Posted on April 8th, 2015 No comments
Hello, hello; what have we here then ? Royal Dutch Shell buying out BG Group (formerly known as British Gas). Is this the start of the great transition out of petroleum oil into gas fuels ?
Volatile crude petroleum oil commodity prices over the last decade have played some undoubted havoc with oil and gas company strategy. High crude prices have pushed the choice of refinery feedstocks towards cheap heavy and immature gunk; influenced decisions about the choices for new petrorefineries and caused ripples of panic amongst trade and transport chiefs : you can’t keep the engine of globalisation ticking over if the key fuel is getting considerably more expensive, and you can’t meet your carbon budgets without restricting supplies.
Low crude commodity prices have surely caused oil and gas corporation leaders to break out into the proverbial sweat. Heavy oil, deep oil, and complicated oil suddenly become unprofitable to mine, drill and pump. Because the economic balance of refinery shifts. Because low commodity prices must translate into low end user refined product prices.
There maybe isn’t an ideal commodity price for crude oil. All the while, as crude oil commodity prices jump around like a medieval flea, the price of Natural Gas, and the gassy “light ends” of slightly unconventional and deep crude oil, stay quite cheap to produce and cheap to use. It’s a shame that there are so many vehicles on the road/sea/rails that use liquid fuels…all this is very likely to change.
Shell appear to be consolidating their future gas business by buying out the competition. Hurrah for common sense ! The next stage of their evolution, after the transition of all oil applications to gas, will be to ramp up Renewable Gas production : low carbon gas supplies will decarbonise every part of the economy, from power generation, to transport, to heating, to industrial chemistry.
This is a viable low carbon solution – to accelerate the use of renewable electricity – wind power and solar principally – and at the same time, transition the oil and gas companies to become gas companies, and thence to Renewable Gas companies.Academic Freedom, Be Prepared, Big Picture, Carbon Commodities, Change Management, Corporate Pressure, Design Matters, Direction of Travel, Energy Change, Energy Crunch, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Extreme Energy, Feel Gooder, Fossilised Fuels, Fuel Poverty, Green Gas, Growth Paradigm, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Hydrogen Economy, Low Carbon Life, Major Shift, Marine Gas, Marvellous Wonderful, Methane Management, Money Sings, Natural Gas, No Blood For Oil, Oil Change, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Emissions, Peak Oil, Petrolheads, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Price Control, Realistic Models, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Gas, Renewable Resource, Resource Wards, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, Tarred Sands, Technofix, The Power of Intention, The Price of Gas, The Price of Oil, The Right Chemistry, Transport of Delight, Unconventional Foul, Unnatural Gas, Western Hedge, Wind of Fortune, Zero Net
Posted on March 24th, 2015 No comments
This evening I attended an interesting meeting hosted by the Energy Institute, and held at the Royal College of Nursing in Cavendish Square, London. The speaker for the event was Dr Scott Milne, of the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI), who introduced us in a “meet the public” way to the recent launch of two sample scenarios for the future of Britain’s energy : “Clockwork” and “Patchwork” from the ETI’s Energy System Modelling Environment (ESME).
What follows is me typing up my notes that I made this evening. It is not intended to be a literal or verbatim, word-for-word record of Dr Milne’s words, as I took the notes longhand and slowly. Where I have put things in square brackets ( [ ] ), they are my additions.
[ Before the talk, I chat with somebody whose name I didn’t catch, who in all honesty asked me whether I thought fusion nuclear energy would be a likely energy technology choice by 2050. ]
So, what is the ETI ? It’s a public-private partnership, aimed at de-risking various technologies and technology families. We receive funding from BP, Shell, EdF, Caterpillar, Rolls-Royce […] We have a large number of stakeholders who take the work we put out for tender to be done. We aim to build internally-consistent models – using “exogenous assumptions” [ externally-imposed ]. We have about 250 profiles in the model – costs are added in. The ESME modelling is policy-neutral – unless where we intervene to state otherwise – for example, to say no nuclear power, or Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) to be applied later rather than sooner. Our starting point is existing stocks of energy installations as of 2010, which are gradually retired out, and we are subject to supply chain constraints in replacing them. How quickly can we deploy new solutions ? We have a “spatial disaggregation” in the model – with 12 separate regions of the UK. We have offshore nodes, and storage points, and carbon dioxide capture and storage is pushed offshore. Our modelling is not as finely detailed as the National Grid’s power dispatch model. We have seasons, and five parts of a day – a model suitable for load balancing purposes. We assume a 1-in-20 risk of a cold snap – a “peak day” of consumption. There is a probabilistic element for each technology on cost, and the modelling is done using the Monte Carlo method (repeated random model runs). This helps us to identify which technologies are optimal. Our partners DECC (Her Majesty’s Government Department of Energy and Climate Change) and CCC (Committee on Climate Change) are users of the model, and the model provides an evidence base for them. The low carbon energy research models (ESME) are used by some academic groups. We came public with these for the first time this year, and we launched on 4th March 2015.
In the “Clockwork” scenario, transport continues to be liquid fuel options as we have today, and using carbon offsets from elsewhere in the energy system. There are a few things we need to believe as part of this scenario. We need to accept the “negative emissions” possibilities of Carbon Capture and Storage combined with biomass (Biomass+CCS) – this is still certainly open to question. By 2050 there should be ultra-low carbon vehicles. These two scenarios “Clockwork” and “Patchwork” are not extremes as in some modelling done elsewhere – they are more balanced between the two. The “Clockwork” scenario is not about decisions made at the household level – whereas “Patchwork” is – it involves engagement from householders, and includes influences and constraints besides decarbonisation – for example, the cost of energy and air quality. In the “Patchwork” scenario there is a limited role for biomass in space heating, and you see a greater push for low carbon transport. Plus, space heating is decarbonised in parallel [ partly through demand reduction ].
In “Patchwork” there is less central governance. You see experimentation in different regions, and only at the end see which technologies have been picked. There is a stronger burden on households in “Patchwork”, and more emphasis on renewable energy. Coal is switched off in both scenarios by 2030, and it is not replaced by coal-with-Carbon-Capture-and-Storage (Coal+CCS) but with Natural-Gas-with-Carbon-Capture-and-Storage (Gas+CCS). In the “Clockwork” scenario there is still a role for renewable energy, but not so significant. Hydrogen gas turbine generation takes over the “peaker plant” (on-the-spot generation at peak demand) role from Gas+CCS. The hydrogen comes from Biomass+CCS. There is large scale geological storage of hydrogen. In the “Patchwork” scenario, offshore wind plays a major role – the model assumes that the land available for onshore wind is capped (that’s a choice). Solar power is also a big factor in “Patchwork”, but still making a fairly modest contribution by 2050. Also, there is an assumption that biomass contributes directly for power generation. In the “Patchwork” scenario, solar power makes a major contribution to capacity (gigawatts) but less to generation (terawatt hours).
As regards space heating (the heating of the insides of buildings) : in the “Clockwork” scenario, heat pumps make a major contribution – and there are big step changes in the final decades compared to “Patchwork”. Gas boilers are being built for the 1-in-20 year cold snaps – but not for the home [ – for district heating ]. There is a high demand for heat in the “Clockwork” scenario – where householders are “comfort takers” and homes may be heated to 21 degrees Celsius. In the “Patchwork” scenario, people have more engagement with the management of energy, better at managing their use of energy at home, and so less heat is used. There is a strong role for retrofits [ for insulation for energy demand reduction ] behind the scenes. Population continues to grow and the number of individual households continues to grow.
As regards transport : Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGV) and Light Duty Vehicles (LDV) are important (although the graph only shows cars). In “Patchwork” there is a move towards urban living – and so people will be thinking more about how transport can be done – car pooling and car sharing. In “Clockwork”, we are seeing aspirations – people flash the cash – and pay more to do more. The Biomass+CCS carbon dioxide emissions offsets create more headroom for transport emissions in “Clockwork”. The model could explore lowering demand for transport – through a shift to gas from liquid fuels – fuel/gas hybrids actually [dual fuel]. There are implications for liquid fuel – significant in both cases. There are therefore implications for fuell stations – for example, if cars are coming to the forecourt less often for fuel because of vehicle fuel use efficiency. We need to maintain the liquid fuelling infrastructure – but we need electric vehicle charging and give hydrogen refuelling infrastructure as well. There is quite an overlap in investment. Even if we stop selling liquid fuel vehicles, they will stay on the road for some time – we assume 13 years.
In terms of what it means – in terms of cost compared to its fossil fuel “dark cousin” [ business as usual trajectory ] : “Patchwork” works out to be more expensive – these graphs show capex only [ capital expenditure on investment in assets and infrastructure ]. For “Patchwork” [ although capex is higher ], the resource cost is less [ owing to more renewable energy being sourced. ] These graphs give an idea of when money needs to be spent and how much – it’s not insignificant [ between 1.4 and 1.6 % of GDP ? ] To make the investments, buildings and space heating could be considered infrastructure [ and need central spending ? ] The costs of transport are heavier in “Patchwork”. Both have “negative emissions” (from Biomass+CCS). By having “negative emissions”, you are allowed to have some of these fossil fuel options. This is important as air travel and shipping will need fossil fuels. You cannot fly aeroplanes on hydrogen, for example. The outlook for industry takes a bit more explaining.
Taking action over the next decade is a no-regrets option. We need to replace energy installations – replacing them with low carbon options gives only a marginal extra cost. We lose very little by hedging – even if carbon action doesn’t take place. Developing the technologies enhances export capability – at least we will not be an importer. If we wait to implement low carbon technologies, we have less time for the transition. This model operates over a timescale of 35 years. Development of the technologies will involve some degree of redundancy [ not all developments will be useful going forward ], but we need to prove them up, cost them out. If we wait until it is clear we must act, we will have to jump to things that are not yet costed up. If there are no technological solutions worked out, we might have to slash energy demand – which would politically be very challenging – you can imagine how people would react to having a cap on the energy they are permitted to use at home. If we attempt to make an 80% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions later on, we will have higher cumulative [ overall ] emissions – and as a result we would need tougher carbon emissions cuts.
Things we have concluded from this modelling : we are not yet at a stage where we need to say definitively what needs to be used, for example, decide for nuclear power, CCS etc. Biomass+CCS is challenging – there are questions around the lifecycle carbon dioxide emissions. But if we don’t have it, it doubles the abatement cost. We have shown that a high level of intermittent renewable energy in the power sector is quite manageable – we can use the excess in renewable electricity generation for building up renewable heat – for example hydrogen electrolysis for hydrogen production [ “Power to Gas” or “WindGas” ] – which is not modelled. We hope these two scenarios can be a starting point.
[ Questions and Answers ]
[ Question from the floor ]
[ Answer from Dr Milne ] …For solar power we assumed the lowest cost profile. There are various studies for LCOE – Levelised Cost of Energy [ Levelised Cost of Electricity ] – they are not showing wider system integration costs – for example, the extra storage needed [ for excess generation that needs to be stored somehow for later use, when the sun has set ]. “Counterfactuals” – is this useful in this case or that case or … ? Model a whole range of scenarios around that.
[ Question from William Orchard ] Results all depend on assumptions in the models. How doees it treat waste fossil heat [ heat from burning fossil fuels for power generation at centralised power plants ] ? The European Union treats renewable heat dumped in the sea as renewable [ ? ] but considers waste heat in […] as non-renewable – the difference is significant. It also depends on your COPs [ coefficient of performance ] in district heating networks. Did you model nuclear reactor CHP [ combined heat and power ] ? What COPs did you use for the heat networks ? How did you treat biomass emissions ?
[ Answer from Dr Milne ] We don’t have to consider what the EU thinks. We do have an option to meet the RED targets [ Renewable Energy Directive ]. Waste heat from large scale power plants plays a huge role in our model – free heat. We build pipelines to link waste heat sources to networks. Question – how to build the heat network ? We need to justify building big pipelines to transport heat. [ Why not transport the heat in the form of gas ? That is, use the waste power plant heat to manufacture gas to distribute to local CHP schemes via a much smaller pipeline than a heat pipeline would need ? ] For Biomass CHP, we considered a range of scales. We gave it a 92% carbon credit. We also have biomass imports in the scenario – a 67% carbon credit. It’s a “pump”. Do we think we can ? We take an off-model view first of all and then apply it to the model.
[ Question from the floor ] This work is well overdue. Thank you for doing it. You say you will change from coal to gas. Why are you not considering more offshore wind – you can expect to bring on nuclear power more slowly ? I’m worried when you put in 60 more years of gas when you put Gas+CCS in. Have you considered fracking [ for shale gas ] ?
[ Answer from Dr Milne ] In the “Clockwork” scenario, it relies on [ strong early development in ] nuclear and CCS mostly – there is a stronger role for renewable energy in “Patchwork”. “Patchwork” is the more moderate speed [ of development of nuclear power and CCS ] as old capacity retires – this is why there is a role and space for other technologies. What the model wants is gas – but it’s not saying where that gas is coming from.
[ Question from the floor ] Have you put any cap on gas ?
[ Answer from Dr Milne ] The only new gas built is CCGT+CCS (Natural Gas-fired Combined Cycle Gas Turbine plus CCS). As you get more [ stringent carbon controls ] will need hydrogen turbines.
[ Question from the floor ] What are the key parameters that break the model ? That you can’t do without ?
[ Answer from Dr Milne ] Biomass+CCS for sure. If you make a lot of assumptions – such as no extra energy demand – then yeah, we’ll be fine. Otherwise, we need Biomass+CCS.
[ Question from the floor ] Where do you get your metrics from ? Isn’t District Heating less efficient than people say ? Isn’t there an anti-competition issue – as District Heating is a single source of supply ? And what about the parasitic loads ? And what happens if there’s not such a big demand for heat [ for example, due to high levels of building insulation ] ?
[ Answer from Dr Milne ] We used central projections from government – we test the cost of energy. Our members used to build some of this stuff. We replace data sets with studies – more independent sources. We have diversified out data set over time. The District Heating networks – it will need a different way of doing markets. It may not be policies that stop you… We assume that 90% of the housing stock remains – we see “difficult households” – not “low-hanging fruits” [ ripe for change ]. We envisage these will need complex packages – if you think it’s going to be received. We need to work this up more.
[ Question from the floor ] Have you calculated the carbon emissions ?
[ Answer from Dr Milne ] Zero or negative. The power sector is 100% de-carbonised by 2030. I can get the figures from our database – gCO2/kWh
[ Question from William Orchard ] MARKAL (previously favourite energy modelling tool) was not fit for purpose for modelling heat networks… MacKay…
[ Answer from Dr Milne ] MARKAL has been shelved, replaced by UK-TIMES…
[ Question from William Orchard ] …fundamentally has the same problem as MARKAL – uses the same algorithms. It wasn’t able to generate appropriate answers to the question of whether it was cost-effective to build heat networks…
[ Answer from Dr Milne ] We use the Biomass Value Chain Model (BVCM). This is new and includes hydrogen and CCS. We include the “tortuosity factor” (kinkiness) of pipeline layout. We model 9 types of buildings. With a hydrogen network – would you want to start small, for example with distributing cannisters… ?
[ Wrap up ]
Posted on March 23rd, 2015 No comments
At a presentation I recently gave at Birkbeck, University of London, I introduced the British situation as regards Natural Gas production, consumption and the consequent trend towards import dependency – within the context of import dependency for all energy use in the UK :-
There are several reasons why a continued dependency on imported Natural Gas is a risk to the British economy. First of all, it makes the economy dependent on the commodity price of Natural Gas. Should there continue to be a continued uptake in the use of Natural Gas in most regions of the world (and this is likely to be the case), this could put pressure on the commodity prices for Natural Gas, a significant factor in economic development that would therefore be out of the control of the British Government. Should the global commodity price for Natural Gas remain relatively low (and this is quite likely to be the case), this would benefit the UK economy. However, there is a risk that Natural Gas commodity prices could climb appreciably. If this were to happen, the UK economy would have to bear the brunt of higher energy prices, and the UK Government would have no control over the cost of one of the key energy flows into the economy.
Although the global supply of Natural Gas is likely to be healthy for the next 20 years, the price of Natural Gas could change in impactful ways. So – likelihood of scarcity ? Small. Negative economic impact outside of control ? Possibly.
The temptation would be to avoid major energy projects and just rely on Natural Gas by default. However, this carries a small but not negligible risk of supply constraints, and a larger risk of economic damage from uncontrollable prices.
So where is policy on this ?
I have been taking a little look at the output of the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) and their modelling tool ESME (Energy System Modelling Environment). They have recently launched their summary of their “Clockwork” and “Patchwork” scenarios. Their modelling could be expected to reflect UK Government energy policy fairly accurately, so it’s interesting to see the results :-
In the “Clockwork” scenario, there is a heavy emphasis on nuclear power – the total generating capacity is expected to be 40 gigawatts by 2050. What needs to be understood is that this requires at least 40 + 16 = 56GW of new build nuclear power plants, as the current 16GW in operation is all expected to need decommissioning in the 2020s. Considering the battle to sign off just 3.2GW for Hinkley Point C in England and another 3.2GW for Sizewell C in England, and a further 5.4GW at Wylfa, in Wales, this could be a significant challenge. The companies that are being asked to build and finance these new power plants may not be sufficiently stable to complete these mega-power projects. In addition, there are legal challenges to the state subsidies being offered for new nuclear power, and questions still not answered about the liabilities of the end of life of nuclear power plants, including the disposal of radioactive spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste.
So, even if policy does proceed like clockwork, there is a risk to this strategy – and that risk is the default dependency on Natural Gas, resorting to the use of Natural Gas, should the nuclear power plants not come online.
In the “Patchwork” scenario there is a massive dependence on offshore wind power, and although the support structures for this to happen are more secure than for new nuclear power, there is a danger that government subsidies for new nuclear power could crowd out investment in true low carbon renewable energy, including offshore wind power. Again, in this scenario of patchwork energy sector development, the default position would be Natural Gas, if the offshore wind power could not be brought online for reasons of initial financing or resistance from recalcitrant actors, such as disbelievers in renewable electricity that still occupy positions of influence. A continuing high dependence on Natural Gas would leave the country open to risks of economic and energy insecurity.
The truth is probably that neither “Clockwork” nor “Patchwork” reflect the future accurately, and I would suggest that since Natural Gas is likely to be the “fallback” position, this backstop needs supporting – with the development of Renewable Gas.
Posted on March 12th, 2015 No comments
The deadline races towards me, so I must edit like the wind on a blowy day, in a Scottish valley, in storm season.
In order for it not to be too long, my opus “Clean Burn : The Transition to Renewable Gas” has calved an iceberg of a technical essay, which will now live its own independent life. Engineers are probably the most likely people to be interested in reading this detailed exploration of the subject, and engineers are but a small subset of the population, and so the technical bits can be safely referenced, rather than included inline, in the main argument I have built.
Posted on March 12th, 2015 No comments
I have been writing a truly epic saga about a transition in the energy economy from fossil fuels to low carbon gas, and as I reached the final stages of editing, I discovered I’d written too much. Clearly, it is time to chop, trim and prune – but what to do with the extraneous material ? Publish it here, of course. First up, a fully linked bibliography that supports my work. The working title for the eventual work is “Clean Burn : The Transition to Renewable Gas”. I find that fairly encapsulatory, personally.
Posted on March 5th, 2015 No comments
There are many ways to make a living, but there appear to be zero careers in plainspeaking.
I mean, who could I justify working with, or for ? And would any of them be prepared to accept me speaking my mind ?
Much of what I’ve been saying over the last ten years has been along the lines of “that will never work”, but people generally don’t get consulted or hired for picking holes in an organisation’s pet projects or business models.
Could I imagine myself taking on a role in the British Government ? Short answer : no.
The slightly longer answer : The British Government Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) ? No, they’re still hooked on the failed technology of nuclear power, the stupendously expensive and out-of-reach Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), and the mythical beast of shale gas. OK, so they have a regular “coffee club” about Green Hydrogen (whatever that turns out to be according to their collective ruminations), and they’ve commissioned reports on synthetic methane, but I just couldn’t imagine they’re ever going to work up a serious plan on Renewable Gas. The British Government Department for Transport ? No, they still haven’t adopted a clear vision of the transition of the transport sector to low carbon energy. They’re still chipping away at things instead of coming up with a strategy.
Could I imagine myself taking on a role with a British oil and gas multinational ? Short and very terse and emphatic answer : no.
The extended answer : The oil and gas companies have had generous support and understanding from the world’s governments, and are respected and acclaimed. Yet they are in denial about “unburnable carbon” assets, and have dismissed the need for Energy Change that is the outcome of Peak Oil (whether on the supply or the demand side). Sneakily, they have also played both sides on Climate Change. Several major oil and gas companies have funded or in other ways supported Climate Change science denial. Additionally, the policy recommendations coming from the oil and gas companies are what I call a “delayer’s game”. For example, BP continues to recommend the adoption of a strong price on carbon, yet they know this would be politically unpalatable and take decades (if ever) to bring into effect. Shell continues to argue for extensive public subsidy support for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), knowing this would involve such huge sums of money, so it’s never going to happen, at least not for several decades. How on Earth could I work on any project with these corporations unless they adopt, from the centre, a genuine plan for transition out of fossil fuels ? I’m willing to accept that transition necessitates the continued use of Natural Gas and some petroleum for some decades, but BP and Royal Dutch Shell do need to have an actual plan for a transition to Renewable Gas and renewable power, otherwise I would be compromising everything I know by working with them.
Could I imagine myself taking on a role with a large engineering firm, such as Siemens, GE, or Alstom, taking part in a project on manufactured low carbon gas ? I suppose so. I mean, I’ve done an IT project with Siemens before. However, they would need to demonstrate that they are driving for a Renewable Gas transition before I could join a gas project with them. They might not want to be so bold and up-front about it, because they could risk the wrath of the oil and gas companies, whose business model would be destroyed by engineered gas and fuel solutions.
Could I imagine myself building fuel cells, or designing methanation catalysts, or improving hydrogen production, biocoke/biocoal manufacture or carbon dioxide capture from the oceans… with a university project ? Yes, but the research would need to be funded by companies (because all applied academic research is funded by companies) with a clear picture on Energy Change and their own published strategy on transition out of fossil fuels.
Could I imagine myself working on rolling out gas cars, buses and trucks ? Yes. The transition of the transport sector is the most difficult problem in Energy Change. However, apart from projects that are jumping straight to new vehicles running entirely on Hydrogen or Natural Gas, the good options for transition involve converting existing diesel engine vehicles to running mostly on Natural Gas, such as “dual fuel”, still needing roughly 20% of liquid diesel fuel for ignition purposes. So I would need to be involved with a project that aims to supply biodiesel, and have a plan to transition from Natural Gas to Renewable Gas.
Could I imagine myself working with a team that has extensive computing capabilities to model carbon dioxide recycling in power generation plant ? Yes.
Could I imagine myself modelling the use of hydrogen in petroleum refinery, and making technological recommendations for the oil and gas industry to manufacture Renewable Hydrogen ? Possibly. But I would need to be clear that I’m doing it to enable Energy Change, and not to prop up the fossil fuel paradigm – a game that is actually already bust and needs helping towards transition.
Could I imagine myself continuing to research the growth in Renewable Gas – both Renewable Hydrogen and Renewable Methane – in various countries and sectors ? Possibly. It’s my kind of fun, talking to engineers.
But whatever future work I consider myself doing, repeatedly I come up against this problem – whoever asked me to work with them would need to be aware that I do not tolerate non-solutions. I will continue to say what doesn’t work, and what cannot work.
If people want to pay me to tell them that what they’re doing isn’t working, and won’t work, then fine, I’ll take the role.
I’d much rather stay positive, though, and forge a role where I can promote the things that do work, can work and will work.
The project that I’m suitable for doesn’t exist yet, I feel. I’m probably going to continue in one way or another in research, and after that, since I cannot see a role that I could fit easily or ethically, I can see I’m going to have to write my own job description.Academic Freedom, Acid Ocean, Alchemical, Assets not Liabilities, Be Prepared, Big Picture, British Biogas, Carbon Capture, Carbon Commodities, Carbon Pricing, Carbon Taxatious, Change Management, Climate Change, Conflict of Interest, Corporate Pressure, Delay and Deny, Direction of Travel, Energy Autonomy, Energy Change, Energy Denial, Energy Revival, Engineering Marvel, Fossilised Fuels, Gas Storage, Green Gas, Green Investment, Green Power, Growth Paradigm, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Hydrogen Economy, Low Carbon Life, Methane Management, Modern Myths, National Energy, National Power, Natural Gas, No Blood For Oil, Non-Science, Nuclear Nuisance, Nuclear Shambles, Oil Change, Optimistic Generation, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Protest & Survive, Realistic Models, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Gas, Renewable Resource, Science Rules, Shale Game, Solution City, Stirring Stuff, Sustainable Deferment, Technofix, The Data, The Power of Intention, The Price of Gas, The Price of Oil, The Right Chemistry, Vote Loser, Wasted Resource, Zero Net
Posted on March 2nd, 2015 No comments
Last week, on the invitation of Dr Paul Elsner at Birkbeck, University of London, I gave a brief address of my research so far into Renewable Gas to this year’s Energy and Climate Change class, and asked and answered lots of questions before demolishing the mythical expert/student hierarchy paradigm – another incarnation of the “information deficit model”, perhaps – and proposed everyone work in breakout groups on how a transition from fossil fuel gas to Renewable Gas could be done.
A presentation of information was important before discussing strategies, as we had to cover ground from very disparate disciplines such as chemical process engineering, the petroleum industry, energy statistics, and energy technologies, to make sure everybody had a foundational framework. I tried to condense the engineering into just a few slides, following the general concept of UML – Unified Modelling Language – keeping everything really simple – especially as processing, or work flow (workflow) concepts can be hard to describe in words, so diagrams can really help get round the inevitable terminology confusions.
But before I dropped the class right into chemical engineering, I thought a good place to start would be in numbers, and in particular the relative contributions to energy in the United Kingdom from gas and electricity. Hence the first slide.
The first key point to notice is that most heat demand in the UK in winter is still provided by Natural Gas, whether Natural Gas in home boilers, or electricity generated using Natural Gas.
The second is that heat demand in energy terms is much larger than power demand in the cold months, and much larger than both power and heat demand in the warm months.
The third is that power demand when viewed on annual basis seems pretty regular (despite the finer grain view having issues with twice-daily peaks and weekday demand being much higher than weekends).
The reflection I gave was that it would make no sense to attempt to provide all that deep winter heat demand with electricity, as the UK would need an enormous amount of extra power generation, and in addition, much of this capacity would do nothing for most of the rest of the year.
The point I didn’t make was that nuclear power currently provides – according to official figures – less than 20% of UK electricity, however, this works out as only 7.48% of total UK primary energy demand (DUKES, 2014, Table 1.1.1, Mtoe basis). The contribution to total national primary energy demand from Natural Gas by contrast is 35.31%. The generation from nuclear power plants has been falling unevenly, and the plan to replace nuclear reactors that have reached their end of life is not going smoothly. The UK Government Department of Energy and Climate Change have been pushing for new nuclear power, and project that all heating will convert to electricity, and that nuclear power will provide for much of this (75 GW by 2050). But if their plan relies on nuclear power, and nuclear power development is unreliable, it is hard to imagine that it will succeed.Academic Freedom, Alchemical, Baseload is History, Be Prepared, Big Number, Big Picture, Big Society, British Biogas, Change Management, Climate Change, Dead End, Demoticratica, Dreamworld Economics, Efficiency is King, Electrificandum, Energy Autonomy, Energy Change, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Engineering Marvel, Fossilised Fuels, Green Gas, Green Investment, Green Power, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Methane Management, National Energy, National Power, Natural Gas, Nuclear Nuisance, Nuclear Shambles, Optimistic Generation, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Realistic Models, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Gas, Solution City, Technofix, The Data, The Power of Intention, The Right Chemistry
Posted on February 8th, 2015 No comments
In the last couple of years I have researched and written a book about the technologies and systems of Renewable Gas – gas energy fuels that are low in net carbon dioxide emissions. From what I have learned so far, it seems that another energy world is possible, and that the transition is already happening. The forces that are shaping this change are not just climate or environmental policy, or concerns about energy security. Renewable Gas is inevitable because of a range of geological, economic and industrial reasons.
I didn’t train as a chemist or chemical process engineer, and I haven’t had a background in the fossil fuel energy industry, so I’ve had to look at a number of very basic areas of engineering, for example, the distillation and fractionation of crude petroleum oil, petroleum refinery, gas processing, and the thermodynamics of gas chemistry in industrial-scale reactors. Why did I need to look at the fossil fuel industry and the petrochemical industry when I was researching Renewable Gas ? Because that’s where a lot of the change can come from. Renewable Gas is partly about biogas, but it’s also about industrial gas processes, and a lot of them are used in the petrorefinery and chemicals sectors.
In addition, I researched energy system technologies. Whilst assessing the potential for efficiency gains in energy systems through the use of Renewable Electricity and Renewable Gas, I rekindled an interest in fuel cells. For the first time in a long time, I began to want to build something – a solid oxide fuel cell which switches mode to an electrolysis unit that produces hydrogen from water. Whether I ever get to do that is still a question, but it shows how involved I’m feeling that I want to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty.
Even though I have covered a lot of ground, I feel I’m only just getting started, as there is a lot more that I need to research and document. At the same time, I feel that I don’t have enough data, and that it will be hard to get the data I need, partly because of proprietary issues, where energy and engineering companies are protective of developments, particularly as regards actual numbers. Merely being a university researcher is probably not going to be sufficient. I would probably need to be an official within a government agency, or an industry institute, in order to be permitted to reach in to more detail about the potential for Renewable Gas. But there are problems with these possible avenues.
You see, having done the research I have conducted so far, I am even more scornful of government energy policy than I was previously, especially because of industrial tampering. In addition, I am even more scathing about the energy industry “playing both sides” on climate change. Even though there are some smart and competent people in them, the governments do not appear to be intelligent enough to see through expensive diversions in technology or unworkable proposals for economic tweaking. These non-solutions are embraced and promoted by the energy industry, and make progress difficult. No, carbon dioxide emissions taxation or pricing, or a market in carbon, are not going to make the kind of changes we need on climate change; and in addition they are going to be extremely difficult and slow to implement. No, Carbon Capture and Storage, or CCS, is never going to become relatively affordable in any economic scenario. No, nuclear power is too cumbersome, slow and dodgy – a technical term – to ever make a genuine impact on the total of carbon emissons. No, it’s not energy users who need to reduce their consumption of energy, it’s the energy companies who need to reduce the levels of fossil fuels they utilise in the energy they sell. No, unconventional fossil fuels, such as shale gas, are not the answer to high emissions from coal. No, biofuels added to petrofuels for vehicles won’t stem total vehicle emissions without reducing fuel consumption and limiting the number of vehicles in use.
I think that the fossil fuel companies know these proposals cannot bring about significant change, which is precisely why they lobby for them. They used to deny climate change outright, because it spelled the end of their industry. Now they promote scepticism about the risks of climate change, whilst at the same time putting their name to things that can’t work to suppress major amounts of emissions. This is a delayer’s game.
Because I find the UK Government energy and climate policy ridiculous on many counts, I doubt they will ever want me to lead with Renewable Gas on one of their projects. And because I think the energy industry needs to accept and admit that they need to undergo a major change, and yet they spend most of their public relations euros telling the world they don’t need to, and that other people need to make change instead, I doubt the energy industry will ever invite me to consult with them on how to make the Energy Transition.
I suppose there is an outside chance that the major engineering firms might work with me, after all, I have been an engineer, and many of these companies are already working in the Renewable Gas field, although they’re normally “third party” players for the most part – providing engineering solutions to energy companies.
Because I’ve had to drag myself through the equivalent of a “petro degree”, learning about the geology and chemistry of oil and gas, I can see more clearly than before that the fossil fuel industry contains within it the seeds of positive change, with its use of technologies appropriate for manufacturing low carbon “surface gas”. I have learned that Renewable Gas would be a logical progression for the oil and gas industry, and also essential to rein in their own carbon emissions from processing cheaper crude oils. If they weren’t so busy telling governments how to tamper with energy markets, pushing the blame for emissions on others, and begging for subsidies for CCS projects, they could instead be planning for a future where they get to stay in business.
The oil and gas companies, especially the vertically integrated tranche, could become producers and retailers of low carbon gas, and take part in a programme for decentralised and efficient energy provision, and maintain their valued contribution to society. At the moment, however, they’re still stuck in the 20th Century.
I’m a positive person, so I’m not going to dwell too much on how stuck-in-the-fossilised-mud the governments and petroindustry are. What I’m aiming to do is start the conversation on how the development of Renewable Gas could displace dirty fossil fuels, and eventually replace the cleaner-but-still-fossil Natural Gas as well.Academic Freedom, Advertise Freely, Alchemical, Assets not Liabilities, Be Prepared, Behaviour Changeling, Big Number, Biofools, British Biogas, Burning Money, Carbon Capture, Carbon Commodities, Carbon Pricing, Carbon Taxatious, Change Management, Climate Change, Conflict of Interest, Corporate Pressure, Cost Effective, Dead End, Delay and Deny, Divest and Survive, Divide & Rule, Dreamworld Economics, Drive Train, Economic Implosion, Efficiency is King, Emissions Impossible, Energy Calculation, Energy Change, Energy Crunch, Energy Denial, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Engineering Marvel, Evil Opposition, Extreme Energy, Financiers of the Apocalypse, Fossilised Fuels, Freemarketeering, Gamechanger, Geogingerneering, Global Warming, Green Gas, Green Power, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Hydrogen Economy, Insulation, Low Carbon Life, Mad Mad World, Major Shift, Mass Propaganda, Methane Management, Money Sings, National Energy, National Power, Natural Gas, Nuclear Shambles, Oil Change, Optimistic Generation, Orwells, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Coal, Peak Emissions, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Price Control, Public Relations, Realistic Models, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Gas, Renewable Resource, Revolving Door, Shale Game, Solution City, Stirring Stuff, The Data, The Power of Intention, The Right Chemistry, The Science of Communitagion, The War on Error, Unnatural Gas, Unutterably Useless, Utter Futility, Vain Hope, Voluntary Behaviour Change, Vote Loser, Western Hedge
Posted on November 23rd, 2014 2 comments
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.Academic Freedom, Alchemical, Assets not Liabilities, Bait & Switch, British Biogas, Change Management, Climate Change, Delay and Deny, Direction of Travel, Energy Change, Energy Revival, Fossilised Fuels, Gas Storage, Green Gas, Green Investment, Green Power, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Hydrogen Economy, Low Carbon Life, Media, Modern Myths, Natural Gas, Orwells, Protest & Survive, Pure Hollywood, Realistic Models, Renewable Gas, Renewable Resource, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, Stirring Stuff, Sustainable Deferment, Technofix, The Myth of Innovation, The Power of Intention, The Right Chemistry, The War on Error, Wind of Fortune, Zero Net
Posted on November 14th, 2014 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…]Academic Freedom, Big Picture, Big Society, Carbon Capture, Carbon Pricing, Climate Change, Coal Hell, Emissions Impossible, Freemarketeering, Gamechanger, Global Warming, Green Gas, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Natural Gas, Oil Change, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Coal, Peak Emissions, Peak Energy, Peak Natural Gas, Peak Oil, Price Control, Realistic Models, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Gas, Renewable Resource, Resource Wards, Shale Game, The Price of Gas, The Price of Oil, Unnatural Gas, Western Hedge, Wind of Fortune
Posted on November 12th, 2014 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…]Academic Freedom, Advancing Africa, Assets not Liabilities, Big Picture, Change Management, China Syndrome, Climate Change, Coal Hell, Deal Breakers, Design Matters, Direction of Travel, Emissions Impossible, Energy Change, Energy Revival, Fossilised Fuels, Green Gas, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Marvellous Wonderful, Methane Management, Natural Gas, Nudge & Budge, Optimistic Generation, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Coal, Peak Emissions, Peak Energy, Peak Natural Gas, Price Control, Realistic Models, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Gas, Science Rules, Shale Game, Solution City, The Data, The Power of Intention, The Price of Gas, The Price of Oil, The Right Chemistry, The War on Error, Unconventional Foul, Unnatural Gas
Posted on November 9th, 2014 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 :-
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
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Posted on November 2nd, 2014 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.
Posted on October 25th, 2014 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.Acid Ocean, Animal Kingdoom, Babykillers, Behaviour Changeling, Big Picture, Big Society, Carbon Capture, Carbon Commodities, Carbon Pricing, Carbon Rationing, Carbon Taxatious, Change Management, Climate Change, Climate Chaos, Climate Damages, Coal Hell, Corporate Pressure, Demoticratica, Disturbing Trends, Divide & Rule, Emissions Impossible, Energy Autonomy, Energy Crunch, Energy Denial, Energy Disenfranchisement, Energy Insecurity, Engineering Marvel, Fossilised Fuels, Freshwater Stress, Gamechanger, Global Heating, Global Singeing, Global Warming, Green Gas, Green Power, Human Nurture, Hydrogen Economy, Landslide, Mad Mad World, Major Shift, Mass Propaganda, Media, Meltdown, Oil Change, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Coal, Peak Emissions, Peak Energy, Peak Natural Gas, Peak Oil, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Public Relations, Pure Hollywood, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Gas, Resource Curse, Screaming Panic, Social Capital, Social Change, Social Chaos, Social Democracy, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, Stirring Stuff, The Science of Communitagion, Vote Loser, Wind of Fortune, Zero Net
Posted on October 22nd, 2014 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. ]
Posted on June 4th, 2014 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.
Ms J. Abbess MSc
Posted on June 4th, 2014 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.
Posted on May 28th, 2014 2 comments
Information Rights Unit
Department for Business, Innovation & Skills
1 Victoria Street
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.
Posted on May 24th, 2014 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.Academic Freedom, Advancing Africa, Alchemical, Assets not Liabilities, Behaviour Changeling, Big Picture, Big Society, Carbon Commodities, Carbon Pricing, Carbon Taxatious, Change Management, Climate Change, Climate Chaos, Coal Hell, Conflict of Interest, Contraction & Convergence, Corporate Pressure, Dead End, Deal Breakers, Demoticratica, Design Matters, Direction of Travel, Divide & Rule, Dreamworld Economics, Emissions Impossible, Energy Change, Energy Crunch, Energy Denial, Energy Disenfranchisement, Engineering Marvel, Evil Opposition, Extreme Weather, Feed the World, Foreign Interference, Foreign Investment, Fossilised Fuels, Freemarketeering, Gamechanger, Geogingerneering, Global Singeing, Green Gas, Green Investment, Green Power, Human Nurture, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Low Carbon Life, Mad Mad World, Major Shift, Money Sings, National Energy, National Power, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Emissions, Petrolheads, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Protest & Survive, Realistic Models, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Gas, Revolving Door, Social Capital, Social Change, Social Chaos, Social Democracy, Solution City, Stirring Stuff, Technofix, The Power of Intention, The Science of Communitagion, The War on Error, Ungreen Development, Unutterably Useless, Utter Futility, Vain Hope, Western Hedge, Zero Net
Posted on May 24th, 2014 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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Posted on May 13th, 2014 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”
13 May 2014
“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 ]
[ 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.
Posted on May 7th, 2014 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 ?Artistic Licence, Babykillers, Be Prepared, Behaviour Changeling, Big Number, Big Picture, Big Society, Burning Money, Carbon Army, Carbon Commodities, Change Management, Climate Change, Climate Chaos, Climate Damages, Conflict of Interest, Corporate Pressure, Cost Effective, Demoticratica, Direction of Travel, Dreamworld Economics, Eating & Drinking, Economic Implosion, Efficiency is King, Emissions Impossible, Energy Change, Energy Crunch, Energy Denial, Energy Disenfranchisement, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Extreme Energy, Faithful God, Feel Gooder, Financiers of the Apocalypse, Fossilised Fuels, Gamechanger, Global Heating, Global Singeing, Global Warming, Green Gas, Green Investment, Green Power, Growth Paradigm, Human Nurture, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Incalculable Disaster, Insulation, Low Carbon Life, Major Shift, Mass Propaganda, Money Sings, National Energy, National Power, No Pressure, Not In My Name, Nudge & Budge, Optimistic Generation, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Emissions, Protest & Survive, Public Relations, Pure Hollywood, Renewable Gas, Social Capital, Social Change, Social Democracy, Stirring Stuff, The Power of Intention, The Science of Communitagion, Voluntary Behaviour Change
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.Academic Freedom, Alchemical, Assets not Liabilities, Baseload is History, Be Prepared, Big Picture, Carbon Recycling, Change Management, Corporate Pressure, Demoticratica, Design Matters, Direction of Travel, Economic Implosion, Energy Autonomy, Energy Calculation, Energy Change, Energy Insecurity, Engineering Marvel, Environmental Howzat, Extreme Energy, Fossilised Fuels, Freemarketeering, Fuel Poverty, Gamechanger, Gas Storage, Green Gas, Green Investment, Green Power, Major Shift, National Power, Optimistic Generation, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Natural Gas, Petrolheads, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Protest & Survive, Realistic Models, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Gas, Renewable Resource, Shale Game, Social Democracy, Solution City, Technofix, Technological Sideshow, The Power of Intention, The Right Chemistry, The War on Error, Unconventional Foul, Unnatural Gas, Western Hedge, Wind of Fortune
I took some notes from remarks made by Professor David MacKay, the UK Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, yesterday, 1st May 2014, at an event entitled “How Will We Heat London ?”, held by Max Fordhams as part of the Green Sky Thinking, Open City week. I don’t claim to have recorded his words perfectly, but I hope I’ve captured the gist.
[David MacKay] : [Agreeing with others on the panel – energy] demand reduction is really important. [We have to compensate for the] “rebound effect”, though [where people start spending money on new energy services if they reduce their demand for their current energy services].
SAP is an inaccurate tool and not suitable for the uses we put it too :-
Things seem to be under-performing [for example, Combined Heat and Power and District Heating schemes]. It would be great to have data. A need for engineering expertise to get in.
I’m not a Chartered Engineer, but I’m able to talk to engineers. I know a kilowatt from a kilowatt hour [ (Laughter from the room) ]. We’ve [squeezed] a number of engineers into DECC [the Department of Energy and Climate Change].
I’m an advocate of Heat Pumps, but the data [we have received from demonstration projects] didn’t look very good. We hired two engineers and asked them to do the forensic analysis. The heat pumps were fine, but the systems were being wrongly installed or used.
Now we have a Heat Network team in DECC – led by an engineer. We’ve published a Heat Strategy. I got to write the first three pages and included an exergy graph.
[I say to colleagues] please don’t confuse electricity with energy – heat is different. We need not just a green fluffy solution, not just roll out CHP [Combined Heat and Power] [without guidance on design and operation].
Sources of optimism ? Hopefully some of the examples will be available – but they’re not in the shop at the moment.
For example, the SunUp Heat Battery – works by having a series of chambers of Phase Change Materials, about the size of a fridge that you would use to store heat, made by electricity during the day, for use at night, and meet the demand of one home. [Comment from Paul Clegg, Senior Partner at Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios : I first heard about Phase Change Materials back in the 1940s ? 1950s ? And nothing’s come of it yet. ] Why is that a good idea ? Well, if you have a heat pump and a good control system, you can use electricity when it’s cheapest… This is being trialled in 10 homes.
Micro-CHP – [of those already trialled] definitely some are hopeless, with low temperature and low electricity production they are just glorified boilers with a figleaf of power.
Maybe Fuel Cells are going to deliver – power at 50% efficiency [of conversion] – maybe we’ll see a Fuel Cell Micro-Combined Heat and Power unit ?
Maybe there will be hybrid systems – like the combination of a heat pump and a gas boiler – with suitable controls could lop off peaks of demand (both in power and gas).
We have designed the 2050 Pathways Calculator as a tool in DECC. It was to see how to meet the Carbon Budget. You can use it as an energy security calculator if you want. We have helped China, Korea and others to write their own calculators.
A lot of people think CHP is green and fluffy as it is decentralised, but if you’re using Natural Gas, that’s still a Fossil Fuel. If you want to run CHP on biomass, you will need laaaaaarge amounts of land. You can’t make it all add up with CHP. You would need many Wales’-worth of bioenergy or similar ways to make it work.
Maybe we should carry on using boilers and power with low carbon gas – perhaps with electrolysis [A “yay !” from the audience. Well, me, actually]. Hydrogen – the the 2050 Calculator there is no way to put it back into the beginning of the diagram – but it could provide low carbon heat, industry and transport. At the moment we can only put Hydrogen into Transport [in the 2050 Calculator. If we had staff in DECC to do that… It’s Open Source, so if any of you would like to volunteer…
Plan A of DECC was to convert the UK to using lots of electricity [from nuclear power and other low carbon technologies, to move to a low carbon economy], using heat pumps at the consumer end, but there’s a problem in winter [Bill Watts of Max Fordham had already shown a National Grid or Ofgem chart of electricity demand and gas demand over the year, day by day. Electricity demand (in blue) fluctuates a little, but it pretty regular over the year. Gas demand (in red) however, fluctuates a lot, and is perhaps 6 to 10 times larger in winter than in summer.]
If [you abandon Plan A – “electrification of everything”] and do it the other way, you will need a large amount of Hydrogen, and a large Hydrogen store. Electrolysers are expensive, but we are doing/have done a feasibility study with ITM Power – to show the cost of electrolysers versus the cost of your wind turbines [My comment : but you’re going to need your wind turbines to run your electrolysers with their “spare” or “curtailed” kilowatt hours.]
[David Mackay, in questions from the floor] We can glue together [some elements]. Maybe the coming smart controls will help…can help save a load of energy. PassivSystems – control such things as your return temperature [in your Communal or District Heating]…instead of suing your heat provider [a reference to James Gallagher who has problems with his communal heating system at Parkside SE10], maybe you could use smart controls…
[Question] Isn’t using smart controls like putting a Pirelli tyre on a Ford Cortina ? Legacy of poor CHP/DH systems…
[David MacKay in response to the question of insulation] If insulation were enormously expensve, we wouldn’t have to be so enthusastic about it…We need a well-targeted research programme looking at deep retrofitting, instead of letting it all [heat] out.
[Adrian Gault, Committee on Climate Change] We need an effective Government programme to deliver that. Don’t have it in the Green Deal. We did have it [in the previous programmes of CERT and CESP], but since they were cancelled in favour of the Green Deal, it’s gone off a cliff [levels of insulation installations]. We would like to see an initiative on low cost insulation expanded. The Green Deal is not producing a response.
[Bill Watts, Max Fordham] Agree that energy efficiency won’t run on its own. But it’s difficult to do. Not talking about automatons/automation. Need a lot of pressure on this.
[Adrian Gault] Maybe a street-by-street approach…
[Michael Trousdell, Arup] Maybe a rule like you can’t sell a house unless you’ve had the insulation done…
[Peter Clegg] … We can do heat recovery – scavenging the heat from power stations, but we must also de-carbonise the energy supply – this is a key part of the jigsaw.Academic Freedom, Alchemical, Artistic Licence, Baseload is History, Be Prepared, Behaviour Changeling, Big Number, Big Picture, Big Society, Bioeffigy, Biofools, Biomess, British Biogas, Burning Money, Carbon Army, Change Management, Climate Change, Cool Poverty, Cost Effective, Deal Breakers, Design Matters, Efficiency is King, Electrificandum, Emissions Impossible, Energy Change, Energy Insecurity, Fossilised Fuels, Fuel Poverty, Gamechanger, Global Heating, Green Gas, Green Power, Heatwave, Human Nurture, Hydrogen Economy, Insulation, Major Shift, National Energy, Nudge & Budge, Optimistic Generation, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peak Emissions, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Realistic Models, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Gas, Renewable Resource, Social Capital, Solution City, Technofix, The Data, The Power of Intention, The Right Chemistry, Voluntary Behaviour Change, Wasted Resource, Wind of Fortune
“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.