Energy Change for Climate Control
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  • Energy Security, National Security #2

    Posted on November 24th, 2015 Jo No comments

    The UK Government’s Security Review (SDSR), published 23rd November 2015, regrettably shows traces of propaganda not supported by current data.

    For example, the report states in Section 3.40 that : “…measures to protect and diversify sources of [energy] supply will become increasingly important, including the new Southern Corridor pipeline, US liquid natural gas (LNG) exports, further supplies of Australian LNG, and increased supply from Norway and North Africa.”

    I have already addressed my recommendation that the writers of this report should be more careful to distinguish between Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) which is a methane-rich product that can substitute for Natural Gas; and Natural Gas Liquids (NGLs) which is a methane-poor product that cannot substitute for Natural Gas.

    However, assuming that the writers of the report are talking about cryogenically stored and transported Natural Gas-sourced energy gases, there is a problem in assuming that the United States will be exporting any large amounts of LNG to Europe any time soon. In fact, there are several problems.

    Just because the business and political press have been touting the exciting prospect of US LNG exports, doesn’t mean that the data backs up this meme.

    First of all, although American Natural Gas production (gross withdrawals from oil and gas wells) continues to grow at a rate that appears unaffected by low Natural Gas prices, the production of shale gas appears to have plateau’d, which might well be related to Natural Gas prices.

    Secondly, although exports of Natural Gas as a whole and exports of Natural Gas by pipeline remain healthy, LNG exports have fallen since the heady days of 2010-2011.

    Next, although the oil and gas industry proposed lots of LNG export terminals, only a handful are being constructed, and there are already predictions that they will run under-capacity, or won’t get completed.

    And further, as regards potential future LNG customers, although China is rejecting LNG imports for a variety of reasons, mostly to do with falling economic growth rates, none of that LNG currently comes from the United States. And China is planning to develop its own onshore Natural Gas and will take LNG from the Australia/Indonesia region.

    The bulk of US LNG exports go to Taiwan and Japan, and Japan is unlikely to restart many nuclear power plants, so Japan will continue to need this gas.

    On top of all this, the United States is a very minor LNG exporter, so major change should be considered unlikely in the near term.

    And it any LNG is heading for Europe, it will probably end up in France, perhaps because they need a better backup plan for their turbulent nuclear power plants.

    All of which adds up to a puzzled look on my face. How can the British Government reasonably expect the commencement of significant quantities of American LNG exports to arrive in the UK ? The only reason they believe this is because there has been American propaganda, promulgated through media of all kinds, for the last five or so years, to convince the world that the USA can achieve greater energy independence through the “explosion” in shale gas production.

    It’s a story told by many successive US Governments – that the US can achieve greater energy independence, but the reality is very, very different.

    The UK Government should not believe any narrative of this nature, in my view, nor include it in national security analyses.

    …to be continued…

  • Nobel Chutzpah Prize 2015

    Posted on July 14th, 2015 Jo 2 comments

    The problem with climate change “deniers” and low carbon energy “sceptics” is that they cannot read.

    Here’s Jo Nova, claiming that the United Nations and the World Bank are demanding $89 trillion “to fix climate”.

    She writes, “The ambit claims know no bounds. Who else would ask for $89,000,000,000,000? If the evil “more developed” nations pay for their carbon sins, the bill for those 1.3 billion people works out at $70,000 per person by 2030 (babies included).”

    A simple little diagram from the actual report and a little text, shows she is entirely wrong :-

    From Section 2.1 “Infrastructure investment and global growth” :-

    “The global economy will require substantial investments in infrastructure as the population and the middle class grow. An estimated US$89 trillion of infrastructure investment will be required through 2030, based on data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and analysis for the Commission (see Figure 1). This is chiefly investment in energy and cities. This estimate for the required investment is before accounting for actions to combat climate change.”

    That’s before accounting for actions to combat climate change, Ms Nova. Before. I know it’s probably clanging against your internal cognitive fences, but the fact is, the world needs to spend a heap of capital in the next 20 to 30 years reviving, replacing and renewing energy systems infrastructure. That spending has to happen regardless of whether it’s low carbon spending.

    And let’s read the note on Figure 1 more carefully :-


    So, Jo Nova, the world will actually be better off if it decides to make all new energy expenditure low carbon.

    Jo Nova, when will you be updating your web post ?

  • DECC Dungeons and Dragnets

    Posted on July 14th, 2015 Jo No comments

    Out of the blue, I got an invitation to a meeting in Whitehall.

    I was to join industrial developers and academic researchers at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in a meeting of the “Green Hydrogen Standard Working Group”.

    The date was 12th June 2015. The weather was sunny and hot and merited a fine Italian lemonade, fizzing with carbon dioxide. The venue was an air-conditioned grey bunker, but it wasn’t an unfriendly dungeon, particularly as I already knew about half the people in the room.

    The subject of the get-together was Green Hydrogen, and the work of the group is to formulate a policy for a Green Hydrogen standard, navigating a number of issues, including the intersection with other policy, and drawing in a very wide range of chemical engineers in the private sector.

    My reputation for not putting up with any piffle clearly preceded me, as somebody at the meeting said he expected I would be quite critical. I said that I would not be saying anything, but that I would be listening carefully. Having said I wouldn’t speak, I must admit I laughed at all the right places in the discussion, and wrote copious notes, and participated frequently in the way of non-verbal communication, so as usual, I was very present. At the end I was asked for my opinion about the group’s work and I was politely congratulational on progress.

    So, good. I behaved myself. And I got invited back for the next meeting. But what was it all about ?

    Most of what it is necessary to communicate is that at the current time, most hydrogen production is either accidental output from the chemical industry, or made from fossil fuels – the main two being coal and Natural Gas.

    Hydrogen is used extensively in the petroleum refinery industry, but there are bold plans to bring hydrogen to transport mobility through a variety of applications, for example, hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles.

    Clearly, the Green Hydrogen standard has to be such that it lowers the bar on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions – and it could turn out that the consensus converges on any technologies that have a net CO2 emissions profile lower than steam methane reforming (SMR), or the steam reforming of methane (SRM), of Natural Gas.

    [ It’s at this very moment that I need to point out the “acronym conflict” in the use of “SMR” – which is confusingly being also used for “Small Modular Reactors” of the nuclear fission kind. In the context of what I am writing here, though, it is used in the context of turning methane into syngas – a product high in hydrogen content. ]

    Some numbers about Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) used in the manufacture of hydrogen were presented in the meeting, including the impact this would have on CO2 emissions, and these were very intriguing.

    I had some good and useful conversations with people before and after the meeting, and left thinking that this process is going to be very useful to engage with – a kind of dragnet pulling key players into low carbon gas production.

    Here follow my notes from the meeting. They are, of course, not to be taken verbatim. I have permission to recount aspects of the discussion, in gist, as it was an industrial liaison group, not an internal DECC meeting. However, I should not say who said what, or which companies or organisations they are working with or for.

    Click to Read More !

  • Nuclear Power Is Not An Energy Policy

    Posted on June 23rd, 2015 Jo No comments

    The British Government do not have an energy policy. They may think they have one, and they may regularly tell us that they have one, but in reality, they don’t. There are a number of elements of regulatory work and market intervention that they are engaged with, but none of these by itself is significant enough to count as a policy for energy. Moreover, all of these elements taken together do not add up to energy security, energy efficiency, decarbonisation and affordable energy.

    What it takes to have an energy policy is a clear understanding of what is a realistic strategy for reinvestment in energy after the dry years of privatisation, and a focus on energy efficiency, and getting sufficient low carbon energy built to meet the Carbon Budget on time. Current British Government ambitions on energy are not realistic, will not attract sufficient investment, will not promote increased energy efficiency and will not achieve the right scale and speed of decarbonisation.

    I’m going to break down my critique into a series of small chunks. The first one is a quick look at the numbers and outcomes arising from the British Government’s obsessive promotion of nuclear power, a fantasy science fiction that is out of reach, not least because the industry is dog-tired and motheaten.

    Click to Read More !

  • Amber Rudd : First Skirmish

    Posted on May 29th, 2015 Jo No comments

    As if to provide proof for the sneaking suspicion that Great Britain is run by the wealthy, rather than by the people, and that energy policy is decided by a close-knit circle of privileged dynasties, up bubbles Amber Rudd MP’s first whirl of skirmish as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change : her brother Roland is chairperson of a lobbying firm, Finsbury, which is seeking to get state approval for a controversial gas storage scheme at Preesall, near Fleetwood, on behalf of the developers, Halite Energy of Preston, Lancashire.

    Whilst some claim there is a starkly obvious conflict of interest for Rudd to take part in the decision-making process, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) could have denied it, but have instead confirmed that the potential reversal of a 2013 decision will be made, not by Rudd, but by Lord Bourne.

    New gas storage in the United Kingdom is a crucial piece of the energy infrastructure provision, as recognised by successive governments. Developments have been ongoing, such as the opening of the Holford facility at Byley in Cheshire. Besides new gas storage, there are anticipated improvements for interconnectors with mainland Europe. These are needed for raising the volume of Natural Gas available to the British market, and for optimising Natural Gas flows and sales in the European regional context – a part of the EC’s “Energy Union”.

    An underlying issue not much aired is that increased gas infrastructure is necessary not just to improve competition in the energy markets – it is also to compensate for Peak Natural Gas in the North Sea – something many commentators regularly strive to deny. The new Conservative Government policy on energy is not fit to meet this challenge. The new Secretary of State has gone public about the UK Government’s continued commitment to the exploitation of shale gas – a resource that even her own experts can tell her is unlikely to produce more than a footnote to annual gas supplies for several decades. In addition, should David Cameron be forced to usher in a Referendum on Europe, and the voters petulantly pull out of the Europe project, Britain’s control over Natural Gas imports is likely to suffer, either because of the failure of the “Energy Union” in markets and infrastructure, or because of cost perturbations.

    Amber Rudd MP is sitting on a mountain of trouble, undergirded by energy policy vapourware : the promotion of shale gas is not going to solve Britain’s gas import surge; the devotion to new nuclear power is not going to bring new atomic electrons to the grid for decades, and the UK Continental Shelf is going to be expensive for the Treasury to incentivise to mine. What Amber needs is a proper energy policy, based on focused support for low carbon technologies, such as wind power, solar power and Renewable Gas to back up renewable electricity when the sun is not shining and wind is not blowing.

  • Renewable Gas : A Presentation #2

    Posted on March 6th, 2015 Jo No comments

    So, this is the second slide from my presentation at Birkbeck, University of London, last week.

    When making an argument, it is best to start from consensus and well-accredited data, so I started with government analysis of the energy sector of the economy in the United Kingdom. Production of Natural Gas in the UK is declining, and imports are rising.

    I did not go into much detail about this chart, but there is a wealth of analysis out there that I would recommend people check out.

    Despite continued investment in oil and gas, North Sea production is declining, and it is generally accepted that this basin or province as a whole is depleting – that is – “running out”.

    Here, for example, is more DECC data. The Summary of UK Estimated Remaining Recoverable Hydrocarbon Resources, published in 2014, had these numbers for UK Oil and Gas Reserves :-

    billion barrels of oil equivalentLowerCentralUpper
    Oil and Gas Reserves4.58.212.1
    Potential Additional Resources1.43.46.4
    Undiscovered Resources2.16.19.2

    The summary concluded with the estimate of remaining recoverable hydrocarbons from the UK Continental Shelf (offshore) resources would be between 11.1 and 21 billion barrels of oil equivalent (bboe).

    Other data in the report showed estimates of cumuluative and annual oil production :-

    billion barrels of oil equivalentCumulative productionAnnual production
    To date to end 201241.30.6 (in 2012)
    To date to end 201241.80.5 (in 2013)
    Additional production 2013 to 20307.00.44 (average 2014 to 2030)
    Additional production 2013 to 20409.10.21 (average 2031 to 2040)
    Additional production 2013 to 205010.40.13 (average 2041 to 2050)

    Another source of estimates on remaining oil and gas resources, reserves and yet-to-find potential is from the Wood Review of 2014 :-

    billion barrels of oil equivalentLow caseMid-caseHigh case
    DECC reference122235
    Wood Review1224

    So it’s clear that British oil and gas production is in decline, and that also, reserves and resources to exploit are depleting. The Wood Review made several recommendations to pump up production, and maximise the total recoverable quantities. Some interpreted this as an indication that good times were ahead. However, increased production in the near future is only going to deplete these resources faster.

    OK, so the UK is finding the North Sea running dry, but what about other countries ? This from the BP Statistical Review of Energy, 2014 :-

    Oil – proved reserves
    Thousand million barrels

    At end 1993

    At end 2003

    At end 2012
    United Kingdom4.54.33.0

    Natural gas – Proved Reserves
    Trillion cubic metres

    At end 1993

    At end 2003

    At end 2012
    United Kingdom0.60.90.2

    Oil and gas chief executives may be in denial about a peak in global crude oil production, but they don’t challenge geology on the North Sea. Here’s what BP’s CEO Bob Dudley said on 17th February 2015, during a presentation of the BP Energy Outlook 2035 :-

    “The North sea is a very mature oil and gas province and it will inevitably go through a decline. It peaked in 1999 at around 2.9 millions barrels per day and our projections are that it will be half a million barrels in 2035″.

    That’s “inevitably” regardless of the application of innovation and new technology. New kit might bring on production sooner, but won’t replenish the final count of reserves to exploit.

    So what are the likely dates for Peak Oil and Peak Natural Gas production in the North Sea bordering countries ?

    Norway : by 2030.

    The Netherlands : peaked already. Due to become a net importer of Natural Gas by 2025.

    Denmark : net importer of oil and gas by 2030.

  • Zero Careers In Plainspeaking

    Posted on March 5th, 2015 Jo 1 comment

    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.

  • Renewable Gas : A Presentation #1

    Posted on March 2nd, 2015 Jo 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.

  • Only Just Getting Started

    Posted on February 8th, 2015 Jo 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.

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  • UKERC : Gas by Design

    Posted on November 12th, 2014 Jo No comments

    Today I attended a meeting of minds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    [Point from the floor] This assumes logical behaviour…

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

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

    [to be continued…]

  • On Not Setting The Proper Tone

    Posted on May 28th, 2014 Jo No comments

    So, I turned up for a national Climate Change campaigning and lobbying day some years ago. I had offered to steward at the event. My attire concerned one of those close to the organising team. After all, there were Members of Parliament due to attend, and Gentlemen and Ladies of the Press. “I don’t think it’s quite setting the right tone.” she commented.

    Well, I want to know what the right tone is, exactly. And I don’t think anybody else does, either. How do we make change happen ? Really ?

    I’ve just received another email missive from The Climate Coalition asking me to Tweet tomorrow about the Carbon Budget.

    “As you may remember, back in 2011 we successfully fought for the government to deliver on its climate targets by adopting the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) recommendations on the 4th Carbon Budget…”

    I mean, that’s a bit of a claim to start with. I very much doubt that anything that the Climate Coalition (or Stop Climate Chaos, as they were known in 2011) did had any bearing on the UK Government’s policy- or decision-making.

    “…That decision is currently up for review and we need to make sure the government sticks to the ambition it showed 3 years ago, starting with a Twitter love in this Thursday.”

    I beg your pardon ? How can The Climate Coalition make sure the UK Government does anything ? By Tweeting ? OK, so The Climate Coalition is an umbrella organisation of over 40 organisations, ostensibly representing over 11 million people, but it doesn’t have any real political weight, or any serious influence with The Treasury, who are normally the ones resisting the development of the green economy.

    “…We’ve heard rumours that this is currently being negotiated in government, with at least some arguing for weaker targets. We don’t know yet which way it’ll go, so David Cameron and Nick Clegg might just need a bit of support from us to make the right decision and stick to our current targets…”

    So this is what it’s all about – a show of support for the UK Government !

    So, tell me, why should I join in, exactly ? I won’t be having any kind of genuine impact. It’s just a token flag-waving exercise.

    I know I’m not setting the right tone, here. I’m challenging the proposals for action from one of the country’s largest collective groups with a clear position about climate change. But that’s because it’s a washout – there is nothing to be gained by responding to this appeal to Tweet.

    I mean, if they called for the whole 11 million people to do something actually meaningful, like withdraw their labour for one hour a day, or refuse to use household appliances for 8 hours a week, or all demand a meeting with the fossil fuel producing companies asking them what their plan is to decarbonise the energy supply, then I suppose that might be something worth trying.

    But Tweeting ? In support of a Government decision that they ought to make anyway based on the existing Climate Change Law and the science ? Why would they need me to join in with them on that ?

  • Nigel Lawson : Unreferenced & Ill-Informed ?

    Posted on May 8th, 2014 Jo No comments

    An appeal was issued by David Andrews of the Claverton Energy Research Group, to respond to the Bath Lecture given by Nigel Lawson :-

    “Dear All, this group is not meant to be a mere venting of frustration and opinion at what is perceived to be poor policy. So what would be really useful is to have the Lawson spiel with the countering fact interspersed. I can then publish this on the Claverton web site which does get a lot of hits and appears to be quite influential. Can I therefore first thank Ed Sears for making a good effort, but ask him to copy his bits into the Lawson article at the appropriate point. Then circulate it and get others to add in bits. Otherwise these good thoughts will simply be lost in the wind. Dave”

    My reply of today :-

    “Dear Dave, I don’t have time at the moment to answer all of Nigel Lawson’s layman ruminations, but I have written a few comments here (see below) which begin to give vent to frustration typical of that which his tactics cause in the minds of people who have some acquaintance with the actual science. The sheer volume of his output suggests an attempt to filibuster proper debate rather than foster it. To make life more complicated to those who wish to answer his what I think are absurd notions, he gives no accurate references to his supposed facts or cites any accredited, peer-reviewed documentation that could back up his various emotive generalisations and what appear to be aspersions. Regards, jo.”

    Nigel Lawson: The Bath Lecture

    Climate Alarmism Is A Belief System And Needs To Be Evaluated As Such

    Nigel Lawson: Cool It

    Standpoint, May 2014

    This essay is based on the text of a speech given to the Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment at the University of Bath.

    There is something odd about the global warming debate — or the climate change debate, as we are now expected to call it, since global warming has for the time being come to a halt.

    [ : Contrary to what Nigel Lawson is claiming, there is no pause – global warming continues unabated. Of this there can be no doubt. All of the data that has been assessed – and there is a lot of it – confirms the theoretical framework – so it is odd that Nigel Lawson states otherwise, seemingly without any evidence to substantiate his assertion. Nigel Lawson appears to be taking advantage of fluctuations, or short-term wrinkles, in the records of air temperatures close to the Earth, to claim that up is down, dark is light and that truth is in error. Why are temperatures in the atmosphere close to the Earth’s surface, or “surface temperatures”, subject to variability ? Because heat can flow through matter, is the short answer. The longer answer is the interplay between the atmosphere and the oceans, where heat is being transfered between parts of the Earth system under conditions of flows such as the movement of air and water – what we call winds and ocean currents. There are detectable patterns in the flows of air and water – and some are oscillatory, so the temperature (taken at any one time) may appear to wriggle up and down (when viewed over a period of time). Despite these wobbles, the overall trend of temperature over several decades has been reliably detected. Despite Nigel Lawson’s attention to air temperatures, they are probably the least significant in detecting global warming, even though the data shows that baseline air temperatures, averaged over time, are rising. The vast proportion of heat being added to the Earth system is ending up in the oceans :-
    and the rise in ocean temperatures is consistent :-
    which indicates that circulatory patterns of heat exchange in the oceans have less effect on making temperatures fluctuate than the movement of masses of air in the atmosphere. This is exactly what you would expect from the study of basic physics. If you give only a cursory glance at the recent air temperatures at the surface of the Earth, you could think that temperatures have levelled off in the last decade or so, but taking a longer term view easily shows that global warming continues to be significant :-
    What is truly astonishing about this data is that the signal shows through the noise – that the trend in global warming is easily evident by eye, despite the wavy shakes from natural variability. For Nigel Lawson’s information, the reason why we refer to climate change is to attempt to encompass other evidence in this term besides purely temperature measurements. As the climate changes, rainfall patterns are altering, for example, which is not something that can be expressed in the term global warming. ]

    I have never shied away from controversy, nor — for example, as Chancellor — worried about being unpopular if I believed that what I was saying and doing was in the public interest.

    But I have never in my life experienced the extremes of personal hostility, vituperation and vilification which I — along with other dissenters, of course — have received for my views on global warming and global warming policies.

    For example, according to the Climate Change Secretary, Ed Davey, the global warming dissenters are, without exception, “wilfully ignorant” and in the view of the Prince of Wales we are “headless chickens”. Not that “dissenter” is a term they use. We are regularly referred to as “climate change deniers”, a phrase deliberately designed to echo “Holocaust denier” — as if questioning present policies and forecasts of the future is equivalent to casting malign doubt about a historical fact.

    [ : Climate change science is built on observations : all historical facts. Then, as in any valid science, a theoretical framework is applied to the data to check the theory – to make predictions of future change, and to validate them. It is an historical fact that the theoretical framework for global warming has not been falsified. The Earth system is warming – this cannot be denied. It seems to me that Nigel Lawwon usurps the truth with myth and unsubstantiated rumour, casting himself in the role of doubting dissenter, yet denying the evidence of the data. He therefore self-categorises as a denier, by the stance of denial that he takes. His denial is also an historical fact, but calling him a denier is not a value judgement. It is for each person to ascribe for themselves a moral value to the kind of denial he expresses. ]

    The heir to the throne and the minister are senior public figures, who watch their language. The abuse I received after appearing on the BBC’s Today programme last February was far less restrained. Both the BBC and I received an orchestrated barrage of complaints to the effect that it was an outrage that I was allowed to discuss the issue on the programme at all. And even the Science and Technology Committee of the House of Commons shamefully joined the chorus of those who seek to suppress debate.

    [ : Considering the general apathy of most television viewers, it is therefore quite refreshingly positive that so many people decided to complain about Nigel Lawson being given a platform to express his views about climate change, a subject about which it seems he is unqualified to speak with authority of learning. He may consider the complaints an “orchestrated barrage”. Another interpretation could be that the general mood of the audience ran counter to his contributions, and disagreed with the BBC’s decisiont to permit him to air his contrarian position, to the point of vexation. A parallel example could be the kind of outrage that could be expressed if Nigel Lawson were to deny that the Earth is approximately spherical, that gravity means that things actually move out to space rather than towards the ground, or that water is generally warmer than ice. He should expect opposition to his opinions if he is denying science. ]

    In fact, despite having written a thoroughly documented book about global warming more than five years ago, which happily became something of a bestseller, and having founded a think tank on the subject — the Global Warming Policy Foundation — the following year, and despite frequently being invited on Today to discuss economic issues, this was the first time I had ever been asked to discuss climate change. I strongly suspect it will also be the last time.

    The BBC received a well-organised deluge of complaints — some of them, inevitably, from those with a vested interest in renewable energy — accusing me, among other things, of being a geriatric retired politician and not a climate scientist, and so wholly unqualified to discuss the issue.

    [ : It is a mark of integrity to put you money where your mouth is, not an indicator on insincerity. It is natural to expect people who accept climate change science to be taking action on carbon dioxide emissions, which includes investment in renewable energy. ]

    Perhaps, in passing, I should address the frequent accusation from those who violently object to any challenge to any aspect of the prevailing climate change doctrine, that the Global Warming Policy Foundation’s non-disclosure of the names of our donors is proof that we are a thoroughly sinister organisation and a front for the fossil fuel industry.

    As I have pointed out on a number of occasions, the Foundation’s Board of Trustees decided, from the outset, that it would neither solicit nor accept any money from the energy industry or from anyone with a significant interest in the energy industry. And to those who are not-regrettably-prepared to accept my word, I would point out that among our trustees are a bishop of the Church of England, a former private secretary to the Queen, and a former head of the Civil Service. Anyone who imagines that we are all engaged in a conspiracy to lie is clearly in an advanced stage of paranoia.

    The reason why we do not reveal the names of our donors, who are private citizens of a philanthropic disposition, is in fact pretty obvious. Were we to do so, they, too, would be likely to be subject to the vilification and abuse I mentioned earlier. And that is something which, understandably, they can do without.

    That said, I must admit I am strongly tempted to agree that, since I am not a climate scientist, I should from now on remain silent on the subject — on the clear understanding, of course, that everyone else plays by the same rules. No more statements by Ed Davey, or indeed any other politician, including Ed Milliband, Lord Deben and Al Gore. Nothing more from the Prince of Wales, or from Lord Stern. What bliss!

    But of course this is not going to happen. Nor should it; for at bottom this is not a scientific issue. That is to say, the issue is not climate change but climate change alarmism, and the hugely damaging policies that are advocated, and in some cases put in place, in its name. And alarmism is a feature not of the physical world, which is what climate scientists study, but of human behaviour; the province, in other words, of economists, historians, sociologists, psychologists and — dare I say it — politicians.

    [ : Au contraire, I would say to Nigel Lawson. At root, climate change is very much a scientific issue. Science defines it, describes it and provides evidence for it. Climate change is an epistemological concern, and an ontological challenge. How we know what we know about climate change is by study of a very large number of results from data collection and other kinds of research. The evidence base is massive. The knowledge expressed in climate change science is empirical – based on observations – which is how we are sure that what we know is assured. There is still scope for uncertainty – will the surface temperatures rise by X plus or minus some Y, owing to the dynamic between the atmosphere, the oceans, the ice cover and the land masses ? The results of the IPCC assessments are that we pretty much know what X is, and we have an improved clarity on a range of values for Y. The more science is done, the clearer these numbers emerge. Knowledge increases as more science is done, which is why the IPCC assessments are making firmer conclusions as time passes. Climate change science does not make value judgements on its results. It concludes that sea levels are rising and will continue to rise; that rainfall patterns are changing and will continue to change; that temperatures are rising and will continue to rise under current economic conditions and the levels of fossil fuel use and land use. Science describes the outcomes of these and other climate changes. It is for us as human beings, with humanity in our hearts, to place a meaning on predicted outcomes such as crop and harvest failures, displacement of peoples, unliveable habitats, loss of plant and animal species, extreme weather. You cannot take the human out of the scientist. Of course scientists will experience alarm at the thought of these outcomes, just as the rest of society will do. The people should not be denied the right to feeling alarm. ]

    And en passant, the problem for dissenting politicians, and indeed for dissenting climate scientists for that matter, who certainly exist, is that dissent can be career-threatening. The advantage of being geriatric is that my career is behind me: there is nothing left to threaten.

    [ : Climate change science is not something you can “dissent” from if you are at all versed in it. For those who question any part of climate change science from inside the community of those who have appropriate knowledge and learning, their position is not one of dissent, but of being unable to assent completely to the conclusions of their peers. They lack a capacity to fully assent to the results of other people’s research because their own research indicates otherwise. As responsible members of the science community, they would then put their research conclusions and the research conclusions of others to the test. There is an integrity in this kind of questioning. It is a valid position, as long as the questions are posed in the language of scientific enquiry, and answered with scientific methods. For example, the Berkeley BEST team had questions about the evidence of global warming and set out to verify or falsify the results of others. Their own research led them to become convinced that their peers had been correct in the their conclusions. This is how science comes to consensus. Nigel Lawson should fund research in the field if he wishes to be taken seriously in denying the current consensus in climate change science. Instead of which, he invests in the publication of what appears to be uncorroborated hearsay and emotive politicking. ]

    But to return: the climate changes all the time, in different and unpredictable (certainly unpredicted) ways, and indeed often in different ways in different parts of the world. It always has done and no doubt it always will. The issue is whether that is a cause for alarm — and not just moderate alarm. According to the alarmists it is the greatest threat facing humankind today: far worse than any of the manifold evils we see around the globe which stem from what Pope called “man’s inhumanity to man”.

    [ : Nigel Lawson doesn’t need to tell anyone that weather is changeable and that climate changes. They can see it for themselves if they care to study the data. Climate change science has discovered that the current changes in the climate are unprecedented within at least the last 800,000 years. No previous period of rapid climate change in that era has been entirely similar to the changes we are experiencing today. This is definite cause for alarm, high level alarm, and not moderate. If there is a fire, it is natural to sound the alarm. If there is a pandemic, people spread the news. If there is a risk, as human beings, we take collective measures to avoid the threat. This is normal human precautionary behaviour. It is unreasonable for Nigel Lawson to insist that alarm is not an appropriate response to what is patently in the process of happening. ]

    Climate change alarmism is a belief system, and needs to be evaluated as such.

    [ : Belief in gravity, or thinking that protein is good to eat are also belief systems. Everything we accept as normal and true is part of our own belief system. For example, I believe that Nigel Lawson is misguided and has come to the wrong conclusions. The evidence lies before me. Is my opinion to be disregarded because I have a belief that Nigel Lawson is incorrect ? ]

    There is, indeed, an accepted scientific theory which I do not dispute and which, the alarmists claim, justifies their belief and their alarm.

    This is the so-called greenhouse effect: the fact that the earth’s atmosphere contains so-called greenhouse gases (of which water vapour is overwhelmingly the most important, but carbon dioxide is another) which, in effect, trap some of the heat we receive from the sun and prevent it from bouncing back into space.

    Without the greenhouse effect, the planet would be so cold as to be uninhabitable. But, by burning fossil fuels — coal, oil and gas — we are increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and thus, other things being equal, increasing the earth’s temperature.

    But four questions immediately arise, all of which need to be addressed, coolly and rationally.

    First, other things being equal, how much can increased atmospheric CO2 be expected to warm the earth? (This is known to scientists as climate sensitivity, or sometimes the climate sensitivity of carbon.) This is highly uncertain, not least because clouds have an important role to play, and the science of clouds is little understood. Until recently, the majority opinion among climate scientists had been that clouds greatly amplify the basic greenhouse effect. But there is a significant minority, including some of the most eminent climate scientists, who strongly dispute this.

    [ : Simple gas chemistry and physics that is at least a century old is evidence that carbon dioxide allows sunlight to pass right through to warm the Earth, which then emits infrared light because it has warmed up. When the infrared radiation is emitted, the Earth cools down. Infrared is partially blocked by carbon dioxide, which absorbs it, then re-radiates it, partially back to the Earth, which warms up again. Eventually, the warming radiation will escape the carbon dioxide blanket, but because of this trapping effect, the net result is for more heat to remain in the atmosphere close to the Earth’s surface than you would expect. This is the main reason why the temperature of the Earth’s surface is warmer than space. As carbon dioxide accumulates in the atmosphere, the warming effect will be enhanced. This is global warming and it is undisputed by the overwhelming majority of scientists. Climate sensitivity, or Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity (ECS) is a calculated measure of the total temperature change that would be experienced (after some time) at the surface of the Earth for a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations compare to the pre-industrial age. The Transient Climate Response (TCR) is a measure of the temperature change that would be experienced in the shorter-term for a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. The TCR can be easily calculated from basic physics. The shorter-term warming will cause climate change. Some of the changes will act to cool the Earth down from the TCR (negative feedbacks). Some of the changes will act to heat the Earth up from the TCR (positive feedbacks). These are some disagreements about the ECS, such as the net effects from the fertilisation effect of carbon dioxide on plant growth, the net effects of changes in weather and cloud systems, and the net effects of changes in ocean and atmospheric circulation. However, evidence from the deep past (paleoclimatology) is helping to determine the range of temperatures that ECS could be. ]

    Second, are other things equal, anyway? We know that, over millennia, the temperature of the earth has varied a great deal, long before the arrival of fossil fuels. To take only the past thousand years, a thousand years ago we were benefiting from the so-called medieval warm period, when temperatures are thought to have been at least as warm, if not warmer, than they are today. And during the Baroque era we were grimly suffering the cold of the so-called Little Ice Age, when the Thames frequently froze in winter and substantial ice fairs were held on it, which have been immortalised in contemporary prints.

    [ : The Medieval Warming Period (or Medieval Warm Period) was just a blip compared to the current global warming of the last 150 years. And the Little Ice Age was also a minor anomaly, being pretty much confined to the region of Europe, and some expect could have become the Rather Much Longer Icy Period had it not been for the use of fossil fuels, which warmed Europe up again. Burning coal and other fossil fuels releases carbon that would have originally been in the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide millions of years ago, that trees and other plants used to grow. Geological evidence shows that surface temperatures at those times were warmer than today. ]

    Third, even if the earth were to warm, so far from this necessarily being a cause for alarm, does it matter? It would, after all, be surprising if the planet were on a happy but precarious temperature knife-edge, from which any change in either direction would be a major disaster. In fact, we know that, if there were to be any future warming (and for the reasons already given, “if” is correct) there would be both benefits and what the economists call disbenefits. I shall discuss later where the balance might lie.

    [ : The evidence from the global warming that we have experienced so far since around 1880 is almost universally limiting in terms of the ability of species of animals and plants to survive. There are tiny gems of positive outcomes, compared to a sand pit of negatives. Yes, of course it matters. The mathematics of chaos with strong perturbations to any system do not permit it to coast on a precarious knife-edge for very long. Sooner or later there will be a major alteration, and the potential for some milder probable outcomes will collapse. ]

    And fourth, to the extent that there is a problem, what should we, calmly and rationally, do about it?

    [ : The most calm and rational thing to do is to compile all the evidence and report on it. Oh yes, we’ve already done that. It’s called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC. The concluisons of the compilation of over 100 years of science is that global warming is real, and it’s happening now, and that there is a wide range of evidence for climate change, and indicators that it is a major problem, and that we have caused it, through using fossil fuels and changing how we use land. ]

    It is probably best to take the first two questions together.

    According to the temperature records kept by the UK Met Office (and other series are much the same), over the past 150 years (that is, from the very beginnings of the Industrial Revolution), mean global temperature has increased by a little under a degree centigrade — according to the Met Office, 0.8ºC. This has happened in fits and starts, which are not fully understood. To begin with, to the extent that anyone noticed it, it was seen as a welcome and natural recovery from the rigours of the Little Ice Age. But the great bulk of it — 0.5ºC out of the 0.8ºC — occurred during the last quarter of the 20th century. It was then that global warming alarmism was born.

    [ : Nigel Lawson calls it “alarmism”. I call it empirical science. And there are many scientific explanations for what he calls “fits and starts”, it’s just that they’re written in research papers, so he will probably never read them, going on his lack of attention to research publications in the past. ]

    But since then, and wholly contrary to the expectations of the overwhelming majority of climate scientists, who confidently predicted that global warming would not merely continue but would accelerate, given the unprecedented growth of global carbon emissions, as China’s coal-based economy has grown by leaps and bounds, there has been no further warming at all. To be precise, the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a deeply flawed body whose non-scientist chairman is a committed climate alarmist, reckons that global warming has latterly been occurring at the rate of — wait for it — 0.05ºC per decade, plus or minus 0.1ºC. Their figures, not mine. In other words, the observed rate of warming is less than the margin of error.

    [ : It is not valid for Nigel Lawson to claim that there has been “no further warming at all”. Heat accumulation continues to be documented. Where is Nigel Lawson’s evidence to support his claim that the IPCC is a “deeply flawed body” ? Or is that another one of his entirely unsubstantiated dismissals of science ? Does he just fudge the facts, gloss over the details, pour scorn on scientists, impugn the academies of science, play with semantics, stir up antipathy, wave his hands and the whole history of science suddenly vanishes in a puff of dismissive smoke ? I doubt it ! Nigel Lawson says “the observed rate of warming is less than the margin of error.” This is ridiculous, because temperature is not something that you can add or subtract, like bags of sugar, or baskets of apples, or Pounds Sterling to the Global Warming Policy Foundation’s public relations fund. Two degrees Celsius, or Centigrade, is not twice as warm as one degree Celsius. 30 degrees C doesn’t indicate twice as much heat as 15 degrees C, or require twice as much heating. The range of figures that Nigel Lawson is quoting, minus 0.05 degrees C plus or minus 0.1 degrees C, that is, somewhere between a cooling of 0.05 degrees C and a warming of 0.15 degrees C, is a calculation of temperature trends averaged over the whole Earth’s surface for the last 15 years :- (Box 9.2)
    It is not surprising that over such a short timescale it might appear that the Earth as experienced a mild cooling effect. In the last 15 years there have been a couple of years far hotter than average, and these spike the calculated trend. For example, 1998 was much hotter than the years before or after it, so if you were just to compare 1998 with 2008, it would look like the Earth is cooling down. But who would be foolish enough to look at just two calendar years of the data record on which to base their argument ? The last 15 years have to be taken in context. In “Climate Change 2013 : The Physical Science Basis”, the IPCC report from Working Group 1, in the Summary for Policymakers, page 5, Section B1, the IPCC write :-
    “In addition to robust multi-decadal warming, global mean surface temperature exhibits substantial decadal and interannual variability […] Due to natural variability, trends based on short records are very sensitive to the beginning and end dates and do not in general reflect long-term climate trends. As one example, the rate of warming over the past 15 years (1998–2012; 0.05 [–0.05 to 0.15] °C per decade), which begins with a strong El Niño, is smaller than the rate calculated since 1951 (1951–2012; 0.12 [0.08 to 0.14] °C per decade).” (El Niño is a prominent pattern of winds and ocean currents in the Pacific Ocean with two main states – one that tends to produce a warming effect on the Earth’s surface temperatures, and the other, La Niña, which has a general cooling effect.) ] In other words, in the last fifteen years, the range of rate of change of temperature is calculated to be somewhere between the surface of the planet cooling by 0.05 degrees Centigrade, up to warming by 0.15 degrees Centigrade :-
    However, this calculation of a trend line does not take account of three things. First, in the last decade or so, the variability of individual years could mask a trend, but relative to the last 50 years, everything is clearly hotter on average. Secondly, temperature is not a “discrete” quantity, it is a continuous field of effect, and it is going to have different values depending on location and time. The temperature for any January to December is only going to be an average of averages. If you were to measure the year from March to February instead, the average of averages could look different, because of the natural variability. Thirdly, there are lots of causes for local and regional temperature variability, all concurrent, so it is not until some time after a set of measurements has been taken, and other sets of measurements have been done, that it is possible to determine that a substantial change has taken place. ]

    And that margin of error, it must be said, is implausibly small. After all, calculating mean global temperature from the records of weather stations and maritime observations around the world, of varying quality, is a pretty heroic task in the first place. Not to mention the fact that there is a considerable difference between daytime and night-time temperatures. In any event, to produce a figure accurate to hundredths of a degree is palpably absurd.

    [ : Nigel Lawson could be said to mislead in his explanation of what “a figure accurate to hundredths of a degree” implies. Temperature is measured on an arbitrarily decided scale. To raise the whole of the Earth surface temperatures by 1 degree Celsius requires a lot of extra trapped energy. The surface temperature of the Earth is increasing by the absorption of energy that amounts roughly to 2 trillion Hiroshima atombic bombs since 1998, or 4 Hiroshimas a second. That is not a small number, although it has to be seen in the full context of the energy flows in and out of the Earth system :-
    Nigel Lawson credits the global temperature monitoring exercise as “heroic”, but then berates its quality. However, climate change scientists do already appreciate that there are differences between daytime and nighttime temperatures – it is called the diurnal range. Besides differences between years, it is known that there are also differences between seasons, and latitudes, and climatic zones. Scientists are not claiming an absolute single value for the temperature of the Earth, accurate to within hundredths of a degree – that’s why they always give a margin of error. What is astonishing from reviews of the data is something that Nigel Lawson has completely missed. Global warming appears to have fractal resolution – that is – at whatever geographical scale you resolve the data, the trend in most cases appears to be similar. If you take a look at some of the websites offering graphs, for example :-
    the global warming trend is seen to be generally similar when averaged locally, regionally or at the global scale. This is an indicator that the global warming signal is properly being detected, as these trend lines are more or less what you would expect from basic physics and chemistry – the more carbon dioxide in the air, the more heat gets trapped, and the rate of carbon dioxide accumulation in the atmosphere has seen similar trendlines :- ]

    The lessons of the unpredicted 15-year global temperature standstill (or hiatus as the IPCC calls it) are clear. In the first place, the so-called Integrated Assessment Models which the climate science community uses to predict the global temperature increase which is likely to occur over the next 100 years are almost certainly mistaken, in that climate sensitivity is almost certainly significantly less than they once thought, and thus the models exaggerate the likely temperature rise over the next hundred years.

    [ : I repeat : there is no pause. The IPCC are not claiming that global warming has stopped, only that there is an apparent “hiatus” in global surface temperature averages. Some scientists have concluded from their work that Climate Sensitivity is less than once feared. However, Climate Sensitivity is calculated for an immediate, once-only doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, whereas the reality is that carbon dioxide is continuing to build up in the atmosphere, and if emissions continue unabated, there could be a tripling or quadrupling of carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, which would mean that you would need to multiply the Climate Sensitivity by 1.5 or 2 to arrive at the final top temperature – higher than previously calculated, regardless of whether the expected Climate Sensitivity were to be less than previously calculated. It is therefore illogical for Nigel Lawson to extrapolate from his understanding that Climate Sensitivity is lower than previously calculated to his conclusion that the final level of global warming will be lower than previously calculated. The more carbon dioxide we emit, the worse it will be. ]

    But the need for a rethink does not stop there. As the noted climate scientist Professor Judith Curry, chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, recently observed in written testimony to the US Senate:
    “Anthropogenic global warming is a proposed theory whose basic mechnism is well understood, but whose magnitude is highly uncertain. The growing evidence that climate models are too sensitive to CO2 has implications for the attribution of late-20th-century warming and projections of 21st-century climate. If the recent warming hiatus is caused by natural variability, then this raises the question as to what extent the warming between 1975 and 2000 can also be explained by natural climate variability.”

    [ : The IPCC reports constitute the world’s best attempts to “rethink” Climate Change. Professor Judith Curry, in the quotation given by Nigel Lawson, undervalues a great deal of her colleagues’ work by dismissing their valid attribution of Climate Change to the burning of fossil fuels and the change in land use. ]

    It is true that most members of the climate science establishment are reluctant to accept this, and argue that the missing heat has for the time being gone into the (very cold) ocean depths, only to be released later. This is, however, highly conjectural. Assessing the mean global temperature of the ocean depths is — unsurprisingly — even less reliable, by a long way, than the surface temperature record. And in any event most scientists reckon that it will take thousands of years for this “missing heat” to be released to the surface.

    [ : That the oceans are warming is not conjecture – it is a statement based on data. The oceans have a far greater capacity for heat retention than the atmosphere, so yes, it will take a long time for heat in the oceans to re-emerge into the atmosphere. However, the processes that directed heat into the oceans rather than the atmosphere in recent years could easily reverse, and in a short space of time the atmosphere could heat up considerably. In making his arguments, Nigel Lawson omits to consider this eventuality, which lowers considerably the value of his conclusions. ]

    In short, the CO2 effect on the earth’s temperature is probably less than was previously thought, and other things — that is, natural variability and possibly solar influences — are relatively more significant than has hitherto been assumed.

    [ : Nothing about science has changed. The Earth system continues to accumulate heat and respond to that. Carbon dioxide still contributes to the Greenhouse Effect, and extra carbon dioxide in the air will cause further global warming. The Transient Climate Response to carbon dioxide is still apparently linear. The Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity is still calculated to be roughly what it always has been – but that’s only for a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide. If more methane is emitted as a result of Arctic warming, for example, or the rate of fossil fuel use increases, then the temperature increase of the Earth’s surface could be more than previously thought. Natural variability and solar changes are all considered in the IPCC reports, and all calculations and models take account of them. However, the obvious possibility presents itself – that the patterns of natural variability as experienced by the Earth during the last 800,000 years are themseles being changed. If Climate Change is happening so quickly as to affect natural variability, then the outcomes could be much more serious than anticipated. ]

    But let us assume that the global temperature hiatus does, at some point, come to an end, and a modest degree of global warming resumes. How much does this matter?

    The answer must be that it matters very little. There are plainly both advantages and disadvantages from a warmer temperature, and these will vary from region to region depending to some extent on the existing temperature in the region concerned. And it is helpful in this context that the climate scientists believe that the global warming they expect from increased atmospheric CO2 will be greatest in the cold polar regions and least in the warm tropical regions, and will be greater at night than in the day, and greater in winter than in summer. Be that as it may, studies have clearly shown that, overall, the warming that the climate models are now predicting for most of this century (I referred to these models earlier, and will come back to them later) is likely to do more good than harm.

    [ : The claim that warming will “overall […] do more good than harm” is erroneous, according to Climate Change Science. ]

    Global warming orthodoxy is not merely irrational. It is wicked.

    [ : My conclusions upon reading this lecture are that the evidence suggests that Nigel Lawson’s position is ill-informed. He should read the IPCC reports and re-consider. ]

  • Man Who Eats Data

    Posted on May 6th, 2014 Jo No comments

    A key thing to know about Professor David MacKay is that he likes data. Lots of data. He said so in a public meeting last week, and I watched him draw a careful draft diagram on paper, specifying for a project engineer the kind of data he would like to see on Combined Heat and Power (CHP) with District Heating (DH). There have been a number of complaints about communal heating projects in the UK, but accurate information is often commercially sensitive, so urging the collection and publication of data is the way forward.

    MacKay has been working on very large data indeed – with his 2050 Pathways Calculator. Although people may complain, in fact, they do complain, that the baseline assumptions about nuclear power seem designed to give the recommended outcome of more nuclear power, other parts of The Calculator are more realistic, showing that a high level of new, quick-to-build largescale wind power is practically non-negotiable for guaranteeing energy security.

    Last year, there were some rumours circulating that MacKay’s work on biomass for The Calculator showed that biomass combustion for electricity generation was a non-starter for lowering net greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere. We were told to wait for these results. And wait again. And now it appears (according to Private Eye, see below), that these were suppressed by DECC, engaged as they were with rubberstamping biomass conversions of coal-fired power plants – including Drax.

    “Old Sparky” at Private Eye thinks that Professor MacKay will not be permitted to publish this biomass data – but as MacKay said last week, The Calculator is open source, and all volunteers are welcome to take part in its design and development…

    Private Eye, Number 1365, 2 May 2014 – 15 May 2014

    Keeping the Lights On
    by “Old Sparky”

    The company that owns the gigantic Drax power station in Yorkshire is cheekily suing the government for not giving it quite as much subsidy as it would like. But it should be careful : the government is suppressing a publication that would question its right to any subsidy at all.

    Drax, built as a coalf-fired plant, is converting its six generating units to burn 15m tonnes of wood a year (see Eye 1325). Amazingly, electricity generated from “biomass” like this qualifies as “renewable energy”. It is thus in line for hefty subsidies and Treasury guarantees – several hundred million pounds a year of electricit billpayers’ money once all six units have been converted.

    Having seen the even greater bungs proposed for EDF’s two new nuclear power plants, however, Drax thinks it deserves a similar deal and is suing for precisely that (which is what happens when firms subsidy-farming as their main line of business).

    Drax’s greed is unlikely to be rewarded. In the Energy Act passed last year, ministers gave themselves remarkable powers to intervene in the electricity industry, project by project, and to do pretty much whatever takes their fancy.

    Meanwhile, the chief scientific adviser [sic] at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the upright Professor David MacKay, is coming to the end of his five-year term. For more than a year he has been agitating for DECC to publish his “biomass calculator” which proves it is (in his words) “fantastically easy” to show that burning trees on the scale planned by Drax and other converted coal plants is likely to INCREASE CO2 emissions in the timeframe that matters.

    Knowing the rumpus this will cause, DECC suppressed it last summer (Eye, 1348) and continues to do so while several large biomass projects get off the ground. Will the scrupulous professor simply return to academia and publish it anyway ? Perhaps : but don’t bank on it : it is usual for employment contracts to stipulate that the EMPLOYER retains intellectual property rights in ideas developed while “on the job”. Although MacKay did some work on the impact of biomass-burning before becoming chief adviser [sic], the “calculator” dates from his time at DECC.

    This is just as well for Drax. But perhaps its owners should take the hint and wind in their necks.

  • David MacKay : Heating London

    Posted on May 2nd, 2014 Jo No comments

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

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

    SAP is an inaccurate tool and not suitable for the uses we put it too :-

    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.

  • Gain in Transmission

    Posted on January 13th, 2014 Jo No comments

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

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


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

    Dear [Professor] Sears,

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

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

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

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

    Thank you,



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


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

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

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

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

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

    Best regards,
    Rich Sears

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


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

    Dear [Professor] Sears,

    Many thanks for your reply.

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

    May I blog them ?




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


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

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

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

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


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


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

    Dear Professor Sears,

    HNY 2014 !

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

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

    Examples would be :-

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Many thanks,


  • The BBC loses its perch

    Posted on October 10th, 2013 Jo No comments

    Image Credit : Sea Angling Staithes

    In the matter of the BBC and balance in the reporting of Climate Change, I believe they might have lost their perch. Admittedly, it wasn’t a very large perch – and some were swaying in any breeze that came along. But to invite one of the fringiest of the fringe of science “sceptics” onto a Radio 4 broadcast on the day of the publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report Working Group 1 demonstrates that the BBC policy on achieving a suitable, accurate and appropriate fulcrum in the balance of science reporting is an ex-policy, a former policy, gone and pushing up the Cleeseian daisies.

    Citizens have been piqued, annoyed, needled, frustrated, despairing and, frankly, appalled, and some measures have been taken to remonstrate with the BBC. One such is below. Dear Reader, your comments on the subject of media balance are welcome, unless of course you haven’t read any Climate Change science and think it’s all a hoax, that the scientists are lying, and the Earth’s climate has always gone in similar cycles to the current warming, think that Global Warming is undergoing a “pause” etc etc – because you’re wrong. Plain and simple. If you don’t accept Climate Change science, if you haven’t read any of the relevant research papers, if you haven’t taken the trouble to understand what it’s all about, you are likely to be a clanging gong, a thorn in the side, and your views may well signify nothing, and certainly shouldn’t be aired in a public broadcast without challenge.

    It is time for the BBC to stop inviting Climate Change science “sceptics” – no, “deniers” onto their programmes. Once and for all. I mean, to go all Godwin on you, the BBC wouldn’t invite Adolf Hitler onto their shows to comment about the contribution that Judaism has brought to humanity, or to deny the Holocaust ? And they wouldn’t invite the CEO of a cigarette manufacture company on to insist that smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer, would they ? There is a bar, a standard, to which the BBC should aspire, on science reporting, and I feel that in this case they slid disgracefully under it and landed in a stinky puddle of failure on the studio floor. The programme editors should be ashamed, in my honest opinion.

    Open letter to Tony Hall, Lord Hall of Birkenhead and Director General of the BBC, on the platform given to Prof Bob Carter on the World at One programme (Fri 27th Sept 2013)

    Dear Lord Hall,

    We, the undersigned scientists and engineers, write to condemn the appearance of Prof Bob Carter on BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme, and to urge the BBC to seriously rethink the treatment given to climate change in its factual programming, and particularly its coverage of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report.

    The BBC, uniquely amongst broadcasters, has a public duty to provide a balanced coverage of news across its media channels, yet when it comes to its coverage of climate change it has frequently failed to do so. Furthermore, the BBC’s status as a trusted source of news means that damage done by its biased reporting of the overwhelming evidence of the certainty and significance of man-made climate change is inexorably greater. Not only does this damage public trust in climate science, but it also damages public trust in scientific evidence in general. This assertion is even supported by the BBC’s own surveys on public attitudes to climate change.

    The IPPC’s Assessment Reports represent the consensus of evidence and opinion from thousands of scientists and engineers around the world, working in all of the many fields encompassed by climate change. That consensus is overwhelmingly of the view that the evidence that human activities are driving changes in our climate at an unprecedented rate and scale – there is no ‘climate debate’ in the scientific community.

    The appearance of Prof Carter on the World at One, and that of climate change deniers on other BBC programmes, is the equivalent of giving a stork the right to reply on every appearance by Prof Robert Winston. Prof Carter is a geologist who speaks for the “Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change”, or NIPCC, a name which non-experts could be forgiven for confusing with the IPCC, however Prof Carter is not a climate scientist and the NIPCC is not the IPCC.

    Indeed, had the editors of the World at One bothered to check the credentials of the NIPCC they would have realised that far from being an independent organisation, it is backed by the Heartland Institute, a US-based free-market thinktank that opposes urgent action on climate change, which is itself opaquely funded by ‘family foundations’ suspected of having significant vested interests in undermining climate science. To return to the analogy, that stork would be funded by the Discovery Institute.

    For climate scientists, and those of us working in related fields, it is hard enough to accept that the BBC is required to give a platform to politicians whose lack of knowledge of climate science is matched only by their unwillingness to ‘use sound science responsibly’. When the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson describes climate change as “not all bad” he may be committing an abuse of the evidence and his position, but he at least does so with the rights and responsibilities of a democratically elected Member of Parliament. However when deniers such as Prof Carter use the media to argue that the scientific consensus on climate change is anything but overwhelming, the evidence on which they claim to be basing their arguments, and their sources of funding, are frequently left unrevealed and unquestioned.

    It is therefore hardly surprising that the BBC and other media outlets sometimes struggle to find climate scientists willing to speak to them, and by providing a platform for Prof Cater and other deniers the BBC is also complicit in engendering the environment in which climate scientists are often reluctant to speak to the media.

    The BBC should now issue an explanation for the appearance of Prof Carter and the treatment given to his opinions on a flagship news programme. Furthermore, it should urgently review the treatment of climate change across all of its outputs, and require full disclosures of any and all vested interests held by commentators on the subject. Finally, it should also ensure that the editorial boards covering all its scientific outputs include members with appropriate scientific backgrounds who are able to give independent advice on the subject matter, and that their advice is recorded and adhered to.

    Yours sincerely,

    Dr Keith Baker, School of Engineering and the Built Environment, Glasgow Caledonian University

    Herbert Eppel CEng CEnv, HE Translations

    Ms J. Abbess MSc, Independent Energy Research

    Chris Jones CEnv IEng FEI MCIBSE MIET

    Mark Boulton OBE

    David Hirst, Hirst Solutions Ltd

    David Andrews, Chair, Claverton Energy Research Group

    Ruth Jarman MA (Oxon) Chemistry, Member of the Board of Christian Ecology Link

    Gordon Blair, Distinguished Professor, School of Computing and Communications, Lancaster University

    Susan Chapman

    David Weight, Associate Director, Aecom

    Sam Chapman, En-Count

    Camilla Thomson, PhD candidate, University of Edinburgh

    Dr Rachel Dunk

    Prof Susan Roaf, Heriot-Watt University

    Helen Woodall

    Ian Stannage

    Andy Chyba, BSc

    Isabel Carter, Chair, Operation Noah

    Ben Samuel, BSc

    Dr Marion Hersh, University of Glasgow, MIET

    Almuth Ernsting

    Simon O’Connor

    Martin Quick MA CEng MIMechE

    Hugh Walding, MA PhD

  • Wind Powers Energy Security #2

    Posted on August 18th, 2013 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    1. A wider geographical spread of wind farms

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

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

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

    3. Size of wind turbines – and height

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

    4. The synergy between low carbon generation technologies

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

    5. The development of hybrid wind systems

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

  • Wind Powers Electricity Security

    Posted on August 17th, 2013 Jo No comments

    Have the anti-wind power lobby struck again ? A seemingly turbulent researcher from Private Eye magazine rang me on Thursday evening to ask me to revise my interpretation of his “Keeping The Lights On” piece of a few weeks previously. His article seemed at first glance to be quite derogatory regarding the contribution of wind power to the UK’s electricity supply. If I were to look again, I would find out, he was sure, that I was wrong, and he was right.

    So I have been re-reviewing the annual 2013 “Electricity Capacity Assessment Report” prepared by Ofgem, the UK Government’s Office of Gas and Electricity Markets, an independent National Regulatory Authority. I have tried to be as fair-minded and generous as possible to “Old Sparky” at Private Eye magazine, but a close re-reading of the Ofgem report suggests he is apparently mistaken – wind power is a boon, not a burden (as he seems to claim).

    In the overview to the Ofgem report, they state, “our assessment suggests that the risks to electricity security of supply over the next six winters have increased since our last report in October 2012. This is due in particular to deterioration in the supply-side outlook. There is also uncertainty over projected reductions in demand.” Neither of these issues can be associated with wind power, which is being deployed at an accelerating rate and so is providing increasing amounts of electricity.

    The report considers risks to security of the electricity supply, not an evaluation of the actual amounts of power that will be supplied. How are these risks to the security of supply quantified ? There are several metrics provided from Ofgem’s modelling, including :-

    a. LOLE – Loss of Load Expectation – the average number of hours per year in which electricity supply does not meet electricity demand (if the grid System Operator does not take steps to balance it out).

    (Note that Ofgem’s definition of LOLE is difference from other people’s “LOLE is often interpreted in the academic literature as representing the probability of disconnections after all mitigation actions available to the System Operator have been exhausted. We consider that a well functioning market should avoid using mitigation actions in [sic] regular basis and as such we interpret LOLE as the probability of having to implement mitigation actions.”)

    b. EEU – Expected Energy Unserved (or “Un-served”) – the average amount of electricity demand that is not met in a year – a metric that combines both the likelihood and the size of any shortfall.

    c. Frequency and Duration of Expected Outages – a measure of the risk that an electricity consumer faces of controlled disconnection because supply does not meet demand.

    The first important thing to note is that the lights are very unlikely to go out. The highest value of LOLE, measured in hours per year is under 20. That’s 20 hours each year. Not 20 days. And this is not anticipated to be 20 days in a row, either. Section 1.11 says “LOLE, as interpreted in this report, is not a measure of the expected number of hours per year in which customers may be disconnected. For a given level of LOLE and EEU, results may come from a large number of small events where demand exceeds supply in principle but that can be managed by National Grid through a set of mitigation actions available to them as System Operator. […] Given the characteristics of the GB system, any shortfall is more likely to take the form of a large number of small events that would not have a direct impact on customers.”

    Section 2.19 states, “The probabilistic measures of security of supply presented in this report are often misinterpreted. LOLE is the expected number of hours per year in which supply does not meet demand. This does not however mean that customers will be disconnected or that there will be blackouts for that number of hours a year. Most of the time, when available supply is not high enough to meet demand, National Grid may implement mitigation actions to solve the problem without disconnecting any customers. However, the system should be planned to avoid the use of mitigation actions and that is why we measure LOLE ahead of any mitigation actions being used”. And Section 2.20, “LOLE does not necessarily mean disconnections but they do remain a possibility. If the difference between available supply and demand is so large that the mitigation actions are not enough to meet demand then some customers have to be disconnected – this is the controlled disconnections step in Figure 14 above. In this case the [System Operator] SO will disconnect industrial demand before household demand.”

    And in Section 2.21. “The model output numbers presented here refer to a loss of load of any kind. This could be the sum of several small events (controlled through mitigation actions) or a single large event. As a consequence of the mitigation actions available, the total period of disconnections for a customer will be lower than the value of LOLE.”

    The report does anticipate that there are risks of large events where the lights could go out, even if only very briefly, for non-emergency customers : “The results may also come from a small number of large events (eg the supply deficit is more than 2 – 3 gigawatts (GW)) where controlled disconnections cannot be avoided.” But in this kind of scenario two very important things would happen. Those with electricity contracts with a clause permitting forced disconnection would lose power. And immediate backup power generation would be called upon to bridge the gap. There are many kinds of electricity generation that can be called on to start up in a supply crisis – some of them becoming operational in minutes, and others in hours.

    As the report says in Section 2.24 “Each [Distribution Network Operator] DNO ensures it can provide a 20% reduction of its total system demand in four incremental stages (between 4% and 6%), which can be achieved at all times, with or without prior warning, and within 5 minutes of receipt of an instruction from the System Operator. The reduction of a further 20% (40% in total) can be achieved following issue of the appropriate GB System Warning by National Grid within agreed timescales”.

    It’s all about the need for National Grid to balance the system. Section 2.9 says, “LOLE is not a measure of the expected number of hours per year in which customers may be disconnected. We define LOLE to indicate the number of hours in which the system may need to respond to tight conditions.”

    The report also rules some potential sources of disruption of supply outside the remit of this particular analysis – see Section 3.17 “There are other reasons why electricity consumers might experience disruptions to supply, which are out of the scope of this assessment and thus not captured by this model, such as: Flexibility : The ability of generators to ramp up in response to rapid increases in demand or decreases in the output of other generators; Insufficient reserve : Unexpected increases in demand or decreases in available capacity in real time which must be managed by the System Operator through procurement and use of reserve capacity; Network outages : Failures on the electricity transmission or distribution networks; Fuel availability : The availability of the fuel used by generators. In particular the security of supplies of natural gas at times of peak electricity demand.”

    Crucially, the report says there is much uncertainty in their modelling of LOLE and EEU. In Section 2.26, “The LOLE and EEU estimates are just an indication of risk. There is considerable uncertainty around the main variables in the calculation (eg demand, the behaviour of interconnectors etc.)”

    (Note : interconnectors are electricity supply cables that join the UK to other countries such as Ireland and Holland).

    Part of the reason for Ofgem’s caveat of uncertainty is the lack of appropriate data. Although they believe they have better modelling of wind power since their 2012 report (see Sections 3.39 to 3.50), there are data sets they believe should be improved. For example, data on Demand Side Response (DSR) – the ability of the National Grid and its larger or aggregated consumers to alter levels of demand on cue (see Sections 4.7 to 4.10 of the document detailing decisions about the methodology). A lack of data has led to certain assumptions being retained, for example, the assumption that there is no relationship between available wind power and periods of high demand – in the winter season (see Section 2.5 and Sections 4.11 to 4.17 of the methodology decisions document).

    In addition to these uncertainties, the sensitivity cases used in the modelling are known to not accurately reflect the capability of management of the power grid. In the Executive Summary on page 4, the report says, “These sensitivities only illustrate changes in one variable at a time and so do not capture potential mitigating effects, for example of the supply side reacting to higher demand projections.” And in Section 2.16 it says, “Each sensitivity assumes a change in one variable from the Reference Scenario, with all other assumptions being held constant. The purpose of this is to assess the impact of the uncertainty related to each variable in isolation, on the risk measures. Our report is not using scenarios (ie a combination of changes in several variables to reflect alternative worlds or different futures), as this would not allow us to isolate the impact of each variable on the risk measures.”

    Thus, the numbers that are output by the modelling are perforce illustrative, not definitive.

    What “Old Sparky” at Private Eye was rattled by in his recent piece was the calculation of Equivalent Firm Capacity (EFC) in the Ofgem report.

    On page 87, Section 3.55, the Ofgem report defines the “standard measure” EFC as “the amount of capacity that is required to replace the wind capacity to achieve the same level of LOLE”, meaning the amount of always-on generation capacity required to replace the wind capacity to achieve the same level of LOLE. Putting it another way on page 33, in the footnotes for Section 3.29, the report states, “The EFC is the quantity of firm capacity (ie always available) that can be replaced by a certain volume of wind generation to give the same level of security of supply, as measured by LOLE.”

    Wind power is different from fossil fuel-powered generation as there is a lot of variability in output. Section 1.48 of the report says, “Wind generation capacity is analysed separately given that its outcome in terms of generation availability is much more variable and difficult to predict.” Several of the indicators calculated for the report are connected with the impact of wind on security of the power supply. However, variation in wind power is not the underlying reason for the necessity of this report. Other electricity generation plant has variation in output leading to questions of security of supply. In addition, besides planned plant closures and openings, there are as-yet-unknown factors that could impact overall generation capacity. Section 2.2 reads, “We use a probabilistic approach to assess the uncertainty related to short-term variations in demand and available conventional generation due to outages and wind generation. This is combined with sensitivity analysis to assess the uncertainty related to the evolution of electricity demand and supply due to investment and retirement decisions (ie mothballing, closures) and interconnector flows, among others.”

    The report examines the possibility that wind power availability could be correlated to winter season peak demand, based on limited available data, and models a “Wind Generation Availability” sensitivity (see Section 3.94 to Section 3.98, especially Figure 64). In Section 3.42 the report says, “For the wind generation availability sensitivity we assume that wind availability decreases at time of high demand. In particular this sensitivity assumes a reduction in the available wind resource for demand levels higher than 92% of the ACS peak demand. The maximum reduction is assumed to be 50% for demand levels higher than 102% of ACS peak demand.” Bear in mind that this is only an assumption.

    In Appendix 5 “Detailed results tables”, Table 34, Table 35 and Table 37 show how this modelling impacts the calculation of the indicative Equivalent Firm Capacity (EFC) of wind power.

    In the 2018/2019 timeframe, when there is expected to be a combined wind power capacity of 8405 megawatts (MW) onshore plus 11705 MW offshore = 20110 MW, the EFC for wind power is calculated to be 2546 MW in the “Wind Generation Availability” sensitivity line, which works out at 12.66% of the nameplate capacity of the wind power. Note : 100 divided by 12.66 is 7.88, or a factor of roughly 8.

    At the earlier 2013/2014 timeframe, when combined wind power capacity is expected to be 3970 + 6235 MW = 10205 MW, and the EFC is at 1624 MW or 15.91% for the “Wind Generation Sensitivity” line. Note : 100 divided by 15.91 = 6.285, or a factor of roughly 6.

    “Old Sparky” is referring to these factor figures when he says in his piece (see below) :-

    “[…] For every one megawatt of reliable capacity (eg a coal-fired power
    station) that gets closed, Ofgem calculates Britain would need six to
    megawatts of windfarm capacity to achieve the original level of
    reliability – and the multiple is rising all the time. Windfarms are
    not of course being built at eight times the rate coal plants are
    closing – hence the ever-increasing likelihood of blackouts. […]”

    Yet he has ignored several caveats given in the report that place these factors in doubt. For example, the sensitivity analysis only varies one factor at a time and does not attempt to model correlated changes in other variables. He has also omitted to consider the relative impacts of change.

    If he were to contrast his statement with the “Conventional Low Generation Availability” sensitivity line, where wind power EFC in the 2013/2014 timeframe is calculated as a healthy 26.59% or a factor of roughly 4; or 2018/2019 when wind EFC is 19.80% or a factor of roughly 5.

    Note : The “Conventional Low Generation Availability” sensitivity is drawn from historical conventional generation operating data, as outlined in Sections 3.31 to 3.38. Section 3.36 states, “The Reference Scenario availability is defined as the mean availability of the seven winter estimates. The availability values used for the low (high) availability sensitivities are defined as the mean minus (plus) one standard deviation of the seven winter estimates.”

    Table 30 and Table 31 show that low conventional generation availability will probably be the largest contribution to energy security uncertainty in the critical 2015/2016 timeframe.

    The upshot of all of this modelling is that wind power is actually off the hook. Unforeseen alterations in conventional generation capacity are likely to have the largest impact. As the report says in Section 4.21 “The figures indicate that reasonably small changes in conventional generation availability have a material impact on the risk of supply shortfalls. This is most notable in 2015/16, where the estimated LOLE ranges from 0.2 hours per year in the high availability sensitivity to 16 hours per year in the low availability sensitivity, for the Reference Scenario is 2.9 hours per year.”

    However, Section 1.19 is careful to remind us, “Wind generation, onshore and offshore, is expected to grow rapidly in the period of analysis and especially after 2015/16, rising from around 9GW of installed capacity now to more than 20GW by 2018/19. Given the variability of wind speeds, we estimate that only 17% of this capacity can be counted as firm (ie always available) for security of supply purposes by 2018/19.” This is in the Reference Scenario.

    The sensitivities modelled in the report are a measure of risk, and do not provide absolute values for any of the output metrics, especially since the calculations are dependent on so many factors, including economic stimulus for the building of new generation plant.

    Importantly, recent decisions by gas-fired power plant operators to “mothball”, or close down their generation capacity, are inevitably going to matter more than how much exactly we can rely on wind power.

    Many commentators neglect to make the obvious point that wind power is not being used to replace conventional generation entirely, but to save fossil fuel by reducing the number of hours conventional generators have to run. This is contributing to energy security, by reducing the cost of fossil fuel that needs to be imported. However, the knock-on effect is this is having an impact on the economic viability of these plant because they are not always in use, and so the UK Government is putting in place the “Capacity Mechanism” to make sure that mothballed plant can be put back into use when required, during those becalmed, winter afternoons when power demand is at its peak.

    Private Eye
    Issue Number 1345
    26th July 2013 – 8th August 2013

    “Keeping the Lights On”
    page 14
    by “Old Sparky”

    The report from energy regulator Ofgem that sparked headlines on
    potential power cuts contains much new analysis highlighting the
    uselessness of wind generation in contributing to security of
    electricity supply, aka the problem of windfarm “intermittency”. But
    the problem is being studiously ignored by the Department of Energy
    and Climate Change (DECC).

    As coal power stations shut down, windfarms are notionally replacing
    them. If, say, only one windfarm were serving the grid, its inherent
    unreliability could easily be compensated for. But if there were
    [italics] only windfarms, and no reliable sources of electricity
    available at all, security of supply would be hugely at risk. Thus the
    more windfarms there are, the less they contribute to security.

    For every one megawatt of reliable capacity (eg a coal-fired power
    station) that gets closed, Ofgem calculates Britain would need six to
    eight megawatts of windfarm capacity to achieve the original level of
    reliability – and the multiple is rising all the time. Windfarms are
    not of course being built at eight times the rate coal plants are
    closing – hence the ever-increasing likelihood of blackouts.


    In consequence windfarms are being featherbedded – not only with
    lavish subsidies, but also by not being billed for the ever-increasing
    trouble they cause. When the DECC was still operating Plan B, aka the
    dash for gas ([Private] Eye [Issue] 1266), the cost of intermittency
    was defined in terms of balancing the grid by using relatively clean
    and cheap natural gas. Now that the department has been forced to
    adopt emergency Plan C ([Private] Eye [Issue] 1344), backup for
    intermittent windfarm output will increasingly be provided by dirty,
    expensive diesel generators.

    Private Eye
    Issue 1344
    12 – 25 July 2013

    page 15
    “Keeping the Lights On”

    As pandemonium breaks out in newspapers at the prospect of electricity
    blackouts, emergency measures are being cobbled together to ensure the
    lights stay on. They will probably succeed – but at a cost.

    Three years ago incoming coalition ministers were briefed that when
    energy policy Plan A (windfarms, new nukes and pixie-dust) failed, Plan B
    would be in place – a new dash for gas ([Private] Eye [Issue] 1266).

    Civil servants then devised complex “energy market reforms” (EMR) to make
    this happen. It is now clear that these, too, have failed. Coal-fired power
    stations are closing quicker than new gas plants are being built. As energy
    regulator Ofgem put it bluntly last week: “The EMR aims to incentivise
    industry to address security of supply in the medium term, but is not able
    to bring forward investment in new capacity in time.”

    Practical people in the National Grid are now hatching emergency Plan C.
    They will pay large electricity users to switch off when requested;
    encourage industrial companies and even hospitals to generate their own
    diesel-fired electricity (not a hard sell when the grid can’t be relied
    on); hire diesel generators to make up for the intermittency of windfarms
    ([Private] Eye [Issue] 1322); and bribe electricity companies to bring
    mothballed gas-fired plants back into service.

    Some of these steps are based on techniques previously used in extreme
    circumstances, and will probably keep most of the lights on. But this
    should not obscure the fact that planning routine use of emergency
    measures is an indictment of energy policy. And since diesel is much
    more expensive and polluting than gas, electricity prices and CO2
    emissions will be higher than if Plan B had worked.


    ‘Old Sparky’

  • Battle of the Lords

    Posted on July 12th, 2013 Jo 1 comment

    I don’t quite know what powers Lord Deben, John Gummer, but he looks remarkably wired on it. At this week’s PRASEG Annual Conference, he positively glowed with fervour and gumption. He regaled us with tales of debate in the House of Lords, the UK’s parliamentary “senior” chamber. He is a known climate change science adherent, and in speaking to PRASEG, he was preaching to the choir, but boy, did he give a bone-rattling homily !

    As Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, he is fighting the good fight for carbon targets to be established in all areas of legislation, especially the in-progress Energy Bill. He makes the case that emissions restraint and constraint is now an international business value, and of importance to infrastructure investment :-

    “The trouble with energy efficiency is that it’s not “boys’ toys” – there’s no “sex” in it. It is many small things put together to make a big thing. We won’t get to a point of decarbonisation unless we [continuously] make [the case for] [continuous] investment. […] GLOBE [of which I am a member] in a report – 33 major countries – doing so much. […] Look at what China is doing. Now a competitive world. If we want people to come here and invest, we need to have a carbon intensity target in 2030 [which will impact] [manufacturing] and the supply chain. [With the current strategy, the carbon targets are] put down in 2020 and picked up again in 2050. Too long a gap for business. They don’t know what happens in between. This is not all about climate change. It is about UK plc.”

    To supplement this diet of upbeat encouragement, he added a good dose of scorn for fellow Lords of the House, the Lords Lawson (Nigel Lawson) and Lord Ridley (Matt Ridley) who, he seemed to be suggesting, clearly have not mastered the science of climate change, and who, I believe he imputed, have lost their marbles :-

    “Apart from one or two necessary sideswipes, I agree with the previous speaker. There is no need for disagreement except for those who dismiss climate change. [I call them “dismissers” as we should not] dignify their position by calling them “sceptics”. We are the sceptics. We come to a conclusion based on science and we revisit it every time new science comes our way. They rifle through every [paper] to find every little bit that suppports their argument. I’ve listened to the interventions [in the House of Lords reading of and debate on the Energy Bill] of that group. Their line is the Earth is not [really] warming, so, it’s too expensive to do anything. This conflicts with today’s World Meteorological Organization measurements – that the last decade has been the warmest ever. I bet you that none of them [Lords] will stand up [in the House of Lords] and say “Sorry. We got it wrong.” They pick one set of statistics and ignore the rest. It is a concentrated effort to undermine by creating doubt. Our job is constantly to make it clear they we don’t need to argue the case – the very best science makes it certain [but never absolute]. You would be very foolish to ignore the consensus of view. […] In a serious grown-up world, we accept the best advice – always keeping an eye out for new information. Otherwise, [you would] make decisions on worst information – no sane person does that.”

    He encouraged us to encourage the dissenters on climate change science to view the green economy as an insurance policy :-

    “Is there a householder here who does not insure their houses against fire ? You have a 98% change of not having a fire. Yet you spend on average £140 a year on insurance. Because of the size of the disaster – the enormity of the [potential] loss. Basic life-supporting insurance. I’m asking for half of that. If only Lord Lawson would listen to the facts instead of that Doctor of Sports Science, Benny Peiser. Or Matt Ridley – an expert in the sexual habits of pheasants. If I want to know about pheasants, I will first ask Lord Ridley. Can he understand why I go to a climatologist first ? [To accept his view of the] risks effects of climate change means relying on the infallibility of Lord Lawson […]”

    He spoke of cross-party unity over the signing into law of the Climate Change Act, and the strength of purpose within Parliament to do the right thing on carbon. He admitted that there were elements of the media and establishment who were belligerently or obfuscatingly opposing the right thing to do :-

    “[We] can only win if the world outside has certainty about institutional government. This is a battle we have taken on and won’t stop till we win it. [The Lord Lawson and Lord Ridley and their position is] contrary to science, contrary to sense and contrary to the principle of insurance. They will not be listened to, not now, until UK has reduced level of carbon emissions, and we have [promised] our grandchildren they they are safe from climate change.”

    Phew ! That was a war cry, if ever there was one ! We are clearly in the Salvation Army ! I noted the attendance list, that showed several Gentlemen and Ladies of the Press should have been present, and hope to read good reports, but know that in some parts of the Gutter, anti-science faecal detritus still swirls. We in One Birdcage Walk were the assembly of believers, but the general public conversation on carbon is poisoned with sulphurous intent.

  • Hadeo- and Archaeo-Geobiology

    Posted on July 8th, 2013 Jo No comments

    What can deep time teach us ?

    Whilst doing a little background research into biological routes to hydrogen production, I came across a scientific journal paper, I can’t recall which, that suggested that the geological evidence indicates that Earth’s second atmosphere not only had a high concentration of methane, but also high levels of hydrogen gas.

    Previously, my understanding was that the development of microbiological life included a good number of methanogens (micro-life that produces methane as a waste product) and methanotrophs (those that “trough” on methane), but that hydrogenogen (“respiring” hydrogen gas) and hydrogenotroph (metabolising hydrogen) species were a minority, and that this was reflected in modern-day decomposition, such as the cultures used in biogas plants for anaerobic digestion.

    If there were high densities of hydrogen cycle lifeforms in the early Earth, maybe there are remnants, descendants of this branch of the tree of life, optimal at producing hydrogen gas as a by-product, which could be employed for biohydrogen production, but which haven’t yet been scoped.

    After all, it has only been very recently that psychrophiles have been added to the range of microorganisms that have been found useful in biogas production – cold-loving, permafrost-living bugs to complement the thermophile and mesophile species.

    Since hydrogen and methane are both ideal gas fuels, for a variety of reasons, including gas storage, combustion profiles and simple chemistry, I decided I needed to learn a little more.

    I have now read a plethora of new theories and several books about the formation of the Earth (and the Moon) in the Hadean Eon, the development of Earth’s atmosphere, the development of life in the Archaean Eon, and the evolution of life caused by climate change, and these developments in living beings causing climate change in their turn.

    Most of this knowledge is mediated to us by geology, and geobiology. But right at its heart is catalytic chemistry, once again. Here’s Robert Hazen (Robert M. Hazen) from page 138 of “The Story of Earth” :-

    “Amino acids, sugars, and the components of DNA and RNA adsorb onto all of Earth’s most common rock-forming minerals […] We concluded that wherever the prebiotic ocean contacted minerals, highly concentrated arrangements of life’s molecules are likely to have emerged from the formless broth […] Many other researchers have also settled on such a conclusion – indeed, more than a few prominent biologists have also gravitated to minerals, because origins-of-life scenarios that involve only oceans and atmosphere face insurmountable problems in accounting for efficient mechanisms of molecular selection and concentration. Solid minerals have an unmatched potential to select, concentrate, and organize molecules. So minerals much have played a central role in life’s origins. Biochemistry is complex, with interwoven cycles and networks of molecular reactions. For those intricately layered processes to work, molecules have to have just the right sizes and shapes. Molecular selection is the task of finding the best molecule for each biochemical job, and template-directed selection on mineral surfaces is now the leading candidate for how nature did it […] left- and right-handed molecules […] It turns out that life is incredibly picky : cells almost exclusively employ left-handed amino acids and right-handed sugars. Chirality matters […] Our recent experiments have explored the possibility that chiral mineral surfaces played the starring role in selecting handed molecules, and perhaps the origins of life as well. […] Our experiments showed that certain left-handed molecules can aggregate on one set of crystal surfaces, while the mirror image […] on other sets […] As handed molecules are separated and concentrated, each surface becomes a tiny experiment in molecular selection and organization. On its own, no such natural experiment with minerals and molecules is likely to have generated life. But take countless trillions of trillions of trillions of mineral surfaces, each bathed in molecule-rich organic broth […] The tiny fraction of all those molecular combinations that wound up displaying easier self-assembly, or developed a stronger binding to mineral surfaces […] survived […] possibly to learn new tricks.”

  • They Think It’s Not All Over

    Posted on June 11th, 2013 Jo No comments

    [ Image Credit : Lakeview Gusher : ]

    So, the EIA say that the world has 10 years of shale oil resources which are technically recoverable. Woo hoo. We’ll pass over the question of why the American Department of Energy are guiding global energy policy, and why this glowing pronouncement looks just like the mass propaganda exercise for shale gas assessments that kicked off a few years ago, and move swiftly on to the numbers.

    No, actually, not straight on to the numbers. It shouldn’t take a genius to work out the public relations strategy for promoting increasingly dirtier fossil fuels. First, they got us accustomed to the idea of shale gas, and claimed without much evidence, that it was as “clean” as Natural Gas, and far, far cleaner than coal. Data that challenges this myth continues to be collected. Meanwhile, now we are habituated to accepting without reason the risks of subsurface and ground water reservoir destruction by hydraulic fracturing, we should be pliable enough to accept the next step up – oil shale oil fracking. And then the sales team can move on to warm us up to cruddier unconventionals, like bitumen exhumed from tar sands, and mining unstable sub-sea clathrates.

    Why do the oil and gas companies of the world and their trusted allies in the government energy departments so desperately want us to believe in the saving power of shale oil and gas ? Why is it necessary for them to pursue such an environmentally threatening course of product development ? Can it be that the leaders of the developed world and their industry experts recognise, but don’t want to admit to, Peak Oil, and its twin wraith, Peak Natural Gas, that will shadow it by about 10 to 15 years ?

    A little local context – UK oil production is falling like a stoneover the whole North Sea area. Various efforts have been made to stimulate new investment in exploration and discovery. The overall plan for the UK Continental Shelf has included opening up prospects via licence to smaller players in the hope of getting them to bet the farm, and if they come up trumps, permitted the larger oil and gas companies to snaffle up the small fry.

    But really, the flow of Brent crude oil is getting more expensive to guarantee. And it’s not just the North Sea – the inverse pyramid of the global oil futures market is teeteringly wobbly, even though Natural Gas Liquids (NGL) are now included in petroleum oil production figures. Cue panic stations at the Coalition (Oilition) Government offices – frantic rustling of review papers ahoy.

    To help them believe it’s not all over, riding into view from the stables of Propaganda Central, come the Six Horsemen of Unconventional Fossil Fuels : Tar Sands, Shale Gas, Shale Oil (Oil Shale Oil), Underground Coal Gasification, Coalbed Methane and Methane Hydrates.

    Shiny, happy projections of technically recoverable unconventional (night)mares are always lumped together, like we are able to suddenly open up the ground and it starts pouring out hydrocarbon goodies at industrial scale volumes. But no. All fossil fuel development is gradual – especially at the start of going after a particular resource. In the past, sometimes things started gushing or venting, but those days are gone. And any kind of natural pump out of the lithosphere is entirely absent for unconventional fossil fuels – it all takes energy and equipment to extract.

    And so we can expect trickles, not floods. So, will this prevent field depletion in any region ? No. It’s not going to put off Peak Oil and Peak Natural Gas – it literally cannot be mined fast enough. Even if there are 10 years of current oil production volumes that can be exploited via mining oil shale, it will come in dribs and drabs, maybe over the course of 50 to 100 years. It might prolong the Peak Oil plateau by a year or so – that’s barely a ripple. Unconventional gas might be more useful, but even this cannot delay the inevitable. For example, despite the USA shale gas “miracle”, as the country continues to pour resources and effort into industrialising public lands, American Peak Natural Gas is still likely to be only 5 years, or possibly scraping 10 years, behind Global Peak Natural Gas which will bite at approximately 2030 or 2035-ish. I suspect this is why EIA charts of future gas production never go out beyond 2045 or so :-

    Ask a mathematician to model growth in unconventional fossil fuels compared to the anticipated and actual decline in “traditional” fossil fuels, and ask if unconventionals will compensate. They will not.

    The practice for oil and gas companies is to try to maintain shareholder confidence by making sure they have a minimum of 10 years of what is known as Reserves-to-Production ratio or R/P. By showing they have at least a decade of discovered resources, they can sell their business as a viable investment. Announcing that the world has 10 years of shale oil it can exploit sounds like a healthy R/P, but in actual fact, there is no way this can be recovered in that time window. The very way that this story has been packaged suggests that we are being encouraged to believe that the fossil fuel industry are a healthy economic sector. Yet it is so facile to debunk that perspective.

    People, it’s time to divest your portfolios of oil and gas concerns. If they have to start selling us the wonders of bitumen and kerogen, the closing curtain cannot be far away from dropping.

    They think it’s not all over, but it so clearly must be.

  • Renewable Gas : Research Parameters

    Posted on May 25th, 2013 Jo No comments

    “So what do you do ?” is a question I quite frequently have to answer, as I meet a lot of new people, in a lot of new audiences and settings, on a regular basis, as an integral part of my personal process of discovery.

    My internal autocue answer has modified, evolved, over the years, but currently sounds a lot like this, “I have a couple of part-time jobs, office administration, really. I do a spot of weblogging in my spare time. But I’m also doing some research into the potential for Renewable Gas.” I then pause for roughly two seconds. “Renewable Gas ?” comes back the question.

    “Yes,” I affirm in the positive, “Industrial-scale chemistry to produce gas fuels not dug up out of the ground. It is useful to plug the gaps in Renewable Electricity when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.”

    It’s not exactly an elevator pitch – I’m not really selling anything except a slight shift in the paradigm here. Renewable Energy. Renewable Electricity. Renewable Gas. Power and gas. Gas and power. It’s logical to want both to be as renewable and sustainable and as low carbon as possible.

    Wait another two seconds. “…What, you mean, like Biogas ?” comes the question. “Well, yes, and also high volumes of non-biological gas that’s produced above the ground instead of from fossil fuels.”

    The introductory chat normally fades after this exchange, as my respondent usually doesn’t have the necessary knowledge architecture to be able to make any sense of what my words represent. I think it’s fair to say I don’t win many chummy friends paradigm-bumping in this way, and some probably think I’m off the deep end psychologically, but hey, evolutionaries don’t ever have it easy.

    And I also find that it’s not easy to find a place in the hierarchy of established learning for my particular “research problem”. Which school could I possibly join ? Which research council would adopt me ?

    The first barrier to academic inclusion is that my research interest is clearly motivated by my concern about the risks of Climate Change – the degradation in the Earth’s life support systems from pumping unnaturally high volumes of carbon dioxide into the air – and Peak Fossil Fuels – the risks to humanity from a failure to grow subsurface energy production.

    My research is therefore “applied” research, according to the OECD definition (OECD, 2002). It’s not motivated simply by the desire to know new things – it is not “pure” research – it has an end game in mind. My research is being done in order to answer a practical problem – how to decarbonise gaseous, gas phase, energy fuel production.

    The second barrier to the ivory tower world that I have is that I do not have a technological contribution to make with this research. I am not inventing a chemical process that can “revolutionise” low carbon energy production. (I don’t believe in “revolutions” anyway. Nothing good ever happens by violent overthrow.) My research is not at the workbench end of engineering, so I am not going to work amongst a team of industrial technicians, so I am not going to produce a patent for clean energy that could save the world (or the economy).

    My research is more about observing and reporting the advances of others, and how these pieces add up to a journey of significant change in the energy sector. I want to join the dots from studies at the leading edge of research, showing how this demonstrates widespread aspiration for clean energy, and document instances of new energy technology, systems and infrastructure. I want to witness to the internal motivation of thousands of people working with the goal of clean energy across a very wide range of disciplines.

    This is positively positive; positivity, but it’s not positivism – it’s not pure, basic research. This piece of research could well influence people and events – it’s certainly already influencing me. It’s not hands-off neutral science. It interacts with its subjects. It intentionally intervenes.

    Since I don’t have an actual physical contribution or product to offer, and since I fully expect it to “interfere” with current dogma and political realities, what I am doing will be hard to acknowledge.

    This is not a PhD. But it is still a piece of philosophy, the love of wisdom that comes from the acquisition of knowledge.

    I have been clear for some time about what I should be studying. Call it “internal drive” if you like. The aim is to support the development of universal renewable energy as a response to the risks of climate change and peak fossil fuel energy production. That makes me automatically biased. I view my research subject through the prism of hope. But I would contend that this is a perfectly valid belief, as I already know some of what is possible. I’m not starting from a foundational blank slate – many Renewable Gas processes are already in use throughout industry and the energy sector. The fascinating part is watching these functions coalesce into a coherent alternative to the mining of fossil fuels. For the internal industry energy production conversation is changing its track, its tune.

    For a while now, “alternative” energy has been a minor vibration, a harmonic, accentuating the fossil fuel melody. As soon as the mid-noughties economic difficulties began to bite, greenwash activities were ditched, as oil and gas companies resorted to their core business. But the “green shoots” of green energy are still there, and every now and then, it is possible to see them poking up above the oilspill-desecrated soil. My role is to count blades and project bushes. Therefore my research is interpretivist or constructivist, although it is documenting positivist engineering progress. That’s quite hard for me to agree with, even though I reasoned it myself. I can still resist being labelled “post-positivist”, though, because I’m still interpreting reality not relativisms.

    So now, on from research paradigm to research methodologies. I was trained to be an experimentalist scientist, so this is a departure for me. In this case, I am not going to seek to make a physical contribution to the field by being actively involved as an engineer in a research programme, partly because from what I’ve read so far, most of the potential is already documented and scoped.

    I am going to use sociological methods, combining observation and rapportage, to and from various organisations through various media. Since I am involved in the narrative through my interactions with others, and I influence the outcomes of my research, this is partly auto-narrative, autoethnographic, ethnographic. An apt form for the research documentation is a weblog, as it is a longitudinal study, so discrete reports at time intervals are appropriate. Social media will be useful for joining the research to a potential audience, and Twitter has the kind of immediacy I prefer.

    My observation will therefore be akin to journalism – engineering journalism, where the term “engineering” covers both technological and sociological aspects of change. A kind of energy futures “travelogue”, an observer of an emerging reality.

    My research methods will include reading the science and interacting with engineers. I hope to do a study trip (or two) as a way of embedding myself into the new energy sector, with the explicit intention of ensuring I am not purely a commentator-observer. My research documentation will include a slow collation of my sources and references – a literature review that evolves over time.

    My personal contribution will be slight, but hopefully set archaic and inefficient proposals for energy development based on “traditional” answers (such as nuclear power, “unconventional” fossil fuel production and Carbon Capture and Storage for coal) in high relief.

    My research choices as they currently stand :-

    1. I do not think I want to join an academic group.

    2. I do not think I want to work for an energy engineering company.

    3. I do not want to claim a discovery in an experimental sense. Indeed, I do not need to, as I am documenting discoveries and experiments.

    4. I want to be clear about my bias towards promoting 100% renewable energy, as a desirable ambition, in response to the risks posed by climate change and peak fossil fuel production.

    5. I need to admit that my research may influence outcomes, and so is applied rather than basic (Roll-Hansen, 2009).


    OECD, 2002. “Proposed Standard Practice for Surveys on Research and Experimental Development”, Frascati Manual :-

    Roll-Hansen, 2009. “Why the distinction between basic (theoretical) and applied (practical) research is important in the politics of science”, Nils Roll-Hansen, Centre for the Philosophy of Natural and Social Science Contingency and Dissent in Science, Technical Report 04/09 :-

  • Natural Gas in the UK

    Posted on February 27th, 2013 Jo No comments

    The contribution of coal-fired power generation to the UK’s domestic electrical energy supply appears to have increased recently, according to the December 2012 “Energy Trends” released by the Department of Energy and Climate Change. This is most likely due to coal plants using up their remaining allotted operational hours until they need to retire.
    It could also be due to a quirk of the international markets – coal availability has increased because of gas glut conditions in the USA leading to higher coal exports. Combatting the use of coal in power generation is a global struggle that still needs to be won, but in the UK, it is planned that low carbon generation will begin to gain ascendance.

    The transition to lower carbon energy in Britain relies on getting the Natural Gas strategy right. With the imminent closure of coal-fired power plant, the probable decommissioning of several nuclear reactors, and the small tranche of overall supply coming from renewable resources, Natural Gas needs to be providing a greater overall percentage of electricity in the grid. But an increasing amount of this will be imported, since indigenous production is dropping, and this is putting the UK’s economy at risk of high prices and gas scarcity.

    Demand for electricity for the most part changes by a few percentage points a year, but the overall trend is to creep upwards (see Chart 4, here). People have made changes to their lighting power consumption, but this has been compensated for by an increase in power used by “gadgets” (see Chart 4, here). There is not much that can be done to suppress power consumption. Since power generation must increasingly coming from renewable resources and Natural Gas combustion, this implies strong competition between the demand for gas for heating and the demand gas for electricity. Electricity generation is key to the economy, so the power sector will win any competition for gas supplies. If competition for Natural Gas is strong, and since we don’t have much national gas storage, we can expect higher seasonal imports and therefore, higher prices.

    It is clear that improving building insulation across the board is critical in avoiding energy insecurity. I shall be checking the winter heat demand figures assiduously from now on, to determine if the Green Deal and related measures are working. If they don’t, the UK is in for heightened energy security risks, higher carbon emissions, and possibly much higher energy prices. The Green Deal simply has to work.

  • A Referendum for Energy

    Posted on January 24th, 2013 Jo No comments

    As I dodged the perfunctory little spots of snow yesterday, on my way down to Highbury and Islington underground train station, I passed a man who appeared to have jerky muscle control attempting to punch numbers on the keypad of a cash machine in the wall. He was missing, but he was grinning. A personal joke, perhaps. The only way he could get his money out of the bank to buy a pint of milk and a sliced loaf for his tea was to accurately tap his PIN number. But he wasn’t certain his body would let him. I threw him an enquiring glance, but he seemed too involved in trying to get control of his arms and legs to think of accepting help.

    This, I felt, was a metaphor for the state of energy policy and planning in the United Kingdom – everybody in the industry and public sector has focus, but nobody appears to have much in the way of overall control – or even, sometimes, direction. I attended two meetings today setting out to address very different parts of the energy agenda : the social provision of energy services to the fuel-poor, and the impact that administrative devolution may have on reaching Britain’s Renewable Energy targets.

    At St Luke’s Centre in Central Street in Islington, I heard from the SHINE team on the progress they are making in providing integrated social interventions to improve the quality of life for those who suffer fuel poverty in winter, where they need to spend more than 10% of their income on energy, and are vulnerable to extreme temperatures in both summer heatwaves and winter cold snaps. The Seasonal Health Interventions Network was winning a Community Footprint award from the National Energy Action charity for success in their ability to reach at-risk people through referrals for a basket of social needs, including fuel poverty. It was pointed out that people who struggle to pay energy bills are more likely to suffer a range of poverty problems, and that by linking up the social services and other agencies, one referral could lead to multiple problem-solving.

    In an economy that is suffering signs of contraction, and with austerity measures being imposed, and increasing unemployment, it is clear that social services are being stretched, and yet need is still great, and statutory responsibility for handling poverty is still mostly a publicly-funded matter. By offering a “one-stop shop”, SHINE is able to offer people a range of energy conservation and efficiency services alongside fire safety and benefits checks and other help to make sure those in need are protected at home and get what they are entitled to. With 1 in 5 households meeting the fuel poverty criteria, there is clearly a lot of work to do. Hackney and Islington feel that the SHINE model could be useful to other London Boroughs, particularly as the Local Authority borders are porous.

    We had a presentation on the Cold Weather Plan from Carl Petrokovsky working for the Department of Health, explaining how national action on cold weather planning is being organised, using Met Office weather forecasts to generate appropriate alert levels, in a similar way to heatwave alerts in summer – warnings that I understand could become much more important in future owing to the possible range of outcomes from climate change.

    By way of some explanation – more global warming could mean significant warming for the UK. More UK warming could mean longer and, or, more frequent heated periods in summer weather, perhaps with higher temperatures. More UK warming could also mean more disturbances in an effect known as “blocking” where weather systems lock into place, in any season, potentially pinning the UK under a very hot or very cold mass of air for weeks on end. In addition, more UK warming could mean more precipitation – which would mean more rain in summer and more snow in winter.

    Essentially, extremes in weather are public health issues, and particularly in winter, more people are likely to suffer hospitalisation from the extreme cold, or falls, or poor air quality from boiler fumes – and maybe end up in residential care. Much of this expensive change of life is preventable, as are many of the excess winter deaths due to cold. The risks of increasing severity in adverse conditions due to climate change are appropriately dealt with by addressing the waste of energy at home – targeting social goals can in effect contribute to meeting wider adaptational goals in overall energy consumption.

    If the UK were to be treated as a single system, and the exports and imports of the most significant value analysed, the increasing net import of energy – the yawning gap in the balance of trade – would be seen in its true light – the country is becoming impoverished. Domestic, indigenously produced sources of energy urgently need to be developed. Policy instruments and measured designed to reinvigorate oil and gas exploration in the North Sea and over the whole UKCS – UK Continental Shelf – are not showing signs of improving production significantly. European-level policy on biofuels did not revolutionise European agriculture as regards energy cropping – although it did contribute to decimating Indonesian and Malaysian rainforest. The obvious logical end point of this kind of thought process is that we need vast amounts of new Renewable Energy to retain a functioning economy, given global financial, and therefore, trade capacity, weakness.

    Many groups, both with the remit for public service and private enterprise oppose the deployment of wind and solar power, and even energy conservation measures such as building wall cladding. Commentators with access to major media platforms spread disinformation about the ability of Renewable Energy technologies to add value. In England, in particular, debates rage, and many hurdles are encountered. Yet within the United Kingdom as a whole, there are real indicators of progressive change, particularly in Scotland and Wales.

    I picked up the threads of some of these advances by attending a PRASEG meeting on “Delivering Renewable Energy Under Devolution”, held at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in Westminster, London; a tour to back up the launch of a new academic report that analyses performance of the devolved administrations and their counterpart in the English Government in Westminster. The conclusions pointed to something that I think could be very useful – if Scotland takes the referendum decision for independence, and continues to show strong leadership and business and community engagement in Renewable Energy deployment, the original UK Renewable Energy targets could be surpassed.

    I ended the afternoon exchanging some perceptions with an academic from Northern Ireland. We shared that Eire and Northern Ireland could become virtually energy-independent – what with the Renewable Electricity it is possible to generate on the West Coast, and the Renewable Gas it is possible to produce from the island’s grass (amongst other things). We also discussed the tendency of England to suck energy out of its neighbour territories. I suggested that England had appropriated Scottish hydrocarbon resources, literally draining the Scottish North Sea dry of fossil fuels in exchange for token payments to the Western Isles, and suchlike. If Scotland leads on Renewable Energy and becomes independent, I suggested, the country could finally make back the wealth it lost to England. We also shared our views about the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland being asked to wire all their new Renewable Electricity to England, an announcement that has been waiting to happen for some time. England could also bleed Wales of green power with the same lines being installed to import green juice from across the Irish Sea.

    I doubt that politics will completely nix progress on Renewable Energy deployment – the economics are rapidly becoming clear that clean, green power and gas are essential for the future. However, I would suggest we could expect some turbulence in the political sphere, as the English have to learn the hard way that they have a responsibility to rapidly increase their production of low carbon energy.

    Asking the English if they want to break ties with the European Union, as David Cameron has suggested with this week’s news on a Referendum, is the most unworkable idea, I think. England, and in fact, all the individual countries of the United Kingdom, need close participation in Europe, to join in with the development of new European energy networks, in order to overcome the risks of economic collapse. It may happen that Scotland, and perhaps Wales, even, separate themselves from any increasing English isolation and join the great pan-Europe energy projects in their own right. Their economies may stabilise and improve, while the fortunes of England may tumble, as those with decision-making powers, crony influence and web logs in the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail, resist the net benefits of the low carbon energy revolution.

    [ Many thanks to Simon and all at the Unity Kitchen at St Luke’s Centre, and the handsomely reviving Unity Latte, and a big hi to all the lunching ladies and gents with whom I shared opinions on the chunkiness of the soup of the day and the correct identification of the vegetables in it. ]

    Other Snapshots of Yesterday #1 : Approached by short woman with a notebook in Parliament Square, pointing out to me a handwritten list that included the line “Big Ben”. I pointed at the clock tower and started to explain. The titchy tourist apologised for non-comprehension by saying, “French”, so then I explained the feature attraction to her in French, which I think quite surprised her. We are all European.

    Other Snapshots of Yesterday #2 : Spoke with an Austrian academic by the fire for coffee at IMechE, One Birdcage Walk, about the odd attitudes as regards gun ownership in the United States, and the American tendency to collective, cohort behaviour. I suggested that this tendency could be useful, as the levels of progressive political thinking, for instance about drone warfare, could put an end to the practice. When aerial bombardment was first conducted, it should have been challenged in law at that point. We are all Europeans.

    Other Snapshots of Yesterday #3 : Met a very creative Belgian from Gent, living in London. We are all European.

    Other Snapshots of Yesterday #4 : We Europeans, we are all so civilised. We think that we need to heat venues for meetings, so that people feel comfortable. Levels of comfort are different for different people, but the lack of informed agreement means that the default setting for temperature always ends up being too high. The St Luke’s Centre meeting room was at roughly 23.5 degrees C when I arrived, and roughly 25 degrees C with all the visitors in the room. I shared with a co-attendee that my personal maximum operating temperature is around 19 degrees C. She thought that was fine for night-time. The IMechE venue on the 2nd floor was roughly 19 – 20 degrees C, but the basement was roughly 24 degrees C. Since one degree Celsius of temperature reduction can knock about 10% of the winter heating bill, why are public meetings about energy not more conscious of adjusting their surroundings ?

  • Boris’ Entirely Accurate Assessment

    Posted on January 21st, 2013 Jo 3 comments

    Image Credit : jgspics

    It’s lucky for Londoners that we have a Mayor of the intellectual stature of Boris Johnson. Not only is he a fashion icon, a promotor of safe cycling, and a total sex god, especially dangling from high wires at Olympic Stadia wearing a rumpled suit, but he’s also a sheer genius on science. He’s as learned as the best taxi chauffeur in the City’s Square Mile, and not only that, he’s studied Earth Sciences in depth, and has so much wisdom from his knowledge, that he feels justified in challenging an entire pantheon of climatologists.

    Here he is writing philanthropically, no doubt, for our general edification, in the Daily Telegraph online,

    “…I am sitting here staring through the window at the flowerpot and the bashed-up barbecue, and I am starting to think this series of winters is not a coincidence. The snow on the flowerpot, since I have been staring, has got about an inch thicker. The barbecue is all but invisible. By my calculations, this is now the fifth year in a row that we have had an unusual amount of snow; and by unusual I mean snow of a kind that I don’t remember from my childhood: snow that comes one day, and then sticks around for a couple of days, followed by more. I remember snow that used to come and settle for just long enough for a single decent snowball fight before turning to slush; I don’t remember winters like this. Two days ago I was cycling through Trafalgar Square and saw icicles on the traffic lights; and though I am sure plenty of readers will say I am just unobservant, I don’t think I have seen that before. I am all for theories about climate change, and would not for a moment dispute the wisdom or good intentions of the vast majority of scientists. But I am also an empiricist; and I observe that something appears to be up with our winter weather, and to call it “warming” is obviously to strain the language…”

    I must defer to the man – his memory is incredibly accurate, and the conclusions based on his impressions entirely valid. It cannot be true that in the winter of 1967-1968, for example, when he was a little brat, that snow was so deep and so treacherous in parts of London that cars could not drive up slopes steeper than about 25 degrees; and that the snow lasted for several weeks and caused major infrastructure disruption, especially when there was a second phase of snowfall. It cannot be true that winters in the UK in the late 1970s and early 1980s were really quite bad, because Boris cannot recall them, despite being nearly aged 50, unless of course, he grew up in another, more tropical part of the world.

    As his claim to be an “empiricist” is backed up by his winter recollections, we can trust what he says about Piers Corbyn, obviously. Piers Corbyn, alone among his generation, perhaps, is reported by BoJo to believe that “global temperature depends not on concentrations of CO2 but on the mood of our celestial orb.” And he has a fascinating, entirely convincing explanation for recent hard winters, “When the Sun has plenty of sunspots, he bathes the Earth in abundant rays. When the solar acne diminishes, it seems that the Earth gets colder. No one contests that when the planet palpably cooled from 1645 to 1715 – the Maunder minimum, which saw the freezing of the Thames – there was a diminution of solar activity. The same point is made about the so-called Dalton minimum, from 1790 to 1830. And it is the view of Piers Corbyn that we are now seeing exactly the same phenomenon today.”

    It’s all so simple, really, and we have to thank Piers Corbyn, shake his hand warmly, and thump him on the back to express our deep gratitude for explaining that history is repeating itself, all over again. Nothing, of course, has changed in the Earth’s atmosphere, so its composition couldn’t be accentuating the Greenhouse Effect, whereby minute amounts of Greenhouse Gases keep the surface of the planet above the 18 or 19 degrees Celsius below freezing point it would be otherwise.

    So of course, just as he is right about solar activity being the primary driver of global temperatures today, just as it was clearly the only significant driver in the past, Piers Corbyn must be entirely correct about his predictions of future cooling, especially because he’s being quoted by Borish Johnson, on the website of a very well-read newspaper, no less, “We are in for a prolonged cold period. Indeed, we could have 30 years of general cooling.”

    The Daily Telegraph have hit on a superb way of guaranteeing web hits. The strategy of setting a cool cat amongst the warming pigeons is even acknowledged by Mr Johnson himself, “all those scientists and environmentalists who will go wild with indignation on the publication of this article”.

    But it appears that despite this clownish, jokey, provocative stance, Boris might actually believe there is something in Piers Corbyn’s analysis : “I am speaking only as a layman [a “layman” with a platform in a national newspaper, which pay him to write this stuff] who observes that there is plenty of snow in our winters these days, and who wonders whether it might be time for government [just a “layman” with some old university pals in the Cabinet] to start taking seriously the possibility – however remote – that Corbyn is right. If he is, that will have big implications for agriculture, tourism, transport, aviation policy and the economy as a whole.”

    BoJo then dives off the psychological deep-end, “Of course it still seems a bit nuts to talk of the encroachment of a mini ice age. But it doesn’t seem as nuts as it did five years ago [oh yes, it does]. I look at the snowy waste outside, and I have an open mind.” Open minded ? About things that have been established as reality ? I suppose we should stay open minded about the entire field of Chemistry or Physics, then ? Or how about the Theory of Gravity ? Was Boris being open minded about gravity when he took to the harness and wire during London 2012 ?

    Am I giving “oxygen” to the madness of the global warming deniers by writing about this truly ill-informed opinion from Boris Johnson ? The media are already giving more than enough oxygen to people in high office with quaint, outdated views. Should I be silent as major newspapers continue to pour forth ineptitude ?

    Am I “scoring an own goal” by pointing out his piece is a travesty of the scientific facts ? No, I am pointing out that his article contains invalid scientific opinion.

    When I first read this piece, I thought it was a parody, but now I’m not so sure. It appears to be a deliberate attempt to skew the confidence of other people – confidence in the main body of science, and the decades of patient work by people with thousands of data sets of measurements from the natural world, not just poor memories of winters past.