Thursday, December 23, 2010

Permit to pollute sales should benefit households, not taxman

The new proposal from the Treasury to tax companies that introduce fossil fuels into the UK economy, which is at the heart of the current consultation on UK energy policy, has come under attack – by a group proposing that fuel supplier sales are controlled – but by a permit scheme that benefits the public, not the Treasury.

Under the Treasury's proposals, a single pensioner's fuel bill could rise by between 16% and 35% in 2020. Critics say that to compensate people for such bill increases, the cash should instead go to households.

The criticism comes from a group advocating Cap and Share, a policy measure which the Irish Government was giving consideration to trialling before that country's fiscal crisis. They call Cap and Share "a simple solution to climate change that is easy and relatively cheap to implement and puts cash in the hands of every citizen".

Just as with the Treasury's new proposal, Cap and Share argues that it's easier to cut down on the fossil fuels entering the economy than for each citizen to cut their individual use, and they think the 255 companies responsible should therefore pay for the right to pollute.

If they can be made to buy permits, as under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, and the government issues only sufficient permits to match the country’s target CO2 emissions, reducing them year on year, this provides the cap.

The 'Share' part of 'Cap and Share' entails that all households would each receive an equal share of the permits which they may then sell to the fossil fuel companies. This would put cash in their pockets to compensate them for higher energy prices.

In other words the proceeds of the Fossil Fuel Levy - at a projected average £30/tCO2 - would come to households, not the Treasury.

Richard Douthwaite (author of The Growth Illu$ion: How Economic Growth Has Enriched the Few, Impoverished the Many and Endangered the Planet) says that Cap and Share is based on the Commons principle, and assumes that everyone has an equal share in the atmosphere.

As the Carbon Trust knows from experience, the most popular and successful climate-friendly policies are those which also save or give businesses and householders money.

By contrast, explains Cap and Share spokesperson Brian Davey, the EU Emissions Trading Scheme has seen allowances to pollute - carbon credits - given away to the big greenhouse gas-emitting companies, which they have been able to sell on and generate profits for themselves. In the case of the energy companies, they have also posted huge profits.

Davey and Douthwaite believe that on the other hand, if this benefit were split between every adult in the country, it would be both fair and popular.

Davey said, "With the perception that most climate change legislation is punitive and restricting freedom fuelling wider public scepticism of climate change, such a move by the Government could help swing public opinion back to favour the green economy."

Davey argues that the Treasury's proposal has not been thought through in its relationship to the EU ETS. "It is being made due to the failure of the ETS to provide sufficient stable incentives for the development of renewables. It's not just the low price of carbon but its volatility and unpredictability.

"However the criticism of the EU-ETS is muted and fudged. The result is that the proposal is to impose the scheme in addition to the ETS, but the interaction effects on an unreformed ETS are likely to be counterproductive.

"It is admitted in the Treasury document that the new scheme would likely lead to a fall in the demand for ETS permits and thus a fall in the ETS price but the implications of this are glossed over (in paragraph 5.24)," he continued. "Put bluntly, wWithout tackling the ETS, a rise in the UK carbon price may be matched by an offsetting fall in the European carbon price. What is needed is a revisit of the whole EU-ETS, which has been a complete disaster".

Carbon tax to hit electricity generators

A second effective 'carbon tax' is to be levied - in addition to the Carbon Reduction Commitment for large electricity users - this time targeting all companies that import fossil fuels into the economy.

The proposal, together with various ideas as to the level of the tax, comes in two linked consultations being conducted by the Treasury and DECC in a search for policies that will stimulate the investment necessary to meet the targets set by the Climate Change Committee (CCC) and others for de-carbonising the economy and reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions.

The specific CCC target is a reduction in carbon-intensity of power generation to below 100gCO2/kWh by 2030. In 2009 this figure was around 490gCO2/kWh.

Ofgem has estimated that to achieve such a drastic reduction in nineteen years implies the investment of around £200bn in new generation, electricity networks and gas infrastructure.

Only reform of the electricity market can deliver this, DECC says. The consultation argues that such reform must include support for the price of carbon - the creation of a floor price - to provide long-term certainty for investors around the additional cost of running polluting plant.

This is an admission of the failure of the EU-ETS (Emissions Trading Scheme) to deliver this support so far. Currently the price of carbon is remaining stubbornly below 15 Euros, and needs to be at least double this to stimulate investment. It is also volatile and unpredictable.

Supporting the price of carbon

The proposals state that from 1 April 2013 a 'carbon price support mechanism' will be introduced by applying the climate change levy (CCL) to all fossil fuels used in electricity generation and taxing their use and, in the case of oil, removing rebates.

According to HM Revenue and Customs, there are 255 of these companies, which break down as follows:

Energy product No. of registered suppliers
Electricity: 117
Gas: 71
Solid fuels: 36
LPG: 31

The Treasury says that the exact rates for the tax will take account of the commodities’ average carbon content and will be known as the ‘CCL carbon price support rates’. The consultations discuss different levels - from £20/tCO2 to £50/tCO2, with the preferred rate being £30/tCO2.

According to the Treasury's own reckoning, the only scenario that leads to the required carbon-intensity of power generation by 2030 is a carbon price support starting at £3/tCO2 on top of the prevailing EU ETS price in 2013, rising to target a combined carbon price (support plus EU ETS) of £40/tCO2 in 2020 and £70/tCO2 in 2030.

However this scenario also results in the highest rise in domestic energy bills. A single pensioner's bill would rise by 35% in 2020, compared to 16% if the starting support price was £1/tCO2, rising to £30/tCO2 in 2020. Adopting that scenario, however, leads to a carbon-intensity drop to only about 120gmCO2/kWh.

Other policies

DECC, in a linked consultation about the best policy context for the tax, offers four scenarios, of which it prefers a combined set of policy tools that include contracts for difference and carbon price support plus Emissions Performance Standards and a capacity mechanism. One reason for this is that "the [cash] flows from government to generators would be lower than without carbon price support."

An Emissions Performance Standard (EPS) would limit how much carbon the most carbon intensive power stations - coal - can emit, and encourage carbon capture and storage.

Long-term contracts for feed-in tariffs, a revised Renewables Obligation, much more low-carbon generation, and demand-management strategies also figure in the consultation as collectively being necessary to secure the targets.

Capacity payments would be introduced to encourage security of supply through the construction of flexible reserve plants, a policy which acknowledges the intermittent and inflexible nature of much low-carbon generation.

"The key factor in the effectiveness of the policy is the reaction of potential investors, and whether the mechanism is “bankable” for the purposes of raising finance for new low-carbon generation investments," says DECC.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Government removes 2.8 million from fuel poverty - by redefining it

The Government is proposing to change the definition of eligibility to its Warm Front scheme - which provides help to those on benefits in leaky homes - which will slash by 65% the number of households it has to help.

The Scheme - which has been so badly run that it is now temporarily closed to new applicants while it catches up with the backlog - aims to target those who need it most, such as the ill, elderly, and those with children on receipt of certain benefits.

The new proposals for eligibility introduce a thermal efficiency test for the home under which households can access Warm Front assistance only if they have a SAP rating of 55. Recipients would also need to be eligible for Cold Weather Payments - which means not just receiving Child Tax Credit (with an income of less than £16,040), as at present, but an award of Child Tax Credit that also includes an element for a disabled, or severely disabled, child or young person, or a child under the age of five.

Currently some 4.3 million households in England could qualify for assistance from Warm Front, of which 53% are believed to be fuel poor. But applying the new criteria would reduce the number to approximately 1.5 million households.

At a stroke, many households on low incomes with children will become ineligible for support. We also know that applying a benefits criteria to fuel poverty is problematic: an English House Condition Survey found that 57% of vulnerable households in fuel poverty do not claim the relevant benefits to qualify for the scheme, so would be ineligible despite needing help.

SAP - "Standard Assessment Procedure" - is a measure of how warm a building is, and the lower the number, the harder it is to heat. 100 is the most efficient. SAPs are related to Energy Performance Certificates (EPC) - a result below 55 will yield an 'E' rated certificate.

A SAP target of 65 to be achieved “wherever practicable” has been used in Warm Front since June 2005 (in Scotland the target figure is 60), so using a figure of 55 would capture fewer homes than before – another way for the Government to dodge its responsibilities.

One reason why this change is regressive is because the fuel prices used in the SAP calculation are normally fixed for 3 to 4 years. With the volatility in prices recently seen, this could mean that a home could need help when prices rise, without being considered eligible.

Another problem is that simply by installing a condensing boiler, 47 SAP points can be added - and a box ticked - but this measure alone would do nothing to improve insulation or remove draughts.

The Warm Front Scheme was criticised last year by the National Audit Office for being inefficient, and not well targeted. It said that over 635,000 households were helped between June 2005 and March 2008, "but as there were 1.9 million vulnerable households in 2006, this rate of progress will still leave many in fuel poverty in 2010".

Warm Front has experienced extremely high demand and diminishing budgets. In 2008-9, the last year for which statistics are yet available, the figure for homes helped was 233,594, down from 268,900 the previous year. Next year will see a reduction of 63,594 homes – 27% down - on an already very low figure.

Earlier this year, therefore, the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee recommended that "the Government to move resources away from the Warm Front Scheme towards a CESP-style, street-by-street approach as advocated earlier, and for the Warm Front Scheme to move towards providing an emergency service for the most vulnerable people in fuel poverty with urgent heating needs."

This proposed change is part of the Government's response to this recommendation, as is the new Warm Home Discount, under which, from April next year, energy companies will be required to give a discount on energy bills to more of their most vulnerable customers.

But these proposed new criteria have more to do with reducing Government spending than providing proper help to those who need it most.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Emissions credits surplus means developed countries need do nothing

Was Cancun a success? Well, countries, except brave Bolivia who dared to quote the science, did agree on something - which is an achievement of sorts.

But although progress was made on a number of issues to do with accounting for a nation's emissions and verifying their actions, none of the decisions made at Cancun are yet sufficient to lead to quantifiable changes.

According to Climate Action Tracker, which provides an independent peer-reviewed assessment of emission reduction proposals, the largest factors limiting emissions savings are:

Surplus emissions allowances

Countries will currently be able to sell and buy allowances originally meant for the period up to 2012 beyond that date. If so, this could mean that taken together, developed countries wouldn't need to do anything further to curb emissions until at least 2020. This would add about 3-9% relative to 1990 to the emission limits, and credits would still not be exhausted until 2025-2030.

Forests and land use
The options for accounting for the impact of a country's forests, land-based emissions, deforestation and reforestation are not finally agreed. By 2020 they could cause a nation's emissions to be 3% more than they would otherwise be relative to 1990.

Japan's get-out
Japan has a relatively ambitions 25% reduction target below 1990 by 2020, but it is likely to be met by offsetting in developing countries. As these actions would be counted by those countries, this would mean double-accounting.

American inaction
There's scant chance of federal greenhouse gas legislation in the USA. This means their 2050 target is unlikely to be met. Double counting of offsets is a problem for America and its partners too.

The gap between hope and action
With business carrying on as at present, global emissions by 2020 will be 56 billion tonnes CO2equiv/year. To limit warming to 2°C or 1.5°C, they would need to be in the range of 44-40 billion tonnes by 2020, a reduction of 22-29%, or 12-16 billion tonnes, at a rate of over two billion tonnes per year.

The promises made at Cancun lie in a range from low ambition to high. If the lowest were attained by 2020, there would be a reduction of just 3 billion tonnes, leading to an average global temperature raise that is highly unacceptable, of 3.2oC.

If the highest ambition targets were reached in 2020, this would only add another 1.3 billion tonnes of cuts, to 51.7 billion tonnes per year.

The gap is therefore between 8 and 12 billion tonnes per year in 2020.

How can the gap be closed?
The Climate Action Tracker has identified several options which would achieve more than enough to close the gap:

• The decision on how many emissions allowances could be carried over by nations after 2012 has yet to be taken. Therefor it is possible to eliminate new surplus emissions ‘built into’ 2020 reduction pledges; options for this are included in the negotiating text
• Remove crediting for forestry and land use that allow developed countries to increase their emissions
• Reduce international aviation and marine emissions up to half of the projected levels in 2020
• Increase ambition level of developed countries as a group - in line with the European Union's aspiration - to a 30% cut below 1990 in 2020 (without forestry credits)
• Ensure reductions of emissions in developing countries of 1.5 - 6.2 billion tonnes
• Halt deforestation by 2020.

Crucially, global long-term emission reductions are required as well: at least 50% below 1990 by 2050. The UK's Climate Change Committee advocated 60% last week. The Cancun climate conference did not include a goal for 2050.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Who's going to pay for new nuclear waste disposal?

The government has published a new consultation on the decommissioning of new nuclear power stations and what to do about all the new radioactive waste they'll create.

It specifies guidelines and principles for developers of new nuclear power stations in how to set up a Funded Decommissioning Programme. It underlines the principle that developers alone, not taxpayers, should pay for the decommissioning of plants and the storage and disposal of waste, which is covered under a separate consultation.

But the question is, will the cap on developers' costs be set high enough to avoid taxpayers one day footing some of the bill?

What does it cost now?

Existing nuclear waste is currently managed by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. Its 2010-11 budget is £2.8bn, of which £1.69 billion comes from the taxpayer via DECC. DECC's overall budget in this year is £2.9bn.

This means that the cost of managing existing radioactive waste is a staggering 58% of the Department's total expenditure. Because of its nature, this expenditure cannot, of course, be cut.

What will it cost in the future?

To avoid future waste adding to this bill, the Government says that a fund should be set up by developers to pay for new costs, and the consultations explain how the funds should be managed and what they should be used for.

The cost for each new power station is estimated to be about £1 billion. The question is, whether this estimate is sufficient, given the history of escalating costs in this area.

A parallel Waste Transfer Pricing Methodology explains how the cost of disposal will be determined, since the hypothetical (currently) Geological Disposal Facility has yet to be constructed. Rough costs for such a facility were estimated by the NDA a year ago, at around £20 billion, at current prices, but are dependent on the geology of the site.

The government expects that a cap will be set on the waste transfer price, but at a very high level - three times current cost estimates. But it's impossible to be certain that costs will not exceed this figure, so there will be an additional "risk free" to compensate the taxpayer for accepting this risk.

Companies interested in building new nuclear power stations have been lobbying the government furiously in an attempt to keep the cap amount down. But if the cap is set at the wrong level, the taxpayer will end up footing the extra bill.

The first plant is expected to be built by EDF and Centrica by 2018. However, on Tuesday, Alistair Philips-Davies, energy supply director at Scottish and Southern Energy, said he was now unsure whether this schedule could be maintained. "Often these things are a little bit more expensive than you think and come in a little bit later than you think," he told a committee of MPs, raising some wry smiles.

The current position held by the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM), which advises the government on this matter, is that "a range of issues, including social, political and ethical issues, arising from a deliberate decision to create additional wastes should be considered as an integral part of the new build public assessment process."

These issues are not covered in the consultation, however.

There is also a new consultation on the Strategy for the Management of Solid Low Level Radioactive Waste from the Non-Nuclear Industry in the United Kingdom. This includes waste from hospitals, the pharmaceutical sector, research and education establishments.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Loft and cavity wall insulation figures down

Figures have been released that show that the number of cavity wall and loft insulations in Great Britain is falling.

Cavity wall insulations in the last quarter fell from 128,000 to 95,000, a fall of 25%, and a staggering 45% below those installed in the same quarter last year.

Also, the number of professional loft installations fell by 32%, and is 38% below the number installed in the same quarter last year.

DECC has published the figures, which also show that at the start of July 2010:
• 12.3 million homes had loft insulation of at least 125mm
• 10.3 million homes had cavity wall insulation.

In Great Britain 23.2 million homes have lofts and 18.6 million have cavity walls. This means that 47% of eligible homes do not have sufficient loft insulation and 45% have no cavity wall insulation.

What the figures do not reveal is the level of effectiveness of the installations. Those which the author of this article has seen leave much to be required, i.e. gaps that mean that their ability to keep heat in is severely curtailed.

This implies that they cannot be relied upon to generate the carbon savings that will be assumed in government figures.

Moreover, the figure of 125mm for loft insulation is not sufficient. Current building regulations require a roof to have a thermal resistance U-value (a measure of their insulation value) of at least 0.13W/m2K, which would typically be achieved with 300mm of loft insulation.

DECC says that a threshold of 125mm is used in these statistics since homes with less than this would expect to see significant improvements in energy efficiency from a top-up.

It also says in its Departmental Business Plan 2011-15 that this measure will be one of its key impact indicators to track progress on insulating homes.

But if it really wants to show the scale of work required and monitor improvements, it should be using its own Building Regs figure of 300mm of loft insulation.

In addition, the width of cavities in walls varies considerably. Just because a wall has cavity insulation does not mean that it meets any building regulation requirements for thermal resistance of outer walls.

The figures are obtained via surveys from the English Housing Survey and equipment for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Most of the statutory work has been carried out through the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target requirements. Only a small proportion has come from Warmfront, which targets the fuel poor. DIY loft insulation is currently done at around twice the rate of professional work.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Are Display Energy Certificates worth the paper they're printed on?

An analysis of Display Energy Certificates (DECs) assessments of the energy performance of 28,300 public buildings

An analysis of Display Energy Certificates (DECs) released under environmental freedom of information requests, has shown that there is considerable room for improvement in assessors' performance.

The UK has two forms of mandatory energy performance certification, thanks to the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive: the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) and the Display Energy Certificate (DEC).

DECs are mandatory for all public buildings over 1000m2 that are regularly visited by members of the public. In recent months, the Government has been sounding out extending DECs to cover public buildings over 250m2 that are also open to the public.

This is a good time, then, to look at how effective the issuance of certificates so far has been.

BSRIA (a construction services testing and research consultancy owned by The Building Services Research and Information Association) has been looking at the statistics behind 28,259 completed DEC assessments made up until November 2009.

The figures were made available through Environmental Information Legislation at the request of the BBC. (Landmark manages and maintains the database from EPC and DECs on behalf of the Department for Communities and Local Government, and this data is not made publicly available.)

The results

BSRIA says that their analysis reveals a high number of buildings “without effective energy management". They question the quality of the data being gathered for the assessments, looking in particular at how irregular results, such as buildings given a rating of zero (supposedly signifying a perfect score (or 500 or more (supposedly signifying extremely poor energy management) can reveal whether information is being gathered sensibly.

They say “These high value results are highly questionable. The precise cause of the extreme data in those specific assessments clearly requires further investigation" and suggest "that assessors do not understand the CLG guidance documents".

The average building is intended to have a result of around 100 – that is the way the certificates were designed. However, the average result is 113, a worse performance.

A result of 200 is given if insufficient data is available to obtain a certificate; in other words it is assumed that the building has a poor performance. 3001 buildings are given this operational rating, and BSRIA says “this is especially worrying when energy efficiency and cost savings should be a high priority for all public buildings".

They conclude: “It could be argued that there are problems throughout the entire data set. Without the means of validating all the data, it is very misleading to aggregate the consumption data into something meaningful - it simply has too many distortions within it."

CLG says it has recognised the shortcomings and is working with accreditation providers to identify the problems and to devise solutions.

DECs do not currently take into account process energy, and BSRIA also advocates that it should be included in future.

The body also recommends that the certificates should record building occupancy levels and building age, so it could be possible to examine and compare buildings by age.

The introduction of DECs has brought energy consumption in buildings to more prominent attention, which is a good thing. But there is clarly much room for improvement.

The fact that DECs are renewed on annual basis can provide building occupiers, owners and operators with a simple visual guide for a year on year comparison of performance.

This should encourage pro-active energy management decisions to be implemented in a bid to improve energy performance and save money - these are pubic buildings, after all, and it is taxpayers' cash that can be saved.

Friday, November 19, 2010

UK gave dead children's body parts to American nuclear researchers

Sellafield nuclear reprocessing pant in Cumbria, UK, from the air
The UK Government has apologised for letting parts of the dead bodies of nuclear industry workers and thousands of children be removed for analysis without telling their families.

The events happened in hospitals and UK nuclear facilities from 1955 to 1992.

An inquiry was set up in 2007 by the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Alistair Darling. It was undertaken by Michael Redfern QC, who has just published his findings.

The Inquiry looked at the processes and practices surrounding the analysis of human tissue from many nuclear installations, not just Sellafield, including Springfields, Capenhurst, Winfrith, Dounreay and Aldermaston.

Project Sunshine

The report says that during the 1950s and 1960s the Medical Research Council oversaw research measuring levels of Strontium-90 in human bone - femurs and vertebrae - obtained at post mortem. This national survey, involving over 6000 people, most of them children, had nothing to do with nuclear workers.

Information gained was in some cases set to America, to be included in a research project named - in some kind of sick joke - Project Sunshine. This study, initiated in the US in 1953, received vertebrae taken in the UK from 43 individuals who died between 1955 and 1958.

The Inquiry found that one doctor involved, Dr Loutit, in 1959, found difficulty in obtaining adequate numbers of samples, which led him to offer a modest payment - although none was ever made. Bones were "converted to ash" for analysis. The last paper on this topic was published in 1973, describing results obtained from bone taken from people who had died in 1970.

Families’ views were not obtained as required under the Human Tissue Act 1961. The report says that "All the pathologists who gave evidence to the Inquiry had been profoundly ignorant of the law under which they had performed post mortem examinations", which "arose from deficiencies in medical education and training".

As part of Project Sunshine, 91 pregnant British women were injected with radioactive iodine in the 1960s and a further 37 women who were due to undergo medically-approved abortions had been involved in a separate series of tests to monitor the effect of radioactive iodine in the foetus.

The experiments were conducted in Aberdeen, Hammersmith and Liverpool. "In a separate series of experiments, between 1957 and 1970, body parts from an estimated 6,000 corpses had been removed for tests without the permission of the next of kin and sent for examination at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment," claimed a 1995 UK Channel 4 documentary 'True Stories: Deadly Experiments'.

Sellafield workers' body parts removed

Organs from 64 former Sellafield workers were also removed by pathologists and taken for analysis at Sellafield between 1960 and 1991.

In addition, organs taken from 12 workers at other nuclear sites were analysed at, or at the request of, Sellafield, giving a total of 76. The Inquiry also found evidence of other individuals whose organs were analysed at Sellafield.

The report highlights unacceptable working practices within the nuclear industry, NHS pathology services and the coronial service, saying "there was a lack of ethical consideration of the implications of the research work the industry was doing; that there was limited supervision undertaken; and that relationships between pathologists, coroners and the Sellafield medical officers became too close."

Investigations also found that "organs from a small number of former Ministry of Defence employees were removed for analysis".

Coroners' failures

Coroners did not communicate with families, who were left in the dark. There was no attempt to explain to them why the coroner had ordered a post mortem or what it would entail.

They often failed to read post mortem reports. As a result, when the reports indicated organs had been inappropriately removed, they remained in ignorance and took no action.

The report acknowledges that these events occurred a number of decades ago, and puts them within the context of the times and current practice.

Government Apology

Chris Huhne, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change told Parliament: “I would like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt regret and to apologise to the families and relatives of those involved. I hope that the publication of today’s report goes some way toward providing the closure they deserve.

“The events described in the Inquiry should never have happened in the first place. We have learned the lessons of the past. The law on human tissue has been reviewed, and there is now a rigorous regulatory system in place, in which both the public and professionals have confidence."

A Redfern Inquiry helpline has been set up to help people who think their relative may have been involved in one of the studies covered by the Redfern Inquiry. The telephone number is 0800 555 777 and minicom number is 0800 887 777.

Huhne promised this would never happen again. He said that the Secretary of State for Justice intends to take forward several of the provisions in the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 which address some of the concerns. "Although the Government is not proceeding with the role of a Chief Coroner" - due to the cuts - "we intend to transfer many of the intended leadership functions of the post to the Lord Chancellor, or possibly the senior judiciary", he said.

"The Inquiry has sought and received assurances from all of the key nuclear industry stakeholders that the practice of retaining organs or tissue at autopsy has ceased," he added.

The Results

Examination of tissues looked into the prevalence of various isotopes including those of plutonium. The Report says that a fair amount of the research was not scientifically valid, for various reasons, not all of which could have been known at the time.

If it can be believed given the notorious secrecy of the industry, the report says, "In many cases the levels of [radioactive] activity in the samples were towards or even below the lower limit of detection. Results are generally a few hundred millibecquerels: one mBq represents one single atomic decay every 1,000 seconds (16.7 minutes)."

The Report recommends that the data collected from all the research, "should be made available, anonymised, for use in appropriate research".

Thursday, November 04, 2010

West Cumbria not ruled out as nuclear waste dump

In a week that saw the European Commission approve underground burial as a way to dispose of high-level nuclear waste, Defra published a geological report on the suitability of West Cumbria for this kind of geological disposal.

The study looks at the Copeland and Allerdale areas, where Allerdale, Copeland and Cumbria County Councils have set up the West Cumbria Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS) Partnership to ensure that people living in the area are involved in making an informed decision about whether or not to proceed with a facility siting process.

This area is the only one in the country to have come forward as a candidate for taking nuclear waste.

The study's conclusions are ambiguous, not ruling out the suitability of the area, but advocating further investigation. It rules out parts of the West of Cumbria, but raises the possibility that part of the Lake District could be a potential store.

This was condemned by local activists against the dump. Senior energy campaigner Ben Ayliffe said the report meant “almost anywhere” in the Lake District could become a dump for the UK’s radioactive waste.

The MRWS Partnership said they needed more detailed investigations before there could be any “real idea" of where the site could be located, if anywhere.

Minister of State for Energy Charles Hendry said: “We must progress implementation of geological disposal, the long-term sustainable solution for dealing with radioactive waste.

“The report, commissioned from the British Geological Survey, is a step forward. The geological disposal facility site selection process is based on voluntarism and partnership and these results do not present any reason why West Cumbria cannot continue to consider whether or not to participate in that process.”

The exclusion criteria, defined by two independent groups of experts, mainly examine whether there is any risk of the security of the dump being compromised in the future by anyone seeking to extract resources or the need to protect the quality of exploitable groundwater.

If the Partnership chose to proceed further, increasingly detailed geological and other criteria assessment would have to be undertaken.

Keekle Head, a 70 hectare former opencast coal mine near Whitehaven, Cumbria, which Endecom, a company owned by SITA UK, has bought to use for the disposal of low and very low level radioactive construction and demolition waste.
Keekle Head, a 70 hectare former opencast coal mine near Whitehaven, Cumbria, which Endecom, a company owned by SITA UK, has bought to use for the disposal of low and very low level radioactive construction and demolition waste.

California's success against Big Oil still faces a hurdle

grassroots campaigners who helped to defeat Proposition 23

Californians voted on Tuesday in favour of a low carbon future, but against environmental taxes.

While voting in the American mid-term elections, they also defeated a measure called Proposition 23, a move by oil companies to roll back a piece of progressive legislature - AB 32 - the state passed in recent times in favour of clean energy and climate protection.

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune described the victory as follows: “Despite more than $10 million spent on deceptive advertising campaign funded by out-of-state oil barons — more than $8 Million from Texaco and Valero alone - California voters took a stand for clean energy – not in spite of a major economic downturn, but because of it."

The Proposition was defeated by over 60% to under 40%, in the first public referendum in history on clean energy policy.

It represents a triumph for a coalition that stood up to the oil industry, which involved leaders from environmental, health, labour, business, clean technology and national security sectors, not mentioned community groups and faith-based organisations.

One of the coalition's unlikely members, former US Secretary of State George Schultz, said, “This is the new face of the clean energy economy. This broad coalition will continue to push for California to be on the cutting edge in building the new energy economy”.

The Los Angeles Times said the "oily club" from Texas was sent packing through being outspent and out-organised, campaign-wise by wealthy philanthropists and celebrity backers.

Chief architect of the original global warming law in 2006, and outgoing Californian governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, was jubilant at the result.

However, voters also passed Proposition 26, which makes it harder to enforce global warming laws by undermining the principle that polluters should pay for the harm they cause. It is likely to do this in three ways:

1. by repealing two laws passed this year that fund product stewardship programmes to prevent hazardous chemicals and bulky products from ending up in landfill

2. by decreasing funding for 'green chemistry', which aims to control exposure to hazardous chemicals

3. by making it harder to implement the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32), whose goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through carbon trading.

California and carbon trading

Provided that it can get around this limitation, this act would set up a system very similar to the European Emissions Trading Scheme.

It would recognise offset credits originating from sectors in developing countries, including Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) and other sector-based credits, so that the state can join international sector-based carbon trading schemes.

California's economy is the largest of any state in the USA and one of the worlds top 10 economies.

Offset credits allow private companies to meet a portion of their obligation to reduce emissions by buying lower-cost emissions reductions generated elsewhere.

Sector-based offset credits require all actors within a sector, for instance all forest owners or all steel manufacturers, to be included in a developing country’s emissions reduction strategy.

This approach differs from the United Nations Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) that recognises one-off, project-based offset credits.

California’s approach is consistent with key design features in the current international climate negotiations. Its cap-and-trade program would therefore play a huge part globally, and help to define what constitutes environmentally sound emissions reductions efforts in developing countries.

Tea Party and the environment

Elsewhere in the elections, in Florida, Tea Party candidate Mario Rubio made it to the Senate, on a ticket which supports continued drilling for oil offshore, only months after the disaster that was the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

But in Nevada, Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle, who is a climate change denialist, was beaten to the Senate by Democrat incumbent Harry Reid.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Osborne attacked for turning CRC into a carbon tax

Revenue from the Carbon Reduction Commitment, instead of being used to reward good environmental stewardship by those participants, will instead go to fill the hole that is the budget deficit.

This has come as a big surprise for participating organisations, especially as it was not even mentioned in Chancellor George Osborne's speech on the spending review.

This means that, for the first time, the UK has been introduced to a carbon tax by the back door.

It will hit all organisations that use large amounts of electricity, from supermarket and banking chains to hospitals, counsel and universities.

There was no consultation before the announcement of the measure. It is currently uncertain how participants are going to respond, and whether they will be so willing to participate.

The Treasury statement says that it expects to receive about £3.5 billion over the next four fiscal years.

British Retail Consortium director general Stephen Robertson said: "We are surprised and dismayed that the £1bn per year that businesses will put in to the CRC scheme is to be pocketed by the Exchequer.

"This is a stealth tax on business... a tax of this size surely merits a mention in the Chancellor's speech. It is appalling the Government is sneaking this in."

Richard Lambert, CBI DG, said: "Businesses that have just signed up to the flagship Carbon Reduction Commitment energy efficiency scheme will be very let down by the Government's unexpected announcement that it will remove the cash-back incentive. A scheme that was meant to change behaviour by encouraging energy efficiency has now become another stealth tax.

"By contrast, the commitment to clean coal technology, manufacturing off-shore wind turbines, and renewable heat and flood defences will boost private sector confidence in investing in low-carbon technology. Plans for a Green Investment Bank are also welcome, but the Government must get the design right to make it attractive to private investors."

Climate Minister Greg Barker said that the decision had not been taken lightly. It will increase costs for businesses but he argued that it made the structure simpler to administrate, and that “progressive businesses that act to improve energy efficiency will be able to minimise their exposure".

"This is a fundamental change to the scheme, with major consequences for the bottom line of those companies that are in the CRC," Craig Lowrey, an energy consultant at J.C. Rathbone Associates Ltd., said. This "is now another tax on industry in all but name."

The CRC was designed to cover about 10% of UK climate gas emissions and include up to 5000 companies, many of whom are not covered by the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme. They will have to buy credits equal to their emissions from April next year.

Allowances will cost £12 per tonne of carbon dioxide in the first place, but according to Treasury calculations the assumption is that it will rise to £16 in the tax year ending 2014.

This 'stick' is meant to act as an incentive for them to reduce emissions and increase efficiency. Those who fail to do so will pay more, and participating companies, when they signed up, were told they would receive this money as a 'carrot' to reward successful efforts.

The government was advised last month by its Climate Change Committee to simplify the programme by dividing it into public and private sector participants.

“This is effectively a tax on companies taking part," said Harry Manisty, environmental tax specialist in London at the accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Greg Barker added:“ I want to hear from business on how we can simplify and improve the scheme."

Carbon capture and storage under question as E.ON pulls out

Police defending the existing Kingsnorth power station during the 2008 Climate Camp protests.
Energy supplier E-ON has announced that it is abandoning efforts to build a new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth in Kent, which would have been the first new coal burning electricity generating plant to have been built in the UK for decades.

It was to have been part of the government's carbon capture and storage demonstration programme, one of four such plants which the government hopes to build.

In fact, the only coal project left that is currently still under development using carbon capture and storage (CCS), is one to bolt on the technology onto an existing coal power station at ScottishPower's Longannet plant.

There, it is planned that the captured CO2 would be used in Enhanced Coal-Bed Methane Recovery (allowing methane gas to be recovered from coal seams and the CO2 to be stored).

The government's “market sounding exercise" for three of the four demonstration projects ended on 8 October. The Office of Carbon Capture and Storage is now considering this and will publish its response shortly.

The CCS pilots are in line to receive an estimated £1 billion of government funding, mostly under the EU Funding Mechanism “NER300”. This is a pot of 300 million EU ETS allowances set aside for supporting 8 CCS and 34 renewable energy projects. At current prices, each allowance is worth €15.

E.ON reckoned that even with this subsidy, building the Kingsnorth plant would be uneconomic given “current energy prices".

It said it has not withdrawn its application to build Kingsnorth at some point in the future, possibly as one of the later CCS pilot projects, after 2020.

Environmental campaigners are claiming this as a victory. Greenpeace, in a statement, said, “It does underline that right now the economics for new coal simply don’t stack up.

“But we need to make sure the future of dirty coal plants is dictated by climate and energy security needs, not simply the prevailing economic winds.

“That’s why Osborne’s promised Green Investment Bank is so important, and why we need it to be accompanied by tough new rules to put a legal limit on pollution from power stations."

Greenpeace is concerned that three later, second tranche, CCS demonstration plants, which are in line for funding via a "CCS levy" on energy bills, could result in new coal plants being built that only capture around a quarter of their carbon emissions.

But the Government has said it is committed that no new coal-fired power stations will be built without CCS, and emission performance standards. Climate Change Minister Gregory Barker told Parliament last Tuesday that he is working with his Scottish counterparts "to establish an emissions performance standard that would prevent coal-fired power stations being built without the provision of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) to enable them to comply with our Emissions Performance Standard (EPS)".

Unlike the first of the four projects in the CCS competition, these three second tranche ones will not receive direct government funding.

CCS is not cheap. A project in Norway, the Mongstad CCS centre, has seen costs rise from an original projection of $700 million to $1.02 billion, Reuters reported at the end of September.

Another recent report, from the Wuppertal Institute, said that with renewables prices coming down, it will be cheaper to invest in these and phase out fossil-burning plants, than in the still technically uncertain CCS.

Budgets slashed but programmes to continue

It could have been worse. With both environment departments, DECC and DEFRA, having their budgets slashed by around 30%, funding for climate change and transport infrastructure remains relatively intact, although the delivery channels and funding mechanisms are set to change radically. Here is a summary:


The review pledges to support transport infrastructure, including £14 billion for national rail improvements, the construction of Crossrail, plans to create a new high-speed rail network, an incentive scheme offering up to £5000 towards the cost of a new ultra low emission vehicle from January 2011 and electric car charging infrastructure.

International development

This is an area that has been ring-fenced, with an increase in Official Development Assistance to 0.7% of gross national income from 2013, and a new watchdog, the Commission on Aid Impact, to keep an eye on value for money and whether UK plc receives benefit from the spending.

£2.9 billion is pledged over the spending review period for international climate finance, to be funded jointly by DfID, DECC and DEFRA, in line with agreements made at Copenhagen and the UN climate talks.

Climate change and energy

£200 million is pledged to make sure that offshore wind plans continue, including the vital adaptation of ports to be able to accept the large vessels that are required for installing the huge turbines.

The Renewable Heat Incentive, which was in doubt and the subject of energetic lobbying, is to go ahead, as is the Green Deal. The RHI is to be funded by £860 million of Annual Managed Expenditure from next April. It is expected to encourage investment in anaerobic digestion, solar water heating and biomass projects.

"The Government will not be taking forward the previous administration's plans of funding this scheme through an overly complex Renewable Heat levy," the review adds. I.e., it will be funded by the government rather than the market.

The review says, “this will ensure the UK meets its 2020 renewable energy targets while making efficiency savings of 20%, or £105 million a year, by 2014-15 compared with the previous government’s plans."

The Green Investment Bank is to be set up using £1 billion, carved from departmental budgets and what the Chancellor called "additional significant proceeds from asset sales", to provide collateral for private financial investments in green infrastructure projects, such as offshore wind farms.

The paybacks received by customers signing up to Feed-in Tariffs may be reduced or, in the language of the report, “improved... rebalancing them in favour of more cost-effective carbon abatement technologies". This will happen at the next review stage for the FITs, and save £40 million in 2014-15. A further 70 million a year on average will apparently also be saved by using “support for lower value innovation and technology projects".

Up to £1 billion is to go towards the first for carbon capture and storage (CCS) plants – see separate post. This money comes from general taxation and will not require an increase on electricity bills. Whether such an increase will be introduced in future will be decided at the same time as the reform of the climate change Levy to support the carbon price, after spring 2011.

However, DECC's core budget is being slashed by 30% in real terms by 2014-15 by focusing on key priorities and cutting projects which do not give “value for money".

DECC says it will reduce resource spending by 18% in real terms, and increase capital spending by 41% in real terms. The Department’s Administration budget will be reduced by 33%.

The status of the Marine Renewables Development Fund, which allocates funding for wave and tidal, is at this stage unclear.

The government remains committed to obtaining 15% of energy from renewables by 2020.

Continuing to protect the stockpiles of nuclear waste at Sellafield is assured: no cuts there. In fact, spending will increase, to compensate for a projected decrease in the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority's income.

But future nuclear power takes a hit with the axing of Government funding for the National Nuclear Centre of Excellence.

DECC is reviewing the work delivered at arm’s length by bodies such as the Carbon Trust, Energy Saving Trust, and the delivery arm of Ofgem. The Energy Efficiency Partnership for Homes is also being reviewed.

Fuel poverty and energy efficiency

DECC is to undertake a review of fuel poverty policy to address this stubborn problem. The language here, as with the Green Deal, is “working as an an enabler rather than the default provider" of energy efficiency services to households, in partnership with the private sector.

So, it is envisaged that private enterprise will take over gradually from the Warm Front programme, saving £345 million by 2013-14. There is no indication, as yet, what kind of quality controls will be in place to avoid quick fixes and get long-term value for money.

From April 2011, energy suppliers will provide greater help with the financial costs of energy bills to more of the most vulnerable fuel poor households, through Social Price Support – with total support of £250 million in 2011-12 rising to £310 million in 2014-15.

The Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency scheme, which met with loud opposition from quarters in the private sector, is to be simplified. The first allowance of sales for 2011-12 emissions will now take place in 2012, not 2011.

In a surprise move for participants, revenues from these sales, totalling an anticipated £1 billion per year by 2014-15 world, rather than being recycled to participants in the scheme, go into the Treasury coffers [see separate post], making it a carbon tax.

The government will make permanent the temporary increases to Cold Weather Payments provided in the past two winters, at a cost of £50 million a year, so that eligible households receive £25 for each seven day cold spell recorded or forecast where they live.

DECC will issue guidance to re-emphasise best practice on heating, cooling and lighting Government buildings. This guidance will encourage departments to reduce waste on energy costs, helping to reduce the Government’s £95 million annual energy bill, whilst saving carbon emissions at the same time.

Environmental management

DEFRA will continue to invest in flood defences and coastal erosion risk management, with £2 billion allocated over the spending review period.

DEFRA has had its budget cut by a similarly huge amount to DECC - 29% - by more than halving its number of Arms Length Bodies to 39. It will reduce its running costs by £174 million over the period.

The environmental stewardship scheme, which pay farmers to take conservation measures to protect biodiversity, has had its budget slashed by £66 million by 2014-15, but the review says it will remain open to all farmers in England.

Seven waste PFI projects face the axe, because it's judged they aren't required any more to meet landfill diversion targets, saving £3 million. These include the North London Waste Authority's plans, which received the single largest award of waste PFI funding in March 2010 and the £1 billion Cheshire project. The full list is:

• Cheshire West and Chester, and Cheshire East
• Coventry, Solihull and Warwickshire (‘Project Transform')
• Gloucestershire
• Leicestershire
• Milton Keynes and Northamptonshire
• North London Waste Authority
• South London Waste Partnership.

11 other waste PFI projects currently in procurement well remain so, and the 21 other deals that had already been signed are secure.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Osbourne axes Severn barrage

The BBC has just reported that George Osborne, the Chancellor, has told Chris Huhne, energy and climate change Secretary, to axe the Severn barrage.

This is a blow to the country's efforts to move towards a much lower carbon economy. Huhne is instead likely to sanction the building of new nuclear power stations.

The other options were intended to appease environmental campaigners worried about the loss of precious wildlife habitats in the estuary.

The technology could have generated up to 5% of Britain's electricity requirements, and created hundreds of jobs and develop technology that could have been exported around the world.

Instead eight sites have been approved for new nuclear power stations by 2025, which, if they go ahead, are likely to be financed and owned by foreign companies and produce fewer jobs. These are:

• Bradwell, Essex
• Hartlepool, Borough of Hartlepool
• Heysham, Lancashire
• Hinkley Point, Somerset
• Oldbury, South Glos.
• Sellafield, Cumbria
• Sizewell, Suffolk
• Wylfa, Isle of Anglesey.

They would add to the growing and expensive stockpile of nuclear waste, providing danger for thousands of years to come. In the Spending Review, more money was allocated to the task of safeguarding the existing stockpile.

Tidal power, on the other hand, is renewable and free, but the uranium for nuclear power stations is dangerous to mine and is likely to run out within 60 years.

A tidal scheme could last around 120 years, significantly longer than nuclear, thermal, wind, and other energy infrastructure, but in common with other hydropower generation projects.

This makes its overall levelised costs – lifetime costs – comparable to or better than other forms of generation, but the initial high capital cost is prohibitive in the current economic climate, the report says.

Supporters of the tidal project, which would link Lavernock Point near Cardiff, to Brean Down near Weston-Super-Mare, claimed it could generate 5% of Britain's electricity.

Dr Rob Kirby, an independent expert on the Severn Estuary, has worked on the project for the last 40 years, said: "The government's view is that it's too big a project to approach in financial terms.

"It's quite unambiguous - the Cardiff to Weston (barrage) can only benefit the environment and those who say otherwise are not telling the truth."

Shadow Welsh Secretary Peter Hain said scrapping the barrage would be "equally disastrous" for the economy and the environment.

"Not only is Chris Huhne turning his back on the proposed barrage scheme that would have created hundreds of good quality green jobs for Welsh people, it appears that he decided to abandon in its entirety the idea of using the Severn estuary as a generator of electricity," he said.

The feasibility study into a tidal energy project in the Severn estuary concludes that its total cost – over £30 billion – makes it unaffordable at the present time because a significant proportion of the funding would have to be borne by the taxpayer, and it would be difficult to attract sufficient private investment.

The report does not rule out a project in the estuary in the longer term if it could be shown that it did not fundamentally change the estuary's natural environment.

It also highlights the fact that even the scale and impact of smaller schemes like a tidal lagoon would be unprecedented in an environmentally sensitive area. Providing compensation for any possible damage is considered to be challenging.

The report argues that other low carbon energy sources represent a better deal in the short term for taxpayers, industry and consumers.

Dr Neil Bentley, CBI Director of Business Environment, commented: “Tidal power has the potential to play a significant role in the UK’s energy future. Given the state of the public finances, it is understandable that Government investment in the main Severn Barrage scheme has been ruled out at this time. But the Government should continue to encourage innovation in tidal power to reduce the cost of this technology.”

Welsh Environment Minister Jane Davidson added, “Two of the three schemes assessed under SETS showed a good deal of potential for extracting renewable energy from the area.

“However further work is needed to develop these technologies to the point where they may be considered as part of any future Tidal Power scheme.

“I would urge the UK Government and others to continue working with us and key business partners such as Veredeg and Rolls Royce on the development of these emerging technologies, not just for applications in the Severn but also in other locations around our resource rich coast line.

"These technologies have real potential to provide a vital source of renewable energy for the whole of the UK, which would enable us to increase our energy security and help in the global fight against climate change”

Saturday, October 09, 2010

The death toll of fossil fuels - and my new book

Who said this, and when?

"Eventually industry will no longer find in Europe the resources to satisfy its prodigious expansion... Coal will undoubtedly be used up. What will industry do then?"

It was solar pioneer, Augustin Bernard Mouchot, after demonstrating an early industrial application of solar thermal energy as long ago as 1880.

Four years earlier he had demonstrated the use of solar power for cooking, by making a block of ice using a parabolic dish collector.

The solar age is undoubtedly coming - and it's been waiting to arrive for a long time, continually frustrated by the aggressive marketing of cheap energy.

I have just finished writing my latest book, The Earthscan Expert Guide to Solar Power for Power, Heating, and Cooling.

In writing it I have discovered some astonishing facts about just how long the technologies have been around... and how different the twentieth century would have been if we had been forced to rely on solar and other renewable sources of power instead of fossil fuels...

...if we hadn't been cursed - as well as blessed - with nature's bequest of such huge quantities of oil, gas and coal.

Because from the first world war - partly fought over access to the newly discovered oilfields of Iraq, which was created as a result of that war - through the Six Day War and the recent Iraq wars, not to mention hundreds of other conflicts, access to fossil fuels has been the cause of millions of deaths.

With growing awareness of the impact of climate change, their aspect as a curse on the global scale has become increasingly apparent.

In 1913, Frank Schuman, who designed the world's first solar power station, dreamt of a completely solar powered world. It was theoretically possible then, as indeed it is now.

Nowadays, the phrase “energy security" is being used by those who want to see local, sustainable sources of clean energy replace dirty fossil fuels.

This is because the sun, wind and other renewable sources of energy are available abundantly, everywhere on the planet, with no need for conflict over their use. Looking at the history of solar power it is clear how its development has suffered as a result of the abundance of fossil fuels.

Humanity - or its leaders - are now faced with a clear choice: whether to stick with the status quo and vested interests that aggressively promote as inevitable, a continued dependence on fossil fuels; or whether to accelerate the deployment, research and development into solar and other renewable, sustainable technologies and practices.

My new book makes the case for the latter, looking at all the available technologies, and the sunrise ones:

  • passive solar architecture

  • solar water heating

  • solar thermal electricity generation.

Here is a not-exhaustive list of the technologies it looks at from the point of view of their end use:

  • Heating and cooling space: passive solar design, urban planning, passive stack ventilation, phase change materials, unglazed transpired collectors, solar-powered chillers and coolers
    Lighting: glazing, special glass coatings; sun pipes

  • Heating water: solar water heating systems; evacuated tubes; swimming pool heating; active solar cooling; applications for large buildings and districts
    Cooking, food drying, desalination and water treatment

  • Electricity: thermoelectric devices, photovoltaic modules, system design, process heat, concentrating solar power

  • Transport: solar vehicles, hydrogen production.

The potential of these technologies is completely clear and proven. The scientific case for the likelihood with business-as-usual of a runaway greenhouse effect, has been conclusively established.

The stakes could not be higher and the choice more stark.

The Earthscan Expert Guide to Solar Power for Power, Heating, and Cooling will be out next year.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Energy companies spend $500 million to block climate legislation

Research from a Washington-based pressure group, The Center for American Progress Action Fund, has uncovered the extent to which energy companies and their supporters have lobbied to dissuade American politicians from pursuing climate change legislation.

It is the lack of progress in America which is having a knock on effect in the world's climate change negotiations.

The report, Dirty Money, says the $500 million figure is likely to be an underestimate, since company donations to trade associations are kept secret and a recent Supreme Court decision allows corporations to spend money to defeat electoral candidates without any disclosure or reporting requirements.

How is the money made up?

Since 2009, when the House of Representatives began debating the American Clean Energy and Security Bill, the entire electric utility industry spent over $264 million on lobbying alone through the first half of 2010.

Oil and gas interests spent a record $175 million lobbying in 2009, a 30% increase on the previous year, and have already spent $75 million in 2010.

The oil, gas and coal industries together have spent over $2 billion lobbying Congress since 1999. These three industries spent $543 million on lobbying in 2009 and the first half of 2010.

To put this in some perspective, alternative energy companies spent less than $32 million on lobbying in 2009 and $14.8 million this year.

Who are the biggest spenders? They are in order:

1. ExxonMobil
2. ConocoPhillips
3. Chevron
4. BP
5. Koch Industries – who also bankroll the right wing Tea Party
6. Shell
7. Southern Company, a major utility with significant coal-fired power generation.
8. American Electric Power.

The largest trade association working to defeat clean energy and global warming legislation is the Chamber of Commerce, which spent almost $190 million during the last year and a half.

The mystery is, why they spend so much money stopping the inevitable, when others in business are grasping the opportunities of the future.

On the other side...

These businesses who are embracing the future are not your usual tree huggers any more: recently, Marius Kloppers, the Australia-based BHP Billiton chief executive, called for a carbon tax. BHPBilliton, one of the largest mining companies in the world, with revenues of $10 billion in its coal business.

The World Wildlife Fund's Climate Saver program engages companies to make voluntary binding commitments to reduce their own emissions. It includes cement-maker LaFarge, IBM, Coca-Cola, and drug-maker Novo Nordisk.

The U.S. Climate Action Partnership calls for climate legislation with a membership that includes Duke Energy, PG&E, Johnson & Johnson, Dow Chemical, Ford Motor Company, DuPont, and General Electric.

Walmart's call to its supply chain to report and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions has catalyzed action in their 60,000-member supplier base. They have also, for example, just announced a project to cover the roofs of many of their stores with thin film PVs.

And there are plenty of examples in the UK, who are working in partnership with the Carbon Trust.

It's not surprising then, that environmental campaigners are increasingly targeting these few climate-change denying, oil-junkie, companies who are holding back progress and safety for the rest of the world.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Are heat pumps effective? The answer: it depends...

Most heat pumps are not being installed correctly and do not perform as well as expected, finds a survey of 83 sites recently published.

Heat pumps are one of the government's answers to increasing energy efficiency in homes. If the Green Deal, or the Renewable Heat Incentive, go ahead, the advice behind government policy suggests that heat pumps are highly cost-effective for saving carbon per £ of money spent.

But this report confirms what the Low Carbon Kid has said before - they only do so under certain circumstances.

Heat pumps are a new and growing technology: during 2009, their installed base doubled with annual sales of around 14,000 units.

However, there have been very few field trials to determine whether they actually match up to expectations in real-life installations.

Moreover, their effects on reducing carbon emissions is widely misunderstood.

Now, the first study of installations in the UK has been published by the Energy Saving Trust. It provides a mixed picture.

How do they work?

The principle of heat pumps is the same as a fridge, but backwards: if it was operating in a fridge, heat, instead of being pumped out of the back of the fridge, would be pumped from the outside of the fridge, into it.

This would heat the fridge up because low temperature air from large volume would be concentrated into a higher temperature in a smaller volume.

If, instead of a fridge, we have a building or a room, the same principle applies on a larger scale.

Heat pumps can take heat from the ground, air or a nearby body of water if it’s available.

Many heat pumps are reversible, and can be used for cooling – except, of course, it would be better if the home could be cooled without using electricity (solar cooling is real, commercial, and one of the first uses of solar energy in 1876).

How do we judge a heat pump?

Heat pumps are judged by their coefficient of performance (CoP). This is the ratio of the amount of heat or coolth produced divided by the electricity consumption of the pump used to operate it.

So for example a heat pump with a CoP of 3 (or 3:1) will produce three times as much heating or cooling energy as the electrical energy it consumes.

The higher the COP, the better the performance. The COP depends on the difference between the temperature of the source and the final delivered temperature. The greater the difference, the lower the COP.

Therefore, heat pumps are far more effective if used for space heating which is delivered by radiant heating - underfloor heating or skirting board heating - which can be at a much lower temperature - for example 20°C - to achieve the same level of thermal comfort as central heating radiators kept at a much higher temperature. This depends on the overall heating and system design.

As for the temperature of the source, the ground, 10 feet or so under, has a relatively stable temperature in this country and rarely goes below freezing, whereas the air can go below freezing in the times that we need heating the most. This negatively affects the performance of air source heat pumps, reducing their efficiency severely. So in these situations in air source pumps are at a disadvantage.

So how did the heat pumps perform?

The 83 heat pump systems performed very differently. Many systems appeared to be installed incorrectly.

The air source products had a COP that varied between 1.2 and 3.3. The ground source ones were slightly better, varying between 1.3 and 3.6.

Overall system efficiency was approximately the same, but slightly less.

This compares to a European trial where the ground source heat pumps performed significantly better than air source.

The effect on carbon emissions

What the report does not discuss is how effective they are at reducing carbon emissions. This depends entirely on what form of heating for space or water the heat pump is replacing, either theoretically or in practice.

If the heating was previously supplied by electricity, and the electricity was not renewable, then the COP needs to be consistently over 3 to make any difference to carbon emissions.

This is because of the losses - typically over 70% - in efficiency between the burning of fossil fuel in the generating plant and the arrival of the electricity at the heat pump.

If the electricity is renewable, there is clearly a benefit.

They are most effective at reducing carbon emissions and heating bills if they are replacing heating fuels such as electricity, LPG and oil. They are less effective if they are replacing gas. In fact they may have a negative effect on carbon emissions, if the COP is below 3.


The main non-technical factors affecting the performance of the heat pumps are the system design, installation and customer behaviour.

The report concludes "it is essential that installation and system design meet the heat demand of the particular building".

It recommends improved consumer advice for the use of the controls, which many users found confusing. This was especially true of social housing tenants, if they are not actively involved in the choosing, installation and training process.

One problem with installation was that often there was "no single contractor responsible for installation, which might involve a ground works contractor, a plumber, a heat pump installer and an electrician. This meant that there was often no single point of responsibility for the whole installation".

The report concludes that the performance of heat pumps depends very much on installation and commissioning practices. It recommends a thorough review of installation guidelines and proper systematic training for installers.

The Energy Saving Trust is working with trade associations, manufacturers and the governments and the Microgeneration Certification Scheme to identify improvements in installation guidelines and training.

The industry response

"The heat pump industry is addressing these issues through major investment in training and support of the new National Occupational Standards published by Summit Skills earlier this year. Industry is also actively engaged in the successful development of a National Skills Academy," said Kelly Butler, BEAMA's marketing director of the British Electrotechnical and Allied Manufacturers Association, in response to the report.

"This year, an estimated 2,000 installers have been trained in heat pump design and installation. By 2020, under the new qualification framework, 8,000 installers will be trained to help install some one million heat pumps," Butler said.

The majority of field trial sites actually pre-date government's relatively new Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS), which is also supported by the heat pump industry.

This scheme certifies product and installer standards and currently has 357 products and 370 installers approved. More than 200 additional heat pump products are currently in the process of approval.

In addition, BEAMA says its Underfloor Heating Manufacturers Association will be seeking to publish guidance on the advantages of effective low temperature heating systems.

Heat pumps are a relatively new technology being rolled out quickly on a mass scale. If they are to have the effect on energy efficiency and carbon emissions that the government hopes, they certainly need to be installed and operated with much greater knowledge and sensitivity to how they work.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Biomass-fired CHP - one third the price of the next cheapest power source

Councils or businesses would be well advised to construct biomass-fired combined heat and power (CHP) plants to satisfy their energy needs as the cheapest possible option - one that might even make a profit - of all possible energy solutions.

This is one conclusion of a set of figures published by DECC and highlighted this week in a parliamentary answer by Charles Hendry.

The tables below are taken from Mott Macdonald (2010) and give levelised cost estimates (average lifetime generation cost per megawatt-hour) for new build plants in the main large-scale electricity generation technologies in the UK, at current engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract prices.

Mott MacDonald comment that the CHP options reveal the lowest cost power by far, at only £24.9/MWh, one third the cost of a gas powered plant, once the steam revenues are factored in.

Assumptions include that the projects are able to secure a 100% use for their steam over the whole plant life, which may not always be possible, unless companies/councils are using the heat for their own premises. Another assumption is that carbon prices will continue to increase.

The biomass-fired schemes, which have much higher heat-to-power ratios, have the lowest net costs, even seeing negative costs in the medium to long term - i.e., they could make money for the developer.

Even if the biomass CHP schemes can capture only half of the projected steam credit, the costs would still be less than £70/MWh in 2020.

The table reveals other interesting aspects the cost of some renewables, nuclear, and carbon capture and storage:

• offshore wind power is the most expensive form of power at £190/MWh for Round 3 of the bids

• integrating CCS (carbon capture and storage) into coal or gas fired plant would substantially raise capital and operating costs.

• the leading 3rd generation nuclear designs, although projected to incur a significant first build premium, have a lower levelised cost at £99/MWh than an Advanced Super Critical (ASC) coal plant without CCS, but still significantly higher than Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT).

• anaerobic digestion is not as cost effective as normally assumed

• landfill gas and sewage gas are much more cost-effective than energy from waste.

Under DECC’s central carbon price projection, the premium for CCS versus un-scrubbed plants is £32-38/MWh, although the carbon costs on the un-scrubbed coal and gas plants is £40/MWh and £15/MWh, respectively.

In the longer term, as these technologies bring costs down from experience, the levelised costs of CCS equipped plant will undercut those for the un-scrubbed plant.

Even then, the CCS equipped plants still see levelised costs of £105-115/MWh with gas at the lower end, and coal at the upper end of the range. Adopting DECC’s low carbon price projection would see the CCS equipped plant continuing to be more expensive than a non-equipped plant through the 2020s.

The tables

It should be noted that for the purposes of presentation, the table only gives either 'FOAK' (first-of-a-kind) prices or 'NOAK' (nth-of-a-kind) prices for each technology. On offshore wind, for example, it shows offshore wind 'FOAK' prices, whereas the round 2 technology may be considered to have progressed towards 'NOAK' prices. Mott Macdonald estimate 'NOAK' offshore wind costs at £125/MWh (10% discount rate, 2009 project start at today's EPC prices).

Case 1: 10% discount rate, 2009 project start at today's EPC prices, with mixed FOAK/NOAK
Levelised cost Gas CC GT Gas CCGT with CCS FOAK ASC coal ASC c oal with CCS FOAK Coal IGCC FOAK Coal IGCC with CCS FOAK Onshore wind Offshore wind FOAK Offshore wind R3 FOAK Nuclear PWR. FOAK
Capital Costs 12.4 29.8 33.4 74.1 61.7 82.0 79.2 124.1 144.6 77.3
Fixed operating Coals 3.7 7.7 8.6 18.6 9.7 17.7 14.6 36.7 45.8 12.25
Variable Operating Costs 2.3 3.6 2.2 4.7 3.4 4.6 __ __ __ 2.1
Fuel Costs 46.9 65.0. 19.9 28.7 20.3 28.3 __ __ __ 5.3
Carbon Costs 15.1 2.1 40.3 6.5 39.6 5.5 __ __ __ __
Decomm and waste fund __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ 2.1
CO2 transport and storage __ 4.3 __ 9.6 __ 9.5 __ __ __ __
Steam Revenue __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __
Total levelised cost 80.3 112.5 104.5 142.1 134.6 147.6 93.9 160.9 190.5. 99.0
Case 1: 10% discount rate, 2009 project start at today's EPC prices, with mixed FOAK/NOAK
Levelised Cost Small business power only. FOAK Large biomass power only. FOAK OCGT AD on waste Landfill gas Sewage gas Small biomass CHP. FOAK
Capital Costs 55.8 46.1 7.1 63.8 25.8 42.0 91.3
Fixed operating Coals 21.0 13.4 3.0 21.0 13.1 8.9 23.9
Variable Operating Costs 2.5 2.5 1.5 18.6 21.1 2.1 2.8
Fuel Costs 36.7 31.2 60.6 __ __ __ 54.9
Carbon Costs __ __ 18.2 __ __ __ __
Decomm and waste fund __ __ __ __ __ __ __
CO2 transport and storage __ __ __ __ __ __ __
Steam Revenue __ __ __ __ __ __ 148.5
Total levelised cost 116.0 93.2 90.5 103.3 60.0 54.0 172.9
Net levelised cost __ __ __ __ __ __ 24.4
Levelised Cost Large biomass CHP. FOAK 10MW gas. CHP Small GT based CHP CCGT. CHP Energy from waste Hydro reservoir
Capital Costs 86.8 17.2 15.1 14.3 94.9 74.2
Fixed operating Coals 22.0 4.8 4.3 5.0 15.2 9.0
Variable Operating Costs 2.4 2.4 2.4 1.9 56.7 -
Fuel Costs 48.7 83.4 76.8 57.1 - -
Carbon Costs - 25.5 23.5 18.5 - -
Decomm and waste fund - - - - - -
CO2 transport and storage - - - - - -
Steam Revenue 135.0 56.6 45.2 27.2 - -
Total levelised cost 160.0 133.4 122.1 96.7 166.8 83.2
Net levelised cost 24.9 76.8 76.8 69.4 - -

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Carbon capture may be unnecessary - new report

There is little need for the power plant sector to worry about implementing carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), says a new report.

Its analysis is that if the current energy policy priorities are retained, then even with ambitious climate protection targets, the expensive and untried technology is unnecessary.

The study, "Comparison of Renewable Energy Technologies with Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage (CCS): An Update" by the Wuppertal Institute, was commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment.

Three conclusions will be of interest to policymakers:

• the technology is not expected to become available on a large scale before 2025

• if renewable energies and combined heat and power are expanded further and energy productivity is enhanced, there is likely to be only a limited demand for CCS power plants

• new life cycle assessments for CCS in the power plant sector indicate that the greenhouse gas emissions from one kwh of electricity generated by first-generation CCS power plants could only be reduced by 68 to 87%.

A major reason is that electricity generating costs of renewable energies are approaching those of CCS power plants.

Therefore, by 2020, several renewable technologies may well be in a position to offer electricity at a cheaper rate than CCS power plants.

CCS could constitute an important climate protection technology in large coal-consuming countries such as China, India and the USA, however, in order to meet their climate protection targets. If it can be shown to work cost-effectively.

The feedback loop accelerating climate change

The current awful drought and record high temperatures in Russia are attributed to global warming.

But besides causing 700 extra deaths a day in Moscow alone - due to the smoke from forest fires, according to its top health official - the smoke is hastening the melting of Arctic ice.

Forest and peat bog fires around Moscow are burning over 1,740 sq kms (672 sq mile), the Russian Emergencies Ministry says.

Similar fires in Asia are having a similar effect on glaciers in the Himalayas.

On the other side of the planet, official Brazilian data shows the Amazon rainforest lost 1,810 sq kms in almost a year to June 2010. The real figure is likely to be higher.

Brown clouds also form over parts of North America, Europe, the Amazon basin and southern Africa. Burning of savannah in sub-Saharan Africa, to clear land for crops, is a new source.

"Health effects of such clouds are huge," said Veerabhadran Ramanathan, chair of a new U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) study called Atmospheric Brown Clouds.

This report says there are five hot spots for such clouds:
  1. East Asia

  2. Indo-Gangetic Plain in South Asia

  3. Southeast Asia

  4. Southern Africa; and

  5. the Amazon Basin.

But the effects can be felt far away...

Melting Greenland

A team from Aberystwyth University currently doing research in Greenland has found unprecedented levels of melting of the Greenland ice sheet.

A key factor, they have discovered, is cryoconite, a form of ice dusted with minute specks - a mixture of desert sand blown thousands of kilometres from Africa, soot particles from power stations, vehicle exhausts and microscopic algae and bacteria.

These particles settle on the ice and, being dark, absorb the sun's rays, causing it to melt.

Besides that, the UNEP report says this atmospheric smog is near-permanent and blames it for causing chronic respiratory and heart diseases.

Since 1970, southern Greenland has warmed by 3oC (in Britain it is half of a degree). A week ago, a massive iceberg 100sq miles in area broke off the Petermann Glacier in the north-west of the island and floated into the ocean - the largest chunk of ice to break off Greenland for nearly half a century.

Greenland is losing, net, about 267 billion tons of ice a year, according to Aberystwyth University's Dr Alun Hubbard, Britain's leading glaciologist studying Greenland.

He says that two weeks ago an ice lake 2.5 miles across drained into the sea in just two hours when a crack opened up at the lake's deepest point.

He said it sounded like "an extraordinary rumbling, like an atomic bomb going off ". Ominous cracks opened up in the ice beneath his camp's tents as the lake was swallowed by the ice.

Such melt-water flows underneath the ice sheet to the sea, at the same time lubricating the passage of the ice above it and accelerating it towards oblivion. Exactly the same process is happening in the Himalayas and Antarctica.

If all of Greenland's ice were to melt, sea levels would rise by seven metres worldwide. London and Liverpool would be flooded. Hwever, current estimates are that this is unlikely to happen until a few hundred years have passed.

A reporter with the Daily Mail, embedded with the Aberystwyth University team, wrote this week that "Sceptics will argue that Greenland has always had moulins and meltwater rivers; this is true. But what is new is these used to be confined to the very edge of the icesheet, marginal, ephemeral features that lasted just a few weeks in the height of the summer melting season. Now there are lakes and moulins right on the centre of the cap, and persisting well into August."

When the normally sceptic Daily Mail and its climate change-denying columnist Michael Hanlon runs pieces like this, you know something is going on.

Brown clouds

"The Russian fires are in principle similar to what you see from other brown clouds," said Henning Rodhe of Stockholm University, a vice-chair of the UNEP Atmospheric Brown Cloud (ABC) study. "The difference is that this only lasts a few weeks."

Elsewhere, however, the polluting haze blocks out sunlight and so slows climate change. Despite this, overall, the report says, the brown clouds have the net effect of "heating of the surface-atmosphere system and therefore constitute a positive radiative forcing of the climate system and contribute to global warming. Thus, black carbon aerosols are major agents of regional and global warming."

The report says that in the Himalayas, "If the current rate of retreat continues unabated, these glaciers and snow packs are expected to shrink by as much as 75 per cent before the year 2050, posing grave danger to the region’s water security. Projections show that most parts of South and East Asia will suffer from water stress by 2050."

Mega-city hotspots

13 mega-city ABC hotspots in Asia have been identified: Bangkok, Beijing, Cairo, Dhaka, Karachi, Kolkata, Lagos, Mumbai, New Delhi, Seoul, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Tehran.

Kim Holmen, director of research at the Norwegian Polar Institute, runs a pollution monitoring station in Svalbard in the high Arctic. He says the air over Russia has been fairly stable in recent days, but a shift in winds could blow the smoke towards the Arctic.

He supports Russian authorities' concerns that the fires may also release radioactive elements locked in vegetation since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986. He says radioactive isotopes include strontium 90 and caesium 137. Other industrial pollutants such as PCBs could also be freed.

"Such conditions are likely to become more common in the future," Rodhe said of the Russian heatwave and related fires.

If they are, sea level rise is likely to accelerate at a faster rate than would be anticipated if only linked to a global average temperature rise.

Arctic sea ice, which shrinks in mid-September to an annual minimum before the winter freeze, now covers a slightly bigger area than in 2007 and 2008, the smallest extents since satellite measurements began in the 1970s.