans for supporting gas-fired generation, it’s not achieving anything yet.” I added that we needed to continue building as much wind power as possible, as it’s quick to put in place. I quite liked my radical little proposal for energy security, and the people I was talking with did not object.

    There was some discussion about Green Party policy on the ownership of energy utilities, and how energy and transport networks are basically in the hands of the State, but then Party Number 2 said, “What we really need is consistency of policy. We need an Energy Bill that doesn’t get gutted by a change of administration. I might need to vote Conservative, because Labour would mess around with policy.” “I don’t know,” I said, “it’s going to get messed with whoever is in power. All those people at DECC working on the Electricity Market Reform – they all disappeared. Says something, doesn’t it ?”

    I spoke to Parties Number 2 and 3 about my research into the potential for low carbon gas. “Basically, making gas as a kind of energy storage ?”, queried Party Number 2. I agreed, but omitted to tell him about Germany’s Power-to-Gas Strategy. We agreed that it would be at least a decade before much could come of these technologies, so it wouldn’t contribute immediately to energy security. “But then,” I said, “We have to look at the other end of this transition, and how the big gas producers are going to move towards Renewable Gas. They could be making decisions now that make more of the gas they get out of the ground. They have all the know-how to build kit to make use of the carbon dioxide that is often present in sour conventional reserves, and turn it into fuel, by reacting it with Renewable Hydrogen. If they did that, they could be building sustainability into their business models, as they could transition to making Renewable Gas as the Natural Gas runs down.”

    I asked Parties Number 2 and 3 who they thought would be the first movers on Renewable Gas. We agreed that companies such as GE, Siemens, Alstom, the big engineering groups, who are building gas turbines that are tolerant to a mix of gases, are in prime position to develop closed-loop Renewable Gas systems for power generation – recycling the carbon dioxide. But it will probably take the influence of the shareholders of companies like BP, who will be arguing for evidence that BP are not going to go out of business owing to fossil fuel depletion, to roll out Renewable Gas widely. “We’ve all got our pensions invested in them”, admitted Party Number 2, arguing for BP to gain the ability to sustain itself as well as the planet.

  • David MacKay : Heating London

    Posted on May 2nd, 2014 Jo No comments

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


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

    SAP is an inaccurate tool and not suitable for the uses we put it too :-
    http://www.eden.gov.uk/planning-and-development/building-control/building-control-guidance-notes/sap-calculations-explained/
    http://www.dimplex.co.uk/products/renewable_solutions/building_regulations_part_l.htm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • David MacKay Minus Beard

    Posted on May 2nd, 2014 Jo No comments

    “He’s lost the beard,” I commented to The Man On My Left as Professor David MacKay entered the room at the Max Fordham event on heating London, “Is he leaving Government ?”

    It turns out, he is – 31st July – he told An Interested Party. “Where are you going ?”, AIP asked. David shrugged his shoulders in a non-committal sort of way, “Back to Cambridge,” he volunteered. Now, one could take that as a sign that he will be returning to Cambridge University, but it could mean something else.

    I buttonholed him.

    “Are you THE Jo Abbess ?” he asked.

    “Yes, sadly,” I fake-apologised. “I’m pleased to see you finally believe in low carbon gas,” I said in a congratulatory tone.

    His advice was to talk about meeting representatives from Audi and BMW about their choice for the transport sector. One is going with the hydrogen economy (if they can fix the hydrogen on-board storage questions) – fuel cells being so efficient (if they work). The other is going with the methane – NGV – Natural Gas Vehicles – using CNG – Compressed Natural Gas.

    “I’m attempting to author a work on Renewable Gas,” I confided, “and I’ve been looking at resurrecting old gas-making technologies – for SNG – synthetic Natural Gas.”

    Professor MacKay recommended I talk to Ian Ellerington, his Head of Innovation Delivery, but warned me everybody is busy. He wrote Ian’s email on his business card. The email bounced undeliverable. Oh well.

  • Fiefdom of Information

    Posted on April 27th, 2014 Jo 1 comment

    Sigh. I think I’m going to need to start sending out Freedom of Information requests… Several cups of tea later…


    To: Information Rights Unit, Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, 5th Floor, Victoria 3, 1 Victoria Street, London SW1H OET

    28th April 2014

    Request to the Department of Energy and Climate Change

    Re: Policy and Strategy for North Sea Natural Gas Fields Depletion

    Dear Madam / Sir,

    I researching the history of the development of the gas industry in the United Kingdom, and some of the parallel evolution of the industry in the United States of America and mainland Europe.

    In looking at the period of the mid- to late- 1960s, and the British decision to transition from manufactured gas to Natural Gas supplies, I have been able to answer some of my questions, but not all of them, so far.

    From a variety of sources, I have been able to determine that there were contingency plans to provide substitutes for Natural Gas, either to solve technical problems in the grid conversion away from town gas, or to compensate should North Sea Natural Gas production growth be sluggish, or demand growth higher than anticipated.

    Technologies included the enriching of “lean” hydrogen-rich synthesis gas (reformed from a range of light hydrocarbons, by-products of the petroleum refining industry); Synthetic Natural Gas (SNG) and methane-”rich” gas making processes; and simple mixtures of light hydrocarbons with air.

    In the National Archives Cmd/Cmnd/Command document 3438 “Fuel Policy. Presented to Parliament by the Minister of Power Nov 1967″, I found discussion on how North Sea gas fields could best be exploited, and about expected depletion rates, and that this could promote further exploration and discovery.

    In a range of books and papers of the time, I have found some discussion about options to increase imports of Natural Gas, either by the shipping of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) or by pipeline from The Netherlands.

    Current British policy in respect of Natural Gas supplies appears to rest on “pipeline diplomacy”, ensuring imports through continued co-operation with partner supplier countries and international organisations.

    I remain unclear about what official technological or structural strategy may exist to bridge the gap between depleting North Sea Natural Gas supplies and continued strong demand, in the event of failure of this policy.

    It is clear from my research into early gas field development that depletion is inevitable, and that although some production can be restored with various techniques, that eventually wells become uneconomic, no matter what the size of the original gas field.

    To my mind, it seems unthinkable that the depletion of the North Sea gas fields was unanticipated, and yet I have yet to find comprehensive policy statements that cover this eventuality and answer its needs.

    Under the Freedom of Information Act (2000), I am requesting information to answer the following questions :-

    1.   At the time of European exploration for Natural Gas in the period 1948 to 1965, and the British conversion from manufactured gas to Natural Gas, in the period 1966 to 1977, what was HM Government’s policy to compensate for the eventual depletion of the North Sea gas fields ?

    2.   What negotiations and agreements were made between HM Government and the nationalised gas industry between 1948 and 1986; and between HM Government and the privatised gas industry between 1986 and today regarding the projections of decline in gas production from the UK Continental Shelf, and any compensating strategy, such as the development of unconventional gas resources, such as shale gas ?

    3.   Is there any policy or strategy to restore the SNG (Synthetic Natural Gas) production capacity of the UK in the event of a longstanding crisis emerging, for example from a sharp rise in imported Natural Gas costs or geopolitical upheaval ?

    4.   Has HM Government any plan to acquire the Intellectual Property rights to SNG production technology, whether from British Gas/Centrica or any other private enterprise, especially for the slagging version of the Lurgi gasifier technology ?

    5.   Has HM Government any stated policy intention to launch new research and development into, or pilot demonstrations of, SNG ?

    6.   Does HM Government have any clearly-defined policy on the production and use of manufactured gas of any type ? If so, please can I know references for the documents ?

    7.   Does HM Government anticipate that manufactured gas production could need to increase in order to support the production of synthetic liquid vehicle fuels; and if so, which technologies are to be considered ?

    Thank you for your attention to my request for information.

    Regards,

    jo.

  • Shell Pulls From Shale

    Posted on March 18th, 2014 Jo No comments

    Shell cuts and runs from shale, but there are still believers.


    Friday 14 March 2014


    From: Dave
    Subject: Shell cuts investment in US shale as “fracking takes its toll”

    [...]

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

    From: Hugh

    re story at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/oilandgas/10696415/Shell-cuts-spending-and-jobs-at-US-shale-gas-arm.html

    I agree. It seems that only Wall Street, realtors and other fairly useless middlemen are really making serious money at dry shale gas production. The little guys at the serious end all appear to be spending more than they are earning (like Shell). Wait for the bust because I cannot see Henry Hub reaching the $6 – 8/mmBtu (more?) needed for the drillers to make a profit. It is not yet even totally clear that shale oil is a clear winner; many of those drillers’s outlays are greater than income!

    Very confusing!

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

    From: Dave

    One conspiracy theory going around is that the shale thing has been funded by the US govt money printing to banks, and as soon as they start tapering the whole thing will collapse.

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

    From: Chris

    Money printing provides liquidity – not capital.

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

    From: Dave

    Yes but the banks can invest that liquidity by lending to fracking shysters????

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

    From: Dave

    Chris, the penny has just dropped. Never really understood what “liquidity” was, but clearly I see it is non-money that has been conjured out of the air by some sort of dodgy promise to pay in future based on a gamble / speculation, most of which at some point will collapse into nothingness or am I being too too cynical?

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

    From: Jo

    Hi Hugh,

    For me there are two key points :-

    1. The exploitation of shale resources in Northern America are part of the US trying to build a narrative of energy independence. The notion that the US could ever be free from OPEC is laughable.

    2. However, the official agencies, such as the EIA, do not project strong growth in shale gas, and anticipate a break point in shale oil growth.

    It is a pure propaganda exercise, this “Saudi America” narrative. It too will soon burst. Without sales of hydraulic fracturing to China etc.

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

    From: John

    Jo,

    Whatever you do, do not look at the graphs on page 12 from the EUIA!!

    http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/er/pdf/0383er(2014).pdf

    It will break your heart, it’s a shale gas denier’s worst nightmare.


    15 March 2014


    From: Nick Grealy, nohotair.co.uk

    John thanks for reminding me why I don’t bother with this group anymore.

    I thought they were scientists, not conspiracy theorists. David Icke seems same next to some of this.

    Heres more science to reject http://www.eia.gov/petroleum/drilling/pdf/dpr-full.pdf

    John Gummer ( I don’t go in for that Lord cr@p), recently said that if environmentalists deny the science behind shale, they can’t expect the public to accept the science on climate either.

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

    From: Jo

    Hi John,

    The projections in Figure 11 of that chart, showing numbers for growth in Natural Gas out to 2040 are based on very conservative growth figures in shale gas, and the large upwards growth is based mostly on a spurt in coalbed methane production sometime in the 2030s, and a spurt in Arctic production in the 2020s.

    The shale gas and tight gas growth could in reality be even less underwhelming, if you consider economic recovery issues.

    You need to get the underlying dataset and check, or look at other peoples’ attempts to chart it, such as mine :-

    http://www.joabbess.com/2013/10/23/bursting-shale-gas-bubbles/

    Don’t believe the growth hype !

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

    From: John

    Jo,

    Take Nick’s advice and drop the David Icke nonsense.

    http://www.eia.gov/petroleum/drilling/pdf/marcellus.pdf

    All the data is on the EIA website up to Feb 2014

    You write this on your blog, you’re not really trying are you!

    I was trying to ascertain current American shale gas production data, and I kept finding myself at this webpage on the Energy Information Administration (EIA) website, and this one, too, which only have shale gas production data up until 2011 (just checked it again – still true).

    Chill out about it, embrace gas and renewables like Texas is doing.

    Golden age of gas can fund and back up golden age of renewables, there is no other alternative, UK incredibly lucky country.

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

    From: Jo

    Hi John,

    I embrace gas – in fact, I’m in bed with gas. I just think that we should not be doing unconventional gas.

    First, because geology offers strong possibilities of early exhaustion and patchy production. And second of all, because this delays proper solutions in the field of manufactured Renewable Gas.

    Gas and power are perfectly complementary, and I think we should have growth in Renewable Gas to complement the growth in Renewable Electricity.

    Regards,

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

    From: John

    Gas demand is 730 TWh

    Max possible renewable gas is around 20 TWh

    So, the 710 TWh?

    By 2030, Qatar or Russia or Lancashire?

    We cannot afford to import it, we have to produce our own, there is no alternative

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

    From: Jo

    Hi John,

    On what do you base your figures ? I would dare to suggest your green gas figure is not optimistic enough.

    I think everything depends on what you think Renewable Gas is. It’s certainly not limited to biogas, or even hydrotreated biogas (to make biomethane through the addition of hydrogen in some way to biogas). Besides all the biological routes to gas, there are a range of other ways of putting Renewable Hydrogen in the company of Renewable Carbon and coming up with much bigger Renewable Gas production figures. Several important ones are being researched and developed. There are also a number of ways of producing Renewable Hydrogen – all in research and development.

    This country used to manufacture a large quantity of gas, and I am quite sure it will do so again in the not too distant future. This time round, however, it will be Renewable Gas, and not just made from gasified coal with all those net carbon dioxide emissions to air. Yes, there will be some EfW – gas Energy from Waste, but that will not be the endpoint. Yes, there will be advanced biological treatments of biological feedstocks, but even that won’t be the end of it. Yes, it will include some high temperature gasification (such as plasma gasification) of carbonaecous material, but even that will not be the end of the story. It will even include some coal and some Carbon Capture and Storage, although I prefer Carbon Recycling to reduce the initial fuel input.

    I think it is important to think in terms of a transition. For now we take the Natural Gas from the -stans, the Russian Federation, the South Stream, North Stream, east-west pipelines, the LNG tankers. But we plan to start Renewable Gas production to ramp up so that in 15 to 20 years time it can be a major substitution option. Swapping coal burning for gas burning will give us some space and time in our Carbon Budgets to develop the Renewable Gas to eventually displace Natural Gas (from all sources).

    The thing that needs to happen is that the major oil and gas companies need to show their hand on their plans for developing Renewable Gas. I’m pretty sure they have them, or if not, they need to start writing them now, because industrial scale start-ups in Renewable Gas are going to pump them out of business otherwise – shale or no shale.

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

    From: John

    My figs based on an EU project Green Gas Grids.

    Power to Gas is just gas industry green PR, it’s not credible.

    Reason is first one of efficiency or lack of it.

    Next is a killer – no reliable CO2 source…..P2G works to make H2 when it’s windy, but when windy no ccgt so no CO2.

    Costs are horrendous to match co2 with H2 from wind, complete non starter for the next 100 years!

    Shale gas is long term low carbon option.

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

    From: Jo

    Hi John,

    Other people have other figures. I would suggest it’s probably best not to accept just one report.

    It’s interesting that you claim that “Power to Gas” is gas industry public relations greenwash. From my viewpoint the agenda is being driven by organisations like the German Government, and non-majors such as ITM Power. As for the technology research and development, that is mostly academia, with or without energy sector investment.

    It may not be credible to you, but a lot of people are doing R&D into it. Unless you want to claim that they are just intelligent people being kept busy so they don’t get Bolshy, why would they be spending time on Renewable Gas if they didn’t think there was progress to be made in it ?

    Yes, it’s true that efficiency questions are important and limiting, but increasing the efficiency of various processing steps is exactly what most of the research is about. This is what will bring the costs down. Remember when people claimed that solar photovoltaics and wind power could never be cheap enough to be widely deployed ?

    There are many ways to source carbon dioxide reliably, such as through Carbon Recycling, which would lower original feedstock input requirements.

    If you just look at energy, then shale gas might make some sense, but it’s not just about energy. Shale gas development has implications on geological stability, geographical development, local risks of emissions to air, water and soil, and continued infrastructure maintenance costs dragging on for decades.

    Shale gas growth might well be short-term, with field depletion offsetting new drilling in a short timeframe. Who can guarantee more than a few sweet spots in any one field ?

    Why does National Grid only model around 10% of future production from shale gas, and no more ? Why does it model biogas on a par with shale gas ? They’re not particularly confident in either, it would seem.

    To my mind, shale gas is a theatrical diversion from the real business of substituting fossil gas with Renewable Gas and energy-use efficiency. There are more unfounded claims about shale gas than there were about nuclear power, sadly.

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

    From: John

    We all follow the subsidies.

    Offshore wind, solar, ITM h2 projects, biomethane, all receive huge subsidies….none are remotely economic….

    One partial well apart we have had no drilling and fracking in UK shale and so we don’t know how much shale gas we don’t know how much gas we will have.

    If it’s like Marcellus then by 2025 all the LNG importation terminals in UK will be mothballed and CO2 will be down 20% for gas, how fantastic!

    Instead if paying £50 billion a year for all and gas with zero tax, we may have £30 billion tax! Can fund more biomethane etc.

    Shale gas is our only hope.

    Germany withdrawing renewable subsidies now because costs too high….this already happening in UK with Ed Milliband opposition to higher energy bills.

    Shale gas and shale gas tax is out only hope.

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

    From: Jo

    Hi John,

    “If it’s like Marcellus”. That’s a very big if. Drilling for shale gas in the UK cannot be like the Marcellus, for several reasons – for example :-

    a. Population density – political tendency

    There are large numbers of people who don’t want to see fracking in their heavily populated areas in the UK. A significant proportion of these I would class as having reactionary tendencies :-

    http://sedac.ciesin.columbia.edu/downloads/maps/gpw-v3/gpw-v3-population-density/gbrdens.pdf
    http://sedac.ciesin.columbia.edu/downloads/maps/gpw-v3/gpw-v3-population-density/usadens.pdf

    b. Geology – this is an apples and oranges situation, surely ?

    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmenergy/795/79506.htm

    No two shale layers are the same – the stuff in the UK is just not the same kind of stuff as in the USA – for example, complare Bowland Shale to Marcellus Shale :-

    http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Business/Pix/pictures/2013/7/16/1373979376644/Bowland-Shale-008.jpg
    http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/02428/frackingguz_2428741b.jpg

    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_14SUjHlDtMA/TOApeP2WK4I/AAAAAAAAACw/Jqzf8KoZCQ8/s1600/Marcellus_Shale_5.jpg
    https://encrypted-tbn2.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTsWDl7lnk6GWzkpm_73mpbzcEg8AeotNh2fzRHv_2lSKpzLrrHLw

    “One partial well apart we have had no drilling and fracking in UK shale and so we don’t know how much shale gas we don’t know how much gas we will have” : there are doubts climbing all over your uncertainty mountains, and yet you still say “shale gas is our only hope”. How can you justify saying this ?

    What kind of impossible economics do you believe in that could convince you that the growth in shale gas production would compensate for the depletion in North Sea production ?

    All new deployments of new (and old) technology require support. Then after a while, the support can “degress”, as it is doing in Germany and the UK as the renewables begin to be able to stand alone. It would be a pretty poor business model to totally depend on subsidies for continued operation. Imagine if the tax and financial breaks for the oil and gas industry were removed…

    On the subject of a shale gas tax – do you seriously believe that any kind of revenue generated on the back of a subsidised energy industry would be hypothecated to the green energy sector ? There’s all that military budget to support, still. Can anybody tell me if any of the “green levy” money is ever put into renewables or energy efficiency ?

    The LNG terminals may well close – due to the beefed up gas pipeline network across Europe and the “harmonised” gas market.

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

    From: John

    Let’s pick up this conversation in 2020!

  • Gas Policy : Conceptual Piracy ?

    Posted on March 17th, 2014 Jo No comments

    So, I’m talking with an oil and gas man. I can’t quite say who, or when or where, or indeed, which company he is working for. But he’s definitely a man, and working in the fossil fuel industry. So, I say, I suspect that within the major oil and gas companies there must be a plan about what to do after the shale gas and shale oil public relations bubble has run its course. When it becomes clear that they can never add much to global production, the decision will be about whether to run with sour conventional fossil fuel resources in provinces already well-explored, or go for sweet unconventionals in inaccessible, and formerly neglected, places. Iran could suddenly become our very best of friends, for example, or we could scramble for Africa. The option for sour conventional fossil fuels, he says, it depends on where it is. I assent.

    There’s always mining for methane hydrates, he volunteers. In the Arctic. They’re already doing it in Japan, I agree, but it would be complicated, I counter, to go for deep drilling in areas with significant pack ice for many months of the year. Plus, global warming is strong in the Arctic, and conditions could change rapidly in ten years, and risk the infrastructure. It’s not a very good place to want to be drilling – the challenges of cold and ice, or meltwaters from ice in summer, and climate-changed shorelines. But there’s the permafrost, he said, implying that all the plant they will build will be stable. In my mind I’m asking myself – does he know the permafrost is melting ? There is a shallow ocean, I admit, with a lot of continental shelf at the right depth for stable clathrate formation. One could even pump carbon dioxide into the methane hydrates to release the methane by replacing it with carbon dioxide in the crystalline structure. Or so I’ve heard. Although it might be quite hard to collect the methane coming out. Mining methane hydrates would technically be possible, but it really depends on where it is. There are quite a number of territorial claims in the Arctic area. What is Russia claiming about the Arctic Ocean coast ?

    Wouldn’t it just be easier and safer to mine sour conventionals ? Whichever route the oil and gas industry takes now, they will need to build a lot of new kit. If they choose remote sweet gas, they will need to build remote mining plant, pipelines and ship terminals. If they choose sour gas, they can then choose to methanate the Natural Carbon Dioxide that comes out of the wells as part of the Natural Gas. This would uprate the gas and so increase its value, and it wouldn’t be necessary to Capture the carbon dioxide for burial or reinjection. If the gas industry chooses to produce Renewable Hydrogen to enable methanation of acid fossil gas, they can then also be ready for the switch to a fully Renewable Gas without a second phase of building loads of new kit – and that would surely be a bonus ?

    I said that I didn’t really believe in the narrative that significant volumes of methane could be mined cleanly or reliably from underwater hydrates. And that’s where our conversation came to an end.

    I don’t believe that scrambling for the methane locked in undersea “fire ice” is an appropriately-scaled or workable plan. I wonder what the real plan is…and if the oil and gas industry haven’t got one, I wonder if the rest of us should help them ?

    None of the pictures of alternative fuels painted by the oil and gas industry in the last decade have turned out to be meaningful. Let’s talk historical evidence. In oil, the “advanced biofuels” meme is pretty much exhausted, and production plateauing. Is anybody still promising large production volumes of algae biodiesel ? Can second-generation ethanol rise to the challenge of displacing big number percentages of petrodiesel ? Natural Gas Liquids and condensate from Natural Gas processing in the USA could well all be destined to be additives for thinning the bitumen from the oil sands in Canada – but will production ever be high ? Shale and tight oil production is growing overall in the United States of America, but there are disagreements about how significant it can become (and remain, given the likely depletion rates). In gas, the shale bubble could almost be at bursting point. Can we trust future projections ? I suppose it depends on who they come from.

  • On Having to Start Somewhere

    Posted on March 15th, 2014 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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


    To: Jo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    From: Jo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  • Failing Narratives : Carbon Culprits

    Posted on March 14th, 2014 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Here’s some background :-

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

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

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

    Seriously – where the exoplanet are we at ?

  • The General Lightness of Carbon Pricing

    Posted on February 27th, 2014 Jo 1 comment

    I was at a very interesting meeting this morning, entitled “Next Steps for Carbon Capture and Storage in the UK”, hosted by the Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport Forum :-

    http://www.westminsterforumprojects.co.uk/forums/event.php?eid=713
    http://www.westminsterforumprojects.co.uk/forums/agenda/CCS-2014-agenda.pdf

    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.

  • Gain in Transmission #2

    Posted on February 24th, 2014 Jo 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

    Jo,

    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.

    Rich

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


    From: Jo Abbess
    Date: 24 February 2014
    To: Richard A. Sears

    Dear Richard,

    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) :-

    http://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/referendum-news/peterhead-confirmed-for-carbon-capture-sitebut-its-not-a-bribe-says-ed-dave.1393232825

    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.

    Regards,

    jo.

  • In Confab : Paul Elsner

    Posted on January 23rd, 2014 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • But Uh-Oh – Those Summer Nights

    Posted on January 20th, 2014 Jo No comments

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

    Nuclear Flower Power

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

    Baseload Should Be History By Now, But…

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Radioactive Waste Disposal Woes

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

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

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

    Politics Is Living In The Past

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

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

    Together in Electric Dreams

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

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

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

    Cornering The Market In Undug Uranium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    District Heat Fields

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

    Gas Is The Logical Answer

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

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

    The Age of Your Carbon

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

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

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

    Young Carbon from Seawater

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

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

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

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

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

    How Much Spare Power Will There Be ?

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

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

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

    We could be making a lot of Renewable Gas !

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

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

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

    Choices, choices, choices

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

    Capacity Payments

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

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

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

    Carbon Capture, Carbon Budget

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

  • Gain in Transmission

    Posted on January 13th, 2014 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

    Dear [Professor] Sears,

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Thank you,

    jo.

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

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

    Jo,

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

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

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

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

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

    Best regards,
    Rich Sears

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

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

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

    Dear [Professor] Sears,

    Many thanks for your reply.

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

    May I blog them ?

    Regards,

    jo.

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

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

    Jo,

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

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

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

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

    Rich

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

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

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

    Dear Professor Sears,

    HNY 2014 !

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

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

    Examples would be :-

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Many thanks,

    jo.

  • Making The Sour Sweet

    Posted on January 1st, 2014 Jo No comments

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

  • Champagne with Michael Caine

    Posted on December 11th, 2013 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Biomass : Chainsaw of Destruction

    Posted on October 29th, 2013 Jo No comments

    This evening I was at a very interesting meeting hosted by BiofuelWatch in the fabulous Lumen Centre near King’s Cross, London.

    The new report “Biomass : Chain of Destruction” was launched with public Skype interviews with colleagues in Brazil and the United States. All very 2013, but the biomass combustion technologies of concern are mostly all so last century.

    Ordinary combustion of any biological material, whether ancient trees, such as coal, or modern trees, in the form of compressed wood pellets, is generally inefficient. But to burn biomass to create heat to vapourise water to make steam to turn electrical turbines to make power is scandalously wasteful.

    In the Executive Summary of the report (downloaded from this website), these demands were made :-

    “1. Large­scale industrial bioenergy to be removed
    from definitions of “renewable energy”. The term
    “renewable” must be formalized to reflect the real
    costs to the environment and public health.”

    “2. An end to subsidies, including targets and other
    state incentives, for industrial bioenergy.”

    “3. A major policy shift away from large­scale energy
    generation through combustion, towards our energy
    needs being satisfied through a combination of
    genuinely climate­friendly renewable energy and a
    substantial reduction in both energy generation and
    use.”

    A discussion arose in my corner of the room about where we should draw the line between “good” biomass applications, and “bad” biomass applications. It was generally agreed that burning local biomass for local heat in an efficient machine, would limit particulate emissions and be very energy efficient and sustainable.

    And at the other end of the scale, I am looking at the potential for the highly-efficient gasification of biomass to make Renewable Gas – the higher temperatures mean that less carbon particulates, tars and poisons remain. For centralised Renewable Gas plants, air quality management would be necessary, through the capture and filtering of particulates and other unwanted by-products, but the cost of this is manageable at this scale.

    If ordinary incineration or combustion is being done at the medium to large scale, this is likely to be the cause of major problems, in the event of sharply rising levels of biomass burning for electricity production. The inefficiency of the energy conversion will mean that full air quality protection may be too expensive to apply to the exhaust, and it will be simply vented to air.

  • The Renewable Gas Mandate

    Posted on October 9th, 2013 Jo No comments

    All models are wrong – but there’s only so much that an energy technology can grow or shrink by each year.

    I’ve started to look in detail at the numbers which suggested to me that Renewable Gas will become more important in 10 to 15 years time – and why we need to start developing a policy to mandate it now.

    The chart above is based on the assumptions that :-

    a. There is little in the way of significant extra unconventional fossil fuel production for the next 30 years.
    b. There is a strong development in the provision of Renewable Electricity – principally solar and wind power.
    c. There is no new gas conversion technology that industry wishes to exploit.
    d. Global energy demand continues to grow by around 2% a year.
    e. A plateau in global Natural Gas production is roughly 10 to 15 years behind the current plateau in crude oil production.
    f. There is no significant improvement in energy efficiency or energy demand reduction.
    g. A peak in coal consumption must occur before 2030.

    I think this very experimental model demonstrates the need for Renewable Gas quite well.

    The data in the model was a mix of BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy 2013, BP’s Energy Outlook to 2030, IIASA’s Global Energy Assessment 2012, and a couple of other reports on hydrogen and biomass production.

    Next I’m going to draw on the United Nations data for a breakdown of classes of energy to get a closer look at historical and recent trends, and thereby look for patterns for future changes.

  • Wind Powers Energy Security #2

    Posted on August 18th, 2013 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    1. A wider geographical spread of wind farms

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

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

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

    3. Size of wind turbines – and height

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

    4. The synergy between low carbon generation technologies

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

    5. The development of hybrid wind systems

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