Monday, October 12, 2009

The Tories' mad energy policy

With the relief that EON decided not to build its coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth last week, it is with dismay that we also heard the Tories policy which is to initiate the building of 5 GW coal power stations as soon as they take office.

Labour may not be much good, but the Tories would be a disaster for energy policy. Railroading big business interests through planning to an even greater extent than Labour, under the pretext of environmentalism.

There's perhaps one good policy and that is the right for every community hosting wind farms to keep for 6 years the business rates generated.

It is the fact that local communities have felt ripped off by big developers not caring about their interests that has held back wind farms in this country.

But a real revolution would be for community owned wind farms to be massively supported as they have been in Denmark for many years, as a result of which there has not been the level of public antipathy towards wind farms that there has been here.

It is the stop-start nature of British energy policy under the NFFO policy that has created this antipathy because only the big developers could stay the field and community developers were squeezed out.

The other Tory policies are to give every household in the country £6,500 to upgrade the energy efficiency of homes; and publication of the planning guidance needed for new nuclear power stations.

The first is limited: some homes will cost more to upgrade than others, and the financial support should be in the form of loans that are paid back on the property from the energy savings created.

Housing authorities also need support to do a mass roll out of renovations of particular districts and streets at the same time which is more cost effective.

It is my argument that we can do without nuclear power because it is not cost efficient and the timescale is too great. The figures produced by the nuclear industry cannot be trusted. Taxpayers will end up supporting the industry to an extent that we can afford even less now than we could before.

"Clean coal" relies on carbon sequestration which is an unproven technology that will be incredibly expensive to implement.

EON gave as their reason for not going ahead with Kingsnorth a reduction in electricity demand. If electricity demand is further reduced by a mass roll-out of energy efficiency making everybody's bills cheaper (hooray!), then why would we need to build all these power stations anyway?

The catch 23 of electric cars

Ah - is it so that we can have an electric cars? But that's robbing Peter to pay Paul! - it's a more efficient use of fossil fuels to burn them directly in a car than it is to burn it in a power station and use the electricity to drive a car.

Why? The output from a coal-fired power station fitted with carbon sequestration is around 10% less in efficiency than one without - so you will only get 20-25% of the original energy in the fossil fuel from such a power station at the plug in your wall.

By the time you have factored in the conversion factors inside the engine of the car converting that electrical energy back into motor energy, you will be lucky to get 10%. Whereas around 50% off the energy in petrol or diesel goes straight into transmission.

The only way of implementing electric cars that makes any sense is if they are fuelled from renewable electricity generated locally to the charging point to minimise transmission losses. That means building more solar, tidal and wind.


Robin said...

I agree. Where do people think the electricty is coming from when they "plug" in the electric outlet to juice up the car...? It's not 100% fool proof yet.

Anonymous said...

energy efficiency and an increase in renewable power must clearly be the main planks of long term policy.

Anyone familiar with the challenges of balancing the power system are alarmed by the proposed increase in wind energy, so commercially viable alternatives must be found (PV isn't one of them).

On the subject of clean coal, whilst the future role of coal in the UK mix might be limited it is the most abundant fossil fuel and the US and developing nations cannot be asked to just leave it in the ground. Its effect on the environment must be mitigated. Better for UK plc to be a leader in this technology than not.

You exhibit some confusion in your objectives when you talk about powering electric vehicles from clean coal: if you care about energy conversion then your point is spot on - powering an electric car from such a source is massively inefficient. If however your objective is reduced CO2 emissions then a zero or near to zero emission clean coal power supply must be preferable to using a conventional car engine.

Your tag line might be a little misleading - if your aim is low carbon without nuclear as you say then you've got a be a bit more broad minded about some of the other alternatives if there is to be a reasonable chance of being low carbin.

Low Carbon Kid said...

PV is not a viable alternative on the large scale, you are right.
But to cast your lot in with carbon capture - an expensive and unproven technology - is a mistake.
Energy efficiency is always the cheapest option - we agree on this. Where I feel we diverge is that I think that, given constrictions of skill base, investment capital and engineering supply lines, we are best to concentrate our fire on the technological areas that are close to deployment, and which in both medium and long term will pay off.
By long term I mean over fifty years.
Renewable energy sources are free. Uranium and coal have to be mined and transported with all the problems this entails. They are also finite - and will run out within 50-100 years, besides leaving environemntal damage.
Therefore it seems logical to invest in the renewable technologies which we can export to the world as leaders (which you suggest as an argument for backing CCS). Wales and the South West are leading the way as flagship Low Carbon Economic Areas (LCEA)... in marine and hydrogen tech. There are many kinds of marine technology from current turbines to varieties of wave generators and tidal lagoons. Offshore wind is being developed. Anaerobic digestion is another highly fruitful area. I suggest you look at Zero Carbon Britain for more ideas and links.

Anonymous said...

I think where you and I differ is in our overall perspective. Pursuing renewables and energy efficiency is absolutely the right way to go in the 50 year time horizon you talk about - and in that timeframe wave and tidal will probably have commercially viable technologies.

The problem is that the lights are going to go out in about 6 -7 years as the LCPD and exhausted lifetimes drive most of the existing coal and nuclear fleets into retirement. Nuclear / Gas / Coal are unfortunately the only technologies that can plug the gap in time given the scale of the problem and current commercial viability. If you discount nuclear, then the choice is between gas and clean coal. Gas is clearly undesirable and although clean coal is unproven on a large scale it has the lower carbon footprint.

The lifetime of these plant would buy the breathing space needed to commercialise wave, tidal and other renewable technology.

Another perspective difference is that you talk about the UK -but obviously climate change is a global issue requiring global solutions. Developing nations such as China and Russia are sitting on vast reserves of coal and it's clear that despite what the West believes their development will be largely coal driven. So clean coal isn't an optional component - it's absolutely vital if the efforts of the UK and EU aren't to be totally voided by global growth.

BTW - neatly ignored the system balancing issue. If the UK gets anywhere clsoe to its 30% target, it can only be with large amounts of wind. Balancing the system will be nigh on impossible. Renewable R&D needs to also focus on fast response power storage to make balancing possible.

Low Carbon Kid said...

Here are is a non-exhaustive list of things we can do with existing technology:

• Train new engineers not in this new risky technology but in new less risky technology - wind power, anaerobic digestion and combined heat and power (CHP) and install much more of this.
• Extend the European electric grid across Europe to Finland and N Africa.
• Buy in geothermal power from Finland to repair its economy.
• Build more - totally proven and existing - concentrating solar power plants in Spain and North Africa linked to this grid.
• More offshore wind wherever possible.
• Make the grid smarter to manage demand better.
• Back ground source heat pumps, solar water heating and district heating to minimise use of electricity for heating.
• Make coal plants CHP to tap into the heat for district heating.

As for China - they can use similar ideas and their own locally appropriate solutions. We can certainly export our know-how there.

China, being a command economy, can actually legislate and move faster than we can.

As I said, more ideas at the Zero Carbon Britain website.

Low Carbon Kid said...

Sorry, a lot got deleted from the above post by accident.

I also said that talk of the lights going out in 6-7 years is scaremongering. I don't believe it will happen.

If it does it will be a local problem anyway. You distinguish between local and global and use this as an argument to support CCS.

I would like to see evidence for the efficacy of CCS. You couldn't bring it in in 6-7 years. It won't happen on the scale you need.

The cost estimate is adding half as much again to the price of a new coal plant. This will be passed on to the consumer.

That's why I listed practical things we can do with existing technology.

Finally, with renewables the fuel is free and readily available.

Whereas much coal is now mined through open-cast mining which is highly destructive, and a plague on nearby communities.