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Enron, Fudging and the Magic Flute

Allegedly, the United Kingdom is about to break free from the Dark Ages of subsidies, and enter the glorious light of a free and light-touch regulated, competitive electricity market.

The Electricity Market Reform is being sold to us as the way to create a level playing field between low carbon electricity generation technologies, whether they be established or new, baseload or variable, costly-up-front or cheap-and-quick-to-grid.


Personally, I do not accept the mythology of the Free Market. I do not accept that a fully competitive, privatised energy sector can be delivered, regardless of the mechanisms proposed. The Electricity Market Reform is less Englightenment and more Obscurantism, in my view – the call of the Magic Flute is going to fall on deaf ears.

Who will play the pipe ? Who will call the tune ? Who will be the Counterparty ?
At the National Grid’s Future Energy Scenarios day conference-seminar on Thursday 27th September 2012, I listened carefully to several spokesmen from the companies, quangos and agencies deny that they would have anything to do with determining, underwriting or administering deals for the EMR’s proposed “Contracts for Difference” (CfD) – essentially setting a guaranteed lowest price for selling electricity to the grid, regardless of market movement. Mark Ripley of the EMR team at National Grid was very clear “National Grid will not be the contractual counterparty for the CfD”. I asked Jonathan Brearley of the UK Government Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) at a break who would be independent enough to set the “strike price” – the minimum price for which electricity generators could expect to sell electricity ? He suggested that perhaps the UK Government would set up an independent governing body – gesturing at arm’s length. I asked him rhetorically who could reasonably be expected to be seconded to this new quango – how could they be truly independent…I did not get an opportunity to ask how the CfD revenues and payouts would be administered. I didn’t know at that time about the rumours that Ofgem – the current electricity generation quango regulator – could be closed down under a new Labour Government.

The shadow cast by the nuclear industry
During the presentation by Jonathan Brearley of DECC, he indicated that back room discussions are going on between large potential electricity generation investors and the UK Government. Even before the ink has hit the paper on the EMR draft, it seems the UK Government is inviting large investors to come and talk to them about deals for guaranteed generation sales prices. As far as my notes indicate, he said “The first nuclear project has already approached us for a contract.” I asked him directly in the break if this kind of pre-legislation arrangement was going to allow the nuclear industry to cream off subsidies. He denied that Contracts for Difference would be allocated for current nuclear power plants. He did not admit that there are strong indications that the so-called Capacity Mechanism of the EMR could be applied, propping up the profits of the nuclear power plants already running, and encouraging them to apply for extension licences for their cracked reactors to keep running after they should have been shut down for safety reasons.

After the National Grid meeting, I went to an EcoConnect meeting, where Eric Machiels of Infinis said, in reference to the strong influence of EdF (Electricite de France) in proposing new nuclear reactors in the UK, “The EMR was set up to meet two requirements. [First] to justify incredibly high investments. [And] nuclear – if you need to invest £10 billion or more, 10 years away, you need regulatory certainty…[But you have to know, decisions on nuclear development] will rely on decisions made in the Elysee Palace and not in Number 10.”

Well, it seems clear that the steer is still towards the UK taxpayers and billpayers stumping up to support the ailing French atomic power fleet.

A bit of a big fudge
There is no reason to believe that the Curse of Enron will not haunt the UK energy trading halls if the EMR goes ahead with its various microeconomic policies. Everybody will play for profits, and the strength of over-competitive behaviour between the current market actors will not encourage or permit new market entrants.

At the EcoConnect meeting, Diane Dowdell of Tradelink Solutions warned of the risks of going back to the kind of electricity markets of former decades, “Unless you worked under the Pool, you wouldn’t know how it works. It is a derivative…DECC need to look at Ireland – their Pool system has been utterly destroyed. Please don’t follow in the footsteps of Ireland – get the balancing right.”

The big issue is the macroeconomic need to incentivise investment in new electricity generation plant and infrastructure – something that will not be achieved by flipping microeconomic market trading conditions to benefit low carbon generators. How can new low carbon generators come onto the grid ? By placing focus on investment decisions. New generation has to clear a higher hurdle than how much it can sell green power for on the half-hourly market. Funds and financing are not going to be directed to choose low carbon investment just because marginal costs (the Carbon Floor Price and the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme) are applied to high carbon players already in the market. The guarantees of profits into the future from the institution of Contracts for Difference (Feed in Tariff) and the Capacity Mechanism will maybe trigger a slice of investment in new nuclear power, but it won’t ensure that new gas-fired power plants are built with Carbon Capture and Storage.

At the EcoConnect meeting later on, another DECC man reported back on the UK Government’s call for evidence on the EMR. DECC’s Matt Coyne said that amongst the conclusions from the consultation with industry there were concerns about the conditions for Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) under the EMR. (Securing a PPA is the guarantee that investors need to be able to commit to backing new electricity generation capacity). He said that developers are finding it hard to secure finance for new generation investment and that it was a widely-held view that the EMR would not improve that, although he said that “it is our view that the Contracts for Difference will improve things.” Other people at the meeting were not so sure. Diane Dowdell said, “I desperately hope the EMR works. It’s got to work. [Conditions] seem to be edging out the small- and mid-sized players.” Eric Machiels said, “The Big Six vertically integrated energy suppliers are in the best position to retain their position.”

In my notes, I scribbled that Michael Ware, a dealmaking matchmaker for renewable energy projects, offered the view that “Government does resemble toddlers driving a steam train – there are lots of buttons to push…[The UK is] just a rainy little island at the edge of Europe. Capital is truly international. It all feels much easier to do business elsewhere. [The EMR looks] almost designed to turn off investors.”

There were several calls to retain the Renewables Obligation – to oblige energy suppliers to keep signing up new clean power from smaller players if they couldn’t make it themselves.

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Gas in the UK (3)

Bursting the Nuclear Bubble

The UK Government appear to have seen the light about their, frankly, rubbish plan to covertly invest in (by hidden subsidies) a spanking new fleet of nuclear power reactors.

Dogged by Electricite de France (EdF) as they have been, with Vincent de Rivaz continuing to proffer his begging bowl with outstretched pleading arms, it just might be that before the Energy Bill is finally announced –

when the Electricity Market Reform (EMR) dust has settled – that this new thinking will have become core solidity.

After all, there are plenty of reasons not to support new nuclear power – apart from the immense costs, the unclear costs, the lack of immediate power generation until at least a decade of concrete has been poured, and so on (and so forth).

Gas is Laughing

It appears that reality has bitten – and that the UK Government are pursuing gas. And they have decided not to hatch their eggs all in one basket. First of all, there’s a love-in with Statoil of Norway :-

https://www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/news/pn12_072/pn12_072.aspx
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/9316935/French-president-Francois-Hollande-cuts-retirement-age.html
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-18344831
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/david-cameron-praises-uknorway-energy-linkup-7826436.html
https://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/damian-carrington-blog/2012/jun/07/energy-uk-norway-oil-gas-renewables

Then, there’s the new “South Stream” commitment – the new Azerbaijan-European Union agreement, spelled out in a meeting of the European Centre for Energy and Resource Security (EUCERS) on 12th June at King’s College, London :-

https://www.eucers.eu/2012/06/07/5-eucers-energy-talk-the-southern-gas-corridor-at-the-home-stretch/
https://abc.az/eng/news/65475.html
https://oilprice.com/Energy/Natural-Gas/Azerbaijan-Turkey-Deepen-their-Energy-Ties.html
https://euobserver.com/19/116394
https://www.atimes.com/atimes/Central_Asia/NC23Ag02.html

Meanwhile, the “North Stream” gas pipeline is going to feed new Russian gas to Europe, too (since the old Siberian gas fields have become exhausted) :-

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-15637244
https://www.nord-stream.com/pipeline/
https://www.gazprom.com/about/production/projects/mega-yamal/
https://www.gpilondon.com/index.php?id=325

And then there’s the amazing new truth – Natural Gas is a “green” energy, according to the European Union :-

https://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/may/29/gas-rebranded-green-energy-eu

The UK will still be importing Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) from our good old friends in Qatar. Never mind the political interference in the nearby region and the human rights abuses, although NATO could be asked to put a stop to that if Europe needed to bust the regime in order for their energy companies to take ownership of the lovely, lovely gas. I mean, that’s what happened in Iraq and Libya, didn’t it ?

A Fossilised Future

So, despite all the green noises from the UK Government, the underlying strategy for the future (having batted away the nuclear buzzing insects around the corpse of British energy policy), is as Steve Browning, formerly of National Grid says – “gas and air” – with Big Wind power being the commercialisable renewable technology of choice. But not too much wind power – after all, the grid could become unstable, couldn’t it, with too much wind ?

There are several problems with this. First, the commitment to fossil fuels – even Natural Gas with its half the emissions profile of coal – is a risky strategy, despite making sure that supplies are secure in the near term. The reasons for this are geological as well as geopolitical. Natural Gas will peak, and even the UK Government accepts that unconventional gas will not keep fossil gas going forever – even with the “18 years” ultimate recoverable from under Lancashire of shale gas (that’s “18 years” of current gas annual demand – but not all drilled at once – perhaps amounting to about 1.5% of current UK gas supply needs per year, stretched out over 40 years) , and the billion tonnes of coal that can be gasified from under the sea off the east coast of England. As long as Carbon Capture and Storage can work.

Not only will Natural Gas peak and start to decline in the UK, it will also peak and decline in the various other foreign resources the UK is promising to buy. By simple logic – if the North Sea gas began depletion after only 30 years – and this was a top quality concentrated resource – how soon will poorer quality gas fields start depleting ?

Whilst I recognise the sense in making Natural Gas the core strategy of UK energy provision over the next few decades, it can never be a final policy. First off, we need rather more in terms of realistic support for the deployment of renewable electricity. People complained about onshore wind turbines, so the UK Government got into offshore wind turbines, and now they’re complaining at how expensive they are. Then they botched solar photovoltaics policy. What a palaver !

Besides a much stronger direction for increasing renewable electricity, we need to recognise that renewable resources of gas need to be developed, starting now. We need to be ready to displace fossil gas as the fossil gas fields show signs of depletion and yet global demand and growth still show strength. We need to recognise that renewable gas development initiatives need consistent central government financial and enabling policy support. We need to recognise that even with the development of renewable gas, supplies of gas as a whole may yet peak – and so we need to acknowledge that we can never fully decarbonise the energy networks unless we find ways to apply energy conservation and energy efficiency into all energy use – and that this currently conflicts with the business model for most energy companies – to sell as much energy as possible. We need mandates for insulation, efficient fossil fuel use – such as Combined Heat and Power (CHP) and efficient grids, appliances and energy distribution. Since energy is mostly privately owned and privately administered, energy conservation is the hardest task of all, and this will take heroic efforts at all levels of society to implement.

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Gas in the UK (2)

…Continued from https://www.joabbess.com/2012/06/12/gas-in-the-uk/

Questions from the floor

[Tony Glover]

…increasing electricification of heat and transport. I was interested in what Doug said about heat. [If energy conservation measures are significant and there is] a significant reduction in gas use for heat…interested in the Minister’s response.

[Terry ? (Member of PRASEG)]

I’m interested in gas that would need CCS [Carbon Capture and Storage] [in future] …[since there would be no restriction there would be an] incentive to build new gas in next few years away from CCS-usable infrastructure. Maybe encouraging gas stations over next few years to be built in view of CCS.

[ ? ]

[There have been mentions of the] Gas [generation] Strategy and gas storage. Is it your intention to have both in the Energy Bill ? [Need to improve investor confidence.]

[Charles Hendry MP] I’m more confident than Doug on CHP…[in respect of energy conservation we will begin to increase our use of] CHP [Combined Heat and Power], geothermal energy, don’t need District Heating. I think we’ll see more people switch to electric heating. The likely pricing on gas will mean people have to look at other sources – such as localised heat storage, intelligent ways to produce hot water and heat in their homes […for example, a technology to store heat for several days…] The first [new gas power] plants will be where they are already consented – where originally coal plants – need to have identified in advance – no new plant is consented unless…We’ve asked Ofgem to ask re securing gas supplies. If we can stretch out the tail of North Sea gas – can stretch it out 30 – 40 years […] technology […] Centrica / Norway […] develop contracts […] Is there a role for strategic storage [Centrica asking] […] Buying and selling at the wrong price (like the gold) [widespread chuckling in the room]. Some of it may not need legislation. Gas Strategy will be published before the Energy Bill.

[David Cox] Get very nervous about gas storage. Don’t think there’s a need to put financial incentives in place to increase gas storage. We think the hybrid gas market is successful – a market and regulatory framework – [gas storage incentives] could damage.

[Doug Parr] I’m not downbeat because I want to be downbeat on heat. [Of all the solutions proposed none of them show] scaleability, deliverability. I’d love that to come true – but will it ? […] Heat pumps ? Biogas is great but is it really going to replace all that gas ? If we’re going to be using gas we need to make the best use of it […] Issues around new plant / replacement – all about reducing risks no exposing ourselves to [it] – security of supply, climate risks, issues about placement [siting of new plant]. If CCS can really be made to work – it’s a no-brainer – do we want all that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere or … ? Our entire policy becomes dependent on a technology that hasn’t even been demonstrated. Other technologies that people thought were great – years later they still haven’t arrived [for example, rooftop wind turbines]. If we say CCS is the only way it’s going to work – what’s Plan B ? We are going to use [fossil fuels] – should not become wholly dependent on technology not yet demonstrated.

[Alan Whitehead] Perhaps people should be asked – which would you prefer – a CHP / DH [Combined Heat and Power / District Heating] plant in the valley here, or a couple of wind turbines on that hill ? That would [shake things up].

Questions from the floor

[ X ? ] See […] as the ultimate destination. Most important – gas can be made zero carbon – not pie in the sky. 1. Start contributions of carbon-neutral gas and 2. will need far less if [we act] like Japan – force installation of microCHP. Their aim is to do same as for washing machines [bring prices down – make widely available for the home]. MicroCHP [with] heat pumps – reduction as good as decarbonising gas or electricity. But can also decarbonise gas.

[ X ? ] The Minister mentioned the importance of CHP but recently dropped […] mandate. If CHP so important what measures is the Government taking to ensure its installation ?

[ X ? ] Electricity is a rubbish fuel for heating buildings – very peaky load – need something cheap to store, cheap to […]. Fits very well with forcing down demand. Where we’re getting our gas from. At the moment our waste is being incinerated. For a cheap additional cost, where currently incinerating we can do anaerobic digestion [AD], producing a fungible asset – the gas – can gradually decarbonise our grid.

[ Thomas Grier ? ] …a decision [?] of London – CHP in London over the next few years. If we want to use electricity for heat, we need to reinforce the electricity grid [by 60% to 90% ?] In rural situations – use electrical heating. In urban, use decarbonised energy. [This model projection] shows the gas grid disappearing – it will collapse at some point if all we have on the gas grid is cooking.

[ X ? ] …[encouraged CHP then a few days later] stood up then said all support [removed ?] for CHP next year. A Heat Strategy that said there is enormous [scope / potential] for CHP. We want to see gas, we want to see efficiency. Are we moving towards […] without it they won’t build it.

[David Cox] Microgeneration – couldn’t get it down economically. Reliability [issues]. Full supporter of biogas – AD got a contribution to make – but never more than 5% – no matter how much [we crack it]. Electricity is not very good for heating – but how to we decarbonise the heat sector ? Always been an advocate of CHP. Government need to do more incentivising of that.

[Charles Hendry MP] Innovation and invention […] Government can’t support all emerging technologies. Best brains around the world [are working on] how we move fundamentally in a low carbon direction. On the waste hierarchy – burning of waste should be the final stage – finding a better use for it. [I visited] the biggest AD plant in Europe in Manchester – biogas and electricity generation. We are seeing Local Authorities taking a more constructive long-term view on how to manage waste. CHP – we all want to see more of it – to what extent does it need support ? That depends on whether new build – building a community around it. [By comparison, urban retrofitting is probably too expensive] Iceland [took the decision and] retrofitted almost every home – I’m now more convinced than before. What is the right level of subsidy and what makes good economic case ?

[Doug] We do keep missing opportunities. [For example in Wales, Milford Haven, the new Combined Cycle Gas Turbine at the Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) refinery to process the gas] should have been CHP. I am enthusiastic about lots of heat technologies [but the same questions/issues apply] scaleability and deliverability. District heating [DH] – an infrastructure asset ! [Can change priorities about what gets built – for example in Denmark (?)] they’re building large-scale solar farms to top up the DH. In the Treasury’s infrastructure plan [see DH could be…] Heat is the poor relation in energy debate. Other networks have been identified in the National Policy Statements (NPS) – but not heat.

[ Leonie Green, Renewable Energy Association ] [I must] defend heat pumps. In Sweden 90% of new builds [hav e heat pumps ?] – heat pump efficiency is a function of the energy-efficiency of the building […] Just on AD – National Grid report said it could provide 50% [of the nation’s supply. Our members think] that’s a bit too high – we think 25%. My question is really about the benefits. We are hearing anxiety about costs, but it’s piecemeal on benefits. We’ve been strong on jobs, balance of trade, exports [all benefits of renewable energy investment and deployment]. Pleased to see DECC put out [report from] Oxford Economics [on the] wider economic benefits. How can we get more and more balance in reports. [An example] Deutsche Bank renewable generation opportunities.

[ ? ] We would also support more than 5% from renewable gas – also about hydrogen – we used to do it when it was town gas – why not again ? As regards injecting biomethane/biogas from AD into the National Grid [last year ? to this year ?] 130 enquiries to connect AD to our network – none have progressed. Please sort these [registrations] out.

[ ? ] Minister, we’re not expecting you to fund all technologies – we need some logic – especially with transport. The Government doesn’t recognise the difference between Renewable Natural Gas if used in transport and fossil fuels. Would be simple – a tax on gas if used in a vehicle. What’s the problem over […] ?

[Colin Snape, University of Nottingham] We are looking at reducing the costs of carbon capture – we have a section of PhDs… One other gas source not mentioned – gas from underground gasification of coal [UCG]. In UK […] 2 billion tonners of coal – slightly offshore – on the energy coast of the UK – where all the action is on CCS – obviously UCG needs to be coupled with CCS to be carbon neutral. Would [be operational] in a very short time period […incentives…]. Significant proportion of UK needs.

[ ? ] What is the purpose of the Gas Strategy ? Shale gas isn’t a miracle. The “Golden Age of Gas” [report by the International Energy Agency (IEA)] doesn’t mean cheap gas, because [it will be put to] lots of uses. Renewable electricity and nuclear are not going to come until the 2020s. How do we avoid building loads of gas generation that is not necessary after that time ? What’s the role of mothballing (relatively cheap to bring CCGT out of mothballs comparing to build new). No sign of reduction in electricity demand reduction – therefore there will be high gas use.

[ Doug Parr ] On UCG, the IEA had two scenarios in the “Golden Age of Gas” – both took us over 3.5 degrees Celsius [in additional global warming]. Even if there is unconventional gas sources, still a huge danger of going down the road of unrestrained gas use. What is the alternative ? We should not end up becoming dependent on gas. Should not build gas to fill a short-term hole – they will lobby for their own interests – to keep open.

[ David Cox ] CCGTs won’t be built without guarantees greater than 20 years. Also renewable energy might not provide in the way that we hope. The CCC report – what caused the rise in energy prices ? The wholesale gas price – not renewable energy, green policies. However, that was slightly dishonest – the counter-factual was […] renewable energy significantly still more expensive than fossil fuel there. Until we can get costs of renewable energy down to the prices of fossil fuels… [The industry] don’t give the impression [they will build] on the basis of short-term need. Gas isn’t clean, I admit that […] CCS – that will work.

[Charles Hendry MP] A lot comes back to a need for a balanced approach – carbon targets and security of supply. If you haven’t sorted out security of supply, the electorate will not give permission to go low carbon. Gas is a hedging fuel currently but don’t know where costs going over time. As a politician, I like pipelines – know where it’s going (not like LNG, where there was limited use of new LNG import plant). If we want Scandinavian gas, we need security of demand to build the new pipeline. How we deal with issues of biomethane – in 2 years – need to make more progress. Some of these [techologies] will be gamechangers – some, look back in a couple of years… [Need a] permissive framework to allow a lot of ideas and technologies. There is no source of energy that hasn’t required subsidy in early days. Fanciful to suggest new forms of energy can come through without support. The letters we get [from the public, from constituents] are on vehicle fuel costs, not how much their gas bill went up last winter…

Official end of meeting

A gaggle of people gathered in the hallway to discuss some items further.

The Electricity Market Reform (EMR) was generally criticised – as it contains measures likely to specifically benefit nuclear power. Electricite de France was identified as very involved. The Government had said “no nuclear subsidy”, but the EMR measures are equivalent to hidden subsidies.

The Levy Cap was criticised as it would disturb investor confidence – if several nuclear reactors came on-stream in 10 years time, in the same year, they would eat up the whole subsidy budget for that year – and other technologies would lose out. If was felt that a number of the EMR proposals were “blunt instruments”, not overcoming shortcomings of former levies and subsidies.

Although the EMR was designed to addressed economic fears, it wasn’t assisting with financing risks – if anything it was adding to them. Rates of return have to be guaranteed for loans to be made – chopping and changing subsidies doesn’t allow for that.

Leonie Green said that the REA members don’t like the Premium Feed-in-Tariff (FiT). She also said later that they were not pleased about the cuts in support for AD.

Since my personal interest is in using Renewable Gas of various sources (including Biomethane / Biogas) to displace Natural Gas from the gas grid, I spoke with various people about this informally (including a woman I met on the train on my way home – who really got the argument about decarbonising gas by developing Renewable Gas, and using that to store excess renewable electricity, and use it as backup for renewable electricity. Although she did say “it won’t be done if it won’t confer benefits”.). One of the key elements for developing Renewable Gas is to create a stream of Renewable Hydrogen, produced in a range of ways. Somebody asked me what the driver would be for progress in Renewable Hydrogen production ? I said the “pull” was supposed to be the fabled “Hydrogen Economy” for transport, but that this isn’t really happening. I said the need for increased sources of renewably-sourced gas will become progressively clear – perhaps within a decade.

One of the persons present talked about how they think the Government is now coming out of the nuclear dream world – how only a few of the proposed new reactors will get built in the next decade – and how the Government now need to come up with a more realistic scenario.

It was mentioned that is appears that the Biogas technologies are going to have the same treatment as solar photovoltaics – some sort of subsidies at the start – which get cut away far too early – before it can stand on its own two feet. This was said to be the result of an underlying theory that only a fixed amount of money should be used on launching each new technology – with no thought to continuity problems – especially as regards investment and loan structures.

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Gas in the UK

“The role of gas in the UK’s energy mix” 12 June 2012 17:30 – 18:30, Committee Room 5, House of Commons with speakers Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change, Charles Hendry; David Cox, Managing Director of The Gas Forum and Dr Doug Parr, Chief Scientist of Greenpeace UK. Chaired by Dr Alan Whitehead MP, Chairman of PRASEG, the Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group, who called the seminar : https://www.praseg.org.uk/the-role-of-gas-in-the-uk-energy-mix/

UNVERIFIED COMMENTS : Please check with the speakers to confirm their statements and do not take this account as verbatim.

[Alan Whitehead MP] Questions about gas. Will it be business as usual ? If not – too “much” gas ? What does that mean for Climate Change targets ? New gas generation – about 11 gigawatts coming on-stream in the next 5 years – “grandfathered” (no obligations to control emissions with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)) throughout the life of the power plant – does produce questions about Climate Change targets – CCS may change that landscape in the medium-term future. Question about emergence of biogas into system [which would bring] a down-trend in emissions.

[David Cox] The wonderful future that gas offers us. Have to look at whole low carbon [framework] – gas has a place. Not a war [between gas and renewable energy technologies]. Both needed [in the advance towards carbon-free] energy. Without gas, not going to make it. Make sure we can afford it. Gas has a role. The recent [International Energy Agency] IEA report on the “Golden Age of Gas” – tight gas, shale gas – has doubled reserves. Nobody knows for sure – there’s so much there. Perhaps 250 years of gas – no shortage of gas [although some of it is in] sensitive areas. Getting it from those areas with political problems. [There are uncertainties about] unconventional gas. There is plenty around the world – “pretty good”. Gas is not at war with renewables. Gas isn’t just a transition fuel – it’s a destination fuel. Got to prove CCS technically. If we can do that gas becomes a destination fuel. Can decarbonise not only electricity. Heat. Heat pumps won’t do it on their own. Sorry. [Gas can help decarbonise] transport – electrify the transport system – that’s what we believe is possible. Hope the Government will support CCS.

[Doug Parr] First and foremost – we are not going to eliminate gas from energy systems any time soon – don’t think of gas as a destination – I would warn against policy that gas is allowed to become the default and become too dependent on gas. A lot of policy on gas – but only over part of the energy system [electricity]. Heat is going to rely on gas fo a long time. If follow the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) logic – [heat is a] strategic sector – to getting away from carbon emissions. If gas is going to be what gets us out of energy problems – the so-called “trilemma” of decarbonisation, security [of supply] and cost. [New gas power plants amount to] 11 gigawatts [GW] over the next 5 years – 120 TWh – a quarter of current gas [still in service] out to 2030. If one take CCC target of 50 gC / KWh (grammes of carbon per kilowatt hour). Look at CCGT [Combined Cycle Gas Turbine gas generation power plant in operation] – that target is a fraction of [current] unabated [CCGT] – not that great. Any substantial role of gas has to make some pretty strong assumptions about CCS. Remember, this is not yet working – let us not have a decarbonisation policy relying heavily on CCS when not at the first stage. The CCC have warned that grandfathering of the 11 GW new generation – emit without restrictions – and issue until 2045. Can’t say gas is somehow the answer to decarbonisation issues. In media – don’t [swallow] the media froth. [As for] security of supply – already going to be quite reliant on gas for heating for quite some time – hard to see [otherwise]. Heavily reliant on imports – around 80%. Where do we import our gas from ? Qatar and Norway mostly. The former head of the Navy argued [recently] changing gas prices is the single most significant factor. DECC [UK Government Department of Energy and Climate Change] recent report on price shock. REA [Renewable Energy Association] said that just by hitting renewables targets would displace £60 billion of imports. [As for] shale gas : both Ofgem research and Deutsche Bank reports that shale gas is very unlikely to help on security [of supply] issue. Citing American example [of shale gas exploitation] is just irrelevant. [So the UK Government must be] supporting gas because of costs ? The biggest rise in consumer bills is from fossil fuel [price increases]. Not renewable energy, not green energy [measures] – it’s the rise in the wholesale gas price. Is that going to stabilise and go down ? Not according to Merrill Lynch and DECC – [strong] prices for Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) and therefore for gas [as a whole, will stay]. Clearly we will be using gas – as [electricity grid load] balancing. What I’m railing about is that gas doesn’t get us out of our energy trilemma. Gas will not [save us]. We know we can deliver through renewable energy, wind – acceleration of new technologies [such as tidal] – perhaps CCS will work, who knows ? and efficient use for example Combined Heat and Power (CHP) on industrial scale. If we are using gas we are using at it’s most efficient.

[Alan Whitehead MP] [recounts tale of how he got into trouble with Twitter commentators when he insisted the recent rise in consumer energy bills was due to the rise in the cost of wholesale gas, not green energy measures] [To Charles Hendry] I’m sure you don’t Tweet.

[Charles Hendry MP] No. absolutely not. I have enough people telling me I’m wrong without… We have to look at the role of gas. It would a dereliction of Government not to look at the role of gas going forward. […mentions developments in gas production…] seismic profiling [enabling better understanding of gas fields] horizontal drilling [improving access to complex fields]. [As for] unconventional gas – the IEA “Golden Age of Gas” – but don’t assume [it’s that simple – supply may go up but] demand for gas is going to go up dramatically. Japan – major user of LNG and diesel. Consequence of Germany’s decision to close nuclear power plants – will use much more gas. China…India…growth rate – massive growth of demand. Anticipate new resources to be found – Iraq for example – but cannot assume [what has happened in the United States of America with the development of shale gas where gas prices are now] a quarter [of what they were] – a massive boost to America – will they allow this to be exported to Asia – or use cheap gas to [relocating] industry back to the USA ? Have to look at implications for us. Reasons why shale gas is different in Europe – legal [situation] – the mineral rights [in the US, these can be acquired from underneath a landowner]. Don’t have the same commercial drives as farmers in the US. The reason why gas prices collapsed in the US and not here – if we saw a price benefit here, it would go out through the [gas] interconnectors [to neighbouring countries]. For real practical reasons won’t see shal gas develop [significantly] here. [It is a] global gamechanger – but… The US is fundamentally shifting from coal to gas – with the implications for emissions. The change from coal to gas was a major driver in European control of emissions [in the 1990s] […] Investment…technology…practical constraints. EdF [Electricite de France] will go ahead with new nuclear [by the end of the year ?] but the plant will not come online until the end of the decade. Major renewable energy resources also in 2020s [not immediate] – the cost of offshore wind power is two times that of onshore. We’re saying to industry to reduce by 40% by the end of the decade – otherwise simply not affordable. Contributions from tidal, CCS ahead. It’s going to be very end of this decade to see if CCS can work. Worrying gap [in power generation between now and next decade]. Megawatts (MW) of coal being turned off in 2015. [Coal plants are] getting through their [legally permitted] generating hours too quickly. By 2023, the only nuclear plant still operational will be Sizewell B. We have to have more gas in the mix. As we look towards more intermittent resources (renewables), gas is an important source of backup. [Will have/need] a capacity mechanism to ensure [optimisation when] mismatch between supply and demand – auction to include gas – could be [North Sea] gas, gas from the interconnectors [from abroad] or demand side response [demand reduction] – a more sophisticated capacity mechanism than historical. I’m more optimistic about CCS [than Doug Parr]. CCS is a requirement. It is something we have to deliver – no scenario I’ve seen where we’re going [to be] using less coal, oil and gas than today. [Out to 2035] our basic needs [will still rely for a good percentage on] fossil fuels. Broadening CCS [demonstration competition] out to pre- and post-combustion on coal – [expand] to gas. Can be applied to gas as well as coal. I think CCS is a fundamentally critical part of this equation. If so, can see gas as a destination fuel. The GW of gas being built in the next few years [some questions] – currently gas is being mothballed [some plants being shut down effectively putting them into disuse] because of [fuel] prices. I consented more in gas and also wind on- and offshore last year. But that gas is not being built. If we want that gas built we need a more coherent strategy. Look at what is necessary to encourage that gas – and carbon emissions [reduction] alongside. EPS [Emissions Performance Standard] […] to stop unabated coal – limit 450 gC / kWh – significant proportion of plant would need CCS. But ddin’t want to disincentivise gas. Have also said a point where CCS on gas will be necessary. But if we had people building gas now and then 15, 20 years later they would have to fit very expensive [CCS] equipment… Volume of gas coming forward meets our supply issues. Over the next few years, grandfathering. If see enough gas coming through can change the mechanism in due course. [We will be] responding officially to the CCC in Autumn. Need to [fully] decarbonise electricity in the course of the 2030s if we want to meet out climate change objectives. I think that [the] reality [is that] gas and important element. Nuclear is important. Want to see significant amount of renewable energy and what Doug is calling for – significant commitment to [energy use] efficiency in the country. [We should concentrate particularly on] energy efficiency.

The meeting then opened up to questions from the floor… To Be Continued

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Renewable Gas : An Introduction


Image shows capped Victorian gas light wall fitting next to a modern electric standard lamp.

Gas fuels are, and will continue to be, important in global energy, despite the projected exponential rise in renewable electricity generation from solar and wind power. Natural Gas has a far lower carbon dioxide emissions profile than coal or oil, and is providing increasing amounts of heat, light and power to industrialised countries. Gas may be regarded as competition to renewable energy, but in fact, gas of different kinds will be an enabler of the renewable energy future, filling in the sawtooth gaps in variable renewable electricity generation, and providing essential transport fuels.
Traditional methods of producing energy gas include mining and pumping the Earth’s fossil fuel resources. The good quality, easily accessible gas is coming to an end, and so-called “unconventional” sources are beginning to be exploited – gas locked in dense sediment and strata, in shales, coal seams and deepwater seabeds. To make energy takes energy, and unconventional gas fuels are becoming more costly to produce. Since the expense of going after poorer density, more inaccessible resources could become prohibitive, exploitation of gas from under the ground will most likely gradually be usurped by methods of making gas fuels above ground. These will need to be from sustainable resources, and so lighter-than-air fuels of the future will be Renewable Gas.

To dig deeper into how important gas is, here’s a little data disclosure on my personal home energy consumption, leaving out food, goods and transport – much of which is virtually Zero Carbon :-

May 2012 Household Domestic Utility Energy Consumption
Natural Gas 137.3 kWh
Electricity 54.0 kWh
Water 5.2 kWh (estimate for 2.4 m3 water from Thames Water)

May 2012 Household Domestic Utility Energy Production
Electricity 293.2 kWh (home photovoltaic generation)
Biomethane 1.8 kWh (estimate for 2.4 m3 sewage digested by Thames Water)

For the first time since having the solar electricity panels fitted, my house has become a net energy producer. The house was already producing more electricity than it used in March 2012, but the thing that kept it a net energy consumer was Natural Gas consumption – mostly used for space heating.

The house used less than half the Natural Gas in March than it did in February or January, but the solar power generated was much less then than it is now – owing to the season – and so did not overtake gas demand. Hopefully now, the house will remain a net energy producer until November.

Two things can be drawn from looking at all the data – first that energy consumption swings can be significant from season to season – and secondly that Natural Gas use is by far the largest part of energy consumption for most of the year. In fact, Natural Gas use is an order of magnitude larger than electricity in winter, even when some of the localised space heating is electrical.

I have taken measures to reduce my space heating needs, such as only using the gas central heating when critical, and keeping the thermostat at 17 degrees C when it’s on, and installing various kinds of insulation and draught exclusion. Thermal adjustment of the home is an ongoing process of improvement, but despite all my efforts, gas use is still ten times higher in the cold months than all the power consumption. On the other hand, in the warm months, I sometimes use less gas energy than electricity.

I aim to change some of the home gas appliances to electrical power, in order to further reduce my dependence on gas. However, even though I have a green electricity account, some of my power will still be coming from gas-fired power stations. Plus, it could be argued that my burning gas to heat water is more efficient than using electricity, because of the losses of conversion in the power supply grid system. Heating by electricity is almost certainly less efficient – which is why I must continue to insulate my home further. Of note, my domestic production of energy will not ever match winter consumption without utilising a new resource, as solar insolation is at its ebb then, and so moving away from gas to power will perhaps take me farther away from an overall balance between energy supply and demand.

Until the United Kingdom is powered entirely by green electricity and given comfort by insulation and green heating and cooling, we will continue to be dependent on gas fuels, not just because of the variable nature of renewable energy, which gas backs up, but because it will take time to convert everything that can be converted from gas to power. This is especially important in the field of transport, where the first conversion will need to be from oil-refined fuels to gas-refined fuels as a first stage – as replacing all the vehicles with electric drive models will take a gargantuan effort, and much economic turnover.

The importance of gas fuels in the next few decades during the green energy transition means that it is worthwhile to develop sustainable Renewable Gas supplies, particularly considering that once developed they can continue to be of use long into the future.

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Moving towards a logical conclusion

Although I consider him to be an enemy of the people by being a key architect of the privatisation of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), I was delighted to hear Andrew Lansley say this about tobacco sales : “We don’t work in partnership with the tobacco companies because we are trying to arrive at a point where they have no business in this country.” Finally, after over ten years of hard work by a rainbow coalition of healthcare providers, local government administration, campaigners, social activists, educators and charities, it is possible for the UK Secretary of State for Health to tell the tobacco industry their products are not wanted here.

The deep question is : why didn’t the UK Government just ban the tobacco companies outright at the start or tell them to diversify out of selling cancer sticks in order to keep their retail licences ? Well, the simple answer is that companies like British American Tobacco (BAT) are privately-owned capitalised companies, with many pension and other major funds heavily invested. The UK Department of Business, Trade, Enterprise, Industry, Information, Skills, Services and Manufacturing or whatever it’s been variously called over the last few decades, simply couldn’t tell shareholders to pull their investment out of death-by-inhalation stocks.

Everyone sees a return on investment in the industries of death generally, such as the arms trade, the junk food industry, and petrochemicals (ask yourself : how many people have suffered and died because of diesel particulate-provoked asthma ?) It takes a certain amount of time to reach the logical conclusion that wars do not need to be fought, making armaments redundant; for healthy food to become seen as essential to beat off diabetes and obesity epidemics; and for urban transport to be electrified to save lungs and hearts.

No, you just can’t ban an entire product range overnight because, finally, the science has broken through the doubt barrier and shown beyond reasonable scepticism that tobacco smoking causes cancer, emphysema and other serious and fatal conditions. No, you have to go at it step by painful step, reducing availability, changing the rules on presentation at the point of sale, putting up signs in public places.

And it all takes time, this gradualist approach. The tobacco industry may now wind down to a dribble in Britain (although it will continue to do well in Asia and Africa), and peoples’ savings for retirement will have soon all moved out of fag ends into something else.

Yet, we don’t have the luxury of time when it comes to the climate change and energy crisis. We simply don’t have the 25 to 50 years it could take to adopt a gradualist approach to energy sector change. Anything that takes longer than 10 years to begin to displace carbon out of the energy economy is too slow to be useful.

People are slowly beginning to wake up to the fact that their money is invested in climate change, and are making demands on their pension fund and bank account managers – but this is all happening too slowly – despite the keen interest in ethical investment.

The energy sector has got to change – and change fast. Changing the energy sector so radically and so quickly is not something that can be done by applying small changes to the costs of energy – particularly as the wider costs of energy are so volatile anyway. Gradually introducing renewable energy technologies with subsidies and grants and special tax breaks is not going to displace carbon fast enough.

Governments may not like the thought – but maybe they will consider starting to ban things – and not be shy about being explicit. However, this kind of action will generate significant resistance and dissent.

How then to rapidly alter the world’s entire energy sector ?

Start telling the truth about how the energy sector is scraping the bottom of the barrel in a number of fuels and fields ? Could this approach cause a run at the investment bank ? Could it tip the balance in energy systems deployment towards the less-intensive options – green energy – the only possible area of growth in the energy sector – which becomes the only possible logical conclusion ?

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Solar FITs and Starts

The British Government’s solar power policy is not really going very well.

Ah well, at least the “nuclear power renaissance” is progressing…err, maybe not :-

“New nuclear electricity costs hit utility ratings – Moody’s : 27 Mar 2012

“Building a nuclear power plant is perceived as risky by credit rating agencies – and in some cases could lead to a ratings downgrade of the utility concerned, a senior analyst at US-based Moody’s told ICIS on Tuesday.”

“The analyst, who wished to remain anonymous, said an unfavourable attitude towards nuclear power stemmed largely from the scale of investment required, together with future uncertainties surrounding power prices.”

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The UK’s Energy Crisis

What annoys me most about the Solar Power Feed-in Tariff saga is not that the UK Government suddenly pulled the plug on the full rate for household-sized systems, or that they set the cut-off date before they finished their consultation, or even that that the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) dragged out a legal appeal process.

Despite the truly pitiful sight of a Minister of State being sent out to bat with a miniaturised teaspoon to defend the indefensible decision, and despite the energy industry stooges that have placements inside DECC and are clearly affecting policy, no, the thing that really gets me is the focus on budgets instead of targets.

Here’s a summary from the Government’s own “long term trend” figures for energy consumption in Great Britain :-

Nobody can swear to me that the last few years are not just a glitch caused by economic instabilities, and that the re-localisation of manufacture in future in a recovering economy will not push this demand continually higher according to the trendline.

What are we using to supply this energy ? Here’s a summary :-

Despite the near exponential rise in renewable energy, it’s starting from a small base. The increase in energy consumption is being satisfied by a sharp rise in the supply of Natural Gas – something which the UK is producing increasingly less of these days. And for those who think that shale gas production would help, no, only a few percent of demand could be satisfied. This is an import-led energy supply, and the trend should ring alarm bells, but clearly doesn’t even tickle the ears of the average person in the street.

Electricity demand growth remains healthy, despite problems with unreliable supply from nuclear electricity (refered to as “outages” in the DECC Digest of UK Energy Statistics (DUKES) reports) :-

Now, in the future, with an envisioned massive rise in renewable energy, higher electricity use would be reasonable, as long as other energy consumption reduced. But the growth in electricity consumption charted here is not people driving more electric cars or using electric heating instead of Natural Gas-fired comfort. This is higher consumption, pure and simple, not “energy switching” over to electricity.

As an aside – the sum total of these figures indicates that the nation as a whole is not engaged in significant energy conservation, despite decades of campaigning.

All these trends add up to a very slight loss in dependency on fossil fuels for the UK’s energy :-

This is the critical trend. North Sea oil and Natural Gas production is falling like a large rock, and no amount of technological advancement and re-stimulating the drilling sector is turning this around. This means that without a rapid decrease in fossil fuel dependency, the United Kingdom is going to start haemorrhaging wealth.

Goodbye, First World.

This is why is it essential to ramp up renewable energy deployment by whatever means at our disposal.

Greg Barker MP bleating about keeping to budgets is not helping.

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Open Letter to Renewable Energy Deniers

To all Renewable Energy Deniers,

Things are getting so much better with renewable energy engineering and deployment – why do you continue to think it’s useless ?

We admit that, at the start, energy conversion efficiencies were low, wind turbine noise was significant, kit was expensive. Not now. Wind and solar farms have been built, data collected and research published. Design modifications have improved performance.

Modelling has helped integrate renewable energy into the grids. As renewable energy technologies have been deployed at scale, and improvements and adjustments have been made, and electricity grid networks have adapted to respond to the variable nature of the wind and the sunshine, we know, and we can show you, that renewable energy is working.

It’s not really clear what motivates you to dismiss renewable energy. Maybe it’s because you’re instinctively opposed to anything that looks like it comes from an “envionmentalist” perspective.

Maybe because renewable energy is mandated to mitigate against climate change, and you have a persistent view that climate change is a hoax. Why you mistrust the science on global warming when you accept the science on everything else is a continuing mystery to me.

But if that’s where you’re coming from when you scorn developments in renewable energy, you’re making a vital mistake. You see, renewable energy is sustainable energy. Despite any collapse in the globalised economy, or disruption to fossil fuel production, wind turbines will keep spinning, and solar panels will keep glowing.

Climate change has been hard to communicate effectively – it’s a huge volume of research, it frequently appears esoteric, or vague, or written by boffins with their heads in the clouds. Some very intelligent people are still not sure about the finer points of the effects of global warming, and so you’re keeping good company if you reserve judgement on some of the more fringe research.

But attacking renewable energy is your final stand. With evidence from the engineering, it is rapidly becoming clear that renewable energy works. The facts are proving you wrong.

And when people realise you’re wrong about renewable energy, they’ll never believe you again. They won’t listen to you when you express doubts about climate change, because you deny the facts of renewable energy.

Those poor fools who have been duped into thinking they are acting on behalf of the environment to campaign against wind farms ! Wind energy will be part of the backbone of the energy grids of the future.

We don’t want and we can’t afford the concrete bunkers of deadly radioactive kettles and their nasty waste. We don’t want and we can’t afford the slag heaps, dirty air and melting Arctic that comes from burning coal for power. We don’t want and we can’t afford to keep oil and Natural Gas producing countries sweet – or wage war against them to keep the taps open.

Instead we want tall and graceful spinners, their gentle arms waving electricity from the breeze. We want silent and dark photovoltaic cladding on every roof.

Burning things should only be done to cover for intermittency in wind and sunshine. Combustion is very inefficient, yet you support combustion when you oppose renewable energy.

We must fight waste in energy, and the rising cost of energy, and yet you don’t support the energy resources where there is no charge for fuel. Some would say that’s curmudgeonly.

When you oppose renewable energy, what is it you’re fighting for ? The old, inefficient and poisonous behemoths of coal hell ? We who support renewable, sustainable energy, we exchange clunky for sleek, toxic for clean. We provide light and comfort to all, rich and poor.

When you oppose renewable energy, you are being unbelievably gullible – you have swallowed an argument that can ruin our economy, by locking us into dependency on energy imports. You are passing up the chance to break our political obedience to other countries, all because wind turbines clutter up your panoramic view when you’re on holiday.

You can question the net energy gain from wind power, but the evidence shows you to be incorrect.

If you criticise the amount of investment and subsidy going into renewable energy, you clearly haven’t understood the net effect of incentivisation in new technology deployment.

Renewable energy has a positive Net Present Value. Wind turbines and solar panels are genuine assets, unlike the liabilities that are coal-fired power stations and nuclear reactors.

Renewable energy deployment will create meaningful, sustainable employment and is already creating wealth, not only in financial terms, but in social welfare terms too.

Renewable energy will save this country, so why do you knock it ?

Quizzically yours,

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Biomassacre : Agrofuels Aggro

Stop Biomassacre Subsidies from You and I Films on Vimeo.

The UK Government has a neat plan – meet a considerable proportion of the nation’s electricity needs by burning biomass and biofuels : wood, waste wood, agricultural residues, palm oil, maize ethanol and such-like.

They are even considering setting up a generous subsidy, the kind of subsidy that would encourage massive imports of biomass and bioliquids.

Without care and regulatory checks and balances, the net effect will almost certainly be rainforest deforestation, land grabbing in under-developed nations, and economic problems for the growing biomass heat movement in the UK.

Most people probably think burning wood, wood waste and plant-derived fuels to make power sounds like a good energy idea – stop burning coal and start burning trees – has to be better for the planet, surely ?

There are a number of really deep problems with this agenda. Almuth Ernsting of Biofuelwatch told me this weekend that burning biomass for electricity generation is incredibly inefficient.

She said the UK Government has apparently heard concerns about the burning of bioliquids such as the biofuel bioethanol for power generation, and it shouldn’t be included in the subsidy arrangement.

However, biomass-fired power generation is still set to receive support – although it is still being depicted as making use of agroforestry residues, and all sourced within the country – judging by a recent permission for a biomass burning plant in Yorkshire.

Generous subsidies for burning biofuels to generate electricity will encourage the combustion of food-quality oils, imported from across the world, exacerbating the existing problems with the destruction of tropical rainforest for commercial gain.

Offering significant subsidies for burning biomass for power generation will most probably trigger further logging of virgin rainforest, as it would be cheap to produce and export to Britain.

Even if biomass were sourced in the United Kingdom – with restrictions on imports from areas of the world where there is extensive land grabbing and deforestation occurring – the subsidy would encourage the burning of wood products for generating power instead of being used in the most efficient way – to heat homes.

Almuth Ernsting said, “the big energy companies are going to burn that much wood, small heat providers won’t be able to compete.” The same would be true of street-scale biomass combined heat and power (CHP) proposals.

Almuth Ernsting and others have pointed out that the UK Government public consultation on the subsidy ends on 12th January 2012, but that even after that date, people are being encouraged to write to their Member of Parliament to express views.

Another group, nope, is also calling for citizen action :-

https://nope.org.uk/

In an e-mail to joabbess.com, Almuth Ernsting offered extra resources :-

“All the materials related to our campaign against subsidies for biomass and biofuel electricity can be found here :-”

https://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/uk-campaign/rocs_overview/

“A briefing about the impacts of ROCs for biomass, biofuels and waste incineration :-”
https://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2011/rocs_impacts/

“A briefing to hand or send to MPs :-”
https://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2011/rocs_mps/

“A guide to lobbying MPs on this :-” https://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2011/mp_guidance_rocs/

“We have got two email alerts on one page just now (https://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2011/rocs-alerts/), though we will take down the one to respond to the DECC Consultation when that closes next Thursday, while keeping the one to MPs. However, we very much encourage people to write personal letters or, even better, visit their MPs, which will have much more impact than taking part in a standard email alert.”

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Alchemic for the people

I was less than a metre above current sea level, rooting about in the holy bookshelves of my Evangelical host, searching for a suitable title.

I pulled out “Who Made God ?” from underneath a pile of books on their sides, letting the column slump downwards, alerting my companions to the fact that I had definitively made my choice for the evening’s reading.

We were treated to gentle Christmassy music for an hour or so as we all gave up talking to read by candlelight and compact fluorescent.

I didn’t read fast, as at first I didn’t have my newly-necessary reading glasses, and when I was encouraged to fetch them, the light was too dim to make reading easy. Those fashionable uplighters.

I read into the second part, and I had already formed in my mind several disagreements with the author, Professor Edgar Andrews, despite him having taken several good lines of reasoning and made some humourous points which I had duly responded to with a slight audible giggle.

I instinctively didn’t like his pitch about the impossibility of organic chemistry and I froze a little : personally I see no need for God’s personal, literal, physical intervention to make the ladders and spirals of genes – the DNA and RNA forming from the appropriate nucleotide bases – A, T, G, C.

And then the book’s author blew away his credibility, for me, at least, by getting bogged down in the absolutes of Physics, and ignoring Chemistry. He quoted the Laws of Thermodynamics, and claimed Entropy as proof that God doesn’t play dice because he’s in the garage playing mechanic. The direction of the universe, the arrow of time, plays towards randomness, the author of the book proclaimed. Order cannot come from inorganic matter – Life is the organising force.

At this, I took several forms of dispute, and immediately found in my mind the perfect counter-example – the formation of crystals from saturated solution – the building of the stalgamite and stalagtite from the sedimentary filtering of rainwater. Another example, I think, is chiral forms of molecular compounds – some chemicals behave in different ways if formed lefthandedly or righthandedly. The different forms behave predictably and consistently and this is an ordered behaviour that I believe – without the necessary university instruction in Chemistry – is an imposed denial of chaos.

In fact, the whole of Chemistry, its world of wonder in alchemy, I think points to a kind of natural negation of the Laws of Physics. There is the Micro World, where Newton, and more introspectively, Einstein, are correct in their theoretical pragmas. But in the Macro World, there is Chemistry, and there are precursor compounds to organic essentials. Life forms itself from dead stone. For a Physicist this is “just not cricket”, it is a whole new universe.

Why can Aluminium be used for containers in microwave ovens, but steel cannot ? And why is Aluminium so light ? Why does water expand when it freezes ? Here the Physicists can help out. But they cannot, when it comes to explaining, or even accurately predicting, all the chemical properties of alloys and compounds.

I have been pondering, in a crude, uneducated way, about industrial chemistry for the last couple of months. How large volume reactions are encouraged, catalysed. How fluids work. How gases breathe. My conclusion is that most chemical engineering is a bit brutish, like the workings of the internal combustion engine. Things are a tad forced. It is probably not possible for chemical engineers to replicate photosynthesis entirely – it’s too dainty for them. But that is the kind of chemistry we need to overcome our climate and energy problems.

We may not be able to match the leaves on the trees, but we can do gas chemistry and electricity and semiconductor physics, and it is gas chemistry and electricity and semiconductor physics that will save the planet. Electricity to replace much fuel. Semiconductor physics to bypass photosynthesis. And Renewable Gas chemistry – engineering the chemical building blocks of the future and providing backup to the other green energies.

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Renewable Gas : Balanced Power

People who know very little about renewable and sustainable energy continue to buzz like flies in the popular media. They don’t believe wind power economics can work. They don’t believe solar power can provide a genuine contribution to grid capacity. They don’t think marine power can achieve. They would rather have nuclear power. They would rather have environmentally-destructive new oil and gas drilling. They have friends and influence in Government. They have financial clout that enables them to keep disseminating their inaccuracies.

It’s time to ditch the pundits, innuendo artists and insinuators and consult the engineers.

Renewable Gas can stand in the gap – when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine and the grid is not sufficiently widespread and interconnected enough to be able to call on other wind or solar elsewhere.

Renewable Gas is the storing of biologically-derived and renewably-created gases, and the improving of the gases, so that they can be used on-demand in a number of applications.

This field of chemical engineering is so old, yet so new, it doesn’t have a fixed language yet.

However, the basic chemistry, apart from dealing with contaminants, is very straight-forward.

When demand for grid electricity is low, renewable electricity can be used to make renewable hydrogen, from water via electrolysis, and in other ways. Underused grid capacity can also be used to methanate carbon-rich biologically-derived gas feedstocks – raising its stored energy.

Then when demand for grid electricity is high, renewable gas can be used to generate power, to fill the gap. And the flue gases from this combustion can be fed back into the gas storage.

Renewable gas can also be biorefined into vehicle fuels and other useful chemicals. This application is likely to be the most important in the short term.

In the medium-term, the power generation balance that renewable gas can offer is likely to be the most important application.

Researchers are working on optimising all aspects of renewable gas and biorefinery, and businesses are already starting to push towards production.

We can have a fully renewable energy future, and we will.