Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A new dash for gas is on the way

The Government's proposed Reform of the Electricity Market is unlikely to meet its goal of reaching 15% renewable electricity in the UK by 2020 as currently framed, and instead result in a dash for gas which will increase emissions and mean the UK has to buy credits abroad to offset its emissions.

Furthermore, the White Paper says that any plant that ends up being equipped with carbon capture and storage (CCS) will be able to turn it off, if having it on means it can't satisfy a peak in demand for power!

The dash for gas revisited

Open Cycle Gas Turbines (OGCT) are the cheapest kind of plant by far, and relatively quick to build. They have half the emissions of coal burning plants and they can fire up quickly to meet peak demands.

A new wave of 'dash for gas', like that in the nineties, will see a slew of these plants built - as long as they operate at a load factor of just under 85% to avoid hitting the level required for Emissions Performance Standard requirements - stipulated in the White Paper - to kick in.

This is especially likely since any plants permitted between now and the point of entry of the EPS level won't ever have to abide by the new limits - the principle known as 'grandfathering' - despite criticism during the earlier consultation that this would encourage the construction of more gas plants.

The modeling in the impact assessment suggests that there will be at least 12GW of new CCGT gas plants built over the next twenty years - greater than the average of 9GW of nuclear power expected but less than the hoped-for 21GW of renewable energy (mostly offshore wind) envisaged.

Most gas is imported and therefore this will reduce our energy security while keeping consumers subject to unpredictable price fluxes, running counter to several of the aims of the EMR.

It could also come from fracking or shale gas, which has higher environmental impact than traditional natural gas.

What's the point of carbon capture and storage?

Another of its aims is also sacrificed to meet the demand for security of supply - using CCS.

The White Paper proposes that a carbon capture and storage (CCS) equipped plant could be able to switch off their capture technology and have a greater net electricity output in order to meet a peak demand, without being penalised for the increase in emissions which could breach the limit set by the EPS (see page 15 of the impact assessment).

This is because, although CCS technology is not yet developed, it is thought that it would have a considerable parasitic load on a power station - around 20%. (This means that it has to generate 20% more power than a plant without CCS, in order to supply the same amount as that plant... very efficient.)

If the loss of that 20% were to mean the lights going out, then the plant can use this 'get out of jail free' card to meet that peak demand - but release a puff of carbon dioxide in the process.

Er, so what is the point of carbon capture and storage?

1 comment:

joabbess said...

Hi Low Carbon Kid,

Thanks for a very succinct summary of the situation. As usual, your review helps me to keep track of the shifting sands of British energy policy.

One question I have is regarding open cycle plants. Several licences appear to have been granted, but at least one will be burning petroleum refinery residues :-

I'm wondering if the energy companies are hedging their bets and planning to burn cheaper oils rather than Natural Gas which may become pricier. Just a thought.