Energy Change for Climate Control
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  • Renewable Energy : Google Blind

    Posted on November 23rd, 2014 Jo 1 comment

    In an interesting article by two Google engineers, Ross Koningstein and David Fork, "What It Would Really Take to Reverse Climate Change : Today’s renewable energy technologies won’t save us. So what will?", the authors concluded from their modelling scenarios that :-

    "While a large emissions cut sure sounded good, this scenario still showed substantial use of natural gas in the electricity sector. That’s because today’s renewable energy sources are limited by suitable geography and their own intermittent power production."

    Erm. Yes. Renewable electricity is variable and sometimes not available, because, well, the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine, you know. This has been known for quite some time, actually. It’s not exactly news. Natural Gas is an excellent complement to renewable electricity, and that’s why major industrialised country grid networks rely on the pairing of gas and power, and will do so for some time to come. Thus far, no stunner.

    What is astonishing is that these brain-the-size-of-a-planet guys do not appear to have asked the awkwardly obvious question of : "so, can we decarbonise the gas supply, then ?" Because the answer is "yes, very largely, yes."

    And if you have Renewable Gas backing up Renewable Power, all of a sudden, shazam !, kabam ! and kapoom !, you have An Answer. You can use excess wind power and excess solar power to make gas, and you can store the gas to use when there’s a still, cold period on a wintry night. And at other times of low renewable power, too. And besides using spare green power to make green gas, you can make Renewable Gas in other ways, too.

    The Google engineers write :-

    "Now, [Research and Development] dollars must go to inventors who are tackling the daunting energy challenge so they can boldly try out their crazy ideas. We can’t yet imagine which of these technologies will ultimately work and usher in a new era of prosperity – but the people of this prosperous future won’t be able to imagine how we lived without them."

    Actually, Renewable Gas is completely non-crazy. It’s already being done all over the world in a variety of locations – with a variety of raw resources. We just need to replace the fossil fuel resources with biomass – that’s all.

    And there’s more – practically all the technology is over a century old – it just needs refining.

    I wonder why the Google boys seem to have been so unaware of this. Maybe they didn’t study the thermodynamics of gas-to-gas reactions at kindergarten, or something.

    Thanks to the deliberate misinterpretation of the Google "brothers" article, The Register, James Delingpole’s Breitbart News and Joanne Nova are not exactly helping move the Technological Debate forward, but that’s par for the course. They rubbished climate change science. Now they’ve been shown to be wrong, they’ve moved on, it seems, to rubbishing renewable energy systems. And they’re wrong there, too.

    Onwards, my green engineering friends, and upwards.

  • UKERC : Gas by Design (2)

    Posted on November 14th, 2014 Jo No comments

    This week, I had the opportunity to join the launch of the UKERC’s latest research into the future of gas. The esteemed delegates included members of a Russian Trade Delegation and several people from the US Embassy. Clearly, the future of gas is an international thing.


    [continued from Gas by Design ]

    Mike Bradshaw, Warwick Business School = [MB]

    [MB] I’m somewhat daunted by this audience – the report is aimed perhaps for informed public audience. The media [ambushed us on the question of shale gas, shale gas attracted more attention] but things we didn’t cover much about there we can cover here. It’s been a real rollercoaster ride in the gas industry. Any flights of fancy (in the report) are our faults and not theirs [reference to work of colleagues, such as Jonathan Stern at Oxford Institute for Energy Studies]. A set of shortcomings dealing with the issue of Energy Security. There is a tendency to think that oil and gas are the same. They’re not. The framework, the actors and the networks, trade statistics, policies [much different for gas than for oil]. [In the UK for example we are seeing] a rapid increase in import dependence [and in other countries]. Need to [pay] particular understanding on what will happen in far-flung places. Today, the US-China agreement could influence gas demand. [In the literature on gas, some anomalies, perhaps]. Academics may not understand markets. [What we are seeing here is] the globalisation of UK gas security – primarily Europeanisation. There is growing uncertainty [about] the material flow of gas. [Threshold] balance in three sectors – strong seasonality, impact of climate and temperature [on gas demand]. The Russian agreement with Ukraine [and Europe] – the one thing everybody was hoping for was a warm winter. While the gas market is important [industrial use and energy use], domestic/residential demand is still very significant [proportion of total demand], so we need to look at energy efficiency [building insulation rates] and ask will people rip out their gas boilers ? For the UK, we are some way across the gas bridge – gas has enabled us to meet [most of] our Kyoto Protocol commitments. Not long until we’ve crossed it. Our coal – gone. With coal gone, what fills the gaps ? Renewable electricity – but there is much intermittency already. We’re not saying that import dependency is necessarily a problem. Physical security is not really the problem – but the [dependence on] the interconnectors, the LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) imports – these create uncertainties. The UK also plays a role as a gas exporter – and in landing Norwegian gas [bringing it into the European market]. I’m a geographer – have to have at least one map – of gas flows [in and out of the country]. The NTS (National Transmission System – the high pressure Natural Gas-carrying pipeline network – the “backbone” of the gas transmission and distribution system of National Grid] has responded to change – for example in the increasing sources of LNG [and “backflow” and “crossflow” requirements]. There are 9 points of entry for gas into the UK at the moment. If the Bowland Shale is exploited, there could be 100s of new points of entry [the injection of biogas as biomethane into the gas grid would also create new entry points]. A new challenge to the system. [The gas network has had some time to react in the past, for example] LNG imports – the decision to ramp up the capacity was taken a long time ago. [Evolution of] prices in Asia have tracked the gas away [from the European markets] after the Fukushima Dai-ichi disaster. And recently, we have decided to “fill up the tanks” again [LNG imports have risen in the last 24 or so months]. Very little LNG is “firm” – it needs to follow the market. It’s not good to simply say that “the LNG will come” [without modelling this market]. The literature over-emphasises the physical security of the upstream supplies of gas. [The projections have] unconventional gas growing [and growing amounts of biogas]. But it’s far too early to know about shale gas – far too early to make promises about money when we don’t even have a market [yet]. Policy cannot influence the upstream especially in a privatised market. The interconnectors into the European Union means we have to pay much more attention to the Third EU Energy Package. Colleagues in Oxford are tracking that. The thorny question of storage. We have less than 5 bcm (billion cubic metres). We’d like 10% perhaps [of the winter period demand ?] Who should pay for it ? [A very large proportion of our storage is in one place] the Rough. We know what happens – we had a fire at the Rough in 2006… Everyone worries about geopolitics, but there are other potential sources of problems – our ageing infrastructure […] if there is a technical problem and high demand [at the same time]. Resilience [of our gas system is demonstrated by the fact that we have] gas-on-gas competition [in the markets] – “liquid” gas hub trading – setting the NBP (National Balancing Point). [There are actually 3 kinds of gas security to consider] (a) Security of Supply – not really a problem; (b) Security of Transport (Transit) – this depends on markets and (c) Security of Demand – [which strongly depends on whether there is a] different role for gas in the future. But we need to design enough capacity even though we may not use all of it [or not all of the time]. We have mothballed gas-fired power plants already, for reasons you all know about. We already see the failure of the ETS (European Union Emissions Trading Scheme) [but if this can be reformed, as as the Industrial Emissions Directive bites] there will be a return to gas as coal closes. The role of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) becomes critical in retaining gas. CCS however doesn’t answer issues of [physical energy security, since CCS requires higher levels of fuel use].

    [Question from the floor] Gas has a role to play in transition. But how do we need to manage that role ? Too much focus on building Renewable Energy system. What is the impact on the current infrastructure ? For managing that decline in the incumbent system – gas is there to help – gas by design rather than gas by default.

    [Question from the floor, Jonathan Stern] [In your graphs/diagrams] the Middle East is a major contributor to gas trade. We see it differently. The Qataris [could/may/will] hold back [with expanding production] until 2030. Iran – our study [sees it as] a substitute contributor. Oil-indexed gas under threat and under challenge. If you could focus more on the global gas price… [New resources of gas could be very dispersed.]Very difficult to get UK people to understand [these] impacts on the gas prices [will] come from different places than they can think of.

    [Question from the floor] Availability of CCS capacity ? When ? How much ? Assumptions of cost ?

    [Question from the floor : Tony Bosworth, Friends of the Earth] Gas as a bridge – how much gas do we need for [this process] ? What about unburnable carbon ? Do we need more gas to meet demands ?

    [Answer – to Jonathan Stern – from Christophe McGlade ?] The model doesn’t represent particularly well political probabilities. Iran has a lot of gas – some can come online. It will bring it online if it wants to export it. Some simplifications… might be over optimistic. Your work is helpful to clarify.

    On gas prices – indexation versus global gas price – all the later scenarios assumed a globalised gas price. More reasonable assumptions.

    On CCS : first [coming onstream] 2025 – initially quite a low level, then increasing by 10% a year. The capital costs are approximately 60% greater than other options and causes a drop in around 10% on efficiency [because making CCS work costs you in extra fuel consumed]. If the prices of energy [including gas] increase, then CCS will have a lesser relative value [?].

    On availability of gas : under the 2 degrees Celsius scenario, we could consume 5 tcm (trillion cubic metres) of gas – and this can come from reserves and resources. There are a lot of resources of Natural Gas, but some of it will be at a higher price. In the model we assume development of some new resources, with a growth in shale gas, and other unconventional gas. Because of the climate deal, we need to leave some gas underground.

    [Answer from the panel] Indexation of gas prices to oil… Further gas demand is in Asia – it’s a question of whose gas gets burnt. [Something like] 70% of all Natural Gas gets burned indigenously [within the country in which it is produced]. When we talk about “unburnable gas”, we get the response “you’re dreaming” from some oil companies, “it won’t be our fossil fuels that get stranded”. LNG models envisage a different demand profile [in the future, compared to now]. When China [really gets] concerned about air quality [for example]. Different implications.

    [Question from the floor, from Centrica ?] What’s in the model for the globalised gas price – Henry Hub plus a bit ? There is not a standard one price.

    [Question from the floor] On the question of bridging – the long-term bridge. What issues do you see when you get to 2030 for investment ? [We can see] only for the next few years. What will investors think about that ?

    [Question from the floor] [With reference to the Sankey diagram of gas use in the UK] How would that change in a scenario of [electrification – heat and transport being converted to run on electrical power] ?

    [Question from the floor] Stranded assets. How the markets might react ? Can you put any numbers on it – especially in the non-CCS scenario ? When do we need to decide [major strategy] for example, [whether we could or should be] shutting off the gas grid ? How would we fund that ? Where are the pinch points ?

    [Answer from the panel] On the global gas price – the model does not assume a single price – [it will differ over each] region. [The price is allowed to change regionally [but is assumed to arise from global gas trading without reference to oil prices.] Asian basin will always be more expensive. There will be a temperature differential between different hubs [since consumption is strongly correlated with seasonal change]. On stranded assets – I think you mean gas power plants ? The model is socially-optimal – all regions working towards the 2 degrees Celsius global warming target. The model doesn’t limit stranded assets – and do get in the non-CCS scenario. Build gas plants to 2025 – then used at very low load factors. Coal plants need to reduce [to zero] given that the 2 degrees Celsius targets are demanding. Will need gas for grid balancing – [new gas-fired power generation assets will be] built and not used at high load factors.

    [Answer from the panel] Our report – we have assume a whole system question for transition. How successful will the Capacity Mechanism be ? UKERC looking at electrification of heating – but they have not considered the impact on gas (gas-to-power). Will the incentives in place be effective ? The Carbon Budget – what are the implications ? Need to use whole system analysis to understand the impact on gas. Issue of stranded assets : increasingly important now [not at some point in the future]. On pinch point : do we need to wait another three years [for more research] ? Researchers have looked more at what to spend – what to build – and less on how to manage the transition. UKERC have started to explore heat options. It’s a live issue. Referenced in the report.

    [Question from the floor, from Richard Sverrisson, News Editor of Montel] Will reform to the EU ETS – the Market Stability Reserve (MSR) – will that be enough to bring gas plant into service ?

    [Question from the floor] On oil indexation and the recent crash in the crude price – what if it keeps continuing [downwards] ? It takes gas prices down to be competitive with hub prices. [What about the impact on the economic profitability of] shale oil – where gas driving related prices ? Are there some pricing [functions/variables] in the modelling – or is it merely a physical construct ?

    [Question from the floor, from Rob Gross of UCL] On intermittency and the flexibility of low carbon capacity. The geographical units in the modelling are large – the role of gas depends on how the model is constrained vis-a-vis intermittency.

    [Answer from the panel, from Christophe McGlade] On carbon dioxide pricing : in the 2 degrees Celsius scenario, the price is assumed to be $200 per tonne. In the non-CCS scenario, the price is in the region of $400 – $500 per tonne [?] From 2020 : carbon price rises steeply – higher than the Carbon Floor Price. How is the the 2 degrees Celsius target introduced ? If you place a temperature constraint on the energy system, the model converts that into carbon emissions. The latest IPCC report shows that there remains an almost linear trend between carbon budget and temperature rise – or should I say a greenhouse gas budget instead : carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). The emissions pledges of the [European Union ?] have been adopted by this model – also the development of renewable energy and fuel standards. No exogenous assumptions on carbon pricing. On intermittency – the seasonality is represented by summer, winter and intermediate; and time day generalised as morning, night, evening and peak (morning peak). [Tighter modelling would provide more] certainty which would remove ~40% of effective demand [?] Each technology has a contribution to make to peak load. Although, we assume nothing from wind power – cannot capture hour to hour market. The model does build capacity that then it doesn’t use.

    [Answer from the panel] On carbon pricing and the EU ETS reform : I wouldn’t hold my breath [that this will happen, or that it will have a major impact]. We have a new commission and their priority is Poland – nothing serious will happen on carbon pricing until 2020. Their emphasis is much more on Central European issues. I don’t expect to have a strong carbon price since policy [will probably be] more focussed on social democracy issues. Moving to a relatively lower price on oil : Asia will hedge. Other explorters currently sticking to indexation with oil. The low price of wet gas (condensate) in the USA is a result of the over-supply, which followed an over-supply in NGLs (Natural Gas Liquids) – a bumpy road. Implications from USA experience ? Again, comes back to watching what is happening in Asia.

    [to be continued…]

  • UKERC : Gas by Design

    Posted on November 12th, 2014 Jo No comments

    Today I attended a meeting of minds.

    It’s clear to me that the near-term and mid-term future for energy in the United Kingdom and the European Union will best be centred on Natural Gas and Renewable Electricity, and now the UK Energy Research Centre has modelled essentially the same scenario. This can become a common narrative amongst all parties – the policy people, the economists, the technologists, the non-governmental groups, as long as some key long-term de-carbonisation and energy security objectives are built into the plan.

    The researchers wanted to emphasise from their report that the use of Natural Gas should not be a default option in the case that other strategies fail – they want to see a planned transition to a de-carbonised energy system using Natural Gas by design, as a bridge in that transition. Most of the people in the room found they could largely agree with this. Me, too. My only caveat was that when the researchers spoke about Gas-CCS – Natural Gas-fired power generation with Carbon Capture and Storage attached, my choice would be Gas-CCU – Natural Gas-fired power generation with Carbon Capture and Re-utilisation – carbon recycling – which will eventually lead to much lower emissions gas supply at source.

    What follows is a transcription of my poorly-written notes at the meeting, so you cannot accept them as verbatim.

    Jim Watson, UKERC = [JW]
    Christophe McGlade, University College London (UCL) = [CM]
    Mike Bradshaw, Warwick Business School = [MB]

    [JW] Thanks to Matt Aylott. Live Tweeting #FutureOfGas. Clearly gas is very very important. It’s never out of the news. The media all want to talk about fracking… If we want to meet the 2 degrees Celsius target of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, how much can gas be a part of this ? Is Natural Gas a bridge – how long a ride will that gas bridge be ?

    [CM] Gas as a bridge ? There is healthy debate about the Natural Gas contribution to climate change [via the carbon dioxide emissions from burning Natural Gas, and also about how much less in emissions there is from burning Natural Gas compared to burning coal]. The IPCC said that “fuel switching” from coal to gas would offer emissions benefits, but some research, notably McJeon et al. (2014) made statements that switching to Natural Gas cannot confer emissions benefits. Until recently, there have not been many disaggregated assessments on gas as a bridge. We have used TIAM-UCL. The world is divided into 16 regions. The “climate module” seeks to constrain the global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius. One of the outcomes from our model was that export volumes [from all countries] would be severaly impacted by maintaining the price indexation between oil and gas. [Reading from chart on the screen : exports would peak in 2040s]. Another outcome was that gas consumption is not radically affected by different gas market structures. However, the over indexation to the oil price may destroy gas export markets. Total exports of natural gas are higher under the 2 degrees Celsius scenario compared to the 4 degrees Celsius scenario – particularly LNG [Liquefied Natural Gas]. A global climate deal will support gas exports. There will be a higher gas consumption under a 2 degrees Celsius deal compared to unconstrained scenario [leading to a 4 degrees Celsius global temperature rise]. The results of our modelling indicate that gas acts as a bridge fuel out to 2035 [?] in both absolute and relative terms. There is 15% greater gas consumption in the 2 degrees Celsius global warming scenario than in the 4 degrees Celsius global warming scenario. Part of the reason is that under the 4 degrees Celsius scenario, Compressed Natural Gas vehicles are popular, but a lot less useful under the 2 degrees Celsius scenario [where hydrogen and other fuels are brought into play].

    There are multiple caveats on these outcomes. The bridging period is strictly time-limited. Some sectors need to sharply reduce consumption [such as building heating by Natural Gas boilers, which can be achieved by mass insulation projects]. Coal must be curtailed, but coal-for-gas substitution alone is not sufficient. Need a convincing narrative about how coal can be curtailed. In an absence of a global binding climate deal we will get consumption increases in both coal and gas. In the model, gas is offsetting 15% of coal by 2020, and 85% by 2030. With Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), gas’s role is drastically reduced – after 2025 dropping by 2% a year [of permitted gas use]. Not all regions of the world can use gas as a bridge. [Reading from the chart : with CCS, gas is a strong bridging fuel in the China, EU, India, Japan and South Korea regions, but without CCS, gas is only strong in China. With CCS, gas’s bridging role is good in Australasia, ODA presumably “Offical Development Assistance” countries and USA. Without CCS, gas is good for Africa, Australasia, EU, India, Japan, South Korea, ODA and USA.]

    In the UK, despite the current reliance on coal, there is little scope to use it as a transition fuel. Gas is unlikely to be removed from UK energy system by 2050.

    [Question from the floor] The logic of gas price indexation with the oil price ?

    [CM] If maintain oil indexation, exports will reduce as countries turn more towards indigenous at-home production of gas for their domestic demand. This would not be completely counter-balanced by higher oil and therefore gas prices, which should stimulate more exports.

    [Point from the floor] This assumes logical behaviour…

    [Question from the floor] [Question about Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)]

    [CM] The model does anticipate more CCS – which permits some extra coal consumption [at the end of the modelling period]. Gas-CCS [gas-fired power generation with CCS attached] is always going to generate less emissions than coal-CCS [coal-fired power generation with CCS attached] – so the model prefers gas-CCS.

    [to be continued…]

  • European Referendum : Corpse Factory

    Posted on November 9th, 2014 Jo No comments

    So I was in a meeting on a dateless date, at an organisation with a nameless name, with some other unidentifiable people in the room with me. For some reason I had been invited, I cannot think why. Ah, yes, I can. I was invited to attend because, apparently, I am a “campaigner”. I am, allegedly, somebody who buys into the notion that communications should serve the purpose of directing public attention and support towards a particular outcome, decided in advance by a political elite. And it seems, if I believe something is right, and that a message needs communicating, I will take action, but never invoice, because I am a believer. Well let me tell you right here and now, I am not that person. I may have that reputation, but really, I despise propaganda : the deliberate formation of a murmur of Tweet starlings, or the collective wall-to-wall newspaper coverage of the same story, the scandal story hauled out to scare the horses and herd them to the salt water shore, the faux narrative of collective political or social will for change.

    I want to believe that even though I am occasionally paid to communicate a story (but most often not), that my narrative, and importantly my agenda, is my own. I will not be co-opted. I shall not be defined by storytelling, I shall not be paid for spreading information – for if I were to be telling money-backed tales, I may end up peddling lies. And I do not want lies to be spoken. I am an ontologist. My ontology is :-

    SO
    IT IS
    AS
    IT IS.

    and not

    IT IS
    AS
    IT IS,
    SO…

    There is no “therefore” in what I write. When I say “should”, like, “we should adopt renewable energy”, it’s your choice as to whether you agree with me. You shouldn’t read anything and be swayed or directed, except by the force of reason based on evidence. I am the photographer, the recorder, but not the public relations consultant. And I am especially not an unsalaried volunteer. I paint the future using my own perspective, my own understanding, my own research, my own best judgement, but I am not telling people what to think. Although I go slightly beyond merely noting and analysing what is happening, to articulate possible futures, I am not a persuader.

    I do not want to write the script for the actions of the readers or listeners. I do not want to precipitate a revolution, or dehydrate the horses before leading them to the river bank. I want to describe rather than proscribe or prescribe. I want to scribe the way I see things, I do not do it in order to create waves or push buttons or light beacons. The facts should speak for themselves, and if anybody consumes my communication, they should be free to act as they feel fit, or suits. I am not a paid-for, paid-up, in-the-pocket campaigner. I am not spun round other peoples’ fingers like a talking puppet. I am a free person.

    So, there I was in this meeting, and the people in the room were discussing an event that is likely to take place. It appears from some analysis that the next British Government could well be another Coalition Government, with the Conservative Party having only a shaving of a majority for rule. And when they have crossed the i’s and dotted the t’s and formed a currently impossible political marriage, which I’m guessing will involve the Green Party as well as the Liberal Democrats, then they will need to live up to their promise to hold a referendum on British participation in the Grand European Experiment – economic union with other European countries.

    But nobody talks about Europe. Except to complain. In the meeting I attended, the hosts of the meeting were consulting for ways to highlight the Europe Question, and to give it a pro-Union light.

    For me, it’s facile. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is just a bunch of mediocre-sized islands off the coast of the European continent. Something like 80% of UK trade is with European countries, because Europe is our gateway to the rest of the global market, and you always do the most trade with your neighbours. It’s natural. Can anybody seriously suggest we ditch the Common Market – the agreements that European countries have come to to ensure common standards of goods and services, common terms and conditions of trade and common legal processes regulating trade ? So we want to reserve some kind of sovereignty over some kinds of decisions ? Why ? The UK is heavily involved in the central European institutions and governance bodies. We have massive input. We vote for MEPs. Why should things not go our way ? And even if things don’t go perfectly our way, will the negotiated compromises be so bad ? Subsidiarity – making decisions at the lowest/best/most appropriate level of administration – that’s still going to keep a lot of British control over British affairs. Surely the UK suffers a greater risk of interference from any pan-Atlantic trade deal that it does from Europe ?

    The UK have made commitments. Our Parliament has agreed that we need to work on climate change, social justice and economic stability. We have implicitly agreed that to address climate change we need Energy Change and environmental regulation; to achieve social justice we need human rights, justice, health, education and a benefits system; and for economic stability we need economic stimuli – for example, in national infrastructure projects. In terms of climate change and Energy Change there is so much we need to do. If we stay in Europe, all of this will be so much easier. Within the European project for energy market harmonisation is the work on standards to achieve gas and electricity grid harmonisation. The improvement and augmenting of interconnections between countries, and the provision of wider energy storage, will enable the balanced use of renewable energy. Governments need to create incentives for deploying renewable energy. Governments need to create mechanisms to leverage and facilitate renewable energy deployment. Without Europe, outwith Europe, it will cost us more, and be more complex. Within Europe, it will be easier.

    So, in the meeting I attended, I put forward my vision : if the UK stays in Europe, it will be easier to handle problems of energy – improving and replacing infrastructure and plant, co-ordinating the uptake of new renewable energy technologies and dealing with emerging energy security issues. Why, the North Sea, as everybody knows, is draining dry, and we can only build certain levels of relationship with countries outside the European Union, such as Russia. If the UK left the EU, the EU would be competitors with the UK for Russian Natural Gas, for example. I said I thought that energy security was a good thing to explain to people and a good reason to raise support for UK’s continued participation in Europe.

    So, somebody else in the meeting, who shall remain faceless and nameless, poured very cold water on this idea. They seemed to disbelieve that the UK faces risks to energy security. Instead, they suggested that the pro-Europe argument should be based on how the UK can “keep our place at the table”. How out of touch can one get, I thought to myself ? This kind of patrician argument is not going to wash. Appealing to some non-existent pride in the UK’s continued role as stakeholder in the European project is going to go down like a lead balloon. It’s a vote loser, for sure.

    What most people care about first is money. Their money. Any appeal to their pockets is going to help. We live in tough times – thanks to Government austerity policy – and we still cannot get a handle on public borrowing and spending. Because of the Government’s austerity policy.

    So how about we cast it like this : your energy is going to get much more expensive if the UK abandons the European community of nations. Plus, your lights could genuinely go out, unless you, the people, either as taxpayers or billpayers, fork out for new energy investments that the energy companies haven’t made for 20 years. Because of privatisation. Without taking part in the European energy market harmonisation, and the European development of new and renewable energy infrastructure, plant and networks, your bills could significantly rise/spiral out of control. If European companies were required to sell energy assets back to the UK, because the UK pulled out of Europe, we would be in a very fine mess indeed. Do you really want this kind of chaos ? Energy policy in the UK is already bad enough.

    The facts are available to those who search : British production of oil and gas from the North Sea is declining at something like 6% a year. The UK became a net energy importer between 2004 and 2006 (depending on how you define it). The Netherlands will become a net Natural Gas importer in the 2020s. Norway’s Natural Gas will reach a peak some time in the 2020s. It’s no good thinking that because the UK is a “gas hub”, and that British finance can currently spin up gas imports to the UK, that this situation is going to remain true. Within 10 to 15 years, I think that the UK will face significant competition for Natural Gas supplies with other European countries. Better to be in the debating chamber, surely, rather than scratching at the wind-and-rain-splattered window from outside ? So can the UK forge a gas alliance with countries outside the European Union, and apart from Norway ? A gas import alliance that sticks ? And that isn’t demolished by competition from the rest of the European Union for gas supplies that come through pipes sitting in European Union territory ? OK, the UK might want to leave full European Union membership, and join Norway in the European Economic Area, but will this guarantee beneficial import status for Natural Gas from countries that supply the full members of the European Community ?

    I said, instead of trying to talk about direct opposites – either Inside Europe or Outside Europe – let’s talk about how things can be helped by wider co-operation. The European Union was founded on energy treaties – coal and nuclear energy (and steel), and now Europe needs to move to a union forged on renewable power and Natural Gas – and later Renewable Gas – and it’s going to be so much easier to do if the UK stays at the party.

    The North Sea needs re-developing. Not for oil, but for wind power. This is going to happen best with full cross-border co-operation. Already, the UK has agreed to play a large part in the “North Sea Offshore Grid” wind power project in league with Ireland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, The Netherlands, Belgium and France. And Luxembourg, strangely, although it doesn’t have a coast. Unlike new nuclear power, which could be decades in construction, offshore and onshore wind in Europe can be quick-build. If you want new power, you pick wind and solar. And, despite policy fumbles, this is happening. Actually, in the end, who really cares about subsidies for renewable energy, when the most capital-heavy organisations in the world start backing renewable power ? In some ways, I don’t care who brings me low carbon energy, and I don’t care if I have to pay for it through my tax or my bills, I just want it to happen. OK, offshore wind power is for the big boys, and you’re never going to get a diversity of suppliers with this project, and the dreams of decentralised energy are vapours, whisked away by giant engineering firms, but at least renewable energy is going to happen. One day people will realise that for the newspapers to rehearse the arguments of High Net Worth Individuals, and for sheep-like energy ministers to complain about onshore wind power and solar farms, is just a way to keep small electricity generators out of the energy markets, and allow the incumbent energy players to keep making profits. But when the need for a multiplicity of small energy installations becomes critical, I think this tune will change.

    I can see all this. But, because I am not a spin meister, or spin meistress, or a campaigner, I’m not going to be crafting fine messages to share with my networks on this particular subject. I did start (see below), but then I thought better of it. I dislike the use of social media, web logging and journalism to push an agenda. The trouble is, I know that the people who are vehemently against the European endeavour have so many trigger arguments tested and ready to deploy, such as : immigration, regulations, budgetary demands. None of these stand up to scutiny, but they are very easy props on which to deploy Corpse Factory scares and scandals, up there with the War on Terror. The pro-European segment of the population always stays so silent. If there were to be a Referendum on Europe today, I can pretty much guarantee a kneejerk exit. The British public act collectively by reflex. They never re-analyse their position. They mob, gang and plunder.

    I don’t think pro-Europe organisations know how to sell Europe. But they shouldn’t need to “sell” Europe. European membership should be an obvious best choice. So why should I try to talk up Europe ? I couldn’t have any influence, as one lone voice, against the Daily Mails, Daily Expresses and Daily Telegraphs of this world. And anyway, it’s not really my fight to fight. I don’t have a job title that reads “arch propagandist”. I am not that person. It does not become me. I prefer straight-talking, not mind-bending.

    I won’t get invited back. That’s just fine. I am not a volunteer campaigner. I’m not a political pusher. I’ve only played the role of “evangelist” on climate change, renewable energy and good policy because sometimes there is little else I can think of that might help or make a difference. But I don’t have any influence. And I don’t want any. I am just going to continue telling it the way I see it. Giving my perspective. I cannot guarantee any outcomes. And anyway, I prefer democratic engagement over salesmanship. Don’t ask me to sell your ideas, your policies, your projections. I don’t want to.

    Full membership of the European Union is the logical option for the United Kingdom, no matter how many tired dead donkey corpses the rabid tabloid media keep digging up to appall us all. Sooner or later, we also need to consider joining the Euro currency, and I predict we will, but I’m not your convincer on that argument, either.




    “What has Europe ever done for us ?”

    Common Climate : Common Cause : Common Market

    On climate change, the United Kingdom has secured the Climate Change Act, legislation with broad-based support across all political parties. The UK shares the concerns of other European countries about the potential risks and impacts from climate change in our geographical region. Society-level change in response to climate change includes energy change – changing the sources and use of energy – and changing policies for land use to include planting forests and energy crops. Within the European Community, the UK has worked to secure region-wide legislation on renewable energy, energy efficiency, waste control and air quality. All of these contribute to the response to climate change, and have developed action on climate change into a common cause. In addition to regulatory change, the European Community is seeking to develop trading mechanisms to enable carbon dioxide emissions control, and it working to develop a common market in carbon.

    Common Future : Common Purpose : Common Interest

    Common Values : Common Opportunities : Common Voice

    Common Security : Common Goals : Common Networks

    Common Infrastructure : Common Society : Common Protection

    Common Standards : Common Framework : Common Development

  • Spare Kettle Sudden Death

    Posted on November 2nd, 2014 Jo No comments

    I’m all for peak shaving, so we tried a low power kettle at home, but it rusted. So we tried another one, and the lid broke. Seriously, the low wattage appliance manufacturers need to get their act together. No, we don’t just want low energy appliances because we spend our holidays in a motor home powering everything off a cigarette lighter in a car, or a 12 volt car battery. Our kettle is not for occasional use. It needs to last.

    So, we plugged in the spare kettle – the one that had been sitting on top of the kitchen cupboard attracting spiders and flying fat in the form of aerosols from frying pans. Ergh. Sticky. Yuck. So we cleaned it. Then it caused a power surge and blew the fuses and melted a plug socket. Yikes. Time to buy a new kettle. Again. And time to call an NICEIC registered tradesperson. Man of the moment, Carl, turned up ready for a chat.

    We discussed some of the finer points of electrical conductivity and sparks and arcing, and why I prefer to turn the toaster off at night. Because of the dangers of carbonised breadcrumbs. Carl replaces the double wall socket, and then he asks me what I’m doing at the moment, since he recalls chatting with me last year on a service call.

    I say I’m writing a book about Renewable Gas, and then I leave silence in the air for a few seconds for his brain to fire off some neurons and make a few connections. He asks whether I mean biogas. I say, yes, partly. We talk about cow burps, and why some humans cannot expel methane, because of the differing flora and fauna in their guts. I say that people can produce appreciable amounts of hydrogen gas from their intestines as well as hydrogen sulfide and other sulfur compounds. We talk about mercaptans, the smelly sulfur chemicals added to Natural Gas to make sure people can detect leaks because both methane and hydrogen are actually colourless and odourless. Both of us appear to be pretty good at detecting gas leaks in the urban landscape – he once reported one at a gasometer – an old-fashioned gas storage device with a lifting centre. We both commented that the mercaptans seem to stick to gas appliances as they always seem to be smelly close up.

    I say that although it’s not really practical to capture cow burps unless they’re all in a shed at night, I say that there is a lot of scope for developing biogas from anaerobic digestion of waste, and also gas from sewage treatment. And then I say that Renewable Gas needs to get bigger than just biologically-derived gas – there is scope for manufacturing gas. We used to manufacture gas, from coal, stored in gasometers in a decentralised fashion. I say Renewable Gas is about scaling up industrial gas – such as producing Renewable Hydrogen, recycling carbon dioxide by methanation with Renewable Hydrogen.

    I say, look at Germany. Germany has a plan. By around 2025 they aim to have at least 10% of their gas supplies coming from sustainable and renewable resources – 2% hydrogen and 8% renewable methane. And of course, Natural Gas is 75% to 95% methane, so green methane can be directly substituted for fossil methane.

    I talk about the basic chemistry comparing combustion to gasification. He asks what gasification is – is it like making liquids into gas ? No, I say, it’s chemistry. In normal combustion, or oxidation, the end products are steam, or water – H2O – and carbon dioxide – CO2. I draw on a piece of paper. In gasification, the oxygen is restricted – partial oxidation – and the end products are hydrogen – H2 – instead of H2O, and carbon monoxide – CO – instead of CO2. These are both useful fuels, although the carbon monoxide is toxic. Plus, after you’ve removed tars, carbon dust and ash, these are clean fuels, unlike the raw resources. You could use biomass as the feedstock and make this a useful way to make larger volumes of green gas.

    I said that Renewable Gas is a good complement to Renewable Electricity – because the wind does not always blow and the sun does not always shine. I said that to really promote the use of both, we need to have massive amounts of new renewable power, to provide spare electricity to make Renewable Gas.

    We talked about how there could be so much more progress with Renewable Electricity. We talked about Liz Truss dismissing solar farms because she believes they conflict with agricultural production. Carl and I both shrugged. I said sheep may safely graze under solar panels mounted on frames. Or chickens. I asked Carl somewhat rhetorically what the difference was between a solar farm and a field of greenhouses ? He couldn’t know, and he told me about how he’d been to see a fascinating farm where they had solar greenhouses, making power to grow vegetables.

  • Climbing the Concern Ladder

    Posted on October 25th, 2014 Jo No comments

    How do we get things changed in a democracy ? The model of political campaigning that has been established over the last century is failing us. In the past, if there was a problem, a small group of people could create a fuss about it, march some placards to somewhere relevant, write some letters, talk to some dignitaries, chain themselves to some railings, occupy a lobby, get some press, and after some years, maybe, get something done.

    These days there are just too many complaints for them all to be heard. Philanthropic, charitable and political messages crowd the stage. In this age of social media, the campaign metaphor has been replaced by a ladder of concern. Concern is expressed. Hopefully others will find that they too are sufficiently concerned, and reflect that concern through some medium. And slowly, it is hoped, this concern climbs the ladder of attention, until it is visible, audible. The entitled and endowed middle classes catch the concern, and repeat it. Lots of emails fly. George Monbiot writes about it in The Guardian. Some speeches are made at serious meetings. Angelina Jolie is invited to grace a conference. And then, hopefully, this concern hits the people who have some kind of leverage over the problem, and they act.

    Action is almost guaranteed if the concern is the result of a specific outrage, committed by a specific person or group, and has a specific solution. But otherwise, who knows ? How universal and impactful does a concern need to be before it gets acted upon ? And surely some things don’t need campaigns, because the governments already know enough about problems such as people trafficking, slavery, animal welfare, crime and torture ? After all, things such as prostitution and illegal drug trade are included in national economic statistics.

    I took public transport today in London and I was doused in outrage pouring from advertisements asking for charitable giving to prevent the inhuman practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). As I read these appeals, I felt two overwhelming sensations – one of intense anger that children are being permanently injured because of insane and unjustifiable, hateful beliefs about female sexuality. And a second feeling of dragging despair that giving a small donation every month to this organisation would have very little impact on abusive culture, which leads to many forms of violation, not just the unimaginably painful and destructive incision and even resection of a child’s clitoris and the sewing together of her labia, leading to permanent nerve damage, lasting wounds, loss of sexual function, complications from incontinence, ruined relationships, injuries from sexual intercourse, and serious medical risks during childbirth, and possibly the need for reconstructive surgery.

    This is a problem which cannot be fixed by expressing normal murmurs of concern, building a wave of concern that climbs a ladder of concern, or making monthly token charitable payments. This concern is not susceptible to a campaign. What this problem needs is regulation, legislation, policing. This concern shouldn’t have to compete with all the other concerns out there, like distressed retired donkeys, threatened butterflies, meltdown polar bears, de-forested orangutans and by-catch dolphins. Some things just shouldn’t happen. They just shouldn’t be tolerated. And they shouldn’t be lost amongst an avalanche of other concerns. This problem is so serious that it should be an automatic priority for all the authorities, co-ordinating to detect and prevent it. This concern shouldn’t have to campaign for funds. Or attention.

    Switch to BBC News. Roger Harrabin reports that “The UK’s chief scientist says the oceans face a serious and growing risk from man-made carbon emissions. […] Sir Mark Walport warns that the acidity of the oceans has increased by about 25% since the industrial revolution, mainly thanks to manmade emissions. […] He told BBC News: “If we carry on emitting CO2 [carbon dioxide] at the same rate, ocean acidification will create substantial risks to complex marine food webs and ecosystems.” […] The consequences of acidification are likely to be made worse by the warming of the ocean expected with climate change, a process which is also driven by CO2.”

    Media Lens Editors reported this piece. My reaction was – who would be paying attention to this ? This is not the “dangerous climate change comes from global warming” story, this is the “other” carbon problem, the decimation of marine productivity and the whole pyramid of life, resulting from increasing levels of dissolved carbon dioxide in seawater because of higher levels of carbon dioxide in the air. The overwhelmingly major causes of this problem are irrefutably and definitely fossil fuel combustion, and its seriousness is hard to deny, even though Roger Harrabin attempts to make light of it by devoting column inches to a laboratory crab who isn’t getting with the programme.

    Ocean acidification is a concern that shouldn’t get lost in amongst other concerns. It should be paid serious levels of attention. And not just by middle class philanthropists who work for non-governmental organisations and charities. And yet, cursory analysis of the segmentation of the population who treat BBC News as a main and trusted information source may suggest that the only readers who would act on this piece are exactly these middle class charity staff, or at a push, retired middle class charity staff.

    My Media Lens comment was, “Right expert. Right message. Wrong audience. Wrong medium. The UK Government’s chief scientist. OK. Good. Ocean acidification. OK. Good. No quibbles about whether or not extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a real problem or not (as known as “climate change” or “global warming”, which is real by the way). The BBC News. Wrong medium. Wrong audience. The only people going to listen to this are those who already know about the problem but are still as powerless to act as they were yesterday. The UK Government should present this information to the oil, gas and coal companies with a polite request for them to unveil their plan of action in the face of this undeniable problem.”

    There is no reason why this story should be covered in BBC News by Roger Harrabin. What can anybody reading it do about the problem ? There is no purpose for this article. It is a pointless statement of concern, or rather, a belittling rehearsal of the concern. Unless this article, and the thousands like it, lead to the Government demanding answers on Energy Change from the fossil fuel companies, there is no point in reporting it, or in this case, disparaging it with faint humour.

    The only time that ocean acidification should appear in a media piece is to report that the problem has been presented to the architects of increased ocean carbon dioxide, and answers have been requested.

    And who are the architects of increased atmospheric and ocean carbon dioxide ? Those who mine fossil fuels. Those companies like BP and Shell, ExxonMobil, and all the coal extraction companies should act. They should offer us alternative non-fossil fuel energy. And the news should be about how these companies are taking action to offer us Renewable Hydrogen, Renewable Methane, solar power, wind power and Zero Carbon transport fuels.

    Answers from the past will simply not do. Trying to assert that somebody needs to pay for pollution won’t prevent pollution occurring. Carbon taxes or carbon pricing won’t work – since they won’t prevent the mining of fossil fuels – and if fossil fuels are mined, of course they will be burned. Carbon combustion quotas won’t work – since economic wealth is based on burning carbon, so many forces will conspire to maintain levels of fossil fuel combustion. Carbon mining quotas won’t work, since the forces for increasing mining quotas are strong. Carbon trading won’t work, since it won’t reduce the amount of fossil fuels mined – because, obviously, if fossil fuels are mined, they will be burned.

    I am tired of reading about climate change, global warming, freshwater stress and ocean acidification in the news. It seems there is nothing I can do that I have not already done that can provide a solution to these problems. Enough with communicating the disaster. I want to read about engineering and energy companies who have switched business models to producing Zero Carbon energy. I want to hear how energy security concern is taking oil, gas and coal companies towards Renewable Everything.

  • Mick and Ginger

    Posted on October 22nd, 2014 Jo No comments

    So, I’m waiting at the platform for the local commuter train on my way into town. I see Mick, retired electrician, dressed in a Stasi-like black leather jacket.

    We start to talk, and climb aboard. I explain I’ve just written a draft of a book on Renewable Gas. I pause a few seconds to let him pin down that idea.

    We talk about gas from landfill sites, and how expensive it is to retrofit methane-capturing equipment to already-established tips. I say there’s potential to make gas from the landfill waste itself, not just its methane emissions. We talk about the potential for biogas from sewage sludge at wastewater treatment plants. I say there are new techniques that do anaerobic digestion at an advanced rate. And then I say I’m also looking at a much larger opportunity to manufacture gas by reacting renewable hydrogen with waste industrial carbon dioxide.

    He says, we used to manufacture gas. From coal. Yes, town gas. Although it’s dirty. Yes, but you can mitigate environmental impacts. For example, if you have a slagging gasifier all the really toxic elements come out as vitrified glass.

    I’ve seen that, he said, when I was doing a job in Scotland. I can’t remember where. It was just like glass, with stripes of different colours running through it.

    I said there was a big consortium of British and Americans working on this in research units, including the state enterprise that eventually became British Gas. In the period 1974 onwards there was a research site in Scotland. Making SNG – synthetic natural gas. But the changeover to Natural Gas meant the closure of the research projects in around 1981.

    Mick nods. He said over the years he’s been in a lot of gas processing facilities installing emergency power equipment.

    Gas and power. Gas-to-power. I don’t quite get on to the story of Power-to-Gas before our seven minutes of train chat is up, and Mick the neo-Stasi and I part company.

    [ UPDATE : Yes. We did talk about shale gas. We agreed that production of Natural Gas from the North Sea was declining, and that there are some people incredibly positive that shale gas production can be significant. I suggested it might not be. ]

  • Time for another FOI Request

    Posted on June 4th, 2014 Jo 1 comment

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


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

    4th June 2014

    Request to the Department of Energy and Climate Change

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

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

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

    Dear Madam / Sir,

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

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

    1. Planned Support for New Gas Market Entrants

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

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

    especially considering the Preamble, Paragraphs 26 and 41 :-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    2. The Potential for Synthetic Natural Gas (SNG)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Thank you for your attention to my request for information.

    Regards,

    Ms J. Abbess MSc


  • A Brief Unhelpfulness from My Government

    Posted on June 4th, 2014 Jo No comments

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

  • My Next Freedom of Information Request

    Posted on May 28th, 2014 Jo No comments

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

    28th May 2014

    Request to the Department of Energy and Climate Change

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

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

    Dear Madam / Sir,

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

    1. The Potential for Synthetic Natural Gas (SNG)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    2. The Potential for Natural Gas Supply Shocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Thank you for your attention to my request for information.

    Regards,

  • This Too Will Fail

    Posted on May 24th, 2014 Jo 1 comment

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

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

    1.   The wrong people are being asked to shoulder responsibility

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

    2.   The right people are not in the room

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

    3.   The economists are still in the building

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

    4.   Unilateral action is frowned upon

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

    5.   Civil Society is hamstrung and tongue-tied

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

  • Positively Against Negative Campaigning

    Posted on May 24th, 2014 Jo 4 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    […]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ——-

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

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

    Have a nicer day,

    —–

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

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

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

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

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

    —–

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

    ——

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


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  • Tom Heap : Storage Sensible

    Posted on May 13th, 2014 Jo No comments

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

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

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


    “Costing the Earth”
    Radio 4
    13 May 2014

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

    “Energy Storage”

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

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

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

    “Duration: 30 minutes”

    “First broadcast: Tuesday 13 May 2014″

    [ Starting 01:13 ]

    [ Presenter ]

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

    [ Weatherman 1 ]

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

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

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

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

    [ Weatherman 2 ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Chris Goodall ]

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

    [ Dave Holmes ]

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

    [ David MacKay, Chief Scientific Advisor ]

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

    [ Chris Goodall ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Or even use electricity to create gas.

    Energy writer, Chris Goodall, lays out the challenge.

    [ Chris Goodall ]

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

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

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

    And therein lies this enormous challenge.

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Chris Goodall ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Chris Goodall ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Chris Goodall ]

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

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

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

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

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

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

    [ Dave Holmes ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Dave Holmes ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Dave Holmes ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Dave Holmes ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Dave Holmes ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Dave Holmes ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Dave Holmes ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Dave Holmes ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Dave Holmes ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Dave Holmes ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Dave Holmes ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Cosmin Laslau ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Cosmin Laslau ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Cosmin Laslau ]

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

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

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    Energy writer, Chris Goodall, again

    [ Chris Goodall ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

    How do you do that ?

    [ Chris Goodall ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Chris Goodall ]

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

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

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

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

    [ Graham Cooley ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Graham Cooley ]

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

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

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

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Graham Cooley ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

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

    [ Keith McGrane ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Now Stephen, you’re the geologist here…

    [ Stephen Aherne ]

    …that’s right…

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Stephen Aherne ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Stephen Aherne ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Keith McGrane ]

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

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Keith McGrane ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Stephen Aherne ]

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

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Keith McGrane ]

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

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

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

    So complementary, rather than competing ?

    [ Keith McGrane ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

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

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

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

    [ David MacKay ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ David MacKay ]

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

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

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ David MacKay ]

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

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

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ David MacKay ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ David MacKay ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ David MacKay ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ David MacKay ]

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

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

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ David MacKay ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Energy storage should have been the twin to renewable energy.

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

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

    [ Presenter ]

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

  • Christiana Figueres : Love Bug

    Posted on May 7th, 2014 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • All Kinds of Gas

    Posted on May 2nd, 2014 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • David MacKay : Heating London

    Posted on May 2nd, 2014 Jo No comments

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • David MacKay Minus Beard

    Posted on May 2nd, 2014 Jo No comments

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

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

    I buttonholed him.

    “Are you THE Jo Abbess ?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

  • Fiefdom of Information

    Posted on April 27th, 2014 Jo 1 comment

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


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

    28th April 2014

    Request to the Department of Energy and Climate Change

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

    Dear Madam / Sir,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Thank you for your attention to my request for information.

    Regards,

    jo.

  • Shell Pulls From Shale

    Posted on March 18th, 2014 Jo No comments

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


    Friday 14 March 2014


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

    […]

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

    From: Hugh

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

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

    Very confusing!

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

    From: Dave

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

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

    From: Chris

    Money printing provides liquidity – not capital.

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

    From: Dave

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

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

    From: Dave

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

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

    From: Jo

    Hi Hugh,

    For me there are two key points :-

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

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

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

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

    From: John

    Jo,

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

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

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


    15 March 2014


    From: Nick Grealy, nohotair.co.uk

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

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

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

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

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

    From: Jo

    Hi John,

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

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

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

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

    Don’t believe the growth hype !

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

    From: John

    Jo,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    From: Jo

    Hi John,

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

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

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

    Regards,

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

    From: John

    Gas demand is 730 TWh

    Max possible renewable gas is around 20 TWh

    So, the 710 TWh?

    By 2030, Qatar or Russia or Lancashire?

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

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

    From: Jo

    Hi John,

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

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

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

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

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

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

    From: John

    My figs based on an EU project Green Gas Grids.

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

    Reason is first one of efficiency or lack of it.

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

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

    Shale gas is long term low carbon option.

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

    From: Jo

    Hi John,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    From: John

    We all follow the subsidies.

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

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

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

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

    Shale gas is our only hope.

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

    Shale gas and shale gas tax is out only hope.

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

    From: Jo

    Hi John,

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

    a. Population density – political tendency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    From: John

    Let’s pick up this conversation in 2020!

  • Gas Policy : Conceptual Piracy ?

    Posted on March 17th, 2014 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • On Having to Start Somewhere

    Posted on March 15th, 2014 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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


    To: Jo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    From: Jo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  • Failing Narratives : Carbon Culprits

    Posted on March 14th, 2014 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Here’s some background :-

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

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

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

    Seriously – where the exoplanet are we at ?

  • The General Lightness of Carbon Pricing

    Posted on February 27th, 2014 Jo 1 comment

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

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

    During the proceedings, there were liberal doses of hints at that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is about to freeze the Carbon Price Floor – the central functioning carbon pricing policy in the UK (since the EU Emissions Trading Scheme “isn’t working”).

    All of the more expensive low carbon energy technologies rely on a progressively heavier price for carbon emissions to make their solutions more attractive.

    Where does this leave the prospects for Carbon Capture and Storage in the 2030s ? Initial technology-launching subsidies will have been dropped, and the Contracts for Difference will have been ground down into obscurity. So how will CCS keep afloat ? It’s always going to remain more expensive than other technology options to prevent atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions, so it needs some prop.

    What CCS needs is some Added Value. It will come partly from EOR – Enhanced Oil Recovery, as pumping carbon dioxide down depleting oil and gas fields will help stimulate a few percent of extra production.

    But what will really make the difference is using carbon dioxide to make new fuel. That’s the wonder of Renewable Gas – it will be able to provide a valued product for capturing carbon dioxide.

    This wasn’t talked about this morning. The paradigm is still “filter out the CO2 and flush it down a hole”. But it won’t stay that way forever. Sooner or later, somebody’s going to start mining carbon dioxide from CCS projects to make new chemicals and gas fuels. Then, who cares if there’s negative charging for emissions ? Or at what price ? The return on investment in carbon capture will simply bypass assumptions about needing to create a carbon market or set a carbon tax.

  • Gain in Transmission #2

    Posted on February 24th, 2014 Jo No comments

    Here is further email exchange with Professor Richard Sears, following on from a previous web log post.


    From: Richard A. Sears
    Date: 24 February 2014
    To: Jo Abbess
    Subject: Question from your TED talk

    Jo,

    I was looking back over older emails and saw that I had never responded to your note. It arrived as I was headed to MIT to teach for a week and then it got lost. Sorry about that.

    Some interesting questions. I don’t know anybody working specifically on wind power to gas options. At one time Shell had a project in Iceland using geothermal to make hydrogen. Don’t know what its status is but if you search on hydrogen and Iceland on the Shell website I’m sure there’s something. If the Germans have power to gas as a real policy option I’d poke around the web for information on who their research partners are for this.

    Here are a couple of high level thoughts. Not to discourage you because real progress comes from asking new questions, but there are some physical fundamentals that are important.

    Direct air capture of anything using current technology is prohibitively expensive to do at scale for energy. More energy will be expended in capture and synthesis than the fuels would yield.

    Gaseous fuels are problematic on their own. Gas doesn’t travel well and is difficult to contain at high energy densities as that means compressing or liquefying it. That doesn’t make anything impossible, but it raises many questions about infrastructure and energy balance. If we take the energy content of a barrel of oil as 1.0, then a barrel of liquefied natural gas is about 0.6, compressed natural gas which is typically at about 3600psi is around 0.3, and a barrel (as a measure of volume equal to 42 US gallons) of natural gas at room temperature and pressure is about 0.0015 (+/-). Also there’s a real challenge in storing and transporting gasses as fuel at scale, particularly motor fuel to replace gasoline and diesel.

    While there is some spare wind power potential that doesn’t get utilized because of how the grid must be managed, I expect it is a modest amount of energy compared to what we use today in liquid fuels. I think what that means is that while possible, it’s more likely to happen in niche local markets and applications rather than at national or global scales.

    If you haven’t seen it, a nice reference on the potential of various forms of sustainable energy is available free and online here. http://www.withouthotair.com/

    Hope some of this helps.

    Rich

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


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

    Dear Richard,

    Many thanks for getting back to me. Responses are nice – even if they
    are months late. As they say – better late than never, although with
    climate change, late action will definitely be unwise, according to an
    increasing number of people.

    I have indeed seen the website, and bought and spilled coffee on the
    book of Professor David MacKay’s “Sustainable Energy Without The Hot
    Air” project. It is legendary. However, I have checked and he has only
    covered alternative gas in a couple of paragraphs – in notes. By
    contrast, he spent a long chapter discussing how to filter uranium out
    of seawater and other nuclear pursuits.

    Yet as a colleague of mine, who knows David better than I do, said to
    me this morning, his fascination with nuclear power is rather naive,
    and his belief in the success of Generation III and Generation IV
    lacks evidence. Plus, if we get several large carbon dioxide
    sequestration projects working in the UK – Carbon Capture and Storage
    (CCS) – such as the Drax pipeline (which other companies will also
    join) and the Shell Peterhead demonstration, announced today, then we
    won’t need new nuclear power to meet our 4th Carbon Budget – and maybe
    not even the 5th, either (to be negotiated in 2016, I hear) :-

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

    We don’t need to bury this carbon, however; we just need to recycle
    it. And the number of ways to make Renewable Hydrogen, and
    energy-efficiently methanate carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide with
    hydrogen, is increasing. People are already making calculations on how
    much “curtailed” or spare wind power is likely to be available for
    making gas in 10 years’ time, and if solar power in the UK is
    cranked/ramped up, then there will be lots of juicy cost-free power
    ours for the taking – especially during summer nights.

    Direct Air Capture of carbon dioxide is a nonsensical proposition.
    Besides being wrong in terms of the arrow of entropy, it also has the
    knock-on effect of causing carbon dioxide to come back out of the
    ocean to re-equilibrate. I recently read a paper by climate scientists
    that estimated that whatever carbon dioxide you take out of the air,
    you will need to do almost all of it again.

    Instead of uranium, we should be harvesting carbon dioxide from the
    oceans, and using it to make gaseous and liquid fuels.

    Gaseous fuels and electricity complement each other very well –
    particularly in storage and grid balancing terms – there are many
    provisions for the twins of gas and power in standards, laws, policies
    and elsewhere. Regardless of the limitations of gas, there is a huge
    infrastructure already in place that can store, pipe and use it, plus
    it is multi-functional – you can make power, heat, other fuels and
    chemicals from gas. In addition, you can make gas from a range of
    resources and feedstocks and processing streams – the key quartet of
    chemical gas species keep turning up : hydrogen, methane, carbon
    monoxide and carbon dioxide – whether you are looking at the exhaust
    from combustion, Natural Gas, industrial furnace producer gas,
    biological decomposition, just about everywhere – the same four gases.

    Energy transition must include large amounts of renewable electricity
    – because wind and solar power are quick to build yet long nuclear
    power lead times might get extended in poor economic conditions. The
    sun does not always shine and the wind does not always blow (and the
    tide is not always in high flux). Since demand profiles will never be
    able to match supply profiles exactly, there will always be spare
    power capacity that grids cannot use. So Power to Gas becomes the
    optimal solution. At least until there are ways to produce Renewable
    Hydrogen at plants that use process heat from other parts of the
    Renewable Gas toolkit. So the aims are to recycle carbon dioxide from
    gas combustion to make more gas, and recycle gas production process
    heat to make hydrogen to use in the gas production process, and make
    the whole lot as thermally balanced as possible. Yes. We can do that.
    Lower the inputs of fresh carbon of any form, and lower the energy
    requirements to make manufactured gas.

    I met somebody working with Jacobs who was involved in the Carbon
    Recycling project in Iceland. Intriguing, but an order of magnitude
    smaller than I think is possible.

    ITM Power in the UK are doing a Hydrogen-to-gas-grid and methanation
    project in Germany with one of the regions. They have done several
    projects with Kiwa and Shell on gas options in Europe. I know of the
    existence of feasibility reports on the production of synthetic
    methane, but I have not had the opportunity to read them yet…

    I feel quite encouraged that Renewable Gas is already happening. It’s
    a bit patchy, but it’s inevitable, because the narrative of
    unconventional fossil fuels has many flaws. I have been looking at
    issues with reserves growth and unconventionals are not really
    commensurate with conventional resources. There may be a lot of shale
    gas in the ground, but getting it out could be a long process, so
    production volumes might never be very good. In the USA you’ve had
    lots of shale gas – but that’s only been supported by massive drilling
    programmes – is this sustainable ?

    BP have just finished building lots of dollars of kit at Whiting to
    process sour Natural Gas. If they had installed Renewable Gas kit
    instead of the usual acid gas and sulfur processing, they could have
    been preparing for the future. As I understand it, it is possible to
    methanate carbon dioxide without first removing it from the rest of
    the gas it comes in – so methanating sour gas to uprate it is a viable
    option as far as I can see. The hydrogen sulfide would still need to
    be washed out, but the carbon dioxide needn’t be wasted – it can be
    made part of the fuel. And when the sour gas eventually thins out,
    those now methanating sour gas can instead start manufacturing gas
    from low carbon emissions feedstocks and recycled carbon.

    I’m thinking very big.

    Regards,

    jo.

  • In Confab : Paul Elsner

    Posted on January 23rd, 2014 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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