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Hope in Hell – an interview with Jonathon Porritt about his new book

David Toke writes: Jonathon Porritt is, in my opinion, the most influential British green political thinker. Here I’m interviewing him about his new book ‘Hope in Hell – A decade to confront the climate emergency’, published by Simon and Shuster.

See the interview above through youtube

 

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Is the ‘deep state’ undermining energy efficiency?

By David Toke

The UK Government could be poised to scrap commitments for a programme of energy efficiency and, alongside this, postpone programmes being proposed to boost energy efficiency of buildings. Instead the gas lobby will be given full rein. A range of Government departments and agencies trying to implement democratic comitments are being eclipsed in influence by a sinister ‘deep state’ that claims to really know popular will.

In a report in the Financial Times the Government, advised by Dominic Cummings, is said to be sidelining the £9.2 billion Conservative manifesto commitment for ‘energy efficiency of homes, schools and hospitals’ (page 19) because it is ‘boring’.

Continue reading “Is the ‘deep state’ undermining energy efficiency?”

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Why the Committee on Climate Change should target 100% renewables before net zero

By David Toke

One striking fact quoted by the Committee on Climate Change in its newly published Progress Report is that: ‘while the public are generally supportive of action to tackle climate change,
and 75% of people are concerned about climate change, just 35% of people report having heard of ‘Net Zero’ as a concept, and only half of people are aware that their gas boiler causes emissions’ (page 188).

So, barely a third of people have heard of the net zero target. But people will much better understand the concept of achieving their energy requirements from 100 per cent renewable energy. This resonates with popular ideas of being self-sufficient in energy that does not run out. Of course we need to keep the net zero target, but the target of 100 per cent renewable energy should be the headline pathway to meet that target.

Continue reading “Why the Committee on Climate Change should target 100% renewables before net zero”

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Get on your bike or electric car to head off the next oil price spike

By David Toke

With world oil prices barely touching $40 a barrel and BP announcing major cutbacks in oil exploration you may be thinking this is an odd moment to talk about needing to head off an oil price spike. But the fact that oil companies are scrapping plans for oil exploration is itself a warning sign that as and when the world economy recovers there is not going to be enough production to meet demand.

Continue reading “Get on your bike or electric car to head off the next oil price spike”

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Is this the technology that makes 100 per cent energy from renewables the most practical solution?

Photo of Professor Yulong Ding

By David Toke

Work is now underway on an energy storage scheme which could be the most significant energy breakthrough project in the last quarter of a century. It is the 50 MW liquid air storage plant in Manchester led by the company Highview. This (as yet small step) has a very good chance to pave the way for 100 per cent renewable energy systems in which sceptics who cite so-called intermittency from solar and wind as a barrier to providing total renewable energy supply are just blown away.

I talked to one of the inventors of renewable energy to liquid air storage systems – known technically as cryogenic freezing of air into a stored liquid –  Yulong Ding (whose picture is featured above), about the technology.

 

Continue reading “Is this the technology that makes 100 per cent energy from renewables the most practical solution?”

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Is China losing the fight to wean its economy off coal?

China has a fight on its hands to wean its economy off coal power

By Andrew Warren

The enormous expansion in China’s coal power capacity means more regional vested interests against decarbonisation, writes Andrew Warren

We in the UK have rightly been celebrating the remarkable shift in how we generate electricity – as well as in the decline in the amount we waste. Across thirty years we have moved from coal generating 80 per cent of our power to zero per cent for much of this year. Year on year, we have been consuming less and less energy.

The Powering Past Coal Alliance is gathering strength worldwide across developed nations. And even despite Donald Trump’s bluster, coal’s share of the US electricity market has been steadily falling throughout his presidency. Coal’s proportion of the US electricity market has dropped from 30.4 per cent in 2016 to just 23 per cent in 2019.

But there is a truly giant exception to this progress. And that is the country which is already the world’s greatest emitter of greenhouses gases. Last year coal-fired generating capacity in China expanded by a massive 37GW.

That was even despite many elderly plants closing, and a gradual drop in coal’s overall market share across China. These 37GW are far more than the overall amount by which coal-fired generating capacity grew globally. In other words, absent China, coal fired electricity generation would have fallen right across the world.

Even more worryingly, there is now an inbuilt bias within the Chinese system that is encouraging still further construction. Right now China has some 135GW of additional coal power capacity either permitted or under construction, according to Global Energy Monitor.

The drive for constructing these new solid-fuelled power stations has largely been encouraged by regional and provincial governments within China. Back in 2014, in a bid familiar to many Western societies, Beijing made an overt effort to devolve decision making from the centre. Local officials were given far greater freedom to approve construction of larger plants. This was grabbed with gusto. By 2016 enough new plants had been granted planning permission by regional governments to expand China’s coal-powered generation by a quarter.

Subsequent attempts to claw back powers to Beijing have fallen foul of arguments about damaging local economies benefitting from the extra construction activity, and subsequent employment opportunities. This means that there are a growing number of places where – despite concerns about local air quality – coal-fired generation is still being seriously championed.

Simultaneously, China’s big state-owned generators, that have long been operating coal-fired stations, have also been investing – with maximum publicity – in producing more electricity from renewables. Consequently there is now a significant glut of power generation.

China also did have a big drive towards improving the efficiency of energy usage. During the first decade of this century, its energy intensity improved remarkably. Whilst its GDP tripled, China’s consumption levels only – if ‘only’ is the right word to use – doubled.

But in recent years GDP growth has slowed down. And the Covid-19 pandemic has augmented desires to set the economy growing as fast as it used to.

Of course there are important voices in China anxious that such activity is made in as environmentally friendly a way as possible, mirroring the European Union’s impressive Green Deal initiative.

But the enormous expansion of coal-fired generation already underway does inevitably mean that, throughout China’s regions, there are now more vested interests likely to be distinctly antipathetic to any swift moves to decarbonise the Chinese economy further.

Andrew Warren is a former special advisor to the House of Commons environment select committee

This post was first published as a Comment piece in Business Green

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Is domestic solar nearly as cheap as big solar? Lessons from Australia and UK

Solar pv expert says domestic solar is nearly as cheap as large scale solar

 RACHEL LEE, who has worked extensively in the solar and also wind industry  discusses how the battery and solar industry is coming together in Australia and how this compares with the UK

South Australia (SA) does have some incentives in place for batteries – I doubt they would yet be economic without support.  However, SA is different to here (UK)- the PV capacity factor is 50% more than southern England/Northern Europe for a start!  SA in particular also had very high electricity prices for a while – that was blamed on a big shift to renewables (there is actually lots of wind resource in SA too), but, having worked for the market regulator in Australia for a while, I doubt that had much to do with economics – more likely to do with Victoria/NSW(New South Wales)/Queensland Government ownership of ancient inefficient coal plants.

There are issues regarding stability in SA since it’s only linked synchronously to the rest of the network by a single dual circuit overhead line (there’s a 200MW DC interconnector too), so it’s necessary to have enough inertia and frequency response in SA to cope with interconnector loss – that’s partly why the big Tesla battery was so effective there.

 So those things have made rooftop solar + batteries look economic vs the grid. I’m not sure how that would compare to a new interconnector to NSW today, but that was being mooted when I was there (2001-2004 )and the economics didn’t stack up – these are long distances of course!

 On residential vs large scale, I’m not so sure the differences are so big when it comes to solar PV.  I’ve been involved in a few big PV schemes in the UK, including a multi project site in Norfolk which has 65MW of capacity.  But dig into that, and you will find 200,000 PV panels of exactly the type you would put on your roof and about 900 inverters each about 10-20 times the capacity of a domestic unit. On top of that there are 30 x 1.6MVA 400V/33kV transformers and a bunch of 33kV ring main units and switchgear, and  an expensive grid connection; none of which is required for domestic PV.  Plus you don’t need any mounting system or foundations for most domestic installs.  The costs at the end of the big PV push (about 4 years ago) where getting below £1000/kW for large scale stuff, but that’s about the same as a domestic install costs today.

 In practice some the the SA solar and battery capacity is under ‘Virtual Power Plant’ control and that’s likely to expand, so there in lies a question as to whether residential systems are really residential systems?

David Toke: This article is a (very slightly) edited version of a commentary by Rachel Lee posted on the Claverton Energy Group email group, https://claverton-energy.com/

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Blue Hydrogen – a Trojan Horse from Big Oil and Gas

The announcement by the German Government that their hydrogen strategy will include support for so-called blue hydrogen as a transitional measure must be regarded as a huge setback for a sustainable energy transition. Essentally what is being proposed is the propping up of oil and gas rather than the alternative – an energy efficient decentralised system based on renewable energy.

The danger is that the British Government will now follow suit.

Blue hydrogen is hydrogen produced from natural gas with the carbon captured and stored – with the caveat of course that the process, for cost reasons, is unlikley to abate more than 85% of the carbon content of the natural gas.

Essentially what the natural gas industry will succeed in doing with ‘blue’ hydrogen is to preserve their multinational gas extraction business by the trick of branding their product differently in different countries. Gas from the same fields will be either branded (further downstream) as ‘blue’ or nothing at all (in other words, normal carbon producing stuff).

Of course it will only be in a few places that the gas will be marketed as ‘blue’. I’m sure lots of fancy consultants will be employed to convince us that really blue gas comes from particular places, but the reality is that in a complex world of international gas trading such distinctions will be window dressing.

Instead of the spending extra investment to kick-start the blue hydrogen distribution business we should be spending it on building up energy supplies from renewable energy.

The sort of scheme we should be supporting, indeed being made mandatory for new buildings, is like one being piloted in Wales. This involves local houses being power systems in themselves that generate, store and use the energy efficiently. The Swansea City scheme involves new energy efficient housing being built complete with solar pv panels, batteries and also heat pumps. This will lead to a system that (because of the efficiency of heat pumps) lead to carbon emissions that are 4xs (yes, four times) less than using ‘blue’ hyrdogen. Not only that but the system will also manage fluctuating renewable energy supplies in a way that avoids extra investment in peak power plants and also reduces investment in transmission and distribution wires.

We can certainly ensure that this sort of system (energy efficient buildings, plus heat pumps, storage, plus solar pv) is installed in new homes rather than connect them to the gas grid. However it may be difficult to retrofit some existing houses with heat pumps, although fitting them to district heating systems powered by large scale heat pumps may often be possible. In other cases electric storage heaters can be deployed. These can also be managed so that their electricity use can be timed to fit in with the variability of renewable energy, again so reducing investment in power plant and distribution wires.

Of course hydrogen has important uses – (although not in space heating where it is inefficient compared to renewable electricity, especially with heat pumps). Important uses for green hydrogen include making steel, fertiliser, shipping fuel, cement and storing renewable electricity – but here we should be making investments in green hydrogen – hydrogen supplied from renewable energy via electrolysis – not wasting the money on propping up the oil and gas companies. We face a crucial crossroads here. Do we want to channel lots of money into propping up the existing gas industry or instead use it to build up markets for decentralised sustainable energy?

Blog post written by David Toke

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Nuclear Power Switches Off Windfarms

Here we publish a summary of our new, first, report:

How nuclear power is switching off windfarms in Scotland – The truth about wind power compensation payments

This report investigates the extent to which the operation of nuclear power plant in Scotland can be blamed for the large amounts spent on compensating windfarms for being asked by the National Grid to shut down production. These shutdowns are done in order to stop the electricity network from being overloaded and the payments to windfarms are called ‘constraint payments’. This is an important issue as these constraint sums are large and are borne by electricity consumers.

Unfortunately, compensation payments paid to windfarm operators are regularly highlighted in anti-windfarm media reports. The practice of paying windfarms to cut back their energy production exists for several reasons. These are principally because of the inability of nuclear facilities to operate flexibly, because the electricity network in Scotland is currently unable to support rapidly increasing amounts of wind power, and because enhancements of electricity interconnections with other countries have not kept pace with these developments or have broken down.
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Say no to ‘blue’, fossil fuel, hydrogen

Blue Hydrogen – an implausible alternative to renewable energy

Blue hydrogen, that is hydrogen produced from fossil fuels (in practice usually natural gas), is hydrogen produced in circumstances where the carbon in the fossil fuel feedstock is captured and stored (carbon capture and storage, or ccs).

But this is not a substitute for energy from renewable energy, for a number of reasons. It is inferior to hydrogen produced from renewable electricity through hydrolysis. It is even more inferior to renewable energy used directly to power heat pumps to heat energy efficient buildings (see the section on heat pumps). Indeed the gas industry would love to scrap the Government’s commitment to end gas heating in new buildings by 2025 and instead carry on fossil fuel business in a new ‘blue hydrogen’ guise. Continue reading “Say no to ‘blue’, fossil fuel, hydrogen”

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