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 - -