Economic Ecology

Managing the balance between, on the one hand, extraction of natural resources from the environment, and on the other hand, economic production, shouldn’t have to be either, or. We shouldn’t value higher throughput and consumption at the expense of exhausting what the Earth can supply. We shouldn’t be “economic” in our ecology, we shouldn’t be penny-pinching and miserly and short-change the Earth. The Earth, after all, is the biosystem that nourishes us. What we should be aiming for is an ecology of economy – a balance in the systems of manufacture, agriculture, industry, mining and trade that doesn’t empty the Earth’s store cupboard. This, at its root, is a conservation strategy, maintaining humanity through a conservative economy. Political conservatives have lost their way. These days they espouse the profligate use of the Earth’s resources by preaching the pursuit of “economic growth”, by sponsoring and promoting free trade, and reversing environmental protection. Some in a neoliberal or capitalist economy may get rich, but they do so at the expense of everybody and everything else. It is time for an ecology in economics.

Over the course of the next couple of years, in between doing other things, I shall be taking part in a new project called “Joy in Enough”, which seeks to promote economic ecology. One of the key texts of this multi-workstream group is “Enough is Enough”, a book written by Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill. In their Preface they write :-

“But how do we share this one planet and provide a high quality of life for all ? The economic orthodoxy in use around the world is not up to the challenge. […] That strategy, the pursuit of never-ending economic growth has become dysfunctional. With each passing day, we are witnessing more and more uneconomic growth – growth that costs more than it is worth. An economy that chases perpetually increasing production and consumption, always in search of more, stands no chance of achieving a lasting prosperity. […] Now is the time to change the goal from the madness of more to the ethic of enough, to accept the limits to growth and build an economy that meets our needs without undermining the life-support systems of the planet.”

One of the outcomes of global capitalism is huge disparities, inequalities between rich and poor, between haves and have-nots. Concern about this is not just esoteric morality – it has consequences on the whole system. Take, for example, a field of grass. No pastoral herder with a flock of goats is going to permit the animals to graze in just one corner of this field, for if they do, part of the grassland will over-grow, and part will become dust or mud, and this will destroy the value of the field for the purposes of grazing. And take another example – wealth distribution in the United Kingdom. Since most people do not have enough capital to live on the proceeds of investment, most people need to earn money for their wealth through working. The recent economic contraction has persuaded companies and the public sector to squeeze more productivity out of a smaller number of employees, or abandon services along with their employees. A simple map of unemployment shows how parts of the British population have been over-grazed to prop up the economic order. This is already having impacts – increasing levels of poverty, and the consequent social breakdown that accompanies it. Poverty and the consequent worsening social environment make people less able to look after themselves, their families, and their communities, and this has a direct impact on the national economy. We are all poorer because some of our fellow citizens need to use food banks, or have to make the choice in winter to Heat or Eat.

And let’s look more closely at energy. Whilst the large energy producers and energy suppliers continue to make significant profits – or put their prices up to make sure they do so – families in the lower income brackets are experiencing unffordability issues with energy. Yes, of course, the energy companies would fail if they cannot keep their shareholders and investors happy. Private concerns need to make a profit to survive. But in the grand scheme of things, the economic temperature is low, so they should not expect major returns. The energy companies are complaining that they fear for their abilities to invest in new resources and infrastructure, but many of their customers cannot afford their products. What have we come to, when a “trophy project” such as the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station gets signed off, with billions in concomitant subsidy support, and yet people in Scotland and the North East and North West of England are failing to keep their homes at a comfortable temperature ?

There is a basic conflict at the centre of all of this – energy companies make money by selling energy. Their strategy for survival is to make profit. This means they either have to sell more energy, or they have to charge more for the same amount of energy. Purchasing energy for most people is not a choice – it is a mandatory part of their spending. You could say that charging people for energy is akin to charging people for air to breathe. Energy is a essential utility, not an option. Some of the energy services we all need could be provided without purchasing the products of the energy companies. From the point of view of government budgets, it would be better to insulate the homes of lower income families than to offer them social benefit payments to pay their energy bills, but this would reduce the profits to the energy companies. Insulation is not a priority activity, because it lowers economic production – unless insulation itself is counted somehow as productivity. The ECO, the Energy Company Obligation – an obligation on energy companies to provide insulation for lower income family homes, could well become part of UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s “Bonfire of the Green Tax Vanities”. The ECO was set up as a subsidy payment, since energy companies will not provide energy services without charging somebody for them. The model of an ESCO – an Energy Services Company – an energy company that sells both energy and energy efficiency services is what is needed – but this means that energy companies need to diversify. They need to sell energy, and also sell people the means to avoid having to buy energy.

Selling energy demand reduction services alongside energy is the only way that privatised energy companies can evolve – or the energy sector could have to be taken back into public ownership because the energy companies are not being socially responsible. A combination of economic adjustment measures, essential climate change policy and wholesale price rises for fossil fuel energy mean that energy demand reduction is essential to keep the economy stable. This cannot be achieved by merely increasing end consumer bills, in an effort to change behaviour. There is only so much reduction in energy use that a family can make, and it is a one-time change, it cannot be repeated. You can nudge people to turn their lights off and their thermostats down by one degree, but they won’t do it again. The people need to be provided with energy control. Smart meters may or may not provide an extra tranche of energy demand reduction. Smart fridges and freezers will almost certainly offer the potential for further domestic energy reduction. Mandatory energy efficiency in all electrical appliances sold is essential. But so is insulation. If we don’t get higher rates of insulation in buildings, we cannot win the energy challenge. In the UK, one style of Government policies for insulation were dropped – and their replacements are simply not working. The mistake was to assume that the energy companies would play the energy conservation game without proper incentives – and by incentive, I don’t mean subsidy.

An obligation on energy companies to deploy insulation as well as other energy control measures shouldn’t need to be subsidised. What ? An obligation without a subsidy ? How refreshing ! If it is made the responsibility of the energy companies to provide energy services, and they are rated, and major energy procurement contracts are based on how well the energy companies perform on providing energy reduction services, then this could have an influence. If shareholders begin to understand the value of energy conservation and energy efficiency and begin to value their energy company holdings by their energy services portfolio, this could have an influence. If an energy utility’s licence to operate is based on their ESCO performance, this could have an influence : an energy utility could face being disbarred through the National Grid’s management of the electricity and gas networks – if an energy company does not provide policy-compliant levels of insulation and other demand control measures, it will not get preferential access for its products to supply the grids. If this sounds like the socialising of free trade, that’s not the case. Responsible companies are already beginning to respond to the unfolding crisis in energy. Companies that use large amounts of energy are seeking ways to cut their consumption – for reasons related to economic contraction, carbon emissions control and energy price rises – their bottom line – their profits – rely on energy management.

It’s flawed reasoning to claim that taxing bad behaviour promotes good behaviour. It’s unlikely that the UK’s Carbon Floor Price will do much apart from making energy more unaffordable for consumers – it’s not going to make energy companies change the resources that they use. To really beat carbon emissions, low carbon energy needs to be mandated. Mandated, but not subsidised. The only reason subsidies are required for renewable electricity is because the initial investment is entirely new development – the subsidies don’t need to remain in place forever. Insulation is another one-off cost, so short-term subsidies should be in place to promote it. As Nick Clegg MP proposes, subsidies for energy conservation should come from the Treasury, through a progressive tax, not via energy companies, who will pass costs on to energy consumers, where it stands a chance of penalising lower-income households. Wind power and solar power, after their initial investment costs, provide almost free electricity – wind turbines and solar panels are in effect providing energy services. Energy companies should be mandated to provide more renewable electricity as part of their commitment to energy services.

In a carbon-constrained world, we must use less carbon dioxide emitting fossil fuel energy. Since the industrialised economies use fossil fuels for more than abut 80% of their energy, lowering carbon emissions means using less energy, and having less building comfort, unless renewables and insulation can be rapidly increased. This is one part of the economy that should be growing, even as the rest is shrinking.

Energy companies can claim that they don’t want to provide insulation as an energy service, because insulation is a one-off cost, it’s not a continuing source of profit. Well, when the Big Six have finished insulating all the roofs, walls and windows, they can move on to building all the wind turbines and solar farms we need. They’ll make a margin on that.

The Economist : Annoying Power





I generally avoid reading The Economist magazine – apart from the Science and Technology section – as it tends to make my blood boil. The writing style frequently includes such things that I would describe as casual generalisation, unquestioned third party claims, suppositions used in place of factual account, and the selective use of statistics to construct meaning – all of which have the power to annoy. Sometimes an article has so many trigger points, that I simply cannot finish reading it.

This week I risked reading an article recommended to me about power generation in Europe, and I was pretty soon gnashing my teeth and wailing. I was indignant because the arguments being used ignored vital parts of European energy policy, and just parroted the complaints of utility companies, without challenging them, whilst at the same time ignoring the energy sector blackmail and brinkmanship. The article contradicted itself about energy investment and energy prices, and failed to make the case for utilities to diversify in order to survive.

First of all – the contradictions. In The Economist magazine of 12th October 2013, the article entitled “How to lose half a trillion euros”, contains these two sections :-

“[…] During the 2000s, European utilities overinvested in generating capacity from fossil fuels, boosting it by 16% in Europe as a whole and by more in some countries […] The market for electricity did not grow by nearly that amount, even in good times; then the financial crisis hit demand. According to the International Energy Agency, total energy demand in Europe will decline by 2% between 2010 and 2015.”

“[…] the old-fashioned utilities […] So far, it is true, they have managed to provide backup capacity and the grid has not failed, even in solar- and wind-mad Germany. […] But […] it is getting harder to maintain grid stability. […] The role of utilities as investors is […] being threatened. […]”

How can the privatised power utilities on the one hand have “overinvested”, and at the same time not invested enough to protect the grid in future ?

The article writer misses several key points. The underlying reasons for investment in Europe in fossil fuel-fired generation during the 2000s was not in anticipation of higher power demand. The vast majority of new investment in the period 2000 to 2010 in the European Union was in Natural Gas-fired power plants, in anticipation of carbon emissions control and other environmental policy, and in anticipation of the retirement of a number of power plants reaching the ends of their lives. It was also viewed as a no-regrets option given there were plans to diversify the unified European power market to increase competitiveness – incorporating new, smaller players, and new, variable renewable power resources. Flexible gas generation would therefore always be in demand – the ability to turn off and on as required. Requiring gas plants to operate flexibly divorces generation capacity from generation demand, and so invalidates The Economist writer’s statement.

And on to the problem of a contradiction over prices :-

“[…] Renewable, low-carbon energy accounts for an ever-greater share of production. It is helping push wholesale electricity prices down, and could one day lead to big reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions. For established utilities, though, this is a disaster. […] In short, they argue, the growth of renewable energy is undermining established utilities and replacing them with something less reliable and much more expensive. […]”

How can renewable electricity be lowering the prices of wholesale power, and yet also be replacing established utilities with something “much more expensive” ?

I think the clue for this poor reasoning lies with a faulty interpretation of Germany’s Renewable Energy Surcharge – the EEG-Umlage, which is held up as the proof that green power costs more than fossil fuel power. The article says :-

“[…] Electricity prices have fallen from over €80 per MWh at peak hours in Germany in 2008 to just €38 per MWh now […] These are wholesale prices; residential prices are €285 per MWh, some of the highest in the world, partly because they include subsidies for renewables that are one-and-a-half times, per unit of energy, the power price itself). […]”


The Economist’s calculation of the green power subsidies at “one-and-a-half times” the wholesale power price is €57/MWh, so that’s only 20% of the total price of power to the consumer. Other costs besides the actual wholesale cost of the electricity, add up to €190, 67% of the cost of power to the household – far more of an impact than the renewable energy subsidies. I found the data from the BDEW to confirm these figures – from the “Power prices for households” presentation for May 2013, the price of electricity for consumers (for a standard three person house) is at €287.3/MWh, and the combination of Renewable Energy surcharges – including the VAT and the Offshore Wind surcharge – come to €59.82/MWh. So the numbers aren’t wrong, but the way The Economist article paragraph is written it gives the impression that asking end consumers to pay the costs of transitioning to green power is a huge burden. It’s not.

These charges to households would be less if all energy users were to participate in paying for the renewable energy subsidies – but some companies do not, using the argument of anti-competitiveness. If they have to pay the surcharge, they reason, they will lose business to other countries. Quite effective blackmail, burdening the end consumer with higher power bills. In addition the electricity supply companies are trying to maintain their profit margins so may not be passing all the reductions in power costs to their consumers. One calculation suggests the total cost of Germany’s power will reduce by over €5.5 billion in 2014, and yet household electricity costs are expected to rise. The heightening effect of the Renewable Energy Act (EEG) surcharge on power prices is not going to last forever, however, as it’s promoting cheaper wholesale prices, and building in protection from the risks of sharply-rising prices for fossil fuels. Electricity supply companies are going to be able to sell progressively cheaper energy, and this differential will eventually reach the consumers, even if that needs to be legislatively enforced.

Next, on to the assertion that increasing renewable electricity is pushing flexible gas-fired power generation out of the frame :-

“[…] Renewables have “grid priority”, meaning the grid must take their electricity first. This is a legal requirement, to encourage renewable energy in Europe. But it is also logical: since the marginal cost of wind and solar power is zero, grids would take their power first anyway. […] But unlike the baseload providers already in place (nuclear and coal), solar and wind power are intermittent, surging with the weather. […] Now, when demand fluctuates, it may not be enough just to lower the output of gas-fired generators. Some plants may have to be switched off altogether and some coal-fired ones turned down. […] It is costly because scaling back coal-fired plants is hard. It makes electricity prices more volatile. And it is having a devastating effect on profits. […] Gérard Mestrallet, chief executive of GDF Suez, the world’s largest electricity producer, says 30GW of gas-fired capacity has been mothballed in Europe since the peak, including brand-new plants. The increase in coal-burning pushed German carbon emissions up in 2012-13, the opposite of what was supposed to happen.”

The real core of this issue is that baseload is history – or it should be – and it will be for Germany in the near future – as some coal-fired power plants will need to close or be transitioned under the Large Combustion Plants Directive, and it’s successor, the Industrial Emissions Directive (9,000 coal-fired installations will be affected by the IED); and the nuclear power plants are all scheduled to close. It is very unlikely that much in the way of new European nuclear power will come on-stream within the next 15 years. The price of coal fuel might stay reasonable, due to a number of factors, but the cost of burning it is likely to become higher, so the baseload paradigm should be well and truly broken.

That gas-fired power plants would be finding profit margins slim is something that has been anticipated widely, so it’s not exactly a shock, although it’s being used as a bargaining chip by utilities in ongoing negotations to launch an EU-wide “Capacity Market” for flexible power generation (principally gas, of course, since neither nuclear nor coal are flexible, and coal is practically on the edge of extinction in policy terms).

CapGemini has recently published a scaremongering projection :-

“[…] Gas plant closures : One of the biggest impacts of the disturbed gas and electricity markets is the rapid closure of numerous gas plants in the region. A recent study by IHS estimates that about 130,000 MW (130 GW) of gas plants across Europe (around 60% of the total installed gas fired generation in the Region) are currently not recovering their fixed costs and are at a risk of closure by 2016. These plants – essential to safeguarding security of supply during peak hours – are being replaced by volatile and unforecastable renewable energy installations that are heavily subsidised. […]”

And other sources are also pushing the doom and gloom :-

“[…] The pain being suffered by owners of European gas-fired power plant has escalated over the last 12 months. Weak power demand, subsidised renewable build and relatively high gas prices have conspired to crush gas fired generation margins […] It is difficult to imagine how market sentiment around gas-fired plant could get much worse. About a year ago we questioned the prospect of a European gas plant bust in the form of plant mothballing, closures and the distressed sale of assets. There is clear evidence of a bust gathering steam in 2013, with a number of utilities pursuing exactly these actions. […]”

Instead of complaining and game-playing, electricity utilities should accept the need to adapt. In line with EU Directives, they can expect to be able to make a good profit by diversifying into energy services – so they end up not simply selling energy, but selling energy demand control. They would move from being E. Co.’s to ESCOs. If they accept the challenge to diversify, they can keep their shareholders happy, and they will be able to survive the slim margins they can make from gas-fired electricity generation during periods of peak demand, or to load balance grids increasingly dependent on renewable electricity generation.

If the power utilities fail to adapt, they’re not too big to fail. I would suggest that European Governments renationalise them, as we’re going to have to fork out gazillions of euros to keep the Capacity Market running the way the utilities would like, so we might as well own the assets, too.

Mind the Gap : BBC Costing the Earth

I listened to an interesting mix of myth, mystery and magic on BBC Radio 4.

Myths included the notion that long-term, nuclear power would be cheap; that “alternative” energy technologies are expensive (well, nuclear power is, but true renewables are most certainly not); and the idea that burning biomass to create heat to create steam to turn turbines to generate electricity is an acceptably efficient use of biomass (it is not).

Biofuelwatch are hosting a public meeting on this very subject :-
http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2013/burning_issue_public_event/
“A Burning Issue – biomass and its impacts on forests and communities”
Tuesday, 29th October 2013, 7-9pm
Lumen Centre, London (close to St Pancras train station)
http://www.lumenurc.org.uk/lumencontact.htm
Lumen Centre, 88 Tavistock Place, London WC1H 9RS

Interesting hints in the interviews I thought pointed to the idea that maybe, just maybe, some electricity generation capacity should be wholly owned by the Government – since the country is paying for it one way or another. A socialist model for gas-fired generation capacity that’s used as backup to wind and solar power ? Now there’s an interesting idea…




http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03cn0rb

“Mind the Gap”
Channel: BBC Radio 4
Series: Costing the Earth
Presenter: Tom Heap
First broadcast: Tuesday 15th October 2013

Programme Notes :

“Our energy needs are growing as our energy supply dwindles.
Renewables have not come online quickly enough and we are increasingly
reliant on expensive imported gas or cheap but dirty coal. Last year
the UK burnt 50% more coal than in previous years but this helped
reverse years of steadily declining carbon dioxide emissions. By 2015
6 coal fired power stations will close and the cost of burning coal
will increase hugely due to the introduction of the carbon price
floor. Shale gas and biomass have been suggested as quick and easy
solutions but are they really sustainable, or cheap?”

“Carbon Capture and Storage could make coal or gas cleaner and a new
study suggests that with CCS bio energy could even decrease global
warming. Yet CCS has stalled in the UK and the rest of Europe and the
debate about the green credentials of biomass is intensifying. So what
is really the best answer to Britain’s energy needs? Tom Heap
investigates.”

00:44 – 00:48
[ Channel anchor ]
Britain’s energy needs are top of the agenda in “Costing the Earth”…

01:17
[ Channel anchor ]
…this week on “Costing the Earth”, Tom Heap is asking if our
ambitions to go green are being lost to the more immediate fear of
blackouts and brownouts.

01:27
[ Music : Arcade Fire – “Neighbourhood 3 (Power Out)” ]

[ Tom Heap ]

Energy is suddenly big news – central to politics and the economy. The
countdown has started towards the imminent shutdown of many coal-fired
power stations, but the timetable to build their replacements has
barely begun.

It’ll cost a lot, we’ll have to pay, and the politicians are reluctant
to lay out the bill. But both the official regulator and industry are
warning that a crunch is coming.

So in this week’s “Costing the Earth”, we ask if the goal of clean,
green and affordable energy is being lost to a much darker reality.

02:14
[ Historical recordings ]

“The lights have started going out in the West Country : Bristol,
Exeter and Plymouth have all had their first power cuts this
afternoon.”

“One of the biggest effects of the cuts was on traffic, because with
the traffic lights out of commission, major jams have built up,
particularly in the town centres. One of the oddest sights I saw is a
couple of ladies coming out of a hairdressers with towels around their
heads because the dryers weren’t working.”

“Television closes down at 10.30 [ pm ], and although the cinemas are
carrying on more or less normally, some London theatres have had to
close.”

“The various [ gas ] boards on both sides of the Pennines admit to
being taken by surprise with today’s cold spell which brought about
the cuts.”

“And now the major scandal sweeping the front pages of the papers this
morning, the advertisement by the South Eastern Gas Board recommending
that to save fuel, couples should share their bath.”

[ Caller ]
“I shall write to my local gas board and say don’t do it in
Birmingham. It might be alright for the trendy South, but we don’t
want it in Birmingham.”

03:13
[ Tom Heap ]

That was 1974.

Some things have changed today – maybe a more liberal attitude to
sharing the tub. But some things remain the same – an absence of
coal-fired electricity – threatening a blackout.

Back then it was strikes by miners. Now it’s old age of the power
plants, combined with an EU Directive obliging them to cut their
sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions by 2016, or close.

Some coal burners are avoiding the switch off by substituting wood;
and mothballed gas stations are also on standby.

But Dieter Helm, Professor of Energy Policy at the University of
Oxford, now believes power cuts are likely.

03:57
[ Dieter Helm ]

Well, if we take the numbers produced by the key responsible bodies,
they predict that there’s a chance that by the winter of 2-15 [sic,
meaning 2015] 2-16 [sic, meaning 2016], the gap between the demand for
electricity and the supply could be as low as 2%.

And it turns out that those forecasts are based on extremely
optimistic assumptions about how far demand will fall in that period
(that the “Green Deal” will work, and so on) and that we won’t have
much economic growth.

So basically we are on course for a very serious energy crunch by the
winter of 2-15 [sic, meaning 2015] 2-16 [sic, meaning 2016], almost
regardless of what happens now, because nobody can build any power
stations between now and then.

It’s sort of one of those slow motion car crashes – you see the whole
symptoms of it, and people have been messing around reforming markets
and so on, without addressing what’s immediately in front of them.

[ Tom Heap ]

And that’s where you think we are now ?

[ Dieter Helm ]

I think there’s every risk of doing so.

Fortunately, the [ General ] Election is a year and a half away, and
there’s many opportunities for all the political parties to get real
about two things : get real about the energy crunch in 2-15 [sic,
meaning 2015] 2-16 [sic, meaning 2016] and how they’re going to handle
it; and get real about creating the incentives to decarbonise our
electricity system, and deal with the serious environmental and
security and competitive issues which our electricity system faces.

And this is a massive investment requirement [ in ] electricity : all
those old stations retiring [ originally built ] back from the 1970s –
they’re all going to be gone.

Most of the nuclear power stations are coming to the end of their lives.

We need a really big investment programme. And if you really want an
investment programme, you have to sit down and work out how you’re
going to incentivise people to do that building.

[ Tom Heap ]

If we want a new energy infrastructure based on renewables and
carbon-free alternatives, then now is the time to put those incentives
on the table.

The problem is that no-one seems to want to make the necessary
investment, least of all the “Big Six” energy companies, who are
already under pressure about high bills.

[ “Big Six” are : British Gas / Centrica, EdF Energy (Electricite
de France), E.On UK, RWE npower, Scottish Power and SSE ]

Sam Peacock of the energy company SSE [ Scottish and Southern Energy ]
gives the commercial proof of Dieter’s prediction.

If energy generators can’t make money out of generating energy,
they’ll be reluctant to do it.

[ Sam Peacock ]

Ofgem, the energy regulator, has looked at this in a lot of detail,
and said that around 2015, 2016, things start to get tighter. The
reason for this is European Directives, [ is [ a ] ] closing down some
of the old coal plants. And also the current poor economics around [
or surround [ -ing ] ] both existing plant and potential new plant.

So, at the moment it’s very, very difficult to make money out of a gas
plant, or invest in a new one. So this leads to there being, you know,
something of a crunch point around 2015, 2016, and Ofgem’s analysis
looks pretty sensible to us.

[ Tom Heap ]

And Sam Peacock lays the blame for this crisis firmly at the Government’s door.

[ Sam Peacock ]

The trilemma, as they call it – of decarbonisation, security of supply
and affordability – is being stretched, because the Government’s
moving us more towards cleaner technologies, which…which are more
expensive.

However, if you were to take the costs of, you know, the extra costs
of developing these technologies off government [ sic, meaning
customer ] bills and into general taxation, you could knock about over
£100 off customer bills today, it’ll be bigger in the future, and you
can still get that much-needed investment going.

So, we think you can square the circle, but it’s going to take a
little bit of policy movement [ and ] it’s going to take shifting some
of those costs off customers and actually back where the policymakers
should be controlling them.

[ KLAXON ! Does he mean controlled energy prices ? That sounds a bit
centrally managed economy to me… ]

[ Tom Heap ]

No surprise that a power company would want to shift the pain of
rising energy costs from their bills to the tax bill.

But neither the Government nor the Opposition are actually proposing this.

Who pays the premium for expensve new energy sources is becoming like
a game of pass the toxic parcel.

[ Reference : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hot_potato_%28game%29 ]

I asked the [ UK Government Department of ] Energy and Climate Change
Secretary, Ed Davey, how much new money is required between now and
2020.

08:06

[ Ed Davey ]

About £110 billion – er, that’s critical to replace a lot of the coal
power stations that are closing, the nuclear power stations that are [
at the ] end of their lives, and replace a lot of the network which
has come to the end of its life, too.

So it’s a huge, massive investment task.

[ Tom Heap ]

So in the end we’re going to have to foot the bill for the £110 billion ?

[ Ed Davey ]

Yeah. Of course. That’s what happens now. People, in their bills that
they pay now, are paying for the network costs of investments made
several years, even several decades ago.

[ Yes – we’re still paying through our national nose to dispose of
radioactive waste and decommission old nuclear reactors. The liability
of it all weighs heavily on the country’s neck… ]

And there’s no escaping that – we’ve got to keep the lights on – we’ve
got to keep the country powered.

You have to look at both sides of the equation. If we’re helping
people make their homes more inefficient [ sic, meaning energy
efficient ], their product appliances more efficient, we’re doing
everything we possibly can to try to help the bills be kept down,

while we’re having to make these big investments to keep the lights
on, and to make sure that we don’t cook the planet, as you say.

[ Tom Heap ]

You mention the lights going out. There are predictions that we’re
headed towards just 2% of spare capacity in the system in a few years’
time.

Are you worried about the dangers of, I don’t know, maybe not lights
going out for some people, but perhaps big energy users being told
when and when [ sic, meaning where ] they can’t use power in the
winter ?

[ Ed Davey ]

Well, there’s no doubt that as the coal power stations come offline,
and the nuclear power plants, er, close, we’re going to have make sure
that new power plants are coming on to replace them.

And if we don’t, there will be a problem with energy security.

Now we’ve been working very hard over a long time now to make sure we
attract that investment. We’ve been working with Ofgem, the regulator;
with National Grid, and we’re…

[ Tom Heap ]

…Being [ or it’s being ] tough. I don’t see companies racing to come
and fill in the gap here and those coal power plants are going off
soon.

[ Ed Davey ]

…we’re actually having record levels of energy investment in the country.

The problem was for 13 years under the last Government
[ same old, same old Coalition argument ] we saw low levels of investment
in energy, and we’re having to race to catch up, but fortunately we’re
winning that race. And we’re seeing, you know, billions of pounds
invested but we’ve still got to do more. We’re not there. I’m not
pretending we’re there yet. [ Are we there, yet ? ] But we do have the
policies in place.

So, Ofgem is currently consulting on a set of proposals which will
enable it to have reserve power to switch on at the peak if it’s
needed.

We’re, we’ve, bringing forward proposals in the Energy Bill for what’s
called a Capacity Market, so we can auction to get that extra capacity
we need.

So we’ve got the policies in place.

[ Tom Heap ]

Some of Ed Davey’s policies, not least the LibDem [ Liberal Democrat
Party ] U-turn on nuclear, have been guided by DECC [ Department of
Energy and Climate Change ] Chief Scientist David MacKay, author of
the influential book “Renewable Energy without the Hot Air” [ sic,
actually “Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air” ].

Does he think the lights will dim in the second half of this decade ?

[ David MacKay ]

I don’t think there’s going to be any problem maintaining the capacity
that we need. We just need to make clear where Electricity Market
Reform [ EMR, part of the Energy Bill ] is going, and the way in which
we will be maintaining capacity.

[ Tom Heap ]

But I don’t quite understand that, because it seems to me, you know,
some of those big coal-fired power stations are going to be going off.
What’s going to be coming in their place ?

[ David MacKay ]

Well, the biggest number of power stations that’s been built in the
last few years are gas power stations, and we just need a few more gas
power stations like that, to replace the coal
, and hopefully some
nuclear power stations will be coming on the bars, as well as the wind
farms that are being built at the moment.

[ Tom Heap ]

And you’re happy with that increase in gas-fired power stations, are
you ? I mean, you do care deeply, personally, about reducing our
greenhouse gases, and yet you’re saying we’re going to have to build
more gas-fired power stations.

[ David MacKay ]

I do. Even in many of the pathways that reach the 2050 target, there’s
still a role for gas in the long-term, because some power sources like
wind and solar power are intermittent, so if you want to be keeping
the lights on in 2050 when there’s no wind and there’s no sun, you’re
going to need some gas power stations there
. Maybe not operating so
much of the time as they do today, but there’ll still be a role in
keeping the lights on.

[ KLAXON ! If gas plants are used only for peak periods or for backup to
renewables, then the carbon emissions will be much less than if they are
running all the time. ]

[ Tom Heap ]

Many energy experts though doubt that enough new wind power or nuclear
capacity could be built fast enough to affect the sums in a big way by
2020.

But that isn’t the only critical date looming over our energy system.
Even more challenging, though more distant, is the legally binding
objective of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in 2050.

David MacKay wants that certainty to provide the foundation for energy
decisions, and he showed me the effect of different choices with the
“Ultimate Future Energy App”. I was in his office, but anyone can try it online.

[ David MacKay ]

It’s a 2050 calculator. It computes energy demand and supply in
response to your choices, and it computes multiple consequences of
your choices. It computes carbon consequences. It also computes for
you estimates of air quality, consequences of different choices;
security of supply, consequences; and the costs of your choices.

So with this 2050 calculator, it’s an open source tool, and anyone can
go on the web and use the levers to imagine different futures in 2050
of how much action we’ve taken in different demand sectors and in
different supply sectors.

The calculator has many visualisations of the pathway that you’re choosing
and helps people understand all the trade-offs… There’s no silver
bullet for any of this. If I dial up a pathway someone made earlier,
we can visualise the implications in terms of the area occupied for
the onshore wind farms, and the area in the sea for the offshore wind
farms, and the length of the wave farms that you’ve built, and the
land area required for energy crops.

And many organisations have used this tool and some of them have given
us their preferred pathway. So you can see here the Friends of the
Earth have got their chosen pathway, the Campaign to Protect Rural
England, and various engineers like National Grid and Atkins have got
their pathways.

So you can see alternative ways of achieving our targets, of keeping
the lights on and taking climate change action. All of those pathways
all meet the 2050 target, but they do so with different mixes.

[ Tom Heap ]

And your view of this is you sort of can’t escape from the scientific
logic and rigour of it. You might wish things were different or you
could do it differently, but you’re sort of saying “Look, it’s either
one thing or the other”. That’s the point of this.

[ David MacKay ]

That’s true. You can’t be anti-everything. You can’t be anti-wind and
anti-nuclear and anti-home insulation. You won’t end up with a plan
that adds up.

[ KLAXON ! But you can be rationally against one or two things, like
expensive new nuclear power, and carbon and particulate emissions-heavy
biomass for the generation of electricity. ]

[ Tom Heap ]

But isn’t that exactly kind of the problem that we’ve had, without
pointing political fingers, that people rather have been
anti-everything, and that’s why we’re sort of not producing enough new
energy sources ?

[ David MacKay ]

Yeah. The majority of the British public I think are in favour of many
of these sources, but there are strong minorities who are vocally
opposed to every one of the major levers in this calculator. So one
aspiration I have for this tool is it may help those people come to a
position where they have a view that’s actually consistent with the
goal of keeping the lights on.

[ Tom Heap ]

Professor MacKay’s calculator also computes pounds and pence,
suggesting that both high and low carbon electricity work out pricey
in the end.

[ David MacKay ]

The total costs of all the pathways are pretty much the same.
“Business as Usual” is cheaper in the early years, and then pays more,
because on the “Business as Usual”, you carry on using fossil fuels,
and the prices of those fossil fuels are probably going to go up.

All of the pathways that take climate change action have a similar
total cost, but they pay more in the early years, ’cause you have to
pay for things like building insulation and power stations, like
nuclear power stations, or wind power, which cost up-front, but then
they’re very cheap to run in the future.

[ KLAXON ! Will the cost of decommissioning nuclear reactors and the
costs of the waste disposal be cheap ? I think not… ]

So the totals over the 40 or 50 year period here, are much the same for these.

[ Tom Heap ]

The cheapest immediate option of all is to keep shovelling the coal.
And last year coal overtook gas to be our biggest electricity
generation source, pushing up overall carbon emissions along the way
by 4.5%

[ KLAXON ! This is not very good for energy security – look where the
coal comes from… ]

As we heard earlier, most coal-fired power stations are scheduled for
termination, but some have won a reprieve, and trees are their
unlikely saviour.

Burning plenty of wood chip [ actually, Tom, it’s not wood “chip”, it’s
wood “pellets” – which often have other things mixed in with the wood,
like coal… ] allows coal furnaces to cut the sulphur dioxide and nitrous
oxide belching from their chimneys to below the level that requires their
closure under European law.

But some enthusiasts see wood being good for even more.

16:19

[ Outside ]

It’s one of those Autumn days that promises to be warm, but currently
is rather moist. I’m in a field surrounded by those dew-laden cobwebs
you get at this time of year.

But in the middle of this field is a plantation of willow. And I’m at
Rothamsted Research with Angela Karp who’s one of the directors here.

Angela, tell me about this willow I’m standing in front of here. I
mean, it’s about ten foot high or so, but what are you seeing ?

[ Angela Karp ]

Well, I’m seeing one of our better varieties that’s on display here.
We have a demonstration trial of about ten different varieties. This
is a good one, because it produces a lot of biomass, quite easily,
without a lot of additional fertilisers or anything. And as you can
see it’s got lovely straight stems. It’s got many stems, and at the
end of three years, we would harvest all those stems to get the
biomass from it. It’s nice and straight – it’s a lovely-looking, it’s
got no disease, no insects on it, very nice, clean willow.

[ Tom Heap ]

So, what you’ve been working on here as I understand it is trying to
create is the perfect willow – the most fuel for the least input – and
the easiest to harvest.

[ Angela Karp ]

That’s absolutely correct, because the whole reason for growing these
crops is to get the carbon from the atmosphere into the wood, and to
use that wood as a replacement for fossil fuels. Without putting a lot
of inputs in, because as soon as you add fertilisers you’re using
energy and carbon to make them, and that kind of defeats the whole
purpose of doing this.

[ KLAXON ! You don’t need to use fossil fuel energy or petrochemicals or
anything with carbon emissions to make fertiliser ! … Hang on, these
are GM trees, right ? So they will need inputs… ]

[ Tom Heap ]

And how much better do you think your new super-variety is, than say,
what was around, you know, 10 or 15 years ago. ‘Cause willow as an
idea for burning has been around for a bit. How much of an improvement
is this one here ?

[ Angela Karp ]

Quite a bit. So, these are actually are some of the, if you like,
middle-term varieties. So we started off yielding about 8 oven-dry
tonnes per hectare, and now we’ve almost doubled that.

[ Tom Heap ]

How big a place do you think biomass can have in the UK’s energy
picture in the future ?

[ Angela Karp ]

I think that it could contribute between 10% and 15% of our energy. If
we were to cultivate willows on 1 million hectares, we would probably
provide about 3% to 4% of energy in terms of electricity, and I think
that’s kind of a baseline figure. We could cultivate them on up to 3
million hectares, so you can multiply things up, and we could use them
in a much more energy-efficient way.

[ KLAXON ! Is that 4% of total energy or 4% of total electricity ?
Confused. ]

[ Tom Heap ]

Do we really have 3 million hectares going a-begging for planting willow in ?

[ Angela Karp ]

Actually, surprisingly we do. So, people have this kind of myth
there’s not enough land, but just look around you and you will find
there’s lots of land that’s not used for cultivating food crops.

We don’t see them taking over the whole country. We see them being
grown synergistically with food crops.

[ KLAXON ! This is a bit different than the statement made in 2009. ]

[ Tom Heap ]

But I’d just like to dig down a little bit more into the carbon cycle
of the combustion of these things, because that’s been the recent
criticism of burning a lot of biomass, is that you put an early spike
in the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, if you start burning a lot
of biomass, because this [ sounds of rustling ], this plant is going
to be turned into, well, partly, CO2 in the atmosphere.

[ Angela Karp ]

Yes, I think that’s probably a simple and not totally correct way of
looking at it. ‘Cause a lot depends on the actual conversion process
you are using.

So some conversion processes are much more efficient at taking
everything and converting it into what you want.

Heat for example is in excess of 80%, 90% conversion efficiency.

Electricity is a little bit more of the problem. And there, what
they’re looking at is capturing some of the carbon that you lose, and
converting that back in, in carbon storage processes, and that’s why
there’s a lot of talk now about carbon storage from these power
stations.

That I think is the future. It’s a question of connecting up all parts
of the process, and making sure that’s nothing wasted.

20:02

[ Tom Heap ]

So, is wood a desirable greener fuel ?

Not according to Almuth Ernsting of Biofuelwatch, who objects to the
current plans for large-scale wood burning, its use to prop up coal,
and even its low carbon claims.

[ Almuth Ernsting ]

The currently-announced industry plans, and by that I mean existing
power stations, but far more so, power stations which are in the
planning process [ and ] many of which have already been consented –
those [ biomass ] power stations, would, if they all go ahead,
require to burn around 82 million tonnes of biomass, primarily wood,
every year. Now by comparison, the UK in total only produces around
10 million tonnes, so one eighth of that amount, in wood, for all
industries and purposes, every year.

We are looking on the one hand at a significant number of proposed,
and in some cases, under-construction or operating new-build biomass
power stations, but the largest single investment so far going into
the conversion of coal power station units to biomass, the largest and
most advanced one of which at the moment is Drax, who are, have
started to move towards converting half their capacity to burning wood
pellets.

[ Tom Heap ]

Drax is that huge former, or still currently, coal-fired power station
in Yorkshire, isn’t it ?

[ Almuth Ernsting ]

Right, and they still want to keep burning coal as well. I mean, their
long-term vision, as they’ve announced, would be for 50:50 coal and
biomass.

[ Tom Heap ]

What do you think about that potential growth ?

[ Almuth Ernsting ]

Well, we’re seriously concerned. We believe it’s seriously bad news
for climate change, it’s seriously bad news for forests, and it’s
really bad news for communities, especially in the Global South, who
are at risk of losing their land for further expansion of monoculture
tree plantations, to in future supply new power stations in the UK.

A really large amount, increasingly so, of the wood being burned,
comes from slow-growing, whole trees that are cut down for that
purpose, especially at the moment in temperate forests in North
America. Now those trees will take many, many decades to grow back
and potentially re-absorb that carbon dioxide, that’s if they’re
allowed and able to ever grow back.

[ Tom Heap ]

There’s another technology desperate for investment, which is critical
to avoiding power failure, whilst still hitting our mid-century carbon
reduction goals – CCS – Carbon Capture and Storage, the ability to
take the greenhouse gases from the chimney and bury them underground.

It’s especially useful for biomass and coal, with their relatively
high carbon emissions, but would also help gas be greener.

The Chancellor has approved 30 new gas-fired power stations, so long
as they are CCS-ready [ sic, should be “capture ready”, or
“carbon capture ready” ].

Jon Gibbons is the boss of the UK CCS Research Centre, based in an
industrial estate in Sheffield.

[ Noise of processing plant ]

Jon’s just brought me up a sort of 3D maze of galvanized steel and
shiny metal pipes to the top of a tower that must be 20 or so metres
high.

Jon, what is this ?

[ Jon Gibbons ]

OK, so this is our capture unit, to take the CO2 out of the combustion
products from gas or coal. In the building behind us, in the test rigs
we’ve got, the gas turbine or the combustor rig, we’re burning coal or
gas, or oil, but mainly coal or gas.

We’re taking the combustion products through the green pipe over
there, bringing it into the bottom of the unit, and then you can see
these big tall columns we’ve got, about 18 inches diameter, half a
metre diameter, coming all the way up from the ground up to the level
we’re at.

It goes into one of those, it gets washed clean with water, and it
goes into this unit over here, and there it meets an amine solvent, a
chemical that will react reversibly with CO2, coming in the opposite
direction, over packing. So, it’s like sort of pebbles, if you can
imagine it, there’s a lot of surface area. The gas flows up, the
liquid flows down, and it picks up the CO2, just mainly the CO2.

[ Tom Heap ]

And that amine, that chemical as you call it, is stripping the CO2 out
of that exhaust gas. This will link to a storage facility.

What would then happen to the CO2 ?

[ Jon Gibbons ]

What would then happen is that the CO2 would be compressed up to
somewhere in excess of about 100 atmospheres. And it would turn from
being a gas into something that looks like a liquid, like water, about
the same density as water. And then it would be taken offshore in the
UK, probably tens or hundreds of kilometres offshore, and it would go
deep, deep down, over a kilometre down into the ground, and basically
get squeezed into stuff that looks like solid rock. If you go and look
at a sandstone building – looks solid, but actually, maybe a third of
it is little holes. And underground, where you’ve got cubic kilometres
of space, those little holes add up to an awful lot of free space. And
the CO2 gets squeezed into those, over time, and it spreads out, and
it just basically sits there forever, dissolves in the water, reacts
with the rocks, and will stay there for millions of years.

[ Tom Heap ]

Back in his office, I asked Jon why CCS seemed to be stuck in the lab.

[ Jon Gibbons ]

We’re doing enough I think on the research side, but what we really
need to do, is to do work on a full-scale deployment. Because you
can’t work on research in a vacuum. You need to get feedback –
learning by doing – from actual real projects.

And a lot of the problems we’ve got on delivering CCS, are to do with
how you handle the regulation for injecting CO2, and again, you can
only do that in real life.

So what we need to do is to see the commercialisation projects that
are being run by the Department of Energy and Climate Change actually
going through to real projects that can be delivered.

[ Tom Heap ]

Hmm. When I talk to engineers, they’re always very passionate and
actually quite optimistic about Carbon Capture and Storage. And when
I talk to people in industry, or indeed read the headlines, not least
a recent cancellation in Norway, it always seems like a very bleak picture.

[ Jon Gibbons ]

I think people are recognising that it’s getting quite hard to get
money for low carbon technologies.

So – recent presentation we had at one of our centre meetings, was
actually a professor from the United States, Howard Herzog. And he
said “You think you’re seeing a crisis in Carbon Capture and Storage.
But what you’re actually seeing is a crisis in climate change
mitigation.”

[ KLAXON ! Priming us for a scaling back of commitment to the
Climate Change Act ? I do hope not. ]

Now, Carbon Capture and Storage, you do for no other purpose than
cutting CO2 emissions to the atmosphere, and it does that extremely
effectively. It’s an essential technology for cutting emissions. But
until you’ve got a global process that says – actually we’re going to
get on top of this problem; we’re going to cut emissions – get them to
safe level before we actually see people dying in large numbers from
climate change effects – ’cause, certainly, if people start dying,
then we will see a response – but ideally, you’d like to do it before
then. But until you get that going, then actually persuading people to
spend money for no other benefit than sorting out the climate is
difficult.

There’s just no point, you know, no country can go it alone, so you
have to get accommodation. And there, we’re going through various
processes to debate that. Maybe people will come to an accommodation.
Maybe the USA and China will agree to tackle climate change. Maybe
they won’t.

What I am fairly confident is that you won’t see huge, you know,
really big cuts in CO2 emissions without that global agreement. But
I’m also confident that you won’t see big cuts in CO2 emissions
without CCS deployment.

And my guess is there’s about a 50:50 chance that we do CCS before we
need to, and about a 50:50 chance we do it after we have to. But I’m
pretty damn certain we’re going to do it.

[ Tom Heap ]

But we can’t wait for a global agreement that’s already been decades
in the making, with still no end in sight.

We need decisions now to provide more power with less pollution.

[ Music lyrics : “What’s the plan ? What’s the plan ?” ]

[ Tom Heap ]

Dieter Helm, Professor of Energy Policy at the University of Oxford
believes we can only deliver our plentiful green energy future if we
abandon our attitude of buy-now pay-later.

[ KLAXON ! Does he mean a kind of hire purchase energy economy ?
I mean, we’re still paying for nuclear electricity from decades ago,
in our bills, and through our taxes to the Department of Energy and
Climate Change. ]

[ Dieter Helm ]

There’s a short-term requirement and a long-term requirement. The
short-term requirement is that we’re now in a real pickle. We face
this energy crunch. We’ve got to try to make the best of what we’ve
got. And I think it’s really like, you know, trying to get the
Spitfires back up again during the Battle of Britain. You know, you
patch and mend. You need somebody in command. You need someone
in control. And you do the best with what you’ve got.

In that context, we then have to really stand back and say, “And this
is what we have to do to get a serious, long-term, continuous, stable
investment environment, going forward.” In which, you know, we pay the
costs, but of course, not any monopoly profits, not any excess
profits, but we have a world in which the price of electricity is
related to the cost.”

[ KLAXON ! Is Dieter Helm proposing state ownership of energy plant ? ]

29:04

[ Programme anchor ]

“Costing the Earth” was presented by Tom Heap, and made in Bristol by
Helen Lennard.

[ Next broadcast : 16th October 2013, 21:00, BBC Radio 4 ]

High Stakes Energy Chutzpah





Image Credit : Carbon Brief


After Gordon Brown MP, the UK’s former Prime Minister, was involved in several diplomatic missions around the time of the oil price spike crisis in 2008, and the G20 group of countries went after fossil fuel subsidies (causing easily predictable civil disturbances in several parts of the world), it seemed to me to be obvious that energy price control would be a defining aspect of near-term global policy.

With the economy still in a contracted state (with perhaps further contraction to follow on), national interest for industrialised countries rests in maintaining domestic production and money flows – meaning that citizens should not face sharply-rising utility bills, so that they can remain active in the economy.

In the UK, those at the fringe of financial sustainability are notoriously having to face the decision about whether to Eat or Heat, and Food Banks are in the ascendance. Various charity campaigns have emphasised the importance of affordable energy at home, and the leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband MP has made an energy price freeze a potential plank of his policy ahead of the push for the next General Election.

The current Prime Minister, David Cameron MP has called this commitment a “con”, as his political counterpart cannot determine the wholesale price of gas (or power) in the future.

This debate comes at a crucial time in the passage of the UK Energy Bill, as the Electricity Market Reform (EMR), a key component of this legislation has weighty subsidies embedded in it for new nuclear power and renewable energy, and also backup plants (mostly Natural Gas-fired) for periods of high power demand, in what is called the “Capacity Market“. These subsidies will largely be paid for by increases in electricity bills, in one way or another.

The EMR hasn’t yet passed into the statute books, so the majority of “green energy taxes” haven’t yet coming into being – although letters of “comfort” may have been sent to to (one or more) companies seeking to invest in new nuclear power facilities, making clear the UK Government’s monetary commitment to fully supporting the atomic “renaissance”.

With a bucketload of chutzpah, Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) and Electricite de France’s Vincent de Rivaz blamed green energy policies for contributing to past, current and future power price rises. Both of these companies stand to gain quite a lot from the EMR, so their blame-passing sounds rather hollow.

The Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph have seemed to me to be incendiary regarding green energy subsidies, omitting to mention that whilst the trajectory of the cost of state support for renewable energy is easily calculated, volatility in global energy markets for gas and oil – and even coal – are indeterminable. Although “scandal-hugging” (sensation equals sales) columnists and editors at the newspapers don’t seem to have an appreciation of what’s really behind energy price rises, the Prime Minister – and Ed Davey MP – have got it – and squarely placed the responsibility for energy price rises on fossil fuels.

The price tag for “green energy policies” – even those being offered to (low carbon, but not “green”) nuclear power – should be considerably less than the total bill burden for energy, and hold out the promise of energy price stabilisation or even suppression in the medium- to long-term, which is why most political parties back them.

The agenda for new nuclear power appears to be floundering – it has been suggested by some that European and American nuclear power companies are not solvent enough to finance a new “fleet” of reactors. In the UK, the Government and its friends in the nuclear industry are planning to pull in east Asian investment (in exchange for large amounts of green energy subsidies, in effect). I suspect a legal challenge will be put forward should a trade agreement of this nature be signed, as soon as its contents are public knowledge.

The anger stirred up about green energy subsidies has had a reaction from David Cameron who has not dispensed with green energy policy, but declared that subsidies should not last longer than they are needed – probably pointing at the Germany experience of degressing the solar power Feed-in Tariff – although he hasn’t mentioned how nuclear subsidies could be ratcheted down, since the new nuclear programme will probably have to rely on state support for the whole of its lifecycle.

Meanwhile, in the Press, it seems that green energy doesn’t work, that green energy subsidies are the only reason for energy bill rises, we should drop the Climate Change Act, and John Prescott MP, and strangely, a woman called Susan Thomas, are pushing coal-fired power claiming it as the cheaper, surer – even cleaner – solution, and there is much scaremongering about blackouts.




http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/john-prescott-its-coal-power-2366172

John Prescott on why it’s coal power to the people

12 Oct 2013

We can’t just stand back and give these energy companies money to burn.

It’s only 72 days until Christmas. But the greedy big six energy companies are giving themselves an early present. SSE has just announced an inflation-beating 8.2 per cent price rise on gas and electricity.

The other five will soon follow suit, no doubt doing their best to beat their combined profit from last year of £10billion.

Their excuse now is to blame climate change. SSE says it could cut bills by £110 if Government, not the Big Six, paid for green energy ­subsidies and other environmental costs, such as free loft insulation.

So your bill would look smaller but you’d pay for it with higher taxes. Talk about smoke and mirrors.

But Tory-led governments have always been hopeless at protecting the energy security of this country.

It’s almost 40 years since Britain was hit by blackouts when the Tories forced the UK into a three-day week to conserve energy supplies.

But Ofgem says the margin of ­security between energy demand and supply will drop from 14 per cent to 4 per cent by 2016. That’s because we’ve committed to closing nine oil and coal power stations to meet EU ­environmental law and emissions targets. These targets were meant to encourage the UK to move to cleaner sources of energy.

But this government drastically reduced subsidies for renewable energy such as wind and solar, let Tory energy ministers say “enough is enough” to onshore wind and failed to get agreement on replacing old
nuclear power stations.

On top of that, if we experience a particularly cold winter, we only have a reserve of 5 per cent.

But the Government is committed to hundreds of millions pounds of subsidies to pay the energy ­companies to mothball these oil and coal power stations. As someone who ­negotiated the first Kyoto agreement in 1997 and is involved in its replacement by 2015, it is clear European emissions targets will not be met in the short term by 2020.

So we have to be realistic and do what we can to keep the lights on, our people warm and our country running.

We should keep these oil and coal power stations open to reduce the risk of blackouts – not on stand-by or mothballed but working now.

The former Tory Energy minister John Hayes hinted at this but knew he couldn’t get it past his Lib Dem Energy Secretary boss Ed Davey. He bragged he’d put the coal in coalition. Instead he put the fire in fired.

We can’t just stand back and give these energy companies money to burn. The only energy security they’re interested in is securing profit and maximising taxpayer subsidies.

That’s why Ed Miliband’s right to say he’d freeze bills for 20 months and to call for more ­transparency.

We also need an integrated mixed energy policy – gas, oil, wind, nuclear and, yes, coal.




http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/yoursay/letters/10722697.Bills_have_risen_to_pay_for_policy_changes/?ref=arc

Letters

Bills have risen to pay for policy changes

Tuesday 8th October 2013

in Letters

THE recent Labour Party pledge to freeze energy bills demonstrated how to have a political cake and eat it. The pledge is an attempt to rectify a heinous political mistake caused by political hubris and vanity.

In 2008, the then energy minister, Ed Miliband, vowed to enact the most stringent cuts in power emissions in the entire world to achieve an unrealistic 80 per cent cut in carbon emissions by closing down fully functioning coal power stations.

He was playing the role of climate saint to win popularity and votes.

I was a member when Ed Miliband spoke in Oxford Town Hall to loud cheers from numerous low-carbon businesses, who stood to profit from his legislation. I was concerned at the impact on the consumer, since it is widely known that coal power stations offer the cheapest energy to consumers compared to nuclear and wind.

So I wrote to Andrew Smith MP at great length and he passed on my concerns to the newly-formed Department of Energy and Climate Change that had replaced the previous Department of Energy and Business.

This new department sent me a lengthy reply, mapping out their plans for wind turbines at a projected cost to the consumer of £100bn to include new infrastructure and amendments to the National Grid. This cost would be added to consumer electricity bills via a hidden green policy tariff.
This has already happened and explains the rise in utility bills.

Some consumers are confused and wrongly believe that energy companies are ‘ripping them off’.

It was clearly stated on Channel 4 recently that energy bills have risen to pay for new policy changes. These policy changes were enacted by Ed Miliband in his popularity bid to play climate saviour in 2008. Energy bills have now rocketed. So Ed has cost every single consumer in the land several hundred pounds extra on their bills each year.

SUSAN THOMAS, Magdalen Road, Oxford




LETTERS
Daily Mail
14th October 2013

[ Turned off: Didcot power station’s closure could lead to power cuts. ]

Labour’s power failures will cost us all dear

THE Labour Party’s pledge to freeze energy bills is an attempt to rectify a horrible political mistake. But it might be too late to dig us out of the financial black hole caused by political vanity.

In 2008, then Energy Minister Ed Miliband vowed to enact the most stringent cuts in power emissions in the world to achieve an unrealistic 80 per cent cut in carbon emissions by closing down coal power stations. He was playing the role of climate saint to win votes.

I was in the audience in Oxford Town Hall that day and recall the loud cheers from numerous representatives of low-carbon businesses as his policies stood to make them all rather wealthy, albeit at the expense of every electricity consumer in the land.

I thought Ed had become entangled in a spider’s web.

I was concerned at the impact on the consumer as it’s widely known that coal power stations offer the cheapest energy to consumers.

I contacted the Department of Energy and Climate Change and it sent me a lengthy reply mapping out its plans for energy projects and wind turbines – at a projected cost to the consumer of £100 billion – including new infrastructure and national grid amendments.

It explained the cost would be added to consumer electricity bills via a ‘green policy’ tariff. This has now happened and explains the rise in utility bills.

Some consumers wrongly believe the energy companies are ripping them off. In fact, energy bills have risen to pay for policy changes.

The people to benefit from this are low-carbon venture capitalists and rich landowners who reap subsidy money (which ultimately comes from the hard-hit consumer) for having wind farms on their land.

Since Didcot power station closed I’ve suffered five power cuts in my Oxford home. If we have a cold winter, we now have a one-in-four chance of a power cut.

The 2008 legislation was a huge mistake. When power cuts happen, people will be forced to burn filthy coal and wood in their grates to keep warm, emitting cancer-causing particulates.

Didcot had already got rid of these asthma-causing particulates and smoke. It emitted mainly steam and carbon dioxide which aren’t harmful to our lungs. But the clean, non-toxic carbon dioxide emitted by Didcot was classified by Mr Miliband as a pollutant. We are heading into a public health and financial disaster.

SUSAN THOMAS, Oxford




http://www.europeanvoice.com/article/2013/october/ceos-demand-reform-of-eu-renewable-subsidies/78418.aspx

CEOs demand reform of EU renewable subsidies
By Dave Keating – 11.10.2013

Companies ask the EU to stop subsidising the renewable energy sector.

The CEOs of Europe’s ten biggest energy companies called for the European Union and member states to stop subsidising the renewable energy sector on Friday (11 October), saying that the priority access given to the sector could cause widespread blackouts in Europe over the winter.

At a press conference in Brussels, Paolo Scaroni, CEO of Italian oil and gas company ENI, said: “In the EU, companies pay three times the price of gas in America, twice the price of power. How can we dream of an industrial renaissance with such a differential?”

The CEOs said the low price of renewable energy as a result of government subsidies is causing it to flood the market. They called for an EU capacity mechanism that would pay utilities for keeping electric power-generating capacity on standby to remedy this problem.

They also complained that the low price of carbon in the EU’s emissions trading scheme (ETS) is exacerbating the problem…




http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2458333/DAILY-MAIL-COMMENT-Press-freedom-life-death-matter.html

Well said, Sir Tim

Days after David Cameron orders a review of green taxes, which add £132 to power bills, the Lib Dem Energy Secretary vows to block any attempt to cut them.

Reaffirming his commitment to the levies, which will subsidise record numbers of inefficient wind farms approved this year, Ed Davey adds: ‘I think we will see more price rises.’

The Mail can do no better than quote lyricist Sir Tim Rice, who has declined more than £1million to allow a wind farm on his Scottish estate. ‘I don’t see why rich twits like me should be paid to put up everybody else’s bills,’ he says. ‘Especially for something that doesn’t work.’

Keith MacLean : Big Choices

At last week’s 2013 Annual Conference for PRASEG, the UK parliamentary sustainable energy group, Keith MacLean from Scottish and Southern Energy outlined (see below) the major pathways for domestic (residential) energy, currently dependent on both a gas grid and a power grid.

He said that decarbonising heat requires significant, strategic infrastructure decisions on the various proposals and technology choices put forward, as “these options are incompatible”. He said that the UK “need to facilitate more towards ONE of those scenarios/configurations [for provision for heating at home] as they are mutually exclusive”.

There has been a commitment from Central Government in the UK to the concept of electrification of the energy requirements of both the transport and heat sectors, and Keith MacLean painted a scenario that could see the nation’s households ditching their gas central heating boilers for heat pumps in accord with that vision. Next, “the District Heating (DH) movement could take off, [where you stop using your heat pump and take local piped heat from a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant] until there is no spare market capacity. Then [big utilities] could start pumping biogas and hydrogen into the gas grid, and you get your boiler back !”

Since I view gas grid injection of Renewable Gas feedstocks as a potential way to easily decarbonise the gas supply, and as Keith MacLean said in his panel presentation, “The real opportunity to make a difference in our domestic [residential] energy consumption is in heat rather than power”, I sought him out during the drinks reception after the event, to compare notes.

I explained that I appreciate the awkward problem he posed, and that my continuing research interest is in Renewable Gas, which includes Renewable Hydrogen, BioHydrogen and BioMethane. I said I had been reading up on and speaking with some of those doing Hydrogen injection into the gas grid, and it looks like a useful way to decarbonise gas.

I said that if we could get 5% of the gas grid supply replaced with hydrogen…”Yes”, said Keith, “we wouldn’t even need to change appliances at those levels”… and then top up with biogas and other industrial gas streams, we could decarbonise the grid by around 20% without breaking into a sweat. At this point, Keith MacLean started nodding healhily, and a woman from a communications company standing near us started to zone out, so I figured this was getting really interesting. “And that would be significant”, I accented, but by this time she was almost asleep on her feet.

With such important decisions ahead of us, it seems that people could be paying a bit more attention to these questions. These are, after all, big choices.

What did Keith mean by “The District Heating movement” ? Well, Dave Andrews of Clean Power (Finning Power Systems), had offered to give a very short presentation at the event. Here was his proposed title :-

http://uk.groups.yahoo.com/group/Claverton/message/12361
“Indicative costs of decarbonizing European city heating with electrical distribution compared to district heating pipe distribution of large scale wind energy and with particular attention to transition to the above methods and energy storage costs to address intermittency and variability of wind power.”

This would have been an assessment of the relative costs of decarbonising European city heating with either :-

Strategy 1)

“Gas-fired Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) generation plant plus domestic (residential sector) electric heat pumps as the transition solution; and in the long term, large scale wind energy replacing the CCGT – which is retained as back up for low wind situations; and with pumped hydro electrical storage to deal with intermittency /variability of wind energy and to reduce back up fuel usage.”

or

Strategy 2)

“CCGT Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plus district heat (DH) as the transition solution; and in the long term, large scale wind energy replacing the CCGT CHP heat but with the CCGT retained as back up for low wind situations and with hot water energy storage to deal with intermittency / variability and to reduce back up fuel usage.”

With “the impact of [a programme of building retrofits for] insulation on each strategy is also assessed.”

Dave’s European research background is of relevance here, as co-author of a 215-pager SETIS programme paper complete with pretty diagrams :-

http://setis.ec.europa.eu/system/files/1.DHCpotentials.pdf

Although Dave Andrews was also at the PRASEG drinks reception, he didn’t get the opportunity to address the conference. Which was a shame as his shirt was electric.




PRASEG 2013
10 July 2013
“Keeping the Lights on: At What Cost?”
Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group
Annual Conference

Second Panel Discussion
Chaired by Baroness Maddock
“Negawatts: Decentralising and reducing demand – essential or ephemeral ?”

[Note : The term “negawatt” denotes a negative watt hour – produced by a reduction in power or gas demand. ]

[…]

Keith MacLean, Scottish and Southern Energy

Decentralisation and Demand Reduction [should only be done where] it makes sense. Answers [to the question of negawatts] are very different if looking at Heat and Power. Heat is something far more readily stored that electricity is. Can be used to help balance [the electricity demand profile]. And heat is already very localised [therefore adding to optimising local response]. Some are going in the other direction – looking at district [scale] heating (DH) [using the more efficient system of Combined Heat and Power (CHP)]. Never forget the option to convert from electricity to heat and back to electricity to balance [the grid]. Average household uses 3 MWh (megawatt hours) of electricity [per year] and 15 MWh of heat. The real opportunity is heat. New homes reduce this to about 1 [MWh]. Those built to the new 2016 housing regulations on Zero Carbon Homes, should use around zero. The real opportunity to make a difference in our domestic [residential] energy consumption is in heat rather than power. Reducing consumption not always the right solution. With intermittents [renewable energy] want to switch ON at some times [to soak up cheap wind power in windy conditions]. [A lot of talk about National Grid having to do load] balancing [on the scale of] seconds, minutes and hours. Far more fundamental is the overall system adequacy – a bigger challenge – the long-term needs of the consumer. Keeping the lights from going out by telling people to turn off the lights is not a good way of doing it. There is justifiable demand [for a range of energy services]. […] I don’t think we’re politically brave enough to vary the [electricity] prices enough to make changes. We need to look at ways of aggregating and automating Demand Side Response. Need to be prepared to legislate and regulate if that is the right solution.

[…]

Questions from the Floor

Question from John Gibbons of the University of Edinburgh

The decarbonisation of heat. Will we be successful any time soon ?

Answer from Keith MacLean

[…] Decarbonising heat – [strategic] infrastructure decisions. For example, [we could go down the route of ditching Natural Gas central heating] boilers for heat pumps [as the UK Government and National Grid have modelled and projected]. Then the District Heating (DH) movement could take off [and you ditch your heat pump at home], until there is no spare market capacity. Then [big utilities] could start pumping biogas and hydrogen into the gas grid, and you get your boiler back ! Need to facilitate more towards ONE of those scenarios/configurations [for provision for heating at home] as mutually exclusive. Need to address in terms of infrastructure since these options are incompatible.

Answer from Dave Openshaw, Future Networks, UK Power Network

Lifestyle decision – scope for [action on] heat more than for electricity. Demand Management – managing that Demand Side Reduction and Demand Reduction when need it. Bringing forward use of electricity [in variety of new applications] when know over-supply [from renewable energy, supplied at negative cost].

[…]

James Delingpole : Worsely Wronger

I wonder to myself – how wrong can James Delingpole get ? He, and Christopher Booker and Richard North, have recently attempted to describe something very, very simple in the National Grid’s plans to keep the lights on. And have failed, in my view. Utterly. In my humble opinion, it’s a crying shame that they appear to influence others.

“Dellingpole” (sic) in the Daily Mail, claims that the STOR – the Short Term Operating Reserve (not “Operational” as “Dellingpole” writes) is “secret”, for “that significant period when the wind turbines are not working”, and that “benefits of the supposedly ‘clean’ energy produced by wind turbines are likely to be more than offset by the dirty and inefficient energy produced by their essential diesel back-up”, all of which are outrageously deliberate misinterpretations of the facts :-

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2362762/The-dirty-secret-Britains-power-madness-Polluting-diesel-generators-built-secret-foreign-companies-kick-theres-wind-turbines–insane-true-eco-scandals.html
“The dirty secret of Britain’s power madness: Polluting diesel generators built in secret by foreign companies to kick in when there’s no wind for turbines – and other insane but true eco-scandals : By James Dellingpole : PUBLISHED: 00:27, 14 July 2013”

If “Dellingpole” and his compadre in what appear to be slurs, Richard North, were to ever do any proper research into the workings of the National Grid, they would easily uncover that the STOR is a very much transparent, publicly-declared utility :-

http://www.nationalgrid.com/uk/Electricity/Balancing/services/balanceserv/reserve_serv/stor/

STOR is not news. Neither is the need for it to be beefed up. The National Grid will lose a number of electricity generation facilities over the next few years, and because of the general state of the economy (and resistance to wind power and solar power from unhelpful folk like “Dellingpole”) investment in true renewables will not entirely cover this shortfall.

Renewable energy is intermittent and variable. If an anticyclone high pressure weather system sits over Britain, there could be little wind. And if the sky is cloudy, there could be much less sun than normal. More renewable power feeding the grid means more opportunities when these breaks in service amount to something serious.

Plus, the age of other electricity generation plants means that the risk of “unplanned outage”, from a nuclear reactor, say, is getting higher. There is a higher probability of sudden step changes in power available from any generator.

The gap between maximum power demand and guaranteed maximum power generation is narrowing. In addition, the threat of sudden changes in output supply is increasing.

With more generation being directly dependent on weather conditions and the time of day, and with fears about the reliability of ageing infrastructure, there is a need for more very short term immediate generation backup to take up the slack. This is where STOR comes in.

Why does STOR need to exist ? The answer’s in the name – for short term balancing issues in the grid. Diesel generation is certainly not intended for use for long periods. Because of air quality issues. Because of climate change issues. Because of cost.

If the Meteorological Office were to forecast a period of low wind and low incident solar radiation, or a nuclear reactor started to dip in power output, then the National Grid could take an old gas plant (or even an old coal plant) out of mothballs, pull off the dust sheets and crank it into action for a couple of days. That wouldn’t happen very often, and there would be time to notify and react.

But if a windfarm suddenly went into the doldrums, or a nuclear reactor had to do an emergency shutdown, there would be few power stations on standby that could respond immediately, because it takes a lot of money to keep a power plant “spinning”, ready to use at a moment’s notice.

So, Delingpole, there’s no conspiracy. There’s engagement with generators to set up a “first responder” network of extra generation capacity for the grid. This is an entirely public process. It’s intended for short bursts of immediately-required power because you can’t seem to turn your air conditioner off. The cost and emissions will be kept to a minimum. You’re wrong. You’re just full of a lot of hot air.

Birdcage Walk : Cheesestick Rationing


Yesterday…no, it’s later than I think…two days ago, I attended the 2013 Conference of PRASEG, the Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group, at the invitation of Rhys Williams, the long-suffering Coordinator. “…Sorry…Are you upset ?” “No, look at my face. Is there any emotion displayed there ?” “No, you look rather dead fish, actually”, etc.

At the prestigious seat of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), One Birdcage Walk, we were invited down into the basement for a “drinks reception”, after hearing some stirring speeches and intriguing panel discussions. Despite being promised “refreshments” on the invitation, there had only been beverages and a couple of bikkies up until now, and I think several of the people in the room were starting to get quite hypoglycemic, so were grateful to see actual food being offered.

A market economy immediately sprang up, as there was a definite scarcity in the resources of cheesesticks, and people jostled amiably, but intentionally, so they could cluster closest to the long, crispy cow-based snacks. The trading medium of exchange was conversation. “Jo, meet Mat Hope from Carbon Brief, no Maf Smith from Renewable UK. You’ve both been eviscerated by Delingpole online”, and so on.

“Welcome to our own private pedestal”, I said to somebody, who it turned out had built, probably in the capacity of developer, a sugarcane bagasse Combined Heat and Power plant. The little table in the corner had only got room around it for three or at most four people, and yet had a full complement of snack bowls. Bonus. I didn’t insist on memorising what this fellow told me his name was. OK, I didn’t actually hear it above the hubbub. And he was wearing no discernible badge, apart from what appeared to be the tinge of wealth. He had what looked like a trailing truculent teenager with him, but that could have been a figment of my imagination, because the dark ghost child spoke not one word. But that sullenness, and general anonymity, and the talkative gentleman’s lack of a necktie, and his slightly artificial, orange skin tone, didn’t prevent us from engaging wholeheartedly in a discussion about energy futures – in particular the default options for the UK, since there is a capacity crunch coming very soon in electricity generation, and new nuclear power reactors won’t be ready in time, and neither will Carbon Capture and Storage-fitted coal-fired power plants.

Of course, the default options are basically Natural Gas and wind power, because large amounts can be made functional within a five year timeframe. My correspondent moaned that gas plants are closing down in the UK. We agreed that we thought that new Combined Cycle Gas Turbine plant urgently needs to be built as soon as possible – but he despaired of seeing it happen. He seemed to think it was essential that the Energy Bill should be completed as soon as possible, with built-in incentives to make Gas Futures a reality.

I said, “Don’t wait for the Energy Bill”. I said, “Intelligent people have forecast what could happen to Natural Gas prices within a few years from high European demand and UK dependence, and are going to build gas plant for themselves. We simply cannot have extensions on coal-fired power plants…” He agreed that the Large Combustion Plant Directive would be closing the coal. I said that there was still something like 20 gigawatts of permissioned gas plant ready to build – and with conditions shaping up like they are, they could easily get financed.

Earlier, Nigel Cornwall, of Cornwall Energy had put it like this :-

“Deliverability and the trilemma [meeting all three of climate change, energy security and end-consumer affordability concerns] [are key]. Needs to be some joined-up thinking. […] There is clearly a deteriorating capacity in output – 2% to 5% reduction. As long as I’ve worked in the sector it’s been five minutes to midnight, [only assuaged by] creative thinking from National Grid.”

However, the current situation is far from bog standard. As Paul Dickson of Glennmont Partners said :-

“£110 billion [is needed] to meet the [electricity generation] gap. We are looking for new sources of capital. Some of the strategic institutional capital – pension funds [for example] – that’s who policy needs to be directed towards. We need to look at sources of capital.”

Alistair Buchanan, formerly of Ofgem, the power sector regulator, and now going to KPMG, spent the last year or so of his Ofgem tenure presenting the “Crunch Winter” problem to as many people as he could find. His projections were based on a number of factors, including Natural Gas supply questions, and his conclusion was that in the winter of 2015/2016 (or 2016/2017) power supply could get thin in terms of expansion capacity – for moments of peak demand. Could spell crisis.

The Government might be cutting it all a bit fine. As Jenny Holland of the Association for the Conservation of Energy said :-

“[Having Demand Reduction in the Capacity Mechanism] Not our tip-top favourite policy outcome […] No point to wait for “capacity crunch” to start [Energy Demand Reduction] market.”

It does seem that people are bypassing the policy waiting queue and getting on with drawing capital into the frame. And it is becoming more and more clear the scale of what is required. Earlier in the afternoon, Caroline Flint MP had said :-

“In around ten years time, a quarter of our power supply will be shut down. Decisions made in the next few years. Consequences will last for decades. Keeping the lights on, and [ensuring reasonably priced] energy bills, and preventing dangerous climate change.”

It could come to pass that scarcity, not only in cheesesticks, but in electricity generation capacity, becomes a reality. What would policy achieve then ? And how should Government react ? Even though Lord Deben (John Gummer) decried in the early afternoon a suggestion implying carbon rationing, proposed to him by Professor Mayer Hillman of the Policy Studies Institute, it could yet turn out that electricity demand reduction becomes a measure that is imposed in a crisis of scarcity.

As I put it to my sugarcane fellow discussionee, people could get their gas for heating cut off at home in order to guarantee the lights and banks and industry stay on, because UK generation is so dependent on Natural Gas-fired power.

Think about it – the uptake of hyper-efficient home appliances has turned down owing to the contracting economy, and people are continuing to buy and use electronics, computers, TVs and other power-sucking gadgets. Despite all sizes of business having made inroads into energy management, electricity consumption is not shifting downwards significantly overall.

We could beef up the interconnectors between the UK and mainland Europe, but who can say that in a Crunch Winter, the French and Germans will have any spare juice for us ?

If new, efficient gas-fired power plants are not built starting now, and wind farms roll out is not accelerated, the Generation Gap could mean top-down Energy Demand Reduction measures.

It would certainly be a great social equaliser – Fuel Poverty for all !

Natural Gas in the UK

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.

New Nuclear : Credibility Strained

As rumours and genuine information leak from central sources about the policy instruments and fiscal measures that will be signed into the United Kingdom’s Energy Bill, the subsidy support likely to be made available to new nuclear power is really straining credibility from my point of view. I am even more on the “incredulous” end of the spectrum of faith in the UK Government’s Energy Policy than I ever was before.

The national demand for electrical power is pretty constant, with annual variations of only a few percent. It was therefore easy to project that there could be a “power cliff” when supply would be curtailed from coal-fired generation under European legislation :-

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-of-energy-climate-change/series/energy-trends

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-21501878
http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2013/feb/19/ofgem-higher-household-energy-bills
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/9878281/Ofgem-boss-warns-of-higher-energy-prices-in-supply-roller-coaster.html
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/9878281/Ofgem-boss-warns-of-higher-energy-prices-in-supply-roller-coaster.html
http://metro.co.uk/2013/02/19/consumers-face-higher-energy-bills-as-the-uk-becomes-more-reliant-on-gas-imports-3503130/
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/decc-statement-on-alistair-buchanan-s-comments-on-energy-security-and-rising-gas-prices

The pat answer to how we should “Keep the Lights On” has been to wave the new nuclear fission reactor card. Look ! Shiny new toys. Keep us in power for yonks ! And hidden a little behind this fan of aces and jokers, a get-out-of-jail free card from the Coal monopoly – Carbon Capture and Storage or CCS. Buy into this, and we could have hundreds more years of clean power from coal, by pumping nasty carbon dioxide under the sea bed.

Now, here’s where the answers are just plain wrong : new nuclear power cannot be brought into the National Grid before the early 2020s at the very earliest. And options for CCS are still in the balance, being weighed and vetted, and very unlikely to clean up much of the black stuff until well past 2025.

When put through my best onboard guesstimiser, I came up with the above little graph in answer to the question : how soon can the UK build new power generation ? Since our “energy cliff” is likely to be in one of the winters of 2015 or 2016, and we’re not sure other countries we import from will have spare capacity, we have little option but to increase Natural Gas-fired power generation and go hell-for-leather with the wind and solar power deployment.

So no – it’s of no use promising to pay the new nuclear reactor bearer the sum of 40 or more years of subsidy in the form of guaranteed price for power under the scheme known as Contracts for Difference – they still won’t be delivering anything to cope with the “power drain” of the next few years. If this is written into the Electricity Market Reform, we could justifiably say this would destroy competition, and destroy any market, too, and be “central planning” by any other name – this level of subsidy is not exactly “technology-neutral” !

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2013/feb/19/edf-40-year-contract-nuclear-plant
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/9879257/Government-drawing-up-ludicrous-40-year-contracts-to-persuade-power-companies-to-go-nuclear.html

And offering the so-called Capacity Mechanism – a kind of top-up payment to keep old nuclear reactors running, warts and all – when really they should be decommissioned as they are reaching the end of their safe lives, is not a good option, in my book.

Offering the Capacity Mechanism to those who build new gas-fired power plant does make sense, however. If offshore wind power continues with its current trajectory and hits the big time in the next few years, and people want the cheap wind power instead of the gas, and the gas stations will be feeling they can’t run all the time, then the Capacity Mechanism will be vital to make sure the gas plant does get built to back up the wind power, and stays available to use on cold, still nights in February.

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/66039/7103-energy-bill-capacity-market-impact-assessment.pdf
http://gastopowerjournal.com/regulationapolicy/item/1405-eurelectric-discards-eu-wide-capacity-mechanism-as-premature
http://www.eaem.co.uk/news/doubts-gas-strategy-will-lead-new-plants

Oh, people may complain about the idea of new “unabated” gas power plants, and insist they should be fitted with carbon capture, but new gas plants won’t run all the time in future, because renewable electricity generation will be cheaper, so forcing gas plant owners to pay for CCS seems like overkill to me. And, anyway, we will be decarbonising the gas supply, as we develop supplies of Renewable Gas.

I say forget the nuclear option – build the gas !

Energy Together : I’m just getting warmed up

The human race – we have to solve energy together. And to do that, we need to harness all our personal, purposeful, positive energies, and let me tell you, personally, I feel electric – and I’m only just getting warmed up.

So let’s hear less of the nonsense from authoritatively-accredited people who want to put a dampener on green energy, who say that saving energy cannot, simply cannot be done, sigh, sigh, sigh, collective groan. We have so much energy together, we can do this.

We have the will power, the staying power, the investment power, and we will navigate the obstacles in our path.

Let’s not waste any more time on expensive trinkets, and iddy-biddy fancies with high unit costs and low compatibility to the future. Yes, I’m talking nuclear power. I’m talking the nobody-really-wants-to-do-it-and-nobody-thinks-it-can-be-cheap-enough-to-work-at-scale Carbon Capture and Storage. And yes, I’m talking carbon markets – tell me again, where are they now ? Oh yes, still in the starting blocks.

And don’t even start to talk about pricing carbon to me – in this world of rollercoaster, highly volatile energy prices, what on Earth could costing or taxing carbon actually achieve ? And fusion power ? Nah, mate, forget it. It’s been 50 years away for the last 50 years.

Shale gas, oil from shales, tar sands, coal bed methane collection and underground coal gasification are once-abandoned messy ideas from way back. They’re still messy, and they’re still retro, and they’re not going to get us anywhere. If the United States of America want to completely ruin their lithosphere, well, that’s up to them, but don’t come around here toxifying our aquifers and poisoning our European trees !

What we need is marine energy, geothermal energy, hydropower, solar power, wind power, and Renewable Gas, because gaseous fuels are so flexible and store-able and can come from many, many processes. And we need the next optimistic generation of leaders to push through the administration ceiling and get green energy policy really rolling, attracting all the green investment will.

If I were a power plant, I would be cranking out the current and making everything shine very, very brightly just now.

We Need To Talk About Syria

Kofi Annan has thrown up his hands and backed away from his role as UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria tasked with a peace mission. In one sense it is all too predictable. The United Nations Security Council is divided, reflecting deep faultlines in the policy positions of the main body of the UN.

It is probably too early in the evolution of global human governance to expect military violence to be declared illegal, but at least there are voices starting to speak up demanding that there be no armed foreign intervention in Syria. The trouble is that although warfare by foreign parties in Syria has not been publicly declared, there are, by many accounts, military and security operatives of a number of external country administrations already in play inside its borders. Foreign ministers in several major countries have pledged support to either the Syrian “regime” – you know – its “ruling government”, or to the “opposition” “rebels” – otherwise known as gangs of armed thugs. Or quite possibly people from a nebulous ill-defined shadowy organisation known as “Al-Qaeda”.

There are some reports that foreign involvement was behind the bombing of members of President Bashar al-Assad’s government in July, a near “decapitation” – as Assad himself could have been easily killed in the incident, and that a reprisal attack took place several days later – possibly severely injuring or even killing Prince Bandar, newly recruited chief of intelligence in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – recently drafted in – apparently with a mission to topple Syria’s “regime” – you know, Syria’s “legitimate administration” – a former ambassador to the United States of America. Although this is not yet confirmed. Or denied.

Despite conciliatory moves, countries of stern influence in the United Nations continue to call for Assad to quit, for reasons that nobody really delves into. Oh yes, as a mild-mannered London-trained ex-ophthalmologist, he’s supposed to be some kind of Hitler character, killing thousands of “his own people”. This story clearly doesn’t stick very well to the man, particularly since this narrative was also recently falsely used against the former leader of Libya. Another story that hasn’t been washing is that the Syrian “regime”, you know, the “proper authorities of administration”, has been responsible for starting all the violence in Syria – but there is now plenty of evidence to the contrary. So why has it been necessary to demonise Assad ? Why has it been that – allegedly – various governments have decided to get dirty hands and stir up violence in Syria in means overt and covert ?

And with the risks to global oil supply, why has it been necessary for the United States of America and the European Union to implement and enforce an oil embargo on Syria ? I mean, you would have thought it would be in everybody’s best interests to keep the oil flowing from every source possible. But no, sanctions it is, and Syria’s had to give up a considerable amount of their production. I know, I know, before the embargo Syria’s output was only 10% of Iran’s current production (see below), but it has meant a lot for Syria’s trade balance. According to the CIA Factbook on Syria (under “Economy”), nearly three quarters of all oil produced has been for export (although it was consuming more Natural Gas than it could produce – presumably for power generation). Plus, it’s national debt put it in the bottom ranks of the world’s countries meaning it can ill-afford to become more impoverished.

So remind me again, what was the oil embargo for ? To depose Assad by making him unpopular because of a nosediving economy ? And why does Assad need to go, actually ? Nobody’s saying that the country has been run perfectly. Gruesome tales have been told of what can happen in Syria – but then, horrible things happen in every country, including in the United States of America, and yet the United Nations is not insisting that Barack Obama stand aside.

Several key cities in Syria have existed in tolerant civilisation for thousands of years. Why does war have to come to Syria ? Why is there civil war being conducted in Damascus ? Even stoics are finding this hard to bear. Wikipedia notes despairingly and ungrammatically “In the second decade of the 21th century Damascus was damaged from the ongoing Syrian Civil War”.

The more I think about it, the more I come circling back to the same theory – that the economic attack on Syria, and the now almost indisputable accounts of outside meddling that is provoking the conflict (and may have even instigated it in the first place), is simply part of a plan to make the oil and gas resources of all Middle Eastern countries available to global markets at reasonable prices. I mean, look at Iraq, whose oil production was severely hit as a result of military destruction by the international warfare community, but which is now making a splendid recovery (see below) and most of the profits are pouring into the coffers of the multinational oil and gas companies, and diesel and petrol stay relatively inexpensive. Or not, as the case may be. The plan for countries across the Middle East is probably the along the same general line – first accuse the country’s government of heinous crimes, then apply economic sanctions or energy sanctions of some kind, then apply diplomatic and media pressure, (and then, these days, send in the spooks to kick up an “Arab Spring”) and then send in the gunships or gunchoppers – attack helicopters. This narrative has been successfully applied to bring Iraq to heel, and then Libya, and now it seems Syria is being talked down the same blood-paved road, and Iran is being pushed along a parallel track.

Iran. Now there’s an interesting case. Iran is not a pushover. It has taken nearly seven years of manoeuvring to make the completely unfounded case that Iran is building (or planning to build) nuclear weapons. Iran has been enriching uranium for its stated aim of developing a civilian nuclear power program, and this has been used as the justification to impose sanctions against Iran, including an oil embargo, which is having an impact on their production (see below). Besides painting the leader of Iran as an evil dictator, the propagandists of this world also seem to be trying to wield a new stick to beat Iran with – in the form of the call to end fossil fuel subsidies. Billed as a climate change policy by the G20, it is more a punitive measure against developing countries who have been using fossil fuel subsidies to make sure their citizens can get cheap energy. If Iran is no longer permitted to subsidise energy for citizens it will be forced to sell the oil and gas abroad – a buyer’s market only too pleased to suck dry the world’s second largest oil and Natural Gas producer. That volume of oil and gas being made available on the world’s markets would definitely keep global prices of oil and gas as low as possible.

Anyway, back to Syria. Clearly, there are problems, although reports of enormous and desperate increases in violence are probably not accurate. Painting the story as increasingly agitated is a common media device to engage the readers with the situation – but if it gets too sensationalised the narrative could start to affect decisionmakers, and may lead to illegitimate and inappropriate influence being exerted from abroad. Instead of William Hague MP, British Foreign Secretary for the United Kingdom, offering tactical support to the Syrian “rebels”, he should announce an immediate diplomatic mission to the Syrian government, and the various rebel groups, offering the undoubted skills of his secret service personnel in mediating a ceasefire between the authorities and the opposition. Otherwise we could end up with NATO committing to tens of thousands of weaponised air sorties over Syria and destroying a large part of this ancient culture, just as they did with Libya. All economic and energy sanctions and embargoes against Syria should be dropped, as they are aggravating the conflict. If the international community uses the language and action of peace, then perhaps Syria can be encouraged back to the ways of peace.

In the words of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, “Regime change is not our profession.”





Bosworth: “We are not going soft on coal”

At the annual Stop Climate Chaos coalition chin-wag on Friday 20th July 2012, I joined a table discussion led by Tony Bosworth of the environmental group Friends of the Earth.

He was laying out plans for a campaign focus on the risks and limitations of developing shale gas production in the United Kingdom.

During open questions, I put it to him that a focus on shale gas was liable to lay Friends of the Earth open to accusations of taking the pressure off high carbon fuels such as coal. He said that he had already encountered that accusation, but emphasised that the shale gas licencing rounds are frontier – policy is actively being decided and is still open to resolution on issues of contention. Placing emphasis on critiquing this fossil fuel resource and its exploitation is therefore timely and highly appropriate. But he wanted to be clear that “we are not going soft on coal”.

I suggested that some experts are downplaying the risks of shale gas development because of the limitations of the resource – because shale gas could only contribute a few percent of national fuel provision, some think is is unwise to concentrate so much campaign effort on resisting its development. Bosworth countered this by saying that in the near future, the British Geological Survey are expected to revise their estimates of shale gas resource upwards by a very significant amount.

He quoted one source as claiming that the UK could have around 55 years of shale gas resource within its borders. I showed some scepticism about this, posing the question “But can it be mined at any significant rate ?” It is a very common public relations trick to mention the total estimated size of a fossil fuel resource without also giving an estimate of how fast it can be extracted – leading to entirely mistaken conclusions about how useful a field, well or strata can be.

Tony Bosworth said that shale gas reserve estimates keep changing all the time. The estimate for shale gas reserves in Poland have just been revised downwards, and the Marcellus Shale in the United States of America has also been re-assessed negatively.

Bosworth said that although campaigners who are fighting shale gas development had found it useful to communicate the local environmental damage caused by shale gas extraction – such as ozone pollution, traffic noise, water pollution and extraction, landscape clearance – the best argument against shale gas production was the climate change emissions one. He said academics are still being recruited to fight on both sides of the question of whether the lifecycle emissions of shale gas are higher than for coal, but that it was becoming clear that so-called “fugitive emissions” – where gas unintentionally escapes from well works and pipeline networks – is the key global warming risk from shale gas.

Opinion around the table was that the local environmental factors associated with shale gas extraction may be the way to draw the most attention from people – as these would be experienced personally. The problem with centring on this argument is that the main route of communication about these problems, the film Gasland, has been counter-spun by an industry-backed film “Truthland”.

The Royal Society recently pronounced shale gas extraction acceptable as long as appropriate consideration was paid to following regulatory control, but even cautious development of unconventional fossil fuels does not answer the climate change implications.

There is also the extreme irony that those who oppose wind farm development on the basis of “industrialisation of the landscape” can also be the same group of people who are in favour of the development of shale gas extraction – arguably doing more, and more permanently, to destroy the scenery by deforestation, water resource sequestration and toxification of soils, air and water.

Tony Bosworth told the group about the Friends of the Earth campaign to encourage Local Authorities to declare themselves “Frack-Free Zones” (in a similar way to the “Fair Trade Towns” campaign that was previously so successful). He said that FoE would be asking supporters to demand that their local governments had a “No Fracking” policy in their Local Plans. It was suggested in the discussion group that with the current economic slowdown and austerity measures, that Local Authorities may not have the capacity to do this. Tony Bosworth suggested that in this case, it might be worth addressing the issue to church parish councils, who can be very powerful in local matters. It was pointed out that frequently, parish councils have been busy declaring themselves “Wind Free Zones”.

It was considered that it would be ineffective to attempt to fight shale gas production on a site-by-site direct action basis as the amount of land in the UK that has already and will soon be licenced for shale gas exploration made this impossible. Besides which, people often had very low awareness of the potential problems of shale gas extraction and the disruption and pollution it could bring to their areas – so local support for direct action could be poor.

One interesting suggestion was to create a map of the United Kingdom showing the watersheds where people get their tap supplies from superimposed on where the proposed shale gas exploration areas are likely to be – to allow people to understand that even if they live far away from shale gas production, their drinking water supplies could be impacted.

In summary, there are several key public relations fronts on which the nascent shale gas “industry” are fighting. They have been trying to seed doubt on low estimates of actual shale gas production potential – they have been hyping the potentially massive “gamechanging” resource assessments, without clear evidence of how accessible these resources are. They have also been pouring scorn on the evidence of how much damage shale gas could do to local environments. And they have also been promoting academic research that could be seen to make their case that shale gas is less climate-damaging than other energy resources.

Shale gas, and the issue of the risks of hydraulic fracturing for unconventional fossil fuels, is likely to remain a hot ecological topic. Putting effort into resisting its expansion is highly appropriate in the British context, where the industry is fledgeling, and those who are accusing Friends of the Earth and others of acting as “useful idiots” for the ambitions of the coal industry just haven’t taken a look at the wider implications. If shale gas is permitted dirty development rights, then that would open the gateway for even more polluting unconventional fossil fuel extraction, such as oil shale and underground coal gasification, and that really would be a major win for the coal industry.

Friends of the Earth Briefing : Shale gas : energy solution or fracking hell ?

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 :-

http://www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/news/pn12_072/pn12_072.aspx
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/9316935/French-president-Francois-Hollande-cuts-retirement-age.html
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-18344831
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/david-cameron-praises-uknorway-energy-linkup-7826436.html
http://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 :-

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

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-15637244
http://www.nord-stream.com/pipeline/
http://www.gazprom.com/about/production/projects/mega-yamal/
http://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 :-

http://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.

Gas in the UK (2)

…Continued from http://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.

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 : http://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

It’s got to be gas

Public Enemy Number One in energy terms has got to be burning coal to generate electricity. Although the use of some coal for domestic heating to supplement varying supplies of biomass in home stoves is going to continue to be very useful, using coal for power production is wasteful, toxic and high carbon.

Public Enemy Number Two in energy terms is nuclear power – a weight round our collective neck. Costly to build, costly to underwrite, costly to decommission: although its proponents claim it as a low carbon solution, even they admit the management of nuclear power can be polluting, risky and wasteful.

Public Energy Number Three in energy terms has to be the incredible amount of water required to keep the first two enemies in operation. Climate change is already altering the patterns of rainfall, both in geographical areas and in seasons. Any energy solutions that don’t require water supplies will be preferable.

Many environmental researchers oppose a growing dependence on Natural Gas for power generation in industrialised countries – they claim it will lock in carbon emissions production without Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). Carbon Capture and Storage is way off in the never-never land at present, so it should not be factored in to analyses of carbon management. Ignoring CCS, it can be seen that substituting in Natural Gas power generation where coal has been the principal fuel is in fact a very good way to lower greenhouse gas emissions in the near term.

Natural Gas is not forever, not even with environmentally-ensured unconventional production, such as shale gas. Yet the Natural Gas infrastructure is highly important for developed and some parts of developing countries too. If we can re-imagine the future of gas, making gas fuels renewable, the already existing distribution of gas and appliances and equipment that use it, become a valuable asset.

The climate change crisis is an energy crisis. My position is that we need three vital things to solve this energy crisis : rationalised energy, renewable electricity and Renewable Gas. My key projection is that a 100% renewable energy world is possible, and in fact, inevitable, and to get from here to there we need to use gas fuels, but they need to become progressively renewable in order to meet the climate change crisis.

Natural Gas can not only be a “bridge fuel”. Supporting its use now, on the understanding that it will be replaced by Renewable Gas in the medium term, will enable links to be made between society and the energy industry, and break down the barricades between those who are against high carbon energy and those who sell high carbon energy.

Academic Freedom #6 : Policy Levers

Image Credit : Taproot

Many scientists express that their aim in their work is to offer a good foundation for Government decision-making. Our gathering and processing of data and evidence is to be offered to the lawmakers to enable them to choose a way forward, and design a strategy to get there. This is a noble ambition – to be a useful servant of the facts (or at least a disciple of statistics with plus and minus margins of error).

However, science is not the only force at work in influencing Government decisions. For a start, Governments change through elections in democracies, and all debate about public policy passes through a narrow ideological gate – where people decide on a very small range of questions that concern them at the time. Election issues are almost always centred around tax and welfare, and elections are often called for the favourite politicians of the moment.

And then there’s the question of which organisations influence elected governments on a day-to-day basis – who has the ear of leaders and their senior staff ? The public relations budget lines of large companies and corporations can be kept trim and tidy – politicians are easy to get access to if you have a lot of capital to invest (or make out that you do).

Continue reading Academic Freedom #6 : Policy Levers

Academic Freedom #5 : More Natural Gas power stations is a Good Thing

Energy policy in the United Kingdom is a constant battle. A number of environmental commentators and campaign groups are up in arms about the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). Again.

Somebody with influence should have a quiet word with DECC about their public relations – they seem intent on leading people a merry dance about their true policy intentions – and then blasting everybody with piecemeal pronouncements, without giving the concerned public the full picture.

Personally, I think the strategy of building new Natural Gas-fired power plants is rather good. Yes, I will explain why. But first I will cover some of the complaints.

Continue reading Academic Freedom #5 : More Natural Gas power stations is a Good Thing

Academic Freedom #2 : The UN climate treaty needs energy producer obligations

Image Credit : Orin Langelle GJEP-GFC

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change calls nations to attend regular gatherings of the signatories to the ratified convention – the Conference of the Parties.

The nations send delegations – hardly ever sending their premiers, presidents and primes. What bargaining powers do these delegations have ? They have the authority to offer small percentages in emissions reductions, just to show willing. They have the mandate to refuse policies their nations do not like.

The language is framed around energy consumption – most country delegations have been advised by their economists that increased efficiency in the use of energy means that the national energy use will decrease. O wondrous technology ! You allow us to cut our energy use – and therefore our carbon intensity.

These same economists advise that the Holy Ghost of Innovation will inspire Research and Development – which will mean that new technologies will curtail greenhouse gas emissions. We only have to invest in new engineering. This Cult of the New is the fable on which most advanced nations hang their hope.

Continue reading Academic Freedom #2 : The UN climate treaty needs energy producer obligations

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.

Energy Sovereignty for Iran

Here’s the prime time television where the U. S. Army chief admits that the American military know Iran is engineering at sea – although the General deliberately gets the purpose wrong.

[For an uncorrected transcript of the piece, see below at the end of this post].

He claims that Iran is going to use their engineering to shut the Strait of Hormuz, a major artery of oil transport from the Middle East to the world.

Whereas, in actual fact, Iran has been constructing facilities to mine marine, sub-sea Natural Gas in its territorial waters in the Persian Gulf, and wants to use it to generate electricity to export.

Iran is sitting on Natural Gas – a lot of Natural Gas. And a lot of it is at sea. There have been marine seismic surveys for sub-sea Natural Gas in the Persian Gulf over the last few years, and it seems, other countries have been spying on the Iranian offshore activities.

Clearly, with Iran’s intent to exploit its marine gas, there have been and will be construction ships and construction going on in the Persian Gulf and around the Strait of Hormuz, especially the islands of Kish and Qeshm. This should not be mistaken as a risk to oil shipping. It should not be claimed as indications of Iran seeking to close the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for economic sanctions.

What is at stake here is no less than Iran’s energy sovereignty – its sovereign right to enjoy the wealth from exploiting its own energy resources.

The international pressure for an end to fossil fuel subsidies would hurt Iranian internal economic development (much like it’s hurting Nigeria, currently), and it would be forced to export oil and Natural Gas – no doubt at low market prices. Iran may end up no better off for trading.

The Iranians bought myths about nuclear power hook, line and sinker, and they believe they have a right to develop civilian atomic energy. Other countries, the United States of America in particular, keep pushing this button and claiming that Iran is heading for developing nuclear weapon capability. This is the most unbelievable accusation since…oh, I don’t know, since the USA accused Iran of a plot for a used car salesman and a Mexican, or something, to kill a Saudi ambassador, which was unadulterated nonsense.

America’s insistence that Iran is a threat because they claim that Iran is working towards constructing nuclear weapons, is so ridiculous, that few seem to have realised it is “deflection” – a propaganda technique to divert you from the real source of tension between the USA and Iran.

What America really doesn’t seem to like is countries like Iran (and Venezuela) making autonomous energy decisions, and creating their own wealth by using their own energy resources in their own way.

Maybe the American war hawks think “Why cannot Iran be more like Iraq, with western oil and Natural Gas companies with discount contracts, crawling over new resources and selling it all abroad ?”

Anyway, what is clear is that the spat between Iran and the USA has nothing to do with nuclear power or idle brinkmanship about controlling the flow of oil as a retaliation against economic sanctions.




NEWS BROADCAST TRANSCRIPT

http://www.bloomberg.com/video/83880880/

Bloomberg : 9 January 2012 : Lara Setrakian reports on the outlook for Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz as Europe prepares to follow tougher U. S. sanctions on the country over its nuclear program and the status of a pipeline that would allow oil from the United Arab Emirates to bypass the waterway. The pipeline has been delayed because of construction difficulties, two people with knowledge of the matter said. Setrakian speaks with Linzie Janis on Bloomberg Television’s “Countdown.”

[Ticker tape reads “AHMADINEJAD TURNS TO CHAVEZ FOR SUPPORT”]

[Linzie Janis] “The Persian Gulf could be closed off to ships altogether, that’s if tensions continue to escalate between Iran and the West. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is due to meet with Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez later on today as part of a tour of Latin America. He is seeking s”upport” as Iran faces tighter U. S. sanctions over its nuclear program.

[Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in translation] We will discuss the intentions of the arrogant system interfering and having a military presence in other countries. We shall coordinate with our friends in Latin America to address this matter.

[Linzie Janis] Well with the very latest Lara Setrakian joins us with from Dubai

Lara itell it looks like the U. S. and Iran could be on a – – collision course here.

[Lara Setrakian] Well moving closer towards it, as Iran inches towards what the U. S. has called “two red lines” – advanced nuclear enrichment at the underground Fordow facility, and shutting the Strait of Hormuz – something that Iran told the A. P. [Associated Press] they’ll do if the E. U. oil embargo goes through later this month. The highest level U. S. assessment to date – that Iran could shut the Strait that would effectively trigger a military confrontation in the Persian Gulf.

General Martin Dempsey, American Department of Defense, United States Army Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman] They’ve invested in capabilities that could [scratches nose – a classic sign of lying] in fact for a period of time block the Straits of Hormuz. We’ve invested in capabilities [rocking body slightly from side to side – a classic sign of swagger] to ensure that if that happens [giving a hard, fixed stare] we can, er, defeat that. [Looks down briefly – meaning that this information was a significant reveal] And so, the simple answer [shrugs shoulders to dimiss the concept] is yes, they can block it. Er… [ Looks down and to his right, our left, indicating a recall of something] And of course that is as well…[blinks to conceal the fact that he’s cut something out] we’ve described that as an intolerable act [shrugs shoulders as if to say, those Iranians have got it coming to them] and it’s not just intolerable for us [shakes head from side to side] it’s intolerable to the world [rubs one hand over another, which is a sign of nervousness]. But we would take action and re-open the Straits [shuts lips in beefburger bun clench and nodding as a sign that no more useful information will be forthcoming].

[ Ticker Tape reads : THREATS TO STRAIT OF HORMUZ SHIPPING ]

[Lara Setrakian] Meanwhile it could disrupt the biggest sea lane for the world’s shipped oil, what one analyst called “the ultimate fear in the oil market – it would spike prices”.

[Linzie Janis] So what kind of preparation are you seeing to counter that risk ?

[Lara Setrakian] Well, one of the biggest contigency plans so far has floundered – a pipeline here in the U. A. E. that would run from Abu Dhabi to the Port of Fujairah. It would avoid the Strait. It’s a $3.3 billion dollar project but it’s been delayed – not ready until April at the soonest. And it’s meant to move 1.5 million barrels per day, most of Abu Dhabi’s output, say two days at sea, but the pipeline has been delayed repeatedly by construction issues – one energy analyst Robin Mills pointing also to a pipeline in Saudi Arabia that’s meant to be another backup system [ Ticker Tape reads “FURTHER CONTINGENCY PIPELINES PLANNED”] that could take oil to the Red Sea after 5 million barrels of oil a day capacity and it could be expanded – again, all contigency planning – to keep oil free from any Iranian chokehold in the Persian Gulf.

Linzie.

[Linzie Janis] Lara, thank you very much.

Eco-Socialism #1 : Public Service, Private Profit

Public infrastructure and utilities are the skeleton of the national economy; the spokes of the wheel; the walls of the house.

Private corporations can in many cases put muscle on the body, a tyre on the bike, and furnish the rooms, but without the basic public provision, private enterprise cannot thrive.

Without taxes being raised – asking everybody for their appropriate contribution – there would be no guaranteed health service, education system, roads, water supplies, power networks.

Federal or central government spending is essential, and often goes without question or inspection – including subsidies, cheap government loans, tax breaks and even rule-bending and regulatory exemption for specific sectors of the economy. This policy lenience also applies to private companies that take on the provision of public utilities.

This explicit, but often glossed-over, support for public services means that private business can rely on this national infrastructure. Small businesses can rely on a power supply and waste disposal services, for example. Large businesses can rely on a functioning postal service and road network.

It is questionable whether for-profit enterprise would be able to survive without the basic taxation-funded provision of public services and utilities.

I can understand why governments feel the need to get public spending off the balance sheet, and outsource public utilities to the private sector.

There is a lingering belief that private enterprise makes public services more efficient; makes manufacturing more reliable; makes construction better quality.

In some cases, this belief in privatisation is justified. Where companies can genuinely compete with each other, there can be efficiencies at scale. However, the success of privatisation is not universal.

Many parts of a developed economy are monolithic – there is no real competition possible. You get electricity through your power socket from a variety of production companies – you cannot choose. The road between your house and your office is always the same road – you don’t choose between different tarmac suppliers. Your local hospital is your local hospital, regardless of who owns and runs it – you have no choice about who that is – and the government contract tendering process is not something open to a public vote.

Added to this lack of competition, in some cases, it is impossible to make a profit by operating a public service by a private concern.

There should be no rock under which private business can hide when it claims to be operating profitable train and bus services – without public subsidies, public transport cannot be run at a profit.

Liability for daily operations may have been outsourced to the British private train companies, but not the full cost of the services. Costs for locally-sourced services cannot be driven down because they cannot be made fully open to global competition.

By contrast, the globalisation of labour has been making manufacturing industry significantly cheaper for decades.

In order for globalised trade to work, finance has to be liberated from its nation-bound shackles, and so along with the globalisation of labour to nations where it’s cheapest, there has been the globalisation of finance, to the tax regimes less punitive.

The globalisation of trade is a two-way bargain between those that want to see the development of primitive economies and those who want to create wealth for their companies and their shareholders.

Globalisation has created a booming China, for example, and filled the pockets of any Western company that imports from China.

However, the tide of globalisation has reached the shore, and the power of the waves is being stilled by solid earth realities. Labour costs in previously under-developed economies are starting to rise significantly, as those economies start to operate internal markets as well as maintain export-led growth.

It could soon be cheaper to have manufacturing labour in the United States of America than China. But when that happens a curious problem will arise. Manufacturing industry has been closed down in the so-called industrialised countries – as companies have taken their factories to the places with the cheapest labour and the most lax tax.

Wealth creation potential in developed countries has been destroyed. And it is for this reason that Western governments feel the urgent need to privatise everything, because their economies are collapsing internally, and public budgets may no longer be able to sustain current government spending.

However, privatisation doesn’t work for everything. It doesn’t work for health, education, water, public transport. The European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is a vehicle to compensate for agricultural sectors than cannot make a profit. I would contend privatisation doesn’t work for the energy supply and distribution sector either – but for a special reason.

Normally, it is possible to run energy stations at a profit. The privatised sector inherited power stations and grid networks that were fully functioning, and the sales of power and Natural Gas were almost pure profit.

However, much energy plant needs to be lifecycled after decades of use – replacements are in order, and this demands heavy public investment, in the form of subsidies, or pricing controls, or tax breaks or some such financial aid, in order to avoid crippling the private companies.

Like the rail network, there is direct public investment in the power grids. This is to support new access for new energy plant. However, I think this doesn’t go far enough. I would argue that much more public tax-and-spend is required in the energy sector.

In future, most electricity generation needs to become low carbon and indigenous. The primary reason for this is the volatility of the globalised economy – it will no longer be possible to assume that imports of coal, Natural Gas and oil for power station combustion can be afforded – especially in economies like the United Kingdom, where much wealth creation has been destroyed by de-industrialisation.

It used to be easy to ignore this – as the North Sea was so productive in oil and Natural Gas that the UK was a net energy exporter. This is no longer the case.

To avoid the risk of national impoverishment, energy independence is dictated, spelled out by a deflating British economy and by the depleting North Sea reserves.

The easiest and fastest way to a power supply that is low carbon is by healthy investment in wind power and solar power. Yet with the turbulence in the global economy, spending on renewable energy has also been rocky.

Now is the time for the UK Government to stop tickling corporate underbellies to get them to invest in British energy, and to start collected tax revenues to spend explicitly on the energy revival.

It can be “matched” funding – the Renewables Obligation, for example, has drawn in massive levels of private investment into wind power. And the feed-in tariff scheme for solar photovoltaics had, until recently, been pulling in high levels of personal individual and private company investment.

This is the kind of public-private financing that works – create a slightly tilted playing field to tip the flow of money towards new energy investment, and watch the river flow.

Without public money ploughed into public infrastructure in non-profitable areas such as public transport and energy, private enterprise will not be able to make a contribution – they would quickly bankrupt themselves.

The result of capping public subsidies for renewable energy is a halt to renewable energy deployment. Those who resist wind farms are in effect destroying the country. Those who cap public subsidies for solar power want to break the nation.

We need socalist financing of new energy technology deployment, for the future wealth of our country.

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.

Another Meeting I Will Not Be Attending

What appears to be a serious event is due to take place at the Energy Institute in London on 6th December 2011, “Peak Oil – assessing the economic impact on global oil supply“.

Dr Roger Bentley, author of a seminal 2002 paper on the subject, research that spawned hundreds of related learned articles, will be speaking.

But the event organisers have also invited one Dr Matt Ridley, the self-styled “rational optimist”, and member of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, and this, I’m afraid, prevents me from attending.


Ridley projects a view that many probably find comforting – as his headline in The Times of 1st October 2011 summarises – “Cheer up. The world’s not going to the dogs”.

He has been captured speaking at a TEDx event pouring scorn on “environmental” scare stories of the past, but not bothering to delve or dig into how mankind has actually gone out of its way to act on past crises and prevent catastrophes.

And now he’s thrown in his lot with the shale gas miracle men, writing a report with a foreword by Freeman Dyson, one of the world’s most balanced individuals.

How much uncorroborated optimism can one man contain ?

Cheering on the Occupation

I am deeply concerned about the ramping up in rhetoric about Iran’s imagined nuclear weapons programme. I say “imagined” because there is no evidence pointing towards Iran doing anything other than they say they are doing – following a civilian nuclear power programme.

In fact, this bluster has nothing at all to do with the power of atoms, peaceful or otherwise. From my point of view, it’s all about controlling the price of fuel.

Economic sanctions against Iran are being considered on the basis of the International Atomic Energy Agency report on Iran’s nuclear ambitions and activities, and this I would consider highly deceitful. The “international community” may well impose further trade embargoes on Iran, but the underlying reason for such action has nothing to do with nuclear suspicion. I believe that applying economic sanctions against Iran is all about forcing Iran to export more fossil fuel – principally Natural Gas – and to do so cheaply.

In fact, there is a two-pronged assault on Iran’s energy sovereignty taking place – not only are economic sanctions already in place, there are calls from the highest top table for an end to fossil fuel subsidies. People have been cheering this on because at first glance it looks like a carbon control policy, but in reality it will lead to Western economic occupation of Iranian hydrocarbons – an occupation, it is hoped, to be accomplished without finding some excuse for a military intervention.

Continue reading Cheering on the Occupation