Posted on October 29th, 2013 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.
“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
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.
Posted on October 9th, 2013 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.
Posted on August 18th, 2013 No comments
There’s no doubt about it – wind power is saving the grid. Since the economic deflation (otherwise more sensitively termed a “recession” or a “slowdown”), and the consequent drop in confidence about the growth in electricity demand, and the problem of “missing money” to finance new infrastructure projects, there has not been much investor appetite for commissioning new power plants running on “conventional” fossil fuels. But wind is raging away with 12 gigawatts of wind power capacity added in the European Union in 2012.
But can wind be relied on ? Well, there’s lots of wind, and so lots of wind power – in the UK, for example, wind turbines generated 16,884 gigawatt hours of power in 2012, more than double the amount in 2008 (DUKES Digest of UK Energy Statistics, Table 5.1).
But what if the wind dies down when a high pressure weather system sits tight over the UK in the depths of winter ? What “Equivalent Firm Capacity” (EFC) can we expect from wind power ? Ofgem models 17% of the total in their 2013 Electricity Capacity Assessment Report. National Grid modelled 8% in their Winter Outlook Report of 2011/2012, which went up to 10% in the Winter Outlook for 2012/2013, and 10% in the 2013/2014 Winter Consultation Report (but noted that actual availability of wind during the previous year winter high demand conditions had been 9%)
Views and evidence differ about whether wind power availability is destined to be so low in winter cold highs – whether calm conditions are bound to be experienced at the same time as high power demand. Both the National Grid and Ofgem, the UK Government’s energy market regulator, have modelled this from data, but just as the time series is relatively short, the number of wind generators is rapidly increasing, so the richness of the data has yet to improve.
The problem with concentrating on the winter is that the excellent contribution from wind power to indigenous electricity generation is obscured. Clearly that’s the intention of the wind power deniers, who dismiss wind power’s valuable contribution because of the risk of some still days in December or January.
For any time of the year apart from the deepest cold of winter, wind power is a healthy generation resource. In some cases, wind power is embedded into industrial, military and transport facilities and isn’t metered by National Grid, and at times of high wind generation, National Grid experiences a “negative demand” effect on the main power grid.
And here are just some of the reasons why the contribution of wind power to national energy security is going to improve :-
1. A wider geographical spread of wind farms
More wind power will almost certainly be built. And built fast. Wind turbines have a good Net Present Value, so are assets, as opposed to nuclear reactors which start depreciating in return value the moment you start pouring concrete. Wind turbines are also quick to deploy, compared to the interminable struggle to commit to building other sorts of generation. The reason why wind power is fast to grid is because of slight tilts in market conditions caused by government subsidies and other measures to favour their low carbon generation. The only other contender (besides solar electric) for speed to grid generation from first groundworks is new efficient Natural Gas-fired plant. While people are still debating whether or not to deploy other forms of low carbon generation, wind power and gas (and solar electric) will be ripping up the projection spreadsheets. As more wind power comes online, there will naturally be a wider geographical dispersion of resources. If wind power generation capacity is spread over distances wider than the average anti-cyclonic high pressure system, then higher capacity values can be guaranteed. The more wind power there is, the firmer the promise of power will be.
2. The development of wind power hubs serving a number of regions
Already we see wind power “hubs” emerging, centres of build and connection of wind farms where conditions, financing and planning are more favourable. Some of these projects are international, such as in the North Sea area. With the plans for growing the integrated wind power market over a larger number of territories comes the flexibility to use wind power where it’s most needed at any one time, almost certainly raising the levels of wind energy that can be supplied to consumers from the same quantity of generation equipment. If “spare” wind capacity can flow through beefed up European power networks to serve regional demand, then there will be more reason to count on wind.
3. Size of wind turbines – and height
Data modelling of wind power will need to adjust to new realities – larger and higher wind turbines – capturing more of the wind for power generation. Wind flow is more regular the higher you are from the surface of the land or sea, so stronger dependency on wind power will be possible in future.
4. The synergy between low carbon generation technologies
So you’ve hit a rough patch with low wind speeds today – but solar power is doing fine. Or tidal energy. The more renewable energy technologies we develop, the more they can support each other in their respective weaknesses, so firming up renewable energy capacity as a whole.
5. The development of hybrid wind systems
Already, levels of installed wind generation capacity mean that there are periods of unused wind. Part of this will be improved by strengthening transmission networks, and this will improve wind’s reliability by getting “stranded” wind power to market. If the spare or surplus, or even “constrained” or “curtailed” wind power could be put to use as part of a Power to Gas hybrid system, more of the wind energy could be captured for a more reliable source of electrical power. This is just one angle of the Renewable Gas story – there are already several wind-to-hydrogen projects testing the concept of using electrolysis of water by spare wind power to produce hydrogen gas that can be stored and burned later on for power generation.
Posted on July 15th, 2013 3 comments
At last week’s 2013 Annual Conference for PRASEG, the UK parliamentary sustainable energy group, Keith MacLean from Scottish and Southern Energy outlined (see below) the major pathways for domestic (residential) energy, currently dependent on both a gas grid and a power grid.
He said that decarbonising heat requires significant, strategic infrastructure decisions on the various proposals and technology choices put forward, as “these options are incompatible”. He said that the UK “need to facilitate more towards ONE of those scenarios/configurations [for provision for heating at home] as they are mutually exclusive”.
There has been a commitment from Central Government in the UK to the concept of electrification of the energy requirements of both the transport and heat sectors, and Keith MacLean painted a scenario that could see the nation’s households ditching their gas central heating boilers for heat pumps in accord with that vision. Next, “the District Heating (DH) movement could take off, [where you stop using your heat pump and take local piped heat from a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant] until there is no spare market capacity. Then [big utilities] could start pumping biogas and hydrogen into the gas grid, and you get your boiler back !”
Since I view gas grid injection of Renewable Gas feedstocks as a potential way to easily decarbonise the gas supply, and as Keith MacLean said in his panel presentation, “The real opportunity to make a difference in our domestic [residential] energy consumption is in heat rather than power”, I sought him out during the drinks reception after the event, to compare notes.
I explained that I appreciate the awkward problem he posed, and that my continuing research interest is in Renewable Gas, which includes Renewable Hydrogen, BioHydrogen and BioMethane. I said I had been reading up on and speaking with some of those doing Hydrogen injection into the gas grid, and it looks like a useful way to decarbonise gas.
I said that if we could get 5% of the gas grid supply replaced with hydrogen…”Yes”, said Keith, “we wouldn’t even need to change appliances at those levels”… and then top up with biogas and other industrial gas streams, we could decarbonise the grid by around 20% without breaking into a sweat. At this point, Keith MacLean started nodding healhily, and a woman from a communications company standing near us started to zone out, so I figured this was getting really interesting. “And that would be significant”, I accented, but by this time she was almost asleep on her feet.
With such important decisions ahead of us, it seems that people could be paying a bit more attention to these questions. These are, after all, big choices.
What did Keith mean by “The District Heating movement” ? Well, Dave Andrews of Clean Power (Finning Power Systems), had offered to give a very short presentation at the event. Here was his proposed title :-
“Indicative costs of decarbonizing European city heating with electrical distribution compared to district heating pipe distribution of large scale wind energy and with particular attention to transition to the above methods and energy storage costs to address intermittency and variability of wind power.”
This would have been an assessment of the relative costs of decarbonising European city heating with either :-
“Gas-fired Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) generation plant plus domestic (residential sector) electric heat pumps as the transition solution; and in the long term, large scale wind energy replacing the CCGT – which is retained as back up for low wind situations; and with pumped hydro electrical storage to deal with intermittency /variability of wind energy and to reduce back up fuel usage.”
“CCGT Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plus district heat (DH) as the transition solution; and in the long term, large scale wind energy replacing the CCGT CHP heat but with the CCGT retained as back up for low wind situations and with hot water energy storage to deal with intermittency / variability and to reduce back up fuel usage.”
With “the impact of [a programme of building retrofits for] insulation on each strategy is also assessed.”
Dave’s European research background is of relevance here, as co-author of a 215-pager SETIS programme paper complete with pretty diagrams :-
Although Dave Andrews was also at the PRASEG drinks reception, he didn’t get the opportunity to address the conference. Which was a shame as his shirt was electric.
10 July 2013
“Keeping the Lights on: At What Cost?”
Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group
Second Panel Discussion
Chaired by Baroness Maddock
“Negawatts: Decentralising and reducing demand – essential or ephemeral ?”
[Note : The term "negawatt" denotes a negative watt hour - produced by a reduction in power or gas demand. ]
Keith MacLean, Scottish and Southern Energy
Decentralisation and Demand Reduction [should only be done where] it makes sense. Answers [to the question of negawatts] are very different if looking at Heat and Power. Heat is something far more readily stored that electricity is. Can be used to help balance [the electricity demand profile]. And heat is already very localised [therefore adding to optimising local response]. Some are going in the other direction – looking at district [scale] heating (DH) [using the more efficient system of Combined Heat and Power (CHP)]. Never forget the option to convert from electricity to heat and back to electricity to balance [the grid]. Average household uses 3 MWh (megawatt hours) of electricity [per year] and 15 MWh of heat. The real opportunity is heat. New homes reduce this to about 1 [MWh]. Those built to the new 2016 housing regulations on Zero Carbon Homes, should use around zero. The real opportunity to make a difference in our domestic [residential] energy consumption is in heat rather than power. Reducing consumption not always the right solution. With intermittents [renewable energy] want to switch ON at some times [to soak up cheap wind power in windy conditions]. [A lot of talk about National Grid having to do load] balancing [on the scale of] seconds, minutes and hours. Far more fundamental is the overall system adequacy – a bigger challenge – the long-term needs of the consumer. Keeping the lights from going out by telling people to turn off the lights is not a good way of doing it. There is justifiable demand [for a range of energy services]. [...] I don’t think we’re politically brave enough to vary the [electricity] prices enough to make changes. We need to look at ways of aggregating and automating Demand Side Response. Need to be prepared to legislate and regulate if that is the right solution.
Questions from the Floor
Question from John Gibbons of the University of Edinburgh
The decarbonisation of heat. Will we be successful any time soon ?
Answer from Keith MacLean
[...] Decarbonising heat – [strategic] infrastructure decisions. For example, [we could go down the route of ditching Natural Gas central heating] boilers for heat pumps [as the UK Government and National Grid have modelled and projected]. Then the District Heating (DH) movement could take off [and you ditch your heat pump at home], until there is no spare market capacity. Then [big utilities] could start pumping biogas and hydrogen into the gas grid, and you get your boiler back ! Need to facilitate more towards ONE of those scenarios/configurations [for provision for heating at home] as mutually exclusive. Need to address in terms of infrastructure since these options are incompatible.
Answer from Dave Openshaw, Future Networks, UK Power Network
Lifestyle decision – scope for [action on] heat more than for electricity. Demand Management – managing that Demand Side Reduction and Demand Reduction when need it. Bringing forward use of electricity [in variety of new applications] when know over-supply [from renewable energy, supplied at negative cost].
[...]Academic Freedom, Alchemical, Assets not Liabilities, Be Prepared, Big Number, Big Picture, British Biogas, Change Management, Conflict of Interest, Demoticratica, Design Matters, Direction of Travel, Drive Train, Electrificandum, Energy Autonomy, Energy Change, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Engineering Marvel, Green Power, Growth Paradigm, Hydrogen Economy, Insulation, Low Carbon Life, Major Shift, Money Sings, National Energy, National Power, Optimistic Generation, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Natural Gas, Price Control, Realistic Models, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Gas, Social Democracy, Solution City, The Power of Intention, The Price of Gas, The Right Chemistry, Transport of Delight, Western Hedge, Wind of Fortune, Zero Net
Posted on July 8th, 2013 No comments
What can deep time teach us ?
Whilst doing a little background research into biological routes to hydrogen production, I came across a scientific journal paper, I can’t recall which, that suggested that the geological evidence indicates that Earth’s second atmosphere not only had a high concentration of methane, but also high levels of hydrogen gas.
Previously, my understanding was that the development of microbiological life included a good number of methanogens (micro-life that produces methane as a waste product) and methanotrophs (those that “trough” on methane), but that hydrogenogen (“respiring” hydrogen gas) and hydrogenotroph (metabolising hydrogen) species were a minority, and that this was reflected in modern-day decomposition, such as the cultures used in biogas plants for anaerobic digestion.
If there were high densities of hydrogen cycle lifeforms in the early Earth, maybe there are remnants, descendants of this branch of the tree of life, optimal at producing hydrogen gas as a by-product, which could be employed for biohydrogen production, but which haven’t yet been scoped.
After all, it has only been very recently that psychrophiles have been added to the range of microorganisms that have been found useful in biogas production – cold-loving, permafrost-living bugs to complement the thermophile and mesophile species.
Since hydrogen and methane are both ideal gas fuels, for a variety of reasons, including gas storage, combustion profiles and simple chemistry, I decided I needed to learn a little more.
I have now read a plethora of new theories and several books about the formation of the Earth (and the Moon) in the Hadean Eon, the development of Earth’s atmosphere, the development of life in the Archaean Eon, and the evolution of life caused by climate change, and these developments in living beings causing climate change in their turn.
Most of this knowledge is mediated to us by geology, and geobiology. But right at its heart is catalytic chemistry, once again. Here’s Robert Hazen (Robert M. Hazen) from page 138 of “The Story of Earth” :-
“Amino acids, sugars, and the components of DNA and RNA adsorb onto all of Earth’s most common rock-forming minerals [...] We concluded that wherever the prebiotic ocean contacted minerals, highly concentrated arrangements of life’s molecules are likely to have emerged from the formless broth [...] Many other researchers have also settled on such a conclusion – indeed, more than a few prominent biologists have also gravitated to minerals, because origins-of-life scenarios that involve only oceans and atmosphere face insurmountable problems in accounting for efficient mechanisms of molecular selection and concentration. Solid minerals have an unmatched potential to select, concentrate, and organize molecules. So minerals much have played a central role in life’s origins. Biochemistry is complex, with interwoven cycles and networks of molecular reactions. For those intricately layered processes to work, molecules have to have just the right sizes and shapes. Molecular selection is the task of finding the best molecule for each biochemical job, and template-directed selection on mineral surfaces is now the leading candidate for how nature did it [...] left- and right-handed molecules [...] It turns out that life is incredibly picky : cells almost exclusively employ left-handed amino acids and right-handed sugars. Chirality matters [...] Our recent experiments have explored the possibility that chiral mineral surfaces played the starring role in selecting handed molecules, and perhaps the origins of life as well. [...] Our experiments showed that certain left-handed molecules can aggregate on one set of crystal surfaces, while the mirror image [...] on other sets [...] As handed molecules are separated and concentrated, each surface becomes a tiny experiment in molecular selection and organization. On its own, no such natural experiment with minerals and molecules is likely to have generated life. But take countless trillions of trillions of trillions of mineral surfaces, each bathed in molecule-rich organic broth [...] The tiny fraction of all those molecular combinations that wound up displaying easier self-assembly, or developed a stronger binding to mineral surfaces [...] survived [...] possibly to learn new tricks.”Academic Freedom, Acid Ocean, Alchemical, Animal Kingdoom, Breathe Easy, British Biogas, Climate Change, Energy Change, Engineering Marvel, Extreme Energy, Fossilised Fuels, Gas Storage, Geogingerneering, Global Heating, Global Singeing, Global Warming, Hydrogen Economy, Low Carbon Life, Marvellous Wonderful, Methane Management, National Energy, Realistic Models, Renewable Gas, Resource Wards, Science Rules, Solution City, The Data, The Right Chemistry
Posted on July 8th, 2013 No comments
That’s the bad gas. Now for the good gas – Renewable Gas :-
Slightly questionable gas (from a biosecurity point of view) :-
Posted on June 4th, 2013 No comments
I had a most interesting afternoon, today, Tuesday 4th June 2013 at the Institute of Physics (IoP), attending a meeting organised by the Institute of Chemical Engineers (IChemE).
Entitled “Catalysis and Chemical Engineering“, it was a series of research briefings from a wide range of academic and corporate scientists, outlining the contributions that chemical reaction catalysts make to industry and the energy sector.
Catalysts are what I call “Nature’s little helpers”, substances that aid and abet chemical reactions, without being used up themselves completely in the process. The perfect catalyst is one that doesn’t degrade over time, either by taking part in chemical reactions, or getting damaged or changed by assisting chemical reactions.
The perfect catalyst is also something that can be easily mixed with the substances used for the chemical reaction (the reactants or reagents), and also easily separated from the substances that are produced by the chemical reaction (the products).
Matter is found in four main phases, or states : solid, liquid, gas and plasma. Catalysts that are a different phase from the substances used in the chemical reaction are usually easier to separate. This is called heterogeneous catalysis, for example, where the reactants/reagents are gases or liquids, and the catalyst is a solid.
What has this got to do with Renewable Gas ? Well, several examples from the research presentations today make this point. There were several posters on the boards, outlining pieces of research. One of these caught my eye – on the photocatalysis of water, basically using sunlight and a catalyst to produce energy gas fuels from water. When tiny amounts of silver was added to the catalyst, the experimental reactor was producing more carbon monoxide gas than other gases, and without silver doping, it was producing more hydrogen gas than other gases. I asked K. Li of the University College London (UCL) Chemical Engineering group if he could send me a copy of the paper when it gets published. (Note: my apologies for not noting the spelling of his first name.)
Producing Renewable Hydrogen in industrial volumes is a very important part of the Renewable Gas story. The hydrogen is a valuable gas fuel in its own right, and it will also assist in carbon-rich gas recycling, and improving the energy density of mixed gas fuel feedstocks used in combustion for electricity generation, such as those gas resources with low levels of methane. Renewable Hydrogen production is also going to be very valuable for Renewable Refinery – making transport vehicle fuel oils (“Renewable Diesel”) and hydrocarbons (“Renewable Gasoline”) and other substances that are now made from petrochemicals, which could therefore be scarce in future.
A presentation by Adam Lee, soon to be of the University of Warwick, but still technically with the University of Cardiff was another green energy insight. He spoke about “Green Chemistry“, refining a wide range of industrial and energy chemicals using biomass as the feedstock.
I spoke with Panagiota Pimenidou at the University of Ulster about the simplicity and thermally balanced operation of chemical looping reformation of biomass – basically a neat trick to produce useful gas fuels from bioenergy feedstocks without using high temperature gasification.
During one of the tea breaks, an industry professional, who shall remain nameless, theorised that BP, Shell and ExxonMobil have probably already worked out how to run a Renewable Gas economy, but are keeping it all under their hats until we stop believing in the exploitation of fossil fuels, especially since fossil fuels these days are deeper and dirtier than ever.
Posted on June 3rd, 2013 No comments
[ Image Credit : anonymous ]
Yet again, the fossil fuel companies think they can get away with uncommented public relations in my London neighbourhood. Previously, it was BP, touting its green credentials in selling biofuels, at the train station, ahead of the Olympic Games. For some reason, after I made some scathing remarks about it, the advertisement disappeared, and there was a white blank board there for weeks.
This time, it’s Esso, and they probably think they have more spine, as they’ve taken multiple billboard spots. In fact, the place is saturated with this advertisement. And my answer is – yes, fuel economy is important to me – that’s why I don’t have a car.
And if this district is anything to go by, Esso must be pouring money into this advertising campaign, and so my question is : why ? Why aren’t they pouring this money into biofuels research ? Answer : because that’s not working. So, why aren’t they putting this public relations money into renewable gas fuels instead, sustainable above-surface gas fuels that can be used in compressed gas cars or fuel cell vehicles ?
Are Esso retreating into their “core business” like BP, and Shell, concentrating on petroleum oil and Natural Gas, and thereby exposing all their shareholders to the risk of an implosion of the Carbon Bubble ? Or another Deepwater Horizon, Macondo-style blowout ?
Meanwhile, the movement for portfolio investors to divest from fossil fuel assets continues apace…Academic Freedom, Advertise Freely, Assets not Liabilities, Bait & Switch, Be Prepared, Big Picture, Biofools, Burning Money, Carbon Capture, Change Management, Climate Change, Climate Chaos, Climate Damages, Contraction & Convergence, Corporate Pressure, Cost Effective, Delay and Deny, Design Matters, Direction of Travel, Divide & Rule, Drive Train, Efficiency is King, Emissions Impossible, Energy Autonomy, Energy Change, Energy Denial, Energy Disenfranchisement, Energy Insecurity, Engineering Marvel, Environmental Howzat, Financiers of the Apocalypse, Fossilised Fuels, Freemarketeering, Fuel Poverty, Green Investment, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Hydrogen Economy, Incalculable Disaster, Low Carbon Life, Major Shift, Marine Gas, Mass Propaganda, Money Sings, Near-Natural Disaster, Neverending Disaster, No Pressure, Nudge & Budge, Oil Change, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Emissions, Peak Energy, Peak Natural Gas, Peak Oil, Petrolheads, Protest & Survive, Public Relations, Pure Hollywood, Renewable Gas, Social Change, Social Democracy, Technofix, Technological Sideshow, The Science of Communitagion, Toxic Hazard, Unconventional Foul, Ungreen Development, Unnatural Gas
Posted on May 25th, 2013 No comments
“So what do you do ?” is a question I quite frequently have to answer, as I meet a lot of new people, in a lot of new audiences and settings, on a regular basis, as an integral part of my personal process of discovery.
My internal autocue answer has modified, evolved, over the years, but currently sounds a lot like this, “I have a couple of part-time jobs, office administration, really. I do a spot of weblogging in my spare time. But I’m also doing some research into the potential for Renewable Gas.” I then pause for roughly two seconds. “Renewable Gas ?” comes back the question.
“Yes,” I affirm in the positive, “Industrial-scale chemistry to produce gas fuels not dug up out of the ground. It is useful to plug the gaps in Renewable Electricity when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.”
It’s not exactly an elevator pitch – I’m not really selling anything except a slight shift in the paradigm here. Renewable Energy. Renewable Electricity. Renewable Gas. Power and gas. Gas and power. It’s logical to want both to be as renewable and sustainable and as low carbon as possible.
Wait another two seconds. “…What, you mean, like Biogas ?” comes the question. “Well, yes, and also high volumes of non-biological gas that’s produced above the ground instead of from fossil fuels.”
The introductory chat normally fades after this exchange, as my respondent usually doesn’t have the necessary knowledge architecture to be able to make any sense of what my words represent. I think it’s fair to say I don’t win many chummy friends paradigm-bumping in this way, and some probably think I’m off the deep end psychologically, but hey, evolutionaries don’t ever have it easy.
And I also find that it’s not easy to find a place in the hierarchy of established learning for my particular “research problem”. Which school could I possibly join ? Which research council would adopt me ?
The first barrier to academic inclusion is that my research interest is clearly motivated by my concern about the risks of Climate Change – the degradation in the Earth’s life support systems from pumping unnaturally high volumes of carbon dioxide into the air – and Peak Fossil Fuels – the risks to humanity from a failure to grow subsurface energy production.
My research is therefore “applied” research, according to the OECD definition (OECD, 2002). It’s not motivated simply by the desire to know new things – it is not “pure” research – it has an end game in mind. My research is being done in order to answer a practical problem – how to decarbonise gaseous, gas phase, energy fuel production.
The second barrier to the ivory tower world that I have is that I do not have a technological contribution to make with this research. I am not inventing a chemical process that can “revolutionise” low carbon energy production. (I don’t believe in “revolutions” anyway. Nothing good ever happens by violent overthrow.) My research is not at the workbench end of engineering, so I am not going to work amongst a team of industrial technicians, so I am not going to produce a patent for clean energy that could save the world (or the economy).
My research is more about observing and reporting the advances of others, and how these pieces add up to a journey of significant change in the energy sector. I want to join the dots from studies at the leading edge of research, showing how this demonstrates widespread aspiration for clean energy, and document instances of new energy technology, systems and infrastructure. I want to witness to the internal motivation of thousands of people working with the goal of clean energy across a very wide range of disciplines.
This is positively positive; positivity, but it’s not positivism – it’s not pure, basic research. This piece of research could well influence people and events – it’s certainly already influencing me. It’s not hands-off neutral science. It interacts with its subjects. It intentionally intervenes.
Since I don’t have an actual physical contribution or product to offer, and since I fully expect it to “interfere” with current dogma and political realities, what I am doing will be hard to acknowledge.
This is not a PhD. But it is still a piece of philosophy, the love of wisdom that comes from the acquisition of knowledge.
I have been clear for some time about what I should be studying. Call it “internal drive” if you like. The aim is to support the development of universal renewable energy as a response to the risks of climate change and peak fossil fuel energy production. That makes me automatically biased. I view my research subject through the prism of hope. But I would contend that this is a perfectly valid belief, as I already know some of what is possible. I’m not starting from a foundational blank slate – many Renewable Gas processes are already in use throughout industry and the energy sector. The fascinating part is watching these functions coalesce into a coherent alternative to the mining of fossil fuels. For the internal industry energy production conversation is changing its track, its tune.
For a while now, “alternative” energy has been a minor vibration, a harmonic, accentuating the fossil fuel melody. As soon as the mid-noughties economic difficulties began to bite, greenwash activities were ditched, as oil and gas companies resorted to their core business. But the “green shoots” of green energy are still there, and every now and then, it is possible to see them poking up above the oilspill-desecrated soil. My role is to count blades and project bushes. Therefore my research is interpretivist or constructivist, although it is documenting positivist engineering progress. That’s quite hard for me to agree with, even though I reasoned it myself. I can still resist being labelled “post-positivist”, though, because I’m still interpreting reality not relativisms.
So now, on from research paradigm to research methodologies. I was trained to be an experimentalist scientist, so this is a departure for me. In this case, I am not going to seek to make a physical contribution to the field by being actively involved as an engineer in a research programme, partly because from what I’ve read so far, most of the potential is already documented and scoped.
I am going to use sociological methods, combining observation and rapportage, to and from various organisations through various media. Since I am involved in the narrative through my interactions with others, and I influence the outcomes of my research, this is partly auto-narrative, autoethnographic, ethnographic. An apt form for the research documentation is a weblog, as it is a longitudinal study, so discrete reports at time intervals are appropriate. Social media will be useful for joining the research to a potential audience, and Twitter has the kind of immediacy I prefer.
My observation will therefore be akin to journalism – engineering journalism, where the term “engineering” covers both technological and sociological aspects of change. A kind of energy futures “travelogue”, an observer of an emerging reality.
My research methods will include reading the science and interacting with engineers. I hope to do a study trip (or two) as a way of embedding myself into the new energy sector, with the explicit intention of ensuring I am not purely a commentator-observer. My research documentation will include a slow collation of my sources and references – a literature review that evolves over time.
My personal contribution will be slight, but hopefully set archaic and inefficient proposals for energy development based on “traditional” answers (such as nuclear power, “unconventional” fossil fuel production and Carbon Capture and Storage for coal) in high relief.
My research choices as they currently stand :-
1. I do not think I want to join an academic group.
2. I do not think I want to work for an energy engineering company.
3. I do not want to claim a discovery in an experimental sense. Indeed, I do not need to, as I am documenting discoveries and experiments.
4. I want to be clear about my bias towards promoting 100% renewable energy, as a desirable ambition, in response to the risks posed by climate change and peak fossil fuel production.
5. I need to admit that my research may influence outcomes, and so is applied rather than basic (Roll-Hansen, 2009).
OECD, 2002. “Proposed Standard Practice for Surveys on Research and Experimental Development”, Frascati Manual :-
Roll-Hansen, 2009. “Why the distinction between basic (theoretical) and applied (practical) research is important in the politics of science”, Nils Roll-Hansen, Centre for the Philosophy of Natural and Social Science Contingency and Dissent in Science, Technical Report 04/09 :-
http://www2.lse.ac.uk/CPNSS/projects/CoreResearchProjects/ContingencyDissentInScience/DP/DPRoll-HansenOnline0409.pdfAcademic Freedom, Alchemical, Assets not Liabilities, Big Picture, Big Society, British Biogas, Change Management, Climate Change, Conflict of Interest, Design Matters, Direction of Travel, Emissions Impossible, Energy Autonomy, Energy Change, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Engineering Marvel, Fossilised Fuels, Green Investment, Green Power, Human Nurture, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Hydrogen Economy, Low Carbon Life, Major Shift, Marvellous Wonderful, Media, National Energy, National Power, Optimistic Generation, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Coal, Peak Emissions, Peak Energy, Peak Natural Gas, Peak Oil, Realistic Models, Renewable Gas, Renewable Resource, Science Rules, Shale Game, Social Capital, Social Change, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, Stirring Stuff, Technological Sideshow, The Data, The Power of Intention, The Science of Communitagion, Unconventional Foul, Unnatural Gas, Wind of Fortune, Zero Net
Posted on May 23rd, 2013 No comments
It could be said that Climate Change science is an extreme sport – sojourns of several months in Antarctica to drill ancient ice pack, say, or collecting slices of deep sea and lake sediments. Recently, a Chinese team has taken three ice cores from Mount Everest, and a joint European and Japansese expedition have gone pond dipping in the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean to try to better understand the global carbon cycle.
Geophysicists are clearly a hardy bunch, and persistent. Recently there has been a number of breakthroughs into extremely old water, such as a Siberian lake formed by a crater millions of years ago and covered by ice, and water perhaps billions of years old circulating in a Canadian copper mine, an environment that may be older than the development of the earliest lifeforms. A brief article in New Scientist magazine intrigued me – the description of the water which they are studying for signs of microbial activity – “it is packed with hydrogen and methane – chemicals that microbes love to eat [...] perfect for life.”
It seems that science has still to uncover the full family of microbes and what they consume and what they produce. Many microbes manufacture hydrogen and methane, and some eat. The migration of microbial life into all parts of the Earth’s crust, including their reach to the bottom of the oceans, was responsible for altering atmospheric chemistry, which enabled the development of oxygen-breathing multicellular lifeforms to evolve. And yet methane and hydrogen have remained vital. These are some of the most energy-packed molecules and some of the most basic. I started to reflect. What struck me was the simplicity and universality of the early chemistry of Earth life, and how these elemental fuels that are good for micro-organisms are also good for humans too.
Methane is the major constitutent of Natural Gas. As one of the most common products of bacterial decomposition of ancient biomass, it is present in deposits of most fossil fuels, including coal seams. Most of this “Natural Methane” in the form of Natural Gas energy fuel produced today comes from fields where it is associated with petroleum oil. Natural Hydrogen is much less common, but research is showing that there could be significant resources in some places. Hydrogen is also a key component in some forms of biogas production – using the decomposing power of microbes to source environmentally clean fuel from harvested plant matter on the surface of the Earth.
Methane and hydrogen are involved in a range of chemistry. Chemical reactions with methane and hydrogen are relatively easy to reverse, because of their molecular simplicity. This makes them highly suited as energy vectors for storage, and the energy they give off when burned in oxygen makes them valuable for human industry, for domestic heating and in the power sector.
Although methane is widely used in energy systems, hydrogen has not been up until now, although there has been talk of a “Hydrogen Economy” eventually supplanting the use of hydrocarbon fuels. This is unlikely to come about in the very near future, although a transition away from fossil fuels is likely to be mediated through the use of Renewable Hydrogen from sustainable, aboveground resources. Why is hydrogen so important ? Because hydrogen chemistry can be used to recycle carbon gas – both carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, making it a genuine possibility that one day carbon dioxide will be a vital component of energy systems, not a waste gas from combustion.
The most efficient way to use the energy in fossil fuels and biomass is to gasify them for use in combustion, and the common products of this “syngas” or synthesised, synthesis or synthetic gas are hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Convincing hydrogen and carbon-rich gas to become methane packs the chemical energy into a small space and easier and safer to store than hydrogen on its own. Burning methane in oxygen produces carbon dioxide, which, can be coaxed to combine with hydrogen to make more gas fuel.
So there we have it – Renewable Gas : methane, hydrogen, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. Using spare Renewable Electricity from our future abundance of solar and wind farms we can make useful gas fuels that can be stored to burn on demand when the air is calm and the sun is not shining. Renewable Gas can cover for the intermittency and variability of other forms of Renewable Energy. To develop Renewable Gas will take some investment, but it will not be an extreme sport like mining ever-more-inaccessible unconventional fossil fuels like shale gas, tar sands and deepwater Natural Gas.
Posted on March 6th, 2013 3 comments
I always enjoy seeing the light come on in somebody’s mind, or hearing the bells starting to chime, as I start to ramble on about the potential for decarbonising the gas supply.
It happened again today, and this time, my correspondent took eager notes. I met a fresh new researcher for the Green Party in the UK – one Bryn Kewley – at the PRASEG event on Germany’s energy transition out of fossil fuels – the “Energiewende”.
At first, I covered the usual ground – yes, many people are exploiting Biogas, and upgrading it to Biomethane to inject into the gas grid. Natural Gas is something like 75% to 85% methane, don’t you know ? They’re all fairly small projects at present, but it could scale up and replace several percent of the gas supplied.
And then there’s Renewable Hydrogen. One of the speakers mentioned “Power to Gas” :-
[Question from ARUP] “…your views on the role of gas in Germany ? Gas contracts – do they need to change with respect to Russia ?”
[Answer from German Energiewende presenter] “Gas has a role to play [as backup for renewables]. It needs to be interim [a bridge, a transition]. German business is quite happy with the relationship with Russia. If we’re going to have 80% renewable generation of electricity by 2050, what will be the 20% ? Russia believes that 20% will be in gas. Others, [flexible] lignite [generation]. I believe that by 2050, 100% renewable electricity is possible – the gas you will have will be biogenic [Biogas, Biomethane] – or synthesised by excess wind – Power to Gas. You can store gas for a long time – there’s a 30% cost in [energy] conversion – but this is achievable in the margins…”
I explained the two parts of Power to Gas to the young researcher after the seminar was over. First of all, the production of Renewable Hydrogen – hydrogen produced using methods that use no biological components. And then the methanation of Renewable Hydrogen to make Renewable Methane. And for methanation, you need carbon-rich gases.
The young man started to do internal calculations – leaps of thought. His brain almost audibly hummed. “And where do you get this carbon-rich gas from ?” he asked, “from Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) ?” “From Carbon Capture and (Re)Utilisation (CCU)”, I explained.
I told him that ITM Power, together with a number of other industry players were looking at the prospects of injecting Renewable Hydrogen into the gas grid, which in addition to injected Biomethane, could total 10% to 15% of the gas supply – more if Renewable Methane were included. This would not be a small number. Again, I could almost hear the young man’s mind whirring.
Gas, we agreed, is the answer to backing up Renewable Electricity whilst capacity is being developed. And therefore, the decarbonisation of the gas supply is a useful goal.
[ NOTE : Of course, if carbon-rich gas feedstocks resulting from the combustion of fossil fuels are used in the methanation of Renewable Hydrogen, this would not create truly Renewable Methane. However, if a good proportion of "Power to Gas" gas is used in electricity generation, and the carbon-rich exhaust gases from that recycled, then eventually, the methane end product becomes more renewable. ]
Posted on February 26th, 2013 1 comment
As rumours and genuine information leak from central sources about the policy instruments and fiscal measures that will be signed into the United Kingdom’s Energy Bill, the subsidy support likely to be made available to new nuclear power is really straining credibility from my point of view. I am even more on the “incredulous” end of the spectrum of faith in the UK Government’s Energy Policy than I ever was before.
The national demand for electrical power is pretty constant, with annual variations of only a few percent. It was therefore easy to project that there could be a “power cliff” when supply would be curtailed from coal-fired generation under European legislation :-
The pat answer to how we should “Keep the Lights On” has been to wave the new nuclear fission reactor card. Look ! Shiny new toys. Keep us in power for yonks ! And hidden a little behind this fan of aces and jokers, a get-out-of-jail free card from the Coal monopoly – Carbon Capture and Storage or CCS. Buy into this, and we could have hundreds more years of clean power from coal, by pumping nasty carbon dioxide under the sea bed.
Now, here’s where the answers are just plain wrong : new nuclear power cannot be brought into the National Grid before the early 2020s at the very earliest. And options for CCS are still in the balance, being weighed and vetted, and very unlikely to clean up much of the black stuff until well past 2025.
When put through my best onboard guesstimiser, I came up with the above little graph in answer to the question : how soon can the UK build new power generation ? Since our “energy cliff” is likely to be in one of the winters of 2015 or 2016, and we’re not sure other countries we import from will have spare capacity, we have little option but to increase Natural Gas-fired power generation and go hell-for-leather with the wind and solar power deployment.
So no – it’s of no use promising to pay the new nuclear reactor bearer the sum of 40 or more years of subsidy in the form of guaranteed price for power under the scheme known as Contracts for Difference – they still won’t be delivering anything to cope with the “power drain” of the next few years. If this is written into the Electricity Market Reform, we could justifiably say this would destroy competition, and destroy any market, too, and be “central planning” by any other name – this level of subsidy is not exactly “technology-neutral” !
And offering the so-called Capacity Mechanism – a kind of top-up payment to keep old nuclear reactors running, warts and all – when really they should be decommissioned as they are reaching the end of their safe lives, is not a good option, in my book.
Offering the Capacity Mechanism to those who build new gas-fired power plant does make sense, however. If offshore wind power continues with its current trajectory and hits the big time in the next few years, and people want the cheap wind power instead of the gas, and the gas stations will be feeling they can’t run all the time, then the Capacity Mechanism will be vital to make sure the gas plant does get built to back up the wind power, and stays available to use on cold, still nights in February.
Oh, people may complain about the idea of new “unabated” gas power plants, and insist they should be fitted with carbon capture, but new gas plants won’t run all the time in future, because renewable electricity generation will be cheaper, so forcing gas plant owners to pay for CCS seems like overkill to me. And, anyway, we will be decarbonising the gas supply, as we develop supplies of Renewable Gas.
I say forget the nuclear option – build the gas !Assets not Liabilities, Be Prepared, Big Number, Big Picture, British Biogas, Burning Money, Carbon Capture, Change Management, Coal Hell, Corporate Pressure, Demoticratica, Design Matters, Dreamworld Economics, Energy Change, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Energy Socialism, Green Power, Low Carbon Life, National Energy, National Power, Nuclear Nuisance, Nuclear Shambles, Optimistic Generation, Peak Coal, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Gas, Renewable Resource, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, The Power of Intention, The Price of Gas, Wind of Fortune
Posted on January 31st, 2013 No comments
Over the buffet table at the UK Hydrogen Fuel Cell Association meeting in Westminster last evening, I shared a vision of the future of energy with a representative of the Carbon Trust.
“It’s just amazing to think that the future of our energy is going to be not only renewable, but essentially electrons and protons – as we liberate protons to make hydrogen gas. We are going to be using the basic building blocks of the universe for power and gas.”
“You can’t really get more simple than that – or greener.”
“Forget messing about with complex hydrocarbons or uranium…”
Making fuel gas from seawater…we’re not exactly going to run out of that.
Posted on January 31st, 2013 No comments
Forget capturing carbon, the key test of the usefulness of the United Kingdom’s upcoming Energy Bill will be whether it’s designed to be “hydrogen ready”.
It is almost certain that there will be a second “dash for gas” – that Britain will sanction and possibly underwrite a new fleet of gas-fired power stations. Those who wield modelling software are insistent that this will break the carbon bank – that new “unabated” gas plants will prevent the UK reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.
The proposed solution technology – to be fitted to both coal-fired and gas-fired power plants, is known as Carbon Capture and Storage or CCS.
The British Labour Party are pushing for the Energy Bill to enshrine CCS on all new gas-fired power plants after 2020, in order to meet the carbon targets set out in the 2008 Climate Change Act.
“The Labour Party has put itself on a fresh collision course with the Government over its dash-for-gas policy, proposing that after 2020 all new, gas-fired power plants be forced to install technology to reduce their carbon emissions that will double the cost of the electricity they produce … Dr Robert Gross, director of Imperial College’s centre for energy policy and technology, said: “I welcome Labour’s sentiment on CCS. It’s saying that if you want new, gas-fired power plants, then that’s fine, but you have to make it consistent with emissions targets.” … Bloomberg New Energy Finance calculated that fitting CCS to new gas-fired power plants would add up to £200m to the building cost, doubling the price of the electricity…”
Although I have met a number of people who believe that widespread CCS is not only desirable, but viable, the carbon capture capability of Britain has not yet been proven – particularly whether CCS can be made marketable, as it is likely to be costly.
CCS is just a way to make carbon dioxide “disappear” – in most designs by pumping it underground. It is a caveat – it permits the energy industry to plan to continue to burn fossil fuels. It is not entirely clear if it can ever be secure or cheap enough to meet the UK’s plans. Just one leak from a carbon dioxide storage cavern, and the whole programme would be rendered irrelevant.
However, even if CCS becomes law, there is another clause that should be inserted into the Energy Bill, and I was discussing this with some industry players at Portcullis House, Westminster yesterday evening.
If European plans for low carbon, renewable gas production take off, what will matter for new gas-fired power plants is if they are flexible enough to combust a range of gases with varying chemical composition and energy density.
Deploying suitable flexible gas turbines is likely to happen – but for another reason. The UK is rapidly advancing with the capacity and supply of wind power, and solar power. Like Germany, pretty soon there will be so much spare, unused wind and solar power, that it will be sensible to consider using it, rather than shedding the load, particularly at night.
An excellent way to make use of spare and “stranded” wind and solar power, and balance the power grid at the same time, is to make gas when people don’t need power, and burn gas when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining. Gas can back up variability in wind and solar power. But for gas-fired power plants to be able to “follow” wind and solar power and fill in the generation gaps, the power stations need to be highly flexible – something that new gas turbines can provide.
From now on, as an increasing amount of the gas the nation burns for backup will need to be Renewable Gas, a range of green gas streams that include Renewable Hydrogen, the new gas power plants that are built must utilise flexible gas turbines.
Of note – there are several plans for Carbon Capture and Storage on power plants that use a gasification technique to separate the carbon from the fuel before burning it – and the end result is gas that is high in hydrogen. This “incidental” production of hydrogen could become a useful addition to the country’s Renewable Gas stocks.
Posted on January 24th, 2013 No comments
As I dodged the perfunctory little spots of snow yesterday, on my way down to Highbury and Islington underground train station, I passed a man who appeared to have jerky muscle control attempting to punch numbers on the keypad of a cash machine in the wall. He was missing, but he was grinning. A personal joke, perhaps. The only way he could get his money out of the bank to buy a pint of milk and a sliced loaf for his tea was to accurately tap his PIN number. But he wasn’t certain his body would let him. I threw him an enquiring glance, but he seemed too involved in trying to get control of his arms and legs to think of accepting help.
This, I felt, was a metaphor for the state of energy policy and planning in the United Kingdom – everybody in the industry and public sector has focus, but nobody appears to have much in the way of overall control – or even, sometimes, direction. I attended two meetings today setting out to address very different parts of the energy agenda : the social provision of energy services to the fuel-poor, and the impact that administrative devolution may have on reaching Britain’s Renewable Energy targets.
At St Luke’s Centre in Central Street in Islington, I heard from the SHINE team on the progress they are making in providing integrated social interventions to improve the quality of life for those who suffer fuel poverty in winter, where they need to spend more than 10% of their income on energy, and are vulnerable to extreme temperatures in both summer heatwaves and winter cold snaps. The Seasonal Health Interventions Network was winning a Community Footprint award from the National Energy Action charity for success in their ability to reach at-risk people through referrals for a basket of social needs, including fuel poverty. It was pointed out that people who struggle to pay energy bills are more likely to suffer a range of poverty problems, and that by linking up the social services and other agencies, one referral could lead to multiple problem-solving.
In an economy that is suffering signs of contraction, and with austerity measures being imposed, and increasing unemployment, it is clear that social services are being stretched, and yet need is still great, and statutory responsibility for handling poverty is still mostly a publicly-funded matter. By offering a “one-stop shop”, SHINE is able to offer people a range of energy conservation and efficiency services alongside fire safety and benefits checks and other help to make sure those in need are protected at home and get what they are entitled to. With 1 in 5 households meeting the fuel poverty criteria, there is clearly a lot of work to do. Hackney and Islington feel that the SHINE model could be useful to other London Boroughs, particularly as the Local Authority borders are porous.
We had a presentation on the Cold Weather Plan from Carl Petrokovsky working for the Department of Health, explaining how national action on cold weather planning is being organised, using Met Office weather forecasts to generate appropriate alert levels, in a similar way to heatwave alerts in summer – warnings that I understand could become much more important in future owing to the possible range of outcomes from climate change.
By way of some explanation – more global warming could mean significant warming for the UK. More UK warming could mean longer and, or, more frequent heated periods in summer weather, perhaps with higher temperatures. More UK warming could also mean more disturbances in an effect known as “blocking” where weather systems lock into place, in any season, potentially pinning the UK under a very hot or very cold mass of air for weeks on end. In addition, more UK warming could mean more precipitation – which would mean more rain in summer and more snow in winter.
Essentially, extremes in weather are public health issues, and particularly in winter, more people are likely to suffer hospitalisation from the extreme cold, or falls, or poor air quality from boiler fumes – and maybe end up in residential care. Much of this expensive change of life is preventable, as are many of the excess winter deaths due to cold. The risks of increasing severity in adverse conditions due to climate change are appropriately dealt with by addressing the waste of energy at home – targeting social goals can in effect contribute to meeting wider adaptational goals in overall energy consumption.
If the UK were to be treated as a single system, and the exports and imports of the most significant value analysed, the increasing net import of energy – the yawning gap in the balance of trade – would be seen in its true light – the country is becoming impoverished. Domestic, indigenously produced sources of energy urgently need to be developed. Policy instruments and measured designed to reinvigorate oil and gas exploration in the North Sea and over the whole UKCS – UK Continental Shelf – are not showing signs of improving production significantly. European-level policy on biofuels did not revolutionise European agriculture as regards energy cropping – although it did contribute to decimating Indonesian and Malaysian rainforest. The obvious logical end point of this kind of thought process is that we need vast amounts of new Renewable Energy to retain a functioning economy, given global financial, and therefore, trade capacity, weakness.
Many groups, both with the remit for public service and private enterprise oppose the deployment of wind and solar power, and even energy conservation measures such as building wall cladding. Commentators with access to major media platforms spread disinformation about the ability of Renewable Energy technologies to add value. In England, in particular, debates rage, and many hurdles are encountered. Yet within the United Kingdom as a whole, there are real indicators of progressive change, particularly in Scotland and Wales.
I picked up the threads of some of these advances by attending a PRASEG meeting on “Delivering Renewable Energy Under Devolution”, held at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in Westminster, London; a tour to back up the launch of a new academic report that analyses performance of the devolved administrations and their counterpart in the English Government in Westminster. The conclusions pointed to something that I think could be very useful – if Scotland takes the referendum decision for independence, and continues to show strong leadership and business and community engagement in Renewable Energy deployment, the original UK Renewable Energy targets could be surpassed.
I ended the afternoon exchanging some perceptions with an academic from Northern Ireland. We shared that Eire and Northern Ireland could become virtually energy-independent – what with the Renewable Electricity it is possible to generate on the West Coast, and the Renewable Gas it is possible to produce from the island’s grass (amongst other things). We also discussed the tendency of England to suck energy out of its neighbour territories. I suggested that England had appropriated Scottish hydrocarbon resources, literally draining the Scottish North Sea dry of fossil fuels in exchange for token payments to the Western Isles, and suchlike. If Scotland leads on Renewable Energy and becomes independent, I suggested, the country could finally make back the wealth it lost to England. We also shared our views about the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland being asked to wire all their new Renewable Electricity to England, an announcement that has been waiting to happen for some time. England could also bleed Wales of green power with the same lines being installed to import green juice from across the Irish Sea.
I doubt that politics will completely nix progress on Renewable Energy deployment – the economics are rapidly becoming clear that clean, green power and gas are essential for the future. However, I would suggest we could expect some turbulence in the political sphere, as the English have to learn the hard way that they have a responsibility to rapidly increase their production of low carbon energy.
Asking the English if they want to break ties with the European Union, as David Cameron has suggested with this week’s news on a Referendum, is the most unworkable idea, I think. England, and in fact, all the individual countries of the United Kingdom, need close participation in Europe, to join in with the development of new European energy networks, in order to overcome the risks of economic collapse. It may happen that Scotland, and perhaps Wales, even, separate themselves from any increasing English isolation and join the great pan-Europe energy projects in their own right. Their economies may stabilise and improve, while the fortunes of England may tumble, as those with decision-making powers, crony influence and web logs in the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail, resist the net benefits of the low carbon energy revolution.
[ Many thanks to Simon and all at the Unity Kitchen at St Luke's Centre, and the handsomely reviving Unity Latte, and a big hi to all the lunching ladies and gents with whom I shared opinions on the chunkiness of the soup of the day and the correct identification of the vegetables in it. ]
Other Snapshots of Yesterday #1 : Approached by short woman with a notebook in Parliament Square, pointing out to me a handwritten list that included the line “Big Ben”. I pointed at the clock tower and started to explain. The titchy tourist apologised for non-comprehension by saying, “French”, so then I explained the feature attraction to her in French, which I think quite surprised her. We are all European.
Other Snapshots of Yesterday #2 : Spoke with an Austrian academic by the fire for coffee at IMechE, One Birdcage Walk, about the odd attitudes as regards gun ownership in the United States, and the American tendency to collective, cohort behaviour. I suggested that this tendency could be useful, as the levels of progressive political thinking, for instance about drone warfare, could put an end to the practice. When aerial bombardment was first conducted, it should have been challenged in law at that point. We are all Europeans.
Other Snapshots of Yesterday #3 : Met a very creative Belgian from Gent, living in London. We are all European.
Other Snapshots of Yesterday #4 : We Europeans, we are all so civilised. We think that we need to heat venues for meetings, so that people feel comfortable. Levels of comfort are different for different people, but the lack of informed agreement means that the default setting for temperature always ends up being too high. The St Luke’s Centre meeting room was at roughly 23.5 degrees C when I arrived, and roughly 25 degrees C with all the visitors in the room. I shared with a co-attendee that my personal maximum operating temperature is around 19 degrees C. She thought that was fine for night-time. The IMechE venue on the 2nd floor was roughly 19 – 20 degrees C, but the basement was roughly 24 degrees C. Since one degree Celsius of temperature reduction can knock about 10% of the winter heating bill, why are public meetings about energy not more conscious of adjusting their surroundings ?Academic Freedom, Assets not Liabilities, Be Prepared, Big Picture, Big Society, Bioeffigy, Biofools, British Biogas, Change Management, Climate Change, Conflict of Interest, Demoticratica, Direction of Travel, Divide & Rule, Economic Implosion, Efficiency is King, Electrificandum, Energy Autonomy, Energy Change, Energy Denial, Energy Disenfranchisement, Energy Insecurity, Energy Nix, Energy Revival, Energy Socialism, Extreme Weather, Feel Gooder, Fossilised Fuels, Fuel Poverty, Global Heating, Global Warming, Green Investment, Green Power, Health Impacts, Heatwave, Hide the Incline, Human Nurture, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Incalculable Disaster, Insulation, Low Carbon Life, Major Shift, Mass Propaganda, Media, National Energy, National Power, National Socialism, Optimistic Generation, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Coal, Peak Emissions, Peak Energy, Peak Natural Gas, Peak Oil, Petrolheads, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Gas, Renewable Resource, Resource Curse, Resource Wards, Social Capital, Social Change, Social Chaos, Social Democracy, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, Stirring Stuff, Sustainable Deferment, Technological Fallacy, The Data, The Power of Intention, Vote Loser, Wasted Resource, Western Hedge, Wind of Fortune
Posted on October 26th, 2012 No comments
There’s good renewable energy and poorly-choiced renewable energy. Converting coal-burning power stations to burn wood is Double Plus Bad – it’s genuiunely unsustainable in the long-term to plan to combust the Earth’s boreal forests just to generate electricity. This idea definitely needs incinerating.
Gaynor Hartnell, chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association recently said, “Right now the government seems to have an institutional bias against new biomass power projects.” And do you know, from my point of view, that’s a very fine thing.
Exactly how locally-sourced would the fuel be ? The now seemingly abandoned plan to put in place a number of new biomass burning plants would rely on wood chip from across the Atlantic Ocean. That’s a plan that has a number of holes in it from the point of view of the ability to sustain this operation into the future. Plus, it’s not very efficient to transport biomass halfway across the world.
And there’s more to the efficiency question. We shouldn’t be burning premium wood biomass. Trees should be left standing if at all possible – or used in permanent construction – or buried so that they don’t decompose – if new trees need to be grown. Rather than burning good wood that could have been used for carbon sequestration, it would be much better, if we have to resort to using wood as fuel, to gasify wood waste and other wood by-products in combination with other fuels, such as excavated landfill, food waste and old rubber tyres.
Co-gasifying of mixed fuels and waste would allow cheap Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) or Carbon Capture and (Re)Utilisation (CCU) options – and so if we have to top up the gasifiers with coal sometimes, at least it wouldn’t be leaking greenhouse gas to the atmosphere.
No, we shouldn’t swap out burning coal for incinerating wood, either completely or co-firing with coal. We should build up different ways to produce Renewable Gas, including the gasification of mixed fuels and waste, if we need fuels to store for later combustion. Which we will, to back up Renewable Electricity from wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower and marine resources – and Renewable Gas will be exceptionally useful for making renewable vehicle fuels.
Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage : the wrong way :-
Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage : the right way :-
“The potential ability of gasifiers to accept a wider range of biomass feedstocks than biological routes. Thermochemical routes can use lignocellulosic (woody) feedstocks, and wastes, which cannot be converted by current biofuel production technologies. The resource availability of these feedstocks is very large compared with potential resource for current biofuels feedstocks. Many of these feedstocks are also lower cost than current biofuel feedstocks, with some even having negative costs (gate fees) for their use…”
http://www.energy.siemens.com/fi/en/power-generation/power-plants/carbon-capture-solutions/pre-combustion-carbon-capture/pre-combustion-carbon-capture.htmAssets not Liabilities, Big Picture, Bioeffigy, Biofools, British Biogas, British Sea Power, Carbon Capture, Carbon Commodities, Change Management, Coal Hell, Dead End, Direction of Travel, Disturbing Trends, Efficiency is King, Electrificandum, Energy Insecurity, Forestkillers, Fossilised Fuels, Geogingerneering, Green Power, Low Carbon Life, Mad Mad World, National Energy, National Power, Renewable Gas, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, Technofix, Toxic Hazard, Tree Family, Ungreen Development, Unutterably Useless, Western Hedge, Wind of Fortune
Posted on October 7th, 2012 No comments
A fully renewable energy future is not only possible, it is inevitable.
We need to maximise the roll out of wind and solar renewable electricity systems, and at the same time fully develop marine, geothermal and hydropower energy, and of course, energy storage.
We need strong energy conservation and energy efficiency directives to be enacted in every state, sector and region.
But we need to get from here to there. It requires the application of personal energy from all – from governments, from industry, from society.
In arguing for focus on the development of Renewable Gas, which I believe can and will be a bridge from here to a fully renewable energy future, I am making an appeal to those who view themselves as environmentalists, and also an appeal to those who view themselves as part of the energy industry.
Those who cast themselves as the “good guys”, those who want to protect the environment from the ravages of the energy industry, have for decades set themselves in opposition, politically and socially, to those in the energy production and supply sectors, and this has created a wall of negativity, a block to progress in many areas.
I would ask you to accept the situation we find ourselves in – even those who live off-grid and who have very low personal energy and material consumption – we are all dependent on the energy industry – we have a massive fossil fuel infrastructure, and companies that wield immense political power, and this cannot be changed overnight by some revolutionary activity, or by pulling public theatrical stunts.
It definitely cannot be changed by accusation, finger-pointing and blame. We are not going to wake up tomorrow in a zero carbon world. There needs to be a transition – there needs to be a vision and a will. Instead of a depressive, negative, cynical assessment of today that erects and maintains barriers to co-operation, we need optimistic, positive understanding.
In the past there has been naievety – and some environmentalists have been taken in by public relations greenwash. This is not that. The kind of propaganda used to maintain market share for the energy industry continues to prevent and poison good communications and trust. I no more believe in the magic snuff of the shale gas “game changer” than I believe in the existence of goblins and fairies. The shine on the nuclear “renaissance” wore off ever before it was buffed up. And the hopeless dream of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) becoming a global-scale solution for carbon emissions is about as realistic to me as the geoengineering described in Tolkein’s “The Lord of the Rings”.
Nuclear power and CCS are actually about mining and concrete construction – they’re not energy or climate solutions. I’m not taken in by token gestures of a small slice of wind or solar power or the promise of a segment of biofuels from large oil and gas companies. Public relations and lobbying are the lowest form of faked, usurping power – but simply attacking brands will fail to make real change. I think honesty, realism and pragmatism are the way forward – and there is nothing more practical than pushing for Renewable Gas to back up the accelerated deployment of renewable electricity to its fullest scale.
My appeal to those in control of energy provision is – to see through the fog to the unstoppable. State support, both political and financial, of new energy technologies and infrastructure has to be a short- to medium-term goal – because of the volatility of the economy, and the demands of your shareholders. The need to build public support for new energy means that we the citizens must all be offered the opportunity to own energy – and so that means building a common purpose between the energy sector and society – and that purpose must be Zero Carbon.
There is and will continue to be a porous border between the energy industry and governments – energy is a social utility of high political value. However, the privilege and access that this provides should not automatically mean that the energy industry can plunder public coffers for their own profit. What contribution can the energy industry make to society – apart from the provision of energy at cost – in addition to the subsidies ? Energy, being so vital to the economy, will mean that the energy sector will continue to survive, but it has to change its shape.
You can dance around the facts, but climate change is hitting home, and there is no point in continuing to be in denial about Peak Oil, Peak Coal and Peak Natural Gas. These are genuine risks, not only to the planet, or its people, but also your business plans. We need to be using less energy overall, and less carbon energy within the eventual envelope of energy consumption. So the energy sector needs to move away from maximising sales of energy to optimising sales of energy services and selling low carbon energy systems, power and fuels.
You would be wrong to dismiss me as an “eco warrior” – I’m an engineer – and I’ve always believed in co-operation, expertise, professionalism, technology and industrial prowess. What impresses me is low carbon energy deployment and zero carbon energy research. Progress is in evidence, and it is showing the way to the future. Realistically speaking, in 20 years’ time, nobody will be able to dismiss the risks and threats of climate change and energy insecurity – the evidence accumulates. We, the zero carbon visionaries, are not going to stop talking about this and acting on it – as time goes by, the reasons for all to engage with these issues will increase, regardless of efforts to distract.
Nothing is perfect. I no more believe in a green utopia than I do in unicorns. But without reacting to climate change and energy insecurity, the stock market will not carry you, even though the governments must for the mean time, until clean and green energy engineering and service organisations rise up to replace you. Lobbying for pretences will ultimately fail – fail not only governments or peoples, but you. You, the energy industry, must start acting for the long-term or you will be ousted. As your CEOs retire, younger heads will fill leadership shoes – and younger minds know and accept the perils of climate change and energy insecurity.
This is the evolution, not revolution. It is time to publicly admit that you do know that economically recoverable fossil fuels are limited, and that climate change is as dangerous to your business models as it is to human settlements and the biosphere. Admit it in a way that points to a sustainable future – for you and the climate. The pollution of economically borderline unconventional fuels is wrong and avoidable – what we need are renewable energies, energy conservation and energy efficiency. One without the others is not enough.
How can your business succeed ? In selling renewable energy, energy conservation and energy efficiency. You have to sell the management of energy. You have to be genuinely “world class” and show us how. No more spills, blowouts and emissions. No more tokenistic sponsorship of arts, culture and sports. The veneer of respectability is wearing thin.
As an engineer, I understand the problems of system management – all things within the boundary wall need to be considered and dealt with. One thing is certain, however. Everything is within the walls. And that means that all must change.
http://houstonfeldenkrais.com/tag/cross-motivation/ “…Of course, the money would be great. But adding in the reward/punishment dimension is a sure way to sabotage brilliant performance. Moshe Feldenkrais observed that when one is striving to meet an externally imposed goal, the spine shortens, muscles tense, and the body (and mind) actually works against itself. He called this “cross motivation,” and it occurs when one forsakes one’s internal truth to maintain external equilibrium. There are lots of examples of this: the child stops doing what she’s doing because of the fear of losing parental approval, love, protection. The employee cooks the books to keep his job. The candidate delivers the sound bite, and dies a little inside. Feldenkrais attributed most of our human mental and physical difficulties to the problem of cross motivation. If you watch Michael Phelps swim, you can’t help but notice that he makes it look easy. He is clearly strong and powerful, but all of his strength and power are focused on moving him through the water with the greatest speed and efficiency. There’s no wasted effort, no struggle, no straining. He is free of cross-motivation! Would straining make him faster? Of course not. Unnecessary muscular effort would make him less buoyant, less mobile, less flexible. Will dangling a million dollars at the finish line make him swim faster? Probably just the opposite, unless Michael Phelps has some great inner resources to draw upon. The young Mr. Phelps has already learned how to tune out a lot of the hype. He’ll need to rely on “the cultivation of detachment,” the ability to care without caring…”Academic Freedom, Assets not Liabilities, Big Picture, Big Society, Carbon Capture, Climate Change, Climate Chaos, Climate Damages, Corporate Pressure, Delay and Deny, Demoticratica, Direction of Travel, Divide & Rule, Dreamworld Economics, Efficiency is King, Emissions Impossible, Energy Autonomy, Energy Change, Energy Denial, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Energy Socialism, Engineering Marvel, Evil Opposition, Fair Balance, Financiers of the Apocalypse, Fossilised Fuels, Freemarketeering, Gamechanger, Geogingerneering, Global Warming, Green Investment, Green Power, Hide the Incline, Human Nurture, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Incalculable Disaster, Insulation, Low Carbon Life, Major Shift, Mass Propaganda, Money Sings, National Energy, National Power, Near-Natural Disaster, Neverending Disaster, Nuclear Nuisance, Nuclear Shambles, Oil Change, Optimistic Generation, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peace not War, Peak Coal, Peak Emissions, Peak Energy, Peak Natural Gas, Peak Oil, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Protest & Survive, Public Relations, Pure Hollywood, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Gas, Science Rules, Shale Game, Social Change, Social Democracy, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, Stirring Stuff, Sustainable Deferment, Technofix, Technological Fallacy, The Data, The Power of Intention, The Science of Communitagion, The War on Error, Unconventional Foul, Ungreen Development, Unnatural Gas, Wind of Fortune, Zero Net
Posted on October 6th, 2012 No comments
http://vimeo.com/44094925Assets not Liabilities, Cost Effective, Design Matters, Direction of Travel, Energy Autonomy, Energy Change, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Engineering Marvel, Gamechanger, Gas Storage, Green Investment, Green Power, Hydrogen Economy, Major Shift, Marvellous Wonderful, National Energy, National Power, Optimistic Generation, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Price Control, Renewable Gas, Renewable Resource, Solution City, Western Hedge, Wind of Fortune
Posted on September 24th, 2012 No comments
The Danes have got it. The Germans, the Dutch, the Irish and possibly even the Belgians have got it, too. So why does the UK not get Renewable Gas ? Do I really have to ascribe it to the fact that most of the Civil Service and the UK Government haven’t had a scientific or engineering education ? And the fact they don’t seem to listen to their engineering advisers ?
Or do I need to assume that the major energy companies, who have good access to Government, don’t want to talk about Renewable Gas because that might interfere with their fossil fuel ambitions ?
Posted on September 13th, 2012 No comments
Things I’m learning today about Renewable Gas and Gas-to-Liquids include Renewable Methanol, Renewable Gasoline and Renewable DME. Many green fuel research and engineering projects have the aim of using hydrogen to power vehicles. Whilst I think that there will be some uses for hydrogen locomotion, such as for large vehicles in urban areas where airborne particulates must be reduced, the big win with hydrogen will come from its use in power generation – in combination with other gases. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on September 1st, 2012 No comments
[ I know, I know, this song is actually about gasoline... ]
For the delight and edification of my dedicated followers, I present some more evidence to back up my claims that the future will be… Renewable Gas.
Of course the story starts with the old guard : Natural Gas, and the comfort that various governments are offering to the oil and gas industry in general over the securing of their future business.
As usual. As expected. In fact, as it should be. The developed world is still highly dependent on hydrocarbon fuels, and fossil gas is a good option, for the meantime.
Here’s the UK Government working on their “Gas Strategy” consultation :-
UK Government Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) : 17 March 2012 : DAVEY SETS OUT MEASURES TO PROVIDE CERTAINTY TO GAS INVESTORS”
UK Government Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) : 2 May 2012 : “A CALL FOR EVIDENCE ON THE ROLE OF GAS IN THE ELECTRICITY MARKET”
I did ask some colleagues if they wanted to join me in responding to this consultation, but there was no serious energy for it in my networks, so I didn’t do anything, because I prefer collaboration on this kind of thing, otherwise I work too hard and fail to make an impact too often.
But anyway, now that things seem to be clear that the Nuclear Power confidence bubble has properly burst, the default gas strategy that has been brewing for a while is now gaining ascendance, including the ambitious plans of the gas operators and the deals the UK Government are striking to keep gas imports topped up.
Posted on August 27th, 2012 No comments
The human race – we have to solve energy together. And to do that, we need to harness all our personal, purposeful, positive energies, and let me tell you, personally, I feel electric – and I’m only just getting warmed up.
So let’s hear less of the nonsense from authoritatively-accredited people who want to put a dampener on green energy, who say that saving energy cannot, simply cannot be done, sigh, sigh, sigh, collective groan. We have so much energy together, we can do this.
We have the will power, the staying power, the investment power, and we will navigate the obstacles in our path.
Let’s not waste any more time on expensive trinkets, and iddy-biddy fancies with high unit costs and low compatibility to the future. Yes, I’m talking nuclear power. I’m talking the nobody-really-wants-to-do-it-and-nobody-thinks-it-can-be-cheap-enough-to-work-at-scale Carbon Capture and Storage. And yes, I’m talking carbon markets – tell me again, where are they now ? Oh yes, still in the starting blocks.
And don’t even start to talk about pricing carbon to me – in this world of rollercoaster, highly volatile energy prices, what on Earth could costing or taxing carbon actually achieve ? And fusion power ? Nah, mate, forget it. It’s been 50 years away for the last 50 years.
Shale gas, oil from shales, tar sands, coal bed methane collection and underground coal gasification are once-abandoned messy ideas from way back. They’re still messy, and they’re still retro, and they’re not going to get us anywhere. If the United States of America want to completely ruin their lithosphere, well, that’s up to them, but don’t come around here toxifying our aquifers and poisoning our European trees !
What we need is marine energy, geothermal energy, hydropower, solar power, wind power, and Renewable Gas, because gaseous fuels are so flexible and store-able and can come from many, many processes. And we need the next optimistic generation of leaders to push through the administration ceiling and get green energy policy really rolling, attracting all the green investment will.
If I were a power plant, I would be cranking out the current and making everything shine very, very brightly just now.
Academic Freedom, Assets not Liabilities, Be Prepared, Big Number, Big Picture, British Biogas, British Sea Power, Carbon Capture, Carbon Commodities, Carbon Pricing, Carbon Taxatious, Demoticratica, Design Matters, Direction of Travel, Efficiency is King, Energy Change, Energy Revival, Feel Gooder, Gamechanger, Gas Storage, Geogingerneering, Green Investment, Green Power, Low Carbon Life, Major Shift, National Energy, National Power, Nuclear Nuisance, Nuclear Shambles, Optimistic Generation, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Realistic Models, Renewable Gas, Renewable Resource, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, Stirring Stuff, Technofix, The Power of Intention, The Price of Gas, The Price of Oil, Wind of Fortune
Posted on August 19th, 2012 No comments
Posted on June 26th, 2012 No comments
I attended a very interesting conference today. On the basis of what I heard there in the presentations, and what people were saying to me in conversation, I’d say that Renewable Gas in the UK is rather, well, cuspish – it’s on the edge of the Big Time, what with the Renewable Heat Incentive and a good deal of buzz from companies across Europe keen to convert waste of all kinds into energy – what with the Directives, and all. Germany, as per usual, is way ahead of Britain. Probably because most of the main UK gas producing and distribution companies, such as BP and Shell, are not active in Renewable Gas to any great extent. As far as “injecting” Biomethane into the gas grid – well, the hoops that people have to jump through, whilst not entirely simplified, are at least becoming more streamlined, so we can expect a rush of green gas projects to start topping up national gas supplies in the near future. Anybody who’s doing anything in gas really ought to be involved. Gas is the future, the UK Government appear to have decided, so Renewable Gas is clearly going to be a significant element of that. I’m going to write more about today’s event, if I get a few free moments, but for now, I’m too tired to type any more, so that’s your lot for today.
Posted on June 20th, 2012 1 comment
This is a story about jaded doubt, through which shines a skinny, pale, wavering ray of hope – a tale of ordinary folk not believing Government policy will “work”, yet trying to make the best of the poor situation all the same. This is the account of a Parliamentary Reception for The Energy Bill Revolution. The nice young man with the thoroughly Welsh name, Rhys Williams, who’s been in the job for the Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group (PRASEG) for a sum total of 10 working days, if I’ve counted that right, sent me a shiny email invitation to a Summer Reception in The House of Commons, organised by the All Party Parliamentary Fuel Poverty & Energy Efficiency Group (FPEEG) and PRASEG. So orf I trotted to a feast of miniature canapes covered with dead things and a veritable sea of state-provisioned wine – which I didn’t touch a drip of. It was Summer, and very sunny and hot, and nationally-funded alcohol would have given me a migraine.
I took in the cool breeze of The Thames from the Terrace Pavilion – it seemed at high tide as there was lots of debris sloopily bobbing past. A Good Year blimp buzzed like a jar of wasps overhead – “Safety Together”, it read. I questioned, as a matter of national security, whether anything was supposed to be flying directly over the Houses of Parliament. It was pointed out to me that the wind was quite strong up there and the dirigible motors probably couldn’t keep it on a straight course over the river. Whilst I was supping my iced orange juice, I was buttonholed by Jimmy Devlin of the North West Tenants and Residents Assembly. We discussed a number of things, including : revolution (he thinks people are going to rise up and get their share, and I think people are too poor and busy to get political); fuel poverty and carbon savings (I agree with him that carbon taxation is going to create extra expenses for the poor, but I disagree with him over climate change, because I’ve studied the science); non-hierarchical community leadership (the old models are failing) and Freemasonry in the Police (he’s ex). We did agree that democracy is suffering from a lack of engagement, and that social breakdown in some cases is becoming violent. We also agreed that it seems that the Occupy movement has been infested or even misdirected (he said fragmented) by covert agents of the state. He indicated that a number of former environmental activists that he’s known are now strongly protagonist for the social justice agenda. He became scathing about UK Government policy on renewable energy, saying that it was astonishing that it had been recently announced that all subsidies for wind power and solar power would be gone by 2020.
Anyway, then we were both buttonholed by Geoffrey Beacon of Beacon Dodsworth. He’d been earwigging, and he wanted to know why I was against carbon pricing and taxation. I said, well, carbon dioxide is a virtual, negative commodity that nobody wants to pay for, so it will always get paid by the most vulnerable – so we would be better spending money in a positive, economy-stimulating way, such as investing in renewable energy and energy conservation. He said that a carbon tax of £400 per tonne would do the trick. I said that carbon will never be permitted to be priced at £400 a tonne – there are too many forces against it.
Well then, before any further debate could take place we were called in for the speeches. Up at the podium is Alan Whitehead MP. He says he’s not going to give a speech, but then outlines his support for the campaign in a number of points, which he then admits was rather like a speech, in fact, and then introduces Caroline Lucas MP (everybody has to keep biting their lips to stop themselves from saying “Leader of the Green Party”). As usual, Caroline cuts the situation down to the bones – the social elements of the Energy Bill are going to be the Green Deal (cheap loans for householders to do energy efficiency and renewable energy, financed by the new partly state-funded Green Investment Bank) and the Energy Company Obligation (ECO – an obligation on energy companies to enable transformation of “hard to treat properties” and provide affordable warmth, which will be funded out of energy consumers’ bills).
She said that the ECO Carbon Saving Obligation (CSO) will quite probably benefit rich property owners – and yet be paid for by bill increases for the poor.
Next up was Dr Hilary Emery, Chief Executive Officer of the National Children’s Bureau (NCB), and she talked about the impact of fuel poverty on the young poor – as this is not often mentioned – whereas older people in fuel poverty often are. She said it wasn’t right that people have to choose between “eat” and “heat”. She invited two children from the NCB to speak – they were amazing.
Then we got to hear from Adam Scorer of Consumer Focus. He said that the Carbon Price Floor proposed for the Energy Bill (Electricity Market Reform) was “not my favourite choice of policy”, but that with the extra billions of revenue it could generate, a lot could be done to truly tackle Fuel Poverty.
Then, up last, was “Mr Energy Bill Revolution” Ed Matthew, who tried not to be too technical, but laid out a vision of energy efficiency being the basis on which the British economy could be resurrected – through addressing energy cost increases and providing employment. Ah, the sweet smell of new jobs.
I spoke to Adam Scorer after the speeches, and tried to clarify what he meant by showing distaste for the Carbon Floor Price proposals. I asked how realistic it was to ask the Government to give up all that juicy carbon revenue to social projects – given that a range of organisations and causes will be after the same pot of money – including the nuclear power bunch. He said that everything is impossible until it happens – and that despite support, the Energy Bill Revolution could be blocked so easily by a “Treasury says no” statement. He did say though, that without “wilful bloodyminded individuals” like Ed Matthew, “nothing would ever happen”.
I spoke to Ed Matthew – ex Friends of the Earth, and now with his own group Transform UK. He’s done some stuff on the Green Investment Bank and now he’s pushing the Energy Bill Revolution. We agreed that if we’re going to have carbon taxation or pricing of some sort, then we do need to make sure that we speak up for using at least some of this money for Fuel Poverty alleviation. With approximately (depending on how you count it) 11.5 million people in poverty (and approximately 2.5 million children), putting a carbon tax or price in place will only hurt the poor harder by increasing energy costs. There needs to be a mechanism that stops this from depressing economic activity any further than it is already squelched – a mechanism to address energy demand, create jobs and solve social issues is what’s required. He said that if there’s no carbon price floor, we would have to rely on revenue from the Emissions Trading Scheme – which will fluctuate more – and jeopardise investment confidence. We should be demanding carbon revenue for the right purposes – there’s a report they did with Cambridge Econometrics saying the same kind of thing.
I then went on to speak with people from Carillion – who were quite sceptical about the Green Deal – that many people could be ripped off by the fact that there will be multiple agencies involved in any one project – with each firm wishing to do their own assessments and possibly doing work the householders don’t need. The view was expressed that what needs to happen is that the Government stops wasting money on consultations, reports and consultancy and just invests in energy efficiency and energy conservation projects directly. We discussed how Local Authorities are expected to be handling the social aspects of the new Energy Bill – but that with shrinking budgets and ever-smaller staffing, energy conservation – such things as the Green Deal and fuel-saving Combined Heat and Power projects – are likely to never make it off the ground.
I went on to speak to Karen Klomp, Energy Strategy Officer at the London Borough of Lambeth. We discussed the primeval problem – that energy companies want to sell as much energy as they can, whilst climate change legislation requires effectively (until renewable energy is more prevalent) that total energy demand is reduced. We talked about which energy companies are evolving into Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) – which are training their own insulation, draught-proofing and renewable energy installers, and which are contracting this out (with all the problems this could entail).
I took the opportunity to mention to her that I am researching Renewable Gas (whilst being in the in-between phase of having completed a Masters degree and now wondering what to do with the rest of my life). I said I’m about to launch a survey to engineering and energy firms asking them about how much Renewable Gas they are making, and the trends. I said I was trying to raise this subject because some people are discussing the upcoming UK Government “Gas Strategy”. We disussed where gas in the UK economy is going to come from in future.
She spoke of various projects she is running – how they are trying to make the best use of various schemes and grants before they run out. She projected that she would be selling the idea of the benefits of the Green Deal to her local authority and related organisations. She and I agreed that policy as a whole was quite weak and compromised – but that this is what we’ve got to work with – so we need to run with it (or ice-skate – she is originally from The Netherlands, after all).
As I was leaving, I exchanged a wave and a nod with Jim Devlin. I asked him what he was going to do to promote the Energy Bill Revolution and his answer was : “wind 6.8 million residents up – and let them do the work”.
This is the briefing from The Energy Bill Revolution :-
“Families are suffering huge financial hardship, and one in four households can’t afford to heat their homes. Cold homes are damaging the health of our most vulnerable citizens, including children and older people. The Energy Bill Revolution is an alliance of more than 80 children’s charities, environment groups, unions, health & disability groups, consumer groups and businesses, calling on the Government to use the money it gets from carbon taxes to make our homes super-energy efficient. This is the only permanent solution to end fuel poverty and drive down energy bills. The Energy Bill Revolution could quadruple carbon emission savings compared to the Government’s new energy efficiency policies, and create up to 200,000 more jobs – exactly what we need to support the UK’s economic recovery.”
I am fully aware that this campaign could have been launched by Coalition empathisers to prop up the Energy Bill – which is widely being criticised (Greg Barker MP was supposed to attend but I don’t think I saw him. Maybe he was avoiding me. However, Chris Huhne MP did flit past at one point, and I saw John Prescott MP (with a walking stick) on the baize-green carpet stairs on the way out.)
Considering that some of the people in the room supporting the Energy Bill Revolution campaign could stand to benefit from the success of the Green Investment Bank, their motives might not be entirely charitable.
On the other hand, Fuel Poverty is a genuine social need, and addressing it could avoid people being driven further into deprivation. So, despite the fact that I think carbon pricing and taxation is entirely the wrong thing to do (instead we should invest positively in renewables and conservation), if this is the card we are dealt in the Energy Bill, then I think we should definitely “hypothecate” some of the revenue towards the alleviation of economic depression – for the sake of the kids.
More of a grudging acceptance to work with what we’re given rather than a “revolution”, though.
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